Charge of the Light Brigade
From: C. R. B. Barrett, History of the XIII Hussars, William Blackwood and Sons, Edinburgh and London, 1911.
STATE OF THE REGIMENT ON OCTOBER 25, 1854.
Lieutenant Percy Smith, who was acting adjutant, in a letter, writes, "the number of horses on parade was 108, exclusive of officers."
The Regimental Record gives the strength of the regiment, including officers, as 128.
The History of the 11th Hussars gives the parade state of the 13th on that day as 130.
Trumpeter Powell, on the authority of Corporal Nagle (both of the 13th), places the strength as low as 103.
From a letter to Colonel Anstruther-Thomson, written by Captain Jenyns, we get yet another figure: "We had 110 horses and eight officers when we went into action (young Goad's horse, the one he jumped the timber on, was knocked over by a round-shot early in the day, and the young 'un hurt in the fall)."
The total strength of the Light Brigade when it started on the charge is usually accepted as 673.
Of the officers of the 13th, the following were present at Balaclava:
Captains Oldham, Goad, Jenyns, and Tremayne; Lieutenants Jervis and Smith; Cornets Montgomery and Chamberlayne.
Lieut.-Colonel Charles Edmund Doherty was not present. Major Richard Ormsby Gore (afterwards Lord Harlech) was invalided, as also were Lieutenants Purcell and King. Cornet G. Maxwell Goad was injured early in the battle. Of Cornet Maclean there is no information, but he belonged to B Troop. It is, however, certain that he was not in the charge.
Hart's Army List states that Captain Jenyns commanded the regiment in the battle of Balaclava. But he was junior both to Captain Oldham and Captain Goad.
The History of the 11th Hussars states that the 13th Light Dragoons were commanded at Balaclava by "Colonel" Oldham, which is obviously incorrect. The fact is that Captain Jenyns succeeded to the command after the deaths of Captains Oldham and Goad. From the Regimental Records of the 13th no information on this point is to be obtained, nor even is an accurate or any list indeed of the officers at Balaclava given. It is only by sifting evidence that the above names have been arrived at. Lieutenant Percy Smith happened to be acting adjutant because no successor had yet been appointed to the late adjutant, Lieutenant Irwin. Eventually, the Regimental Sergeant-Major George Gardner was gazetted cornet and adjutant.
The officers with the depot troops in England were Captains Holden and the Hon. John Hely Hutchinson; Lieutenants Clayton and Davis; and Cornets Dearden and Fielden.
These troops were lettered C and F. Consequently at Balaclava the A, B, D, and E troops were engaged, and were officered as follows:
The A and B troops formed one squadron, the A troop being on the extreme right of the line.
The D and E troops formed the other, E troop being on the left of the other squadron.
From the above it will be understood that any attempt to fix with accuracy the exact number of officers and men of the 13th who were actually engaged in the charge of the Light Brigade is not likely to succeed. We know that there were eight officers, but no amount of consideration will enable us to reconcile the other numbers.
When the second written message was delivered to Lord Lucan by Captain Lewis Edward Nolan of the 15th Hussars and aide-de-camp to the Quartermaster-General, his lordship entertained some doubt as to its interpretation. He inquired of Captain Nolan, and it is stated received a verbal communication coupled with a gesture to the effect that the Russian battery at the end of the valley was the desired object of attack. Lord Cardigan was then summoned, and the order was communicated to him. Lord Lucan always averred that he considered Captain Nolan's manner of speech to be somewhat disrespectful. On receipt of the order from Lord Lucan the reply of Lord Cardigan was, "Very good, sir." To the Light Brigade he then gave the word of command, "The Brigade will advance." The balance of evidence goes to show that no trumpet call was used. The men were dismounted when the order came, and were immediately in the saddle when the command was given.
The first line consisted of the 13th Light Dragoons on the right and the 17th Lancers on the left. Lord Cardigan placed himself alone in front of the line, a little on the left of the centre.
The 13th and 17th then moved off, and when they had covered rather more than 100 yards the 11th Hussars, who were in the second line, moved off also. In due course, and at about the same interval, came the 4th and the 8th. During the day the 11th had been on the left of the first line, but the narrowing of the valley and the width of front occupied by the Cossack battery at the east end necessitated a contraction in the first line.
