Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Les Cantinieres

Cantinieres were a unique and beneficial feature of the French Army from 1657 to 1898. The French Second Empire - 1852-1870 - has been frequently described as their "Golden Age" as it was in this period they received their glamorous uniforms, were popularised in story and song and in commercial prints the rather sacharine "Image d'Epinal."


Saturday, 24 November 2012

Letters home from the Crimea

Wakefield Voices from the Crimean War now available from Lulu!


The private letters and personal experiences of Wakefield men serving in the Siege of Sebastopol. This book collects letters sent home from the Crimean War by soldiers and sailors from the West Yorkshire town (now city) of Wakefield, which were published in the local newspapers. Through these letters these men reveal their personal experiences and thoughts about the war, as well as their allies, their enemies, and their generals.

Friday, 23 November 2012

French Logistics in the Crimean War

The logistics of the French army in the Crimea were the responsibility of the Corps d'Intendants Militaire, an organisation created in 1817 by Marshal St Cyr. It was formed from the fusion of the Commissaires du Guerre (War Commissaries) and the Inspecteurs Aux Revue (Review Inspectors) - the former were responsbile for procurement and supply, the latter for quality control and superintending the internal administration of every regiment in the army. Thus, from the outset, the Intendance Militaire suffered from a split-personality: responsible for procuring supplies and also checking their quality.

Photographs of French Artillery

Continuing the theme of French Artillery,  here are some photographs in my personal collection of French artillery officers c.1860. These photographs are copyright Anthony Leslie Dawson. Please do not copy or use without permission.

An anonymous Chef d'Escadron decorated with the Legion d'Honneur.

French Artillery in the Crimean War

During the Crimean War the French army used two main types of Field Artillery - Artillerie Montee (mounted artillery) where the gunners rode on the limbers and caissons (but NCOs and Officers were mounted) and Artillerie a Cheval (Horse Artillery) where the gunners and officers were mounted on horses.

They were armed with the revolutionary 12-cm calibre shell-gun or Canon-Obusier (literally, Gun-Howitzer) designed by Louis-Napoleon which could fire explosive shells, solid round shot and case shot (Mitraille).

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Vive Les Chasseurs!

Photographs of Chasseurs a Pied, c.1860

A much-decorated anonymous Capitaine whose medals include the Legion d'Honneur, the British Crimean War Medal with three clasps (Alma, Inkerman, Sebastopol)

A relaxed-looking Sergent in walking-out dress, with his Bonnet de Police a Souffle on his knee.

A Corporal in undress, wearing his leather gaiters.

A very smart-looking Chasseur wearing his shako with its elaborate dark green and red plume

A member of a battalion's Fanfare - from 1855 each batalion of Chasseurs was allowed a "Fanfare", equipped with instruments a la Saxe.

The Changing faces of Louis Barnet

Presented here are photographs of Capitaine Louis Barnet (1820-1898), of the 40eme de Ligne during the Second Empire.He is a typical example of an officer who worked his way slowly, but surely up the ranks.

Louis Barnet was born in Paris, 19th June 1820 and died 31st October 1898 at his home, 50 Avenue de Wagram, Nueilly-sur-Seine int he department of the Seine.

He was awarded the Legion d'Honneur with the rank of Knight (Chevalier) 7th April 1865. He served during the Franco-Prussian War and was awarded an annual pension of 250 Francs by the Legion d'Honneur  from 12th December 1871. It was paid in half-yearly installements from 1872 (first payment made 1st January) and the last payment was made in the second half of 1885.

Photographed here in old age c.1890

A reservist, c.1870. He retired from the army in 1867.

Photographed in 1865 (L) and 1864 (R) Capitaine of the Voltigeur Company, a rank and position he attained on 24th August 1863.

Lieutenant of Voltigeurs (promoted 1854) photographed here in 1862. He had been promoted Sous-Lieutenant from Sergent-Major in the 40eme 30th September 1850 aged 30.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

More on the Crimean Railway

Above, an 0-6-0ST by E B Wilson & Co of Leeds, c.1865. The "Alliance" and "Victory" which ran on the Grand Crimean Central Railway 1855-1856 were probably similar.

The Leeds Mercury of 8th September 1855 publishes the following lengthy article:

"A Leeds Locomotive for the Balaklava Railway
As any novel  fact connected with the conduct of the War has a peculiar interest at the present time, and as a good deal is being said about the miserable state of the Balaklava Railway, it may be gratifying to many to learn that  the Government are no means disposed to allow this peculiarly British creation to be "washed our" or a stick-in-the-mud. The Government had decided to send out another locomotive engine of a make suitable to the heavy gradients on the above line, and last Thursday week, Lord Panmure gave instructions for such an engine to be procured. Messrs. Peto & Brassey immediately despatched an agent, who, by Sautrday morning,  was fortunute enough to meet with an purchase an engine in this town. It is one constructed a short while ago by Messrs E. B. Wilson & Co., of Railway Foundry,  and has been working a few months.  It is a tank engine, namely one which carries its own water in a tank placed on top of the boiler. All the wheels are coupled, so that although its weight with fuel and water will not exceed 12 tons it will be able to draw very considerable loads, say thirty tons, at an average speed up the inclines. Its lightness will make it admirable adapted for the soft foundation of the railway. The engine which leaves here for Southampton today has had a thorough renovation, and repaitning at the Railway Foundry. Her "Iron Sides" are  adorned with the English, French Turkish and Sardinian flags conspicuously painted thereon, and she is called the "Alliance".  She will be embarked for the Crimea by the middle of next week, so that  her whistle may in two or three weeks be blended with the other notes of defiance hurled against the common foe, and her shrill voice  shall not be the least emphatic declaration of the Allies to carry on this war with the utmost vigour."

This description if confirmed by the  Daily News of 11 Septmeber 1855 Wakfefield Express of 15 September 1855 which both print the following article:

"A Locomotive for Balaklava: A Locomotive engine called "The Alliance" left the Railway Foundry, Leeds, on Friday last. The engine  is what is called a tank engine. It has two 11-inch cylinders, 17 inches stroke, six wheels, three feet diameter, all coupled. It was purchased a few days ago by a government agent. The words "The Alliance," and the national flags of England, France, Turkey, and Sardinia were painted on the sides of the engine."

The Wakefield Express of 15 September 1855 also provides:

"Another Locomotive Engine for the Crimean Railway
On Saturday Morning a graphic message was received at the Railway Foundry, Leeds, ordering a second Locomotive tank engine for the Crimean Railway, similar to the one sent out a few days previously. The engine had been the property of Sir John Lister Kaye and at the time the order was recieved was working at Sir John's colliery and was brought down to the Railway Foundry, and after being overhauled will be despatched to its destination."

The Leeds Intelligencier states that "The Alliance" was shipped from the Railway Foundry via Southampton to the Crimea in its edition of 8 September 1855. She was "a small locomotive"..."what is a called a tank locomotive so that it carries all the water and fuel it requires on the body of the engine".

It is clear "Alliance" was the second engine in use on the Crimean Railway and was sent out because the first locomotive was not capable of hauling loads on the steeply-graded line.

