Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Charge Of The Light Brigade, Literacy Connection

video
The Tennyson poem and the historical context
The Charge of the Light Brigade
Alfred, Lord Tennyson
1.
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.
2.
"Forward, the Light Brigade!"
Was there a man dismay'd?
Not tho' the soldier knew
Someone had blunder'd:
Their's not to make reply,
Their's not to reason why,
Their's but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
3.
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley'd and thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.
4.
Flash'd all their sabres bare,
Flash'd as they turn'd in air,
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army, while
All the world wonder'd:
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right thro' the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian
Reel'd from the sabre stroke
Shatter'd and sunder'd.
Then they rode back, but not
Not the six hundred.
5.
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volley'd and thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell,
They that had fought so well
Came thro' the jaws of Death
Back from the mouth of Hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred.
6.
When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wondered.
Honor the charge they made,
Honor the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred.

Charge of the Light Brigade,
Date 25 October 1854
Casualties
118 men killed, 127 wounded
The Charge of the Light Brigade was a disastrous cavalry charge led by Lord Cardigan during the Battle of Balaclava on 25 October 1854 in the Crimean War. It is best remembered as the subject of a famous poem entitled The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, whose lines have made the charge a symbol of warfare at both its most courageous and its most tragic.

The charge was made by the Light Brigade of the British cavalry, consisting of the 4th and 13th Light Dragoons, 17th Lancers, and the 8th and 11th Hussars, under the command of Major General the Earl of Cardigan. Together with the Heavy Brigade comprising the 4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards, the 5th Dragoon Guards, the 6th Inniskilling Dragoons and the Scots Greys, commanded by Major General James Yorke Scarlett, himself a past Commanding Officer of the 5th Dragoon Guards, these units were the main British cavalry force at the battle. Overall command of the cavalry resided with the Earl of Lucan.

Lucan received an immediate order from the army commander Lord Raglan stating that "Lord Raglan wishes the cavalry to advance rapidly to the front, follow the enemy, and try to prevent the enemy carrying away the guns. Horse artillery may accompany. French cavalry is on your left. Immediate." The order was drafted by Brigadier Airey and was carried by Captain Louis Edward Nolan, who may have carried further oral instructions, but as he was killed during the charge this remains conjecture.

In response to the order, Cardigan led 673 (some sources state 661) cavalry men straight into the valley between the Fedyukhin Heights and the Causeway Heights, famously dubbed the "Valley of Death" by the poet Tennyson. The opposing Russian forces were commanded by Pavel Liprandi and included approximately 20 battalions of infantry supported by over fifty artillery pieces. These forces were deployed on both sides and at the opposite end of the valley.

It appears that the order was understood by Cardigan to refer to the mass of Russian guns in a redoubt at the end of the valley, around a mile away, when Raglan had in fact been referring to a set of redoubts on the reverse slope of the hill forming the left side of the valley (from the point of view of the cavalry). Although these latter redoubts were clearly visible from Raglan's vantage point, they were hidden from the view of the Light Brigade on the floor of the valley.

The Brigade set off down the valley. Nolan was seen to rush across the front, possibly in an attempt to stop them, but was killed by an artillery shell.

The Light Brigade was able to engage the Russian forces at the end of the valley and force them back from the redoubt, but suffered heavy casualties and was soon forced to retire. Lucan failed to provide any support for Cardigan, and it is speculated that he was motivated by enmity for his brother-in-law. The troops of the Heavy Brigade entered the mouth of the valley but did not advance further. The French cavalry, the Chasseurs d'Afrique, were more effective in that they broke the Russian line on the Fedyukhin Heights and later provided cover for the remaining elements of the Light Brigade as they withdrew.

Cardigan survived the battle and subsequently described the engagement in a speech delivered at the Mansion House in London, which was quoted in length in the House of Commons afterwards:

"We advanced down a gradual descent of more than three-quarters of a mile, with the batteries vomiting forth upon us shells and shot, round and grape, with one battery on our right flank and another on the left, and all the intermediate ground covered with the Russian riflemen; so that when we came to within a distance of fifty yards from the mouths of the artillery which had been hurling destruction upon us, we were, in fact, surrounded and encircled by a blaze of fire, in addition to the fire of the riflemen upon our flanks.

