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The Battle of Balaclava

The Charge of the Light Brigade, the Charge
of the Heavy Brigade and the Thin Red Line

War: Crimean War

Date: 25th October 1854

The Charge of the Light Brigade
The Charge of the Light Brigade as seen from the Russian positions on the Fedioukine Hills
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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 command.

Uniforms, arms and equipment: See the main Crimean War site on

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

British Regiments:
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
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 East.

Map of the Battle of Balaclava
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
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
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
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.

Charge of the Heavy Brigade
The Charge of the Heavy Brigade : The Inniskilling Dragoons strike the Russian Cavalry
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Sergeant Major Bailey of the Royal Dragoons
Sergeant Major Bailey of the
Royal Dragoons

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 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 Chasserus D'Afrique
French Chasseurs D'Afrique : The 4th
Chasseurs D'Afrique, a mounted
regiment, charged the Russians on the
Fedioukine Hills and cleared the flank
of the Light Brigade, saving them from
fire on that side during the retreat from
the charge

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 charge of the light brigade
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.

The Charge of the Royal Scots Greys, as part of the Heavy Brigade, at Balaclava
The Charge of the Royal Scots Greys, as part of the Heavy Brigade,
at Balaclava, 25th October 1854: Engraving by Augustus Butler

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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 offensive action.

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 left. Immediate.”

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
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 decisively.

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 17th Lancers in the Charge: Lord Cardigan leads the Regiment
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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 line.


The 11th Hussars strike the Russian Battery with the 17th Lancers
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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 valley alone.

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 first casualties.
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 casualties.

The cookhouse of the 8th Hussars
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 and Cossacks.

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 return

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 at Balaclava
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
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

Calling the roll - charge of the light brigade
The aftermath of the Charge of the Light Brigade: calling the roll
(Click here or on image to buy a Print) 

Russian casualties are unknown.

British Casualties:
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
"Sir Briggs" one of the horse survivors of the Charge of the Light Brigade:
ridden in the Charge by Lord Tredegar, an officer of the 17th Lancers

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:

Survivors of the Charge of the Light Brigade
The survivors from the Charge of the Light Brigade :
13th Light Dragoons photographed n 1855 by Roger Fenton

Cornet Wilkins 11th Light Dragoons
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!


by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

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