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Balaclava, Battle of, 25 October 1854

Balaclava, Battle of, 25 October 1854


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Battle of Balaclava - Allied Dispositions

Map of the battle of Balaclava, 25 October 1854, showing the initial allied dispositions, the first Russian attacks and the fall of the allied redoubts.

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Background

Following the Battle of the Alma in September 1854, British, French and Ottoman forces had begun to besiege the Russian naval base of Sevastopol. The siege lines, running back to their base at Balaklava harbour, went through two valleys and a ridge, and were vulnerable.

Seeking to take advantage of this, the Russians planned to break the British lines and then capture the base.

'Panoramic view of the entrenchment of Allied Armies before Sebastopol' 1855

'Panoramic view of the entrenchment of Allied Armies before Sebastopol' 1855


Battle of Balaclava

Place of the Battle of Balaclava: On the southern Crimean coast in the Old Tsarist Russian Empire.

Combatants at the Battle of Balaclava: British, French and Turkish troops against the Imperial Russian Army.

Major General Sir James Scarlett, commander of the Heavy Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava on 25th October 1854 in the Crimean War

Commanders at the Battle of Balaclava: Lieutenant General the Earl of Raglan commanded the British Army, General Saint-Arnaud commanded the French Army. Prince Menshikov commanded the Russian Army. The Russian commander of the Balaclava assault was General Liprandi, Menshikov’s second in command.

Lieutenant General Lord Lucan commanded the British Cavalry Division. Major General Lord Cardigan commanded the Light Brigade and Major General Sir James Scarlett commanded the Heavy Brigade. Major General Sir Colin Campbell commanded the 93 rd Highlanders.

Officers of the French Chasseurs d’Afrique: Battle of Balaclava on 25th October 1854 in the Crimean War

Uniforms, arms and equipment at the Battle of Balaclava: The armies that fought in the Crimean War for Russia, Britain and France were in organisation little different from the armies that fought the Napoleonic wars at the beginning of the century. They were however on the verge of substantial change, brought about by developments in firearms.

The British infantry fought with the Brown Bess musket in some form from the beginning of the 18 th Century.

As the Crimean War broke out, the British Army’s infantry was being equipped with the new French Minié Rifle, a muzzle loading rifle fired by a cap (all the British divisions, other than the Fourth, arriving in the Crimea with this weapon). This weapon was quickly replaced by the more efficient British Enfield Rifle.

The new rifle was sighted up to 1,000 yards, as against the old Brown Bess, wholly inaccurate beyond 100 yards.

It would take the rest of the century for field tactics to catch up with the effects of the modern weapons coming into service.

93rd Highlanders, the ‘Thin Red Line’, at the Battle of Balaclava on 25th October 1854 in the Crimean War

Winner of the Battle of Balaclava: Balaclava is a battle honour for all the British regiments that took part. It is usually a pre-condition for a British regimental battle honour that the battle was a victory for British arms. Balaclava was a strategic defeat. The Russians captured seven guns and at the end of the battle held the ground they had attacked. Against this, the three episodes in the battle the Charge of the Heavy Brigade, the Thin Red Line and the Charge of the Light Brigade, are such icons of courage and achievement for the British Army, that it is not surprising the military authorities awarded Balaclava as a battle honour to the regiments involved.

13th Light Dragoons: Battle of Balaclava on 15th October 1854 in the Crimean War: picture by Michael Angelo Hayes

Royal Scots Greys: Battle of Balaclava on 25th October 1854 in the Crimean War

British Regiments at the Battle of Balaclava:
4 th Dragoon Guards: now the Royal Dragoon Guards.
5 th Dragoon Guards: now the Royal Dragoon Guards.
1 st Royal Dragoons: now the Blues and Royals.
Royal Scots Greys: now the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards.
6 th Inniskilling Dragoons: now the Royal Dragoon Guards.
4 th Light Dragoons: now the Queen’s Royal Hussars.
8 th Hussars: now the Queen’s Royal Hussars.
11 th Hussars: now the King’s Royal Hussars.
13 th Light Dragoons: now the Light Dragoons.
17 th Lancers: now the Queen’s Royal Lancers.
93 rd Highlanders: later the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and now the Royal Scots.
All these regiments have Balaclava as a battle honour.

Map of the Battle of Balaclava on 25th October 1854 in the Crimean War: map by John Fawkes

(this map appears in the bestselling book, The Dangerous Book for Boys
by Gonn Iggulden and Hal Iggulden, in the section Famous Battles-Part Two)

Account of the Battle of Balaclava: In mid-September 1854, the British and French armies, with a small Turkish contingent, landed on the western Crimean coast, 30 miles north of Sevastopol, with the aim of capturing this important Russian Black Sea city and naval base.

The allied armies marched south along the coast and fought the battle of the Alma on that river, defeating the Russian army and driving it back towards the city.

Dawn Alarm in the Cavalry Camp: Battle of Balaclava on 25th October 1854 in the Crimean War

British cavalry in the Crimea: Battle of Balaclava on 25th October 1854 in the Crimean War: picture by Orlando Norie

Lord Raglan and Marshal St Arnaud, the two commanders-in-chief, resolved to march around the inland side of Sevastopol and begin siege operations against the city from the south. Once the march was completed, the French established their base at Kamiesh, on the south-western tip of the Crimea, south of Sevastopol, while the British took Balaclava as their base, fifteen miles along the coast to the east.

The Russian commander, Prince Menshikov, marched his army out of Sevastopol to the north-east, leaving a garrison to conduct the defence of the city. The allies were thereby left with two tasks the siege of the city and holding off Menshikov’s army. During October 1854, reinforcements came in to Menshikov’s army from elsewhere in the Crimea and further afield in Russia, until his army was larger than that of the allies.

On 25 th October 1854, Menshikov launched an assault across the Tchernaya River to the north-east of Balaclava, with the aim of capturing the British base. The assault was commanded by his deputy, General Liprandi.

Charge of the Heavy Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava on 25th October 1854 in the Crimean War: picture by Henri Dupray

Liprandi crossed the Tractir Bridge over the river and advanced on the positions held by Turkish troops along the Causeway Heights. Liprandi commanded twenty-five battalions of infantry, twenty-three squadrons of cavalry, thirteen squadrons of Cossack light horse and sixty-six guns. Supporting General Liprandi, by occupying the Fedioukine Hills, was a further force commanded by General Jabrokritski, of seven battalions and fourteen guns. The total force comprised 20,000 infantry, 3,500 cavalry and 76 guns.

Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava on 25th October 1854 in the Crimean War: picture by Henri Dupray

British cavalry in the Crimea: Battle of Balaclava on 25th October 1854 in the Crimean War: picture by Orlando Norie

The Woronzoff Road, running along the ridge of the Causeway Heights, provided an important communication for the British, being the only firm road from Balaclava up to the siege works at Sevastopol. The Turkish troops were building six redoubts along the Heights, to protect the road and defend Balaclava. The work was not far progressed. Nine 12 pounder naval guns bolstered these positions. After a heavy bombardment, the Turkish troops were driven out of the Number One redoubt on Canrobert’s Hill, suffering some 400 casualties of a garrison of 500.

Lord Raglan, from his headquarters on the Sapouné Heights to the west, saw the threat to Balaclava and his lines of communication. The only British troops between the Russian force and the port were the two British cavalry brigades, the Heavy Brigade and the Light Brigade, which had their encampments in the valley, the 93 rd Highlanders and a small force of marines.

8th Hussars: Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava on 25th October 1854 in the Crimean War: picture by Ackermann

Raglan ordered the Second and Fourth British Divisions to march down from their camps outside the Sevastopol siege lines, to support the cavalry and highlanders. There was considerable delay in persuading the divisional commanders to make the arduous journey down to the valleys at Balaclava. Many of the regiments had spent the night in the trenches and were exhausted and, only days previously, a similar order had caused the infantry to make just this march, to find it was a false alarm.

Following the Russians’ successful attack on the Turkish troops in Number One Redoubt, the garrisons of the other earthworks left their positions and made for Balaclava. Some of the Turkish soldiers were belaboured by a Scottish soldier’s wife, armed with a frying pan, as they fled through the camp of the 93 rd Highlanders.

