Friday, October 8, 2010

When the battle rages

Today is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Ash Windham, a British soldier who distinguished himself in Crimea, served in India, and became commander of the British Forces in Canada. While in Crimea, he kept a diary which was published over a century ago and is now freely available online. This is the third diarist - after Edward Cooper Hodge and Florence Nightingale - connected to the Crimean War to be featured by The Diary Junction Blog.

Windham, the fourth son of Admiral William Windham, of Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk, was born on 8 October 1810. Educated at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, he entered the Coldstream Guards at the age of 16. He served in Canada during Papineau’s rebellion against British treatment of French-Canadians, and rose through the army ranks to Captain and Lieut.-Colonel in 1846. In 1849 he retired on half pay and, in the same year, married Marianne Catherine Emily, daughter of Admiral Sir John Beresford.

On the outbreak of the Crimean War, Windham was appointed Assistant Quartermaster-General to the 4th Division, commanded by Sir George Cathcart and then Lord Raglan. He is best remembered for his part in the assault on Redan, one of the Russian fortifications at Sebastopol. Subsequently, he was appointed Governor of a part of Sebastopol. On returning to England, he was knighted, and served briefly as an MP, before being sent to Calcutta during the Indian Mutiny, where he defended the town of Cawnpore, and was in command of Lahore until his return to England in 1861.

Windham was knighted in 1865, and married for a second time in 1866. The following year he sailed again to Canada to serve as commander of the British Forces there. He died at Jacksonville, Florida, in 1870. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography has the only detailed biography of Windham online (though a subscription or library card is required for access). A little further information is available from the auctioneer Christies (which sold a vase given to Windham by his ‘friends in Warwickshire for his services during the Crimean War’).

In 1897, Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner published The Crimean Diary and Letters of Lieut.-General Sir Charles Ash Windham, K.C.B with an introduction by Sir William Howard Russell. This is freely available online at Internet Archive, and is the source of the following extracts: the first three entries in the diary, and then two from a few weeks later (chosen because the dates match those of extracts used for the earlier blog article on Edward Cooper Hodge about the charges of the light and heavy brigades.)

1 September 1854
‘Arrived at Constantinople this morning, and heard that the Army was embarking for Sebastopol, and would probably sail on the 3rd.

The French and English have suffered severely from sickness in Bulgaria. For my part I never felt better, and I sincerely hope I may be preserved to return home; but, above all things, I do earnestly pray that God will grant me strength and courage to behave as becomes a man and a soldier, come what may. It will be my first battle, and no man can say what effect that may have on him, so I repeat that, above all things, I pray for a stout heart and a clear head when the battle rages fiercest, particularly should we be unsuccessful.’

2 September 1854
‘Anniversary of the death of a great English soldier, Oliver Cromwell. I wonder what he would do if at Varna? I had a long and interesting talk, last evening, after dinner with the General [Sir George Cathcart]. He told me all he intended doing, and I am convinced that he is perfectly right in his views.’

3 September 1854
‘Went on shore and saw Lord Raglan, Sir George Brown, General Airey, Admirals Dundas and Lyons. Drew some necessaries for servants and the detachment of the 46th Regiment, now on board here. I did what I could to find out what I had to do, but, as to this, got but little information.

I was glad to see Lord Raglan looking so well, and as to General Brown, he looks the freshest man here; and I do not doubt he will lead the Light Division “like a good ‘un.”

For my part, what I fear is the condition of the men. They are so dispirited and downcast by sickness that I very much question their fighting in the resolute way I am sure they would have fought had this expedition been undertaken months ago.

I think that, from a strategical point of view, Odessa is the place to attack.

Why we should choose to fight the Russians with a strong fortification to assist them, instead of fighting them with an open town near us that would probably offer no resistance, is more than I can understand. From what I can learn the French seem to be opposed to the attack (on Sebastopol); the English think it too late in the year, and a great many of our superior officers look upon it as hazardous and doubtful. And no one seems in the right spirit to do it.

The French have lost a frightful number of men by sickness, and will only be able to embark twenty thousand ; we shall send twenty-two or twenty-three thousand, and I understand the Turks will send ten thousand.

One thing is certain, we must all do our best.’

25 October 1854
‘Horsford had just pointed out to me the confused masses of French upon the hill to our right, and I had just gone to point out the same to the General, when up galloped Captain Ewart, of the 93rd, and ordered us (the 4th Division) off to Balaclava.

We got under arms immediately, and, on arriving at the scene of action, were informed that the Turks had run off to a man without firing a shot [a footnote by the Russell states: ‘This information was quite erroneous. The Turks defended No. 1 Redoubt very gallantly, and lost heavily’] running straight through our Cavalry Camp. The Russians instantly took possession of the position, but abandoned the greater portion of it on our approach.

The cavalry instantly went into action, and the Heavy Brigade did very well. Unfortunately the Light Brigade was ordered to charge, and they did so gallantly; but, being received by three times their numbers and three batteries of artillery, besides riflemen, they got cut up and driven back, losing about half their number.

The 4th Division got there just as this charge was being made, and the Russians abandoned two of the redoubts, retaining only the one furthest to the eastward.

Captain Nolan, who took the orders to Lord Cardigan, was killed, charging at the head of the Light Cavalry. Although a good fellow, from all I can learn, his conduct was inexcusable. His whole object appears to have been to have a charge at the Russians at any cost ; but he could not have chosen a worse time.

After the fight was over, and we had been pounded for the better portion of the day, we returned at night to camp, abandoning our original line as too extensive.

My leg wonderfully painful all day, but I held on.’

26 October 1854
‘The Russians, rendered daring by their success against the Turks yesterday, made to-day a sortie against the 2nd Division. We (4th Division) turned out, but were not wanted, as the Russians soon beat a retreat, getting a handsome mauling, and losing 500 men in killed and wounded.

They could not stand the fire, and, though they got up their guns, did not fire a shot with them. General Bosquet came down, but too late for the fun. I rode forward and joined the skirmishers of the 2nd Division for a few minutes. Leg still very bad.’

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