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Old 30th September 2022, 09:08 PM   #1
Jim McDougall
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Default Valley of the Shadow of Death

This epithet used by Lord Tennyson in his immortal poem of December 1854 evokes Psalm 23 and the phrase used by British soldiers in the Crimea telling of the 'Charge of the Light Brigade' October 25, 1854 at Balaklava.

"...half a league, half a league, half a league onward,
All in the Valley of Death rode the Six Hundred".
He went on to describe ,
" ...cannon to the right of them, cannon to the left of them,
cannon in front of them, volleyed and thundered".

In 1855, the photographer Roger Fenton, went to the Crimea to photograph the elements of what was the Crimean War (1854-56), which became the very beginning of photography in the reporting on war. He wanted to dramatize the 'Charge' and the Seige of Sebastopol.
He went to a location in which a road was littered with cannon balls, that was in actuality several miles from the true charge location, and took two images.
One of these has the balls, aside the road in a ditch, while the other had them littered all over the road, as if left where they fell after being fired.

He published "Panorama of the Plateau of Sebastopol in Eleven Parts" in September 1855. In this, the second photo with cannon balls all over the road was titled, 'Valley of the Shadow of Death".
In this controversial photo, investigation has proven in degree that the photo published was apparently 'staged'

The last photo is of the area of the 'Valley of Death' in Crimea as seen about 15 years ago, mostly vineyards.
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Old 30th September 2022, 10:20 PM   #2
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Default The Charge

The fateful charge into the 'Valley of Death' resulted from an unfortunate misinterpretation of a written order from the commanding officer of the British cavalry which was carried to the ranking officer of the cavalry. There was considerable distance between them over notable terrain and the order was carried by a young officer who was anxious to begin the action.

The order had intended for the cavalry to advance and to keep the Russian enemy from carrying away captured British guns from redoubts to the right.
Not having the scope of vision that Lord Raglan had overseeing the entire valley Lord Lucan could not see what was meant, visually. When he asked the young aide 'what guns' , he frantically motioned ahead to the North Valley. While this seemed ludicrous to Lucan, as there were heavily armed positions on all sides there, he ordered the advance ...it was the order.

Though Tennyson's poem suggests the entire body of the force (600) were all lost. and while numbers seem varied, one of the largest losses were the horses, almost 475 killed. The men lost were 118 killed, 127 wounded, about 60 captured.
Despite the terrible carnage, many of the survivors were prepared to 'go again' however only 195 still had mounts, and they were told they had done enough for that day.

The order carried would have been held in a pouch which was slung from the same straps as held the saber scabbard, called a sabretache. This type of pouch would likely have held the fateful order carried by Lt. Nolan, the aide who was attached to the force despite being from another unit, 15th hussars.

The front line of the charge was the 17th Lancers, whose emblem was the skull and crossbones, motto "Death or Glory". The sabretache attached is of the type worn by them at this time and can be seen in some paintings of the charge (though the skull device not always discernible).

The 13th light Dragoons and 11th Hussars were also first line,
the second line were 4th Light Dragoons and 8th Hussars.

The Fenton photo is of survivors , 13th Light dragoons

Another photo of a light dragoon.

the sabers carried by the light brigade, the M1829 and the M1853 (of which only nominal numbers had been issued.
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Old 3rd October 2022, 02:55 PM   #3
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The Valley of the Shadow of Death is also where Christian spends a night and described in great detail in John Bunyan's 'Pilgrim's Progess'. Published
in 1678 and never out of print.
This allegory would have been known to every Englishman in the mid 19Cent.
It is at the bottom of the centre column.
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Old 3rd October 2022, 08:22 PM   #4
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I've read somewhere that many Brits still had the older 1821 pipe back blades, not terribly good cutters, and too flexible to thrust through Russian greatcoats.