 "Alliance" was a six-coupled  saddle tank engine with driving wheels 3 feet in diameter.  She was the first locomotive to be sent to the Crimea from Leeds and was apparently second hand. The second locomotive sent out "Victory" was purchased from Sir John Lister Kaye, having formerly worked his colliery railway. That too was presumably an 0-6-0 tank engine.

Both locomotives were elaborately painted with national flags, a paint scheme which was worn in the Crimea.

The Leeds Mercury on Satuday 22 September 1855 notes

"Engine for the Crimea
On Thursday Monring, a beautiful little engine , decorated with the flags of England, France, Turkey and Sardinia passed through Pontefract Station en-route for the Crimea."
A report in the Daily News, by Lawrence Godkin,  says on 28 December 1855:

"three engines are now plying on it [the railway] taking along their waggons, both loaded and empty, their names are "Alliance", "Victory" and "Swan". The first two have four flags painted on each side, the two most prominent being the English Union Jack  and the French Tricolour."

W. H. Russell writing in The Times  confirms the presence of "Alliance" and "Victory" and a third locomotive called "Swan".

The locomotive in Argentina, "La Portuna" cannot have been either "Alliance" or "Victory" due to the wheel-arrangement (2-4-0), wheel size and gauge, and presumably never ran in the Crimea as the Grand Crimean Central Railway was laid to standard guage.

It is a myth that the two engines from the Crimean Railway went to Buenos Aires! Please ignore previous blog post!

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Zouaves on campaign in Italy, 1859

Zouaves in relaxed off-duty wear: Callot, shirt, veste and trousers worn outside the gaiters.

Buglers and Drummers of Zouaves; the Bugler on the right is wearing the British Crimean Medal with two (possibly three?) clasps. Interestingly despite Zouaves of the Line having, in theory, a belt which fastened with a buckle, two of these Zouaves are wearing belts with plates bearing flaming grenades - a feature of the Imperial Guard.

Zouaves with piled arms; at least four of them are wearing the British Crimean Medal. Also note the Cantiniere wearing a very loud checked shirt.

A File of Zouaves cooking their evening meal. Colonel, later General, Cler of the 2eme Zouaves wrote that :
"…Habitually each individual has usually his allotted functions, being those for which he has a special aptitude; one looks after the wood and the fire, another the water and the cooking, making the coffee, a third pitches the tents and so on."
 J. J. G. Cler, Souvenirs d’un Officer du 2eme de Zouaves (Paris: Michel Lévy et Frères, 1859), p. 7

Monday, 6 August 2012

Re-establishing the Guard


On 1st May 1854 the Emperor Napoleon III re-established the Imperial Guard.

The Imperial Guard was destined to have several functions:

Draw the army closer to the new Empire.
Reward meritorious Officers and Other Ranks
Act as a training school
Be the finale battle-field reserve (although the Guard was more often used as shock/storm troopers leading attacks).

The Guard conisted of

Foot Guard
2 Regiments of Grenadiers
2 Regiments of Voltigeurs
1 Battalion of Chassuers  a Pied

Horse Guard
1 Regiment of Cuirassiers
1 Regiment of Guides

1 Regiment Artillerie a Cheval

Article 7 of the formation decree stated that the Guard was to recruit from active soldiers (soldats en activite) who were in the last year of their conscription and had good conduct and were willing to renew their conscription ( rengagement);NCOs would lose their rank (galons) unless they had the Legion d'Honneur or the Medaille Militaire.

Recruits had to be aged under 35 but soldiers over 35 could volunteer to join the Guard for a period of three years - for which they had to pay!

Article 8. Cuirassiers, Grenadiers and Artillerie a Cheval were to be taller than  1m 76 (5' 10")

Guides and Genie were to be taller than 1m 68 (5' 7")

There was no minimum  height for Voltigeurs or Chasseurs or the Bandsmen (Musiciens).

Every Line Regiment was to send 20 Grenadiers and  10 Voltigeurs to the Guard Each regiment of Chasseurs was to send 20 1st Class Chasseurs and the Dragoons, Cuirassiers and Carabiniers were to send 20 men each to form the Cuirassiers of the Guard. The Guides of the Guard had been formed in 1852 from the Guides de l'Etat Major.

However, there was some difficulty in getting men tall enough! There was considerable shuffling about of men of the requisite height to form the new Regiments, so that a tall Artilleryman might find himself  a Cruiassier (for example) and the Cuirassiers and Carabiniers actually furnished 20 men each for the Grenadiers a Pied who met the minimum height.

By  the Imperial Decree of 20 December 1855 the Imperial Guard was massively expanded from a mixed Division to a self-contained Amry Corps. It was now to consist of

Foot Guard
3 Regiments of Grenadiers
4 Regiments of Voltigeurs
1 Regiment of Zouaves (Created 24 December 1854)
1 Battalion of Chassuers a Pied

Horse Guard
2 Regiments of Cuirassiers
1 Regiment of Dragoons
1 Regiment of Lancers
1 Regiment of Guides
1 Regiment of Chasseurs a Cheval

1 Regiment of Artillerie a Cheval
1 Regiment of Artillerie a Pied
1 Division (2 companies) Sapeurs du Genie
1 Squadron Train des Equipages (Created 17 February 1855)

Not Brigaded
1 Regiment of Gendarmes a Pied
1 Squadron Gendarmes d'Elite.

In 1857 the minimum height and service requirements for the Guard were altered. The Imperial Decree of 17th June stated that potential recruits for the Guard had to have served for four years and have at least two years of good conduct.

The height for the Grenadiers was redcued to 1m 68cm (5' 7")
Voltigeurs and Chasseurs a Pied were to be taller than 1m 56cm (5' 1")

The Cuirassiers of the Guard  were 1m 76cm (5' 10")
Guides and Chasseurs a Cheval of the Guard 1m 68 (5' 7")
Dragoons and Lancers 1m 70 cm  (5' 8")
Artillery 1m 70cm (5' 10")

Drummers, Trumpeters, Buglers, Bandsmen were all exempt from the minimum height requirement, as were volunteers to the Guard. Volunteers were either soldiers over 35 who wanted to enlist, and were willing to do so for a period of 3 years minimum (with no exception) and were of good military character and morals. Civilians volunteers could also enlist, so long as they were from a good family, had a military virtue and could pay for the privilege!

NCOs who wished to be admitted into the Guard had to have spent at least one year in their rank and meet the minimum height requirement; the only NCO not to have to meet that requirement was the Sergent Instructeur de Tir.

La Garde en Campagne

Voltigeurs de la Garde, in off-duty and campaign dress.

Grenadiers of the Guard off-duty, cleaning their kit.

Voltigeurs of the Guard at the official drill position "Sur la bras gauche, assurez vos armes" (the drill used in wet weather to stop water getting down the barrel).

The Voltigeurs again, here in Campaign Dress, going through Firing Drill.

Chasseurs of the Guard with their Cantiniere.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

French accounts

I have started a new blog where I am publishing French accounts of the Crimean War.

Here are some letters from Inkermann 


Thursday, 28 June 2012

The Grand Crimean Central Railway

In typical Victorian fashion, the longer the title of the Railway Company, the shorter the route mileage.

