Balaklava Bay, Camp before Sevastopol: 14 February 1855 – 14 April 1856. Seven ALS, including six small Octavo ones, ca. 18x11 cm (7 x 4 ¼ in), in all 35 pp.; and one Quarto ALS, ca. 25x19,5 cm (9 ¾ x 7 ¾ in), 4 pp. Brown ink on laid or wove paper. Occasional author's corrections in text (several lines with strikethrough). Fold marks, paper slightly age-toned, occasional splits on folds, but overall a very good collection. Portrait: Chromolithograph finished in oil, ca. 44x36,5 cm (17 ¼ x 14 ¼ in). Minor chipping on extremities and a few scratched in the left upper corner, but overall a very good portrait.
Stunning source on the history of the Siege of Sevastopol (17 October 1854 – 9 September 1855) during the Crimean War. Seven detailed emotional private letters written in the British camp near Sevastopol by 20-year old Ernest-Augustus Percival, then a Lieutenant of the 88th Regiment of Foot. The letters cover the period of over a year (February 1855 – April 1856), starting with Percival’s landing in Balaklava Bay and commencing with the description of his excursion around Crimea shortly after the peace treaty had been signed (30 March 1856). Written in excellent language and adorned with quotes from Shakespeare, the letters create a vivid picture of the French and British camps and the fights for the besieged Russian fortress.
Percival gives detailed descriptions of the first major attack on the Great Redan on June 7-9, 1855 and of the explosion of the French munition magazine on November 15 that year; lists French and British losses; talks about tensions and fights between French and British military men; mentions several British military commanders (Lord Rokeby, General Codrington, General Simpson, General Airey), recent capture of a spy, the British army railway built in Crimea in 1855, an amputation surgery he had to assist with, a wife of a local blacksmith who presented him a ring from her finger; lists the meals from the menu of the dinner commemorating the British victory at Alma (Sept. 1854), etc. A lengthy 10-page letter from October 21, 1855, describes the Battle of the Great Redan (September 8, 1855), which ended in the Allies' victory and the capture of Sevastopol. Percival fiercely objects the accusations of cowardice, which have reached him in Crimea with their "poisonous whisper," and adds to his description the lines from Shakespeare's "Troilus and Cressida" and "Othello" talking about honour and "good name." The letters are addressed to his parents, a cousin and "Aunt Emma" (likely, Emma Wyndham, nee Trevelyan, 1801-1857, a sister of his mother, Beatrice Trevelyan). Overall an excellent first-hand account of the Siege of Sevastopol. The collection is supplemented with a large chromolithographed portrait of Perceval depicted his 30s or 40s, and wearing the uniform of the 88th Regiment of Foot and all his awards.
Ernest Augustus Perceval was educated at the Radley College and served in the British Army’s 88th Regiment of Foot (Connaught Rangers), promoted to Captain in 1860 and retired in 1864. He took an active part in the siege of Sevastopol during the Crimean War (1854-56) and was awarded the Crimean Medal with a clasp, Turkish Crimean War Medal, Ottoman Medjidie Order of the 5th class, and Legion d’Honneur. In January-June 1858, Perceval took part in the suppression of the Indian Mutiny (Sir Hugh Rose’s campaign in Central India) and received the Indian Mutiny Medal with a clasp (https://radleyarchive.blog/new-boys-1849/).
Excerpts from the letters:
Balaklava Bay, 14-15 February . To the mother or father. 4 pp.
“We came here last night & have not yet gone into the harbour, so I will try & give you some account of what I saw at Malta till I came here. <…> We soon reached the mouth of the Bosphorus (the weather being all the time very warm & cloudless), & passed some forts called the keys of Europe & Asia, we then passed up the Bosphorus & saw many very interesting places & next morn cast anchor at Constantinople which is a most picturesque place, very few sent ashore. Feb. 15. Today we left Balaklava Bay where we had been waiting & came into the Bay Kazatch of Cossack Bay just round Cape Khersonese. We can just see the entrance to Sevastopol & the whole Camp & now & then a puff of smoke. There is some skirmishing going on now 9 o'clock at night. This place is quite full with the French & English fleet, the distant mountains are covered with snow but it is not very cold, the weather is very nice. We are just going to return to Balaklava & enter the harbour, continual sorties are being made by the Russians."
Camp before Sevastopol, 7-9 June 1855, 10 o’clock. To a cousin. 4 pp. Quarto format.
