British Foreign Policy 1815-65

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Speech in the House of Lords Defending His Conduct at Balaklava

Earl of Lucan

This document has been shared, most graciously, with the Victorian Web by David Stewart of Hillsdale College, Michigan; it has been taken from the College's website. Copyright, of course, remains with Dr. Stewart. This document has been taken from its primary location on The Victorian Web

19 March 1855

I rise, my Lords, in pursuance of notice, to move for a copy of Lord Raglan's report of the Battle of Balaklava. I consider it due to your Lordships and to myself not to forego this, the first opportunity which has occurred to me, to make a statement of what was my conduct on the day of that battle, and at the same time to show what has happened since in reference to it. Up to the present moment I have most scrupulously abstained from saying one word in this House upon this subject in my own vindication, however prejudicial to me such silence was likely to be, as it has proved. Having applied for a court martial, considering such a court the most competent from its composition to entertain and dispose satisfactorily of charges of so exclusively a professional character, as long as I could hope to have such a tribunal I considered it best became me to be silent in this House; but my applications for such a trial, however earnestly made, have been as resolutely refused. I have, therefore, I feel, no other course open to me than to present myself before your Lordships, confidently hoping that you will kindly indulge me with your attention, and give to my statement a fair and impartial consideration...

It will be necessary, I fear, to trouble your Lordships at some length, and in the statement I am about to make it shall be my endeavour, as it is my wish, whilst exculpating myself, not to inculpate others. It is my wish to make my statement as clear as possible, and to do so I shall have to take your Lordships to the Battle of Balaklava.

At about eleven o'clock of the 24th of October that excellent soldier, Sir Colin Campbell, I cannot allow myself to mention in this House the name of that officer with whom I was acting in concert for four months without stating that a more gallant or useful soldier there is not in the army, informed me that a spy had come in, and that he wished me to see him. Having examined this spy together, we considered his news so important that Sir Colin Campbell at once wrote a report to Lord Raglan, and I had it conveyed to his Lordship by my aide-de-camp, who happened on that day to be my son. The spy had stated that 20,000 infantry and 5,000 cavalry were marching against our position at Balaklava from the east and south-east. My aide-de-camp told me that he had delivered the letter to General Airey, who made no reply; and that he subsequently met Lord Raglan, who only said that if there was anything new it was to be reported to him.

It was the habit of the cavalry at this time to be always mounted an hour before daylight. I proceeded to fort No. 3 on the plan, a copy of which is in the hands of many of your Lordships. This was the extreme fort of the position. At dawn I perceived that heavy columns of infantry were advancing from the direction of the Tchernaya River and Kamara Range. I immediately placed my cavalry in position, and posted my horse-battery on the right of No. 3 fort. The Russians immediately opened fire, and attacked Nos. 1, 2, 3, and 4 forts, occupied by Turks. No. 1 was only taken after a very respectable resistance. I am anxious to say so, because I consider that they got less credit than they deserved. The other three were all evacuated, and with the forts the enemy took nine English guns.

After the evacuation of these forts by the Turks (having previously arranged with Sir Colin Campbell to do so), I threw my cavalry back to give his guns in position clear range, and took post in line facing to the east, between forts 4 and 5. My cavalry were then well placed to take in flank any Russian forces marching against Balaklava, when, to my great discomfiture, I received from Lord Raglan an order which I shall number 1. It was as follows - "Cavalry to take ground to left of second line of redoubts occupied by Turks." This order was immediately obeyed, and the cavalry were placed en masse facing the north, looking into Inkerman valley. Very shortly after order No. 2 reached me, desiring that eight squadrons of heavy dragoons should move towards Balaklava to support the Turks, who were said to be wavering. The heavy dragoons had already proceeded some distance, when I perceived through the orchard that a body of Russian cavalry was coming over the hill. I rode at speed, and just succeeded in joining the leading squadrons of Greys and Enniskillen dragoons as they were rounding the orchard, and had only time to wheel them into line, and to order an immediate charge under General Scarlett. The enemy was advancing in a dense column, with their flanks protected by two wings; these, so soon as they found that they outflanked my four squadrons, wheeled about inwards and totally enveloped them; on which I attacked them with the 5th Dragoon Guards in the rear and in flank with the 4th Dragoon Guards, when the whole mass of the enemy, amounting to at least 3,500 men, was repulsed and routed by eight small squadrons of about 700 men - only one-fifth of their number.

