Letter number 21
Date: 8-9 June 1855 Recipient: Grace Fenton Letter book: Annie Grace Fenton letter-book, Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Museum of Photography, Film & Television, Bradford
June 8th 1855
The bombardment of the town recommenced the day before yesterday at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. I had gone to call on Gen Bosquet & was on my way there when suddenly all the batteries on our side began to send forth puffs of white smoke & soon the air was ringing with the increasing din. It was 7 minutes before any of the Russian guns replied. The fire was far more rapid than the last time & the guns heavier & nearer the town, so that before evening it was very plain that many of the enemy’s guns were silenced & their works much knocked about. I went to dine with Bosquet and reached his quarters just as he returned from a ride through his troops who cheered him with great vehemence. he settled after dinner that if the reports from the batteries continued next morning to be as favourable the French shd attack the Mamelon in the evening.
Next morning at head quarters I heard that the light division wd be called out either to support the French or to attack in a different point, so set out as I felt anxious about Corbett & Edmund who had promised to come to breakfast with me. On my road I went round by the different places whence a good view of the firing was to be had and was much pleased to see the great difference between this & the last bombardment. at the 88th I found that all the officers were ordered to stay in camp as they might be wanted — I engaged to dine with Corbett and as a lot of fellows called in & he had just received a parcel of claret every body got very merry. There were several collected in his tent discussing what was likely to be done when an orderly came round with a paper directing that Major Bailey shd form a body of 100 men as a storming party & shd take with him Capt Maynard, Beresford & Leut Grier, & that Capt Corbett shd take 150 men as a reserve with Capt Wray & other officers & that they shd parade at 4 o’clock. At first the news was received in silence for every one knew that it promised a terrible encounter, but soon excitement overcame apprehension & every one set to work in high spirits to prepare. It was nearly 4 & there was no time for them to get dinner. each one snatched up what he cd I made Edmund take something & did my best to see that all shd go out in a fit state of body to encounter fatigue. Crave [sic] said when we were alone “Now Roger my boy, we cd not breakfast with you to day but if we come out all right Tony & I will know [sic] you up to morrow at six & you shall take our likenesses. He ordered dinner to be got for me but I was too anxious to wait for it so took a part of an omelette that was ready & prepared to march a little way with them.
Before setting out he said, “Roger just stand sentry at my door for a bit while I read a little” & he read in his bible, I taking care that no one entered, Just then an officer came up with some money for him, & he paid off a few debts & said “Now then if I get back mind I dont owe anybody a shilling & thats more than some of you can say my boys.” I dare not go to Edmund for I knew he wd be thinking of his mother, as I was, & I did not wish to agitate him. Besides I knew that he wd not need reminding that in the midst of life we are in death.
While they were falling in I went down to the edge of the ravine down wh the troops were to march to the trenches before the attack[.] The French columns were approaching, Zouave’s leading. As they drew near our soldiers not on duty stood as a hedge on each side and cheered each regiment as they passed. Most of the French seemed wild with excitement tho’ some looked very anxious and well they might for it was certain that many of those voices cheering so loudly wd be still in death before the sun had set. When they had passed I went back to our columns and heard Genl Pennefather going amongst the men and begging them not to shout so as they were only giving the Russians notice of what was coming.
At the 88h I found Edmund standing beside his company and beside him instead of Grier a fine young fellow named Webb who had begged of the Col to allow him to go with the storming party instead of the reserve. he told me that he wished to go with Tony[.] Soon the Col came up and shook hands with me, & then gave the order to Major Bailey who cantered up & called out “now Tony make your men move on.” I went with them a little down the ravine, & when they halted there, shook hands with Edmund praying silently that the hand of God might protect him in the battle. There was no place whence the English attack cd be well seen, so I went up to the look out in front of our three mortar battery to watch the French assault the Mamelon. For a hour we waited and nothing cd be seen, the fire of our batteries was slack, but the Russians over our heads, from every gun they cd use and from their ships in order to hit the troops in their advance, for it was evident that the intention to assault was known.
