Winter Life in Crimea - Dreadful Sufferings of the British - Sick and Wounded - Miss Nightingale and the Hospital Nurses at Scutari - British Sympathy and Philanthropy - Balaklava Railway - Operations at Eupatoria - Siege of Sebastopol.
When the British troops left the shores of England in the early part of 1854, few of them probably imagined that they would have to endure the rigours of winter in the Crimea;—and none perhaps ever dreamed that they would have to undergo such terrible sufferings as fell to their lot during those dreary months. Bravely had they maintained their prestige on the battle-field in their conflicts with the Muscovite foe;—and as bravely did they struggle and endure the contest with sickness and privation, which during the winter assailed them with relentless fury. Honoured be the names of those who had nobly fought and bled and died in this just war! And honoured be the survivors, who patiently and uncomplainingly passed through the severe ordeal which befel the remnant of the British legions in the Crimea in the winter of 1854-5.
A series of causes had been leading to one result, viz. the inevitable necessity of the Allied armies encamping during the bleak months of winter on the elevated plateau outside of Sebastopol. Privations had already commenced; but those which had been experienced were trifling to what were yet to be borne. Balaklava was the depot for every kind of commodity; the dilapidated houses in the main street being occupied by dealers, who obtained their supplies from Constantinople, Varna, and elsewhere. These dealers were principally Greeks, Jews, and Maltese, who brought together a miscellaneous stock of articles at an exorbitant price. This wretched street was crowded from side to side with ordnance-carriages, strings of dragoon horses carrying forage to the camp, trains of mules bearing commissariat supplies, rows of high-wheeled carts similarly employed, flocks of sheep newly landed, pack-horses bearing officers' kits and trunks, Turks carrying the dead bodies of their comrades to a neighbouring cemetery, and a menagerie of horses, donkeys, mules, and dromedaries, variously engaged as beasts of burden or of draught. Officers were glad enough to act as their own servants at such a time, if they could only effect purchases that might enable them to carry up a miscellaneous store of domestic necessaries or comforts in their saddle-bags and holsters to the camp. A still more miry alley, branching out of the miry street, led to the post-office—a tenement sought by many a beating heart, anxious for news from England. It frequently happened that provisions were landed in the wet, stacked in the mud, and remained until half spoiled, before hands could be found to carry them up to the camp; and it was saddening to see the condition of those who occasionally acted as porters on such occasions; "the very ragged, gaunt, hungry-looking men," as one officer described them," with matted beards and moustaches, features grimed with dirt, and torn great-coats stiff with successive layers of mud —these men, whose whole appearance speaks toil and suffering, and who instantly remind you of the very lowest and most impoverished class of the Irish peasantry—are the picked soldiers from our different foot-regiments, strong men selected to carry up provisions for the rest of the camp."
The severest miseries experienced at this time and place were those which the Turks had to undergo. Ever since their cowardly conduct at Balaklava, these unfortunate creatures had to endure, besides much other suffering, the scorn and contempt of the British soldiery; and, finding no comforter favour at the camp, they made the little village their rendezvous. Dirty and filthy in their personal habits, neglected by the Ottoman government, and despised by their Allies, the Turks contracted the seeds of disease which made Balaklava a very pest-house; a typhoid fever, of a virulent and malignant character, sweeping them down with desolating rapidity. How the unhappy wretches existed at all is inexplicable; there was no commissariat for them at Balaklava, and they had scarcely any other resource but begging and stealing, until the British were in a manner compelled to provide for them; but even then, as the storm had committed such havoc among our own supplies, there was little indeed to spare for those miserable beings.
The road from Balaklava to the camp was in a most wretched condition, being frequently on wet days a complete puddle, so that the beasts of burden engaged in carrying supplies, sunk deep in the mud at every step, and many were the mishaps which occurred in consequence. Numbers of mules and other beasts of burden were landed, but there being a deficiency of forage, the poor animals had to suffer starvation and death, without help. The reinforcements which arrived at Balaklava were often in a miserable plight in their march to the camp for want of the stores requisite for their support. The 63rd landed at Balaklava near the end of November, and were ordered up to the front to relieve the over-wrought troops in the trenches. The length and nature of their march was thus described in a letter by one of the officers: — "We marched up the road through the valley where the cavalry action took place on the 25th of October; the road was most dreadful, up to the knees in mud, and encumbered with dead bodies of mules, bullocks, and horses. What a sight this place would be for some enthusiastic member of the Humane Society! French and Turkish troops were marching in every direction, arabas laden with provisions to supply the wants of the immense army surrounding the place. Well, we proceeded on as best we could through the mud till dark, and to every inquiry how far the 3rd division was, ' Five miles' was the invariable answer. As it became perfectly dark, we began to suspect that our guide, an orderly of the 13th Dragoons, did not know much about the country. At last, we reached a French camp, and asked them where the English were. They guided us to a camp, and, to our great dismay, we found we were among the light division, on the extreme right of the whole position, about four miles beyond our camp. As it could not be helped, we turned to the right-about, and again went on; out of 120 men, not more than thirty remained with us, and, if it had not been for shame, I should have laid down too. At last, we reached our camp about eight o'clock, after having, by our wanderings, converted a march of six miles into nearly twenty."
The clothing of the troops began to show the effects of the arduous duties the men were called to fulfil in the trenches; many of them were in shreds and tatters, and besmeared with gravel and miry clay. Their shoes and boots also were, in many instances, worn-out; and the men had to traverse the sludgy roads many of them without shoes, or in such as let in water in many places.
