At last cold
steel had to do what artillery had been baffled at. Large breaches have
invariably been made by artillery fire in the enemy's fortifications
before ever the 'dogs of war' were let loose at them; but no breach was
made in the fortifications of Sevastopol.
for a short time under arms, we marched off about 9.30 a.m. There was no
pomp or martial music, no boasting; but all in that mighty throng moved
with solemn tread to the places that had been assigned them. The older
hands were very quiet but they had that set look of determination about
them that speaks volumes.
bombardment was still raging on that terrible 8th
September; every gun and mortar that our people and our noble allies
the French could bring to bear upon the enemy's works was raining death
and destruction upon them. The stormers had all got into their places;
they consisted of about 1,000 men of the old Light and Second Division.
The supports were formed up as closely as possible to them, and all
appeared in readiness. History may well say the storming of a fortress
is an awful task! There we stood, not a word being spoken. Everyone
seemed to be full of thought. Many a courageous heart destined to be
still in death in one short hour was now beating high.
It was about
11.15 a.m., and our heavy guns were firing in such a way as I had never
before heard. The batteries fired in volleys or salvoes as hard as they
could load and fire, the balls passing a few feet above our heads, while
the air seemed full of shell. The enemy were not idle, for round shot,
shell, grape, and musket balls, were bounding and whizzing all about us,
and earth and stones were rattling about our heads like hail.
fellows fell fast, but still our sailors and artillerymen stuck to it
manfully. We knew well that this could not last long; but many a poor
fellow's career was cut short long before we advanced to the attack.
number of the older hands -- both officers and men -- were smoking and
taking not the slightest notice of the 'dance of death'. Some men were
being carried past dead, and others limping to the rear with mangled
limbs while their life's blood was streaming fast away.
We looked at
each other with amazement, for we were now (about 11.30 a.m.) under such
a fire as was without parallel; even Leipzig (where the allies alone had
1,400 field guns, and the French 1,000) was eclipsed: upwards of 100,000
dead and wounded lay upon that field, but then the contest had lasted
three days and nights.
The people at
home were complaining because we did not take Sevastopol; a number of
visitors -- ladies and gentlemen from England -- now saw that we were
trying to do our duty! The appalling and incessant roar of the
thunderbolts of war was deafening, and our enemies were bidding us
defiance, or, in other words, inviting us to the combat; and I have not
the slightest hesitation in saying that some of our visitors, who came
out to find fault, or 'pick holes in our coats', were horrified and
wished they had stayed at home. It was a warm reception for a number of
lads that had just joined us; it really seemed a pity to send them out
to meet such a fire.
As the hour of
12 drew near, all hands were on the alert; we knew well it was death for
many of us. Several who had gone through the whole campaign shook hands,
saying, 'This is hot! Good-bye, old boy!'
'Write to the
old folks at home if I do not return', was the request made by many.
minutes before 12 a number of our guns were brought to bear upon the chevaux
de frise, and sent it into a thousand pieces, so that it should not
stop us, as it had done on the 18th
June. Many of us cherished doubts as to the result, although we
dared not express them. Our numbers looked very small to attack such a
place as the Redan, and the greater portion of the attacking and
supporting columns too young and inexperienced for such a fiery ordeal.
But, as one old hand said, 'We can only die!'
utterly impossible that any could escape, and we had a great number of
very young men with us who had come out with drafts to fill up the gaps.
Many of them had not seen seventeen summers; plenty of them had not had
two months' service. We wanted 20,000 tried veterans; but, through some
mismanagement, they were kept back.
Nothing is more
trying than to have to stand under a dropping fire of shell and not be
able to return a shot. The enemy had the range of our trenches to a
nicety and could drop their shells into them just as they liked. We lost
a number of men, before we advanced to the attack, by this vertical
fire. B ut the grand struggle was now close at hand, when the Muscovites'
greatest stronghold was to be torn from their grasp.
I was close to
one of our generals, who stood watch in hand (the generals' watches had
been timed alike), when suddenly, at 12 o'clock, the French drums and
bugles sounded the charge, and with a shout of Vive I'Empereur! repeated
over and over again by some 50,000 men -- a shout that was enough to
strike terror into the enemy -- the French sprang, forward, headed by
at the Malakoff like a lot of cats. On they went like a swarm of bees,
or, rather, like the dashing of the waves of the sea against a rock.
We, in our
advanced works, had a splendid view. It was grand, but terrible.
deafening shouts of the advancing hosts told us they were carrying all
before them. They were now completely enveloped in smoke and fire, but
column after column kept advancing, pouring volley after volley into the
breasts of the defenders. They (the French) meant to have it, let the
butcher's bill be what it might!
