War in the East – 31 Jan 1855

 

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This is another excerpt from “The War” by William Howard Russell – War Correspondent to The Times Newspaper, its a daily account from the battlelines during the Crimean War (157 years ago).  It makes for grim reading with food, shelter and warm clothing in short supply.

A Spy in the Trenches – 31st January 1855 

by William Howard Russell – War Correspondent to The Times Newspaper

Wednesday – 31st January 1855

To-day, a spy walked through some of our trenches, counted the guns, and made whatever observations he pleased besides, in addition to information acquired from the men with whom he conversed.  He was closely shaven, and wore a blue frockcoat buttoned up to the chin, and he stopped for some time to look at Mr. Murdoch, of the “Sanspareil”, “bouching” the guns, or putting new vents into them.  Some said he was like a Frenchman, others that he “looked like a doctor,” no one suspected he was a Russian till he suddenly bolted away down the front of the battery towards the Russian picquets, under a sharp fire of musketry, through which he had the singular good luck to escape unscathed.

Strict Orders have been issued, in consequence of this daring act, to admit no one into the trenches or works without a written permission from the proper authorities, and that all persons found loitering about the camp shall be arrested and sent to divisional head-quarters for examination.  I stated some time ago that the French have been in the habit of sending out working parties through our lines, towards the Valley of Baidar, to cut wood for gabions and fuel, along the sides of the romantic glens which intersect the high mountain-ranges to the south-east of Balaklava. They have frequently come across the Cossack picquets, and as it is our interest not to provoke hostilities with them, a kind of good fellowship has sprung up between our allies and the men of the Russian outposts.  The other day the French came upon three cavalry horses tied up to a tree, and the officer in command ordered them not to be touched.  On the same day a Chasseur had left his belt and accoutrements behind him in the ruined Cossack picquethouse, and naturally gave up all hope of recovering them but on his next visit he found them on the wall untouched.

To requite this act of forbearance, a French soldier, who had taken a Cossack’s lance and pistol, which he found leaning against a tree, has been ordered to return them and leave them in the place he found them. The next time the French went out, one of the men left a biscuit in a cleft stick, beckoning to the Cossacks to come and eat it. The following day they found a white loaf of excellent bread stuck on a stick in the same place, with a note in Russian, which has been translated for them in Balaklava, to the effect that the Russians had plenty of biscuit, and that, though greatly obliged for that which had been left for them, they really did not want it; but if the French had bread to spare like the sample left for them, it would be acceptable.

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

Maps, Plans and Pictures of the Crimean War

William Howard Russell on Wikipedia