The Charge Of The Light Brigade

by Daniel Russ on September 12, 2010

Charge Of The Light Brigade

The Battle of Balaclava raged in 1854. On the 25th of October, French light cavalry and English light cavalry were amassed on the battlefield facing East where Russian Commander Pavel Liprandi had 20 infantry battalions and fifty pieces of artillery, all of Liprandi’s forces were famous and blooded Cossack units. The English cavalry assembled there was a lesson in history with proud units who were formed and fought as far back as wars with Frederick the Soldier King and Napolean.

Charge Of The Light Brigade Timeline

The 13th Light Dragoons, the 17th Lancers, the 11th Hussars were under the command of the Earl of Cardigan. Behind them were heavy cavalry including the Scots Greys Battalion, the 4th Royal Irish Guards and the 5th Dragoon Guards and the 6th Inniskilling Dragoons.

The cavalry commander was the Earl of Lucan. He gave the order to Lord Cardigan to charge the Russian artillery redoubts to the west on the top of a long slope into what is known as the Causeway Heights with about 600 of 1300 mounted soldiers on the field. There was an order given from higher up to take the high hills to the north called the Fedoukin Heights. Couriers and officers carried the message to Cardigan that we was in fact to just charge immediately. He assumed that Lucan would bring up the Heavy Cavalry in support.

James Thomas Brudenell 7th Earl Of Cardigan By Sir Francis Grant

It’s very important to note that there was a rumor that Lucan, and Cardigan, brothers in law, despised each other and nursed wounds that went back over two decades.

The good news was that the Light Brigade charge actually broke the Cossack Line where confused and vicious fighting ensued, lines mixed, cannon smoke filled the air and occluded views.

The bad news is that the Light Brigade left with over 600 horsemen and less than 200 were still riding at the end of this charge. If you look at the map, you see that the charged headed lengthwise into a gauntlet of Cossack cannons. The second volley the Russians fired was grape shot and canister, sort of a shotgun shell/cannon charge. Reporters observing on both hills north and south said it was a bloody mess and a slaughter. Many of the survivors were gunned down retreating.

Also, Lacun did not support the charge quipping “I see no point in having another brigade mown down.” People suspected it their inimical relationship that was the impetus for sitting there amidst the carnage. The London Gazette’s writer Raglan made the accusation in articles about the slaughter. Publicly the fight between Lucan and Raglan went on for years.

Alfred Lord Tennyson’s famous eponymous poem was said to be a critique about the futility of war and the waste of good lives of brave men.

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.


“Forward, the Light Brigade!”
Was there a man dismay’d?
Not tho’ the soldier knew
Someone had blunder’d:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.


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.

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.


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.


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.



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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike November 20, 2010 at 4:23 am

Hmm. Can anyone explain why the painting at the top of this section is labelled ‘the charge of the light brigade’, when it is patently the charge of the heavy brigade at the battle of waterloo? The picture shows british heavy dragoon guards actually fighting french cuirassiers, with french infantrymen caught up in the action.

Daniel Russ November 22, 2010 at 8:17 am

Problem is mine. Travelling now. Will fix later. thsnks for pointing this out.

Trev Gray January 2, 2011 at 6:30 am

I am sure that the Light Brigade also had the 4th Light Dragoons and the 8th King’s Royal Irish Hussars in their number. If not the my Regiment has been celebrating the 25th Oct for all the wrong reasons???

Daniel Russ January 2, 2011 at 9:56 am

Can’t find any reference to those units.

Not arguing the point. Just don’t see them listed. please send urls along if you have them

Thanks for the visit

Mario January 15, 2011 at 3:31 pm

I’ve heard even two men of a Sardinian royal cavalry were there as observation members.
Can someone confirm this rumor?

Mike Hunter April 19, 2020 at 1:10 pm

The illustration used is a representation of Lady Butler’s painting “Scotland Forever” depicting the Scots Greys charging at Waterloo almost 40years earlier. They were indeed present at Balaklava but as pointed out by (another) Mike in an earlier post were heavy cavalry and took no part in the charge. They were involved in the more successful “Charge of the Heavy Brigade” where General James Scarlett led them and the Inniskillins uphill to rout Russian cavalry on Causeway Heights, earlier in the day. (Tennyson also wrote “The Charge of the Heavy Brigade” but it is not so well known).
Regarding the other regiments:
The Earl of Cardigan had been an officer in the 8th Hussars from 1824 to 1830
Brevet-Colonel Lord George Paget notoriously led it into the Charge smoking a cheroot.
Hope this helps.

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