Those who were children at the time of the Crimean War can scarcely realise how ardent, how anxious, how absorbing was the interest which the nation felt for the actors in that distant field, insomuch that Mr, Bright, theoretically a man of peace, publicly said he believed there were thousands in England who only laid their heads on their pillows at night to dream of their brethren in the Crimea. This feeling reached its climax with the news of Inkerman, and it was not, nor indeed could it be, in excess of the magnitude of the stake which depended on the issue of that battle. The defeat of that slender Division on its ridge would have carried with it consequences absolutely tremendous. The Russians, arriving on the Upland, where the ground was bare, and the slopes no longer against them, would have interposed an army in order of battle between our trenches and Bosquet's corps. As they moved on, disposing by their mere impetus of any disjointed attempts to oppose them, they would have reached a hand to Gortschakoff on the one side, to the garrison of Sebastopol on the other, till the reunited Russian Army, extended across the Chersonese, would have found on those wide plains a fair field for its great masses of cavalry and artillery. To the Allies, having behind them only the sea-cliffs, or the declivities leading to their narrow harbours, defeat would have been absolute and ruinous; and behind such defeat lay national degradation. On the other hand, when the long crisis of the day was past, the fate of Sebastopol was already decided. It is true that our misfortunes grew darker and darker, that six weeks afterwards most of the horses that charged at Balaklava were rotting in a sea of mud, most of the men who fought at Inkerman filling hospitals at Scutari, or graves on the plain. Any history of the war would be incomplete that failed to record, as a main and characteristic feature of it, the extraordinary misery which the besieging armies endured. Nevertheless, when Inkerman had proved that the Russians could not beat us in battle, we were sure to win, because it was impossible for us to embark in presence of the enemy. We could do nothing else but keep our hold; and, keeping it, it was matter of demonstration that the Powers which held command of the sea must prevail over the Power whose theatre of war was separated from its resources by road less deserts.Such were the consequences which hung in the balance each time that the Russian columns came crowding on, while their long lines of artillery swept the ridge; and it is not amiss that the nation, which sometimes gives its praise so cheaply, should be reminded how much it owed that day to the steadfast men of Inkerman.
The Hurricane---Its Effects---Privations of the Troops---Want of Transport---Transport done by the Men---The Cavalry Horses starved--- Sufferings of the Sick---The Hospitals---Indignation in England--- The French take part of our Duties---Relief begins---Why a Road was not made at first---Roads now made---Improvement in the Hospitals---Miss Nightingale arrives---The Influence she acquires--- The Ratio of Deaths---Resignation of the Ministry---The Crimean Commission---The Commissary---General blamed---Defends himself ---General Airey refutes Charges---Departments have Their Proper Limits---The Fault lay in the System.
THREE days after the battle of Inkerman, Lord Raglan informed his Commissary-General, Mr. Filder, that our Army would winter in the Crimea, and desired him to make provision accordingly.
Up to this time the troops had undergone no great privation. During October the weather had been mild and sunny, with cool nights; the tents stood on dry and level spaces of turf The surface of the plains had been good for transit. Rations for men and horses had been supplied with sufficient regularity;losses of men from sickness or battle had been repaired; and notwithstanding the excessive work which the disproportion of our numbers to their task forced the men to undergo, and the lingering presence of the cholera pest, both of these causes, which lowered the health of the whole force, had not, as had just been shown, impaired its ability to fight, or even its cheerfulness.Therefore, though in the first half of November mists had begun to overspread the Black Sea, and between these and the blue sky hung a low canopy of cloud, nothing formidable had as yet threatened us.
