Sunday, 18 March 2012

Colonel Alexandre-Hippolyte le Breton

Letter from Colonel Alexandre-Hippolyte Le Breton, 74e Infanterie de Ligne, to his wife.


Camp of the Alma

21 September 1854

We have fought here our first battle. I do not have a scratch. I've only had two men wounded. The affair was very hot .We were on the right bank of the Alma. The Russians were on the left bank, a formidable position. They were about 45.000, the prisoners said they had one hundred pieces of cannon. The whole army combined  Franco-Anglo-Turkish fighters formed around 50.000.
The plan of the Marechal was to support a vigorous attack with his left, to turning movement with the 2nd Division on the right, then to place himself at the head of the 4th Division to halve the Russian army and crush one of his wings. The ardor of our troops has made these projects unncessary. No sooner was the flanking movement begining, our first Division cannonaded very vigorously, has rapidly crossed the river Alma. Zouaves and Tirailleurs Indigenes have flushed the enemy's
sharpshooters. Our last three Divisions and the British, left, have removed all the positions successively occupied by the Russians, although they held a certain obstinacy.
  I have few details to give you on this matter which was brilliant reports of trophies if we had some cavalry to collect straglers, and the guns during the retreat of the enemy, which resembled a route. The Marechal’s bulletin that he publishes today will be much more explicit than the rumors I poorly transmit to you, for in these great fights, everyone  only sees what is happening around him. As a far as my regiment, as we were to give the final blow with the rest of the division, under direct orders of Marechal, we crossed the river last, therefore without loss, although bursts of shells and many cannon balls aimed at out Chasseurs  à Pied which fell in large numbers around my battalions. The Marshal Saint-Arnaud sent me orders to carry me to the rescue of the English who had captured the position: the fire stops I stopped and to my right and I deployed my soldiers. The 39th Regiment had just engaged and occupied a blockhouse which the Zouaves had first attacked. I arrived beside it [the block house], and placed myself in the first line on his left. A battery fired on our two regiments stubbornly out of reach of musket-shot. They never ceased its fire for half an hour, a hail of bullets passed over our heads, thanks to an undulation in the terraince that made them ricochet.
  Well the 39th was well placed, with about forty killed and wounded; its standard-bearer was killed. Mine was a close call, a bullet brushed past me. Beuret had his horse injured by a shell-splinter. The lieutenant-colonel O'Rianne, had his horse killed while close to me. But then, the Russians were in full retreat, and the battle started at one o’lock, was over six o’clock. The Russians have left many more dead and wounded than we do. We cared for them them with the same solicitude as our own wounded. I saw over a hundred at the ambulance in our division; there were not forty of ours. The generals Canrobert and Thomas were injured but not fatally. D'Aurelle was lucky: a ball has crossed his pants behind the right calf, was amortized on pannels of his saddle and the ball went into his boot.
 We occupied the Russian camp, and each of my soldiers has been enriched by a Russian knapsack, because I did order my men to take off their  knapsacks to climb the blockhouse, a place where a Russian regiment had deposited its own  knapsacks to attack the first Division. Without cavalry, as I was sure, we could not complete our victory and we  perceived this morning the enemy rallied on strong positions, formed behind a small river, the Loukou, which is 7 or 8 kilometers distant. The victory gives such confidence to our troops that it ensures the success of subsequent commitments. Each of our soldiers is confident that he is equal to two Russians!

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