Home About Sources Topics Background

Crimean texts

The Times 23.3.1863 p 6


[Transcriber’s note: On 10th March 1863 the wedding of the Prince of Wales and Princess Alexandra had taken place.]


(Continued from The Times of February 23.)

Our notice of this work has been suspended by the interesting and gratifying events which have recently made such large demands upon our space. The length to which the review has run must be excused in consideration of the importance of the issues which are suggested rather than directly raised for discussion. A close and critical examination of facts is the best means of resolving the work into the separate heaps of prejudices, poetical fancies, antipathies, affections, and valuable facts which have been worked up during the last eight years into such a brilliant composite.

In our last portion of the review the English army, relieved from the risk to which they had been exposed by the misplacing of a buoy on an open beach — a creation of Mr Kinglake’s fancy which Captain Mends has amply exposed — were left marching on the Buljanak. We have arrived at the halting-place, not without some show of opposition; not without bad quartermastering either. The French keep to the sea. Our march is so ill directed that a gap intervenes between the two armies. It is filled up, and the Allies halt with the Russian watchfires visible on the Alma.

Up to the evening before the Battle of the Alma the historian of the Invasion of the Crimea has fixed our attention on the characters, caprices, and passions of a few individuals, around whom he has clustered the incidents of the great war with Russia. Foremost among them has been Lord Raglan, whose reputation as a general it was no doubt the principal object of the book to clear from some clouds. Mr Kinglake has effected this end with very indifferent success, for in the attempt to burnish his subject to an excessive lustre he has rubbed away so vigorously as to bring into view blemishes and defects, the existence of which may have been suspected but was never openly asserted. Up to this time, we have had before us the portrait of a high-minded, sensitive, scrupulous veteran, actuated by a fixed distrust of the Generals with whom he was obliged to co-operate and by a strong dislike of the enterprise in which he was, with them, engaged. We see painted by Mr Kinglake the character of a nobleman whose mind, oppressed by the traditions of a departed master, has lost its vigour from long servitude in a civil office and from the influence of a system unfavourable to action or originality. Lord Raglan had never “set a squadron in the field nor the division of a battle knew,” but he had served the Duke in the Peninsula and at Waterloo, and before he retired into the drawing-room of the Horse Guards, where for 30 years he was engaged heart and soul in making things pleasant, he had ridden with the Head-Quarters Staff in famous fields, and had gathered round him a host of friends, — had become, indeed, as Mr Kinglake says, “the favourite member of a body of powerful nobles, who fenced him round with honour.” He had won his spurs against the French. They were the only enemy he had ever seen in the battle-field. When he was young it was the fashion to regard the great Corsican as an incarnation of every evil principle, and old men of Lord Raglan’s time will still be found to give us in their quiet talk at club windows some idea of the intense animosity and passion generated in that war of giants. Mr Kinglake tells us how Prince Menschikoff, mutilated in war against the Turk, found himself on a hill-side, with horse and foot, to try the last conclusion of kings with his ancient foe, and indicated the feelings which must have animated the breast of the injured Prince. But he does not directly point out how a similar sentiment may have actuated the English General, who, also bearing the mark of French bullets, found himself by a strange freak of fortune compelled to march side by side with the Imperial eagles, and to associate with men by no means agreeable to the Faubourg where the restored of 1815 still found refuge, and where Lord Raglan could yet visit old friends of his own and of the Bourbon. And why or how, knowing all this, Lord Raglan ever could have been selected to co-operate with French Imperial Generals by any Minister who desired the maintenance of the alliance or the thorough and complete success of the business in hand, — how the disciple of the Iron Duke and the inheritor of all the prejudices of a past age could have been chosen as one to foster and cement and preserve an entente cordiale with men who led the armies of a Napoleon, — it is beyond our policy or guessing to conceive. But so it seemed good to our rulers. Lord Raglan, indeed, was selected more as a diplomatist than as a general. The cynic joy ascribed to the Emperor when he heard of the nomination may have had a different cause from that which is assigned by Mr Kinglake for its perhaps imaginary existence. It certainly could not have been excited by any idea in the mind of the much pondering Napoleon that the English General was about to be master of the situation, and to reduce the fiery St Arnaud to the emptiness of the thinnest circled cipher. Lord Raglan, it appears, saved the alliance because the French always gave way to his “ascendant.” We shall see how far that is true when we come to deal with some essential matters, and not with such petty — such least of small — subjects as Mr Kinglake blows out by big words and an active, distending imagery to enormous but gaseous magnitudes. As yet it is St Arnaud’s desire to please his colleague, which strikes us as the most remarkable feature in the relations between the two Generals. Only once does the Frenchman appear to have incurred Lord Raglan’s and Mr Kinglake’s displeasure outright by any wilful self-assertion, and that was when he got tired of waiting at Baltjik, and adopted the advice of Admiral Dundas to take a cruise at sea. He misbehaved, indeed, in an attempt to get command of the Turkish army in order to utilize it, thinking with Lord Raglan that it was little to be depended on under native leaders; but he seems to have been so far successful as to have had under his orders the whole of the Ottoman troops who were sent in the mixed expedition to the Crimea.