As we ascended the hill, the oblique fire of the artillery poured upon our rear, so that we had thus a strong fire upon our front, our flank, and our rear. We entered the battery - we went through the battery - the two leading regiments cutting down a great number of the Russian gunners in their onset. In the two regiments which I had the honour to lead, every officer, with one exception, was either killed or wounded, or had his horse shot under him or injured. Those regiments proceeded, followed by the second line, consisting of two more regiments of cavalry, which continued to perform the duty of cutting down the Russian gunners.

Then came the third line, formed of another regiment, which endeavoured to complete the duty assigned to our brigade. I believe that this was achieved with great success, and the result was that this body, composed of only about 670 men, succeeded in passing through the mass of Russian cavalry of - as we have since learned - 5,240 strong; and having broken through that mass, they went, according to our technical military expression, "threes about," and retired in the same manner, doing as much execution in their course as they possibly could upon the enemy's cavalry. Upon our returning up the hill which we had descended in the attack, we had to run the same gauntlet and to incur the same risk from the flank fire of the Tirailleurs [riflemen] as we had encountered before. Numbers of our men were shot down - men and horses were killed, and many of the soldiers who had lost their horses were also shot down while endeavouring to escape.

But what, my Lord, was the feeling and what the bearing of those brave men who returned to the position. Of each of these regiments there returned but a small detachment, two-thirds of the men engaged having been destroyed? I think that every man who was engaged in that disastrous affair at Balaklava, and who was fortunate enough to come out of it alive, must feel that it was only by a merciful decree of Almighty Providence that he escaped from the greatest apparent certainty of death which could possibly be conceived."

The brigade was not completely destroyed, but did suffer terribly, with 118 men killed, 127 wounded. After regrouping, only 195 men were still with horses. The futility of the action and its reckless bravery prompted the French Marshal Pierre Bosquet to state "C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre." ("It's magnificent, but it isn't war.") Rarely quoted, but he continued: "C'est de la folie"- "it's madness." (ref. see below at 4) The Russian commanders are said to have initially believed that the British soldiers must have been drunk. The reputation of the British cavalry was significantly enhanced as a result of the charge, though the same cannot be said for their commanders.

Slow communications meant that news of the disaster did not reach the British public until three weeks after the action. The British commanders' dispatches from the front were published in an extraordinary edition of the London Gazette of 12 November 1854. Raglan blamed Lucan for the charge, claiming that "from some misconception of the order to advance, the Lieutenant-General (Lucan) considered that he was bound to attack at all hazards, and he accordingly ordered Major-General the Earl of Cardigan to move forward with the Light Brigade."

In March 1855, Lucan was recalled to England. The Charge of the Light Brigade became a subject of considerable controversy and public dispute on his return. He strongly rejected Raglan's version of events, calling it "an imputation reflecting seriously on my professional character". In an exchange of public correspondence printed in the pages of The Times of London, Lucan blamed Raglan and his deceased aide-de-camp Captain Nolan, who had been the actual deliverer of the disputed order. Lucan subsequently defended himself with a speech in the House of Lords on 19 March.

Lucan evidently escaped blame for the charge, as he was made a member of the Order of the Bath in July of that same year. Although he never again saw active duty he reached the rank of General in 1865 and was made a Field Marshal in the year before his death.

The charge of the Light Brigade continues to be studied by modern military historians and students as an example of what can go wrong when accurate military intelligence is lacking and orders are unclear. Sir Winston Churchill, who was a keen military historian and a former cavalryman, insisted on taking time out during the Yalta Conference in 1945 to see the battlefield for himself.

The fate of the surviving members of the Charge was investigated by Edward James Boys, a military historian, who documented their lives from leaving the army to their deaths. His records are described as being the most definitive project of its kind ever undertaken.

In 2004, on the 150th anniversary of the Charge, a commemoration of the event was held at Balaklava. As part of the anniversary, a monument dedicated to the 25,000 British victims of the conflict has been unveiled by the HRH Prince Michael of Kent.

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