This document has been shared, most graciously, with the Victorian Web by David Kelsey from his website. Copyright, of course, remains with Mr Kelsey. &mdsah; Marjie Bloy Ph.D., Senior Research Fellow, National University of Singapore.
The landings and the Battle of the Alma
On the morning of September 14th, 1854, at 3 a.m., we weighed anchor, and from then till 8 a.m. the transports, etc. were getting into their proper places. There was some confusion in consequence of the French taking up one of our buoys as they left, so in that manner they threw us out by half a mile, which caused much crowding. The French were the first to land. Soon after 7 a.m. they sent a boat on shore with half a dozen men, who erected a flag-staff and hoisted the French colours. Their first flat of troops landed at 8.45 a.m. about two miles south of us. Sir G. Brown and General Airey and their Staffs were the first English on shore; half a minute afterwards a boatload of the 7th Fusileers landed. It was then 9.50 a.m. By 10 a.m. the French had upwards of 6000 men landed, and we about 70. Our being so slow was entirely the fault of Admiral Dundas; for he did not even act up to the programme, drawn out previously on board the Agamemnon, which he had signed and promulgated to the fleet. Instead of approaching near the shore, as agreed upon, he anchored upwards of four miles off, with seven ships of the line, two large frigates, and several war-steamers. Consequently, Sir Edmund Lyons and Lord Raglan  did not think it prudent to commence landing the English troops with the few boats they had then at their disposal, and therefore waited a considerable time for the arrival of those belonging to the men-of-war with Admiral Dundas: it was not until the approach of one of the Britannia's boats, followed by others, that the signal for landing the army was given from the Agamemnon. Some boats, indeed, did not appear for several hours after the time fixed; all caused by Admiral Dundas's want of co-operation. He has been from the first against the expedition, and, it is said, predicted all sorts of disasters, and, now that he sees everything is likely to go well, he appears to do all in his power to thwart and annoy Sir Edmund Lyons and Lord Raglan. After this most unnecessary delay the landing went on very rapidly; all worked with a will, and the manner in which the naval officers and sailors assisted was beyond all praise. The enemy never made the least resistance to the landing; indeed we saw no troops, except some half-dozen Cossacks, who galloped up to the cliffs and then off again as fast as they came. Strange that they should have attempted nothing, for, although they could not have prevented it, as we were covered by the heavy guns from the fleets, still they might have annoyed us very much and caused great confusion. By 3 p.m. the Light, 1st, and 2nd Divisions were almost all landed — about 14,000 men and 12 guns. Soon after this, Lord Raglan and his Staff came on shore and rode up to the advanced posts of the army. The 2nd battalion of the Rifles had been pushed on to a village five miles inland, called Tagailii: here they had established themselves in capital quarters, and, as it was situated on rather higher ground than any in the neighbourhood, it was well adapted as an advanced post. From it one overlooked the country in front for some miles, every here and there could be distinguished Cossack videttes; but they took good care not to come within range of our rifles. Another advantage this village had, viz. plenty of good water, and it has not yet been found elsewhere.
Lord Raglan rode round the whole of the outposts, and did not return until quite dark, past 8 p.m. Wherever he went today the troops cheered him, and indeed all seemed animated with the most enthusiastic spirits. By night we had landed 23,700 men and 19 guns, with their horses, etc., complete. The French by the same time said they had landed 22,000 infantry and 53 guns (but without horses).
I am sorry to say the cholera is still with the armies. We lost on the voyage about 70 men in the infantry dead, and 200 bad cases are left on board. In the cavalry the proportion is greater — 22 deaths, and 104 bad cases left. The French have suffered much more severely; but that is not to be wondered at, as their men are so dreadfully crowded on board their line-of-battle ships. The Montebello and Ville de Paris each brought 1500 soldiers; the Valmy, I hear (it sounds almost impossible), 2400 soldiers! the Henri Quatre the same! their other liners in like proportion. I understand they will disembark 1100 men fewer than they embarked at Varna.
By night nearly the whole of the cavalry (1100 horses) were disembarked. Lord Raglan took up his quarters during the day on some rising ground near the landing-place. His camp is a very modest affair, consisting of one small marquee for himself, a bell-tent for stores, and a bell-tent which acts as a sort of military office. His personal Staff have each what are called dog-kennel tents, being about the size of those canine residences. Violà tout. Marshal St. Arnaud, on the contrary, has everything on a grand scale. He has a large marquee comfortably fitted up in two apartments, for his bed and sitting room, also an immense Algerine tent as a dining-room, and all his Staff and attendance are equally well off in proportion to their respective ranks.
