[Added by Marjie Bloy, Ph.D., Senior Research Fellow, National University of Singapore, from Timothy Gowing, Voice from the Ranks: a personal narrative of the Crimean Campaign (Nottingham: 1895).
e fell in at 9 a.m. A dram of rum was issued to each man as he stood in the ranks; all hands had previously been served out with two days' rations. There were in our ranks a great number of very young men, who had not much idea of the terrible work that lay before them; but there were others who knew only too well, having had near twelve months' hard wrestling with the foe — and no mean foe either. We were about to face the enemy in deadly conflict once more. The defence of Sevastopol had raised the Russians in the estimation of the bravest of the brave, and their Sovereign and country had no reason to regret entrusting that defence to their hands.
Sevastopol had, for the first time in military history since powder had been invented, defied the united fire of some 900 guns of the largest calibre, exclusive of mortars, which had been directed on the devoted city from early morning of the 5th September. When the final bombardment opened the very earth trembled beneath the terrible crash. It was grand, but awful.
Sevastopol. This map is taken from Christopher Hibbert's The Destruction of Lord Raglan (Longmans 1961) with the author's kind permission. Copyright, of course, remains with Dr. Hibbert. Click on the image for a larger view.
But after it the enemy's batteries looked as strong as ever; we might, apparently, have gone on bombarding until now. The Redan and Malakoff appeared to be much stronger than when we first looked at them, although no fewer than 1,600,000 shot and shell had been hurled at them. I say again, the Russian nation might well be proud of the manner their army had defended that fortress.
At last cold steel had to do what artillery had been baffled at. Large breaches have invariably been made by artillery fire in the enemy's fortifications before ever the 'dogs of war' were let loose at them; but no breach was made in the fortifications of Sevastopol.
After remaining for a short time under arms, we marched off about 9.30 a.m. There was no pomp or martial music, no boasting; but all in that mighty throng moved with solemn tread to the places that had been assigned them. The older hands were very quiet but they had that set look of determination about them that speaks volumes.
The bombardment was still raging on that terrible 8th September; every gun and mortar that our people and our noble allies the French could bring to bear upon the enemy's works was raining death and destruction upon them. The stormers had all got into their places; they consisted of about 1,000 men of the old Light and Second Division. The supports were formed up as closely as possible to them, and all appeared in readiness. History may well say the storming of a fortress is an awful task! There we stood, not a word being spoken. Everyone seemed to be full of thought. Many a courageous heart destined to be still in death in one short hour was now beating high.
It was about 11.15 a.m., and our heavy guns were firing in such a way as I had never before heard. The batteries fired in volleys or salvoes as hard as they could load and fire, the balls passing a few feet above our heads, while the air seemed full of shell. The enemy were not idle, for round shot, shell, grape, and musket balls, were bounding and whizzing all about us, and earth and stones were rattling about our heads like hail.
Our poor fellows fell fast, but still our sailors and artillerymen stuck to it manfully. We knew well that this could not last long; but many a poor fellow's career was cut short long before we advanced to the attack. A number of the older hands — both officers and men — were smoking and taking not the slightest notice of the 'dance of death'. Some men were being carried past dead, and others limping to the rear with mangled limbs while their life's blood was streaming fast away.
We looked at each other with amazement, for we were now (about 11.30 a.m.) under such a fire as was without parallel; even Leipzig (where the allies alone had 1,400 field guns, and the French 1,000) was eclipsed: upwards of 100,000 dead and wounded lay upon that field, but then the contest had lasted three days and nights.
The people at home were complaining because we did not take Sevastopol; a number of visitors — ladies and gentlemen from England — now saw that we were trying to do our duty! The appalling and incessant roar of the thunderbolts of war was deafening, and our enemies were bidding us defiance, or, in other words, inviting us to the combat; and I have not the slightest hesitation in saying that some of our visitors, who came out to find fault, or 'pick holes in our coats', were horrified and wished they had stayed at home. It was a warm reception for a number of lads that had just joined us; it really seemed a pity to send them out to meet such a fire.