At about a
quarter-past 12, up went the proud flag of France, with a shout that
drowned for a time the roar of both cannon and musketry.
And now came
our turn. We had waited for months for it, and at times almost longed
for it; but it was a trying hour. As soon as the French flag was seen
upon the Malakoff, our stormers sprang forward, led by Colonel Windham,
the old Light Division leading -- 300 men of the 90th, about the same
number of the 97th, and about 400 of the 2nd Battalion Rifle Brigade and
with various detachments of the Second and Light Division, and a number
of bluejackets carrying scaling ladders. It was a Norfolk man that led
us to the finishing stroke (Windham), and right well he did it -- it
was, 'Come on, boys, and I will show you the way!'
advanced splendidly with a ringing British cheer, although the enemy
poured a terrible fire of grape, canister, and musketry into them, which
swept down whole companies at a time. We, the supports, moved forward to
back up our comrades, but anyone with half an eye could see that we had
not the same cool, resolute men as at Alma
though some of the older hands were determined to make the best of a bad
job. I am happy to record that the old Inkerman men took it very coolly;
some of them lit their pipes -- I did the same.
A brave young
officer of ours, a Mr. Colt, told me he would give all he was worth to
be able to take it as comfortably as some of our people did -- it was
his first time under fire. He was as pale as death and shaking from head
to foot, yet he bravely faced the foe. The poor boy (for he was not much
more) requested me not to leave him; he fell dead by my side, just
outside the Redan.
Our people were
now at it in front. We advanced as quickly as we could until we came to
the foremost trench, when we leaped the parapet, then made a rush at the
bloodstained walls of the Redan -- we had a clear run of 200 yards under
a murderous fire of grape, canister, and musketry.
How ever anyone
lived to pass that 200 yards seemed a miracle. Our poor fellows fell one
on the top of the other; but nothing but death could stop us. The musket
balls whistled past us more like hail than anything else I can describe,
and the grape-shot cut our poor fellows to pieces; for we had a front
and two cross-fires to meet. It seemed to me that we were rushing into
the very jaws of death, but I, for one, reached the Redan without a
on the brink of the ditch, I considered for a moment how best to get
into it, for it appeared to be about twenty feet deep, with no end of
our poor fellows at the bottom, dead and dying, with their bayonets
sticking up. But the mystery solved itself -- our men came rushing on
with a cheer, and in we went, neck or nothing, scrambled up the other
side the best way we could, and into the redoubt we went with a shout
inside the works was desperate -- butt and bayonet, foot and fist.
enemy's guns were at once spiked. Some of the older hands did their best
to get together sufficient men for one charge at the enemy, for we had
often proved that they were no lovers of cold steel; but our poor
fellows melted away almost as fast as they scaled those bloody parapets,
from a cross-fire the enemy brought to bear upon us from the rear of
that work. The moss of that field grew red with British blood; after our
stormers had entered the Redan the enemy came at us in swarms, but were
kept back by the bayonet.
The struggle at
the Redan lasted about an hour and a half. The mistake that our generals
made was in not sending sufficient men. Twenty thousand men ought to
have been let loose, we should not then have lost anything like the
number we did, as very many officers and men were killed when retiring
-- but we had handled the enemy so roughly that they did not further
attempt to molest us.
officers and men were in ecstasies of admiration at the doings of our
people at the Redan and exclaimed, 'English, you have covered yourselves
with glory this day!' And now I fearlessly assert that the handful of
men who undertook that bloodstained work earned a rich wreath of laurels
that day. We were but a handful when compared with the vast hordes of
the enemy, but -- with all their strength -- they hesitated about coming
to close quarters. Had we had even ten thousand men with us, the
Russians would have gone into the harbour at the point of the bayonet,
or else been made to lay down their arms. But no; men were sent up in
driblets, to be slaughtered in detail!
hundreds who did enter that bloodstained fortification fought with
butt-end and bayonet, and not many returned without securing some token
in the shape of wounds more or less severe. Still, the few who did meet
the enemy taught them to respect us, for they no more dared to follow us
than they would a troop of lions.
We had not been
beaten though we were crushed by crossfires and heavy masses of men --
yet all the time our trenches were crowded with men eager to be let
loose at the enemy! We had a Wolseley with us, it is true, but he was
only in a subordinate position. We wanted such a man as he -- or Sir
Colin Campbell, or a Roberts -- and we should have carried all
before us. Then, in all probability, we should have had a star, but not
without some hard work for it. As it was, we got no star, though we had
for twelve long, dreary months to be continually fighting.