Lord Raglan rode all round the outposts again, and was very much annoyed to find that during last night the Zouaves had been into the village of Tagailii and robbed the inhabitants of everything. Our men of the Rifles, who were quartered there, interfered as much as possible, but without coming to actual blows it was impossible to stop them. The commanding officer of the Rifles turned out his men, placed sentries all round the village, and made every Zouave put down whatever he had taken; when they had all gone, some of our sentries were surrounded by heaps of fowls, geese, and turkeys, etc. I understand that 12 men of the Zouaves have already been taken prisoners by the Cossacks in one of their expeditions.
This day, the 18th, has been passed in preparations for the march, for we leave here tomorrow morning and advance towards Sevastopol. The French take the right and the English the left.
On the morning of the 19th we marched from Kalamita Bay, or Old Fort, whichever one pleases to call it, in fact from the scene of the disembarkation of the allied armies. Such was the confusion in consequence of the want of transport that great delay was occasioned, and it was three hours before the army was in motion. The Commissary-General had been misled by some Tartars as to the number of arabas that could be procured. I should say that at least 700 carts would have been required to have carried the proper baggage for the army, whereas not one-third of that number were forthcoming. Then, in consequence of this want of transport, all the tents of the army, with the exception of some hospital marquees, had to be returned on board ship, or rather down to the beach. This took a long time and occasioned the troops employed much labour and fatigue. One of the brigades of the 4th Division, under General Torrens, and the 4th Light Dragoons, were left to clear the beach of the stores, etc., and to embark the sick, of which I am sorry to say there were no inconsiderable number. All this delayed the movement of the troops, and they actually did not start till near 9 a.m. The Turks, in column (about 6000 men), under Suleiman Pasha, were on the extreme right next to the sea; then the four divisions of the French army, General Bosquet on the right next the Turks, then General Canrobert's division in the centre, and Prince Napoleon's division on the left of their army, with General Forey's division covering their rear. Sir De Lacy Evans's (2nd) division had its right resting on the French left, and Sir Richard England's (3rd) division in his rear in support. Sir George Brown's (Light) division formed the left of the English front, and the Duke of Cambridge's (1st) division in his rear in support. Covering the front of our infantry was a regiment of cavalry (13th Light Dragoons) in skirmishing order, and another regiment of cavalry (11th Hussars) in support, with a troop of horse artillery. Some way to our left were the other two regiments of the brigade of light cavalry (the 8th Hussars and 17th Lancers), four squadrons in all: these protected our flank, whilst a mile in rear came Sir George Cathcart with General Goldie's brigade of the 4th Division (the other brigade being, as I before stated, left to clear the beach). The baggage and commissariat of the two armies were drawn more to the rear of the centre of the ground taken up by the troops.
The day was excessively hot, and many men fell out from exhaustion. There were frequent halts during the march, to allow the stragglers to join their regiments again. No ground could be found better adapted for the movement of troops than that we marched over; the only want was water, and from this the troops suffered much. The army arrived at the Bulganak river by 2 p.m. when everyone rushed forward to drink. The distance marched by the majority of our troops was 10 miles, though some had to come much farther. The river, as it is called, proved only to be a small stream, but still the water was good, and consequently most acceptable to our thirsty men and horses. On arriving here a good number of Cossacks were observed on the brow of the hill, at a distance of half a mile. Lord Raglan, being desirous of ascertaining if the enemy were in force beyond, ordered Lord Cardigan forward with the two regiments of light cavalry in advance, to drive the Cossacks off and endeavour to ascertain if any number were in support. Accordingly the cavalry moved on at a trot, and soon came up to where the Cossacks had been, and from there they discovered a large body of cavalry on some rising ground a mile off, there being a sort of valley between them. On this being communicated to Lord Raglan, he ordered up the Light and 2nd Divisions, and sent for the other two regiments of light cavalry, which were on the flank of the army. In the meantime Lord Cardigan had advanced down into the hollow, and thrown out a troop in skirmishing order. The Russians did the same, and the skirmishers on both sides commenced firing at one another. This went on for 20 minutes, and during the whole of that time I do not believe a man or horse on either side was touched. So much for firing on horseback! An officer of the 11th told me afterwards that he had seen a Cossack get off his horse and lead him to the rear; but that was not much to boast of. During this time the 8th Hussars and 17th Lancers came up and remained at a short distance to the left rear of the other two regiments of cavalry. Also the Light and 2nd Divisions had got up just to the brow of the hill, but hardly forward enough for the enemy to see their strength.