The Grand Crimean Central Railway was constructed by Messrs Peto & Brassey to link the port at Balaklava with the British camp on the uplands. It used inclined plains to reach the hieghts, and locomotives thereafter.

Brian Cooke in 1990 wrote a very short and patchy history of the railway. He states that it had six locomotives, all of which were second-hand to "old LNWR designs" and that they were tender engines, to a design of Bowen-Cooke, probably 2-2-2s. It is blatently obvious he has not read the very well researched paper in The Journal of Transport HIstory, vol 1 (May 1953), pp. 28-43, which provides a complete chronology and detailed history of the railway.

John Goodchild, Wakefield historian, suggests that two tank locomotives, built in Leeds, for a colliery railway in Wakefield (running from what is now the National Mining Museum) to the mainline were seconded by the Government for use in the Crimea, the colliery railway then having to rely on horses. Robbins in his paper on the railway suggests that the first two locomotives were second-hand from a colliery railway belonging to Sir John Lister Kaye (thus confirmed by Goodchild) which were overhauled at the Railway Foundry in Leeds before being sent to the front.

Records from E B Wilson-Hudswell, Clarke  & Co., of Leeds suggest that they supplied two 2-4-0 tank eninges for the Crimea, in 1855. They had 5' 6" diameter driving wheels and a domeless boiler to the design of John Gooch.

The first locomotive, christend "The Alliance" was shipped in September 1855 according to the Leeds Mercury of 8 September 1855. The Leeds Intelligencier states that "The Alliance" was shipped from the Railway Foundry via Southampton to the Crimea in its edition of 8 September 1855. She was "a small locomotive"..."what is a called a tank locomotive so that it carries all the water and fuel it requires on the body of the engine".

The Leeds Mercury of the same date, however, suggests that the first engines sent out came from the Waterloo Colliery, Leeds, and were rather too small for the heavy gradients. They were 2-4-0s (presumably those two sent out earlier in the year)and instead the Railway Foundy, Leeds, supplied two much larger 0-6-0 tank engines. This would make sense as an 0-6-0 has all its weight available for traction, compard to a 2-4-0. However, the 2-4-0 would be better at taking sharp curves, but an 0-6-0 tank engine would be able to run equally well in either direction and not require turning. The Mercury also hints that the locomotives might have been armoured having iron plates to protect the crew. Indeed, the crew were armed with revolvers. The Editorial of the Mercury suggests that the line was being re-laid as it was worn out, but, more importantly had to be relaid with stronger rail due to the weight of the new locomotives on order.

The Leeds Mercury of  16 September 1855 suggests that "Alliance" was in fact second hand:

"…The engine which leaves here for Southampton to-day has had a thorough renovation and repainted at the Railway Foundry. Her "iron sides" are adorned with the English, French, Sardinian, and Turkish war flags, conspicuously painted thereon, and she is called the "Alliance"…"

This elaborate paint scheme, of national flags and emblems is confirmed by the special correspondent of the Daily News, Lawrence Godkin, who says on 28 December 1855:

"three engines are now plying on it [the railway] taking along their waggons, both loaded and empty, their names are "Alliance", "Victory" and "Swan". The first two have four flags painted on each side, the two most prominent being the English Union Jack  and the French Tricolour."

W H Russell in The Times names two locomotives, the "Alliance" and  the "Victory". He also confirms that a third locomotive was called "Swan". The Proceedings of the Institue of Civil Engineers (vol. 152) for 1903 confirms that the locomotives came from E B Wilson-Hudswell, Clarke & Co. of Leeds. It is also clear that the Government put the contract for the locomotives out to tender as "Mr Peacock of Manchester" (presumably Richard Peacock, founding partner of Beyer, Peacock & Co.) submitted a tender for locomotivesfor the Crimea in 1855.

In otherwords, the frist two engines sent out to the Crimea were second-hand 2-4-0s, originally intended for the colliery railway of Sir John Lister Kaye. They were overhauled in Leeds before being sent to the Crimea via Southampton. A further two, larger, 0-6-0 locomotives followed, also from Leeds as the original two locomotives had proved too small.  "Alliance", and possibly her sister "Victory" were therefore 0-6-0 tank locomotives.

According to the Proceedings of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers for 1856 (p. 98) a "portable self moving engine" was used on the wharf in Balaklava and to pull the wagons on the quay side to release horses for the cavalry and artillery and "until the locomotives came out". This engine also came from Leeds, by John Fowler:

Also controversial is matters of gauge. Goodchild indicates that the gauge was 4 feet 8 1/2 inches (standard) as the colliery line in Wakefield had a main line connecton; The Railway Gazette (vol 107) suggests a gauge of five feet six inches because the first two locomotives were purchased second-hand and had originally been intended for the Indian Railways which use that gauge.

Robbins suggests that the gauge may have been 5 feet 6 inches as  two engines, one of which was called the "Balaklava", the other "Fortuna" [sic, Portena?] were shipped to Beunos Aires,  the first steam engines to run in Argentina. They were still running in 1883 between Buenos Aires and Tigre. The only problem with this is, is that  "La Portena" is not a 2-4-0 but an 0-4-0 saddle tank.She  was preserved on the orders General Peron in the 1950s. I suppose its possible she was converted from a 2-4-0 to 0-4-0. She does look rather truncated at the front; Today she is preserveds as a 2-2-0, obviously at some point having lost her coupling rods!

Another problem is that "La Portena" has wheels of 4-feet (48 inches) diameter, not the 5 feet 6 inches recorded in the E B Wilson-Hudswell, Clarke & Co order book: however, the refernce to 5 feet 6 inches for the wheels may relate to the gauge.

The Morning Chronicle (26 April 1856) says that the several railway companies had submitted tenders to purchase either part or the entire Crimean railway: the Heraclean Colliery Ltd offered to buy the entire ralway and infrastructure and indeed The Standard  carries an advertisement selling the railway in lots.This, therefore, would support the claim that locomotives, rolling stock and track found their way to Argentina.

The Times in  1927 states that "La Portena" arrived in Buenos Aires along with rolling stock and track from the Crimea; the five passenger carriages were described as looking like "London Omnibus carriages". The Times of 12 November 1940 notes that two of the engines sent out to the Crimea were still in existance, in Buenos Aires. They were purchased second-hand by Peto and Brassey for building the Buenos Aires Great Southern Railway in  1857. According to The Times those two engines had a gauge of 5 feet 7 inches and were also rumoured to be originally intended for India, but a gauge of 5 feet 6 inches is far more likely. E B Wilson-Hudswell, Clarke & Co later supplied locomotoves for Buenos Aires, to a guage of 5 feet 6 inches, which was the same as used in India. Perhaps it is the similarity of the guages that led observers to think the first engines sent to th Crimea were re-directed from India. This, however contradicts the Times of 1940 which suggests the locomotives for Buenos Aires came from Lancashire! That locmotives from the Crimea went to Buenos Aires is confirmed by a paper in The Locomotive (15 June 1909) which suggests that the first steam locomotive to run in Argentina was one of the Crimean engines. The Railway, Wagon and Carriage Review (vol 14), 1908 confirms "La Portena" and her sister were supplied by E B Wilson-Hudswell, Calrke & Co. having been used in the Crimea. The Railway Gazette for 1907 suggests "La Portena" and her sister "La Argentina" being the first locomotives in Argentina defined the gauge of railways in that country: the track was layed to suit the gauge of the engines (5 feet 6 inches).

