The 38th Regiment of Foot in the Crimean War
The following is a short article regarding the part played by the 38th Regiment of Foot (later 1st South Staffordshire Regiment) during the Crimean War of 1854-56. Since very little has been written about the Regiment prior to the First World War the main works consulted are the Vale and Jones histories (see bibliography.) Please note that this essay will not consider the Crimean War in great detail but gives the reader a summary of the involvement of the 38th.
Preparing for War
In early 1854 the 38th Regiment was just short of its official establishment strength. However in February the Regiment had been authorised to recruit an additional 200 men and warned to be ready for deployment as part of the “Eastern Expedition”. For the expedition the 38th was issued with 571 percussion muskets and 250 rifled muskets which were great improvements on the previously issued muskets. Colonel Sir John Campbell was to be appointed Brigadier so Lieutenant-Colonel J. J. Louth assumed command of the Regiment while Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel Sparks was made second-in-command. For the forthcoming deployment overseas the Regiment consisted of HQ, Grenadier, Light and numbers 1 to 6 companies. Along with them would travel 23 women, 12 horses and 3 civilian servants.
On the 24th April the first five companies of the 38th quietly embarked on the steamer Melbourne without ceremony. When the remaining companies left England they were given a grander send off to the tunes of the bands of the Royal Engineers, Royal Artillery and the Royal Marines. These remaining 3 companies departed England on the steamer Megara and all companies landed at Gallipoli during the month of May. While at Gallipoli the 38th was inspected by the French Commander-in-Chief, Marshal de St. Arnaud, and it had the pleasure of forming a Guard of Honour for the Turkish War Minister. On the 22nd June the Regiment moved to Varna and at Scutari the soldiers were issued with the new deadly Minie Rifle which was a very accurate weapon. For some 10 weeks the 38th was involved in loading or unloading ships at Varna. Finally on the 14th September the Regiment landed in the Crimea some twenty eight miles from Sevastopol, the capture of which was the main allied war aim. Due to bad weather the disembarkation from the ships was not completed until the 16th and the troops had to suffer the terrible weather conditions being drenched in the rain without shelter, food or drinking water. Not an auspicious start to the campaign.
On the 19th the whole allied force of 60,000 men began its advance on Sevastopol and within 12 miles of the town the first major action was to be fought near the Alma River. The Alma itself was fordable and did not present an obstacle but the Russians, with 35,000 men including 3,000 cavalry and 96 guns, held the high ground. The allies would have to attack them moving uphill but the Russians had failed to make any fortifications. The attack itself was begun by the French while the British, deployed in line, suffered heavy casualties from the Russian artillery. The British, under the command of Raglan, made a frontal assault and managed to penetrate the Russian front-line although they were met with a fierce counter-attack. However weak leadership in the Russian army, and the mistaken belief that that their left flank had given way, would help turn the battle in favour of the Allies. The British finally managed to bring to bare its full firepower on the massed Russian ranks who suffered horrendous casualties from highly accurate volley fire. Over on the right the French were continuing their move forward on the Russians who finally broke down and the battle was won. The 38th saw little action during the Alma and Louth later heavily criticised the delays that prevented his Regiment being involved. Despite this the Regiment was awarded the Battle Honour “Alma”.
With the siege of Sevastopol underway, and the Battle of Balaclava fought on the 25th October, some members of the 38th were to take part in the Battle of Inkerman. On 5th November under foggy conditions the Russians made a huge sortie and launched a surprise attack on the British in their simple entrenchments. The British however fought hard and made a series of counter-attacks and as the fog cleared more and more regiments entered the battle. Superior fire-power inflicted severe casualties on the Russians who poured many men into the fight. However the French arrived attacking the Russian flank forcing them to withdraw. Although not all members of the 38th were involved in the battle the Regiment was awarded the Battle Honour “Inkerman”.
The siege of Sevastopol was to continue as grimly as before Inkerman with the troops suffering in the harsh winter conditions. On the 21st December the Russians made another sortie attacking a detachment of the 50th (West Kent) Regiment. Two companies of the 38th were sent to reinforce them launching a charge at the Russian forces driving them back and inflicting considerable losses on them. For this action a Lieutenant Gordon of the 38th was mention in Lord Raglan despatches and promoted being transferred to the Coldstream Guards. Four soldiers of the 38th were killed during the fight.
After this action there was little fighting during the winter of 1854-55 but the Regiment was kept busy repairing outposts and trenches. Conditions for the men improved little and disease killed far more than the actual fighting. A shortage of British troops meant they could not spare any for a major offensive against the Russians. The French however kept up pressure on the enemy, which although not always successful, inflicted heavy casualties upon them. One such attack included the assault on the fort at Redan and the 38th were to take part in a diversionary action to the left of the fort. The 5th Brigade, of which the 38th was part, captured the cemetery and occupied some of the suburbs of Sevastopol. Despite this the main French attack on the fort got pinned down so Raglan ordered British forces to directly attack Redan itself. It was during this attack that the former Colonel of the 38th, Brigadier Sir John Campbell, was killed. Lietenant-Colonel Louth fought fiercely but was wounded in the head. Louth was removed to a house where his wounds were dressed only to be wounded again by an enemy shell which killed another officer, a corporal and wounded 4 others. Being invalided home Louth was to die shortly after reaching Portsmouth. The siege was to continue but on the 2nd Aril 1856 the Russians signed a peace treaty. For its actions during the Siege the 38th was awarded the Battle Honour “Sevastopol”.
Awards and Casualties
The men of the 38th Regiment of Foot received the Crimea Medal with many being entitled to the three clasps “Alma”, “Inkerman” and “Sebastopol”. However about 40 were present at Balaclava and so also received the clasp “Balaklava”. Although no Victoria Crosses were won by the Regiment for the Crimea some 15 Distinguished Conduct Medals were awarded to other ranks. Sparks was made CB while a number of officers received French or Turkish awards.
A total of 3 officers and 43 other ranks were killed in action and 217 wounded. Another 2 officers and 486 men died of various reasons during the campaign while a further 23 officers and 260 men were invalided home. Nine men were captured by the enemy and 8 were convicted of being deserters. The Regiment left Balaclava for England on the 26th June 1856 on HMS Caser with a total strength of 850, less than half its original strength.
Jones, J. P. (1923) ‘A History of the South Staffordshire Regiment (1705-1923).’ Whitehead Brothers Ltd.
Ponting, C. (2004) 'The Crimean War: The Truth Behind The Myths.’ Pimlico.
Vale, W. L. (1969) ‘History of the South Staffordshire Regiment.’ Gale & Polden Ltd.
"Don't talk to me about atrocities in war; all war is an atrocity." - Lord Kitchener