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A JOURNEY THROUGH THE CRIMEAN WAR
with John Barham
CHAPTER 10 — THE BATTLE OF BALAKLAVA
Contents ◄ Chapter 1 ◄ Chapter 2 ◄ Chapter 3 ◄ Chapter 4 ◄ Chapter 5 ◄ Chapter 6 ◄ Chapter 7 ◄ Chapter 8 ◄ Chapter 9 ◄ ●
► Chapter 11
Sources for Chapter 10
Links to the main sub headings within the chapter below:
An Open Flank | The Ground | Russian Initiatives | The Balaklava Defences | Saved in extremis? | False Alarms | The Russian Plan of Attack
The Russian Attacking Formations | The Battle Plan | An Unsettled Feeling | The Fall of the Redoubts | The Thin Red Line Established
British units involved | French Reactions | Lack of Urgency | An Ambiguous Order | The Harbour Cleared | Russian Cavalry Attack
The Attack Thwarted | Another Puzzling Order | The Heavy Cavalry Brigade | A Solid Command Structure | The Light Cavalry Brigade
The Light Brigade Anchored | A Pregnant Pause | Charge of the Heavy Brigade | A Wheeling Melée | Recriminations and Controversy
The Formula for Disaster | A Lack of Control | Knee Jerk Reactions | Incomprehension and Insolence | Preparations for Sacrifice
The Charge of the Light Brigade | The Valley of Doom | Formation not Maintained | Ordeal By Fire | Into the Battery | Behind the Guns
Cardigan and the First Line | Retreat on the South Side | Help from the French | Retreat on the North Side | Survivors Come In
After the Charge | Was the Charge Sounded? | What Was Achieved? | The Fall Guy | Final Word
An Open Flank
Part of the problem for the British when switching to the right of the line had meant that they retained responsibility for guarding against attack from the landward side. True, Bosquet's Observation Corps was dug in on the Sapoune Heights, but its function was to protect the flank of the armies on the plateau, and its sheer height, at its lowest 450 ft above the Balaklava Plain, was sufficient to rule out effective defence against surprise enemy incursions from the Traktir Bridge area towards Balaklava.
The Balaklava plain was a broadly flat area some 6000 metres long from west to east and 4000 metres wide. Its southern end was marked by the village of Kadikoi at the head of the gorge which led to the Harbour and the precipitous Marine Heights to the east of it. Its northern boundary was marked by the foothills of the Fedioukine Heights separated at their eastern end by the gorge leading to the Traktir Bridge over the Tchernaya River. The river line ran south–eastwards behind the lower hills at the eastern end of the plain abruptly changing to due south at the village of Chorgun which the hills concealed from the Plain. Its western side ran along the foot of the Sapoune Heights.
The plain was divided from south east to north west by the Causeway Heights, a low ridge on which the metalled Worontsov Road ran from the Baidar valley away to the east, across the Balaklava plain before climbing to the Sapoune and down into Sevastopol. The ridge was never more than 40 metres above the ground it separated — the South Valley and the North Valley. It was however high enough to block the view of one valley from another. An uninterrupted view of the plain could only be obtained from the top of the ridge or from the Sapoune heights above.
A road ran from the Traktir Bridge to a crossroads on the Causeway Heights and on down to Balaklava via Kadikoi.
On 7th October, the Russian Army in the field gave notice of aggressive action by mounting a reconnaissance across the Tchernaya by the Traktir Bridge and thence through the gorge following the road through the Fedioukine Heights into the North Valley. Consisting of an estimated eight battalions of infantry and five regiments of cavalry, it was clearly of sufficient strength to exploit any local advantage encountered. Probably the most accurate report of the events comes from the journal of Captain Nolan, who was involved:
It appears that Lord Lucan advanced with the Lt Cav Regmts … [remainder of sentence crossed out but 'to the [Causeway Heights] ridge' included]. The Enemy perceiving Troops on the heights to their front close enough to comd the Gorge through which they came with Artillery began to think they had got into a scrape & made the best of their way back again hurrying their Artillery to the rear followed by mases of Infty then the Cavry & leaving five Squadrons as a rear Guard.
The story got much embellished in the telling, having the Russians parading up and down under the nose of the British, taunting them and sneering at them for being afraid to attack them before disdainfully riding off. Also it was voiced around that Nolan verbally abused Lucan for his inaction. Probably infanteers enjoying rubbing salt into a Cavalry wound!
In fact Lucan had no alternative but to stick to Raglan's orders prohibiting any cavalry initiative involving any skirmishes. It did not prevent some satirical hidden talent dubbing him 'Lord Look–on', an epithet which stuck. Nor in Cardigan reportedly going ballistic when he heard the news. Popular versions of this event, seemingly stemming from a letter from William Forrest to his father which magically, and instantly became public knowledge, relate how Cardigan abused the officers of the 11th Hussars calling them a 'damned bunch of old women'. They then sent Colonel Douglas to remonstrate and he was sent away with a flea in his ear, being told he was too junior to talk to a Major General like that. The letter did go on to say that Cardigan apologised afterwards. Forrest of course, as a subaltern in the 11th Hussars in the '40s, had been a leading 'mutineer' in Brighton, exchanging out in frustration, and was now a Major in the 4th Dragoon Guards, safely in the Heavy Brigade. Reading between the lines, with Cardigan bed–ridden at Balaklava, a more likely scenario is that Douglas, who probably visited his friend daily anyway, related the events of the day. Made even more irascible than usual by illness, the abuse and 'old women' remark seem genuine enough as well as the later apology. With time to reflect, he would have realised that Douglas had no liberty to act. Lucan in his eyes, and in the eyes of many, was once more the villain of the piece.
The Balaklava Defences
The incursion proved a wake up call for the High Command and Raglan appointed the able Sir Colin Campbell to be in charge of the Balaklava defences, with the following force at his disposal on 25th October:
This force was to be divided between two defensive lines.
The outer line took the form of a series of six scratched–out earthworks over–dignified with the designation 'redoubts' built along the line of the Causeway in the vicinity of the Worontsov Road.
No 1 Redoubt was constructed on the crest of Canrobert's Hill, so named because Canrobert had puffed his way up it to gain a view of the approaches to Balaklava towards the end of the Flank March. It was situated just over a mile NW of Kamara Village. Redoubts Nos. 2, 3 and 4 were astride the road; No.2 lay 1000 yards north westward from No.1; there were 500 yards from 2 to 3 and 800 yards from 3 to 4. A start had been made on Redoubts No.5 and No.6 in roughly the same straight line and separation distance, but by the 4th week in October they had not been constructed and were unmanned.
Redoubts 1 to 4 were manned by 1500 Turkish infantry and gunners borrowed from Bosquet's force. The British hoped they were getting seasoned veterans of Omar Pasha's Army on the Danube, but in the usual way of such arrangements, they got the dross, for the most part ill–trained colonial conscripts from Tunisia, originally earmarked for base camp duties, and with no combat experience. According to John Blunt (Lucan's young interpreter) they were mostly composed of Esnan, men who had never been under fire before or others who had never served previously! However they were classified 'Turkish Infantry' for the purpose of the transaction — 500–600 (one battalion) went to the Canrobert Hill redoubt, and 300 each to the others. The fragile earthworks of the redoubts were no way near Totleben class, but were stiffened up by ten 12 pounder iron guns of position, three each in Nos. 1 and 4, and two each in the other two. These were manned by Turkish artillerymen landed specifically for the purpose. Since they had no knowledge or experience of British 12 pounders, they were allocated W Battery gunners to assist them, two in No.1 and one in each of the others. There was also a British sapper in No.4, who was supervising the construction of Redoubts 5 and 6. These were a long way from completion — Redoubt 6 was little more than a scratch on the ground.
The straight line configuration of these redoubts would be fine if the Russians poured straight across the plain from the Fedioukine Heights, but they could be destroyed in detail if the enemy chose to attack from a flank. They were also isolated from the inner defence line, which was based on the village of Kadikoi. This was logical enough, because if Kadikoi were taken, Balaklava could no longer function as a base.
Again Campbell had a bare minimum of troops to carry out his task: most of his brigade had been co–opted by a nervous George Brown into plateau duties. He was left with six companies of 93rd Highlanders plus a battalion of Turks billeted in Kadikoi with a 'stand to' position on a rise just north of the village. Slightly off to the left were the four 9 pdr field guns and two 24 pdr howitzers of W Field Battery Royal Artillery under Captain George Barker. Away to the right rear on Mount Hiblak (later called the Marine Heights) were the remaining two companies of 93rd Highlanders and 1200 men of the Royal Marines, including 5 batteries of Royal Marine Artillery comprising 23 guns of position with 100 rounds per gun. Their job was to counter any Russian thrust on Balaklava from the direction of Kamara Village. The whole inner defence line formed a semi circle about three miles long.
In Balaklava itself was the Battalion of Detachments, composed of the unfit for duty in the trenches — about 100 of these were able bodied enough to be conscripted into any last ditch defence. There was also one warship in the harbour, the Screw Steam Sloop Wasp, broadside on at the harbour mouth, prepared to try to launch shot through and over the myriad masts of the massed transports if all else failed. Wasp was not held on a 'spring' to permit easy swivelling.
The Cavalry Division was also based close to Kadikoi: now complete with the final Heavy Brigade regiments disembarked. It was camped at the west end of the Plain, on the slope of the ridge south of the No.6 Redoubt construction site. A permanent outlying picket was posted on the hills above Kamara.
In spite of arguably being an integral part of the Balaklava defences, the Cavalry Division was still under the direct command of Lord Lucan. Happily he established a good working friendship with Sir Colin, as Raglan had told both at different times that they were in overall command.
On 12 October Lord Cardigan felt sufficiently well recovered to be able to return to his tent on the plain, there to find that he was to move up on to the Heights to command the 4th Light Dragoons and the 11th Hussars, designated to support the infantry on the Heights. This was on Raglan's order, in order, as Lord Paget put it, “to part these two spoilt children.” There was probably an element of compassion in Raglan's decision, but the trouble was that he forgot to tell the 2nd and 4th Division commanders, who the two regiments were supporting under command. This inevitably caused confusion when Paget found himself caught between two stools and had to await clearance from Sir George De Lacy Evans before responding to Cardigan's order to join him. Luckily Cardigan accepted the explanation without any unpleasantness resulting.
Saved in extremis?
The following day Paget was struck by Cardigan's gaunt appearance, later writing only five days before the Charge, “I believe really he is ill; and that this will be the end of him.” It was fortuitous therefore that while the invalid was sitting in his tent that evening, dining off soup from a jug and boiled salt pork washed down with Bulgarian brandy mixed with rum to kill the surgical spirit taste, a civilian walked in. It was the brother of a sister's husband, Hubert De Burgh, aka 'The Squire' because he flouted the convention of wearing city garb in London. He had just docked at Balaklava after sailing Cardigan's yacht, (i>Dryad from England. Henceforth, with a relieved Raglan's permission, Cardigan could dine, sleep and breakfast in relative comfort on board, although according to Paget, he sometimes returned to sleep in camp after dining afloat. He would be dubbed rather unkindly 'The Noble Yachtsman' by resentful and envious junior officers, although some more senior ones rather admired this living proof of that old army campaigners' adage 'any fool can be uncomfortable.' In fact the title could equally have been construed positively, as Cardigan was a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron and the longest ever serving Commodore (1843–68) of the Royal Southern Yacht Club, a fact which brought about the recent (2011) twinning of the Club with Cardigan's old regiment, now incorporated into the King's Royal Hussars.
Sadly a general feeling of nervous annoyance became noticeable, as the high command continually overreacted to the presence of a few Cossacks almost nightly marauding over the plain. Not only were outpost duties drastically increased, stretching the resources of the Cavalry regiments, but the smallest incursion could lead Lucan to order a general stand to arms. The worst example was on the night of Sunday 21 October, when rumour of a major attack kept the whole Division at actions stations for the entire bitterly cold night. The unloved martinet Major Willett, briefly in command of 17th Lancers, refused to allow his regiment to wear their cloaks and some reckoned received his just deserts when he died of exposure. 4th Division, with men totally fatigued from long digging and sentry duties, had to send down their entire 1 Brigade under Brigadier Goldie, with P Field Battery, only to be dismissed as unwanted by a thoughtless Campbell without a word of thanks, after hanging around for hours in the cold, to plod wearily back up to the Col again. 4th Division Commander General Cathcart was not ready to thank Lord Raglan, who had ordered the futile move.
From the 21st on, reports were continually arriving at British Headquarters that a mass of enemy troops too big to provide basic facilities for, was milling about around Chorgun village. This knowledge however did not give rise to any positive reaction from Lord Raglan, who was firmly convinced that any Russian initiative would come from the Heights.
The Russian Plan of Attack
Since the Tsar had been hit by the news of the Alma debacle, he had been putting Menshikov under ever increasing pressure to go over to the offensive. Reinforcements were already arriving steadily but Menshikov would have preferred to wait until he had overwhelming superiority of numbers before making his attack. However the Tsar would have none of it, and he was forced to look around for a soft option.
With this aim on 6th–7th October he sent a primary reconnaissance force forward from the Tchernaya to ascertain the strength of the allied defences in front of Balaklava. Without a clear knowledge of what might await them, the force was in considerable strength, around 200 horse plus two field batteries and a column of infantry. We have seen from the British side how, having sighted the British Cavalry Division drawn up on the Causeway Heights, they sensed a trap and withdrew south of the Belbec where they bivouaced before returning to Sevastopol the following day.
