The Battle of Balaclava
The Charge of the Light Brigade, the Charge
Brigade and the Thin Red Line
War: Crimean War
Date: 25th October 1854
Place: On the southern Crimean coast in the Ukraine.
Combatants: British, French and Turkish troops against the
Imperial Russian Army.
Generals: Lieutenant General the Earl of Raglan commanded
the British Army, General Saint-Arnaud commanded the French Army.
Prince Menshikov commanded the Russian Army. The Russian commander
of the Balaclava assault was General Liprandi, Menshikov’s second in
Uniforms, arms and equipment: See the main Crimean War
site on britishbattles.com.
Winner: Balaclava is a battle honour for all the British
regiments that took part. It is usually a pre-condition for a battle
honour that the battle is a victory for British arms. Balaclava was
a strategic defeat. The Russians captured seven guns and at the end
of the battle held the ground they had attacked. Against this the
three episodes in the battle; the Charge of the Heavy Brigade, the
Thin Red Line and the Charge of the Light Brigade, are such icons of
courage and achievement for the British Army, that it is not
surprising the military authorities awarded Balaclava as a battle
honour to the regiments involved.
1st Royal Dragoons
4th Dragoon Guards: now the Royal Dragoon Guards.
5th Dragoon Guards: now the Royal Dragoon Guards.
1st Royal Dragoons: now the Blues and Royals.
Royal Scots Greys: now the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards.
6th Inniskilling Dragoons: now the Royal Dragoon Guards.
4th Light Dragoons: now the Queen’s Royal Hussars.
8th Hussars: now the Queen’s Royal Hussars.
11th Hussars: now the King’s Royal Husars.
13th Light Dragoons: now the Light Dragoons.
17th Lancers: now the Queen’s Royal Lancers.
93rd Highlanders: now the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.
All these regiments have Balaclava as a battle honour.
Account: In mid-September 1854 the British and French armies
with a small Turkish contingent landed on the Western Crimean coast
30 miles north of Sevastopol with the aim of capturing this
important Russian Black Sea naval base.
An officer of the 93rd Highlanders
The allied armies marched south along the coast and fought the
battle of the Alma on that river, defeating the Russian army and
driving it back towards the city.
Lord Raglan and Marshal St Arnaud, the two commanders in chief,
resolved to march around the inland side of Sevastopol and begin
siege operations against the city from the South. Once the march had
been completed the French established their base at Kamiesh on the
south western tip of the Crimea, south of Sevastopol, while the
British took Balaclava as their base, 15 miles along the coast to
The Battle of Balaclava
(this map appears in the best selling book,
The Dangerous Book for Boys
by Gonn Iggulden and Hal Iggulden, in the section
Famous Battles-Part Two)
The Russian commander, Prince Menshikov, marched his army out of
Sevastopol to the North East, leaving a garrison to conduct the
defence of the city. The allies were thereby left with two tasks;
the siege of the city and holding off Menshikov’s army. During
October 1854 reinforcements came in to Menshikov’s army from
elsewhere in the Crimea and further afield in Russia until his army
was larger than that of the allies.
The 93rd Highlanders repel the Russian Cavalry
On 25th October 1854 Menshikov launched an assault across the
Tchernaya River to the North East of Balaclava with the aim of
capturing the British base. The assault was commanded by his deputy,
General Liprandi. Liprandi crossed the Tractir Bridge across the
river and advanced on the positions held by Turkish troops along the
Causeway Heights. He commanded twenty-five battalions of infantry,
twenty-three squadrons of cavalry, thirteen squadrons of Cossack
light horse and sixty-six guns. Supporting General Liprandi by
occupying the Fedioukine Hills was a further force commanded by
General Jabrokritski, of seven battalions and fourteen guns. The
total force comprised 20,000 infantry, 3,500 cavalry and 76 guns.