A mournful but instructive paragraph might be made up by a selection from those parts of the soldiers' simple and truthful letters bearing upon their warworn garments. A sergeant said: " Half the regiment were in tatters; no one ever saw such miserable creatures in soldiers' clothes before, for trousers and everything were all sorts of patches, and many of the men had not had a clean shirt for a month." One of the Guards, who had fought so gallantly at Alma and Inkermann, thus wrote to his mother: " I am wearing my clothing that I have worn for two years; my red jacket I mended with a piece of black stuff; the trousers that I am wearing are my pipe-clay whites, and it is twice as cold as it is in England. Our officers pity us, to see the miserable state we are in." A marine, on the heights above Balaklaya, wrote: "I have not had my clothes off to sleep since I have been here, and I shan't if we stop for six months. I should like you just to see my 'mug;' I have not had a shave these ten weeks, and I get a wash once in three or four days." A trooper in the light dragoons, writing to his mother, said: " I am at this moment without a shirt on my back, and no boots to my feet, only a pair of highlows, and they are very little protection to my feet where there is much mud and water; and only one flannel shirt, one pair of drawers, and one pair of socks, and those I had to take off a dead man, or I should have had to go without; it was no harm, as the poor fellow would never want them again, or else, you may depend upon it, I should not have done it; at once I should have shuddered at the bare idea." A rifleman wrote: "Our men are clothed in smocks made by themselves from blankets; leggings also ornament them, made from the same material, some from old sacking; and some have none of this, but still-wear what is left of our old clothing. Fancy our regiment paraded in such different costumes; it would be a grand parade in Hyde Park!" With such details did the poor fellows fill their letters, written towards the close of the year.
It would extend this volume far too much were minute details given of the various kinds of suffering endured by the troops throughout the winter. In addition to exhausting labour and deficient clothing, the men had many times to go short of sufficient food; this arising in a great measure from the want of the transport service. The cavalry horses were, according to the testimony of an artillery officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Hamley, in a wretched condition. He states that the surviving horses of the Scots Greys, long-haired, bony, spiritless, and soiled with mire, preserved no trace of their former beauty. Dying and dead horses lay scattered around the artillery and cavalry camps, and on the Balaklava road—struck down by fatigue, cold, or starvation. Once down, a horse seldom rose again: after a few feeble attempts, he would lie still nibbling at the bare ground; then he would fall over on his side, and, stretching out his legs, would so end his career, leaving a smooth space in the mud where his head and neck had moved slowly to and fro, or where his hind-legs had scratched convulsively before he died. Sometimes an ownerless horse, lame and unserviceable, would linger about the neighbourhood of an encampment; day after day he would be there, patiently waiting, wondering why no corn or hay was given him; getting thinner and thinner, he obtained no relief, for each trooper had insufficient fodder for his own horse; he dropped and died a lingering death, unless, perchance, some friendly bullet put a quicker end to his sufferings. Swollen and bloated carcasses would be seen at one spot; while at another would appear the remains of a horse, whence all but the bones and skin had been removed by ferocious dogs.
Towards the end of November, cholera broke out a second time among the poor fellows, striking down nearly a hundred in one night, and the miseries of the suffering troops were redoubled; for increased comforts and necessaries were wanted, at the very time when fewer hands were obtainable as carriers; the depots became so exhausted that the army was literally dependent for its daily bread on Balaklava: if supplies had not been carried up every day without interruption, the privations must have been greatly augmented.
The British troops marched, as has been stated, from their landing-place in the Crimea to Balaklava without their tents—bivouacking under circumstances of discomfort that laid the foundation for many a fatal disorder. The tents reached them gradually on the plateau in front of Sebastopol, but these tents, too few in number, and often defective in quality, became wretched domiciles even before the rains and tempests of November began; what they became afterwards, experience too painfully manifested. The French began to render their tented homes comfortable long before their Allies had any materials for so doing; and shortly before the November storm, many of them ingeniously constructed residences partially under ground-that is, they dug shallow pits, and thatched them over with twigs and branches. The British could not have adopted this plan, even if they had possessed the ingenuity so to apply their hands, for the ground on the part of the plateau occupied by them was too hard: they were dependent, in the first instance, on no other covering than that of the blue vault above them; then upon tents admitting rain-water as through a sieve; and then, after a long interval, upon wooden huts. But here at once arose a difficulty lamentable and vexatious; the timber was near at hand, but means were wanting for conveyance up to the camp. After the hurricane, the shores were strewn with the remains of wrecked ships, available in many cases for hut-building; and towards the close of the month, supplies of prepared timber arrived; but in the one case as in the other, the deficiency of beasts of burden rendered it a work of enormous difficulty to transport the timbers to the necessary spot.
Of all the calamities which the troops had to struggle with, that of trench-duties was the most testing and destructive to the constitution; and the trenches being in many instances too shallow, when tall men stood upright they were in great danger of having their heads split by shot which was continually flying from the guns of the enemy. And these tall men had no other method of escaping this danger, than by kneeling or lying down in the water and slush for hours together. It was not unfrequent for the men to be marched to the trenches at four o'clock in the afternoon, and there remain sixteen hours, exposed to rain and snow during the whole period; and to take this duty on alternate days. One of the regiments sent out to reinforce the army, landed at Balaklava in the rain, marched up the wretched road in the rain, pitched tens in the rain, slept on the wet ground, and took trench-duty in the rain on the next night: as a consequence, nearly one-third of the men were dead or disabled within ten days. Of the 46th regiment, seven men died in the trenches on the first night. The poor fellows engaged in these nightly duties compared their position with that of the French, and bitterly felt how unfavourable was the contrast.
