The Phantom Staff Officer

A Mystery of the Crimean War

 A small bundle of papers was discovered during the demolition of a building that had been the museum of one of our West Country regiments. The documents were discoloured, and much damaged by mice and damp. The following is a transcript of such of the contents as were legible. The origin of the papers is still under investigation, and they have yet to be authenticated.

From the Diary of Assistant-Surgeon Siger Holmes, of the 23rd. Regiment.

How my stumbling feet found their way back to my tent I do not know. All through the evening and well into the night, working as best we might by lantern light, we had toiled at our bloody task, severing a limb here, sewing a wound there, shaking our heads at those already dead, and shrugging our shoulders over the poor souls for whom nothing more could be done than to ease their remaining hours with a mouthful of water and spirits. I had spent the first hour or two after the battle riding to and fro fetching and delivering medical supplies, and thus had seen more of the battlefield than many. All along the hillsides of the southern banks of the Alma men lay dead, dying, and injured, singly and in heaps, some silent, some moaning, some quietly screaming. As best as I could estimate, there were 8,000 wrecks of human bodies, three Russians to every Briton, of whom perhaps a quarter were already dead. Separating the living from the dead was hard enough, Heaven knows, let alone tending them. Our work was far from complete when I was forced to seek some rest before my burning eyes and shaking hands killed more than they saved.

I was not pleased to find a visitor waiting in my tent. Weariness restrained my wrath however as I recognised Captain John Watson, a well-meaning if somewhat dull fellow. He acted as an aide-de-camp of our divisional commander, Sir George Brown, but from what he had told me he was not gazetted as such. I assumed that there had been an irregular arrangement to provide Sir George with more adc’s than his entitlement.

‘Holmes, my dear fellow,’ he began, ‘I am frightfully sorry to bother you at this hour, but I most desperately need a medical opinion. To come straight to the point, old chap, I need to know how to tell if a man is under an insane delusion about one thing only, if he is otherwise absolutely normal?’

‘Look, Watson, in any other circumstances I would be glad to humour you about “your friend” who needs a diagnosis, but quite honestly, old man, I would much rather you just told me your symptoms without beating about the bush.’

‘Good Lord, no, Holmes! I mean to say! Dash it all! It’s not like that at all, I do assure you!’

‘Then for pity’s sake, tell me what it is all about, there’s a good fellow.’

‘Well, it’s a bit of a long story. This afternoon, after the battle, I went with Sir George to Lord Raglan’s tent. There was a right to-do going on there, I may tell you! Raglan was at first in high good humour, telling everyone how he had silenced the Russian batteries with his own personal field guns. He was all over Sir Colin Campbell too, the pair of them crying tears of joy and hugging each other – at any rate, as well as two men with three arms between them can hug each other. Everyone else, though, was in a right dudgeon. To look at them, you would have thought we had lost the battle, not won it. Lord Lucan had a face black as thunder. Charteris said it was because he had not been allowed to set the Light Brigade on the Russians. Sir George Cathcart seemed to be agreeing with him. Every time they tried to get closer to Lord Raglan, however, he moved away as though he hadn’t noticed them. Richard Airey was in a corner sulking. From what Nolan told me, he was annoyed that he had had to take command while Raglan was off on his jaunt. One of the Frenchies was there, furiously demanding to know why the British hadn’t joined the battle when they were supposed to. Lord Raglan tried to change the subject by asking how soon the Marshal would be ready resume the advance, but the Frenchie stalked off, spitting out some sort of Gallic oath. Then our governors turned up, Codrington and Brown. You know how well Sir George usually gets on with Lord Raglan? Well, not this afternoon, I can tell you!’

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‘Yesterday afternoon, I think you mean, Watson,’ I said pointedly, midnight having long since passed, but he was by now in full flow, and I must confess that, tired though I was, my interest had been aroused.

‘He strode up to Raglan and almost shouted, “What damn fool told my men the Ruskies were French?” Lord Raglan seemed rather shaken by this. He reddened, and was starting to say something about it being an easy slip of the tongue, but Brown interrupted him. “As if it wasn’t enough that my division was sent across the river and up the hill to the redoubt without an iota of support from anyone,” – here he shot a venomous look at the Duke of Cambridge – “but then at a crucial moment, as the Vladimir Regiment is about to descend on us with bare bayonets, we are ordered not to fire by one of your Staff, who assures us, if you please, that the Vladimirs are the French!”

“It was no one sent by me, Sir George, I do assure you. Airey, what do you know of this?”

“If you remember, my Lord,” says Airey smoothly, “I was busy elsewhere telling the 1st Division what orders you had for them.”

‘Raglan looked towards the Duke of Cambridge, but he only blushed like a frightened schoolboy. Bentinck was with him, though, and spoke up. “Yes, and when we came up in support of the Light Division – as soon as we could after we received the order, Sir George – the Scots Fusiliers, who were in the van, heard ‘Fusiliers, retire!’ shouted by Lord knows who. My other regiments advanced and opened fire on the Vladimirs, when a Staff Officer galloped by, shouting at them to retire because they were firing on the French! As you saw for yourself, Lord Raglan, we ignored that lunacy and cut the Russians down in crowds.”

‘Sir Colin Campbell, who was still standing next to Raglan, said quietly, “Ay, and when my Brigade came up on the left, and the 42nd’s skirmishers were about to open on the Russians in the Lesser Redoubt, a Staff Officer shouted not to fire because they were French. Needless to say, Lord Raglan, my Highlanders were not taken in by that tomfoolery.”

‘You should have been there, Holmes. Everyone fell silent as the meaning of what had been said sank in. Not once, but three times, a Staff Officer had tried to prevent our men from firing on the Russians, and had ordered the Scots Fusiliers to retire. They all looked at Raglan, by now as grim-faced as any. “Is there any one here who knows who that Staff Officer was?” he asks. No reply. “Very well, there must be an investigation. Sir George, you can spare one of your aides, I think. Kindly arrange it.”

‘And that, Holmes, is how I came to be detailed to find out who it was. All I know is that whoever it was wore a cocked hat and rode a horse. No one I have spoken to so far has given any better description than that. So there you have it. All the officers on the Staff appear to be perfectly rational, yet one of them, it seems, at a crucial stage of the battle, had some sort of fit during which he thought Russians were Frenchmen, after which he returned to normal and either has no recollection of what he did, or is too ashamed to admit it. What does a medical man make of that?’

‘Well, Watson, madness obeys no rules, you know. That, after all, is what distinguishes it from sanity. It is true, however, that dementia is usually born of bad blood, or comes with senility or disease of a certain kind. In almost all cases, the symptoms are obvious to the merest layman. I take it that there is no one on the Staff exhibiting patent signs of madness – eating flies, or claiming to be Napoleon, say?’

‘No, nothing like that, Holmes,’ replied Watson, adding sotto voce, ‘unless you count believing yourself to be Wellington.’

‘Then, having eliminated that possibility, the truth must be the only alternative that is left.’

‘What’s that, Holmes?’

‘Why, that the culprit was not mad, but acted with deliberate intent, being either a Russian agent posing as a British officer, or a traitor working for the Russians.’

‘A British officer in the pay of the Tsar? Good Heavens, Holmes, is such a thing possible?’

Watson is so earnestly simple that I could not resist teasing him. ‘Why not, my dear fellow? Did they not tell you that Lord Lucan himself was in the pay of Prince Worontzoff? The Prince, I believe, has estates in these parts.’

‘Lord Lucan? Oh, come, Holmes! I cannot believe it!’

