War in the East – 13 Jun 1855

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Below is another compelling installment from “The War” by William Howard Russell – War Correspondent to The Times Newspaper, it gives a daily account of events during the Crimean War (157 years ago).

The book and our excerpts cover from the landing at Gallipoli to the death of Lord Raglan.

Catch-up with earlier posts in this series here or search our library here.

War in the East – 13 Jun 1855

The Crimean War (October 1853 – February 1856) was a conflict between the Russian Empire and an alliance of the French Empire, the British Empire, the Ottoman Empire and the Kingdom of Sardinia – most of the conflict took place on the Crimean Peninsula.

Wednesday 13th June 1855


The mission of the fleet and army having been accomplished, the force is on its way homewards. Sir George Brown and his staff are embarked. The Admirals are at Ambalaki. The troops are on board, with the exception of those who are ordered to remain in garrison at Yenikale and Pavlovskaya, and we leave the roadsteads this afternoon for Balaklava and Kamiesch. The streaks of smoke which rise from Kertch, from the Quarantine station, and from the very face of the waters, where the worthless prizes lie burning on the sandbanks, speak for our success. It has keen decided to occupy Pavlovskaya, because it is in a fine position to command the entrance to Kertch and Yenikale, at a place where the channel is narrowed by one of the sandbanks from Taman to the breadth of a mile and a half. The lines which have been thrown up around Yenikale are extremely strong; they are of the most massive and durable character, and reflect great credit on the engineers who designed and superintended their construction. They enclose the ramparts of the old town, and present on every side towards the land a broad ditch, a steep parapet, defended by redoubts, and broken into batteries, which are aided by the fire of the pieces on the walls. In fact, the place is lost to Russia so long as we like to keep it.

The point or bank of Tchechka, opposite Yenikale, is one of the many extraordinary spits of land which abound in this part of the world, and which are, as far as I know, without example in any other country. Of all these, the Spit of Arabat, which is a bank but a few feet above the water, and is in some places only a furlong in breadth, is the most remarkable. It is nearly 70 miles in length, and its average width is less than half-a-mile from sea to sea. The bank of Tchechka (or Szavernaia Rosa), which runs for nearly eight miles in a south-westerly direction from Cape Kammenoi past Yenikale, closes up the Bay of Kertch on the west, and the Gulf of Taman on the east, is a type of these formations, and is sufficiently interesting to deserve a visit. It only differs from Arabat in size, and in the absence of the fresh water wells, which are to be found at long intervals on the great road from Arabat to Genitchi. It is so low, that it is barely six feet above the level of the sea into which it runs. A bank of sand on both sides of the spit, piled up three or four feet in height, marks the boundary of the beach. The latter, which is a bank of shingle, shells, and fine sand, is only a few yards broad, and is terminated by the sand and rank grass and rushes of the spit, which rise up a foot or two above the beach. In the interior or on the body of the bank there are numerous lagunes – narrow strips of water much more salt than that of the adjacent sea. Some of these are only a few yards in length and a few feet in breadth, others extend for a quarter of a mile, and are about 100 yards broad. They are all bounded alike by thick high grass and rushes. The bottom, which is found at the depth of a few feet – often at two or three inches – consists of hard sand covered with slimy green vegetable matter. The water abounds in small flounders and dabs, and in shrimps, which leap about in wild commotion at an approaching footstep. Every lagune is covered with mallards and ducks, in pairs, and the fringes of the spit are the resort of pelicans and cormorants innumerable. The silence, the dreary solitude of the scene, is beyond description. Even the birds, mute as they are at this season, appear to be preternaturally quiet and voiceless. Multitudes of odd, crustaceous-looking polypous plants spring up through the reeds; and bright-coloured nycatchers, with orange breasts and black wings, poise over their nests below them. The first day I went over we landed on the beach close to the battery which the Russians placed on the spit at the Ferry station. It consisted of a quadrangular work of sandbags, constructed in a very durable manner, and evidently  not long made. In the centre of the square there was a whitewashed house, which served as a barrack for the garrison. The walls only were left, and the smoke rose from the ashes of the roof and rafters inside the shell. Our men had fired it when they landed. A pool of brackish water was enclosed by the battery, which must have been the head-quarters of ague and misery. The sailors said the house swarmed with vermin, and had a horrible odour. Nothing was found in it but the universal black bread and some salt fish. The garrison, some 30 or 40 men probably, had employed themselves in a rude kind of agriculture, and farming or pasturage. Patches of ground were cleared here and there, and gave feeble indications that young potatoes were struggling for lite beneath. Large ricks of reeds and coarse grass had been gathered round the battery, but were now reduced to ashes. At the distance of 100 yards from the battery there was another whitewashed house, or the shell of it, with similar signs of rural life about it, and an unhappy-looking cat trod gingerly among the hot embers, and mewed piteously in the course of her fruitless search for her old corner. The traces of herds of cattle, which were probably drivaen down from the mainland to feed on the grass round the salt marshes, were abundant.


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