Home About Sources Topics Background

Crimean texts

The Times 11.8.1868 p 10



(Continued from The Times of August 1)

We were in the middle of the flank march when we parted with Mr Kinglake. That measure, present in the mind of Sir John Burgoyne before he started from England for the East, and recommended by the circumstances in which they were placed to the allied leaders, is considered by some to be open to criticism and to doubt. But Lord Raglan was always disposed to consider Sebastopol should be attacked from the south side†, and it is surprising to find his biographer engaged in arguing otherwise. The Flank March should be fairly regarded as an alternative to a direct attack on the north side always present to the leaders, and urged on them by the engineers of both armies as they neared the Belbek, particularly when it became known that the Russians had blocked up the harbour by sinking the fleet. From the Alma to the Belbek the Allies had been feeling their way. Their operations were peculiarly susceptible to the influence of circumstances. The coup de main theory came very much into favour when the siege was over, but that a siege was always a contingency in the allied operations is proved by the fact that both armies were provided with very powerful siege trains and large stores of ammunition, without which they would not venture to approach Sebastopol. It was the sudden overthrow of the Russians on the Alma which first suggested the thought of seizing on the “priceless jewel” by a rapid dash. The attempts to show that Lord Raglan was opposed to the march fail ludicrously — first, because Lord Raglan’s acts are against this hypothesis; secondly, because Lord Raglan’s words do not evince any positive opinion at all; thirdly, because there is a mass of evidence of living men the other way. But if they were successful, what would Mr Kinglake have done for the reputation of Lord Raglan?

To complete the muddle in which he involves Lord Raglan’s proceedings, as compared with his supposed opinions, Mr Kinglake now adds this:—

“At the time of the earliest deliberations on the subject Lord Raglan had been disposed to think that Sebastopol ought to be attacked on the south side, and although he had ceased to dwell on the idea from the time when the west coast was chosen for the place of landing, it recurred to him as we saw on the morrow of the battle, when he found himself encountered at the French head-quarters by a refusal to attack the Star Fort. He then conceived that if the French should persist in their refusal, he at least might avert that utter cessation and collapse of the whole enterprise which their determination threatened to produce, by persuading them (as a substitute for the old plan which they were thus abandoning) to join with him in marching across the country to the south coast, and there establishing a new base of operations, from which to attack Sebastopol on its south side.”

And again:—

“But although it was as an escape from a dilemma that the Flank March is best to be justified, I do not represent that Lord Raglan himself thought ill of the measure. Without ever wavering in his opinion that the victory on the Alma should be followed up by pursuing the old plan and attacking the Severnaya, or North Fort, he yet thought that he saw such good features in the alternative plan as to be able to fall back upon it with a cheerful contentment. Apparently he was not much impressed with the hazardous character of the Flank March; and, on the other hand, he certainly thought that, if once the Allies should be established on the south coast, they would there be on the best ground for attacking Sebastopol.”

But this is a climax to all:—

“His (Sir John Burgoyne’s) opinion was known to his chief, and when Lord Raglan perceived that the reluctance of the French to attack the Star Fort was strong and firmly rooted, he hastened to obtain for the alternative plan which had occurred to him the sanction and persuasive support of Sir John Burgoyne.”

Here it would seem as if it was Lord Raglan who first thought of the flank march. Mr Kinglake goes on:—

“Accordingly, on the morrow of the battle on the Alma, he requested Sir John to put his opinion in writing.”

On the 21st of September Lord Raglan perceived a reluctance which the French could not and did not express till the 24th of September. Oh! Mr Kinglake! Even in a romance or the most charming of novels we expect consistency. And as we travel through the maze of this most “sensational” book we are met by fresh instances of inconsistency and recklessness, so multiplied on this one point as to justify a suspicion that Mr Kinglake has no respect for his readers’ brains or belief in their memory. After immense verbiage concerning the delays caused by the French after the Allies left the Alma, Mr Kinglake says Sir John Burgoyne, having completed his memorandum on the Flank March on the 21st of September,—

“Was requested by Lord Raglan to go to the French head-quarters, and there propound the plan of the Flank March. He obeyed. His interview with Marshal St Arnaud took place in the presence of the Marshal’s Chief of Staff and of General Bizot, the officers in command of the engineers. Some other Staff officers were in the tent. When Sir John Burgoyne had explained the proposal recorded by his memorandum, and had answered the few questionings which were addressed to him, the Marshal at once, and without at all seeking counsel from the officers about him, declared, as Sir John understood, that he approved the plan and was willing to join with Lord Raglan in the determination to carry it into effect, but it must not be understood that these words carried with them an unconditional decision. The Marshal apparently understood the proposal exactly in the same sense as that in which Lord Raglan had meant it to be submitted to him, and what his answer really imported was, that if he should persist in his objection to attack the North Fort, then, and in that event, he would consent to resort to the Flank March. At all events, it is certain that the question of adopting the plan of the Flank March remained open until a later period.”