“This night we attacked Sevastopol. The intention was for our men to take the Quarries & advanced work in front of our Right, & the French to take the Mamelon & in the morning the 4th & 3rd division of ours were to attack the Redan & the French were to take the Round Tower. Well, the French went down in great force & with hardly a loss took the Mamelon & drove the Russ. out (it having been previously silenced in the day, by our united fire <…>) & followed them to the Round Tower& were driven back by two things; 1st the fault [?] of scaling ladders (the trench in front of the Round Tower being 15 feet wide), & secondly by the tremendous fire of grape & musketry. Well the French were forced to return & were driven out of the Mamelon, & again drove the Russ. out & the report now is that they have the Malakhoff which however I do not believe. Their loss is great, but more wounded than killed.
We at the same time then this was being done, had taken the Quarries & advanced & had we been supported by more men, should without doubt have taken the Redan at first. The report now is that we leave the Redan & the French the Mamelon. Our loss is I am afraid very great, we have 1 officer killed at present & 3 wounded.
June 8th. 6 o’clock. I hear this morn. that all we succeeded in doing last night was to take the Russians’ advanced parallel & Quarries, into which the Russians are pouring grape. The French I am happy to say still hold the Mamelon.
12 o’clock. The report is that the French are to attack the Malakhoff at 2 o’clock and I conclude we shall not be idle. We lost out of this regt. 1st Major Bagley, 2nd Capt. Corbet, 3rd Capt. Wray, 4th Lt. Webb, all dead, & Lt. Kenny wounded in his foot, Capt. Maynard who only came out here a day or two ago wounded in the arm, Lt. Green [?] slightly scratched, we have lost a great many men & officers of the Regt. Pray relieve yourself from any apprehension for my safety, for I am sorry to say that I was not engaged at all, as I was in the trenches on Wednesday, when they opened fire, & so it was not my turn to go; however I hope I shall go this afternoon & I shall go if any one does, for I am first for duty Hurrah! I could not get any one to exchange duties yesterday. We have got what we wanted, but at an enormous sacrifice <…>
When we last opened fire the 13 inch shells had no fuses, so 18 inch fuses were to be used, in consequence they burst over our head & I am afraid it is too true. The other night we were firing 13 inch carcasses for giving a strong light & exposing the enemy, and out of 9 that were fired, 8 burst in the muzzles of the mortars, & wounded 3 men & killed one, & wounded an officer.
June 9th. Nothing more has occurred yet, but I hope you will hear of the take of Sevastopol when next I write. The bombardment still goes on & the Round Tower only answers with one gun.”
Camp before Sevastopol, 31 August 1855. To a cousin. 3 pp.
There was a sortie last night, in which an officer of 97th was killed & another wounded, the Russians succeeded in destroying part of our 6th parallel which is being advanced from the old line of Russian works. I have not yet seen the plan as I have been waiting to get one of their left attack to make it more complete so you cannot get it yet as we have only just got it. What worse than idiots the Newspaper reporters are to tell the Russians about the trapper: Capt. Koppel of the Naval Brigade was in a great rage when he found it in the papers.
You know we doubt that the Russians have completed the bridge of boats across the harbour.
Your French ladies shell has not yet made any acquaintance but sometimes a shell comes upon you when you don’t know where it comes from. About it will between us & the French. I heard it said the other day that a Frenchman had said that our soldiers get on very well with their soldiers but that our officers took every occasion of shewing their contempt for them, but I don’t think it is as bad as that.
Lord Rockeby called on me the (there is a great hubbub outside – they have just taken a spy) other day. I wish the authorities out there would make some preparations for winter at least by making a good road, no attempt whatever has yet been made & so we shall have the same difficulty to contend with as last winter. The railway is not likely to stand the traffic or rain when it comes for it has been laid principally on the bare earth with no stones to support it...”
Sevastopol, 24 September 1855. To Aunt Emma. 4 pp.
“…There is a talk of peace here, and we have received orders not to blow up the Docks which I am very sorry for. We have now some most splendid & pleasant weather. There is nothing doing here except road making. The 3rd Buffs have been shelled out of the Barracks where they had taken up there [sic!] residence, a man killed & others wounded. We get peaches & grapes now. <…> We have just sent our wounded officers away. <…> We commemorated the battle of Alma by a dinner the other day. I enclose the bill of Fare:
1st course: Green pea soup. Turbot. Roast saddle of mutton. Fish stew. Minces Collops. Boiled tongue. Boiled chicken. Boiled ham. Boiled leg of mutton. Roast turkey. Mutton cutlets. Curry Fried fish. Oxtail soup. Roast Ham. Gooseberry tart. Jelly. Open tart. Scolloped oysters. Roast duck. Macaroni. Green peas. Open tart. Sweet omelette. Plum tart. Plum pudding. Sept. 20/1855”.