I should do little justice to this gallant heavy brigade and their gallant general if I did not take this opportunity of stating how much I considered they had distinguished themselves. I believe there never was an action in which English cavalry distinguished themselves more, and I do not think that there is a disposition in this country to attribute sufficient importance to this heavy dragoon charge and to do it full justice. The French, than whom there are certainly no better soldiers, nor officers who more perfectly understand the art of war, do full justice to it, and pronounce it a brilliant feat of arms, and one adding lustre to our British cavalry. I know it has been imputed to me that I did not pursue the routed enemy with my light cavalry as I should have done. To this I will not allow myself to say any more than that they had been placed in a position by Lord Raglan, that they were altogether out of my reach, and that to me they were unavailable.

After this charge the cavalry were dismounted, and the wounded and prisoners were being removed, when an aide-de-camp of the Commander in Chief brought me order No. 3. I wish your Lordships to observe that the heavy cavalry were at this moment standing on the ground occupied by the Russian cavalry in the plan. No. 3 order was to this effect - "Cavalry to advance and take advantage of any opportunity to recover the heights. They will be supported by the infantry, which have been ordered. Advance on two fronts." It is necessary here to observe that the copy given in Lord Raglan's letter of the 16th of December is incorrect, and materially so. In the original, which I hold in my hand, and which your Lordships can see, there is a full stop after the word "ordered," and the word "Advance" is written with a large A, therefore making two distinct sentences. In Lord Raglan's copy the two sentences are made one by the omission of the stop, and by a small a being substituted for a large one. Therefore, whilst in the original, the order was for the cavalry to advance, in the copy it applied to the infantry. I do not wish to impute anything to Lord Raglan on account of this difference, as it is possible that the error was in the copy with which I furnished his Lordship. The cavalry were in consequence immediately mounted, and moved to the positions in the centre valley and on the ridge, as shown in the plan. No infantry had at this time arrived from the heights of Sebastopol. I remained myself between my two brigades, anxiously waiting their arrival. When they did arrive, instead of being formed for an attack, or to support an attack, they were, the greater part of them, sitting or lying down with their arms piled. From thirty to forty minutes had elapsed and the whole of the infantry had not arrived, when Captain Nolan galloped up to me with No. 4 order, in my opinion a fresh order, quite independent of any previous order, and having no connection with No. 3 or any other order. Indeed, I do positively affirm, that neither by my Lord Raglan, or General Airey, or any other person whatsoever, did I ever hear or suppose that any connection whatever existed, or was intended to exist, between this new order No. 4 and No. 3 the preceding one, or that they had the slightest reference to each other. No. 4 order is as follows -

Lord Raglan wishes the cavalry to advance rapidly to the front, follow the enemy, and try to prevent the enemy carrying away the guns. Troop of horse artillery may accompany. French cavalry is on your left. Immediate.

... I had, perhaps, better read from my letter to Lord Raglan of the 30th November how I acted on the receipt of number 4 order. The extract is as follows -

After carefully reading this order, I hesitated and urged the uselessness of such an attack, and the dangers attending it. The aide-de-camp, in a most authoritative tone, stated that they were Lord Raglan's orders that the cavalry should attack immediately. I asked, 'Where, and what to do?' neither enemy nor guns being in sight. He replied in a most disrespectful but significant manner, pointing to the further end of the valley, 'There my Lord, is your enemy; there are your guns!' So distinct, in my opinion, was your written instruction, and so positive and urgent were the orders delivered by the aide-de-camp, that I felt it was imperative on me to obey, and I informed Lord Cardigan that he was to advance, and to the objections he made, and in which I entirely agreed, I replied that the order was from your Lordship. Having decided, against my conviction, to make the movement, I did all in my power to render it as little perilous as possible. I formed the brigade in two lines, and led to its support two regiments of heavy cavalry, the Scots Grey and Royals, and only halted them when they had reached the point from which they could protect the retreat of the light cavalry in the event of their being pursued by the enemy, and when, having already lost many officers and men by the fire from the batteries and fort, any further advance would have exposed them to destruction.

