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LIVES OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE
The E.J. Boys Archive


Amended 16.5.2011. Minor edits 16.2.14, 13.4.14.

1232, Sergeant John FITZGERALD - 13th Light Dragoons

Birth & early life

Born at Cashel, Ireland, c.1825.

Enlistment

Enlisted at Cahir on the 9th of February 1846.

Age: 21.

Height: 5' 10"

Trade: Saddler.

Service

From Private to Corporal 2nd of October 1850.

Appointed to Saddler-Sergeant on the 19th of December 1862.

Reverted to "Duty Sergeant" on the 20th of September 1862.

Copy of a letter written to his sister from the Crimea:

Camp Bala Clava,

October 27th, 1854."

"My dear Maryanne,

After just returning from the scene of action I had my dear sister Fanny's letter put into my hand and to give you any idea of my feelings, I cannot. I was just going from one tent to another to look for my comrade for to find out if he was living or dead when the orderly corporal gave me your welcome and never expected letter. In fact, since I came out here to this accursed country I never more expected to hear or see anything of the only few who are living that's dearer to me than my own life; when I saw my dear brother William's writing I was almost unconscious of anything else.

I had received two letters from you previously, one I think at Dundalk soon after you landed. and another in York some considerable time afterwards, neither of which I answered, not from want of filial affection, but because there was a sad circumstance which occurred just at the time which prevented me from so doing, although I have many a time regretted since not letting you know the worst at once. I am sorry to be at last impelled to inform you that poor Charles committed suicide by shooting himself whilst he was labouring under a fit of temporary insanity.

I should never have known anything about it at all only for Sergeant Mara, who is at Chatham, whose mother you used to write letters for, writing to tell me of it. He also sent me a N.S. Wales paper with his death in it. It appeared that he had very bad health for a long time, previously and suffered much from a fever and also ague. There was no cause assigned whatever for the rash act, but what we are all liable to, (sickness.) I wrote to the S. Major of the Regiment twice to know the particulars, but I never received any answer whatever.

He died in July 1849. I think this, and this alone was the cause of my not answering your former letters, although I would have written two years ago if I could only get your address. I wrote to Thomas Lonegan for it, but he did not condescend to answer my letter himself, but his boy, Frank, sent me a few unintelligent lines requiring information himself that I could not give him, but there was never any mention made of the address.

Since then I have been 12 months in Glasgow, 12 months in York, 12 or 13 in London, where there were 12 men of our men picked out for a letter party and escort for the Queen, and I was serjeant of the party. [sic] I was up there the time the Duke of Wellington died and was buried.

I was also 12 months in Coventry and on the eve of going back to Ireland again when this war broke out, and of course you have seen the newspaper accounts of it. We embarked at Portsmouth on the 8th of May and after six weeks voyage, disembarked at Varna in Turkey, where we have been knocking about for some 4 months. The weather was awfully warm and diseases of all kinds broke out amongst the troops - fever - cholera - diarrheoa, these three were very prevalent, and in fact, are yet. It was fearful to see the numbers of fine young men that were buried daily, the infantry were burying 39 or 40 a day for some time.

Our regiment only came out 270 strong and we buried 60 men in Turkey in about one month. We thought we should meet the enemy in Turkey, but they kept away, so we were obliged to follow them to the Crimea, where we are at present. There was a battle fought at a place called Alma on the 20th of September when the British and French took the enemy's position from them. It lasted about six hours, and was the most fearful battle I believe ever fought. The British lost about 2 thousand and the Russians 12 thousand. I don't know how many the French lost, but I believe they lost some thousands. The rumour went through our Army that we had only lost 14 hundred, but I am confident from what I saw myself that we must have lost at least 2 thousand.

From Alma we marched slap up to Sebastopol, where our army and the French are battering away at it day and night for the last fortnight. They talked of taking it in 48 hours, but there is not the least sign of it yet. They left the Cavalry at this Bala Clava, six miles from Sebastopol. - there are 8th Hussars, 11th Hussars, 13th Hussars, 17th Lancers and 4th Light Dragoons of the Light Brigade and the 4th, 5th and 6th Dragoons and the Scots Greys from the Heavy Brigade.

We were left with a few Turks to keep back this Russian Army that was trying to get into Sebastopol, and on the very morning of the night I received your letter, they came on about 80 thousand strong and when the Turks saw them coming in such numbers the cowards deserted their fine forts and never even spiked their guns.

The consequence was that Lord Raglan came down from Sebastopol with a part of our infantry and when he heard of the Turks running away and their guns been in the possession of the enemy he ordered the cavalry to charge and retake the guns.

We had to charge two miles and when we were about half-way they opened a fire of 14 guns on us and smashed us all to pieces; the five Light Dragoon regiments would not now form one. I can never be too thankful to Almighty God for sparing me; there was only 21st of our regiment rode out of the field and fourteen horses. Would frighten you to see men and horses laying about in dozens with their heads blown off, some with their legs, others arms, and in fact the few wounded who could crawl away had better been shot dead for their horrid spectacle.

I had one horse shot under me at the very commencement and of course was running back to our own army the same as dozens of others when I saw a trumpeter of the 11th Hussars shot dead. He fell off his horse, poor fellow so I "borrowed" his mount and jumped on, the only chance you had then for they stopped the play of their big guns and sent down 13 hundred cavalry down on us, every poor fellow they met dismounted 4 or 5th of them got about them and cut them to pieces.

There was another Sergeant of the 11th Hussars running for this horse the same as I was, but I got there first and hopped into the saddle. I knew him well, poor fellow, and I can remember him saying, "Fitz, that horse belongs to us.", but I paid no attention to him. I was sorry to hear they killed him, but everything is fair in war time.

I am still in hopes they will send us home soon, the few of us that are left are totally useless. I did not tell you that I have been Saddler-Sergeant of the regiment for the last nine months [sic] its a good berth at home but the look of it is spoiled for the present as we have only two officers left in the regiment. I have also lost all my tools, had to leave them after us and a few pounds that I earnt out here, but as I have my head I am thankful.

We must leave here in the course of a month under any circumstances, for the winter will be in and we could not winter in Russia. If we don't go home we shall go back and winter in Constantinople. Don't write to me until I write again, although you may as well if you direct your letters to John Fitzgerald, Saddler-Sergeant, 13th Light Dragoons, serving with the Army in the East.

I shall be sure to get it and send me your directions in every letter as I am liable to lose them out here.

Give my love to William and the children. I would dearly love to see poor Willie now. I dare say he would not so frightened at my moustache. Also to poor Fanny and accept the same for yourself, "My more than mother". Tell poor Fanny I will write to her when we get into winter quarters or anywhere settled for a bit.

Goodbye, God bless you all, is the prayer of your affectionate brother,

John Fitzgerald.

EJB: From this letter it would appear that he took part in the Charge. He did not receive the clasp for Balaclava (at least to the point of not being shown on the clasp roll, although Lummis and Wynn credit him with all four clasps.) and from some exaggerations in his letter (relating to his promotions) could well have been trying to impress his family.

Died in the Regimental Hospital at Aldershot on the 28th of September 1862.

Medals

Entitled (according to the medal roll) to the Crimean medal with clasps for Alma, Inkerman and Sebastopol.

The Returned Medal book states: Crimean and Turkish medals sent to the Mint. No trace of issue.

See record of 1227 John Fitzgerald re a Crimean medal and Turkish Medal sold with all four clasps.

Life after service

Death & burial

Died in the Regimental Hospital at Aldershot on the 28th of September 1862.


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