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[Transcribed by Megan Stevens]

The Times 23.2.1857 p 12


TRANSPORT IN THE CRIMEA

TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES.

Sir, Will you allow me to correct an inaccuracy in the letter of “H”, in answer to that of Colonel Wetherall,1 which appears in your impression of to-day? He says that “the Highlanders, the Guards, and other regiments were not at that time worked with such fatal severity as the troops more immediately employed in the trenches”, for the purpose of proving that these regiments might have been employed in carrying up clothing, &c, to the troops at “the front”.

It is well known that during the month of December, 1854, the Brigade of Guards were encamped on the heights before Sebastopol, at a greater distance from Balaklava than any part of the army, with the exception of the Second Division; that, in respect of clothing they were at that time in a worse position than any other regiment, inasmuch as they had not at that time received their new clothing, due in May, 1854, which had been prudently kept at Scutari, in the expectation that the army would spend the winter in quarters, which existed in the minds of many till late in the autumn. The labour of carrying up this clothing from Balaklava fell, therefore, upon the soldiers of the brigade, as it did upon other brigades before Sebastopol; but it was much lightened by the exertions of the officers, who had before December set apart a number of their own horses, which daily throughout the winter made the journey from Balaklava to the camp, laden with articles for the use of the men.

This recollection reminds me of an idea which often occurred to me on the spot, that had the Commissariat of the army exercised the same forethought shown in this respect by the officers of the Guards, who kept the horses they had devoted to the purpose I have referred to at Balaklava, it would not have “broken down” as it did at the early period of the siege. The horses, being stabled and picketed at Balaklava, would not have had the extra labour of carrying their forage to the front; sheltered by the cliff which overhangs the town, they would not have been exposed to the piercing blast and the driving snow; and, above all, being already on the spot to receive the burdens which awaited them, they would have started in good time on their journey, fresh for their day’s work, and arrived in camp in daylight, so that the much-required articles they carried might have been available for distribution the same day, whereas the unfortunate animals belonging to the Commissariat, after having fished up some of their pittance of barley out of the mud at their feet, struggled their seven miles through the deep and tenacious clay to Balaklava, hustled, and fought, and waited on the crowded wharf for hours, till, as the short winter’s day was ending, they set out on their weary journey home. No wonder that, half-fed and wearied, many of them sunk under their burdens, and found their graves where they fell, so that when their comrades with diminished numbers toiled down again on their morning’s trip a few more bony carcases protruding from the soil dotted the line of that fatal road. And in the mean-time the parties for the trenches had gone and returned, to find half rations served out to them again, and for them too the overpowering work of bringing up from Balaklava shot and shell, clothing, huts, and stores, for which the Commissariat “could not find transport”. We are apt to throw blame in many quarters before we find the right one. May not the apparently trifling blunder I have pointed out have been the real cause of the death of hundreds of soldiers? I believe it has, and should you think it worth while to publish this letter or any part of it, perhaps others may agree with me.

I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
JAMES FERGUSSON.

Feb. 20.


[Transcriber’s notes]

1. Col. E.R. Wetherall succeeded Sir Richard Airey as Quartermaster-General in the Crimea.. See also letters 1857/02/17 ERW London Times, 1857/02/19 H London Times, and 1857/02/24 WHD London Times for reaction to the tabling of the Tulloch report.

[M.S.]

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