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The Russian ("Crimean") War of 1854 - 1856
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Henry Norton Sulivan on the Baltic campaign of the Russian War of 1854-1856 (6/10)
THE LAST OF BOMARSUND.
The good work done by the surveying officers was much appreciated in the Hydrographic Office. On the retirement of Sir Francis Beaufort, his assistant, Captain Washington, succeeded him as chief of the department.
Admiralty, August 22nd, 1854.
Dear Sulivan, - Accept my hearty congratulations on the success which has attended your indefatigable labours, which I trust will meet with their due reward. All admit that without your pioneering they would not have gained their object as they have done, and happily with little loss of life. I trust the admiral will have given you full credit in his despatches. Your account is very interesting; but ought you to expose yourself to unnecessary risks?
I have been three weeks in Paris, when I had the gratification of seeing the Lightning's name repeatedly mentioned in the French newspapers. I feel so thankful there has been no loss of life except the poor Penelope.
I consider that Lightning has conferred great credit on the Hydrographical Department, and heartily thank you all for it.
With best wishes,
Ever faithfully yours,
'Lightning', Running for Led Sound,
Monday, August 28th, 1854.
On Wednesday morning we sailed with the French steamer, the French admiral and all the generals, General Jones, with Captain Chads of the army, and young Cochrane (the general's naval aide-de-camp) coming with me. I was ordered in writing to take her to Sweaborg, and then deliver a flag-of-truce about an exchange of wounded prisoners. The admiral, as usual, left half my orders to be given verbally, and he told me they would all want to see Revel also, and I must settle with the French admiral which to go to first. He arranged with me that we should go first to Revel, then Sweaborg, and take Hango on our return, and that he would wait for me whilst I settled the flag-of-truce business. I mentioned to our chief that it might lead to something being said by the Russians if Lightning first went in with the generals reconnoitring the place and then went with the flag-of-truce, and I suggested that I had better leave her outside and take another vessel with the flag-of-truce. He said, 'Arrange it as you like with the officer there, Captain Watson, and do whatever you think best.'
On arriving at Revel Thursday morning, they found Admiral Plumridge with the squadron at anchor under Nargen. Some little difficulty arose when Captain Sulivan, having explained the purport of the expedition to Admiral Plumridge, received written orders from the latter which conflicted with the spirit of the verbal instructions from Sir Charles Napier; but the French admiral explained that Captain Sulivan had been placed at his disposal. Again some slight friction occurred, when, the glass commencing to fall, and the wind to blow from the southward, Captain Sulivan desired to wait before proceeding to Sweaborg, knowing Lightning could not ride out a storm on a lee shore. But the admiral, nevertheless, ordered him to proceed. However, the French admiral preferred to wait, so the matter was settled.
On Thursday evening we steamed into Revel just in the middle of the bay, three thousand yards from the batteries all round, so that it was useless their firing; but we had a capital view of everything, and saw five new batteries round the beach to the eastward of the moles. A large number of artillery batteries were going out to exercise, and we had a capital view of them. A number of captains were with us, and they said that they owed to me the pleasantest afternoon they had had. Directly General Jones expressed a wish to go in, I had let as many as I could know of it, that they might come also. Whilst inside, a boat with six women came across the bay under sail, so we cut them off, and, I fear, frightened them terribly. But finding they could not escape, they were at last induced to come alongside, several crying bitterly. An old woman was coxswain. I gave them some sugar, tea and biscuit, and a bundle of tracts, and you may fancy their astonishment and altered countenances, and they went away delighted. The old woman took my hand and kissed it very hard, and quite cried again, but a very different cry from the first. On Friday it blew a heavy southerly gale, and I told the French chief I did not think it safe to start, the glass being very low. On Saturday it still blew strong, the glass scarcely rising, so I feared still taking Lightning on a dead lee shore.
This again led to some discussion, the French admiral ultimately declining to start in such weather.
The wind moderating rapidly about eleven o'clock, and the glass rising steadily, I went to the French chief and said we had better start. He declared he was under my orders, and he would go if I thought it best. We started directly, and by the time we got across it was a beautiful evening. Watson joined us with Impérieuse, Rosamond, and Magicienne, and sent the latter with me, as a large Russian steam-frigate had come out once or twice after a smaller steamer of ours, and Watson thought, as there were two frigates, they would come out when we went much closer in than usual. We led in, followed by the French steamer and Magicienne, Watson waiting about five miles outside where the shoals became thicker. When we drew near the island that I anchored inside of with the former flag-of-truce, the French steamer and Magicienne rounded to half a mile outside us. We ran inside the island. The fort fired two blank guns and then a shot, which fell four hundred yards short of us. I knew we were three thousand yards off. The steamers inside were getting up steam and making a great smoke. We stopped inside the island whilst General Jones had a good look, and then steamed slowly along to get as much view farther west as possible; but before we could get as far as we intended, the French admiral made the signal, 'I shall return,' and he and Magicienne began steaming out, so we had only to follow them, as the steamers inside had their steam up.
We then anchored together for the night. Watson, Woodhouse, Yelverton, and I passed the evening on board Arrogant, all of us old college-mates or shipmates. They all said it was fortunate we had not come over the day before, for it was a tremendous gale. Euryalus tried to ride it out and parted her cable, and they all had to get off under steam and storm-sails. They said we could not have got off, and, had we tried to ride it out, we must have parted cable or been swamped. We should probably have had to run in under an island to save ourselves, and the Russian steamers would have come out and gobbled us up!