Charge of the Heavy Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava on 25th October 1854 in the Crimean War: picture by Stanley Berkeley

The Charge of the Heavy Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava:

As the Russian infantry and guns pushed the Turks out of the redoubts, a force of 3,000 Russian cavalry moved from the North Valley onto the Causeway Heights, with the intention of advancing across the South Valley to occupy Balaclava. At the same time the British Heavy Brigade, of 900 cavalrymen commanded by Major General James Scarlett, was moving eastwards into the South Valley. The main section of the brigade comprised six squadrons of the Royal Scots Greys (2 nd Dragoons), the 6 th Inniskilling Dragoons and the 5 th Dragoon Guards, in two columns. Following these columns were the 1 st Royal Dragoons and the 4 th Dragoon Guards, another four squadrons.

Charge of the Heavy Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava on 25th October 1854 in the Crimean War: picture by Godfrey Douglas Giles

Lord Raglan and his staff on the Sapouné Heights, looking down from the high ground, could see the two cavalry forces converging. The Russians and the Heavy Brigade could not see each other, until the Russian cavalry came over the Causeway Heights and began their descent into the South Valley. In front of them, marching across their line of advance, was the Heavy Brigade.

Russian Cuirassiers of the Guard: Battle of Balaclava on 25th October 1854 in the Crimean War

General Scarlett acted immediately, forming his left column into line and leading them into the attack on the Russian cavalry force. The squadrons of the other column followed as a second line and the Royals and 4 th Dragoon Guards hurried up to join the attack as quickly as they could.

Charge of the Heavy Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava on 25th October 1854 in the Crimean War: picture by Orlando Norie

Inniskilling Dragoons in the Charge of the Heavy Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava on 25th October 1854 in the Crimean War: picture by Harry Payne

Trumpeter 11th Hussars: Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava on 25th October 1854 in the Crimean War: picture by Harry Payne

As the Heavy Brigade charged, the Russian cavalry force halted, so that it received the Heavy Brigade charge stationary. The Russian commander appeared to be seeking to extend his line, after crossing the Causeway Heights. The first line, of Scots Greys and Inniskillings, struck the Russian cavalry, followed by the second line, of Inniskillings and 5 th Dragoon Guards.

The wings of the Russian formation closed in behind the two lines of British horsemen and the Royal Dragoons charged the wings in the rear. The two forces struggled on the hillside, until the 4 th Dragoon Guards came up and delivered a further charge into the Russian flank. In Hamley’s words, ‘Then -almost as it seemed in a moment, and simultaneously- the whole Russian mass gave way, and fled, at speed and in disorder, beyond the hill, vanishing behind the slope some four or five minutes after they had first swept over it.’

Panoramic view of the scene of the Charge of the Heavy Brigade in the Battle of Balaclava on 25th October 1854 in the Crimean War: water colour by Lieutenant Colonel Dawkins of the Coldstream Guards

In the rush to charge the Russians, the brigade commander, General Scarlett, with his a.d.c. Lieutenant Alick Elliot, his trumpeter and orderly, outstripped the line of troopers and plunged into the Russian ranks, initially alone. Scarlett suffered five wounds and Elliot fourteen wounds.

Lord Raglan sent down the message to Scarlett ‘Well done’.

The Thin Red Line tipped with steel: 93rd Highlanders at the Battle of Balaclava on 25th October 1854 in the Crimean War: picture by Robert Gibb

The Thin Red Line at the Battle of Balaclava:

As the force of Russian cavalry came over the lip of the Causeway Heights, before engaging the Heavy Brigade, a force of four squadrons detached from the main body and headed directly towards Balaclava. In their path stood the 93 rd Highlanders under Sir Colin Campbell, the commander of the Highland Brigade. Two Turkish battalions fled as the Russians advanced.

As the Russians approached, Campbell brought the 93 rd from concealment and formed line across the cavalry’s line of advance. The staff on Sapouné Hill saw what William Russell, the Times correspondent, described as a ‘thin red line tipped with steel’ (in his initial report the expression used was ‘a thin red streak…’)

The Thin Red Line tipped with steel: 93rd Highlanders at the Battle of Balaclava on 25th October 1854 in the Crimean War

Hamley reports that the 93 rd fired one volley at extreme range (around 900 yards) and the Russian cavalry withdrew. Other authorities state that the highlanders fired a second volley, also at considerable range.

The unyielding presence of the single Highland regiment caused the Russians to abandon their intention of taking Balaclava.

Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava on 25th October 1854 in the Crimean War: picture by Christopher Clark

The Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava:

While the Heavy Brigade engaged the Russian cavalry force in the South Valley, the Light Brigade was in position at the western end of the North Valley.

Following its defeat by Scarlett’s brigade, the Russian cavalry re-crossed the Causeway Heights into the North Valley, presenting an opportunity for the Light Brigade to attack them in flank and complete the rout begun by Scarlett’s charge.

13th Light Dragoons in the Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava on 25th October 1854 in the Crimean War: picture by John Charlton

Lord Cardigan failed to take the opportunity, even though the officer commanding the 17 th Lancers, Captain Morris, pressed him to attack and, in the light of Cardigan’s refusal, sought permission to charge with his regiment, a request Cardigan also refused. Morris returned to his position striking his thigh and saying, ‘What an opportunity we have missed’.

Charge of the Light Brigade (17th Lancers) at the Battle of Balaclava on 25th October 1854 in the Crimean War: picture by Richard Caton Woodville

Captain Morris was an experienced cavalry soldier, having fought at the Battle of Aliwal and the Battle of Sobraon in the First Sikh War with the 16 th Lancers.

This experience was of no significance to Lord Cardigan, himself devoid of prior wartime service and with a supreme contempt for ‘Indian officers’.

Raglan’s failure to commit the cavalry to offensive action in the campaign to date caused considerable frustration in the cavalry division and derision in the rest of the army. On the Bulganek and Alma Rivers, during the march towards Sevastopol in September 1854, Raglan had refused to permit the Light Brigade to attack, causing the army to give the divisional commander the nickname of Lord ‘Look-on’, attributing the division’s inaction to him.

17th Lancers in the Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava on 25th October 1854 in the Crimean War: picture by Richard Simkin

Now at Balaclava, in the absence of the infantry, the cavalry was required to play a major role. The Heavy Brigade had played its part in full. The opportunity was passing to the Light Brigade and Cardigan refused to act. There seems to be no doubting Cardigan’s personal courage. He claimed that Lucan, the Cavalry Division commander, had forbidden him to take offensive action.

Officers of the 4th Light Dragoons in 1855: Battle of Balaclava on 25th October 1854 in the Crimean War

The opportunity for the Light Brigade was particularly apparent to Raglan’s staff watching from the Sapouné Hills, amongst whom there was considerable excitement, particularly on the part of Captain Lewis Nolan of the 15th Hussars, General Airey’s a.d.c. a fine horseman and a ferocious advocate of the aggressive use of cavalry.

As the Russian cavalry force withdrew along the North Valley, to take up position behind a battery of eight guns at the far end, Raglan’s staff saw that the Russians on the Causeway Heights were preparing to remove the naval guns captured from the Turks in the redoubts. Loss of guns was a clear indicator of success or failure in battle and could not be allowed to go unchallenged. The two British infantry divisions had still not reached the valley floor, so that the only force available to prevent the removal of the guns was the cavalry division.

At Raglan’s direction, General Airey wrote the famous order to Lucan, stating: ‘Lord Raglan wishes the cavalry to advance rapidly to the front, and try to prevent the enemy carrying away the guns. Troop of horse artillery may accompany. French cavalry is on your left. Immediate.’

The order written by General Airey that launched the Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava on 25th October 1854 in the Crimean War

Because of the urgency of the message and the difficulty in reaching the valley floor from the Sapouné Hills, the order was entrusted to Captain Lewis Nolan. The authorities agree this was an unfortunate choice. Hamley describes Nolan as ‘the author of a book on cavalry tactics, in which faith in the power of that arm is carried to an extreme.’

Nolan, a mercurial professional cavalry officer, who had begun his career in an Austrian hussar regiment, entertained a contempt for Lucan and was constantly irked by the failure to use the cavalry decisively.

