British Foreign Policy 1815-65
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I am grateful to Cynthia Dyer-Bennet for permission to reproduce these letters from her grandfather's transcripts. The spelling and grammar are exactly in the original letters.
My dearest Carrie,
Many thanks for your letter, which I received the mail before last, and by the last one from Isabella, which I will answer by the next. I have not much to tell you. We are rather at a standstill at present, waiting for reinforcements of men and ammunition. A short time ago there was a grand Council of War, by which it was determined that in consequence of the number of sick, wounded and dead, that we should Winter here, and carry on the siege as best we could, from what we hear Lord Raglan was the strongest advocate for this policy, but it is the opinion of the Army in general, that this is a very bad plan for several reasons.
In the first place everyone now sees that if we had assaulted the place, when first we arrived, before the Russians had time to throw up the tremendous batteries they have since, and before they had entrenched every house and street, as well as mined the whole place, we should have taken it with half the loss of men, that we lost at the battles of the Balaklava and Inkerman.
The next point is we have advanced as close to the walls as we can do, and the next operation ought to be storming. Now if we do not do so, it only gives them time to mine every breach and prepare in every way for us, and not only this, they are gaining confidence every day, as regards the defence of the place, but at the same time they have since the Inkerman, where they lost 20,000 to 25,000 killed and wounded, imbibed a profound dread of the English, the deserters and prisoners say they are more afraid of us than the French and Turks put together. As regards the latter, they are not of the slightest use, on the contrary, they are a nuisance, as since their feats of running away at Balaklava out of a very strong fort well armed, with good guns, which like fools we had lent them, we dare not trust them again, because they might run again, when it would be certain defeat if they gave way, besides the example to our own men.
Only fancy the Colonel started first at Balaklava, 150 yards before anyone else, we were going down to assist them and saw it all. We had then to drive the Russians back and take three of the Forts and four guns back but Lord Raglan would not let us attack them in the other two, which they retained with 7 of the guns, and turned them against us. You will see a great deal in the papers about the Cavalry being cut up in that affair and most likely hear anything but the truth, so I will give it you the full.
The Charge of the Heavy Brigade at Balaklava from William Simpson's The Seat of War in the East, second series. I am grateful to John Sloan for permission to use this image from the Xenophongi web site and which graciously he has agreed to share with the Victorian Web. Copyright, of course, remains with him.
Click on the image for a larger view
In front of the entrance to the Balaklava, about ¾ of a mile of it is a ridge of small hills, upon which we had thrown up redoubts, and armed them with twelve 12-pounder guns and Sir Colin Campbell had entrusted them to the Turks, on this side of the hill (that is the Balaklava side), the Cavalry were encamped, and close to the entrance of the village the 93rd Highlanders, lay behind a little hill and wall, on the morning of the 25th the Russians, to the number of 30,000 appeared through some of the ravines, in front of our redoubts, when if the Turks had served their guns well, and had fought as they did on the Danube, the Russians could not have advanced further, and the Turks could have knocked them over as they liked. It appears, however, that the Russians knew the Turks occupied the Forts, and that they were young troops, as they sent about 4,000 Cavalry to charge up to the Redoubts, which they did shouting and screaming. Instead of remaining in their forts where the Cavalry could not get at them, and quietly picking the Russians off with their muskets, directly the Cossacks got close up, they took to their heels and ran for Balaklava, consequently the Cavalry overtook them, cut some of them down, and they all went in a heap down close to the village and port, which if they had got into, we should have lost our stores, shipping, etc., etc. Luckily the 93rd who were laying down behind the hill, waited till the Russians were close upon them, and then jumped up fired a volley and charged bayonets, directly the Cossacks saw the petticoat soldiers, as they call the Highlanders, and who they funk awfully they turned. At the same time, the Scots Greys charged, and cut them down like thistles, so far so well. In the meantime we had turned out, and arrived on the scene of the action, we then drove the Russians out of the three forts and retook five guns, and now comes the unfortunate part.
