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The buoy that went bump in the night.

By David Kelsey

Based on a presentation by the author to the Crimean War Research Society
on 29 May 1999,
and subsequent articles in the Society’s Journal, The War Correspondent


Contents

Introduction

1. The development of the dispute.
2. The sources.
3. Method of proceeding

A. The proper position of the Agamemnon

B. Lord Raglan’s letter compared with Captain Mends’

The apparent dissociation between the accounts
The underlying similarities
The discrepancies in Lord Raglan’s version
Conclusion that Lord Raglan was mistaken
How the misunderstanding could have arisen

C. Kinglake’s account of the landing

D. Other mentions of buoys

E. What were the landing arrangements supposed to be?

F. Kinglake’s attitude and approach to his history.


Introduction

1. The development of the dispute.

Early in 1863, the second volume of Kinglake’s history of the Crimean campaign was published. It contained an allegation that on the night of Wednesday 13 September 1854 the French had moved a buoy so as to give themselves more room at the expense of the British when the landings began the next morning.

On 23 February 1863 The Times, in reviewing the work, described the allegation as “a sick man’s dream.”

On 20 March 1863 The Times published a letter from Captain William Mends RN casting doubt upon the accuracy of Kinglake’s account.

On 4 April 1863 Kinglake wrote to Mends, enclosing part of a letter dated 18 September 1854 from Lord Raglan to the Duke of Newcastle which stated that the French had wrongly sited a buoy. Kinglake suggested that Mends modify his position.

On 5 April 1863 Mends replied, stating that “though it would seem there was a buoy,” he differed from Lord Raglan, and had no cause to modify his position.

On 9 May 1863 Kinglake’s friend Abraham Hayward anonymously published a pamphlet attacking those who had issued reviews critical of Kinglake, and which described Mends as being “as ignorant . . . as any midshipman.”

On 14 May 1863 The Times reviewed the pamphlet, and alleged that Kinglake had colluded with Hayward to blacken the names of Mends and other officers who had questioned his accuracy.

In the 4th edition of his work, Kinglake added footnotes and an appendix in defence of his original statement. The new material alluded to The Times review and Mends’ letter to the paper, reproduced the extract from Raglan’s letter to Newcastle, and reproduced Kinglake’s correspondence with Mends.

In the 5th edition of the work, Kinglake added two further footnotes to bolster his case: a copy of Admiral Lyons’ order with regard to the sailing of vessels from Eupatoria to the landing place, which Kinglake claimed “proved the absolute accuracy” of Lord Raglan’s account, and an allegedly official French narration with regard to the use of buoys, endorsed by Admiral Hamelin.


2. The sources.

The two principal sources in the matter are:

(a) Lord Raglan’s letter to the Duke of Newcastle dated 18.9.1854
(b) Capt Mends’ letter to The Times dated 18.3.1863

Perhaps the earliest published account of a buoy being moved is:

(c) Col S J G Calthorpe’s Letters from Headquarters, 1856

Kinglake cites, with varying degrees of relevance:

(d) Sir Edmund Lyons’ order with regard to the sailing times of the fleet from Eupatoria
(e) A French narrative endorsed by Admiral Hamelin (actually from the Journal of Lt Garnault¹ of the Ville de Paris, but not so attributed by Kinglake)

There is also a mention of buoys in a French Ministry for War publication:

(f) Atlas Historique et Topographique de la Guerre d’Orient, 1854-6, Paris, 1858

3. Method of proceeding

(A) First we shall offer a summary of Captain Mends’ account of the movements of the Agamemnon, and note what it implies about her proper position in relation to the rest of the fleet.
(B) Then it will be argued that Captain Mends’ account is to be preferred against Lord Raglan’s, adducing evidence that Lord Raglan misunderstood what he had been told about the matter, and suggesting how that misunderstanding might have arisen.
(C) Kinglake’s account of the landing will be examined and shown to be incompatible with other accounts and with the letter of Lord Raglan upon which it relies for its authenticity.
(D) Other mentions of the use of a buoy or buoys on the first day of the landings will be touched upon.
(E) The question of what landing arrangements had been settled upon will be briefly considered.
(F) Conclusions will be drawn as to what this dispute reveals about Kinglake’s attitude and approach to his history.

