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Post by Currie » Sat Jan 16, 2010 3:40 am

Heights of Balaklava, 15th January, 1855.
My dear Friend,—I duly received your kind and highly interesting letter, "or rather complimentary I should call it." I thank you in my comrades' names for the new title you have bestowed on us, "The Gaelic Rock," but, if you saw us charging the enemy, you would think that we are what geologists call the "Living Rock." I have not much to tell you this time of slaughter, but as you say that anything from the Crimea will be interesting, I will give you a short account of our life at present, and what I do tell you will be a plain statement of facts. The whole army are keenly alive to the kind interest the people at home take in us, but I may here state that nearly all their kind efforts to alleviate our distress have proved nearly abortive, merely through want of system and combination, and, I must say, that the authorities are much to blame in not interesting themselves more. Plenty of stores are allowed to go to waste through their carelessness, for there is no one here to take charge of anything that comes out on private account. In fact, they would rather not see them at all. As an instance, the captain of a steamer made a run to Varna, bought a cargo of sheep, came back and offered them to the commissariat department, but they would have nothing to do with them, although we had not tasted fresh meat for three weeks; but Sir Colin Campbell got notice and took up the whole for his brigade at cost price. No doubt they give us plenty to eat, such as it is, but we might as well be at the North Pole, and the constant use of salt provision is undermining our health, and is also the cause of so many of the wounded dying. The blood gets foul and the wounds mortify. The weather is very severe; the snow outside our tents is three feet deep and we have got none of the much talked of wooden houses. The baggage animals are also nearly all knocked up, and are dying by the hundred; the consequence is, that we have to carry up all the shot, shell, provisions, &c., to the heights of Sebastopol on our backs. So much for the disagreeable; but, although we may grumble, we are not disheartened. The siege still goes on. Omar Pacha has arrived, and we expect a reinforcement of Turks soon, when we then expect to do something that will make the world speak of us. I see from the papers that Mr. Nicholas has threatened to come upon us in the spring with 500,000 men. Let him bully away. I now know something about the movements of large bodies of troops, and am convinced that he could not bring even 200,000 men across the country, and they would also require to bring all their provisions and munitions of war with them. No one, unless he were to see the performance, would believe the immense trains of animals that are required to carry even our own stores, from Balaklava to the Heights, the short distance of six miles. So taking all things into account, I am not, the least afraid of the Czar or his barbarous hordes. We beat them one to eight at Inkermann, and we are determined to beat them at any odds. In fact, we never take time to count how many are in front of us; one hurried prayer to our Maker, and on we rush like demons on the foe. The shouts, the groans, and the falling of our comrades around us, actually madden us; and it is not until the battle is gained, and the echoes of the last wild shout of victory are dying away, that we become human beings again; but then comes the re-action. It is then that from the very bottom of our hearts we curse war and those who are the occasion of it; we see men, friends, and foes, made in God's own image, torn to pieces by a shell, or smashed into a pulp by a round shot, merely to satisfy the insane ambition of one man. But I must now conclude for want of room. I shall be happy to hear from you. I am very sorry to say that I cannot get stamps for this letter. Let me know in your next what postage you are charged.
From your friend and, well-wisher,
J. R.
P.S.—Many thanks for the newspapers.


Balaklava, Jan 10, 1855.
Dear Father,—I received your letter this morning, and was very glad to hear from you, but I am sure you will be thinking, from the long silence caused on my part, that something serious has happened to me, but, thank God, I am well as yet; but I am sure you will excuse me when you got this letter. In the first place; since I came here I have not had an opportunity of writing, as there is no getting of paper, pens, or ink; and, in the second place, there is very little time, for there are so few of our men fit for their duty, it comes the harder on us who are strong. Dear Father, if you would see us rise out of our tents in the mornings here with nothing but our cloak and blanket to cover us, and the ground that we are lying on frozen below us, you would excuse us for not writing. If you believe me, this morning when I got up, my boots were so frozen that it took me about an hour before I could put them on; however, I will be able to write you oftener now, as we are near the village of Balaklava, and I believe there are a few things sold there, so I will try and write you oftener now. Dear Father, I dare say you will have heard of the Battle of Balaklava. It was an awful day; the large cannon balls were flying among us for above four hours like hail, and comrades falling on every side. If you only saw it—it was a fearful scene—I never thought I should have seen the like. But, when we carne to be engaged hand to hand and sword to sword, we let them see what we were made of. As, I suppose, you will have seen in the newspapers before this time, they are still blazing away at Sebastopol, but with very little effect. We are lying at present between two high hills, and our horses are tied in lines, but I am sorry to say there are very few of them left, as they are dying three and four every morning with cold, so they will not last long at that rate. There are a great many of our men badly too, and a great many of them have died since we came out here, besides those who were wounded in the field; but, God be thanked, I am still in good health. The snow is about four feet deep and hard frozen, but I believe there is some clothing coming out to keep us warm, and I wish it were come. There is no use of giving you any further particulars about this place, as you can see in the newspapers better then I can inform you. There is one thing, they are not going to be so easily beat as we thought when we came out. We can see the Russian sentries about four miles from us, watching us, and we often get a shot at them, but they always run away when we come near them. I will conclude now for want of time and daylight, for there are neither coal nor candle here.
J. M'L.


