[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).
On the morning of the 5th November the enemy attacked us in our trenches in broad daylight. Our heavy guns gave it them prettily and mowed down their dense columns by wholesale; but still they came on — until they felt the bayonet. Then, after some stiff fighting, which lasted more than an hour, they were compelled to beat a hasty retreat, our heavy guns sweeping lanes through them and we plying them with musketry, both in front and flank.
We found they could run well, only too glad to get under cover. A sortie has no chance of success unless the besieging army can be taken by surprise; but no doubt this attack was made in order to distract our commander's attention from the vital point.
The ever-memorable battle was then raging on our right rear, and (by the shouts of the combatants and the tremendous firing) we knew that something very serious was going on; so as many of us as the General could spare were ordered to march as fast as our legs could carry us to the assistance of our comrades, then at the dreadful fight raging at Inkerman. As we had just drubbed the enemy terribly, our blood was up; but we were hungry — many of us had had nothing to eat for twenty-four hours — and were wet through to the skin. They say an Englishman will not fight unless his belly is full; that's all bosh — let him once be roused, and you will soon see whether he will or not!
Well, to the fight we went, and the sights were something horrible, but there was not a desponding voice. The fog was so dense that at times we could not see twenty yards. Our men were falling very fast, for the enemy were in overwhelming strength, particularly in guns. It was impossible to disguise the fact that the crafty Muscovites, in the darkness and fog, had stolen a march upon our commanders; that the allies were taken completely by surprise, and that only the intrepidity of the pickets of the Light and Second Divisions saved the entire allied armies from an overwhelming disaster. We can now say, without boasting, that the heroic conduct of a mere handful of Britons were — and are to this day --the admiration of all.
The determined rushes of the Muscovites were hurled back time after time. Their princes boasted that they would drive us all into the sea; so they would, perhaps, if weight of numbers could have done it, but that nasty piece of cold steel stood in the way.
The queen of weapons was used with deadly effect — the drunken, massive columns of the enemy were pitched over the rocks by men who might die but never surrender, and who had a strong objection to a watery grave. Our highest martial interest — honour — was at stake, but it was safe withal, from our much-respected Commander-in-Chief to the drummer-boy. They had all made up their minds to conquer or to die. Children yet unborn will exclaim, 'All honour to that band of heroes!'
The odds were heavy, but from the brutes we had to face we had no mercy to expect. Our Fourth Division — the 20th, 21st, 57th, 63rd, 68th, and 1st Battalion Rifle Brigade, under Cathcart — fought at a disadvantage, having been armed with the old Brown Bess musket, against the needle-rifle which the enemy were armed with; our weapons were almost as much use as a broomstick. Yet, with all these disadvantages, we smote the enemy with a terrible slaughter, and there was seen again with what majesty the British soldier fights.
Our loss was heavy — three generals fell and every mounted officer — but our men fought to the bitter end, and stood triumphant on the rocky ridge, cheering for victory; the unconquerable heroism of the handful of men, we knew, would set the church bells of Old England ringing and dashing for victory, and give schoolboys a holiday.
All regiments vied with each other. At the Alma and Balaclava we had fought for victory; but at the fight that was now raging a mere handful of Britons were contending for very existence, for to be beaten meant an ignominious death at the hands of a lot of fierce brutes, mad with drink — Dutch courage had to be poured into them to make them face our ranks. The drunken yells of their massive columns were answered by volley after volley at point-blank range and then, with a clear and distinct cheer for Old England, we closed upon them with the bayonet and stuck to them like wax until they were hurled from the field.
We had no supports or reserves; but every man, as fast as he could reach the field, went straight at them with a shout that seemed to strike terror into them. And so the fight went on hour after hour. In many parts of the field it was a horde of half-drunken madmen attacking cool and collected Britons, determined to conquer or die.
Our Guards were the admiration of the whole army; their deeds at Inkerman will never fade. Led by His Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge, they repeatedly buried themselves in the Russian columns, as cheer after cheer went up in defiance to the enemy's unnatural yell. The Guards, all must admit, set a glorious example; for if they had to die, they acted upon the old 57th motto, 'Let us die hard!' The daring, courage, and obstinacy of our Guards was grand; the terrible odds they faced on this field puts Hougoumont in the shade and ranks beside the unconquerable heroes of Albuera, fully justifying their high prestige in the army.
Some who read this may think that I am an old Guardsman — so I am; I had the pleasure of guarding the honour of our beloved Isle, in the 7th Royal Fusiliers. But I wish to give honour where honour is due.