Lord Cardigan leading the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava on 25th October 1854 in the Crimean War: picture by Harry Payne

Nolan rode headlong down the steep slope and delivered Raglan’s order. The text made little sense to Lucan, as the preparations for the removal of the guns from the redoubts could not be seen from the valley floor. Lucan asked Nolan which enemy and which guns Raglan was referring to. Nolan is reported to have flung his arm out in the direction of the Russian cavalry force now positioned behind its guns at the end of the North Valley and to have said with some insolence, ‘There is your enemy. There are your guns, My Lord.’

The antagonism between the two men prevented any clarification of Raglan’s intention. Lucan was irked at being the butt of criticism for the inaction of the cavalry and was disinclined to have further discussion with the insolent Nolan. Lucan rode over to Cardigan and directed him to charge the Russian cavalry and guns at the end of the North Valley. After a brief remonstration, Cardigan ordered his brigade to mount and led it forward into the valley. Lucan added a final irritant for Cardigan by ordering the 11 th Hussars, Cardigan’s regiment, into the second line.

Death of Captain Lewis Nolan in the Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava on 25th October 1854 in the Crimean War: picture by Thomas Jones Barker

Raglan’s staff watched, horrified, from the top of Sapouné Hill, as the Light Brigade moved off down the valley and failed to turn up onto the Causeway Heights. The staff could see the Russians positioned on the Fedioukine Hills, to the north side of the North Valley, with infantry, cavalry and guns, the original force of Russian cavalry attacked by the Heavy Brigade at the end of the North Valley, behind the battery of eight guns and, on the Causeway Heights on the south side of the valley, Russian infantry, cavalry and guns in the redoubts abandoned by the Turks. All these troops were ready to fire on the Light Brigade as it charged down the North Valley.

It was soon after 11am that the Light Brigade set off behind Lord Cardigan. The 13 th Light Dragoons held the right flank of the first line with the 17 th Lancers on the left. The 11 th Hussars, Cardigan’s regiment, formed the second line, positioned behind the 17 th Lancers. In the third line were the 8 th Hussars and the 4 th Light Dragoons.

Captain Godfrey Morgan of 17th Lancers on ‘Sir Briggs’ in the Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava on 25th October 1854 in the Crimean War

Lord Lucan followed with the Heavy Brigade, but a short distance into the advance, as the scale of fire became apparent, Lucan halted the brigade and left the Light Brigade to continue down the valley alone.

Captain Nolan joined the ranks of the 17 th Lancers, the officer commanding, Captain Morris, being a friend. It is thought Nolan realised the brigade was intended to ascend the Causeway Heights, not to attack down the valley and that a grave mistake was being made. Nolan rode across in front of Cardigan waving his sword. As he did so, he was struck and killed by a shell splinter, one of the first casualties.

The Relief of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava on 25th October 1854 in the Crimean War: picture by Richard Caton Woodville

4th Queen’s Own Light Dragoons, one of the regiments of the Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava on 25th October 1854 in the Crimean War: print by Ackermann

The distance the Light Brigade had to cover to reach the guns was a mile and a quarter. Advancing at a trot, the brigade came under fire within a few minutes shell fire, cannon balls and rifle fire from the flanking Russian forces striking down riders and horses. After five minutes, the brigade came within range of the eight guns at the end of the valley. These guns had a much easier target, firing at the brigade line, around 100 yards in width, rather than at its flank. Casualties spiralled, causing the regiments to increase their pace, until the lines were at the gallop and order was being lost. By the time the brigade reached the guns, half of its complement were casualties.

Reaching the end of the valley, the Light Brigade plunged into the Russian gun line and cut down those of the crews that had not fled. The 13 th Light Dragoons, with the right-hand squadron of the 17 th Lancers, struck the Russian battery directly. The left squadron of the 17 th passed the battery and attacked Russian cavalry behind. The 11 th Hussars also passed the battery and attacked the cavalry beyond, driving them back and pursuing them as far as the aqueduct. They were, in turn, pursued for some distance by a force of Russian cavalry and Cossacks.

French 4th Chasseurs d’Afrique attacking the Fedioukine Hills at the Battle of Balaclava on 25th October 1854 in the Crimean War

The charge complete, the Light Brigade returned by the route it had come. The men did this singly or in small groups, other than two larger parties one led by Colonel Shewell, formed of 70 men of the 8 th Hussars and the 17 th Lancers the other, led by Lord George Paget, of 4 th Light Dragoons and 11 th Hussars. Each of these bodies was opposed by Russian cavalry, who emerged from the hills on either side of the valley and which they charged and dispersed.

The French General Morris directed the 4 th Chasseurs D’Afrique, a colonial cavalry regiment, to attack along the Fedioukine Hills and silence the Russian fire on the north side of the valley. This they did with great success and a loss of only 38 casualties. Their charge relieved the British cavalrymen of the fire from the north side of the valley as they returned from the Russian battery.

Survivors from the Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava on 25th October 1854 in the Crimean War: picture by Lady Butler

Lord Cardigan, having ridden through the battery, found himself alone, turned and rode back down the valley. He was one of the first to reach British lines, where he met Sir George Cathcart. Cardigan is reported to have said ‘I have lost my brigade.’

On its return, the Light Brigade had a mounted strength of 195 officers and men from an original strength of 673. 247 men were killed or wounded. 475 horses were killed and 42 wounded. The 13 th Light Dragoons mustered 10 mounted men.

The Light Brigade after the Charge at the Battle of Balaclava on 25th October 1854 in the Crimean War: picture by Lady Butler

Although the First and Fourth British Infantry Divisions were now in the valley and ready to begin an assault on the Causeway Heights along the Woronzoff Road, no further action was taken. The Russians were left in control of the Heights and the road. The infantry divisions returned to their camps outside Sevastopol.

The Heavy Brigade suffered 92 casualties (9 killed) in the battle, some of whom were hit at the beginning of the charge down the North Valley.

Sergeant Ramage winning the Victoria Cross at the Battle of Balaclava on 25th October 1854 in the Crimean War: picture by Harry Payne

Surgeon General Mouatt winning the Victoria Cross at the Battle of Balaclava on 25th October 1854 in the Crimean War

Victoria Crosses awarded to the regiments at Balaclava:
Royal Scots Greys: 2
6 th Inniskilling Dragoons: 1
4 th Light Dragoons: 1
11 th Hussars: 1
13 th Light Dragoons: 1
17 th Lancers: 3

Casualties at the Battle of Balaclava:
Russian casualties are unknown.

Soldiers of the 13th Light Dragoons: Battle of Balaclava on 25th October 1854 in the Crimean War: photograph by Fenton

British Casualties (killed, wounded and missing):
4 th Dragoon Guards: 5 men
5 th Dragoon Guards: 2 officers and 13 men
1 st Royal Dragoons: 4 officers and 9 men
Royal Scots Greys: 4 officers and 55 men
6 th Inniskilling Dragoons: 15 men
4 th Light Dragoons: 4 officers and 55 men
8 th Hussars: 4 officers and 53 men
11 th Hussars: 3 officers and 55 men
13 th Light Dragoons: 3 officers and 38 men
17 th Lancers: 7 officers and 67 men
93 rd Highlanders: no casualties.

Follow-up to the Battle of Balaclava:
The main consequence of the battle was that the use of the Woronzoff Road, important for communications between the British base at Balaclava and the siege lines outside Sevastopol, was lost to the British for the winter of 1854/1855, making the disastrous conditions even more difficult.

‘Sir Briggs’ the horse ridden by Captain Godfrey Morgan. later Lord Tredegar, of the 17th Lancers in the Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava on 25th October 1854 in the Crimean War: picture by Alfred Frank de Prades

Anecdotes and traditions from the Battle of Balaclava:

    The Charge of the Light Brigade caused a sensation in Victorian Britain and throughout the world. It quickly became the stuff of legend, Lord Tennyson writing his famous poem: see below.