A trooper of the 13the Light Dragoons on picquet duty
The Woronzoff Road running along the ridge of the Causeway
Heights provided an important communication for the British, being
the only firm road from Balaclava up to the siege works at
Sevastopol. The Turkish troops were building six redoubts along the
Heights to protect the road and defend Balaclava. The work was not
far progressed. Nine 12 pounder naval guns bolstered these
positions. After a heavy bombardment the Turkish troops were driven
out of the Number One redoubt on Canrobert’s Hill, suffering some
400 casualties of a garrison of 500.
A French Chasseurs D'Afrique
Lord Raglan from his headquarters on the Sapouné Heights to the
West saw the threat to Balaclava and his lines of communications.
The only British troops between the Russian force and the port were
the two cavalry brigades which had their encampments in the valley,
the 93rd Highlanders and a small force of marines.
Raglan ordered the 2nd and 4th Divisions to march down from their
camps outside the Sevastopol siege lines to support the cavalry and
highlanders. There was considerable delay in persuading the
divisional commanders to make the arduous journey down to the
valleys at Balaclava. Many of the regiments had spent the night in
the trenches and were exhausted and only days previously a similar
alarm had caused the infantry to make just this march to find it was
a false alarm.
Following the Russians’ successful attack on the Turkish troops
in Number One Redoubt the garrisons of the other earthworks left
their positions and made for Balaclava, some of the Turkish soldiers
being belaboured by a Scottish soldier’s wife as they fled through
the camp of the 93rd Highlanders.
Sergeant Major Bailey of the
The Charge of the Heavy Brigade:
As the Russian infantry and guns pushed the Turks out of the
redoubts a force of 3,000 Russian cavalry moved from the North
Valley onto the Causeway Heights with the intention of advancing
across the South Valley to occupy Balaclava. At the same time the
British Heavy Brigade, of 900 cavalrymen commanded by Major General
James Scarlett, was moving eastwards into the South Valley. The main
section of the brigade comprised six squadrons of the Royal Scots
Greys (2nd Dragoons), the 6th Inniskilling Dragoons and the 5th
Dragoon Guards, in two columns. Following these columns were the 1st
Royal Dragoons and the 4th Dragoon Guards, another four squadrons.
Lord Raglan and his staff on the Sapouné Heights, looking down
from the high ground, could see the two cavalry forces converging.
The Russians and the Heavy Brigade could not see each other, until
the Russian cavalry came over the Causeway Heights and began their
descend into the South Valley. In front of them, marching across
their line of advance, was the Heavy Brigade.
The Charge of the Heavy Brigade: the Royal Scots Greys attack the
Russian cavalry. the Grey's 2nd Squadron was led in the charge by
Captain Samuel Toosey Williams. Captain Williams died in Scutari on 25th
November 1854 of exhaustion and exposure suffered in the period
around the battle and the Great Storm of 15th November 1854. A
memorial to this officer can be seen in the tiny church of Buscot,
Oxfordshire where his parents lived.
General Scarlett acted immediately, forming his left column into
line and leading them into the attack on the Russian cavalry force.
The squadrons of the other column followed as a second line and the
Royals and 4th Dragoon Guards hurried up to join the attack as
quickly as they could.
The Charge of the Heavy Brigade (The Greys and the Royals)
French Chasseurs D'Afrique : The 4th
Chasseurs D'Afrique, a mounted
regiment, charged the Russians on the
Fedioukine Hills and cleared the
of the Light Brigade, saving them from
fire on that side during the retreat from
As the Heavy Brigade charged, the Russian cavalry force halted so
that it received the Heavy Brigade charge stationary. The Russian
commander appeared to be seeking to extend his line after crossing
the Causeway Heights. The first line of Scots Greys and
Inniskillings struck the Russian cavalry, followed by the second
line of Inniskillings and 5th Dragoon Guards.
The wings of the
Russian formation closed in behind the two lines and the Royal
Dragoons charged the wings in the rear. The two forces struggled on
the hillside until the 4th Dragoon Guards came up and delivered a
further charge into the Russian flank. In Hamley’s words “Then
-almost as it seemed in a moment, and simultaneously- the whole
Russian mass gave way, and fled, at speed and in disorder, beyond
the hill, vanishing behind the slope some four or five minutes after
they had first swept over it”.
