This Day In History: The Charge of the Light Brigade Took Place (1854)

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This date in history saw one of the most famous cavalry charges of all time. The Charge of the Light Brigade according to your point of view was one of the bravest assaults in warfare or one of the most stupid. The charge took place during the war between Britain, France, and Turkey against the Russian Empire.  The British and the French had joined with the Ottoman Turks in order to stop the inexorable expansion of Russia. The allies were concerned about the increasing role of Russian in the Black Sea and the Balkans and they feared that this could disrupt the balance of power in Europe.

The main battleground for the rival armies was in the Crimea. The British and the French had landed a large force in the Crimean Peninsula and laid siege to Sebastopol.  The Russians largely adopted a defensive posture in the Crimea. The Charge took place during the Battle of Balaclava. This battle was an attempt to break the Russian lines of defense in the Crimea by the British and their allies.

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Survivors of the Charge of the Light Brigade

During the battle, Lord Raglan, the commander of the British forces in Crimea ,ordered the Light Brigade to recover a battery of Turkish guns that were in a position that was captured by the Russians. Raglan did not want the heavy guns to fall into the hands of the Russians.  The Light Cavalry were ordered to retrieve the guns or if they could not, to ‘spike’ them and render them useless to the Russians.  This was a perfectly sensible operation and should have been only a routine mission. However, Raglan’s orders were not properly understood because of some miscommunications.  The Light Brigade under their commander Lord James Cardigan believed that they were ordered to attack a well-defended Russian position. Cardigan believed that Raglan had ordered him to launch a frontal assault on the Russian position.  The Light Brigade bravely charged down a valley towards the Russians and they came under sustained and brutal fire from cannons and small arms. They incredibly managed to reach the Russian positions but they were forced back. The British lost many men and horses for no real gains.  It is estimated that the Light Brigade suffered almost a forty percent casualty rate.

The events are best remembered as the subject of the English poet Tennyson’s poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade” (1854). This stressed the heroism of the Light Brigade rather than the errors and the futility of the Charge.

It was later revealed that the order for the Charge was the result of  a breakdown in communications.  Lord Cardigan, who survived the battle, was hailed as a national hero in Britain. The British and the French eventually defeated the Russians in the Crimea and prevented the Russian Empire at least temporarily from seizing large areas of the Ottoman Empire  maintained the balance of power in Europe for a generation.

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