Inkerman will not admit of much description, particularly from one who was in the thick of it. The fighting all day on that awful Sabbath was of a furious character. The bayonet was the chief weapon, and the Minié rifle balls told heavily upon the crowded ranks. To sum it up in a few words, every man had to — and did — fight as Britons ought to do when the honour of the nation is at stake. The best of generals might have lost such a fight as Inkerman — none could direct, for the fog was so dense that one could not see, at times, twenty yards. On came the Russian columns; but they had to go back time after time much quicker than they came.
The bayonet was used with terrible effect by all regiments. The enemy, driven on by their brave officers, had to — and did literally — climb over the heaps of their slain countrymen and ours to renew this bloodthirsty contest; but they were met by British cold steel and were hurled or pitchforked from the field.
We had proved in a hundred fights that no enemy could resist our men, but at Inkerman victory hung in the balance, and our weak battalions had to resist the enemy's heavy columns bayonet to bayonet. A number of most determined encounters were maintained against very heavy odds; and as often as the Russian infantry charged us our people met them with that never-failing weapon.
The Battle of Inkerman. 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.
The 41st and 49th regiments held the Sandbag Battery and were fairly mobbed out of it by the overwhelming numbers of the enemy, who were exulting in their victory with yells of triumph when up came the Guards, and in they went with a cheer and a rush that told heavily upon the foe. The Russians, except the dead and dying, were literally lifted out of the battery and its vicinity by those gallant regiments.
Fresh draughts of 'rackie' [raki] had to be issued to the legions of Russia in order to make them face us again. All was done that could be devised by the enemy to fasten victory to their standards. Holy Russia was represented on the field by the two Imperial Grand Dukes, sons of their sacred chief, and the soldiers were taught that they must, as true Russians, die for their holy Tsar; the glory of conquering in the presence of his children, even at the expense of life, would open the gates of heaven to them. They were repeatedly urged on to the attack, and as often beaten back.
The 41st fought like tigers to gain time for their comrades to come up. The grey-coated battalions of the enemy were now on the right, on the left, and in front of us; but there was not a desponding voice in our ranks. The Duke of Cambridge was requested to retire a little out of the immediate reach of the murderous musketry fire.
'No. I will when these fellows are shifted!' was the reply.
It was well that the French came up when they did. Our men were gradually being crushed in some parts of the field, but showing the enemy a most determined front. It was at this juncture that His Royal Highness set so animating an example; and the French coming up to our assistance, again the hosts of Russia had to retire. About this time a cry was raised that the ammunition was running short. Sir G. Brown exclaimed:
'Then there is nothing for it but the bayonet! — At them, my lads!'
And at them we went; and they had to go back, although their princes boasted that they would put us all into the sea. It was a great pity we had not the 42nd, 79th, and 93rd Highlanders with us, for we knew well they would have left their marks upon the enemy, under the guidance of their old commander, Sir Colin Campbell; but they had to watch Balaclava.
We lost a great number of officers, and at the close of the day the Fourth Division was commanded by a captain. But on that memorable field, if there was one corner hotter than another the Guards had it. At one time they were completely surrounded by the assailing multitudes, and the dense fog prevented them from seeing anything but the foes all round. Shoulder to shoulder, they cut their way out shouting, 'Keep to the Colours!'
It was a bloody contest, but this little band — now reduced to about 700 unwounded men — showed the enemy an undaunted front. The 20th was sent to help them. They staggered under the murderous fire that met them. This battery had now become more like a slaughter-house than anything else. The Guards went at them again and routed the Russians out of it. At the Five-Gun Battery the fighting was desperate, but the enemy never got into it to live.
Inkerman may well be called the soldiers' fight, for at times the fog was so thick that we could not see friend from foe. Our men, however, managed to find the Russians, and then 'shift' them.
The 7th were not behind when hard fighting had to be done. One of our majors, Sir Thomas Troubridge, was the admiration of all, for, though terribly wounded, he would not allow himself to be removed from the ground until victory had declared itself, but remained, with the bravest fortitude, encouraging his men to 'fight it out'. He would now and then call out:
'Fire away, my lads! Give them the steel if you get a chance! Stick to them, my men!'