In the rush to charge the Russians the brigade commander, General
Scarlett, with his adc Lieutenant Alick Elliot, his trumpeter and
orderly outstripped the line of troopers and plunged into the
Russian ranks initially alone. Scarlett suffered five wounds and
Elliot fourteen wounds.
Lord Raglan sent down the message to Scarlett “Well done”.
The Thin Red Line:
As the force of Russian cavalry came over the lip of the
Causeway Heights before engaging the Heavy Brigade, a force of four
squadrons detached from the main body and headed directly for
Balaclava. In their path lay the 93rd Highlanders under Sir Colin
Campbell, the commander of the Highland Brigade. Two Turkish
battalions fled on the Russians advance.
As the Russians approached, Campbell brought the 93rd from
concealment and formed line across the cavalry’s line of advance.
The staff on Sapouné Hill saw what William Russell, the Times
correspondent, described as a “thin red line tipped with steel” (in
his initial report the expression used was “a thin red streak…”)
Lord Cardigan leading the Light Brigade
in the Charge
Hamley reports that the 93rd fired one volley at extreme range
and the Russian cavalry withdrew. Other authorities state that the
highlanders fired a second volley, also at considerable range.
The unyielding presence of the single Highland regiment caused the
Russians to abandon their intention of taking Balaclava.
The Charge of the Light Brigade:
While the Heavy Brigade engaged the Russian cavalry force in the
South Valley, the Light Brigade was in position at the western end
of the North Valley. Following its defeat by Scarlett’s brigade, the
Russian cavalry recrossed the Causeway Heights into the North
Valley, presenting an opportunity for the Light Brigade to attack
them in flank and complete the rout begun by Scarlett’s charge. Lord
Cardigan failed to take the opportunity, even though the commanding
officer of the17th Lancers, Captain Morris, pressed him to attack
and in the light of Cardigan’s refusal sought permission to charge
with his regiment, a request Cardigan also refused. Morris returned
to his regiment striking his thigh and saying “What an opportunity
we have missed”.
Raglan’s failure to commit the cavalry to offensive action in the
campaign to date had caused considerable frustration in the cavalry
division and derision in the rest of the army. On the Bulganek and
Alma Rivers during the march towards Sevastopol in September 1854
Raglan had refused to permit the Light Brigade to attack, causing
the army to give the divisional commander the nickname of Lord
“Look-on”, attributing the division’s inaction to him.
Now at Balaclava, in the absence of the infantry, the cavalry was
required to play a major role. The Heavy Brigade had played its part
to the full. The opportunity was passing to the Light Brigade and
Cardigan refused to act. There seems to be no doubting Cardigan’s
personal courage. He claimed that Lucan had forbidden him to take
The opportunity for the Light Brigade was particularly apparent
to Raglan’s staff watching from the Sapouné Hills, amongst whom
there was considerable excitement, particularly on the part of
Captain Lewis Nolan of the 15th Hussars, General Airey’s adc, a fine
horseman and a ferocious advocate of the aggressive use of cavalry.
Lord Raglan's Order to the Cavalry to attack
As the Russian cavalry force withdrew along the North Valley to
take up a position behind a battery of eight guns at the far end,
Raglan’s staff saw that the Russians on the Causeway Heights were
preparing to remove the naval guns captured from the Turks in the
redoubts. Loss of guns was a clear indicator of success or failure
in battle and could not be allowed to go unchallenged. The two
British infantry divisions had still not reached the valley floor so
that the only force available to prevent the removal of the guns was
the cavalry division.
The alarm is given in the Cavalry Camp : Dawn 25th October 1854
At Raglan’s direction General Airey wrote the famous order to
Lucan, stating: “Lord Raglan wishes the cavalry to advance rapidly
to the front, and try to prevent the enemy carrying away the guns.
Troop of horse artillery may accompany. French cavalry is on your
Because of the urgency of the message and the difficulty in
reaching the valley floor from the Sapouné Hills the order was
entrusted to Captain Lewis Nolan. The authorities agree this was an
unfortunate choice. Hamley describes Nolan as “the author of a book
on cavalry tactics, in which faith in the power of that arm is
carried to an extreme”.