Lord Raglan gave a written order to Captain Nolan (who was killed afterwards in the charge) to take to Lord Lucan, which order said that the Cavalry were to charge and retake the captured guns. Lord Lucan asked where the captured guns were and in what direction he was to charge, now unfortunately a good deal had been said in the Army about the Cavalry having been kept back at Alma, also the papers had rather sneered at them, the consequence was poor Nolan said, "We are to charge there", pointing slap at the Russian Army and where they had some guns drawn up. Lord Lucan said, "Well, as I have received the order I must obey it", as also said Lord Cardigan, but he also stated that it was perfect madness to do so, and that very few would see the end of it. Well, away they charged, the Light Cavalry leading, supported by the Greys, and heavy brigade, Nolan leading them. It was a magnificent charge, even the Russians say they never saw such courage or rather madness. The consequences were, that they arrived at a place where the Russians had a cross fire of Artillery upon them, besides the fire of all the Russian Infantry. They cut down large numbers of the Russian gunners at their guns, but got surrounded and broken and lost about 150 killed and wounded and about the same number taken prisoner.
There was a tremendous to do afterwards, and Lord Raglan tried very hard to get out of it, and get hold of the order, but Lord Lucan was too wise to part with it. It is generally said out here that the order was given by General Airey, or some of Lord Raglan's staff. He of course was obliged to back them out of it, as it is a matter of common occurrence for the Adjutant General to give orders in the Commander in Chief's name. Now the whole of the truth is in a nutshell. Lord Raglan did not give a sufficiently clear order, where or how they were to charge, and poor Nolan mistook the order, and led the charge in the wrong direction, not that it has ever been found out which was the right one, at any rate the blame is now all laid on poor Nolan's shoulders, a dead man can carry a heavy weight.
The next day the Russians (so they said afterwards) expected we should be easy game, so they came up and attacked our right as we lay before Sebastopol but ours and Turner's Batteries turned out and in half an hour we sent them back with a flea in their ears. We killed and wounded 1,500 of them (mind this is the weak spot, talked of in the newspapers) so the engineers after this learnt that they had found it out, and advised Lord Raglan to fortify as also did General Bosanquet, but his sapient Lordship said, "Pooh! Pooh! they have had such a dressing they will not come there again", the consequence was that on the night of the 4th they took advantage of a stormy night and by half after 6 o'clock in the morning had got 70 heavy guns, and 60,000 men in position, without our piquets (who were I expect asleep) finding it out. At the above mentioned time, they advanced to the attack shouting and screaming, thinking to frighten us, but they had not Turks to deal with.
At first only the piquets were there, they held their ground, until the 2nd, 1st and Light Divisions came up, and at it we went, 10,000 English and 36 9-pounders against the whole Russian Army. Talk of Alma, it was a fool to this. We were placed on a ridge about 1,200 yards from the Russian guns, and there we fired away for 3½ hours, a perfect hailstorm of shell and shot tearing through us for that time. I thought it would never end. In the first five minutes Wodehouse, the Col. (Dacres), Hamley, Paynter and myself, had our horses killed under us. A shell hit my poor brute in the stomach, and exploded inside, tearing him to pieces, and sent me like a great grasshopper flying, afterwards Wodehouse was sent away with three guns, to another place, so I was now in command, and remained so to the end.
The Guards suffered awfully, they were fighting with bayonets and stones for some time, against at least twenty to one, their ammunition being expended, at last about one o'clock the French brought up 5,000 fresh men and we took up two 18-pounders, and we then polished them off.
I have however given full particulars of this in a letter to my Aunt so will conclude the account of this battle by informing you that Col. Dacres was pleased to compliment your humble servant, on the manner in which things in general were conducted by him and to say (mind this was in public) "That he should bring this very gallant young gent under the Commander in Chief's notice". Nous Verrons ["We shall see"].
And now I have only to tell you that since the above time, we have been quietly bringing up ammunition, shot, prog.[provisions] etc., etc. The weather is changing much for the worse, during the last three days we have been deluged in wet, the tents and selves soaked through, and the mud in the camp up to our knees. The horses too suffer terribly. We had seven die one night, and shot nine as useless yesterday. They are worked to death, dragging up heavy guns, hay, oats, and the road to Balaklava is almost impassable from the mud. It is only a track, no broken stones, in fact very like the Dardham Down. I do not know what we shall do soon if the weather gets worse, as the horses will be all dead, and then how are we to work our guns, or get provisions, but as we all say here, it is no use croaking, we must make the best of it.
So by the way of changing the conversation, are you aware that I am five for promotion. The new commission gives us three more Generals, which gives steps all through and eight are going to retire, which as I before stated makes me 5th. You would not know me now, as I am getting up the Captain's strut and swagger. I am covered over the face by hair, a foot long, in fact look very like an owl looking out of an ivy bush. I intend to turn all the hair to good account if I return, in the bed stuffing business.
