This passage has been taken, with the author's kind permission, from Christopher Hibbert's The Destruction of Lord Raglan (Longmans, 1961), p. 134. Copyright, of course, remains with Dr. Hibbert. Alvin Wee of the University Scholar's Programme, scanned the text, converting it to electronic format. — Marjie Bloy Ph.D., Senior Research Fellow, National University of Singapore.
[The British army suffered great privations during the Crimean War; men died from the cold, lack of food and the results of their injuries. No-one appeared able to alleviate the suffering of the troops.]
Every aspect of the army's business came to [Raglan's] notice, and every detail of suffering affected him deeply. He heard one day that the wife of a corporal in the 23rd Regiment had given birth to a baby girl in a hole in the ground. He sent out his doctor to see her with some hot food from his kitchen. The following day he went to see her himself. It was a day so cold that officers writing letters in their tents found that the ink froze in little pellets on their nibs. A howling wind sent flakes of hard snow into Lord Raglan's face as he rode along. When he arrived at the Light Division's camp, his A.D.C. asked where the woman was and when he found her he knelt in the snow at the flap of her little dog-tent and talked to her and her husband. He gave her some warm clothes and food, and the next day he sent her a rubber sleeping-bag lined with flannel that someone had sent him from England. No one was more aware than he of the army's danger, its suffering and its needs. But when afterwards he was to take the blame for its destruction, only those close to him knew how desperately hard he had worked to save it.
Long before the army sailed for the Crimea he had asked for more land transport and had been refused. On the day of its arrival there he had told Airey to make an urgent request for baled hay. As early as 8 August he had told the Duke of Newcastle that he entertained grave doubts as to the possibility of wintering in Russia with the army's limited means of supply and subsistence. On 12 October he had instructed Filder to lay in a stock of fuel at Scutari. To the Government's gaily voiced confidence he had always been careful to reply with cautious restraint. But when, before the battle of Balaclava, he had sent on to London Mr. Cattley's warning of the occasional appalling severity of a Crimean winter, the Duke of Newcastle replied that he must have been 'greatly misinformed' and sent out a book which showed that the Crimean climate was 'one of the mildest and finest in the world'. In no doubt what the results of the battle of Inkerman would be, he sent an officer on 7 November to the southern shores of the Black Sea to buy timber for huts for the whole army, those promised by the Government not having arrived. Ships were also sent for planking to Sinope, Samsoon and Trebizond.
On the same day he sent a minute to William Filder telling him that the army would winter in the Crimea and asking him to provision accordingly. A few days after receiving it, Mr. Filder wrote to Sir Charles Trevelyan at the Treasury and put his finger on the two difficulties which were proving insuperable.
I am full of apprehension as to our power of keeping this Army supplied during the coming winter .... In this crowded little harbour only a proportion of our vessels can be admitted at a time .... With all the siege and other stores which are being disembarked, we can do little more than land sufficient supplies to keep pace with the daily consumption of the troops; and to add to our difficulties, the road from the harbour to the camp, not being a made one, is impassable after heavy rains; our obstacle in these respects will increase as the winter comes. We shall have many more stores to convey than we have hitherto had — fuel, for instance. In short, I am full of anxiety and dread on the subject.
This letter was written on 13 November. The following day the hurricane swept across the harbour, and Mr. Filder's anxiety and difficulties were fearfully increased. Of hay alone he lost twenty days' supply.
Lord Raglan was quick to act. 'I earnestly recommend,' he wrote to the Duke of Newcastle the morning after the storm, 'that not a moment should be lost in replacing the ammunition. The Commissariat losses are very heavy, and lead Mr. Filder to apprehend that we may be very shortly deficient in supplies of ammunition and forage.... Fresh rifle ammunition should be sent in the fleetest vessel without a moment's delay.'
The following day he and Airey went down to Balaclava to see for themselves the damage that the hurricane had caused. They were appalled. They ordered all the wreckage to be collected and made into hospital huts for the sick; the hides of all slaughtered animals to be preserved for roof coverings; the despatch of vessels for charcoal and for timber for huts. The next morning Lord Raglan wrote again to the Duke of Newcastle. 'You cannot send us, he told him, 'too many supplies of all kinds.'