Menshikov was encouraged by the initial report to focus on Balaklava as his best target. As the days passed and the allied dispositions became clearer, it was evident that mere possession of the village of Kadikoi astride the British Line of Communications would be enough to force the allies to abandon the siege. He sent out a further reconnaissance party with a more detailed brief on 17th October. Their report confirmed that the approaches from the Tchernaya were only lightly defended by a series of earthworks manned by Turks. He placed Lieutenant General Pavel Petrovitch Liprandi, recently arrived from Bessarabia with his 12th Division, in command of the assault forces with orders to go ahead full steam with preparations for an attack, Lieut Gen Liprandi, (left) of whose existence Raglan was blissfully ignorant, had had a distinguished military career dating back to the 1812 campaign against Napoleon. His career had blossomed in the 1829 Russo–Turkish War and during the Polish uprising which followed shortly afterwards. He was an able commander who had handled his forces skilfully on the Danube. However when poised to take the offensive there, he had been ordered to withdraw following Austrian political pressure. This operation, on a much smaller scale, seemed to pose fewer problems, but, not one to take anything for granted, he would plan for it with utmost care. His first objective was the British outer defensive line, and he allocated his forces accordingly.
The Battle Plan
Phase One — An attack on the outer defences. General Gribbe's column on the left would cross the Tchernaya, move down the Baidar River line, take Kamara village and set up guns on the adjacent hills to fire into No.1 Redoubt.
In the centre, General Semiakin's column would split in two. The attack on No.1 Redoubt would be personally commanded by him, and that on No.2 Redoubt by General Levutsky.
On the right was Colonel Skudieri's column, ordered to attack Redoubts Nos. 3 & 4.
All these added up to more than 14,000 infantry and 36 guns for Phase One.
Phase Two — An attack on the British inner defences. This was to be undertaken by the cavalry. The Russian brigade would follow Skudieri's column over the Traktir Bridge, wheel half right up onto the Causeway, and then take the British cavalry in flank before charging on to Kadikoi. This was a sizeable force of around 2000 horsemen and 16 guns.
The covering screen would be provided from Sevastopol, a mixed force of 6400 infantry and cavalry including 14 guns, deploying onto the Fedioukine Heights.
The plan was conceived following sound military principles; it provided a massive concentration against the enemy's perceived weak point; it was a combined operation designed for the most effective employment of all arms; the exposed flank was well guarded. Finally it aimed to achieve maximum surprise with a dawn attack following a night march.
There was one weakness — Menshikov approved Liprandi's philosophy of putting as many troops in the front line as if they had a reserve. The reinforcements which would have formed it had not arrived, and the Tsar would not let them wait.
The Approach March passed without incident. Liprandi stood by the bridge, informally exchanging greetings with the passing units. Afterwards he addressed the infantry in their forming up points, telling them that he knew they would fight as well today as they had on the Danube. He reminded them of the old adage “The bullet is mindless — your bayonet's the hero”. The general reaction showed that this popular and respected commander provided a huge boost to the morale of the troops.
An Unsettled Feeling
The customary cavalry stand–to at 5 a.m. on 25 October found Lucan in an unsettled mood. The previous evening he and Colin Campbell — I mentioned that they got on well, in spite of Raglan's typical blunder of dividing command for a single responsibility — had interrogated a Turkish spy through the brilliant interpreter John Blunt from the consular service. Blunt's ability to translate the credibility as well as the sense of the Turkish allowed both generals to assess that this was not the customary Cossack fun and games, and they agreed to sent word immediately to Lord Raglan that they suspected a major Russian attack was imminent.
The mistake that Lucan made was to send his son Lord Bingham — Raglan loathed Lucan and by association would be ill–disposed to give any sort of credence to news which required uncomfortable action on his part, brought by a Lucan. To be fair to him there had been plenty of false alarms. In spite of that, when Bingham stuck to his guns and showed no signs of going back to his father empty handed, Raglan summarily dismissed him: “Let me know if there is anything new”.
Well now something was new, and for once Lucan had made a correct assessment.
Sometime after 5 a.m. the Light Brigade Field Officer of the Day Major Alexander Low of 4th Light Dragoons, was riding wearily up to the Kamara picquet to carry out the inspection required as a standard duty when he spied a large force of Russian infantry moving in from the south east. He hastily roused the thirty or so inmates to allow them to evacuate the post moments before the Russians arrived.
The Fall of the Redoubts
The breaking day soon revealed to the startled Turks in Nos. 1 and 2 Redoubts that Russian guns were in position on the commanding facing heights and Russian infantry was visible facing No. 3. The warning signal of two ensign flags from No. 1 on Canrobert Hill was immediately hoisted. Shortly afterwards Lucan's early morning ride party with his staff were some 300 yards short of the redoubt when Assistant Adjutant General Lord William Paulet noticed the flags. “What does that mean?” he asked. It meant that the enemy was approaching. Surely not. Just then a single cannon shot rang out from the Turks. Surely so.
Campbell was as certain as Lucan that an attack was imminent and had also been up before dawn. Consequently thankfully both were alive to the situation as soon as it developed, and they immediately sent an aide to warn Lord Raglan. Campbell returned to Kadikoi to take up his prepared position and Lucan went back to the cavalry camp. He placed the Light Brigade in reserve at the camp, and took the Heavy Brigade back down the South Valley, hoping to frighten the Russian infantry off by aggresive manoeuvres, and deploying his artillery, Captain Maude's I Troop, on the Causeway to the right of No. 2 Redoubt. Barker's W Battery had also been sent forward by Campbell to position itself close to No. 3 Redoubt.
The Russian movements however had been slick by any standards. By 6 a.m. Gribbe had taken Kamara, chased away Lucan's pickets and installed his guns on the adjacent high ground. Semiakin was on the slopes overlooking Redoubt No. 1 to the North. Levutski and Skiuderi were poised to open fire.
From the moment the barrage began there could only be one result. The Russians had 40 guns sited to bring down a crossfire on any one redoubt against 10 British, of which no more than 3 could be brought to bear at any one time, and Maude's totally exposed RHA troop which came under withering shellfire. Maude himself was seriously injured, a shell exploding under his horse's body, killing it instantly in a shower of exploded organs and intestines and almost severing its rider's right arm. After a hectic and protracted artillery duel, the troop had to be pulled out because they only had limber ammunition — their wagons had been detailed for routine ammunition transport to the trenches — and at the high rate of fire, this was soon expended. Barker's right division took over the good position they had vacated.
But it was all going to be in vain. The Cavalry were powerless to intervene effectively against such a large force of infantry with strong artillery support. The Turkish garrison in No. 1 Redoubt valiantly held out for almost an hour and a half, by which time their artillery ammunition had run out. This left the terrain free for an uphill assault in three waves principally by the Azovsky Regiment. They overwhelmed the Turks of whom 170 were killed on the spot — the Azovsky had taken considerable casualties and weren't in the mood to take prisoners.
The Turks in the remaining redoubts weighed up their options and sensibly decided that the healthiest one was immediate flight. Not that that proved so healthy because the Cossacks' sharklike instinct of easy pickings from weaklings had been activated and they closed in for the feeding frenzy. Troop Sergeant Major Loy Smith of the 11th Hussars was looking on as the last of the Turks were ejected from No. 1 Redoubt:
The Turks were now driven out on our side; they appeared to fight bravely against overwhelming odds for, as the last of them came over the parapet, I noticed that the Russians were close at their heels and, as they retreated down the hillside, many of them turned round and fired. As they gained the plain, a number of Cossacks swept round the foot of the hill, killing and wounding many of them. Some of them, unarmed, raised their hands imploringly, but it was only to have them severed from their bodies. This we had to witness close in front of our squadrons, feeling the while that had a dozen or two of us been sent out numbers of these poor fellows might have been saved.
In a less threatening situation the sight of the very unmilitary–looking Tunisians lifting up their white robes with one hand and carrying a knotted bundle of their worldly goods in the other, streaming as fast as spindly legs, pumping hip high, would carry them back across the plain, would have been hilarious. But in sober terms it meant that the outcome of the campaign, and possibly the war, would now depend on the durability of the 'last wicket stand' in front of Balaklava.
The Thin Red Line Established
Major General Colin Campbell had watched the fall of the redoubts with resignation rather than surprise. He had suspected all along that it would be down to his infantry if a crushing defeat was to be averted. In front of him the Russians established themselves in the redoubts. The W Battery gunners had all managed to extricate themselves after attempting to spike their British 12 Pounders. They succeeded in Redoubts 2, 3 and 4, although the hand to hand fighting on Canrobert Hill meant that probably at least one gun there remained immediately serviceable for the Russians.
The Cavalry Division, whose attempts to intimidate the Russians by threatening demonstrations had failed, were now in a perilous position, in the line of fire between the Highlanders and the redoubts, and well within musket range of the Russians. Campbell advised Lucan to pull out, which he duly did, moving back up the valley just beyond No. 4 Redoubt, from which the Russians were withdrawing. The Cavalry did not understand the reasoning behind the move, taking it for another Lucan 'Look–on', and muttered fiercely into their chinstraps.
The time was now about 7.30 a.m. and till now there had been no reaction from Raglan, despite Lucan's ADC Captain Charteris having brought him details of the attack to his HQ probably around 7.00 am. Initially he wanted to believe that this was a diversion and he did not want to weaken his position on the heights in the expectation of a powerful main thrust from Sevastopol. On the other hand, it's difficult to picture him tucking into toast and marmalade reading his month old Times with all the rumpus of battle clearly audible at his HQ. My guess would be that he was out looking to find the best observation point.
At that time the only Russians visible were the infantry and artillery engaging the redoubts — if the redoubts held, there would be no need to commit further troops. It might well be no accident that Raglan's first orders were issued whilst the Azovsky Regiment's close assaults on No 1 were in progress. By that point it was clear that diversion or no, there was a major threat to his base. Accordingly he sent ADCs to 1st and 4th Division ordering them to move at once down to the Balaklava plain. Other messengers went to 3rd Division, ordering them to stand to and be prepared to face an attack from the city, and to Canrobert updating him on the situation and the British intentions.
The French local commander on the Heights, General Bosquet, was a man of action and had already redeployed part of his force in anticipation of orders to move. General Vinoy's Infantry Brigade was ready for despatch down the Col, to defend its approaches from the Balaclava end — General Espinasse's Infantry Brigade and General Allonville's Cavalry Brigade, plus a Battery of Artillery were also moved to the Col area.
The trenches on the crest of the ridge closest to No. 4 Redoubt had been thickened up with Zouaves and snipers with long range rifles — these moves undoubtedly contributed to Liprandi's decision to evacuate this redoubt. The Russians, conscious of the audience in the gallery, dismantled the fortifications ostentatiously, smashing the gun carriages and despatching the spiked guns far down the hillside.
Lack of Urgency
The British ADCs tasked to get the two Divisions moving had very different receptions. At 1st Div, Captain McDonald told the Duke of Cambridge “There's a row going on down in the Balaklava plain and you fellows are wanted”. The bugles were sounding off almost before he'd finished. At 4th Div, Captain Ewart found an irritable General Cathcart (right) a totally different proposition. “It's quite impossible, Sir, for the 4th Division to move” was his testy reply.
This was the equivalent of our automatic reaction to a summons to the boardroom at 6.30 p.m. after an awful Friday at the office: 'Tell the MD I've gone home'. The majority of his men had just staggered into camp after an all night stint in the trenches. He was fed up with the several false alarms triggered by the panicky Tunisians — the latest only four days before, when half his division had stood to on the plain all through a freezing night, after which they were dismissed by Campbell without thanks — certainly only a thoughtless oversight on the part of the Scot, but it had infuriated Cathcart. That did not excuse him for taking it out on poor Ewart, who, as he well knew, carried Raglan's full authority. To Ewart's credit he persisted until he was sent packing. He was back a second time, according to Cathcart at around 8.45 a.m. with a written order signed by Raglan to move his division immediately down to the plain. Only then did Cathcart reluctantly comply.
Ewart also had been charged to tell Cathcart that the 4th Division was to use the Col route down to the plain, not the Worontsov Road. There is no record of Raglan intending this order to apply to 1st Division. The logical plan would have been for 4th Div, nearest the Col, to descend the Col to Campbell's left flank, while 1st Division went down the road to flush the Russians out of the redoubts. But somehow the orders got scrambled and 1st Div understood that they weren't allowed to use the road either. So everyone went via the Col — by the time both Divisions were under way it was around 9 a.m. — a time when Raglan was expecting to see them appearing down below on the plain at any moment. And worse, at the Col, with the French leading, followed by 1st Div who had got ahead of the reluctant 4th Div, a huge bottleneck would develop.
An Ambiguous Order
Ignorant of all this, by 8.00 a.m. Raglan was observed by Russell of the Times, who was often approximate in his battle descriptions but was always an accurate judge of mood and character, to be “by no means at ease”. He added, “There was no trace of the divine calm attributed to him by an admirer as his characteristic in moments of trial. His anxious mien as he turned his glass from point to point, consulting with Generals Airey, Estcourt and others of his staff, gave me a notion that he was ‘in trouble'.” First, he would have to admit that that awful Lord Lucan had warned him of this attack, and this time he couldn't cloud the issue. Second, if his infantry didn't get down in time, he was going to have to direct cavalry, for which he was totally unqualified. Initially he was going to have to stop Lucan taking local initiatives. It was ironic that while the rest of the army spoke with derision of Lord Look-on, Raglan and his staff alone knew that it was Raglan who had placed the bit in Lucan's bridle. So in order to get Lucan out of the way until the infantry arrived, Raglan sent him this order subsequently referred to as the First Order:
Mem. Cavalry to take ground to left of 2nd line of redoubts occupied by turks — Rd Airey QMGnl
“1st Line” had been written first, then scribbled over by “2nd”.
