War in the East – 2 Dec 1854

Melancholy Pictures – 2nd December 1854

by William Howard Russell – War Correspondent to The Times Newspaper

Saturday 2nd December – 1854

It cleared up last night, and on the hills there was a sharp, but most welcome frost.  There was a smart brush in front at seven o’clock this morning, but as yet I have not ascertained the particulars; it seemed, however, as if the Russians either received reinforcements or fancied they gained some success, for they cheered loudly, and all the bells of the town rang for some time.

Sunday 3rd December – 1854

The cause of the Russians cheering yesterday morning is now ascertained.  They had received a reinforcement of men and of provisions, and, according to the statement of a deserter, both were much needed.  They also cheered in the morning ere they came out to attack a party of the 50th Regiment, posted in the Ovens – the caves in the rocks to the left of and below our left attack, in a ravine near the neck of the harbour.  As our men had been out in the wet all night they found their rifles would not go off, and, the enemy being very numerous, they were forced to fall back, and the Russians once more established themselves in the Ovens.  They were soon made too hot to hold them, for a party of the Rifle Brigade was at once pushed down, and speedily dislodged them.  We lost two men killed and two severely wounded – eight men slightly wounded in this affair.

Monday 4th December – 1854

If any of our great geologists want to test the truth of their theories respecting the appearance of the primeval world, or are desirous of ascertaining what sort of view Noah might have had when he looked out of the Ark from Ararat, they cannot do better than come out here at once.  The whole plateau on which stands “the Camp before Sebastopol” the entire of the angle of land from Balaklava round to Kherson, and thence to the valley of Inkermann – is fitted at this moment for the reception and delectation of any number of ichthyosauri, sauri, and crocodiles – it is a vast black dreary wilderness of mud, dotted with little lochs of foul water, and seamed by dirty brownish and tawny-coloured streams running down to and along the ravines.  On its surface everywhere are strewed the carcases of horses and miserable animals torn by dogs and smothered in mud.  Vultures sweep over the mounds in flocks; carrion crows and “birds of prey obscene” hover over their prey, menace the hideous dogs who are feasting below, or sit in gloomy dyspepsia, with drooped head and dropping wing, on the remnants of their banquet.

It is over this ground, gained at last by great toil and exhaustion and loss of life on the part of the starving beasts of burden, that man and horse have to struggle from Balaklava for some four or five miles with the hay and corn, the meat, the biscuit, the pork, which form the subsistenoe of our army.  Every day this toil must be undergone, for we are fed indeed by daily bread, and only get half rations of it.  Horses drop exhausted on the road, and their loads are removed and added to the burdens of the struggling survivors; then, after a few efforts to get out of their Slough of Despond, the poor brutes succumb and lie down to die in their graves.  Men wade and plunge about, and stumble through the mud, with muttered imprecations, or sit down on a projecting stone, exhausted, pictures of dirt and woe unutterable.  Sometimes on the route the overworked and sickly soldier is seized with illness, and the sad aspect of a fellow-countryman dying before his eyes shocks every passer-by – the more because aid is all but hopeless and impossible.

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

William Howard Russell on Wikipedia