French General Bosquet: Battle of Balaclava on 25th October 1854 in the Crimean War

Royal Scots Greys in the Charge of the Heavy Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava on 25th October 1854 in the Crimean War

Balaclava bugle carried by Trumpeter William Brittan of the 17th Lancers in the Charge at the Battle of Balaclava on 25th October 1854 in the Crimean War

‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
‘Forward the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!’ he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
‘Forward, the Light Brigade!’
Was there a man dismayed?
Not though the soldier knew

17th Lancers: Battle of Balaclava on 25th October 1854 in the Crimean War: picture by Ackermann

Someone had blundered:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them
Cannon in front of them
Volleyed and thundered
Stormed at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.
Flashed all their sabres bare,

Flashed as they turned in air

11th Hussars: Battle of Balaclava on 25th October 1854 in the Crimean War: picture by Ackermann

Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army, while
All the world wondered:
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right through the line they broke
Cossack and Russian
Reeled from the sabre-stroke
Shattered and sundered.
Then they rode back, but not
Not the six hundred.
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volleyed and thundered
Stormed at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell,

93rd Highlanders: Battle of Balaclava on 25th October 1854 in the Crimean War: picture by Ackermann

They that had fought so well
Came through the jaws of Death,
Back from the mouth of Hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred.
When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wondered.
Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred!

‘The Charge of the Heavy Brigade at Balaclava’ by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Bugle that sounded the Charge of the Heavy Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava on 25th October 1854 in the Crimean War

The charge of the gallant three hundred, the Heavy Brigade!
Down the hill, down the hill, thousands of Russians,
Thousands of horsemen, drew to the valley–and stay’d
For Scarlett and Scarlett’s three hundred were riding by
When the points of the Russian lances arose in the sky
And he call’d, ‘Left wheel into line!’ and they wheel’d and obey’d.
Then he look’d at the host that had halted he knew not why,
And he turn’d half round, and he bade his trumpeter sound
To the charge, and he rode on ahead, as he waved his blade
To the gallant three hundred whose glory will never die–
‘Follow,’ and up the hill, up the hill, up the hill,
Follow’d the Heavy Brigade.

1st Royal Dragoons: Charge of the Heavy Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava on 25th October 1854 in the Crimean War: picture by Ackermann

The trumpet, the gallop, the charge, and the might of the fight!
Thousands of horsemen had gather’d there on the height,
With a wing push’d out to the left and a wing to the right,
And who shall escape if they close? but he dash’d up alone
Thro’ the great gray slope of men,
Sway’d his sabre, and held his own
Like an Englishman there and then.
All in a moment follow’d with force
Three that were next in their fiery course,
Wedged themselves in between horse and horse,
Fought for their lives in the narrow gap they had made–
Four amid thousands! and up the hill, up the hill,
Gallopt the gallant three hundred, the Heavy Brigade.

Fell like a cannon-shot,
Burst like a thunderbolt,

6th Inniskilling Dragoons: Charge of the Heavy Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava on 25th October 1854 in the Crimean War: picture by Ackermann

Crash’d like a hurricane,
Broke thro’ the mass from below,
Drove thro’ the midst of the foe,
Plunged up and down, to and fro,
Rode flashing blow upon blow,
Brave Inniskillens and Greys
Whirling their sabres in circles of light!
And some of us, all in amaze,
Who were held for a while from the fight,
And were only standing at gaze,
When the dark-muffled Russian crowd
Folded its wings from the left and the right,
And roll’d them around like a cloud,–
O, mad for the charge and the battle were we,
When our own good redcoats sank from sight,
Like drops of blood in a dark-gray sea,
And we turn’d to each other, whispering, all dismay’d,
‘Lost are the gallant three hundred of Scarlett’s Brigade!’

4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards: Charge of the Heavy Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava on 25th October 1854 in the Crimean War: picture by Ackermann

IV.
‘Lost one and all’ were the words
Mutter’d in our dismay
But they rode like victors and lords
Thro’ the forest of lances and swords
In the heart of the Russian hordes,
They rode, or they stood at bay–
Struck with the sword-hand and slew,
Down with the bridle-hand drew
The foe from the saddle and threw
Underfoot there in the fray–
Ranged like a storm or stood like a rock
In the wave of a stormy day
Till suddenly shock upon shock
Stagger’d the mass from without,
Drove it in wild disarray,
For our men gallopt up with a cheer and a shout,
And the foeman surged, and waver’d, and reel’d
Up the hill, up the hill, up the hill, out of the field,
And over the brow and away.

5th Dragoon Guards: Charge of the Heavy Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava on 25th October 1854 in the Crimean War: picture by Ackermann

V.
Glory to each and to all, and the charge that they made!
Glory to all the three hundred, and all the Brigade!

Note.–The ‘three hundred’ of the Heavy Brigade who made
this famous charge were the Scots Greys and the 2 nd squadron
of Inniskillings, with the remainder of the Heavy Brigade
dashing up to their support.
The ‘three’ were Scarlett’s aide-de-camp, Elliot, his trumpeter
and Shegog his orderly, who had been close behind him.

References for the Battle of the Balaclava:

Sir John Fortescue’s History of the British Army

British Crimean War Medal 1854 to 1856 with clasps for Balaclava and Sevastopol and the Turkish Crimean War Medal: Battle of Balaclava on 25th October 1854 in the Crimean War

The War in the Crimea by General Sir Edward Hamley

The Reason Why by Cecil Woodham-Smith

British Battles Volume III by James Grant

The previous battle in the Crimean War is the Battle of the Alma

The next battle in the Crimean War is the Battle of Inkerman

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Balaclava, Battle of, 25 October 1854 - History

This document has been shared, most graciously, with the Victorian Web by David Kelsey it has been taken from his website. Copyright, of course, remains with Mr Kelsey. &mdsh Added by Marjie Bloy Ph.D., Senior Research Fellow, National University of Singapore.

The Moniteur of Saturday publishes the following letter from Constantinople, dated the 21st ult: —

The establishment of the siege batteries, which was much retarded by the nature of the ground, and annoyed during the 14th and 16th by the enemy's fire, was not completed until the evening of the 16th, except one battery of eight 50-pounders, intended to take the Quarantine Battery in the rear. The number of heavy guns in position is about 250. The fire commenced at half-past six in the morning of the 17th, and was well kept up on both sides until 10 o'clock. On the morning of the same day the fleets, anchored part at Katcha and others off the bay of Kamiech, began to advance on the batteries at the entrance of Sebastopol, the steam-frigates having the sailing vessels in tow. The English squadron were to fire on the north side and the French on the south and the Quarantine batteries. The French squadron advanced under the fire of all the batteries, and was in position at 1 o'clock, four three-deckers and three steam vessels forming the first line. The other vessels forming the second line arrived in succession, as well as two Ottoman ships of the line. About half-past 2 the English squadron took up its position to the north. The fire opened at 1 o'clock, and was warmly kept up on both sides until 3 o'clock, when that of the Russian batteries gradually fell off. They afterwards only fired occasional shots until 6 o'clock, at the moment when the squadrons, which for five hours had kept up a warm and uninterrupted fire, resumed their former anchorage. The smoke during the combat and the night which interrupted it prevented an exact judgment being formed of the damage caused to the enemy. The French siege batteries discontinued their fire about noon on the same day, in consequence of the explosion of a powder magazine which damaged the batteries near it. The English batteries continued their fire, and appeared to profit by the diversion made by ruining the works which were opposed to them. On the morning of the 18th the fire of all the siege batteries recommenced, and was continued during the whole day, and caused several fires in the town at 1 o'clock a Russian powder magazine blew up. General Canrobert sent word on the 18th to Admiral Hamelin that the bombardment of the previous day appeared to have very much injured the Quarantine Battery, which much impeded the French operations. The large forts at the entrance, without being entirely demolished, are much damaged.

A letter from Therapia, of the 20th ult, in the Moniteur , says -

You will hear from all sides that our sailors fought valiantly everyone did his duty, and in the most noble manner. The Charlemagne arrived at her station the first, and for half an hour supported alone the fire of all the Russian forts, returning their fire with a vigour which was the admiration of both squadrons. A shell burst on the stern of the Ville de Paris , and the poop was knocked to pieces. By a kind of miracle Admiral Hamelin was not injured, but of his four Aides-de-Camps, one, M. Sommeiller, was killed, and the others were wounded, as well as several other persons who were standing near. M. Bouet-Willaumez, the chief of the staff, escaped as fortunately as the Admiral.