A. The proper position of the Agamemnon

Captain Mends’ letter to The Times described the movements of the Agamemnon on the morning of 14 September 1854. With Sir Edmund Lyons and himself aboard, she sailed from Eupatoria at 1 a.m. in the company of three other warships, leading the invasion fleet ‘by a long way.’ Lyons took her south until they came to a rocky headland between two beaches – the beaches on which the landings were later made. They stopped engines and hove to off the point while Lyons scanned the coast. They were still in that position when the leading French vessel came close by, and the French admiral first shouted across and then sent a messenger to say that the Agamemnon was too far south – the headland was the line of demarcation between the two armies. At this juncture, Mends says, he drew Lyons’ attention to the approach of the transports. The Spitfire and the Triton were to anchor as markers between which the rest of the fleet would line up, and they were looking to take their positions from the Agamemnon. Lyons immediately ordered the Agamemnon to steam back northwards and to come close inshore. This they did, and dropped anchor in their new position at about 6.30 am. They were then ready, says Mends, to begin landing troops, but Sir George Brown, who was also on the Agamemnon, wanted to wait for Lord Raglan, who was on the Caradoc. The French did begin landing troops as soon as their vessels were in position. In due course the Caradoc came up, Lord Raglan came aboard the Agamemnon and had a short conference with Lyons, following which Lyons gave the order to hoist the landing signal, and the British landing got underway. Such was Captain Mends’ account.

It should be noted that Captain Mends states that the Spitfire and the Triton were to anchor one at each end of the British landing zone, taking their positions from the Agamemnon. This clearly implies that the Agamemnon would be somewhere between them. She was the leading English ship, carrying the Vice Admiral who was directing operations, so her natural position would be somewhere near the middle of the first line of British ships. A plan drawn up by Captain Mends beforehand, marking the relative positions assigned to all the British vessels for the landing, shows the Agamemnon well inside the two end markers.

It is necessary to bear this in mind when comparing Lord Raglan’s and Captain Mends’ versions of events.


B. Lord Raglan’s letter compared with Captain Mends’

The apparent dissociation between the accounts

At no point do Raglan’s and Mends’ letters directly contradict each other about the events of the first morning of the landings. Neither, however, do they confirm each other on any point. They appear, indeed, to be utterly unconnected. It is this which makes them incompatible – they are both supposed to be relating the critical events which took place in a few short hours early that morning along just a mile or two of Crimean coastline, and yet they do not appear to touch at any point. We can no more believe both of them than we can believe that two people could share a hammock without coming into contact with each other.

But we cannot reject either of them out of hand either. Contrary to the basis upon which the unseemly wrangle was waged in the press between Kinglake and his detractors, it is not a matter of choosing sides. We cannot build reliable history on the basis of partisan prejudice. We cannot contemptuously toss aside evidence just because it is inconvenient and does not fit our preferred thesis – certainly not evidence from key witnesses of the standing of Lord Raglan and Captain Mends. If in the end, despite our best efforts to do so, we find we are still unable to accept one-hundred percent of the evidence, then we are going to be obliged to come up with a convincing explanation of how the mistaken testimony might have arisen, and it will not be sufficient just to throw insults at one of the witnesses. But before we reach that stage, our first endeavours surely must be to try to reconcile all the available evidence as far as we possibly can.

The underlying similarities

How, then, can we set about trying to reconcile two accounts which on the face of them have nothing in common? Let us try looking beneath the surface – and when we do that, something unexpected emerges. These two accounts, although superficially unrelated, turn out to be fundamentally very similar. They are both built around the same common skeleton, consisting of three key elements. These common elements are:

1. Both stories are about a marker by which the British fleet was to position itself. In Lord Raglan’s version that marker was a buoy, in Captain Mends’ version the marker was HMS Agamemnon.
2. Both stories say that there were two significant positions for the marker, an original position and a subsequent position further north.
3. Both stories say that it was the French who were instrumental in moving the marker from its original position to the more northerly position.

What are we to make of that? Are we to believe that it is merely a weird coincidence, or can it be that these two stories are both trying to describe the very same events, only one of them has become seriously garbled?

If that is the case, the garbled version has to be Lord Raglan’s. Captain Mends was on board the Agamemnon – it is inconceivable that he might have mistaken a buoy for the Agamemnon. Lord Raglan’s story, however, is a second-hand account – he is retelling what Sir Edmund Lyons told him, so there is an opportunity, an opening for misunderstanding to enter.

The discrepancies in Lord Raglan’s version

This view is strengthened by the fact that if Lord Raglan’s account is examined carefully, it can be seen to contain, brief though it is, no fewer than three discrepancies, each one of which suggest that there is something not quite right about this story.

