[Transcribed by Megan Stevens]
Sir, — In the discussion which took place in the House of Commons on Thursday, when the army estimates were under consideration, Sir M. Peto, after praising the superior efficiency of the Administration of the French and Sardinian armies, stated as of his own knowledge that “hundreds of horses were starving in the Crimea, while ships lay in Balaklava harbour containing large quantities of hay which routine prevented being made available in the emergency.”
Had Sir M. Peto stated this as a common report, I should not have thought it necessary to notice it; but when he states it as a fact coming within his own knowledge, I trust you will permit me through the medium of your columns to contradict this assertion. Subsequent to the arrival in the Crimea of the railway authorities, of whom Sir M. Peto was, I believe, one, no deficiencies of forage occurred with the army; he is therefore incorrect in stating the fact as being within his own knowledge; and previous to the arrival of the railway officials, when there had been a deficiency in the issues to the troops, while vessels laden with forage were lying in the harbour, the deficiency was in no degree owing to the observance of routine, but was owing entirely to the whole of the forage having at that period consisted of loose chopped straw (chaff) which it was found utterly impossible in the circumstances in which we were placed to land in sufficient quantities to meet the consumption of the army. And that the forage was exclusively of this description was owing to the authorities in England (when they did at length commence to send out forage for the use of the army in the Crimea) having persisted in sending out only half the quantity for which they had received a requisition from the Commissary-General, although they knew of the state of destitution to which the army had been reduced by the loss, in the storm of the 14th of November, of all the pressed hay in the possession of the Commissariat, and had been apprised also of the impossibility of landing loose chopped straw in sufficient quantities.
If we desire to improve our army administration, that object will not be attained by attributing the evils experienced on former occasions to a wrong cause, and thus diverting the remedies from the proper channel.
The superior efficiency of the French Intendance or Commissariat in embarking and disembarking stores, which Sir M. Peto so much admires, is owing to the fact that the transport vessels required for the conveyance of supplies for the French army are engaged by and are entirely under the control of the Intendance, while the British Commissariat is dependent for the requisite supply of sea transport on the navy under whose control the vessels remain, even while employed in the service of the Commissariat, so that it frequently happened during the war in the Crimea that Commissariat vessels, when only half unladen, were despatched by the naval authorities on other services, for which they had to provide, and which they at the moment considered to be of more importance.
To this dependence of the Commissariat upon the navy for sea transport was also owing the short supply of fresh meat received by the troops in the Crimea in the month of December, the navy having been unable to comply with the urgent demands of the Commissary-General for vessels for the conveyance of live cattle as well as of transport animals. Lord Raglan had, indeed, in the then critical position of the allied armies, given on one occasion a written memorandum to the effect that the service of conveying cattle was to be considered secondary to that of conveying French and Turkish troops from Marseilles and Varna to Sebastopol and Eupatoria. The naval authorities were from this cause not only unable to meet the Commissariat requisitions for more vessels, but exercised the power of control they possessed by appropriating or detaining for purposes connected with the defence of Eupatoria the few cattle vessels which were already attached to the Commissariat. You will thus perceive that the navy provided for unforeseen services at the expense of the Commissariat, while the Commissary-General has been made responsible for the deficient supply of fresh meat; and I may here mention that a few steam transports, which, owing to the representations of the Commissary, had been placed by the Admiralty under his exclusive control, were subsequently re-transferred by order of Lord Panmure, when Secretary for War, to the control of the navy.
Sir M. Peto must have acquired in the exercise of his trades of builder and railway contractor much valuable experience, which could not fail to make him a useful member of Parliament if he would only speak on subjects on which he is well informed; but if he is to speak, as he has done on this and a previous occasion, on matters with which he is imperfectly acquainted, he may rely upon it that his character as a legislator will sink below par.
I remain, Sir, your most obedient servant,
A COMMISSARIAT OFFICER WHO SERVED IN THE CRIMEA.