Yesterday morning I was obliged to go in under a flag-of-truce, as the French admiral was to wait for us at Hango, if we could get there in time. I went in at five with Rosamond, and anchored near where I did before. A boat soon came out with a white flag, and the same lieutenant I saw before took the letter. I explained it had reference to wounded Russian prisoners in our hospital-ship. Shortly after one of their steam-frigates came out with a white flag and anchored near us. I had no idea they had such a beautiful vessel. She is about our Leopard or Retribution class: seven guns of a side on the main-deck, two heavy shell-guns aft, one forward, and two smaller guns like the main-deck ones (about thirty-two-pounders) on the forecastle - in all nineteen guns. She seemed in beautiful order. Though carrying her guns higher than our vessels, she seemed a much lighter and prettier vessel, and was perfectly upright even when turning short round. Our steamers like Leopard or Magicienne are put on one side by the most trifling thing, so that they could not always fight their guns. We saw another steam-frigate exactly like this one inside, towing ships from one position to another. With two such ships they ought long since to have cut off one of ours. At one time Rosamond alone - six guns - was off the port watching, no other ship was within reach, and I am sure they must be faster than she. The one that came out seemed very fast. She had a number of officers on board, and a very large crew, dressed in white frocks, except a small number in red blouses, apparently the marines. I felt strongly inclined to go to her and call on the captain, but feared they might not like it or might misconstrue my motives. We laid all day till 2 p.m., when a fast little steamer came out, and a very fine, handsome, gentlemanly young lieutenant brought a letter for Sir Charles Napier. He was not reserved and frightened as the other had been at the idea of speaking to us or of disobeying orders. We asked him below. He smiled and seemed to hesitate, and then said in French, 'Thank you, but I cannot, because - because - because ------' and then, after hesitating and smiling, said, 'You understand,' and he went down the ladder. Just as he shoved off he asked the name of the vessel. We then steamed out, and I immediately started in Lightning, but too late to see Hango or catch the French chief, so we pushed on for Led Sound all night, and are now, 11 a.m., getting in sight and all longing for our letters.
It was most gratifying and flattering to me to receive from all my brother-captains up there such real warm congratulations on what they thought I am sure to get for my share in the work. My kind friend Yelverton had, I think, rather overrated my work in telling them all about it. Still it was gratifying to see all absence of jealousy from those who had been out of the way, and such a desire that I should be rewarded. One was quite sure they could not give me anything less than the K.C.B. I pointed out to them that I had done nothing to come within its reach, even if the rules allowed it in my case, which they do not.
August 29th. - On our way here we heard that the French admiral on his way back found the Russians themselves destroying Hango and blowing up the forts. I am very thankful for it, as it saves us many lives. We must have destroyed it before we went home. I had just suggested to General Jones a plan for landing a large force by daybreak above on the neck of land, and so cutting off all the force on the point (from two to three thousand men) besides ... (Continuation missing.)
'Lightning,' Bomarsund, September 1st, 1854.
On Wednesday the chief came up here to see the last of the place, the blowing up of the forts, etc., and to see Admiral Chads try his guns at the masonry. He said I could lie down at Led Sound to do my work completing charts. I told him I should like to see the last of the forts, as I had seen the first, and I could lie here and get up the work, besides being on the spot to get any more work for the chart, if necessary. So he let me come up. Admiral Seymour came up with him in Odin, but preferred a bed in my cabin; so he has been with me at night. He is such a good, estimable man that it is a pleasure having him with me. Yesterday morning he asked me to walk over the different points with him before breakfast. The night before Admiral Chads sent for me to the chiefs ship. He was in great anxiety lest he should not be able to fire at the big fort, as the French general did not wish it, but said he might have Presto Fort. Now to get at that we have to pass the very narrow channel near the large fort, and he was very anxious to know if I could take Edinburgh in through. I said I thought I could, as there is seven fathoms water; but the doubt was if there is breadth enough. I took the master of Edinburgh with me, as he knew best what space the ship would turn and steer in. The channel proved even narrower than I thought, but we found about ten feet more breadth than the breadth of the ship, and decided to take her through; but before anything could be done the fort to be fired at was blown up, so there was an end to that, and I lost the chance of taking a line-of-battle ship through a narrower channel than, I think, was ever attempted before, unless it was, through a dock-gate! The general then agreed that Chads should fire at the large fort, and a piece is to be reserved for that purpose. The French are burning everything they can that has to be destroyed, and are anxious to embark the men as quickly as possible, for the cholera has been making sad havoc among them. They have already buried about seven hundred out of ten thousand men, and, though it is better, twenty-four died yesterday. I went to one or two more points to complete my work, and particularly to make a plan of all the new batteries building, etc., and in passing through one small encampment we saw two poor fellows just laid out on stretchers, dead. A few natives have also died, but it is the first time they have ever had cholera in the islands. The poor people will be helped through the winter by the supply of meal in the fort. It is given to all who come, and hundreds of carts and carriages of all descriptions and boats of every kind are loading all day.
To-day I had to go up to the north fort to complete some work at that point. It was blown up by the French yesterday. One part, that where our breach was made, did not fall, and it was singular that the only gun not buried under the ruins was the same one the enemy had fought so long and so gallantly against our breaching battery. It was still pointing exactly at our battery, as if it would stand to the last. The front wall was all down, leaving the arches of the upper tier of three casemates standing, so that you could see the interior, and on the right-hand one lay the gun alongside its carriage. The new batteries building would have made it a tremendously strong place. There were two of seventy guns each, and two large towers, or rather circular forts, capable of mounting forty guns each. The Emperor must have put a very great value on the place to add so enormously to the fortifications. The work is beautiful: the face of all would be cut granite, fitted in blocks, and the embrasures, etc., were as beautifully worked as in the finest London buildings. General Jones says the work is very superior. Thousands of beautifully cut granite stones, all fitted for their places, are lying in every direction. One fort was half built; the others had only the foundations laid. To-night the massive scaffolding and platforms round the building are all in a blaze, and all the work will be blown up. The only reason I can see for such an outlay is that the Emperor intended making it his chief naval port, in which he would have his fleet almost always free from ice, and at the same time advanced towards Sweden and the Atlantic. He would then have had his fleet in by far the finest port in the Baltic, with anchorages for the largest ships.
This evening when dining with Admiral Chads, the chief, Admiral Martin, and others also, a small Russian steamer hove in sight with a flag-of-truce. Her boat brought two officers, one a lieutenant, the other a nondescript, wearing a sort of uniform coat and cap, dirk, and a collar and cross round his neck. He, it appears, is the owner of the Russian steamer, and belongs to the yacht club of St. Petersburg; she is now hired by the government. They came to the place Otter was to take the women to, to receive them; and not finding them there, they came on, I suppose glad of an excuse to see what had been done here. The vessel has been allowed to come in, and is at anchor near us.
The weather is getting colder. The chief fully expects the fleet will be home by the end of October. I think some ships will be left out longer for blockade. I wish I could hope that the war would be at an end by next spring, and that I should be quietly settled at home again. One thing I must really try hard to accomplish this winter - that is, to gain some knowledge of French - for I find the want of it a terrible drawback, thrown as I now am with the French so much. We must try to get a governess who cannot speak a word of English, and I must go to school like the children!