We have come now to another phase in the aspect of the hero’s character. Lord Raglan, at this present stage of our historian’s narrative, is presented in a new light. No word has ever hitherto been written, so far as we know, which imputed to Lord Raglan a want of sincerity and a downright love of duplicity, akin to dishonesty and bad faith. It was left to his biographical eulogist to fix on him the stain of dealing, if not falsely outright, at least most disingenuously and discreditably towards a colleague, and of making a distinct suggestio falsi in a matter of vital moment on the eve of a great battle. Lord Raglan (we are told by Mr Kinglake) acted as a diplomatist in the worst sense of the word, and sought to deceive, to hoodwink, and to delude his ally. It is on no enemy he practises his art. He deliberately sets about to compromise the safety of a whole army and all that depended on its success by double-dealing with its chief. Surely Lord Raglan’s many and very able and powerful friends will seek to remove from his memory the damaging imputation which Mr Kinglake has with such zeal and pertinacity determined to fix upon it? Let the whole of the passages describing the interviews between the English General and the French Marshal be carefully read by any candid and unbiassed man, and let him say whether or not the language and conduct of Lord Raglan was fair, straightforward, and creditable. Let the cases be reversed, and putting “St Arnaud — formerly Le Roi,” as Mr Kinglake calls him, a few days before he escapes to his grave — for “Raglan,” what would we English say of the French General who dared to palter with us in so double a sense, and throw damaging suspicions on the honour of an ancient and chivalrous people? This evil course, which might have been fraught with incalculable mischief, is accounted for on the ground that the English General not only disliked fighting a battle according to any plan, and was averse to troubling himself with such projects, but that he studiously sought to keep from his colleague any knowledge of the course he would probably take. It is almost insinuated that on the very night before the Alma Lord Raglan was actuated by some of the feelings of the angry Faubourg towards St Arnaud. In due course we shall come to the passages in which these charges are made.