My Lords, this I think is the time to show your Lordships what an aide-de-camp is. In page 59 of the Queen's Regulations, which cannot be violated with impunity, under the head of aides-de-camp, it is ordered, "all orders sent by aides-de-camp are to be delivered in the plainest terms, and are to be obeyed with the same readiness as if delivered personally by the general officers to whom such aides-de-camp are attached." I ask any military man, I ask the noble Duke near me (the Duke of Richmond), who was aide-de-camp to that great man, the late Duke of Wellington, whether an aide-de-camp is not the organ of his general? And whether a general officer who took upon himself to disobey an order brought by an aide-de-camp, verbal or written, would not risk the loss of his commission? If this were not so, why could not an orderly dragoon convey orders as well as an aide-de-camp? An aide-de-camp is chosen because he is an officer of education and intelligence, he is, therefore, supposed to deliver an order more correctly, and is considered as being in the confidence of his general. Shall I be told that Captain Nolan was not in General Airey's confidence? Why, he told me himself that he had given to Captain Nolan his instructions verbally, and it was only when that officer was turning his horse away, that he detained him, and committed the instructions to writing. I would ask any reasonable man, after this, whether any mistake was or could be committed by Captain Nolan? And how could I, at the time, or can now, doubt but that Captain Nolan was instructed to deliver to me the positive order to attack which he did?

My Lords, I must direct your attention to this. In the order it is stated, "French cavalry is on your left," evidently for the purpose of informing me where the French cavalry were, an admission that they were out of my sight if not out of my reach, and again informing me that it was a combined movement in which they were to join and assist me. I felt, ordered as I was to advance immediately without an opportunity of sending to ask for further instructions, that I could not fail to perform my part of this combined movement, and so leave the brunt of the affair to be borne by the French cavalry alone.

Under these circumstances my course was clear to me; and I considered it a positive duty to order Lord Cardigan to advance with the light cavalry brigade, and to lead the heavy cavalry brigade to its support.

Your Lordships are so well acquainted with the details of this charge, and so fully appreciate the extraordinary valour and gallantry displayed by the light cavalry on that occasion, and also the steadiness and bravery of the heavy brigade, more particularly the Scots Grey and Royals, and two regiments most exposed, that I would only add, that the brilliancy of the charge and the gallantry displayed by the whole of the cavalry, were never surpassed at any former period. Your Lordships should be told that the infantry, which I was informed was coming to support me, was composed of two divisions, the 1st commanded by His Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge, and the 4th by an officer whose death the army and the country so much deplore, both my seniors, and therefore both my commanding officers. In the evening of the action, I saw Lord Raglan; his first remark to me was, "You have lost the light brigade." I at once denied that I had lost the light brigade, as I had only carried out the orders conveyed to me, written and verbal, by Captain Nolan. He then said that I was a lieutenant general, and should, therefore, have exercised my discretion, and not approving of the charge, should not have made it. He subsequently said that I had not moved sufficiently in advance in the previous movement; but he never attempted to show then, or has he ever allowed me to suppose since, until the present time, that he ever intended that No. 4 order was at all to be connected with the preceding order...

It was a fact, that the Duke of Cambridge, commanding the first division, received no order to give the cavalry any support. Nor did Sir George Cathcart; for that gallant officer told one of my aides-de-camp that he was unable to give any assistance, not having received any authority to do so. Under these circumstances I did all I could do. I placed my division in the position which Lord Raglan's aide-de-camp told me to take, and there waited for the co-operation of the infantry, but which was never given. From thirty to forty minutes elapsed between the receipt of the two orders. If the former order had been badly carried out, Lord Raglan was in a position to see it, and had only to send an aide-de-camp to point out my error. The cavalry were ordered to advance and take advantage of any opportunity to recover the heights. Did any opportunity occur, which I neglected? Was I to create the opportunity myself? Or, was I to do more than to profit by the opportunities created by others? As to recovering the heights, I declare that there was not a single Russian on the heights to the westward of No. 3 redoubt; for, after the heavy dragoon charge in the morning, the enemy evacuated 6, 5, and 4, forts. Indeed, No. 4 was subsequently occupied by Sir George Cathcart. If, as I contend, there were no Russians until you came to No. 3 fort, and they were all either in that fort or beyond it, I should wish to ask any military man how I was to execute this order. Is it to be supposed that Lord Raglan intended the cavalry to attack the fort? Or, is it not more reasonable to suppose that the infantry were to attack the fort, and that the cavalry were to wait for the opportunity of cutting off the retreat of the enemy when the assault had proved successful? I ask, will this order admit of any other construction? I am very certain that had I acted otherwise than I did, I should have been charged, and justly charged, with imprudence and incapacity.

