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Chapter XIX, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 8 page 4


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We have followed these cavalry operations out, because they were the main stream of battle. Just before the vast column crossed the ridge, the Cossacks, who had been hunting the Turks, gathered up to make a dash at the 93rd. They came down with a gallop and a yell. The few Turks on the right of the Highlanders fired a volley at once and ran, crying " Ship, Johnny, ship! " The Cossacks were elated, and they swung round their left flank as if they would roll up "the thin red streak, tipped with a line of steel." But Sir Colin threw back his right flank company, and when the screaming horsemen were within 600 yards, he threw in a volley. The guns on the heights sent in heavy shots, yet the Cossacks were not to be deterred. In a short space, instead of fleeing, the 93rd poured in another volley from their rifles, a volley heard afar, as it rang out clear and compact, and echoed among the hills. The Cossacks found that the men in red were not to be scared away like Turks, although they stood alone far out in the plain, and only two deep. So, when the great column was closing with our heavy horse, the mere fire and steadfastness of the Highlanders drove the lesser column back to the redoubts, while the guns of Barker's battery smote them as they fled.

So far the conflict. The Russians had surprised a line of outposts, and had taken seven guns, and now held the greater part of the line they had surprised; but their cavalry had suffered a deep disgrace, and had been driven in, and their general was compelled to form a strong line of battle, not for offence, but defence. Ho placed seven battalions and eight guns on the south and south-west slopes of the Fedoukine heights. In the valley leading to the Tchernaya were the rallied horse, with their flanks thrown forward and guns in their front; and on the redoubt ridge, and on both sides of it, and in three of the redoubts, was the remainder of the infantry in column, as far as Kamara, supported by strong lines of guns. He seemed to wait an opportunity, and was tempted again, by the weak appearance of the defence of Balaclava, to try and debouch, from Kamara; but the steady fire of Barker and the Marines daunted him effectually. Thus stood the aspect of the field between nine and ten o'clock, when the action cooled down to a cannonade, and the Russians, who were proud of their victory over the Turks, seemed to entertain no desire for a further acquaintance with their other foes at close quarters.

About ten o'clock the 1st Division - that is, three battalions of Guards and two of the Highland Brigade - began to descend from the plateau. General Canrobert had ridden up to Lord Raglan, and had informed him that General Vinoy's brigade would immediately enter the valley, and form a little to the west of Kadikoi, while the brigade of General Espinasse was about to take post a little below Mount Sapoune, near the most westerly redoubt. Two squadrons of Chasseurs d'Afrique were advancing towards the scene of action. The 1st division, as soon as it reached the plain, formed line in echelon of brigades; the Guards on the right resting on the 93rd, and stretching towards the redoubt ridge; and the Highland brigade, on the left, being somewhat farther back. The 4th division, under Sir George Cathcart, soon followed, and was posted in column in rear of the Highland brigade. The heavy cavalry were advanced some distance in front of the 1st division, and the light cavalry were wheeled to the right, and placed near the head of the valley north of the redoubt ridge, and facing to the east. In rear the troops of General Bosquet's own division were under arms, guarding the entrenchments on Mount Sapoune, and manning the batteries; while the Turks, attached to the French, were posted, partly in the Col and partly below it, facing north. There was a pause in the fight. The guns alone fired as opportunity offered. When our infantry first formed across the plain, the Russians opened on them from the third redoubt; but, skirmishers being thrown forward, their rifles quickly told upon the gunners; and, as General Liprandi was intent on showing a shorter front and more compact line, he drew back the force from the redoubt and placed it on the east.

Lord Raglan, from his post of vantage, had watched the enemy's disposition, and he thought he saw indications of an intention to retire. He believed he saw the Russians preparing to remove the captured guns. He, therefore, no doubt again to the discomfiture of Lord Lucan, directed him to move his cavalry, and take advantage of any opportunity that might present itself to prevent the removal of the guns. The infantry divisions had not yet entered the valley. The order sent to Lord Lucan was not well constructed, but the sense was plain. It ran thus: - "Cavalry to advance, and take any opportunity to recover the heights. They will be supported by the infantry, which have been ordered. Advance on two fronts." What does this mean? Lord Lucan, who resented interference with him, put upon it this construction. He held that it was simply an order for the cavalry to advance; that it merely informed him that infantry had been ordered, which is nonsense; and that " advance on two fronts " did not apply to the infantry, but to the cavalry. Yet he describes himself as looking anxiously for the infantry, who, if they had been simply ordered, might have been ordered to attack Sebastopol for aught he knew. If he did not understand the order, he should have asked for an explanation. But Lord Raglan had interfered with him, and he chose to interpret the order as he pleased. The real meaning was, that the cavalry were to place themselves in a position to act, if occasion offered, and that the advancing infantry would support them. Lord Lucan affirms that he did advance the cavalry, and look out for an opportunity. Lord Raglan did not think so. For some reason he was not satisfied that the best thing had been done. Lord Raglan may have been wrong, and Lord Lucan right; but at that moment Lord Raglan was Commander-in-Chief, and Lord Lucan's troopers were part of his army, and he had an absolute right to say how they should be employed. Lord Lucan is a very able man and a good officer; but he appears to have held a wrong view of his relations to his commander. And it led to a glorious but tragic scene.

