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The Times 20.8.1868 p 10

Letter


MR KINGLAKE’S INVASION OF THE CRIMEA

TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES

Sir — I have not the smallest doubt that Sir W Codrington would have been quite willing to encounter the whole Russian army with the Light Division, maimed as it was, on the night Lord Raglan “slept at Tractir-bridge with the army under his command, English and French, wandering for mile in broken, straggling columns behind him;” but, although I do not hope to convince General Codrington that the Light Division was only part of a whole, and a very small part, I beg to call his attention to Mr Kinglake’s own account of the state of affairs on the occasion in question, and for that account I disclaim all responsibility. I quote it to justify the summary to which General Codrington objects. First, let the General recollect that Mr Kinglake’s proposition was, that the whole army, French and English, derived advantages from the undivided command, and was greatly benefited by Lord Raglan’s control. Next let him read the passages I will lay before his eyes, which shall be in the very words of Mr Kinglake, and which follow the account of the wonderful escape Lord Raglan had from the Russian rear-guard. First, as to the condition of the English troops the day:—

“It was a laborious task for troops which were not at the time in the enjoyment of great bodily strength to have to tear their way through steep forest ground without a road or a path; and at one of the halts which took place with a portion of the foot regiments already near the summit of the heights some impatience broke out, for, there being no water, the men felt the torment of thirst. There arose a low, grave, momentous sound — the murmur of angered soldiery. Each man, while he sat or lay on the ground, hoarsely groaned out the same intense word. The one utterance heard travelling along the lines was ‘Water! water! water!’ This was not in the hearing of Lord Raglan.”

Next, as to the mode in which the troops arrived in the valley:—

“Still pushing forward, but by a painful effort (for this day’s was a long and forced march), the bulk of the army at last descended upon the Tchernaya, at the point where its waters were crossed by the Tractir-bridge; but darkness had long set in before the bulk of the troops gained their bivouac on the banks of the stream, and some did not reach it that night.”

Next, as to the relations of the English army with the French army for the purposes of mutual action, Lord Raglan being in sole command of both:-

“While the main body of the English army thus lay on the Tchernaya, the road by which they had come was still crowded, miles back, by their trains; and the obstruction thus caused prevented the French from pushing their march for that night beyond Mackenzie’s Farm; indeed, their rear-guard was not able to reach its bivouac there until 3 o’clock in the morning.”

Now as to the mode in which the march was conducted:—

“The underwood was in some places so thick as to leave but a very narrow choice of path, and in general it was found impracticable for the troops to preserve any kind of formation. The men of each battalion broke through as best they could, passing sometimes over ground where several could be working their way abreast of one another, but at other times compelled to break into Indian file.”

Lord Raglan and his staff were at the river bridge before dark. The Light Division took up its position at dusk — “darkness had long set in before the bulk of the troops had gained their bivouac on the banks of the stream, and some did not reach it that night.” Now, if Mr Kinglake had been a little precise and told us who those “some” were and when they came to the river, he might have thrown even a clearer light on the condition of the force than he does. Notwithstanding Sir W Codrington’s persistence, Mr Kinglake does, in effect, when his words are put in plain English, state that Lord Raglan’s army, French and English, “was wandering for miles in broken, straggling columns behind him.”

For some reason or other, after Lord Raglan came on the Russian rear-guard, “to their mutual surprise” (Mr Kinglake), a halt of two hours nearly occurred at Mackenzie’s Farm; otherwise, the intervals between the columns would have been more serious; but it is quite certain that the troops were coming down from the heights to the river all night — that the French never came down that night at all, and that Cathcart’s division was left nearly two days’ march away:-

“For some 30 hours or more Cathcart had been left so far isolated as to make it seem likely that he would have occasion for showing his quality as a commander, and he contemplated the eventuality of being attacked in a way which would oblige him to burn his baggage and cut his way through; but the enemy forbore, attempting nothing against him.”

Now, having said so much to justify my summary of Mr Kinglake’s account of the ordering of the march, let me point out to General Codrington that Lord Raglan and the head-quarters staff had, before they descended into the valley, seen a force of Russians, horse and foot, estimated then at from 25,000 to 30,000 men, and that they went down into a plain which these troops had traversed, and, in the condition described by Mr Kinglake, took up a position at nightfall with that array of the enemy somewhere on their left flank, and with the enemy in Sebastopol, of whose force they knew nothing at all, on their right. The “description of the army on its march and on its bivouac that day and night” is not mine. I gave a critical summary of the statements in the book under review, and if an impression unjust to the army, its commanders, and Lord Raglan be the result, the author, not the reviewer, must be held responsible for the wrong.

If Mr Kinglake’s description of the gallant General — and that he is gallant, vigilant, and courteous no one who knows him can deny — be correct, however, I fear I shall have great difficulty in convincing him by any amount of printed proof, for he has “the close, tight lips bespeaking the obstinate man who lives a life undistracted by breadth and diversity of views,” and, having seen that his own brigade was up at nightfall and properly posted, he will go on maintaining that the whole French and English army was not wandering for miles in broken columns, behind Lord Raglan, no matter what Mr Kinglake may say to the contrary.

Your obedient servant
THE REVIEWER


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