As the hour of 12 drew near, all hands were on the alert; we knew well it was death for many of us. Several who had gone through the whole campaign shook hands, saying, 'This is hot! Good-bye, old boy!'
'Write to the old folks at home if I do not return', was the request made by many.
About fifteen minutes before 12 a number of our guns were brought to bear upon the chevaux de frise, and sent it into a thousand pieces, so that it should not stop us, as it had done on the 18th June. Many of us cherished doubts as to the result, although we dared not express them. Our numbers looked very small to attack such a place as the Redan, and the greater portion of the attacking and supporting columns too young and inexperienced for such a fiery ordeal. But, as one old hand said, 'We can only die!'
It seemed utterly impossible that any could escape, and we had a great number of very young men with us who had come out with drafts to fill up the gaps. Many of them had not seen seventeen summers; plenty of them had not had two months' service. We wanted 20,000 tried veterans; but, through some mismanagement, they were kept back.
Nothing is more trying than to have to stand under a dropping fire of shell and not be able to return a shot. The enemy had the range of our trenches to a nicety and could drop their shells into them just as they liked. We lost a number of men, before we advanced to the attack, by this vertical fire. But the grand struggle was now close at hand, when the Muscovites' greatest stronghold was to be torn from their grasp.
I was close to one of our generals, who stood watch in hand (the generals' watches had been timed alike), when suddenly, at 12 o'clock, the French drums and bugles sounded the charge, and with a shout of Vive I'Empereur! repeated over and over again by some 50,000 men — a shout that was enough to strike terror into the enemy — the French sprang, forward, headed by the Zouaves, at the Malakoff like a lot of cats. On they went like a swarm of bees, or, rather, like the dashing of the waves of the sea against a rock.
We, in our advanced works, had a splendid view. It was grand, but terrible. The deafening shouts of the advancing hosts told us they were carrying all before them. They were now completely enveloped in smoke and fire, but column after column kept advancing, pouring volley after volley into the breasts of the defenders. They (the French) meant to have it, let the butcher's bill be what it might!
At about a quarter-past 12, up went the proud flag of France, with a shout that drowned for a time the roar of both cannon and musketry.
And now came our turn. We had waited for months for it, and at times almost longed for it; but it was a trying hour. As soon as the French flag was seen upon the Malakoff, our stormers sprang forward, led by Colonel Windham, the old Light Division leading — 300 men of the 90th, about the same number of the 97th, and about 400 of the 2nd Battalion Rifle Brigade and with various detachments of the Second and Light Division, and a number of bluejackets carrying scaling ladders. It was a Norfolk man that led us to the finishing stroke (Windham), and right well he did it — it was, 'Come on, boys, and I will show you the way!'
Our men advanced splendidly with a ringing British cheer, although the enemy poured a terrible fire of grape, canister, and musketry into them, which swept down whole companies at a time. We, the supports, moved forward to back up our comrades, but anyone with half an eye could see that we had not the same cool, resolute men as at Alma and Inkerman, though some of the older hands were determined to make the best of a bad job. I am happy to record that the old Inkerman men took it very coolly; some of them lit their pipes — I did the same.
A brave young officer of ours, a Mr. Colt, told me he would give all he was worth to be able to take it as comfortably as some of our people did — it was his first time under fire. He was as pale as death and shaking from head to foot, yet he bravely faced the foe. The poor boy (for he was not much more) requested me not to leave him; he fell dead by my side, just outside the Redan.
Our people were now at it in front. We advanced as quickly as we could until we came to the foremost trench, when we leaped the parapet, then made a rush at the bloodstained walls of the Redan — we had a clear run of 200 yards under a murderous fire of grape, canister, and musketry.
How ever anyone lived to pass that 200 yards seemed a miracle. Our poor fellows fell one on the top of the other; but nothing but death could stop us. The musket balls whistled past us more like hail than anything else I can describe, and the grape-shot cut our poor fellows to pieces; for we had a front and two cross-fires to meet. It seemed to me that we were rushing into the very jaws of death, but I, for one, reached the Redan without a scratch.