The Government received today the following telegraph, addressed to Lord Westmorland by the British Consul-General at Varna:-

On the 25th an imposing force suddenly attacked three Turkish batteries near Balaklava, and carried them by storm. The Turks retreated, after spiking some of their guns. The Russian artillery and infantry continuing to advance, our light brigade of cavalry charged them, but sustained a considerable loss. The regiment of Scots Grays, however, coming to their assistance, with the 5th Dragoons, the enemy was completely routed, and withdrew behind the batteries taken from the Turks. The French took part in the affair with admirable bravery. In the evening of the 26th the Russians sallied out of Sebastopol, and attacked the division of General de Lacy Evans but in less than half-an-hour they were repulsed, with a loss of 1,000 men left on the field. The loss of the English in this second action consists of one officer killed and a few men wounded. The fire from the city had considerably slackened. The allies were fully confident of the proximate fall of Sebastopol.

The Courier de Marseilles quotes the following, under date Constantinople, the 20th ult: —

The French steamer Ajaccio arrived this morning from the Crimea with the mails from the armies and fleets. The letters are of the 18th. The bombardment of Sebastopol commenced on the 17th, at 6 o'clock a.m., by land, and at 10 o'clock the combined fleets took part in the action, by attacking the outer batteries of the Marine, and particularly that of the Quarantine. Two small batteries close to the latter had ceased firing, and were partly demolished at noon, but the principal battery continued to fire. The guns used by the Russians carried to a great distance, and several of the ships were more or less damaged. Among those which suffered most were, on the English side, the Sanspareil , which had 12 killed and 60 wounded Albion , nearly the same number of killed and wounded Agamemnon , four killed and 22 wounded Queen , one killed and 11 wounded, &c. On the side of the French, the Ville de Paris , ten killed and 30 wounded Valmy , four killed and 30 wounded Montebello , ten killed and 30 wounded. The four aides-de-camp of Admiral Hamelin were put hors de combat. One of them was cut in two by a cannon ball another, M. Zédè, had his two legs shattered the other two were not dangerously wounded. At nightfall the fleets suspended their firing, and returned to their anchorage. The result obtained on the land side is not exactly known. The Russians defend themselves with an obstinacy bordering on despair. But, notwithstanding the 3,000 guns mounted on the ramparts, the fall of the place is considered certain in the allied camp. The resistance, however, will be longer and more sanguinary than was at first supposed. The occupation of Eupatoria by the Russians, which caused so much joy to the Greeks at Constantinople, was of short duration. The village was guarded by a few seamen and marines, who, on the approach of a considerable body of Cossacks, retired on board their ships. The next day, however, they landed with reinforcements and drove the Russians out of the place.

The Moniteur of yesterday contains the following articles:—

The Marshal Minister of War has received from General Canrobert, Commander-in-Chief of the Army of the East, the following report, dated from the headquarters before Sebastopol, the 18th of October, and forming a continuation of that of the 13th, inserted in the Moniteur of the 28th of October —

'Monsieur le Marechal — Yesterday, at sunrise, we opened our fire in concert with the English army. Matters were proceeding favourably, when the explosion of the powder magazine of a battery, which unfortunately was of a serious character, threw our attack into disorder. This explosion produced greater effect from the fact that our batteries were accumulated round the point where it took place. The enemy profited by it to increase his fire, and, in accord with the General commanding the Artillery, I was of opinion that it was necessary for us to suspend ours in order to make repairs, and to complete towards our right, by fresh batteries connected with those of the English army, the system of our attack. This delay is no doubt to be regretted, but we must resign ourselves to it, and I am taking every necessary step to render it as short as possible.

The place kept up the fire better than was expected. The circle is of such formidable development in a right line, and comprises guns of such large calibre, that it can prolong the struggle. On the 17th our troops took possession of the height before the point of attack called the Bastion of the Mat, and occupied it. This evening we shall raise upon it a masked battery of 12 pieces, and, if it be possible, also a second battery at the extreme right above the ravine.

All the means of attack are concentrated upon this bastion, and will enable us, I hope, soon to take possession of it, with the assistance of the English batteries, which are directed against its left face.

Yesterday, about 10 o'clock in the morning, the English fleet attacked the external batteries of the place, but I have not yet received any particulars to enable me to give you an account of the result of this attack.

The English batteries are in the best possible condition. Eight new mortars have been placed in them, calculated to produce great effect. Yesterday there was, in the battery which surrounds the tower situated to the left of the place, a tremendous explosion, which must have done much injury to the enemy. Since then this battery has fired very little, and this morning there are only two or three guns which can fire.

I have no precise information about the Russian army. There is nothing to indicate that it has changed the positions it occupied, where it awaits reinforcements.

I have received almost the whole of right reinforcement of artillery which I expected from Gallipoli and Varna. General Levaillant has just arrived with his staff, which increases to five divisions the effective force of infantry which I have under my orders. Their state of health is satisfactory and their discipline excellent, and we are all full of confidence.

The French Government has received from Vice-Admiral Hamelin the following despatch: —

Ville de Paris, before Katcha, Oct 18th.

Monsieur le Ministre, — In my letter of the 13th of October I announced to your excellency that I had embarked with all my staff on board the frigate Mogador , in order to anchor as near as possible to the French headquarters, and arrange with the General-in-Chief a general attack by the land and sea forces against Sebastopol on the day when the fire of the siege batteries should commence. On the 14th I had an interview with General Canrobert, whose views were in conformity with mine. On the 15th a meeting of the Admirals of the allied squadrons took place on board the frigate Mogador, and the arrangements for the general attack were made with common accord, and were then submitted to the Generals of the land forces, who heartily agreed to them. This general attack was fixed for the 17th, the day of the opening of the fire of the siege batteries.

With respect to the squadrons, they were to effect what follows:-- The French squadron undertook to place itself towards the rocks to the south, and at about 7 cables' length to operate against the 350 guns of the Quarantine Battery, the two batteries of Fort Alexander, and the battery of the Artillery.

The English squadron had to attack towards the rocks to the north, at about the same distance, the 130 guns of the Constantine Battery, the Telegraph Battery, and the Maximilian Tower to the north.

If your Excellency would imagine a line traced along the entry to Sebastopol from the east to the west, that line would separate into two parts the locality of the attack which devolved upon each squadron.

The Turkish Admiral with two vessels, all that he retained at the time, was to cast anchor to the north of the two French lines — that is to say in an intermediate position between the English and French vessels. On the morning of the 17th the attack of the siege batteries commenced but, as the weather was calm, it was necessary to attach the ships of the line to the steam frigates before developing against Sebastopol the line of the 26 ships of the allied squadrons. Nevertheless, in spite of this difficulty, and the separation which had taken place between the ships of the allied squadrons, a part of which had anchored at Kamisch and part before the Katcha, I have the satisfaction to announce to your Excellency that the ships of our first line advanced about half-past 12 in the day under the fire of the batteries of Sebastopol, which they stood against at first during more than half-an-hour without replying. A few minutes afterwards they replied vigorously to the fire, which did not fail to incommode them, from their small number. Afterwards the other French and English vessels successively arrived, and the attack became general.

Towards half-past 2 o'clock the fire of the Russian batteries slackened it was stopped at the Quarantine Battery. This was the exact object desired by the French squadron, but our firing was redoubled and continued without interruption till night.

At the time I am writing to your Excellency I am not aware of what was the success of our siege batteries, whose fire had commenced before ours, and which attacked the Russian fortifications on the land side.

If the Russians had not closed the entrance to Sebastopol by sinking two ships of the line and two frigates, I do not doubt that the vessels of the squadrons, after the first fire, would have been able successfully to enter the port and place themselves in communication with the army. Perhaps they would not have lost many more men in doing this than we have now to regret but the extreme measure which the enemy adopted of sacrificing a portion of his ships forced us to confine ourselves to attacking for five hours the sea batteries of Sebastopol, with the object of silencing them more or less, of occupying a great many men of the garrison at the guns, and of giving thus to our army material as well as moral assistance.

Today, the 18th, I have only time to give a hasty sketch to your Excellency of this affair, which, in my opinion, does great honour to the French navy.

I subjoin to this sketch a list of the men killed and wounded on board of each ship. Without delay I shall send you a detailed report upon all the phases of the attack, and in reference to the part, more or less active, which each ship took in it.

At the commencement of the affair the enthusiasm was extreme. During the combat the tenacity of everyone was not less so. Before commencing the fire I signalled to the squadron "France has her eyes upon you," a signal which was received with cries of Vive l'Empereur!

