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Chapter XXII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 8 page 2


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When the people heard of the sufferings of their soldiers in the Crimea and at Scutari, they became indignant and unreasonable; they ascribed the failure of the expedition and the distresses of the troops to the wrong causes, and they demanded the recall of the general and the dismissal of the Government. To understand how this came about, we must consider how the Government conducted the war, and the means at hand wherewith to conduct it.

For nearly forty years the British nation had not taken any part in a war in Europe. The vast expense of the war against the first Napoleon, the suffering it caused, the habits of despotic Government which it induced, the obstinate resistance of a great party to needful reforms, had all served to inspire a dread of a standing army. The consequences were most serious. The nation was in danger of having no army at all. The popular dislike to a soldiery, which was long used as an armed police, was so keenly felt by the Duke of Wellington, that he did his utmost to keep the soldiers out of sight, and hoped thereby to maintain at least the minimum force required by the actual pressing exigencies of the nation. For thirty years there was a steady progress towards the reduction of the establishments, that is the very bases on which a military structure is built. Nearly all the efforts of the reformers were, by a strange paradox, directed towards the diminution of the military machine, as if diminution were synonymous with reform. The consequence was that, in the strict sense of the word, we had no army at all. At no period subsequently to 1815 were we in a condition to go to war. The pith of the army, the infantry, consisted of a number of very fine regiments, kept down at the lowest numerical condition. The cavalry regiments were good, but in numbers they were each barely equal to two good squadrons. There were in England but a very few guns in fighting order. There was a weak commissariat; there was no land transport corps or military train. Such a thing as a camp of exercise was unknown until 1853. There were no opportunities for handling large masses of all arms. The militia even was suffered to fall into abeyance for many years. There were men in England fully alive to the consequences of this neglect of the military machine; but their voices were not heeded, until the revolutions of 1848, and the success of Louis Napoleon in 1851, roused the whole nation from its apathy. An improved tone in public feeling, a better estimate of the real value of a good army, and a real dread vji danger from without, led to some improvements. The militia force was revived. Lord Hardinge had the courage to insist on the adoption of the Miniť rifle, and Mr. Sidney Herbert prevailed on his colleagues to establish a camp. The artillery was placed in a state of great efficiency. But that man would, in 1852-3 have been regarded as mad who proposed a military train, an ambulance corps, and an effective military staff. These necessary parts of an army were not in existence. And besides these deficiencies, there was another and a vital one: there was no Minister of War with paramount authority, whose duty it would be to make the best of a small army, and keep it effective. The Secretary of State for the Colonies was also Minister of War; and his authority over the army was practically shared by those who should have been his subordinates. The navy was hardly in a better plight. It was undergoing a process of transformation from a sailing to a steam navy; but although we had some fine screw war-steamers and were building more, the service had fallen into such disrepute that the greatest difficulties were experienced in manning a ship, and some men-of-war lay six months waiting for a complement of hands. The interior economy of the navy required as much improvement as that of the army. The naval and military renown we had won in the great French wars still clung to us; but when the Czar compelled us to fight him, we had little wherewith to sustain that renown, except the valour of our soldiers and our seamen.

The British nation went into the war with unequalled unanimity and determination. They were eager to close with the Emperor of all the Russias. Before the disclosure of his perfidy, they regarded him as the keystone of the despotic system on the Continent, as the standing menace to European liberty; and when the proofs of his perfidy were placed before them in 1854, their instinct in favour of fair-dealing was so outraged that their passions rose to the pitch of hatred, and settled down into a grim purpose to punish and restrain. That, after the month of January, 1854, the ministry of Lord Aberdeen shared these sentiments, is now unquestioned; but they shared them in very unequal degrees. Lord Aberdeen hated war, because of the suffering it inflicts on humanity; Mr. Gladstone hated war for the same reason, and because it is so expensive; Mr. Sidney Herbert leaned to this side. The whole Cabinet was convinced of the necessity and justice of the war, but the majority had indulged in a strong desire for peace, and a strong belief, until a late period that the Czar, would give way; and so they refrained from making adequate preparations, and from showing the Czar that they were in earnest, and thus drifted into the midst of what they wished to avoid. Hence it was that they went to war with the largest military power in the world on the basis of a weak peace establishment.