Perhaps without malice aforethought, the message carrier was Captain Wetherall, one of the HQ 'navigators' who had got the cavalry lost during the flank march.
To Lucan, the only clear message from the order was that Raglan was determined to prevent him handling his division professionally on his own. To give Lucan his due, up to that point he had done just that. As for the order, it was typically ambiguous. What was left? It depended where you were standing. Second line of redoubts? If only there had been two lines, the defences might have held. Judging from where Wetherall was to place the cavalry, it might have meant Redoubts 4, 5, and 6. But by now Lucan's continued experience of being manipulated by Raglan into the scapegoat role had finally led him to believe cynically that Raglan's orders were sometimes vague deliberately, in order to leave him scope to divert the blame onto subordinate shoulders if things went wrong.
On this occasion therefore, he clung onto Wetherall, and insisted that they walk the ground together to pinpoint exactly where Raglan wanted the cavalry. In fact it was a poor position, 2000 yards away from Campbell, and close to the upward slope of the South Valley to the Causeway Heights. Effectively the cavalry could see nothing. But this was not evident to Raglan. From where he was, it looked as though the Light Brigade, on the north side of the Heavies, could see right down the North Valley.
Subsequently, in the way that incompetents defend themselves by recriminations, there would be charges that 'if you couldn't see, you should have put out pickets'. True perhaps, but we are dealing with totally negative attitudes. 'He wants to order us about — just obey, the stupider it looks, the better. If we lose the war as a result, so be it, it won't be my fault. In fact I might even be glad, so long as it ruins him as a result.' You can almost hear these thoughts buzzing around in Lucan's head.
The Harbour Cleared
At the same time, fearing the worst, Raglan sent a message to Balaklava to Captain Tatham of Simoom, commanding the harbour, advising him to implement the contingency plan for evacuating the harbour under threat of enemy seizure. Consequently Tatham ordered all the merchantmen to sea and the drums beat to quarters on the frigates Wasp and Diamond.
Amidst the general furore at 8 a.m. Fanny Duberly's horse Bob was delivered to her, with a note from Henry telling her to come at once as a real 'hot' battle was promised. As she spurred up the hill beyond Kadikoi she had to wend her way through a contraflow of fleeing Turks amid cries of 'Ship, Johnny, Ship!'. She next found herself galloping across the front of the 93rd Highlanders, drawn up in what was to become known as the 'Thin Red Line' only a few minutes later. She did not pause until she reached the 8th Hussars lines which had been trampled and were being looted here and there by such Turks as were bold and greedy enough to temporarily suspend their headlong flight and forget the Cossacks in hot pursuit. Fanny then calmly struck Henry's tent and started packing up his possessions. Henry himself was frantically looking for her, having no doubt been alerted that his wife was loose in no man's land, and luckily found her just in time for both of them to mount and gallop off with Cossack bullets whistling over their heads.
Russian Cavalry Attack
Meanwhile with the Russian Army, around 8.30 a.m., Ryzhov's cavalry consisting of the Hussar Brigade, 1st Ural Cossacks and three Sotni of 53 Don Cossack Regiment were launched from the Traktir Bridge on an axis of the Worontsov Road to attack 'the enemy camp'. Ryzhov subsequently claimed he was worried about attacking British infantry and cavalry covered by the fortifications of the Balaklava base, but on the day he must have thought it would be a piece of cake. Riding west down the valley to engage the British cavalry, he noticed Campbell's defence group in front of Kadikoi, now thanks to Raglan's order exposed without cavalry cover, and he detached four squadrons of the Ingermanlandsky to mop up this force and exploit on down as far as practical into the Balaklava base. I've drawn a map to illustrate the position at this stage.
By now it was getting on for 9 o'clock, and Campbell had had time to get his act together, such as it was — though unlikely to have survived many nights at the Glasgow Empire. He had recuperated the two companies of the 93rd which had been in Balaklava, bringing the Regiment's strength to around 550. They formed the base of the defensive line, deployed in two lines. There was already one Turkish battalion under command, and he formed another from the remnants of the defenders of the redoubts — they were placed to the right of the 93rd, the Turkish Turks to the left. Additionally on the left there were 100 of the 'excused boots/light duties' fraternity under Colonel Daveney plus 40 men on detached Balaklava duties brought up from the port by two Guards officers. And of course, Captain Barker's 'W' Field Battery. In all around 900 Brits and 1000 Turks.
Once the Russians had established guns on the redoubts they started shelling Campbell's defence line, and after taking a few casualties, he pulled back onto the reverse slope of the little mound which was the key to his position and ordered everyone to lie down. Many of the Tunisians on the right flank did not realise what was going on and took to their heels shouting 'ship johnny, ship ship'. Some of them, as they passed the camp of the 93rd, committed the grave error of tramping over some washing lying out to dry, whereupon the outraged Scots lady in question charged out and belaboured them with a stout stick all the way down to the by now almost empty harbour.
Campbell thought the moment propitious for a pep talk as he rode down the line:
Remember there is no retreat from here men. You must die where you stand
The Attack Thwarted
As the Ingermanlandsky came on they started taking casualties from the grapeshot of 'W' Battery's guns and roundshot from the Marine guns on the Heights. Then suddenly the two lines of the 93rd appeared on the crest of the hillock in front of them. Immediately they faltered. Was this a trap? The gorge behind the enemy was surely an ideal location for an ambush. As they stopped, the Highlanders smelt blood and started to edge forward — there were no bagpipes but the collective snarl gave a pretty good imitation of the drone. “Ninety–third! Ninety–third! Damn all this eagerness!” shouted Campbell. As a compromise, he let them loose off a volley. It was at extreme range and didn't do much damage, but it sent the Russians wheeling off into his now weakened right flank. It was apparent that they were trying to turn his position. “Shadwell,” said Campbell to his ADC, “that man understands his business.” As the Russians came up to around 300 metres distant however, Campbell's right hand grenadier company formed up obliquely facing them and fired a volley straight into them. This time they did feel the force, and uncertain of how much additional firepower awaited them, decided that discretion was the better part of valour. They wheeled about and took off towards Redoubts 2 and 3.
The whole action had only taken five minutes, but Times war correspondent Russell had been watching from the heights, from whence the defiance of the 'thin red streak' as a last gasp defence by steadfast British soldiery had assumed epic proportions, worthy of establishing as a hallmark of British grit and courage against the odds. Enough to capture the imagination of the country, although 'streak' would have to go. Not that the Victorians were into nude exhibitionism, but the image conjured up risked being a rather less than heroic rasher of bacon. Somewhere along the way a sub editor who must have gone places suggested that 'line' might catch on better.
Another Puzzling Order
Raglan's decision to direct the battle from the crest of the Sapoune Heights was to result in two determining factors in the course of events. First and most crucial, although he had a magnificent panoramic overview of the whole battle field, from such a height the shape and contours of the ground were not evident; Causeway Heights and North and South Valleys appeared as an unbroken plain. As events progressed it became clear that Raglan was treating the ground as such, with no feel for the actual sightlines of his subordinate commanders below. Secondly there would be a built–in delay in the transmission of his orders of an average of around 20 minutes depending on the horsemanship of the messenger — this of course he was aware of.
So to go back slightly in time, after 8.30, before the Russian cavalry arrived on the scene, Raglan was watching his cavalry pull right back to the foot of the escarpment in accordance with his first order, when it suddenly dawned on him that he had indeed left Campbell dangerously exposed. Also he didn't like the look of Campbell's Turks, who seemed through his glass to be looking very shaky. So away went another ADC, Captain Hardinge, with the second order.
Eight squadrons of Heavy Dragoons to be detached towards Balaklava to support the Turks who are wavering.
The thinking behind the second order was easier to divine. Raglan was worried that the Turks with Campbell would run and leave the 93rd swamped by infantry. Lucan however had just moved to the positions Wetherall had indicated when this new order arrived. Half his Division was now being sent back to where he'd put them in the first place. And why eight squadrons, and not four regiments? The Heavy Brigade consisted of five regiments, each of two squadrons. it meant one regiment would be left with the Light Brigade. It looked to him that Raglan was commanding his division from mies away and issuing meaningless orders. He would from now on do as he was told blindly, without seeking to see any logic in Raglan's orders — this had been proved pointless.
At this juncture Ryzhov's cavalry column arrived at the east end of the North Valley and the spectators on the crest had the surreal sight of the opposing cavalries moving towards each other as if on opposite sides of a road, showing no reaction to each others presence, as indeed the Causeway Heights separated them. The Russians shook out into a rectangular attack formation headed by three squadrons with a 220 yard front, and headed at the trot for the crossroads area. Ural Cossack skirmishers were deployed to the left and right.
As far as the Heavy Brigade was concerned, theirs was a non–tactical move across the South Valley, and in order to better negotiate the vineyards they had to pick their way through, the four regiments had split into two columns and were extended over about half a mile. The five Heavy Brigade regiments had originally totalled around 1250 sabres, but were now down to around 720. Cholera in Varna, further cholera and dysentery in the Crimea and loss of horses, particularly at sea, had all contributed to the fall in numbers. The order of march had the Inniskillings leading, then the Scots Greys followed by the 5th Dragoon Guards and the 4th Dragoon Guards. In following Raglan's order to the letter, the fifth regiment, the Royals, was left behind.
A Solid Command Structure
The Brigade Commander, Brigadier General the Honourable James Scarlett, was riding to the left of the Brigade with his headquarters group. He had the reputation of being sensible, kindly and unassuming, and was universally well–liked in the Brigade. Although his venerable looks, with luxuriant snow white hair and whiskers, and purple booze–inflicted complexion, made him look more suited to a bath chair than his magnificent 16 hand charger, he was in fact a mere 55 years old, and he had been too young for the Napoleonic Wars. To offset his total lack of combat experience, he had sufficient humility and good sense to snap his fingers at convention and take on his staff two highly experienced Indian Army officers. Colonel William Beatson was well known as a successful and daring commander of irregular cavalry, both in Spain during the Carlist Wars and with the Nizam of Hyderabad. Lieutenant Alexander Elliot had commanded a troop of Bengal Light Cavalry as a Captain at the Battle of Punniar, and had personally led a successful last ditch cavalry charge at the Battle of Ferozeshah, finishing up as Commander of the C–in–C's personal guard — he had had to return to Britain because of ill–health and had to accept a demotion in joining the British Army. Such top calibre advisors well made up for Scarlett's inexperience in action.
As both cavalry forces approached the crossroads area, it was Elliot who was the first to spot the Russians, pointing out the lance tips over the ridge to Scarlett. This was an academic exercise as the shortsighted General could just about make out the blurred outline of what he had thought were thistles; but he reacted quickly enough, ordering 'left wheel into line' at the same time as the French Artillery above the escarpment opened up optimistically at extreme range down the North Valley. From the Light Brigade, Lord Cardigan's immediate response was to order his artillery troop to advance to a suitable position to deploy and engage the Russians.
The Light Brigade Anchored
Seeing the movement, Lucan rode over to Cardigan. To Lucan this initiative showed that Cardigan was too eager, and poised for precipitate action. But the anticipated clash would be the responsibility of the Heavy Brigade — he was about to leave for their position to take overall command and his worst nightmare would be any unscheduled Light Brigade involvement risking muddle and possibly fatal confusion. So he claimed he gave Cardigan qualified instructions:
I am going to leave you. Well, you'll remember you are placed here by Lord Raglan himself for the defence of this position. My instructions to you are to attack anything and everything that shall come within your reach, but you will be careful of columns or squares of infantry.With that he turned his horse and went galloping off down the South Valley.
At least that's what he said he said. Cardigan's recollection, without exact words, was that he “…had been ordered into a particular position by Lieutenant General the Earl of Lucan, my superior officer, with orders on no account to leave it, and to defend it against any attack of the Russians.”
A Pregnant Pause
Ryzhov had just despatched his Ingermanlandsky Hussars towards Kadikoi, and was taken aback to find himself facing a substantial force of British Cavalry some 500 yds away as he topped the Causeway Heights. And as so often occurred to commanders of the Russian Army at critical moments, he had a long moment of indecision and hesitation. The Russians walked on, stopped, fired their pistols and carbines, walked on again, and generally made only stuttering slow progress during a five minute period during which Scarlett sorted himself out. He was hoping to get three regiments into line, but the 5th Dragoon Guards were snarled up in the vineyards, which were full of deathtraps for horses, with potholes, trailing vines and thick gnarled stalks everywhere.
He was in the process of moving the whole line further to the east when Lucan galloped up in a highly excited state ordering the 'Charge' which Scarlett was already preparing for. But Scarlett refused to be hurried, and the officers stood with their backs to the Russians as the NCOs ensured that the horsemen were in perfect dressing line. Lucan had his bugler twice sound the 'Charge' — twice the call was studiously ignored. The only concession to Lucan's impatience was to leave the 5th Dragoons to extricate themselves — the first assault line would consist of the Scots Greys and one squadron of the Inniskillings, a total of less than 250 sabres. Only when the RSMs declared themselves happy with the alignment did Scarlett order his bugler to sound the 'Charge'.
