HC Deb 14 March 1856 vol 141 cc170-2

COLONEL FRENCH rose to ask the First Lord of the Treasury whether any inquiry had taken place, or was to take place, as to the causes which led to the failure of the attack on the Great Redan, at Sebastopol, by Her Majesty's troops, on the 8th of September last—a failure which had somewhat detracted, unjustly as far as the soldiers and regimental officers were concerned, from the glory acquired by the English army at the Alma, Balaklava, and Inkerman. His object in bringing the notice of the House was that the blame of that failure should rest on those to whom justly attributable. The arrangements preliminary to the assault on the Redan were notoriously and inexcusably defective; the trenches were not pushed on towards it, as they should have been, nor was there a place d'armes prepared where a force sufficient to have secured the success of the attack could have been stationed. It was not thus Marshal Pelissier acted in preparing for his assault on the Malakoff, his trenches were carried up to the walls of Sebastopol; he had a place d'armes sufficient to hold and which did hold 30,000 men. Had the same precaution been taken by the English Commander in Chief that was taken by the French, the result would have been the same—success in both cases. Nor was there any reason why this should not have been done; there was sufficient time, and the difficulties of ground were not greater in one case than in the other. The dip between the Quarries and the Redan was not greater than that between the Mamelon and the Malakoff, and the ground was as easily worked. In addition to our arrangements having been so defective, the attack was made by an insufficient force. Out of the large force under his command, General Simpson ordered but 5,000 men for this purpose. Every competent military authority, both English and French, declare that the supporting columns should have been at least 10,000 strong. Small as the force was, it was not used; one half of them never left the trenches. The troops who so gallantly made good their entrance into the Redan were left unsupported for upwards of an hour and a half to struggle as they best could against fearful odds and an overwhelming force. Nobly and gallantly did they do so; shamefully and disgracefully were they sacrificed. The General in Chief was three quarters of a mile distant, separated by a deep ravine from the trenches, with which it was not possible for him to communicate, were he desirous of doing so. He left two officers in command, without any definite orders, to exercise their own discretion. The result, as was to be expected in every divided command, was, that nothing was done, or attempted to be done. The management of the whole affair was well described in a paper he held in his hand—it was the testimony of an eye-witness, who viewed the attack from Stony Hill— Here I found a French soldier seated on the ground, behind a heap of stones; he made room for me, and I sat down beside him. He told me that he had seen our gallant fellows get into the Redan, but said he had only seen one attacking party enter, and that they had suffered most severely in the approach. 'Are you sure they are inside?' I asked. 'Certain,' he replied; 'at the first pause of the wind you will see the musketry fire in the Redan.' When, after a few minutes, I caught sight of the Redan, I distinctly observed that there were two fires opposed to each other inside the works, ours the most stoutly maintained; at the same time, though the corpses lay thickly about the abattis and ditch, I could occasionally distinguish some of our men on the parapet, or in small and straggling numbers in the open. The space between the abattis and tho Redan was perfectly bare of moving masses, and the Frenchman got into a violent passion. 'My God!' he said, 'where are your supports? Where are your reserves? Do they expect that handful of men I saw enter to maintain that place? It is impossible for them to do so. Depend on it you will lose the day unless reserves arc sent up, and that quickly.' Alas! they never came. Nearly an hour did that Frenchman and I sit there, and during the intervals we were able to distinguish objects, no one large body of men advanced to the support, though the fire was continued with great obstinacy. Had our attacking party been supported as they should have been in the Redan, it would have been held, and the escape of the remnant of the Russian army prevented; not a man of them could have crossed the bridge—they must have surrendered themselves prisoners of war. What had been the conduct of Her Majesty's Government? They promoted and rewarded the General in Chief, made him a full General, gave him a regiment and a Grand Cross, and at the same time refused all recognition of the services of the regimental officers engaged because the attack was a failure, a decision which combined undue favouritism with glaring injustice, which declared that zeal and valour were to be disregarded, whilst neglect and incapacity were to be promoted and honoured. He (Colonel French) should have preferred the inquiry should have been demanded by an officer of the line, but as it had not been, he felt it his duty to ask for it. Having lost a gallant and near relative who was killed at the head of his regiment in the Redan, having led them to the attack through that sea of fire, in a manner worthy of a British soldier—Colonel Hand-cock of the 97th—he trusted the House would excuse his asking for an inquiry, essential for the honour and reputation of the English army and for the satisfaction of the English people.


said, that on first receiving the account of the attack his noble Friend (Lord Panmure) wrote for further details. Those details were quite satisfactory, and entirely exonerated from blame all the persons who were concerned in the attack. He quite concurred with his hon. Friend that so far from this day casting any slur upon the British arms, it was honourable to the valour of both the officers and soldiers. He would only remind the House that the attack on the Redan was the result of a joint arrangement between the French and British officers, and that if the British troops did not succeed in that undertaking, so also the French troops failed in three other attacks on the same day. The difficulties in the way were very great. All the operations were intended to contribute to the taking of the principal point—the Malakoff; and, although one might lament the misfortunes which had occurred at other points, very probably the assault in this quarter might not have succeeded had not those attacks been made. So far from thinking that the 8th of September was any reproach to the British arms, he thought that both that day and the 18th of June might be mentioned as days which shed lustre on the British army.