Sir — I throw myself upon your goodness to give the enclosed letter to Mr A W Kinglake a place in your journal, for I know no other way in which to meet the extensive circulation of his recent work, the Invasion of the Crimea; and, believing that you who so stood by the soldier in the field will not deny him the advantage of your columns when it is in defence of his reputation,
I have the honour to be, Sir,
Your most obedient servant,
W NORCOTT, Colonel
Tours, France, March 17
Belle Vue, La Tranchée, Tours, France, March 17
Sir,— In the second volume of your Invasion of the Crimea, which I have only just seen, and at page 253, in describing the position of the English army on its advance towards the Alma, is the following paragraph:-
‘Immediately on Sir De Lacy’s left the Light Division, preceded by Norcott with a wing of the 2d Rifle Battalion, in skirmishing order, moved forward under Sir George Brown.’
And at page 306, when asserting that a well-ordered assault was open to the assailants of the Great Redoubt, you express yourself as follows:-
‘To storm a position thus held in strength by forces of all arms, and to answer at the same time for the safety of the Allied Army against a flank attack, was a task of great moment; but, on the other hand, Sir George Brown was not without means for preparing a well-ordered assault, for the enemy was making no attempts to hold the vineyards in strength; and on the Russian side of the river the bank, though very steep, and from 8 feet to 15 feet in height, was yet so broken that a skirmisher seeking to bring his eye and his rifle to a level with the summit would easily find a ledge for his foot. Here, then, was exactly the kind of cover which the assailants needed; for if this steep bank could be seized and lined for a few minutes by their skirmishers it would enable their main body to recover its formation after passing the river. But in order to lay hold of the advantages thus offered by the nature of the ground it was of necessity to take care that the advance of the Light Division should be amply covered by skirmishers. This was not done. The Rifles under Norcott had long before scoured the vineyards, but they had swerved away towards the left, and, fording the river higher up, had left Codrington’s brigade without any skirmishers to cover its advance. No other light infantrymen were thrown forward in their stead, and the whole body went stark on with bare front driving full at the enemy’s stronghold.’
This paragraph briefly summed up reads thus:— Had Norcott, whose place was in Codrington’s front, been where he ought to have been, the main body would have recovered its lost formation, and the result of the assault have been very different from what it was.
This, Sir, is hard if it be unfounded, and never were detailed circumstances so utterly opposed to known facts! This being the case, you may, perhaps, understand how they have been read by a soldier who, having served upwards of 37 years, had retired with the cheering recollection of having rendered service on that day. I proceed to expose the unfounded paragraphs:-
With regard, then, to the first. I did not precede the Light Division, as therein stated. The wing I had the honour to command covered the flank of the division, coming up to the front only on the division deploying into line, and so necessarily in front of General Buller’s, or left brigade (my proper place), and not of Codrington’s (the right brigade), which from the first had its own skirmishers. It was in front of General Buller’s brigade, then (my proper place), that I went down into action, and in that brigade’s front, straight as a line could draw it, after passing vineyards and river, I lie exactly as shown in your plan (No. 2) of the battle.
I now come to your second paragraph.
The spot I had gained was an eastward continuation of that steep bank you speak of, and from it I noted Codrington’s brigade crossing the river, and saw his need. I at once determined to carry my wing to him, and place myself at his disposal, and did so, and if the columns of the enemy moving down upon his brigade did not take the full advantage they might have done it was — I say it boldly, for my riflemen well earned the meed — from the oblique and searching fire* my line of skirmishers was dealing out to them, as into haystacks, as, inclining to the right under the friendly cover of the bank alluded to, we gained the point proposed.
So far, then, from having left Codrington’s brigade without skirmishers, I carried support and cover to it, and so, when the moment came, had the honour to take a part with the noble hearts who went so fearlessly at the Great Redoubt — a part which Lord Raglan, in his despatch, was pleased to term material.
What I have stated I believe the whole army (there) to know, and I have no fear but that its readers of your work will pause over the paragraphs I have quoted to do me justice. But there are other than military readers; and so it is that I claim the privilege of making public this letter, trusting that, in the event of your work reaching a third edition, you will do me the only reparation in your power.
I have the honour to be, Sir,
Your obedient servant,
W NORCOTT, Colonel, late Rifle Brigade
A W Kinglake, Esq.
* The Minié rifles, only served out to the army but a short period before, had been in the hands of the Rifle Brigade for upwards of two years.