The Charge of the Heavy Brigade
In fact there was no 'Charge'. It was impossible to get the necessary momentum going from a standing start uphill over a short distance. But the Russians, awed by the parade ground demonstration, had stopped completely, throwing away their advantage of being up the slope. Scarlett insisted on leading from the front, flouting dress regulations by wearing a 'coal scuttle' brass helmet of his parent regiment, 5th Dragoon Guards. On the other hand, at his insistence Elliot, at his side, had to wear a distinctive staff officer's cocked hat. As a result in the ensuing mêlée Elliot nearly had his head cut off, whereas Scarlett escaped with a few dents!
A Wheeling Melée
To the observers on the heights, it was an unnerving moment. The Russian cavalry was packed together in a tight grey coloured mass, looking like some amorphous sci–fi monster. Scarlett and his command group hit the front of it and appeared to have been completely absorbed, followed some 50 yards behind by the Greys and Inniskillings who were instantly absorbed in turn. Then, as if it were some deadly variant of the Eton Wall Game, the mass started to sway and lurch and surge unpredictably, and suddenly patches of red uniforms were visible everywhere. Individual officers could be made out through field glasses, cutting and hacking, with the distinctive Scarlett frenziedly flashing his sword. But it was actually a lot of effort for little effect, as the sword blades on both sides were often not sharp enough to penetrate thick uniforms — in particular the Russian greatcoats — and the combatants were packed too tight for carbines and pistols to be drawn. Swords bent and broke, and thereafter men hacked at each other with bare hands.
A letter from a Captain of the Inniskillings graphically captures the atmosphere for us:
Forward — dash — bang — clank, and there we were in the midst of such smoke, cheer, and clatter, as never before stunned a mortal's ear. It was glorious! Down, one by one, aye, two by two fell the thick skulled and over–numerous Cossacks … Down too alas! fell many a hero with a warm Celtic heart, and more than one fell screaming loud for victory. I could not pause. It was all push, wheel, frenzy, strike and down, down, down they went. Twice I was unhorsed, and more than once I had to grip my sword tighter, the blood of foes streaming down over the hilt, and running up my very sleeve … now we were lost in their ranks — now in little bands battling — now in good order together, now in and out.Staff Captain Arbuzov of the Ingermanland Hussars describes the swirling rotary movement of the struggling mass of horsemen:
When we rushed at the Dragoons, the 2nd Squadron of our regiment was pressed from the left side and moved to the right at full gallop. They pressed the 1st Squadron and made them do the same, so that the 1st platoon of the squadron, which was under my command, didn't have an enemy facing them during the minute of their clash with the English because the left flank of the enemy ended opposite to the right flank of the 2nd platoon of our squadron. I used this opportunity and my platoon immediately attacked the flank and rear of English squadron and greatly damaged their lines. Frankly speaking, I can't say what I did there; I only remember that I hit a dragoon in his shoulder so that my sabre cut into him … at the same time, the sabred dragoon … caught the curb of my horse with his spurs, broke it and my horse reared and nearly overturned.Although the British were outnumbered by more than two to one, they had the advantage of introducing fresh participants piecemeal. In the second wave the second squadron of the Inniskillings under Major Charles Shute had a good run in over easy ground to the Russian left, which it hit hard fast and furiously, pushing the enemy back up the hill.
The 5th Dragoon guards had finally got clear of the vineyard and pitched into the centre just at the moment when the Greys had lost momentum and were starting to get the worst of it. Next to arrive into the fighting area were the 4th Dragoon Guards who had to negotiate the Light Brigade camp area with multiple hazards of guy ropes and picket ropes, as well as some tents left standing. They moved down the left flank of the fight, finally penetrating the mass at the enemy's right rear and cutting right across to emerge at their left rear.
Finally the Royals on their own initiative had ridden post haste from their position near Redoubt site No. 6 and pitched into the fight on the Russians' right front, just at the psychological moment, for the Greys were this time totally cut off and surrounded by Russians. They had been in the fight the longest and were running out of steam. Luckily the intervention of the Royals took the pressure off them.
All these piecemeal interventions more by good luck than good judgement had finally succeeded in breaking the Russians resolve and the mass started moving first slowly then faster back up the hill to the Causeway Heights, where they broke contact and started to regroup.
At this point 'C' Troop RHA opened up rapid fire onto them. On the initiative of their commander, Capt Brandling, they had come down from the Light Division via the Worontsov Road and then along the Sapouné to the Col where the French had given them priority passage down to the plain. Their intervention at this stage, firing 8 rounds per gun and howitzer at a range of 7–800 yds, caused more Russian cavalry casualties than suffered in the cavalry action, preventing them from attempting a fresh assault, and sent them further back to regroup at the eastern end of the North Valley. The threat to Balaklava had been momentarily neutralised.
The gallery audience on the Sapoune Heights erupted in the best traditions of a claque at La Scala. Raglan congratulated Scarlett in his clearest message of the day. “Well done, Scarlett” it said.
Recriminations and Controversy
Much has been made of the immobility of the Light Brigade at this stage. In fact the launching of, or refusal to launch, a pursuit after a battlefield victory has always been a military history debating point right up to modern times — one calls to mind the monumental row between Generals Lumsden and Montgomery at the close of the Battle of El Alamein. In this case Cardigan did not move because he insisted that Lucan had ordered him to stay put. Lucan maintained that his order had been misinterpreted — it was fashionable on the day.
Lucan had stressed to Cardigan that Lord Raglan wanted him to defend the ground he was standing on. He claimed he had said that Cardigan could attack everything that came within reach. Cardigan interpreted that to mean that he would only attack anything which threatened his position.
Captain Morris of 17th Lancers claimed that he had remonstrated at some length trying to persuade Cardigan to launch a pursuit. 17th Lancers had not been blessed with their choice of commanding officers. Their first, Colonel Lawrenson had been considered 'too dainty' for campaigning: the day after the Alma battle he had doubled over in pain and was invalided home, to be replaced by the unlamented Major Willett, victim of his own stupidity. They were now down to the Captains. Morris was the senior: recently rebadged from 16th Lancers, he had been serving on Lucan's HQ staff until three days before. With nicknames 'Slacks' of unknown origin and 'Pocket Hercules' because he was built like a present–day rugby prop, he was virtually unknown to the 17th. It could well be that he would have been trying to establish a positive image. Having campaigned in India under the brilliant Sir Harry Smith he would have been disdainful of Cardigan's lack of active service experience. Cardigan denied that Morris had made any comment to him — maybe he had deliberately 'cocked a deaf–un', or maybe Morris echoed his own thoughts so closely that his ear was not sufficiently attuned to an outside voice to recall it later.
I believe that overmuch is made of this episode. It is perfectly right and proper for a General to ignore unsolicited advice from a junior, however experienced. And General Sir Evelyn Wood provides interesting evidence. In 1857 as a Lieutenant in the 17th Lancers he went to India with Morris, and in his own words 'kept house' for him for several months: he writes, “He (Morris) often told me that he repeatedly urged the Brigadier to attack the rear of the Russian mass as soon as it was committed to a fight with our Heavy brigade; and on his declining to do so, begged that the the two squadrons of the 17th Lancers then under his command, might be permitted to fall on the rear of the wavering mass.” (All my italics). In other words, Morris was urging Cardigan to join the fight, not launch a pursuit. In which case even Lucan's version of his orders would not have permitted Cardigan to move.
Cardigan's Second–in–Command, Lord George Paget, was of the opinion that the intervening ground was too rough and broken for any pursuit to have gained the necessary speed to catch the withdrawing Russians. He also made the point that Cardigan's main undisputed task was to defend his position against attack, which could well have come from a different direction at any time. Although he later said that, on reflection, he might have been mistaken about the ground, it may be salutary to recall that he was resentful towards Cardigan and friendly with Lucan and his staff members, riding with them regularly in the morning.
My own view is that there is some justification for Cardigan's attitude. I believe that Lucan's version lacks credibility. A stickler for detail, he would have realised that a broad authorisation to attack 'anything that comes within your reach' could have been bent by Cardigan to allow him far more scope than Lucan intended. It seems more likely to have been dreamt up after the event to get Lucan off the hook.
In any event 'C' Troop could not have engaged the Russians if the Light Brigade had been in contact. It is hard to see how the Light Brigade could have driven the Russians farther back down the valley than the concentrated fire of 'C' Troop did, bearing in mind that a Light Brigade pursuit would soon have come within range of equally effective Russian artillery fire. And indeed Cardigan received no order to pursue from Raglan or Lucan. If Lucan had wanted flank support from the Light Brigade during the initial mêlée he only had to call for it — the Royals after all had covered the same distance in time to join the fight.
It was later claimed by members of Raglan's staff that three of them, including the Adjutant General, had been sent down to order the Light Brigade to charge. The Heavy Brigade action was estimated to have lasted eight minutes. Raglan would have had to have realised that the Light Brigade were not going to move, and to have reacted accordingly. Given the time frame, I find it hard to believe that any of them had a realistic hope of reaching Cardigan in time for the order to have been effective, even if they had been able to negotiate the huge log jam on the way down. This belief is borne out by the entry in the diary of the Adjutant General, Major General James Estcourt.
I was sent down to desire the Light Brigade to charge upon the enemy's flank, but the enemy had retired.But it is true that the Light Brigade's inactivity unsettled them. They were still spectators after more than a month's campaigning, when in their eyes several good opportunities to pursue had been missed. Commanders had become uptight and frustrated, with judgement impaired as a result. Here were the Heavies in their hour of glory, but they could only look on. They sensed that their commanders were as frustrated as they were. Those positioned close to Cardigan heard him curse between gritted teeth: “Damn those heavies. They have the laugh of us this day.” But of course, they hadn't.
The Formula for Disaster
It was now around 9.30 a.m. and Rhyzhov withdrew his cavalry back down the North Valley, behind the 3rd Don Field Battery. He positioned the Ural Cossacks and two squadrons of Ingermanlandsky some way behind the gunners. Considerably further to the rear were the other four Ingermanlandsky squadrons, with right at the back, not far from the aqueduct, the Kievsky Hussars. At this stage the Russian position in the British redoubts was unsupported except for the 3rd Don Battery which was equally exposed — Jabokritsky's force was yet to appear on the Fedioukine Heights. For Liprandi to continue the momentum of his drive for Balaklava he would have needed to commit substantial reserve forces, if he had had them. In the circumstances he did not feel able to take any further initiatives other than to consolidate and coordinate the defences of the three redoubts which he had captured. If the fighting had ended then for the day, at least he could claim a significant gain.
A Lack of Control
Raglan on the other hand, having been caught napping, was forced to play catch up. The second order could have led to complete disaster with the eight squadrons strung out in line of march, and he could claim no part of the subsequent success. Nevertheless it must have relaxed him to know that the pressing threat to his base had been neutralised. He needed to exploit the psychological advantage gained by the heroics of the Heavy Brigade — but where were his infantry? They should really have been ready for action down on the plain right now. He dictated three orders to Airey:
To Sir George Cathcart. To proceed with the 4th Division along the ridge of the Turkish forts, and recapture the whole in succession.
Taking these three orders together, one can try to follow Raglan's line of thought. The need was for prompt action to regain the initiative whilst the Russians were still relatively inactive. Rather than wait for his infantry, he could test their morale in the redoubts by sending the cavalry advancing towards them. His instinct told him this might be enough to provoke an evacuation. If not, the infantry would still be needed.
The third order so interpreted makes sense and it as clear enough to the infantry divisions. However once again the order to the cavalry was worse than ambiguous — indeed ideally worded to be wrongly interpreted. Their advance was to be supported by 'infantry which has been ordered'. Where were they? To act as support they would have to be present. To any recipient of average intelligence, 'which has been ordered' would have seemed a reassurance that they would not have long to wait. 'Advance on two fronts'. Which fronts? With the main enemy positions to the east, logic dictated down the North and South Valleys.
All along the campaign so far Raglan had strenuously thwarted Lucan's attempts to go into action without infantry support. It was unthinkable that he should change his mind in the current unthreatening circumstances. Moving unsupported uphill against the redoubts would subject the Division to the very artillery and infantry fire which had forced him to call off the pursuit of the Russian cavalry a short time before.
With the Aide delivering the order unable to provide any enlightenment, Lucan deployed the Light Brigade into the North Valley and the Heavy Brigade onto the south side of the ridge near No. 4 Redoubt, just out of range of the Russian held redoubts. At 10 a.m. he could look up to the Col and see infantry on their way down. It was merely a case of waiting until they were in position. Faced with the wording of the order, this seems a reasonable reaction.
Raglan's orders to the infantry commanders had been premature. The infantry visible to Lucan would have been elements of the 1st Division, which thanks to Cathcart's slow start, had reached the Col ahead of the 4th Division. By 10 o'clock the French Chasseurs d'Afrique were down and at the foot of the escarpment in the North Valley — two French infantry brigades were all down and equally far back in the South Valley. For the British, the leading Guards battalion from 1st Division was down in the South Valley heading for Kadikoi but advanced elements of 4th Division were a full half hour behind. When they finally did get down around 10.30 Airey came to meet Cathcart. “Lord Raglan wishes you to advance immediately and capture the redoubts from the Russians,” he said. Cathcart remained indignant. Why was it to be his Division to do the hard fighting, whilst the Guards looked on from Kadikoi? He dawdled on up to No. 6 Redoubt; finding it unoccupied he placed troops in it and moved on down to No. 5, saying hello to a bunch of Turks who had on their own initiative returned from Balaklava and occupied it. It was now approaching 11 a.m.
