5 MAY 1855, Page 25


CONNOLLY'S HISTORY OF THE ROYAL SAPPERS AND MINERS.* took a campaign as distinguished from a mere foray : the name of rose to the importance of an art, men competently skilled in it under whatever titles, must have accompanied a force that under- engineer was moreover as familiar as that of pioneer in the time of Elizabeth. It was not, however, till 1772 that any regular trained body of artificers was placed at the disposal of the English engineer, even for the nicest works of attack or defence in the liarly known under the Tudors, when the Beefeaters formed our corps for levelling obstructions, making roads, &c.—were fami- sole "standing army." In like manlier, as soon as engineering for military affairs. The late formation of the corps of Military Artificers, or "Sappers and Miners," who execute all military out the assistance of workmen; and pioneers—men attached to each works under the direction of the officers of Engineers, might seem to favour that opinion. Of course no regular force was ever with- have induced an opinion that the English have no natural aptitude THE failures of the present war in everything but sheer fighting presence of an enemy. Up to that time, the engineer's only re- source was drafts from the soldiers, or the employment of such civilian mechanics as he could get. The disadvantages of this method were self-evident; but they will be still more striking when the scarcity of good mechanics eighty years ago is borne in mind, the high wages they could command, and the spirit at once corporate and independent by which they were animated ; while, not,being under military law, they could not be compelled to work—the only punishment for any misconduct was dismissal, from which the service suffered more than themselves.

The remedy for this evil was not furnished by Ministers or the military departments but by individual officers in foreign garri- son, where the difficulties of procuring good artificers were even greater than at home. In 1771, the chief engineer at Gibraltar, Lieutenant-Colonel Green, suggested the "formation of a com- pany of military artificers," as the only means of continuously carrying on the works. The necessity for some such measure had been long felt. The Governor approved of the experiment, and reported strongly in its favour to the Secretary of State. The re- sult was a Royal warrant, 6th March 1772, permitting the forma- tion of a company of sixty privates with certain non-com- missioned officers, and rates of pay as follows. 8. d.

"1 Sergeant and as Adjutant t 3 0 a day.

3 Sergeants, each 1 6 „ 3 Corporals „ 1 2 „

60 Privates, or working men skilled in the follow- ing trades—Stone-cutters, masons, miners, lime-burners, carpenters, smiths, gardeners,

or wheelers, each 0 10 „ 1 Drummer 0 10 „ 68

And officers of the corps of Engineers were appointed to command this new body, to which was given the name of The Soldier-Artificer Company:: " Each non-commissioned officer and man was to receive as a remu- neration for his labour a sum not exceeding two reels a day in additronto• regimental pay ; but this extra allowance was only to be given for such days as he was actually employed on the works."

+ " The rank of Sergeant and Adjutant was not adopted. The senior non-com- missioned officer was styled Sergeant-Major."

t " The warrant does not designate the company by such a title. It is there called • The Military Company of Artificers.' How the change took place, does not appear."

"A. real is equal to 40. English."

The utility of the Company waii quickly established ; its great importance shown during the celebrated siege under itlliott. Yet, such is the little attention that Ministers or heads of depart- ments either can or will pay to improvements not forced on them by Parliamentary interest or by a continuous "pressure from without," that at first the solitary Company of Artificers was ra- ther permitted than encouraged ; the corps was a growth, not a creation. In 1786, the Company having increased in numbers, its division into two companies was permitted by the Duke of Richmond, Master-General of the Ordnance, on the representa- tion of an officer of Engineers who had returned to England. A farther improvement was made by establishing a class of labourers as well as artificers ; but in explanation of this it should be said' that the Duke seemed to have a turn for works and made a hobby of the Company. In spite of hobby, or obvious utility, or the interest, excited by the siege, it was not till fifteen years after the Gibraltar experiment that the "Military Artificers" were regularly introduced into England. They were not esta- blished by act of Parliament till 1788; and, so slowly does im- provement move in public departments, that the Gibraltar corps • The History of the Corps of Royal Sappers and Miners. By T. W. J. Connolly. Quartermaster. Sergeant of the Corps. In two volumes. Published by Longman and Co. remained a distinct body till 1797. The chief thing that excited the attention of the higher powers was in the tailoring line, and that received attention more than enough. The uniform has been changed nearly twenty times in some way or other. Of the changes two were decided improvements : hair-powder was abolished in 1797, the queue in 1808. The substitution of red for blue, towards the close of the Peninsular war, in 1813, was an improvement : for the artificers, being i readily recognized by their dress, were picked off by the enemy s marksmen. But red was their original colour, for which blue had been substituted in 1787. With the return to scarlet came their present title : the "Mili- tary

Artificers" were transformed into the "Royal Sappers and Miners."

