War in the East – New Year 1855
by William Howard Russell – War Correspondent to The Times Newspaper
Saturday – 30th December 1854
There has been a remarkable change in the weather within the last few days, and if the present fine mild days and sharp bracing nights last a little longer, we may hope to be relieved out of the Slough of Despond, to stay the march of sickness, and to make some progress in the siege. To-day the thermometer marked 50 deg., and to-night it is down to only 42 deg. There is as yet, however, no improvement in the state of the roads. On the 26th the French lent the English army 500 horses, and on the 27th they lent them several hundred men to carry up shot, shell, and provisions to our camp. A painful task they had of it. Those indefatigable fellows, the Zouaves, toiled through the heaps of mud, each with a heavy shot or shell in his hands, with an amount of sacre-ing enough to impregnate the atmosphere, and they did good service ere the day was over….
Sunday – 31st December 1854
I heard from a Russian deserter that when the Grand Dukes beheld the fearful slaughter of the Russians at Inkermann they were greatly affected, and that when they saw the day was lost, and that the English and French had originally defeated their troops, they burst into tears. As they retreated into the town with their staff they implored Menscinkoff not to continue the struggle any longer, and to abandon Sebastopol, making the best terms of capitulation that he could. Menschikoff is said to have promised that he would do so, and to have led them quietly away till they recovered their spirits.
The French are bombarding the town to-day with vigour, and the Russian reply is feeble. The French have nearly 50 mortars ready for the work, and they can fire 50 bombs a day from each mortar.
Monday – New Years Day 1855
Cold, raw, bleak, and wet. However, the Guards have received their cases of brandy, and the survivors will have 100 dozen of that very needful stimulant for their use.
Tuesday – 2nd January 1855
Winter is setting upon us, and we are already in a position to form an opinion of its possible results. I cannot conceal my impression that our army is likely to suffer severely unless instant and most energetic measures, be taken to place it in a position to resist the inclemency of the weather. We have no means of getting up the huts – all our army can do is to feed itself.
Captain Keen, R.E., is here in charge of 4000 tons of wood for hutting, but he cannot get any one to take charge of it, or unload it out of the ships. Each hut weighs more than two tons, and, somehow or other, I fear it will so happen that no effort will be used to get them up till men are found frozen to death in their tents. As to the “warm clothing,” the very words immediately suggest to us all some extraordinary fatality. Some went down with the ill-fated and ill-treated “Prince,” some of it has been lost, and now we hear that a ship with clothing for the officers has been burnt off Constantinople; that some of it has been saturated with water; and I had an opportunity of seeing several lighters full of warm great coats, etc., for the men, lying a whole day in the harbour of Balaklava beneath a determined fall of rain and snow. There was no one to receive them when they were sent to the shore, or rather no one would receive them without orders. In fact, we are ruined by etiquette, and by “service” regulations. No one will take “responsibility” upon himself if it were to save the lives of hundreds.
We are cursed by a system of “requisitions,” “orders,” and “memos,” which is enough to depress an army of scriveners, and our captains, theoretically, have almost as much work to do with pen and paper as if they were special correspondents or bankers’ clerks; that is, they ought to have as much to do, but, thanks to the realities of war, they have now no bookkeeping; their accounts are lost, and the captain who once had forty or fifty pounds weight of books and papers to carry, has not now so much as a penny memorandum-book. This fact alone shows the absurdity of our arrangements. In peace, when these accounts are of comparatively little importance, we have plenty and too much of checks and returns, but in time of war the very first thing our army does is to leave all its stationary on board the steamer that carries it to the scene of action.
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.
Further Reading and External Links
Maps, Plans and Pictures of the Crimean War
William Howard Russell on BikWil