Charge of the Light Brigade
From: C. R. B. Barrett, History of the XIII Hussars, William Blackwood and Sons, Edinburgh and London, 1911.
Balaclava, October 25, 1854.
THE battle of Balaclava may be most conveniently divided into four phases—
Here it will be convenient to give a general description of the battle-ground, and to mention in brief the disposition of the forces engaged. About one mile almost due north of Balaclava lay the village of Kadikoi. Three miles due east of Kadikoi lay Kamara. West-northwest of Kamara was a hill known as Canrobert’s Hill, on which No. 1 redoubt was erected. To the north of Canrobert’s Hill lay the range of heights known as the Causeway Heights, along which ran the Woronzoff Road. On these heights, and along this road, stood redoubts No. 2, No. 3, and No. 4. There were three detached hills at the western extremity of this ridge, and on the 1st and 3rd of these stood redoubts No. 5 and No. 6. At a point between redoubt No. 2 and redoubt No. 3 another spur projected from the Causeway Heights, which took an easterly direction bearing somewhat northwards. South of the two detached hills, at the other extremity of the heights, lay the camps of the Heavy and the Light Brigades. On a small ridge to the north of Kadikoi, and rather to its right, were stationed the 93rd Highlanders. Between this ridge and the Causeway Heights was what is known as the south valley. This valley was the scene of the attack by the Russian cavalry on the Highlanders and some men of the Guards brigade, and also of their repulse. Here also the Heavy Cavalry Brigade charged the main body of the Russian cavalry and routed it. To the north of the Causeway Heights lay another valley, bounded upon the north by the Fedioukine Hills, a long bow-shaped range, in the centre of which there was a kind of horse-shoe shaped indentation due north and south. The eastern end of this valley was almost closed by hills, except at the north where an aqueduct took a somewhat irregular course. Beyond this was the river Tchernaya, bridged at the north by the Tractir Bridge. The aqueduct could be passed in three places.
Beyond the Tchernaya stood Tchorgoum, a town about 4½ miles north-east of Kadikoi. To Tchorgoum a road went which cut the Woronzoff Road at right angles.
The northern valley, which has just been described, was the scene of the charge of the Light Brigade.
This valley was approximately three-quarters of a mile wide at its western extremity, and gradually narrowed at its eastern to half a mile. Its total length was one mile and a half.
An hour before daybreak the cavalry brigades turned out as usual. The Highlanders upon the ridge mentioned were acting in support of the Turks posted in the redoubts.
Not far from the Highlanders the Heavy Brigade of British cavalry was then drawn up, mounted, but not in such a position as to be able to afford the maximum support. As the event turned out, no support was required.
The Light Brigade was drawn up almost due north and south, north of Kadikoi, and south of redoubt No. 5. and facing towards No. 1 redoubt which lay due east, perhaps nearly a mile and a half away.
Now during the night of October 24, or very early in the morning of October 25, the Russians had begun to advance. Kamara was seized, by which means they could with ease bring ten guns to bear on the Turks on Canrobert’s Hill. A second force, which proceeded from Tchorgoum, established itself on the Causeway Heights, north and north-east of redoubt No. 1, and to the right of this force another appeared prepared to attack the 2nd redoubt. A fourth force which advanced via the Tractir Bridge was destined to storm redoubt No. 3. All these columns had guns, and in support of them the powerful main body of Russian cavalry passed obliquely down the northern valley, and accompanied by horse artillery awaited events.
When daylight came the agreed upon signal from the redoubts— two flags—showed that the enemy had advanced in force.
Moreover, too, the cavalry vedettes were circling right and left. Then an overwhelming attack on No. 1 redoubt on Canrobert’s Hill began, and simultaneously No. 2 redoubt was assailed. Against these weakly armed, and it must be added none too well-traced works, the Russians were able to bring more than ten thousand men and nearly forty guns. The redoubt on Canrobert’s Hill fell, and almost immediately the Nos. 2, 3, and 4 followed in succession. A stream of fugitives from these works tore off towards Balaclava. When the struggle began a troop of British Horse Artillery under Captain Maude, and supported by the Light Brigade, moved out and took up a position between the 2nd and 3rd redoubts, where it commanded the Woronzoff Road and the sloping ground beyond. Captain Maude opened fire on the advancing enemy. The Russians replied, both Captain Maude’s guns and the Light Brigade coming in for their attention. A shell bursting near Captain Maude blew off his arm and he was carried to the rear. After exhausting the whole of their supply of ammunition, the Horse Artillery was retired to obtain a fresh supply. Captain Shakespeare of the artillery, who took the guns out of action in passing, was asked by Lord Cardigan by whose orders he had retired. Lord Cardigan, by the way, always slept on board his yacht, and had only just arrived on the field. Captain Shakespeare replied, "We are going for more ammunition, my lord," and added, "Our guns are of no use over 1000 yards, and the enemy’s guns are a mile away." There is no doubt that the Russian artillery was good and well served in the main throughout the campaign. Captain Jenyns of the 13th. writing to Colonel Anstruther-Thomson, remarks in one letter: "Their artillery is very good indeed,—I think as good as ours."
