British Foreign Policy 1815-65

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Report of the Committee of Enquiry into the Army in the Crimea (1855)

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The Report of the Committee headed by John Arthur Roebuck: taken from Parliamentary Papers, 1854-5, vol. 9.

The events of the Crimean War reached the public in Britain thanks to the efforts of the first "war correspondent", William Russell of The Times. The bravery of the troops, the blunders of the generals, the inefficiency of the Commissariat and supply departments and the hardships endured by the soldiers were all related. As a result of the adverse publicity, on 29 January 1855 John Arthur Roebuck, the radical MP for Sheffield, tabled a motion calling for a select committee to be set up to investigate the situation of the British Army in the Crimea. The result of the debate was the fall of Aberdeen's government and the formation of Palmerston's first ministry.

The Condition of our Army before Sebastopol

An army encamped in a hostile country, at a distance of 3,000 miles from England, and engaged during a severe winter in besieging a fortress which, from want of numbers, it could not invest, was necessarily placed in a situation where unremitting fatigue and hardship had to be endured. Your Committee are, however, of opinion that this amount of unavoidable suffering has been aggravated by causes hereafter enumerated, and which are mainly to be attributed to dilatory and insufficient arrangements for the supply of this army with necessaries indispensable to its healthy and effective condition. In arriving at this opinion, they have made allowance for the unexpected severity of the storm on the 14th of November, and they have not been unmindful of the difficulties which a long period of peace must inevitably produce at the commencement of a campaign ...

From the 16th of September, when the army landed in the Crimea, until the end of October, or, as some witnesses state, until the middle of November, the troops suffered from over-work and from dysentery, but were not, upon the whole, ill provided with food: even at this period there was a want of clothing for the men in health, and a painful deficiency of ail appliances for the proper treatment of the sick and wounded ... From the middle of November this army was, during a period of many weeks, reduced to a condition which it is melancholy to contemplate, but which was endured, both by officers and men, with a fortitude and heroism unsurpassed in the annals of war. They were exposed, under single canvas, to all the sufferings and inconveniences of cold, rain, mud, and,snow, on high ground, and in the depth of winter. They suffered from fatigue, exposure, want of clothing, insufficient supplies for the healthy, and imperfect accommodation for the sick ...

The Conduct of the Government at Home

The general direction of the war was in the hands of the Duke of Newcastle who, in the spring of 1854, held the office of Secretary of State for War and Colonies. In July the Duke [was] relieved of colonial duties [and] undertook the immediate conduct of the war. When this important change was effected, it does not appear that any Order in Council, Minute, or other document was prepared, defining the special duties of the War Department. The Duke, as Secretary of State, had ample powers ... He states, however, that he felt his means to be insufficient for the due performance of his separate duties as Secretary of State for War; he considered the organisation of all the war departments and their relation to each other to be in an unsatisfactory state; but he felt it to be impossible, consistently with attention to pressing business, to attempt their re-organisation ...

At the date of the expedition to the East, no reserve was provided at home adequate to the undertaking ... The order to attack Sebastopol was sent to Lord Raglan on the 29th of June: the formation of a reserve at Malta was not determined upon until early in November ... When the Duke of Newcastle informed Lord Raglan that he had 2,000 recruits to send him, he [Raglan] replied that "those last sent were so young, and unformed, that they fell victim to disease, and were swept away like flies. He preferred to wait." In December the power of re-inforcing the army with efficient soldiers was so reduced that the Government thought it necessary to introduce a Foreign Enlistment Bill for the purpose of raising a foreign legion ...

The Secretary of State for War

On accepting the Secretaryship for War, the Duke of Newcastle found ... he had no separate office for his department, no document prescribing his new duties, no precedents for his guidance, and his Under Secretaries were new to the work. In this situation he undertook the superintendence of numerous departments, with whose internal organisation he was dissatisfied, and the management of a war urgently requiring prompt and vigorous operations.

The Duke was imperfectly acquainted with the best mode of exercising his authority over the subordinate departments, and these departments were not officially informed of their relative position, or of their new duties towards the Minister for War. His interference was sought for in matters of detail, wherein his time should not have been so occupied, and he was left unacquainted with transactions of which he should have received official cognisance ... The evidence, moreover, shows that the Duke was long left in ignorance, or was misinformed respecting the progress of affairs in the East. He was not, until a late period, made acquainted with the state of the hospitals at Scutari, and the horrible mode in which the sick and wounded were conveyed from Balaclava to the Bosphorus. Lord Aberdeen has significantly observed, that the Government was left in ignorance, longer than they ought to have been, of the real state of matters in the East. The ministers, he says, were informed of the condition of the army from public papers and private sources long before they heard it officially, and, not hearing it officially, they discredited the rumours around them. Thus, whilst the whole country was dismayed by the reports, and was eagerly looking for some gleam of official intelligence, the Cabinet, according to the statement of Ministers, was in darkness.