It was a sergeant named Laws (a Norwich man) who ran for a doctor to attend upon him; but his resolute spirit did not forsake him. No, he would rather die on the field at his post with the Fusiliers than be carried to a place of safety. And his noble conduct had a wonderful effect upon the men, for every one would have died rather than forsake him — such a gallant soldier. At the Alma his conduct was the admiration of all who could see him, for he was often in front of us, encouraging us; but he escaped that fiery ordeal without a scratch, to fall, with both feet gone, on a more glorious field.
When he was lying, apparently bleeding to death, with both his stumps resting upon a gun-carriage, he called upon us to 'shift those fellows with the bayonet', animating us by voice and gesture; although the poor man could not lead us, he could cheer us on. And on we went with an irresistible rush and routed them then and there. On one occasion after he was wounded he called upon us not to forget our bayonets, adding 'They don't like cold steel, men!'
Neither did I; it was here that I received two bayonet wounds — one in each thigh — and would most likely have been dispatched, but that help was close at hand. The fellows who wounded me fell at once to the same description of weapon — but not to rise again and write or talk about it.
Revolvers and bayonets told heavily that foggy morn; and when our men were short of ammunition, they pitched stones at the enemy. My legs were quickly bandaged, and after giving the enemy a few parting shots at close quarters (which must have told upon their crowded ranks) I managed to hobble off the field, using my rifle, and another I picked up, as crutches. We could spare none to look after the wounded; it was every man for himself.
After hobbling some distance out of the range of fire, I lay down, for I could get no further without a little rest. Our allies, the French, were then coming up to our assistance in a right mood for fighting. The Zouaves passed me with a ringing cheer of 'Bon Anglais!' and 'Vive l'Empereur!' repeated over and over again.
A mounted officer of rank, who was with them, stopped and asked me a number of questions in good English. He turned and spoke to his men, and they cheered me in a most lusty manner. The officer kindly gave me a drink out of his flask, which revived me considerably, and then, with a hearty shake of the hand, bade me good-bye, and passed on into action, shouting out something about the enemy walking over his body before he would surrender.
Thus was Waterloo and Trafalgar avenged, by the descendants of the vanquished advancing with rapid strides and a light heart (but with a strong arm) to assist the sons of Albion in one of the most unequal and bloody contests ever waged. Let us hope that the blood then spilt may have cemented for ever the friendship between the two nations who are so near neighbours!
The French fought in a most dashing manner, side by side with us, till the enemy were driven from the field. The Russian officers fought with desperation, though their men hung back unless almost driven to it. But our men and the Zouaves plied the queen of weapons with terrible effect, and all met the enemy with an unconquerable energy, while we often stimulated each other by asking what would they say of us in England.
But I could do no more; I had done all I could and now had to remain and take my chance of being killed by a stray shot. It was hard work to lie there for upwards of an hour and a half in suspense. I felt I should like to be at them, for a little satisfaction; but I had to lie passive.
I am proud to record that no regiment on the memorable field could take the shine out of the gallant old 7th Fusiliers. I lay on the field bleeding when I heard the welcome shout of victory. I was shortly afterwards attended to and carried to hospital, there remained for a day or two, and was then sent on to Malta to be patched up ready for another go in at them.
The enemy's loss was exceedingly heavy — 20,000 men is the estimated loss of the Russians in their endeavours to take the Heights of Inkerman on that memorable Sunday, 5th November, 1854. The carnage was something frightful, as our close point-blank fire had told heavily upon the enemy's columns. Our total strength on the field was about 9,000, upwards of one-third of whom fell killed or wounded; while of the 6,000 French who came to help us, they lost 1,700. But the enemy was completely routed, and England confessed that every man that foggy morn had done his duty. We had been fighting against heavy odds, and men armed with as good weapons as ourselves, while they were wrought up to a state of madness or desperation with drink.
Except Trafalgar and Waterloo, no battle fought by the British since the invention of powder has called forth such exultation. And still the word 'Inkerman' stimulates the warlike enthusiasm of every Briton, and the rising generations will recall with rapture the name of some distant relative and exclaim, 'He fought and fell at Inkerman!' while with manly pride they feel that they have sprung from fathers whom the nation at large delights to honour.
The Alma and Balaclava awakened the war-spirit — that indomitable spirit that lies latent in the breast of every Briton. The news of victory at these places set the church bells ringing; but the victory by a mere handful of men on the Heights of Inkerman went through every Briton like an electric shock, and thousands at once volunteered to defend the flag, side by side with the heroic sons of France. In our most remote colonies the people of British extraction exulted in the tidings of Inkerman. In all our large cities — London, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Birmingham, Norwich, Nottingham, &c; in the workshops, in the furnace-rooms, at the forges; in the meanest taprooms in the most remote village taverns; in the hills of Scotland and the bogs of Ireland — all were proud they were united Britons and of the same stock that had just hurled the armies of Russia, although in overwhelming numbers, from the Heights of Inkerman.