The photographer of the road likely replaced the cannon balls in the road for effect, after the fact. That was a busy supply road and the Supply corps would have pushed them off to the sides.
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Old 3rd October 2022, 09:05 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Richard G View Post
The Valley of the Shadow of Death is also where Christian spends a night and described in great detail in John Bunyan's 'Pilgrim's Progess'. Published
in 1678 and never out of print.
This allegory would have been known to every Englishman in the mid 19Cent.
It is at the bottom of the centre column.
Regards
Richard
Richard thank you for responding! and this is a great illustration of the allegory with this phrase, which is of course also Biblical. It most definitely brought forth the impact Tennyson intended with his 1855 work, which was motivated by his desire to raise funds to help wounded veterans. Many of the wounded were terribly maimed in battle, and in this debacle at Balaklava the graphic detail of the effect of cannon fire was devastating.
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Old 3rd October 2022, 09:50 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kronckew View Post
I've read somewhere that many Brits still had the older 1821 pipe back blades, not terribly good cutters, and too flexible to thrust through Russian greatcoats.


The photographer of the road likely replaced the cannon balls in the road for effect, after the fact. That was a busy supply road and the Supply corps would have pushed them off to the sides.
Thank you Wayne! It does seem there was a variance in the equipment of the different units of course, though the M1821 light cavalry saber was prevalent (along with the M1822 for officers) both three bar hilts.

There was a disruption in the production of the M1821 light cavalry saber from what I understand, and production did not resume fully until 1829. This is why these are often termed M1829. I was not aware that the early models had pipe back blades.

It was not known until recent years (mostly thanks to research by Richard Dellar , "The British Cavalry Sword: Some New Perspectives", 2013) that the M1853 cavalry saber for both light and heavy cavalry was present in some degree at Balaklava.

In later years at survivors reunions etc. it seems there were cases of M1796 light cavalry stirrup hilt sabers inscribed and presented.

The Russian great coats were a test for virtually all sword blades and that issue was brought up constantly over many of the British swords in the Crimea.

The two photos of the 'valley' by Roger Fenton in 1855 were probably staged as per the practice of photographers in so many cases in war or military images.
All that is known is the actual location of these photos was some distance from the location of the actual charge. as you note, these spent balls would have been moved off the road with the traffic of supply, equipment and forces.
I have thought (though it is not indicated) that this might be the Wozoronoff Road, which if the case, was near several of the British redoubts. It does seem that often with artillery, spent shot was retrieved and used for further action, but unclear how much of the Russian fire was shot, shell and canister.
It is known that both Russian and British had 12 pounder guns.

One thing I wanted to achieve in this thread, is to determine just how many Russian guns there were; the sizes included; and where positioned.

Also, I am curious why there has never been any archaeological study of the Balaklava battle field, and why there are no known (substantiated) relics of the battle from the field. It would be interesting to know if any examples of spent shot or shells were taken as souvenirs. I know Mark Twain visited there in the 1860s and I think found something but cannot locate notes.

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Old 4th October 2022, 12:35 AM   #7
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Jim, I believe the 1821 troopers blade was fullered while officers blades may have been pipeback as were infantry officers swords. Or the confusion could come from artillery officers swords which had an infantry blade but the light cavalry 3 bar hilt.

Robert
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Old 4th October 2022, 04:43 AM   #8
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Jim I've occasionally seen souvenirs from the Crimean War at auction with old engraved plates or painted on. I've seen some horseshoes with silver fittings engraved.
Presentation swords of the Charge of the Light Brigade are the older 1796 pattern LC swords. Of course they could not use the swords they carried being current issue at the time.
I have trooper swords with correct early maker and inspection markings and regimental markings and would most likely have participated in the charges. I believe that is as close as one can get.
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Old 4th October 2022, 06:03 AM   #9
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Robert and Will, thank you very much. After checking further in copies of "The British Cavalry Sword 1788-1912" (Richard Dellar, 2013) and "Swords of the British Army" (Brian Robson, 1985) I can recall some of the particulars on these light cavalry swords.

The M1821 light cavalry troopers saber indeed had a new type blade for both cut and thrust which was not with pipe back, while in many cases officers swords did have them. The production of these m1821 swords began in 1823, with about 6000 done by 1825. While there were some complaints about them by 1827, it was mostly about being 'too light' but the scabbards were most of the issue. It seems these complaints were finally set aside and the swords remained in use until the introduction of the M1853 (for both light and heavy cavalry troopers).

