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Attitude of the German Powers page 5


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Towards the end of June the British Cabinet were engaged in considering the important project submitted by the Duke of Newcastle. After some deliberation, all parties assented, and the terms of the despatch to Lord Raglan were finally agreed to on the 28th. In this despatch Lord Raglan was instructed "to concert measures for the siege of Sebastopol, unless," so the terms ran, "with the information in your possession, but at present unknown in this country, you should be decidedly of opinion that it could not be undertaken with a reasonable prospect of success. ... If, upon mature reflection, you should consider that the united strength of the two armies is insufficient for this undertaking, you are not to be precluded from the exercise of the discretion originally vested in you, though Her Majesty's Government will learn with regret that an attack from which such important consequences are anticipated must be any longer delayed." He was further informed that, as no safe and honourable peace could be obtained until the fortress was reduced, and the fleet taken or destroyed, nothing but "insuperable impediments" were to prevent an early decision. These are what have been called the "stringent instructions" directing the invasion of the Crimea. They were supported by the voice of the nation and its Parliament. Before the Cabinet had taken its decision, before it was known that the siege of Silistria had been raised, Lord Lyndhurst in his place, on the 19th of June, declared that " in no event, except that of extreme necessity, ought we to make peace without previously destroying the Russian fleet in the Black Sea, and laying prostrate the fortifications by which it is defended." And in answer, Lord Clarendon, with more reticence of language, spoke to the same effect. After describing the vast power and encroaching policy of Russia, he said - " We know that the object and interest of Europe must be to curtail that power and check that policy. We know that the means of doing it are now so great and effectual, and that the opportunity is so wonderfully favourable, that if we were now to neglect it, we should in vain hope for its return.... Safety can alone be found in curtailing a power which menaces the peace of Europe, and the cause of progress and civilisation." Lord Derby, speaking for his party in the state, rejoicing to hear this language, demanded a material guarantee for the peace of Europe. "For the future," he exclaimed, "it is impossible to permit that the Black Sea should be a Russian lake, or that the Danube should be a Russian ditch choked with mud and filth." So that when Lord Raglan received the instructions of the War Minister, he received also copies of the journals reporting debates in Parliament, which showed him that these instructions did but express the intense convictions and settled resolve of the British nation.

The attitude of France was not so precise. Concurring with the British Cabinet in its views respecting the necessarily enlarged objects of the war, the slow and cautious character of the Emperor led him to acquiesce in the proposed invasion of the Crimea rather than urge it forward. His general in Turkey was instructed to support the decision Lord Raglan might come to, and not by any means to plead for the invasion; but if the Council of War decided in favour of the British project, then, of course, Marshal St. Arnaud was to give his amplest co-operation. Practically, therefore, the decision rested with Lord Raglan; for although Admiral Dundas was not under his orders, yet it was not to be supposed that he could or would stand out against the wishes of his Government. Lord Raglan did not delay his decision. The despatch of the War Minister reached him on the 16th of July; on the 18th he called a council of war; on the 19th he wrote to the Duke of Newcastle that he accepted the task imposed upon him; but accepted it, as he did not fail to express, "more in deference to the views of the British Government, and to the known acquiescence of the Emperor Louis Napoleon in those views," than in deference to his own opinion; for he frankly stated that neither he nor the admiral had been able to obtain any information upon which an opinion could be founded. Indeed, there were not in the council any ready supporters of the project except Admirals Lyons and Bruat. Dundas and Hamelin were both opposed to it; but, as we have seen, St. Arnaud and his admirals were directed to acquiesce. Dundas was not likely to do more than express an opinion; and hence the Council took its tone from Lord Raglan, and proceeded to consider how and when the enterprise should be carried out. The first step was a deliberate inspection of the coast of the Crimea; and on the 19th the Fury steamed off from Varna, bearing General Canrobert and Colonel Trochu, Sir George Brown and Colonel Lake, and four other officers, and steered by Sir Edmund Lyons, who took the ship close into the western shore above Sebastopol, and enabled the military men to select a landing-place. They chose the mouth of the Katcha, and returned on the 21st to Varna.