Cooke suggests it is not known how the track bed was formed; despite him citing documents in the National Archive which say it was a "baulk road" in otherwords with longtitudinal sleepers and cross-bracing a la Brunel. Cooke, however, bases his interpretion of how the track was laid on Fenton's photographs and illustrations from The Illustrated London News., the latter showing the traditional sleeper arrangement. Sir Francis B Head, writing to The Times states catagorically the track was laid on a foundation called a "plank road" whereby planks were laid on a raft of timber or brush wood longitudinally and then transverse planks were laid on top. A method reputedly used by Peto & Brassey for crossing boggy groun in Canada.

So to sum up, a quick trawl of my literature and of the Leeds Newspapers contradicts Brian Cooke's book The Grand Crimean Central Railway: The Railway which won a war.  Whilst Cooke has used the archival material in the National Archives he has not read contemporary newspaper accounts, technical journals nor consulted the archives of the major railway locomotive constructors.  Therefore,  there is scope for a new book, or at least a paper, identifying the locomotives used in the Crimea.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

A Wakefield Man in the Crimea

Letter from Private John Burgoyne, 23rd Regiment (Royal Welch Fusiliers), to his father who was ‘well known’ in the town.[1]
Inkerman, December 7th[1854]
My Dear Father,
After a Long delay I take up my pen. I will tell you all that has happened since I left England. After we landed in Turkey, we soon commenced our marching. We first went to Bulgaria, and there in the place we lost most of our brave men by sickness, but thank God I enjoyed very good health. After a long and painful stay we got on route to Russia when our men gave three hearty cheers. We landed in Russia (the Crimea), on the 18th Sept. quite safe.  One the 19th our Regiment marched in front of the army with Sir George Brown at our head. At 12 o’clock we met the enemy but our appearance put them to flight, and they were pursued by our artillery, which gave them what they did not like. We lay there that night, and next morning we commenced our march. Sorry I am to say it was the last march for many a poor fellow. At 12 o’clock we halted, and got orders to prepare for the enemy; General Saint Arnand [sic, Marshal Saint Arnaud[2]] came with the news. We all rose and gave three cheers. At half-past one we met our foe mounted on the heights miles above our heads, their cannons pouring upon us, but we advanced coolly with General Brown[3] at our head. He said – “Now Royal Welsh, let them see what you can do!” We gained the day. Our army lost 1400 men. The poor 23rd suffered the most. We lost 210 killed and wounded. We buried the dead, and in a few days commenced our march again. We took a fort and 200 prisoners. At last we came in front of Sebastopol. It is a most beautiful place. We are hammering at it every day, but have not yet commenced work properly. On the 5th of November the Russians sallied out with 40,000 men. There was only about 200 of our regiment and about as many more of the 7th Regiment[4]. They came on the high hills, and we were in a ravine. We kept them in play for three hours, until the French came up to our assistance, when we made a complete massacre of them. We took 400 prisoners, and the French took 9000. We lost very few men, and 1 officer and 12 men made prisoners. If they would only let us go at them we would finish matters very soon. There have been several of the Russians have given themselves up to us, and they say that they are very badly off for provisions in Sebastopol. We are having winter clothing served out to us. It rains very much here. We have to engage every second night. We cannot tell the moment that we shall have to make a rush, but the Royal Welsh will do their duty, you may depend upon it.

[1] ‘Letters from the Crimea to Wakefield’, Wakefield Journal & Examiner (29 December 1854).
[2] Marshal Armand Jacques Leroy de Saint Arnaud (1801 -1854) Commander-in-Chief of the French army in the Crimea; he died on 29 September 1854 shortly after the battle of the Alma and had previously relinquished command to General Francois Certain Canrobert (1809-1895).
[3] General Sir George Brown (1790-1865), commander of the Light Division (First Brigade (General Codrington) 33rd, 23rd and 7th Regiments; Second Brigade (General Buller) 77th, 88th and 19th Regiments). He was disliked for being a stickler for regulations, making his men wear the hated leather stock and whiten their cross belts even when in the trenches.
[4] 7th or ‘Royal Fusiliers’ part of the Light Division under General Sir George Brown; the 7th were commanded by Colonel Lacy Yea (1808-1855) who was killed in the Crimea.

Wakefield Voices from the Crimea

New book of soldier's letters

Letters sent home from Wakefield Soldiers during the Crimean War

A collection of letters sent home from Wakefield men to their friends and families from the Siege of Sebastopol, from both the Army and Navy.

Oddly this collection includes no letters from Yorkshire Regiments, such as the 19th (Green Howards) or 33rd (Duke of Wellington's). There are also only two sets of correspondance from an Officer, which contradicts the assumed levels of literacy of the Other Ranks, that they did not or could not write home and also challenges the assumption that it was largely the officers who wrote home. This collection of letters from Wakefield and a cursory study of letters published in the Leeds Mercury and the Huddersfield Chronicle suggests that the ORs (from Private to Colour Sergeant) were frequently writing home to their families, detailing their daily lives and experiences in often graphic detail as well as criticisng their officers and also newspapers such as The Times, often coming to the defence of Lord Raglan (whom The Times portrayed as hauty and out of touch with his men). Uniquely there are letters from a bandsman.

The scope of the letters includes the army in Bulgaria, accounts of the battles of the Alma and Inkerman, the winter 1854-1855 and also the fall of Sebastopol. The letters of the Barnsley-born Sergeant James Wallis cover his arrival in the Crimea, the Alma, Winter 1854-1855, the first attack (18 June 1855), the final assault and mopping up during winter 1855-1856; the letters of 'An anonymous young [Naval] officer' give a fascinating insight into the daily life of a naval officer and how officers of differant services viewed each other.

Below are the details of the men, their units and place of residence in this collection:

Name Rank Regiment Town
John Ainsley Private 68th Durham Light Infantry Wakefield
William Baines Private 30th (East Devonshire) Wakefield
John Burgoyne Private 23d (Royal Welch Fusiliers) Wakefield
Robert Crawford Private 28th (North Gloucester) Wakefield
James Evans ? Rifle Brigade Barnsley
Samuel Evans Private Scots Fusilier Guards(1st Battn) Wakefield
George Firth Private 4th (Kings Own)
Henry Firth ? ? Dewsbury
James Greenwood Bandsman 34th (Cumberland) Barnsley
Hincliffe Sergeant 2nd Battn. Rifle Brigade Wakefield
William Hamlet Floyd Private 23rd (Royal Welch Fusiliers) Wakefield
George Haigh Bombardier Royal Artillery Wakefield
William Leache Private Royal Sappers and Miners Barnsley
David Maguire ? ? Barnsley
John Murray Private 23rd (Royal Welch Fusiliers) Wakefield
Edwin Peat Gunner Royal Artillery Barnsley
William Pegman Private 54th (West Norfolk) Barnsley
Selby Sergeant 50th (Kent) Barnsley
William Shelley Corporal 34th (Cumberland), Light Company Wakefield
John Sidebottom Private Royal Marines Wakefield
"BS" Private 39th (Dorsetshire) Wakefield
John Swift Corporal 34th (Cumberland) Barnsley
James Wallis Sergeant 2nd Battn. Rifle Brigade Barnsley
Samuel Weale Corporal 30th (Cambridgeshire) Wakefield
Anon Officer 21st (Royal North British Fusiliers) Wakefield

There appears to be strong recruiting links between Wakefield and the Royal Welch Fusiliers and the 34th (Cumberland) Regiment and Barnsley.