There is not the smallest pretence for lugging in the North Fort, or the objections of the French to attack it, as nothing was said of the North Fort on the 21st of September, and it was on that day Lord Raglan, at an early interview with St Arnaud, “would not listen to” his request to march. The halt on the Katcha, indeed, was not caused by the French “timides avis,” as the author insists. There was welcome and substantial cause for it. To us came the Scots Greys and the 57th Regiment of Infantry as reinforcements. To the French was added a Division of more than 6,000 men; and these had to be landed and told off at the mouth of the Katcha. At the conference of Generals on the Belbec at the French head-quarters, Sir John Burgoyne’s proposal was made formally in lieu of a proposal of the French, of which Mr Kinglake is either ignorant or feigns ignorance. He wishes to make it appear that our Allies were frightened by an earthwork on the Belbec, and abandoned the whole enterprise against Sebastopol! The French, on the contrary, actually wanted to force their way round the head of the harbour under fire of all the shipping, and so get into possession of the plateau! Sir John Burgoyne’s suggested mode of action by the Bakshi Serai road to Balaclava was “strongly seconded by Lord Raglan, and I believe also by Marshal St Arnaud and General Bizot.” (P. 211, Staff Officers’ Letters.)

The painful indecision of the Allies would seem, indeed, to be attributable in part to St Arnaud’s illness. But if so, would it not prove that St Arnaud’s was the master mind, and that without his energy and will to guide Lord Raglan lapsed into indecision? His Lordship was always only “disposed to consider” one plan better than another, and then to act without any plan at all. The qualities which Mr Kinglake developes, without any apparent perception of what he is doing, go far to explain the incertitude and feebleness of the Allies after the Alma and the prodigious risks incurred by their rashness. St Arnaud was dying, but — even so — he had some resolution, some will, some expressed opinion. There can be no doubt that St Arnaud sailed away from Baltjick without Lord Raglan, and that the British General made haste to follow him; nor can it be denied that St Arnaud was ready to march from the Alma two days before we were. Whatever excuses the French made on the night of the 20th of September, after the battle, it is quite certain that on the 21st of September Lord Raglan, to use the words of his own “Staff officer,” Colonel Calthorpe, “would not listen to St Arnaud when in the morning the latter wished much to advance and follow the enemy.”

But the hand of death was on the “man named Le Roy” (Mr Kinglake, we are glad to perceive, has dropped that form of insolence and calls him St Arnaud in the present volumes). Todleben, evidently regarding the despised soldier of fortune as the leading mind of the expedition, assigns to his illness the indecision and want of elan and enterprise in the movement of the Allies.

On the night between the 26th and 27th of September St Arnaud’s command ceased. “The sole leadership of the Allies during the Flank March practically devolved on Lord Raglan” — that is, Mr Kinglake. “The good effect resulting from this temporary concentration of power” — that is, Mr Kinglake. “The Anglo-French army instantly felt the advantage which results from undivided command.” That is Mr Kinglake again. “Unguarded way in which Lord Raglan and the artillery moved on;” “Airey comes on a Russian force — the Surprise Mutual;” “Danger to the English;” “Critical Position of the Allies;” “The Allies Ignorant of the Enemy’s Movements.” These are some of the marginal notes of Mr Kinglake in reference to this period of supremacy and its advantages.

In all the operations of the Allies there was nothing so venturesome, as Mr Kinglake calls it — so unsoldierly, and slovenly a candid critic would say — as that very Flank March. Cathcart, as Mr Kinglake states, was actually at one time in desperation, and thought of having to cut his way through the enemy:—

“Having, in the course of the 25th, sent back all the convoys of sick to the Katcha, and having sent forward what remained of the baggage-trains into the general line of march, Cathcart, on the following day, left the Belbec, moving up to Mackenzie’s Farm, and descending thence to the Tchernaya. For some 30 hours or more Cathcart had been left so far isolated as to make it seem likely that he would have occasion for showing his quality as a commander, and he contemplated the eventuality of being attacked in a way which would oblige him to burn his baggage and cut his way through; but the enemy forbore, attempting nothing against him.