Lord Raglan was particularly anxious not to bring on a general action, and therefore would not allow the cavalry to attack; indeed, it would have been madness to have done so, as the enemy had five times our strength. The cavalry were consequently ordered to retire by alternate squadrons, which they did as quietly and as orderly as if at a field-day on Hounslow Heath. The enemy advanced slowly, with his skirmishers in front and firing. These movements on both sides went on for some 10 minutes, when what appeared to be a squadron of cavalry came down from the left of the Russians towards our cavalry. When half-way down the hill they halted, and the squadron opened in the centre, wheeled back right and left, and discovered a battery of guns. One of these was instantly fired — the first gun of the campaign. The movement was beautifully done, and did great credit to Russian drill. Lord Raglan ordered our artillery to reply, but, finding that the troop of horse artillery attached to the cavalry of 6-pounders did not reach with good effect, he ordered up the troop of horse artillery and battery attached to the Light Division, both of which had 9-pounders. These opened with considerable effect, and the Russians 'limbered up' and retired in a hurry. The whole affair was the prettiest thing I ever saw, so exactly as one had done dozens of times at Chobham and elsewhere. If one had not seen the cannon-balls coming along at the rate of a thousand miles an hour, and bounding like cricket-balls, one would really have thought it only a little cavalry review.
The Russians fired 16 shot; we fired altogether 44 shot and shell. Our casualties were four men wounded (two amputations) and five horses killed, all of the cavalry. We had no means of ascertaining at the time the loss of the enemy, except by seeing the bodies of several horses lying about; but we have since heard that they lost 25 men killed and wounded. The enemy's cavalry consisted of the 12th (Saxe Weimar) Hussars, and two regiments of Don Cossacks, regulars; the artillery was Cossack artillery, and, as far as their practice was concerned, was certainly good. Their guns were only 6-pounders. The French army was rather more than a mile to our right, and consequently had nothing to do with the affair, and could only look on. Lord Raglan sent Colonel Lagondie (one of the French officers attached to his personal Staff) to Prince Napoleon, to request him to take ground to his left, so as to decrease the interval between the two armies. Colonel Lagondie took and delivered the message to the Prince, but never returned. It appeared afterwards that on his way back he saw what he thought was Lord Raglan and his Staff on an eminence, and rode up to them; being very short-sighted, he never discovered, until quite close, that the horsemen were Russian cavalry on picket. It is needless to say that he was made prisoner. What a prize for the Russians! The first officer taken in the war, and he a Colonel on the Staff. I have been thus minute in giving the details of this trifling affair, because it was the opening of the campaign, and for that reason alone worthy of especial remark.
That night the army bivouacked on the low hills south of the Bulganak river. Lord Raglan occupied a ruined post-house, which had been burnt that morning by the Cossacks. His Staff passed the night outside the house. It was a strange sight seeing the hundreds of watch and bivouac fires; and from the immense extent of ground they appeared to cover, would mislead anyone as to the number of men on the ground. The morning of the 20th broke bright and clear; and soon after 6 a.m. the army was under arms and on the move, marching in an oblique direction towards the sea; for from the nature of the ground, we had, on the latter part of the preceding day, got a mile or two too much inland.
The advance was made in an oblique line, even after we had closed in with the French, the divisions of General Bosquet and Suleiman Pasha being nearly two miles in advance of the left of the English. About 11 a.m. we came within sight of the heights of Alma. The army was then halted, and the allied Generals advanced to the front of our skirmishers, and reconnoitred the enemy's position. Even at this distance we could see that it was a position of immense strength; and what appeared at first sight as dark patches of underwood on the side of the hills, proved to be masses of infantry when examined with a telescope. The plan of attack was then finally settled as follows:-- The division of General Bosquet, supported by the division of Turks, were to endeavour to cross the river Alma at its mouth, and under the protection of the guns from our ships-of-war to gain the heights, and in that manner turn the Russian left. This done, the two other divisions of the French army were to force the river, and the English the same; but it was clearly understood that the English were not to advance to the attack until the French had gained the heights nearest the sea, and turned the Russian left. The relative positions of our divisions were the same as yesterday, except that the 4th Division, under Sir George Cathcart, marched more in the rear of the 1st, thus forming as it were a deeper side; so that the baggage, etc., which was in rear of the centre of the allied army, was more completely protected against any sudden attack the enemy might make on our flank. After a halt of 20 minutes the advance was sounded, and the troops moved on with an eagerness not observable before, for they saw before them their enemy.
It may here, however, be as well to give some idea of the position held by the enemy. The river Alma is a winding stream, and at this time of year of no great depth. Here and there are pools, but generally speaking the water was not more than knee-deep. Its banks are very steep, varying in height from four to 10 feet, and on both sides are either copses or vineyards, and occasionally groves of trees of larger size, of which the common poplar is most frequently met with. On the northern side (our side) of the river, the enemy had cut down and removed all trees and brushwood that could in any manner make cover for our men during the attack. There were two villages on that side of the river; one about a mile from the sea (Malamak), opposite the centre of the French army; and the other (Bourlick) two miles higher up, and just in front of our right. Both of these villages were small, not exceeding 50 houses each, but still giving admirable cover for the riflemen of the enemy. On the south side of the river, extending from the sea nearly to the village of Bourlick, is a range of heights, at places almost perpendicular, resembling cliffs varying from 300 to 500 feet above the sea. On the top the ground is level, and not unlike what we had been marching over for the last two days; at a distance of half a mile from this edge, and about two miles from the sea, was an unfinished stone tower, probably intended as a telegraph station. Round this the enemy had constructed a low parapet, in which they had placed some field guns: this was again protected by large masses of infantry. Such was the position in front of our allies, and so strong was it by nature, that the Russians had not thought it necessary to strengthen it further than I have stated, except indeed by having large numbers of infantry on the south side of the river, thrown out as skirmishers.