The Duke sent a commission to inquire into the state of the hospitals at Scutari and in the Crimea. The commission was issued in October; it did not report until April ... With the same benevolent intention, the Duke, through the channel of the Foreign Office, requested Lord Stratford de Redcliffe to take upon himself, in addition to his many onerous duties, a certain amount of supervision and assistance of these hospitals. The clothing of the troops was not within the province of the Secretary of State ... The system of clothing the army was then, and still is, in a state of transition; whenever the existing contracts cease, the clothing will be supplied by the Ordnance, or by a clothing department.

The warm clothing was considered so important that, upon hearing of the loss of the 'Prince' steamer ... Ambassadors, ministers, consuls, agents were applied to for assistance; money was profusely expended, and at a later period in the winter the troops must have received a supply far larger than was required for their reduced numbers.

The Secretary-at-War

Mr. Sidney Herbert, as Secretary-at-War, had no power to originate anything, but from praiseworthy motives, he undertook to do a good deal which was not the business of his Office. Thus, in December, having learnt, from private sources [Florence Nightingale], the deplorable condition of the hospitals, he wrote to the commandant, to the chief medical officer, and to the purveyor, urging and authorising them to procure whatever might be wanted, assistants, supplies, or additional buildings; promising them his approbation for such outlay, and placing unlimited funds at their disposal.

While expenditure was thus encouraged, some financial regulations were still enforced, suitable to a time of peace, but inapplicable to a period of war, and operating unjustly on the soldiers who had been wounded, or afflicted with sickness in the Crimea. According to these regulations, every soldier coming into a hospital is obliged to bring with him his kit; but though the troops, upon landing in the Crimea, had been deprived of their knapsacks, which in many cases were never restored, yet no order had been issued to furnish another set in lieu of those articles which the soldier had been compelled to relinquish, and which are essential to his cleanliness and comfort. Again, upon leaving the hospital, men were exposed to a recurrence of sickness from insufficient clothing, and no proper arrangement had been made to furnish this supply ...

The Ordnance Department

In April 1854 Lord Raglan, the Master-General of Ordnance, was appointed to the command of the Forces in the East, and shortly afterwards Sir Hew Ross was named Lieutenant-General of the Ordnance. Lord Aberdeen had in view the abolition of the office of Master-General; the Ministers believed that the Lieutenant General would have all the authority of the Master-General. The Lieutenant-General does not possess this power; he is only a Board Officer; and while in reference to military duties he exercises the authority of Master-General, yet as regards the civil functions of the Ordnance he acts only as a member of the Board. During the summer and autumn of 1854, a Board Officer, the Surveyor General, was also employed abroad; so that during a period when the pressure of business was heavier, and when the expenditure of the department was larger than in any previous year, two officers were wanting whose functions the most economical administrations had been unable to dispense with in times of peace.

The Ordnance, even with its peculiar constitution, may work efficiently while under the supervision of a vigilant Master-General, who has supreme authority ... but the substitution of a Lieutenant-General changes the whole system of the office; its duties are then divided amongst the members of the Board without any supervising authority ... It will be seen that a conflict of authority arose between the members of this Board. At a time when urgent business required their attention, they were engaged in disputes, in preparing statements, and in making appeals to the Secretary of State for War ... Your Committee observes that the public service has suffered from the want of judgment and temper on the part of officers who were entrusted during a critical period with important public duties.

After perusing the evidence it will excite no surprise to find that the arrangements attempted by this office in reference to warm clothing, huts, and Minie rifles, were imperfect and dilatory ... The tools supplied to the army are stated to be of bad quality. Under a recent order, the Ordnance furnishes all tools ... The Committee feel bound to mention the admirable equipment of the corps of artillery attached to the army, and the testimony generally given to the efficient armament provided for the navy.

Transport Department at Home

The transports, when sent to the Crimea, could not deliver their stores and return; a large number were permanently detained from Military considerations, and many others were kept at Balaclava, because there were no warehouses on shore to receive their cargo.