In these transitional times there surely was confusion on designations etc.

Richard Dellar discusses the 'Balaclava presentation swords' in a chapter of his book, and three of these swords which are all M1796 light cavalry sabers which all have oval escutcheons with "BALACLAVA OCTOBER25, 1854"
There are regimental markings on the guard bottom, two for 17th Lancers, one for 4th Hussars (4th Light Dragoons at time of charge).
It is believed these were likely issued by the Balaclava Commemoration Society, which was begin in 1875.

The unit markings it seems were intended to align with those of the men these were presented to, but do not seem purported to have been carried in the charge.

I agree with Will, swords with proper unit markings and other markings which set in correct period can possibly have been in the charge, but no way to prove without proper provenance.

In Dellar (op.cit. p.120; 13.6, 13.7) a M1821 light cavalry saber is shown as by Charles Reeves & Co. of Birmingham, with notation of 'Reeves hilt' . It says this form is believed to have started in 1829, which is about the time some of the consternation on these swords was taking place, partly noting the hilts were of concern. I have always wondered what the number 111 was for.
It is tempting to think perhaps numbering in test examples but no record of such tests are recorded, and these remained in service until arrival of the M1853.
Interestingly Reeves held the patent for the 'sandwich' application of the new grips to tang of the new M1853 sabers. It has been noted that some of the first examples of these had blades from Solingen by the maker Kirschbaum, as in this example to supply to troops departing for Crimea (op. cit. Dellar, p.136, pl.15.9 showing knights head mark).
Both of these types were on the field at Balaclava.
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Old 5th October 2022, 04:55 AM   #10
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An 1821p HC 4th DG sword
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Old 5th October 2022, 06:16 AM   #11
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Thank you Will! excellent example, especially with regiment markings.
These heavy cavalry versions of the 1821 swords are one of the tougher patterns to find, as I recall when I was collecting these back in the 70s.
It seems many of these ended up being repurposed into practice swords with rebated blades, and I think many in stores were lost in a fire in the Tower.

On the 25th, prior to the Light Brigade action, the Heavy Brigade was involved in action at Balaclava in quite a successful, as well as incredible battle against huge odds vs. the Russian army. With the Light Brigade advance into the North Valley the Heavy Brigade followed for a distance, but as the Light Brigade was decimated by the murderous fire from all sides, they were held back so as not to be lost as well.
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Old 5th October 2022, 04:29 PM   #12
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Default Guns and Glory

In the warfare in the times of the Crimean War (1853-56), the capture of cannons as trophies even more than their obvious importance as weapons to be reused in battle, was a well established objective. To 'lose' them in a battle was essentially a disgrace. In a battle where defense was no longer tenable, it was the duty of the gunners to 'spike' or disable the guns rather than allow them to be taken for reuse.

This military notion was essentially behind what became one of the most glorified, tragic, yet militarily inconsequential events in military history. This entire action in the Battle of Balaclava was the result of poor leadership, the obstinance of commanding officers, and this very notion about 'guns'.

In the defenses set up by the British in these areas near Balaclava, which were basically two valleys, North and South, separated by a long ridge called 'Causeway Heights' as the key supply road (Wozoronov Road) ran along the top of this terrain.
The British built 6 artillery redoubts along this escarpment, however only 4 were actually armed, while 5 and 6 were not. These were clumsily constructed and weak, armed with British 12 pounder naval guns and manned by Turks ((Warner, p.65).

In actions of earlier in these areas, while the British forces had scored some notable victory with the Heavy Brigade and infantry over Russian forces, a Russian field battery had captured these redoubts after they were abandoned by the Turks manning them.

In the scope of all this, the British commander overall was Lord Raglan, a venerable officer of the Napoleonic campaigns, who was situated in an elevated vantage point some 600 feet above the terrain of these valleys and the Causeway Heights.