When the redoubts were captured none of the guns were spiked except in one instance, that of the last redoubt. The artilleryman in charge of this one, who had been actually left alone in the entrenchment by the Turks when they bolted, complained most bitterly of their behaviour. He said he had hardly been able to persuade them to fight the guns at all, and that after firing a few rounds and seeing the enemy drawing near they had bolted, but he added, "They won’t fire the guns at you from this redoubt, for I spiked them before I left." The fact was that the captured guns in the other redoubts not having been spiked, had been unpleasantly used by the enemy at very close range, not only against the redoubts in succession, but also against the cavalry brigades in the plain below. To add to the discomfiture of the Turks, some of the Cossacks got among the fugitives, and not a few were speared. While in this position Cornet Goad of the 13th had his horse killed by a shell, and in the fall that officer’s back was so much damaged as to compel him to leave the field. Lord Raglan, on the Sapoune Ridge, in front of the French Corps of Observation, seeing what was happening, gave orders for the advance of two British divisions of infantry, those of the Duke of Cambridge and of General Cathcart. These were to move down from the high ground to check the Russian advance, which now seriously threatened Balaclava; and which was apparently placing the 93rd Highlanders, the sole infantry protection for Balaclava now remaining, in a position of great jeopardy.
But time would be required to move these troops, and had the Russians pressed on at once matters might have gone very seriously for the Allies. The day was one, however, when more than one opportunity was missed.
Lord Raglan’s next order was that the cavalry should wait till these infantry divisions arrived, before seriously engaging the enemy.
In consequence of this, the cavalry brigades were withdrawn northwards to ground beneath the heights on which the French Corps of Observation was posted. The Light Brigade was then drawn up facing eastward down the northern valley, and on the west side of the Woronzoff Road, immediately north of the 6th redoubt.
The Heavy Brigade was posted on their right rear, a little to the north of the vineyard on the south and east of which lay the cavalry camping-ground. Then it was that after missing his opportunity the Russian General Liprandi began the great movement of his cavalry which should have taken place immediately on the fall of No. 4 redoubt. This cavalry was under the command of General Ryjoff, and was accompanied by thirty-two guns, and the force amounted to about 3000 men. After proceeding some distance along the northern valley the Russian force divided, one portion— the smaller—taking the direction of Balaclava, where two battalions were posted, one on the ridge due south-east of Kadikoi and overlooking the road from Kamara to Balaclava, the other, manned by bluejackets, on a hill above the village of Kadikoi, and commanding a part of the southern plain or valley. Against the 93rd, and some men of the Guards brigade that had been collected in Balaclava and sent up, the smaller body of Russian cavalry advanced boldly. And it was, in truth, a very slender force which crowned the ridge and had the task of repelling the attack. Well might Sir Colin Campbell have remarked, as he is stated to have done: "Remember there is no retreat from here; you must die where you stand." But on the part of the gallant 93rd there was no doubt as to the course which should be pursued. Reserving their fire till the advancing Russian squadrons were quite close, they then poured in a volley with great effect. A second delivered at even closer range was sufficient for the enemy. Wheeling to the right, they retreated in disorder and troubled the British infantry no more.
Maps are deceptive, and in all the recognised maps of the battle of Balaclava the approach of the main body of Russian cavalry would appear to have taken place in full view of the Light Brigade. This was not, however, the case. Unseen by either the Heavy or the Light Brigade, this mass of cavalry in close column of squadrons proceeded down the northern valley, westwards. By this time Lord Raglan had perceived the situation of the 93rd, and had ordered the Heavy Brigade to be hurried up again to their support.
From the high grounds, too, on the edge of the Sapoune Heights the advance of the Russian main body of cavalry had been observed and some guns in a battery there opened fire on them. This had the effect of causing Ryjoff to turn to the south-west, crossing the Causeway Heights and the Woronzoff Road. Meanwhile the Heavy Brigade had left its position, and was proceeding through the camping grounds of the brigades by squadrons independently. The tents had been struck, but the path was much encumbered with ropes, &c The intention of General Scarlett, who was in command, was to re-form the brigade on the flank of the 93rd. Rapidity of action amid the tents and picket-ropes was, however, impossible; nor could the formation, such as it was, be very perfectly maintained. The Scots Greys and the Inniskillings were the most advanced. Following them came the 5th Dragoon Guards, the Royals, and the 4th Dragoon Guards. Suddenly over the crest of the Causeway Heights, and somewhat to the left, appeared this powerful body of Russian cavalry, and distant but a few hundred yards from the Scots Greys and the Inniskillings. It looked as if a serious attack on the flank of the Heavy Brigade was imminent. General Scarlett grasped the situation. His three leading squadrons were wheeled into line, and with an order to those in the rear to support, he prepared to instantly attack the oncoming enemy. And with what force was he about to do so? Two squadrons of the Scots Greys and the second squadron of the Inniskillings were all that were available for the first onset. And there to meet him, descending the slope of the heights, was a solid mass of nearly 3000 of the enemy’s cavalry.
For some unexplained reason the Russians then halted, and then into their stationary squadrons dashed Scarlett and his meagre force. There was no delay in the British attack.
