WAR DEPARTMENT, February 12, 1855.
MY LORD, — When I call to my recollection the long period during which we served together in the two departments of military administration, and the cordiality which always existed between us, it enhances the pain which I feel in being now called upon, by a sense of public duty, to comment upon the condition of the Army under your command, and to require explanations from your Lordship as to the origin as well as the prolongation of the sufferings to which that gallant Army is still exposed.
I have to observe that on assuming the charge of the War Department, I cannot find that your Lordship has been in the habit of keeping Her Majesty’s Government acquainted, in a clear and succinct manner, with the operations with which you are engaged, the progress which you have made in them, and the results likely to attend them.
Your notices of the condition of your Army are brief and unsatisfactory, and convey little more than is to be gathered from the gloomy character of the ‘morning states’; while, on the other hand, elaborate statements reach us from quarters which you denominate as unauthentic, but to which it is impossible for the Government not, to some considerable extent at least, to attach credit.
We know that the communications between the Army and the port to which all its stores are shipped, have never been in a fit state for the transport of those stores, but from yourself we have had no satisfactory explanation how this came to be originally overlooked, and why the error has not even been attempted to be repaired.
We learn from sources the truth of which cannot be impeached, that while clothing and medical stores are in abundance at Balaclava, your troops have been suffering all the miseries of cold, and your sick all those melancholy consequences which the want of medicines occasions.
We hear likewise that a want of fresh vegetables is forcibly felt throughout the camp, and yet at Eupatoria fine fresh juicy onions are selling for a mere trifle.
We are likewise informed that while the tents of the troops are wet and filthy, a species of felt was to be had in abundance at Eupatoria, which would have easily made dry lying for the men.
It would appear that your visits to the camp were few and far between, and your staff seem to have known as little as yourself of the condition of your gallant men.
I confess I have had great difficulty in believing all these narratives, until concurrent and indisputable testimony from divers sources has forced the truth on my mind.
I cannot doubt for a moment your sympathy for the sufferings of your men, were you fully cognisant of them; but I believe you have been misled by your staff, and more especially by your Quartermaster-General, whose duty it was to have ascertained and reported to you the condition of the camp and the state of your communications with your magazines of stores.
In this Major-General Airey has totally failed, and thereby shown himself deficient in those qualities which constitute the very primary requirements in a Quartermaster-General.
To his want of foresight I mainly attribute the neglect to form a proper road between Balaclava and the camp. I do not perceive that any officer of his staff was ever fixed at Balaclava, or intermediate posts established at short intervals, which they surely might have been on the track — for I cannot call it a road — to the camp.
These deficiencies in the proper qualifications for his position on the part of Major-General Airey have given me much pain and uneasiness, feeling as I do that so much of the comfort of the Army depends on having an officer in his situation, of whom it is not merely sufficient to say that he is a good draughtsman, but that he is active, quick, and resolute, and fitted to instil similar qualities into his subordinates.
I cannot believe that you have had justice done to yourself by your staff, for with all the means at your disposal, with the full discretionary powers as to procuring supplies which you possess,, it is foreign to your nature to suffer your Army to fall into the state in which it appears now to be.
I do not, however, wish to dwell on the past, but at once and speedily to deal with the present state of things in a way which shall give us better hopes for the future.
It seems to me that after all that has passed, Generals Airey and Estcourt might perform more efficient service in some other department of the Army than those which they now occupy. I will not, however, insist on your Lordship at once removing those officers; but I have determined to appoint an officer high in rank as Chief of the Staff, who shall superintend the whole routine of staff duties, and who will test the capabilities of any officer on the general staff of the Army, and report to your Lordship such as in his opinion are unfit for the positions which they occupy.
I hope to send out this officer in a very few days, and I will send to your Lordship at the same time a copy of the instructions which he receives.
It appears to me that your Lordship’s reports to my department are too scanty, and in order to remove this inconvenience I have to request that you will call upon General Officers commanding Divisions, and they in turn will desire their Brigadiers to furnish reports once a fortnight, which you will regularly forward for my information. These reports must exhibit fully the state of the troops in camp. They will mention the condition of their clothing; the amount and regularity of issue of their rations; the state of their quarters, and the cleanliness of the camp in its several parts, to the strict maintenance of which I shall presently and more particularly refer.
