Extensive and informative archive of letters written by Christopher Edward Blackett (1826-1904), Captain in the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders in Crimea. Some 52 letters (most with envelopes and penny red stamps) cover the period from 1854 to 1856, and provide detailed information on the entire campaign from embarkation from the Isle of Wight to the return journey.
The letters are to Blackett's mother and father and express his personal thoughts about the battles, the officers and the countries where he found himself. An outspoken young man of firm opinion and not uncritical of his superior officers, but with an obvious feeling of responsibility towards his men, his letters provide a profound insight into the minds of young officers and the day-to-day routine of the army. Virtually every letter contains information of interest to the military historian.
During the course of serving in the Crimea, Blackett achieved his ambition to become an officer in the Coldstream Guards where he eventually reached the rank of Colonel.
'... we are standing in close to the shore of the Crimea & are to land this morning. ... I must say I think landing troops like ours who hitherto have been so carefully tented and provisioned, without any covering and, in my opinion insuffiently rationed, is a most imprudent thing but the fact is Lord Raglan is not fit for his post, this work ought to have been undertaken two months ago, however, now we are here we must make the best of it and do the work required. I wish with all my heart we had fairly got Sebastopol & finished for the winter. ...' (Kalamita Bay, 13 September 1854).
'... We fought a pitched battle yesterday & drove the Russians from a very strong intrenched position along a chain of hights [sic] ... My Regt lost only some five or six killed & about forty-five wounded but the carnage in some has been absolutely awful. ... The morning of the 21st was taken up by ... Lord Raglan reconnoitering the position & arranging the order of battle so that we did not fairly get to work till one ... .' (Field of the Alma, 21 September 1854.)
'... The horses have improved wonderfully in condition since coming here, and the camp in general is much more healthy than was the case a very short time ago. What with the casualties at Alma though and deaths from disease, our losses since landing in the Crimea amount to several thousand men. There is nothing in the rumour of the death of our Colonel but I regret extremely to say that Major Banner died of Cholera about ten days since. He was a most excellent, good man, and I do not believe there was a soul in the Regt who did not regret his loss. ...' (Camp Balaklava Plain, 16 October 1854)
'... I hope and trust that this unnecessary loss of reliable lines will not be permitted to pass without some searching enquiries being made at home. You may imagine what a desperate thing it was when General Eastcourt told me that when the Light Brigade advanced he did not expect to see one of them return. Lord Raglan may say what he likes in dispatches, but you may depend on it I have told you the real feeling in the army out here. ...' (Redoubt before Balaklava, 31 October and 2 November 1854, part of an 8-page, cross-hatched letter on the Charge of the Light Brigade)
'... all would be right enough had it not been for the bungle they made of the siege of Sebastopol which appears to be just as far from falling as ever though both ourselves & the French continue banging away at it as hard as was the case at first. The fact of the matter is the British in all wars make a mess of matters till they learn by sad experience how to conduct them & the present one is no exception to the general rule, both by sea & land matters have been miserably mismanaged. As to Admiral Dundas one might as well take Mrs Nickleby & put her in command of the fleet. Everyone agrees that he is utterly unfit for his position as commanding the fleet. ...' (Redoubt before Balaklava, 15 November 1854)
'... My idea is that ... Russia is only trying to detract Austria from our side by pretending to knuckle under, and though no one more than myself would be glad to see England again, at the same time my opinion is most decidedly that France & England are bound to take Sebastopol cost what it may. If fifty thousand men die in the assault we still are in honour bound to do it, for after setting down in the bumptious way we at first did before it and saying it must fall in four days & after the opening of our batteries nice fools we should look if we made peace leaving the town in the hands of the Russians. Government is not acting fairly by us. ... it is just in keeping however with the whole conduct of the miserable , cowardly men who constitute our ministry. ...' (Camp before Sebastopol, 7 February 1855)
'... Lord Lucan has been recalled. ... Lord Lucan does not bear a high name among the Cavalry but his son who was on his staff & who belongs to the Coldstream left a copy of a letter addressed by his Father to Lord Raglan on the subject of that sad affair on the 25th of Oct & which in my opinion in a great measure exonerates him from blame, the poor fellow whose fault it almost entirely was one of the first men killed in the charge. He rode up to Lord Lucan giving him a slip of paper from General Airey on which was written "Lord Raglan wishes the Cavalry to advance and if possible prevent the enemy carrying off the guns. ..."' (Camp before Sebastopol, 15 February 1855)
'... Since General Jones has taken the direction of the seige operations in place of Sir John Burgoyne matters have been pushed on with much more energy than was the case before. Our works are advancing much closer to those of the enemy but with all this, as I have repeatedly said, I do not think we have a chance of taking Sebastopol till the north side of the town be invested. The Turks are in considerable force at Upatoria (some thirty-five or forty thousand). They have already beaten off a formidable attack of the Russians and if we could manage to send a considerable number of troops to act with them I think they might advance as we did & take the Russians in back which, combined with an attack from us in the front would I think pretty much settle the troops in force just now on the north of Sebastopol, the fall of the town would then be an easy matter. ...' (Balaklava, 16 March 1855).
'... there seems to be a possibility of a war with those precious Yankees who with their usual honourable manner of acting, appear disposed to prosecute their piratical designs on Cuba now that they think our hands are quite filled by the war with Russia ... .' (Sebastapol, 18 November 1855)
'... This day year was the battle of Balaklava, & this morning the Cavalry had a field day, ... . They turned out about five & twenty hundred, splendid they looked & nothing would I like more than to ride at their head against five thousand any Cavalry that the Emperor of Russia can produce. Above all things I would like to get appointed ADC to one of the Cavalry Staffs ... .' (Sebastopol, 25 October 1855, the last letter from Blackett in this archive).
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