I am, with deep respect, Monsieur le Minister, your Excellency's very obedient servant, the Vice-Admiral Commander-in-Chief of the squadron of the Mediterranean,


The Charge of the Light Brigade, 160 Years Ago

A major conflict of the 19th century, the Crimean War claimed at least 500,000 lives, more than even the American Civil War, and had a profound impact on such renowned personalities as British nurse Florence Nightingale and Russian author Leo Tolstoy. It got its start in and around Jerusalem, then part of the Ottoman Empire, where Orthodox Christian and Catholic monks had been engaging in fierce, sometimes deadly brawls for years over who would control various holy sites. Following one such violent squabble in 1852, Czar Nicholas I of Russia, a self-proclaimed defender of Orthodox Christianity, demanded the right to exercise protection over the Ottoman Empire’s millions of Christian subjects. Upon being rejected, he then sent his army, the largest in the world, to occupy two Ottoman principalities in present-day Romania. The czar also purportedly had his eyes on Constantinople, the Ottoman capital, which if taken would give his navy unfettered access to the Mediterranean Sea. Unnerved by this expansionism, Britain and France sent their own warships to the area and vowed to defend Ottoman sovereignty.

Fighting officially broke out in October 1853, and the following month the Russians decimated the Ottoman fleet in a surprise attack. But although Nicholas referred to the declining Ottoman Empire as the “sick man of Europe,” his land forces made little progress in their push south, underscored by the failed siege of a fortress in present-day Bulgaria. Meanwhile, in March 1854, Britain and France declared war and immediately bombarded the then-Russian city of Odessa. With Austria likewise threatening to jump into the fray, Nicholas withdrew from Romania. Rather than declare victory, however, Britain and France decided to punitively target the Russian naval base in Sevastopol, located on the Crimean Peninsula. On September 13, 1854, a joint allied force of over 60,000 troops sailed into Kalamita Bay, about 33 miles north of their objective. Due to stormy weather, it took five days for them to fully disembark. Believing the conflict would be over quickly, they brought neither winter clothing nor medical supplies. They moreover lacked accurate maps, had little idea how many Russian troops opposed them and flouted the dietary restrictions of the Muslim Ottoman soldiers within their ranks. To make matters worse, a cholera outbreak erupted.

Nonetheless, the British and French defeated the Russians in their first run-in near the Alma River, causing a panicked retreat with the help of their long-range Minié rifles. They then commenced a roundabout march to Sevastopol, where they spent two-and-a-half weeks digging trenches and lugging artillery into position prior to initiating a bombardment of the city on October 17. By that time, however, the Russians had significantly strengthened their defenses. After holding out for eight days, they tried to break the siege with a dawn attack on Britain’s supply base in the nearby fishing village of Balaclava. That morning, having forced Ottoman troops to abandon four defensive redoubts, they were able to occupy the Causeway Heights just outside town. But they failed to progress any further thanks to a regiment of Scottish highlanders and the Heavy Brigade, each of which repelled a Russian advance.

With Balaclava now safe, Lord Fitzroy Somerset Raglan, the British commander-in-chief in Crimea, turned his attention back to the Causeway Heights, where he believed the Russians were attempting to make off with some of his artillery guns. He ordered the cavalry, consisting of both the Heavy and Light brigades, to advance with infantry support 𠇊nd take advantage of any opportunity to recover” the lost ground. Lord Raglan expected the cavalrymen to move immediately, with the infantry to come later. But George Bingham, the earl of Lucan, who commanded the cavalry, thought he wanted them to attack together. As a result, Lucan’s men sat around for 45 minutes waiting for the infantry to arrive. At that point, Raglan issued a new order, telling the cavalry to �vance rapidly to the front … and try to prevent the enemy carrying away the guns.” From his vantage point, however, Lucan could not see any guns being removed. Confused, he asked Raglan’s aide-de-camp where to attack, but instead of pointing to the Causeway Heights, the aide allegedly waved his arm in the direction of a Russian artillery battery at the far end of an exposed valley.

Lucan next approached his brother-in-law James Brudenell, the earl of Cardigan, who commanded the Light Brigade. The two men loathed each other so much they were barely on speaking terms. And neither was apparently respected by the troops. One officer in the Light Brigade went so far as to call them both 𠇏ools.” Cardigan, he wrote in a letter home, “has as much brains as my boot. He is only equaled in want of intellect by his relation the earl of Lucan.” Though perturbed by Raglan’s order, Lucan and Cardigan obeyed it without first checking back in to make sure they understood it correctly. At their bidding, the roughly 670 members of the Light Brigade drew their sabres and lances and began their infamous mile-and-a-quarter-long charge with Russians shooting at them from three directions (though never from all three at once). The first man to fall was Raglan’s aide-de-camp. Another soldier then had “his head clean carried off by a round shot, yet for about 30 yards further the headless body kept in the saddle,” according to a survivor. Other survivors spoke of being splattered with horse blood, of watching their companions lose limbs, of seeing brains on the ground and of going through smoke so thick it was like “riding into the mouth of a volcano.”

The Heavy Brigade, which, its name notwithstanding, resembled the Light Brigade except with regard to uniform color, was supposed to follow in support but only went a short way down the valley before Lucan directed it to turn back. Somehow, the Light Brigade reached its destination anyway, crashing into the enemy lines with a vengeance. A few Russians even shot at their own comrades in a desperate bid to clear an escape route. The Light Brigade’s members didn’t hold the ground for long, though, before being forced to stagger back from whence they came. En route, Russian artillery pounded away again from the Causeway Heights𠅋ut not from the other two sides, as the Light Brigade had taken out one battery itself and the French had taken out another—while Russian cavalrymen attempted to entrap them. In the end, of the roughly 670 Light Brigade soldiers, about 110 were killed and 160 were wounded, a 40 percent casualty rate. They also lost approximately 375 horses.

Despite failing to overrun Balaclava, the Russians claimed victory in the battle, parading their captured artillery guns through Sevastopol. Yet they would surrender the city and naval base nearly a year later, after which they agreed to give up a small chunk of territory and to keep their warships out of the Black Sea in exchange for peace. Meanwhile, the Light Brigade’s exploits had already become legendary in Britain, thanks largely to Alfred Tennyson’s poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade.” Named poet laureate a few years earlier by Queen Victoria, he praised the bravery of the men as they rode into the “valley of death.” His poem “The Charge of the Heavy Brigade at Balaclava,” on the other hand, never quite captured the public’s imagination.


Notes

Add or edit a note on this artwork that only you can see. You can find notes again by going to the ‘Notes’ section of your account.

During the Crimean War (1854-56) Russian forces mounted an attack on the British position at Balaklava. A large body of some 3,000 Russian cavalry threatened the road to the harbour of Balaklava itself.

The British Heavy Brigade, about 800 strong, consisted of 10 squadrons of heavy cavalry, commanded by Major-General (later General) The Honourable (later Sir) James Yorke Scarlett (1799–1871). Seeing the Russian horsemen halted, and thus vulnerable to attack, Scarlett immediately charged uphill with three of his squadrons, being successively reinforced by the remaining seven squadrons of his Brigade. Reeling from this series of attacks, the Russian cavalry retired in disorder a few minutes later.

The painting depicts the action as the first line of the Heavy Brigade crashes into the Russian cavalry. In reality, because of the difficult ground it had to cover, the pace of the Heavy Brigade’s attack was far gentler than the painting suggests.


Little Bits of History

1854: The Battle of Balaclava is fought. The Battle was part of the Crimean War, fought between the Russian Empire and the Ottoman Empire with allied forces from France, Great Britain, and Sardinia. Ostensibly fought over the rights of Christians in the region, the churches themselves worked out the issues. Neither Nicholas I of Russia nor Emperor Napoleon III pulled back. The Siege of Sevastopol lasted for nearly a year, beginning on October 17, 1854 and ending in an Allied victory on September 9, 1855. This particular Battle was part of the siege of the Black Sea port.

The Allies first contact with the Russians led to a victory but they were slow to follow up on the win. This allowed the Russians to regroup and recover as well as prepare a defense for their Navy, housed in the port. The British under the command of Lord Raglan and the French under Canrobert decided to lay siege instead of engaging in outright battle. Some of their troops were housed on the southern port of Balaclava which led to committing troops to protecting their flank. Today’s battle began with Russian artillery and infantry attacks against the Allies first line of defense. The line fell and the Russians pushed forward.