While the main body of the English army thus lay on the Tchernaya, the road by which they had come was still crowded, miles back, by their trains; and the obstruction thus caused prevented the French for pushing their march for that night beyond Mackenzie’s Farm; indeed, their rear guard was not able to reach its bivouac there until 3 o’clock in the morning.  .   .   .   From the Belbec to the Katcha, where lay the fleets, there was a tract of hill country unoccupied by the Allies, and the trains sent thither with the sick were at the mercy of the enemy.   .   .   .   Divided thus by what might almost be reckoned as a two days’ march from Cathcart’s division, and divided, too, from the shipping by a yet further tract of country now left in the hands of the enemy, Lord Raglan, from his bivouac at the Tractir-bridge, was anxious, as may well be supposed, to make known to our Admirals the success of his march on the Tchernaya, and his now unconditional resolve to seize the port of Balaclava. This object was effected twice over in the course of the night. Captain Hugh Smith was ordered by Cathcart to endeavour to carry a despatch to head-quarters; and although the Captain passed a Russian battery which opened fire upon him and killed one of his orderlies, he was able to reach the Tchernaya, and thence bring back from Lord Raglan a message which Cathcart was to send on to the Katcha. Colonel Windham, intrusted by Cathcart with the duty of carrying on the message, succeeded in reaching the Katcha, and delivered it safely to the Admiral. Also Lieutenant Maxse, despatched from the Agamemnon, was able to find our head-quarters on the Tchernaya, and to bring back during the night Lord Raglan’s message for Lyons. Lord Raglan did not choose to risk a despatch, lest it should fall into the hands of the Russians; but the message, repeated in duplicate, which he had thus been enabled to send, informed the Admirals of the progress of his march, and of his now final determination to move to the south coast, conveying at the same time his hope that a naval force would come round to Balaclava, and be there to meet him. Rightly looked at, the seed that there was for resorting to ventures like these will help perhaps to disclose the hazardous character of the Flank March, and the weakness of the posture in which the allied army lay on the night of the 25th of September.”

In the most critical period of the march thus described:—

“About two hours after midnight there was a good deal of musketry firing in a part of the allied line; and when this came to be followed by the sustained roar of field artillery, it was hard for young soldiers to avoid believing that a somewhat hot combat must be going on. Lord Raglan was not awakened.”

That is a great fact. It proves insouciance at all events; but it is to be doubted that Lord Raglan’s credit as an active General will be increased by this testimony to his sound sleep at a time when the Allies, to use Mr Kinglake’s words, were “in an imperilled state.” Next morning Lord Lucan received instructions to take his cavalry, supported by a battalion of Rifles, to Mackenzie’s Farm, and when he had reached that point to send back a Staff officer to inform Lord Raglan of his arrival and to make a report. It was clearly understood that the army was not to move till that report had been “sent back” to Lord Raglan. Lord Lucan’s reconnaissance had a definite object, and it was obvious that the safety of the army would have been compromised if the column of march moved till the ground was reported quite clear. What did Lord Raglan do? Without waiting for the return of the Staff officer with Lord Lucan’s report, his Lordship and his Staff plunged into a wood in an enemy’s country; nay, before Lord Lucan had well moved off at all Lord Raglan was reconnoitring on his own account. This was a strange proceeding. It nearly met with signal punishment. The course of the hero of Mr Kinglake’s tale on this occasion is quite like that eccentric desertion at the Alma of the army by its chief to which Mr Kinglake attaches such important results. It was, indeed, too much the manner of Lord Raglan to ride away from his men. A reference to our files in 1854 will show that when the troops were on their first day’s march after the battle of the Alma, his Lordship’s conduct in that respect was noted, and it was mentioned that a Prussian officer of Engineers — Wagmann — attached to the army, loudly condemned his imprudence and rashness in going in advance to the edge of the Katcha. Lord Raglan was now riding with his Staff and Maude’s Artillery, not even his escort at hand, when he came upon the Russian rear guard, and had just time to turn round and retire up the narrow lane. The Russians if they saw them did not fire.