The night of
September, 1855, is one long to be remembered. Our camp was startled
by a series of terrible explosions, and we could not make out what was
up; but at length discovered that the enemy were retiring under cover of
the blowing up of their vast forts and magazines.
Oh, what a
night! It baffles all description. Many of our poor fellows were then
lying on the ground, having been wounded in all sorts of ways, with the
burning fortress all around them. The Redan was blown up, and a number
of our men went up with it, or were buried alive. Imagine the position
of the wounded lying just outside the Redan! The renowned 'Redan Massey'
was there weltering in his blood, together with a number of others,
while hundreds of tons of powder was exploding within 300 yards of them!
Those of the
wounded who managed to reach the camp were well looked after; our
doctors worked incessantly -- they threw their whole heart and soul into
it -- and all appeared to do their best. Men were continually being
brought home to camp with every description of wounds.
I myself was
carried thither, having received five wounds in different parts of the
body, my left hand shattered, and two nasty wounds in the head. I was
totally unconscious when taken out of the Redan, and for some hours
afterwards. An Irishman named Welsh
was instrumental in saving my life. He had noticed me fall, and when he
found that he had to retire from the Redan, he carried me up to the
ditch and let me slip in, and then, with assistance, got me out of it
and carried me across that terrible 200 yards, being shot through both
legs in doing so. Before he reached our leading trench, some other good
Samaritan picked me up and ran away with me.
At about 6 p.m.
I found myself in our front trench, with a dead 33rd man lying across
me. I got him off the best way I could and then tried to get up, but
found that I could not stand for I had almost bled to death. Dr. Hale,
V.C., did all he could for me; I then had to remain and take my chance
or turn of being carried to camp, where I arrived about 7.30 p.m., when
my wounds were dressed and a good cup of beef tea revived me.
the Ruins of Sevastopol,
September 14th, 1855
My Dear, Dear
Thank God I
have been saved alive through the grand but bloody struggle. You will
see this is not my writing. I may as well tell you that they have hit
me again. You will, most likely, see my name in the papers as badly
wounded, but you must not despair; I am at present very comfortable in
hospital, with one of my comrades to look after me, who now writes
this from my dictation.
I must tell
you they hit me on the head, in two places, and knocked my right hand
about rather badly, but I live in hopes of getting over this and will
warm them for it if ever I get a chance. Well, to my story.
with, I am happy to inform you that the town is taken at last, but it
has been -- as I always said it would be -- a hard nut to crack.
told you in my last that I did not think we should be long before we
were let loose at it. Everything was kept very quiet; the last, our
grand, bombardment opened on the morning of the 5th, and the roaring
of the heavy guns was something deafening.
I went into
the trenches on the night of the 6th, had a bit of rough work on the
night of the 7th. It was then that I began to smell a rat that
something was in the wind, I did not find out what was before me until
I reached the camp about 1 a.m. on the terrible 8th. I cannot now
describe that awful day's work which ended in a glorious victory.
I find our
loss and that of the French has been frightful; it is reported that
our united loss has been upwards of 12,000 killed, wounded, and
missing. I do hope that this will be the last item in the butcher's
bill. If we are to have any more fighting let's go at them in the open
field and then, if our numbers are anywhere near theirs, we will soon
let them know who will take possession -- they fight well behind
earthworks but they want a lot of Dutch courage into them to make them
show up in the open field. I hope you will be contented with what I
have said. I must not do any more today; I must keep quiet.
had a few hours' rest and feel that I should like to bring this letter
to a close and will, if I am spared, give you a long account of that
terrible fight that laid Sevastopol at our feet, and I am proud to say
that a great number of Norfolk and Suffolk men have helped to plant
our glorious old flag on the bloodstained walls of that far-famed
town, Sevastopol. The fighting, dear Parents, in the interior of the
Redan was desperate. When I come to recall it, it seems almost too
much for me. I cannot express my gratitude to the King of Kings and
Lord of Lords, who shielded my life -- I hope for some good purpose --
on those bloody parapets when my poor comrades fell like autumn leaves
all around, to rise no more. It seemed utterly impossible that any
I will write
again as soon as I get a little more strength -- so cheer up, dear
Parents! Tell Tom he had better eat some more beef and dumplings
before ever he thinks of soldiering; one in the family is quite enough
to be shot at, at a time! Tell poor mother to cheer up -- I will come
home to Norwich some day and give her as warm a greeting as the
Frenchmen gave me at Malta. I must now conclude. Give my kind regards
to all enquiring friends and believe me, dear Parents,
T. GOWING, Sergeant, Royal Fusiliers
P.S. -- What
a lot of nonsense they put in the papers -- it's only filling up stuff
or, in plain language, boast. Men had far better not write at all if
they cannot confine themselves to the truth, for they only get laughed
at as the papers are read in the camp. -- Yours &c. T.G.