But we had a sudden and rude awakening. On the 14th of November a violent wind arose from the south, dashing huge billows against the iron-bound coast, and sweeping the Upland. It drove before it a deluge of rain, which lodged in the hollows of the tents, caused by the pressure of the wind, and the weight of both wind and rain, as the storm increased, prostrated whole camps, and dispersed them, with their contents, far over the miry plain, so that men returning from duty in the trenches for food and repose found themselves destitute of fuel and of shelter. The hospital tents were at once carried away, along with the blankets of their sick and wounded tenants, who were thus left bare to the mercy of the storm. Quantities of food and forage stored round the camps were spoiled, and the daily communication with Balaklava was stopped because the horses and waggons could not make head against the wind. These evils might have been borne, and in some degree repaired, but worse than these were happening on the sea. Twenty-one vessels, in or near the harbour of Balaklava, were dashed to pieces, and eight others disabled.All these were full of stores urgently needed by the army, and among them was the Prince, a magnificent steamer, " containing, " says the Journal of the Royal Engineers, "everything that was most wanted-warlike stores of every description, surgical instruments, guernsey frocks, flannel drawers, woollen stockings and socks, boots, shoes, watch-coats;in short, all that the foresight of the Government could devise for the equipment and comfort of the troops." All these treasures went with her to the bottom of the sea. Our principal ammunition ship was also castaway, and each of the others bore with it to the deep a part of that which we depended on for Existence. " Mr Filder's great fear, " wrote Lord Raglan, " is want of forage for the horses. He lost twenty days' hay by the tempest."
Next day the little harbour of Balaklava was full of floating timbers and trusses of hay, through which boats could hardly make their way, and numbers of the drowned were washed about the bases of the cliffs outside.The French lost the most beautiful vessel in their navy, the Henri IV., and the garrison of Sebastopol shared, in less degree, the general misfortune, having many of the houses that sheltered them unroofed, as well as their naval magazines.
With this day began our dire season of calamity. At the close of the storm, the evening had brought snow, and henceforth the soil of the devastated camps afforded in no respect better lodging than the rest of the surrounding world. The sick, the wounded, and the weary lay down in mud. The trenches were often deep in water, and when night put an end to the rifle fire on both sides, the soldiers sat there, cramped, with their backs against the cold, wet earth. A still worse evil was that men seldom pulled off their wet boots, fearing they might not be able to draw them on again; their feet swelled in them, the circulation was impeded, and on cold nights frost-bite ensued, ending at best in mutilation. Coming from the trenches, the men had to go far afield to seek for roots wherewith to cook their food; it is hardly surprising that many preferred to employ these short intermissions of duty in such repose as was obtainable, and ate their salt pork uncooked;and as, under such diet and such exposure, the numbers of the sick increased, so was more work thrown on those who remained. "Our men, " wrote Lord Raglan, "are on duty five nights out of six, a large proportion of them constantly under fire." And all this time their clothing was such as they had first landed in in September. It was not from a continuous lack of food that the troops suffered. Except at the worst time, there was generally forthcoming in most camps the due allowance (not, however, without too many intervals of scanty fare) of biscuit, salt meat, and rum. But there was by no means always forthcoming the fuel wherewith to cook it; and if there had been, the diet, so limited, almost invariably produced scurvy, and other diseases. Yet at this very time there was a sufficiency of fuel stored at Balaklava, and rice, flour, vegetables, and tea, such as might have rendered the diet wholesome. Here, then, seven or eight miles from the camps, were supplies which would have enabled the army to meet on much better terms the evils of overwork, and exposure to wet and cold. But these supplies could only be made partially, and with difficulty, available, for want of transport. As has been seen, we had no transport corps, and the army depended, in its first movements, on the horses -and carts which could be seized in the Crimea. From a return prepared by the commissariats there appears the startling fact that, in January 1855, the whole number of effective animals belonging to that department was 333 pack-horses and mules, and twelve camels. Had the depot which the Commissary-General had attempted to form near headquarters been completed, the task of supplying the troops would have been comparatively easy. But the formation of this depot, which was to have afforded conveyance for future supplies, as well as for those necessary for daily and present uses was interrupted for want of transport.In rear of each Division a scanty group of miserable ponies and mules, whose backs never knew what it was to be quit of the saddle, shivered, and starved, and daily died. Such were the means of transport on which the army depended for subsistence. Yet plenty of horses existed in the surrounding countries, and there was a sufficiency of ships in which to bring them. Why, then, were horses not brought in sufficient numbers to Balaklava? In answer to the question, the Commissary-General stated that "the reason for not increasing the amount of transport was not that a greater number of animals was unnecessary, but that a greater number could not be fed in the Crimea."