On the 18th he sent Major Wetherall to Constantinople with a long list of articles he was to buy. Mr. Filder was authorised to buy hay and straw from any place he could on the shores of the Black Sea, as the supplies ordered two months previously from England had not yet arrived.
As for the road, both Lord Raglan and Airey had realised that without it many of these supplies would be useless. Burgoyne had been asked to report on the numbers of men who would be required for its construction. It would take a thousand men two months, he said. And even if the men could be found, there were insufficient tools and those available were of the poorest quality. An officer of the Quartermaster-General's Department was accordingly sent to Constantinople to buy more. But the problem of manpower remained.
'It was not in my power at any time since the troops ascended this ridge,' Lord Raglan explained to the Duke of Newcastle, 'worked as they have been from the first, to employ them in building a road.' There were three thousand sick and wounded in the Crimean hospitals, eight thousand more in Turkey. On some mornings when the returns were added up the men supposed to be capable of bearing arms numbered less than these eleven thousand sick. And although returned as fit for duty the men were in reality often barely able to stand up. Their spells of duty in the mud-filled trenches lasted for sixteen and even sometimes twenty-four hours at a stretch. Never less than five and sometimes as many as six nights a week were spent there.
An attempt was made to employ the Turks on road construction, on collecting stones for metalling and on digging drains, but, underfed to the point of starvation, they could scarcely lift their spades. They died in hundreds. Hired labour was also used, but the workmen died more quickly than the Turks did.
Appeals were made to the French. But they had, they said, too many troubles of their own. Lord Raglan pressed them, he told the Duke of Newcastle, 'as far as was politick'. They could not be persuaded. And 'the advantage of keeping on good terms with them' was 'too obvious to require discussion'. He pressed them more urgently than his despatches implied, but Canrobert was immovable.
The road could not be made. Carts had to be abandoned more or less completely, while pack-animals became increasingly difficult to feed. 'Our horses are dying fast,' Lord Raglan wrote. 'But until we are sure that we can feed them I would not recommend any addition here.' And so thousands of tons of supplies rotted in the Balaclava stores and in the holds of the ships, while men struggled up through the mud, past the rotting corpses of animals, the broken carts, the dead and dying Turks, carrying on their backs the bare means of keeping alive. And every day the sick in the hospital tents were packed and squeezed closer together to make room for the new arrivals, pale, dirty and shivering, who could carry on no longer with their duties outside.
The Medical Department of the army, like the Commissariat, had completely broken down under the strain of work for which it was quite unprepared and for which its system was outrageously inadequate to cope. An immense amount of Lord Raglan's time was spent in vain attempts to improve its organisation and efficiency and in visiting the sick, for whom he confessed to feeling a deep and personal responsibility.
Constantly obstructed in his efforts by Dr. Hall, Inspector-General of Hospitals, who refused to agree that anything serious had gone wrong in his Department, he had occasion at least once a week, and sometimes on several consecutive days, to complain of some particular case of negligence or stupidity.
Dr. John Hall, soon to be created K.C.B. ('Knight of the Crimean Burial Grounds, I suppose,' commented Florence Nightingale with justified acidity), was a bitter, influential, hard and self-satisfied man who had felt himself entitled to a more important post than that of head of the medical staff of the Expeditionary Army. Lord Raglan could neither like nor respect him, and soon after the army came to Balaclava he was sent back to Scutari to report on the base hospitals there. Miss Nightingale had not yet arrived, and they were, as she subsequently discovered, 'destitute and filthy'. Dr. Hall reported them as having been put 'on a very creditable footing'. Nothing, he said, was lacking.
He came back to the Crimea and gave further evidence of his incapacity.
The transport Avon had lain in Balaclava harbour for the reception of the sick since 19 November. A fortnight later the ship was full. The men lay on the bare decks covered only by their greatcoats or a blanket, under the care of a single young surgeon. Their suffering was terrible; the condition of the ship unutterably foul. An officer went on board to see one of his men and, angry and horrified, rushed immediately to Lord Raglan.
It was past midnight when he got there. Lord Raglan sent for Dr. Hall and asked him for an immediate explanation, and soon after gave instructions for an inquiry to be held. 'It is absolutely necessary,' Lord Raglan told Mr. Romaine of the Advocate General's Department 'that I should do all in my power to arouse the Medical Department to a sense of duty.'
