17 MARCH 1855, Page 1

The war has taken the foremost place in Parliament this

week -and although the business transacted in either House has not been unimportant, it has given place in the general interest entirely to the inquiry before the Sebastopol Committee. In the House of Commons, the difficulty for Members having motions has been to prevent a " count-out ": in the Committee-room, " No. 17 up- stairs," the difficulty has been to count the Members within, or to admit the multitude pressing for admission at the door. Among the witnesses examined, have been the Duke of Cambridge, Lord Cardigan, Lord Lucan, various other officers, naval, military, and medical, and commanders of transport-ships. In some respects the effect of the evidence, thus taken direct from those who spoke on personal knowledge, is mitigatory. Neither the Duke of Cambridge's division nor Lord Cardigan's appears to have suf- fered from actual want of food ; and both Generals seem to 'have been satisfied with the conduct of the Commissariat officers attached to their corps. The failure of supplies was chiefly created by the failure of the land transport. The forms of the Commis- sariat tended to obstruct the duties of the Commissariat. The vase of the officer who refused an order given by General Ben- tin& because it was signed half an inch too low, is only an exces- alive example of a general obstructiveness. In some cases the examination has traced immediate results of bad management to particular officers. The hospitals were ill suppled, because the purveyors were at fault. The failure of the land tran,Tort seems in part due either to the inactivity or incapacity of Comm;a!arY- General Filder ; but as the department was underhanded, the re- sponsibility is, inferentially, transferred to the Government at home. The failure of the sea transport is traced to Admiral Boxer at Constantinople, through whose management much de- tention of vessels appears to have occurred; while a still heavier charge is levelled against Captain Christie at Balaklava : the want of order, or a slavish adhesion to forms, prevented the landing of stores ; cargoes of boots and shoes, and hay, which were wanted on the spot, were sent away undelivered ; while the detaining of ships—which were either too many or too large for the confined harbour, and were kept outside upon a lee shore—occasioned great part of the loss in the memorable storm. These officers, then, with some others, appear distinctly to be charged with most serious delinquencies: but here we come to one inherent defect in the Committee. It is a tribunal to investigate ; public indignation—or curiosity—has directed it principally to certain cases of past mismanagement, and the inquiry becomes ao- cusation; yet, as Sir ,Tames Graham pointed out beforehand, the Committee possesses no means for hearing the defence of the ac- cused, without sending to the East and awaiting the answer,—an in- justice to the individual, a grievous deficiency in the wholeness of the evidence before the Committee. This inherent vice is ag- gravated by the loose, disorderly, unclassified manner in which witnesses have been called up and examined. The examination has been an unstudied conversation, with nothing consecutive in the ideas or in the facts developed. As yet the Committee has done very little in advancing towards that dissection of the causes which should lead us plainly to the remedy.

But whatever the propriety of the method, we have the evi- dence; and, so far as it goes, it possesses some force in confirming conclusions at which we had already arrived provisionally from the perusal of the general intelligence. It appears to be esta- blished by the witnesses before the Committee, as it had been asserted by anonymous reports, that the campaign in the Crimea was expected to be brief ; that Sebastopol was expected to fall with a "blow"; and that the protracted investment, therefore, is something for which neither the Government in Paris nor the Government in London was prepared. Then why, on our part, did Lord Raglan consent to undertake it ? Last week we saw that the testimony generally tended to establish that the men had been overworked ; this week we have some reason to doubt whe- ther the French have been so proportionately exempt from trouble as the English accounts have represented, but there is no doubt that a larger share of work fell upon a smaller number of Englishmen. Why was this ? The man who should seem to stand responsible is Lord Raglan. But again we find the imper- fection of the tribunal, in the impossibility of bringing Lord Raglan before it. And, most likely, if he were brought there, we might only arrive at new difficulties. His defence would probably con- sist in passing on the responsibility to his superior officers, from whom he received his instructions. If they, again, were brought before the Committee, it is more than probable that some part of their justification would involve statements respecting our allies; and here, at once, we perceive the impracticability of ren- dering the inquiry complete. In the first place, it would be in- tolerable that any persons, however high in office, should be per- mitted to absolve themselves at the expense of foreign officers, who could not be called to account before a Committee of the British House of Commons; but even if it were possible, we need not say a word to point out the absolute impolicy of raising any such ques- tion of attack or defence concerning an ally who has been acting with us in council and on the field.

More broadly considered, the investigation appears thus far to have established nothing so distinctly as the fact, that the expedi- tion was undertaken before Government was in possession of the men or the means requisite to render the force effectual. The means did not even exist in 1854: the departments to transport, feed, clothe, and lodge the forces, which had been extinguished during the peace, had to be recalled into existence ; and the servants of those departments had to be trained. The raw materials for the reconstructed departments, readiest to hand, were men like Com- missary-General Filder, whose experience is accompanied by the inactivities of age, or home-keeping youths drawn from the Trea- sury in London. The defence of Ministers might be, that they had yielded to that noisy demand and that written agitation of the press which is called "public opinion": but the retributive part of the inquiry—interesting and instructive as it might be histori- cally—has little bearing upon the immediate conduct of the war by the present administrators ; and the Committee has not yet done much to anatomize that state of the public departments which has rendered them so feeble and treacherous as instru- ments under the hands of the responsible Ministers and public officers.