Here, then, the primary cause of the sufferings of the army is arrived at-the want of forage. Hay and corn would have enabled us to maintain a land transport sufficient to feed the troops and the horses, to shelter them with huts, to supply ammunition for the siege, and to form a depot against contingencies Shrewd men at home might have made many guesses before they hit on the source of distress, for the intelligence and foresight must have been rare indeed that could have conducted an inquirer through such a jumble of calamity to so unexpected a conclusion.
Now it has been said that the duties the men had to perform in the trenches, certainly when those of pickets and guards in camp were added to them, were as much as they could bear. But besides, owing to the deficiency of transport, they had to perform much work that ought to have been done by horses and mules. The journey through the quagmire to Balaklava and back, carrying up rations, clothing, huts, or ammunition, frequently took up twelve hours, all which time they were without food, shelter, or rest. Also, they were repeatedly on short rations; in the Fourth and Light Divisions they were often on three-quarters, two-thirds, and sometimes half rations of meat and rum; on two occasions they had only quarter rations, and one day they had none at all. For six or seven weeks they were deprived of their ration of rice at the precise time when it would have been so beneficial, a time when scarcely any vegetables were supplied, and hardly a man in the army escaped the prevailing diseases.
The sufferings of the animals were frightful. They were dying all round the camps, and all along the route to Balaklava, of cold, hunger, and fatigue, and as labour could not be bestowed in burying them, their carcases formed a dismal feature in the desolate scenery. The artillery horses had so much extra work thrown on them that the efficiency of the batteries was very seriously impaired. Lord Lucan had remonstrated against the position chosen for the cavalry after the battle of Inkerman, as being so distant from the harbour as to endanger thee supply of forage. Subsequently, the reason appeared to be that General Canrobert, anticipating a second attack on the same point, and thinking that the mere presence of cavalry might, when told to the enemy by their spies, deter them, had persuaded Lord Raglan to post them in that quarter. Lord Lucan's forebodings were quickly realised. Before the end of November the neighbouring artillery camps were invaded by ravenous cavalry horses, galloping madly in at the sound of the feeding trumpet, and snatching, undeterred by stick or stones, the hay and barley from the very muzzles of the right owners. Painful it was to see the frenzy of the creatures in their first pangs of hunger, more painful to see their quiet misery in the exhaustion that succeeded. Remedy (except removing the camp) there seemed none. The labour of toiling through the slough to Balaklava to fetch their own forage was so great that many horses sank and died in each journey;every day saw the survivors weaker and less fit for the effort; every frosty night the cold was followed by the death of numbers.
The effect of all this misery was that at the end of November we had nearly 8000 men in hospital. The journey thither was an ordeal fatal to many. Lifted from the mud of the hospital tent, and wrapt in their wet blankets, the sick were placed on horses, a dismal troop; some with closed eyes and livid cheeks, little other than mounted corpses; some moaning as they went, and almost ready in their weariness to relax their hold of the pommel, and bury their troubles in the mire beneath; some fever-stricken, glaring with wide eyes void of speculation, for whom the passers-by, if they saw them at all in their hurried, insane glances, existed only as more of the phantoms that haunted their delirium. Bound for the great hospital of Scutari, the ghostly train would toil on, wading and slipping past the dying horses, the half-buried bullocks, the skeletons, and carcases in various stages of decay; past the wrecks of arabas, the squalid men with bundles, who had been down for the clothing they had needed for weeks, the waggon-load of dead Turks going to that yawning pit beside the road which was to be their sepulchre, the artillery waggons, returning at dusk with the forage they set out at daybreak to fetch-and on, always through deep mire, to the place of embarkation.