An excuse, in this case, does exist for Ministers as regards the slow progress of military improvement, owing to the Parliamentary opposition fostering and feeding the prejudices of the country. Whether it be insular position, or because the stand- ing army was established by the Stuarts of the Restoration, the national feeling is strongly averse to unnecessary soldiers, as a ready instrument of tyranny ; and the feeling is not yet extinct. Pitt encountered a good deal of opposition in regularly establish- ing the corps. The Ordnance Estimates had passed without much remark ; but Sheridan, seven days later, recurred to them, and attacked the measure on a variety of grounds, among which was the impropriety of putting "artificers under martial law, and thereby abridging their liberty " : but he made no motion. When the Mutiny Act was brought forward, the measure was assailed again, and with more show of reason.

On reading the clause for incorporating in the army the newly-raised corps of military artificers, the same was strongly objected to as a dangerous innovation, and as militating against the most favoured principles of the constitution. The same system, it was said, might next be extended to shipwrights, and so on to every description of persons in the service of the Executive Government ; and therefore the Blouse was called upon to repel so alarming an innovation in limine. In defence of the measure, it was urged that it would be attended with an annual saving of 20001. upon an expenditure of 22,0001., and that it was necessary to extend the military law to the corps in question, as the only means of keeping them together and preventing their desertion of the public service in time of war. • • •

"Several country gentlemen declared, that if the House should agree to put six hundred Englishmen under martial law merely for the paltry con- sideration of saving 20001. per annum, they would betray their constituents, and would be devoid of those feelings for the constitution which ought to make their distinguishing character."

It had equally to run the gauntlet in the House of Lords.

"Upon the commitment of the bill in the Upper House, the Duke of Manchester rose and declared his intention of opposing the novel clauses that it contained. He was an avowed enemy, he said, to the extension of military law, unless in cases of absolute necessity ; and that the present bill went unnecessarily to extend that law, by making a number of artificers subject to its severe effects who had hitherto enjoyed their liberty in com- mon with their fellow subjects. "Lord Carlisle ridiculed the stra• nge reason given for adopting the new project, that it would be a saving of 20001. a year. If their Lordships were to he governed by such arguments, they would be led into so absurd a mat- ter as the calculation of what the surrender of the rights of the subject was worth per man; and if the rights and liberties of six hundred artificers were just ust WOOL, they would see that the noble Lord valued the rights of every individual exactly at 3/. 108. each."

"A soldier in peace is like a chimney in summer"; and the truth enibodied in the proverb has something to do with the na- tional military indifference which is called inaptitude. When the army. is not wanted, we clamour for its reduction; when the reduction is enforced, we may be sure the saving is not carried out in the do-nothing departments. Moreover, the military is not a branch which comes into collision with the influential classes as some of the civil departments do, and it is not a source to which the bulk of constituencies look for much patronage; so that favouritiam and jobbing are kept out of sight. The Duke of Richmond was really anxious for the efficiency of the Company, and an allowance must be made for the state of opinion seventy years ago : still, such a promise of impunity to any one in the public service as the following story exhibits, and to a man whose misconduct might involve the risk of the fortress, is a remarkable example of the lengths to which official powers will go.

