(From The Times, 2 November 1854.)
BATTLE OF THE ALMA
The following letter from John Horn, gunner in the Royal Horse Artillery, to his parents at Appleby will be interesting to many of our readers;
Within gunshot of Sebastopol, Oct. 6.
Dear Father and MotherI have just received your kind and welcome letter, and was glad to hear the you were all well, and this leaves me at present both fat, strong, and hearty. My clothes are getting too small for me. We live a great deal better in Russia than in Turkey. I have a great deal of news to tell you.
A few hours after I dispatched my last letter our troop was sent on board, and off we went to the Crimea. We landed about 40 miles from Sebastopol without a shot being fired at us; but a number of Cossacks gave us some trouble. Lord Cardigan took out two of our guns, with two troops of light cavalry, to give chase to the enemy; I was among them. We pursued them up the country for about 18 miles, but they kept out of gun reach; night came on, and we were obliged to return to our camp with empty stomachs. Slept very well on the sea sand, with my saddle for my pillow and cloak for a covering. So much for our first days work in the Crimea. The French and English were all landed in three days. We then marched up the country, and on the 18th came within sight of the enemy; they, however, kept their distance that day. We slept that night in the same manner as the preceding one.
The following morning we proceeded on our route, and came in sight of the enemy, about 10 oclock, on the top of a hill. Lord Cardigan, with two troops of light cavalry and our troop of Horse Artillery, received orders to reconnoitre. We started up the hill at full gallop; they were on the other side ready to receive us, so a few of our light cavalry were sent out as skirmishers. The enemy also sent out a party of skirmishers, and they fired at each other for about 15 minutes, when the enemy brought 10 guns to bear upon our cavalry. Our troop then galloped up, the bullets whistling past our ears, which had a strange effect upon me till we were brought into action; then I had something else to think about. The very first shot I fired sent one of the enemys gun metals out of its bed. By this time the C troop came to our assistance with a few of the batterys guns, and in a short time we sent them all a-flying; but it was a very severe skirmish. Our side lost four horses killed and four men wounded. The enemys loss was much greater, about 12 horses and 45 men killed.
So much for the first touch of war. I thought, if they called that a skirmish, what would a battle be? but I very soon afterwards saw the difference, for on the morning of the 20th we marched up to a large range of hills right in front of the enemy. As soon as we were within gunshotbangbangbang went one great gun after another. Shells and balls can whistling past us like lightning. The enemy set a village on fire to make a great smoke to blind our army. Our (the Artillery) guns were too light, so there was no way of taking it but by the gun and bayonet. Our gallant infantry marched forward to the charge, and a splendid sight it was to see the Riflemen, the 23rd, 55th, 95th, 89th, 33d, and the Foot Guards march up to the enemys batteries and bayonet the Bears at their guns. You should have seen our little troop flying, along with the cavalry, up the hill, under the fire of a heavy battery on the hill, it would have made you proud of having a man in the Royal Artillery. The enemy flew before us like chaff before the wind. We came into section upon the hillfired into the valley upon the enemy and sent hundreds unto their long home. We had the shipping on right of us, and they played beautifully upon the enemy. The enemy had a grand stand upon the hill for the great people of Russia to see the destruction of our army, but they were finely taken in, for the shipping dropped a shell or two upon it (the grand stand) and sent them flying. The Russians had a great quantity of guns. They expected the fighting to last for five weeks, but we won the day and sent them off in four hours. So closed the great battle of Alma.
It was an awful sight to go through the battlefield were thousands were lying dead, many of their bodies being frightfully mutilated. I had to go out for water through the thickest of the dead. I stumbled over dead bodies until I felt quite sick. Our army buried all the dead, both of the English and Russians. This work kept us two or three days, and then we marched through a romantic country, but were not again engaged till the 25th.
While on the march, our troop, along with the Scots Greys, and other light companies, were sent forward to reconnoitre. Our road lay through a level wooded country, were we could not see five yards on either side of us for thick bushes and underwood, and for miles we went along expecting each minute a volley of musketry fired into us. We proceeded till we arrived at a small opening in the wood when we saw a large party of Russian soldiers, and a train of ammunition and goods, and a great many carriages drawn by pretty ponies. We fired upon the soldiers and they took to their heels. We chased them, and they turned and fired into us, but no one was any the worse. We took 15 prisoners, and a great quantity of ammunition and carriages. We have arrived beside Sebastopol, and are getting the siege trains up to their position. A constant interchange of shots is taking place, but the great siege will commence in a day or two.
Oct. 7, 8 oclock a.m.
We have just arrived from another skirmish. They attacked our outpost at 5 oclock this morning. Captain G. A. Maudes troop was called out, as usual, to the front, likewise the heavy and light cavalry. We defeated the advanced party with great slaughter. They retired before our shell and round shots as fast as their horses could carry them. One of our heavy Dragoons was wounded; that was all the harm we sustained. We may have many such skirmishers before the siege commences, as our people have a great deal of work to do yet. We are lying about five miles from Sebastopol, on the east side of a small harbour, to keep back the enemy in the rear, so that you see we are of some use. This country is more healthy than Turkey. I forgot to say anything about the French. They fought on our right flank in the battle of Alma. They are a gallant set of men and fought bravely. They pay great respect to our army. I could write all day, but I must leave something to tell you by word of mouth when I come home.
[Transcribed by Mark Conrad, 2003.]