British Foreign Policy 1815-65
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Source: Christopher Hibbert's The Destruction of Lord Raglan (Longmans, 1961), used here with the author's kind permission. Copyright, of course, remains with Dr. Hibbert. This document has been taken from its primary location on The Victorian Web
The French, who had had far fewer horses to disembark and a much better transport system than the British, had been ready for two days, and St. Arnaud had not troubled to disguise his impatience with the muddle and slowness of his allies. On at least two occasions he had clattered into their headquarters, surrounded by his aides and the Spahis of his escort, to ask when they would be ready and to remind Lord Raglan that both his own army and that of the Turks were waiting for them.
Reveille was sounded in the camps on the 19th at three o'clock in the morning, but it was six hours later before the advance began. For most of these six hours the French were bugling and drumming impatiently as the English in an agonising muddle, first of all in darkness and then in the early morning light, swarmed all over the beach, digging graves, carrying stretchers, dragging back to the boats the equipment and supplies they were unable to carry with them. [Many supplies were thrown away. Hugh Annesley filled a stocking with tea-leaves from one of six chests that the Commissariat had decided to abandon.] There was no time to cook their meat, which they had to carry raw; there was no time even for some of them to fill their canteens with water at the single well.
By nine o'clock, when at last they were ready, the armies marched off to the south in brilliant, hot sunshine. The French, claiming the side of precedence, were on the right between the British and the sea, and were thus largely protected from attack. The British, on the other hand, were exposed on three sides to an unknown country; and a more experienced general than Lord Raglan would have had cavalry patrols and contact squadrons well out in his front and on his flank to guard against surprise. His army marched, however, in a dangerously compact mass.
Lord Cardigan led the way with the 13th Light Dragoons and the 11th Hussars; Lord Lucan was on the exposed left with the 8th Hussars followed by the 17th Lancers; Lord George Paget with the 4th Dragoons brought up the rear. Between them, protected at front and back by companies of the Rifle Brigade in extended order, the five infantry divisions marched in solid phalanxes with the sixty guns of the artillery rumbling along in neat groups of twelve on their right. Behind the 3rd Division a ragged herd of cattle and sheep, and the bullocks, camels and horses pulling the creaking country carts, tramped over the soft turf, 'as green and smooth as a racecourse'.
It was a lovely undulating countryside. In places the ground was covered with fern and lavender and some strange herb which no one recognised. Crushed under thousands of heavy boots it gave up a curious smell, strong and bitter.
At the head of each division, regimental colours fluttered proudly from their corded staves and regimental bands played cheerful marching songs to which the men supplied their own obscenely humorous verses.
But neither the gaiety nor the energy lasted long. The sun grew hotter as the sea breeze dropped, throats became dry with thirst, the bands stopped playing and parties had to be sent back to bring up stragglers, trailing wearily, hundreds of yards behind the marching columns. Although everything not needed on the march - including, by Lord Raglan's order, their leather stocks - had been sent on board the ships, which followed the army like shadows up the coastline, even their unaccustomedly light loads were more than many of the troops could bear. Men talking happily with their neighbours would suddenly fall silent and then their throats would choke with vomit, their faces blacken and they would stumble out of the ranks in the agonies of cholera. The most frightening thing about this cholera, Captain Biddulph told his father, was the suddenness with which it attacked you. A man might be cheerful, healthy and contented, taking a sip from his canteen, perhaps, during a rest on the march; and then a few minutes later the cholera would be on him and four hours later he could be dead.
The farther south the armies marched the more deserted the landscape became. All the cattle had been driven off by the Cossacks, and even the hares which before had leapt out of the paths of the advancing columns in every direction were now few and far between. Smoke poured from burning villages and the once white walls of farmyards were scorched and blackened. Soldiers entering farmhouses to enjoy a rest out of the glare of the sun found them empty and silent. Even the furniture had gone. Hanging from the ceiling beams were perhaps a few bundles of dried herbs or a row of saucepans and on the walls the gaudy pictures of saints.
The worst ordeal was the thirst. Many of the troops had been thirsty for days. Water was scarce on the transports and even scarcer ashore. The rain which fell during the storm of the 17th had soon soaked away into the dry, cracked earth, and the wells which had been dug produced only brackish water. What water the troops could now find on the march was undrinkable. The rims of their mouths became alarmingly tinged with blue. By midday the army was unable to march for more than half an hour at a time without a rest. When the men were ordered to fall in again many of them fell to their knees, begging for water and close to delirium. They dropped their greatcoats in the blazing heat and threw away their shakos, and the columns behind tramped wearily over them; and then unable to bear the agony of marching any longer the men themselves crumpled to the ground until bodies and accoutrements of all sorts lay about in such confusion that it was difficult for the regiments at the rear to thread their way through them. Men of the 3rd Division threw their rifles on to the tops of the baggage carts and clung to the sides like drowning men to lifeboats. Lady Errol on her mule, and her French maid on another mule behind her, were almost concealed by the rifles of sick men from Lord Errol's regiment.
With the sound of their boots muffled by the fern and thyme and lavender, the army now marched in foreboding silence. The rumble of the gun-carriage wheels, the creaking of the country carts, the groans and wearily muttered curses, the chink of the cavalry, were the only sounds that were heard above the ceaseless chatter of the larks that sang and fluttered happily against the bright blue sky as if in cruel mockery.
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