The Battle of the Alma does not open well; nor is the prelude on the 19th of September very promising. Lord Raglan, riding in advance of the infantry on the afternoon of the 19th, saw some Cossacks on a hill — who were, by the by, visible to all the army in front — and sent on Lord Cardigan’s advance guard of the 11th and 13th Hussars to reconnoitre. The reconnaissance was effected in such a way that the four squadrons ran imminent risk of being destroyed, for, in an open country without tree or shrub, they came suddenly on a great force of the enemy, and had to retire by alternate squadrons, after an interchange of shots for some time between their skirmishers and those of the Russians. In doing so they were exposed to slight loss from the enemy’s artillery, which was answered by a superior fire from our guns, and as the mass of the allied armies was close at hand the Russian reconnaissance fell back to the Alma. Lord Raglan was haunted by an apprehension that this force might be a feeler to a night attack by the whole Russian army issuing from their “intrenched” camp on the river. The precautions he took against the danger were extraordinary, for the artillery were so placed that they could not act on their front and left without destroying the infantry and cavalry; the cavalry could not act at all, being enclosed all round by the other arms and the Buljanak; and the infantry showed their strongest line towards the point where they were least liable to be assailed (vide plan). Before the allied armies were settled in their bivouac on the Buljanak, St Arnaud, attended by Colonel Trochu, rode up to the posthouse where Lord Raglan had established his quarters, to concert a plan of attack on the enemy next morning. The French, reconnoitring from the sea, had discovered that the Alma was fordable at its mouth, and that the cliffs were not occupied by the enemy in force. So St Arnaud based his plan on these facts. He brought with him to illustrate it a sketch, traced with spirit and significance, in which the French on the right, under Bosquet, supported by the Turks, were shown as starting at 5.30 am, and moving by the seashore under cover of ten French and two English vessels, to turn the enemy’s left flank; the centre, formed of the rest of the French army, advancing against the Russian left and centre; and the English army, marked as starting at 5.30, executing a turning movement on the enemy’s right. He propounded his plan with an energy which Mr Kinglake considers “unhealthy.” The part Lord Raglan is represented to have played on the occasion is one which any English General would have so deeply resented, if it had been practised on himself, that intercourse or co-operation with the French officer who was avowedly guilty of it would have been henceforth impossible. His Lordship, it appears, had a dislike of planning, but with the example of Marlborough and Wellington before us, of every English General worth mentioning with whose conduct men are acquainted, we must utterly deny that Mr Kinglake is authorized to style Lord Raglan’s idiosyncrasy either “native” or “English.” His Lordship “did not long to ruffle his mind with projects of attack” (p. 241). If this were so, he should have said so. He certainly, as a General or as an Englishman, had no right deliberately to deceive his colleague, because he was a man who was not well thought of by some people in the French capital (p. 240). Mr Kinglake, indeed, says that the world will never know whether Lord Raglan “in any even small degree had been brought to share the opinions” of these persons. But he did, we are told in positive terms (p. 241), seek to keep the French Marshal in the dark as to what the British army, which formed part of the centre and the left of the Allies, was going to do. He did more, and worse. He acted and spoke so that he caused the French General to believe his colleague was going to do that which he had no intention of doing. And Mr Kinglake thinks this not only honourable and worthy, but even suggests that Lord Raglan had a good laugh at the Frenchman and his “confounded plan,” as we may suppose it was called, when his back was turned. He says that Lord Raglan sat “restraining — or only, perhaps, postponing — his smiles” (p. 240), “listening graciously” to the unhealthily energetic Marshal. But as to the plan, Mr Kinglake! The copy of the plan is headed by these words,— “Reduced Plan of the ‘Projet’ (untruly) stated to have been accepted by Lord Raglan.” Now, from Mr Kinglake’s own words in describing the interview, it would seem that the word “untruly” is not truly inserted. For in the language of equity, fair dealing, and common honesty, Lord Raglan, having heard the plan — having “assented, or not dissented” — so nice is Mr Kinglake’s casuistry — and having assured the Marshal that he might rely on the vigorous co-operation of the British army, entered into a compact to carry out the plan by that promise of vigorous co-operation. He heard it, “listening graciously — assenting, or not dissenting.” He assured the Marshal he should have what the Marshal came to ask Lord Raglan for. His Lordship not only did so, but he expressly arranged that Bosquet and his Division should move half an hour earlier than was marked in the plan. To do what? Plainly to execute the manœuvre on which the whole project of the battle turned. It was also settled between the two Generals that the English army, in conjunction with the rest of the French, should march on the enemy’s position at 7 am. It is ludicrous in the last degree to read, a few lines after, that the unhealthily energetic Frenchman went away in capital spirits, not because his plan was accepted, but because of the “sense of that singular comfort which anxious men always derived from the mere power of Lord Raglan’s presence” (p.244). Why, really, what with such a charming influence, and what with the magic power of “Airey’s swooping crest and salient features” over hesitating officers, our army ought to have been the most cheery and joyous in the world in the winter of 1854, and it is only a pity these potent spells were not more largely and frequently cast over them all. When the Marshal retired, Lord Raglan went for the night to his couch in the posthouse with a mind unruffled by projects, and chuckling over the idea that he had “done” the Frenchman, very much as the Duke might have rejoiced over the success of a ruse to outwit Massena or perplex his rival Soult. Not only did Lord Raglan refuse to trouble his brain with plans — he was equally considerate to his Generals. He did not even inform them when they were to march; but when the Staff officers attended for orders, “Airey” stated that the Russian army, consisting of about 40 battalions, with a powerful artillery, was close at hand, posted on the heights above the Alma, and that “a general action was imminent on the morrow” (Adye’s Review, p. 40). There is some difficulty in deciding the exact time when St Arnaud went over to Lord Raglan’s quarters. Mr Kinglake says it was “late in the evening.” We believe it was not very long after the armies took up their ground for the night. M de Bazancourt, whose dates are generally very correct, says:— “Sur les cinq heures environ le Maréchal réunit devant sa tente les officiers généraux Francais, et leur expliqua verbalement son plan de bataille concerté avec le général en chef de l’armée Anglaise. Ce plan consistait à faire exécuter à l’armée Anglaise un mouvement tournant sur la droite de l’armée Russe, en attirant sérieusement son attention sur sa gauche par une division Francaise, qui avait, en outre, mission de maintenir la communication avec la flotte mouillée à l’embouchure de l’Alma; le gros de l’armée devait faire un puissant effort pour forcer le centre des Russes.” He does not appear to have known of the circumstances, as related by Mr Kinglake, attending the earlier interview at which this plan was concerted; but he goes on to say that at a later period of the evening St Arnaud “sent” Colonel Trochu, who was accompanied by General Rose, to communicate the plan, the hour of marching, and, finally, “de s’entendre avec lui, s’il croyait devoir apporter des modifications.” The Baron asserts that, which General Rose can attest or refute if he pleases, and says Lord Raglan “accepted the details of the plan presented to him entirely, as well as the hour of departure,” and adds “that it was arranged Prince Napoleon and General Canrobert should arrange with the English Generals so as to operate simultaneously.” An important witness can be cited here to give collateral evidence of great value to show how effectually Lord Raglan deceived his Allies, and how nearly he jeopardized the whole movement by his unaccountable apathy.

