BATTLE OF BALACLAVA
The Battle of Balaclava was fought as the result of the attempt of the Russian general, Prince Menshikon, to obtain possession of the harbour at Balaclava, and cut off the Allies from their supplies. The Russians first attacked the redoubts in the valley and seized Kadiki, which had been occupied by the Turks. The Russian cavalry then advanced to Balaclava, but were checked by Sir Colin Campbell’s Highland Brigade and by the Heavy Brigade of Cavalry.
The charge of the Heavy Brigade was a peculiarly brilliant piece of cavalry fighting. The Russians, though more than twice as numerous as their opponents, were driven back in confusion.
The main body of British and French now came into action, and the fighting about the captured redoubts began to thicken. Lord Raglan, thinking the enemy were retiring with the guns from one of the redoubts, sent orders to Lord Lucan, in command of the cavalry, to follow and harass their retreat.
By the time the Light Brigade was prepared to carry out the order the broken Russian cavalry had reformed on the main body. Notwithstanding this, Lord Lucan insisted that the charge should be carried out. Accordingly the Light Brigade (consisting the 5th and 11th Hussars and the 17th Lancers), in all 607 men, commanded by Lord Cardigan, rode down upon the whole Russian army. They broke their way right through the enemy’s lines, and circled back again through the valley in which the Russian guns played on them from front, flank, and rear as they rode, with the loss of all but 198.
Except for some desultory cannonading this ended the battle. The Russians had not effected their object, but they kept possession of the ground they had won in the valley, that the victory may be said to have been indecisive.
Redoubt - a fort or fort system usually consisting of an enclosed defensive emplacement outside a larger fort
Pell-mell - in a confused, rushed, or disorderly manner
Declivite - a downward slope
Coatee - a type of tight fitting uniform
Vedette - a mounted sentry giving signals or warnings of danger to a main body of troops
It will be remembered that Colonel John Glas Sandeman, as Cornet in the Royal Dragoons, had the undying honour of having taken part in the charge of the Heavy Brigade at Balaclava, His description of the scene is as follows :
The next page was missing from those available online and probably included details of the initial and very successful charge made by the Heavy Brigade that day. It continued as the Light Brigade were preparing to enter the fray :
Preparation for the battle
I have an indistinct recollection of hearing an order that six squadrons were to be sent to the assistance of the 93rd Highlanders. Anyhow, the 5th Dragoon Guards, the Greys, and the Inniskillings went off in columns of troops in that direction, and as they bore first to the right and then to the left, in order to avoid the tents and picket ropes of our camp, these regiments may have taken the opportunity of forming their columns from the right, but on this point I can get no precise information.
These three regiments had not proceeded more than, perhaps, one third of the distance that separated us from the Highlanders, when we observed (and being now the leading regiment of the remains of the Brigade, and on rising ground, we had an uninterrupted bird’s eye view of the whole Balaclava plain) the Russian Squadrons, on approaching the Highlanders, came under their fire and, swerving to their left, as if they contemplated turning Sir Colin’s right by entering Balaclava between him and the position I described to you as being occupied by British Marines, now opened fire with the guns they had in position, when the Russian Cavalry, wheeling again to the left, retreated towards the foot of Canrobert’s Hill as rapidly as they had advanced.
We were watching this failure of a bold stroke for obtaining possession of our base of supplies, when our attention was drawn to what appeared to us as a much larger mass of cavalry on our left front, which must have crossed the causeway somewhat nearer the forth redoubt than the force that had just been dis-committed.
This large column pursued a line parallel to the previous attack, but, if successful, would have passed to the left of the Highlanders on their way to the head of the harbour, and were coming down on the left to the columns of the six squadrons sent to Sir Colin’s assistance, the three regiments composing which were somewhat widely separated, but which, forming or wheeling into line to their right, went for the enemy, in what appeared to me, in very fine style.
The Greys and the Inniskillings were the first in by less than a minute; then followed the 5th Dragoon Guards, and these three thin looking lines were as nothing compared to the densely packed mass of the Russian column. Shouts were heard, and we saw a flashing of steel, the Greys being, of course, very conspicuous by reason of their difference of dress, as our Dragoons cut their way into the enemy’s Hussars, who were numerous enough to completely envelop them.
The sight of this was too much for flesh and blood. A cry was raised by our men: "By God, the old Greys are cut off !”. No word, however, came from our commanding officer, when, with one accord, the whole regiment, driving their spurs into their horses’ flanks, swept down towards where their comrades were so hotly engaged.