As it was, the 17th Lancers overlapped the right of the battery, and the 11th Hussars, in support, just brushed the guns with their right flank. The 11th it will thus be seen, did not actually cover the 17th but charged down the valley nearer to the Fedioukine Hills. The 11th the 4th, and the 8th were in echelon. Consequently the 4th came into the battery full front, while the course of the 8th was as against the Russian left. Captain Nolan started to ride with the charge, and it is believed took up a position in the interval between the two squadrons of the 17th At any rate, it would appear that thence he darted out when he rode obliquely across the front of the advancing line.
It was not long before the 13th and 17th came under the guns of the enemy; but before a shot was fired Captain Nolan, as has been mentioned, darted out. He was seen to be wildly waving his sword, and, as it were, endeavouring to make some communication to Lord Cardigan. It is certain that he was pointing in the direction of the Causeway Heights, as if to indicate the true intention of the order which he had conveyed. Whether he would have succeeded in this, if such was his intention, can never be known, for at this moment the first gun from the Russian battery was fired. Nolan was struck by a fragment of a shell which killed him instantly. His sword fell from his hand, but his arm remained erect, and the grip of his knees kept him in the saddle. It chanced that he was mounted on a troop horse of the 13th The horse with its dead burden wheeled round and passed through the interval between the squadrons. Nolan's body fell in the rear. By this time the Russian battery on the Fedioukine Hills had opened fire, and the masses of infantry on either side the valley poured in a heavy discharge of musketry. Now, too, the Cossack battery in the front joined in, but yet, with men and horses dropping singly, or by twos or threes, on swept the Light Brigade. On and on they rode, each instant finding gap after gap in the ranks. Riderless horses, as the men dropped, still kept their places in the line; but there was neither pause nor hesitation. "Close in," "close in," was the word as death and destruction was dealt among them. At about 80 yards from the Cossack guns a discharge wrought fearful havoc, but after that those guns spoke no more. Ahead of his men Lord Cardigan dashed into the battery, crushing his knee and receiving a slight wound. Nor were the 13th and 17th far behind. The two squadrons of the former and the right squadron of the latter were speedily among the guns, and were cutting down the artillerymen that remained at their posts. Through the guns they went, and were soon engaged in a hand-to-hand encounter with the enemy that was endeavouring to surround them by closing in on either flank.
Meanwhile, thanks to the dashing attack on the battery and infantry posted on the Fedioukine Hills, which was so gallantly executed by the 4th Chasseurs D'Afrique under General D'Allonville, the line of retirementone cannot call it retreatwas cleared on one flank for the survivors of the charge. Nothing, however, was attempted by Lord Lucan against the enemy which thronged the Causeway Heights. He advanced down the valley far ahead of his brigade, and penetrated for a distance of more than half a mile on the side of the Woronzoff Road. His brigade came under fire, was halted, and then retired after sustaining some little loss. Lord Lucan considered that the Light Brigade had been wantonly sacrificed, and determined that the Heavy Brigade should not so be destroyed if he could help it.
It will be remembered that the left squadron of the 17th brushed the right flank of the battery, and continuing its course it dashed against the Russian cavalry in the rear.
The 11th in its progress having passed the guns, found a strong body of Russian lancers in its front. Charging these, the enemy did not await the attack, but wheeled round and retreated in confusion far along the valley into the gorge near the aqueduct. The 11th followed in pursuit, and chased them till they halted on the side of a hill with their backs to their pursuers, at whom they looked over their shoulders. Finding the 11th were but few in numbers, an attempt was made by the Russian officers to get their men to attack, but without avail. Matters remained thus for a short time, perhaps not more than a few moments, while pursuers and pursued were in close juxtaposition. Then Cossacks were observed working round in the rear of the 11th and there was nothing for it but to cut their way back along the valley and past the guns which the Russians were now attempting to remove.
On the road the 11th were pursued by Russian hussars, and nearly cut off by some of Jeropkine's lancers that issued from the horse-shoe. Meanwhile, the fragments of the 13th and 17th having passed through and over the guns found themselves without orders.
What to do next nobody could tell them. Lord Cardigan had already returned along the valley for some distance alone, and had then galloped back towards the Russians, only to retire again.
On his first return he spoke to Sergeant Mitchell, from whose Reminiscences extracts have already been made. After that he met Sir John Ewart and Sir George Cathcart, to whom he said, "I have lost my brigade." They did not understand him, knowing nothing of the charge, and stared without speaking. Lord Cardigan then turned his horse, and, as has been said, galloped back towards the Russians. And so it came about that the "wretched remnant," as Captain Jenyns calls it, when they had got to the guns, "went with such a right good cheer, bang through their cavalry, which cut right and left like sheep; on rallying back there were the guns, four hundred yards in the rear, all clear, and no one, worse luck, to carry them off,the worst part of all, as a very strong regiment of lancers came on our rear, and we had to cut our way through them. Lord Lucan never supported us; the Scots Greys, the nearest, at least a mile in our rear." And so, over the ground strewn with dead and wounded men and horses who were not half an hour previously in full vigour, passed the "wretched remnant," and even then not permitted to escape unscathed.