An Officer of the 11th Hussars
Nolan, a mercurial professional cavalry officer who had begun his
career in an Austrian hussar regiment, entertained a contempt for
Lucan and was constantly irked by the failure to use the cavalry
Nolan rode headlong down the steep slope and delivered Raglan’s
order. The text made little sense to Lucan as the preparations for
the removal of the guns from the redoubts could not be seen from the
valley floor. Lucan asked Nolan which enemy and which guns Raglan
was referring to. Nolan is reported to have flung his arm out in the
direction of the Russian cavalry force now positioned behind its
guns at the end of the North Valley and to have said with some
insolence, “There is your enemy. There are your guns, My Lord.”
The antagonism between the two men prevented any clarification of
Raglan’s intention. Lucan was irked by being the butt of criticism
at the inaction of the cavalry and was disinclined to delay further
action. He rode over to Cardigan and directed him to charge the
Russian cavalry and guns at the end of the North Valley. After a
brief remonstration Cardigan ordered his brigade to mount and led it
forward into the valley. Lucan added a final irritant for Cardigan
by ordering the 11th Hussars, Cardigan’s regiment, into the second
Raglan’s staff watched horrified from the top of Sapouné Hill as
the Light Brigade moved off down the valley and failed to turn up
onto the Causeway Heights. They could see the Russians positioned on
the Fedioukine Hills to the north side of the North Valley, with
infantry, cavalry and guns, the original force of Russian cavalry
attacked by the Heavy Brigade at the end of the North Valley behind
the battery of 8 guns and on the Causeway Heights on the south side
of the valley, Russian infantry, cavalry and guns in the redoubts
abandoned by the Turks. All these troops were ready to fire into the
Light Brigade as it attacked down the North Valley.
Vedettes of the 13th Light Dragoons
It was soon after 11am that the Light Brigade set off behind Lord
Cardigan. The 13th Light Dragoons held the right flank of the first
line with the 17th Lancers on the left. The 11th Hussars, Cardigan’s
regiment, formed the second line, positioned behind the 17th
Lancers. In the third line were the 8th Hussars and the 4th Light
Dragoons. Lord Lucan followed with the Heavy Brigade, but a short
distance into the advance, as the scale of fire became apparent, he
halted the brigade and left the Light Brigade to continue down the
The 17th Lancers in the Charge: Lord Cardigan leads the Regiment
Captain Nolan joined the ranks of the 17th Lancers, the officer
commanding, Captain Morris, being a friend. It is thought Nolan
realised the brigade was intended to ascend the Causeway Heights,
not to attack down the valley, and that a grave mistake was being
made. Nolan rode across in front of Cardigan waving his sword. As he
did so he was struck and killed by a shell splinter, one of the
The distance the Light Brigade had to cover to reach the guns was a
mile and a quarter. Advancing at a trot the brigade came under fire
within a few minutes; shell fire, cannon balls and rifle fire from
the flanking Russian forces striking down riders and horses. After
five minutes the brigade came within range of the eight guns at the
end of the valley. These guns had a much easier target, firing at
the brigade line, around 100 yards in width, rather than at its
flank. Casualties spiraled causing the regiments to increase their
pace until the lines were at the gallop and order was being lost. By
the time the brigade reached the guns, half of its complement were
The cookhouse of the 8th Hussars
Reaching the end of the valley, the Light Brigade plunged into
the Russian gun line and slaughtered those of the crews that had not
fled. The 13th Light Dragoons with the right hand squadron of the
17th Lancers struck the Russian Battery directly. The left squadron
of the 17th passed the battery and attacked Russian cavalry behind.
The 11th Hussars passed the battery and attacked the cavalry beyond
driving them back and pursuing them as far as the aqueduct. They
were in turn pursued for some distance by a force of Russian cavalry
8th Light Dragoons (Hussars)
The charge complete the Light Brigade returned by the route it
had come. It did this singly and in small groups, other than two
larger parties: one led by Colonel Shewell formed of 70 men of the
8th Hussars and the 17th Lancers; the other led by Lord George Paget
of 4th Light Dragoons and 11th Hussars. Each of these bodies was
opposed by Russian cavalry who emerged from the hills on either side
of the valley, which they charged and dispersed.