The General Officers will mention in these reports any difficulties which may have occurred as to the issue of rations, fuel, or forage; and you must inquire strictly and immediately into all neglect, and visit upon the delinquent punishment due to his fault.
By following the above directions you will, at little trouble to yourself, convey to me much interesting information, for all which I am at present compelled to rely on the reports of unofficial individuals.
I now come to a subject to which I have referred above, and which I consider of vital importance to the future existence of the Army, I mean the purification and cleansing of the camp. In all stationary camps, even under the most perfect regulations and notwithstanding the most vigilant care, nuisances speedily accumulate, and filth and ordure breed pestilence and death. While your camp is locked in the icy embrace of such a winter as you have to encounter, this evil is not perceived; but it must exist, and will develop itself in all its frightfulness as soon as the sun acquires sufficient power to excite fermentation.
I cannot believe that your pioneers are fit to cope with this danger, and I beg you will lose no time in forming a strong corps of scavengers under the orders of the Quartermaster-General’s Department, who shall proceed forthwith to remove the filth and ordure of the camp and deposit it in some place where it may be covered with rubbish; the locality should be selected with due consideration of the quarter from which the wind prevails in spring and summer.
The scavengers should be obtained by communication with Lord Stratford de Redcliffe; but if they are so obtained, I trust that your Lordship will look well to their treatment by the soldiers.
The mail has just arrived, and the Government feel some disappointment in not receiving an official reply to my predecessor’s despatch of the 6th January, for which we shall look anxiously next mail.
In the meantime I see no reason, from anything which has come to my hand, to alter the opinion which is universally entertained here of the inefficiency of your general staff. — I have etc.,
BEFORE SEBASTOPOL, March 2, 1855.
MY LORD, — I had the honour to receive the day before yesterday your Lordship’s despatch No. 1, of the 12th February, in which you consider yourself compelled to comment upon the condition of the Army under my command, and to require explanations from me as to the origin, as well as the prolongation, of the sufferings to which that gallant Army is still exposed.
A review of what the Army has accomplished, and what it has been exposed to since the troops landed in Turkey, will at once account to your Lordship for the sickness under which it has suffered and continues to suffer.
The main body of the force assembled at Scutari before the end of April. Some part of it was collected at Gallipoli some weeks before, and when there encamped, encountered very severe weather, and the consequent suffering from cold was very great. At Scutari the weather was very variable; some days extremely hot, on others precisely the reverse.
From thence, towards the end of May, the Army moved to Varna, and took up a position in that neighbourhood, with one Division, and the Cavalry thrown as far forward as Devna, which I had the high authority of Omer Pasha for believing to be healthy.
This proved to be the case until the third week of July, when the cholera broke out there, in the other camps, and at Varna, and committed great ravages. Low fever likewise became very prevalent about the same time, and the sick were still numerous when the Army was required to embark for the Crimea.
I was in hopes that shelter from the sun, and the passage across the Black Sea, would materially benefit those who had been placed on board. But in this I was disappointed; and I had the mortification of learning, when the fleet was collected, that many cases of cholera had ended fatally, and that the sick were numerous.
The 4th Division, which had not been at Varna, had suffered from the same disease, in some degree, in the Bosphorus, having arrived from England in perfect health, and were again attacked with it when the landing was effected. All the troops suffered from it in a greater or less degree, both then and on the march to Balaclava, at that place, and in the position taken up before Sebastopol; and this was the case for several months afterwards, and particularly in November and December.
From the end of September, when the siege operations commenced, to the present time, the troops have been fully and constantly occupied; and though, as the sick increased, and the number of men in the ranks diminished, the force in the trenches was decreased, yet it was impossible, without abandoning the enterprise, and placing the Army in extreme danger, to release the troops from the obligation of performing this harassing duty; and I believe I incurred some risk in allowing the working and covering parties to be so reduced.