Parties of the enemy's cavalry, regular or Cossack, were ready to beset any stragglers, and there is no doubt that the death-roll of the Balaclava charge was greatly increased by the butchery of wounded men on the field itself, and the spearing of armed or unarmed dismounted officers and privates of the Light Brigade.
Eventually what was left of the five light cavalry regiments arrived in the rear of the Heavy Brigade and were re-formed.
Lieutenant Percy Smith, who, by the way, was the only officer who rode through the charge and came back on his original horse, states that when he formed up the remains of the regiment, after the charge, he "could only get hold of fourteen mounted men; and one of them was on a Russian horse which he caught after losing his own. Possibly a few horses had got back before me, and had attached themselves to other regiments, but for the moment the effective [?] strength of the 13th was one officer [myself] and fourteen rank and file."
The total loss of the regiment was three officers killedCaptains Oldham and Goad and Cornet Montgomery; Troop Sergeant-Major Weston, and ten rank and file were also killed. Thirty rank and file were wounded, and two Troop Sergeant-Majors, while ten rank and file were taken prisoners.
Captain Percy Smith was also wounded by a lance-thrust.
These numbers are elsewhere stated thus: killed and missing, 69; roll call, 61.
From Sir Fitzroy Donald Maclean some interesting particulars regarding Captain Oldham's death have been obtained and are here given.
Captain Oldham at the time of the Balaclava charge was second captain in the regiment. How he came to lead the regiment in the charge is as follows:
Colonel C. E. Doherty was sick; Major Ormsby Gore was in Bulgaria, or had been invalided home; and Captain Holden, the senior captain, was in command of the depot at home.
On the day of the battle Captain Oldham rode his second charger a white mare, his first charger being unfit for work. This white mare was notoriously a brute, and on the occasion of the charge boltedluckily, straight at the Russian guns. Captain Oldham fell, and was last seen wounded and bleeding with his sword in one hand and his pistol in the other. As a matter of fact, he was the first man to get among the guns. His dead body was never found, and his grave is therefore unknown.
Shortly after the battle a Russian officer came in under a flag of truce to arrange about the burial of the dead. In the presence of Sir Fitzroy Maclean, who was standing close by, he asked, "Who was the officer who rode a white horse and led the charge of Balaclava?" He was told that the officer was Captain Oldham, and at once replied, "a brave man." It may be mentioned that the brother of Captain Oldham fell in New Zealand in an attack on one of the "pahns "; he was wounded, but persisted in pressing on in spite of all suggestions that his wound should be attended to; a few minutes later a second shot killed him.
Lieutenant Chamberlayne, whose horse "Pimento" was shot in the charge, escaped the fate of so many on the return journey in what is stated to be a curious way. Lieutenant Percy Smith on his way back passed him seated by the side of his dead horsea very favourite horse. Lieutenant Chamberlayne asked what he should better do, and was advised to take off the saddle and bridle and make the best of his way back, for, said Lieutenant Smith, "another horse you can get, but you will not get another saddle and bridle so easily." Lieutenant Chamberlayne took his advice, and placing the saddle on his head returned along the valley, threading his way among the Cossacks who were busily engaged in pillage and killing dismounted and wounded men. He was probably taken for a pillager, and to this, no doubt, owed his life.
From letters home, written by officers of the regiment, it is to be gathered that the death of Captain Goad was a great grief to all.
Captain Jenyns writes further
In his Crimean Notes Colonel Tremayne writes
Elsewhere it is stated that this battery was on the right.
Captain Percy Smith writes
Another reference to the death of Captain Goad is as follows
Cornet C. W. Goad, the younger brother of Captain Goad, who was wounded early in the battle, made most anxious inquiries into the fate of his brother before he left the Crimea He states
Colonel Tremayne pays a high tribute to the soldierly qualities of Lieutenant Percy Smith, who, he says, "gave us all an example of steadiness." Lieutenant Smith "lost a part of his right hand from a gun accident before the war, and could not draw his sword. He had an iron guard made to slip over his wrist. In the dark that morning he could not find it in the tent, and turned out without it. He went to the end of the charge, and was the only officer who came out on the same horse he went in on; he was not wounded [notethis is wrong; he got a lance prod in the ribs, but would not report it]. He was a good, cool-headed soldier, and when he left was a great loss to the regiment."