‘I said was in the Prince’s pay, Watson. As a matter of fact, I believe he wears a Russian decoration on his chest. The Horse Guards know all about it, I assure you. In fact, they regard his Lordship’s familiarity with the enemy as an advantage rather than a disqualification. No, if traitor there be, I would look among the less exalted ranks for someone in financial straits. But do not overlook the possibility of a Russian agent. Some of the wounded spoke of seeing Russian civilians on the battlefield.[11] A curious circumstance, would you not say, and one whose motivation may be worth some consideration.’

‘Speaking of civilians, Holmes, I’ve already got my eye on those two coves who call themselves writers or correspondents or whatever — the big one with the beard and the little fellow who is always sniffing after Lord Raglan. They are too handy with their notebooks for my liking. If there is a traitor in our midst, my money is on one of them, or even the both of them.’

‘Well, that’s up to you, my dear chap, but I would have thought that Willie Russell could not remain unidentified for five minutes on a dark night, unless it was to be mistaken for the Duke of Cambridge, and as for Mr Kinglake . . .You must have seen him trying to manage his mule, Watson – can you really imagine him galloping through our lines on a charger?[12] If I were you, I would cultivate Kinglake’s acquaintance. There’s enough material in his notebooks to fill a volume or two. Some of it might be relevant to your inquiries.’

Watson accepted that as enough food for thought for the time being. I managed to usher him out of my tent, and sank into a much-needed but all too brief sleep.

We remained on the Alma another two days. Watson told me that the French had offered to resume the advance the next morning, but Raglan was still piqued by their refusal to move the previous evening and declared that he was not ready to move until the dead were buried and the wounded cared for. This was welcome news for us medical officers, for it meant that more men would be available to assist than if only the bandsmen had remained, as was the normal practice.

I was working in a station close by Lord Raglan’s tent, where we treated large numbers of wounded before they were shipped to hospital at Scutari. Most of the medical officers were there under the direction of Dumbreck; I saw Massy, Gibson, Mitchell, and Evans, among many others, working as best we might when not required to return to our regiments to see to cases of cholera and dysentery, which continued unabated.[13]

Watson dropped by from time to time to keep me acquainted with the progress of his investigations. On the second day he was much excited by news he had learned from Captain Shakespear, the second in command of our cavalry’s troop of horse artillery. As the Russian army retreated from the Alma, their cavalry, who had not been engaged in the battle, moved across the front of the troop, offering a tempting target. Shakespear was eagerly getting his guns into position (his commanding officer, Major Maude, being absent on other duties at the time), when a Staff Officer galloped up shouting, ‘Halt, halt!’ Shakespear asked by whose orders, but the Staff Officer wheeled about and rode away as rapidly as he came, replying only, ‘The orders are to cease firing.’ Who he was Shakespear did not know, but Watson assumed, and I was inclined to agree, that this was the same Staff Officer who was responsible for the other disruptive orders.[14]

On the morning of the 23rd September we resumed our march towards Sebastopol, my regiment marching in the forefront of the army, as it had done since we left Old Fort. Many Russian wounded, it grieves me to say, were still lying where they had fallen three days before. A single medical officer, Dr Thomson of the 44th, was left to tend to them.[15] At about 3 o’clock in the afternoon we came to the river Katcha, and there we bivouacked for the night. The following morning a great cheer went up from the men at the sight of the Scots Greys, looking as smart as if they were on parade in Hyde Park. They had landed at the mouth of the river while we slept, together with some infantry reinforcements.[16]

That day we crossed the river Belbek and came in sight of Sebastopol. It seemed to me, and to many others, that it presented a far less formidable obstacle than we had been led to expect. The fortifications were obviously in disrepair, and few guns were in evidence. We could see through our glasses that working parties, including women and children, were toiling frantically to remedy the defects, but we had arrived too soon for their labours to succeed. I retired to my tent after supper, expecting another bloody battle on the morrow, consoling myself with the thought that it would be the last of the campaign. Once Sebastopol had fallen, it would take only a few days to dismantle its armaments, and we could sail for home. I looked forward to seeing for the first time my baby son, to whom my dear wife Violet had given birth in my absence from home, a brother to our boys Sherrinford and Mycroft. With luck, we might be home again within a month or two.

Alas! It was not to be. Watson was waiting for me with intelligence that I could hardly credit. Lord Raglan had decided not to attack Sebastopol from the north, but to march around it and take a small fishing port called Balaklava some eight miles to the south. ‘Heavens above, Watson! Where on earth does his lordship get such an idea?’

‘Ah, there’s another mystery, Holmes. I have been speaking to that fellow Kinglake, and he says that Lord Raglan wanted to attack the place immediately from here, but Sir John Burgoyne advised him not to. But when I mentioned this to some of Sir John’s chaps, they say it ain’t so – whatever his views on the matter, Burgoyne denies giving any advice to Lord Raglan – says it’s not his place to do so. What do you make of that?’[17]

‘It is another piece of the jigsaw puzzle, is it not, Watson? Yet another instance of anonymous bad advice. But the possible sources are narrowing somewhat, don’t you think?’

‘Eh? Oh, right, yes. Someone close to Sir John Burgoyne. Quite so. That’s what I came to tell you, Holmes. The villain had better watch his step. I’m getting closer.’

‘Has it struck you, Watson, that it is a trifle odd that our reinforcements landed as easily at the mouth of the Katcha as we did at Old Fort? Why, I wonder, did we choose to land north of the Alma? Had the whole allied army landed at the Katcha, Menschikoff would have been left looking rather silly, standing at the Alma facing the wrong way.’

‘It is even odder than you think, Holmes. Last July, while we were at Varna, Sir George Brown and General Canrobert sailed on HMS Fury to make a reconnaissance of the Crimean coast. I was in attendance on Sir George. We steamed along the whole length of coast from Eupatoria to Sebastopol, close enough inshore to come under fire and take some damage. As a result of that expedition, the generals recommended to Lord Raglan that the landing should be made at the mouth of the Katcha.[18] And then, after the army had set sail from Varna, Lord Raglan and Canrobert made another reconnaissance on board the Caradoc, and decided to land further north.’[19]

‘I can see, Watson, that you are wondering the same as I — whether a certain officer, supposedly of the engineers, was with them to give advice?’

‘Don’t worry, Holmes. I’ll get him before he does much more damage.’

On the following morning, 25th September, we turned inland and began a march to skirt Sebastopol at a safe distance. For the first time I felt that we were perilously isolated. We had long been thousands of miles from home, and our left wing had been some four miles from the coast on the march south from Old Fort, but even so there had been a sense of contact running through the lines of the army to the sea, the fleet, and safety. Now we had turned our backs on that, and were resolutely marching deeper into enemy country. Xenophon’s men could not have felt more vulnerable; at least their faces were turned towards the sea and home.