Whilst the Divisions on the ridge were so engaged, the force left in the valley was busily employed in throwing up works of defence, and furnishing fatigue parties for Balaclava; and I can distinctly assert that there was no British soldier who had not as much as he could, and more than he ought under ordinary circumstances to have been called upon to do.
The bad weather commenced about the 10th of November, and has continued ever since. A winter campaign is under no circumstances child’s play; but here, where the troops had no cantonments to take shelter in, where large bodies were collected in one spot, and where the want of sufficient fuel soon made itself felt, it told with the greatest severity upon the health, not of British alone, but of the French and Turkish troops.
I sent the Duke of Newcastle a paper upon this climate on the 23rd of October, and in that document will be found the statement of a gentleman who had resided in the Crimea thirteen years, that the inhabitants, as well as the Russian troops, are obliged to take every precaution for the preservation of their lives in the severe months of the winter; and I, quoting his opinion in my letter of the 23rd October, state that ‘our troops could not during that period remain under canvas even with great and constant fires, and the country hardly produces wood enough to cook the men’s food.’
To the severity of the winter the whole Army can bear ample testimony. The troops have felt it in all its intensity, and when it is considered that they have been under canvas from ten to twelve months, that they have no other shelter from the sun in summer, and no other protection from wet and snow, cold and tempestuous winds — such as have scarcely been known even in this climate — in winter, and that they passed from a life of total inactivity, already assailed by deadly disease, to one of the greatest possible exertion, it cannot be a matter of surprise that a fearful sickness has prevailed throughout their ranks, and that the men still suffer from it, although I may venture to feel some confidence in a somewhat less degree.
The Duke of Newcastle’s instructions of the 29th June led to the great enterprise in which the Allied Armies are now involved. Those instructions were communicated by me to Marshal St. Arnaud, Admirals Hamelin and Bruat, and Admiral Dundas and Sir Edmund Lyons, and it was resolved without a dissentient voice that it should be undertaken.
It was felt by all that the two Governments which they, in conjunction with me, represented on the occasion, anxiously desired that the project should be carried out. It may be said that it was intimated to me that ‘if I should consider that the strength of the two Armies is sufficient for the undertaking, I was not to be precluded from the exercise of the discretion originally vested in me.’ I undoubtedly received such intimation, but I must observe that it was accompanied by the expression of the regret that Her Majesty’s Government would feel ‘that an attack from which such important consequences are anticipated must be any longer delayed’; and I was further informed that it was ‘on all accounts most important that nothing but insuperable impediments, such as the want of ample preparation by either Army, or the possession by Russia of a force in the Crimea greatly outnumbering that which can be brought against it, should be allowed to prevent the early decision to undertake these operations.’
In my despatch announcing the result of the conference of the Allied Commanders by land and sea, I stated to the Duke of Newcastle: ‘It becomes my duty to acquaint you that it was more in deference to the views of the British Government, as conveyed to me in your Grace’s despatch, and to the known acquiescence of the Emperor Louis Napoleon in those views, than to any information in the possession of the naval and military authorities, either as to the extent of the enemy’s forces, or their state of preparation, that the decision to make a descent upon the Crimea was adopted. The fact must not be concealed that neither the English nor French Admirals have been able to obtain any intelligence on which they can rely with respect to the army which the Russians may destine for operations in the field, or to the number of men allotted for the defence of Sebastopol, and Marshal St. Arnaud and myself are equally deficient in information upon these all-important questions, and there would seem to be no chance of their acquiring it.’
What I have stated above did not check the eagerness of Her Majesty’s Government for the expedition; so far from it, indeed, some impatience was expressed that when I wrote to the Minister of War on the 14th of August, I was not enabled to name the day on which it would take its departure from the coast of Bulgaria.
The enterprise accordingly took place, and it will suffice to say that the landing was effected without opposition, that the battle of the Alma was gained, and the march to Balaclava accomplished in the space of twelve days.
The investment of the place on the south side was immediately proceeded with, and all the Infantry of the Army was employed upon it, with the exception of one battalion.