Sunday, September 3rd. - Yesterday, at seven in the evening, the large fort was blown up. Many of the casemates and all the barracks in the rear of the court had been filled with fire-wood, and were fired at the same time, so we had a grand display. The sight as the successive mines exploded was very fine; some shot in the air, others burst out in front: all did not explode at first, so as the fire spread we had the repeated explosions of shells as the fire reached them - there were many thousands - and occasionally another mine. The fire was splendid as it grew dark, and at the same time large wooden buildings and scaffolding round the new forts were all in a blaze, so that one could hardly keep one's eyes from the sight. I was working at the chart till midnight, but running up repeatedly to see some outburst. This morning all that is left entire is a piece of the fort about seven casemates wide, for Admiral Chads to fire at for experiment. The ships, all close in, had every spot aloft and on deck alive with people, and the troops on shore crowded on every bit of rising ground around; and when the splendid column of smoke burst up after the first grand explosions, a cheer burst out on all sides and rolled round the hills. It was a fine but melancholy sight. To think that, had it not been for this war, all would have been peaceful and quiet, as I first saw it, pretty houses in every direction, a fine hospital on Presto surrounded by fine buildings, but all now smoking ruins! Besides, many men have fallen in action, numbers suffering from wounds, and the bodies of nearly eight hundred French soldiers left on the ground, and all because a man, possessing the largest territory in the world, with absolute power over it, wanted to seize on still more. I am sure he looked on this place as a step towards seizing on Sweden and perhaps Denmark at a future time, and he is justly punished in having all he possessed in it, and all his ambitious plans for the future, founded on the enormous outlay he was making here, end in a heap of ruins. I only wish I could see Sweaborg and Cronstadt in the same state; and if he does not come to his senses, and make peace on just terms this year, I hope we may see them in the same state as Bomarsund next summer.
I forgot to say that Admiral Seymour had expressed great surprise that the chief had omitted my name and that of the surveyors in thanking the officers and men of the fleet. He said he was sure, from the way the admiral always speaks of our work, that it was quite an oversight, and he offered to speak to the chief about it and have it corrected, but I did not like him to do so. I thought it best to let it rest, and trust to his having done us justice in his despatches.
Led Sound, Tuesday, 5th. - We came down last evening with the admiral on board and his flag flying. We have been flag-ship pretty often now. It is blowing the hardest gale from the north-west we have ever had, and, though in this fine anchorage, we have had to let go two anchors. Several ships were driving in the night. I am glad we are not in the gulf. It will try Nargen anchorage well. The French army all sailed on their way home yesterday. I trust the cholera has not gone to sea with them. It is wonderful how they could have suffered so much and the ships escape. I think the damp ground at night, or their eating every green thing they could lay hold of, must have something to do with it. We were lying in the Lightning between Presto Island and the fort, not a hundred yards from either shore; yet they were dying on each side, whilst we had not a man sick. In Presto there is a very pretty cemetery attached to the hospital, now burnt down. In it all those who died on Presto are buried. I did not see it, but I hear that the French soldiers have decorated their cemetery graves very prettily, and have written nice mottoes on the head-stones, or in some cases pasted paper on the head of each. There were only about six hundred soldiers there of the colonial or marine battalion, yet it is said about a hundred graves are to be seen. The poor fellows who died round the main camp the other side are buried in every direction in fields and gardens, and the little crosses will mark for some time the last resting-places of hundreds of fine young men cut off in a few days by one of the most extraordinary visitations of this extraordinary epidemic. We have had no fresh cases even in our ships lying up there, while they have been suffering so on shore.
The following is a draft of a letter to some newspaper:-
August 2nd, 1884.
Sir, - I am sure that many will read with pleasure your advocacy of baths for Whitechapel and other of the poorer parts of London, and they would be of the greatest value should London be visited by cholera, as the following facts will prove.
When our fleet went to the Baltic in 1854, the weather was cold till June, when it suddenly changed to very warm and calm weather. There was cholera at the time in St. Petersburg, and, a few days after the hot weather set in, some cases occurred in the fleet, then at anchor in Baro Sound.
I then commanded the surveying-steamer Lightning, and directly the first cases occurred in the fleet my surgeon, Dr. Johnson, told me that he thought one cause was that the men, large numbers of whom were not men-of-war's men, had been so wrapped up in warm and thick clothing till the hot weather commenced, that their bodies were not very clean, nor the pores of their skin in a healthy state, and he asked me to let him examine our crew on this point, and also to ascertain if any had premonitory symptoms. He reported to me that out of our small crew there were several with the first symptoms of cholera and one rather bad case, and he requested me to send the whole ship's company on shore in the evening on a small island near us, with order to the petty officers that while bathing the men should all be thoroughly well washed, the nearly fresh water allowing the use of soap. For some time they were all hard at work in the slightly warm water, and the result was that in three or four days all the slight cases were well, and the worst recovered in a week.
During the summer a number of men died in both English and French ships, and after Bomarsund was captured about eight hundred out of nine thousand French soldiers died in two or three weeks.
The Lightning during that time had to remain in the narrow channel separating the French camps, where she had hardly space to swing. Yet during this time our men were perfectly healthy. This great mortality was, perhaps, caused by the French soldiers clearing every field and garden of cabbages, turnip-tops, mangels, beet, etc., and eating large quantities of green vegetables of every kind uncooked, but made into salads, after having lived in the English ships that took them out chiefly on salt beef and pork, which they were not accustomed to.
I feel convinced that providing means for frequent bathing in fresh water, with the free use of soap, for those classes who cannot well have them in their own dwellings, especially in towns, would do more than anything to protect them from cholera or any other epidemics.
Another reason for the immunity of the Lightning from cholera was, doubtless, the use of distilled water for drinking. The exhaust steam-pipe led against the inside of the paddle-box, a copper-plate, kept cool by the splashing of the water on the outer surface. The steam water thus condensed was caught in grooves and led into buckets. Captain Sulivan noticed the engineers using this soft water for washing, so ordered it to be placed in tanks on deck to be aerated, and this was afterwards the chief drinking water for the crew, and, I believe, the first of its kind used in ships (?). Afterwards other ships adopted the system.
Admiralty, August 29th, 1854.