I had to remain
for upwards of three months; but with careful attendance and a good
strong constitution, I was, by that time, ready for them again. As I did
not return to camp after the action, the comrade to whom I entrusted the
letter added this postscript:
PS -- Dear
Sir, I am truly sorry to have to conclude this kind letter: your noble
son fell inside the Redan (Sevastopol is taken). Your son, from the
day he joined the regiment, proved himself a credit to us, and a most
determined soldier. I have every reason to believe that he is now
where you would not wish to have him back from; a nobler death could
not have been met with than that in the hour of victory. I know, dear
Sir, it is hard for you to lose such a noble boy, but I hope the Lord
will give you strength to bear up under this trying blow. I am, dear
J. Holmes, Sergeant, Royal Fusiliers
I was brought
into camp in time to prevent the foregoing being dispatched, and after
my recovery added the following:
Ruins of Sevastopol,
You see that
I have, thank God, been spared to see what they had to say about me
after I was supposed to be dead. It is true that I fell inside the
Redan and was totally unconscious for some time, but, thank God,
though wounded heavily, am still where mercy is to be shown.
I was carried
home to camp and to the hospital just in time to save the above being
posted, but I will keep it as long as I live, and if I live to come
home will bring it with me, for truly I have had a merciful God
watching over me and am spared, I hope, for some good purpose, for
this wonderful God of ours can see from the beginning to the end; He
is the same unchanging God that the Patriarchs trusted in.
There is talk
and those who want to continue the war will, I hope, come out and show
us the way, as General Windham did on the 8th September last -- they
would most likely soon give in. I am not one of those who would have
peace at any price, but if I am allowed to express my opinion, I think
our ends have been gained. The Russians have been considerably
humbled. We have beaten them four times in four pitched battles, have
rent one of the strongest fortresses in the world from them, and I
think they have had enough of France and England.
If I am
spared to come home, I will bring this with me, as its contents might
be too much for my poor mother to bear.
rough but affectionate son,
T. GOWING, Sergeant, Royal Fusiliers
Our loss had
been very heavy, but that of our noble allies was fearful on that
terrible 8th September. They acknowledged: killed: 5 generals, 24 field
officers, 124 subalterns of various ranks, 2,898 non -- commissioned
officers and men; wounded: 10 generals, 26 field officers (8 missing),
229 subaltern officers, 4,289 non-commissioned officers and men, and
upwards of 1,000 missing; the total (or the finishing stroke of the
butcher's bill) was, as regards the French, 8,613.
Our loss was:
killed: officers, 29 (1 missing), non-commissioned officers 42 (12
missing), privates 361 (168 missing), wounded: officers, 144,,
non-commissioned officers 154, privates 1,918. A number of the missing
were afterwards found to have been killed. Total (killed, wounded, and
missing) 2,839; our loss -- for the numbers engaged -- was far greater
than that of our allies.
loss was something awful. They acknowledged a loss, from the 5th to the
8th September inclusive, of upwards of 25,000 officers, non-commissioned
officers, and men. Thus the final effort for the capture of this town
cost, in round numbers, between 55,000 and 40,000 men. Such are some of
the so-called 'glories' (but I would rather say 'horrors') of war!
The extent of
the spoil captured by the allies was almost incredible, notwithstanding
all that the Russians had expended or destroyed. The cannon of various
sizes numbered 3,840, 128 of which were of brass; a great number had
been thrown into the harbour to avoid their being taken. Round shot,
407,314; shell, 101,755; canister cases, 24,080; gunpowder, 525,000 lb.;
ball cartridges, 670,000 rounds; and other articles too numerous to
mention. The spoil was equally divided between our people and our
resources of the British Empire had been largely drawn upon before
haughty Russia could be humbled. The forces employed -- the greater
portion of which were carried there and back by the fleets of Old
England -- were: 210,000 French, 105,000 British, 40,000 Turks, 15,000
Piedmontese, with 1,500 guns and over 80,000 horses, to say nothing of
the enormous quantity of war material and food required for that great
host. This force had been confronted by far more than an equal number of
battles had been fought and won by the allies, followed by an arduous
and unparalleled siege of eleven months' duration, terminating in a
glorious victory and the total destruction of 118 ships of war, the
capture of a fortress defended by 6,000 pieces of cannon, and the final
defeat of an army of 150,000 men which defended it. Old England may well
be proud of her Army and her Navy!
inside the town, where the enemy had established their hospitals, baffle
all description. Some of our non-commissioned officers and men went into
those places and described the scenes as heart-rending and revolting in
Many of the
buildings were full of dead and dying mutilated bodies, without anyone
to give them even a drink of water. Poor fellows, they had well defended
their country's cause and were now left to die in agony, unattended,
uncared for, packed as closely as they could be stowed away, saturated
with blood, and with the crash of the exploding forts all around them.