My brigade was in the van of the advance. Ahead of us were only Lord Raglan’s own party, and ahead of him the cavalry, with a battalion of rifles and two troop of horse artillery. We set off at 7 am, and two hours later were pushing our way through densely wooded hillsides and undergrowth higher than a man, guided only by the compass and the voices of officers striving to maintain some semblance of formation – an almost impossible task, as each man had to take what path he could find.[20] The day was hot, and many began to suffer from thirst, especially those with the cholera and diarrhœa.[21] At about noon we came out of the trees onto a ridge from which we could see Sebastopol below us on the right. We followed the ridge for a mile or so, then took a narrow path through the wood once more, emerging shortly before 3 pm at a place called Mackenzie’s Farm. There we were allowed to rest for an hour, and I did my best to see that the invalids among us got at least a little water. A broad road ran inland towards our left, along which we could see abandoned waggons and luggage scattered. I learned later that they had been left by Menschikoff’s army, which had not remained to defend Sebastopol, but had retired into the interior, presumably to re-form.[22]

For us, however, it was time to swing right again, and descend into the valley of the River Chernaya, down a steep and zigzag road. We reached the river shortly before six o’clock, and crossed the Tractir bridge in good formation. The military exigencies of our situation required that we advance up the far side, establish camp and post proper pickets before returning to the river to draw water from the little aqueduct that ran alongside it. I am proud to say that the men performed these duties without demur before satisfying their thirst. During the evening the rest of our division and other units of the army joined us on the banks of the Chernaya. Lord Raglan was established in a post-house on the north bank and we were glad to bivouac in comparative safety after a perilous day.[23]

Watson’s evening visit to my tent had by now become a not unwelcome ritual between us. As I grew to know him better I became able to appreciate the many sterling qualities behind his air of simplicity, and found that we had more in common than I had supposed. He too had a young son at home, only two years old, and we exchanged unashamedly sentimental baby stories. When he told me that he hoped his son would one day become an army surgeon like me, I am not sure which of us was the more embarrassed, and we hastily lit our pipes to excuse the moisture in our eyes.

On that evening by the Chernaya, he told me what had occasioned the delay at Mackenzie’s Farm. Our path-finder, Lord Lucan, had taken a wrong turning. Lord Raglan’s party, ignorant that they were now virtually unescorted, followed the correct route, and ran into the tail of Menschikoff’s army! Luckily, the horse artillery had not been able to follow Lord Lucan owing to the narrowness of the track, and had kept to the right road. They sprang into action and pursued the Russian rear-guard on their way, Lord Raglan following close behind to encourage their efforts! Captain Walker went back and managed to bring up the Scots Greys to assist. This action took Lord Raglan and his escorts out of their way, and they had to return to Mackenzie’s Farm in order to take the road down to the river.[24]

‘You know, Holmes,’ Watson added, ‘I have had my doubts about Lord Lucan ever since you told me of his connection with Prince Worontzoff. You know he always wears a cocked hat in the field?’

‘Oh, come, Watson! Don’t forget that Shakespear got a good look at the Staff Officer who spoke to him at the Alma. Are you saying that he failed to recognise his own divisional commander? Tell me, what special knowledge of the route to Mackenzie’s Farm was Lord Lucan supposed to possess?’

‘Well, he wasn’t expected to find the way himself. Someone with a map was guiding him.’

‘Someone?’ I asked.

‘I don’t know who exactly. One of the engineer Staff Officers, I suppose. They have most of the maps.’

I looked at him without speaking until he said, ‘By Jove, Holmes, I’ve just had a thought! A Staff Officer! On Burgoyne’s staff! Perhaps the same one who . . .’

‘I do believe you’ve solved it, Watson. All you have to do now is to find out who was detailed to guide Lord Lucan and the cavalry.’

The next day we resumed our advance. As we crested the line of hills forming the southern bank of the river, we could look across the plain towards Balaklava, some four miles distant. The town itself we could not see, on account of a low range of hills that divided the plain across our front and obscured the view. Crossing those heights, we found that a road ran along them. Watson cantered up to me in great excitement. ‘Do you know what they call this road, Holmes? The Worontzoff Road ! And Lucan served under the Prince of that name!’ He seemed to find great significance in this, and I thought it best not to disillusion him. At the village of Kadikoi the inhabitants greeted us in a most friendly fashion, with gifts of fruit and other kindnesses.[25] They assured us that Balaklava would offer no resistance, and we marched on greatly cheered, with Lord Raglan in the lead.

As we approached the town, however, we were met by mortar fire. Our horse artillery were preparing to unlimber to return this greeting in kind, when the boom of heavier guns was heard from the sea. The fleet had arrived and was declaring its presence in no uncertain fashion. A small party immediately issued from the town under a flag of truce, offering surrender. The commandant of the place, it seemed, had never intended to resist, but did not wish history to record that he had surrendered without a shot being fired! The brief exchange had satisfied his honour, and the town was ours.[26]

That evening Watson brought me up to date with his investigations. ‘I found out the name of the officer who was guiding Lord Lucan, Holmes. It was Major Wetherall, one of General Airey’s chaps. I had a word with him, and he is most upset at having led the vanguard astray. He blames the engineering officer who provided the map and briefed him on it. And when I asked him who that was, I dare say you can guess his reply — he had never seen him before and has no idea who it was!’

‘Watson,’ I asked, ‘how can such a situation arise? How can this officer – or this man pretending to be an officer – get away with these impostures?’

‘Well, Holmes, the truth is, headquarters is pretty chaotic. There’s Lord Raglan, General Airey, Sir John Burgoyne, and General Estcourt, each with his own staff, all milling around with no one in overall control. We have no Chief of Staff, you know.[27] There is no one with authority over all of them except Lord Raglan himself, and he does not concern himself with details of that sort. It would not be difficult for a cool customer to tell Airey’s men that he is from the Engineers, and tell Burgoyne’s chaps that he is from the Adjutant-General, and tell Estcourt’s fellows that he is with the Quartermaster-General. What I am having to do is to check every possible suspect’s identity with the branch he claims to be with. It’s a long job, but I have narrowed the field quite a bit.’ He spoke with such confident determination that for the first time I began to believe that he would succeed in his mission.

It soon became apparent that the allied armies had got themselves into some disarray. We had marched south from Old Fort in line formation, with the French on the right. When we turned onto the flank march, we were in column, with the French in the rear, more than a day’s march separating the head and the tail of the armies. No thought had been given to the deployment of the troops once Balaklava had been taken. The coast between Balaklava and Sebastopol juts out to the west as the great Chersonese headland. When the French arrived, they expected us to move further along the coast to make way for them, but Lord Raglan took the view that we had taken Balaklava, so we should keep it. General Canrobert was now in command of the French forces, Marshal St Arnaud being close to death,[28] and he proposed that in that case the French should pass by us, and occupy the natural harbours of Kamiesh and Kazatch as their supply base. This meant that when we turned to face Sebastopol, the French would be on the left. Raglan agreed to the new arrangement.

He regretted it almost immediately, Watson told me. For one thing, the harbour at Balaklava was far smaller than he had expected. ‘Had he seen no plans of the place before deciding to take it?’ I asked. Watson assured me that very accurate plans of the town and harbour were in our possession, but Lord Raglan had not appreciated the scale to which they were drawn.[29] We looked at each other in silence, both imagining the scene as an unidentified officer, introducing himself as coming from Sir John Burgoyne, explained the maps of Balaklava to Lord Raglan.

The French not only had more space in their anchorages, they had only a mile or two to move their supplies once they were landed. The stations that we had moved to, on the Chersonese uplands before Sebastopol, were six miles or more from our port. The road was poor and we lacked adequate transport. The men now found themselves engaged for most of their time working as porters.

We looked forward to an early assault upon Sebastopol, and learned with dismay that once again Lord Raglan had decided not to make an immediate attack. He ordered the heavy guns of position to be unloaded in preparation for a siege. After a week or so, the construction of the siege works began. To the lifting of bales and loading of waggons was now added digging of trenches and filling of gabions. The men had undergone much hardship and were willing to endure more to serve Queen and Country, but they had come to the Crimea to fight, not to labour, and more than once I heard remarks to the effect that they could have done such work at home, and for better pay. The men were by now all under canvas, ten to a tent, but the weather was turning much colder. Morale, which had recovered greatly since we left Varna, began to flag again. Matters were made worse as it became known that the ground occupied by the French was loose soil easily dug, while our poor fellows were having to hew their way through rock. As the works approached Sebastopol more nearly, so the opposing artillery fire increased, and as yet we had not a single gun in position to reply.