The general burden of the soldiers' letters, relating to the nights in the trenches and pickets, may be readily inferred. One, not a mere private, but an officer, wrote : "I was myself on picket the day before yesterday, for twenty-four hours; this morning I was on a working-party in the trenches from four o'clock until the same hour in the afternoon: and tomorrow I am on picket again: now, what manner of man, think you, can stand this?" An officer of the Royals told how that in one week, about Christmas, he was sent out to repel a Russian sortie towards midnight, and returned to camp at four in the morning on the next day ; a few hours afterwards, he went on picket to a place against which the Russians maintained a warm fire during tho night; returning to camp at seven in the morning of the third day, he went in the evening to guard the ammunition reserve, where he remained until ten o'clock on the following morning; at four o'clock on this, the fourth day, he was sent in charge of a working party in the left siege-train; after nine hours' service, he returned to the camp in the dead of the night, saturated with wet, and then had to delay his rest until, in the early morn of the fifth day, he had read the burial-service over two unfortunates who had died in the trenches. Another officer in the same regiment wrote proudly but mournfully of his men: "They drag on to the trenches while they can scarcely stand, and take a pride in never shirking or casting their duty on others." Truly might he say: " It is very wearisome trying to walk about in slush for twelve hours at a time: indeed the young hands cannot do it; they sit or lie down in the wet, get cramps, and are carried to the hospital, where they die; the old soldiers know their only chance is to keep moving about, which they do while they can stand."
The number of sick and wounded in the camp hospital increased daily; and, to add to the misery of the sufferers and the dilemma of the medical men, there were no medical stores to administer to the patients. There were no proper vehicles to convey the sick from the camp to Balaklava; for, although there were ambulances, yet there were no horses, and therefore the ambulances were useless. Hence the camp hospital became full to repletion. A surgeon of the 63rd regiment, examined by the Sebastopol Committee, stated that in the first instance there were no regulations whatever for the removal of the sick from the camp to Balaklava, and that even when such rules were laid down, they became at once cumbrous and unmanageable. Being himself ill, this witness had been recommended by his superior medical officer to go for a time to Balaklava, and had obtained from him a properly signed recommendation to that effect; this recommendation required to be counter-signed by the quartermaster-general, then by the colonel of the regiment, then by the general of the division, and, finally, by the adjutant-general; but while undergoing this complex process it was lost, for the person in whose behalf it was drawn up never saw it again. The paper had been six days travelling about the camp, under the curse of formalism: during which time the sick surgeon was enforced to bear his sickness as he best he might.
When it was determined, with the assent of the Sultan, to establish a British military hospital at Scutari, a portion of the barracks was set aside for this purpose. So immense was this building, that one side of the square and half of another could afford accommodation for 3500 invalids, besides seven hundred in the Turkish hospital attached to the barracks. If the entire structure had been similarly appropriated, it could have received 6000 sick men; and, being on a height, it was healthily situated.
Many accusations were made by anonymous correspondents in different newspapers against the army surgeons, charging them with unfeeling conduct towards their patients, and utter neglect and indifference to the urgent cases of the sufferers. Many of these accusations were most probably utterly groundless.
" O war, war, how doest thou in thy utter bitterness of trial curse our race! Sowing penalties and pains broadcast over our living soul, heaping up more of poverty on the very poor, deriding the widow in her bereavement, making her childless; casting on them who only in hopes are wives, pangs as bitter as those of widows; thou begettest orphans; in the very wantonness of thy cruelty seekest victims from every other class; reckless of all social distinction, levelling all to one condition—that of the heart-broken and desolate: men crown thy triumphs with laurel—the cypress of the cemetery, the yew of the village church-yard, these are the real emblems of thy accursed work."
Thus wrote the Rev. S. G. Osborne, one among many Englishmen who—doubting whether it were possible that such miseries could have beset the Crimean army as were from time to time communicated to the public journals—resolved to test the verity of the statements by personal observation. He went out to visit, not the troops at the camp, but the sick and wounded at the Scutari hospitals, near which he took up his residence from the 8th of November until the approach of Christmas. Gladly did two of the English ministers, the Earl of Clarendon and Mr. Sidney Herbert, afford him facilities for his visit. Gross as was the mismanagement somewhere, no reflecting person could countenance the charges of deliberate cruelty and neglect hastily brought against these and other leading statesmen: none would more willingly have re-ordered and improved the rickety machine of departmental government; but, unfortunately, such ameliorations can ill be effected in the midst of the calamities that suggest them.
Mr. Osborne's picture of the dread terrors of war arose, not merely from the sight of wounds and death, but also from the terrible augmentation of suffering caused by defective arrangements. The hospital noticed in a former paragraph was the first established for the use of the British forces; but towards Christmas, the number had increased to five—the General Hospital, the Barrack Hospital, two Floating Hospitals, and a Naval Hospital. The General Hospital and the Barrack Hospital were those to which the greatest importance attached during the winter.
Mr. Osborne carefully examined these hospitals at Scutari, and published a work entitled " Scutari and its Hospitals," wherein he freely animadverted, on many defects in the conducting of these establishments; and suggested emendations. He made comparisons between the English and French mode of managing these institutions, and gave the meed of praise to our Allies, for the manner in which they treated their sick and wounded. Mr. O. gives a dismal picture of the arrival of a cargo of invalids, at the landing-place at Suctari. "I have seen," said he, "the bodies of the dead, stores for the living, munitions of war, sick men staggering from weakness, wounded men helpless on stretchers, invalid orderlies waiting to act as bearers, oxen yoked in arabas, officials stiff in uniforms and authority, all in one dense crowd, on this narrow, inconvenient pier, exposed to drenching rain, and so bewildered by the utter confusion, natural and artificial, of the scene, that the transaction of any one duty was quite out of the question." Sometimes the wounded, when landed at the pier, were kept exposed to inclement weather until orderlies, themselves invalids in process of recovery, in sufficient number, could be obtained to carry them on the stretchers up to the hospital; then, finding the Barrack Hospital to be full, the miserable burdens would be re-shouldered, and jolted half a mile further on to the General Hospital; this also being full, the wretched procession would return, and the sick men would be deposited at the doors and along the passages of the Barrack Hospital, until accommodation could be provided for them, or would be huddled up for hours in a ward without beds. Perhaps the most terrible fact connected with these scenes was, that many of the invalids were literally starved nearly to death; so disgracefully inadequate had been the arrangements for provisioning them during the voyage from the Crimea. Mr. Osborne asserted, that although he had seen much of misery and starvation in Ireland and in the East, he had never seen such gaunt skeletons as some of those who, a few short months earlier, had been the gallant guardsmen of the Household Brigade.