In the siege of Sebastopol the British Army is still engaged, in co-operation with that of France.
Could I withdraw the troops under my command from the undertaking, leaving the French to continue alone? What would Her Majesty have said? What would have been the feeling of the country if I had announced that I had found it necessary to make such a sacrifice, and to risk the continuance of the alliance which has been so happily established between England and France after ages of strife and rivalry? And if I had determined upon such a step, could I have acted upon it? Had I ships to carry off the troops and their material? Had I cantonments to put them in, and to provide them with rest and shelter? No such thing.
I therefore had but one course to pursue — to persevere through good report and evil report, and to endeavour to overcome the difficulties by which I was surrounded by every possible exertion.
This has been the constant and unremitting object and study of my life during the dreary months that have passed since the winter set in: and if the efforts I have made have not been successful, or at least have not been appreciated, I have only to regret that the result has been so little in accordance with my anxious wishes.
I have kept her Majesty’s Government as accurately informed of the operations of the Army as was possible under the circumstances, as my despatches and letters to the Duke of Newcastle will show. Lately there has been little to report. The repair of a battery, the attempt to clear the trenches of snow or mud, are almost all I could have announced. The sickness of the Army was too clearly shown in the ‘morning state’ which I have been in the habit of transmitting; and, moreover, the weekly return of sick which the Inspector-General has forwarded under instructions from the Duke of Newcastle, affords as much detail upon this painfully interesting subject as I could supply.
If the Government, on receiving the announcement that the expedition was determined upon, had at once sent out reinforcements, it is probable that I might have been able to employ a considerable body of men in converting the track, which leads to and along this ridge, into a stoned road before the weather broke up; but the number required to effect so extensive and serious a work would have been very great, and I had not an English soldier to apply to such a purpose, however important.
Some time, however, before the bad weather set in, a survey of the road was ordered leading from Balaclava, and as many Turks as were available were employed in its repair, but their labour was not very efficient, and it was not possible to employ them beyond Kadikoi, from whence it has been carried on by the French troops, under General Vinoy, nearly to the heights.
No time has been lost in providing the troops with warm clothing since any portion of it arrived at Balaclava; and the moment I learned that the Prince was wrecked, I sent a most intelligent officer to Constantinople to obtain all he could procure, and his mission was successfully fulfilled.
The men received the clothing as soon as it could be brought up, and they are now, and have been for some time, most abundantly supplied. I have already sent your Lordship a return of what has been issued since the 17th of November. Winter boots are the only deficiencies, and they are issued as they arrive.
I have called for a statement of the want of medical stores, and I will transmit to you Dr. Hall’s report upon that point as soon as I receive it.
I have obtained fresh vegetables from almost every quarter. I never heard that any were to be had at Eupatoria, until I sent an officer there a short time ago upon another duty, and I immediately informed the Commissary-General, who, however, stated in answer that his supply was abundant. Knowing the destitution of the pauper Tartars who have taken refuge in Eupatoria, I did not suppose that vegetables could be obtained there.
I learnt from Colonel Simmons, when he was here with Omer Pasha, that felt was to be procured, and I commissioned him to send me some, which he did; but it has not proved so useful as I expected, as it imbibes damp, and can only be used on the inside walls of the huts.
General Cannon, when he was here, having mentioned that probably I might get nearly 300 horses at Eupatoria, where there was no forage forthcoming, I sent off an officer the following day who purchased above 280, which, on arrival, were at once turned over to the Commissariat.
I have visited the camps as frequently as the constant business in which I am engaged, and which occupies me throughout the day, and a part of the night, will permit; and though I have made no note of those visits, I find from one of my aides-de-camp who keeps a journal, and who frequently, though not always, attends me, that he has accompanied me in my rides above forty times in the last two months. A ride is not taken for pleasure on this ridge and in this weather, and I have not had time to visit the monastery, the only spot worth seeing in the whole of the position.
Your Lordship has not hesitated to apply to me the charge that I know nothing of the condition of the Army, and that the staff is equally ignorant of it.
