Letter number 24
Date: 18 June 1855 Recipient: Grace Fenton Letter book: Annie Grace Fenton letter-book, Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Museum of Photography, Film & Television, Bradford
June 18th 1855
We have just passed through what seems to be a hideous dream. Last night after a continuous, and apparently successful bombardment of 24 hours it was resolved the assault in the Malakhof shd be made by the French & on the Redan by the English early in the morning. Every one seemed to be certain of success. “Stop over tomorrow,” I heard on every side and you will see the inside of Sebastipol; We had a merry evening every body anticipating a short, tho’ perhaps sharp struggle, and a triumphant close to this terrible seige; Those who ventured to hint that the place was strong, its defenders brave men, & that they might give us trouble yet, were few & unheeded.
The attack was to be made with the first blush of dawn, few of us went to bed[.] I slept for a couple of hours, but rose at 1½ got a cup ot tea & with two others set off on horseback in the dark across to Cathcart’ s hill whence an excellent view of the attack on the redan was to be obtained. Lord Raglan was out at 2 & went down into the advanced trenches. When we got to the ground, twilight was just appearing we went down the hill towards the batteries & found a few more spectators sitting on the grass looking thro’ the mist to make out the outlines of the town. As the light began to dawn the dark mass of the Redan began to show dimly above the fog [ — ] the batteries were firing hard, the town was on fire in 3 places & lurid smoke rose curling above the white cloud that enveloped all the batteries. The mamelon cd scarcely be seen, but its place was indicated by the flashes rising from it, & the Malakhof was quite invisible, but shells continually bursting in & over it showed us where it was.
Before sunrise a rocket rose perpendicularly from fort Victoria, & instantly there began a rattle of musketry wh rolled round the base of the Malakhof now seming to climb its side, and again receding, but, growing louder every minute, we cd see nothing, not even the outline of the hill, & cd only judge of the progress of the contest by the sound of the musketry. Meanwhile our batteries kept up a very sharp fire of shells & every 2 minutes a rocket rushed up behind us with a roar, & glided thro’ the sky into the Town. The sun rose & began to dissipate the mist & the Mamelon came out pretty clear & by degrees the Malakhof, battered, round furrowed with the crater where shells had burst, but spitting out fire from every aperture. The French were hidden by one of our batteries intervening & every eye was strained to catch a glimpse of them swarming up the steep sides of the Malakhof when they shd succeed in getting high enough for us to see them. We never saw them[.] Russian officers we cd see standing on the parapet braving the fire & pointing to their men where to aim there [sic] guns. After a while in front of us rose another rattle of musketry indicating that our troops were attacking the Redan. It became difficult to distinguish how matters were going, for the musketry became incessant & as it became faint on one side it grew louder in another, but still we cd see flashes from both the forts showing that the Russians were still in possession. The first onset of the French evidently failed, their fire diminished, then it revived again, & thro’ the smoke a flag was unfurled on the top of the Malakhof & we all cried out, “they are in at last now for the Redan” but we were soon undeceived the flag was hoisted by the Russians either as a defiance, or more probably to let their own batteries know that they were still in possession & to prevent them firing into it.
The attack seemed to be several times renewed but each time the musketry was fainter. By this time it was 8 o’clock; the wind had risen & cleared away the mist & in the clear morning sun we cd see every thing that stirred. I could see with my glass our storming party clustering like bees in the quarries & lying like long black lines under the shelter of the trenches taken from the Russians last week. Nearer, behind our batteries lay a double line of redcoats ready to go in as a reserve & when it was evident that both we & the French had been beaten back the guards & Highlander [sic] were marched to act as a second reserve for a final attack[.] While waiting to see what wd result of this, sad rumours began to spread among the crowd of officers & spectators gathered in the large crowds along the edge of Cathcart’s hill, Sir John Campbell my kind host from 6 weeks back was said to be killed as well as the Col of the 57 Col Shadforth. Soon the rumour became a certainty & gloom was seen in every face for no man was more beloved by the whole army than Sir John.