Wednesday, 21 October 1855. 10 pp. [About the Battle of the Great Redan].
“Mine honour keeps the weather of my fate:
Lie every man holds dear;
but the brave man
Holds honour far more precious-dear than life.”
[Shakespeare. “Troilus and Cressida”: Act V, Scene III]. The second one from
“Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls.
Who steals my purse steals trash.
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him
And makes me poor indeed.
[Shakespeare. Othello, Act III, Scene III].
On reading your last letter a fiery blush of indignation spread over my face, to think that any of those who call themselves my friends, should for an instant harbour such a suspicion, as you insinuated. Do you think that I should have entered the army at a time when it was on active service & likely to be placed in situations of danger, if I had thought for a moment that there was any chance of my disgracing my name, country, regiment or division? No – yet suspicion with its poisonous whisper reaches me in the Crimea & insinuates that I am a coward, that I have disgraced my country and why? Simply because I have not given a detailed account of my own personal acts on the day of the 8th September… <…>
I got over the 5th parallel on the day of the 8th almost at the same time as Capt. Grogan & ran as hard as I could in the direction of the Redan, where our men were, but before I got there poor Grogan was killed. I looked behind & saw the light company with Maulever & some other officers coming behind me. At that time I was quite blown, & had to walk up to the […?], get through & then drop into the ditch & climp up the face of the Redan, under the most terrific fire you can possibly imagine, expecting every moment to get a bullet through me. Well when I got there I laughed & fathed with some officers I knew & by that time we had been driven back. I set to work to try & get some men of my own regiment together (as with but few exceptions men of other regiments would not mind you at all) to get a party to go into the Redan, a great many other officers were doing the same thing in different places, each of course defeating his own object, & as I only could 2 or 3 men together & while was trying to get more one would be killed & so it was no use. I foresaw the panic long before it came & did my best to revert it, when it did come, I tried to rally the men near me & was among the last to leave the side of the Redan & in trying to urge back one man he nearly bayonetted me for my trouble. So when I saw it was no use & the Russians were hurling their muskets at us, of course self perseveration came on me & I made the best of my way up the side of the ditch & it seemed a month before I got to the top, there was such a crash that I thought I never should get out, at last I did & I ran part of the way back, but was ashamed of myself & walked the rest & when in the trench took an active part in keeping up a fire on the enemy & when we ceased firing by degrees collected my men together & got some order among them for there was at that time congestion beyond description in the trenches & at last found some more men & officers & got them all together. When I got into the trench again a private of another regiment said he was very glad to see me safe & said that I was a brave man.
All this I say in self-defence so don’t think I’m bragging of myself. If all I have said is not enough, I have a glass hand grenade which I picked up on the Redan whilst there, & hope some day to show you <…> Whilst at the Redan I was hit on the head with a stone & received a slight scratch on the leg which though trifling at the time festered & turned into a nasty wound & has kept me on the sick list more that a month. I am only off 4 days…”
[Signed]: “Your Brother, an Englishman.”
16 November 1855. To Anna. 10 pp. [About the explosion of the French munition magazine on November 15].
"The telegraph has already apprized [sic!] you of the fearful explosion of yesterday – I was at Kamara [village] about 6 miles from the scene of it at the time & by accident just turned round on time to see the whole thing. I knew from the position that it must be near the windmill & though that it must be that which we use as a magazine. About a minute elapsed, before the sound reached us, & the terrific noise was awful, & echo after echo repeated, & reiterated the sounds, many men thought it was the last day, thousands of shells bustling in the air at the same moment & bodies, beams & all descriptions of things falling in all directions. The scene defies description; at the distance we were at the time the bottles jingled, & the men in the hospital thought that the marquee was coming down upon them <…>. We immediately set spurs to our horses & galloped to the scene of destruction. We had a surgeon of artillery with us who brought his instruments & we immediately went to the French Hospital for we had found out before we reached the place that it was a blow up of the French magazine, & we attended at an operation. A poor French artillery man had his arm cut off, the first operation I have seen, I made myself generally useful holding the candle, etc. The instruments (French) were quite disgraceful, so blunt that 7 or 9 gashes had to be made before the arm could be cut off, the man fortunately under choloriform [sic!].