When a man of poetic turn takes to writing history, he is apt to allow the play of his imagination to supply his facts. Mr Kinglake is full of quaint fancyings, very pretty sometimes, often ludicrously inapt and unlikely. There is no need to refer to the wonderful impression supposed to be made on the Russians by Lord Raglan’s appearance at the Alma, an effect which Mr Kinglake seems to imagine had much to do with making them run away. There is no need, because here we have in Vol. III the image reproduced. Lord Raglan and his few Staff officers are supposed to come on the enemy’s infantry. So much the worse for the enemy. They would have been led to imagine from what they saw, says Mr Kinglake, that the English General had just effected a surprise designed beforehand, and was inspecting the progress of an attack now about to be made on themselves:—

“Before the orders for bringing up the cavalry could produce their effect, some minutes must needs pass, and during this little interval the English commander and his Staff, as well as Maude’s artillery, could not but be much at the mercy of the enemy. Yet those of the Russians who were so placed as to be able to descry Lord Raglan through the foliage would never have been able to infer from the sight that he or his Staff were people who supposed themselves to be placed in any kind of jeopardy. Rather they would have been led to imagine, from what they saw, that the English General had just effected a surprise designed beforehand, and was inspecting the progress of an attack now about to be made on themselves. Deceived by the tranquillity of the scene thus presented to them by Lord Raglan, or simply, perhaps, bewildered by the suddenness of the adventure, the Russians did not stretch out a hand to seize the gift which fortune was proffering.”

It is evident, however, that, under all the circumstances, the conduct of the Commander-in-Chief, in whose hands was the fate of two armies, was most censurable. Mr Kinglake feels this. But he has words and diagrams always ready to get his friends out of a difficulty. A sacrifice must be made, and Lord Lucan and Sir E Wetherall are selected accordingly. It is made to appear that they went wrong. Suppose they did? Were they as wrong as Lord Raglan? Lord Lucan put Sir E Wetherall, one of our best Staff officers, at the head of the column, compass in hand, to guide it, while he looked out for the safety of his men on the flank, and neither he nor Colonel Wetherall can be blamed for what occurred.

Lord Raglan had encountered the rear of the retreating Russians. He had cavalry to use, and he had a friendly Tartar population around him. He had, as Mr Kinglake shows elaborately, many proofs in the course of his march which to a mind of ordinary military sagacity would have been clear as day; but the sudden and incomplete knowledge flung on the mind of Lord Raglan by contact with the Russians at Mackenzie’s Farm “did not bring him to change his design.” When a Russian captain found in one of the waggons in a helpless condition was brought before him, instead of sacrificing to the interest of his army his personal dislike to the sight of a drunken man, he abandoned all endeavours to draw from him the knowledge he might happen to have.

“Lord Raglan’s anxious regard for the personal dignity of the officer and the gentleman had nothing of the narrowness which would confine its scope to those of his own nation, and it seemed that the feeling with which he looked upon the reeling captain was hardly short of distress. At all events, he was so revolted that, yielding to impulse, he broke away from the sight, abandoning all endeavour to draw from the prisoner the knowledge he might happen to have.”

It will be admitted that the ordering of this march, as described by our author, was not very felicitous except in the wonderful “luck” which was present from beginning to end, and acted like a miracle for our preservation. From the heights of Mackenzie masses of Menschikoff’s army were seen retreating in the valley into which we were about to descend. That night Lord Raglan slept by the Traktir bridge on the Tchernaya, while his army, French and English, were wandering for miles in broken, straggling columns behind him, and the enemy, for all he knew, was ready to attack at daybreak. It was, indeed, a position of most extraordinary peril. Mr Kinglake would have done well not to have insisted on the excellence of the undivided command, or to have omitted his illustrations of it.

Next day the army resumed its course towards the sea. As for the way in which Lord Raglan ordered himself, let us again read Mr Kinglake’s story:—

“As at the Alma, when he gained the knoll looking down upon the enemy’s reserves, and as yesterday at Mackenzie’s Farm, when he all but struck in upon the rear guard of a Russian army, so to-day, and for the third time in this singular campaign, it once again happened that of the whole allied army he himself was the foremost explorer.

All at once, from a mortar in the ancient castle, fire was opened, and in the next moment a shell dropped plumping into the pool. This shot was followed by more, and one of the shells which came down sank into the earth without bursting, at a spot very near the chief. Lord Raglan looked angry, imagining, I believe, for a moment, that the villagers of Kadikoi had meant to deceive him when they said that Balaclava was undefended.”