In consequence of the dismal accounts which reached England of the state of the sick and wounded troops in the East, public sympathy was roused in their behalf, and remedial measures were immediately resorted to. The first suggestions pointed to the establishment of a supernumerary medical staff; a second assumed a new form : the truth was recognized that woman is the best nurse for the sick, the best comforter in the hour of suffering. One lady recommended that nurses should be selected from the Sisters of Charity in Catholic countries; another source of female aid was sketched in the following words:—" We have the soldiers' wives who are left here dependent on the public charity; why should not the most intelligent of them be selected—say six or eight, from the regiments to which their husbands belong, and be immediately sent for a few weeks' practice into our hospitals at home ? There these women could be taught the way to wash and dress light wounds, and attend on the sick, under the direction of the doctors; and, as soon as they are competent, let them be sent for hospital-service to the East."
The plan or proposal which was followed by the most practical result, was contained in a letter to the Bishop of London, from the Rev. Mr. Shepherd, Master of St. John's House in Westminster, a kind of sisterhood of Protestant ladies devoted to acts of kindness and charity; he proposed that ladies from that house should go out as a hospital-nurses, with no other fee or reward than the consciousness of doing good to suffering and neglected men. The plan speedily assumed form and working-order; ladies offered their services, not only from St. John's House, but from other places in and out of London. The next duty was, to provide a superior, gouvernant, or matron ; one who should have a moral and practical control over the nurses or nursing-sisters, and at the same time should be placed in some definite relation towards the medical authorities of the hospitals—the latter claiming of course a controlling voice in all the arrangements. The Duke of Newcastle, as minister of war, had this subject under his attention throughout the summer; the military authorities at home had discountenanced the plan of hospital-nurses, on various grounds; but when the miseries of the Scutari hospitals became known in England, and when so many ladies had expressed their willingness to go out as nurses, it was resolved to foster the plan if a superintendent could be found. Through the intervention of Mrs. Sidney Herbert, the lady of the secretary at war, it was ascertained that one eminently fitted was willing to undertake this most trying and responsible office. Miss Florence Nightingale, belonging to a Hampshire family of station and fortune, and richly endowed with natural gifts, developed by an education of more than usually extensive character, and by travelling in various parts of Europe, bad, despite the attractions of wealth, birth, and high social connections, already manifested a yearning to employ her time and services in succour of the sick and wretched. She had tended the poor in the vicinity of her father's abode ; she had visited the hospitals and reformatory establishments of London, Edinburgh, and the continent ; she had spent three months ministering in a German hospital; and she had voluntarily assumed the management of the asylum for sick governesses in London. And now she accepted the office of superintendent of the hospital-nurses at Scutari. But what an office! Leaving a happy home, with all its genial associations and comforts—closing a door against those social attractions her varied accomplishments enabled her so well to appreciate—departing from the sphere of those whose cultivated minds could give grace and value to conversation—going out to a country wherein every turn spoke of war and slaughter—taking up her abode in a building containing none of her own sex, save those who might accompany her—walking and tending, from morn till night, among hundreds or even thousands of men, uneducated, rough, ragged, bloody, dirty, wounded, sick, hungry, miserable-undertaking painful and laborious duties at a time and place marked by every kind of deficiency in the necessary supplies—placing herself in a position not clearly defined towards the various "authorities" at Scutari —responsible for the conduct of all the nurses who joined her in this noble mission: all these things considered, there has indeed rarely been such an example of heroic daring combined with feminine gentleness. It was well observed, at the time when this tremendous duty was assumed, that—although there is a heroism in dashing up the heights of Alma in defiance of death and all mortal opposition, worthy of all praise and honour—the quiet, forecasting heroism and largeness of heart, in this lady's resolute accumulation of the powers of consolation, must rank yet higher among the qualities that adorn human nature.
Offers of personal assistance poured in so numerously from ladies in various parts of the kingdom, that Mr. Sidney Herbert deemed it necessary, in an explanatory letter, to show how trying were the duties required, and how essential the possession of skill and firmness by the nurses. " Many ladies," he said, " whose generous enthusiasm prompts them to offer their services as nurses, are little aware of the hardships they would have to encounter, and the horrors they would have to witness, which would try the firmest nerves. Were all accepted who offer, I fear we should have not only many inefficient nurses, but many hysterical patients, themselves requiring treatment instead of assisting others." The ladies selected, who departed from London with Miss Nightingale on the 23rd of October, were thirty-eight in number; comprising six from St. John's House, eight from Miss Sellon's house of Sisters at Devonport, ten Roman Catholic Sisters of Charity, and fourteen experienced hospital-nurses. Six weeks afterwards, another party of nearly fifty departed, made up in a similar way. Of those who went out with Miss Nightingale, all were chosen or approved by herself; and each received a certificate from the government, authorizing her to occupy a position in the hospitals at Scutari. With one common consent, men of all creeds and countries rendered honour to those ladies for their noble devotedness; Catholics and Protestants alike bade them God-speed at the hour of their departure by railway from London ; the authorities at Boulogne prepared a welcome reception for them ; the fishwives at that town busily aided in carrying their luggage from the steamer to the station ; the railway officials throughout the route from Boulonge to Marseilles paid them marked attention; and the captain and crew of the Vectis steamer strove to show how proud they were of such passengers to the East.
Arrived at the hospitals at Scutari, all the romance of tlieir position departed from these ladies: the stern realities of life—life in its most desperate forms—at once pressed upon their attention; and they bravely prepared for their self-imposed duties. Accommodation was hastily provided for them within a tower at one of the corners of the Barrack Hospital. Mr. and Mrs. Bracebridge, who accompanied the ladies, were enabled to afford them countenance and support in various difficult contingencies likely to arise. They all reached Scutari within twenty-four hours of the first arrival of the wounded from Inkermann, and their services were immediately called into requisition in a way that put their firmness and zeal to a severe test.