The first discrepancy is a matter of phrasing. Suppose that you bought a book and found the pages to be bound together in the wrong order, so you are writing to the publisher to complain. You would not write, would you,

“When I got to page 34, I found it was where page 2 ought to be.”
That would hardly make sense. It would be back to front. It would be a highly unnatural way of putting it. Yet Lord Raglan writes,
“When the Agamemnon came upon the buoy at daylight, Sir Edmund Lyons found that the French naval officer had deposited it at the extreme northern end.”
But if the buoy was supposed to be the demarcation between the fleets, and the Agamemnon was supposed to be in the middle of the British line, then the Agamemnon would not have been expecting to come up to the buoy at all, so the more natural way of expressing what Lord Raglan is apparently trying to say would have been something along the lines of,
“When the Agamemnon was en route to her position, she came upon the buoy, which was supposed to be a lot further south.”
The fact that he puts it the other way around, the back to front way, suggests that Lord Raglan is repeating a story of which he has but a tenuous grasp himself.

The second discrepancy in Lord Raglan’s account comes when he says that because the buoy was moved

“the English convoy . . . got mixed with the French transports.”
That is as blatant a non-sequitur as could be imagined. If the buoy is supposed to be the demarcation between the fleets, and it is moved to the north, the natural result of that would be to give the French vessels more leeway and to cram the British vessels up together, or even dislodge them off the end of the beach altogether. It would not result in the two of them becoming mixed, not unless the British vessels were ignoring the buoy, and sailing by dead reckoning, or coastal landmarks, or some other marker; but in that case, what was the purpose of the buoy?

But if the British vessels were sailing according to the position of the Agamemnon, marking the middle of the line, and the Agamemnon went too far south, then indeed the fleets might become mixed together, because that would create an overlap between the British right and the French left. It was this prospect, presumably, which so perturbed the French Admiral when he came upon the Agamemnon anchored off the rocky headland.

And so we see that the consequence described by Lord Raglan (fleets mixed together) would not have followed from the cause which he cites (buoy moved to the north), but might well have followed from the circumstance described by Captain Mends (Agamemnon too far south).

The third discrepancy in Lord Raglan’s account comes at the end, when he says,

“Sir Edmund Lyons wisely resolved to make the best of it, and at once ordered the troops to land in the bay next to the northward.”

He ordered the troops to land further north? Just how might he have transmitted such an order? There surely was no time to send a gig around the dozens of steamers that were coming up behind him with transports in tow, close upon his heels according to Lord Raglan. We cannot believe, can we, that he had had the foresight to define a pre-arranged signal which meant “Do not land where you have been instructed; land in the next bay to the north instead”? And would we not have heard of it long since if he had run up a signal using standard signalling flags: “England expects every man to land in the bay next to the northward”? No, there was only one way, only one practical way, that he could have got the transports to land further north, and that was to lead them there himself – which is exactly what Captain Mends describes him as doing. So again we have a statement from Lord Raglan’s account which makes more sense in the context of Captain Mends’ account than it does in the context from which it comes.


Conclusion that Lord Raglan was mistaken

Taking all these factors together – the curious underlying similarity between the two accounts, and the discrepancies in Lord Raglan’s version which are resolved in the light of Captain Mends’ version – taking all that together the conclusion becomes irresistible that Lord Raglan had somehow got hold of the wrong end of the stick, and that his supposed buoy was in fact HMS Agamemnon.

But how could such a misunderstanding have arisen? How could Lord Raglan have fallen prey to this misconception? The answer to that must lie in what passed between Lord Raglan and Sir Edmund Lyons on board the Agamemnon that morning. Unfortunately there was no fly on the bulkhead to leave a detailed account of what was said. Let us then try an imaginative reconstruction.

How the misunderstanding could have arisen

Consider the circumstances. As the Caradoc steamed forward to join the Agamemnon, Lord Raglan would have been able to look ahead and to his right over the starboard bow and see the French beach in the distance – thousands of French troops ashore (by that time literally more than a thousand), boatloads more streaming from ship to shore, and to cap it all the French flag flying over Russian soil. Then when he boarded the Agamemnon, he would get a close view of the British beach – not a soldier ashore, not a boat on its way even. Would it be unreasonable to guess that the first words of the Commander-in-Chief to his Vice-Admiral in charge of operations may have been tinged with criticism? “What is the meaning of this, Lyons? Why are none of our troops ashore? Why are we letting the French beat us?” How might Lyons have defended himself against such an opening?

He may well have tried “There was a problem with the French, my Lord.” Lord Raglan would have been very receptive to the suggestion that English troubles were all the fault of the French. Moreover, Lyons need tell no lies. There had indeed been a problem, and it had indeed involved the French, and so there had been a problem “with” the French. If Lord Raglan took that to mean that the French had caused the problem, that was his interpretation. The famous crossword compiler Afrit said that a cryptic clue does not have to mean what it says, but it does have to say what it means. It is possible that Lyons proceeded on some such basis, carefully and truthfully saying exactly what he meant, but without meaning what Lord Raglan heard him say.