The Greek Colonel, Monto, had a good answer, for he said it was his duty to hold the place till attacked or “summoned,” to which Lord Raglan had nothing to reply. While his army, and, above all, the French, were in the awkward position described, Lord Raglan rode towards the water’s edge, and “his first words” were “if Lyons were here this would be perfect.” We had secured Balaclava. Lord Raglan’s ascendancy was still untouched. The Flank March was over, and we were on the sea. And what happened? Lord Raglan had to decide a question which Mr Kinglake thus states, the putting thereof being slightly in opposition to the supposed autocracy:—

“The next day, when one of the French divisions came up, there was an inclination to remonstrate, and not without reason, against the occupation of the whole of Balaclava by the English. The French said that, according to the understanding with which the Flank March was agreed to, Balaclava was to be for the Allies, and not for one of them only. However accurate the maps and charts may have been, they had failed to convey to men’s minds beforehand the exceeding smallness of the place; but now, when the basin was thick crowded with masts, when the landing-place swarmed with busied men, and the little street overflowed with red-coated soldiery, it was evident that Balaclava was too diminutive to bear being divided between the French and the English. If the place was to be assigned to one of the two armies in exclusion to the other, the French were entitled to say that in the allied line they had hitherto taken the right, and that unless the precedence so conceded were to be withdrawn from them, Balaclava must needs be theirs because it was the easternmost of all the possible landing-places on this part of the coast, and the Allies, when arrayed against Sebastopol, would have to face towards the north. The French acted, however, with great forbearance, and nothing, indeed, could be fairer than the course which Canrobert took. He justly represented that the French had hitherto had the right side of the Allied line, and that, of necessity (on account of the position of the place), the army which was to be on the right must have Balaclava as the port of supply, which would be in its immediate rear; but seeing the English already installed in the port and the town, and inferring that to call upon them to move out and make way for the French would be likely to create ill blood, he generously and wisely proposed to give Lord Raglan his choice. Either Lord Raglan might continue, as before, to take the left place in the allied line, with an understanding that, in that case, he would have to give up Balaclava to the French, or else he might keep Balaclava, but, as the consequence of doing so, must take his place on the right of the Allied line. To take the right was to add to the toils of the siege the duty of withstanding any enterprises which might be undertaken by the enemy’s field army; to take the left was to be sheltered from molestation on all sides except that of the town. But, on the other hand, the privilege of occupying Balaclava seemed, at the time, to be one of great value, because the fitness and the ample advantages of the bays of Kamiesh and Kazatch had not then been recognized. Before he made his choice Lord Raglan consulted Lyons, and Lyons urged with a great earnestness that Balaclava should be retained by the English. There, and there only, as he thought, could there be a sufficiently sure communication between the fleet and the land forces. As experience proved, he was wrong; but upon a naval question — and such this question was — his opinion, of course, had great weight. It prevailed. For the sake of retaining Balaclava, Lord Raglan elected to take the right in the allied line, with all its burdens and perils. It seems probable that, if Lord Raglan had chanced to prefer the other alternative, the subsequent course of events would have borne but little resemblance to that which in fact took place.”

Lord Raglan thus at a moment of authority put his army into the position which rendered it on the whole of the enemy’s side the most exposed to attack. He selected the post of the covering army, and assumed all its responsibilities. The measures he adopted to fulfil his duty and to execute his functions will be examined more in detain hereafter; but it is now enough to say that he threw out an isolated body of Turks — in whom, from the way in which he used them, we may infer he had no confidence — into a position isolated and practically indefensible by such a force, and when warned of the danger to which they were exposed — urgently warned — took no heed. He was content with awaiting the blow, and then receiving it with a divine calm. He remained inactive, just as he did when warned of the danger coming on the Inkerman position. He remained inactive when disorder and chaos ran riot in Balaclava till the words of a newspaper company “drew him” from head-quarters, and made the Commander-in-Chief come down to see with his own eyes what was going on. The letter which has recently appeared in our columns from Sir John Burgoyne renders it unnecessary for us to discuss Mr Kinglake’s positive but baseless assertion that Lord Raglan desired an immediate assault of the place.

(To be continued.)

* The Invasion of the Crimea: its Origin, and an Account of its Progress down to the Death of Lord Raglan. By Alexander William Kinglake. William Blackwood and Sons: Edinburgh and London.

† See letter (quoted by Mr Kinglake) to the Duke of Newcastle, September 28, 1854.

Home About Sources Topics Background