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State of the Array (1854-5)


State of the Array (1854-5) - Food - Clothing - Shelter - Fuel - Great Defects. - No Road, and why - Insufficient Transport, and why - Failure of Commissariat - Statistics of Sickness - Painful State of the Hospitals - Failure of Medical Department - How the people were enraged - Gross Exaggerations - The Sebastopol Inquiry - Its Character - Sufferings of the French.
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The state of the army in the Crimea after the battle of Inkermann was most painful. The troops had to preserve their own existence, and to defend the ground they occupied in the face of a watchful enemy. Their base of operations, their source of supply, was Balaclava; and the road, or, rather track, from that place to the camp was a mere quagmire. As we have already stated, the numbers of the army were inadequate to the work imposed upon them, and the suffering they endured arose in a great part from that cause, but not entirely. The men were not " starved," as stated at the time. Up to the middle of November no army had ever been better fed. The rations were large and varied, and the troops received them just as regularly as if they had been at home. After November, parts of the extra rations were not always delivered; but not a day passed on which the men did not obtain a good supply of the necessaries of life. The ration allowed in the Crimea was nearly double that allowed at home. It consisted of one pound and a half of meat, one pound and a third of biscuit, a gill of rum, an ounce of coffee, and an ounce and one-, third of sugar. Did the troops get all this regularly? No. There were days when the rum fell short - days when whole rations of sugar were not to be had - days when half rations of meat only were served out - days, when the supply of biscuit was deficient. But, with the exception that on one day the 4th Division and one regiment got no meat, and that on one day the Light Division had a quarter ration, every soldier in the camp got daily, at least, a ration of meat equal to that ho, would have received in England - namely, three quarters of a pound. In general, however, the troops got their full rations, and there is no foundation for the assertion that they were "starved." But then it was said they were not clothed. Now, although the Government did not anticipate that the army would winter in the Crimea, they did, in the summer, make provision for supplying that army which must winter somewhere with winter clothing. The requisitions were made upon proper departments as early as July. The ships freighted therewith sailed from England in October, and of these the Prince only was lost. When the news of that calamity arrived in England, while Lord Raglan had sent to Constantinople for warm clothing, the Duke of Newcastle issued fresh orders at home, and saw that they were executed. There never was a time after the end of November when there was not more warm clothing at Balaclava than the means at the disposal of the army could carry to the front. In the same way there was a deficiency of shelter. The troops, when covered, were covered only by single canvas, except in some rare instances where old campaigners had made themselves imperfect huts out of stones and branches of trees. But from the end of November there was a large quantity of wood, at Balaclava. It was the same with fuel. There was always charcoal to be had at Balaclava by those who could fetch it. Moreover, there were enormous magazines of provisions, and large herds of cattle at Constantinople. Nor were forage and chopped straw ever deficient; and even the supply of hay, which had to be sent all the way from England, was only interrupted for a short time. So that the supplies of these essentials - food, clothing, shelter, fuel, forage - were duly provided for the army. Private benevolence had come in to supplement public exertion; and Balaclava, in the winter, was choked up with luxuries and essentials.

But there were two things which had not been provided, and these were also essentials. No road had been provided; and, in the absence of a road, no transport able to overcome the tremendous difficulties of the transit from Balaclava to the camp had been collected. Here were the sources of the greater part of the suffering and loss endured by the army.

What was called the road was a mere track across the open country. While the fine weather lasted, it was hard and sound. When the rain fell continuously, it broke up; that is, became a strip of deep mud, varied by deep holes full of water, impassable to carts and wagons, passable only by men and horses with great labour and fatigue. But why not repair it? The thing was tried, and failed. Turks were employed to mend this road, but they could not do it. The truth is that the road required to be made; that is, built upon a good foundation, and kept in order by constant attention. Why was this not done? For a plain and sufficient reason. It is usual for an army to find its own labourers. An army makes its own roads, builds its own bridges, erects its own batteries, constructs its own depots. The army in the Crimea was too weak to make a road from Balaclava to the front. The French made their own roads, because the numbers of the French army were more in proportion to the work to be done. Before the beginning of November a road was not made, because the whole strength of the army was required to carry on the works of the siege and cover those works; that is, guard the base of operations and defend the position on the plateau. After November, when the numbers were diminished by disease and battle, the whole strength of the army was required to do the same work; and the proportion of men to work was so adverse to the men, that one had to do the work of three. Hired labour could not be obtained, even to help the commissariat. The troops could not be spared from the trenches. The officers commanding the divisions were unanimously of opinion " that it would have been impossible to employ a sufficient number of men to make the road, and at the same time carry on the military operations in which the army was engaged." Therefore the option was - abandon the object for which the army had landed in the Crimea to accomplish, or make a road which would have been useless, because the end it was to serve would have been sacrificed. No impartial mind can survey the military position in the winter of 1854-5, without coming to the strongest conclusion that the choice before Lord Raglan was to get on without a made road, or abandon the Crimea altogether; and had he chosen to desert his allies and fly from the Crimea, not only would he have plunged the army into a catastrophe worse than that which befell it, but he would have disgraced his own name and the name of his country. Therefore he was bound by every consideration, at whatever cost, to maintain his position; and the greater part of the sacrifices made must be regarded as sacrifices made to an inevitable military exigency. The situation in which he found himself was unparalleled in the history of war. And he was not found wanting in the resolution required to meet it.