Another week passed before the long awaited bombardment began. Our hopes that one or two days would suffice to breach the town’s defences were soon dashed. Every day for a week we bombarded Sebastopol, and every morning found that the previous day’s damage had been more than made good overnight. There was no diminution of the Russian counter-fire. As a surgeon I was not sorry that our works had not approached the town as closely as the French, who bore the brunt of the retaliation, although as an Englishman it hurt my pride.

On the evening of the 24th October, Watson was in a state of some excitement. ‘Holmes, I nearly have the man I’m after! He was with Lord Raglan today, and I contrived an excuse to be there too, keeping an eye on him. While I was there in came Airey, with a report from Sir Colin Campbell — according to a Turkish spy, the Russians are going to attack Balaklava tomorrow with an army of 30,000 men! “Shall we bring the whole of Cathcart’s division down this time,” asks Airey, “and maybe the 1st as well?” As his lordship was pondering this, my man stepped forward and spoke softly to him. I edged closer and overheard him saying that the 4th Division had still not recovered from their exertions of the day before, and that the two lines of redoubts along the Causeway Heights would keep the Russians at bay for at least a day.’[30]

‘Two lines of redoubts, Watson? I thought there was only one?’[31]

‘So there is, Holmes, and even that one is not finished. Two redoubts have no guns, and one is not even manned. In any case, they are so positioned that if the first falls, the rest will go down like a row of dominoes. More bad engineering advice, Holmes, from the last unidentified staff officer on my list. It is not yet proof, but tomorrow I shall be sticking to him like glue. One false move, and he is mine!’

Early the following morning I was awakened by the sound of horses and waggon wheels. Poking my head out of the tent, I saw the troop of horse artillery which was attached to our division preparing to leave camp.[32] I called out, ‘Hello there, Brandling. What’s up?’ ‘There’s a spot of bother with the Ruskies down on the plain, doctor, and we’re off to get some practice! Nothing for you to worry about!’[33] As he galloped off I could hear the sound of distant gunfire. It seemed that the spy’s intelligence had been good. We waited to see if we would be sent for, but no summons came. As the noise of battle ebbed and flowed, rumours abounded. According to some, it was but a skirmish; others claimed that the Russians had retaken Balaklava. As is the way of soldiery, such rumours were forgotten as swiftly as they were invented.

By mid-morning, I could no longer endure the uncertainty. I was fearful of Watson’s safety, and decided to look for him. As I rode out of camp along the Worontzoff Road, I was telling myself what a foolhardy errand it was, when I met the object of my quest coming towards me. His opening remark took words from my mouth. ‘Am I glad to see you, old chap! Quick, Holmes, without making it too obvious, look behind me and tell me if you see a lone rider following me.’ There was no one else on the road, and I told him so. ‘Confound it! I’ve lost him! I was following my man, Holmes. He seemed to be headed back to our encampments, but the blighter must have been suspicious, for he dismounted and pretended to adjust his girth. I had to keep going on past him without looking back, so as not to give the game away, and now he’s given me the slip.’

‘Don’t worry, Watson, there are two of us now. We’ll soon pick up his trail again, never fear. Just a moment, old man, while I concentrate.’ I closed my eyes for perhaps five seconds, then said, ‘This way, Watson. He turned off the road to his right.’

‘How on earth do you know that, Holmes?’

‘We see a lot more than we notice, Watson. As I approached you, your man was in my field of view, merely a speck in the distance, of no interest to me at that time. Nevertheless, a visual impression entered through my eyes and registered on my optic nerves. A disciplined brain, Watson, can train itself to bring such impressions to the forefront of the mind.’ With that, I turned my horse’s head and led the way.

‘We should have no difficulty in tracking him down, Watson. On our left’ — I gestured in that direction — ‘are the outlying pickets of our encampments. On our right’ — I raised the other arm — ‘the Sapouné escarpment. The two converge, Watson. Our man is riding into a corner from which his only exits are through our lines or down off the plateau.’

We soon came up with our own division’s pickets. Rapid enquiries elicited the information that our man had not passed that way. Similar intelligence was obtained from the 1st Division. Most of them had gone to join battle with the enemy on the plain, but they had left a company to guard their camp. Beyond them lay the 2nd Division, and their pickets actually extended to the edge of the plateau. Finding that he had not passed through there, we turned our attentions to the ridge on our right. We had moved far enough north that we were now looking down at the Chernaya river, stretching away to our right towards the Tractir bridge that we had crossed exactly a month ago. We could not see the bridge from where we were, however, as the north-western flank of the Fedioukine hills intervened.

Scanning the ground below through our field glasses, we soon picked up the man we sought. There were thickets of bush and small groups of trees, but not enough to provide continuous cover. At one spinney, he dismounted and led his horse into the trees. ‘What’s he up to, Holmes? A call of nature?’ ‘I think not, Watson. Look there!’ Watson gasped in astonishment, for when our man led his horse out again and remounted, he was wearing the greatcoat and cap of a Russian officer. It soon became clear that he was not headed for the river, but intended to ascend the Fedioukines. ‘Come on, Watson. Time to get to closer quarters.’ I spoke before realising that it was scarcely my place to be instructing Watson in this way. He was, after all, the investigating officer. But the good fellow merely replied, ‘Right ho, Holmes,’ as if this were the natural order of things.

A track led obliquely down the slope, and we set our horses’ heads at it. We were about a mile behind our quarry, but he was proceeding at a walk, his attention directed to his front, as if he was looking to find his way. The distance between us soon narrowed. As we got closer, the noise of his own progress masked our own, which we took care to keep to a minimum. How I blessed my dear faithful Betsy, as docile and tractable a mare as man could hope for in such a situation. She picked her way daintily through the scrub along the stone-strewn terrain with never a hoof put wrong. The ground began to rise as we climbed the northern slopes of the Fedioukine hills. The man we followed disappeared over the crest, calling out in Russian as he did so. Obviously he had companions on the far side, and equally obviously we would be seen as soon as we topped the hill. We searched about us for cover, and by good fortune found a small gully, big enough to take our horses, and filled with bushes which concealed its depth. I led Betsy into it and tethered her, speaking soothingly into her ear, and imploring her to wait with patience and not to make a noise. As a token of my affection and good faith, I gave her the apple which had been intended for my lunch. Watson fastened his mare close by. As a result of his frequent visits to my tent, it was not the first time that our mounts had been hitched together, and they settled without demur. We climbed out of the gully and crawled on our bellies to the top of the ridge.

What a sight met our eyes! Below us were ten Russian guns, in two groups of five. The gunners stood around their weapons as if expecting early action. In front of them were a company or two of rifles, behind low parapets of piled stones.[34] The man we had followed was in deep conversation with the battery commander, pointing down into the valley. At the right hand end of the valley, almost within range of the guns, the Light Brigade stood, or rather lay, the men dismounted and at their ease. Only a few officers were in the saddle, including the unmistakable figure of Lord Cardigan. As we watched, the piercing notes of a bugle rang through the air. I had been around cavalry enough to recognise the call to mount. As the troopers got to their feet and collected their horses, an officer left Cardigan’s side and sped away to the far side of the valley.[35] Directing my glasses in that direction, I could make out Lord Lucan and a younger officer in agitated discussion, and beyond them the Heavy Brigade. As I watched, the young man raised his arm and pointed down the valley.[36] I looked to my left, and saw across the far end another Russian battery, a dozen or so guns in a line about twenty yards apart. In the battery below me, I noticed a little knot of men, one of them wielding signalling flags, and another training his glasses across the valley.[37] Following his line of sight, I saw on the Causeway Heights a third Russian battery, which had been facing along the Worontzoff Road, but was now being redeployed to cover the valley.