This battle was not fought by men who were well fed, well clothed, or well housed, nor by an army that was well prepared; but, on the contrary, by men who were, so to speak, half starved, clothed in rags, and exposed to all the inclemencies of a rigorous climate, whilst they were attacked by hordes of men confident of victory, whose feelings had been wrought to madness by stimulants and priestcraft.
At one time victory trembled in the balance — some of our guns were in the hands of the enemy, and the gunners had been shot or cut down. But the boys of the Emerald Isle were close by. The 88th Connaught Rangers and the 49th went at them and recaptured the guns. The advance of our Guards at the Sandbag (or Two-Gun) Battery was grand, and surely it could be said of them, 'Nothing could stop that astonishing infantry'. No sudden burst of undisciplined valour, no nervous enthusiasm, weakened their order; their flashing eyes were bent upon the dark masses in their front; their measured tread shook the ground; their ringing cheer startled the infuriated columns of the enemy as their bayonets were brought down to the charge; and, led by the grandson of a king, in they went, shoulder to shoulder, and the enemy, with all their boasted strength, were driven down the hill.
At the Alma and Balaclava when the enemy had gained a temporary success they behaved in a most barbarous manner to our wounded; sometimes their officers set them the example by plunging their swords into the helpless. At Inkerman they outstripped all their former deeds of assassination; mercy they did not seem to understand when once our poor fellows were in their clutches. But yet our men, I am happy to record, would not retaliate, except in so far as that after the battle was over their wounded were left to lie while ours were removed from the field; but those who were alive next morning were then attended to and taken to our hospital tents.
Our loss had been heavy: there were killed 3 generals, 50 officers, 42 sergeants; total killed, wounded, and missing, 2,700, exclusive of the French loss. And that was heavy for the numbers engaged. The whole French army were loud in their expressions of admiration of the British — their exultation seemed to be beyond all bounds — for our deeds had put Alma and Balaclava in the shade and cast a fresh lustre upon our glorious old Standard. They looked at us in wonderment, for they knew well the odds we had fought against, hour after hour. And, I have not the slightest doubt, some of their old officers thought of our forefathers who had so often fought them, and never once met them but to give them a good sound thrashing. As Napoleon said, we had often been beaten but would not give in; we would stick to them like a good bull-dog and worry them out.
The aspect of the field was awful — dead and dying mutilated bodies in all directions. Many of our men had been wounded frequently with shot and bayonet; others were cut limb from limb, and yet a spark of life remained. Many had perished by the bayonet, and it was noticed that but few had fallen with one thrust. In and around the Two-Gun Battery the sights were sickening. Our Guardsmen, and 41st, 47th, and 49th, lay locked in the arms of the foe with their bayonets through each other — dead. Some of our officers and men were found dead with no fewer than twelve or fifteen bayonet wounds; the appearance of the poor fellows who had been thus tortured was painful.
To describe the scene would be impossible — the result of eight hours' hand-to-hand conflict — it was horrible to look upon. Scarcely did any field in the whole Peninsular War present, as a result of conflict, such a murderous spectacle as the terrible sights that now lay before us. There were literally piles of dead, lying in every posture one could imagine; I may say that there were acres of defaced humanity — ghastly wounds from sword, bayonet, grape, and round shot; poor fellows literally shattered, and yet with life still in them. Others lay as if they had been asleep — friend and foe mixed together. In some parts of the field our men lay in ranks as they had stood; and the enemy in columns, one on the top of the other.
The Russian Guardsmen lay thick all over the field; upwards Of 2,000 dead were found belonging to the enemy. Just outside the Two-Gun Battery the wounded were numerous and their groans were pitiful, while cries of despair burst from the lips of some as they lay, thinking perhaps of wives and helpless little ones far away.
The Russian dead were buried in large pits by themselves; and our people and our gallant allies the French were laid side by side. For hours during that dreadful night of woe and victory the wailing of a poor dog — which had followed his master — could be distinctly heard. The faithful creature had found his master's body, and he pierced the night air with his lamentations.
Such was the field of Inkerman. That was keeping up Gunpowder Plot with a vengeance!
Last modified 16 April 2002