I fear from my description the reader will hardly understand the nature of the difficult ground which the British troops had to attack. About 1 p.m., Marshal St. Arnaud gave the order to his troops to advance. We also were approaching the enemy, but slowly, as Lord Raglan did not wish them to be inactive under fire a moment longer than was necessary. The French advance into the river was received by the Russian skirmishers with a well-directed fire, and many of our allies fell to rise no more. However, they went steadily on, and crossed at a rapid pace, driving the enemy up the steep heights before them. Some confusion was occasioned here among the French by the inequality of the ground, and the difficulty of getting up the steep bank of the Alma. Nevertheless, they by degrees formed up on the opposite side, and then commenced climbing the heights in front of them. This delay had given time for the Russian skirmishers to regain the plateau, so that, as the French advanced, the enemy poured upon them a most destructive fire, which they were almost unable to answer.
But to return to the British. Lord Raglan had placed himself in front of the troops with his Staff, and by this time the latter had grown to three times its proper number: that is to say, every officer of the commissariat or medical department who had a quadruped chose to join the Headquarters Staff, as probably the best position for seeing the battle. I should think there could not have been less than 50 or 60 mounted officers. This great number began to be an inconvenience, as it perpetually obstructed the view, and they crowded round the Commander-in-Chief in a manner that in any other service would have been thought highly impertinent, and resented accordingly. Someone suggested to Lord Raglan that it would be as well to hint that those gentlemen not actually serving on the Staff had better move off. However, Lord Raglan, with his usual good-nature, said, "Let them stay;" and then added, "You know, directly we get under fire, those not obliged to remain will depart, you may rely upon it". Lord Raglan was quite right. In two minutes the first shot against us was fired by the enemy. I looked at my watch; it was exactly 1.30 p.m. The shot, which was evidently fired at the Staff (the only body of horsemen in sight and the most advanced), fell short and bounded over us with a whiz that made many duck their heads. You should have seen the hangers-on scattered in all directions. There was no more crowding round Lord Raglan!
Lord Raglan, immediately after the first shot, ordered Sir George Brown to deploy his division into line, and then let the men lie down; he also sent the same directions to Sir De Lacy Evans. This was done, and during the time thus occupied the Russians poured an unceasing torment of round shot and shell at them, but as yet without doing much harm. The enemy's skirmishers also kept up a sharp fire against our rifles, who replied to them with equal vigour, but not, I fear, with equal success, as the Russian sharpshooters were behind walls and trees, etc., whereas our men had no cover of any sort or kind. Two batteries of artillery attached to the 2nd Division opened on the Russians, but they had hardly sufficient range to be of much service. Some rockets were also thrown, which we afterwards heard caused the enemy some confusion. The Russians kept a certain number of guns firing at the Staff, and, as for some time Lord Raglan remained on the road, the shot came bounding along half a dozen at a time: anything but pleasant. We were very fortunate, for no one was hit. Two horses were killed, and the shot that struck the last almost touched Lord Raglan's back. He took no more notice of the firing than if he had been at a review; all his thoughts were turned to the French, for he had expected before this to have heard from Marshal St. Arnaud that he had successfully turned the Russian left. He accordingly despatched Commandant Vico to see how they were going on. Vico had not been gone a moment when a French staff-officer came galloping up (I think from Prince Napoleon), begging Lord Raglan to advance, and adding, "Nous sommes massacrés!" Lord Raglan thought it no use remaining inactive any longer, although he had heard nothing from the Marshal. We were losing men every moment from the heavy fire of the enemy, and the troops had now been lying down for nearly 20 minutes. He consequently ordered the whole line to advance. A minute more and the men were on their feet, and the two divisions, Light and 2nd, advanced towards the river. The 1st and 3rd Divisions were then deployed into line and took up the ground in rear of the Light and 2nd Divisions respectively, and in support. Directly Lord Raglan saw them in motion he turned to his Staff and said, "Now we will cross," and, himself taking the lead, he trotted on to the right of the burning village. Here there was a moment's pause as to how we should get over the river: someone suggested a road to the left; down this we went, and found ourselves under as heavy a fire from small arms as I should ever wish to be. There were several burning hayricks close to us, and to see the way in which the bullets knocked out the sparks was wonderful. I know nothing so disagreeable as the singing sound of a Minié bullet; it is quite different from a round ball, which whistles softly as it passes.
