The Charge of the Light Brigade

The commander of the British troops at Balaclava was Field Marshal FitzRoy James Henry Somerset, 1st Baron Raglan. The commander of the Cavalry was George Bingham, 3rd Earl of Lucan (the great–great–grandfather of the 7th Earl, who disappeared in 1974). The commander of the Light Brigade was Lord Lucan's brother–in–law, the 7th Earl of Cardigan. Lucan and Cardigan disliked each other intensely; Cardigan suspected Lucan of mistreating his sister.

Acting on an order from Lord Raglan, Lucan instructed Cardigan to lead his command of about 670 troopers of the Light Brigade straight into the valley between the Fedyukhin Heights and the Causeway Heights – dubbed by Tennyson, in the poem that he wrote six weeks after the event, "the Valley of Death".

When the Light Brigade charged into the valley, it found itself surrounded on three sides by the Russian guns, with devastating results. One hundred and seven men died, and 187 were wounded; fifty were captured, and four hundred horses were slaughtered.

Lord Cardigan himself returned unscathed, and was later accused of fleeing the scene before the charge made contact with the enemy. Most of the blame has historically been laid jointly at the feet of Raglan and Lucan, but a letter written by one of Raglan's staff, which came to light in 2016 (and was reported by the Telegraph), revealed that the widespread feeling among the surviving men was that the fault lay with a 36–year–old officer called Captain Louis Nolan.

Lord Raglan's intention was to prevent the Russian troops from removing some British guns that they had captured from overrun Turkish positions. He just wanted the Light Brigade to present a show of force. But his orders were conveyed to Lucan by Captain Nolan, who – instead of reading out the written orders which he carried – addressed Lucan directly: "There, my Lord, is your enemy; there are your guns". According to Nolan, the cavalry was ordered to attack immediately. It was said in the letter that he seemed to be taunting Lord Lucan.

Nolan has been accused of over–egging Raglan's orders. He was said to have resented the contribution that the cavalry had made to the campaign up till then, and blamed Lord Lucan. He demanded to be allowed to join the charge, but was one of the first to fall when shrapnel from an exploding shell pierced his chest as he galloped to the front of the assault.

Another of Raglan's staff officers was quoted as telling Raglan's son that Nolan "would no doubt have been broke by court martial" had he lived.

© Haydn Thompson 2019