The nurses entered on their arduous duties amid many difficulties; Miss Nightingale frequently found her firmness and patience severely tested; and had it not been for the encouragement she invariably received from Lady Stratford de Redcliffe at Constantinople, and the kind aid of Mr. Macdonald, Mr. Osborne, and Mr. Stafford, her sphere of usefulness would have been greatly circumscribed. Her duties were of a very multifarious and onerous nature; for they consisted of nothing less than a remedying, so far as might be possible, of the varied evils resulting from the defects and confusion in the government departments; a rendering of services others ought to have rendered, but did not; a supervision over details so numerous, and complications so vexing, that it is a marvel how a delicately nurtured lady could bear the pressure of such a burden. To administer to the wants of 4000 sick men was a formidable task; but nobly did this devoted friend of suffering humanity fulfil her God-like mission.
Miss Nightingale has earned for herself an imperishable fame; her name will be handed down to posterity, and her deeds of mercy will be the theme of England's matrons to their daughters as long as time shall last. All ranks of people in England vied with each other in sympathy for the sufferers in the camps and hospitals, and in admiration of the services of Miss Nightingale. That illustrious lady who so highly adorns the exalted station she is called by Providence to fill as ruler of Great Britain, manifested her interest and sympathy on the subject, as will be perceived by the following letter:
" Windsor Castle, December 6,1854.
" Would you tell Mrs. Herbert that I begged she would let me see frequently the accounts she receives from Miss Nightingale or Mrs. Bracebridge, as I hear no details of the wounded, though I see so many from officers, &c., about the battle-field, and, naturally, the former must interest me more than any one ?
" Let Mrs. Herbert also know that I wish Miss Nightingale and the ladies would tell the poor, noble, wounded, and sick men, that no one takes a warmer interest, or feels more for their sufferings, or admires their courage and heroism more than their Queen. Day and night she thinks of her beloved troops. So does the Prince.
" Beg Mrs. Herbert to communicate these my words to those ladies, as I know that our sympathy is much valued by these noble fellows. (Signed) "Victoria."
This letter was addressed to Mr. Sidney Herbert, Secretary at War, and was transmitted by Mrs. Herbert to Miss Nightingale, A perusal of this letter renders evident the fact, that the official despatches from the East told little concerning the sufferings and fate of the poor wounded soldiers; the Sovereign "heard no details of the wounded;" those details, if given at all, were wrapped up in departmental formalism, whereby living men were treated as little other than bales of goods, to be packed aside in heaps and there forgotten. Subsequent events have fully proved, that had it not been for the newspaper press, the English nation would never have known the terrible truths concerning the Crimea and Scutari.
In the silence of the night, when all who could sleep were earnestly yearning so to do, might often be seen a slender form gliding noiselessly through the wards and corridors, bounded by long rows of beds, each occupied by a prostrate soldier. It was Miss Nightingale, who, ending a day of untiring activity, would take a last look to ascertain whether any duty had been neglected, any urgent case forgotten, any solace unadministered. When Mr. Macdonald, his mission ended, was about to leave Scutari, and when no longer restrained by a fear of hurting the delicacy of one who would brave dangers to serve others while shrinking from hearing her own praises, he stated, in one of his numerous letters to the Times, that " whereever there is disease in its most dangerous form, and the hand of the spoiler distressingly nigh, there is this incomparable woman sure to be seen; her benignant presence is an influence for good comfort, even amid the struggles of expiring nature. She is a 'ministering angel,' without any exaggeration, in these hospitals ; and as her slender form glides quietly along each corridor, every poor fellow's face softens with gratitude at the sight of her. When all the medical officers have retired for the night, and silence and darkness have settled down upon those miles of prostrate sick, she may be observed alone, with a little lamp in her hand, making her solitary rounds. The popular instinct was not mistaken, which, when she set out from England on her mission of mercy, hailed her as a heroine; I trust that she may not earn her title to a higher, though sadder appellation. No one who has observed her fragile figure and delicate health, can avoid misgivings lest these should fail. With the heart of a true woman, and the manners of a lady, accomplished and refined beyond most of her sex, she combines a surprising calmness of judgment, and promptitude and decision of character."
During the time that these events were taking place in the Crimea and at Scutari—while the troops on the heights of Sebastopol were stricken down by wounds, fever, dysentery, cold, hunger, nakedness, and every kind of neglect; while Balaklava was a concentration of every thing abominable and repulsive; while the weekly and almost daily passages of vessels from that place to Scutari were marked by scenes heart rending to witness—the British nation was roused up to adopt extraordinary means for evincing how nobly it appreciated the heroic devotion of the army. It was wanting as a state: it maintained its exalted position as a nation. It adopted the ready and generous plan of affording relief, through the instrumentality either of individuals or of societies formed for the especial purpose. No incidents connected with the war were more worthy of record than these ; since they illustrated—not merely the just and kind feelings entertained on the subject by all classes, without reference to party, creed or rank, but also the remarkable and wholly unprecedented way in which the newspaper press bore its share in the good work; showing how truly in effect, if not formally and legally, the press has become one of the "institutions" of the country. The succour rendered was partly in funds, partly in commodities, and partly in personal services. Before the time of the declaration of war, a society was established under the title of the " Central Association in Aid of the Wives and Families, Widows and Orphans, of soldiers ordered to the East." The object was countenanced by several members of the Royal family, and many other distinguished individuals. By the end of May the fund had reached £40,000, in a measure through the impetus given by collections made on the "Day of Humiliation;" and, before the year expired, the amount exceeded £100,000. Difficulties arose as to how to arrange in regard to the females married to soldiers without the sanction of the commanding officer; but, after much deliberation, it was resolved to treat all alike. There were about 5000 women and about 8000 children receiving relief in money, clothing, food, furniture, medicines, or other ways.
