1854 Coldstream Guardsman: part 2 - the Alma

Another amazing scratch-built 12 inch figure and history lesson by Tony Barton of York.

1854 Guardsman: Part Two.

Guardsman Arthur Lemon has now arrived in the Crimea, after a period in camp in Turkey whilst the army was assembled.

The Crimean War would have been ridiculous had it not been so tragic: the causes are very obscure, and seem to have as much to do with France and Britain wanting to throw their weight about as anything else.

The target on this occasion was the Russians , who had been bullying the Turks, for want of anything better to do, and seemed to be available at the time.

The result was really a bloody and pointless stalemate , the victims being thousands of soldiers on all sides, to say nothing of the civilians in Sevastopol.

The incompetence and suffering are well known, but the heroics at least provided some relief from the sick list and the casualties, and the enormous expense.

The British Army that landed at Calamita Bay and marched upon Sevastopol with their French allies was hopelessly inexperienced: it was thirty years since their last big campaign, and everything so painfully learnt in Spain had been forgotten, particularly regarding the commissariat. Otherwise not much had changed, including some of the officers, who were getting a little old for this sort of thing. The younger ones had mostly never been under fire.

If the officers were wanting , the men were magnificent : long service regulars, well drilled and amazingly motivated. And they started the War in full-dress: nothing less would do to confront a major European Power.

All that changed pretty quickly, but at the first battle , the crossing of the Alma river and the storming of the fortified hill beyond, on the 20th September 1854 , the men were dressed much as they might be on Home Service, though they had been permitted to grow moustaches since leaving England.

The only concession to their comfort is that the knapsacks were left on shipboard before landing, where they were promptly looted.
Just standing up in this rig is hard enough: advancing up a hill under shot and shell , in the broiling September sun, requires qualities of an uncommon kind.

I explained the making of this figure in the previous post.
Since then I have corrected the Coatee tail ornaments, and equipped him with the field equipment worn during the campaign: buff blanket, grey greatcoat in the knapsack straps, and haversack and water bottle.

He has also discarded his leather stock, but unlike the rest of the Army , who threw off the shakos the moment the shooting started, the Guards retained their prized bearskins.

The campaign has taken its toll of his clothing. The Coatee is dirty , the trousers are getting tatty, and the equipment has lost its pipeclay, reverting to its natural buff.

The battle was an ill-commanded mess, won by the persistence of the men rather than any great inspiration or tactical skill by their commanders ; though as usual some of the junior officers behaved magnificently.

All three Regiments of Foot Guards were present in the 1st Division , and with the Highland Brigade on their left were largely responsible for deciding the battle…. though credit must also be given to the Light and 2nd Divisions who started it and broke the Russians morale, then got themselves in something of a pickle , and the French who scrambled up a near-precipice and turned the Russian flank with great elan.

The Guards, forming the 1st Division, were rather slow in crossing the river and getting on to the battlefield , because their commander , the Duke of Cambridge, was in a funk.

The Light & 2nd Division had already taken the Russian batteries, but had been forced to retire from them by the Russian Infantry counter-attack , and were broken into jumbles of men, all blazing away but without the leadership to reform and advance… many of the key officers were dead.

The Scots Guards powered ahead too quickly and in broken ranks because of the terrain, got into difficulties , but were supported by the Grenadiers and the Coldstream coming up “ like a moving wall “. File firing as they advanced, they settled the business. Casualties 2 Officers and 27 men.

The new Minie rifle really proved its worth in this and subsequent battles : it was accurate out to at least 400 yards, and gave the British & French an overwhelming advantage. It was calculated that the old smoothbore musket, with which the majority of the Russians were armed, produced 1 hit in every 400 shots fired. The Minie was capable of 1 in 16.

It’s astonishing that the Russians stood it so well , and for so long: their artillery was plentiful and formidable, which certainly helped their morale , but their unfortunate infantry was arrayed in deep columns which made them unmissable targets, as well as restricting their fire to the front two ranks. The rest were just there to be shot at.......

After the battle there was no pursuit, but a pause overnight before resuming the march to invest Sevastopol the following day.

Time for a rest: the Guards had these rather neat forage caps, unlike the pork-pie shaped ones worn by the Line.

A Russian officer, used to handling Infantry in those dense columns, wrote in his diary that it was was astonishing that men could be found with the morale to make an attack in a broken two-deep line.

Good stuff Joe, thanks for posting it. It is great that we have blokes like Tony Barton who pursue hobbies like this. It really brings history to life.

I hope that the Coldstreamers enjoy it.
I thought I had spotted an "obvious" mistake, with the rifle and the lack of three barrel bands.
Reading the article, I found out that apart from the P.1853 (which I own a fully operational replica of), there was also a "pattern 1853" that had no barrel bands.
So apart from being impressed by the model's detail, I am grateful for highlighting the little known P.1851. Until reading this, I had been completely unaware that the P.1853 was not the first Rifled Musket issued to the British Army. Ho hum!

Kudos all round IMHO

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