For example,
he might truthfully have said that the problem concerned the marker by which the British fleet was to position itself;
he might truthfully have said that he had taken the Agamemnon to the point of demarcation;
he might truthfully have said that when he got there he found that the French put the marker further north;
he might truthfully have said that there was a danger of the fleets getting mixed together;
he might truthfully have said that he had averted that danger by directing the British transports to land further north.
In short, he might truthfully have described the very sequence of events contained in Captain Mends’ account, but in such terms as allowed Lord Raglan to think that he meant that the French had moved a buoy.

It would be fair to assume that if Lyons suspected that his handling of the Agamemnon had not been all that it might have been, then he would not have been inclined to be overly explicit about what exactly had taken place. For his part, Lord Raglan, although no doubt wanting to learn the reasons for the delay, would have been even more anxious to see the landing get under way at last, and so in listening to Lyons’ explanations he may well have exuded an air of “Oh, never mind all that, just get on with it now.” If so, reticence on the part of Admiral Lyons and impatience on the part of Lord Raglan would have combined to create a situation conducive to ambiguity and misunderstanding.


C. Kinglake’s account of the landing

Although Kinglake quoted it as his source, Lord Raglan’s letter does not substantiate, and indeed contradicts, his own account. As the original is rather long, I shall give a summary of it here, as fairly as I can:

The allied fleets took up their positions in Old Fort Bay on Wednesday the 13th September, properly aligned on either side of the buoy, ready for landing in the morning. But during the night the French took up the buoy, rowed it right across the front of the English fleet, and deposited it at the northern end. Thus in the morning the English found themselves the “wrong” side of the buoy. Rather than insist upon the original arrangement, which would have occasioned considerable confusion, Lyons and Raglan decided to use the northern beach as an alternative, and the English fleet quickly upped anchor and moved northwards. In order not to prejudice the alliance, Raglan and Lyons kept what had happened secret.

One hardly knows whether to laugh or cry at this account. All other sources say that the fleets stayed off Eupatoria until the early hours of Thursday the 14th. Raglan’s letter itself says that Lyons came upon the buoy at daylight, and that the British transports were following him. Kinglake himself reproduces an order in which Lyons instructs that the divisions should be under weigh at intervals from 1 a.m. to 4 a.m., steering SSE 8 miles to the landing beaches . Kinglake says that this order proves “the absolute accuracy” of Lord Raglan’s assertion that it had been settled that a buoy should be placed in the centre of Old Fort Bay. It does nothing of the sort, but it does disprove his own statement that the fleets were in their landing positions on the 13th.

Even if they had been, and the French had moved the buoy as he describes, the English surely would have assumed that the buoy had dragged its moorings in the night, and would have expected the French to do likewise. How did Raglan and Lyons make a joint decision to use the alternative beach, when they were on two different vessels?And if the British vessels had made the movements alleged, how could that have been kept secret from all those on board? The British landing fleet in position would have consisted of two dozen steamers, nearly all with two transports in tow in line astern, drawn up in six lines parallel to the coast, facing south. (See Mends’ plan.) There could have been no question of their “backing up” a mile or so. If Kinglake’s story is true, they must have turned around. To have done so in line would have required them to sail in an elongated circle of about a mile radius, starting by continuing south (through the French fleet!), and then making a wide sweeping turn starboard through 360°, so as to fetch up a mile or two north of where they started. Alternatively, each steamer would have had to make a sharp starboard turn (with two transports in tow, remember), steam back northwards in reverse order, and then repeat the “about turn” opposite their own beach. To suppose that any such manœuvre could have taken place without being remarked upon by any of those on board is beyond belief.

William Russell was an eye witness of the first day’s landings. (Kinglake was not – he was out at sea on board the Britannia and did not land until a few days later.) Russell’s account of the landing contains no hint of the chaotic scenes required by Kinglake’s fanciful version.


Daybreak [of the 14th September 1854] gave promise of a lovely morning. The vast armada, which had moved on during the night in perfect order, studded the horizon with a second heaven of stars, and covering the face of the sea with innumerable lights, advanced parallel with the coast till it gradually closed in towards the shore.