While standing on the brink of the ditch, I considered for a moment how best to get into it, for it appeared to be about twenty feet deep, with no end of our poor fellows at the bottom, dead and dying, with their bayonets sticking up. But the mystery solved itself — our men came rushing on with a cheer, and in we went, neck or nothing, scrambled up the other side the best way we could, and into the redoubt we went with a shout truly English.
The fighting inside the works was desperate — butt and bayonet, foot and fist. The enemy's guns were at once spiked. Some of the older hands did their best to get together sufficient men for one charge at the enemy, for we had often proved that they were no lovers of cold steel; but our poor fellows melted away almost as fast as they scaled those bloody parapets, from a cross-fire the enemy brought to bear upon us from the rear of that work. The moss of that field grew red with British blood; after our stormers had entered the Redan the enemy came at us in swarms, but were kept back by the bayonet.
The struggle at the Redan lasted about an hour and a half. The mistake that our generals made was in not sending sufficient men. Twenty thousand men ought to have been let loose, we should not then have lost anything like the number we did, as very many officers and men were killed when retiring — but we had handled the enemy so roughly that they did not further attempt to molest us.
The French officers and men were in ecstasies of admiration at the doings of our people at the Redan and exclaimed, 'English, you have covered yourselves with glory this day!' And now I fearlessly assert that the handful of men who undertook that bloodstained work earned a rich wreath of laurels that day. We were but a handful when compared with the vast hordes of the enemy, but — with all their strength — they hesitated about coming to close quarters. Had we had even ten thousand men with us, the Russians would have gone into the harbour at the point of the bayonet, or else been made to lay down their arms. But no; men were sent up in driblets, to be slaughtered in detail!
The few hundreds who did enter that bloodstained fortification fought with butt-end and bayonet, and not many returned without securing some token in the shape of wounds more or less severe. Still, the few who did meet the enemy taught them to respect us, for they no more dared to follow us than they would a troop of lions.
We had not been beaten though we were crushed by crossfires and heavy masses of men — yet all the time our trenches were crowded with men eager to be let loose at the enemy! We had a Wolseley with us, it is true, but he was only in a subordinate position. We wanted such a man as he — or Sir Colin Campbell, or a Roberts — and we should have carried all before us. Then, in all probability, we should have had a star, but not without some hard work for it. As it was, we got no star, though we had for twelve long, dreary months to be continually fighting.
The night of the 8th September, 1855, is one long to be remembered. Our camp was startled by a series of terrible explosions, and we could not make out what was up; but at length discovered that the enemy were retiring under cover of the blowing up of their vast forts and magazines.
Oh, what a night! It baffles all description. Many of our poor fellows were then lying on the ground, having been wounded in all sorts of ways, with the burning fortress all around them. The Redan was blown up, and a number of our men went up with it, or were buried alive. Imagine the position of the wounded lying just outside the Redan! The renowned 'Redan Massey' was there weltering in his blood, together with a number of others, while hundreds of tons of powder was exploding within 300 yards of them!
Those of the wounded who managed to reach the camp were well looked after; our doctors worked incessantly — they threw their whole heart and soul into it — and all appeared to do their best. Men were continually being brought home to camp with every description of wounds.
I myself was carried thither, having received five wounds in different parts of the body, my left hand shattered, and two nasty wounds in the head. I was totally unconscious when taken out of the Redan, and for some hours afterwards. An Irishman named Welsh was instrumental in saving my life. He had noticed me fall, and when he found that he had to retire from the Redan, he carried me up to the ditch and let me slip in, and then, with assistance, got me out of it and carried me across that terrible 200 yards, being shot through both legs in doing so. Before he reached our leading trench, some other good Samaritan picked me up and ran away with me.