New miseries lay in that last word. Lying amid crowds of other sick and wounded, on the bare planks, in torture, lassitude, or lethargy, without proper food, medicine, or attendance, they were launched on the wintry sea.Their covering was scanty, the roll and plunge of the ship were agony to the fevered and the maimed; in place of the hush, the cleanliness, the quiet, the silent step, that should be around the sick, were sounds such as poets have feigned for the regions of the damned-groans, screams, entreaties, curses, the straining of the timbers, the trampling of the crew, the weltering of the waves. Not infrequently the machinery of the overladen ship broke down, and they lay tossing for days, a hell upon the waters.
Scutari, the longed-for haven, was for weeks the very climax and headquarters of suffering-crammed with misery, overflowing with despair. In those large chambers and long corridors lay thousands of the bravest and most miserable of men. Standing at the end of any of the galleries that traversed the four sides of the extensive building, one looked along a deep perspective, along-diminishing vista of woe. Ranged in two rows lay the patients, feet to feet; the tenant of each bed saw his pains reflected in the face of his comrade opposite; fronting each was another victim of war or cold, starvation or pestilence. Or, frequently, the sick man read in the face before him not the progress of fever, nor the leaden weight of exhaustion, but the tokens of the final rest to which he was himself hastening. With each round of the sun nearly a hundred gallant soldiers raved or languished out their lives; as the jaws of the grave closed on the prey of to-day, they opened as widely for that of to-morrow. It might be thought that, at this rate, the grave, so greedy, so improvident, would exhaust its victims-that someday it would gape in vain. But no-the sick flocked in faster than the dead were carried out, and still the dismal stream augmented, till the hospitals overflowed, while still faster poured the misery-laden ships down the Black Sea, feeding as they went the fishes with their dead.
Had Dante witnessed these scenes, he might have deepened the horrors of his Inferno. Told with more or less exactness, but with a skill that suffered none of their pathos to be lost, they shook the nation with a universal tremor of anger and grief. It could not bear to think that the men of whom it had suddenly grown so proud should be perishing of want, while wealth and plenty reigned at home. The feeling found expression in two ways, very different, but both very natural as impulses of a community.The one was an absorbing desire to afford immediate relief; the other a fretful craving to find scapegoats, and make them atone for all this suffering.Inspired by the first of these, the country became a vast workshop for the manufacture of warm clothing, and great quantities of this, as well as of luxurious food and drink, were despatched in steamers, with agents to distribute them. But before these came, early in December, and all through the month, clothing was reaching Balaklava from Constantinople, whither Lord Raglan had despatched an officer to remedy, so far as might be, the loss of the cargo of the Prince, so that at the end of that month 17,000 blankets and 19,000 new great-coats had been issued to the troops (mostly at Balaklava, whither they went to fetch them); and on the 13th January Lord Raglan was able to write: " I believe I may assert that every man in this army has received a second blanket, a jersey frock, flannel drawers and socks, and some kind of winter coat in addition to the ordinary great-coat."These defences did not, however, at once check the progress of sickness;during January and February the numbers in our hospital continued to swell till they reached to nearly 14,000.