In fine, as I have already said, there were no heights occupied by Russians to recover; but there were three forts, and I know that it was intended that the infantry should attack and retake them; and it was the wish of Sir George Cathcart to make the attempt; but it was not attempted, because it was considered that they could not be held, and that it was not worth the loss of life that must necessarily attend their assault. I think I have shown that thus far there is not a single sentence in Lord Raglan's letter that I have not refuted and shivered. Lord Raglan proceeds - "So little had he sought to do as he had been directed that he had no men in advance of his main body." The fact is, Lord Cardigan's brigade was so much in advance that I received a communication from his Lordship through his aide-de-camp objecting to stand where he was, because the position was so much in advance, and he expected the batteries on the left to open upon him. "He made no attempt to regain the heights." I have already stated that firstly, there were no heights, but forts to regain, and secondly, that I had not the promised co-operation of the infantry. Lord Raglan continues - "and was so little informed of the position of the enemy that he asked Captain Nolan what and where he was to attack, as neither enemy nor guns were in sight."

Now, if your Lordships will only read my letter, you will readily understand the tone and manner in which these questions were put. I was sensible of the absurdity and uselessness of the order; and when he persisted in his orders to attack, I said, "Attack, Sir! - Attack what, and where? What guns are we to recover?"

Captain Nolan pointed to the further end of the valley, and said - "There, my Lord, are your guns and your enemy." I have already stated the erroneous impression which prevailed, that the Russians were at that moment taking our guns from forts 1, 2, and 3, and the spot pointed at by Captain Nolan was in the direction they would have been taken. Now, the guns were not moved at all that day, and to use a popular word just now, the whole was a misconception...

Is it not trifling to pretend that there was no order to attack when I was desired to advance rapidly to the front, to follow the enemy, and to try to prevent the enemy from carrying away the guns? I ask any military man, whether such an order means anything but attack? Could it be pretended that we were to advance slowly under a cross fire of batteries; and having reached the enemy were not to attack them, but to halt with our hands in our pockets? The idea is too puerile and absurd. But to proceed; I was told that in carrying out this operation, a troop of horse artillery may accompany. Your Lordship will observe, that the word "may" is here introduced. I therefore considered so much of the order discretionary, and did not take the troop. When I inform your Lordships that the artillery would have had to proceed up a long valley, much of it ploughed land, under a cross fire of batteries, and without a chance of ever bringing their guns usefully into action, your Lordships will, I think, consider that I exercised a wise discretion. Had the troop of horse artillery accompanied me, the horses must have been killed and the guns lost. The letter proceeds - "He was informed that the French cavalry was on the left and he did not invite their co-operation." This is a most extraordinary charge. They were out of sight on the other side of the ridge of the Inkerman valley, and much nearer to Lord Raglan and General Canrobert than to me. I knew not what was the force of French cavalry, how commanded or what orders they had received. Moreover, my advance was to be immediate, and I could not have communicated with the French cavalry in less than a quarter of an hour. My Lords, you might be inclined to suppose that we had not the co-operation of the French cavalry; when, on the contrary, we had it, and it was most useful to us. Three squadrons of French chasseurs most gallantly attacked a Russian battery in flank and reverse, silenced several of its guns, and thus rendered the greatest service to my heavy brigade.

Hansard's Parliamentary Debates (1855), CXXXVII: 731-748

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