At seven a.m. most of the fleet were inshore near their prescribed positions. As the expedition drew up in lines parallel to the beach, the French fleet passed us under steam, and extended itself on our right, and ran in close to shore below the cliffs of the plateau. Their small war steamers went much nearer than ours were allowed to do, and a little after seven o’clock the first French boat put off from one of the men-of-war; not more than 15 or 16 men were on board her. She was beached quietly on shore at the southern extremity of the red cliff. The crew leaped out, formed into a knot on the strand, and seemed busily engaged for a few moments over one spot of ground, as though they were digging a grave. Presently a flag-staff was visible above their heads, and in a moment the tricolor was run up to the top, and fluttered out gaily in the wind, while the men took off their hats, and no doubt did their “Vive l’Empereur!” in good style. The French were thus the first to take possession of the Crimea.

The most scrutinizing gaze at this moment could not have detected a hostile uniform along the coast. The French admiral fired a gun shortly after eight o’clock, and the disembarkation of their troops commenced. In little more than an hour they got 6,000 men on shore. Their whole force to be landed consisted of 23,600 men. Our army amounted to 27,000 men.

The instant the French had landed a regiment, a company was pushed on to reconnoitre. As each regiment followed in column, its predecessors deployed and advanced in light marching order en tirailleur, spreading out like a fan over the plains. It was most curious and interesting to observe their progress, and to note the rapid manner in which they were appropriating the soil. In about an hour after their first detachment had landed their advanced posts were discernible between three and four miles from the beach, like little black specks moving over the corn-fields, and darkening the highways and meadow paths.

In our fleet the whole labour and responsibility of the disembarkation rested with Sir E Lyons. About nine o’clock one black ball was run up to the fore of the “Agamemnon”, and a gun was fired to enforce attention to the signal. This meant, “Divisions of boats to assemble round ships for which they are told off, to disembark infantry and artillery.”

. . .

By twelve o’clock that barren and desolate beach . . . was swarming with life. From one extremity to the other, bayonets glistened and red coats and brass-mounted shakoes gleamed in solid masses. . . . Up to three o’clock we had landed 14,200 men, and two batteries of artillery.

[From Despatches from the Crimea,1854-56, by William Russell]


D. Other mentions of buoys

Calthorpe

Calthorpe also has a buoy story. What Calthorpe says is this:

“On the morning of September 14th, 1854, at 3 a.m., we weighed anchor, and from then till 8 a.m. the transports etc were getting into their proper places. There was some confusion in consequence of the French taking up one of our buoys as they left, so in that manner they threw us out by half a mile, which caused much crowding”.

This is not the same as Kinglake’s version, nor Raglan’s version. The French took up the buoy “as they left.” As they left where? This sounds as if the buoy was in the reaches off Eupatoria. How can the removal of a buoy cause crowding? The purpose of a buoy is to direct or constrain the movement of vessels. Its absence might result in their becoming lost or being scattered, but it can hardly cause them to become crowded. Just as Raglan’s conclusion (that the fleets got mixed together) does not follow logically from the cause which he cites (of the buoy being moved to the north), but belongs rather with the events described by Mends (of the Agamemnon going too far south), so Calthorpe’s conclusion (that our vessels were crowded) does not follow logically from the cause which he cites (of a buoy being removed entirely), but belongs rather with the cause assigned by Raglan (of the buoy being moved to the north)!

The scrambled connections between these different versions is indicative of a story ‘going the rounds,’ and acquiring a new twist with each telling. Calthorpe was inclined to include camp gossip in his journal (sometimes scurrilous gossip, as he found out to his cost when Cardigan sued him). The buoy story was probably in this category, with as many versions as there were tongues to relay it.

After his brief mention of the French removing the buoy, Calthorpe goes on to castigate Admiral Dundas at some length for lying too far offshore, failing to provide boats, and doing “all in his power to thwart and annoy Sir Edmund Lyons and Lord Raglan.” There is no doubt that in Calthorpe’s mind, Dundas impeded the landing far more than the French did.

It is interesting to note that Kinglake makes no reference to Calthorpe’s buoy story, although it had been published well before his own book, and he must have been aware of it. It is not difficult to see why he would choose to ignore it. It obviously does not describe an independent event, but is another version of Raglan’s story. Seeing the two together raises doubts about the accuracy of them both.

Lt. Garnault

Lieutenant Garnault’s journal, which Kinglake quotes without indicating its relevance, tells how three French vessels, the Primauget, the Caton, and the Mouette, were sent ahead to place, a short distance offshore, some coloured buoys to mark the moorings of the French columns.

Atlas Historique

The notes in the French map make it clear that the buoys mentioned by Lt. Garnault would have been in a line at right angles to the coast, to indicate how far from the shore each line of French ships should moor. This, of course, is a quite different matter to placing a buoy or buoys along the coast to mark how much territory each of the allies was allocated.

What is said in these notes is of considerable relevance to the question to be addressed next.