But before the aid from England arrived, we had received important relief in another form. The French had been so largely reinforced that General Canrobert at length consented to relieve our troops from the task of guarding the ground beyond our Right Attack. That they should have been able to do so by no means implies that they had not their share of winter troubles.Their greater proximity to their home ports, their organised transport, .the convenience of their harbours, the road they- had paved from thence along the rear of their camps, rendered their supplies comparatively regular and certain. But there were two circumstances which told heavily on them.Their testes d'abri, small roofs of canvas, only very imperfectly fulfilling the idea of a tent, were so diminutive that a third part of one was carried by the soldier in addition to the rest of his burdens. Propped on short sticks at each end, the tent admitted the three occupants, crawling like ferrets into a rabbit hole, to a space where they could all lie down.But this was obviously a meagre defence against mud and snow; it afforded no shelter at all except for lying down; and a bell tent like ours would have seemed a vast boon to the French troops. Also, their ration of food and drink was inferior to ours, was calculated on a scale suited to different conditions, and did not suffice to maintain in health men undergoing hardships so severe. Therefore, although the French had comparatively easy work in the trenches, although, at the worst, one of each two nights was a night of rest, and their men, never over tasked, were available for fatigues and camp duties, road making, and other labours, yet their means of meeting exposure to wet and cold were so defective that their losses in sick, especially from frost-bite, were very great. The French horses, too, perished by hundreds, and much of the carrying of supplies to the camps had to be performed by the men. But their great resources in numbers not only made good all losses, but went on rapidly raising the strength of their army. Numbering 45,000 in October, it grew to 56,000 in November, 65,000 in December, and 78,000 in January. In this last month Lord Raglan reckoned the strength of the French Army to be at least four times that of the British. We had then on the Upland, to meet all the exigencies of our siege works, and any enterprises of the enemy, only 11,000 men fit to bear arms. It was these three months, then, November, December, and January, which formed "the winter of our discontent." In February a brighter time set in. It was about the 23d January that the French troops were put in charge of the ground on the light of our siege works. Lord Raglan's proposal had been that the French troops should relieve ours in the trenches one night in three. Canrobert substituted for it the measure which was now effected. It released more than 1500 English troops daily from the duty of guarding our front. Lord Raglan says of it: " The position of our troops is greatly improved by being relieved of part of the harassing duties they have had imposed on them; but, speaking confidentially, I am of opinion, notwithstanding what General Canrobert says, that more might have been done, considering that the French Army consists of from 60,000 to 70,000 men."
The spectacle of men and horses floundering between Balaklava and the camp, through a sea of mud, was of a sort to suggest to the least inventive mind that to make a road was the proper remedy. In England, accordingly, the numerous class which becomes clamorously wise after the event brought the omission to make a road as one of the heaviest charges against the staff of the Army, insisting, too, that it should have been one of the first things thought of. But can anyone who now looks dispassionately back to that time point to any period as that in which the step was feasible. When we first took position on the Upland no want of a road was felt, and when every man in both armies was needed to prepare for the bombardment which was to precede the assault, it would have been a strange exercise of foresight to withdraw them from their urgent duties in order to make a road which might never be wanted. Even after the loss of the Woronzoff road, the extent of that misfortune was not felt, for men, horses, and vehicles freely traversed the plains, and the speedy capture of the place was still expected. Later, when the battle of Inkerman had shown how scanty was our line of defence, how fatal would be the consequence of a breach in it, not a man could be withdrawn from the position. Sir John Burgoyne computed that to make a road would occupy more than 1000 men two or three months. A body of Turks had been hired to attempt it as soon as it was accepted as a necessity that we must winter on the heights, but they died so fast that the survivors could scarcely do more than bury the dead. Lithe official commissioners subsequently affirmed that " hired labour could not be obtained."Neither, assuredly, could military labour; and the absence of a road was therefore one of those misfortunes which become inevitable amid the uncertainties of war.
But when the pressure on the troops grew lighter, means were found to make the part of the road between Balaklava and Kadikoi; and the French troops stationed there carried it on to the Col. By the time it got so far, a railway, undertaken by private contractors at the instance of the Secretary for War, was in course of construction, and before the end of March had not only reached the same point, but was conveying thither ammunition and stores. Some weeks earlier, lavish supplies had begun to arrive from the deeply moved community at home, not only of things necessary, like warm clothing, but of luxuries; meat, ale, and wine, and even books were poured profusely into the camps. The first agency of this kind to arrive was the Crimean Army Fund, administered by two gentlemen, who also brought, or procured, the men and horses necessary for the distribution. But besides such organised modes of relief, the quantities of similar stores received for distribution by officers from friends at home were uncounted.