My Lord, I do not deserve this reproach, and in justice to myself I have to request you to be so good as to name the person who has uttered the slander. The staff are equally innocent of it. In my despatch of the 30th of January, I have fully stated my opinion of Major-General Airey. I adhere to that opinion, and in expressing my sense of his services, I deem it due to him to state that they were continued when he was suffering under severe illness; an illness which he caught in the execution of his duty on a wet and tempestuous night.
Your Lordship is doubtless in a position to dispense with the services of this or any other staff-officer; but you will permit me to observe that I cannot in fairness be called upon to withdraw my confidence from, or alter my opinion of, officers whom I hold in the highest estimation, and with whom I have always expressed myself fully satisfied.
If I am deprived of the assistance of General Airey, I shall have a serious loss inflicted upon me, and the Army will be deprived of a most able, active, and zealous officer, and it will be difficult to find a successor in all respects so efficient and so worthy of my confidence.
The duties of General Estcourt are less intricate, and do not bring him quite so constantly under my notice, but he merits the expression of my approbation.
I will direct the reports your Lordship requires to be furnished by the Generals of Division and Brigade, and will take steps to form a corps of scavengers. But your Lordship is doubtless aware that this ridge is occupied by many thousands besides those composing the British Army, and that the cleaning the camp of the latter will do little to get rid of the ordures which cover its surface.
Having now replied to the several points in your despatch, I must be permitted, before I close this, to express the pain, the mortification, and I might add surprise, with which the abuse that has been unscrupulously lavished upon me by unavowed and irresponsible parties, has been entertained by your Lordship and your predecessor.
My Lord, I have passed a life of honour. I have served the Crown for above fifty years; I have for the greater portion of that time been connected with the business of the Army. I have served under the greatest man of the age more than half my life; have enjoyed his confidence, and have, I am proud to say, been ever regarded by him as a man of truth and some judgment as to the qualifications of officers; and yet, having been placed in the most difficult position in which an officer was ever called upon to serve, and having successfully carried out most difficult operations, with the entire approbation of the Queen, which is now my only solace, I am charged with every species of neglect, and the opinion which it was my solemn duty to give of the merits of officers, and the assertions which I have made in support of it, are set at naught, and your Lordship is satisfied that your irresponsible informants are more worthy of credit than I am. — I have, etc.,
WAR DEPARTMENT, March 19, 1855.
MY LORD, — I have to acknowledge the receipt of your Lordship’s despatch of the 2nd instant, in reply to mine of the 12th of February, in which I felt it to be my very painful duty to make some stringent observations upon the condition of the Army under your command.
Had it been my duty merely to look to what the Army has accomplished since its arrival in Turkey and the Crimea, our correspondence would have commenced under much happier auspices; but I had to consider what the Army was suffering, to endeavour to discover the cause of its privations, and the reason of their continuance, in order to enable me to undertake the duties which lay before me with a clear conscience and a probability of doing good.
In no despatches from your Lordship could I trace any denial of those rumours of which you seem to have been aware, nor any explanation of the distressing circumstances which seem now, happily, to be passing away.
I admit all the difficulties with which you have had to contend; the early inactivity of your Army; the subsequent demands made on it for the greatest possible exertion in carrying out the important enterprise on which it was ordered under the instructions of the 29th of June, an enterprise in which Marshal St. Arnaud and the Admirals, as you state, entirely concurred with you.
I observe that it was to some extent in deference to the views of the British Government, and the known acquiescence in those views by the Emperor of the French, that you undertook an expedition to, and a descent upon, a country, and sat down before a formidable fortress, without knowing the resources of the former or the strength of the latter. But let me ask you whether, seeing so fully the immensity of the undertaking, and its risk to your Army, all the necessary precautions were taken for maintaining that Army in the most perfect efficiency?
Balaclava was selected as your port, and the station for the military stores and magazines of all sorts, either for the conduct of a siege or for the supply of the troops under any exigency.