On the heights, Raglan's mood was akin to the passenger in the departure lounge at 11.00 whose flight boarding time remains posted as 10.05 with 'wait in lounge' beside it. Although the cavalry had initially moved promisingly on receipt of his order, since then not only had nothing further happened, but they had dismounted and were sitting around eating breakfast and smoking. The Russian cavalry defeat was not being followed up. The Russian infantry and cavalry on the Causeway Heights were not threatened or under fire. They had deployed artillery across the North Valley supported by a reorganised cavalry.
His staff and fellow onlookers, like delayed fellow passengers, all echoed his outrage and dismay in politically correct tones, accentuating his frustration. It seemed that Lucan had blatantly disobeyed his order, and by God he was going to have some explaining to do. And now Jabokritsky's force of infantry and artillery was clearly visible on the Fedioukine Heights deploying tactically with their guns sited within range of the Light Brigade.
A colleague and friend Dr Douglas Austin, an authority on the battle, has carried out research which leads him to believe that Raglan's intentions at this stage were threefold:
1. To send the Chasseurs d'Afrique to silence the Russian guns on the Fedioukine Heights.
2. To send the British cavalry via the South Valley (screened from Russian gunfire), to protect and if possible remove the British guns from Redoubts 2 & 3.
3. To trust that an opportunity would then arise to do the same for those in No. 1 Redoubt.
Knee Jerk Reactions
But suddenly a fresh element provided an even more urgent reason for immediate action, as a cry came from a member of his staff: “My Lord, the Russians are taking the guns from the redoubts.”
Something like panic gripped Raglan and his entourage. Raglan more than anyone was aware of the old Iron Duke's proud boast 'Never lost a gun' repeated ad nauseam in speeches and dinner table converses. Losing the guns to the Russians would not only be a disgrace, it would make it very difficult for the allies to claim that they had won or even drawn the battle. The Russians must be stopped, and speed was of the essence.
The troops best equipped and available to do this were the Cavalry Division. Cathcart's infantry was back approaching the No.4 Redoubt; The French 1st Infantry Division might have been used but Raglan could not see them and was probably unaware of their presence — there were plenty of French officers mingling with the British on the heights but mainly as observers, waiting to see how the battle was going to develop. Thus far in the War in the Crimean theatre, no truly combined operation of the sort which would involve British cavalry operating in concert with French infantry had been undertaken or probably even envisaged, and certainly no joint staff or planning structure was in place. So Raglan's knee jerk reaction was to send in the cavalry alone without consideration for tactical principles or appreciation of the degree of risk involved.
After a hurried discussion, Airey scrawled the following fateful order for Lucan:
Lord Raglan wishes the Cavalry to advance rapidly to the front - follow the Enemy and try to prevent the Enemy carrying away the guns — Troop Horse Artillery may accompany — French Cavalry is on y. left
Airey summoned Calthorpe, the next ADC for duty, but Raglan brushed him aside, “Send Nolan” he ordered, on the basis that the best horseman would get to Lucan the quickest. According to Calthorpe, Nolan “received careful instructions from both Lord Raglan and the Quartermaster General” (Airey) before leaping into the saddle and spurring over the crest down the steep escarpment, followed by Raglan's last shouted command “Tell Lord Lucan the Cavalry is to attack immediately.”
These words were music to Captain Nolan's ears. A light cavalryman himself, he had worked himself into a fury at the Light Brigade's failure to exploit the Heavy Brigade's earlier success. He may have witnessed his great friend Captain Morris in earnest conversation with Lord Cardigan — body language could well have indicated his friend's frustration. Another friend Captain Higginson of the Grenadier Guards, had bumped into him at the top of the Col a short while before — his assessment was that Nolan, “under the stress of some great excitement had lost self command.”
Anyway, now at last he was the bearer of orders which guaranteed that the cavalry, and especially the light cavalry, were to have their moment of glory, and he would be riding with them. However that over–cautious idiot Lord 'Look–on' might try, there was no way he could wriggle out of this one. His supreme horsemanship had to be in evidence during his breakneck precipitous progress which must have been followed by many approving eyes from the ranks of cavalry below. As he rode up to them less than ten minutes after leaving Raglan, it was clear from his wild eyes that the adrenaline from the descent had added further fuel to the hyperactivity of his mood and demeanour. “What's going to happen?” asked Captain Morris as Nolan drew level. “You'll see, you'll see,” he cried, without slackening pace, finally reining in breathlessly in front of Lord Lucan. Dr Austin's extensive research leads him to a convincing conclusion that this was close to Redoubt 5.
Incomprehension and Insolence
If the previous order had been puzzling for Lucan, this one was even worse. Raglan seemed to want him to send the Cavalry immediately into battle against a retreating enemy — implied by the word follow — but no Russians were withdrawing that he could see. He had to stop them carrying away guns — what guns? From where Dr. Austin has placed Lucan, Redoubts 3, 2 and 1 were visible from his position, the guns over a mile away facing the Light Brigade down the North Valley were not. Then his “Troop Horse Artillery may accompany” — this looked to him to mean that it was up to him — but then they were his guns, so this part of the order was superfluous, unless Raglan had taken over personal control of the artillery, of which he was unaware. “French Cavalry is on your left.” The implication seemed that they had received similar orders to himself.
There seems a possibility that the order was not meant to stand on its own, but was intended as an aide–memoire to remind Nolan of the verbal orders, in which case, “Troop Horse Artillery may accompany” could have meant The French Artillery has been briefed to cover your flank, freeing up your artillery for close support if you so wish. And French Cavalry is on your left meant Canrobert has released the Chasseurs d'Afrique to deal with the force arriving on the Fedioukine Heights. But Nolan maybe hadn't taken in, or had forgotten, the detail during his breakneck dash. When Lucan asked for clarification, according to witnesses in perfectly calm, polite and reasonable tones, the answer from an abrupt and authoritative Nolan was, “Lord Raglan's orders are that the cavalry are to attack immediately.” Lucan bridled at this unexpectedly unhelpful and rude response: “Attack, Sir! Attack what? What guns?”
Nolan's attitude became totally insolent and disparaging. “There my Lord is your enemy, there are your guns!” he sneered, pointing dramatically. He was determined to make sure the Cavalry charged if it killed him.
To Lucan and others present the direction indicated was not towards the visible Redoubts but over the crest towards the North Valley. Shortly after Lucan moved, he would have had a view directly down the North Valley towards the battery drawn up a mile and a quarter away across its eastern end.
Preparations for Sacrifice
Lord Lucan felt he was well and truly on the spot. Faced with this insolent ADC who effectively was saying “I represent the Commander–in–Chief — attack these guns and attack them now” he felt that he had little choice but to comply. In isolation the order seemed totally crazy, but might well make some sort of sense in the context of Raglan's overall battle plan. Also from the written order it looked as if the French cavalry might be embarking on a simultaneous operation, and he didn't want to let them down.
The Light Brigade were in exactly the right place, so they would have to lead. They were drawn up in double ranks by squadrons, two per regiment, in two battle lines. In the front, or first line, the 13th Light Dragoons were on the right; Lucan's old regiment, the 17th Lancers were in the centre; and Cardigan's old regiment, the 11th Hussars were on the left. In the second line, known as the support line, were the 8th Hussars on the right, and the 4th Light Dragoons, commanded by Lord Paget. Both support regiments had only one and a half squadrons. The all up total on parade was 664. A small number, no more than ten, joined the Charge unofficially, making it difficult to establish a definitive total.
Lucan rode over with his entourage and Nolan to Lord Cardigan's position, and announced to him that he would be leading an attack down the North Valley.
“Certainly Sir,” replied Cardigan, “but allow me to point out to you that the Russians have a battery in the valley in our front, and batteries and riflemen on each flank.”
“I know it,” said Lucan, “but Lord Raglan will have it. We have no choice but to obey.”
A rare face–to–face exchange between the belligerent brothers–in–law, and even rarer empathy, which didn't last long. According to Lucan, “I then said that I wished him to advance very steadily and quietly and that I would narrow his front by removing the 11th Hussars from the first to the second line. This he strenuously opposed but I moved across his front and directed Colonel Douglas not to advance with the rest of the line, but to form a second line with the 4th Light Dragoons.” Cardigan's version of the exchange merely mentions the redeployment of the 11th, without any opposition on his part. The anxiously watching cavalry ranks bear this out — Cardigan was nodding seriously and was obviously preoccupied. Probably he was hardly listening. His mind would have been racing — how do we make a go of this?
Lucan and his staff, moved off but Nolan remained, and something in his tone in a muttered aside to the waiting aides broke in on Cardigan's thoughts. “What is that you are saying young fellow?” Nolan insolently drew his sword with a flourish. His reply was inaudible to the watchers, but Cardigan later maintained that he was questioning whether the Light Brigade was afraid to face the Russians. There was no problem for anyone within a hundred yards in hearing Cardigan's roared reply. “My God! If I come through this alive I'll have you court martialled for speaking to me in that manner!”
So saying he turned his horse and galloped off to find Paget.
“Lord George, we are ordered to make an attack to the front. You will take command of the second line, and I expect your best support, mind, your best support.”
Paget was insensitive enough to the situation not to be anything but hurt by the emphasis on 'support' and replied with ironic equal emphasis, “Of course my Lord you will have my best support.” Unaware of the reason for Cardigan's abrupt manner, he was left smarting under what he imagined to be a lack of confidence. He faced further embarrassment when the 8th Hussars received unwelcome news — their CO Colonel 'Old Woman' Shewell who had been safely away from action tucked up sick and gout–ridden, suddenly turned up to command their regiment. He promptly put senior NCOs on a charge for smoking — confiscating their swords and carbines (That would teach them, just before going into battle, and it did — one senior rank was killed). Paget debated whether to support his colleague by stubbing out his cigar, but decided against it as the Light Brigade moved off.
The Charge of the Light Brigade
As Trumpeter Brittain sounded the bugle calls for 'advance', 'walk' and 'trot' the result was a bit like a big city marathon — the front men moved off briskly but the others marked time. The 11th Hussars had to pull back out of the front line which closed in to a 150 metre frontage, similar to the Battery which they were going to attack. Those who could see the Russian guns estimated that they were over a mile away. If they followed the drill book, as was Cardigan's wont, they would trot at 8 mph for the best part of a mile, then gallop at 12 mph until charging hell for leather from 50 yds on in. But these rules of thumb reckoned without the stimulus of hostile artillery fire. Consult the Plan of the Charge to follow the narrative on the ground.
The Valley of Doom
When it came, it came from the Fedioukine Heights and came with a vengeance. Nolan's high had been nowhere near dissipating. He had taken up a leading position next to his friend Captain Morris, temporarily commanding the 17th Lancers. Shortly after they moved off Nolan turned to his friend, “And now Morris for a bit of fun!” “That won't do Nolan!” replied Morris, “We've a long way to go and must be steady.” But Nolan was in no mood for reason. He spurred ahead until Cardigan noticed him with outrage out of the corner of his eye. At that moment according to Cardigan they were level and 30 yards apart when a shell burst between them. Cardigan was unscathed, but a massive fragment tore a gaping hole in Nolan's chest, causing fatal damage to his instantly exposed vital organs. His instinctive movement to protect the wound drew his hands up and caused his horse to move to the right across the front of the advance. Life ebbed out of him in a ghastly shriek as clenched crablike in the saddle, he was turned back into the 13th where his horse's stablemates were. It was a fun start to the charge.
The Russian gunners on the Fedioukine Heights were manning the six 12 pounder guns and four 18 pounder howitzers of No.1 Position Battery, 16 Artillery Brigade. It was not altogether ideal for them — smoke soon obscured the target, which was moving, so the guns needed traversing, and their field of fire of around 800 yds gave them a maximum 3 and a half minutes at an average range of 900 yds but they were not under any form of attack and managed to get off around 70 rounds at the Light Brigade. The effect as described by Sergeant Major Loy Smith of the 11th Hussars, was devastating:
The round shot passed through us and the shells burst over and among us, causing great havoc. The first man of my troop that was struck was Private Young, a cannon ball taking off his right arm. I being close on his right rear, fancied I felt the wind from it as it passed me. I afterwards found I was bespattered with his flesh. To such a nicety were the enemy's guns elevated for our destruction that, before we had advanced many hundred yards, Private Turner's left arm was also struck off close to the shoulder and Private Ward was struck full in the chest. A shell too burst over us, a piece of which struck Cornet Houghton in the forehead and mortally wounded him.
At that rate, they could only be thankful that many howitzer shells were observed to be bursting too high.
Formation not Maintained
The First Line had quickened their pace under fire, and although Cardigan was doing his utmost to hold them back with sword outstretched to the side, he was obliged to accelerate to keep ahead of them. The Support Line had never formed properly, largely because no one had told Paget that the 11th were dropping back. So he was unsure whether he should be level with them or behind — as such he stayed around 50 yards behind. On his right, Colonel Shewell kept his own pace for the 8th — a steady even paced trot which kept him behind Paget and inclining away from the guns to the right. So the Support Line was echeloned back from the Left. Paget struggled to keep within some sort of effective support distance of 200 yards or so, but the First Line was getting away from him.
Lucan following behind with his staff, and with the Heavy Brigade behind him, saw how the Charge was opening out and leaving the Heavies far behind. He galloped ahead trying to catch up and nearly lost his whole staff in a hail of fire. His nephew and ADC Captain Charteris was killed at his side — horses were going down and he himself took a bullet in the thigh. Additionally the First Line of the Heavies had come into range of the Fedioukine Battery and the Greys in particular were starting to take heavy casualties. Turning to Lord Paulet he took an instant decision. “They have sacrificed the Light Brigade,” he said, “They shall not have the Heavy if I can help it.” He ordered their withdrawal to No.4 Redoubt, where they stayed out of range of hostile fire, taking no further part in the action.