The Light Brigade had formed up in two lines, three regiments in the first, and two in the second. Lord Lucan and his companion joined them, the former riding up to Lord Cardigan, ahead of the first line, and the latter joining the regiment in the centre of the line. At this closer distance, I could make out the distinctive tiger-skin saddle cloth which Captain Nolan affected.[38] Lord Lucan rode across the front of the brigade, paused briefly to speak to the commander of the left regiment,[39] then returned to join the Heavy Brigade. As soon as he had gone, the Light Brigade began to move forward at a slow walk.

A sudden silence had fallen over the Russians below us, as though they were holding their breath, the men at each gun tense with anticipation. The battery commander had an arm raised to restrain them as he waited for the target to come into range. There was a sudden spurt of movement in the ranks of the Light Brigade. Nolan broke into a gallop and with sword held aloft overtook Lord Cardigan. The battery commander instantly dropped his arm, and all ten guns spoke with one voice. A cloud of white smoke belched from their barrels. Within seconds there were corresponding puffs of smoke among the cavalry below, followed by the reports of the shells exploding among them. My glasses had been on Nolan at the head of the Brigade. One of the shells exploded close in front of him, and even at that distance I could hear his scream as his horse veered to the right and carried him back, still holding his sword high, until he fell from the saddle.

The gunners below us were reloading and firing with frantic haste. Smoke from the Causeway Heights showed that their compatriots there had joined the cannonade. The riflemen too were finding easy targets in the valley. The ranks of the Light Brigade were in disorder, not only from the effects of the bombardment, but also because the left regiment of the front line and the right regiment of the second line had both dropped back from their proper positions, so that from my viewpoint the two lines formed a ragged ‘V’.[40]

My attention was abruptly diverted from the valley by Watson pulling at my sleeve and jabbing a finger urgently at a nearer scene. Our man was shaking hands with the battery commander and evidently preparing to depart. If he returned the way he had come, he would be riding over our prone figures any minute. We hastily wriggled backwards to get clear of the summit, rose to our feet, and ran crouching to where we had left the horses. When we dived head first into the gully, our mares, bless them, accepted this unmannerly behaviour with no more than a toss of the mane. We crawled back up to the rim and cautiously pushed our heads above it. Mercifully, we had not been detected. Our man was approaching from the left with the satisfied expression that betokens a job well done, and would soon pass several yards above us. Before he came abreast of us, however, there was the sound of other hooves from our right. Turning our heads, we saw a troop of light cavalry approaching at a canter. I recognised the bright blue uniforms as those of the Chasseurs d’Afrique.

What followed would have been comic had its consequences not been so frightful. Our man rode forward with a friendly smile, raising his arm in greeting. The leading Chasseurs, however, lowered their lances and spurred towards him menacingly. He turned his head slightly and stared at his own sleeve appalled. He had forgotten until that moment that he was still in Russian uniform! His hand snapped to his waist, but the greatcoat covered his sword and pistol. He stooped forward and fumbled at the straps of a short-barrelled carbine in a boot on his saddle, but too late. A lance took him in the shoulder, and as he fell back, another ripped into his chest under his ribs. He fell from the saddle and the Chasseurs rode over him as they swept on their way.

When they had passed, we examined his body. It did not take my medical skills to see that he was dead. In his pockets we found several documents of identity in five different languages. If those in Russian were genuine, he was Major Igor Kravintski, on the staff of Count Nicholas Ignatieff, of the Tsar’s political service.[41] As to when and how he had infiltrated our Staff, there was no indication.

We made our way back to the Light Division camp and retired to my tent, weary, dishevelled, and blood-stained. Despite the earliness of the hour — it was not yet one o’clock in the afternoon[42] — I reached into my emergency supplies and poured us tots of neat rum.

‘What I want to hear now, Watson, is what happened this morning before I met you on the Worontzoff Road.’

‘Well, Holmes, when the battle started, Lord Raglan and his entourage stationed themselves on the ridge looking along the Causeway Heights and over the plain on both sides. I obtained Sir George Brown’s permission to join them, having a pretty good idea that my man would be there. And so he was, close to Lord Raglan, slightly behind and to one side. I kept my distance, not wanting to put him on his guard. It was my plan to watch him at all times, without him knowing, until I caught him red-handed in an act of treachery. The smoke of cannon fire billowed around Redoubt No. 1, and before long those of us with glasses could see it being abandoned. As the garrison ran out, they were mercilessly cut down by Russian cavalry. Between the Russians and Balaklava the red tunics of Sir Colin Campbell’s Highlanders were discernible, stretched in a thin line near Kadikoi. In front of them were two troop of horse artillery, with the cavalry in support, but their guns could not match the Russian cannon in size or number. We watched in despair as they slowly gave ground.

‘At this point my man says cheerfully, to no one in particular, but loud enough for Raglan to hear, “Don’t worry. Lord Lucan will know what to do. He’ll soon have the cavalry among them, you’ll see.” Raglan started as if stung by a bee. He beckoned impatiently to Airey, who scribbled an order,[43] and off went a galloper, pell-mell down the ridge and along the south side of the Causeway Heights towards Kadikoi. By the time he got there, our cavalry had withdrawn to the left of the Highlanders. Mercifully, the Russians had not pressed forward at that point, but directed their attentions against the redoubts. As they brought their artillery to bear, the second, third, and fourth redoubts were evacuated in rapid succession.

‘On the receipt of Raglan’s order, our cavalry abandoned its position on the left of the Highlanders, and began to withdraw up the south valley towards us. General Canrobert had joined us, and when he saw this he spoke most agitatedly to Lord Raglan. His lordship looked displeased, and spoke briefly to Airey. Another order was dispatched.[44] It had not far to go, for by now the cavalry were just below us on the plain, near the end of the Heights. They were close enough that we could detect impatient gestures by Lord Lucan as he spoke to General Scarlett. Soon four regiments of the Heavy Brigade turned about and started to go back the way they had just come.

‘In the meantime, Russian cavalry in great numbers had been moving across the north valley and onto the Heights. The dark mass divided into two, and the smaller part launched itself down the slope towards Kadikoi. I swung my glasses around to see what the Highlanders would do. I could not see them! There was a ragged volley of musket fire, and Turkish soldiers became visible running back towards Balaklava. The Russian cavalry spurred forward at the prospect of running down a fleeing rabble. Discipline was forgotten, and they became somewhat irregular in their formation. Suddenly, the red line reappeared like a rabbit out of a hat. They had been behind a low rise of the ground until they stepped forward a couple of paces. Smoke blossomed simultaneously from two hundred rifles. Before the sound of the volley reached my ears, I could see the Russian cavalry wheeling to their left to turn the Highlanders’ right flank. A troop of horse artillery was on the Scots’ left,[45]dealing out such punishment that the Ruskies had no desire for a closer acquaintance on that side! But they got an equally warm reception from the right. A detachment of Highlanders there gave them another concerted volley, and they turned again to their left. A third volley turned them yet again, and they were going back the way they had come, and every bit as fast.