I hope to follow up this volume with "White Roses Before Sebastopol: letters fromWest Yorkshire men in the Crimean War" based on letters in the Leeds Mercury, Huddersfield Chronicle, Sheffiled Independent and the York Herald.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

The Press, The Army, and The French

 AS I think most scholars of the "Great Russian War (1854-1856)" are aware, the press played a particulalry important role shaping the perception of that conflict and the mythology of it, especially the Siege of Sebastopol which in reality was a side-show compared to the Naval War. It was through the press that the Siege of Sebastopol has been remembered as the major and perhaps only theatre of operations, famous for the suffering of the British "tommy" compared to the French "piou piou".

Whilst it is undeniable that the British army did suffer during the Winter 1854-1855, they were no worse off than their French allies who lacked shelter other than the most rudmentary kind (dug outs, bivouacs or the Tentes d'Abri (the latter not consisdered suitable for anything but a summer campaign); food (the French commissariat was a bureaucratic nightmare) and hig rates of sickness (mostly from preventable diseases such as scurvey or typhus and also from the cold).

William Howard Russell, the "Special COrrespondant with the Army" for the Times Newspaper, however, was biased in his reporting: he admitted in a letter to his editor, John Delane, that he was "convinced" Lord Raglan  was incompetant as "Commander in Chief of British Troops East of Malta" from the start of his appointment. To Russell he was too old, too inexperienced and, above all for member of the upwardly mobile and increasingly vocal middle class, too Aristocratic Lawrence Godkin, the Unitarian reporter for the Daily News was an out-spoken Radical opposed to the Establishment and The Morning Chronicle was editted by a fellow Unitarian and Radical. Russell, like his contemporaries Charles Dickens or Thackery, was a member of the Administrative Reform Association which believed that the Government and the Country should be run by "Professional Persons" on the same line as big business.   The Aristocracy - from where the bulk of senior army officers were drawn - were seen as incompetant in such a responsible position, that they only offered appointments to other "gentelmen" and it was time that the aristocracy moved over in favour of the middle class. In the eyes of many of the politically vocal and powerful middle class, the aristocracy could do nothing right. To the middle class, the French army represented the middle class ideal of the "self made man": the French officer promoted from the ranks, an army which rewarded merit and had little or no favouritism based on class. The direct opposite of the perceived nature of the British army, a perception which for very many army officers was incorrect.

Lord Hardinge, the British Army Commander-in-Chief (1852-1856) was convinced that attacks by The Times on the staff and army officers was the only acceptable attack that could be made on the Establishment and aristocracy and that such attacks were not well founded. The attacks, however, were powerful and influential. The Duke of Newcastle and Sidney Herbertin their dealing with Lord Raglan - as the political animals they were - acted in direct response to discussions in the House of Commons and the Press. They were constantly accusing Raglan of charges made against him and his army made by the Press to which Raglan was forced to reply and rebuke. Raglan was fighting a rear-guard action, as it were, against the press and his political superiors.

Furthermore, Lord Hardinge in his correspondance with Genral Richard Airey (the QMG to Lord Raglan) notes that General Estcourt (the AG to Raglan) was not as efficient as might have been hoped in providing the weekly returns of men, ammunition, weaspons, equipment to be sent etc etc etc. This meant that Lord Hardinge and those at Horse Guards found themselves reliant on information of how the Army was getting on int the Crimea not through offiicial channels, but from the papers! The Duke of Newcastle and Sidney Herbert both admit that their information on the campaign came from the newspapers and their opinions were shaped by whay they had read in the paper. The lack of official communication about the state of the army in the Crimea meant that Horse Guards were totally unable to rebuke the claims made by The Times because they simply did not have the data with which to do so, and the data they did have was from The Times!

The Times, whilst it not only published the famous dispatches of Russell also published letters home from the front from officers and soliders in huge numbers. This served to give human face to the unfolding drama outside Sebastopol. Ulike Raglan's rather terse official dispatches, Russell's accounts provided colour, human interest and good story telling, which were more readily accepted than the rather dull official version. Russell's reports were pure journalism: a good read, exciting stories of valour and human suffering which served to mobilise the philanthropic middle class into action to bring succour to the suffering troops and clamour for Army Reform.  Of the letters home, interestingly The Times only ever published those letters written home which were overtly critical of Raglan and/or drew unfavourable comparisons with the French. Letters which questioned the perceived superiority of the French were rebuked in the leaders of The Times etc. Having read many of manuscript letters int he National Army Museum and compared the writing of many officers to that of Russell I have found that many officers unconsciously slip into Russell-esque prose and even reproduce entire sentances from Russell. Thus, many officers were interpreting what they saw, or what they thought they saw, through their own eyes and also the critical lens of W H Russell. That officers were including whole sentances lifted from Russell suggests that they were either copying him, or had in fact read Russell and his reporting and interpretation had sunk into their unconsciousness and was accepted as the true version of events. Not only this, but the Times and other 'papers such as the Daily News held back reporting of the official version of events, such as Raglan's Dispatches, until the reports from their own Special Correspondants had arrived in London and could be published, further reinforcing to the domestic reader the Russell version of events rather than the Raglan version and giving the false impression that Raglan was writing in reply to Russell et al. Raglan, quite simply, lost the media war.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

The Media War

Somethings don't change, and one of them is the manipulative powers of the press! 
  The first news of the Charge of the Light Brigade (25 October 1854) reached London from the Paris Newspapers on 6 November 1854 and was confirmed by a respatch from Vienna on the 9 November. British 'official' dispatches by Lord Raglan arrived on the 12 November but were held back for publication by the Daily News until the following day to allow the report of their own correspondent, Lawrence Godkin to be published first.The Times witheld the dispatches of Raglan until the 18 November, having previously whipped up a media storm through the reports of W H Russell, its own 'leaders' and publishing openly critical letters from eye-witnesses. Thus Raglan's dispatches appeared to be a response to the claims of the papers; they did not have as much detail as the reports in the paper and nor did they have the emotional, personal charge of the newspaper reports or the letters sent home from the front. The papers were in control of the media war, were manipulating it for their own ends and all Raglan could do was write letters of protest from a position of relative impotence, undermined at the front and in authority through the power of the press and the influence the press and popular opinion held over his political masters. His letters to The Duke of Newcastle, Sidney Herbert and later Lord Panmure are an almost constant stream of rebuttal and self-defence from the accusations of the press. He lost the media war.
Here is the timeline
25 October 1854 Charge of the Light Brigade
27 October 1854 Lord Raglan writes his dispatch
5 November 1854 The French state newspaper, "Le Moniteur", publishes a report dated 4 November about "The Charge".

