History – The Charge of the Light Brigade – What Went Wrong?

6 Sep

If you ask a dozen people in the street whether they’ve heard of the Charge of the Light Brigade, they’ll almost certainly all say they have. If you ask them definitively what went wrong, few, if any, will know. So let’s tell the story of this glorious disaster that occurred during the Battle of Balaclava, on the 25th. of October, 1854.

The Officer Commanding the British Army was Lord Raglan. He wanted to prevent the Russians from taking away the naval guns from the redoubts they’d captured on the other side of the hill, named the Causeway Heights, that formed the left side of the valley. This is the valley named by Alfred, Lord Tennyson as “The Valley of Death” in his famous poem.

The order, which I give verbatim, was issued by Lord Raglan and drafted by Brigadier Richard Airey. It read as follows;

“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. Immediate.”

Now, this was all very fine and large for Raglan, because he could see what was happening, perched as he was on top of the Causeway Heights on the west of the valley. However, the officer commanding the cavalry, Lieutenant General, the Earl of Lucan, on the other hand, together with his cavalry, had no idea what was going on because of the lie of the land where they were situated.

The officer given the task of carrying the message was Captain Louis Nolan. He was further charged with the oral instruction that the cavalry was to attack immediately.

Nolan dutifully gave the message to Lucan, adding the oral instruction. Lucan, remember, couldn’t see, so he asked Nolan to what guns he referred. Nolan, apparently, gave an indication with a sweep of his arm, the Russian guns massed at the end of the valley, not those in the Causeway redoubts. Why he misdirected so disastrously, no-one will ever know, for he was killed in the ensuing battle.

The Light Brigade itself was under the command of Major General, the Earl of Cardigan, and consisted of the 4th. and 13th. Light Dragoons, the 17th. Lancers, and the 8th. and 11th. Hussars.

Lucan responded to Raglan’s order by telling Cardigan to take his cavalry, some 673, (although the exact figure is in dispute), right into the valley between the Causeway Heights and Fedyukhin Heights. Lucan was to follow with his Heavy Brigade.

It didn’t help one bit that Lucan and Cardigan were brothers-in-law who had hated each other with a passion for thirty years.

Was this Lucan’s chance to rid himself of his personal enemy?

Source by Mike Bond

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