Many complaints were made to your Committee of the mode in which stores were sent to the East ... The chief complaints have arisen in reference to mixed cargoes ... Until December it appears that a cargo-book was not regularly kept. A Treasury Minute, dated 12th December 1854, states, that some articles sent out to the Crimea have been taken back to England in the same vessels, and brought out again to the Crimea before they have been delivered ... Ships were also so loaded, that on arriving at the port to which part of the cargo was destined, the position of that part of the cargo was unknown, and the ship had to proceed on her voyage carrying with her things that ought to have been delivered at the intermediate port. Much suffering was the consequence of this faulty mode of proceeding, the sick at Scutari being in need of stores, which, in consequence of bad arrangements, were carried to Balaclava.

Your Committee inquired why ships for the conveyance of the sick and wounded had not been prepared at an early period of the war ... The unnecessary sufferings of the soldiers directly referable to this neglect form one of the most painful portions of the evidence; but on what department the blame should rest, whether on the office of the Commander-in-Chief, or of the Secretary-at-War, or of the Secretary of State for War, your Committee are unable to decide ... Thus it appears that the preparation of ships for the conveyance of the sick and wounded was first forgotten, and subsequently neglected. When it is remembered that out of the limited number of the British Army, 13,800 were removed sick or wounded between the 30th. September and the 17th. of February, the dreadful consequences of this neglect may be imagined ...

The Transport Service in the Black Sea

... Sir James Graham said that the naval commander-in-chief, Vice-Admiral Dundas, had authority over the whole of the transports ... Lord Raglan had a concurrent authority over this service. Vice-Admiral Dundas, on the contrary, alleged that he had nothing to do with the transports. According to his assertions, they were entirely under the management of Lord Raglan, Rear-Admiral Boxer, and Captain Christie ... In Balaclava there was a division of authority: the transports were under the immediate direction of Captain Christie; the harbour was under the management of another naval officer, and the shore was subject to military authority ...

The Commissariat in the East

It is the duty of the Commissariat to furnish the army, when in the field, with provisions for the men, forage for the animals, and land transport ... The military system in this country affords the Commissariat no opportunity of becoming acquainted with the army, or of ministering to its wants; so that in a campaign the officers of this department find themselves called upon to furnish supplies in regard to which they have had no experience; while the officers and men, being often ignorant of the proper duties of the Commissariat, consider this department responsible for everything they may require.

Land Transport

From the first the system of the land transport was found to be imperfect. No adequate measures were adopted for its improvement, so that the army, when encamped before Sebastopol, depended for all its supplies upon a service defective in its organisation and in its superintendence.

The Road

So much of the suffering of the troops has been ascribed to the wretched, or, as some witnesses state, the almost impassable condition of the seven miles between Balaclava and the camp, that your Committee endeavoured to ascertain who was responsible for the maintenance of the roads, and what insuperable obstacles impeded their repair.

When the army reached the heights above Sebastopol they found two principal roads from Balaclava to Sebastopol, one the fine government road called the Woronzoff road; the other, further to the left, a useful farm road. The army held the Woronzoff road up to the time of the battle of Balaclava, in October. Immediately after that action it became necessary to draw in the outposts, which lost to the army the use of that road: the other road, however, remained, and was available for all purposes until the rains commenced. On the 13th. of November Commissary-General Filder wrote to the Quartermaster-General, expressing his apprehension, and calling attention to this important subject.

The duty of making and maintaining roads for the army falls upon the department of the Quartermaster-General. This officer was about this time disabled by severe illness. Sir J. Burgoyne, the Chief Engineer Officer on the staff, and other military authorities, state that the soldiers could not be withdrawn from the trenches for the repair of the road; the men were already overtasked by military duties; they were growing weaker from day to day, while their difficulties were increasing. An attempt was made to employ Turkish troops on this work, but it was soon abandoned.

From the 14th. of November, the date of the hurricane, the land-transport was gradually reduced in strength, until it almost ceased to exist. The Commissary-General writes "The men and beasts perished owing to the fatigue they underwent in struggling through the deep mud with supplies, and from exposure to wet and cold." . . .

As far as the information obtained enables your Committee to form an opinion, it appears to them that in this matter there was a want of due foresight and decision... The probable failure of the communication was not, however, brought to the notice of the Duke of Newcastle until too late to enable him to take measures in England to prevent the serious calamities which subsequently arose.

Food for the Men

... The witnesses are not agreed as to the quantity of fresh meat supplied to the army ... Vegetables, which according to the intentions of the Government should have been issued gratuitously, were very scantily supplied; indeed several witnesses assert that none were ever seen in the camp ... Coffee, which had been ordered as an extra ration, was distributed to the troops in a green state, and (there being no means of roasting it) was of little use ...