The aftermath of the Charge of the Light Brigade: the survivors
The French General Morris directed the 4th Chasseurs D’Afrique, a
colonial cavalry regiment, to attack along the Fedioukine Hills and
silence the Russian fire on the north side of the valley. This they
did with great success and a loss of only 38 casualties. This
relieved the British cavalrymen of the fire from the north side of
the valley as they returned.
Lord Cardigan having ridden through the battery found himself
alone, turned and rode back down the valley. He was one of the first
to reach British lines where he met Sir George Cathcart. He is
reported to have said “I have lost my brigade.”
The French Chasseurs D'Afrique attack
On its return the Light Brigade had a mounted strength of 195
officers and men from an original strength of 673. 247 men were
killed and wounded. 475 horses were killed and 42 wounded. The 13th
Light Dragoons mustered 10 mounted men.
Although the First and Fourth British Infantry Divisions were now
in the valley and ready to begin an assault on the Causeway Heights
along the Woronzoff Road, no further action was taken. The Russians
were left in control of the Heights and the road. The infantry
divisions returned to their camps.
A Russian Cossack sits by his dead horse
The Heavy Brigade suffered 92 casualties (9 of whom were killed)
in the battle, some of whom were hit at the beginning of the charge
down the North Valley.
17th Light Dragoons (Lancers)
Victoria Crosses awarded to the regiments at Balaclava:
Royal Scots Greys: 2
6th Inniskilling Dragoons: 1
4th Light Dragoons: 1
11th Hussars: 1
13th Light Dragoons: 1
17th Lancers: 3
Russian casualties are unknown.
4th Dragoon Guards: 5 men
5th Dragoon Guards: 2 officers and 13 men
1st Royal Dragoons: 4 officers and 9 men
Royal Scots Greys: 4 officers and 55 men
6th Inniskilling Dragoons: 15 men
4th Light Dragoons: 4 officers and 55 men
8th Hussars: 4 officers and 53 men
11th Hussars: 3 officers and 55 men
13th Light Dragoons: 3 officers and 38 men
17th Lancers: 7 officers and 67 men
93rd Highlanders: no casualties.
"Sir Briggs" one of the horse survivors of the Charge of the
ridden in the Charge by Lord Tredegar, an officer of the 17th
The main consequence of the battle was that the use of the
Woronzoff Road was lost to the British for the winter of 1854/1855,
making the disastrous conditions even more difficult.
6th Inniskilling Dragoons
Regimental anecdotes and traditions:
- The Charge of the Light Brigade caused a sensation in
Victorian Britain and throughout the world. It quickly became
the stuff of legend, Lord Tennyson writing his famous poem: see
Controversy has raged over the mistake that sent the Light
Brigade down the valley instead of up onto the Causeway Heights.
Lord Lucan bore most of the blame. Hamley, who was present at
the battle, questions the ambiguous wording of Raglan’s order.
Without a doubt the extraordinary clash of personalities between
Cardigan, Lucan and Nolan played a major part. The one
unquestionable feature that emerges from the battle is the
courage and persistence of the ordinary troopers and regimental
officers of the cavalry regiments that fought at Balaclava. All
the Crimean battles show the mid-Victorian British soldier to
have been a very tough breed.
- The French 4th Chasseurs D’Afrique deserve great praise for
their attack along the Fedioukine Hills that relieved the
retreating Light Brigade of further gun fire from one of the
- Among the various controversies one is whether the charge
was begun by a trumpet call and who sounded it. It seems likely
that there was no call, just an order to mount followed by the
orders “Walk, March”. The pace increased inexorably as the
Brigade moved down the valley.
