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British Battles

British Battles
 
   

Crimea, 1854

The Charge of the Light Brigade

Meanwhile the Light Brigade, commanded by Major-General the Earl of Cardigan, was awaiting orders. The brigade consisted of the 13th Light Dragoons, 4th Light Dragoons, 17th Lancers, 8th Hussars and 11th Hussars. The Light Brigade, together with the Heavy Brigade, made up the cavalry division which was commanded by Lieutenant-General the Earl of Lucan.

The Charge of the Light Brigade

The order which came stated: 'Lord Raglan wishes the cavalry to advance rapidly to the front - follow the enemy and try to prevent the enemy carrying away the guns. Troop Horse Artillery may accompany. French cavalry is on your left. R Airey. Immediate.'

The order was brought initially to Lucan by Captain Nolan, a talented cavalry officer serving as aide-de-camp to Brigadier-General Airey (the Quarter Master General). Lucan passed the order on to Cardigan who, in response, led a charge of 673 soldiers up the length of the valley between two rows of Russian artillery on the heights. They were bombarded from all sides and suffered heavy casualties. It was a fiasco and only a charge by French cavalry saved the Light Brigade from total destruction. The battle ended with the Russians retaining their guns and their position, although they had failed to break through the British lines.

 

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'The Relief of the Light Brigade' by Richard Caton Woodville

 

Casualty return for the period including Balaklava - with transcript

For more on the Charge of the Light Brigade, go to the 13th Light Dragoons websiteExternal website - link opens in a new window.

'Someone had blundered'?

The interpretation of the order to attack has been the subject of intense speculation by historians. A popular theory is that the order referred to recapturing Turkish guns that were being taken by Russian forces in the hills above the battlefield. Nolan, however, seems to have assumed the target was the Russian guns about a mile away up the north valley and may have advised Lucan to lead the charge there. Nolan, who charged with the 17th Lancers, was the first to be killed and was thus unable to clarify this point. Lucan and Cardigan for their part hated each other. (Cardigan had been married to Lucan's youngest sister but was now separated from her.) None of the personalities involved in initiating the charge appear to have acted well. Raglan's order was imprecise, Airey's drafting of the order was ambiguous, Nolan failed to explain the order to Lucan adequately, Lucan failed to question Nolan properly to establish his commander's intent and Cardigan failed to seek adequate clarification from Lucan. Lucan also failed to provide the support from the rest of the cavalry and the horse artillery mentioned in the order. After the charge, Lord Raglan blamed Lucan.

 

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The Charge of the Light Brigade: according to Raglan - with transcript

 

The Charge of the Light Brigade: according to Lucan - with transcript

 

The Charge of the Light Brigade: Raglan again - with transcript

After BalaklavaGo to next topic