To his dismay, he could see the Russians with artillery horses with lasso tackle preparing to remove the captured British guns from the redoubts (Woodham-Smith, p.231). This would not do! With this, he issued one of the most fateful orders in military history, to advance the Light Brigade to the Heights to prevent the Russians from carrying away the guns. The written order was given to the young ADC to the Heavy Cavalry commander Lord Lucan, Lt. Lewis Nolan, who excitedly rode down the terrain to deliver it to him.

Frustrated at having been held back through the days action, Nolan gave Lucan the order, which made no sense to him as he was situated in the lower terrain and could not see what guns Raglan was talking about. Overcome by anxious rage, Nolan made the impetuous, and fatal gesture pointing in the direction of the North Valley rather than specifying the Causeway Heights.
Rather than further discussing the order, despite it directing the forces into a valley heavily armed on all sides by the Russians, Lucan stubbornly ordered the advance.

This was the entire issue, the personal issues between the officers drove the failure to properly understand an order simply to stop the unseemly removal of the captured British guns which was offensive to the British Commander. There was no strategic or tactical importance specifically, and the order assumed that Lucan would know just what guns were meant.

As the cavalry advanced, at a certain distance it became apparent that they were not wheeling to the right, to the Causeway Heights, but instead riding straight into the North Valley into a suicidal gauntlet of Russian artillery on all sides!

As the brigades rode onward, the ranks were decimated in the horrific fire from all sides, the Heavy Brigade dropped back as the Light Brigade ahead rode into sure death. There was never a 'charge' ordered nor sounded (the trumpeter was now killed)....in fact there were lancers in front who reached the gun batteries with lances still in the buckets!

It was as if, the men of the Light Brigade had not expected this suicidal ride into blazing cannon, but expected to be directed into a flanking movement at some point. As they had not, and were fully into the hellish fire, the natural reaction is to get past it.....so it became a 'charge' out of pure necessity to get out of the line of fire. The entire point of this situation immortalized by Tennyson, "theirs was not to reason why, theirs was but to do and die".

In this thread, as I had mentioned earlier, I have hoped to learn more on the artillery aspects of this action in the Battle of Balaclava October 25, 1854.
While we know the British guns were naval twelve pounders, it is unclear how many were in the redoubts, and just what type of guns were they? It does not seem like they would have been on the usual deck carraiges as how would they be transported?

With the Russian artillery, what I have been trying to determine is, just what types of guns were they using, how many, and the types of ammunition being used (i.e. shot, shell, canister).
Also, were the Russians using the British guns in the redoubts or simply focused on taking them away?
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Old 5th October 2022, 06:31 PM   #13
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Hi,
An 1821 LC sabre marked to Osborn, a mid Victorian regimental, Ayrshire Yeomanry, pillbox hat of the type common to the British Army of the time and a few photos one showing an 1821 pattern being worn and a retouched and coloured photo of Cornet Wilkin of the 11th Hussars. Both photos are by Fenton.
Regards,
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Old 6th October 2022, 01:49 AM   #14
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Norman I've owned two 1821p LC troopers by Sargant , identical to the Osborn pictured with washer and tang peened over it. Also marked A/4. Both had 33 inch blades and were for the American market.
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Old 6th October 2022, 03:51 PM   #15
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Hi Will,
With the sword in hand I'm sure it is a crowned 4 which is of course a British acceptance mark. My sword has a 35 1/2 inch blade and is 7/16 inches thick at the ricasso. The blade is sharpened for the first 25 inches plus 4 inches at the false edge. I've no reason to suspect that this sword is not British issue. Thanks for the info, I did not realise that these were exported to the U.S.
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Old 6th October 2022, 04:51 PM   #16
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Thank you for these examples guys! It really adds great perspective here to look into the types of weaponry used in this war, and for purposes here, in this battle.
During the Civil War there was considerable export of arms and materials to the Confederate forces from Great Britain, as the Confederate industrial capacity was relatively limited to that of the Union. While the use of swords during the war was not necessarily prevalent, they were certainly present throughout.