While the distress of the troops before Sebastopol was thus being daily alleviated, effective influence for good had begun to pervade our hospitals on the Bosphorus. Even before the great stress was laid on them which ensued from the battles and the coming of winter, they were already teeming with confusion and misery. The Army had not contained enough surgeons other than regimental to meet the unexampled needs of the time; the service had been recruited from the civilians of the profession; and by universal testimony both classes grappled with their formidable duties in the best spirit. Had there been a system of organisation suited to the exigency, had the sanitary conditions been good, the attendants numerous, the supplies ample, then the efforts of the surgeons, dealing as they did with the cases as they presented themselves, would have found a fair field. But none of these conditions existed, and all they could do was to struggle on, not so much like swimmers making some way, as like those contending in vain with a torrent.
In those days there were two chiefs at the War Office. The Duke of Newcastle was Secretary for War, and Mr Sidney Herbert bore the mysterious title of Secretary at War. The medical department of the War Office lay in Mr Herbert's province, and his inquiries into the methods of dealing with sickness on an extensive scale had led him to expect the best results from the co-operation of women, in controlling and administering large hospitals. Therefore, when it became apparent that the establishments on the Bosphorus were daily growing less able to contend with their difficulties, he invited the aid of ladies already possessed of large experience, and who, thus encouraged, formed themselves into staffs, and accompanied by paid nurses, and bearing strong recommendations to the medical as well as to other authorities on the spot, proceeded to Constantinople. " It was seen, " says Kinglake, "that the humble soldiers were likely to be the men most in want of care, and the ladies were instructed to abstain from attending upon any of the officers.'' Thus began to enter into the history of the contest an element which strongly moved the imagination of the community, both from the extraordinary alleviation of suffering and establishment of order which it effected, and from the contrast which its gentle and beneficent character offered to the gloomy tenor of the war.
It was on the 4th of November that Miss Nightingale and her immediate companions arrived at Constantinople. She was accompanied by Protestant sisters and Catholic nuns, eighteen in all, with twenty trained nurses, and to all were assigned quarters in one of the towers that form the angles of the great barrack at Scutari, which the Turkish Government had given over to us for a hospital. Another band, numbering in all forty-six, under Miss Stanley, bestowed themselves at first in a neighbouring hospital for sailors, and after wards at the military hospital at Kulali, on the Bosphorus.
The ladies and their attendants at first took an altogether subordinate part in the care of the sick, replacing the orderlies withdrawn from their regiments, ensuring obedience to the doctors' orders, administering food and medicine, and making the patients comfortable But it was not long before they began to take part in the management. At first Miss Nightingale's share in this was confined to keeping Sidney Herbert informed of what was noteworthy, and enabling him to act accordingly. But the departmental authorities soon got to understand that her views and suggestions were to be specially considered.A regular correspondence on the subject was also established between her and Lord Raglan. Receiving such support, as well as that derived from the strong interest which the public evinced for her mission, she gradually acquired a powerful controlling influence; and to this the extraordinary improvement in the condition of the hospital which ensued was then, and has continued to be, chiefly ascribed. The excellent medical staff cheerfully accepted her sway, and the skill and energy which they had always given without stint, no longer expended in struggling amidst chaos, were directed to the best ends. She received, too, from an unexpected source, a large accession of power. The conductors of the Times had consented to receive and administer, for the benefit of our sick and wounded, a fund formed by the contributions of their readers. Mr MacDonald, who had come out in charge of it, learning from Miss Nightingale what needs of the sick were most urgent, supplied them, and thus added immeasurably to the benefits attending her presence. Not the least among these was an extensive kitchen which she established close to her quarters, where all that part of the patients' diet that called for special care in preparation was excellently cooked on an enormous scale.
But all these ameliorations took time. In the period of worst distress in the camp, that is to say, in December and part of January, the influence of the ladies had hardly begun to take effect in any way, and not at all in diminishing the sick-list or the death-rate. Even when their care and skill had made patients feel themselves in good hands, and had banished a vast proportion of the misery, the ratio of deaths for some time continued to increase. It kept steadily and largely augmenting all through December, November, January, and February. In these four months nearly 9,000 soldiers died in our hospitals, and at the end of February 13, 600 men were lying sick there. The causes lay too deep to be touched even by improved method and administration. But early in March a sanitary commission had arrived to examine into the condition of the hospitals, with power to act on the conclusions they might come to. Works of ventilation, of drainage, and of water supply, had in the second week of March already made some progress;the death-rate went down with extraordinary rapidity week by week, till in June it had come to the level of our military hospitals at home.