So, my dear Sulivan, you have at last accomplished the Aland job, and in a very satisfactory and workmanlike manner. The above word you was meant, while running from my pen, in a plural sense - you collectively. You, fleet, etc., which was rather unjust of my said pen, being firmly convinced that but for you, singular, it would not have been done at all - at all events not this year. And yet the lame un-English despatch of your admiral does not even mention your name. Not so the just and honest Sir W. Parker - not so the generous and noble-minded Nelson; and I have taken the opportunity of saying all this, and spitefully too, to the former. But do not you feel spiteful; your day will come, and all the sooner and all the more gratifyingly by your dignified bearing on this occasion. We shall have, of course, a good sketch of Bomarsund and its channels, in expectation of which I have made no use of your last hints and tracings. Your letters to me and to Washington have been very delightfully clear and explanatory, and the last touches upon some abstract points about guns and walls which we may discuss viva voce, and endeavour to apply to places yet to be smashed.
In the meantime I am always yours,
Led Sound, Saturday, September 9th, 1854.
We have been kept here since Wednesday by the worst weather we have ever had in the Baltic, heavy gales from N.W. to N.N.E. every day, and here in a snug harbour we had French ships driving, and all the fleet with two anchors down and topmasts struck. I have been very anxious for our fleet at Nargen, as it has been the worst wind for that anchorage; and if a ship parted or drove, she had the enemy's coast to leeward. What made me more anxious was, that I have always advised the chief to use that anchorage in preference to any other in the gulf. I was therefore greatly relieved to-day by the arrival of Rosamond with the news that they all rode it out well with only one anchor and without striking topmasts. They appear to have had it less violent than we had. Evidently the draught of the Gulf of Bothnia made it heavier here. To-day I had a long interview with the chief, and a long talk about the movements of the fleet. He has given up going up the gulf, and I was glad to find had decided to send the sailing-ships home directly: his only doubt seemed whether we had force enough without them, in case the Russians ventured out. He forgot one of our screw-ships, and only counted twelve; and as the Russians have about twenty-four or twenty-five fit for sea, he seemed to have some doubt about it. I counted over thirteen screws to him, and the French one, besides our three heavy frigates, equal at least to seventeen sail of the line, and quite a match for all theirs; so that if by sending the ships away there was a chance of drawing the Russian fleet out, it was the best thing we could do. He thought of going southward shortly with all the ships; but I pointed out to him that the anchorage here was the best in the Baltic, while it had the appearance of shutting up the Russians better than the anchorage in Kiel or the belts; and while we must have a frigate force blockading the gulf, this was much the best anchorage for the screw fleet to support them and to remain in till we were actually going home. I think he will adopt this plan, but we shall evidently be home sooner than I thought. The sailing-ships and hospital-ships and small steamers will go at once, and I expect to find us all at home by the middle of October. Lightning will, I think, be home much before, but I shall of course offer to remain out with the chief, to assist him in getting the fleet safely through the belts and Kattegat. We are all looking anxiously out for the next mail, which we expect will bring the promotions. Whether any of the surveyors are included will depend entirely on whether the Government published all the chief's despatches.
The Rosamond has brought down a letter for the admiral from Helsingfors, sent out with a flag-of-truce. I cannot help thinking every time I am with the chief now, when he tells me all his plans, shows me his letters, and asks my advice on nearly everything, how very different it was during the first two months. I heard at first that he was too obstinate to take advice, and that there was no turning him from his opinion, and that it was no use suggesting anything unless you made it appear that it came from himself. Now I never met any senior officer who was more open to reason, and I have even given him my real opinion without caring whether it agreed with his own or not, and never found him mind my doing so, however much he differed; on the contrary, I believe he sees opinions are better worth having when they do not merely echo his own, and I am sure now by explaining to him why I thought a thing necessary I could almost make him adopt any opinion I give him. Every one who reads this must of course be doubly careful not to let a hint of what I write on these subjects ever slip out in talking to any one about the fleet or the admiral.
I forget whether I ever told you that the forts at Bomarsund were offered to Sweden, but were ordered to be destroyed if the king refused them. He did refuse them, but at the same time wanted them to be preserved. I suppose he could not make up his mind to join in the war; and he is quite right, as his interest, I think, lies in neutrality, and it would only make peace more difficult for us if we had to insist on any part of Finland being made over to Sweden; but at the same time it would have been folly for us to have preserved the forts and had to garrison them, unless for Sweden. They are much better destroyed, and may save us trouble hereafter.
September 11th, 1854.
The Daily News has by far the most truthful accounts of the proceedings of our fleet, without exaggeration or puffing, and the correspondent, whoever he is, evidently has means of knowing what goes on, and writes impartially and fairly. But what they say in leading articles about batteries, gun-boats, etc., is great nonsense (as it is in all the other papers), and only misleads people. If our fleet had madly tried to attack Cronstadt, and been beaten and partly destroyed, as it must have been, the papers would have been the first to cry out about knocking our ships to pieces against stone walls. Taking Bomarsund has nothing to do with it, as the large forts in other places, and particularly Cronstadt, are so situated that ships going alongside them would be raked by a number of other forts, and would be destroyed before they could silence the forts they were alongside. If it were merely a question of one of these large forts like Risbank or Alexander at Cronstadt being attacked by ships, there is no doubt that four ships could get alongside either, and, if there were no other forts, would very soon silence them; but as the ships would have at the same time above a hundred heavy guns pouring hot shot and shell into their bows from batteries that ships could not go alongside of, nothing could justify such a mad attempt. I fear the papers writing so much on these points may do much harm by raising a feeling in the public mind that enough is not done with our means, forgetting that these opinions are from people sitting down at a desk, perhaps at home, and not quite as well able to give a correct opinion as those who have seen the forts and anxiously looked for any opening that would justify an attempt being made. Now at Bomarsund the position of the hill forts, and the shape of the ground, etc., on the land side, gave such an opening, and I reported on the practicability of it, which the result has proved. When openings offer themselves in other places, they will of course be laid hold of; but the opinions given publicly in newspapers of the weak points in different places, where they happen to be right, will do great injury, as they make public to the enemy what perhaps at the very time is being planned by those who have seen the place, and so may assist greatly to make that very plan more difficult to carry out by drawing the enemy's attention to their weak points. I think the Government would be quite justified in saying to the Press, 'You shall not publish opinions of that kind, or any statements of what are supposed to be our future plans.' Let them give full particulars of our proceedings and criticise them as much as they like, but not publish anything that could give an enemy a useful hint. If we have any important attacks going on next year - which we certainly shall - this may be of the utmost importance to our success. If there had been any idea publicly about our attacking Bomarsund by land, when we had just planned it all, and the papers had dwelt on it and on the weak points, we should certainly have had much more opposition. They had thrown up a new battery some way out on the road we advanced by, and marked it well, but had not got it quite ready for the guns - a few days more would have lost us many men there; and had they known of our plans about two months before, they would have had a strong position fortified, that would have had to be carried by assault with much loss.