When the army first encamped before Sebastopol, stacks of forage were found in the neighbourhood; these were soon consumed ... After the hurricane the supply of forage failed, and under the combined effects of work, exposure, and insufficient food, the cavalry gradually ceased to exist as an effective force. To what extent the Commissariat is responsible for the deficiency in all these supplies, is a question to which it is not easy to give a definite answer. Sir C. Trevelyan, speaking as the head of the Commissariat, and desirous of relieving the department of responsibility, affirms their conduct throughout to have been irreproachable, and ascribes blame to other persons ...

The Medical Department in the East

The army, when sent to the East, had a greater number of medical men in proportion to the troops, than ever before accompanied a British army, and the witnesses generally concur in testifying to their zeal and efficiency; many of these were, however, disabled by sickness ... The condition of the tent-hospitals ... was, from the 28th of November to the 23rd of January ... so wretched and painful to hear that Your Committee gladly avoid repeating these deplorable details. The medical men, it is said, were indefatigable in their attention; but so great was the want of the commonest necessaries, even of bedding, as well as of medicines and medical comforts, that they sorrowfully admitted their services to be of little avail ...

The Hospitals at Scutari

Major Sillery was commandant, and had sole military charge of the hospitals. Dr. Menzies was superintendent of all the hospitals ... Dr. Hall, the Inspector General of the Army was sent by Lord Raglan to inspect the hospitals in October. He remained at Scutari about three weeks, and then reported them "to be in as good a state as could reasonably be expected." . . . In justice to Dr. Menzies, it must be admitted that he was engaged in incessant and onerous duties ... The duties of Dr. Menzies were further obstructed by a conflict of authority with the purveyor, who claimed to act independently, under the instructions of the Secretary-at-War ... Your Committee must declare it to be their opinion, that blame attaches to Dr. Menzies, inasmuch as he did not report correctly the circumstances of the hospital ... When it is remembered that the insufficiency of these stores was a source of much suffering, if not of more fatal results, it must be observed, that heavy responsibility attaches to the Commander-in-Chief of the Forces, who, acting on the representation of the Quartermaster-general, retained Mr. Ward in his office, after he had been pronounced unfit to discharge its duties ... The apothecary's department at Scutari was in no better condition ... When the quantities of hospital stores which were sent from England are contrasted with the scarcity, or rather the absolute dearth of them at Scutari; and when the state of the purveyor's accounts is remembered, it is impossible not to harbour a suspicion that some dishonesty had been practiced in regard to these stores ...

In order to show the dreadful discomfort of the men, and the neglect on the part of the authorities, it may be sufficient to state, that in the barrack hospital of Scutari, during the month of November, while there were about 2000 patients in that hospital, the whole number of shirts washed was only six ... The want of an energetic governing authority, with an adequate staff to maintain constant inspection and efficient discipline, appears to your Committee to have been the chief cause of all the evils: 5,000 or 6,000 men, although in hospital, require the care, superintendence, and control of an efficient general officer as much as the same number in the field. Mr. Herbert says that "Major Sillery . . . worked very indefatigably in his department, according to his own light, but that he was not a man of the rank in the army and the weight which he ought to have had, to be at the head of an establishment of such a gigantic character." . . . It may not have been possible for Lord Raglan to have spared such an officer, with a sufficient staff for this service, in the pressing circumstances of his position in the Crimea ...

Your Committee, in conclusion, cannot but remark, that the first real improvements in the lamentable condition of the hospitals at Scutari, are to be attributed to private suggestions, private exertions, and private benevolence. Miss Nightingale, at the suggestion of the Secretary-at-War, with admirable devotion, organised a band of nurses, and undertook the care of the sick and wounded. A fund, raised by public subscription, was administered by the proprietors of the Times newspaper, through Mr. McDonald, an intelligent and, zealous agent .''The Hon. and Rev. Sidney Godolphin Osborne, Mr. Augustus Stafford, and the Hon. Jocelyn Percy, after a personal inspection of the hospitals, furnished valuable reports and suggestions to the Government. By these means much suffering was alleviated, the spirits of the men were raised, and many lives were saved... it appears that the sufferings of the army resulted mainly from the circumstances in which the expedition to the Crimea was undertaken and executed. The Administration which ordered the expedition had no adequate information as to the amount of force in the Crimea or Sebastopol. They were not acquainted with the strength of the fortresses to be attacked, or with the resources of the country to be invaded. They hoped and expected that the expedition would be immediately successful, and, as they did not foresee the probability of a protracted struggle, they made no provision for a winter campaign; what was planned and undertaken without sufficient information, was conducted without sufficient care or forethought. This conduct on the part of the Administration was the first and chief cause of the calamities which befell our army.

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