"Finch joined the company on the 21st October 1782, at the request of the Duke of Richmond, in whose service he bad been employed at Good- wood. Anxious to secure him for the company, his Grace promised not only to make him a sergeant at once,. but to give him a written protection to pre- serve to him as long as he remained, irrespective of his conduct, the pay of

that rank. Under these circumstances, he accepted the protective credential, enlisted, and sailed with Lord Hood for the Rock. Holding such a charter, it was not to be wondered at if Finch sometimes overstepped the line of pru-

dence. Not by any means particular in his appearance, nor scrupulous in his conduct or habits, he was not unfrequently brought before his officers;

but, no matter bow flagrant his offence, the only punishment that could be awarded to him was suspension for a month or two from rank, but not from pay. Captain Evelegh, of the Engineers, finding that Finch was becoming

rather troublesome, and his sentences of but little effect, endeavoured to ob- tain the Duke's warrant from its possessor : but he refused to surrender it, observing, to the Captain, 'If you get hold of it,ogood bye to my rank and pay."

Removed from the pressure of competition, which not only sti- mulates but compels individuals to adapt themselves to circum- stances as they arise, and if they can to foresee and meet them, the official mind is obstinately addicted to routine, and likewise seems hardened against common reason or even the evidence of facts. The question of the arming of the Sappers and Miners is an in- stance of this.

"Arming the corps efficiently had for years been a subject of discussion and representation. Lord Mulgrave the Master-General, however, could not be persuaded of the necessity of the measure ; and, under the opinion that a working corps ought not to be armed, sent detachments to the Peninsula equipped only with swords. The evil of this was greatly felt, as the Sap- pers could not march across the country without being guarded by other troops. For the samp reason, the company attached to the light division, which was required for the siege of Bayonne, was unable to join. Upwards of 400 Sappers were employed in that siege, and might, had they been equipped with fire-arms, have rendered important assistance in repelling the disastrous sortie.

"Eleven companies were sent to the Netherlands in a similarly defence- less state. Before moving them, however, Earl Mulgrave was ready to abide by the views of the Duke of Wellington on the point, as his Grace promised to consider the question when the first company should arrive : but no far- ther notice appears to have been taken of the subject, and the whole eleven companies landed without a firelock. "When the alarming and unfounded reports of the retreat of the British from Waterloo reached Malines, Major Tylden, with the pontoon companies under his command, assumed a posture of defence; but the attitude, from want of arms, was necessarily impotent and embarrassing. This gave the Major a notion, when afterwards crossing the plains of Waterloo, of arming the companies with muskets and accoutrements scattered on the battle- field ; the idea, however, from some regimental considerations was not car- ried out.

"On one occasion, near St. Denis, all the Sappers of the army, nearly 1000 strong, were assembled to witness an execution, and, strange to add, in that imposing force there was not a single fire-arm ! At another time there was an inspection of the pontoon train of eighty pontoons and other carriages with hones, drivers, and pontooneers, occupying a line of road nearly two miles in length. The Sappers were present in their whole strength, but without a musket in their ranks to show the quality of protection they could afford to the immense charge intrusted to them. Fifty men with fire-arms could easily have destroyed the whole force in ten minutes. These instances, and others equally striking, occurring in an enemy's country, were strongly brought under the notice of the higher powers; but, where representations and remonstrances founded on the necessities of the service failed to obtain attention, accidental circumstances at last gained the desired object. At the great reviews in France, the bridges required for the passage of the army were thrown the evening previously, and the Sappers consequently were free for any other duty. Usually they were employed to represent the enemy ; and, to show the line of the enemy's position to advantage, it was considered best to effect it by musketry fire. Orders were therefore given to supply the companies with fire-arms; and from this trivial incident may I•e dated the period from which the corps was properly and uniformly armed."

There is a workman's saying, to the effect that fools should not see things till they are finished. In great events, unquestionably, we must judge by the result rather than by particulars, since in a business like war, the details will contain much that is shocking and lowering even to the victors. Waterloo is called one of the "decisive battles of the world." Everybody says that it was won by British pluck and firmness. We hear how civilians quickly "made themselves scarce" ; how Belgian troops ran away ; how the wounded frightened the city of Brussels. It seems also that some British soldiers exhibited the better part of valour. The fact comes out incidentally in a defence of a mishap that oc- curred to the first company. fourth battalion Royal Sappers and Miners.