Tuesday, 12th. - Sent early this morning to Bomarsund to catch Alban going with the recovered Russian wounded officers and men to Abo; met her coming out. She had been on shore for two and a half hours (report said four days) in the gale, but got off all right. She went on, and we waited for letters from Admiral Martin about an hour, then started on our return to Led Sound, and directly we got out of Bomarsund Bay poor Alban got hard and fast - ran right up, and heeled over very much. We have been three hours trying to get her off, tugging at her and heaving till we carried away everything we had, so now I am running down to save the mail and to get more assistance. Otter was trusting to a native pilot, who had gone that way once before with him, and they were going full speed with sail, and he ran them right on the point of an island. I never have trusted, or will trust, one of them.
September 14th, 1854.
I have heard of some promotions being out, and was indeed astonished at the injustice of them. Nothing can explain the rule they have followed. Admiral Chads' three block-ships have each their first lieutenant promoted, who were never under fire, and only dragged the guns four miles over a road to the camp. A lieutenant of Blenheim in the battery with Pelham, two years standing, I believe, is also promoted. But the commander and gunnery lieutenant of the commander-in-chiefs ship, who had all the dangerous work of getting the guns into battery and working them so well under a heavy fire, are not included, and Cudlip (my first lieutenant), the senior in the fleet, on shore all the time, and at the battery all day, not noticed. Otter, though senior commander employed, not noticed; but I think that will be remedied, as Washington writes me that a despatch of the admiral's, speaking very highly of the surveyors, and particularly of myself, Otter, and Evans, would be immediately published.
Cholera seems steadily increasing in London, and will, I fear, get up to its former number of two thousand weekly. I am thankful to say we have nothing of the kind here now. It is astonishing the way it fell on the French troops. It seemed to be caused by sleeping in tents on the ground, as those in the fort escaped; but officers and men are away from some of our ships on shooting excursions for days in a tent, and no one ill. They kill numbers of blackcock on the outlying uninhabited rocky islets with very little cover - not in the woods. I am too busy to have a chance at them.
I went back on Tuesday night with Bulldog, got her just astern of Alban, got Lightning alongside of her and took out some coal, and then, with a good pull with steam and cables, got her off about midnight. The Russian officers (doctors and other non-combatants) going back with the wounded were enjoying themselves, and singing a number of things, some in parts, very well indeed. They said they did not care for the getting on shore, and only hoped it would last a day or two longer, they were in such good quarters. They were all at breakfast in the gun-room when she struck, and it knocked them all down and smashed all the mess-traps on the table.
When I returned to the fleet with Bulldog yesterday morning, I asked the chief to let me get on with the survey, and I am now alone among the islands, doing all the work I can. I was at Degerby yesterday. The policeman is sent home as a prisoner. The admiral would not let him return to his family, because others of his position had been giving much trouble and threatening the poor people with the vengeance of Russia. There is some fellow acting the spy still at Degerby, and I may have to walk him off.
We have no difficulty now about provisions; boats bring plenty of things to sell alongside. I bought a lamb from a servant, which she said was part of her wages, so I asked how they were paid. I was told they get about eighteen shillings a year and two lambs to keep as their own, so they get up a little flock. All clothing is also found them.
The wife of the farmer was away in their vessel, of which he is half owner, going to Stockholm with two cows to sell, to get money to buy what they required. The women here are quite as good sailors as their husbands and brothers. We find little boats carrying a press of sail, and in a nasty sea, with perhaps only two or three women in them, and always part of the crews women: they seem born to it. In the summer they are fishing, milking, shearing sheep, or perhaps going in a boat to the cows morning and evening, as they put them on all the smaller islands to eat up the pasture. Sometimes we meet a small boat with two or three people in it, and a cow standing as quietly as possible, though looking too large for the boat to hold in safety.
Friday, 15th. - To-day the weather prevented our working all the morning; it was foggy with rain, and the barometer lower than we have ever had it in the Baltic, so that we must be going to have regular equinoctial gales.
"'Duke of Wellington', Off Revel,
September 25th, 1854.
I have rather a larger ship than Lightning now. The chief wanted me with him to visit Revel and Sweaborg; and as Lightning is small for any heavy weather in this gulf, and might be a tax on the other ships, I asked him to let me leave her about the survey, and come in some other ship. He said I should come here, so here I am very comfortable, forming part of the admiral's staff, having one side of the fore-cabin (General Jones having the other), and nothing to do but answer the chief's questions when required, occasionally go over plans and letters with him, and a walk on the island (Nargen) when he goes. He is most kind and flattering in his manner and treatment of me.
We came here on Thursday, and on Friday I took the general and others in off Revel in Locust, attended by Wrangler, new screw despatch-boat. In the afternoon I took all the admirals in Wrangler. We were just out of range of all the batteries, so they did not fire; but all were manned and troops drawn up. It is a very strong place, and it would be folly to attack it with ships. A large fleet would, I have no doubt, destroy all the forts, but would be pretty well destroyed also, and be as unfit for anything afterwards, till refitted, as some of our ships at Algiers were, while all we should gain would be destroying some stones and guns and killing some men, and our fleet might be no match afterwards for the Russian ships. I wish some of those fighting newspaper men were put into a ship by themselves, and anchored off one of these batteries to have their fill of it; they would then know a little more on the subject (those that were left) than they do now, and would not write such utter folly and nonsense. Unfortunately some in authority, sitting in their offices, who ought to know better, write almost as great nonsense. With all the old chiefs failings, it is lucky we had a man with moral courage enough to stand firm against the whines of the Press, as well as against the wishes of some men out here, who, caring only for a chance of personal distinction, would have wanted him to run their heads against any stone wall that offered.