Sir De Lacy Evans commanded the Second Division of the British army, which was in contact with the French left. In consequence of certain statements in the Independance Belge, that distinguished officer felt it his duty to write a letter, which appeared in The Times of July 2 1855. The General stated that Prince Napoleon and General Canrobert came to his tent early in the morning to arrange for the co-operation of the Division with that of the Prince. They were naturally surprised when they found Sir De Lacy Evans had heard nothing of the plan which they brought with them, and that he had received no orders even to march. On seeing the plan, Sir De Lacy sent to Lord Raglan for permission to place his right in contact with the French left. He received it, and executed the movement at once. The French, under Bosquet, moved off at 5.30 am, but were halted when it was perceived the English army did not stir. It was then that the French Generals repaired to Sir De Lacy Evans and learnt the cause of his immobility. St Arnaud sent Trochu to Lord Raglan, who excused the tardiness of his movements by saying that some of the troops had arrived very late at night at their bivouac, and told the French officer to inform the Marshal he was at the moment ordering the march of the whole of his force. It was then some time after 8 o’clock, and it had been agreed, the French say, that our troops were to move at 6 o’clock. Hours, invaluable hours, passed away. Who can say what the results might have been, nay, must have been, if the Battle of the Alma had been won at 12 o’clock or 1 o’clock in the day? It would certainly have left six or seven hours of daylight for the pursuit of the Russians instead of two, all the wounded might have been cared for, and many would have been spared that long night of agony on the battlefield. It was 11 o’clock before Bosquet could march with safety to execute his part of the operations. Lord Raglan was undecided, and probably was irritated by unexpected obstacles. But if Lord Raglan did not then dissent from the French plan in presence of the French General, he did so to Sir De Lacy Evans, and he also mentioned to that officer “a disposition he supposed to exist on the part of the Marshal and the French chiefs to appropriate me and my Division altogether, which he could not allow.” At Sir De Lacy’s suggestion it was arrange that Major Claremont was to communicate any wishes the French General thought fit to express respecting the co-operation of the Division. It is clear that Lord Raglan’s language had given rise to serious misconceptions. There is very little proof of his “ascendant” in the most important matter at which we have yet arrived in this history. Mr Kinglake admits that there were not good reasons for all the delay which occurred, and though he does not say who was to blame he states that Lord Raglan insisted on covering his baggage trains and incumbrances, which were much larger than those of the French, and forced his strings of bullock carts across the line of march towards the right, “so on the morning of the long expected battle, and with the enemy in front, St Arnaud and the whole French army, and the English army too, chafed bitterly at the delay” (p. 246). Sir George Brown, too, waited for an order to march, having been like Sir De Lacy Evans left to his own devices that morning. At length the armies moved on together, again they halted, then marched for a short distance and were halted once more. On the way there occurred an incident which is described by Colonel Somerset Calthorpe in the Letters of a Staff Officer from Headquarters. Probably Mr Kinglake alludes to it also in the passage where he says “the neighing of an angry horse seized the attention of thousands” during one remarkable pause of sound before the action began (p. 249).