They had served the Tsar but too well; there they lay, in a state of
nudity, literally rolling in their blood. Many, when our men found them,
were past all aid; others were out of their mind, driven mad by pain and
the appalling sights in the midst of which they were.
and men, both French and English, found their way there
indiscriminately, and at once set to work to relieve them. Medical aid
was brought as quickly as possible to them, but hundreds had passed
beyond all earthly assistance.
Such a Sunday!
Our men were struck with wonderment and horror at the awful scenes.
Though a soldier, and fully embued with the spirit of patriotism, I
would say with all my heart, 'From war good Lord deliver us!' The man
who delights in war is a madman -- I would put him in the thick of it
for just one day, and he would then know a little what war to the knife
Our men did
everything they could for those of the enemy in whom a spark of life was
found. Yes, the very men who only a few hours before had done all they
could to destroy life were now to be found, in their right minds, doing
all that lay in their power for their unfortunate foes, as well as
A soldier -- it
matters not what his rank -- must not for one moment, when engaged,
think what the consequences are or may be. It is his duty to destroy all
he can belonging to the enemy; in fact he is often worked up to such a
pitch that he becomes a perfect fiend, or, as the Russians called [them]
at the Alma, 'red devils in petticoats'. None but men who are mad could
do in cold blood the deeds that were performed by some of our men.
were fast decomposing and had to be interred at once; one common grave
answered for both friend and foe. The ditch in front of the Redan was
utilise for all who fell anywhere near it; those that fell in our
trenches were buried there, the parapets being, in both cases, thrown
upon them; the stench was almost unbearable for weeks afterwards. Some
two or three hundred rough-looking coffins were found in the town --
they were full, it was supposed, of officers, but the enemy had not had
time to bury them.
A steamer came
over from the north side on Monday, the 10th September, under a Rag of
truce and begged to be allowed to remove the wounded. The request was at
once granted, for our doctors were only too glad to get rid of them, as
they had plenty in their own camps to attend to. A very great number of
these poor fellows had been suffering intense agony for forty-eight
hours when, without even a drink of water, they were removed out of our
All our wounded
found in the town were carried as quickly as possible to camp, and then
the men set to work to get what they could for themselves out of the
midst of the ruins -- set to work plundering, if you choose to call it
so. But it was dangerous work and many of them lost their limbs -- and
some their lives -- through their foolishness, by the fire from the
enemy across the harbour. Some who were laden with all sorts of articles
were stopped by the officers, who wanted to know what they were going to
do with all that rubbish. The men would at once throw down their loads
and salute the officers, who repeated the question:
'What on earth
do you want with all that rubbish, my men?'
'An' sure, your 'onor, don't we mane to let furnished lodgings! '
carrying chairs, tables, bed -- cots -- in fact articles too numerous to
'Sure, your 'onor,
we are not going to let the Zouaves
have it all!'
Irish grenadier, when being rebuked for pilfering, answered:
your' onor, them nice gentlemen they call Zouaves have been after
emptying the place clane out. Troth, if the Divil would kindly go to
sleep for only one minute them Zouaves would stale one of his horns, if
it was only useful to keep his coffee in.'
gentlemen were capital hands at fishing up all that was likely to be
Some of our
Hibernian boys had got a good haul, and were making off as fast as
possible, when a party of Zouaves stopped them and wanted to go halves;
but Paddy was not half such a fool as he was taken for -- he would not
give up anything until he had found out which was the best man, so the
load was thrown down, and the Frenchmen were very soon satisfied and
only too glad to get out of the way.
It was a common
saying in camp that there was nothing too hot or too heavy for the
Zouaves to walk off with; and where there was room for a rat, there was
room for one of these nimble little gentlemen to get in. They proved
themselves all, during the fighting, troublesome customers to the enemy;
and now that the fight was over they distinguished themselves by
pilfering everything they could lay hands upon. But they did not get all
-- our huts were made very comfortable by the wood that our men brought
out of the town.