The whole camp, English & French, was covered with broken fragments of shell & c., & such a scene of destruction tents, huts & houses in ruins, the remains of the explosion flaming up, & everyone was in momentary expectation of the blow up of the Windmill as the roof had been blown off by the explosion, & several shells had burst around it.
Part of the French ambulance were close to the place, & there you saw the mules & horses lying dead with their bellies burst by the concussion. Out camp is a few 100 yds. from the scene & a shell burst close to my tent, & the saddle of mutton roasting for dinner was cut down by a piece of shell. The loss in our division not including our artillery is over 70 killed & wounded, & we are rather better off than other divisions. I should think that the killed & wounded of both armies will amount to 8 or 900 killed & wounded.
In the morning there had been a review of all our artillery in Balaklava plain, & it was a sad ending to the brilliant day. When we came up, the rockets & shells were still going off & every now & then a small explosion which was anything, but pleasant. There is no news beyond what I have told you. The weather providentially continues very fine, rather cold, but not rain, however we expect it every day. I have just commenced 2 blankets on my bed & I live in a tent. We have an engine on the [railway] line now & the line is being made up to Kamara. I intend to go if possible to the French outposts on the Belbec about 26 miles from here & endeavour to take a sketch.
<…> I think that upon the whole Gen. Codrington's appointment is popular; I think Gen. Simpson has been ill-treated, better give him no reward at all, than give him his cake and then recall him. <>… "Indeed you think it strange the better use had not been made of the fine weather to push on etc." Allow me to tell you that the best use has been made of the fine weather, to make roads, railroads, drains, & other minutia necessary for making an easy & efficient communication with our different ports Kamiesh & Balaklava. You people at home cannot realize what has to be done & the number of men & length of time it takes to do anything, for more than 2 months we have had 10,000 men daily, working on the road, the French even more & they have sent home their Imperial Guard, & I hear that the dear guards are to spend their winter at Malta. Originally I think the well worked 2nd Division were to recruit themselves there, or elsewhere, but when the Guards heard of it, grumbling ensued & of course, our chance was gone. Are we not men as well as them? But I do not know for certain. They are going I think as nothing more was to be done at Kinburn, that is was foolish pulling the Russ on their guard in that quarter, for when we first went, there was only a small battery on the opposite side, but the whole line now bristled with guns, & new forts are baing raised everywhere along them.”
Camp, Monday, 14 April 1856. To Anna. 4 pp.
“I return your announcement of peace my dear Anna, by one of strife & bloodshed, on Satuday last some men of one of our Hussar Regts. were […?] near a French battery at Kamiesch in which there was a French guard, it was a beautiful bright moonlight night & about 10 o’clock, well, the French turned out with sticks & drove them away, they went & complained to their officer, who mounted his horse & went to demand explanation from the officer of the French guard. On approaching they challenged 3 times & he says he answered, & they fired & hit his horse & he then returned to the shore & signalled for assistance & a boat from one of two ships left & an officer of ours was on board & went with the party, who fortunately were only armed with cutlasses, they marched up to the Battery & the French fired 3 volleys at them & shot a Sgt. in the head & then bayonetted him. He is now dead. They also wounded a Lieut. in the leg & another man, however they went in & took 9 of them prisoners & took them on board ship. The next mg. there was a court of enquire, the results of which I have not heard. This is authentic as it comes from the officers of ours who was with the party. Ill feeling has existed a long time between our men & the French down at Kamiesch, & our sailors have been found murder before now.
Lord Rokeby called yeasterday, but I was out & had gone beyond Phosar Pass to take a peep at the girdle[?] of the Crimea, it was very beautiful. Russian villas dotted along the coast <…> a perpendicular wall of rock on W. left 7 or 800 feet high with vultures soaring over your head. I made one sketch. I overtook Gen. Airey who was returning from Simpheropol by way of the coast escorted by Cossacks. I lost a shoe & stopped at the blacksmith's (native) at Balaklava & had a shoe put on & his wife gave me a ring off her finger which I now have on, it is only glass. Of course I left much flattered. <…> The Russians had a review yesterday, & the Genls. of the Allied armies attended. A salute of 101 guns was fired…"
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