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. 

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

La 40eme de Ligne en 1862

OK, so not Crimean War but here is a collection of  photographs of the Officers of the 40e taken in 1862 at the request of Capitaine Louis Barnet (1820-1896). In 1862 the 40e were part of the French garrison in Rome and the depot was in Agen. The regiment did not take part in any of the campaigns of the Second Empire. All pictures copyright Anthony Dawson.Please do not reproduce without permission.

Louis Barnet (1820-1896) photographed above in 1862 as Lieutenant of the Voltigeur Company of the 40eme; the photograph below shows him as Capitaine in 1865. Barnet was commissioned Lieutenant of Voltigeurs in 1854 and Capitaineof Voltigeurs in 1863. He retired in 1867 after more than 30 years' service,

Pictured below is Hugues-Charles-Firmin, Vicomte de Bernard, Comte de Seigneurens (1819-1888), photographed here as Major of the 40eme Ligne in 1862, proudly wearing the Légion d’Honneur which he was awarded in that year. From 1863-1870 he was Major in the 3eme Grenadiers of the Imperial Guard. St. Cyr 1838-1840; Sous-Lieutenant 37eme 1840; Lieutenant 1845; Captain 1850; Major 40eme 1859; Lieutenant-Colonel 3eme Régiment de Marche 1870; Colonel 39eme 1870; Général de Brigade Auxillaire 1871; Colonel 74eme 1871; retired 1876; imprisoned for fraud and embezzlement for 8 years and stripped of the Légion d’Honneur 1882. 

Here, below, is Capitaine Joseph-Louis Pezet; he was promoted from Sergent-Major to Sous-Lieutenant in June  1851 and as the most junior Sous-Lieutnant was also the Porte-Drapeau; Lieutenant May 1854 and Captain 1862.

Below is Capitaine Charles-Lucien Vaultrier: Lieutenant 1856;Capitaine 1862.

Above is Capitaine Pierre August Marie Desance, commander of the Grenadier company of the 40eme from 1859.

Below is Lieutenant Desire-Edmond Duhan: Sous-Lieutenant 1854; Lieutenant 1859; Capitaine 1865.
Above; an anonymous Sous-Lieutenant

Thursday, 8 March 2012

On Knapsacks

One of the most frequent complains from British soldiers in the Crimean war was that the British knapsack was too heavy. The French were believed to carry a lighter load and indeed, cartoons appeared in Punch Magazine to that effect and letters were written at length to the times.

The issue of the British knapsack had first been raised in 1848 in South Africa when the current model was found to be too heavy and cumbersome; at the Chobham Camp of 1852 various models were trialled, including those from Austria and Prussia and it was concluded the Prussian knapsack was the best model and should be emulated because, unlike the British model, it did not have a solid back and could thus mould to the wearer's body. However,  nothing was done and the British soldier marched off to the Crimean War wearing his 1822 or 1846 knapsack made by Messrrs J. Trotter of London.

Now, about the weight of the pack. Lord Raglan in an Order of the Day in February 1854 stated that the pack should contain the following articles and also listed their weight.

Knapsack and straps: 7lb 1/2oz

Two flannel shirts: 2lb
2 pairs flannel drawers: 2lb 2oz
2 pr trowsers: 1lb 11 1/4oz
2 shirts: 2lb 1oz
1 pair boots: 2lb 10iz
socks: 9oz
1 pair mitts:2 oz
1 Brush: 4 1/2 oz
1 Account book: 1 1/2oz
1 hold-all: 10oz
1 tin blacking: 7 1/4oz
1 towel: 3 3/3 oz
Total (contents): 13lb 10 2/3oz

To which was added in Marching Order:
Drill Jacket 1 lb 91/4oz
1 shirt
1 pair socks
2 brushes
which was an additional load of 3lb 101/2 oz

Including the musket and sling, bayonet,belt, pouch and 60rds ammo and the greatcoat the total load carried was 52lbs 12 1/3oz

In Heavy Marching Order were added the mess-tins, and water canteen and the bill hook,camp kettles etc which were caried in rotation. Then additionally was the three-days ration. It was estimated the load carried by the Guards was heavier than the Line, the total weight carried by the Guards being 80lbs and the Line 56lbs.
The French 1854 pattern knapsack - shown open (top) and closed (below).

The French knapsack was of the 1854 model. It was made from cow hide with the fur left on. Inside was an open wooden frame (sides only) to give the pack some rigidity; in the top of the frame was a compartment where the additional ammunition was stored, accessed via a flap on either side of the pack. This did away with the need for a tin ammunition magazine.