We now came to the bank of the river, which here makes a sudden bend; there was a drop of about three feet into the water, for, although this was evidently a regular ford from the road running down to it, and another a little lower down on the opposite side, the enemy had cut the bank away, though in a very ineffectual manner. It was no use waiting to be shot on the bank, so — more from fear, I believe, than courage — I stuck my spurs into my horse and jumped into the river, and to my intense disgust down he went, and I got wet up to my middle; however, he was up again in a moment. My first impression was that he had been shot; it turned out to be a hole the enemy had dug so as to break up the ford; my ducking was of use, for everybody avoided the place where I had been, and no one else met with my misfortune. Just going into the river we were under cover from the Russian riflemen, as there was a high bank by the waterside which protected us. Directly we got into the river, and were crossing to the road on the opposite side, a very heavy enfilading fire was poured upon us, both from cannon and small arms. In the river two of the Staff were shot down; but Lord Raglan, whose presence of mind never left him for a moment, turned to one of his aides-de-camp and said, "Ah! if they can enfilade us here, we can certainly enfilade them on the rising ground beyond. Order up Turner's battery!" He then went on, following the road, which turned away to the right. In a minute more we were among the French skirmishers, who looked not a little astonished to see the English Commander-in-Chief so far in advance. A sudden bend of the road again to the left brought us under the most infernal fire from some of the guns posted, as I before mentioned, in front of our line. We were in a sort of lane with high hedges on both sides, and the round shot came down it in a manner I shall never forget. What appeared to save us was that almost invariably the Russians fired too high, as all the shot went just over our heads. I say all, though more than one horse was killed in this lane, but I think always from ricochet shot. We were not long in this lane, or none would have been left to tell the tale; for presently to our right we came upon a bit of open ground, which gradually rose higher and higher to some 70 or 80 feet. Here there was a sort of landing-place, and from it could be seen the whole of the Russian guns almost in line with us. Lord Raglan at once perceived the immense importance of getting guns up here, where they could enfilade all the Russian artillery. One, two, three aides-de-camp were sent to know why Turner's battery did not arrive.
During all the time I have been recording the movements of the general Staff, the Light and 2nd Divisions had been advancing. Sir George Brown took his division into action, with his right resting on the road, and with a certain interval between him and the left of the 2nd Division. The Light advanced in admirable order; but in crossing the Alma, the banks of which were very rugged and steep, they got into some sort of confusion, and during the whole time the Russian riflemen kept up a most murderous fire upon them from behind the walls of a vineyard which was just the other side; nevertheless these brave men moved on regardless of the severe loss they were every moment sustaining. The 2nd Division advanced at the same time as the Light, but, in consequence of the burning village of Bourlick being in their immediate front, they were not able to advance in one line. One brigade, under General Pennefather, marched on the left of the village, and then crossed the river, leaving the bridge to their left; whilst the greater portion of the other brigade, under General Adams, went down the road to the right of the village and forded the river just below where Lord Raglan immediately after took his station. The 2nd Division had in front of them a cloud of infantry skirmishers, who caused them very heavy loss in crossing the Alma. They were also under the direct fire of the 18 guns placed in line across the valley; one of these guns they afterwards captured.
The Light Division crossed the river rather sooner than the 2nd; they then got into the vineyard, and as it was impossible to form up into regular order, from the natural obstacles of the ground, without a halt of some minutes, Sir George Brown urged on his men, and so they advanced, driving the Russian skirmishers and riflemen before them at the point of the bayonet. But their most terrible time was yet to come: directly they got out of the vineyards double the number of guns opened upon them with grape and canister. In spite of the numbers mowed down, the remainder never flinched, but kept up a telling fire upon the Russian gunners. On they went, and after a time actually reached the Russian battery: then commenced a regular hand-to-hand encounter, the Russians defending themselves with great bravery, but our men fighting with that English determination which almost invariably overcomes every obstacle. For a minute a Russian gun was captured by the 23rd Regiment, but immediately after our men were overpowered by numbers. A fresh column of Russian infantry had come up in support of their beaten comrades; and the English, being reduced to half their former strength, were obliged to relinquish the hold they had gained, and the division was compelled to give way before the overwhelming forces of the enemy. Still, however, although retiring, these brave men never turned their backs on the Russians, but kept up a regular and effective fire; and wherever the enemy attempted crossing bayonets with them they invariably repented their temerity.
