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					The Charge of the Light Brigade
Charge of the Light Brigade
The Charge of the Light Brigade was an ill-advised cavalry charge which occurred
during the Battle of Balaclava on October 25, 1854 during the Crimean War.

It is the subject of a famous poem entitled "The Charge of the Light Brigade" by Alfred,
Lord Tennyson.

The charge was made by the Light Brigade of the British cavalry. Made up of the 4th and
13th Light Dragoons, 17th Lancers, and the 8th and 11th Hussars, it was commanded by
Major General the Earl of Cardigan. Together with the Heavy Brigade (the Royal
Dragoon Guards and the Scots Greys) it was the main British cavalry force at the battle;
overall command of the cavalry was with the Earl of Lucan.

Lucan was delivered an order from the army commmander Lord Raglan stating that
"Lord Raglan wishes the cavalry to advance rapidly to the front and to prevent the enemy
carrying away the guns. Horse Artillery may accompany. French cavalry is on your left.
Immediate." The order was drafted by Brigadier Airey and was carried by Captain Lewis
Nolan, who may have carried further oral instructions, but he was killed during the
charge so that is conjecture.

In response to the order Cardigan led 673 (or 661) cavalry men straight into the valley
made between the Fediukhine Heights and the Causeway Heights. The Russian forces,
under Pavel Liprandi, on the sides of the valley and at the end included over fifty artillery
pieces and around 20 battalions of infantry. It appears that the order was interpreted to
refer to the mass of Russian guns in a redoubt at the end of the valley, around a mile
away. The brigade reached the end of the valley and forced the Russian forces from the
redoubt but suffered heavy casualties and were soon forced back. Lucan failed to provide
any support for Cardigan; he may have been motivated by personal emnity with his
brother-in-law. The troops of the Heavy Brigade entered the mouth of the valley but did
not advance further. The French cavalry, the Chasseurs d'Afrique, was more effective;
they broke the Russian line on the Fediukhine Heights and later covered the remains of
the Light Brigade as they withdrew.

When the Light Brigade regrouped there were only 195 men still with horses. The
brigade had lost 118 men killed and 127 wounded; 362 horses were killed. The stupidity
of the action and its reckless bravery prompted Marshal Pierre Bosquet to state C'est
magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre ("It is magnificent, but it is not war.") Initially the
Russian commanders believed the British soldiers must have been drunk and it
measurably improved the reputation of British cavalry during the rest of the conflict.
Tennyson praises the Brigade, "When can their glory fade? O the wild charge they
made!", while mourning the appalling futility of the charge: "Not tho' the soldier knew,
someone had blunder'd... Charging an army, while all the world wonder'd."

Books which analyse the events leading up to the event offer insight into British military
history and also into the baleful consequences which can result from courage coupled
with lack of insight.


Alfred, Lord Tennyson


Half a league, half a league,
   Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
   Rode the six hundred.
"Forward, the Light Brigade!
"Charge for the guns!" he said:
Into the valley of Death
   Rode the six hundred.


"Forward, the Light Brigade!"
Was there a man dismay'd?
Not tho' the soldier knew
   Someone had blunder'd:
Their's not to make reply,
Their's not to reason why,
Their's but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
   Rode the six hundred.


Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
   Volley'd and thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
   Rode the six hundred.


Flash'd all their sabres bare,
Flash'd as they turn'd in air,
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army, while
   All the world wonder'd:
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right thro' the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian
Reel'd from the sabre stroke
   Shatter'd and sunder'd.
Then they rode back, but not
   Not the six hundred.


Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
   Volley'd and thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell,
They that had fought so well
Came thro' the jaws of Death
Back from the mouth of Hell,
All that was left of them,
   Left of six hundred.


When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
   All the world wondered.
Honor the charge they made,
Honor the Light Brigade,
   Noble six hundred.

Copied from Poems of Alfred Tennyson,
J. E. Tilton and Company, Boston, 1870
                      The battle of Balaclava
   A short story of the Battle of Balaclava. Find out about the
            blunder that wiped out the Light Brigade.

The Battle of Balaclava has become renowned as one of the most famous battles of
all time. In reality, however, it was an encounter of relatively insignificant
importance. The actual Battle of Balaclava was comprised of three different actions a
Russian cavalry charge against the British Highlanders, the charge of the British
Heavy Cavalry against the Russian Cavalry and the infamous charge of the British
Light Brigade against the combined Russian artillery, cavalry and infantry forces.

On the 25th of October, 1854 the Russians moved in on British positions on the hills
of Balaclava, a town in Ukraine, about 10 kilometers from Sevastapol. Here the 93rd
British Highlanders had made their camp. The Causeway Heights lay to the north of
the British encampment. The six redoubts of the Heights were manned on that day
by Turkish infantry. As the Russians advanced, Turkish messengers rushed back to
warn the British. Meanwhile the Turks held their ground against the Russians.
However, by the time the British started moving towards the action the Turks had
been put to flight. The Russians were able to pour over the Causeway Heights and
advance towards the British, who were commanded by Sir Colin Campbell. The
commander ordered his men to stand firm and fight like men. They were to hold off
the Russian advance with no thought of retreat. The resulting stand of the 93rd
Highlanders has become the stuff of legend. So admirable was their defence that
correspondant for the Times newspaper William Russell was moved to coin the
phrase thin red line, in his description of the action.

The 93rd was doing a fine job in holding the advance of the Russian Cavalry.
However, to their left another force of Russian horse soldiers was moving over the
Causeway Heights towards the British camp. Against them the British sent six
squadrons of heavy cavalry from the Royal Scots Grays, the Inniskilling Dragoons
and the Dragoon Guards. The British, however, appeared hopelessly outnumbered.
They were under the command of General Sir James Scarlett. It was his first time at
commanding troops in battle. The Russians watched in amazement as Scarlett
organized his men as if they were on the parade ground. The charge was sounded
and the British troops moved in on the superior Russian forces. The British attacked
their enemies like men possessed. The hacking of their swords drove the Russians
back. Eventually the Russians broke and ran back over the Causeway Heights. The
Heavy Brigade had done a fine job. Unfortunately the Light Brigade did not follow up
the initiative by giving the chase to the fleeing Russians.

The decisive encounter of the day was to be dictated by the topography of the land.
The rolling hills and valleys made it impossible for those in the field to see any more
than what was directly in front of them. The generals who were watching from the
higher hills, however, could see everything. Cavalry commander Lord Lucan was sent
orders to secure the possession of the Causeway Heights. Lucan, however, could not
see the promised infantry support that was advancing to give aid and so refused to
move. This gave the Russians precious time in which they scrambled back up the
Heights with artillery horses, intent on recapturing their guns. Lucan now sent Lord
Cardigan out with 673 men to retake the Heights. The Light Brigade were riding
towards disaster. The Russians had been given time to mass infantry and cavalry on
both sides of the valley. But still the British advanced. What happened next was
described by William Russell for the Times : They swept proudly past, glittering in
the morning sun in all the pride and splendour of war . . .At the distance of 1,200
yards the whole line of the enemy belched forth, from thirty iron mouths, a flood of
smoke and flame, through which hissed the deadly balls. Their flight was marked by
instant gaps in our ranks, by dead men and horses, by steeds flying wounded or
riderless across the plain.

The Charge of the Light Brigade was an unmitigated disaster for the British. Only 198
men survived it. Despite this, the Battle of Balaclava, taken as a whole was a victory
for the British. The Russians, however, ended up with the possession of the
Causeway Heights. In addition, the British cavalry had been decimated to the point
that it would play no more useful role in the Crimean War.

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