‘No sooner were we cheering this victory, than we were holding our breath in dread of disaster. The larger part of the Russian cavalry, which had remained on the Heights, now saw below them Scarlett and his eight squadrons, strung out in column of troops, moving across their front. Because of a vineyard and the remains of the Light Brigade camp which lay in their way, the heavies were not in good order, and offered an easy target. Lord Lucan spurred forward after Scarlett, but Sir James had already seen the threat, and, turning his back on the advancing Russians, faced his squadrons and began to turn them into line. Had the Russians kept going, they would have taken the Heavy Brigade in the flank before they had had time to turn, but to our amazement the Russians actually slowed down and came to a standstill. It appeared that their commander was not satisfied with his own formation, for he began to re-deploy his forces so as to widen his front. By now Scarlett had three squadrons ordered to his satisfaction, and started up the hill to attack the Russians. What a sight, Holmes! The Scots Greys and a squadron of Inniskillens, perhaps 300 horse all told, with Scarlett himself yards ahead of them, threw themselves at a force ten times their number. As they hit the middle of the front line, the wings closed in behind them, and they disappeared into the midst of the enemy. Then, as the Russian cavalry turned inwards to destroy them, the rest of the heavies fell upon them from behind, the second squadron of Inniskillens from one side, and the Dragoon Guards from the other. The whole mass heaved and churned for a few minutes, and then the Russians broke and fled back over the Heights! Scarlett’s men pursued them a little way, but the Russian artillery opened fire once their own cavalry was clear, and our men were forced to retire. The Russian cavalry paused for a moment as though they might rally, but a troop of horse artillery got their range, and they were soon in retreat again. And do you know what, Holmes, it was Brandling’s troop, our very own!

‘Enthralling though these events were, I did not fail to watch my quarry closely throughout, and my suspicions hardened with every minute. Much as he tried, he could not conceal his pride when the Russians seemed to be doing well, and his displeasure at our successes. But still I had no proof.

‘After the Heavy Brigade’s victory a peculiar lull ensued. Many around me were suggesting that the Light Brigade should have joined the fray. Nolan especially did not stint in his criticism of Lord Lucan for lack of initiative. Lord Raglan himself, I could see, was also anxious to see the cavalry take further action. Meanwhile my suspect was standing a little apart, chewing his lip. After a while, he surveyed the Heights through his glasses, and remarked in a loud voice, “By Jove, they are trying to take away our guns!” I pointed my own glasses to where he had been looking, but could not see what had taken his eye. Lord Raglan too trained his telescope in that direction. Then another voice added, “Wellington never lost a gun, you know.” I thought I recognised that conceited drawl, and turning my head I saw that it was indeed Flashman, looking as though butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth. You know, Holmes, the fellow is supposed to be no end of a hero and all that, but there is something about him I don’t like. He’s a bit of a plunger, if you ask me. Give him twenty or thirty years, and he’ll be another Cardigan. His remark had galvanised Raglan though, as I suspect it was meant to do.[46] Another order was scribbled by Airey, another aide despatched with it post haste to Lucan.[47]

‘I watched through my glasses as the order was delivered, curious to deduce its contents from the results it might produce. Lucan read it, then stood in his stirrups and surveyed the horizon all around him, and especially back towards us and the Chersonese uplands. He spoke briefly to the aide who had delivered the order, shrugged his shoulders, and resumed his previous stance, upright and impassive, like a sentry on ceremonial guard duty. He issued no orders, and the cavalry did not move. Raglan had observed the same scene, and was becoming somewhat agitated, his empty sleeve twitching with annoyance.

‘I noticed that my man was gradually edging his way northwards along the ridge, and I contrived to do likewise while maintaining a safe distance between us. At one point he stopped and had a heated discussion with one of the aides on the ridge, pointing emphatically up the north valley and nodding his head violently, as if pressing home some deep-felt conviction. He then turned and rode away along the road towards the rear. There was no way to follow surreptitiously, and all I could do was to ride a little way behind him as if returning to my own regiment. As I told you, he must have become suspicious, for he stopped until I had passed, and that’s when I lost him and met you. The rest you know.’

‘Perhaps you want to get away now, Watson, and start to write your report for Lord Raglan?’ I suggested.

‘Well, you know, Holmes, I think I shall just let the whole matter drop. His lordship has not mentioned my assignment for several days, and I think he may have other things on his mind just now. Nor may he welcome being told that he has been taking advice from a Russian agent.’

As I refilled our glasses a further thought occurred to me. ‘What about the last officer that Kravintski spoke to before he left Sapouné Ridge, Watson? It might be worth finding out what was said, if you know who it was.’

‘I had intended to, Holmes, but that, I fear, is no longer possible. It was Captain Nolan.’

[1] It is not known how documents relating to the 23rd Regiment (The Royal Welch Fusiliers) came to be in the museum of a ‘West Country’ regiment. It seems likely that they were deposited there by someone other than Holmes. It has been suggested that these papers were at one time in the possession of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and may have inspired the creation of his fictional characters, Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson.

[2] Holmes’ figures are a good estimate. Pemberton gives the following figures:

Killed Wounded Total
British    362 1,621 1,973
Russian 1,800 3,700 5,500
French (claimed) 1,343
French (probable)    500

It is a pity that Holmes does not mention the French losses. His evidence might have helped to decide whether they added cholera victims to their battle casualties. Russell reported: ‘The French return of 1,400 killed and wounded was understood to include those who died of cholera during the passage from Varna and the march to the Alma.’ This may be unjust — Kinglake seriously understates the French involvement in the battle, probably reflecting Lord Raglan’s prejudices.

[3] This is not unlikely. Lord Cardigan’s adc, Captain Maxse, for example, was appointed only after some vigorous ‘string-pulling’ by his mother.

[4] This greeting, evidently, was later than the ‘touching sight’ of Lord Raglan and Sir Colin Campbell meeting on the battle-field, as reported by Calthorpe, although it is obviously in the same vein.

[5] Lucan had some cause to be displeased. The 8th Hussars had actually taken 60 or 70 prisoners, and were ordered to release them! Later that evening he wrote a note to Lord Raglan, asking that in future he might be given more scope to act at his own discretion. This request was ignored until after the charge of the Light Brigade, when Raglan told him that he should have used his discretion to ignore the order.

[6] One of Cathcart’s officers, Charles Windham, later wrote that ‘the more I think of the battle, the more convinced I am that [a vigorous pursuit] might have ended the campaign. I thought so at the time, and I think so more strongly now.’

[7] Lord Raglan had an unfortunate propensity to say ‘the French’ when he meant ‘the enemy.’

[8] Airey was clearly being sarcastic. Raglan had given no orders to any of his divisional commanders, and was not available when the Duke of Cambridge was wondering what he was expected to do next. It was left to General Airey to tell him to advance across the river.

[9] Bentinck must have been speaking to Lieutenant Alfred Tipping, of the Grenadier Guards, who wrote: ‘The cool determined stand we made in that awful bottom cut them down in crowds as they came on.’

[10] At the age of 28, Lord Bingham, the future 3rd Earl of Lucan, served on the staff of Prince Woronzoff in an earlier Russo-Turkish war, and was awarded the Order of St Anne.

[11] In October, when the allies were besieging Sebastopol, Russell noted: ‘We heard strange things from the deserters who now began to join us. They said that thirty Russian ladies went out of Sebastopol to see the battle of the Alma, as though they were going to a play or picnic. They were quite assured of the success of the Russian troops and great was their alarm and dismay when they found themselves obliged to leave the telegraph house on the hill, and to fly for their lives in their carriages.’ Some histories suggest that these picnickers were seen by our troops at the time, but if this was so, it is strange that Russell had not heard of it earlier. He mixed freely with the other ranks, and such a story would have surely been relayed to him. It is hard to know how much credit to give Holmes’ statement.

[12] Holmes is being unkind. It is true that Raglan’s attention was first drawn to Kinglake because of his failure to manage his mount, but it was ‘a handsome little gray pony’ (according to Calthorpe, an eye-witness), not a mule. Kinglake was proud of his horsemanship. He wrote in Eothen that his mother had taught him ‘in earliest childhood . . . to find a home in his saddle and to love old Homer.’ It would appear, however, that Mrs Kinglake had omitted to impress upon young Alex that the former advice was contingent upon having first carefully secured said saddle to his steed, for when, on the morning of the battle of the Alma, his pony, after having made enough noise to attract the attention of all within earshot, put its head down and bolted, the saddle was jettisoned over its neck, and Kinglake, carrying adherence to maternal precept beyond the bounds of filial duty, went with it.