With the M1853 swords, there was one British firm producing these for the Confederacy exclusively, I believe it was Isaac & Co.
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Old 7th October 2022, 08:59 AM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Will M View Post
An 1821p HC 4th DG sword
I had missed commenting on this Will,
This is amazing to see one of these with these markings! which certainly suggests one of the swords at Balaclava. The 4th Dragoon Guards were of course part of the Heavy Brigade, whose clash with up to 3000 Russians with their number of 600+ on the morning of October 25, 1854 was nothing short of remarkable.
In "Nolan of Balaclava" H. Moyse-Bartlett (1971, p.212) it is noted that "..among such tightly packed horsemen, the sword was difficult to wield.The Russian weapons were blunter than the English".

In "The Crimean War" (R.L.V.French-Blake, 1972, p.77) "..,the redcoats hacked their way through the grey enemy masses until the Russian force began to sway and melt".

These seem contrasting in the view toward the use of the sword, with suggestions of the British swords being blunt. Most other accounts note extremely effective results with British saber cuts in this action.

It is interesting to note the disciplined training of the British troopers in this account from a wounded Heavy Brigade dragoon, "...I had just cut five (a body cut) at a Russian, and the damned fool never guarded at all, but hit me on the head".
This was recounted by Sir Evelyn Wood regarding the formal style of sword fighting taught to British cavalrymen. A man would stab or slash first, then return the sword to a guarding position to protect against his enemys return blow. Each of the prescribed cuts or slashes was designated by a number.

From "Death or Glory" (Robert Edgerton, 1999, p.223) citing Sir Evelyn Wood, "The Crimea in 1854 and 1894", 1895.

It is amazing to think of the descriptions of this action with the Heavy cavalry literally disappearing into the sea of grey coats, then to see them all disperse away from them. Had this combat been properly supported by the Light Brigade at the time, the outcome at Balaclava would have been quite different.
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Old 7th October 2022, 09:08 AM   #18
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Originally Posted by Norman McCormick View Post
Hi,
An 1821 LC sabre marked to Osborn, a mid Victorian regimental, Ayrshire Yeomanry, pillbox hat of the type common to the British Army of the time and a few photos one showing an 1821 pattern being worn and a retouched and coloured photo of Cornet Wilkin of the 11th Hussars. Both photos are by Fenton.
Regards,
Norman.
This is an great M1821 example, and interesting with the Osborn markings. According to Robson (1975) this would date pre-1844 so was well in use by the Crimean War. That pillbox hat is amazing! I dont think I've ever seen an example of one of these.
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Old 7th October 2022, 08:05 PM   #19
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Default Heavy Brigade and swords

In previous post I was describing the sword disciplines of the British, but in one line it was suggested that the British swords were as 'blunt as the Russians swords'. In further reading, this does not seem the case, though it is made clear that the Russian swords were indeed blunt.

In "Hell Riders" (Terry Brighton, 2004) very well researched accounts from Balaclava survivors better tell this.
p.94, as charge was sounded and the Heavies went into the huge mass of Russians (the British outnumbered by at least 3 to 1) it is noted they seemed astonished and went from a walk to halt, as the forces met Lt. Godman notes "...all I saw was swords in the air in every direction, the pistols going off and everyone hacking away right and left".,

The Heavies were vastly outnumbered and fighting uphill, but "..the Heavies swung their sabers viciously". with the Russians "...rather astonished at the way our men used their swords".

In this account it was noted that there were few casualties in the five minute melee suggesting the thick grey coats the Russians wore and that the British swords were not sufficiently sharp, and the Russians were worse as no attempt had been made to sharpen them (evidenced by the swords found later on the ground).

Lt. Strangways of the Heavies noted regarding a dead trooper of the 4th DG, "...his helmet had come off in the fight, and he had about 15 cuts on his head, not one of which had more than parted the skin. His death wound was a thrust below the armpit". (p.96, Brighton, op. cit.).

A Lt. Elliott of the unit had "..fourteen saber wounds and was recorded as 'slightly wounded' because only one of them, a cut across his face, had opened the flesh". (p.96)

Apparently the melee was stopped when Royal Horse Artillery began firing over the heads of the Heavies into the Russian ranks outermost, and their forces broke. (p.95, op. cit, Brighton)
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Old 7th October 2022, 08:29 PM   #20
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In writing this thread, I just wanted to express its purpose (paraphrasing words from Tennyson in his famed poem). I wanted to illustrate how much more vivid and dimensional the weaponry in collections becomes when it is presented through the prism of the historic events, people and other elements that are associated with them.

