Crimean War Relics of The Commander-in-Chief, 1854-55
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Overall: 26cm (10.3in) x 40cm (19.7in) x 5.5cm (2.1in)
Provenance: Lieutenant-General Codrington
Exhibited: Royal United Services Institute 1936
A collection of Crimean War relics preserved by Lieutenant-General Codrington, Commander-in-Chief in the Crimea 1855-56, comprising: a ‘Bullet flattened by striking a rope mantlet in a Russian Battery’; ‘Flint & steel lighter which belonged to the Russian General Todleben’; a manuscript note, inscribed ‘Articles lent to the Crimea Exhibition at R.U.S.I. 1936’; a ‘Purse which belonged to Colonel Yea & carried by him during the Crimean Campaign’, this containing newspaper cuttings; the first dated June 1855 announcing the death of Lacy Walter Yea before Sebastopol; the second, a letter to the Editor of the Times commenting on the last letter of the Newfoundland born Major A.F. Welsford who laid down his pen ‘to be blown to atoms at the canon’s mouth’, the third, a newspaper transcript of a letter from Codrington to his superior Sir George Brown following the death of the latter’s son on 3 September 1855 in the trenches before Sebastopol. And lastly, an autograph signed note in Codrington’s hand inscribed ‘This purse belonged to Col. Yea / commdg 7th Fusiliers: at Alma / Inkerman, in the trenches the whole / of winter of Crimea - killed on 18 June 1855 in the unsuccessful / attack on the Redan of Sebastopol / W. Codrington July 21 / 55’.
The summer of 1854 found Colonel William Codrington vacationing on the Black Sea coast at Varna, where he learned he was gazetted Major-General on 20 June ahead of the arrival of the Allied armies arriving in theatre. As a general officer on the spot, he was thus requested by the Commander-in-Chief Lord Raglan to take command of the 1st Brigade of Light Division (Sir George Brown) consisting of the 7th, 23rd, and 33rd regiments, which had become vacant owing to the promotion of Brigadier General Richard Airey to be Quartermaster-General.
General Sir William John Codrington, G.C.B. (1804-1884) was the son of the admiral of Navarino fame, and entered the army as an ensign in the Coldstream Guards in 1821. Up to this point he had never seen a shot fired in anger and the Battle of the Alma, fought on 20 September 1854, was to be his first action. The Light Division got too far ahead and fell into confusion in crossing the River Alma. Codrington, realising that his men would be slaughtered by the Russian guns if they waited in their exposed position, gave the order to fix bayonets and boldly charged the great redoubt and carried it. His undoubted bravery showed he deserved his command but after entering the redoubt and capturing two guns he was forced to fall back by the arrival of the 1500-strong Vladimirsky Regiment.
Fortunately Colonel Lacy Yea’s 7th Fusiliers, who were already engaged with the left wing of the Kazan Regiment, continued to hold their own thus prevented Codrington’s withdrawal from becoming a rout, albeit at a heavy cost to the Royal Fusiliers of twelve officers and more than two hundred men. Yea who had arrived in the Crimea with the reputation of a martinet received a letter of congratulation from Sir Edward Blakeney, who had led the regiment under Wellington forty years earlier. During the hardships of winter Yea further enhanced his reputation by exemplary care of his men.
Codrington proved his courage again at the Battle of Inkerman (5 November 1854), where he occupied the Victoria Ridge throughout the day, and perpetually sent off all the troops who came up to his help to assist in the real battle on the Inkerman tusk. Sir George Brown, was severely wounded, and thus command of the Light Division devolved on Codrington as the senior brigadier. Throughout the winter of 1854–55 he remained in command of the division, and on 5 July 1855 was rewarded by being made a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath.
On 18 June Yea met his end in an assault on the Great Redan, a large projecting fortification of the eastern defences of the Allies objective the Russian held port city of Sebastopol. Yea led a column directed against the left face, consisting of a covering party of a hundred riflemen, a ladder party of about two hundred, a storming party of four hundred men of the 34th, and a reserve of eight hundred men of the 7th and 33rd. Leaving the latter under cover for the time, he went forward with the rest. They had a quarter of a mile of open ground to cross under grapeshot. Yea reached the abattis with the wreck of his parties, but there he was shot dead. His body was brought in next day, and he was buried on the 20th. Yea was praised by Lord Raglan, in his despatch of 19 June; and by Codrington to Yea's sisters who raised a marble monument to memory in his parish church of Taunton St. James's, Somerset.
In early September 1855 Codrington had the sad duty of reporting to Sir George Young the death of his son in the letter subsequently published in the press. On 8 September the popular Canadian Major Welsford was given the dubious honour of leading the first wave of another assault on the Great Redan. He crossed a broad open space and a ditch in front of the work and proceeded to climb one of the ladders which had been placed against the counterscarp; but, as he rose above it, a gun was fired from within which blew his head off. The plan of attack was the work of Codrington and Markham, commanding the 2nd Division, but the blame seems to have been shifted on to Sir James Simpson, who had succeeded as Commmander-in-Chief following the demise of Lord Raglan due to dysentery and depression.
Sebastopol finally fell to an Allied assault on 18 September and following the capture of the Malakoff Tower by the French which made the Russian defence no longer tenable. It was presumably at some date after this that Codrington took possession of the lighter belonging the architect of Sebastopol’s defence Franz Eduard Graf von Tottleben better known as Eduard Totleben (1818-1884)
On 11 November 1855, for some reason that has never been properly explained, Codrington succeeded Sir James Simpson as Commander-in-Chief instead of Sir Colin Campbell, who had much better claims to the succession, and he commanded the force occupying Sebastopol, for there was no more fighting, until the final evacuation of the Crimea on 12 July 1856.
On his return to England, Codrington was promoted lieutenant general, appointed colonel of the 54th Foot, and in 1857 was elected MP for Greenwich, in the liberal interest. From 1859 to 1865, he was Governor of Gibraltar. He was made a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath in the latter year, and was promoted general in 1863. In 1860, he was transferred to the colonelcy of the 23rd Foot, and in 1875 to that of the Coldstream Guards, the regiment in which he had risen. He remained an active politician to the end of his life, and contested Westminster in 1874, and Lewes in 1880, also in the liberal interest.