The "charge" alone was sounded, and headed by General Scarlett, his A.D.C., his trumpeter, and his orderly, the Greys and Inniskillings made straight for the enemy. Nor were the rest of the Heavy Brigade far behind. To the left rear, on came the 5th Dragoon Guards and the Royals, while on the right rear rode the first squadron of the Inniskillings. This brilliant movement was as unexpected by, as it was unwelcome to, the enemy. General Scarlett and his front line dashed well into the centre of the Russian column. This had the effect of enclosing the three British squadrons, as it were, between two walls of the enemy, and the Russian flank squadrons endeavoured to profit thereby by wheeling inwards in the hope of completely surrounding the Scots Greys and the Inniskillings. But just as this maneuvre was being attempted, right into the Russian left flank charged the other squadron of the Inniskillings, while the Russian right flank was similarly dealt with by a squadron of the Royals. The two squadrons of the 4th Dragoon Guards, who were farther removed to the British left, directed their attack—and most successfully, too—on the right flank of the Russian column at a point about two-thirds of its length down. The squadron of the 5th Dragoon Guards cut into the melee in close sequence to the attack of the first line and on its left. This series of attacks, brilliantly delivered and completed within the brief space of eight minutes, entirely demoralised the Russian force. Onlookers relate that the first onset made the enemy as it were reel back, and that then by degrees—very rapid degrees it must be observed—the powerful column seemed to become disintegrated. Regular formation, or even the semblance of regular formation, was lost, and in less than ten minutes what had been a strong and compact body of cavalry in column of squadrons was a mob of fugitives, which first scattered and then spread itself over the plain, only to rally far down the northern valley behind the guns of the Don Cossacks.
This stirring piece of cavalry work was performed in full view of the Light Brigade, who for a while sat expecting momentarily to be sent in pursuit, but no order came. Lord Cardigan declared that his orders were to remain in his position; but it was an opportunity lost, this time by the British. Had the pursuit been ordered, without doubt many of the fugitives would have been cut up and more driven in as prisoners. Also it is most improbable that, under the circumstances, the brilliant but sanguinary charge of the Light Brigade would ever then have taken place.
Hitherto there had been little for the Light Brigade to do except to furnish a target for the enemy, save that one troop had been ordered to drive off the Cossacks who were pursuing the flying Turks. A pursuit of the defeated Russian cavalry by Lord Cardigan’s brigade would, one cannot but imagine, have produced on the Causeway Heights quite as great an effect as the charge of the 4th Chasseurs D’Afrique later in the day did on the enemy massed on the Fedioukine Hills. It is but guesswork, still the moral effect on the entire Russian force would have been enormous, and the evening of October 25th would have closed on far more successful and wide-spreading results than it did.
In the charge itself the Heavy Brigade had less than fifty casualties, and the Russian loss closely approached four hundred.
The Light Brigade was now moved by "threes from the right" down to the bottom of the vineyard in the rear of the camp, and through an opening to the left which brought them through the camp. Then bearing up towards the ridge, they crossed it, and were formed up facing eastwards down the northern valley. As they crossed the ridge some fugitive Russian hussars, wounded and dismounted in the fight with the Heavy Brigade, were taken prisoners and sent to the rear. On the ridge, from the spot on which the brigade was now posted, evidences of the capture of the 4th redoubt were visible, and here the enemy had suffered some little loss owing to a battery of French artillery which had got into action from some high ground in the rear.
The Light Brigade was now dismounted, and from the point where they were stationed could contemplate the preparations of the enemy and the disposition of his guns along both sides and at the eastern end of the valley.
With regard to the inaction of the Light Brigade during the charge of the Heavies, Colonel Tremayne writes as follows:—
At this time some attempts were being made, or appeared to be about to be made, by the Russians to remove the captured guns from the redoubts, and this was visible to Lord Raglan but was not visible to either Lord Lucan or Lord Cardigan. But the Russian guns at the extreme east end of the northern valley were fully in view of all three. This fact is established, and an important one it is.
Undoubtedly Lord Raglan wished to prevent the removal of the captured guns from the redoubts.
For this purpose he sent a written message to Lord Lucan as follows:—
Obviously this referred to the recapture of the Causeway Heights. Thereupon Lord Lucan moved the Heavy Brigade towards the end of the Causeway Heights and awaited the arrival of the infantry. This placed the Heavy Brigade on the right rear flank of the Light Brigade.
A second written message was then sent by Lord Raglan to Lord Lucan in these terms:—
It now remains to describe as far as may be the charge of the Light Brigade.
Previously, however, it will be convenient to mention the strength of the regiment on the morning of October 25, 1854, and to give the names of those officers who were actually engaged in the field on that day.
With regard to both these points there is in the case of the state a considerable amount of variation, and in the case of the names of the officers there is some confusion.
Editorial note: references to the 83rd Regiment have been corrected to the 93rd Regiment of Foot. More accurately it should be noted as the 93rd (Highland) Regiment of Foot precursor to The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders now amalgamated into the Royal Regiment of Scotland.
© Lewis P. Orans, 2009