The Russians at No.3 Redoubt watched the progress of the Charge with anxiety. Expecting the Light Brigade to swing right shortly and attack them, the Odessky Jaeger Regiment formed four battalion squares, some on the forward slope into the North Valley. Captain Bojanov was in command of the six 6 pdr guns and two 9 pdr howitzers of No 7 Light Battery, 12th Artillery Brigade. His guns were sited west along the Causeway Heights and he had five minutes to limber up and take up a new position covering the North Valley. He just managed it as he realised the Brigade was going on down the Valley and the First Line was level with him. They were now a difficult target, moving at over 10 mph, and taking only about two minutes to cross his 660 yard arc of fire. He probably got off about 32 shots.
Up on the Heights there was stupefaction and anger when it was realised that the Light Brigade were going on down the valley to certain destruction. Raglan and Airey must have realised that they would have some answers to provide and no doubt set about thinking about them. It was now that 'a French general' (more likely Canrobert rather than the oft–cited Bosquet) made his famous remark “C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre — c'est de la folie!”
Ordeal By Fire
Up with the Charge, no one was feeling particularly 'magnifique'. As Bojanev's battery opened up on them they were also under fire from their objective, the eight 18 pdr guns of No.3 Don Cossack Battery, commanded by Colonel Prince Obolensky. To Corporal Tom Morley of the 17th they were “visible as streaks of fire about two feet long, and about a foot thick in the centre of a gush of thick white smoke” every 30–40 seconds. The musket fire from the Odessky squares was also proving effective. “I got a musket ball through my right knee and another in the shin, and my horse had three bullet wounds in the neck,” recalled Private Wightman in the front rank of the 17th. “It was about this time that Sergeant Talbot had his head clean carried off by a round shot, yet for about thirty yards further the headless body kept the saddle, the lance at the charge firmly gripped under the right arm.”
As men and horses fell, the remainder closed up and kept their line intact. Riderless horses were a continual problem: terrified out of their wits they forced themselves into the ranks of the Support Line in particular. Typical was the experience of Lord Paget. “The poor dumb brutes … were galloping about in numbers, like mad wild beasts. They consequently made dashes at me, some advancing with me a considerable distance, at one time as many as five on my right and two on my left, cringing in on me, and positively squeezing me as the round shot came bounding by them, tearing up the earth under their noses, my overalls being a mass of blood from their gory flanks. (They nearly upset me several times, and I had several times to use my sword to rid myself of them.)”
The first line was getting close to the guns and galloping through a veritable storm of fire. Private Mitchell was in the leading rank of the 13th Dragoons.
As we drew near, the guns in our front supplied us liberally with grape and canister, which brought down men and horses in heaps … We were now very close to the guns, for we were entering the smoke which hung in clouds in front. I could see some of the gunners running from the guns to the rear, when just at that moment a shell … struck my horse … , my horse was lying on his near side; my left leg was beneath him … , at that moment I heard the second line come galloping towards where I lay, and fully expecting to be trampled on, I looked up and saw the 4th Light Dragoons quite close. I called out “For God's sake don't ride over me.”
They didn't and Mitchell finally got back safely on foot. His CO, Captain Oldham, however did not. His horse had bolted just before reaching the battery and got bowled over by a shell which accounted for three or four. Oldham seemed to get up unscathed but then raised his hands to his head and pitched over onto his face, never to be seen again.
Into the Battery
Cardigan had led a charmed life and was still in front. He was an inspirational figure in his royal blue and cherry red 11th Hussars uniform, with his magnificent gold lace fronted pelisse worn like a jacket. At about 100 yards to go, he had picked his spot to jump into the battery between two guns when a last panic point blank salvo was fired which somehow left him unscathed though nearly blowing him off his horse. Then he was into the battery at a speed he reckoned at 17 mph, followed by the 17th Lancers on the northern half and the 13th Light Dragoons on the southern. Private Wightman was riding almost directly behind him. “I saw … Cardigan disappear into the smoke. A moment more and I was within it myself … The smoke was so thick that I could not see my arm's length around me … I was through and beyond the Russian battery before I knew for certain that I reached it.”
Most of the Russian gunners managed to take effective evasive action as the First Line spurred through. Paget's desperate efforts to maintain a Support Line had had no chance once the pace of the Charge had quickened. Their great advantage was that they had not had to face the grape and canister, and they arrived at the gun line with their formations in workable order.
The 11th on the left missed all but the last couple of guns and rode on. Shortly afterwards, the 4th Light Dragoons hit the battery head on and set about dealing with the guns and their crews. Well behind the rest, the 8th were some 250–350 yards short of the gun line and well to the right of it.
Paget and the Support Line regimental commanders expected the Heavy Brigade supported by infantry to appear to secure the Russian guns and consolidate the gains made. The 11th were still able to function as a Regiment and Douglas halted them 100 yards beyond the guns. Paget galloped up in a flap. When Douglas asked him for orders, he galloped off again, shouting “Where is Lord Cardigan?”
Behind the Guns
Douglas' instinct was to push on to make contact with Russian cavalry — he felt that given sufficient momentum, he could jam them into the gorge leading to the aqueduct and the river, where only a few could cross at a time and they could be destroyed when the follow up force arrived. With a cry of “Give them another charge men , hurrah!” he led the Regiment as it got its second wind, charging a substantial body of cavalry and pursuing them back for about a mile almost to the aqueduct. With no sign of any support however, and now deep into enemy territory and surrounded on two sides, they slowed to a halt as the Russian Hussars finally turned to face them from the slope of the hill.
Why had there been no Russian screen in front of the guns? There had been, and there were two Russian versions of what happened. In the first, the Cossacks had been positioned in front of the Ingermannlandsky, and taking fright at the approach of the Charge, had shot their way through their own troops to clear an escape route. The other version comes from Lieutenant S. Kozhukhov of the Artillery who was positioned at the gorge above the Traktir Bridge and had a good view of the whole North Valley. In his version, it was the Hussars who were out in front of the Cossacks and who panicked first: all four regiments abandoned the Don Battery to its fate and galloped back to the bridge pursued by an enemy that he reckoned to be outnumbered by five to one. He continued: “The enemy soon came to the conclusion that they had nothing to fear from Hussars or Cossacks and, tired of slashing, they decided to return the way they had come through another cannonade of artillery and rifle fire. It is difficult, if not impossible to do justice to the feat of these mad cavalry, for having lost a quarter of their number and being apparently impervious to further losses, they quickly reformed their squadrons to return over the same ground littered with their dead and dying.”
It was not as simple as that. The situation looked more perilous by the moment as officers took shots at them from their pistols and Cossacks circled behind them, menacing the rear ranks. Suddenly three squadrons of Lancers appeared on the slope behind them. It seems that they were the Kievski Hussars, doubling as Lancers and wearing standard flat topped lancers headdress. “They're the 17th let's rally on them!” cried the Colonel. “That's not the 17th that's the enemy,” replied Lieutenant Palmer. There was only one thing for it. “Fight for your lives, men! We must only retire and go through them.”
So once more the 11th charged, although some very tired horses lagged behind and the Russian Hussars picked off the riders while the Cossacks concentrated on the horses for future resale.
Among the laggards was Sergeant Bentley, who was attacked by a group and was in trouble till Lieutenant Dunn came to his aid. In Sergeant Major Loy Smith's words: “He was a fine young fellow, standing six feet three, mounted on a powerful horse and wielding a terrific sword, many inches longer than the regulation … he saved the life of Sergeant Bentley when surrounded by Russians by cutting them down left and right. So conspicuous was his gallantry that Colonel Douglas justly recommended him for the Victoria Cross which he received at the hands of Her Majesty. Strange to say he was the only officer who rode in the Charge on whom this honour was conferred and, much stranger still, Kinglake (the official war historian) never mentions him.”
Maybe the fact that he later ran off with Colonel Douglas' wife to Canada had something to do with it. Loy Smith must have been aware of what had been a juicy regimental scandal — do we discern a Regimental joke in his description of Dunn's 'sword'?
The lancers to their front decided to halt and swing into line, allowing the survivors to gallop across their front and make their escape, although taking additional casualties in the process.
Having done a fair job of clearing the Russian Gunners from the Battery, Paget rallied the 4th Light Dragoons to follow where he had seen the 11th Hussars disappear towards the viaduct. About half way down they were confronted by the spectacle of the 11th retreating towards them. Instinctively they turned about to join them.
But the 11th had brought the Russian Hussars with them and the combined British group was now pursued by an ever increasing mounted force. Paget now felt it was now or never to organise his line. “Halt, front: if you don't front my boys, we are done!” Discipline told. As a man the boys reined up and turned in line to face their pursuers, who, surprised, halted also. But no sooner had the movement been carried out, when there was a shout “They are attacking us, my Lord, in the rear!” A large body of lancers was deploying, blocking their route.
Some half mile to the south, Colonel Shewell had led the 8th well to the right of the Don Battery, arriving two minutes after the others. Not knowing what to do, he reined in the remains of his Regiment — about a squadron strength — in a fairly sheltered position for a few minutes before pressed on until he met the Brigade Major, Lieutenant Colonel Mayow with a small group of survivors from the 17th. Mayow's first words were “Where's Cardigan?” Did he feel guilty? It was not a question he should have had to ask, as Brigade Major he should not have let his Brigadier out of his sight.
Cardigan and the First Line
In fact at that moment his Brigadier found himself very much alone — none of his Staff were to be seen — all had either been killed, badly wounded or unhorsed, apart from Colonel Mayow who had drifted back into the 17th Lancers in the latter moments of the Charge, and was to make no subsequent effort to locate his Brigade Commander.
The First Line had suffered severely, and had lost most of their officers. Survivors, as individuals or in small group remnants, feeling shocked and isolated in the thick pall of smoke, had no obvious option but to retreat back up the valley. Many who made it back would be able to relate incident–packed experiences. Corporal Thomas Morley, “a great rough bellowing Nottingham man”, rallied about twenty Lancers and led them bullheaded against a force of Hussars blocking their way back. Captain Morris of the 17th survived an incredible series of adventures, being taken prisoner, escaping, having horses shot from under him, all in the space of about half an hour, to finally collapse wounded and exhausted in safety, only a few yards from where the body of his friend Nolan lay.
Cardigan's momentum through the guns had taken him face to face with a group of Russian horsemen fifty yards or so further on. Virtually engulfed, he would have been killed by Cossacks, but for the luck of coming face to face with the Russian Prince Radziwill, a pre–war social acquaintance, who instructed the horsemen take Cardigan alive.
His predicament was observed by Lieutenant Smith of the 13th Light Dragoons, himself too occupied to come to his aid. Smith noticed that Cardigan was making no attempt to defend himself with his sword — probably a good decision when on the receiving end of two lances — but was concentrating on evasive action to extricate himself. He managed to evade the circling Cossacks by dint of good horsemanship, receiving light wounds in thigh and ribs from their lances in the process, and disappeared into the smoke.
Apart from the dead and wounded, and a few individual stragglers appearing ghostly from time to time in the gloom, there was no one to be seen. Where was the Heavy Brigade? Where was Paget? The second line had passed through, but as far as he knew they may not even have got to the guns. Anyway he firmly believed his command responsibility priority was to the first line, and to all intents and purposes it seemed that they had been annihilated. A few passes up and down the ground in front of the guns brought him only one mobile contact, Private Mitchell plodding back on foot. Cardigan told him to make his way back with maximum speed or he would be taken prisoner. This showed that Cardigan firmly believed there were no British cavalry operational in the valley to the east of him. To make sure he headed off towards the guns again, to pass Mitchell a few minutes later, on his way back.
He next came across Captain Shakespear, who was now commanding the Division's Artillery Troop. The guns remained limbered up in the valley — they had followed the Light Brigade for a while, but the enemy fire had been too heavy for them to get into firing positions within range to engage their batteries. Cardigan pointed to the rip made by the Cossack lance in his expensive pink overall trousers. “Damn nice thing this, Shakespear, and nothing to keep the cold out.” “Pardon me my Lord, the Artillery are always prepared for an emergency,” was the smug reply. If Cardigan was expecting a needle and thread, he had a pleasant surprise when a flask of brandy appeared!
As he arrived at the Allied lines, he saw Cathcart standing on the Causeway Heights and paused to pay his compliments. “I've lost my Brigade, Cathcart,” was all he said sadly before moving on.
Retreat on the South Side
Back behind the guns, Shewell and Mayow were trying to decide what to do next when the cry went up, “We are cut off.” General Liprandi had ordered Jerobkine's Reserve Composite Uhlans from the redoubts to move down into the North Valley to block the withdrawal — three squadrons of each had deployed at opposite sides of the valley.
Shewell, momentarily flummoxed, shouted the order “Threes About” which effectively flummoxed everyone else, as threes had not been counted. The Adjutant Lieutenant Seager came to the rescue with the command “Right About Wheel” and the party set off at a gallop following the Colonel in an attempt to force their way through. This they succeeded in doing, helped by a battalion of Odessky formed up in square on the Causeway Heights. The Uhlans horses were not all the same colour as in normal Russian cavalry regiments. Also their uniforms were unfamiliar to the Russians, being mistakeable at a distance for 17th Lancers. The nervous Battalion Commander ordered the Odessky to open fire. The resulting chaos and recriminations took time to sort out and the Uhlans lost vital minutes in their efforts to close the net.