“I must tell you a little anecdote of Lord Raglan and a certain author who is well known in the literary world. This morning, when Lord Raglan was waiting, surrounded by his Staff, for the troops to get into their places, a gentleman joined us on a handsome little gray pony. This pony began neighing and screaming in the most wonderful manner, and so continuously that one could hardly hear what was said. At last it attracted Lord Raglan’s attention, and he said, ‘I never heard a pony make such a row; does any one know who the gentleman is?’ Some one of the Staff said, ‘I think he is one of the newspaper reporters, my Lord; shall I tell him to go away?’ Lord Raglan laughed, and said, ‘If you do he will show you up, you may depend upon it.’ It so happened that I had made this gentleman’s acquaintance on the beach a few days before. So I told Lord Raglan that it was Mr Kinglake, the author of Eothen. ‘Oh!’ said my Lord, ‘a most charming man,’ and was going to speak to him, when Marshal St Arnaud came up; so for the time he could not do so. About 11 o’clock, as we were nearing the Russian position — indeed, when within sight of them — Lord Raglan and his Staff were riding in advance; presently a pony dashed past us at a furious pace, and who should it be but Mr Kinglake! On he went right through our skirmishers, with his horse’s head between his legs; but, fortunately for his rider, the saddle got forward, and after a time went over the horse’s ears; of course the author of Eothen went with the saddle. It was rather an absurd thing just before the battle; we all laughed except Lord Raglan, who rode up to him and inquired most kindly after him; offered him, I think, one of his own ponies to ride, and told his orderly to put the saddle to rights. Mr Kinglake was all thanks. That night, after the battle, Lord Raglan met him wandering about, not knowing where to go, so he asked him to dinner. Of course he came, and delighted every one present with his charming manner and conversation.”