The second line was held by both Ottomans and the British 93 rd Highland Regiment. They became known as the Thin Red Line as they held their position. Lord Raglan sent a vaguely written order to the commander of what is today called the Light Brigade. Raglan had ordered them to protect the guns from the first line’s fall. But due to some miscommunication (which shall ever remain a mystery since the man delivering the message died within the first minutes of the attack) the Light Brigade was sent off on a frontal assault against a different artillery battery.

The men charged forward and eventually, after receiving extreme casualties, achieved their position. However, they were so badly decimated, they were forced to immediately retreat. Their charge has been forever memorialized by Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade” which was published just six weeks after the disastrous event. The day ended without either side having a clear victory. Both sides incurred losses and casualties over 600. It would take nearly a year for Sevastopol to fall in an Allied victory with each side losing over 100,000 men to both war wounds and disease. Six months later the war would end. Overall the Allies had losses and casualties of nearly one-quarter million while Russia suffered over a half million casualties and losses. More than half of those who died, did not die of war wounds, but were brought down by disease.

All in the valley of Death / Rode the six hundred.

Theirs not to make reply, / Theirs not to reason why, / Theirs but to do and die.

Cannon to right of them, / Cannon to left of them, / Cannon in front of them / Volleyed and thundered

Into the mouth of hell / Rode the six hundred. – all from Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “The Charge of the Light Brigade” which can be found here in its entirety


October 25, 1854 Charge of the Light Brigade

Shattered remnants of the Light Brigade actually managed to overrun the Russian guns, but had no means of holding them. They milled about for a time, and then back they came, blown and bleeding horses carrying mangled men back through another gauntlet of fire.

1854 was the second year of the Crimean war, pitting an alliance including Great Britain, France, and the Ottoman Empire against the Russian armies of Czar Nicholas I.

The Battle of Balaclava opened shortly after 5:00am on this day in 1854, when a squadron of Russian Cossack Cavalry advanced under cover of darkness. The Cossacks were followed by a host of Uhlans, their Polish light cavalry allies, against several dug-in positions occupied by Ottoman Turks. The Turks fought stubbornly, sustaining 25% casualties before finally being forced to withdraw.

Lucan

For a time, the Russian advance was held only by the red coated 93rd Highland Regiment, a desperate defense recorded in history as the Thin Red Line. Finally, the Russians were driven back by the British Heavy Brigade, led by George Bingham, 3rd Earl of Lucan, a man otherwise known to history for the brutality inflicted on tenants in Mayo, during the Irish potato famine.

The light cavalry of the age consisted of lightly armed and armored troops mounted on small, fast horses, usually wielding cutlass or spear. They’re a raiding force, good at reconnaissance, screening, and skirmishing. The “Heavies”, on the other hand, are mounted on huge, powerful chargers, both rider and horse heavily armored. They are the shock force of the army.

Cardigan

Lucan’s subordinate was James Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan, in command of the Light Brigade. There could not have been two worse field commanders. Though possessed of physical courage, both were prideful, mean spirited and petty men. What’s more, they were brothers-in-law, and thoroughly hated one another.

Field Marshal Fitzroy James Henry Somerset, 1st Baron Raglan, was in overall command of the allied armies. Raglan occupied a high spot where he could see the battle unfold before him, but didn’t seem to realize that his subordinates below couldn’t see what he could see. Spotting a small Russian detachment trying to get away with captured cannon, Raglan issued an order to Lucan, in overall command of his Cavalry. “Lord Raglan wishes the Cavalry to advance rapidly to the front, follow the enemy, and try to prevent the enemy carrying away the guns.” As Staff Officer Louis Nolan left to deliver the message, Raglan shouted “Tell Lord Lucan the cavalry is to attack immediately“.

Raglan

The Light Brigade was well suited to such a task, but the men below had no idea what Raglan meant by such a poorly worded order. The only guns they could see were dug in Russian artillery a mile away, at the other end of the valley. When Nolan brought the order, Lucan demanded to know what guns. With a contemptuous sweep of his arm, Nolan pointed down the valley. “There, sir, are your guns“.

The order which then came down from Lucan to Cardigan called for a suicide mission, even for heavy cavalry. The “Lights” were being ordered to ride a mile down an open valley, with enemy cannon and riflemen lining both sides, into the muzzles of dug in, well sighted, heavy artillery.

Nose to nose and glaring, neither man blinked in the contest of wills. In the end, Cardigan did as ordered. 674 horsemen of the Light Brigade mounted up, drew their swords, and rode into the valley of death.

Louis Nolan should have gone back to Raglan, but rode out instead, in front of the Light Brigade. He was almost certainly trying to redirect the charge and could have saved the day, but it wasn’t meant to be. Louis Nolan, the only man in position to change history that day, was the first casualty of the raid.

Private James Wightman of the 17th Lancers, describes Nolan’s last moments. “I saw the shell explode of which a fragment struck him. From his raised sword-hand dropped the sword. The arm remained upraised and rigid, but all the other limbs so curled in on the contorted trunk as by a spasm, that we wondered how for the moment the huddled form kept the saddle. The weird shriek and the awful face haunt me now to this day, the first horror of that ride of horrors“.

Russian Artillery Battery of the Crimean War

Raglan must have looked on in horror at the scene unfolding below. Instead of turning right and climbing the Causeway slopes, almost 700 horsemen first walked, then trotted and finally charged, straight down the valley, into the Russian guns. Captain Thomas Hutton of the 4th Light Dragoons said “A child might have seen the trap that was laid for us. Every private dragoon did“.

Charge of the Light Brigade, from the Russian perspective.

It took the Lights a full seven minutes to get to the Russian guns. Cannon fire tore great gaps out of their lines the whole time, first from the sides and then from the front. Shattered remnants of the Light Brigade actually managed to overrun the Russian guns, but had no means of holding them. They milled about for a time, and then back they came, blown and bleeding horses carrying mangled men back through another gauntlet of fire.

Captain Nolan’s horse carried his dead body all the way down, and all the way back.

When it was over, 110 were dead, 130 wounded, and 58 missing or captured. 40% losses in an action which had lasted 20 minutes. Captain Nolan’s horse carried his dead body all the way down, and all the way back.

Cardigan and Lucan pointed the finger of blame at each other, for the rest of their lives. Both laid blame for the disaster on Nolan, but he wasn’t there to defend himself.

Today, the Battle of Balaclava is mostly forgotten, but for a stanza in the Alfred Lord Tennyson poem, The Charge of the Light Brigade.

“‘Forward, the Light Brigade!’

Was there a man dismay’d?

Not tho’ the soldiers knew

Some one had blunder’d:

Theirs not to make reply,

Theirs not to reason why,

Theirs but to do and die:

Into the valley of Death Rode the six hundred”.

Aftermath

The Crimean War itself may be remembered as a waste of blood and treasure, for all it accomplished. But for the efforts of one woman, who all-but invented the modern profession of nursing. The soldiers knew her as “The Lady with the Lamp”, for her late night rounds, taking care of the wounded.

History remembers this “Ministering Angel”, as Florence Nightingale.


Contents

The Russian cavalry force of 2,500 was on the road to Balaklava. About 400 of them were involved in the incident. ΐ] It was early morning, and the sole force that lay between the oncoming cavalry and the disorganised and vulnerable British camp was the 93rd Regiment. Α]

A diorama of the action in the Regimental Museum at Stirling Castle

Campbell is said to have told his men, "There is no retreat from here, men. You must die where you stand." Β] Sir Colin's aide John Scott is said to have replied, "Aye, Sir Colin. If needs be, we'll do that." (Campbell's relationship with his men was almost family-like.) Campbell formed the 93rd into a line two deep — the "thin red line". Convention dictated that the line should be four deep. However, Campbell, a veteran of 41 years military service, had such a low opinion of the Russian cavalry that he did not bother to form four lines, let alone a square, but met the charge head on with the 2-deep firing line. [ citation needed ] As the Russian cavalry approached, the 93rd discharged three volleys: at 600, 350 and 150 yards respectively, however they did not get a chance to discharge one at point-blank (as at Minden in 1759) range as in popular belief. This is due to the fact that the Russian commander, seeing such a thin line of infantry, concluded that this was a diversion and that there was a much stronger force behind the 93rd, and ordered the cavalry to withdraw. Γ] At that, some of the Highlanders started forward for a counter-charge, but Sir Colin stopped them with a cry of "93rd, damn all that eagerness!" Δ]

The Times correspondent, William H. Russell, wrote Ε] that he could see nothing between the charging Russians and the British regiment's base of operations at Balaclava but the "thin red streak tipped with a line of steel" of the 93rd. Popularly condensed into "the thin red line", the phrase became a symbol of British sangfroid in battle.

