Letter number 16
Date: 26 May 1855 Recipient: Grace Fenton Letter book: Annie Grace Fenton letter-book, Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Museum of Photography, Film & Television, Bradford
May 26h 1855
Sea of Azoph.
Just look at the date of this letter and then at your map to find out exactly where Yenicale is and then set yourself into your easy chair and read the story that I am going to write you about the life of the last few days led by the British, French & Turkish force under the command of Sir George Brown and especially about the adventures of that important portion of it represented by the inditor of this letter;
I think in my last I told you that I had left General Bosquet’s and was at Genl Barnards. Well, I staid there 2 days on one of which I set off with young Capt Barnard and had a ride to the sea side and had a delicious bathe before breakfast. Having done there I moved to Sir R Englands at 5 in the morning of the 22nd intending to remain a day there and then go on to Headquarters; I worked till breakfast time & then heard that the expedition to Kertch was about to be renewed; Having been again ill with diarhea [sic] tho’ not so badly as at first, I decided that it wd do me good to have a little change so gallopped [sic] off to Head Quarters, got an order from Lord Raglan to go as an engineer officer, on Col Gordon’s staff, no civilians being allowed to accompany the expedition. I took my fur wrapper, carpet bag & the case of my bed to lie on, on the ground at night, & set off to Balaclava, got on board the Bahiana a steamer in wh the officers of the staff were to embark & then set myself to watch what was going on. Immense excitement, & confusion people getting into the wrong ship & being kicked out — horses being hoisted in & stowed in the hold & on deck, Officer’s servants arranging their master’s baggage mule drivers, Commisariat drivers, soldiers & sailors tumbling over one another along the deck.
We had a jolly dinner at 4 hock, port, sherry, & champagne, all the while the row going on overhead. Hallewell, Col Airey, & a lot more of my acquaintance were of the party. Next morning we got out of the harbor, waited outside for a ship we were to tow & then set off with it along the South coast of the Crimea. We passed first along a succession of precipitous rocks without any houses or pathways, till about noon we came to a slope on wh were a number of farm houses & villas & a little later we passed Prince Woronzoffs mansion near Yalta. We did not see it well for a heat fog came on.
At sunrise, next morning we were off Cape Takli, with a great number of transports, steamers, gunboats, 2 French men of war & 3 English one of wh was the Royal Albert[.] It was a beautiful sight. The sea had been as smooth as a pond all the way, the sky without a cloud, & the fleet went round the Cape & steered in towards the straits in two lines — it formed a beautiful perspective [referring to original sketch] We went down slowly, the steam gun boats leading, towards the entrance of the straits as we got near the land we cd see a great lot of vessels making off up the straits & then 2 of our steamers, & a French went off after them apparently, but when the first wh was an English vessel came opposite the point a battery opened upon her & she returned the fire.
By this time the fleet was near the land & boats were laid out with troops in ready for landing[.] We were as you may imagine all looking out with our telescopes to see what resistance wd be opposed to the landing & great excitement arose when a cloud of dust was seen on the brow of a hill in front & a body of cavalry was seen galloping down towards the landing place. As they came near one of the gunboats wh by this time into the little work C [referring to original sketch] where there was a village & a beautiful flat beach fired a shell right into the middle of them on which they scattered into small groups & kept riding about watching but not attempting resistance. As the boats with the troops approached the beach, there suddently shot up from the fort in the front a great column of smoke with a lound explosion. The Russians had blown it up. & soon after followed several other explosions one of wh caused a tremendous concussion. We saw the garrison going away up the hill side. There was a great cheer thro’ the fleet. It was evident that the Russians were not strong enough to resist the landing
The French landed first in beautiful style, & then our men, marching away as they landed to get onto the ridge of the high land above the flat beach. This beach seemed only a narrow strip from the ships, but it was above a mile wide. Hallewell & Airey went off as soon as the first lot of troops landed to superintend the disembarkation of the rest & of the horses & transport corps. I stopped on board till dinner time 4 PM thinking it wise to stow as much good victuals as I could before starting; Every man had been ordered to take two days provisions, Hallewells servant drew mine, but I took a fair supply internally & then accompanied the capt of our ship in his own boat ashore.