The Crimean War is interesting as it is a contrast between older warfare technology and ways, and modern (in a sense) technology. It is the first use of photography in war reporting, changes in weaponry were in contrast to old forms. The Russians even had mines remote detonated by electric charge. Yet the mismanagement and conflicts of various kinds in the ranks led to the unfortunate outcomes in most of the 'strategy' and 'tactical oversights'.

The use of the sword in a time of modern warfare moving toward firearms in combat, had changes in their form being introduced despite this, as seen by the 'modern' (1853) mingled with others.

The old notion of 'capturing' guns was at hand here, and as I had noted, there seems a dearth of ammunition from these Crimean battles as souvenirs, though certainly they do exist. It is hopeful that learning more on which type guns were in use might help in examining potential examples which might be found.

I am hoping that this thread will not be seen as a 'history lesson' but might prove useful to those who have collected weaponry and militaria from this period in the contexts in which they served.
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Old 8th October 2022, 09:56 PM   #21
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It has been a bit confusing sorting through accounts of the charge in quite a few books etc. as I wanted to understand just how many guns were the Light Brigade charging into. The numbers and positions of some vary, but it does seem mostly the Russian guns were of course field or horse artillery.

As earlier noted, the original intent of the order to the Light Brigade was to 'advance' to prevent the Russians from taking away the British guns in the redoubts on Causeway Heights.....NOT to charge the Russian guns down the North Valley!

The British guns were in four of the six redoubts captured earlier in the morning by the Russians, and believed two per redoubt. These were 12 pounder naval guns from the British ships and actually hastily constructed using boards from those same ships. Manned by Turks, they were abandoned after while under attack, no British support was forthcoming.

When Lord Raglan ordered the Light Brigade to advance to these guns, the order went to Lord Lucan, who was with the Heavy Brigade but in command of the entire cavalry there. He could not see the guns Raglan referred to, and Nolan , the officer delivering the order, in frustration pointed to the North Valley without pointing out the guns Raglan meant were on the Causeway Heights.

The Russians were using horses and lasso to move the British guns in redoubts 1,2,3 in #4 the guns were spiked and thrown down the hill.

The Light Brigade advanced knowing they were going directly into a gauntlet of Russian guns, not realizing they were meant to wheel right to the Causeway, not continue in a suicidal charge. The Heavy Brigade as well as the Royal Horse artillery were following to strengthen the potential action at Causeway.

As they advanced, the Russian guns on the left on Fedouikin Hills opened fire, there were 10 guns, the Brigades were moving at a trot and the pace gradually quickened, then as the other Russian artillery at the right on Causeway opened fire. Ironically, these were in the positions near the redoubts where the Russians were removing the British guns.

As this crossfire continued , the Light Brigade pace was feverishly increased as numbers of men and horses fell;
The French cavalry at that time took out and silenced the ten guns on the left, the Heavy Brigade seeing the cannons directly ahead at the end of the valley could see the hopeless situation and dropped back to retreat. With the guns silenced they were under no threat on the return.

The Light Brigade however, now moving faster, though no charge was ever sounded, were being torn to shreds by the Russian batteries to the right, along with musket fire from the flanks. The cannon at the end they were now riding directly into were the 3rd Don Cossacks with 6 pounder guns as well as the formidable 12 pounders known as unicorns. They had been firing round shot but were now firing exploding shells as well.

Almost ironically, among the men who had made it into the battery, in the chaos and melee, some were preparing to take the Russian guns! as I found in one reference. They were unable to regroup, and Cardigan told them they had done enough when the men insisted they were ready to 'go again' What was left of the Light Brigade straggled back down the valley.

As was well said in one reference " this charge was glorified by a poet, not a soldier".

The tragic sacrifice had accomplished nothing strategically, and in most military histories of the Crimean War, gets scant notice in the overall study.
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Last edited by Jim McDougall; 9th October 2022 at 03:49 AM.
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