"At the battle of Waterloo the Royal Sappers and Miners were not en- gaged ; three companies, however, were brought conveniently near to act in the event of their services being needed, and two companies, with the pon- toons, were quartered at Malines. Of the former companies, the first com- pany, fourth battalion, is considered to have behaved with discredit in quit- ting the field without sufficient reason, and losing, in the precipitancy and confusion of the march, its baggage and field equipment. But the stigma seems to have been attached to the company without an adequate investiga- tion of the cirpumstances under which the retreat was imperatively resorted to.

"The details of the affair are as follows. On the 17th June, the company moved from Hal towards Waterloo, marching the whole of the night, and was in position when the action commenced on the morning of the 18th. After being under fire for some time, it was ordered to the rear by Major Sir George Hoste, and accordingly it marched to the furthest end of the village of Waterloo under Lieutenant W. Faris and Sub-Lieutenant R. Turner. There the company remained till between three and four o'clock p. m., when Lieutenant C. K. Sanders, R.E., joined it. About this time a brigade of Hanoverian artillery and cavalry, and several of the British cavalry, were retiring. The latter had vainly laboured to penetrate the retreating crowds, and informed Lieutenant Sanders that the French were at the other end of the village. In a wood on the right, discharges of musketry were heard ; and both officers and men, who hurried away from the battle, corroborated the general testimony, that the enemy not only had possession of the wood, but in a short time would cut off the British from the road. Still incredu- lous of the alarming rumours which reached him, Lieutenant Sanders sought more decisive information as to the reported advantages of the French, and at length, satisfied with the additional affirmations of hundreds of offi- cers and soldiers, who threatened in their flight to overrun the company, he at once ordered it to retire. The circumstances fairly justified this step. But the company had not proceeded far before it was unavoidably thrown into difficulties and disorder. To relieve itself from the masses was impos- „, Bible. Driven in rear, and encompassed by overwhelming numbers of dif- ferent regiments, it was borne along at a very rapid rate, in the vortex of the confusion. By the presence of cavalry and cannon, and of capsized waggons and baggage, its march was interrupted and its files broken. Many of the men, therefore, who could not keep up were dispersed among the fugitives ; the brigade of waggons, stopped by insuperable obstructions on the road, was abandoned ; and the company, thus routed, lost many of its knapsacks and most of its intrenobing-tools, baggage, and horses. Such are the facts of this ill-understood affair, which deserve to be viewed more with regret than animadversion ; but Colonel Carmichael Smyth, jealous of the honour of the corps, and feeling this apparent taint upon its character, was highly dis- pleased, and refused to recommend the officers and men of the company for thi Waterloo honours ant.ladvantages."

It was hard upon the company, especially considering they had no arms, but were like lambs for the slaughter !

The History of the Corps of _Royal Sappers and Miners is one of the best military accounts of a particular arm or regiment that we have met with. The minuteness with which every particular is related respecting the formation, growth, and changes in the corps, as well as the notices of every service in which it has been engaged whether military or scientific, is removed from dryness by the omission of all that is superfluous. The facts—and the volumes are full of facts—are well selected, essential to the end in view, and very fresh and real ; there is no redundance of words either in the matter of fact account or the more general narrative, when it takes that form. And if the author does not rise to eloquence, he never sinks below a clear, well- sustained narrative, which possesses a quiet animation in its equability. So far as this depends upon causes not inherent in the writer, it is the result of time and labour. The work has been the occupation of nearly twenty years. In 1836 an order was given to Lieutenant Dashwood "to prepare a list of officers of the Royal Engineers who had commanded from time to time the differ- ent companies of the corps" of Sappers and Miners. In this task he was assisted by the present Quartermaster-Sergeant (for the au- thor has reached no higher grade) ; and when the Lieutenant was prematurely cut off, Mr. Connolly completed the statement.

"Led in its progress to consult old documents and returns, I conceived the idea of making myself acquainted with the whole history of the corps. With this view, after daily fulfilling the routine duty of the office, I spent all my leisure intervals in bringing to light old books and papers, which for years had been buried in disused depositories and stores."

Two officers subsequently conceived the idea of tracing the his- tory of the corps, but were successively removed to other stations on promotion ; and to them Mr. Connolly furnished assistance.