At last with our glasses we cd see the French troops creeping along the inside of their advanced trenches wh seemed to get blacker, and blacker as the stream of men wound along the inside. a rocket went up from the Victoria redoubt on our right, & immediately every gun in our trenches, & in the French lines began to vomit out a stream of shot, & shell, the smoke wh condensing down formed far away to seaward a thick pall that the suns rays cd scarcely penetrate. This fire lasted as far as I remember 10 minutes or ¼ of an hour, while it lasted probably nothing more terrific was ever seen or heard. Then the French began to swarm across their own trenches & rush up the hill side to the Mamelon. At its base there was a sharp musketry fire for a few minutes, and then I saw first one or two then ½ a dozen, then scores on the parapet and leaping into the interior. For a time there was a sharp rattle of muskets and the flashes began to show in the twilight, but soon we saw them emerging on the other side, and rushing up to the Malakhof “Hurrah they’ve got the Mamelon,” & “ By Jove they are going for the Malakhof,” Well done the French.” We soon saw however that there was a check. Instead of climbing the parapet as at the Mamelon, they spread themselves out in front and kept firing away without advancing. From the interior globes of fire, bursting with a thousand sparkles were constantly hurled among them, rifles spit out their fire and one or two guns fit for use ploughed thro’ their ranks. Their line got thinner, I saw fellows stealing away back to the Mamelon and in a few minutes the attacking fire seemed to have melted away to nothing. There was a slight pause, but while congratulating each other that at last the Mamelon was taken, musketry was heard on the other side of it and I saw something like a dark serpent turning up the hill leaving the Russian trenches, while trying to believe they were a French reinforcement stragglers began coming out of the Mamelon then a crowd, and then the whole body was hurrying down the hill & the breast work of the Mamelon was crowded with Russians, firing into their retreating enemy. The heavy guns wh had partially stopped began again, and the Malakhof as a sort of bravado fired a gun at us as we looked on.
a mortar at the left of it had been firing at us all the time for we were a conspicuous group, and their missiles kept coming over our heads, each time clearing us more narrowly. Several round shot too whirred past, & a few were right thro’ among us, being sufficiently spent for us to see them, & get to one side. One poor fellow, a navvy got confused I suppose when the cry arose of “Here’s a round shot, look out” & was struck on the side of the head & got killed on the spot. A Sardinian officer had his sword torn from his side by another shot but was not hurt. I never thought I cd have been so indifferent while shells were bursting in front, on each side, & behind but the absorbing interest of the struggle before us almost conquered every feeling of fear, After a pause of ½ an hour during wh we were all exceedingly depressed at the defeat the French had sustained. A trumpet in their trenches sounded the ‘Pas de charge, and again a swarm of men issued from the lines, and advanced to the attack. There was a short, but fierce fire at the edge of the Parapet, & then we thought we cd see that one of the figures on the parapet against the sky line was waving a flag and beckoning the assailants on & soon a few men were seen jumping into the inside & soon the parapet was alive with men firing into the inside. By degrees the parapet was clear, but the fire inside seemed gradually to retreat & it was evident that the French had retaken the fort.
While this was going on an aide du camp [sic] came up with a bit of paper to Genl Codrington, who commanded the light division in Sir G Browns absence[.] He read it & immediately mounted, & rode off, ordering all officers of the light division then present to follow him. We soon learnt that the English were hard pressed, & that Col Shirley who commanded the attack had written to say he cd not hold the quarries wh he had taken unless reinforcements were sent to him. I waited a little longer to see if the French were likely to hold their conquest & seeing they seemed secure, I thought I would go down to the 88h & see if any news had come up; On my road I learnt that Major Bailey had been brought in badly wounded. I made straight for Edmund’s tent, & found him there talking to the Dr in bed & his arm bound up & his night gown stained with blood. he had been shot thro’ the arm, tho’ no bone was broken or artery injured[.] His wound was dressed & he was looking very cheerful, tho’ rather faint & very thirsty. I made him up at once a drink of lemon juice & water & sugar with a little of Corbett’s claret to revive him. He drank it off greedily, & then I got him some hot tea & he seemed as comfortable as the increasing pain wd permit him to be. The Dr says his wound is not at all serious, it will most likely leave nothing more than a mark upon him.
When we were alone he told me that when they rushed into the pits he was the 2d man in, an officer of the 77h being in before him that at first he was only followed by one sergeant who said to him “Capt Maynard I’ll follow you anywhere” & that it was not till he shouted to his men that the Russians were retreating that the men followed in. So many of them were quite boys that this is not suprising. After holding the pits a while, the Russians returned to the charge & being out flanked they had to halt. Edmund says that while rallying his men for the 2d attack he felt himself hit, & got confused & faint & immediately grew very thirsty. he was carried out by 2 men on a stretcher but feeling great pain from the motion got up & walked the greater part of the way, getting a glass of water when he got to the first tents. He cd not tell me anything about the rest. The Dr told me that Major Bailey in the next tent was shot thro’ the stomach & it was evident that he considered him in great danger[.] Officers kept coming in to see Edmund, & to bring scraps of news. Meanwhile I got a blanket out of Corbett’s tent, laid it on the ground in Tony’s tent & borrowing another made up a bed. When we were alone he asked me to read him something out of the bible so I read the 103 & other similar psalms & I am sure we were both heartily grateful to God for his mercy in sparing Edmund’s Mother the sorrow of losing her dear son.