Feeling that Lord Lucan had not advanced far enough according to his view, Lord Raglan directed Quartermaster-General Airey to send the following instructions to Lord Lucan: " 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 of horse artillery may accompany. French cavalry is on your left. Immediate." These instructions - they were not called orders, but wishes - were placed in the hands of Captain Nolan, a far-famed cavalry officer, who believed British horsemen, well led, could ride over anything. Nolan galloped swiftly down the slope and over the plain, and drawing rein, presented the paper to Lord Lucan. " After carefully reading this order," writes Lord Lucan to Lord Raglan afterwards, "I hesitated, and urged the uselessness of such an attack, and the dangers attending it. The aide-de-camp [Nolan], in a most authoritative tone, stated that they were Lord Raglan's orders, that the cavalry should attack immediately. I asked [in a very complaining tone] ' Where, and what to do? ' [a sensible question], neither enemy nor guns being in sight. He [Nolan] replied, in a most disrespectful but significant manner, pointing to the further end of the valley, 'There, my lord, is your enemy; there are the guns! ' " Here is a dramatic interlude on a bare plain in the Crimea. An aide-de-camp brings written instructions to a lieutenant-general. These instructions are that a rapid advance - not attack - should be made, with the specific object of trying to prevent an enemy, who, as the instructions implied, was supposed to be retiring, from carrying off the British guns. The lieutenant-general jumps at the conclusion that he is to attack the Russian army with eight squadrons of light horse, and he naturally thinks this most dangerous and most useless. The aide-de-camp helps to confirm him in his erroneous views, that a rapid advance is synonymous with a desperate charge. Having construed the instructions to mean an order to attack, he appeals to the aide-de-camp» and that officer insolently points out what he is to attack. All this time both these officers have a written paper before them, which prescribes a quick advance to test the temper and intentions of the enemy, and not a fierce charge to destroy him; and with the paper in his pocket, and an erroneous construction of it converted into a fixed idea in his head, Lord Lucan, against his convictions, as he says, determined to hurl the Light Brigade against an army in position, regarding that glorious folly as the very thing Lord Raglan intended him to do. Yet Lord Raglan was a few hundred yards distant, and when there was such a difference between written instructions to advance, and a verbal order from an aide-de-camp to attack, surely duty dictated an application to Lord Raglan to decide what was really meant. But Lord Lucan did not like to be interfered with. He felt, moreover, as he told his peers, that had he disobeyed what he calls the order to attack, he would have been held responsible for ever for the loss of the guns. "Such would have been the censure thrown upon him, that he could not have shown himself to his division; that his existence would have been intolerable; and that he must have destroyed himself." Although the charge of the Light Brigade stands in the very first rank of glorious deeds of arms, yet it was none the less in great part the sacrifice of many to the misconception and the pride of one.

After the fierce dialogue we have recorded, Lord Lucan rode over to the Light Brigade. He found them dismounted, and orders were given to mount. " Lord Lucan," says Lord Cardigan, in a sworn affidavit, "then came to our front, and ordered me to attack the Russians in the valley. I replied, 'Certainly, sir; but allow me to point out to you that the Russians have a battery in our front, and batteries and riflemen on each flank.' Lord Lucan said, 'I cannot help that; it is Lord Raglan's positive order that the Light Brigade attacks immediately.' " Lord Raglan's " order," as it is called, we again repeat: - " Lord Raglan wishes the cavalry to advance rapidly to the front [Lord Lucan's order was to move beyond the front - nay, into the midst of the enemy's line of battle], follow the enemy [Lord Lucan's order was to attack a stationary force not then in retreat], and. try to prevent the enemy from carrying away the guns" [Lord Lucan's order was to charge the Russian army]. Instructions for an advance came from Lord Raglan; verbal orders to attack from Captain Nolan and Lord Lucan. Well might a thrill of horror run through the spectators on the heights, when they saw the Light Cavalry speed off to their glorious doom.