As a matter of fact, Lieutenant Smith, unarmed as he was, found himself separated from his men and brought to a standstill by three Russian lancers, one on each side and one in front. He was defenceless, and apparently in a pretty warm corner. The lancer on his right hesitated for a moment and left him with only two to look after. The man on his left attacked first, but he contrived to turn his point off with the upper part of his bridle arm at the cost of a mere scratch from the side of his lance-blade. At the same moment almost, the man in front gave point at his chest. Lieutenant Smith saw he couldn't guard himself without dropping his reins, so instead of that, as he was mounted on a good hunter, he jumped right on to his assailant. The lance-point luckily hit on a bone and came out as the Russian went down, and before the other two could renew the attack a party of the 11th Hussars came to the rescue, and the lancers had something else to occupy their attention.
The honour of the Victoria Cross came to the 13th Light Dragoons, being awarded to Lance-Sergeant Joseph Malone of the E Troop, commanded by Captain Tremayne.
During the charge, and before reaching the guns, Captain Webb of the 17th Lancers was mortally wounded. To his assistance came Troop Sergeant-Major Berryman of his regiment. He, finding that Captain Webb could no longer keep in the saddle, endeavoured to lift him out,Lieutenant Percy Smith of the 13th holding the horse in the meantime, and then riding off for a stretcher. Berryman remained with Captain Webb, although that officer besought him to save himself.
Presently Sergeant Farrell, also of the 17th came to them, and the two remained by Captain Webb till they were joined by Lance Sergeant Malone of the 13th Light Dragoons. The three remained by the wounded officer under a heavy fire for a considerable time, and finally between them endeavoured to carry him off.
Troop Sergeant-Major Berryman, Sergeant Farrell, and Lance Sergeant Malone were all subsequently decorated with the Victoria Cross.
About a month before Balaclava Sergeant Malone had done a smart bit of work. At daybreak on September 24, when marching on Balaclava, he volunteered with three others (privates of the 13th Light Dragoons), and captured an escort of the enemy's cavalry and also the baggage which they were taking to Sebastopol.
Lance-Sergeant Malone received a commission in the 6th Dragoons (Inniskillings) on September 7, 1858. A brief notice of his career may be added.
He enlisted on the 31st March 1851, and was later promoted to lance-sergeant without being corporal previously. In the Crimea he was present at the Alma, Balaclava, Inkerman, Tchernaya, and the Siege of Sebastopol. He was also engaged on the expedition to Eupatoria under General D'Allonville. He wore the Crimean Medal with clasps for Alma, Balaclava, Sebastopol, and Inkerman, the Turkish Medal, and the Victoria Cross.
On receiving his commission, as the 6th were in India, Riding-Master Malone proceeded thither, and remained there till April 1867.
He obtained his promotion as Captain on July 1, 1881, and served in South Africa from November 1882 till his death at Pinetown in June 1883.
From Kinglake's Invasion of the Crimea but little information as to the 13th at Balaclava is to be gathered. That historian mentions that 195 was the number of the first muster after the charge, and that the total casualties amounted to 247, out of which 13 were killed and 134 wounded. Of the horses, 475 were killed and 42 wounded, and 43 shot later, as unserviceable through wounds. How many horses were lost in the battle by the 13th Light Dragoons is nowhere stated in the Regimental Records. Sergeant Mitchell, however, gives the following information:
Of course for 607 we must read 673, and noon should be afternoon, as the charge did not take place till after 2 P.M.
One or two extracts from Sergeant Mitchell's account of the charge may well be quoted
Sergeant Mitchell now fell in with a man of the Scots Greys who was standing, but blinded by a shell wound, whom he tried to lead into safety, binding up his head with a handkerchief. He now found the man who had ridden on his left Lying at the point of death, but a good bit lower down the valley than where he first missed him. Probably the man's horse was shot, and he had tried to make his way back dismounted.
Arriving near No. 4 redoubt, then held by the 68th Light Infantry, who had seized it, Mitchell and his blind companion approached and asked for water. An officer to whom they applied gave them some rum, and they started off again. Very shortly after the pair arrived at the ambulances. The Scots Grey's wound was dressed. He was afterwards discharged from the army with a pension, being temporarily blind, but Sergeant Mitchell, who never saw the man again, understood that eventually his sight was restored.
This account as given by Sergeant Mitchell is by far the clearest and most level-headed narrative of the retirement given by any member of the 13th Light Dragoons that the writer has been able to discover. He has quoted from it freely, but desires to most fully acknowledge its source.