Throughout the month of July cholera had been busy in the French camps. Day by day the number of sick increased, and week by week the burial-grounds were more frequently visited. There seemed to be something in the air of Bulgaria which was fatal to life. The French soldiers grew desponding under inaction. Their nervous temperaments made them ill fitted to endure suspense, and they became sad and depressed. One may estimate the effect of a wearisome existence under a fervid sun upon the French, when one finds the same longing for something to do, the same terrible ennui, the same depression, in the camps of the more stolid and taciturn Britons. The deaths of the Duke of Elchingen, a son of Marshal Ney, and of General Carbuccia, a soldier renowned in African warfare, struck a kind of terror into the French camps. Able to face a foe in the field with gaiety of heart, the men cowered under the pestilence which walked by night, and smote its victims without warning. Marshal St. Arnaud was quite unfit to contend against an enemy like the cholera. His sole remedy was action. If he could not fly to the Crimea, he could at least make a rush into the Dobrudscha. An officer of the staff had reported that there were still 10,000 Russians in the Dobrudscha. It is true they were in the hilly region of the Babadagh; but then there were Cossacks about Kustendji and Rassova, and could not the eager marshal reach these with his Spahis d'Orient, a horde of Bashi-Bazouks, commanded by General Yusuf? He would try. On the 19th he directed Yusuf to march into the Dobrudscha, and supported him by sending three divisions towards the same quarter. Yusuf marched, and the French divisions followed. The greater part, taking the roads nearest the sea, made for Mangalia and Kustendji, while detachments extended on their left flank towards Rassova. The leading division, commanded by General Espinasse in the absence of Canrobert, passed Kustendji, and encamped at Kagarlik, twenty miles deeper into the Dobrudscha. The troops had passed through a desert; the Cossacks had ravaged the whole country side; the heat was most severe; the camps were pitched on the borders of briny lakes and pestiferous marshes. One morning General Espinasse awoke to find his tents literally full of dead. Cholera, in one night, had struck down 200 men! Yusuf had skirmished with the Cossacks; but he also was compelled to draw rein, and face about, for his rough soldiers were stricken down. The Spahis d'Orient and the three divisions returned towards Varna, bearing with them a melancholy procession of sick and dying men; and when, on the 20th of August, they were once more in camp, their strength was diminished by 7,000 men. The expedition was a piece of folly. Marshal St. Arnaud had been forbidden to send men to the Danube or the Dobrudscha. To satisfy a momentary impulse and make a vain display, as well as to give the troops something to do, he had sent them into a desert notorious for its deadly atmosphere. By so acting he not only lost thousands of men at a time when every soldier was priceless, but he weakened the physique and morale of the whole army.

During the same period cholera had inflicted great losses in the English ranks. It assailed alike officers and men, frequently killing its victims in ten or twelve hours; and besides cholera slaying its scores, there were fever and dysentery weakening hundreds and killing them, too, though less rapidly. The fact is, the men ate raw fruit and cucumbers in immense quantities, and drank raki and bad wine, until they were surfeited and intoxicated. Then the exhalations from the rank shores of the lakes crept into the tents by night, and the sleepers breathed poison, knowing it not. The hospitals were full of sick, and the death cart seemed ever on its way. So debilitated were the troops, that when the Guards marched down, from Aladyn to Varna, ten miles, they could not carry their packs, although they only marched five miles a day. Early in August some Greeks set Varna on fire. A large quantity of British stores was consumed, and a powder magazine was for moment in danger of being ignited. But French and English soldiers and their officers, working with a will, tore down a house, whereby a chasm was interposed between the fire and the powder, and thus saved Varna from destruction.

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Lord Stratford de Redcliffe
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Marshal St. Arnaud
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