I unfortunately cover a Horse Artillery Second Captain so I cannot tell where I fall to, but I have taken the nine most likely men to get the jacket, and to whose company I should be posted in place of them, and the result is as follows: five to a home station, one to the Cape of Good Hope, and three out here, these last rather a sell you will say, as I should then have no chance of getting home before the end of the war, of which by the way I am very sick at present, but I dare say, after I had been at home a short time, I should want to get out here again.
Many thanks to all for the papers, particularly the Bristol ones, ask my aunt or mama if they would subscribe for me for six months to the Guardian, as the more papers one gets out here the better, having during the winter nothing on earth to do, but read, drink, sleep and smoke, by the way I do not know what I should do without my pipe. It keeps all sorts of bad fevers off. All the non-smokers are the ones that knock under soonest.
I and my Chum, that is the Man who lives in the same Tent with me, are the only two Subs in the Artillery out here, who have not been in the sick list, since we came out. You should see us at night in bed about eight, with a sauce-pan of hot coffee, buried under everything we can lay our hands on, and enough smoke in the tent for you to sit on comfortably. Tell Aunt I have heaps of paper for writing on and I want to use it, so do not send any more at present. I have sent 1½ sheets this time, to see if it is weight, let me know if they charge extra for it. I think I told Aunt that I had received the Arrowroot, and how much I and several poor fellows who were ill liked it, it is the best thing I can take out here when ill, being so easily prepared. Tell Isabella she is next on the list for a letter, and tell the Knowlys that if they write now I have time, to send a very long answer. You cannot tell how anxiously we look out for the mail, both for letters and papers as it is our only amusement, writing and receiving letters now. This is the 4th I have written for this mail.
Blandford is still with me, and although he helps himself, he is a great comfort, being a capital cook, and does not allow anyone else to rob me but himself.
It is funny how soon one becomes callous here, the other day I saw outside a tent a heap of meat on one side, and as large a heap on the other side of legs and arms just taken off, but the dead lay about now like blackbirds.
I find I cannot put all I want onto the half sheet, so here goes at the other. We have lost very few men in the trenches, a great many of those that were lost were wounded by the enemy's shot striking the rocky ground, and the splinters of stone struck the men. I have the Russian pony still. He is as fat as a pig, and full of fun, he will follow me anywhere for a biscuit. I call him Alma, I intend to bring him to England with me, He belonged evidently to a Lady as there was a side saddle not twenty yards from him, which most likely he had kicked off. Campbell of the 42nd picked up a lady's bonnet when we got up to the scaffolding erected for them, which he put on, and wore for some time after, you would have died of laughter to have seen his face all covered with whiskers and beard, looking out of a little Russian bonnet.
Isabella tells me in her letter of Charlie Williams' last feat, about on a par with a good many others I heard of him when at Clifton. He is fit for nothing but a hair dresser, or a dog stealer, so I do not think the marriage matters much. Remember me to the Woollcombs, Knowlys, Armstrongs etc. Tell Selenah or whoever writes next to say how Selenah got on in her howling match, and tell her I hope she will have La pluie des Perles perfect by the time I come back. Tell Miss Pope if she has the becoming bonnet still, I will bring her a Turkish Yasmak to finish off with, she will then be perfect. Isabella says,"I cannot tell you what a kind interest all your Glamorganshire friends have taken in you", they commence rather late in my life, when nearly 30 years old. When next you write to Mary Homfrey, pray give my best love to her, and tell her if it is not improper, she might in compassion let me know what goes on in Glamorganshire. I have not seen Harry Dashwood since poor Walpole's death, it will be a great blow to them all. I thought at one time of writing a letter to Mrs. Eyre, but I am not good at condoling and thought I might put my foot in it, so left it alone.
Col. Dacres who commanded our Division, now commands the whole of the Artillery instead of General Strangways. He will make a much better commanding officer, he knows much more than Strangways did about his profession. We liked him very much.
I have no time to write more at present. I think I have given you a pretty good yarn and I have to go out to watering order with the horses and it is pouring cats and dogs. With best love to all at home, believe me dear Carry,
Ever your affectionate Brother W.P.R.
P.S. You had better not put any of my letters in the papers as old Ross is in a devil of a rage at a letter written by Ned Ward (Aunt will know who I mean) about Maude's Troop. Do you observe how they make out the Horse Artillery did everything at Alma. They were never up, until the end of the action being with the Cavalry.
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