War in the East – 13 Apr 1855


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Below is todays excerpt from “The War” by William Howard Russell – War Correspondent to The Times Newspaper, giving a daily account of events during the Crimean War (157 years ago).

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War in the East – 13 Apr 1855

Friday 13 April 1855

At four o’clock, a.m., the Russians opened a powerful and destructive fire on our six-gun advanced battery, which was in a very imperfect state, and by concentrating the fire of twenty guns on it, dismounted some of the pieces and injured the works severely, so as to render the battery useless for the day. Our working party only succeeded in getting one gun into the new battery this morning, owing to causes I have already mentioned, although they worked till it was nearly dawn. Our mules were lost, fifty of them at least, by the Land Transport Corps, returning from the trenches last night, as the officers could not find their way, and the animals got loose. On every side I hear loud complaints against the ramrods of the Enfield rifles, or rather against the mode in which they are fixed in the weapon. The least rain or damp so swells the wooden stock into which the steel ramrod runs, that it is impossible to draw the latter, and it has been also said that the locks are become wood-bound, in which state, of course, they will not act.

Friday Noon.

The Sailors’ Brigade have again suffered very severely. Although they only work thirty-five guns in the various batteries, they have lost more men than all our siege train-working and covering parties put together, and up to half-past three o’clock they had had seventy-three men killed and wounded, two officers killed, one wounded, and two or three contused. The sailors in No. 2 Battery, in Chapman’s attack, silenced three of the best guns in the Redan yesterday, but the Russians replaced them during the day, and actually opened fire at five p.m. from the very embrasures which had been knocked to pieces. The reports of injury done to our batteries have been greatly exaggerated. In addition to the 13-inch mortar, which was burst, and the Lancaster destroyed by a shot, there have been only four guns disabled by the enemy’s fire, and one of our 9-pounders, directed against the Rifle-pits, has been “dinted” by a shot. One of our 24-pounders was burst by a shot which entered right at the muzzle as the gun was being discharged. Another gun was struck by a shot in the muzzle, split up to the trunnions, the ball then sprung up into the air, and, falling at the breech, knocked off the button. There are only three guns firing from the Round Tower this morning, but the enemy has mounted a heavy gun in the Mamelon, at which we are at present directing our fire. The Redan is very much damaged on the right face and front already, and three of the embrasures, at least, are knocked to pieces. It is impossible to deny to the Russian engineers great credit for the coolness with which they set about repairing damages under fire; but words cannot do more than justice to the exertions of our own men, and to the Engineer officers and Sappers engaged in this most perilous duty.

When an embrasure is struck and injured, it is the business of the Sappers to get up into the vacant space and repair the damage, removing the gabions, etc., under fire, and without the least cover from shot, shell, or riflemen. Our Engineer officers have frequently set the example to their men in exposing themselves when not called upon to do so, and I believe that, as yet, there has not been a single instance in which a gun has been silent owing to damage done to an embrasure. Poor Jack pays the penalty of his excessive courage in the loss which he sustains. The sailors will not keep under cover. When they fire a gun they crowd about the embrasures and get upon the parapets to watch the effect of the shot, and the result is that they are exposed to many more casualties than the artillerymen, who are kept under cover by their officers. Yesterday, under the very heat of the fire, a Russian walked through one of the embrasures of the Round Tower, coolly descended the parapet, took a view of the profile of the work, and sauntered back again a piece of bravado which very nearly cost him his life, as a round shot struck within a yard of him, and a shell burst near the embrasure as he re-entered it.

Two divisions of Turkish Infantry have just marched from Kamiesch, past the head-quarters’ camp, towards Balaklava. They mustered about 15,000 men, and finer young fellows than some of the soldiers of the crack regiments I never saw. Very few of the privates wore decorations or medals, but many of the officers had them, and had evidently seen service against the Muscovite. They had had a long march, and their sandal shoon afforded sorry protection against the stony ground; and yet it was astonishing that so few men fell out of the ranks or straggled behind. One regiment had a good brass band, which almost alarmed the bystanders by striking up a quick step (waltz) as they marched past, and playing it in very excellent style, but the majority of the regiments were preceded by musicians with drums, fifes, and semicircular thin brass tubes, with wide mouths, such as those which may have tumbled the walls of Jericho, or are seen on the sculptured monuments of primaeval kings.

The colonel and his two majors rode at the head of each regiment, richly dressed, on small but spirited horses, covered with rich saddle-cloths, and followed by pipe-bearers and servants. The mules, with the tents, marched on the right, the artillery marched on the left. The two batteries I saw consisted each of four 24lb. brass howitzers, and two 9lb. brass field-pieces, and the carriages and horses were in a very serviceable state. Each gun was drawn by six horses. The ammunition boxes were rather coarse and heavy. The baggage animals of the division marched in the rear, and the regiments marched in columns of companies three deep, each company on an average with a front of twenty rank and file. One of the regiments had Minie rifles of English make, the majority, however, were only armed with flint firelocks, but they were very clean and bright. They all displayed rich standards, blazing with cloth of gold, and many-coloured flags with the crescent and star embroidered on them. All the men carried their blankets, squares of carpet for prayer and sitting upon, and cooking utensils, and their packs were of various sizes and substances.

As they marched along in the sunlight over the undulating ground, they presented a very picturesque and warlike spectacle, the stern reality of which was enhanced by the thunder of the guns at Sebastopol, and the smoke-wreaths from shells bursting high in the air. On ascend
ing the range of hills towards Balaklava, they must have been seen by the Russian army over the Tchernaya, and by the Cossacks on Canrobert’s Hill.

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 Wikipedia

William Howard Russell on BikWil