Under these circumstances the horrors of the winter could only be mitigated by an ample supply of mules and horses. By the breaking up of the road, the land transport at the disposal of Commissary-General Filder was reduced to one-sixth; for whereas a horse and cart could transport six hundred pounds weight to the front, a horse alone could only carry two hundred pounds. It follows that the supplies could only be maintained by extra work on the part of the animals, or by an extra number of animals. At a critical moment, when he wanted more horse power, Mr. Filder sent a steamer to fetch animals from his depot; but, by some cause unexplained, the steamar was detained at Constantinople for three weeks. Then, although there was a large park of ponies and horses on the Bosphorus, they not being forthcoming, the valuable chargers of the cavalry, and even the teams of the artillery and the horses belonging to the officers, were put in requisition. Still all this was not enough. The horses, from hard usage by their drivers and keepers, from overwork and exposure, from neglect to feed them, although forage was at hand, died by scores. The drivers, imported from Turkey, died, deserted, refused to work: they could not stand the exposure and fatigue. The consequence was that, during the most critical period, there was never more transport than was sufficient to feed the troops irregularly and from hand to mouth, and to keep the men and guns supplied with the minimum of ammunition consistent with safety. The burden of responsibility, the amount of work required from the commissariat, was too heavy and too vast for a body so imperfectly organised and undermanned. The harbour of Balaclava was too small, its shores too confined, for the service demanded at an emergency. Months of labour were required to make suitable. But making every allowance - and the exceptional position of the commissariat, with large extra labours imposed upon it, requires in justice large allowance - it is plain that, from some cause never fully explained, the commissariat failed to import and keep in the Crimea a supply of transport adequate to the extraordinary demands of the army. When the perilous position of the army dawned upon them, Ministers thought of an Army Works Corps, employed Messrs. Peto & Co., to make a railway, and instructed Colonel M'Murdo to raise a Land Transport Corps. But then it was too late. So we come round again to the original sources - not of all the suffering, for war and suffering are inseparable - but of the peculiar kind of suffering endured by the army in the Crimea - namely, inadequate and unorganised military establishments; and the responsibility for this unprovided state rests not upon one Government alone, but upon all Governments since 1830, and not upon all Governments only, but also upon the nation. The French were not in this case. While we had cultivated the arts of peace, while we had secured and strengthened the broad bases of our liberties, they had cultivated the arts and perfected the machinery of war, and had lost their liberties. In the depth of the gloom of December, 1854, the French Emperor could tell his servile Assembly, and through them, Europe, that he had an army of 581,000 men and 113,000 horses, and from these masses he could keep his force in the Crimea well supplied with reinforcements by the aid of British shipping. No one would barter liberty for French military perfection; but a wise people would make liberty quite compatible with the maintenance of an army effective in all its departments, however small it might be.