Dr. Lawson, the principal Medical Officer at Balaclava, was held to be responsible and was dismissed. But Dr. Hall, himself rebuked by Lord Raglan in a General Order published on 15 December, replied to this interference with his Department by appointing Lawson Senior Medical Officer at the Barrack Hospital in Scutari.
In another General Order, when given further evidence of neglect and incapacity, Lord,Raglan wrote:
The Commander of the Forces is sorry to have to animadvert very strongly upon the conduct of the medical department, in an instance which came under his observation yesterday. The sick went down from the camp to Balaclava under the charge of a medical officer of the division to which they respectively belonged; but on their arrival there it was found that no preparations had been made for their reception. The Commander of the Forces is aware that Deputy Inspector-General of Hospitals Doctor Dumbreck gave the necessary order verbally to the staff medical officer at Balaclava, but that officer neglected to inform his superior and the consequence was that the sick, many of them in a very suffering state, remained in the streets for several hours, exposed to the very inclement weather. The name of the officer who was guilty of this gross neglect is known to the Commander of the Forces. He will not now publish it, but he warns him to be careful in future, and to be cautious how he again exposes himself to censure. Doctor Dumbreck will, in future, give his orders in writing, addressed to the responsible officer. When a convoy of sick is sent from the camp either to the hospitals, or to be placed on board ship, it is henceforth to be accompanied not only by a medical officer, but likewise by the D.A.Q.M.G. of the Division, who will precede it to the place of deposit, and take such steps as may ensure the due reception and care of the men confided to his charge.
But it was like patching up a clam, Lord Raglan told an A.D.C.; as soon as one leak was repaired another would appear. Orders, advice, new rules, suggestions of improved methods, poured from Headquarters to all the departments of the army. As constituted, however, they were beyond redemption. Too many of their officers were unchangeable and obstinate, too much of their organisation was incapable of improvement without that wholesale reform which was certain to come, but which would come too late to help those men now suffering from the want of it. What could you do, Lord Raglan asked in exasperation, with an official of the Commissariat Department who objected to the Commander-in-Chief 's order that the form of requisition for a new greatcoat — a 'most elaborate' document with two schedules attached and twenty-four blanks to be filled up in duplicate — should be simplified? What could you do with a man who objected to this alteration on the grounds that it would lead to great abuse because, as everyone in the Department knew, regulations 'did not authorise the issue of regimental overcoats more frequently than once in three years'?
'If Lord Raglan had the genius of the Duke of Wellington,' exclaimed Captain Campbell in understanding sympathy, 'he would find it a hard matter to make things work in this army!' He might have gone down and 'raised hell in Balaclava" but what good would that have done? Balaclava was run by 'a gang of raving lunatics'.
Disastrous as the muddle was in the Crimea, in London it was a great deal worse. In the bewildering labyrinth of offices through which requisitions passed on their way to someone who could give them his attention, the chaos was stupefying. A list of urgent requirements might, for instance, pass through as many as eight different departments before it was even known whether or not the items needed could be supplied from stock. If they could not be supplied from stock there were long discussions and conversations, unrecorded arguments between contractors and officials, until a satisfactory price and date of delivery had been agreed. Everyone was satisfied, all commissions were paid and mouths silenced; and then weeks and perhaps months later goods of disgraceful inferiority were supplied.
But whether the stores were already in stock or not, there might be other delays. The Admiralty were often unable to provide a ship to carry them in. It seems scarcely credible that the greatest seafaring nation in the world, owning half the total number of merchant-vessels and the largest Navy, should have been unable to fmd ships immediately for such an urgent purpose. But General Airey found that it was so. Though he worked conscientiously at his carefully calculated requisitions and did 'more than two other men could', his 'unceasing energy and indefatigable exertions' might well have been more usefully employed in the trenches.
On 28 November 1854 he sent a requisition to England for 3,000 tents, 100 hospital marquees and several other items, including 6,000 nosebags and various quantities of spades, shovels and pickaxes. On 4 April 1855 this requisition was still the subject of lengthy correspondence in Whitehall.