By & bye slightly wounded men came up, supported by the other soldiers & the tale they told confirmed all our fears. Our men had attacked twice, & been driven back each time by a frightful fire of grape. Next an officer was borne up on a litter. They had spread green boughs over his face to keep the sun from him, he was a Capt Lee (?) I think of the 57. Soon the wounded came up in number. After waiting an hour, and there being no signs of an immediate renewal of the attack, I accepted an invitation to breakfast from Gough lieutenant of the Naval brigade. On the way an ambulance came up & in it a naval officer named Cave shot thro’ the thigh. He said to Gough. “It has been a disgraceful attack, no management, no orders” We saw him to his tent, & sat down to breakfast. Litter after litter came pouring in bringing wounded men to the Hospital, one poor fellow a seaman was brought in dead. Gough spoke of him as one of his best men, so I went to look at him. One cd scarcely believe he was dead, he seemed just to be resting a little, beside him lay sewn up in a blanket a sailor killed yesterday in my sight by a fragment of a shell. I went into the hospital. It was an awful sight, but I will not shock you with the description. Returning to breakfast for it is an odd thing that in the midst of all these horrors no one loses his appetite.
News kept dropping in first of one officer then of another of the naval brigade being wounded. We had scarcely heard of the escape of one of them named Kidd when he was brought in mortally wounded by a shot through the chest, he had got through the fight & was quite happy, & elated at his escape when he saw some of our men lying outside the trench, & in the attempt to drag them in got his death wound. We went into the Hospital where he lay, poor fellow he turned his glazing eyes upon us, then closed them, panting vainly for breath. he died in a few minutes. Out of 60 of the naval brigade only 12 came out intact[.] News kept coming of well known names that were henceforth to be only memories. Col Yea was killed by the same shot wh took off poor Sir John Campell’s head. Col Tylden was shot through both thighs & several regiments suffered terribly in their officers.
Going back to Cathcart’s hill there came on a terrible storm of wind, sweeping up a cloud of dust that darkened the whole air. The crowd of spectators had disappeared & we heard that there was to be no further attack, I went on to see Hallewell, found him lying in his tent trying to keep up his spirits with a bottle of champagne. he was taken with bad spasms in a few minutes & we had to rub his limbs hard for some time before he came round. It was the effect of hard work, &, no sleep, he is not hurt. I then went to Edmund, he is up & getting on nicely & wd be soon well but that his wound runs very much & keep [sic] him weak. It is said that their fine old Col Shirley is missing[.] I hope it is not true
19h he has turned up, wounded in the hand[.] Such is our anniversary of the 18h of June[.] In our confidence of success we had chosen this day, it is said that on the anniversary of Waterloo, a victory common to both nations might efface from the minds of one the recollection of their former defeat, but we reckoned too proudly & now the 18h of June will be a glorious day for the Russians.
19th I have just got news of the Orinoco being about to return, & am going to try to return by her. There is no talk of a fresh assault[.] It is said now that both French & English will have to work by sap into the two forts. The 38h & 2 other regiments it seems carried the part of the enemy’s position for wh they were appointed, but the rest having been missed, they cd not move forward & wd have been annihilated had they tried to return in daylight They got back to our trenches last night at 10 having sheltered themselves during the day as well as they cd among the ruined houses that cover the slope on the left of the Redan. Our loss is not yet known but the 18h 38h 57h & 44h have suffered very severely. It is supposed that we have lost near 1500 men & the French 5000. They always attack in much greater numbers than we do, & so, suffer more. Our engineers say that the defect is owing to Genl Pelissier’s advancing the attack by 2 hours, thus preventing our batteries from silencing the guns wh the Russians had got into the Redan during the night, so that our men when they advanced from the trenches were met with a tremendous fire of grape. I incline to think that the failure of the attack was not owing to Genl Pelissier, but to our own presumption in undervaluing the resistance to be expected.
What’s to be done now? no one can guess, except that it will now be a long time before the town is taken. Engineer officers say we go at it again. Other officers say we shall never take it till the last engineer officer is hanged, & that the proper way is to lick the enemy at Scimpheropol & then the town. Capt Peel who was wounded yesterday close to the ditch of the Redan says that it can be taken. Last night a soldier of the 89h came up & asked to see Lord Raglan. Col Steel [sic] asked him what he wanted & was told that the privates of the regiment had sent him to offer on their part to storm the Redan if he wd give them one regiment as a support. The men generally do not seem discouraged but their loss has been small in comparison with that of officers.
It is awfully hot again now, one drinks like a fish. I reckoned yesterday that I took 17 tumblers of liquid, 9 of wh were tea, 2 champagne & the rest beer. If this army is distinguished by any character from all others that we read of in History it is that it is a perspiring one. Our clothes are always wringing wet, we are obliged to wash all over twice a day. Well I shall be able in a very short time I hope to tell you all these things instead of writing them, so good bye.
I hope that this will be my last letter, or at any rate the last but one. Dont let the little boy that Annie is to have come before my return.