E. Where were the British supposed to land?

Was there a prior arrangement that the British and the French would share the southern beach (Old Fort), which the French abrogated, or were the French justified in supposing that the Old Fort beach was theirs, and the British would take the Kamishlu beach? Our two best clues are Lord Raglan’s attitude towards the French, and the Agamemnon’s movements on the first morning of the landings.

Lord Raglan’s attitude.

Raglan’s peculiar style of command makes it difficult to be certain that there was any agreed arrangement at all. In the first place, Raglan was by temperament loath to make forward plans, preferring to wait and see how things turned out. (This would not necessarily have been a defect in a Commander-in-Chief, had he not combined it with a reluctance to allow his generals to act upon their own initiative.) Added to this he had an almost pathological distrust of the French which made him suspicious of any arrangement to which they had assented.

In July, while the allies were at Varna, a reconnaissance by HMS Fury, with Sir George Brown and General Canrobert on board, had identified the mouth of the Katcha as the best place for a landing, and this was the intended destination of the invasion fleet when it set sail. While it was at sea, however, there were second thoughts, and the French suggested that consideration should be given to other possible sites south of Sebastopol. Accordingly a second reconnaissance was made on the 10th of September, this time by the Caradoc with Lord Raglan himself, General Canrobert, Sir Edmund Lyons, Sir John Burgoyne, and Sir George Brown on board. Starting from Sebastopol the Caradoc steamed northward up the coast examining potential landing sites. Of these, Canrobert preferred the original choice, the Katcha, but Raglan decided upon the last site inspected, the beach at Old Fort.

Canrobert thus had the unenviable task of returning to St Arnaud to report not only that he had failed to persuade Raglan to move the landings to the south of Sebastopol, but that they were now to be even further north of the town than originally planned. This perversity on the part of Lord Raglan was not a propitious foundation for co-operation over the landing arrangements.

[We shall not here ponder the mystery that Menschikoff was already preparing his defences on the Alma, even while all in the allied camp except Lord Raglan believed that they would land south of the Alma.]

The Agamemnon’s movements.

Why did Lyons hold the Agamemnon for so long off the point between the two beaches? It should be noted that this was not her proper position under either arrangement. If the British were to share the Old Fort beach, then the Agamemnon should have been further south; if they were to take the Kamishlu beach, then she should have been further north. The position in which Lyons hovered until chivvied by the French admiral was halfway between the two, a position of indecision. Why was that?

When Raglan chose Old Fort, he had approached from the south. There is no record that he considered the Kamishlu beach, or even knew that it existed. A contemporary account noted that this sand spit was so low that it was easy to overlook it, literally, and mistake the lake beyond it as being an inlet of the sea. On the morning of the 14th however, Lyons had approached from the north. He had to sail the length of the Kamishlu beach before reaching the point, and it must have occurred to him that it made little sense for both armies to share the smaller beach when this glorious strand was available.

This, of course, should have been noticed at least a day earlier. The vanguard of the allied fleets had had days in which to make a final close-quarter reconnaissance of the landing places. It appears however, that the British failed to do so. It is noticeable that Captain Mends refers to “the coast selected by the allied Admirals and Generals during the final reconnaissance on the 10th,” implying that no further reconnaissance had been made.

The French, however, had taken the prudent step of a final reconnaissance on the 13th, as the notes in the French map indicate. In the location that Lord Raglan had chosen on the 10th they found two undefended beaches with good moorings and good facilities for landing men, horses, and supplies. It had been agreed that the French army would march on the right of the British, so they took it for granted that they would land on the rightmost (southern) beach, and the British on the leftmost (northern) beach.

Conclusion

There can be no doubt that it was in fact better to use both beaches than to share the smaller beach. Even Kinglake is forced to admit as much, but he explains what would otherwise reflect upon Lord Raglan’s judgment by insisting that this was so only because the Russians did not oppose the landing – for an opposed landing, he maintains, Lord Raglan’s plan was superior.

Why was there no opposition? The British encountered such difficulty making a landing unopposed that one is tempted to wonder if they could have succeeded against resistance. It seems at first as if it would have been a simple matter for the Russians to prevent the allies landing at all. This however overlooks the total dominance that the allied fleets enjoyed in the Black Sea. Overawed by the steam-power in which they themselves were deficient, the Russian fleet made no attempt to engage the enemy at sea. This meant that any Russian land forces massing near the coast would be subject to bombardment by heavy naval artillery without having any means to reply, there being no defensive fortifications between Sebastopol and Eupatoria. The invaders would have had the advantage of this artillery cover before landing, but not once troops were ashore and engaged with the enemy.