In the event, the net turned out to have gaping holes. All credit must go to 'Old Woman' Shewell for his initiative — probably his gout was becoming more troublesome by the minute. The boldness of the British cavalrymen took the Uhlans by surprise and it seemed only token efforts were made to stop them. Once they were through the position, the Russians pursued them more energetically, but drew up after a short distance. Inexplicably, Bojanev's battery had opened up on the skirmishers, to the detriment of both friend and foe. Maybe it was that Uhlan uniform again. There were still individual and collective gauntlets to be run, but most of the survivors who broke through the Uhlans' cordon made it back.
Help from the French
Not least, thanks to the 4th Chasseurs d'Afrique, who shortly after the withdrawal of the Heavy Brigade had driven the position gun battery off the Fedioukine Heights in a brilliantly conceived and executed cavalry operation at the cost of 10 killed, 28 wounded and 3 taken prisoner. Sadly the immensely talented Captain Dangla was amongst those killed.
The initial attack had been made by three squadrons under Colonel Coste de Champeron, with the Brigade Commander General d'Allonville accompanying, attacking in scattered formation the five battalions of Vladimirsky infantry protecting the battery. Whilst they could not get through to the guns, the threat they posed was sufficient to cause Zabrokitski's battery to limber up and take off. This was the cue for the remaining squadron of Colonial Light Horse commanded by Commandant Abdelal, arriving from the left side of the gun position, to launch the pursuit. Suddenly however two Vladimir squares emerged from the high grass in front of them. Although the Frenchmen broke into the squares and were sabreing infantrymen to right and left, they started taking casualties, including Captain Dangla. General Morris could see several Sotni of Cossacks moving down to join the fray, so he ordered the retreat. This was carried out under the cover of the 1st Chasseurs d'Afrique, which had deployed a squadron as sharpshooters to damp down the Russian infantry and ensure that the guns did not return.
Many years later it was claimed by General Pajol, that General Morris, who had certainly ordered the attack, had actually taken part. But Pajol had been Morris' Chief of Staff on the day, and vulnerable to suspicions of fantasy, created to advance the posthumous image of his ex–boss. In the absence corroborating evidence, Morris' active participation is considered unlikely.
It was a great pity that this attack which had been conceived to go in simultaneously with the British cavalry action, had been prevented from doing so by the premature launching of the Light Brigade charge.
Retreat on the North Side
The retreat of the Shewell/Mayow group took place whilst the northern Paget/Douglas group was still behind the gun line. This gave Ryjhov time to redeploy a portion of Jerobkine's south side Uhlans to join the three squadrons on the north side, creating a formidable barrier approximately opposite Redoubt No.3. It was this sizeable force which now confronted Paget. “I say Colonel, are you sure those are not the 17th?” asked a hopeful Major Low. “Look at the colour of their flags.” was the depressing reply.
Paget's own words describe what followed. “Helter–skelter then we went at those Lancers as fast as our poor tired horses could carry us, rear rank of course in front … the officers … in rear, for it must be remembered we still had pursuers behind us.”
About 200 yards short of their Lancers' position, the pursuing Russian Hussars reined in, as if to allow their Uhlan colleagues the honour of despatching the fleeing enemy.
As the British approached, the right hand Russian Squadron wheeled to the right, menacing to take the fleeing cavalrymen in the flank as they passed. Sensing the danger, Paget tried to get the leaders to wheel slightly right to confront the enemy head on, but it was useless — his cavalrymen's instinct was to move diagonally across the Russian front for the gap which led to home.
Expecting his small group to be totally annihilated, Paget was incredulous as the Uhlans watched motionless apart from a few half–hearted pokes with their lances, as his men galloped along their front as if in review. “We got by them, without, I believe, the loss of a single man. How I know not! It is a mystery to me! Had that force been composed of English ladies, I don't think one of us would have escaped.”
Just when they thought that the way back was now clear, Bojanov's Causeway Heights battery opened up on them, not caring too much if their own cavalry, finally awake and in close pursuit, suffered as a result. But there were additional Light Brigade casualties. Sergeant Major Loy Smith of the 11th Hussars found himself dismounted along with several others. Staggering back on foot, he found he was a moving rifle range target for infantrymen on the Causeway Heights. With bullets buzzing past his ears and dust kicked up around his heels, he broke into a shambling trot and tried to move closer to the foot of the Fedioukine Heights. Two Lancers came galloping towards him but veered off to despatch two other poor dismounted troopers. He came across two Russian wounded, bluffed his way past them with their own carbine, and finally found a loose horse to get him back.
Loy Smith's experiences were typical of the traumas many survivors had to live through that day as the price of survival. He was to maintain, as Colonel Douglas would, that the 11th Hussars had remained under independent command throughout. Having studied the accounts of many survivors, I believe that there was confusion in the 11th Hussars between their first brush with the Kievsky, when they were on their own, and Jerobkine's Reserve Composite Uhlans, when they combined as an ad hoc unit with the 4th Light Dragoons. It would then have been automatic under longstanding military protocol for Paget as senior officer, to assume overall command. During the immediate aftermath of the Charge, when officers asked “Where is Cardigan?” it was not to reproach him for not being available but rather to establish publicly that his whereabouts were unknown, and that therefore the senior officer present could take responsibility for future initiatives.
Survivors Come In
Cardigan's whereabouts from then on at least are well documented. After leaving Cathcart he rode back down to encourage members of the Shewell/Mayow group who were straggling in. Shewell blotted his copybook somewhat in a peevish reaction to Private Doyle from his Regiment. Nearing the allied lines, Doyle noticed his Colonel in trouble trying to plod through a ploughed field. He yelled out to him to get back onto the track or he would get totally bogged down. Shewell took his advice but obviously resented being yelled at by a private soldier. Having ascertained Doyle's name, he ordered his horse to be shot. Doyle had no intention of losing poor Hickabod, who was only slightly wounded and ignored the order — ten days later the horse had completely recovered.
Thirty years later an artillery officer called Whinyates claimed that Shewell and Mayow had returned down the valley in an organised column and that Cardigan had put himself at its head, to general derision with Mayow openly making fun of him. This was certainly a figment of someone's wishful thinking, probably not Whinyates, who was a subaltern in 'I' Troop on the day, some distance from 'C' Troop from where the story was said to emanate. There was no organised column for Cardigan or anyone else to lead. And the idea that his Brigade Major, his right hand man, and a full Colonel in the mid–Victorian army, could be so disloyal in full view of many junior officers is unthinkable. The story would have been round the lines in a flash and a huge row unavoidable. Mayow himself later confirmed that he saw nothing of Cardigan after the Charge until he met up with him in the rear of the Heavy Brigade on return.
This however was only a minor calumny compared to other untruths which would be perpetrated against the Brigade Commander, some for many years, in an effort to deflate the popular image which he subsequently enjoyed. The various 'shaves' bandied about were that he hadn't reached the guns at all, that he had reached the guns but immediately galloped down the valley — or plodded sedately down the valley, take your pick. Then after any or all of these acts, that he had gone straight back to his yacht to champagne and banquet fare, leaving his Brigade to shiver in their broken camp.
The truth was that his next act was an embarrassment. All the way down the valley he later confessed, he had been fuming at the disgraceful conduct of the upstart Nolan. Noticing his fellow Brigade Commander Scarlett, he rode up to him seeking mutual indignation. “Imagine the fellow screaming like a woman when he was hit.” “Say no more my Lord,” replied Scarlett, “I have just ridden over his dead body.” Ah. Of course, it wouldn't have been in Cardigan's character to feel at all embarrassed. But it did silence him, and he rode over seeking the comfort of a group of his survivors, who raised three cheers for him as he drew up. “It's a mad–brained trick,” he said to them, “but it is no fault of mine.” “Never mind my Lord, we are ready to go again,” came the reply, to general assent. “No, no, men,” replied His Lordship wearily, “you have done enough.”
He noticed Paget among the last survivors and rode to meet him. Neither man happy with the other. “Hello Lord Cardigan,” began Paget with sarcastic tone, “were you not there?” “Oh, wasn't I though — hey, Jenyns, did you not see me at the guns?” Captain Jenyns, who from the front rank of the 13th Light Dragoons had been almost directly behind Cardigan at the guns, readily acquiesced. He graphically described the moment in a letter home:
… when within 100 yds [we] went in with a shout led by Lord Cardigan who was blown by the concussion of a gun at its muzzle on to my horse, it turned me round too, but the shot missed both …
Brushing this aside, Paget went on: “I am afraid there are no such regiments left as the the 13th and the 17th for I can give no account of them.” Cardigan, happy to prove him wrong, nodded towards the low hill where the muster was taking place.
In spite of only ten members of the 17th being fit enough to attend the muster on their mounts, the overall numbers present at the muster looked encouraging.
In fact, the final casualty count for Cardigan's Brigade was surprisingly light. Out of 664 who charged, 110 were killed, (16.5%) including 7 who died of their wounds. 130 were wounded, and 58 were taken prisoner. A total count of 298 or 45%. 60 years later, such figures would have been treated as a resounding success. Additionally 362 horses (54%) were either killed or put down. As a realistic estimate, about 160 cavalrymen would have been hit during the charge, 80 afterwards. The Russian artillery probably fired about 190 projectiles at them during the 7.5 minute charge, or one every 2.3 seconds.
After the Charge
The Light Brigade exploit had stupefied both sides, and although elements of 4th Division moved against the redoubts in the early afternoon there was no major effort made by either side to further influence the outcome of the battle. Once the Russians had succeeded in taking away the seven captured Royal Navy 12 pounders from the redoubts by whatever means, they were not prepared to defend them against attack. Liprandi's tactic was to evacuate them after blowing up the munitions stored there, and then to engage the allied units sent forward to reoccupy them. The units involved included two of Vinoy's regiments and at least two from 4th Division.
Nonetheless skirmishing became brisk enough to merit the description fierce fighting. As Lieutenant Peard with 20th Foot carried the Queens Colour into No.1 Redoubt, a shell fragment hit the staff and nearly knocked it out of his grasp. E.H.Nolan quotes him as relating, “that the occupation was of very considerable danger while the Russians continued in possession of No.2, from which shot and shell were cast furiously upon the British infantry in the redoubt and the artillery of the Fourth Division which was posted on the slope outside,” and later, “The enemy's infantry lay concealed among the brushwood on the heights, which Liprandi seemed prepared to defend.”
Raglan and Canrobert saw no alternative to evacuating the redoubts and accepting the status quo. There was no one to replace the Turks in the redoubts without reducing the forces facing Sevastopol and they accepted at face value the popular unjust view that the Turks were no longer to be trusted in combat. With the Russian in occupation of the Fedioukine Heights, the redoubts were indefensible anyway. Also, confirming Peard's impression, immediately after the Light Brigade action, Liprandi had moved fast to consolidate a strong defence line along the Causeway with eight infantry battalions which Cathcart was quick to use as a reason for not mounting a major divisional attack. So finally 4th Division was ordered to withdraw and to make its weary way back up onto the heights again. By mutual consent the Battle of Balaklava petered out at around 4.00 p.m.
The Survivors of the Light Brigade were forced to hang around for five hours without food before being allowed to return to their camp, which having been fought over and looted, was in a sorry condition. Total casualties for the day were reckoned as Russians, 238 killed and 312 wounded; Allies, 344 killed and 302 wounded, of which British losses were 164 killed and 184 wounded.
Cardigan's first priority was a call on General d'Allonville to thank him for the intervention of the Chasseurs d'Afrique, and he later spent the night on the ground wrapped in his cloak beside his wounded aide Lieut Maxse. The following day he would visit the wounded, in particular his trumpeter Bill Brittain of the 17th , and according to nursing sister Mrs Farrel, “spent half an hour with him, soothing him … his Lordship sees he has everything he wants.”
Was the 'Charge' Sounded?
Was the bugle call for the 'Charge' actually blown? 160 years on, discussions on the subject can still become heated. The fact that there is no lack of eyewitness reports on record both for and against, only fuels the controversy. Given the circumstances, a bugle call would have been superfluous and probably would not have been heard anyway in the general furore and clamour as the Charge closed in. That is not to say that Brittain would not have sounded it — he was obviously extremely reliable as Cardigan's very positive attitude towards him proves — but he had been seriously wounded sometime after sounding the 'Gallop'. The general consensus has been that this was fairly soon after, but this has not been borne out in research by descendants Des and Brenda Brittain. Brenda has letters to her great grandfather from survivors stating that 17th Lancer 'characters' Corporals Morley and Nunnerley, who were both unhorsed, were carrying wounded lying close to the guns out of danger, including Bill Brittain. Nunnerley himself stated this in a 1904 newspaper article. Brenda also has an eyewitness report that Bill had a canister ball taken out of his back in Scutari Hospital, where he later succombed to bed sores. Bearing in mind that the effective range limit for canister was around 200 yards, he could well have been up with Cardigan when the 'Charge' phase theoretically was reached. But of course, we'll never be certain.
What Was Achieved?
If the day's proceedings fell well short of an allied victory, could the allies at least claim that the Battle of Balaklava ended in a draw?
On the plus side, they still held their base, although Raglan was now ready to evacuate it. When the Commissariat mandarins heard of this threat to their fief, they orchestrated a barrage of protest to which Raglan bowed, as usual loth to upset anyone. The allies had also seen off the Russian cavalry in three separate actions, and despite desperate efforts by Ryzhov to cloud the issue, the truth was not lost on the defenders of Sevastopol.