On Saturday we went to Sweaborg in Driver. The chief the night before and this morning at breakfast had repeatedly said to me, 'Now you are sure you will not run us on a rock: if you do, I shall be taken prisoner.' I always said I could not feel sure, as there are so many rocks; but I saw little chance of it, as 1 had been in and out safely three times, and once with three ships, but that I would never speak too confidently, or I should expect to meet with an accident. We took Basilisk with us, and outside made Watson's signal to join in Impérieuse, to have a good defence if necessary against the two large Russian steamers coming out. When near the narrow parts of the channel, knowing there was less risk with one vessel, we made the others' signal to wait, as being within five miles of where we were going they could be ready. The admiral often repeated his warning not to put him on a rock, as he had no wish to visit St. Petersburg, and he did not want to go so close as we had done before; so I said I would turn round outside an island that I had always gone round inside of before. I knew by the Russian charts there was a rock outside, but these being on such a very small scale I could not exactly know its position. I wanted to go as far to the west as possible, also to get General Jones as good a view that way as I could (besides the chief and the general, Admirals Chads and Seymour were on board). It was very different turning a steamer of a thousand and fifty tons and Lightning, and I took every care, scarcely moving now and then to keep her way; but the engine stopped as we turned, when, instead of being outside this rock, as I thought, we were between it and the island, and some other rocks near above water. Though going so slowly, we shoaled rapidly from eleven to seven fathoms, and, by the time I had checked her way, to five and four and a half, which must have been very close to the shallow part. We were in such a position that I dare not go astern for fear of going on other rocks, and there was no chance but turning her on a pivot in the spot she was, and going out the way we came in. It was an anxious few minutes, everybody watching eagerly, but not saying a word. The captain suggested something I saw would not do, so I did not hesitate for a moment about the best way, knowing at the time that if we struck they would have their steamers out as soon as ours could get in, as they were not half the distance, and if they towed out two line-of-battle ships (which they would have done if they had been worth anything as officers) they would certainly take us before ships could get from Nargen to help us. Having four big officers under my charge of course did not lessen the anxiety. However, in a few minutes (during which you might have heard a pin drop almost when the engines were stopped, and during which we several times deepened and shoaled our water) she turned right round and came out as we went in all right. The old chief, though generally so nervous, behaved, very well - quietly walked the deck, only once or twice asking me a question. Directly she was in the channel all safe I went to him, expecting to see him rather angry with me; but instead of that he seemed pleased, and said, 'Upon my word, you did it uncommonly well: if you had not, I should dine in Helsingfors to-day.' I told him that the admirals, in the event of our grounding, ought to have gone off in a boat - I thought that their duty in such a case, rather than stay to be captured; but he would not allow it, and said he would never have left her. ('Na, na: do ye think I would have left ye?') He allows that his not wishing to go so close as I wished caused me to turn round in ground new to me; whereas, had he gone inside the island, it would have been in Lightning's tracks. In one of our walks on the island we went to the village, and saw an old woman of seventy-one, active and intelligent, speaking a few words of English, who washed for Lord Nelson's officers in 1802. The admiral asked her if she recollected Admiral Saumarez in 1809. She said, 'Yes - Admiral Pickmore too.'
In his letters the chief does not hesitate to mention me several times as authority for certain statements bearing out his views, and it is very flattering to me altogether, and shows he does not try to deprive a junior of any credit due.
I think I could leave for home any day I like, as the chief is rather anxious to get all the small steamers away; but I do not like to leave him so long as I can be of any use to him, and without being an egotist I may say that I think I can save him much anxiety if I remain. He must not leave too soon, or the Russians will come out in the Baltic and crow. He does not like being so far north as Led Sound, and I do not like his being so far south as Kiel Bay, too far from our frigate squadron; so I mean to try and compromise a little, and get him to Elgsnabben instead, which Gordon also recommends, and as he wants to visit Stockholm again I think he will go there: if so, I shall try to keep him there all October, even if I send Lightning home without me.
My anxiety lest the admiral should leave this too soon, and so cause rejoicing to the enemy, overcomes the desire to get home. ... I am quite satisfied with the credit every one gives me, and the way the admiral treats me is sufficient reward for all I have done, besides the consciousness of having done one's duty, and last, though not least, the satisfaction of having slightly altered the admiral's declared opinion that 'a surveying-ship would be of no use except to make a fire-vessel of!'
'Duke of Wellington', Off Revel,
October 1st, 1854.
We have had uninterrupted bad weather, and the poor admiral getting as anxious as possible, particularly as Admiral Plumridge, with the sailing-ships, started on Wednesday for Kiel, and there has been no good weather since, but no gale till yesterday, when it blew hard from south-west and drew round in the night to N.N.W., and blows strong. However, it has proved the correctness of my view of the anchorage, for even now, with the gale right in, there is no sea, and all the vessels lying with slack cables.
To-day at breakfast the admiral said there was still his first despatch unpublished, and it was a great shame; he had sent it home again, requesting it might be published. He said my name was mentioned in it, and he handed a copy to Admiral Seymour and me to read; we were both mentioned in it, so that I have been right after all that he wrote, but the Admiralty did not publish. The chief is very civil, and rather too prone to speak favourably of me to my face, whoever happens to be dining here. He now declares that if I do not see the rocks under water I must smell them. I have asked him, if I can be of any assistance to him, to keep me out and send Lightning home; but he thinks it unnecessary now, and so it really is, for he has excellent assistants for the simple navigation of the fleet homewards, and I could do no more than others, but I think he will from habit feel the want of having me close at hand to answer questions on all sorts of subjects - forts, guns, shelling, plans of attack, pilotage, charts, and plans of all the fortresses to look over and explain; in fact, he makes me engineer, artilleryman, pilot, etc., in turn; and though I am very careful how I say anything, so as not to let him think I am presuming too much on his confidence, yet I speak my mind most freely and without the slightest attempt to humour his views, and I am sure he likes it. General Jones said to me one day before he left, 'You always give the admiral plain home-truths; he hears nothing else from you.'
'Duke', Off Revel, October 15th, 1854.