It was just at this time that the Brigade of Guards came upon the left of the Light Division, and the brigade of Highlanders again on their left. This magnificent division — the flower of the British army — had crossed the river rather higher up than the Light Division, and consequently were on its left. The attention of the enemy being chiefly taken up in repelling the attack of Sir George Brown, the 1st Division had formed up after crossing the Alma; and although they incurred considerable loss in so doing, they nevertheless advanced in most beautiful order — really as if on parade. I never shall forget that sight — one felt so proud of them. Lord Raglan had been looking on all this time, having arrived on the high ground before alluded to just as the Light Division advanced up the hill. When he saw the 1st Division coming up in support, he said, "Look how well the Guards and Highlanders advance!" An aide-de-camp came up at this moment, and reported the arrival of two guns of Turner's battery. Thank God, the guns at last! The delay arose from the fact that in crossing the ford a wheel-horse of one of the guns had been killed by a round shot, which caused great confusion, and completely blocked up the passage of the river for the time being. I believe also several artillerymen were wounded at the same time. At last two guns were got over, but they arrived at the spot where Lord Raglan was without any gunners. However, this was no time for delay, so the officers of General Strangway's Staff dismounted and served the guns themselves. The first shot fired fell too short; it was aimed at the Russian 18-gun battery, which was causing our 2nd Division in its immediate front, and the Light Division and brigade of Guards on its right front, great loss. Our guns were only 9-pounders, and the distance was considerable. The second shot went through a Russian tumbrel, and killed two horses. Those two shots were sufficient: the Russian General, seeing that he was taken completely in flank, gave orders for his artillery to limber up. This they did admirably, but, during the time, our two guns kept playing on their retiring artillery, causing them great loss; the gunners and two more guns of Turner's battery having arrived, the firing went on rapidly.
But to return to the 1st Division. They were advancing in beautiful order, and marched straight on the Russian battery; when halfway up the hill, the Fusileer Guards were, to a certain extent, thrown into temporary confusion by the left of the Light Division, who were retiring. This momentary check caused them great loss, but, after a minute or two they rallied, and soon rejoined their comrades. It was then that the guns directed by Lord Raglan came into action, and, as I mentioned before, after the second shot the Russian artillery limbered up and began to retreat. Thus the heavy cannonade which the Light Division had been under was at a most important moment arrested and thus spared the Guards. I say the Guards, because the brigade of Highlanders, being more on the left, were almost entirely out of the line of fire, and consequently escaped with comparatively trifling loss. Directly the Russians had withdrawn their guns, three heavy masses of infantry advanced slowly down the hill. It was an anxious moment, for, if they only had courage to charge, their very weight must have swept our thin line before them. I should say these three columns could not have numbered less than 8000 men, for they were three entire regiments, which as yet had not been into action, each regiment nominally consisting of 3000 men; yet such was the imposing air and perfect formation of the British troops opposed to them that they never advanced out of the slowest walk. The 1st Division paused for a moment — it was only to 'lock-up' more closely. Someone said to Lord Raglan, "The Guards are going to retire"; but he knew them better, for he said, "No such thing; they'll carry the battery. It's time for us to go and join them". Leaving directions with Captain Turner to fire upon the Russian columns of infantry advancing down the hill opposite against the 1st Division, he descended into the valley, and rode over it in the direction of the Guards. Before we had got half-way we saw the 1st Division and the Russian columns approaching towards one another, at a distance of 60 yards apart; the brigade of Highlanders having been brought round so as to take the Russian columns in flank, the whole division sent in a withering volley, which perfectly staggered the Russians, literally knocking over every man in their two front ranks. The enemy stopped, fired a random volley, turned, and fled, without another attempt at staying the victorious course of the British troops. The moment the Russians turned, down went the bayonets, and the whole division charged up the hill, dashing through the battery, and capturing a gun which some Russian artillerymen were in the act of carrying off. Cheering as they went, they bayoneted hundreds of the flying enemy. They were followed by the Light Division, which had been re-formed and even assisted the 1st Division in repelling the advance of the Russian masses of infantry. The 2nd Division advanced also, and charged up the valley; they captured a gun and limber complete, besides driving the enemy like sheep before them. All our artillery were now over the river, and came into action on the knolls and high ground at intervals in the valley, the retreating enemy losing hundreds of men.
In the meantime our allies had carried all before them; after a most sanguinary struggle at the unfinished stone tower which I mentioned, they succeeded in driving the enemy off the field. The Russians, beaten everywhere, retreated as fast as possible. Many hundred men threw away their arms and accoutrements to facilitate their flight; and as the Allies advanced, they found the ground strewed with muskets, knapsacks, cartouch-boxes, great-coats, and helmets, long after the killed and wounded had ceased to fall.