The battle is represented in Robert Gibb's 1881 oil painting of the same name, which is displayed in the Scottish National War Museum in Edinburgh Castle. It is also commemorated in the assembly hall of Campbell's former school, High School of Glasgow, where there is a painting of the action hung in the grand position, a tribute to one of the school's two generals, the other being Sir John Moore who was dismembered by a cannonball during the Peninsular War.


October 25, 1854 Into the Valley of Death, Rode the 600

1896 Punch cartoon lampoons a hapless Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II, in front of a poster announcing the reorganization of the Ottoman Empire

At the height of its power during the 16th and 17th centuries, the Ottoman Empire was one of the most powerful states in the world, ruling over 39 million subjects and controlling a territory spanning three continents: over two million square miles.

By the mid-19th century, the once-great Empire was the “sick man of Europe”, destined to be broken apart by its adversaries, in the wake of World War 1.

For a hundred years or more, the Russian Empire had seen itself as protector of Orthodox Church co-religionists, in the biblical land of Israel and historical Palestine. The Greek clergy in the Christian Holy Land already enjoyed warm relations with their Ottoman overlords, and controlled most of the Christian holy sites.

This state of affairs was challenged in the mid-19th century by the French Empire of Emperor Napoleon III, who was trying to extend Latin (Catholic) influence over the region.

Things came to a head in 1852 with, among other disputes, an argument over a key. No kidding. The key to the main door, of the Church of the Nativity.

Great Britain attempted to mediate the growing Franco-Russian dispute, but neither Nicholas I nor Napoleon III, would back down. War broke out in the Crimea in October 1853, between an allied coalition of forces including the Ottoman Empire, France, Great Britain and Sardinia, against the Russian Empire of Czar Nicholas I.

The loss of life in the Crimean War (October 1853 to February 1856) was prodigious, resulting in the death of some 750,000 military service personnel on all sides, and unknown numbers of civilians. Russian diplomat Pyotr Petrovich Troubetzkoy would write: “Few wars in history reveal greater confusion of purpose or richer unintended consequences than the Crimean War.

The Battle of Balaclava opened shortly after 5:00am on this day in 1854, when a squadron of Russian Cossack Cavalry advanced under cover of darkness. The Cossacks were followed by a host of Uhlans, their Polish light cavalry allies, against several dug-in positions occupied by Ottoman Turks. The Turks fought stubbornly, sustaining 25% casualties before finally being forced to withdraw.

For a time, the Russian advance was held only by the red coated 93rd Highland Regiment, a desperate defense recorded in history as the Thin Red Line. Finally, the Russians were driven back by the British Heavy Brigade, led by George Bingham, 3rd Earl of Lucan, a man otherwise known to history for the brutality inflicted on tenants in Mayo, during the Irish potato famine.

Charge of the Heavies, Balaclava, 1854

The light cavalry of the age consisted of lightly armed and armored troops mounted on small, fast horses, usually wielding cutlass or spear. They’re a raiding force, good at reconnaissance, screening, and skirmishing. The “Heavies” on the other hand, are mounted on huge, powerful chargers, both rider and horse heavily armored. They are the shock force of the army.

Lucan’s subordinate was James Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan, in command of the Light Brigade. There could not have been two worse field commanders. Though possessed of physical courage bordering on recklessness, both were prideful, mean spirited and petty men. What’s more, they were brothers-in-law, and cordially detested one another.

Left to right: Lucan, Cardigan and Raglan

Field Marshal Fitzroy James Henry Somerset, 1st Baron Raglan, was in overall command of the allied armies. Raglan occupied a high spot where he could see the battle unfold before him, but didn’t seem to realize that his subordinates below couldn’t see what he could see.

Spotting a small Russian detachment trying to get away with captured cannon, Raglan issued an order to Lucan, in overall command of his Cavalry. “Lord Raglan wishes the Cavalry to advance rapidly to the front, follow the enemy, and try to prevent the enemy carrying away the guns.” As Staff Officer Louis Nolan left to deliver the message, Raglan shouted “Tell Lord Lucan the cavalry is to attack immediately“.

The Light Brigade was well suited to such a task, but the men below had no idea what Raglan meant by such a poorly worded order. The only guns they could see were dug in Russian artillery a mile away, at the other end of the valley. When Nolan brought the order, Lucan demanded to know what guns. With a contemptuous sweep of his arm, Nolan pointed down the valley. “There, sir, are your guns“.

The order which then came down from Lucan to Cardigan called for a suicide mission, even for heavy cavalry. The “Lights” were being ordered to ride a mile down an open valley, with enemy cannon and riflemen lining both sides, into the muzzles of dug in, well sighted, heavy artillery.

Nose to nose and glaring, neither man blinked in the contest of wills. In the end, Cardigan did as ordered. 674 horsemen of the Light Brigade mounted up, drew their swords, and rode into the valley of death.

Louis Nolan should have gone back to Raglan, but rode out instead, in front of the Light Brigade. He was almost certainly trying to redirect the charge and could have saved the day, but it wasn’t meant to be. Louis Nolan, the only man in position to change history that day, was the first casualty of the raid.

Private James Wightman of the 17th Lancers, describes Nolan’s last moments: “I saw the shell explode of which a fragment struck him. From his raised sword-hand dropped the sword. The arm remained upraised and rigid, but all the other limbs so curled in on the contorted trunk as by a spasm, that we wondered how for the moment the huddled form kept the saddle. The weird shriek and the awful face haunt me now to this day, the first horror of that ride of horrors“.

Russian artillery battery, Balaclava, 1854

Raglan must have looked on in horror as the scene unfolded, below. Instead of turning right and climbing the Causeway slopes, nearly 700 horsemen first walked, then trotted and finally charged, straight down the valley, into the Russian guns. Captain Thomas Hutton of the 4th Light Dragoons said “A child might have seen the trap that was laid for us. Every private dragoon did“.


It took the Light Brigade a full seven minutes to get to the Russian guns. Cannon fire tore great gaps out of their lines the whole time, first from the sides and then from the front. Shattered remnants actually managed to overrun the Russian guns, but had no means of holding them. They milled about for a time, and then back they came, blown and bleeding horses carrying mangled men back through another gauntlet of fire.

When it was over, 110 were dead, 130 wounded, and 58 missing or captured. 40% losses in an action which had lasted 20 minutes. Captain Nolan’s horse carried his dead body all the way down, and all the way back.

Cardigan and Lucan pointed the finger of blame at each other, for the rest of their lives. Both laid blame for the disaster on Nolan, who wasn’t there to defend himself.

Today, the Battle of Balaclava is mostly forgotten, but for a stanza in the Alfred Lord Tennyson poem, The Charge of the Light Brigade.

Forward, the Light Brigade!

Was there a man dismay’d?

Not tho’ the soldiers knew,

Some one had blunder’d:

Theirs not to make reply,

Theirs not to reason why,

Theirs but to do and die:

Into the valley of Death Rode the six hundred.

“…in coming to a ravine called the valley of death, the sight passed all imagination: round shot and shell lay like a stream at the bottom of the hollow all the way down, you could not walk without treading upon them…” Photographer Roger Fenton (“Valley of the Shadow of Death”)

The Crimean War itself may be remembered as a hideous waste of blood and treasure, for all it accomplished. Today if remembered at all, the conflict recalls the first modern war correspondent, photographer Roger Fenton. And of course the needless carnage, which could have been so much worse but for the efforts of one woman, who all-but invented the modern profession of nursing. The soldiers knew her as “The Lady with the Lamp”, for her late night rounds, taking care of the wounded.


Watch the video: British grenadiers march British line infantry attack (July 2022).


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