The knapsack itself weighed 4lb 6 oz

The contents and their weight were as follows:
Bonnet de Police a visere 7oz 13dr
2 shirts 4oz 14dr
1 pair shoes 1lb 14oz
1 pair drawers 9 oz 11dr
2 pocket handkerchiefs 1oz 14
1 pair gaiters 3 oz 14dr
1 flannel cholera belt 4oz 11dr
1 cravat1oz 9dr
48 rounds ammunition 5lbs 1 oz
Housewife 1lb 9oz
Canvas trousers1lb 5oz
Total: 16lbs 9oz 15dr

On the knapsack were carried
1 Greatcoat 3lbs 10oz
1 half tente d'abris 2lbs 5oz
1 tent pole 14 oz 6dr
3 tent pegs and guy rope 7oz 8dr
Sleeping bag 3lbs 2oz
Mess Tin 10oz 15 dr
Camp Kettle 1lb 15 oz
Total: 13lbs 2oz 5dr

The full water bottle weighed 2lbs 13oz
The giberne and waist belt weighed1lb 12 oz; the ammunition weighed and additional 1lb 7 oz and the tool kit, oil bottle etc 5 oz 5dr. The sabre (Flank companies) weighed 2lbs 9oz as did the bayonet (worn by all companies). TheMusket weighed 9lb 11oz

The total weight carried, therefore was a staggering 75lbs. Excluding the weight of the uniform.

To sum up:
Load Carried by British Guardsman = 80lbs
Load Carried by British Line Infantry= 56lbs
Load Carried by French Line Infantry = 75lbs

Thus, the load carried by the French Line infantryman was lighter than that carried by hte British Brigade of Guards by 5lbs it was considerably heavier than the load carried by the British Line. However, the load carried by the French included his own tent, something which the British would sorely miss in the opening stages of the campaign on the Crimean Peninsula as they had no tents until October 1854 when they were finally unloaded from the British Transports.

General J B B Estcourt, the Adjutant General to Lord Raglan in a letter to his superioer, General George Augustus Wetherall, the Adjutant General at Horse Guards suggested that the reason why the French pack appeared to be lighter was due to it having a more ergonomic design. He said that the French pack was worn high up on the back, the top of the pack  being level with the shoulders, the greatocat roll end tent therefore being head height, whilst hte British pack was worn lower down with the greatcoat roll at shoulder hieght. He also admitted that because the Britishpack hasd a solid back it would not conform to the shape of a soldier's back and thus "hung off" the back, not belped by the way the pack was loaded making it top-heavy. The breast-strap, concluded estcourt was to literally pull the pack hard against the soldier's body in a very unnatural way. He thought the weight of the French pack, from it being worn so high up, was taken directly on the shoulders and down the spine, whereas the British pack the weigh was taken on the lower back, but more importantly, mostly accross the chest because of the breast-strap.

Biomechanically, Estcourt was correct in his assumption. The French pack had its 'centre of mass' high-up on the body, distributed through both shoulder straps. The high-up 'centre of mass' would have forced the soldier to lean forward slightly to counterbalance the weight/ find a point of equilibrium. The weight of the pack would have been transferred to the shoulders and down the spine via the shoulder straps. Some of the weight would also have been taken by the waist belt which connected to the shoulder straps of the pack. The British pack being worn lower down and being forced away from the spine would have leaned backwards, away from the shoulders, hence the need for the breast-strap to keep it close to the spine. The 'centre of mass' being lower down meant that the soldier would have been leaning back slightly as the maximum weight of the pack was below the optimum point of equilibirum. Furthermore, the weight of the pack would not be taken on the shoulders but the lower back and on the breast-strap. The breast-strap would have constricted breathing, compounded by the soldier having to lean back slightly to find the equilibirum of  the 'centre of mass'. In additon, the French ammunition pouch and side-arms were worn on a waist belt which buttoned onto the uniform jacket. This meant that their load was distributed through the shouldes (where the uniform hung) and on the waist; furthermore the weight of the waist belt was alleviated through it attaching to the pack shoulder straps. British ammunition was carried on a shoulder belt which was not as ergonomic and did not have its weight distributed.

To conclude, the issue of the weight of the knapsacks was not due to the weight carried but the way the pack was worn: the French pack was heavier but worn in a more ergonomic way which made it easier to carry such a heavy load.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

French Army Camp Life

Whilst the photographs of the Chalons Camp of 1857 are very well known, these images were taken in Italy during the Italian Campaign of 1859 showing the French army on manoeuvres and in camp.

(above) Voltigeurs of the Guard in camp, 1859. Notice the variety of dress: Voltigeurs just wearing their Bonnet de Plice and shirts, the Sous-Officier wearing his veste and those men on duty wearing the traditional campaign attire of their shako and capote.

 (Above) Grenadiers of the Guard in camp.Note they all appear to be off-duty, wearing their bonnet de police and shirts,cleaning their kit. Also note the small size of the Tentes d'Abris which were carried on their packs (visible in the foreground), and how crammed together the tents are.

(Above) Canteen of the Zouaves: not the variety of orders of dress worn (campaign dress with the veste, sedria and chechia) or just the sedria and chehia.Also note the Chasseur a Pied de la Garde on the left wearing his habit (also called a Basquine) and his bonnet de police a visere ("kepi").