Delay of the Mails

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Delay of the Mails – 19th November 1854

by William Howard Russell – War Correspondent to The Times Newspaper

Sunday 19th November 1854

THIS evening a courier arrived from Varna, with a despatch from the Duke of Newcastle to Lord Raglan, dated November 10, which he had conveyed from Bucharest to Varna on horseback.  The contents are not likely to be made known, but the fact itself is a cruel commentary on the text of the post-office “regulations.” 

When this courier arrived, the mail which should have gone on the 18th had just been sent on board the “Medway,” which will arrive in Constantinople about thirty hours after the French steamer of the 20th has sailed from that port for Marseilles.  As the “Arrow,” which took the mails of the 13th from the Crimea, was late for the mail steamer of the 16th from Constantinople, our friends in England will be favoured with two mails, each five days’ late, in succession.

Imagine sending “mails” at this crisis, when the heart of England is on the rack, by “gun-boats” and hospital ships!  Such “management” and such “regulations” are above or below all comment, but they certainly deserve public contempt and indignation.  The public money is freely given to carry out every end of this expedition, and to provide for the efficiency of every branch of the service, and it is intolerable that those who are charged with one of the most important portions of it should be so indifferent to the comfort and happiness of hundreds of thousands, whose hopes and fears are centred in the fate of this army.

Newspaper correspondents are placed in rather a difficult position out here at present.  In common with generals and chiefs, and men-at-arms, they write home accounts of all we were doing to take Sebastopol, and they joined in the prophetic cries of the leaders of the host that the fall of the city of the Czar – the centre and navel of his power in these remote regions – would not be deferred for many hours after our batteries had opened upon its defences.  In all the inspiration of this universal hope, these poor wretches, who cling to the mantles of the military and engineering Elijahs, did not hesitate to communicate to the world, through the columns of the English press, all they knew of the grand operations which were to eventuate in the speedy fall of this doomed city.  They cheered the heart of England with details of the vast armaments prepared against its towers and forts – of the position occupied by her troops – the imbecility of the enemy’s fire – of the range of the guns so soon to be silenced, of the stations of our troops on commanding sites, and they described with all their power the grandiose operations which were being taken for the reduction of such a formidable place of arms.

They believed in common with the leaders, whose inspiration and whose faith were breathed through the ranks of our soldiers, that the allied forces were to reduce Sebastopol long ere the lines they penned could meet the expectant gaze of our fellow-countrymen at home, and they stated under that faith and in accordance with those inspirations that the operations of war undertaken by our armies were undertaken with reference to certain points of position and with certain hope of results, the knowledge of which could not have proved of the smallest service to the enemy once they had been beaten out of their stronghold.

Contrary to these hopes and inspirations, in direct opposition to our prophecies and to our belief, Sebastopol still holds out against the Allies; and the intelligence conveyed in newspapers which we all thought we would have read in the clubrooms of Sebastopol has been conveyed to the generals of an army which still defends its walls, and has been given to the leaders of an enemy whom we had considered would be impuissant and defeated, where they have proved themselves to be, in reality, powerful and unconquered. The enemy know that we have lost many men from sickness; they know that we have so many guns here and so many guns there, that our head-quarters are in one place, our principal powder magazine is in another, that the camp of such a Division has been annoyed by their fire and that the tents of another had escaped injury from their shot, but it must he recollected that when these details were written it was confidently declared that, ere the news could reach England of the actual preliminaries of the siege, the Allies would have entered Sebastopol, that their batteries would have silenced the fire of the enemy, that the quarters of their generals would have been within the enceinte of the town, that our magazines would have been transferred to its storehouses, and that our divisions would have encamped within its walls.

Excerpt from The War 1855 by W H Russell – Correspondent to The Times.

This volume contains the letters of The Times Correspondent from the seat of war in the East – The Crimean War – the first war with war correspondents.

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Further Reading and External Links

The Crimea War from the National Archives

William Howard Russell on Wikipedia

William Howard Russell on BikWil