The Charge of the Light Brigade is the nickname given to the Battle of Balaclava, a key battle fought during the Crimean war.
The Crimean War began on 28th March 1854 when Britain and France declared war on Russia to stop the Balkans falling under Russian control. A 600,000 British, French, Turkish allied force had landed in the Crimea in September and began marching towards the Russian naval base at Sevastopol. Having defeated the Russians at the Battle of Alma on 20th September the allied force lay siege to Sevastopol. The French took the harbour of Kamiesch while the British forces were based in Balaclava.
On 25th October the Russian commander Prince Menshikov decided to launch an assault on the British base at Balaclava. Menshikov began his attack by making a successful assault on the Turkish redoubts protecting the main road into Sevastopol. The Russian army then entered the valley of Balaclava intending to attack the British and break the siege of Sevastopol. The valley of Balaclava comprised two valleys separated by low hills the British Heavy Brigade was in the South valley while the Light Brigade was in the North valley.
The Russian army split into two columns. One column advanced on the town of Balaclava but was repulsed by two lines of 93rd Highland regiment supported by Turks in action that is known as ‘the thin red line’.
The second Russian column broke into the South valley. In a successful uphill charge the Heavy Brigade successfully drove the Russians back to their artillery stationed along the ridge above the valley.
The Light Brigade were issued with an order from Lord Lucan ‘to prevent the Russians carrying away the guns’. This vague order, which referred to the Turkish manned redoubt guns, was misinterpreted, and assumed to mean the Russian guns stationed at the end of the North valley. The hand-written note was delivered by Captain Nolan.
The Light Brigade, led by Lord Cardigan, charged the length of the North valley (approx one and a quarter miles). The 650+ Light Brigade was fired on by Russian forces lining the valley. Over 100 men died within minutes of the charge. Captain Nolan realising that the order had been misinterpreted rode back and attempted to intercept the charge but was fatally wounded before he could reach Lord Cardigan. Only half of the Brigade reached the Russian guns but they managed to force the Russians manning the guns to retreat. Having achieved what Cardigan believed to be his objective he and the surviving troops had to return back through the valley. The survivors were protected from such intense Russian fire by a French charge on the northern line of Russian troops.
As a result of the ill-fated Charge of the Light Brigade the British lost much of their forward defence as well as control of the Woronzoff road but retained control of Balaclava.
The Charge of the Light Brigade was the subject of discussion and outrage in Britain with Lord Lucan receiving much of the blame.