The army in 1853 consisted of little more than 102,000 men for the service of the British empire, exclusive of India. In 1854 ministers proposed and carried, in February, an augmentation of 10,000, bringing up the total to 112,000. These men they had to obtain by enlistment, for the militia then was young, and little more than a paper force. It was not embodied, nor had the Government power to embody a single regiment; for the militia had been raised to resist invasion only, so jealous were the Commons; and Ministers, before they could call out a man, except for the annual training, were obliged to obtain an Act of Parliament. Moreover, just on the threshold of war, so rotten was the system of promotion and retirement, that they were compelled to appoint a Royal Commission to report on the best mode of enabling the Queen to avail herself of the services of officers in the full vigour of life. Thus Europe was astonished at the spectacle of a great power remodelling its military system, enlarging it, and strengthening it on the brink of a conflict with the vast and well-appointed armies of Russia. For it was soon found that the Minis^ try of War must be separated from that of the colonies; and when this was done, no minute defining the powers and functions of the new department was framed; so that the Duke of Newcastle, who left the colonies for the new war department, had to grope his way towards the vital work he had undertaken to do. The Duke was a man of some hardihood, and great energy and industry; but he was new to the business, he had not sufficient weight in the Cabinet; one at least of his colleagues envied him the place he filled; and it may be surmised that, with all his good intentions, Lord Aberdeen's innate repugnance to war exercised, unconsciously, a paralysing influence over the whole Cabinet. A more vigorous and decided mind at the head of the executive would have begun in 1853 to make those preparations which, made then, would have prevented so much suffering in the winter of 1854. A man of greater weight at the War Office would, even in 1854, have been able to impress his colleagues with a sense of the magnitude of the impending conflict, and have obtained their assent to the most vigorous exertions, made with a distinct perception of all that was required to enable England to carry on her share of the war in a manner consistent with the wishes of the people and her character as a great power.

But the fact is, that it was not until the end of 1853 that the pulses of the British nation beat with warlike fervour. The Government doubted - at least the Aberdeen section - whether the House of Commons would sanction the policy which they had pursued. There was one man in the Cabinet who had what the first Napoleon called " popular fibre " in his constitution, but he was in the Home Office. Lord Palmerston understood the crisis better than any of his colleagues, and would, in 1853, have taken means to back up his diplomacy. Lord Aberdeen was afraid of appearing to threaten, or to do anything which might lay him open to the factious charge of provoking hostilities. So timid were the Government that, as we have said, they allowed 1853 to slip by without obtaining power to embody the militia, except in the improbable event of an invasion; and when Parliament met, they only asked for an addition to the army of 10,000 men, because they thought the House of Commons should sanction their policy before they brought the army, even on paper, up to a reasonable strength. Such was the fruit of an unwholesome dread of war, a lingering belief that peace was still probable, and a misapprehension of the character of the Czar.

Yet, although at the opening of the session it was manifest that the Ministry had nothing to fear from the Opposition beyond the usual criticism, and that, as a set-off against this, they had the cordial support of the people, it was not until March that they asked for 15,000 more men, and not until May that they demanded an additional 15,000, and obtained the ready assent to the embodiment of the militia, and power to accept the offer of their services for the Mediterranean and colonial garrisons. But this was too late, for it was found that only boys enlisted; and although, in two months, so far as mere drill goes, you can make a good infantry soldier, in two months a boy does not grow into a man. The Duke of Newcastle drew off from the colonies every man he could lay his hands on, and formed a reserve, which, in June, went to the East under Sir George Cathcart. He then formed another reserve, by abstracting more regiments from the colonies, and denuding the Mediterranean fortresses of regular troops. This second reserve went to the Crimea after the battle of Inkermann. Then our supplies of real soldiers were quite exhausted. We had nothing to send but raw youths, unfit to sustain the hardships of a winter campaign. We could only send gristle, instead of bone and sinew. This was the consequence of not augmenting the army in 1853. Correctly speaking, it was a consequence of the neglect to maintain an efficient and numerous army for many years.

