An updated article on the 38th Regiment of Foot during the Crimean War.
The 38th (1st Staffordshire) Regiment of Foot in the Crimean War
The following article is a brief description of the role played by the 38th Regiment of Foot during the Crimean War. Although the 38th took part in a number of the well-known actions of the war it is not intended to recount these in any detail. Indeed the reader should consult one or more of the numerous books on the Crimean War for a more detailed battle history. However, it should give the reader an idea of the involvement of this regiment during the conflict.
Preparing for War
In early 1854 the 38th (1st Staffordshire) Regiment of Foot was just short of its official establishment. However, with the Crimean War looming the Regiment was given authorisation to recruit an additional 200 men and warned off for deployment with the forthcoming “Eastern Expedition”. At a time when the British Army was re-equipping its infantry with the new Minié Rifle the 38th Foot would take with them to the Crimea some 250 rifled muskets and 571 of the older smoothbore percussion muskets – the latter presumably being of the 1842 Pattern. The new Minié Rifle was a great improvement over the smoothbore muskets having far greater range and accuracy. Before the end of the Crimean War the British Army would find itself armed with the new Enfield Rifle – but for now the 38th had to make do with what they had.
The Colonel of the 38th at this time was to be appointed a Brigadier and so Lieutenant-Colonel J.J. Louth was given command of the Regiment while Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel Sparks took the position of second-in-command. For its deployment with the Eastern Expedition the 38th were to consist of a Head Quarters, Grenadier and Light companies as well as 6 line companies numbered 1 to 6. In addition to the men of the Regiment they would travel with some 23 women, 12 horses and 3 civilian servants.
After preparations for their deployment were complete some five companies of the Regiment embarked on the steamer Melbourne on the 28th April 1854. There was little ceremony with a rather quiet send-off to war. However, when the 3 remaining companies left England, on board the steamer Megara, they found themselves listening to the tunes of the bands of the Royal Engineers, the Royal Artillery and even the Royal Marines! A far grander affair indeed!
During the month of May the 38th disembarked at Gallipoli where the soldiers found themselves inspected by the French Commander-in-Chief, Marshal de St. Arnaud, as well as having the pleasure of forming a Guard of Honour for the Turkish War Minister. Later on the 22nd June the Regiment was moved to Varna then onto Scutari where they were re-equipped with the new Minié Rifle – presumably to replace the remaining smoothbore muskets. For the following 10 weeks the 38th were to be involved in the loading and unloading of ships at Varna – a somewhat unglamorous start to the expedition to the East.
Finally on the 14th September the 38th landed in the Crimea some twenty-eight miles march from Sebastopol – and the capture of Sebastopol was to be the main war aim of the Allies. However, due to bad weather the Regiment was unable to fully complete disembarkation until the 16th. During this time the men of the 38th suffered appalling weather conditions being constantly drenched in the rain without food, shelter or even drinking water. No doubt this did not appear as a good sign for the men of the 38th who had only just begun their Crimean campaign!
On the 19th the whole Allied force of some 60,000 men began their advance on Sebastopol when, only some 12 miles from the city, the first major action of the war involving the British was to be fought near the Alma River the following day. The Alma itself was easily fordable and did not present an obstacle for the allied forces. However, the Russians had deployed some 35,000 men, including 3,000 cavalry and 96 guns, to hold the high ground. This meant the allies would have to attack them while moving uphill but, thankfully, the Russians had failed to make any fortifications.
The attack itself was begun by the French while the British, who were deployed in line, suffered heavy casualties inflicted by the Russian artillery. Raglan, commander of the British forces, ordered a frontal assault and British troops managed to penetrate the Russian lines although they were met with a fierce Russian counter-attack. Thankfully for the Allies the Russian Army suffered from weak leadership who mistakenly believed that their left flank had given way and the battle turned in favour of the British and French. The British finally managed to bring to bear its full firepower on the massed Russian ranks with the devastating effects of the powerful and accurate Minié Rifles ripping through the Russian troops causing horrendous casualties. While the British poured their volleys into the Russians the French continued their assault on the Russian right who finally broke.