Camp before Sebastopol, 19th Jan., 1855.
Dear Brother,—I received your welcome letter, and was glad to hear that you were all well, and of your wife having been safely delivered of another son. Look under this seal and you will find a French dollar, the value of it is 4s. 2d.; it is for your youngster. There is very little firing going on at present, and a great talk of peace. The Russians made an attack upon our batteries about a week ago; it happened at night; and our poor fellows lay waiting for them until they were within range, and they fired among them, and it is stated we killed about 700 of them, and they were glad to retreat into Sebastopol. They arc throwing up works opposite our right flank, that is, close to Inkermann. I am sorry to say the weather has been very severe for this number of days past, and we are above our knees in snow; but the weather today is much milder, and a complete thaw. I really wish from my heart that this war was over, for I am tired of it, although I am not the worst off out here. You will see by the papers more about the war than I can tell you.
Your affectionate brother,
J. C.


Several letters, says the Inverness Courier, have been received this week from soldiers serving in the army in the Crimea. The following is from a serjeant in the 93d Regiment to his wife in Inverness, dated Balaclava, 7th January, 1855:—
"Although you may hear many stories about us, I pray you do not give heed to one half of what they say, for I assure you we are not half so ill off as is generally reported. I am sorry that such false, and certainly useless, reports should have obtained credit or circulation. The army, and, I hope the country also, are satisfied with what the Government are doing towards making us as comfortable as possible, and the army is satisfied with the efforts made by the country on behalf of the wives and children of the soldiers, who are doing their utmost to uphold the honour and dignity of our beloved Queen and country. Certainly there are plenty of hardships, but that is unavoidable. Though there is great fatigue, none of it is given unnecessarily, and, upon the whole, I am as comfortable and happy under the present circumstances as I could expect to be. Cheer up, then; this will not last long, and when it is finished, and we have returned, you will be as happy as you are at present melancholy. As for a bed, I have not enjoyed one since February last, now nearly a twelvemonth ago, so I have forgotten all about it and care nothing about it now. I see by your last letter that you have heard of the loss of the Prince, and all our winter clothing; but let not that cast down your spirits; all will yet be well.”

From the Glasgow Herald, February 5, 1855

Hope that’s interesting,

Adam Brown
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Post by Adam Brown » Sat Jan 16, 2010 10:27 am


Fascinating reading, thanks for posting them.

I see you found them in the Glasgow Herald. Are there online copies of this paper available?

Kind regards

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Post by Currie » Sat Jan 16, 2010 12:39 pm

Hello Adam,

I stumbled across the letters while looking for something else. It makes a change from the usual war news. There are possibly more like them to be found and for other 19C wars. I’ll keep an eye open for anything interesting.

The 19th Century British Library Newspaper Collection currently has about 50 newspapers online. There are three Scottish titles, i.e Glasgow Herald 1820-1900 (with a big gap around the 1830s), Aberdeen Journal 1800-1900, and Caledonian Mercury 1800-1867 (bought and sunk by The Scotsman). There are some more on the way. The pay-site for the collection is here http://newspapers.bl.uk/blcs/

Some libraries have subscribed and allow free access to members from home. That’s how I get access. You need to live in the region serviced by the subscribing library. This probably costs the library quite a bit and they’ve been slow to take it up. As far as I know there’s not much happening in Scotland and Wales except that Aberdeenshire has access but only from within the library. English Counties with access from home I think include Buckinghamshire, Surrey, London, Essex, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Lancashire, Nottinghamshire, Suffolk, and Wiltshire.

Higher and Further Education Students in the U.K. have free access via their institution and could get more information from there.

There are no 20th Century Scottish newspapers online except The Scotsman to 1950.

All the best,

Chris Paton has some news about further releases on his blog at http://scottishancestry.blogspot.com/ It looks as though the Dundee Courier 1845-1900 is in the pipeline but not quite there yet.

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Post by LesleyB » Sat Jan 16, 2010 1:30 pm

Higher and Further Education Students in the U.K. have free access via their institution....
And staff of the above institiutions!

Anne H
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Post by Anne H » Sat Jan 16, 2010 6:04 pm

Thanks Alan. It's always fascinating reading the words from those who lived so long ago.

Anne H

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Post by Rach » Mon Jan 18, 2010 12:57 pm

Letters like that bring history to life. Thanks Alan.
[Puts all the grumbles about the last snowy/freezing spell of weather into perspective!]
Names of interest: Perthshire- Taylor, McDonald, McRaw, Gould; Caithness- Cormack, Campbell, Sutherland; Berwickshire- Darling, Johnson, Whitlie, Forrest/Forrester/Foster, Barns/Barnes,Buglass/Bookless; Wilson, Thorburn, Cowe, Laing, Rae, Colven, Collin,

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