[13] Holmes’ account tallies with that of H H Massy of the 17th Lancers in a letter to The Times, 14.8.1868. Holmes’ name, however, is not among those mentioned by Massy as working at the station.

[14] Captain Shakespear repeated this account in a letter to The Times on 3. 8.1868, adding ‘Had we cut up that cavalry it is more than probable the Russian army would not have bivouacked on the Katcha.’

[15] W H Russell wrote: ‘In order to look after their wounds, an English surgeon was left behind with these seven hundred and fifty men. This most painful and desolate duty devolved on Dr Thomson, of the 44th Regiment. He was told his mission would be his protection in case the Cossacks came, and that he was to hoist a flag of truce should the enemy appear in sight, and then, provided with some rum, biscuit and salt meat, he was left alone with his charge, attended only by a single servant. Ere the army went, however, one of the Russian officers addressed the wounded, and explained the position in which they were placed, and they promised to obey Dr Thomson’s orders, to protect him as far as they could, and to acquaint any Russian force which might arrive with the peculiar circumstances under which he was among them.’

[16] Anglesey, A History of the British Cavalry, quotes H Powell of the 13th Light Dragoons as writing that the Scots Greys landed ‘horses and men looking as clean as if they were going to review in Hyde Park. They were greatly cheered.’

[17] This discrepancy between Kinglake’s and Burgoyne’s accounts was later aired in The Times, following the publication of volumes III and IV of Kinglake’s history. On 1.7.1868, The Times published a letter from Burgoyne in which he said: ‘Mr Kinglake states that Lord Raglan refrained from an immediate assault upon Sebastopol upon my advice, and against his own conviction. My views upon the subject are well known. I considered an assault unjustifiable at that time, and I have never seen reason to change my opinion. Lord Raglan never consulted me on the subject, nor do I believe he ever entertained the idea. It would not have been my business, as a General Officer on the Staff, to volunteer advice on so important a matter to the Commander-in-Chief, upon whom would have fallen the whole responsibility of a failure.’

[18] W H Russell wrote: ‘In the course of their reconnaissance they coasted slowly along the west face of the shore from Eupatoria southwards, and at the mouth of the Katscha discovered a beach, which the English and French generals decided on making the site of their landing.’

[19] The Times hinted that it agreed with Holmes’ assessment that Raglan’s choice of landing site was unfortunate. On 23 February 1863, it wrote: ‘And, having examined the coast, his Lordship fixed on a spot on the beach between Eupatoria and the Alma. It is not easy to speculate on such matters; but one thing is evident — if the Allies had beaten the Russians on the Katcha, the fleet and forts of Sebastopol must have been ours the same evening.’

[20] ‘The underwood was in some places so thick as to leave but a very narrow choice of path, and in general it was found impracticable for the troops to preserve any kind of formation. The men of each battalion broke through as best they could, passing sometimes over ground where several could be working their way abreast of one another, but at other times compelled to break into Indian file.’ — Kinglake.

‘Sir Colin Campbell, on learning the nature of the ground, gave orders to the Highland Brigade that, a regular formation being impossible, it was imperative for the officers to keep their men together as much as possible, and not to hurry them unnecessarily. The wood was thick, but there were intervals of brushwood, and mounted officers could often see for a considerable distance.’ — C E Mansfield, former adc to Sir Colin Campbell, in a letter to The Times, 29.8.1868

[21] ‘It was a laborious task for troops which were not at that time in the enjoyment of great bodily strength to have to tear their way through steep forest ground without a road or a path; and at one of the halts which took place with a portion of the foot regiments already near the summit of the heights some impatience broke out, for, there being no water, the men felt the torment of thirst. There arose a low, grave, momentous sound — the murmur of angered soldiery. Each man, while he sat or lay on the ground, hoarsely groaned out the same intense word. The one utterance heard travelling along the lines was “Water! water! water!” This was not in the hearing of Lord Raglan.’ — Kinglake.

[22] This description of the flank march is so similar to that given by Mansfield in the letter quoted in note 20 above as to raise the suspicion that Mansfield had access to Holmes’ diary. Even the times of arrival at each point are the same, although Mansfield, with the Highland Brigade, would probably have been an hour or more behind the Light Division. Perhaps Holmes’ timepiece was fast.

[23] In August 1868, following a review of Volume III of Kinglake’s history, there was a protracted argument in the letter columns of The Timesbetween General Codrington and the reviewer, the former taking exception to the latter’s statement that ‘that night Lord Raglan slept by the Tractir bridge, while his army, French and English, were wandering for miles in broken straggling columns behind him, and the enemy, for all he knew, was ready to attack at daybreak.’ In his first letter, on 14.8.1868, Codrington describes how his brigade ‘arrived towards evening in the plain of the Tchernaya, passed the post house situated on the flat ground short of the river . . . , halted to receive orders for the night without even falling out for water, marched over the bridge in brigade, and across the narrow water conduit on the slope above to ground where it bivouacked. The outlying pickets from each regiment were told off, marched and posted to the front, taking up their positions on the brow in advance of the brigade at dusk; and not till this proper and ordinary precaution of war was taken were men allowed to return to the canal in rear to get the water of which all were sorely in need after such a march.’

[24] In a letter to The Times on 22.8.1868, Shakespear described how I Troop RHA pursued the Russian rearguard for a mile and a half along the road, until they came upon a company of Russian infantry drawn up across the road to resist them. The troop dispersed the Russians with case shot, and the Scots Greys then came up, dismounted, and cleared the woods with carbine fire. At this point they could see a Russian army of about 25,000 two miles away on the plain in battle order. Both Raglan and Airey were present at this action, following which it was necessary to return to Mackenzie’s Farm to take the road down to Tractir bridge.

[25] ‘About four miles from the Traktir Bridge is the little village of Kadikoi. It stands on the plateau above Balaclava, which is hidden from it by the sharply falling cliffs. It was a pretty village with grapes hanging in clusters round the cottage porches, and when Lord Raglan entered it with his staff he was greeted by its few remaining inhabitants as a hero and conqueror. They told him that Balaclava below was undefended.’— Christopher Hibbert, The Destruction of Lord Raglan, based on Kinglake’s account. Calthorpe, however, wrote: ‘We reached the village of Kadikoi, which is a mile in front of the harbour of Balaklava, at 10.30 am. It was quite deserted, and all the houses emptied of everything that could be of use to us.’

[26] ‘The staff advanced first on the town, and were proceeding to enter it, when, to their surprise, from the old forts above came four spurts of smoke in rapid succession, and down came four shells into the ground close to them. The dose of shell was repeated, but by this time theAgamemnon, outside the rocks, was heard busily sending her shot against the fort. The Rifles and some of the Light Division opened fire, and the fort hung out a flag of truce. The Colonel or commandant had only sixty men under him and they were all made prisoners. On being asked why he fired from a position which he must have known to be untenable he replied that he did so in order that he might be summoned, and that he felt bound to fire till required to surrender.’ — W H Russell, Despatches

[27] The inadequacies of Lord Raglan’s arrangements were a cause of concern in London, and contributed to the defeat of Aberdeen’s administration. Lord Panmure, the new Secretary for War, sent General Simpson to the Crimea to be Chief of Staff. Upon Raglan’s death, Simpson became Commander-in-Chief.