The Battle of the Alma was an Allied victory but the 38th, although present, were to see little action during it. Louth later heavily criticised the delays that prevented the Regiment from being properly involved. However, the 38th were to receive the battle honour ‘Alma’ nonetheless.
The story of the Battle of Balaclava, the Charge of the Light Brigade and the ‘Thin Red Line’ are well known but less well known is the fact that some 41 men of the 38th Foot were also present at the action. The Regiment itself did not take part as a unit but one officer, Lieutenant Boyle, and 40 other ranks were to find themselves standing alongside the famous 93rd Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders during the battle. These 41 men had in fact been convalescents at the hospital down in the port who very quickly, and unexpectedly, prepared to meet the Russians. Little is known of their precise deeds during this action but none appear to have become casualties.
With the siege of Sebastopol underway the men of the 38th were next to find themselves in action at Inkerman. On the 5th November under foggy conditions the Russians made a huge sortie and launched a surprise attack on the British. However, the superior firepower of the British inflicted heavy casualties on the Russians who, nevertheless, continued to pour men into the fight. However, the French arrived attacking the Russian flank forcing them to withdraw. Not all members of the 38th were engaged during the battle but those who were earned the battle honour ‘Inkerman’ for their Regiment.
The grim siege of Sebastopol continued with the British troops having to suffer and endure the harsh winter of 1854. On the 21st December the Russians executed another sortie attacking a detachment of the 50th (West Kent) Regiment of Foot. Two companies of the 38th were sent to reinforce the 50th and launched a charge at the Russians driving them back and inflicting considerable casualties upon them. It was during this action that Lieutenant Gordon of the 38th was to be mentioned in despatches by Lord Raglan. Promotion followed and Gordon found himself transferred to the Coldstream Guards. A total of four men of the 38th were killed-in-action during the attack.
Little fighting followed for the 38th during the remaining winter months into early 1855 but the men were kept busy repairing outposts and trenches. Conditions little improved and, like for much of the rest of the army, and a substantial number of men of the 38th were to lose their lives to disease. In fact far more men died of disease than in the actual fighting and the number of British troops quickly whittled away. Indeed numbers decreased so much that the British could not spare any for a major offensive against the Russians. The French, however, kept up the pressure on the enemy inflicting on-going casualties upon them.
On the 18th June 1855 the men of the 38th were to find themselves in an attack on the Great Redan were they were to fight a diversionary action to the left of the fort. The 5th Brigade, of which the 38th was part, captured the cemetery and went on to occupy some of the suburbs of Sebastopol. The main French attack on the fort got pinned down so Raglan ordered the British troops to attack the Redan directly. It would be during this attack that the former Colonel of the 38th, Brigadier Sir John Campbell, was killed. Lieutenant-Colonel Louth, who was said to have fought fiercely, was wounded in the head. Louth was removed to a nearby house to have his wounds attended to but was wounded again when a Russian shell hit the house killing an officer, a corporal and four others. As a result Louth was to be invalided home but was to die shortly after reaching Portsmouth. The siege was to continue until finally on the 2nd Aril 1856 the Russians signed a peace treaty and the Allies entered the battered city. 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 clasps “Alma”, “Inkerman” and “Sebastopol”. The 41 who were present at Balaclava also received the clasp “Balaklava”. Although no Victoria Crosses were won by the Regiment in the Crimea some 15 Distinguished Conduct Medals were awarded to members of the other ranks. Sparks was made CB and a number of officers received French or Turkish awards. A total of 1563 Crimean Medals were awarded to the 38th along with a number of Turkish Crimea Medals.
Three officers and 43 other ranks were killed-in-action with a further 217 wounded. Another 2 officers and 486 men died from various reasons, mostly disease, while 23 officers and 260 men were to be 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 of 850 men on-board - less than half its original strength.
"Don't talk to me about atrocities in war; all war is an atrocity." - Lord Kitchener