6 November 1854 "The Times" reproduces a translation of the report in "Le Moniteur"
8 November 1854 "The Morning Chronicle" publishes a translation of an Austrian dispatch recounting the Charge of the Light Brigade.

9 November 1854 "The Morning Chronicle" and the "Daily News" print an official dispatch from the British ambassador to Turkey, Lord Stratford de Radcliffe which describes, briefly, the Charge of the Light Brigade
12 November 1854 "The Daily News" publishes a first short report by Lawrence Godkin which condemns Lord Raglan and describes " great loss of life". Raglan's official despatch of 27 October reaches London.
13 November 1854 "The Times" prints a lengthy report by W H Russell which codemns Lord Raglan; Lord Raglan's despatch printed in "The Daily News" together with a lengthy condemnatory and highly detailed account by Godkin; Raglan's despatches printed in an "Extraordinary Gazette" of "The Morning Chronicle"
14 November 1854 "THe Manchester Times" reproduced Russell's and Godkins account of the Charge of the Light Brigade
14 -17 November 1854 "The Times" prints daily "Leaders" and reports by Russell condeming the Charge of the Light Brigade higlighting the incompetancy of the British high command but praising the heroism of the common cavalry trooper.The Times reinforces this message with letters written by eye-witnesses and survivors
18 November 1854 "The Times" publishes the official despatches of Lord Raglan.
20 November 1854  Casualty figures reach London; "The Manchester Guardian" demands and inquiry into the Charge, claiming Raglan, Lucan and Cardigan are incompetant.
Attention was switched from the disaster of Balaklava to the pyrrhic victory at Inkerman (5 November 1854) but "The Times" and "The Daily News" didnt let the matter lie......

Monday, 19 March 2012

"Souvenirs d'Un Officier des Zouaves"


Often considered to be a "classic" book written by a Zouave officer who served in Algeria and the Crimean War, and often given undue prominance in the literature because it was translated into English (and thus one of the very few French sources available to anglophile/phone historicans) by an American as part of the 'Zouave-Manie'  that developed there following the report of Geroge McClellan on the French Army in the Crimea and the press reports of W H Russell et al. The book charts the campaigns of the 2eme Zouaves and the daily life of the members of that regiment, providing a fascinating glimpse into the life of the French army on campaign.

However,  despite being  traditionally claimed to be authored by Jean Joseph Gustave Cler, it most certainly was not. Cler and his colleague Baron Pierre Albert du Casse (a French Staff Officer) collaborated on a book recounting the history of the 2eme Regiment des Zouaves (formed only in 1852) and its recent history in the Kabylian an Crimean campaigns, tapping into the 'Zouave-Manie' which  was sweeping France. The work probably started in 1858 and it was published posthumously in 1859 as a memorial to Cler.

Du Casse states that  he wrote the book based on the letters of Cler (those he sent to Marechal Castellane survive) and the regimetnal journal of the 2eme Zouaves which also survives in the French Army Archives at the Chateau de Vincennes, Paris. Du Casse also states that following the death of Cler his friends contributed material for the book and subscribed for its publication.  IT appeared first in the 'Journal des Sciences Militaire' in part form during 1858 and this version differs greatly from that which finally appeared as a book. The first edition was published in 1859 and the second, revised editon in 1868. The first English translation was published in America in 1860.

So here we have a problem: the book was not writen by Cler. It was perhaps "ghost written" from his letters by Du Casse, and we can compare the surviving letters written by Cler to Castellane to corrobrate the accounts given in the book. Infact, huge chunks are copied directly from his letters as Cler had a very idiosyncratic style and always wrote in the 3rd person. However, and this is a big however, we do not know from what other material Du Casse was working: did Cler keep a diary? What else did his friends contribute to the book? We just do not know. Thus this book goes from being a primary source, 'written by one who was there' to a secondary source, worked up  albeit from primary data, but in itself is not trustworthy. Rather like the volumes of 'Souvenirs' and 'Memorials' written many years after the event which are influenced by the fallible memory of the writer and anything else they may have read or persons spoken to which may affect what they remember or think they remember or think they know. They become rather like oral history, historical fiction rather than historical fact.

There we have it: 'Souvenirs d'Un Officier des Zouaves' is not a book written by an officer of Zouaves recounting his experiences but rather a book written about an officer of Zouaves and his regiment.

Friday, 16 March 2012

The Intendance, again...

A letter from Sergent-Major Alfred Minart of the 27e to his mother reveals that on the night of the 23rd September 1854 there was a 'terrible storm' which wrecked the French camp. He writes:

My dearest Mother,

I had written you a long letter of five pages, and awaited the courier; at the moment when I had finished it, a drunk Chasseur d’Afrique lays down at the door of my tent, I put the nose out to see what is happening, at the same time, the wind blows my letter that falls into the fire. I well-cursed this cavalryman!
  Charles is constantly on the division for council of war which he is secretary so I do not see him. Edward is ten minutes from here. I do not see him often because he is so high perched...
  We had a terrible storm the night before last, the wind begins to batter the three tents of Colonel. He cries like hell for someone to come to his assistance, but no one could go outside without the risk of being blown away by the storm. Luckly, the sappers had pity on him and gave him a small tent where he could spend the day.  The tents of other officers had the same fate and were blown away. Only that of Charles survived, and was quickly invaded by other officers who came to seek asylum. Other refugees went to Balaklava, hoping that English myladies would let themselves be seduced by the piteous state of our officers: but the ladies do not have the heart as sensitive as ours, and the conquerors returned crestfallen. I laughed comic scenes caused by the hurricane. The cantinieres who had taken refuge in their wagons, they took the position without horses and descended into the ravines to shelter from the storm.
  On the morrow, the wind ceased and we could rebuild our homes. We are making barriers to stop the wind, and making underground housesThe government has just sent us the sheepskin overcoats, we look like vertiable Eskimos.

He concludes his letter describing his disappointment at being looked-over for promotion and also recounts how a newly-arrived officer committe suicide.

I have a victim  of a big deception, I was proposed for promotion to second lieutenant with the number 2, because we had three vacancies, most of the rewards of Alma just arrived. I well hoped to be named  a place in the depot in France. But the man proposed: indeed, if Colonel favours him, he will go far with a commission, he did appoint, but from two noncommissioned officers of the Zouaves, Division of Prince Napoleon. One of the newly promoted arrived a few days ago, they made him welcome, but he disappeared. The next day we learned that he was found dead,  from a gunshot to the heart. We do not know the motives of his act of despaire.

Therefore, the Intendance was incapable of providing better shelter than the Tentes d'Abris because the large 16-man tents had been wrecked. This meant that the French had to endure the winter in the utterly unsuitable Tentes d'Abris or in their dugouts. Thus I am coming to the conclusion the Intendance whilst hide bound with red tape and beaurocracy, was the victimof unforseen circumstances: its supply of bread and biscuit and the mobile bread ovens were destroyed in a fire in Varna on 14th August 1854; tents were destroyed on 23rd September and again on the 14th November which left the French army going hungry and freezing to death.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

French Officers

One of the most frequent expressions used by British reform-minded officers in serving in the Crimea or Baltic and equally used by the Domestic and Militiary press  when describing French officers is 'professional', often coupled to 'well-paid'. Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Percy of the Grenadier Guards wrote:

Their Officers are not effete officials and inactive ignoramuses, but active hawk-eyed soldiers.  Their generals don’t have attacks of nerves, and are always thinking of their men and not of their own comforts … Their [Officers] are not the product of nepotism.  Their Generals are selected from experience, and not because they get round the ear of some woman – or worse than that – some man degenerated with women … The French Officer has … faults, but he is a soldier

 How true of the French officer during the period 1853-1856 is this?