Had there been a good road from Balaclava to the camp - had there been plenty of transport, plenty of clothing, plenty of shelter, plenty of fuel - the sufferings of the army from hard work and exposure would have been very great; for war is not a condition of existence conducive to health and long life, even under the most favourable circumstances; and when war is carried on through the winter, when the form of that war is a siege, when the army carrying on the siege is itself besieged by the enemy, and restricted to one narrow pass leading to the little bay for all its supplies, for everything to keep it alive except water, the ordinary miseries and hardships of war became intense, and terrible, and destructive. So it was in the Crimea. Scantily clothed, irregularly fed, existing, when on duty, in the mud and water of the trenches, sleeping, when they returned to their tents, in wet clothes on a wet floor, improvident of the little means within their reach which would have lessened their sufferings, none but the most iron constitutions could endure this and live. Our brave, obstinate, hardy soldiers are like children in all that lies beyond the range of their regular duties, and many perished because they were ignorant and reckless. But the bulk of the sickness and mortality was caused by overwork and exposure, necessarily consequent upon the discharge of their duty. A few figures will suggest better than pages of writing how much this army suffered. On the 1st of October - that is, just after the arrival of the army before Sebastopol - the number of men and officers in a state fit for duty was 23,000; and the number sick, including the wounded, was 6,713. On the 3rd of November the number fit for duty had fallen to 22,343, the number of sick had increased to 7,116. Then came the battle of Inkermann. On the 14th of November the effective force was 20,780, the number of sick and wounded 8,366. The force of "bayonets" - that is, privates and corporals of infantry, " rank and file," as the technical term is - had fallen to 14,874; and it is on the bayonets that a Quartermaster-General relies for his working and fatigue parties. But now reinforcements began to trickle in. Troops to the number of 3,480 men arrived. Yet so severe was the pressure, even in the middle of November, that this augmentation only raised the effective force from 20,780 to 22,825. The next item explains this. The roll of sick had risen from 8,366 to 9,170, an increase of 804 in one week. A week later, on the 30th of November, in spite of the reinforcements, the effective force had fallen to 21,895; the sick had increased to 10,095, although 640 men had landed in the interval. Let us pass over a month - a month in which nearly 5,000 men landed at Balaclava. What do we find? That on the 1st of January, 1855, the effective force stands at only 21,973, or 78 more than it stood on the 30th of November; while the number of sick had increased to 13,915. A fortnight later, and the effective force was 20,444; the sick 16,176; while the force of bayonets was actually fewer by 36 than it was on the 14th of November, before any of the 10,000 reinforcements had arrived. Nor must it be forgotten that all this time the dead were being buried, and the convalescents were returning to duty, and going again into the hospital. These figures are the measure of the unspeakable sufferings of the army in the Crimea, the main and unavoidable causes of which we have described.

But these figures do not convey a full idea of the agonies of that winter campaign, except to those gifted with a lively imagination. It was the treatment of the sick and wounded, both in and out of the Crimea, that- occasioned the worst of these agonies. The medical department utterly broke down under the burden thrown upon it. Although more medical men and more medicines and medical comforts were sent out to the East than ever were supplied to a force of similar strength; yet, in consequence of want of foresight, want of faculty, want of administrative skill, the medicines and medical comforts were so badly arranged and distributed, that, especially in the Crimea, they were not at hand when most required. The state of the hospitals at Scutari was the first thing that roused the public indignation. The Government, having failed to organise a medical staff corps, had recourse to Miss Nightingale and a number of trained nurses collected by her, and sent them to the East; and the brightest picture in the dark story of the winter of 1854-5 is that of Florence Nightingale bringing order out of chaos, and tending the sick and wounded soldiers of England, in those far-off hospitals on the Asiatic shore of the Bosphorus. That was the work of the Government. The public feeling showed itself in another form. Sir Robert Peel proposed to raise 10,000 for supplying the sick with comforts, to be called the Times Fund, and put down 200 towards it; and in a few days the whole amount demanded had reached Printing House Square. Three gentlemen were sent to superintend, the expenditure, and it is to Miss Nightingale, principally, and to these private persons, that we are bound to attribute the alleviation of the sad state of the sick and wounded at Scutari in the winter of 1854-5. The truth is, that the Government had been kept in the dark as to the condition of the hospitals. Knowing that amply sufficient supplies had been sent to the East, they were confounded when they heard that not comforts only, but actual necessaries, were wanting. When we look into the facts, it is manifest that the medical department in the East had not been well organised on a scale sufficiently large, and that it had not been governed by men of energy, foresight, and decision. Hence the horrible condition of the tent-hospitals in the Crimea, and the various hospitals on the Bosphorus. It is impossible to exonerate the Government from censure, but it is equally impossible not to see the evil influence of a system adapted to a state of peace suddenly applied to a state of war. By slow degrees all the hospitals were improved, and finally brought up to a state of high efficiency; but in the meantime thousands had died, and hundreds had become permanent invalids; and it is this loss of life which is the heaviest charge which lies at the door of the Aberdeen administration.

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Attack on the English trenches by the Russians
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