As the year progressed, and the number of deaths in the East augmented, a feeling began to be spread throughout the country that a fund directly sanctioned by the crown, and established with all the weight the crown could give, would be proper and even necessary.—Hence commenced the munificent project, the "Patriotic Fund," the Queen and Prince Albert heading the list of subscribers by the liberal sums of £500 each. This fund was placed under the management of thirty commissioners—mostly persons well known in public life. Started under such auspices, the Patriotic Fund grew in magnitude, and advanced with a rapidity never paralleled, perhaps, in any age or country. All ranks and conditions poured in their contributions—the ancient feudal nobility, the " merchant princes," traders and manufacturers, professional men, shopkeepers, workmen in factories, children in schools— all brought their gifts to cast into this treasury for the British army and those dependent upon the men composing it. Not only every town and village in Great Britain, but also many of those in our colonies, and other parts of the world, subscribed towards this noble object. By the time the spring had well advanced, the sum had reached £1,000,000; and at a latter period £1,500,000.
The noble and munificent sum of £20,000 was subscribed by several generous individuals, who sent their individual moieties of this sum to the Editor'of the Times newspaper, relying upon his integrity and judgment in the due appropriation of the money to the object contemplated; and the commencement, progress, and end of that fund, were among the brightest incidents afforded during the war.
One remedial measure, however, which strikingly characterizes the energy of the present age, was the construction of a railway from Balaklava to the camp. Among the many novelties introduced into the military art during the Russian war, certairly this was one of the most remarkable—the formation of a railway in an enemy's country, the more effectually to besiege a town belonging to him. When the government determined that a railway should be formed from Balaklava up to the camp, there was no want of men able and willing to effect the work. Messrs Peto, Brassey, and Betts, eminent railway-contractors, having signed an agreement with the government, advertised for artisans and labourers who would consent to go out as railway-makers in the Crimea. The war being popular, and public sympathy being aroused in favour of the suffering soldiers, the appeal was warmly responded to; and an ample number of excavators, masons, carpenters, blacksmiths, plate-layers, engine-drivers, and others, offered their services. Many of those chosen had been employed under Mr. Beatty in the construction of Canadian railways, whereby they had become acclimatised to great variations of heat and cold; and they were placed under the same managing engineer for the Crimean service—all engaged at high wages and for six months certain.
Shortly before Christmas the first consignment of men and materials left England; and, at the close of January, 1855, the railway flotilla arrived at Balaklava. The ships were speedily disburdened of their contents; and, the instructions from home being definite and complete, the manager immediately proceeded to lay out his plans. The work was carried on with vigour and energy ; and, by the middle of February the work was extended as far as the village of Kadikoi, where a railway depot was established. By the beginning of April the railway was in full operation in conveying stores and ammunition betwixt Balaklava and the camp. The formation of this railway was one of the most beneficial measures adopted for the carrying on the war; for it enabled the British commander to bring up to the front an enormous mass of artillery and ammunition in an amazing short time; and, no doubt, had the railway been constructed earlier, it would have been the means of saving many valuable lives.
Many official investigations were instituted during the winter, to inquire into the various abuses which were alleged to prevail in the management of the army in the Crimea. These investigations were indeed noteworthy in a threefold point of view—some of them led to immediate improvements; some suggested extensive reforms available for future times; while others conduced, although indirectly and imperfectly, to a readjustment of the national verdict on the characters of the officials engaged—restoring the fair fame of some who had been cruelly misjudged, and reducing to a lower level others who had been overpraised.
Two very important investigations were carried on during the spring of 1855—important, as they brought to light abundant evidence of misrule, pointed out many of its causes, and suggested modes of future improvement. These investigations were carried on, the one in London, by the "Committee for inquiring into the State of the Army before Sebastopol," and the other in the Crimea, by commissioners appointed for a similar purpose; the one initiated by the House of Commons, the other by the minister of war; the one to report to parliament, the other to the government. The revelations given before the " Sebastopol Committee," (as it was generally called,) by the different witnesses, fully proved that gross mismanagement had been for some time carried on by those entrusted with the direction of the several departments of military and naval routine; and the Crimean Commissioners' Reports tended to the same conclusion.
We have not space to enter further into those painful details; but will now turn to the operations at Eupatoria during the winter. When the Allies sailed from Varna, it was at first intended to effect a landing at Eupatoria; but strategic considerations led to the selection of Old Fort in preference. On the 9th of Sept. Eupatoria was formally occupied as a military position by the Allies; but the garrison for a considerable time scarcely exceeded 600 men, consisting chiefly of seamen, marines, and sappers: but they threw up works sufficiently strong to keep the Cossacks at a distance, formed a corps of Turkish irregulars to protect the flocks outside the town, and acted in conjunction with a small fleet in the harbour to strengthen the position generally. As the year approached its close, the augmentations of the garrison became more frequent and important. On the 25th and 26th two Turkish battalions arrived from Kamiesch and Balaklava. In the beginning of December the Russians made an attempt on the town, but were, as usual, repulsed. The Allied commanders having agreed, at a council of war, that Omar Pasha's army should occupy the town, the first division of that army began to arrive on the 9th of December; others followed as rapidly as possible, until an army-corps was formed under Mehemet Ferek Pasha. As the whole of Omar's army could not be accommodated in such a small town, camps were formed on the exterior in good positions, well defended both by continuous lines and isolated redoubts on a range of low hills. Eupatoria became, in fact, one of the strongest places in the Crimea. The whole of the Turkish army had been transported, under much difficulty, from Varna to Eupatoria ; Omar Pasha himself embarked at Varna on 7th of February. He landed at Eupatoria, amid winds which rendered that exposed coast very unfavourable for the disembarkation of an army, and in sight of the hapless Henri Quatre and the four stranded transport vessels, all high and dry on the beach.