Officer Selection
French Army officers were promoted according to the Law of 14th April 1832 (the Loi Soult), which replaced that of 1818 (Loi St Cyr) and radically altered the way officers and other ranks were promoted and rewarded.  The law of 1816 dictated that officers had to remain in each rank for four years before being eligible for promotion - therefore, no matter how talented the officer it would take a minimum of 18 years to be promoted to colonel. Eligibility for promotion was primarily based upon an officer's own merit, but also the seniority of their commission and, usually, their favour or ‘protection’ with senior officers. There were two routes to promotion: from the ranks, or by direct commission from St Cyr.  Officers were now expected to have had a good education up to university level and be graduates of the École Polytechnqiue or St Cyr.  Potential recruits for the officer corps had to be aged between 20 and 30, be taller than 1m 56 and be expected to serve a minimum of ten years in the Army.  Twenty years later Napoléon III ordered that officers should all hold a degree prior to starting their training as officers.  This was an attempt to improve the quality of the French officer corps but had the unforeseen disadvantage of restricting the officer corps to middle class families, as it was only they who could afford to send their sons to the best schools.  The French army generally lacked highly educated officers as those candidates with the best examination results at St Cyr would pass into the elite Staff Corps (Corps d’État Major) leaving the ‘dregs’ for the infantry, a situation compounded as, unlike the other arms of service, the infantry did not have any specialist ‘Schools of Application’ to further training of infantry officers. Infantry officers were assumed to continue their study in private once they had graduated. Officers destined for the cavalry attended the Cavalry School at Saumur: where they were taught a very thorough if theoretical curriculum. Saumur also taught the Officers and NCOs of other mounted branches such as the Artillery and Train des Equipages how to ride in French army style. Officers could volunterr for the cavalry witih a direct commission and Saumur saw itself as socially superior to the other French 'Schools of Application'.

‘A fair knowledge of Mathematics’ was required for entry into St Cyr, and the lectures (and examinations) were in mathematics, science, modern languages, military sciences, geography, history and statistics; in addition all the students were taught to ride as well as the ins and outs of infantry, cavalry and artillery drill.  Those officers who passed their examination in the ‘1st Class’ were eligible for admittance into the Special Staff School (École d’Etat Major) as a Sous-Lieutenant in Paris.  The curriculum included modern languages, mathematics, and trigonometry, the study of artillery and fortification, military administration and bookkeeping, field sketching, statistics and manoeuvres of troops on campaign.  Officers would study there for two years learning the duties of a Staff Officer, passing into the infantry with the rank of lieutenant as the Adjutant-Major for two years, before passing into the cavalry for a further period of two years before finally joining the État Major with the rank of captain.

There was, of course, a way to circumvent St Cyr. Sons from a wealthy background who perhaps lacked the education to enter St Cyr or from families who could not afford to send their sons to good schools, but possessing military attributes, could enlist as a volunteer as a simple soldat. Even sons from noble families could be found serving a privates or NCOs as a way of becoming officers and this was not considered unusual in anyway. Promotion for these volunteers was often very rapid because they were literate and better educated than the vast majority of the conscripts. The same was true of the Etat Major; whilst generals had to chose their staff and Aides de Camp from qualified officers of the Etat Major, many resented this intrustion into the selection of their staff. They appointed their own personal staff, or 'Cabinet' from officers known to them and officers with whom they had worked in the past and had a good working relationship: something considered vital to the effective management of a division or brigade. Thus, the Etat Major was cirucmvented and could be further circumvented through the appointment of Officiers d'Ordonnance (Ordlery Officers) from amongst family members or as a way of gaining favour  with superiors: for example General Canrobert had as his Officier d'Ordonnance Pierre de Castellane, the son of a Marshal of France! For other young, ambitious officers, getting an appointment as an Officier d'Ordonnance was a means of getting noticed and therefore promotion.

Promotion was based upon two principals: election and seniority of commission. Officers had to spend a minimum of two years in a rank before being promoted.    Up to the rank of captain, officers were promoted on the basis of their seniority or merit by a system of election; 2/3s of the officers to be promoted were elected by the senior officers based on merit and the remainder by seniority.

Any vacancies amongst the ranks of Sous-Lieutenant were to be filled from the sergeants and sergeant majors of each Battalion, after their names had been suggested by their lieutenant, company captain and the Chef de Bataillon.  Promotion from Sous-Lieutenant to lieutenant was automatic after two years continuous, good service and passing the lieutenants’ exam.

To be considered for promotion to Sous-Lieutenant, a sergeant or sergeant-major had to have an exemplary record and a testimonial from their company captain and Chef de Bataillon. When an NCO was promoted to Sous-Lieutenant they were promoted away from their old Battalion so as to break friendships and ties.

Officers proposed for each rank had to be submitted to their Chef de Bataillon who in turn took their name to the Lieutenant-Colonel and also to the senior officers in committee.  The committee was Chaired by the Lieutenant-Colonel and consisted of the Major and Colonel of each regiment.  The final arbiter for promotion was the Minister of War. A Lieutenant had to spend four years in that rank before being eligible for promotion to 2nd Captain, and the rank of 1st Captain was based on seniority of commission.  The rank of Chef de Bataillon was chosen from two of three candidates chosen from the most senior 1st Captains, and was based entirely upon merit.  Promotion from Lieutenant or Sous-Lieutenant to Captain was reduced to two years in June 1855 due to the lack of officers caused by the Crimean War.

Pay and Pensions
French Army pay was notoriously low. In 1836 it was calculated that the pay of a Sous-Lieutenant was the equivalent of that of a Parisian bookkeeper or junior clerk! The pay of officers had not increased from 1780 to 1830, because the officer corps of the ancien regime army was usually considered to be sufficiently wealthy so that their official pay became an honorarium. As a result, after the revolution of 1789 the morale of the officer corps was very low. The restored Bourbon monarchy (1815-1830) deliberately kept the pay of officers low so as to deter middle class officers and promotion from the ranks. There was considerable resentment between officers of the Line and the Royal Guard, the latter receiving double or triple the pay of the former. The most vied-for rank amongst officers was that of captain as it was only that rank that an officer was actually able to live off his pay.  Under the July Monarchy (1830-1848) pay and conditions for officers were considerably improved but still did not ultimately meet living costs for officers. In 1836 a 1st Captain was paid 3,600F per year; a 2nd Captain 3,000F per year; 1st Lieutenant 1,875F per year and a 2nd Lieutenant 1,650F per year. It was estimated that from his monthly take-home pay of 95.83F, a Sous-Lieutenant had an outlay of 123F. In order to offset this, officers received money from which to pay their mess and accommodation bills and a gratuity for travel costs, which varied according to distance travel and mode of transport. The belief held in Britain that French officers were 'well paid' is totally unfounded: a French Lieutenant received 1,250F per year whilst his British counterpart was paid 2,975F. As a result of this low pay, morale amongst officers was low and apathy was high. The most vied-for rank amonst French officers was that of Captain as it was only at that rank that an officer could actually live from his take-home pay, albeit very frugally. If pay was low, then so too were officer's pensions which were the lowest in Europe. In 1836 a Lieutuenant could receive a maxmimum annual pension of 1,200F, and a Captain 1,600F. Pensions were available to officers who had served 25 years but if an officer retired after 20 years service due to ill health or personal reasons could still draw a pension so long as they were available for military service. Widows were entitled to half of their husband's pension. The minimum annual officer's pension was 350F per year and 150F for a widow!