To show how completely the nation and also the Government were in error, it is only necessary to state that both believed they had sent a mighty force to the East, and had sufficient means to keep it up. Lord Aberdeen said, at a public meeting, that they had sent to the East an army such as the Duke of Wellington never commanded; and Lord Granville affirmed that his hearers would look upon him as a Munchausen, if he were to enumerate all the equipments, stores, ammunition, and guns sent with the army. While the British nation were prepared to give any amount of money, Mr. Gladstone took it into his head that it would be a fine thing to pay for a big war out of the current taxes of the year. He declared he would not resort, until compelled, to the system of loans. He found, however, that a large war could not be conducted out of the produce of the taxes. Because Pitt had raised loans recklessly, that was no reason why Mr. Gladstone should not be more provident. It was right to augment the taxes, for the warring generation ought to pay its share; but the war was made for posterity more than for the then existing generation, and it was right that they should share the burden also. The secret thought which dictated this attempt to do without loans was a wish to disgust the people with the war. As if a national passion, animating all classes, and resting on a just basis, could be diverted from its aim by a device so weak! The boldness of the Duke of Newcastle, who, as early as April, 1854, contemplated the invasion of the Crimea and the capture of Sebastopol, stands out in strong contrast to the timidity of a Cabinet which had delayed until the eve of battle to put in order its machinery for managing the War, and to raise adequate reserves, and which, when at war, proposed to carry it on out of the revenue of the year. But this lack of foresight and insight, these narrow views, are chargeable alike against the people and the Government.

Throughout the summer the people waited impatiently for news of the doings of their fine little army. They were unprepared for the consequences of actual operations. They forgot that the worst foes of an army in the field are not the bullets and steel of their opponents, but the sickness which results from exposure, fatigue, improvidence, and a poisonous climate. The sick in the hospitals always outnumber the wounded, as the wounded outnumber the killed on the battle field. The men went down by scores -on the pestilential shores of Bulgaria, and the people of England were amazed at this, the inevitable consequence of carrying on war in unhealthy regions. They were eager for an advance on the Danube, but an advance on the Danube would have tripled the number of sick. Independently of those political and military considerations which presented themselves at a higher point of view, the army needed a change from a weary inactivity in a deadly country to action; and when the Russians retired from the Danube, the allies were ordered to the Crimea. The people of England were in an ecstasy, and daily expected to hear of the fall of Sebastopol. The battle of the Alma stimulated their warlike ardour; the flank march was regarded as a triumph; the opening of the trenches was looked on as the threshold of victory. Had Sebastopol fallen at the end of October, the sufferings of the sick and wounded would have been overlooked. But Sebastopol did not fall. The Czar, by a display of unlooked- for energy, poured his legions into the Crimea. The allies were besieged. Inkermann followed Balaclava, and the tempest struck its blows on the heels of Inkermann. The fine army, without adequate reserves, was a diminished and suffering handful. But the work to be done increased as the men decreased. Winter was before them. Their winter clothing clung about the oozy rocks of Balaclava. The rains broke up the only road. There were supplies, but they could not get them without a terrible expenditure of strength. The expedition had failed, and no provision had been made, we will not say for defeat, but for frustration.

The people of England heard of the sufferings of their army, and of the failure of the plan to take Sebastopol, at the moment when they were waiting for news of success. They heard the truth, but they heard a vast deal more than the truth. They fell into a state of fierce rage. Every calumny, every exaggeration, every graphic description, every unfair insinuation was eagerly swallowed and believed. They were told that the army was reduced to 8,000 men; that the general was a compound of imbecility and hard-heartedness; that the staff officers were ignorant, incompetent, reckless; that no one cared for the troops; that the men were starving; and that the horses were even reduced to the consumption of each other's manes and tails. They were told that want of foresight and sheer blundering had prevented the making of a road to the camp; that labour abounded, but that General Airey would not send for it; that shelter could be easily procured for man and horse, but that no one would take the trouble to get it; that provisions were scarce, because Mr. Commissary-General Filder did not know his business; that no one took care of the sick and wounded; and that the Government had neither provided medicines, nor medical comforts, nor ambulances, nor proper hospitals. Every day the dismissal of the Ministry, the recall of Lord Raglan and his staff, and the punishment of Mr. Filder, Admiral Boxer, Captain Christie, and the medical officers was loudly demanded. Perhaps the climax of violence was reached when the Times declared that "the noblest army ever sent from our shores had been sacrificed to the grossest mismanagement; " and went on in this style: - "Incompetency, lethargy, aristocratic hauteur, official indifference, favour, routine, perverseness and stupidity, reign, revel, and riot in the camp before Sebastopol, in the harbour at Balaclava, in the hospitals of Scutari, and how much nearer home we do not venture to say... No one hears or sees anything of the Commander-in- Chief.... The young gentlemen of the staff are devoid of experience, without much sympathy for the distresses of such inferior beings as regimental officers and privates, and disposed to treat the gravest affairs with a dangerous nonchalance." It is not too much to say that this tirade was made up of the grossest misrepresentation; but we are far from saying the presumptuous writer did not believe his own inventions: and the people of England took him at his word.

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