- “The Charge of the Light Brigade” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
The survivors from the Charge of the Light Brigade :
13th Light Dragoons photographed n 1855 by Roger Fenton
Cornet Wilkins, 11th Light Dragonos (Hussars)
Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
'Forward the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!' he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
'Forward, the Light Brigade!'
Was there a man dismayed?
Not though the soldier knew
Some one had blundered:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them
Cannon in front of them
Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.
Flashed all their sabres bare,
Flashed as they turned in air
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army, while
All the world wondered:
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right through the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian
Reeled from the sabre-stroke
Shattered and sundered.
Then they rode back, but not
Not the six hundred.
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell,
They that had fought so well
Came through the jaws of Death,
Back from the mouth of Hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred.
When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wondered.
Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred!
“THE CHARGE OF THE HEAVY BRIGADE AT BALACLAVA"
by Alfred, Lord
October 25, 1854
The charge of the gallant three hundred, the Heavy Brigade!
Down the hill, down the hill, thousands of Russians,
Thousands of horsemen, drew to the valley–and stay’d;
For Scarlett and Scarlett’s three hundred were riding by
When the points of the Russian lances arose in the sky;
And he call’d, ‘Left wheel into line!’ and they wheel’d and obey’d.
Then he look’d at the host that had halted he knew not why,
And he turn’d half round, and he bade his trumpeter sound
To the charge, and he rode on ahead, as he waved his blade
To the gallant three hundred whose glory will never die–
‘Follow,’ and up the hill, up the hill, up the hill,
Follow’d the Heavy Brigade.
The trumpet, the gallop, the charge, and the might of the fight!
Thousands of horsemen had gather’d there on the height,
With a wing push’d out to the left and a wing to the right,
And who shall escape if they close? but he dash’d up alone
Thro’ the great gray slope of men,
Sway’d his sabre, and held his own
Like an Englishman there and then.
All in a moment follow’d with force
Three that were next in their fiery course,
Wedged themselves in between horse and horse,
Fought for their lives in the narrow gap they had made–
Four amid thousands! and up the hill, up the hill,
Gallopt the gallant three hundred, the Heavy Brigade.
Fell like a cannon-shot,
Burst like a thunderbolt,
Crash’d like a hurricane,
Broke thro’ the mass from below,
Drove thro’ the midst of the foe,
Plunged up and down, to and fro,
Rode flashing blow upon blow,
Brave Inniskillens and Greys
Whirling their sabres in circles of light!
And some of us, all in amaze,
Who were held for a while from the fight,
And were only standing at gaze,
When the dark-muffled Russian crowd
Folded its wings from the left and the right,
And roll’d them around like a cloud,–
O, mad for the charge and the battle were we,
When our own good redcoats sank from sight,
Like drops of blood in a dark-gray sea,
And we turn’d to each other, whispering, all dismay’d,
‘Lost are the gallant three hundred of Scarlett’s Brigade!’
‘Lost one and all’ were the words
Mutter’d in our dismay;
But they rode like victors and lords
Thro’ the forest of lances and swords
In the heart of the Russian hordes,
They rode, or they stood at bay–
Struck with the sword-hand and slew,
Down with the bridle-hand drew
The foe from the saddle and threw
Underfoot there in the fray–
Ranged like a storm or stood like a rock
In the wave of a stormy day;
Till suddenly shock upon shock
Stagger’d the mass from without,
Drove it in wild disarray,
For our men gallopt up with a cheer and a shout,
And the foeman surged, and waver’d, and reel’d
Up the hill, up the hill, up the hill, out of the field,
And over the brow and away.
Glory to each and to all, and the charge that they made!
Glory to all the three hundred, and all the Brigade!
Note.–The ‘three hundred’ of the ‘Heavy Brigade’ who made
this famous charge were the Scots Greys and the 2d squadron
of Inniskillens; the remainder of the ‘Heavy Brigade’ subsequently
dashing up to their support.
The ‘three’ were Scarlett’s aide-de-camp, Elliot, and the trumpeter,
and Shegog the orderly, who had been close behind him.
The Inniskilling Dragoons in the Charge of the Heavy Brigade
References: see the main Crimean War site on britishbattles.com.