25th Jan 1855
The charge at Balaklava
An extract from a letter from a dragoon in the hospital at Scutari
The Battle of Balaklava was certainly a disastrous affair for the poor Light Cavalry. The cowardly conduct of the Turks in the first instance, made a great odds to us all though the day the Russians having such play to us from our own redoubts and using our own shot and shell. However, our Marine Artillery, with a tremendous range, with some ship’s guns which they had planted on the heights close above Balaklava harbour, soon regularly shelled them out of the redoubts.
They now made a bold strike for it, in their way, and came over with most of their army, including a great many cavalry. The first thing they did [a large cloud of Cossacks] was to chase about three companies of the 93rd Highlanders, who, however, gave them such a warm reception that they turned to the right-about pretty sharp. Our heavy Dragoons, first the Scots Greys and Enniskillens, charged slap at the whole front of the cavalry with the infantry in the rear.
They went down at first like reeds, before our heavies, but as there was only one bonnie Grey or bold Enniskillen to so many Russians, they began to outflank them, when the rest of the Heavy Brigade charged and drove them back like a flock of sheep.
The Light Brigade was ordered to the pursuit, we the 4th Light were on the extreme left flank, covering a troop of Horse Artillery, to keep back a division of them who were trying to outflank us in that direction. After their artillery and ours had battered away at each other for some time, the balls coming hot and strong through the coverers, a French battery of heavy metal opened on them from the rear of the Sebastopol heights, drove them back, and we could see the Chasseurs d’Afrique coming down at a gallop. It was just about this time that we got the order to pursue.
So off we went to the rear after the retiring party, we had to get through a vineyard, over a mud wall and ditch, and there were a good many “downers” and some fun. When we got through we went tearing up the hill after them. The Heavies were close on their rear. The Lancers and others of the Lights were closing on them, and we were coming up at a good pace and nearly on to them, when they got over the hills beyond the redoubts, into their stronghold in the valley, when they brought their guns to bear on us.
We retired out of range and sat fronting them. When they formed as a nice trap as could possibly had been, and which nobody but a blind man could have missed seeing. They planted guns on the hills right and left of the valley, and all their field pieces at the end right facing us.
I believe Capt NOLAN was sent to reconnoitre the hills on each side. Whatever report he took to Lord RAGLAN we know not, but I expect he reported they were all clear, as he came back with an order to Lord LUCAN for the Light Brigade to charge and take the field guns, and the ammunition and guns taken from the Turks.
Lord LUCAN, asked if Lord RAGLAN was aware of the enemy’s position.
“There is the order, and there is the enemy.” NOLAN is reported to have said.
Lord CARDIGAN then got the order as given, and gave the order to the brigade to advance in two lines, first the 17th, 18th and 13th, second the 11th and 4th.
Off we went tearing towards destruction.
The round shot came first killing many a poor fellow. One most wonderfully came past my shoulder, striking my rear-rank man right in the chest. Onward we went, I could see the shell bursting over our heads and hear the grape and canister hissing through us. The cross fire was murderous, a square of infantry and guns with grape and canister pelting through us and shelling from the opposite heights.
But I felt or feared nothing. A sort of wilderness came over me, and I seemed to care not where I went or what I did. Onward Still!
The first line had retired, the guns were silenced, and, retiring behind a large horde of Cossacks, they formed a front, but would not stand our charge, but galloped through guns and everything.
We cut down the gunners and literally took the whole lot. The Cossacks came out in twos and threes, and kept firing away at us from their long pieces, annoying us dreadfully. We looked anxiously around for support, when we perceived what we considered the 17th Lancers a good distance in the rear of us.
“Hurra, My Boy’s” sung out our brave Colonel DOUGLAS, “Lets give them another charge, the 17th will be up then, and we’ll take guns home with us.”
“Come on, lads” said Lord George PAGET, his gallant brother-in-law, Colonel of the 4th Lights.
I found myself as excited as possible, singing out, “Come on boys, anything is preferable to sitting quietly and being shot at.”
At last someone gave the alarm that it was a large body of Russian Lancers, formed up to cut off our retreat.
“There’s no help for it.” said Lord George PAGET, we must retire and cut our way through them as best we can.”
We went threes about, and went calmly to the rear. They did not attempt to cross our front, but attacked our right-flank and rear. I was pretty near our right-flank, and, of course retiring in the rear rank, I allowed my horse to flag a little, when one of the gentlemen came on to attack me with his lance at a slanting position, and was making a poke for my back, I wheeled round in the saddle, parried his lance, and gave him a second rear point to the left of his right shoulder, which I expect will spoil his lancing for some time. I was quite chuckling to myself over the affair when we came to the horrid crossfire again. I had not gone far through till I got a rap in the leg as if from a sledge hammer. I looked down and saw the blood gushing from a good sized hole.
“Now then, old horse” he had carried me well through the campaign, “save my life now!”
[I had seen all over the field four or five Cossacks spiking any poor fellow who was down]
I kept the right spur at work, and galloped a mile or more when I began to get quite blind and faint, I saw dimly a-tent chum who I hailed to lend a hand, he heard me and came galloping, he stopped me the first thing, then gave me a good drink out of his water-bottle, that revived me, and I just got to where the regiment was forming and old CARDIGAN was sitting, with the tears almost in his eyes, when he saw his smart brigade almost cut up.
Our fellows cheered him when he said, “You must not think men this is one of my mad-brained actions, I would have given almost anything rather than it had happened.”
I moved forward and asked to be taken to the rear, I was hurried off to the Doctor [the assistant], who had a lot of our officers and men in the nice green ditch of a vineyard, where we could lie up the slope, I had lost a tremendous deal of blood, and one of my officers gave me a good swig of brandy out of his flask.
The Doctor stopped the bleeding, and we had to wait for some time for the ambulance, which came at last and took us off to hospital.
Copyright 2002 / To date