By & bye an officer came in to say that Webb was killed was killed [sic], poor fellow when he told me he had got leave to go with Tony I looked at his handsome face & felt horrified at the idea of his thus offering himself up for slaughter. His body has not been found but it is said to be lying on the hill close to the parapet of the Redan. Soon there came a murmur that Crowe was killed. Meanwhile wounded men were going past, some carried, others staggering along to their own quarter, groaning, or asking water, or faintly asking their way. Towards eleven a detachment of a 100 men who had been sent down to act as support if needed, came back & brought news that poor old Crowe had been shot thro’ the head & killed on the spot while leading up the reserve, & that Wray also was missing when the muster roll was called. As no certaintly cd be obtained I determined to get Edmund quiet for the night. The Dr gave him an opiate & I mixed up for him a large cup of cooling drink, & shut up the tent. He did not sleep however, tho’ I cd not help doing so.
Early this morning I got him some cocoa & biscuits as he was faint & then set off to head quarters to let them know where I was. On my return I found poor old Corbetts body in his tent lying on the bed where 24 hours before he had been lolling in the full enjoyment of life & with a hearty relish for fun. Wray was lying dead in the next tent, a cheerful, winning looking fellow who seemed made for life, and happiness. Out of 5 officers of the 88th who were in Crowe’s tent when the order to “fall in” 3 were dead 1 wounded & only 1 unhurt. That one Beresford came up at that moment from the trenches his clothes torn, boots split across & haggard looking eyes. He told us how the Russians had met them when they advanced in front & on both flanks & how Crowe on one side & Wray on the other had fallen dead almost together. You will not be surprised that I felt wretched about their loss. I was very intimate with both of them. In an hour I am going to see them laid in their last resting place.
It is said that the French attack the Malkhof tower & our men the Redan. the town is now on fire in several places. The French have been hard at work all day connecting the Mamelon with their own lines & our men have I suppose been doing the same in the quarries. The batteries have been throwing shells into the Redan & Malakhof wh have kept quiet most likely reserving their efforts for tonight.
I will put in a line tomorrow before post. I have written to Charlie so that he may tell your Mother about Edmund’s wound. Poor Bailey died at midnight after great suffering. The 88h lost 4 officers killed, 3 wounded. It is said that there are 40 officers of the light division killed and wounded how many men we do not yet know. I have done my work & have nothing to do but sell my things & look out for a vessel. I am much hindered by Sparling who has been drinking a good deal lately, and has in consequence a bad attack of dysentry wh has laid him on the shelf. I got a letter from Joe this morning and one from Agnew. Edmund will perhaps have to go home, certainly he will if he wishes and before he can get fit for duty the heavy fighting before Sebastopol will be over. I am constantly thinking of you now, and wishing that I were with you. Please God! it wont be long now.
June 9th Just after I left off writing Lord Raglan came up, and enquired for the wounded officers & came to Edmunds tent, and enquired how he was hit. he staid about 5 minutes then shook hands & went away. The other officers say that he will get a brevet Majority but we must not be too sanguine about this[.] Col Shirley came up from the trenches about the same time, he says the attack was most splendid & well managed throughout[.] I gather from all I can hear that it was after having taken the rifle pits, & a work in advance of them, that being short of ammunition & the Russians advancing in great numbers Major Bailey withdrew his men to the rifle pits wh they had taken, that then the Russians advanced, & Bailey & Edmund called out “Come on 88th” & charged them with the bayonet & drove them back. then Bailey & Edmund again withdrew their men to the rifle pits to wait for ammunition, when this was done Edmund saw a place where a few men cd annoy the Russians much & went to ask the Col to let him put some there. he had placed some, & was going back to bring some more when he was struck. We buried the 3 poor fellows [ — ] Corbett in the middle, a crowd of officers followed them[.] Corbett’s testament was found on his body. Wray was an only child. I slept in Edmund’s tent again, he is all right only a little pale. I have [blank] to your mama this morning:
Good Bye Honey.