On the further heights, about a mile and a half from the Alma, the British troops ceased their pursuit. And then arose such a cheer! — a cheer from 20,000 victorious men! — even some of the poor wounded fellows joined in it. I shall never forget that cheer as long as I live; it was indeed thrilling; I almost pitied the fallen enemy, it must have been so galling to them, as I heard a man of the Guards say to a comrade, "I say, Bill, pleasant for them poor devils (pointing to some wounded Russians) hearing our chaps cheer so". The men were tired, and many almost exhausted for want of water. Lord Raglan rode up and down the line of troops, the men cheering him vociferously. There was such a shaking of hands; one felt very chokey about the throat, and very much inclined to cry, as one wrung the hand of a friend; and "God bless you, old fellow — so glad to see you all right!" and like expressions, were heard on every side between brother officers. It was a touching sight to see the meeting between Lord Raglan and Sir Colin Campbell. The latter was on foot, as his horse had been killed in the earlier part of the action. He went up to his Lordship, and, with tears in his eyes, shook hands, saying it was not the first battle-field they had won together, and that now he had a favour to ask namely, that as his Highlanders had done so well, he might be allowed to claim the privilege of wearing a Scotch bonnet. To this Lord Raglan gave a smiling assent; and, after a few more words of friendship, they parted to their several duties.
The brigade of light cavalry had taken no part in the battle, having watched the flank of the army. But now they arrived on the left of the Highlanders, having been ordered up some time previous, together with a troop of horse artillery, which advanced somewhat and fired a few rounds into the still retreating Russian columns; but, although at first they did great execution, the enemy were soon out of range, so they were not able to do them more harm. Lord Raglan now ordered the brigade of Guards, 2nd Division, and 4th Division (which had taken no part in the action), up the opposite heights, commanding the road to Sevastopol. The cavalry went in front of the infantry, and from some misconception of orders no prisoners were allowed to be taken. An officer of the 8th Hussars, who was somewhat in advance with his troop, and who had captured some 60 or 70 Russian soldiers, was ordered to let them go again, quite as much to the astonishment of the Russians who had been taken, as of the Hussars who had captured them. The battle was over at 3.40 p.m. by my watch: that is to say, the last cannon-shot was fired at that moment by the Russians, but far out of range. I suppose it had been intended as a defiance to us.
Nothing struck me more during the day than Lord Raglan's wonderful calmness and presence of mind during the whole battle. He rode everywhere with round shot, shell, and musket-balls flying about him, with an indifference that was really remarkable; never got apparently excited in voice or manner, and might just as well have been riding in Rotten Row in Hyde Park. Shortly after on these heights Lord Raglan met Marshal St. Arnaud, where, after mutual congratulations, Lord Raglan wished very much that some pursuit should be made of the retreating Russian army. He offered our cavalry, and I think two or three batteries of artillery, but said the infantry had suffered so much that they could not well advance without weakening too much the English force. Marshal St. Arnaud replied that he could send no infantry, and that his artillery had exhausted their ammunition: indeed he appeared to think that quite enough had been done. Lord Raglan saw there was no help for it, and therefore much against his will gave up the pursuit. The French had upwards of 12,000 men who had never been actually engaged, besides the division of Turks (6000 men); whereas we had only the 3rd Division and a portion of the 4th, in all perhaps 7000 men, that had not taken a part in the action; in fact, not more than sufficient for the immediate necessities of the camp. It was a great error on the part of the French, and one of which they repented when it was too late. The enemy had so large a body of cavalry (about 3000 regulars, besides as many more Cossack irregulars), that it would have been madness to have sent our small force alone, consisting of some 900 horses, all of whom were much fagged with the previous days work, besides which, if our cavalry were absent, in the event of any Cossacks appearing in our rear, we should have been obliged to have kept all our infantry under arms, and the troops would have been perpetually harassed. Indeed I am not sure that, except with a large force, much could have been done against the retreating army, for after the first mile or so they got into some order, and placed heavy masses of infantry and artillery in their rear, who had never taken part in the battle — the reserve troops.
On the more distant heights now occupied by the British troops a Russian General named Shokanoff was taken prisoner, and, when Lord Raglan and his Staff came up, he was sitting on one of the gun-limbers of Captain Wodehouse's battery, looking perfectly comfortable. On being questioned, he said that he was a General of one of the reserve brigades, and that he had been thrown from his horse, and being an old man could not get on again without help, and as his men were all then retreating as fast as possible he could obtain no assistance, so he lay down on some straw, where he was taken prisoner by some of our artillerymen. He stated that the Russians had about 42,000 infantry on the ground, about 80 or 90 guns, and 6000 cavalry; that they had come to fight against 'men', not 'devils'; and finished his account by saying that, as he was an old and almost useless man, he hoped the English General would send him to Sevastopol, or allow him to follow his comrades. Lord Raglan replied that was impossible, but that he would be taken great care of, and every respect shown him and, as the accommodation in camp would not be first-rate, he should go immediately on board ship, and he would send him to the English Admiral, who would receive him with all hospitality. The poor soul said he had never been on board ship in his life, and had a particular aversion to the water. Nevertheless that evening he was sent down to the shore and taken on board the Agamemnon, where Sir Edmund Lyons put him up and treated him like a friend.