The Manuscript Regimental Record is as follows:
It may be treading on dangerous ground to touch even lightly upon the Lucan-Cardigan-Nolan controversy.
Kinglake (vol. iv., chap. v., pp. 228-230) sums up the military character and ambitions of the gallant but unfortunate Captain Nolan. The historian bases his conclusions on the diary of the deceased officer, which, written up to October 12, 1854, had been placed at his disposal.
But on the private writings of a manand writings, too, which were meant probably for no other eye than his owncan a just estimate be formed of the public execution by that man of a public duty? This would be a dangerous doctrine indeed. Now where Kinglake's pages seem to the writer to be hard on Captain Nolan is this,he gives no clue to the antecedents of the officer in question. His military training and experience are unmentioned.
It is a strange fact, but apparently no life of Nolan exists except that which is to be found in the pages of the 'Dictionary of National Biography.' It will be but fair to put it briefly here.
Lewis Edward Nolan was born about 1820. He was the son of Major Babington Nolan, sometime of the 70th Foot and afterwards Vice-Consul at Milan. Major Nolan had three sons, and all died in battle. Through the influence of one of the Austrian archdukes who was a friend of his father, Lewis Nolan obtained a commission in the Austrian cavalry. He served in the Hungarian Hussars, both in Hungary and on the Polish Frontier. Colonel Haas, the instructor of the Austrian Imperial Cavalry, was his military tutor.
Nolan must have entered the Austrian service at an early age, as he left it in 1839 for the British.
His first commission was that of ensign (by purchase), and is dated March 15, the regiment to which he was gazetted being the 4th King's Own.
On April 23rd of the same year he exchanged into the 15th Light Dragoons (King's Hussars), paying the difference between the price of an ensigncy and a cornetcy.
His new regiment was under orders for India at the time, and he embarked on July 11, 1839. Nolan became lieutenant (by purchase) on June 19, 1841, and captain (also by purchase) on March 8, 1850.
In India, where he mastered several native languages (he was also proficient in French, German, Italian, and Hungarian), Nolan acted for some time as aide-de-camp to Lieut.-General Sir G. F. Berkeley, who commanded the troops in Madras. He was afterwards extra aide-de-camp to Sir Henry Pottinger, the Governor of Madras.
When the 15th was ordered home in 1853, Nolan obtained leave to precede it to Europe. He then went to Russia, where he visited all the chief military stations and studied the Russian military system.
He was sent to Turkey on the outbreak of the Crimean War in advance of the British army, and charged with the double duty of making arrangements there for the reception of the British cavalry, and also with that of purchasing cavalry horses.
Nolan was a noted horseman and swordsman. He was also the author of a book on Breaking Cavalry Horses, and another entitled Organization, Drill, and Maneuvers of Cavalry Corps.
In the Crimea he was aide-de-camp to Brigadier General Airey, commanding an infantry brigade. Now, was this the kind of man who would be mad enough to garble verbally the intention of an order of a superior officer, knowing full well that if he did it merely meant the annihilation of the force employed and his own ruin if he survived.
Here was no tyro, no ignoramus in matters pertaining to his profession, but a most accomplished soldier of at least fifteen years' service in the British army, besides a preliminary training in a foreign land, the cavalry of which ever was, and still is, most highly esteemed. Yet that opinion, certainly among some of the surviving officers of the 13th, tended to blame Nolan is clear.
Captain Jenyns writes from Balaclava on November I8, 1854: "Never was such a mad order given. Nolan is the man to blame."
Colonel Tremayne in his Notes writes: "Nolan gave his message a few yards in front of where I was standing talking to poor old Goad. We were dismounted. There can be no doubt that Nolan gave the order to go where we did go. Cardigan told me this repeatedly afterwards. But I have no doubt Lord Raglan meant us to go along the southern valley and wheel to the left, to prevent the guns being taken out of the Turk's redoubts."
Assuredly the two written orders made this clear, or ought to have so done, to the recipient, Lord Lucan. Colonel Tremayne, however, it will be noticed, gives his opinion second-hand. Hideous the blunder was in its effects. Bitter indeed must have been the feelings of the survivors; but half a century and more has elapsed since the fatal ride, and, looking at the evidence now with calmness, the writer cannot but think that that gallant cavalry soldier, Lewis Edward Nolan, may be acquitted of either mad folly or willful perversion of the tenor of an order of the import of which he was fully aware.
© Lewis P. Orans, 1999