Just after I closed my last letter the mail arrived, and letters received led the chief to give up going to Kiel for the present, and to determine to remain in the gulf. You know by my former letters how necessary I thought it to remain here, so as not to give the Russians a chance of raising the blockade. The poor chief is sadly nervous about remaining here, in spite of all that Admiral Seymour, Gordon, and myself say to keep up his spirits; but the fact is, he is ill both in mind and body, and quite unfit for the hard work a man's mind must stand who has such a charge. What adds to his illness is the attacks on him in the papers, which he cannot stand or treat with contempt as he ought. He did not mind the Herald much, as every one knows that it only published malicious attacks, or the letters of some discontented parties in the fleet, which contain scarcely a word of truth and many falsehoods. But the Times having lately commenced attacking him for not having taken Helsingfors or Cronstadt with the fleet, he cannot treat it as he did the Herald's attacks, and is feeling it much, though he ought to know that every man in our service, both here and at home, not influenced by spite or prejudice, must know that, so far from blaming him, he would have been unfit for his command had he for a moment thought of placing his ships against either of those fortresses. What is more unfair still is expecting us to do with ships alone what seventy thousand troops are sent to do with a fleet larger than ours at Sevastopol. Yet no man who understands anything on the subject can take the plans of Sevastopol and Cronstadt, and carefully examine the depths of water, etc., and not allow that it would have been much easier to attack Sevastopol with a fleet than Cronstadt. At the former there is a clear harbour and plenty of water alongside all the batteries and the enemy's ships, and it would only be a question of ships against batteries; but at Cronstadt ships cannot get alongside any but the two outer forts, and then the ships would be raked by two hundred guns from other forts and the broadsides of two three-decked ships, and if any ships attempted to get at these other forts and the ships, they would have to pass up a narrow channel where only one ship could go abreast under all that fire, and then that one ship only could get her broad-side to bear, and would be surrounded by hundreds of guns, while all ships astern of her in the passage would be raked by a heavy fire without being able to return it. Now, is it not too bad that the chief of a fleet should be attacked for not committing an act of madness? Then, again, at Helsingfors, the probability of a successful attack being made on it by ships may be judged of by the following particulars. No ship can approach it except through a nest of rocks, the widest passage being two cables' lengths; they would have to advance under the raking fire of a hundred and sixty guns, and when they passed that, and got alongside the fortress, they would find space to place only eight ships against all the batteries. Now, at a low estimate, these ships with three hundred and fifty guns would be opposed to about two hundred and fifty heavy guns in batteries, and the broadsides of at least two or three line-of-battle ships raking them. It would take several more of our ships to keep the enemy's ships in check, as well as the other batteries on Helsingfors, which would otherwise rake our eight ships also, so that at least fifteen of our ships must be taken in, and would be in no condition for any other service for some time, even granting them perfect success. They must then pass inside to get at the enemy's ships (which would of course move up the harbour inside), and they would be opposed to fresh tiers of batteries as strong as those outside. Now, can any man say such a thing should be attempted, when we have to keep in reserve in good order enough ships to meet the eighteen sail of the line from Cronstadt if they came out? But now as to the chance of eight ships with three hundred and fifty guns in broadside against a number of batteries with two hundred and fifty guns. If they were large casemated batteries like Bomarsund, and the ships once got fairly alongside, the latter might succeed; but they are nearly all single-tier batteries with earth parapets, which are the very best for contending against ships. Some of them are near the water, and would be only five hundred yards from the ships; others in the rear, and higher; and others again nearly a thousand yards off, and still higher. I have not the slightest doubt that eight ships would be either beaten off or destroyed, and probably most of them set on fire by red-hot shot and shell. To give ships a chance of success, they must be able to bring four or five guns against one in a fort.("Un canon a terre vaut un vaisseau a la mer "(French proverb); "Une batterie de quatre pieces de gros calibre ... doit avoir raison d'un vaisseau de 120 canons " "L'Aide-mémoire d'artillerie français"); "Four guns ... are equal to a line-of-battle ship" ("Treatise on Naval Gunnery," W. Jeffers, U.S.N.). - Ed.) We know that two guns have beaten off two large ships with great loss. Had Nelson been here with thirty English ships (we have had, English and French, twenty-seven), he would have blockaded the gulf for years, without thinking of attacking such fortresses to get at ships inside. Brest, Toulon, and Cadiz were probably much weaker than these places. Mind, I do not say that these fortresses are safe against all attack, but they are quite so against direct attacks of heavy ships, or with any means we possess this season. Cronstadt is, I think, most difficult to attack in any way: there is only one way that we could even do much damage, and that plan I proposed directly I reconnoitred it, but we had not the means here. Sweaborg can also, I believe, be attacked, and at least greatly injured, and most probably destroyed by a naval force alone, when properly prepared and provided. With a large land force also it must fall.
Disappointed as I am at not coming home soon, great is the satisfaction I feel at the fleet remaining to the last, so as to ensure that the enemy's ships do not come out and drive off our blockading squadron of smaller ships. For the last four days we have had the most lovely weather you can imagine, nearly calm, bright sunshine, and more like summer, except that in the shade it is chilly.
Yesterday I had a long walk through the island for many miles with Admiral Seymour, Gordon, and Pelham. The woods are very pretty in some places, particularly where the fir-trees have been cleared, and some open grass-land is surrounded by weeping-birch and other trees; but they are now putting on their winter dress.
I suppose there will be an outcry at home about doing nothing here, but we might as well try to reach the moon, and I think when people consider that even Anapa, a small place with only fifty-eight guns on the sea defences, was not attacked by the Black Sea fleet till an army was ready to go with it, they ought not to be surprised at our doing nothing. Why, one single fort at either of the places here is stronger than all Anapa, and I wonder now that our fleet did not take the latter long since, as it could not have stood even a bombardment from steamers. It shows how unjust it is for people to blame one fleet for not taking places stronger than Sevastopol, and yet never to remark on trifling places not having been attacked by the Black Sea fleet. I have no doubt they were right out there, knowing all the circumstances.
Before closing the account of the work done in 1854, it will be interesting to consider the various plans then proposed for attacking Sweaborg, and to show clearly the part Captain Sulivan had in planning the measures which were carried out the following year.
It will be remembered the Admiralty had given orders that Sweaborg was to be examined as early as possible. In "Napier," p. 154, May 25th, we read: "The Dauntless was sent to look at Sweaborg, and saw thirteen men-of-war there." But this was from a distance of ten miles, and cannot be called a reconnaissance.