The Secretary to the Board of Ordnance carefully explained to the Under-Secretary of State for War:
The Contractors for tents were unable to furnish them in sufficient numbers to meet the pressing wants of the service . . . The demand for tents previous to the war being very limited, and not having sufficient skilled labour in the market to meet the additional heavy demands consequent upon the war. 1,000 circular tents were shipped for the Crimea in the William Becket on the 28th March, that vessel having been appointed by the Admiralty upon an application from this department, dated 13th January....1,000 circular tents are still due, and for the conveyance of them application was made by this Department on the 2nd Instant.
On 23 April, the Under-Secretary was advised in another letter, a ship had still 'not yet been allotted' by the Admiralty.
In his evidence before the Chelsea Board, General Airey mentioned several other instances of similar delay. The requisition for 2,000 tons of hay on 13 September 1854 was finally complied with eight months later, when most of the horses were dead. In four private letters and three official despatches Lord Raglan was obliged to call the Government's attention to its non-comphance with this requisition. A floating steam bakery requested on 8 November was sent at the end of the following May. Most important, the organisation of a Regular Transport Brigade, suggested by Lord Raglan in June 1854, was eventually agreed to in a despatch from the Duke of Newcastle dated 2nd January 1855, in which it was implied that the idea of its formation originated with the Government.
'Seeing that such obstructions could occur in London, the greatest commercial market in the world,' General Airey said with justified indignation, 'the Board will, I am sure, estimate rightly the difficulties of those who were suddenly called upon to provide for a winter campaign amid the snow and clay' of the Crimea.
Despite the 'unceasing exertions' of Raglan and Airey and of General Estcourt, the Adjutant-General, the attacks against them, and indeed against the whole of the Headquarters' staff, mounted and increased in venom. Sorneone must be to blame for the army's terrible suffering. What better target could there be than the man in command of it and his 'frightful' staff?
'Lord Raglan,' wrote Cornet Fisher on 17 November 'is in great discredit with the Army.' General Canrobert, he added, enjoyed a higher reputation in the British Army than any of its own generals, as he was the only one who had 'not made a fool of himself'.
'Every man knows Canrobert,' Captain Shakespear said, confirming this view. 'There is not a soldier French or English that does not know him .... He looks over everything himself and is always on the qui vive .... The British soldiers run out and cheer him, another man no one knows.'
Lord Raglan was, of course, to blame for this. Not only did he ride about the camps as inconspicuously as possible, never with more than three companions, but often after dark and always in a concealing, big-sleeved cloak which Lady Westmorland had sent him from Vienna. Men who had seen the Commander-in-Chief and even spoken to him were frequently under the impression that they had talked with a civilian visitor. Mrs. Freemantle asked her cousin, a young Officer invalided home from the Crimea, if all the talk in the newspapers about Lord Raglan not being 'sufficiently amongst the Troops' was justified. He said there was certainly a lot of talk in the army too 'as well as in the newspapers', and that he was speaking to an officer one day who said he did not even know what Lord Raglan looked like.
'I never saw him,' said the officer. So I said to him, 'Well there he is, going into the hospital.' 'What,' said the officer, 'that's Lord Raglan? Why, I have seen him constantly, but I never dreamed that was Lord Raglan. The fact was Lord Raglan walked or rode about with perhaps no one with him or perhaps one A.D.C. and those who did not know him personally never guessed, and if told would not often believe, that that unattended man was their commander.
Canrobert, on the other hand, although less flamboyant than St. Arnaud, was always accompanied by six or eight staff officers, one or two Spahi orderlies and an escort of twenty hussars preceded by a porte-drapeau bearing the French flag. At sight of him soldiers of both armies were turned out to salute and cheer. And this was what Lord Raglan took pains to avoid. But his officers cannot be blamed for believing that he never visited them and for telling their families and friends that he did not do so. Their complaints at first did little harm. Soon, however, the rumbles of accusation were reinforced by the publication of an indictment which carried almost the weight of an official pronouncement.
On 25 November the correspondent of The Times began his despatch in the following words:
It is now pouring rain — the skies are black as ink — the wind is howling over the staggering tents — the trenches are turned into dykes — in the tents the water is sometimes a foot deep — our men have not either, warm or waterproof clothing — they are out for twelve hours at a time in the trenches — they are plunged into the inevitable miseries of a winter campaign — and not a soul seems to care for their comfort or even for their lives.
The attack had begun.
Last modified 16 May 2002