Menschikoff decided not to risk it, but if he had done so, the allies’ tactics would have had to be to inflict as much damage as possible by preliminary barrages, and then put a sufficient number of men on shore as fast as possible, before the Russians could recover. For this, using both beaches would still have been the better option. The argument that it meant separating the French from the British overlooks the numbers of men involved. In the march from Old Fort to the Alma, the allied forces covered a front of some four miles. It is disproportionate to suppose that the bluff between the two beaches represented an unacceptable barrier. It might be borne in mind also that as soon as they had a regiment ashore, the French sent one company of it a mile or so inland, which puts the issue of “separation” into perspective.

It is symptomatic of Kinglake’s prejudice that he does not see the illogicality of complaining that only French “perfidy” compelled the British to accede to the obviously superior arrangement of using both beaches.


F. Kinglake’s attitude and approach to his history.

To all scientists, philosophers, and other rational humans, “truth” is a matter of objective reality. It would be a mistake, however, to assume that Kinglake took the same view. He was a politician and a lawyer, two callings founded upon the premise that “truth” may be decreed by diktat. (Should any of my readers be inclined to doubt that assertion, let them see how far they can browse through English statute law without coming across the expression “shall be deemed to be.”) For Kinglake “truth” was predetermined, and his mission was not to find it, but to propagate it. For him, “research” was not an enquiry into what had actually happened, but the building of a case to support the brief for which he had been engaged.

There were two articles of faith which Kinglake held to be unquestionable: the perfidy of the French, and the infallibility of Lord Raglan. The fact that Raglan shared the former served to reinforce the latter. These preconceptions determined all Kinglake’s conclusions. Evidence would then be assembled, selected and distorted as necessary, to support those conclusions. If the evidence proved to be particularly intractable, it would simply be passed off as if it were something it was not.

This was sometimes so transparent as be almost laughable. For example, Kinglake recounts that while at Varna Lord Raglan doubted the wisdom of invading the Crimea, that he contemplated refusing to do so, that he yielded to Government orders only for fear of being replaced if he did not, that the British did not even think of equipping themselves with landing craft until they saw that the French had already done so, and that St. Arnaud grew so impatient with the tardiness of the British embarcation that he sailed off alone. What conclusion does Kinglake draw from all this? Why, that Lord Raglan was the only man in the allied armies totally committed to the invasion! This is not an inference from the evidence, it is a judgment ex cathedra, and any layman who dare question it is guilty of contempt.

When he came to recount the allied landings, we may imagine Kinglake’s grim satisfaction at finding that he possessed a letter from Lord Raglan to the Duke of Newcastle stating categorically that the French had misplaced a buoy. There was however a snag – the letter did not make sense. It said that because of the misplacement of the buoy, the English and French fleets became mixed together. This was not a natural consequence of such an act. The letter also said that confusion had arisen, but no other contemporary account bore that out. An open mind would have been led to examine the letter more carefully, and find the discrepancies enumerated above, but for Kinglake the conclusion, that the French had unwarrantably interfered with the British landing, had the ring of “truth.” The inconsequentiality and incompatibility could be avoided by rewriting the events of that morning.

And so we have the Kinglake version: that the fleets were already in their proper positions, either side of the buoy, when the French moved the buoy from its proper position to the wrong position. The confusion which Lord Raglan mentions was a potential confusion which would have occurred if the British fleet had stayed where it was or had attempted to adjust the position of the buoy, but was avoided by the wise decision of Raglan and Lyons to change the fleet’s orders, and move to the other beach. This movement escaped the notice of all other observers because Raglan and Lyons kept it secret.

No matter that Lord Raglan does not say that the buoy was moved, only that it was misplaced in the first instance — no matter that Lord Raglan does not say that the British fleet was moored in position but says that it was still following the Agamemnon when she came upon the misplaced buoy — no matter that all other accounts and all other evidence show that the fleets were not moored off Old Fort bay on the 13th. — no matter that Lord Raglan specifically states that confusion was caused — no matter that Lord Raglan credits Lyons alone with the decision to move to the other beach. The French must have done wrong and must have attempted to injure our cause and Lord Raglan must have saved the day, therefore the Kinglake version must be true.

Then Mends had the effrontery to write to The Times with a description of the events of that morning which did not sit well with Kinglake’s, on no better authority than that he was the originator of the plan that was being followed, was in command of the flagship of the Vice-Admiral directing operations, and was an eye-witness to what occurred. Kinglake could not tolerate such ignorant impudence. This was not further evidence suggesting a revision of his work, it was an heretical denial of the teachings of the book, and Mends must be made to recant.