For at this moment the Russians presented a strong line of battle. The Fedoukine hills were black with heavy masses of infantry, no fewer than sixteen guns looked into the valley, and a body of foot Cossack riflemen were extended as skirmishers on the lower slopes; all this force of artillery and musketry being on the left flank of the valley down which Lord Lucan was about to hurl the Light Brigade. Across the mouth of the valley leading to the bridge over the Tchernaya and to Tchorgoun, with both flanks thrown well forward, stood the cavalry defeated by the heavy brigade, having in front, and parallel to the line of attack, a battery of guns belonging to a Cossack regiment. On the right of the line of advance two redoubts were occupied, and more than half the Russian infantry and a body of lancers were in position. Riflemen were extended along both sides of the valley. But, on our right flank, the artillery, except that in the second redoubt, fronted towards Balaclava. It was through a valley thus defended on the flanks, and thus barred at the end, that our Light Brigade were ordered to ride. The feat they accomplished is, perhaps, unparalleled in war.

Lord Cardigan had formed his ten squadrons in two lines, numbering from the right, the 13th Light Dragoons, the 17th Lancers, and the 11th Hussars; in the second, the 8th Hussars and the 4th Light Dragoons. Lord Lucan did not approve of this arrangement, and, drawing the 11th Hussars from the first line, he placed them in the left rear of the 17th Lancers. Thus the brigade formed three lines. The whole did not amount to many more than 600 men. Lord Cardigan took post in front of the centre of the first line. He was conspicuous, for he wore the uniform of the 11th Hussars, with its bright cherry-coloured trowsers and gorgeous jacket, and he rode a strong and beautiful chestnut horse, with white heels. The signal was given, and -

"Into the valley of death
Rode the six hundred."

The brigade went over the shoulder of the hill at a trot. At once they came under the fire of the guns on the Fedoukine heights. The brave Nolan was in the van. He had not gone far when a piece of shell struck him, ripping open his chest. His horse swerved round, and throwing his arms aloft, and shrieking so piercingly that his screams were heard above the uproar, he rode back into the brigade and fell dead. On went the brigade. In the race of death they had to run, the course was more than a mile long. The guns on their left, the battery in front, served by Cossacks - who only sponged out after every sixth round, so that their fire might be rapid - the guns from the redoubt, on their right, sent shot, and shell, and grape into the brilliant and swiftly gliding lines, the thunder of whose tramping hoofs was heard afar. The ranks were broken. Horses stumbled and rolled over, and rose again screaming with agony; and men fell, some shot dead, with the grim, smile of battle on their faces, some in mortal anguish some unhurt. The valley was strewed with heroes. The tempest of deadly hail ceased not to rush through the air. But on went the brigade, " with a halo of flashing steel above their heads," and a dauntless purpose in their hearts. The mere sight of this steadfast band swooping down upon them, made upon the Russians an impression so terrible, that they instinctively drew back. " Their fierce attack," writes General Liprandi, " forced General Rijoff to retire by the road that leads to Tchorgoun." The infantry on the left went back nearer to Kamara, and ran into squares. " The enemy's attack," continues Liprandi, " was most pertinacious. He charged our cavalry in spite of the grape fired with great precision from six guns of the light battery, No. 7, in spite of the fire of the skirmishers of the regiment ' Odessa' [on the Russian left], and of a company of riflemen on the right wing, and even unheeding the guns of General Yabrokritski," on the slopes of the Fedoukine heights. Even unheeding all this mass of destructive machinery, did the Light Brigade sweep on. The steadfast artillerymen fired their last round as the first line, rent and torn, closed upon the muzzles, and, with a fierce cheer, dashed in. The gunners were caught before they could retire, and only those escaped who crept under the guns and wagons. Some Cossacks charged to save their guns. Lord Cardigan had encounters with several, but escaped with a lance thrust through his sleeve, and then he " rode away apparently unhurt." After the first line came Colonel Douglas, with the 11th, and then the 4th and 8th. In a short space the first line, which had charged home so impetuously, was now broken into groups, and began to straggle back; but, some of them meeting the 11th, faced about once more and went on. All the regiments had passed the battery. Some of the men were even galloping right into the Russian cavalry, who had fallen back towards Tchorgoun.

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Pictures for Chapter XIX, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 8 page 4

Charge of the light brigade
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Lord Lyons
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