In the result the evils suffered met some compensation in the form of permanent benefit. At the close of the campaign Mr Herbert presided over a sanitary commission at home, and to its recommendations are due many of the improvements which so greatly distinguish our present military hospital system from that which existed at the time of the war.
It has been said that one form taken by the excitement at home was the desire to punish those to whom delinquency was imputed. Strongly pressed by this manifestation of public feeling, and by the calamitous accounts from the East, the Duke of Newcastle began, in the latter half of December, to write letters to Lord Raglan implying censure on him and his staff. Following this up was a letter, on the 6th of January, condemning the staff generally, and the Quartermaster-General in particular, as the member of it in whose department it lay to provide for many of the privations which had proved so calamitous. And it is not easy to avoid the inference that the Ministry was seeking to shelter itself against the indignation of the community by giving it vent against those who had already begun to be the objects of it. Lord Raglan found no difficulty in defending, in a manly spirit, his subordinates. He was soon relieved from the necessity of maintaining a contest with their accusers, for, on the 26th January, Mr Roebuck moved for a committee"To inquire into the condition of our army before Sebastopol, and into the conduct of those departments of the Government whose duty it has been to minister to the wants of that army." The motion was carried by a majority of 157, and the Ministry thereupon resigned. Lord Aberdeen was succeeded by Lord Palmerston, the Duke of Newcastle by Lord Panmure. The new Ministers were naturally bent upon inquiry. They resolved to send a commission to the Crimea to seek a clue to the causes of the sufferings of the army, and Sir John McNeill, for many years Envoy to Persia, and Colonel Tulloch were selected for the purpose. On the 12th March they arrived in the Crimea, and taking up their residence on board a steamer, at once began to take evidence. In June they issued a first report, dealing with food and transport.It contained a remarkable tribute to the army. " It is doubtful, "says the report, "whether the whole range of military history furnishes an example of an army exhibiting, throughout a long campaign, qualities as high as have distinguished the forces under Lord Raglan's command."Their labours, their privations, their spirit, and their discipline, form the subjects of admiring comments. " The Army, " says the report, "never descended from its acknowledged military preeminence." Again, "Both men and officers, when so reduced that they were hardly fit for the lighter duties of the camp, scorned to be excused the severe and perilous work of the trenches, lest they should throw an undue amount of duty upon their comrades; yet they maintained every foot of ground against all the efforts of the enemy, and with numbers so small that perhaps no other troops would even have made the attempt.... The officers have not only shared all the danger and exposure, and most of the privations which the men had to undergo, but we everywhere found indications of their solicitude for the welfare of those under their command, and of their constant readiness to employ their private means in promoting the comfort of their men."
Yet to more than nine-tenths of the officers and men this was a first campaign. When they came in sight of the Russian masses arrayed on the Alma, they for the first time saw an enemy; when the shot from the Russian guns dashed past, they were for the first time under fire. Yet, under that fire, and against that enemy, they advanced with all the confidence, discipline, and determination which can attend the onset of troops long accustomed to victory. That the same discipline and spirit distinguished them under circumstances still more trying to young troops, the commissioners bear witness. Not in some peaceful, happy community, the realisation of a Utopian dream, could temperance, obedience, diligence, cheerfulness, be more conspicuous than in that camp in the wintry desert, where various and incessant horror and distress might have been expected to dissolve the ties of order, to cast submission to the winds, and to leave despair, in the form either of apathy or recklessness, sole master of the suffering host.