Social Mix

The French army was based on partial conscription; each department had to provide a ‘class’ of potential recruits each year who had to be aged between 18 and 30 and more than 1m 540 tall. Every eligible potential recruit in a Department was assigned a number and took part in the annual ‘lottery of service’:  if their number was drawn, then they were conscripted. Conscription was for five years with a compulsory two-year reserve obligation, giving a total of seven years service. Military service was for maximum period of 22 years, but wealthy conscripts could ‘buy out’ of service for 2,600F, a sum that rose to 4,000F at the outbreak of the Crimean War.

This meant in theory that the demographic of the French army was very cosmopolitan, and contained men from the rural peasant stock to members of the bourgeoisie; indeed the ‘buy out’ price was gently increased to ‘encourage’ those of the middling sort to join the army. Only those who were wealthy enough could afford not to serve in the army by buying a substitute to stand in their place. That said, having money and influence did not necessarily mean the wealthier classes did not serve in the army; it was considered quite normal to find the son of a senior army officer or prestigious family serving in the army as a common soldier as this was a rapid route for promotion. Conscription, however, was hated and resented by all levels of French society; the middle classes saw the provision of a substitute as a form of heavy tax and conscription was not considered a duty to the community but rather as a heavy tribute imposed by an oppressive state. For the working class and rural poor, it meant the loss of sons for military service and therefore the loss of able hands at home, especially in rural communities where there was already a manpower shortage due to increasing urban and industrialisation under the July Monarchy and Second Empire. With memories of the Napoléonic Wars, many parents believed that being conscripted was the same as a death sentence. The ethos of the French army for much of the 19th century was to keep the army separate from society at large, almost as a caste apart. This was due to the fact that the army might be used to suppress rebellion, and to prevent sedition of the army by civilians. Napoléon III was in favour of a national army with short enlistment periods (no more than three years) and a very high ‘buy out’ price making the army a finishing school for its male citizens, instilling in them discipline and patriotism. His military advisors, however, were fundamentally opposed to this and believed the only way to ensure military loyalty was keeping a long-service army separate from society.

After the first seven years service, a soldier could then sign on again for a further period of 3, 4, 5, 6, or 7 years. After seven years service there was an incentive to remain with the army in terms of a cash payout for re-enlistment as well as higher pay.  For the first additional seven years service, daily pay was increased by ten centimes and the soldier received a cash gratuity of 100F upon retirement. If the soldier wanted to continue his service after 14 years, then he received an additional 20 centimes per day as well was a 300F bounty upon re-enlistment and a 700F gratuity upon retirement. Following the reforms of Marshal Soult in 1832 many veterans of the old Royalist army, and later in 1848-1850 those of the old Orleans army were gently 'encouraged' to leave and the retirement age was dropped to 47 and then 45.

Early in 1855, during the height of the Crimean War, it was realised that a considerable portion of those men in the army and on active service would be retiring after their 7 years service was up, and in order to encourage them to remain in the army, a bounty of 500F was offered per soldier, under 35 years of age, who re-enlisted for a second period of seven years.They would also receive an additional 10 centimes per day and were eligible for admittance in to the Imperial Guard. This having not proved popular, the Minister of War on 14th July 1855 allowed a gratuity of 2,300F per soldier re-enlisting after their service was up: 1,000F upon re-enlistment and 1,300F upon retirement.

Until success in the Crimean War, the French army was viewed with general disgust by society at large. This, combined with the relatively low status and pay for army officers meant that middle class and bourgeois families preferred to send their sons to more lucrative civilian posts. Overall French officers tended to be lower middle class in character: most aristocratic officers left the army in 1830 following the ‘July Revolution’; bourgeois officers preferred not to send their sons to the army whilst the lower middle classes, who could afford the education required for admittance to St Cyr viewed the army both as a profession and as a means of social advancement. The social base of the army the officer corps was further narrowed by the practice of the bourgeois and upper classes of ‘buying out’ from conscription, so that Infantry officers were predominantly the sons of artisans, well to do farmers and minor government employees; the largest proportion were sons from a military family. Further more, during the early yeas of the ‘July Monarchy’ when many aristocratic officers either left the army or were ejected, and the vacancies were filled either with promoted NCOs or by Napoleonic veterans who had been on half-pay for 15 years being re-called to the colours. Many of these re-called officers proved to be an embarrassment through their age, infirmity and not knowing the most up to date drill and regulations a situation made worse by the fact that good, long-service NCOs had been promoted to officer status!

There was a perennial shortage of good NCOs in the French army, largely as a result of the tradition of promotion from the ranks. Excellent NCOs would be rapidly promoted through to officer leaving only the mediocre as long service NCOs. Furthermore, because the pay of NCOs (like the officers) was comparatively low compared to their status and strenuous list of duties, there was little incentive for good NCOs to stay with the army after their seven years conscription was up. The single biggest source of NCOs were the ‘army born and bred’ Enfants de Troupe. For example, a sergeant major earned 25.50F per month from which he had an outlay of 21.50F, paying for his own food, laundry bills, barber and maintaining his uniform and equipment. Long service was rewarded with additional pay, with up to an additional 10 centimes per day be granted per long service chevron (one presented every 5-7 years). The July Monarchy and the Second Empire went a long way to improve the status and pay of the NCOs but a consistent thorn in the side of army reformers was the lack of a specialist training institution for NCOs. Under Napoléon I there had been the Instruction Battalion at Fontainebleu to train NCOs but this was suppressed under the Bourbon Monarchy and despite the best efforts of Marshal Soult in the 1840s was never revived due to political opposition: middle class officers opposed it as it was felt to undermine the status and education of the officer corps, whilst conservative politicians and officers did not believe in educating the ‘lower orders’. There was, of course, for the eternally cash-strapped French army, the issue of cost and whether the army could afford such an institution. 

The officer’s mess was a highly stratified establishment; unlike in the British army where all officers messed and dined together, in France the mess was divided hierarchically. This was due to French officers coming from a more diverse social background than in Britain but also because of the huge difference in relative rank and income. Meals and accommodation were carefully calculated on an officers pay, so that a Sous-Lieutenant ate relatively meagre fair compared to a Chef de Bataillon or the Colonel!  Furthermore, instead of dining at a communal table, each rank dined separately so that there was a separate table or dining room for the field officers, captains and subalterns.