At about 6 p.m. I found myself in our front trench, with a dead 33rd man lying across me. I got him off the best way I could and then tried to get up, but found that I could not stand for I had almost bled to death. Dr. Hale, V.C., did all he could for me; I then had to remain and take my chance or turn of being carried to camp, where I arrived about 7.30 p.m., when my wounds were dressed and a good cup of beef tea revived me.
Camp before the Ruins of Sevastopol,
September 14th, 1855
My Dear, Dear Parents,
Thank God I have been saved alive through the grand but bloody struggle. You will see this is not my writing. I may as well tell you that they have hit me again. You will, most likely, see my name in the papers as badly wounded, but you must not despair; I am at present very comfortable in hospital, with one of my comrades to look after me, who now writes this from my dictation.
I must tell you they hit me on the head, in two places, and knocked my right hand about rather badly, but I live in hopes of getting over this and will warm them for it if ever I get a chance. Well, to my story. To start with, I am happy to inform you that the town is taken at last, but it has been — as I always said it would be — a hard nut to crack. I told you in my last that I did not think we should be long before we were let loose at it. Everything was kept very quiet; the last, our grand, bombardment opened on the morning of the 5th, and the roaring of the heavy guns was something deafening.
I went into the trenches on the night of the 6th, had a bit of rough work on the night of the 7th. It was then that I began to smell a rat that something was in the wind, I did not find out what was before me until I reached the camp about 1 a.m. on the terrible 8th. I cannot now describe that awful day's work which ended in a glorious victory.
I find our loss and that of the French has been frightful; it is reported that our united loss has been upwards of 12,000 killed, wounded, and missing. I do hope that this will be the last item in the butcher's bill. If we are to have any more fighting let's go at them in the open field and then, if our numbers are anywhere near theirs, we will soon let them know who will take possession — they fight well behind earthworks but they want a lot of Dutch courage into them to make them show up in the open field. I hope you will be contented with what I have said. I must not do any more today; I must keep quiet.
Well, I've had a few hours' rest and feel that I should like to bring this letter to a close and will, if I am spared, give you a long account of that terrible fight that laid Sevastopol at our feet, and I am proud to say that a great number of Norfolk and Suffolk men have helped to plant our glorious old flag on the bloodstained walls of that far-famed town, Sevastopol. The fighting, dear Parents, in the interior of the Redan was desperate. When I come to recall it, it seems almost too much for me. I cannot express my gratitude to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, who shielded my life — I hope for some good purpose — on those bloody parapets when my poor comrades fell like autumn leaves all around, to rise no more. It seemed utterly impossible that any could escape.
I will write again as soon as I get a little more strength — so cheer up, dear Parents! Tell Tom he had better eat some more beef and dumplings before ever he thinks of soldiering; one in the family is quite enough to be shot at, at a time! Tell poor mother to cheer up — I will come home to Norwich some day and give her as warm a greeting as the Frenchmen gave me at Malta. I must now conclude. Give my kind regards to all enquiring friends and believe me, dear Parents,
Your affectionate son,
T. GOWING, Sergeant, Royal Fusiliers
P.S. — What a lot of nonsense they put in the papers — it's only filling up stuff or, in plain language, boast. Men had far better not write at all if they cannot confine themselves to the truth, for they only get laughed at as the papers are read in the camp. — Yours &c. T.G.
I had to remain for upwards of three months; but with careful attendance and a good strong constitution, I was, by that time, ready for them again. As I did not return to camp after the action, the comrade to whom I entrusted the letter added this postscript:
PS — Dear Sir, I am truly sorry to have to conclude this kind letter: your noble son fell inside the Redan (Sevastopol is taken). Your son, from the day he joined the regiment, proved himself a credit to us, and a most determined soldier. I have every reason to believe that he is now where you would not wish to have him back from; a nobler death could not have been met with than that in the hour of victory. I know, dear Sir, it is hard for you to lose such a noble boy, but I hope the Lord will give you strength to bear up under this trying blow. I am, dear Sir,
J. Holmes, Sergeant, Royal Fusiliers
I was brought into camp in time to prevent the foregoing being dispatched, and after my recovery added the following:
Camp before Ruins of Sevastopol,
My Dear Parents,
>You see that I have, thank God, been spared to see what they had to say about me after I was supposed to be dead. It is true that I fell inside the Redan and was totally unconscious for some time, but, thank God, though wounded heavily, am still where mercy is to be shown.