Kinglake’s attack was two-fold: he briefed his friend Hayward to inveigh against Mends in the journals to which he contributed under different noms de plume, while he himself wrote to Mends, disclosing for the first time the contents of Lord Raglan’s letter, and demanding, in effect, that Mends either retract or call Lord Raglan a liar. Mends was a serving officer; he was not about to be expressly critical of his former commander in chief. Raglan had been dead for eight years, and even during his lifetime his inadequacies as a commander were apparent to the Government and even aired in the press, but the war had been won nevertheless, Raglan had died in service, and his widow still survived. There existed an unspoken pact that the principle of nil nisi bonum should continue to be observed in his respect. Mends accordingly replied to Kinglake in moderate terms, sticking to his guns with polite circumspection.

Mends had a nice way with words. He said, in his reply to Kinglake, that “it would seem there was a buoy.” This of course may be read in two ways, either “it would seem there was a buoy (and I was in error denying it),” or “it would seem there was a buoy (but actually there was not).” Kinglake, for all his pretensions as a littérateur, had not the subtlety to see beyond the first meaning. The nuances of Mends’ original letter also seemed to escape him. Mends had appreciated the logical difficulties of asserting a negative fact. He expressly said, “I will not take upon myself to state positively that there was no buoy.” He also said “it is not impossible that Sir Edmund Lyons may have entered upon a confidential agreement with the French Admiral that the duty of placing a buoy . . . should be kept in the hands of the French, . . . but it is passing strange that . . . [he] should have given me no instructions relative to it.” Another fine ambiguity. Did he mean “Admiral Lyons may have done this (and pigs may fly),” or did he mean “Admiral Lyons may have done this (it was just the tomfool sort of idiocy he was capable of)”? Having offered us this teasing thought, Mends averred “I remember nothing about a buoy.” This was a polite form of words to avoid being offensively dogmatic in stating his belief that there was no buoy, but offensive dogmatism was Kinglake’s stock-in-trade, and with callow sophistry he italicised these words when he printed Mends’ letter in an appendix, implying that Mends was confessing that he had forgotten what had taken place.

Kinglake then rooted around for any bits of evidence that might support, or be represented as supporting, his case. He found Garnault’s journal, but Garnault was a mere Lieutenant, small fry compared with Mends. So while Hayward was busily demoting Mends to be “as ignorant as any midshipman,” Kinglake promoted Garnault’s journal to be the despatch of Admiral Hamelin. For good measure, he threw in Lyons’ order to the fleet with regard to the sailing times from Eupatoria. There is an old forensic maxim that even irrelevant evidence is better than no evidence at all. Counsel can grasp the lapels of his gown, glare sternly at the jury, and declare in his most authoritative tones, “You have seen the evidence!” If he is imposing enough, and the jury impressionable enough, there is a good chance that it will escape notice that the evidence had no relevance to the point being argued. This is the trick that Kinglake attempts with his additional “evidence.” Lyons’ order, he says, proved the “absolute accuracy” of Lord Raglan’s statement that a buoy should be placed in the centre of Old Fort bay as the demarcation between the two armies, and he offers the French account as evidence that Mends was totally unaware of “the change which had been effected, or even saw that they were brought to a new landing-ground.” No matter that Mends specifically describes the movement of the Agamemnon to her second position — no matter that Lyons’ order makes no mention of buoys — no matter that Lyons’ order proves the falsity of Kinglake’s own account — no matter that Garnault’s journal makes no mention of a buoy to divide the French from the English. He in whose hands reposed the determination of the history of the war had spoken, and only the impious would dare raise a doubtful voice.

If this were the only chapter infected by such malignancy it would be bad enough, but alas! similar symptoms of the virus are apparent throughout the whole of the work. Unfortunately, Kinglake’s pre-emption of so much of the documentary evidence renders it virtually impossible for any history of the Crimean War to be independent of his baneful influence. He promised in an introduction to Volume I “I shall keep and leave ready the clue by which, in some later time, and without further aid from me, my statements may be traced to their sources.” This was a politician’s promise, to be most cruelly broken when he ordered all his papers to be destroyed upon his death.

Hibbert² tells us that upon first catching sight of Kinglake on the morning of the battle of the Alma, Lord Raglan asked “Does anyone know who the gentleman is?” A staff officer replied, “I think he’s one of the newspaper reporters, my Lord. Shall I send him away?” Lord Raglan made many an unwise decision during the course of the Crimean campaign, but perhaps none so bad as the one he made at that moment. He failed to say “Yes.”


1. “actually from the Journal of Lt Garnault” – I am indebted to Bert Gedin for this information.

2. The Destruction of Lord Raglan, by Christopher Hibbert, Longmans Green & Co, 1961, pp. 55,56


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