[28] ‘On September 29th, Marshal St Arnaud, who had been obliged to resign his command to General Canrobert on the march, was carried from his quarters in Balaklava on board the Berthollet in a dying state, and expired at sea ere she reached the Bosphorus.’ W H Russell, Despatches

[29] ‘However accurate the maps and charts may have been, they had failed to convey to men’s minds beforehand the exceeding smallness of the place.’ — A W Kinglake.

[30] ‘At about 11 o’clock on the 24th of October that excellent soldier Sir C. Campbell — I cannot allow myself to mention in this house the name of this officer, with whom I was acting in concert for four months, without stating that a more gallant or useful soldier never existed in the army (cheers) — forwarded to me a letter stating that a spy had arrived with news of the approach of the Russian army. I immediately joined Sir C. Campbell. We examined the spy, and we thought the report he brought so deserving of attention that Sir C. Campbell wrote a letter to Lord Raglan, which I thought of such importance that I ordered it to be conveyed by my aide-de-camp, who happened that day to be my son. The spy reported that 20,000 infantry and 5,000 cavalry were marching upon our position at Balaklava, from the south and south-east. My aide-de-camp told me that he delivered my letter to General Airey, who made no reply, and that he subsequently met Lord Raglan, who only said that if anything new should happen it must be reported to him.’ — Lord Lucan, the House of Lords, 19.3.1855

[31] There was only one line of redoubts. For Lord Raglan’s confusion as to his own positions, see note 43 below.

[32] ‘The moment the news of the attack on Balaklava reached the camp of the Light Division on the Sapouné Heights, “C” Troop (which was attached . . . to that Division) started for the scene of action’ — Anglesey, A History of the British Cavalry. C Troop was commanded by Captain J J Brandling.

[33] Brandling’s insouciance is pleasantly reminiscent of Captain McDonald, the adc sent by Raglan to order the 1st Division to Campbell’s aid, who translated this message as ‘There’s a row going on down in the Balaclava plain, and you fellows are wanted.

[34] There were far more Russian troops in the vicinity than Holmes realised. The Russian No. 1 Battery of the 16th Artillery Brigade ‘had the close protection of a company of the Black Sea Foot Cossacks, two companies of riflemen, and with the Vladimir and Sousdal Infantry Regiments in support close behind.’ — Adkin, The Charge. Holmes and Watson were incredibly lucky to escape detection.

[35] This would be Captain Fitz Maxse, adc to Lord Cardigan, carrying a message to Lord Lucan. ‘In the message I sent I said, observing a movement was going to be made, that the hills on both sides of the valley, leading down the valley at right angles with it, on which was the Russian battery, with the cavalry behind it, were occupied by Russian riflemen and artillery.’ — Lord Cardigan, House of Lords, 19 March 1855.

[36] The young man was Captain Lewis Edward Nolan, adc to General Airey, and he had just delivered to Lucan order number four from Raglan (see note 43 below). The order read: ‘Lord Raglan wishes the cavalry to advance rapidly to the front — follow the enemy, and try to prevent the enemy from carrying away the guns — Troop Horse Artillery may accompany — French cavalry is on your left — R Airey. Immediate.’ Lucan queried the meaning of this order with Nolan, who indicated the Russian battery at the end of the north valley as the intended target.

[37] This is believed to be the only reference to the use of semaphore signalling by the Russians in the battle.

[38] The 17th Lancers were under the command of Nolan’s friend, Captain Morris.

[39] ‘I had placed the 13th Light Dragoons, 17th Lancers and 11th Hussars in the front line — Lord Lucan ordered the 11th Hussars back to support the left rear flank of the 17th Lancers. The 4th Light Dragoons and 8th Hussars formed the original second line under the Senior Officer Lord George Paget – The Brigade therefore attacked in three lines.’ — Lord Cardigan, House of Lords, 19 March 1855.

[40] The 11th Hussars dropped back from the first line in consequence of Lord Lucan’s order (see note 39 above); in the second line the 8th Hussars, under Colonel Shewell, was the only regiment to keep to an orthodox pace, and consequently fell behind Colonel Paget’s 4th Light Dragoons, although they were supposed to take their position from that regiment.

[41] Other sources suggest that Count Nicholas Pavlovitch Ignatieff was a captain in the Imperial Guards at this time, being only 22 years of age. Holmes’ discovery suggests that this was but a cover, and that he actually held higher rank, directing clandestine operations on behalf of the Tsar.

[42] The Light Brigade began its movement down the north valley a few minutes after 11 am.

[43] Raglan issued four orders to his cavalry during the day. This would be order number one, which read: ‘Cavalry to take ground to the left of second line of redoubts occupied by Turks.’ This order was carried by Captain Wetherall at about 8 am, and he would have reached Lucan in about 20 minutes. (Adkin, p. 91) It is usually assumed that because he stood on a vantage point overlooking the battlefield, Raglan had a good view of what was happening. This order, however, with its reference to a second line of redoubts which did not exist, proves otherwise. It is quite likely that Raglan did not see what he was looking at. Kinglake says that Raglan was near-sighted. On Sapouné ridge he used a telescope to view the scene, but may not have appreciated the lack of perspective and severe foreshortening that this would cause. The six redoubts were in a single shallow arc, numbers 3 and 4 being north of the Woronzoff Road and the two at each end being south of it. To have seen them as two lines, Raglan must have supposed that 3 and 4 were the first line, and 1, 2, 5, and 6 were the second. He could not have appreciated that there was an interval of well over a mile between redoubts 2 and 5.

[44] This would be order number two, which read: ‘Eight squadrons of Heavy Dragoons to be detached towards Balaklava to support the Turks who are wavering.’ This order was carried by Captain Hardinge at about 8.30 am. It is a clear admission that order number one was a mistake. (In all the later analysis of what went wrong on this day, Raglan never acknowledged these two orders.) The Heavy Brigade comprised ten squadrons. In specifying that eight of them should return whence they had just come, Raglan is either revealing his ignorance of what forces he had in the field, or is employing a spurious precision to imply that careful calculation lay behind his random moves.

Holmes’ account suggests that it was General Canrobert who prompted Raglan’s change of mind. It is unlikely that Canrobert told Raglan that he had made a mistake — the French were most tactful in dealing with Raglan. It is more likely that he offered to send French forces to support Campbell, and that Raglan sent most of the Heavy Brigade back rather than accept French help.

[45] The only horse artillery in that area was I Troop RHA, but by this time they had lost their commanding officer, Major Maude, who was seriously injured, and had run out of ammunition on account of their wagons being used for general transport duties. Watson was probably seeing W Battery, RA, under Captain Barker, which was a part of Campbell’s defence contingent.

[46] This incident is confirmed in the Flashman Papers, 1854-1855, edited by George MacDonald Fraser, and published under the title of Flashman at the Charge. Colonel Flashman, of the 17th Lancers, was on Lord Raglan’s staff . According to his own version, his words were ‘There goes our record — Wellington never lost a gun, you know.’ He admits that his intention was to provoke Raglan into ordering the Light Brigade into action, ‘out of pure malice towards Cardigan.’

[47] This would be order number three, which read: ‘Cavalry to advance & take advantage of any opportunity to recover heights, they will be supported by infantry which has been ordered advance on two fronts. Signed R Airey.’ This wording is taken from a facsimile reproduction in The Times of 25 April 1998 of what is almost certainly the copy of the order made by Lord Lucan for General Airey the next day. In the absence of the original order in Airey’s handwriting, it is the most authentic version. Other versions exist — for example, that quoted by Raglan in his despatch of the battle. The promised infantry support was not in sight when Lucan received the order, so he naturally took no action upon it at that time.

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