The only person to whom blame was imputed, in the first report of the commissioners, was the Commissary-General. Failure to issue articles of diet, such as lime juice and tea, which were in store at Balaklava, deficiencies of fresh meat, vegetables, and fuel, and defective arrangements respecting forage, were all laid at his door, and he was charged with not being a man of comprehensive views, with not having sufficiently turned to account the resources of surrounding provinces, and with being deficient in inventive resource and administrative capacity. In reply, Mr Filder laid before the House a counter statement. In the first place, he set forth the extraordinary difficulties which the commissariat laboured under; its extensive duties, the total inexperience of its officers, the absence of necessary establishments, the ignorance as to where winter quarters would be, -and then dealt with the charges in detail. The lime juice and tea had been sent for the sick, and were not more than was needful for them; when demanded, these articles were at once issued to the troops. As to the fresh meat, many of his cattle-vessels had been disabled by the storm; nevertheless, the supply both of fresh meat and vegetables had been kept up in a degree which, under the circumstances, might be called surprising. There had always been sufficient fuel at Balaklava;the only difficulty was to find means of conveying it to the camps, owing to want of transport, and that, as we have seen, was owing to want of forage.Now the Commissary-General showed that he had made ample provision for forage had the army remained in Turkey. When it was ordered to the Crimea, he made contracts at Constantinople for having it pressed (very necessary for transport by sea) and despatched to him. Finding that the contractors were likely to fail in their agreement, he wrote to England for 2000 tons. Of this he only received one-tenth in six months. " Had my requisitions for hay been complied with, the deficiency which was felt throughout the winter would have been prevented, and I should have been able to maintain a sufficient transport establishment This demand he made before the armies landed in the Crimea; he frequently reiterated it, and it was many times enforced by Lord Raglan, but without effect, till near the close of the winter. Finally, a committee of inquiry appointed later declared that the insufficiency was owing to the omission of the Treasury to send a proper supply of forage from England.
This report was followed by a second, in which several officers, notably the Quartermaster-General and the two cavalry generals, conceived themselves to be made objects of censure. And, finally, a Board of General Officers sat at Chelsea, in April 1856, "to take into consideration so much of the reports as animadverts upon the conduct of certain officers."The blame, if any, imputed to Lord Lucan and Lord Cardigan was so slight and vague that they had no difficulty in justifying themselves. General Airey's reply may be briefly summed up. Its essence consisted in showing that, while the commissioners had imputed blame to his department for not issuing supplies in store, it was its province to provide, not for the issue, but the apportionment of these supplies. He showed that to the oft-quoted want of transport alone was due the fact that stores of clothing and other necessaries remained unissued; that no official barrier was raised between the men and the supplies; on the contrary, the issues of clothing were authorised very much faster than the men could draw it. He rightly observed that, in the altered state of affairs existing in the middle of March, it was impossible for any two persons, such as the commissioners fully to appreciate the position of the army, in the midst of the unheard-of difficulties of the winter, and concluded with a picture of the condition of the troops, and the causes of distress and perplexity by which they were surrounded.
The reader who may have followed this narrative will perhaps be of opinion that, the army once before Sebastopol, and dependent on a military system so deficient in much that is essential, no arrangement or foresight within the scope of human intelligence could have averted the disasters which followed.The inference drawn from the reports, that blame might justly be affixed in specified quarters, could not be sustained The fact that the different departments of the Army have their proper limits seemed in some measure to be lost sight of by the commissioners, as well as by the public, whose complaints were largely based on the error that everybody ought to understand and take part in the business of everybody else as well as his own. No commander-in-chief would wish to see such an interchange of duties substituted for the restricted and specific sphere of operations and responsibility allotted to each department.To perform the duties of his own branch (including, of course, its co-operation with others when necessary) is all that can be expected from an officer;and it is the province of the superintending intellect, which knows the instruments it works with, to combine all in harmonious action. The search for delinquents pointed to this result, that all the suffering and calamity, not absolutely inevitable, which befell our troops, were the natural consequences of the unpractical and unworkable system, at once improvident and ineffective, which the nation permitted to exist for the conduct of its military business.