Crimean War

Noble 600

It was just after 11am when the Light Brigade set off with the 13th Light Dragoons on the right and the 17th Lancers on the left. Cardigan’s regiment formed the second line. In the third line rode the 8th Hussars and the 4th Light Dragoons. Lord Lucan with the Heavy Brigade followed, but as the scale of enemy fire became apparent, he ordered a halt and left the Light Brigade to ride down the valley alone.

Captain Nolan had persuaded his friend Morris, commander of the 17th Lancers, to allow him to join the charge and believed that Cardigan would shortly order the brigade to turn towards Causeway Heights. When it became apparent that the charge was to made straight down the valley and as the guns on both sides and directly ahead began to open up, Nolan charged ahead and swerved his horse across the face of the attack, waving his sword and shouting. His intention was doubtless to warn Cardigan of the error, but he was at that moment struck by a shell splinter and killed.

With a little over a mile to cover, the brigade moved forward at the trot, coming under heavy fire from shells, cannon balls and rifle fire. The barrage increased as, led by Cardigan, they accelerated to the full charge through the hail of fire with men and horses crashing to the ground or being flung into the air by the explosions. By the time the guns were reached, over half the brigade were casualties. The Russian gunners began to lose their nerve as the cavalry approached and many turned to escape. The British were on them now however and showing no mercy, hacked and stabbed their way through the guns and on to the cavalry behind.

The charge completed, the exhausted cavalrymen returned by the route they had come. They drifted back in small groups other than two larger parties, one led by Colonel Shewell formed of 70 men of the 8th Hussars and the 17th Lancers, the other by Lord George Paget of the 4th Light Dragoons and 11th Hussars. Both groups were attacked by Russian cavalry who emerged from the hills on either side, but despite their weakened state, the British charged and dispersed them.

Seeing the returning and much reduced Light Brigade, the French commander ordered his own cavalry, the Chasseurs’d,Afrique, to attack and silence the Russian guns on the Fedioukine Hills that were still pounding Cardigan’s men. The attack was successful but, at a cost of 38 men, the guns were silenced.

From its original strength of some 600 (estimates vary) the Light Brigade could only muster 195 officers and men. They had lost 247 men killed or wounded, plus those taken prisoner by the Russians. 475 horses were killed in the attack. The Heavy Brigade suffered 92 casualties in their brief part in the charge down the North Valley. Lord Cardigan, who had so bravely led the attack, rode slowly back to the British lines. He told his friend Sir George Cathcart, “I have lost my brigade”. Considering that he had done all that was asked of him, he coolly left the field and went aboard his yacht in Balaklava harbour, where he ate a champagne diner.

He remarked later that all he remembered of the event was his rage that Nolan tried to cut in front of him and lead charge.

The final word should perhaps be left to the French Marshal Bosquet, who, referring to the charge stated, “C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la guerre” (It is magnificent but it is not war).

Jim Keys
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Jim Keys

Since his retirement Jim Keys has indulged his passion for history, writing two books on Britain’s past: The Dark Ages and The Bloody Crown. He is currently writing the last of the trilogy, Fighting Brits which covers Britain’s military struggles from the Armada to Afghanistan.

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