Squadrons of Cossacks had been noticed hovering about Eupatoria at different times in the beginning of February; and slight skirmishes had occurred betwixt these and the Turkish out-posts. On the 18th, however, proceedings of some importance took place. Early on the morning of that day, the sudden withdrawal of the Turkish vedettes, and the whizzing of shells and balls, told that the Russians had reached the vicinity of the town, and the contest had begun. One of the advanced works of the Turks, on a knoll or hillock, was the scene of conflict. Dark masses of Russian infantry were dimly visible through the gloomy mist of a cold February morning, protected but not hidden by a formidable line of guns. The Turks, remembering Kalafat and Citale, Oltenitza and Silistria, and knowing that their best general was among them, proudly and confidently looked at their foes, and prepared to render a good account of their prowess. The artillery kept up a brisk fire on both sides; while Omar Pasha, between the fitful clouds of smoke, sought to ascertain the numbers and the probable plans of the enemy. Three tumuli, forming a line parallel with the landward margin of the town, had been occupied by the Russians as a base of attack ; cavalry in great force occupied one of these tumuli, infantry the two other, while riflemen formed the ends of a crescent by which this line of attack was extended to two small lakes north and south of Eupatoria ; eight or ten batteries of artillery were posted in front of the troops, and a few slight earthworks accommodated a corpse of riflemen whose duty it was to protect these guns from a coup de main. The armed line was thus very formidable in appearance and in strength. At first, the Russians directed their fire mostly against the centre of the Turkish position, but afterwards turned their attention rather to the Turkish right, posted near a Greek cemetery outside Eupatoria. The Valorous and the Curacuo steamers, the Viper gunboat, and a Turkish steamer, took up positions opposite the north and south flanks of the Turkish line, and sent their shot and shell right over the Turks, pell-mell into the Russian masses. After two hours of heavy cannonading, the Russian infantry commenced an attack chiefly upon the Turkish right, south of the town; two columns advanced rapidly, cheered on by their officers; the Turks regarded them unflinchingly, allowed them to approach within sixty or seventy yards, and then poured forth a volley which made wide gaps in the Muscovite line. For a moment confused, and forced to retire, the Russians reformed, and made another advance; but again the Osmanlis steadily confronted them, allowed them to make a near approach, and sent out a torrent of shot against which they were unable to stand. Seeing the enemy thus discomfited, Ismail Bey sallied forth with the 7th regiment of Roumelia, and, aided by Skender Beg with a body of cavalry, completed the route of the enemy, who retired precipitately, leaving 100 dead on the field. The repulse was decisive, for the Russians did not renew the attack at this point, nor indeed did they make any other clearly marked infantry attack; for though they maintained a fierce fire against the Turkish centre, this was the work of artillery. It required the combined aid of English, French, and Turkish guns, naval as well as military, to repel the large force of artillery possessed by the enemy, probably that of General Liprandi, who commanded. The Allies could espy a carriage among the enemy's forces; and after many cavalry officers had held communication with the occupant of this carriage, there appeared to be an order of retreat issued. The infantry marched off, protected by the artillery, while the artillery itself was protected from sudden attack by the cavalry: all retired slowly and safely; and as the sun about that time burst forth through the clouds, the glittering Russian mass appeared rather as if going through a review than a retreat.
The battle was certainly not a great one; but it was important in many ways—among others, in showing that the Turks, when well commanded, can not only fight well behind earthen ramparts, but can meet steadily a charge from the enemy in the open field, one of the most trying tests of soldierly qualities. The Russian army, estimated at the time at 30,000 in number, was afterwards believed to have amounted nearer to 40,000; it cannot be said to have maintained its attack with much resolution or skill. This army had left Sebastopol three days previously, with six days' provisions for the men; and as the commissariat-waggons were still far distant, it is possible that the commander distrusted his power of effecting much at Eupatoria before his supplies might run short, considering the almost impassable condition of the roads in winter. Some of the prisoners stated that there were 100 guns with the army. When the brief contest was over, Omar Pasha visited the camp, and complimented his troops on what they had achieved—a proceeding that gave them extravagant pleasure; for the Turkish soldiers, patient under afflictions, are easily gratified by a little judicious commendation. In the advanced work against which the chief fire of the Russian artillery was directed, Selim Bey, commander of the Egyptians, was killed, and his second in command, Suleiman Bey, severely wounded, as was likewise Ismail Pasha. The Turkish loss in killed and wounded was about 200; the Russians much greater, although, as the wounded were carried off by them, the numbers could not be accurately known. Omar Pasha, in a despatch to Lord Raglan estimated the Russian killed at 450. By drawing Liprandi's army away from the vicinity of Balaklava and Inkermann, the Turkish occupation of Eupatoria greatly relieved the Allies encamped outside Sebastopol; and by defeating it, the Turks more than redeemed the credit they had lost at Balaklava.
In the latter part of February and in March, the Turks made two or three reconnaissances, and harrassed the enemy rather severely; but nothing of very great importance resulted to either party. The Bashi-Bazouks, being partial to booty, in one of their encounters, loaded themselves with spoil taken from a squadron of Cossacks, which they had forced to retire. The month of April thus found the Ottoman forces, with a small portion of English and French, in possesaion of Eupatoria, while that town had become one of the strongest positions in the Crimea.
The siege, during the early months of 1855, progressed with very little variation; although on some particular occasions the Russians (probably to divert the attention of the besiegers from a sortie they were about to make,) would open a tremendous cannonade against the Allied works. The Russians received large reinforcements in the beginning of the year; whilst the British at the same time were much reduced, especially in officers. Although Lord Raglan received reinforcements in January, they did not materially increase the strength of the army, for they were chiefly raw and inexperienced; and many of them were struck down almost as soon as they arrived. The incidents of the siege, and operations of the Allied army in the month of February were somewhat varied, but yet void in a great measure of any great result to either party. On the 13th of Feb. a sortie, headed by a dashing young officer, was made on the French positions, but it was speedily checked and the young officer wounded and taken prisoner. This heroic young man, who died of his wounds, was believed, by the French, to be a natural son of the Emperor Nicholas.