Going over the field of battle was a dreadful sight, everywhere torn and mangled bodies of brave soldiers, English, French, and Russians, but three of the latter to one of the two former. In some places where the fight had been hotly contended, the dead and dying were lying on one another, and their groans and piteous cries for water were heartrending. Lord Raglan, till a late hour at night, was giving orders and instructions for the accommodation of the wounded. One of his two tents was given up for the use of some wounded and sick officers. The remaining houses in the village of Bourlick were turned into field hospitals, and here might be seen the surgeons hard at work at their terrible but merciful duty, their arms covered with blood, the floors strewed with limbs just amputated, and slippery with gore. The enormous number of wounded quite overpowered the unceasing efforts of the medical officers, who worked all night without rest, and many were quite knocked up, and had to give in for a certain time. The first night between 400 and 500 wounded were brought into the field hospitals, but this was only a third of the British; there were from 900 to 1000 Russians lying about in all directions. The cholera was also at work and swept off many who had taken part in the battle. Poor General Tylden (commanding the Royal Engineers) died of it during the night.
I was up at daybreak on the morning of the 21st, and, filling my flask and a bottle with weak brandy and water, I sallied out to walk over the field of battle. The poor wounded were far more quiet than the previous evening; many doubtless had died during the night, and many were just too exhausted and weak to do more than moan. I found all glad of something to drink, and my little store was soon finished, and then I went back for more. Although it was only just light, numbers of our men were going about among the wounded, giving them drinks of water from their canteens. Many told me they had been doing so all the past night. God bless them for it. It was a horrible scene — death in every shape and form. I particularly observed that those shot through the heart or forehead appeared all to have died with a smile on their faces, generally speaking lying flat on their backs, with the arms spread out and the legs rather apart. Some looked so happy, poor fellows! that one felt comforted, and thought that they, at least, were now where no sorrow is. Those who appeared to have died in the greatest pain were shot through the stomach; these had always their legs and arms bent, and with all the expression of agony on their faces.
One man, whose leg was dreadfully shattered with grape-shot, and to whom I offered some drink (it was the last drop in the bottle), said, "Oh, Sir, if you would give it to that poor chap there, he has been very bad all night; he is shot through the chest; may be a drink would make him easier". I went to the man indicated, and found him hardly conscious; however, he swallowed what I offered him, and gave me a smile of thanks that was worth any amount of trouble to receive. I fear he must soon after have died, as death was stamped on his countenance even then.
In the course of the morning there was a conference between Marshal St. Arnaud and Lord Raglan; the former wished much to advance and follow the enemy. To this Lord Raglan would not listen; he said he had nearly 3000 wounded English and Russians, and that, as we were over three miles from the sea, it was quite impossible to move them all on board ship under two days. The Marshal said he had lost over 1200 men hors de combat, and out of that number 1000 wounded had already been moved on board ship, or would be so by the evening. I say, that is what the Marshal said; but everybody else said it was a great exaggeration. I know General Forey, who went over the whole of their field of battle, put their loss at between 700 and 800 at the outside; but he also added, that since leaving Kalamita Bay they had lost nearly 300 men dead from cholera; and it was stated by several French officers that this number had been added to the list of killed and wounded at Alma! It appears strange that, if the French had 1200 men hors de combat, they should only have three officers killed, which is all the Marshal admits. It is notorious that the French officers always go in front of their men, and consequently are much exposed. The greater portion of the French wounded fell within a mile from the beach; and they also had a number of large waggons, not ambulance waggons, but store waggons, and these they used to carry down the wounded from the heights to the sea-shore; they were then transferred on board ship.
A Russian general officer was brought in and placed in a tent at Headquarters, close to which had been established the field hospital for the Russian wounded. He was dreadfully wounded; shot in the hip and bayoneted in the stomach. He is Major-General Karganoff, and commanded one of the brigades in the battle that were driven back by the Guards. He was a fine-looking old man of some 60 years of age, and suffered much during the earlier part of the day, but towards noon he became easier: mortification had set in, and, although dying, he was in far less pain. Mr. Calvert, attached to Headquarters, and who speaks Russian perfectly, went and talked to him. General Karganoff said that he had one consolation, which was, that he had received his wounds from the Guards, from the Royal English Guards! "Oh!" he said, "with troops like those, you can beat anything". He also said that he admired "the savages without trousers," meaning the Highlanders.
 Lord Raglan left the Caradoc early in the morning, and joined Sir Edmund Lyons on board his flag-ship, the Agamemnon to witness the landing of the army. The annoyance of both these chiefs was great at the tardiness of Admiral Dundas, as it, to a great degree, frustrated the plans they had decided upon, and delayed the carefully-detailed arrangements they had drawn out for the speedy disembarkation of the troops. [back]
Last modified 22 April 2002