Under the second heading of that little red book which you sent me, I perceive that it was the duty of the Quartermaster-General to have provided for the effectual establishment of his communications with the camp. This was unfortunately neglected. What was the result? That in the course of ten days after winter set in, all intercourse between the Army and its supplies was carried on under unexampled difficulties, and with ruin to your means of transport, already much weakened by a lack of forage in the Commissariat stores.
It is useless now to argue whether a winter campaign in the trenches could have been avoided by more determined action on the first arrival of the Allied Armies before Sebastopol. I will enter into no such speculation; nor have I been so unreasonable as to blame you for not finding cantonments where none existed.
I have never doubted your deep personal anxiety for the safety and well-being of your Army. All that I mean to say is that, while asserting your constant and unremitting study during the dreary months of winter to overcome your difficulties, you have never furnished the Government with any details of your arrangements, so as to enable them to support you against those who taxed you with indifference to, and ignorance of, the real condition of your troops.
Of the operations of the Army there was, as you observe, very little latterly to tell; but of the state of your Army, except from figures, we gathered nothing. A short and occasional review of each Brigade; reports exhibiting their respective conditions; the reason why one was more healthy or more efficient than another; — such narratives, run down even to regiments, would have given us the means of meeting the reports with which we were taunted on all sides. But you were silent, and you cannot wonder that the Government were displeased.
In regard to warm clothing, no doubt it was served out to the men as soon as it was received from Balaclava; but why was it not received sooner? Because there was no road!
It is with pleasure that I learn your frequent visits to the different parts of the camp, as it enables me now to contradict the oft-repeated assertions to the contrary on the authority of your own word, which I hold to be irrefragable.
You appear to be much offended with the sentence in my despatch in which I state that ‘your staff seem to have known as little as yourself of the condition of your gallant men.’ You say that you do not deserve this reproach. I rejoice to find that such is the case; but you never so informed either the Duke of Newcastle or myself before, and how could we know the real facts of your case? Assertions based on the fullest confidence in your good feeling and discretion were the only weapons left us to contend with positive and, apparently, strongly-fortified averments. Can you be surprised that we required something more?
You ask me for the name of your slanderer. I will only say that my information has not been derived from the columns of the Times, but from eye-witnesses of the scenes by which you have been surrounded, but whom it would be a base breach of confidence in me to betray.
You seem to forget my position, and consider me as bound solely to defend you against all assailants. I have a duty to discharge to the Army for which the country holds me strictly responsible: if I am told that it starves amidst the means of obtaining supplies; that it continues to empty its ranks into its hospitals, and finds no medicines by which its diseases can be alleviated; I cannot turn a deaf ear to such startling complaints, nor should you take offence when I call your attention to them, and require that they should be fully explained.
In regard to Major-Generals Airey and Estcourt, though I may be in a position to dispense with their services, I have no intention to exercise any such act of authority. I have expressed my opinion and taken all the measures which appear to me to be requisite to meet further miscarriages; and no one will rejoice more than I shall to find these officers ere long reinstated in the confidence of the Army and the public, as well as they have ever been in your own.
And now I hasten to the conclusion of your despatch, in which you have given expression to the pain, mortification, and surprise at the manner in which my predecessor and myself have entertained all the abuse which has been so lavishly poured upon you.
This is not so. It is my firm belief that had my predecessor taken this line — had he exhibited less magnanimity in honourably confronting the storm of popular indignation, that storm would have rolled more heavily upon you.
For myself, you need not doubt my readiness to defend you amid the trials and difficulties of your arduous career, but I must have your confidence; I must know from yourself the dark as well as the bright shades of the scenes in which you move; I must be enabled to fight your battles even against invisible and anonymous foes; and if you arm me with this power, you may look for all the support which a Minister can give to a General.
One word more, and I trust that this very painful correspondence is done. Why, my Lord, do you refer to your life of honour, of which you may be justly proud, and the regard for your truth which was entertained by the greatest man of the age? Is there a sentence in my despatch that calls in question either the one or the other? If so, I retract it at once.
But surely I may be permitted to question your judgment without impugning your truth or your honour, both of which, be assured, are as precious in my eyes and in those of your countrymen as they can be in your own. — I am, etc.,