British Foreign Policy 1815-65
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These edited extracts are from Paget's own account, The Light Cavalry Brigade in the Crimea Extracts from the Letters and Journal of General Lord George Paget (John Murray, 1881). This document has been taken from its primary location on The Victorian Web
While I am desirous of avoiding, as far as possible, all matters of controversy in this short sketch of the Light Cavalry Charge, my reluctance to tread on such forbidden ground would amount to an absurdity were I to omit all reference to what has, alas! been so notorious - nay, my silence might fairly be misconstrued did not I offer the following short remarks on some points of this nature; and I have the vanity to feel some confidence that, after the lapse of so many years, which has tempered feelings of irritation that once existed and which has taken to the grave those who can thus no longer speak for themselves, I may be able to speak in fairness. The following, I think, is a fair résumé of the causes which brought about this disastrous affair, difficult as it was to understand with all the recriminations to which it gave rise, but the blame for it is distributable over many shoulders.
The first mistake that was made was in the selection of the officer to take the order, for which, of course, Sir Richard Airey was responsible. The character of Captain Nolan was well known that of a brave cavalry officer, doubtless, but reckless, unconciliatory, and headstrong, and one who was known through this campaign to have disparaged his own branch of the service, and therefore one ill suited for so grave a mission - to those who could have no very friendly feeling towards him, and between whom, but for this unfortunate circumstance, there might have been friendly views exchanged on the delivery of the order.
But this is on the supposition that Captain Nolan had received some verbal instructions before the order was delivered to him, or rather, perhaps, that he had been in such a position as to know generally the outlines of the question to which the order referred, and it has nowhere appeared that such was the case, nor is it indeed probable that it could have been so. [It maybe said that Captain Nolan, being a cavalry officer, attached to the head-quarter-staff, was the proper person to be sent. But it must be remembered that Capt. Calthorpe, 8th Hussars, and one of Lord Raglan's aides-de-camp, was available at the time, and was an officer more likely to know the views of his chief than Nolan. I believe that Calthorpe was at first selected. Fortunate would it have been if no change had been made!]
The second mistake, therefore, was the absence of knowledge on the part of the officer sent.
The third-mishap I must rather call it-must be laid to the door of Lord Lucan, though it was, in a great measure, consequent on the first two. Captain Nolan, as is well known, delivered the order to Lord Lucan in a tone and with gestures which could only have been expected by those who knew Captain Nolan's character (among whom should have been Sir Richard Airey). And then comes the blame attributable to Lord Lucan. (I put out of court Captain Nolan, the madman who was the chief cause of the whole, as being the subordinate officer, to whose level, as it were, Lord Lucan should not have stooped in any angry altercation.) It were perhaps asking of human nature more than one is warranted in doing, or rather expecting, to censure Lord Lucan for not keeping his temper at such a momentous crisis, and under circumstances so trying to human passions, but nevertheless, I venture to think he might better have "risen to the occasion."
Thus - Lord Lucan : "You are in an excited state, Captain Nolan. Calm yourself, and explain to me an order of a very grave nature, which as yet I do not understand. Which, do you believe, are the guns that I am ordered to attack? You come from the heights, and therefore must have had a more commanding view of the scene of operations than I have; besides, you have probably heard the views of those who sent the order, and are, therefore, in a position to give me further information."
Is it to be believed that even Captain Nolan would have failed in his duty after so temperate a remark? and such a conversation would have saved the disaster. Well but failing to convince himself of the true nature of the case, from the words of Captain Nolan, to whom would it have been natural for Lord Lucan to turn for consultation, but to his second in command, Lord Cardigan?
Here then comes the fourth mishap in this "tragedy of errors," for the cause of which we must look farther back, and condemn Lord Hardinge and the Cabinet for placing Lords Lucan and Cardigan in the relative posts to which they were appointed, for the disadvantage to the service of this arrangement (however good an officer in himself each may have been) is apparent from the well-known relations in which they stood to each other, and should have been so apparent to the Commander-in-Chief and the Cabinet, as to need no further comment.
In addition to all these mistakes, mishaps, or whatever they should be called, there is some force in Sir Richard Airey's remarks against Lord Lucan, that he had not, previously to receiving the order, made himself more acquainted with the general dispositions of the enemy, and the features of the engagement that was going on. This is certainly a weak point in Lord Lucan's case - and the only real weak one, I think (always presuming that from him was to be expected the attributes of a man of no ordinary calibre - as regards judgment, temper, and an experienced knowledge of warfare).
The only remaining mistake to be discussed - that of Lord Cardigan so interpreting his order as to go headlong down to the guns, which he attacked, without looking to the right or left - as it pertains to his actions, will be treated of when his actions are reviewed.
I must add one other observation. If it be correct that the object of Lord Raglan's last order was that the cavalry should, instead of going down the valley, have made an advance along the Causeway Heights, to recapture the guns on the redoubts, then the nature of the ground must be considered; and I think I am right in saying that such an advance would have been attended with much difficulty, the ground being broken and uneven, and of such configuration that cavalry would have acted on it at a great disadvantage. It has always appeared to me that, had Lord Cardigan advanced as he did, and then attacked the different batteries to his right, by throwing up the left shoulders of his different regiments, as required, the intentions of Lord Raglan would have been carried out, at least that is the only solution of the difficulty that I could ever see.
Before closing my remarks on the Light Cavalry Charge, I would only remark that whereas it is generally considered as a defeat of the Light Brigade, it really ought only to be considered in the light of a victory, as far as they were concerned. They attacked a line of eighteen field guns, and they disabled them. Cavalry, I conceive, cannot take guns, in the light of retaining them. When they have disabled guns, it is all that can be expected of them, and this they did, and it cannot be construed in the light of a defeat that they could not retain them.
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