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State of the Array (1854-5) page 2


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It was right and just that the people of England should demand from their Ministers a stern account of the privations and cruel losses inflicted on their army. But, in the process of making them aware of the truth, their passions were inflamed by constant and shameless reiterations of what was false. Those who fed their passions until they demanded, not only a remedy, but vengeance, made no sort of allowance for the real difficulties of the position, and none whatever for the fact that the military force operating in the Crimea was composed of the soldiers of three nations and under two commands. The obstinate resistance of the Russian was not regarded as one of the causes of the strait and peril in which the allies found themselves, nor were any one of the very unusual circumstances attending the campaign taken into consideration. But the chief stimulants were the direct falsehoods so industriously repeated. Imagine the rage of the people when they were told that Lord Raglan never stirred out of his house; when he was denounced as the invisible general. People pictured to themselves the forlorn, rain-drenched, wind-swept, cheerless camp strewn with dying soldiers; and then they pictured to themselves the commander of those soldiers, snugly ensconced in a comfortable room, beside a blazing fire, writing at a desk, and, providing he wrote enough, indifferent to all else beside. It makes one blush to think this fable was believed. Lord Raglan had a carriage in the Crimea; he never used it, but it was always at the disposal of sick officers. Bitter were the complaints that he had taken possession for himself of the best house in Balaclava. He had taken possession of a house, but not for himself. Mr. Filder had rooms there, and it was always open to officers who were ill. Lord Raglan had one defect which marred his efficiency - he was too lenient, he made too much allowance for the shortcomings of others. But he was not haughty, nor was he indifferent, nor improvident, nor idle, nor selfish. Hardly a day passed that he did not ride through the camp or visit Balaclava; and his sole thought, next to the honour of England, was for the welfare of the army. He sustained that honour. Neither he nor the soldiers murmured. He never defended himself, and probably that only inflamed the passions of his detractors. But the people of England only knew what they were told; and amid much that was true, and as painful as it was true, they were told shameful falsehoods day after day. The authentic details of the privations endured by the troops were horrible and heartrending; but the sting appended to these details lay in the accusations, and they were totally groundless, that the commander and his staff, indifferent to the hard fate of the troops, took no measures to relieve them. A few instances of the stories current and credited will show why it was people of all classes were wrought up to a state of agony and fury.

It was commonly believed that the troops were absolutely without food, because nobody cared to provide them with rations. It was believed they were without clothing and shelter, because the Government at home had neglected to order and forward supplies, and because the commissariat and Lord Raglan took no steps to procure food, and shelter, and forage from Turkey. It was believed at one time that half the English army was clothed in French greatcoats. It was believed that Mr. Filder was dependent upon the French for forage - he was said to have borrowed thirty days' supply, because he did borrow fifty tons of chopped straw, as a measure of precaution, after the hurricane of November 14th. It was gravely asserted, and the assertion was indeed put on record in the Sebastopol Inquiry Report, that only six shirts were washed for the sick in the hospital at Scutari during the month of November; whereas in the week ending November 23rd, as appears by an authentic return, there were washed 595 shirts. The washing was bad, but why exaggerate in this style? It was affirmed and believed by many that medical comforts were absolutely wanting at Scutari, and that Miss Nightingale did "the whole purveying" of medical comforts through the money subscribed to the Times Fund. The fact was that the articles were not wanting, but that in some cases Miss Nightingale thought the quality of her stores better than those of the Government, and in others the purveyor, fearing responsibility, refused the lady's requisitions. A letter was published, purporting to come from a nurse at Scutari, in which the writer said, " Out of four wards committed to my care, eleven men have died in the night, simply from exhaustion, which, humanly speaking, might have been stopped could I have laid my hands on such nourishment as I knew they ought to have had." This was believed, and Lord Derby made use of it in Parliament. What is the fact? The letter was a fabrication. The only lady in charge of four wards at Scutari "could not say that there was a single case in which a man lost his life from want of port wine or any other thing. Many were in a dying state when I went to them, and I do not think restoratives would have revived those who did die." And further, this nurse affirmed that the daily mortality in her wards never exceeded six. Miss Nightingale said of the patients that the supply given them was quite sufficient. " I have never had any report made to me by any of the nurses, or by any other person, that any life was ever lost in the hospital from the want of any restoratives or anything else being at hand. I do not think that any such case could have happened without its coming to my knowledge." Then " no nurses have ever sat up during the night; " and finally five deaths in one day was the extreme number ever reported to Miss Nightingale by any nurse. Enough of this. These are only a few instances where many abound; and worked on by such stories, as we said, the grief of the nation became an angry passion, demanding vengeance and victims. There was something noble in the wrath of the nation; there was something inexpressibly mean and dastardly in the conduct of the self-sufficient few, who, from natural arrogance, or frost-bitten vanity, or a desire to win popular applause, or in furtherance of political intrigues, maddened the people by the diligent diffusion of falsehood in every variety.

