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Battle of Balaclava
The Battle of Balaclava was fought on 25th October 1854. This was a major battle fought in the Crimean War, when Britain, France and Turkey joined forces to beat back the Russian army. If the Russians won this battle they would be in complete control of the Dardanelles, the bottleneck of ocean leading into the Black Sea. Once in control they could block the free flow of allied shipping into the Black Sea. The allies had landed at Alma on 14th September and thoroughly routed the Russian Army, but Instead of following up this victory by pursuing and slaughtering the Russians, the allies allowed them to retreat and regroup. This was a bad mistake.
The Thin Red Line
The Allies then prepared for the seige of Sevastopol, the Russian stronghold. The British Armies were under the command of Lord Raglan, and the French, under Marshall Saint Arnaud. The French Army occupied Kamiesh on the West of the peninsula while the British moved to the Southern port of Balaclava. The British position committed them to the defence of the right flank of the siege operations, although Raglan did not have enough troops to cover this operation. The Russian General, Liprandi, with 25,000 men, took advantage of this and prepared to attack the defences in and around Balaclava, with the view to cutting off the supply chains between the British base and their siege lines.
Then the Russian artillery and infantry attacked the Turkish redoubts that formed the first line of defence. Initially, the Turks resisted the Russian assaults, but they were eventually forced to retreat. With the redoubts now in Russian hands their cavalry engaged the second defensive line held by the Turks and the Scottish 93rd Highland Regiment. Even though the Scots and Turks were greatly outnumbered they repulsed the attack. This was later famously called the Thin Red Line. General Scarlett, leading the British Heavy Brigade then charged the wavering Russians and forced them to retreat.
Lord Raglan was getting anxious. He wanted to exploit Scarlett's success and drive the Russians off the Causeway Heights where they were mustering their heavy artillery. They had cannons on both sides of the North Valley's heights and a further ten to fourteen cannon looking directly down the valley towards the gathering British troops. He had been promised Cathcart's and Cambridge's infantry divisions as back up but they had not yet arrived and every minute that passed gave the Russians more time to prepare their defences. Raglan's staff observed that the Russians were removing the British guns they had captured from the Turks. This was a disaster as they could then be used against the British troops. He gave the order to the Cavalry Division to advance on two fronts and recover the Heights. This order resulted in a misunderstanding, as Lord Lucan had assumed he was first to wait for the infantry before moving forward. Lucan therefore ordered the Light Brigade into the North Valley, and the Heavy Brigade to hold the entrance to the South Valley, maybe in response to the order 'Advance on two fronts'. Lucan believed he had complied with the order as far as he could until the infantry arrived, but Raglan looked on with growing impatience at his immobile cavalry. Furiously, Raglan dictated to General Richard Airey his final order to Lord Lucan which was to advance the cavalry and secure the guns. Airey's messenger, Captain Louis Nolan was ordered to deliver the message to Lucan.
As he turned his horse to head directly down the escarpment, Raglan called after him – "Tell Lord Lucan the cavalry is to attack immediately."
Lucan was confused when he received the order as he could not see the captured British guns from his position on the valley floor, all he could see were the Russians on the steep sides of the hills and the guns at the far end of the valley. Lucan asked Nolan which guns Raglan was referring to. Nolan was said to have flung his arm out in the general direction of the Russian cavalry positioned behind its guns at the end of the North Valley and to have snapped, “There is your enemy. There are your guns, My Lord."
Lucan then directed Lord Cardigan to charge the Russian cavalry and guns at the end of the North Valley. Stunned by this madness, Cardigan nevertheless ordered his brigade to mount and led it forward into the valley.
Raglan and his staff were horrified to see the Light Brigade forming up and starting to charge down the valley instead of climbing the heights to recover the British guns. The Russians were on three sides of the valley of death, pouring shells, bullets and grenades into Cardigans charging cavalry. It was slaughter on a grand scale, and when the Light Brigade got to the end of the valley, they charged into the Russians cutting slashing and stabbing the crews of the guns that had decimated their numbers. On they charged into the Russian cavalry behind the guns, scattering them and pursuing them, cutting them down.
When the charge was over the Light Brigade returned down the valley in small groups, clearing up any Russian resistance that was still there.
At the muster after the charge, the Light Brigade had a mounted strength of 195 officers and men from an original strength of 673. Cardigan survived the charge but Nolan was killed.
This glorious charge inspired Alfred Lord Tennyson, the Poet Laureate at the time to write his classic poem, 'The Charge of the Light Brigade.'
Lord Tennyson's poem
- SparkNotes: Tennyson’s Poetry: “The Charge of the Light Brigade”
A summary of “The Charge of the Light Brigade” in Alfred Lord Tennyson's Tennyson’s Poetry. Learn exactly what happened in this chapter, scene, or section of Tennyson’s Poetry and what it means. Perfect for acing essays, tests, and quizzes, as well a