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Crimean texts


Hansard


House of Lords, Friday 2.3.1855


THE EARL OF LUCAN: My Lords, under the circumstances, painful to myself, and I should say very extraordinary, if not altogether unprecedented, in which I appear before your Lordships, I trust I shall receive your kind indulgence while I read the papers which I now hold in my hand, explanatory of the reasons why I present myself to your Lordships, and why I am not where I should be — at the seat of war. When I have read the papers, it is not my intention to add one word of comment or remark; but your Lordships will allow me to state at the outset that on my arrival in this country I immediately communicated with the Commander in Chief, and asked that noble Lord to have my conduct in the Crimea investigated by a court martial. So long, my Lords, as I can hope — as I at the present moment confidently hope — that my conduct will be submitted to the fair and impartial investigation of officers of the army, who, in all such matters, are the most competent judges that could be chosen, I shall be silent, and will not utter a word in this House. I hope my silence will not be misinterpreted; but, at the same time, I hope your Lordships will permit me to call your attention to the correspondence which I hold in my hand.

My Lords, the three following letters were handed to me on Wednesday, the 14th of February, by a member of Lord Raglan’s staff. The first letter is from Lord Raglan, and is addressed to myself —

“Before Sebastopol, Feb. 12, 1855

My Lord — Having transmitted to the Minister for War the Letter which your Lordship addressed to me on the 30th of November last, for that Purpose, I have now the honour to forward to you the Copy of a Despatch which I received this Evening from the Duke of Newcastle, with its Enclosure from General Viscount Hardinge.

Your Lordship will perceive that the Queen has been Pleased to approve of the Recommendation of the General Commanding-in-Chief, that you should be Recalled, and that, in communicating to you this Decision, the Minister for War has instructed me to Inform your Lordship that it is Her Majesty’s Pleasure that you should Resign the Command of the Cavalry and return to England.

I have the honour to be, my Lord
Your Lordship’s most obedient, humble servant,
RAGLAN

Lieutenant-General the Earl of Lucan”

Such, my Lords, were the contents of Lord Raglan’s letter. The date of the enclosure from the Duke of Newcastle — and this, my Lords, is a point of importance, to which I beg to call your particular attention — was the 27th of January. His Grace wrote in the following terms —

“War Department, Jan. 27, 1855

My Lord — I have to acknowledge your Lordship’s Despatch dated the 16th of December, enclosing the Copy of a Letter addressed to you by Lieutenant-General the Earl of Lucan, and submitting to me Observations upon its Contents.

Upon the receipt of that Despatch I felt that the Public Service and the general Discipline of the Army must be greatly prejudiced by any Misunderstanding between your Lordships as the General commanding Her Majesty’s Forces in the Field, and the Lieutenant Commanding the Division of Cavalry; but, desiring to be fortified in all Matters of this Nature by the Opinions of the General commanding in Chief, I submitted without Delay, your Lordship’s Despatch and the Letter of the Earl of Lucan for the Consideration of General the Viscount Hardinge.

I have the Honour of enclosing, for your Lordship’s Guidance, an Extract from the Reply which I have this day received from Lord Hardinge, and which has been submitted to and approved by the Queen.

I have therefore to instruct your Lordship to communicate this Decision to the Earl of Lucan, and to inform his Lordship that he should resign the Command of the Cavalry Division and return to England.

In performing this painful Duty, I purposely abstain from any Comments upon the Correspondence submitted to me; but I must observe that, apart from any Consideration of the Merits of the Question raised by Lord Lucan, the Position in which he has now placed himself towards your Lordship renders his Withdrawal from the Army under your Command in all respects advisable.