On June 5th the admiral wrote home he had "reconnoitred Sweaborg." This, again, was no proper view, the steamer having gone in by the eastern passage to Miolo roads, whence only the tops of the buildings could be seen over some islands. The only guns seen were six on an island. The admiral wrote, "It is impossible to touch them." On June I2th ("Napier," p. 175) the squadron was again off Sweaborg, but it left again without any one in the fleet having seen the fortress nearer than twelve miles. On page 176 the report of the master of the fleet is given, but it shows that the channel to Sweaborg was not looked at. It was reported that the Miolo channel was useless for the fleet without buoys, yet the marks were so good the Lightning afterwards went up it full speed. The Grohara Beacon, reported to be "wrongly placed," was actually removed purposely by the Russians to mislead us over the outer rocks. Captain Sulivan, afterwards going in closer, found the old foundations of the beacon. On page 180 it is distinctly pointed out the master went no farther than Miolo roads, yet no other person was sent. Therefore, so far, no report on Sweaborg could have been sent to the Admiralty.
Old plans had been provided by the Admiralty; and though there were competent engineer officers sent out to assist the admiral, no attempt was made to ascertain the correctness of the old plans.
On June 20th the admiral writes home, mentioning Admiral Chads' report and plan for taking Sweaborg by means of a large military force of six thousand troops, besides four thousand seamen and marines, occupying the islands, and throwing shells into it ("Napier," p. 186). This shows that no one had thought of bombarding it from the scattered islets in front, until Captain Sulivan went in with the flag-of-truce in July. Admiral Chads' scheme was based on the old plans, as he had not seen Sweaborg. This would have been the proper mode of attack with a land force.
Without then knowing of Admiral Chads' idea, Captain Sulivan had drawn up a similar plan, but one requiring thirty thousand troops. A force of ten thousand men must have been driven off, killed, or taken, as an army of perhaps fifty thousand Russians would have been thrown in our rear at the north channel by another island or peninsula. There were fifty thousand Russian troops in the neighbourhood, and twenty thousand more could have come from Viborg. We should have required a force in Sandham, strong enough to hold its rear against this army, whilst another force carried on the siege of Sweaborg by Bakholmen. In this way the place could have been taken.
The shelling Admiral Chads proposed was to be with heavy guns. Mortars had not been thought of before Sulivan's proposal. Had he been sent to reconnoitre early in June, mortars, if there had been any in store, could have been sent out in July, and the bombardment have taken place before the close of the first year. There was no occasion for the mortar-vessels. It is possible, if this had been successfully executed the first year, it might have had some-effect in hastening the settlement of peace.
In "Napier," p. 194, is given the long report on Sweaborg procured from a Swedish source. This report Captain Sulivan never saw at the time; but as it talked of shelling from the rocky islands, it ought to have drawn attention to bombarding it from them. All the barbette guns mentioned had been covered by earthen parapets with embrasures. All this information was obtained from the report, yet Napier never sent in any one to look at the fortress.
Before leaving England, Captain Sulivan had studied the chart of Sweaborg, noticed the rocky islets, calculated the ranges from the forts, and marked them down. But not having been consulted by the admiral at first, he could not suggest anything, neither did he like to offer an opinion without seeing the place. He had, however, talked the matter over with Admiral Seymour, and suggested shelling at long range. This made Seymour, when the Odessa news arrived, say, "This proves your idea is a good one." Sulivan never thought of mortars until he had, by accident, seen the place and noticed the fine mass of buildings within range of the islets.
Captain Sulivan returned from Sweaborg, where he had been with the flag-of-truce, on July 15th. He reported that the place was made for shelling, and islands and rocks were provided by nature at the right range for mortars. This was the first time mortars were ever thought of; or why had they not been mentioned when Admiral Chads' plan was sent home? A month had elapsed; no one had seen the place until Captain Sulivan went; and on the 20th, five days after his return, the admiral ("Napier," p. 305) writes home suggesting mortars. This proves beyond a doubt that Captain Sulivan was the originator of the idea which next year was put into execution. Thirteen-inch mortars, protected and assisted by the heavy guns of the paddle and smaller steamers, would have been quite sufficient. The real work was to be done with mortars, the ships merely protecting them and drawing off the enemy's fire from them. Captain Sulivan suggested placing two Lancaster guns on Langhara Island to fire at the three-decker between Bakholmen and Sweaborg.
On page 410 Napier admits it was "Captain Sulivan who went in twice with a flag-of-truce, and reported to the Government how it might be taken when means were provided the next year." The French generals did not go close in, and only had a hurried view going in and out.
On page 411 General Jones, after his inspection in Lightning, on August 27th suggests a bombardment from the land with a large land force, and proposes to do from the land exactly what was done next year in two days from the mortar-boats. At Bakholmen there was nothing to prevent the enemy throwing on shore from ten to fifteen thousand men inside the island, so that General Jones' five thousand men were insufficient.
The plan was for a bombardment, not for an occupation; therefore why land a force to erect batteries when the mortars could be so easily placed on the rocky islands? All overlooked this but Sulivan.
General Kiel's scheme is given on page 417. He recognises the danger of Bakholmen, but proposes to carry it, a work sure to entail heavy loss. He suggests the fleets should anchor under Sweaborg. Sulivan's note says:-
His final remarks are very good, but the ships must have advanced under the raking fire of a hundred and six guns, and the three-decker's broadside of sixty more, and must then have gone alongside the chief front of the work, which General Niel never saw. They would have been raked by other batteries at ranges of about twelve to fifteen hundred yards, and with the greatest care not more than five or six ships would have space to get alongside the fortress.
As to the belief "the stone splinters would soon have rendered defence impossible," Sulivan says:-
Out of a hundred and six Russian guns commanding the approach, only three were in casemates, the others behind earthen parapets, which everywhere capped the stonework. On the chief front it would have been just the same, so that General Niel's stone splinters would have proved as incorrect as the wooden splinters in the ships would have proved a certainty. His opinion as to Bakholmen is very similar to that which I gave the admiral at the time. I was satisfied that if ships were placed very carefully and no space lost, they would only be able to oppose two guns to each one in the batteries abreast of them, while they would be raked by numerous batteries, to which they could only reply by a few bow-guns at ranges that made ships' guns useless, and all this after having passed through a raking fire.
All these plans proposed to risk hazardous attacks for the purpose of establishing batteries to bombard the place, when so many islets offered equal facilities and no danger.
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