I was carried home to camp and to the hospital just in time to save the above being posted, but I will keep it as long as I live, and if I live to come home will bring it with me, for truly I have had a merciful God watching over me and am spared, I hope, for some good purpose, for this wonderful God of ours can see from the beginning to the end; He is the same unchanging God that the Patriarchs trusted in.
There is talk of peace, and those who want to continue the war will, I hope, come out and show us the way, as General Windham did on the 8th September last — they would most likely soon give in. I am not one of those who would have peace at any price, but if I am allowed to express my opinion, I think our ends have been gained. The Russians have been considerably humbled. We have beaten them four times in four pitched battles, have rent one of the strongest fortresses in the world from them, and I think they have had enough of France and England.
If I am spared to come home, I will bring this with me, as its contents might be too much for my poor mother to bear.
From your rough but affectionate son,
T. GOWING, Sergeant, Royal Fusiliers
Our loss had been very heavy, but that of our noble allies was fearful on that terrible 8th September. They acknowledged: killed: 5 generals, 24 field officers, 124 subalterns of various ranks, 2,898 non — commissioned officers and men; wounded: lo generals, 26 field officers (8 missing), 229 subaltern officers, 4,289 non-commissioned officers and men, and upwards of 1,000 missing; the total (or the finishing stroke of the butcher's bill) was, as regards the French, 8,613.
Our loss was: killed: officers, 29 (1 missing), non-commissioned officers 42 (12 missing), privates 361 (168 missing), wounded: officers, 144,, non-commissioned officers 154, privates 1,918. A number of the missing were afterwards found to have been killed. Total (killed, wounded, and missing) 2,839; our loss — for the numbers engaged — was far greater than that of our allies.
The enemy's loss was something awful. They acknowledged a loss, from the 5th to the 8th September inclusive, of upwards of 25,000 officers, non-commissioned officers, and men. Thus the final effort for the capture of this town cost, in round numbers, between 55,000 and 40,000 men. Such are some of the so-called 'glories' (but I would rather say 'horrors') of war!
The extent of the spoil captured by the allies was almost incredible, notwithstanding all that the Russians had expended or destroyed. The cannon of various sizes numbered 3,840, 128 of which were of brass; a great number had been thrown into the harbour to avoid their being taken. Round shot, 407,314; shell, 101,755; canister cases, 24,080; gunpowder, 525,000 lb.; ball cartridges, 670,000 rounds; and other articles too numerous to mention. The spoil was equally divided between our people and our gallant allies.
The vast resources of the British Empire had been largely drawn upon before haughty Russia could be humbled. The forces employed — the greater portion of which were carried there and back by the fleets of Old England — were: 210,000 French, 105,000 British, 40,000 Turks, 15,000 Piedmontese, with 1,500 guns and over 80,000 horses, to say nothing of the enormous quantity of war material and food required for that great host. This force had been confronted by far more than an equal number of Russians.
Four great battles had been fought and won by the allies, followed by an arduous and unparalleled siege of eleven months' duration, terminating in a glorious victory and the total destruction of 118 ships of war, the capture of a fortress defended by 6,000 pieces of cannon, and the final defeat of an army of 150,000 men which defended it. Old England may well be proud of her Army and her Navy!
The horrors inside the town, where the enemy had established their hospitals, baffle all description. Some of our non-commissioned officers and men went into those places and described the scenes as heart-rending and revolting in the extreme.