What a sight a beautiful beach covered with long rough grass & wild flowers, 2 or 3 fishing boats with their nets a couple of stone cottages with thatched roofs & a low sandy plain stretching to a ridge of high gound behind in the morning had formed the whole of the picture, now, the beach was strewn with baggage of every description, horses were splashing thro’ the water on to the shore, men dressed in every kind of garment that was ever worn, were rushing about, scrambling, swearing, shouting & laughing (a vast deal of the latter) servants were keeping guard over their master’s luggage & packing it onto mules & baggage horses. My bag & bed were thrown on the shore I sat down on them & began to calculate my chance of getting any further. I had brought no horses being told we shd get right to Kertch & horses wd only be in the way. I saw that all my advisers had brought both horses & servants
The medical profession came to my aid. Dr Alexander deputy inspector general had got 4 horses & told his servants to hoist my baggage on to a pack saddle with his, offering me at the same time a corner of his tent till we cd get somewhere. You may be sure I did not refuse. After wandering about enjoying the odd scenes that met me on every side & being scandalised by the burning of one of the poor fishermen’s cottage by the French & the wrecking of another the question was started “where are we to camp for the night?” The Dr objected to the present site as feverish looking, in spite of its agreeable aspect. Inquiring for Sir George’s head quarters we were directed by Hallewell to some houses on the ridge about a mile off; We resolved to go there;
As it was getting dusk there was no time to lose, so the baggage was hurried on to the horses backs, & we set off the Dr riding, we 2 got on a head till turning round the Dr missed his followers “Damn those fellows, they’ll be getting lost,” Off he set, I waited on the spot. It got quite dark & I watched thro’ the gloom every group that passed, helping now & then drivers whose mules had kicked off their loads & thinking now & then what I shd do if my friends were to take another route, when at last they came up & we trudged along to the base of the ridge. The ascent was so steep that the loads of 2 of the pack horses broke down, lots of others French & English were in the same plight, every body entreating his neighbour’s assistance & abusing his own horses & mules wh resented the insults by kicking at the baggage as it lay about their legs & sending it spinning down the hill[.] We got it of course up at last & unpacked it & prepared for bivouacking[.] The house we were directed to was close by & we congratulated ourselves in being in a good position for an early start next morning
I had picked up a lot of barrel staves to make a fire with. Before pitching the tent we inquired if the general were at the house indicated & were told that the English were away along the ridge to the right. Every body telling the same story we had nothing to do but load the horses again & set off. This was done better or worse, but generally worse, for every 100 yards something or other dropped off & the whole load turned round[.] It was not pleasant [ — ] nothing like so jolly as our landing on the beach, all sunshine & fun had been, We went along slowly thro’ long tangled grass & thistles guided by the light of a large hay rick burning fiercely, seeing as figures passed between us & the flame that others were going in the same direction. There was a light a long way off, to wh we steered making very slow progress from the constant break downs of our baggage, we met people now & then who told us to go towards the light & we shd find the English Quarters, As we got near the light became a series of watch fires & the sounds rising from them told us they were French[.] We were there directed to another light far off in the same line, wh as we approached turned out to be another French regiment[.] it was 12 o’clock, we were too tired to speak to one another, it was evident we had lost our way: the Dr & I took council & resolved to stay where we were, the baggage was soon down & the horses picketted & while the tent was being pitched I lay down with my head on a pack saddle & fell fast asleep, When they had got it up & made the Drs bed they woke me, & I unrolled my bed case laid it on the ground in the tent wrapped my fur blanket round me put my carpet bag for a pillow & in a moment was fast asleep;
At 3½ before the sun was fairly up we were roused by the French near us getting ready to march[.] We got up, with a very ill grace tho’, & the Dr set off on horseback to find the whereabouts of our men. Meanwhile I rolled up my bed & the men struck the tent. Lest we shd have to go on at once I eat [sic] a bit of biscuit & drank some water, but the Dr came back soon & said that we had come to the extreme right of the line [referring to original sketch] & that as the march wd be in that direction we shd have time to make a fire & get some tea. The wood I had carried was soon split up & the kettle on with the tea in it. Half a chicken was produced & as the sun got up & we got fed we recovered our jollity, all but the horses for we had no water for them, having only got by a long walk of one of the men enough water to make tea. Meanwhile one of the staff came up & told us that we had been quite right at first & that Sir George & they did sleep in the very house at wh we had at first stopped; I shd tell you that not a soul of the inhabitants were to be seen, all had left. we saw some of the latest with my glasses in the morning from the ships going away in carts & one group left the village while the French were firing shells into it to protect the disembarcation;
While we were packing up (more carefully this time) the French had marched off in the van, followed by the Turks & the 79th 42nd, 93rd & 71st Highland regiments brought up the rear. They had all disappeared behind some low hills before we started. However we soon overtook our men & a beautiful sight it was to see them marching down the reverse of the hills on wh we stood.
There were no Russians in sight & it was evident by the blowing up of their forts that they did not think themselves in force enough to resist. In about 4 miles we came to Kertch a very pretty town beautifully situated along the bay All the authorities were gone & the best houses had their shutters closed, but there were lots of Tartars who bowed & smiled & seemed in high glee. A good many of Russians of the smaller shop keepers were still there & many Greeks, They all looked very frightened & with good reason as far as the French & Turks were concerned. A good many women stood in the doors & peeped out of the windows. By Sir George’s order no one was allowed to break the ranks, sentries were placed at the doors of their principal houses & public buildings & the army marched thro’ the town without stopping except for a few minutes when something ahead obstructed the march. The people brought out water for the soldiers who were overcome with thirst & heat, As the army did not stop it was evident that it was intended to go on to the entrance of the sea of Azoph where the night we had seen heavy firing in the distance returned by some of our steamers,
But the mail is just leaving so I must defer the rest. I slept last night on the bare ground. I have been twice in the sea this morning & shall probably dip again to night. We expect to return to Balaclava within the week, I am quite recovered & feel in first rate condition. I have a great deal to tell you but now will say no more than that I send my very best love, am quite sick of soldiering & shall be very glad when Providence allows me to see you again my dear wife & children. I have nearly done at the camp & am preparing to return
Good bye dearest
P.S. I am writing this in a house the windows mostly smashed Turks & French putting in their heads to look for plunder & breaking the remains of the windows when they see there is nothing for them.