I have, &c
NEWCASTLE

Field-Marshal the Lord Raglan, GCB, &c”

The second enclosure was a letter from Viscount Hardinge to the Duke of Newcastle. It was to the following effect —

“Horse Guards, Jan. 26, 1855

Lord Lucan, in his Letter of the 30th of November, objects to the Terms used by Lord Raglan in his public Despatch, that his Orders for the Light Brigade to charge were given under a Misconception of the written Order, &c. He declines to withdraw that Letter, and adheres to the Construction he has put upon the Order, that it compelled him to direct a Charge.

The Papers having been referred by your Grace to me, I concur with Lord Raglan that the Terms he used in his Despatch were appropriate; and as a good Understanding between the Field-Marshal commanding the Forces in the Field and the Lieutenant-General Commanding the Cavalry Division are Conditions essentially necessary for advantageously carrying on the Public Service, I recommend that Lieutenant-General Lord Lucan should be recalled; and if your Grace and Her Majesty’s Government concur in this View, I will submit my Recommendation to Her Majesty, and take Her Majesty’s Pleasure on the subject.

I have, &c
HARDINGE

His Grace the Duke of Newcastle”

Now, my Lords, it was my intention to have read the letter which I addressed to Lord Raglan in November, and which appears to be the corpus delicti, or the offence with which I am charged; but I need not trouble your Lordships with reading it, because I am told it has already appeared in the Times newspaper. I think it right to state, my Lords, that the letter was not sent by me to the Times newspaper. It is true I gave copies of that letter to many friends before quitting the army, for I did not think it safe to leave the army in the Crimea with an impression on their minds that I had been recalled in consequence of writing a letter to Lord Raglan, without leaving copies of that letter behind me, that it might be clearly understood how the matter rested. I believe that in giving copies of that letter after my recall, I only did that which was due to myself and to the service in which I was engaged. But, as I have said, the letter has appeared in the Times newspaper, and therefore I shall not trouble your Lordships by reading it. [Cries of “Read, read!”] Certainly, if it is your Lordships’ desire that I should read it, I will do so. The letter is dated Balaklava, November 30 — five weeks after the battle. The letter was expressed in the following terms —

“Balaklava, 30th Nov, 1854

My Lord — In your Lordship’s Report of the Cavalry Action at Balaklava of the 25th ultimo, given in the Papers which have just arrived from England, you observe ‘ that from some Misconception of the Instruction to advance, the Lieutenant-General considered that he was bound to attack at all Hazards, and he accordingly ordered Lord Cardigan to move forward with the Light Brigade.’ Surely, my Lord, this is a grave Charge, and an Imputation reflecting seriously on my professional Character. I cannot remain silent; it is, I feel, incumbent on me to state those Facts which I cannot doubt must clear me from what, I respectfully submit, is altogether unmerited.

The Cavalry was formed to support an intended Movement of the Infantry, when Captain Nolan, the Aide-de-Camp of the Quartermaster-General, came up to me at Speed, and placed in my Hand this written Instruction:—

(Copy:)

‘Lord Raglan wishes the Cavalry to advance rapidly to the Front, follow the Enemy, and try to prevent the Enemy carrying away the Guns. Troop of Horse Artillery may accompany. French cavalry is on your Left. Immediate

(Signed) R Airey’

After carefully reading the Order, I hesitated, and urged the Uselessness of such an Attack and the Dangers attending it. The Aide-de-Camp, in a most authoritative Tone, stated that they were Lord Raglan’s Orders that the cavalry should attack immediately. I asked where? and to do what? as neither Enemy nor Guns were within Sight. He replied, in a most disrespectful but significant Manner, pointing to the further End of the Valley, ‘There, my Lord, is your Enemy; there are your Guns.’

So distinct, in my Opinion, were your written Instructions, and so positive and urgent were the Orders delivered by the Aide-de-Camp, that I felt it was imperative upon me to obey; and I informed Lord Cardigan that he was to advance; and to the Objections he made, in which I entirely agreed, I replied that the Orders were from your Lordship.