Many of the buildings were full of dead and dying mutilated bodies, without anyone to give them even a drink of water. Poor fellows, they had well defended their country's cause and were now left to die in agony, unattended, uncared for, packed as closely as they could be stowed away, saturated with blood, and with the crash of the exploding forts all around them. They had served the Tsar but too well; there they lay, in a state of nudity, literally rolling in their blood. Many, when our men found them, were past all aid; others were out of their mind, driven mad by pain and the appalling sights in the midst of which they were.
Our officers and men, both French and English, found their way there indiscriminately, and at once set to work to relieve them. Medical aid was brought as quickly as possible to them, but hundreds had passed beyond all earthly assistance.
Such a Sunday! Our men were struck with wonderment and horror at the awful scenes. Though a soldier, and fully embued with the spirit of patriotism, I would say with all my heart, 'From war good Lord deliver us!' The man who delights in war is a madman — I would put him in the thick of it for just one day, and he would then know a little what war to the knife means!
Our men did everything they could for those of the enemy in whom a spark of life was found. Yes, the very men who only a few hours before had done all they could to destroy life were now to be found, in their right minds, doing all that lay in their power for their unfortunate foes, as well as friends.
A soldier — it matters not what his rank — must not for one moment, when engaged, think what the consequences are or may be. It is his duty to destroy all he can belonging to the enemy; in fact he is often worked up to such a pitch that he becomes a perfect fiend, or, as the Russians called [them] at the Alma, 'red devils in petticoats'. None but men who are mad could do in cold blood the deeds that were performed by some of our men.
Many bodies were fast decomposing and had to be interred at once; one common grave answered for both friend and foe. The ditch in front of the Redan was utilise for all who fell anywhere near it; those that fell in our trenches were buried there, the parapets being, in both cases, thrown upon them; the stench was almost unbearable for weeks afterwards. Some two or three hundred rough-looking coffins were found in the town — they were full, it was supposed, of officers, but the enemy had not had time to bury them.
A steamer came over from the north side on Monday, the 10th September, under a Rag of truce and begged to be allowed to remove the wounded. The request was at once granted, for our doctors were only too glad to get rid of them, as they had plenty in their own camps to attend to. A very great number of these poor fellows had been suffering intense agony for forty-eight hours when, without even a drink of water, they were removed out of our sight.
All our wounded found in the town were carried as quickly as possible to camp, and then the men set to work to get what they could for themselves out of the midst of the ruins — set to work plundering, if you choose to call it so. But it was dangerous work and many of them lost their limbs — and some their lives — through their foolishness, by the fire from the enemy across the harbour. Some who were laden with all sorts of articles were stopped by the officers, who wanted to know what they were going to do with all that rubbish. The men would at once throw down their loads and salute the officers, who repeated the question:
'What on earth do you want with all that rubbish, my men?'
'An' sure, your 'onor, don't we mane to let furnished lodgings! '
They were carrying chairs, tables, bed — cots — in fact articles too numerous to mention:
'Sure, your 'onor, we are not going to let the Zouaves have it all!'
A stalwart Irish grenadier, when being rebuked for pilfering, answered:
'Sure an', your' onor, them nice gentlemen they call Zouaves have been after emptying the place clane out. Troth, if the Divil would kindly go to sleep for only one minute them Zouaves would stale one of his horns, if it was only useful to keep his coffee in.'
Truly these gentlemen were capital hands at fishing up all that was likely to be useful!
Some of our Hibernian boys had got a good haul, and were making off as fast as possible, when a party of Zouaves stopped them and wanted to go halves; but Paddy was not half such a fool as he was taken for — he would not give up anything until he had found out which was the best man, so the load was thrown down, and the Frenchmen were very soon satisfied and only too glad to get out of the way.
It was a common saying in camp that there was nothing too hot or too heavy for the Zouaves to walk off with; and where there was room for a rat, there was room for one of these nimble little gentlemen to get in. They proved themselves all, during the fighting, troublesome customers to the enemy; and now that the fight was over they distinguished themselves by pilfering everything they could lay hands upon. But they did not get all — our huts were made very comfortable by the wood that our men brought out of the town.
Last modified 18 April 2002