"In 1847, when medals were granted to the veterans of the last war, Brigade-Major, now Colonel Sandham, observed the readiness with which I spoke of historical events in which the corps was concerned, and of the services of particular individuals who had belonged to it. He also saw the facility with which I supplied the information required to establish the claims of the several applicants for medals and clasps. This induced him, after some little conversation on the subject, to direct me to prepare for pub- lication a history, of the corps. Much fragmentary matter I had already ac- cumulated, for twelve years had been consumed by me in wading through books and documents in quest of dates and occurrences. Nevertheless, it was not without serious miagivings that I set myself officially to the task ; and the researches and labours embodied in the following pages are the result.

"In the intervals of important and onerous public duty, the materials for the memoir have been collected and the work methodize& and written. Necessarily severe was the application required under such circumstances ; but by steady perseverance, even at times when my health was scarcely able to bear up against the exertion it needed, I have succeeded, without omit- ting any service that I know of, in completing the history to the siege of Sebastopol."

Though the military story of the corps is the first object of the book, it is by no means the only feature. From the nature of the corps, the mechanical skill necessary to every member, and since the establishment of Pasley's School at Chatham the information and scientific acquirements which many of the mem- bers possess, the Sappers and Miners are here, there, and every- where. Besides strictly military business, they accompanied Chesney's expedition across the Desert and down the Euphrates : they have penetrated the interior of the Western coast of Africa as far as travellers have gone and returned. They assisted the British Commissioners in settling the Maine boundary ; they penetrated some of the wildest parts of the North American Colo- nies on railroad surveys ; they were the executives of science in the Ordnance surveys of Ireland and Great Britain, sometimes ex- posed to priyation and hardships in tents or extemporized, huts on the barren mountain-top ; sometimes climbing the loftiest steeples, and even hanging their scaffold round St. Paul's. The tithe sur- veys witnessed the excellence and economy of their labour ; the Irish famine their resolution as superintendents of the so-called works; the Great Exhibition of 1851 their "infinite variety." It is probable that at all times, in every regiment, there are remark- able men with a biography of adventure or of character or both. In the Sappers and Miners this is rendered clear by the number of notices which Mr. Connolly has given in his volumes, forming by no means the least curious part of his book. In the first half- century, men of mechanical ability, with great aptitude for the practical business of life, predominate. As the effects of Pasley's School come into play, these qualities are conjoined with remarkable acquirements of a scientific kind, which in many cases procure their possessors comfort and consideration when in the corps, profitable employment, and occasionally the means of acquiring wealth, when they retire. There is indeed another picture. Some exhibit "irregularities"; for the most part attributable to that bane of the British workman, intemperance, which when the corps was first embodied was supposed to be the invariable accompaniment of a mechanical genius. Of the numer- ous biographical notes that Mr. Connolly has collected we find room for one. It relates to private Andrew Anderson, who so distin- guished himself in the battle of Giurgevo and in the engineering works on the Danube, and on whom Omar Pasha conferred the. order of the Medjidie, decorating him with his own hand. It will be recollected that some newspaper comments took place on the qualification with which the Queen granted Anderson permission to wear the order. Poor fellow, it was of small moment to him— he was "found dead in his tent" before Sebastopol.

"A fine, handsome soldier, he was admired by both officers and men. When work had to be done, htvwould toil like a slave to accomplish it ; and when duty demanded his services, he was never absent. His propensity to

drink, however, placed it odt of the power of h officers to award him pro- motion. At the i Cape of Good Hope, he earned a medal for his services in the Kaffir war of 1846-'7, and received another medal and a second-class prize for his conduct and usefulness at the Great Exhibition of 1851. He was employed in that duty at the instigation of Major Bent, who generously became surety for his good behaviour. Well did he support the Major's recommendation • but on his removal from London at the close-of the Exhi- bition, he soon relapsed into his former habits. His bravery in the battle of Giurgevo is already told; and the decoration of the order of the Medji- die, placed on his breast by Omar Pacha—a distinction never before conferred upon one of so humble a rank—failed to inspire him with sufficient pride to curb his excesses; and there is reason to fear that his melancholy fate was brought on by his infatuated indulgence."