Mr Kinglake’s account of the Battle of the Alma, to which his pony thus introduced him, is in effect this:— Lord Raglan could not accept the plan of the French General, nor did he form any plan of his own. His refusal was made in such a way, however, that he led the French to believe he adopted their proposition. He did not keep his promise respecting the time of moving, but finally the Allies advanced against the enemy. The French, being for political reasons afraid to face the Russians, hung back under the hills. But, in partial compliance with the plan, the English waited for them to turn the enemy’s left. The place where the English were halted by their General, however, was exposed to the enemy’s fire. Lord Raglan therefore sent orders to them to lie down. Conspicuous by his white plume and armless sleeve, he at once became the mark for a tremendous fire of artillery from whole batteries, through which he and his Staff were borne scatheless. At last Lord Raglan got tired of seeing his men lying down under fire. He felt a desire to ride as if to hounds, and the touch of man the hunter in his nature predominated over the infusion of man the General. The French, too, were entreating his assistance; and so the English were ordered to advance. The Light Division was led by a blind General, who did not see where he was going; and his subordinates, Codrington and Buller, were so very near sighted and the Generals were so ignorant they could not deploy their Divisions properly and take up their ground. And so the right of the line of the Light Division was jammed up behind the left of the Second Division, and when the advance took place the Light Division became a mere mob, but fought their way up to the redoubt. They were attacked by the Russians, and were, with the exception of the 7th Regiment, driven back with slaughter, never to rally again. Similar ill luck befell the Scots Fusilier Guards, in rear of they Welsh Fusiliers. The Duke of Cambridge, whose Division should have supported Sir George Brown, was too far off and too slow. He was embarrassed at the idea of losing officers of the Guards, on account of their families. The Second Division could make no way against a line of guns and the flames of a burning village. The French were all cowering behind the heights or inactive. Lord Raglan, cantering away from all his Generals and his Divisions in this imbroglio, crossed the river with his Staff through the skirmishers of the Russians and the French. Without any particular object in view, he rode on till he came on a path which led him to a knoll in the midst of the enemy. On the left, and rather in the rear of his Lordship, were the Russian batteries, which were sweeping down the Second Division and raking the Guards and Light Division; on his right was the whole mass of the Russian left; on his left front were their reserves. So my Lord was pretty well in the midst of the Muscovites. But he coolly says, “Our presence here will have the best effect.” He wishes he had a couple of guns beside him. He does not order them, but an active officer, propria motu, goes off for the desired artillery. Before a shot is fired, the mere sight of Lord Raglan and his staff officers and Mr Kinglake on the knoll has demoralized the whole of the Russian right and centre, which has hitherto not only met but repulsed the British army. They imagined Lord Raglan and his 20 attendants were the French! and that the Russian left must be beaten. The white plumes and blue coats of the English Staff were so very like the French. “By St Sergius, there they are — the French!” Terror fell on the Russians! They retired their guns from the redoubt. But Lord Raglan was not going to let them off so easily. His two guns had now come up. They opened fire. A few rounds cleared away the Russian field batteries which were distressing the Second Division; a few more ploughed up and shook the Russian reserves; the volleys of the Guards and Highlanders did the rest; the Russian right and centre gave way. The insignificant Russian left, which had hitherto not permitted the French to do more than show their heads above the cliff now and then, or to stand at remote distances, seeing the battle gone on the right, retired also. The Zouaves and other French troops, then gallantly rushing after them, came to a building called the Telegraph Tower, and, blazing away in the air, fancied there was an enemy before them. They were so absurd as to think they had actually been fighting and had won a victory! It was, however, all the lucky chance which led Lord Raglan to leave his army to take care of itself, and to take that particular path to the little knoll, where his presence worked such miracles as might make even Mr Kinglake, who records them devoutly, a profound believer, — that lucky chance it was which mainly won the Battle of the Alma. Sir George Brown, Sir Colin Campbell, the Duke of Cambridge, and in an infinitesimal degree the French, subserved that good fortune, aided largely by A“irey.”

Nothing has ever been written, said, or insinuated against Lord Raglan which reflects such discredit upon him as Mr Kinglake’s account of his Lordship’s generalship. In no other capacity was Lord Raglan’s character or conduct ever questioned; in none other has Mr Kinglake inflicted on it such indelible injury. If the right of translation is not reserved, and a copy of this work finds its way into Hades, how the shade of the sensitive, high-minded soldier will be tortured when he reads the ghostly page! Imagine the pupil and friend of the careful, cautious, all-watching, punctilious Duke rushing into a battle without a plan, giving ambiguous pledges to his allies, never communicating his views to his own Generals; and then, when they are in action, riding away from them to a place where he was utterly inaccessible to them all! And then, to crown all, think of him, of Fitzroy Somerset, who had the old notions about Frenchmen current in 1809-15, being mistaken for a French Algerine Marshal of doubtful character, with a Staff to match! Well may the poor ghost desire to revisit the glimpses of the moon, and ask the “literary man” if this is the return he makes for the dinner, duly recorded in this history, which Lord Raglan gave the author when he met him wandering blindly and disconsolately over the heights of the Alma, like Gargantua seeking food.

(To be continued.)

Home About Sources Topics Background