In the third week of February, the cold was intense; and some Tartar spies, who had been set to watch the movements of the Russians on the plateau, came in, and reported that, althougn the main body of Liprandi's forces had gone off to wards Eupatona, about 6000 infantry and a few guns had been left near the Tchernaya. The Allied commanders at once resolved on an attempt to capture this force. The light division, under Gen. Bosquet, one regiment of Zouaves, Sir Colin Campbell's Highland Brigade, a body of French cavalry under Gen. d'Allonville, a small force of English cavalry, and a few batteries of English and French artillery—forming in the whole an army of considerable magnitude—were told off for the service. It was arranged that Sir Colin, with his Highlanders, should advance cautiously upon the front of the enemy; while the French, winding round to the south and east would suddenly appear upon their left flank, and cut off their retreat on the Traktir Bridge over the Tchernay. The arrangements were skilfully made, but the carrying out of them was thwarted by these verity of the weather. During the early part of the night there was a drenching rain and boisterous wind; then, towards the morning, the wind suddenly changed, and there came on an intense frost and a heavy fall of snow. Bosquet, under the circumstances, deemed it prudent not to hazard the destruction of his troops, through encountering this dreadful weather; therefore, he remained with his forces in their tents. Not so Sir Colin Campbell and his brave followers; they left their quarters about two o'clock in the morning, and traversed their way to the appointed place of meeting, amid blinding snow and biting frost, scarce being able to hold their muskets in their frozen hands; and, after encountering many difficulties, arrived at the appointed place. No French troops, however, were there; they waited as patiently as men under their circumstances could be expected to wait, until the grey dawn of morning began to appear, and then the Russians were seen, evidently surprised, but in full retreat over the heights beyond Tchorgound. A messenger had been sent off to apprise Sir Colin of the resolution which Bosquet had come to, and to request him to defer proceeding on the expedition; but when the messenger arrived, Sir Colin and his troops had been gone about two hours. The brave old general and hardy troops had to return, chewing the cud of bitter disappointment— many of the men almost frosen to death. There is no doubt had the troops met and made the attack, the whole of the 6000 Russians would have been made prisoners of war. 400 of the intrepid band who went out with Sir Colin on this dreadful night were so frost-bitten, that they had to be placed under the care of the hospital surgeons.
The most remarkable movement in February, took place two days after the snowy journey of Sir Colin Campbell's division. The scene of this activity was south-eastward of the Karabelnia, between the suburb and Sebastopol. The Malakoff Tower stood on or near the line of defence outside the Karabelnia, between the suburb itself and the attack-work of the Allies ; and, by extensively fortifiying the hill on which the tower stood, it became a stronghold of the most formidable kind, necessitating greatly increased attack-works on the part of whomsoever might attempt to capture the town. All this the Allies well knew; but they did not know, or did not act as if they knew, that there was another hill fully deserving their attention. Outside of the Malakoff, outside the defence-works— indeed much nearer to the French trenches than to the Russian works—was an elevation subsequently to acquire a world wild reputation under the name of the Mamelon. This hill is about one-third of a mile in advance of the Malakoff, and somewhat less than a quarter of a mile in circumference at the base, gradually narrowing towards an irregular flat summit; the side next to the Allies, having been quarried for stone, was high and steep, broken and rugged, with large masses of rough stone lying about it; and as the height was very considerably above the level of the most advanced French works, an attack upon such a spot, if defended, would be a serious undertaking, since a noiseless approach would be impossible, over the rough crags and rolling stones.
Though the Allies permitted this important position to be neglected, the Russians did not. On the dark night of the 22nd, an immense body of Russian working soldiers emerged in silence from behind the Malakoff, and marched quickly over the space which intervened between that fort and the Mamelon hill, taking with them every thing required for the erection of defence-works. The Allied pickets and trench-guards heard subdued sounds during the night, and remained more than usually watchful against a sortie; but suspecting nothing further, made no other preparation. The morning of the 23rd broke out cold and misty, the Mamelon almost imperceptible, but when it cleared up a little, they were astonished and mortified to perceive that the Mamelon had become a fort since the preceding evening. Two complete rows of gabions had been filled, and placed all round the summit of the hill, under cover of which the working-party were busily engaged in digging trenches, making platforms for heavy guns, and completing all the arrangements necessary for a regular fortification.
This was a galling sight for the French, as it placed a barrier between them and the Malakoff, rendering necessary a conquest of the Mamelon before the remoter fort could be silenced. A plan to attack the Mamelon, ere it assumed formidable proportions, was formed by the French; but there was a traitor in the camp, an Italian, who divulged these plans to the Russians, and fully prepared them to resist the intended attack. The French force consisted of about 2500, consisting of Zouaves, chasseurs, and marines : General Monet was placed in command, and was ordered to make the attack at midnight. The attack was made; and the French were repulsed, with great loss; General Monet was dangerously, though not fatally, wounded; and nearly 600 French troops were either killed or wounded.
This was entirely a French attack; for the English knew nothing about it until roused from their slumbers by roar of artillery in the Malakoff. A murderous fire poured from the Malakoff and Redan; and the French troops were so galled and frenzied by the burning tempest, that they would have rushed upon the Malakoff itself, but this would have been madness.
About 150 days had elapsed since the Allies had arrived in the Crimea; and, although much had been done through their bravery, yet much remained to be achieved ere the object contemplated by the besiegers could be accomplished. However, notwithstanding all the difficulties which the British and French forces had to contend with, they prepared for further conflict; being determined to overcome every obstacle, or perish in the attempt.