Having decided, against my Conviction, to make the Movement, I did all in my Power to render it as little perilous as possible. I formed the Light Brigade in Two Lines, and led to its Support Two Regiments of Heavy Cavalry, the Scots Greys and Royal Dragoons, only halting them when they had reached the Point from which they could protect the Retreat of the Light Cavalry, in the event of their being pursued by the Enemy, and when, having already lost many Officers and Men by the Fire from the Batteries and Fort, any further Advance would have exposed them to Destruction.

My Lord, I considered at the Time — I am still of the same Opinion — that I followed the only Course open to me. As a Lieutenant General, doubtless, I have discretionary power; but to take upon myself to disobey an Order written by my Commander in Chief within a few Minutes of its Delivery, and given from an elevated Position, commanding an entire View of all the Batteries and the Position of the Enemy, would have been nothing less than direct Disobedience of Orders, without any other Reason than I preferred my own Opinion to that of my General, and in this Instance must have exposed me and the Cavalry to Aspersions against which it might have been difficult to defend ourselves.

It should be remembered that the Aide-de-Camp, well-informed of the Instructions of his General, and the Object he had in view, after first insisting on an immediate Charge, then placed himself in front of one of the leading Squadrons, when he fell the First Victim.

I did not dare to disobey your Lordship; and it is the Opinion of every Officer of Rank in this Army to whom I have shown the written Order, that it was not possible for me to do so.

I hope, my Lord, that I have stated the Facts temperately and in a becoming and respectful Manner, as it has been my Wish to do.

I am confident that it will be your Desire to do me Justice. I will only ask that your Lordship should kindly give the same Publicity to this Letter that has been given to your Report, for I am sensitively anxious to satisfy my Sovereign, my Military Superiors, and the Public, that I have not on this unhappy Occasion shown myself undeserving of their Confidence or unfitting the Command which I hold.

I have the honour to be, &c
LUCAN
Lieutenant-General, Commanding Cavalry Division

His Excellency the Commander of the Forces.”

My Lords, immediately on my arrival in this country yesterday — having written the letter on my journey, I sent my son, my aide-de-camp — to the Adjutant-General at the Horse Guards, with the following communication —

“20, Hanover Square, London, March 1

Sir — I have obeyed Her Majesty’s Command to Resign the Command of the Cavalry of the Army of the East and to Return to England. I have now the Honour to Report my arrival for the Information of the General commanding in Chief. I consider it due to my professional Honour and Character to seize the earliest moment of requesting that my Conduct in Ordering the Charge of the Light Cavalry Brigade at Balaklava on the 25th of October, and Writing the Letter I addressed to Field Marshal Lord Raglan on the 30th of November, may be Submitted to and Investigated by a Court Martial. I make this Appeal to General Lord Hardinge with the greatest Confidence, believing it to be the undoubted Privilege, if not the positive Right, of every Soldier to be allowed a Military Inquiry into his Conduct when, as in my case, he shall consider it to have been unjustly Impugned.

LUCAN, Lieutenant-General

To the Adjutant-General”

My Lords, I made that appeal to the Commander in Chief with the utmost confidence, believing it to be the undoubted privilege, if not the positive right, of every soldier to be allowed a military inquiry into his conduct, when, as in my case, he shall consider it to have been unjustly stigmatised. When I asked your Lordships to permit me to read my documents, I promised not to add one word of remark or comment, nor shall I do so; but I think your Lordships will admit that under the circumstances in which I am placed I could not have done less than read the correspondence which I have now submitted for your consideration.

EARL GRANVILLE: I am quite sure that your Lordships, under the peculiar circumstances of the case, will not expect that I should offer any objection to the seeming irregularity of the statement which the noble Earl has just made. But as the noble Earl has confined himself to reading a portion only of the correspondence which has taken place with regard to the command of the cavalry division, as he has stated to the House the reasons which have induced him to take that course, and as he has purposely abstained from introducing any comments of his own upon the subject, reserving the right to do so under certain contingencies, I think the House will feel that no further conversation should take place at the present time.


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