Out of this fury, thus produced, grew the demand for the Select Committee on the Army before Sebastopol. Those who originated it used, throughout the inquiry, the great power it gave them as a means of obtaining grounds, real and colourable, to sustain the pre-conceived conclusions with which they began their inquisition. It was a most imperfect investigation. " The fullness of the investigation," as the committee had the candour to confess, " has been restricted by considerations of state policy, so that in the outset of this report, your committee must admit that they have been compelled to aid an inquiry which they have been unable satisfactorily to complete." Indeed, to have probed the matter to the bottom, the committee should have called at least General Canrobert and the Emperor of the French from the ranks of our allies, and in no case could any investigation be fair which did not include the evidence of Lord Raglan, General Airey, Mr. Filder, Miss Nightingale, and Lord Stratford de Redcliffe. Yet, without having examined any of these, Mr. Roebuck coolly asked the committee to endorse the most sweeping and arrogant charges against the principal persons concerned, including those who were absent, and unable to say a word in their own defence. And although the virulent report drawn up by Mr. Roebuck and Mr. Layard was rejected by all the other members of the committee, by his casting vote Mr. Roebuck was enabled to append a paragraph replete with epigrammatic assertions that were untrue. By the time this committee had ended an inquiry they could not, from the very character of the investigation, complete, the army had recovered its health, strength, and efficiency, and the new Minister of War, Lord Panmure, had, in his place, candidly ascribed the change in the army, in great part, to 'the measures of the very Minister, the Duke of Newcastle, who had been made the victim of the national fury. The lesson is a striking one, but there is no security that, if we went to war again, and met with peril, calamity, suffering, temporary frustration, similar scenes would not be enacted over again. For circumstances, manners, institutions change, but human nature is always the same.

Throughout the winter it was the fashion to praise the French at our own expense. But in this case, as in so many others, the eulogy was based on ignorance. We are still ignorant to a lamentable degree, but we are ignorant because the truth has been concealed. It was not the practice of the French to dissect their army in public. There were no correspondents in their camp; there was no free press in France. It is even difficult to ascertain with any exactness the strength of their army during that winter. But there is good reason to believe that they were not much, if at all, better fed, clothed, or sheltered than the British. Indeed, their tents were inferior to ours. It is true that the soldiers were more self-helpful, and took better care of themselves, especially in collecting fuel and in cooking their food. They did not scruple to eat horseflesh for a change; and there is no doubt that they stole many of the horses belonging to the commissariat, sharing in this respect with the men of the Naval Brigade. With regard to their losses from sickness and exposure, we have one item of evidence. Captain Calthorpe, in his "Letter from Head-quarters," says, "I took the trouble yesterday [January 22] to make inquiries of two or three officers high in the [French] Etat-Major: one told me they had about 23,000 non-effective men a month ago [that is, in the middle of December], but that he believed it had been since increased. Another said that last week they had 27,000 men sick in the army in the East; and the third stated that they had 7,000 men in the field-hospitals in the Crimea, and about 16,000 men in their different hospitals in Turkey." Taking a mean, this would give an average of about 24,000, or about one-third of the force it is estimated they had in the Crimea - that is, nearly the same proportion to strength that there was in the English force. If these figures can be relied on, there is no ground for the assertion that the French did not suffer very severely during the winter campaign. On the other hand, considering the greater perfection of their military system, and the fewer difficulties they had to overcome in the way of land transport, although until a later period their means of shelter were inferior to ours, there can be little doubt that their sufferings were less; while no one has ever doubted that their hospitals were admirably supplied and conducted, and thus the more touching kind of misery was unknown. After all, the main reason why the French troops were better off was that, whereas the English soldier passed three nights out of six on duty, the French soldier was on duty only one night in six. The larger numbers of the French army told strongly in their favour, and saved them from that fatigue and exposure which wore out the lives of their allies. But the Emperor had no more prepared for a winter campaign than the British Government. He did not look for such a drain on his army and his treasury. And thus his measures for succouring the soldier were taken not one moment before ours. His orders for tents were issued after ours, and the huts he supplied arrived in the Crimea after those shipped from England and Trieste. Moreover, the greater strength of his army did not lessen materially the sufferings and labours of ours. The armies were two independent forces, and, in spite of the need, it was not until the 21st of January that a French Brigade took a share in the defence of the Inkermann lines.

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