On the minus side, Raglan had lost his outer base defences — in effect the Russians had established a counter–siege. Worse still, he had lost the use of the only metalled road between his base and his army. This has been pooh–poohed then and many times since, but the fact remains the alternative was a crude precipitous track up to the Col which might have lasted the winter if it had shared traffic with the Worontsov Road. But as the only lifeline it quickly subsided into an almost impassable morass, becoming a major cause of the appalling suffering to come for the luckless army on the heights.
So the Russians finished the day in a much better position, and the allies in a much worse, than when they started. And the British had lost seven guns as trophies to be exhibited in Sevastopol — if that wasn't proof of a victory, what was? Make no mistake, there was going to be no Balaklava clasp to the British campaign medal until popular sentiment decreed otherwise; the feeling was that the Light Brigade in particular, plus the Heavies and the 93rd, ought to get something for their heroic exploits.
So how could things have gone so wrong? A major problem was that Raglan had had no control over events. The Russians had started the day by calling the tune. The Balaklava outer defences were badly sited and the Russians had recognised this and effectively exploited it. Raglan had discounted the clear intelligence indications, and paid the price by having to play catch–up thereafter. He realised that he would need infantry to clear the Russians off the redoubts, but when summoned, they were painfully slow to arrive.
Cathcart of course must take most of the blame for this. Even when the Russians evacuated No.3 Redoubt to form squares in anticipation of attack from the Light Brigade, he still appeared disinclined to take positive action, despite the entreaties of his staff to at least occupy the vacant fortifications. The fact that his dormant commission to succeed Raglan was revoked the following day was pure coincidence. But on this form he was unworthy of it.
There is no doubt that 1st Division could have been quickly onto the scene if they had been allowed to use the Worontsov Road. It seems likely that yet another communications muddle was to blame. This mistake was even more costly in that it doubled the volume of jammed traffic at the Col.
Forced to react to the Russian moves with his cavalry only, Raglan was not on firm ground. His initial order and counter order to the Heavy Brigade had them caught straggling in the open by a large force of enemy cavalry. It took a combination of Russian hesitancy and British brazen audacity, guts and determination plus a skilful artillery initiative to turn the situation round and get him out of serious trouble.
His third and fourth orders to the cavalry were badly and ambiguously worded. He seems to have had no realisation that orders have to be self–explanatory and crystal clear, especially for an officer with such total lack of imagination as Lucan. Had he been down on the plain he would have been better positioned to ensure his intentions were understood and complied with. On the Heights he was a helpless spectator. He only deigned to descend when he sensed he should sort out immediately any suggestion that he might have been at fault for the Charge of the Light Brigade.
Ah the Charge! A subject for post mortem in itself and the debates, accusations and arguments would go on and on. Many of them would miss the point. For years it was accepted that the Charge was a disaster because it went the wrong way into a solid curtain of fire — by implication, if the redoubts had been charged as Raglan wished, the British guns would have been saved and the battle won. This interpretation effectively masked the fundamental error of sending cavalry alone against artillery and infantry in fortified positions. Present day military historians have now been able to reconstruct the actual positions on the ground, and the conclusion is that the Light Brigade would very possibly have been annihilated if it had carried out Raglan's order as intended. The Charge would have been uphill, against a well sited and protected force, under fire from the north, south and east side of the valley at the same time. This was never the case in the actual charge.
To approach the British guns from the SOUTH Valley would have been a less hazardous course, subject only to artillery fire from Bojanov's battery on the Causeway Heights. But no evidence has emerged to suggest that this was Raglan's intention, or if it was, if Nolan had taken it in. The Light Brigade formed up in line facing straight down the North Valley. For a move to the South Valley, under standard drill practices it would have been in column, facing the Causeway Heights. Nolan would surely have realised this.
Following on from this, why did Nolan, after a careful briefing from Raglan and Airey, send the Division the wrong way? Had he come to the same conclusion on the way down from the Heights and decided off his own bat to change the objective for what he perceived to be an option with a better chance of success? He would have felt qualified to have made such a judgement —- he was a self–styled expert who had written a well received manual on the handling of cavalry in battle.
The reference to the French Cavalry in the Order indicates that their objective to clear the Fedioukine Heights was already underway before Nolan's departure and therefore known to him. The Russian guns on the Causeway Heights were facing south. To get up onto the Causeway Heights over unsuitable ground and roll up the redoubts would take time. On the other hand, an advance down the North Valley over excellent cavalry ground with the Light Brigade already in position could secure the end of the valley. With the Russian artillery on the flanks neutralised, they would only have to deal with the battery to their front. Facing a cavalry charge head on, it would be almost impossible for the artillerymen to bring effective fire to bear until the last few hundred yards when grape and canister would come into play — one or two salvoes maximum. Provided the second line was providing close support it should reach the guns virtually unscathed. Maintaining the momentum provided by the weight of the following Heavy Brigade, they would stand an excellent chance of routing the remaining Russian cavalry, securing the end of the valley and access to the bridge. The withdrawal route for the captured British guns would be cut off and the entire Russian force caught in a pocket closed off by the British infantry securing the redoubts. The Russian Field Army could be annihilated thanks to Nolan's brilliant tactical thinking.
Or had he merely become disorientated at ground level? Or was there some other dark reason from his inner psyche? Sadly we shall never know.
There is of course the theory initially propagated by Kinglake which is championed by some serious commentators. That is that a short time into the Charge, Nolan suddenly realised that the Brigade was going the wrong way, and spurred across the front in an effort to get them to change direction towards the redoubts. However several key indicators prevent me from supporting this theory. When questioned by Lucan, Nolan pointed well to the left of the visible redoubts with the documented reply, “There my Lord is your enemy — there are your guns.”
In addition, Nolan was killed several hundred yards short of the nearest point where the Brigade would have angled right to attack the redoubts. And in his conversations with Captain Morris just before the charge, I submit that he would have made it perfectly plain that he anticipated charging the guns straight down the North Valley. Nolan spent the whole time the Brigade was getting into its battle positions talking to Morris. They certainly would not have spent the time swapping gossip. They must have been discussing the objective — the time to get to it, the speed, the ground to be covered. It would have been evident to Morris which objective was being discussed. If the objective had been wrong he would have known, and being the assertive chap he was, he would certainly have ridden up to Cardigan and put him straight once Nolan was hit. Morris afterwards refrained from commenting when he could easily have confirmed that they charged the wrong objective if it were true.
Thirty years later and after, two 17th Lancer ‘characters' who we met in Was the ‘Charge' Sounded?, added fuel to the controversy. Ex–Corporal of the 17th Lancers James Nunnerley, wrote that Nolan's “death–like order” had been taken as the instruction 'Threes Right' by some members of D Troop on the extreme left of the first line. In the 1890s, the military adventurer, ex–Corporal Thomas Morley, backed up the 'Threes Right' story, claiming in differing accounts that the order came from the live Nolan's mouth or a reaction by his troop commander to Nolan uplifting his sword to the right.
I don't doubt that Morley and some others in his troop thought that they heard 'Threes Right'. But I ask why were they the only troopers to attempt this manoeuvre? They were not in a key position to influence a change of direction to the Brigade — quite the reverse.
Finally, Nolan would have realised that the Brigade would only change direction on Cardigan's authority. He would have had to approach Cardigan to rectify the mistake.
It was a day which produced conflict between the Light and the Heavy Brigades. The Heavies reproached the Lights for not supporting their charge — the Lights reproached the Heavies for not supporting theirs. For the Light Brigade were convinced that their charge was a brilliant success — hadn't they taken the Don Battery and sabred the gunners? If only the Heavies had followed them down the valley as they were supposed to, they would both have driven the entire Russian cavalry back into the Tchernaya River. Instead, in the Light Brigade's view, the Heavies had saved their own skins and looked on while the Light Brigade's victory was squandered.
The decision to pull out the Heavy Brigade was Lucan's. It was certainly courageous and probably correct. The Fedioukine Battery had got the hang of firing into the flank of charging horsemen as the Heavy Brigade came in range: the fuse lengths were more accurate and both the Greys and the Royals were taking heavy casualties very quickly. It seems very likely that the Heavy Brigade would have suffered even more casualties than the Light Brigade, had they continued to charge up the valley.
Indeed, it had proved impossible even for the Light Brigade's Support Line to hold position, although this had not been aided by the last minute changes, and the immediacy of the Charge, starting before any coordinating orders could be given. Both Paget and Cardigan were furious with each other. Cardigan because he felt that the Support Line had not given the support for which he had especially insisted on guarantees from Paget — and he was right, the 8th Hussars in particular having done their own thing thanks to the abysmal Colonel Frederick Shewell stubbornly leading them way off the objective. That he had been allowed to do so was an indication that Paget had failed to take firm command of the Support Line. If he had positioned himself like Cardigan in the centre of the line instead of his regiment, he would have been better placed to exercise control. It was a lame excuse to protest that no one had told him that 11th Hussars were dropping back. He could easily have sent an aide across to find out.
With the realisation that these shortcomings had contributed to the lack of success, Paget took refuge in anger on two counts: that the Light Brigade had been left to fend for themselves, and that Cardigan had not stayed on in command for the actions behind the guns. It was a legitimate defence for Paget to put up as a counter, although even he must have admitted to himself that in the confusion and fluid pattern of events in the short moments behind the guns, it was unlikely that the presence of Cardigan, devoid of staff and therefore communication media other than his own voice, could have instantly established a decisive course of cohesive action. Colonel Mayow had left him at the guns to gallop off at a tangent with some 17th Lancers — it is the primary task of a Brigade Major to look after his Brigadier and in this vital respect Mayow was clearly found wanting. He seemed to believe that it was Cardigan's duty to find him, rather than the reverse, and it surprises me that he looks to have escaped the adverse criticism he deserved.
The Fall Guy
The first participant Raglan met when he landed down where he should have been for the past three hours, was in fact Cardigan, who was quick to point out that he had merely obeyed Lucan's orders. So Raglan turned on Lucan, who had expected it, and was determined to bounce the blame back onto Raglan. An initial row between the two settled nothing. Lucan had kept Airey's written order — when Raglan saw it he probably felt off the hook to a certain extent, as there was nothing about charging, although he must have realised that it was badly worded and hardly the professional order one would expect from a Commander–in–Chief.
Therefore if it could all blow over, so much the better. Airey managed to get Lucan's undertaking to take no further action, provided that Raglan's official report didn't criticize him. (Raglan's initial private report to Newcastle made quite certain he covered himself and put the blame firmly with Lucan). There the matter rested for a month until Raglan's dispatch was reported in the press and Lucan found he had been charged with 'misconception' of Raglan's orders, and he was not prepared to stomach that. Lucan insisted on giving his own version of events to Newcastle.
Of course this would be the kiss of death to Lucan. First, army protocol meant that he had to send his version through Raglan, giving him the opportunity to comment. Second the government was bound to back up its commander in the field whatever the truth of the matter might be. Third, Lucan presented his case with too much passion, and following the least effective line of reasoning. He attacked Raglan's order, when he clearly had not obeyed it — he did not make anything of the fact that Nolan had insisted he act on what he maintained were Raglan's verbal orders. But even if he had, the Government were obliged to recognise that relations between the two had degenerated past the point of no return, and they had no option other than to replace Lucan as Cavalry Division Commander.
The Battle of Balaklava had enhanced the reputation of the British and French fighting man and it had produced the most glorious failure ever, and hopefully ever likely to be, in the Charge of the Light Brigade. But it had done nothing to boost public or even local military, confidence in the competence of the British high command, and it sowed fertile seeds of doubt which would more easily bloom into a harvest of bitter condemnation over the coming months. Additionally it had strengthened the morale of the Sevastopol garrison, where the captured guns were displayed ostentatiously and church bells were rung in celebration, and had encouraged the Army to maintain the pressure on the Allies.
© COPYRIGHT JOHN BARHAM 2000 —
To be continued…
Links to the main sub–headings within the chapter above:
An Open Flank | The Ground | Russian Initiatives | The Balaklava Defences | Saved in extremis? | False Alarms | The Russian Plan of Attack
The Russian Attacking Formations | The Battle Plan | An Unsettled Feeling | The Fall of the Redoubts | The Thin Red Line Established
British units involved | French Reactions | Lack of Urgency | An Ambiguous Order | The Harbour Cleared | Russian Cavalry Attack
The Attack Thwarted | Another Puzzling Order | The Heavy Cavalry Brigade | A Solid Command Structure | The Light Cavalry Brigade
The Light Brigade Anchored | A Pregnant Pause | Charge of the Heavy Brigade | A Wheeling Melée | Recriminations and Controversy
The Formula for Disaster | A Lack of Control | Knee Jerk Reactions | Incomprehension and Insolence | Preparations for Sacrifice
The Charge of the Light Brigade | The Valley of Doom | Formation not Maintained | Ordeal By Fire | Into the Battery | Behind the Guns
Cardigan and the First Line | Retreat on the South Side | Help from the French | Retreat on the North Side | Survivors Come In
After the Charge | Was the Charge Sounded? | What Was Achieved? | The Fall Guy | Final Word
Sources for Chapter 10
Contents ◄ Chapter 1 ◄ Chapter 2 ◄ Chapter 3 ◄ Chapter 4 ◄ Chapter 5 ◄ Chapter 6 ◄ Chapter 7 ◄ Chapter 8 ◄ Chapter 9 ◄ ● ► Chapter 11