But before we had reached the scene of action, the enemy were in full retreat on a line more westerly than that by which they had advanced, which brought them across our front as we galloped pell-mell, and without any kind of order upon them, when the ‘rally’ was sounded, and we had to do our best to check the impetuosity of our men.
On turning to look for a moment at the retreating enemy, who ought to have been followed at least as far as the causeway, I saw the 17th Lancers bringing their lances to the rest, as if preparing for a charge on the flank of the disorganised Muscovite cavalry; but the lances were again raised, and yet again brought down, as if there were some hesitancy as to what to do; inaction, however, again prevailed, and the lances were brought up again to ‘the carry’.
In the end the different regiments rallied on the spots where the termination of the charge found them, and some time elapsed, during which the squadrons were told off anew, and account taken of casualties. At the moment we knew nothing of the losses sustained by other regiments, ours having been confined, I think, to one man, a sergeant, who was killed by a ricocheting round shot under Canrobert’s Hill.
As soon as order was restored in the Heavy Brigade, we were advanced in line over the causeway, between the fourth and fifth redoubts, and found ourselves looking eastwards down the valley enclosed by the Fedioukhine Heights on our left, and Mount Hasfort on our right. The plain in our immediate front contracted between those heights as it approached the marshy ground on each side of the Tchernaya River, and in the centre of the narrowest part was an earthwork protecting two six gun batteries of field artillery.
The aggressive movement was undertaken in response to an order from Lord Raglan for the “cavalry to advance and take advantage of any opportunity to recover the heights”. The order added that the movement was to be supported by infantry.
The open valley in our immediate front was free from the brushwood that covered the declivities of the Fedioukhine hill and the northern slopes of the causeway, which were also open and fit for cavalry movements. Redoubt No 4, on our right front, was not occupied by the enemy, whose sharpshooters were plentifully distributed in the scrub on both sides of the valley in our front, whilst a field battery was posted on a spur of the Fedioukhine. The Scots Greys were in line some thirty or forty yards on our right (not, as Kinglake writes, on our left), and a pause of a few minutes duration took place. The Light Brigade was on our left rear, and this must have been the period when Lord Lucan received the celebrated order to “advance rapidly to the front and try to prevent the enemy carrying away the guns”.
Now, it must be remembered that after the victorious charge of the Heavy Brigade, Lord Raglan imagined that he saw a disposition on the part of the Russians to retire from the positions on the causeway which they had wrested from the Turks; but whether this was a genuine retrograde movement or a stratagem to draw the allied forces from their most inaccessible position on the Sapoune heights to try conclusions on the plains, has not since been made clear, although Canrobert held the latter to be the enemy’s intention, which was probably correct.
In that belief the English commander had previously sent the order to Lord Lucan “to advance and take advantage of any opportunity to recover the heights; the cavalry will be supported by infantry, which has been ordered to advance on two fronts”. Now it is difficult – nay, almost impossible, to conceive the meaning of this order, without a knowledge of the orders given to the 1st and 4th divisions, the 1st commanded by HRH the Duke of Cambridge, and the 4th by Sir George Catheart, the latter having arrived late on the ground owing to a disinclination to march before his men had broken their fast.
How the’ heights’, by which word this order described the causeway, could be recovered by cavalry, supported by infantry, is more than I can conjecture; the redoubts had been taken by the Russian infantry from the Turks in the morning, and the idea of retaking by cavalry seems preposterous; but although the movement of the British cavalry from the south to the north of the causeway may seem to have been undertaken in the attempt to comply with this extraordinary order, I do not recollect seeing any infantry movement in our support, but it must be borne in mind that now we were in the North Valley, the rising ground along which the causeway ran intervened to prevent our seeing into the Balaclava Valley.
I may tell you that Kinglake mentions six redoubts as existing between the two valleys. He may be right, but I can only remember five; be that as it may, the first line of the Heavy Brigade consisted of the Royals (my regiment) and the Scots Greys, drawn up on the sloping ground northwood of No 4 Redoubt, facing on a line slightly diverging from that of the Woronzoff Road, when we received the order to advance. The brushwood on our right front was filled with the enemy’s skirmishers, and No 3 Redoubt, sometimes called Arabtabia, some 600 yards in the same direction, was held by them. A Russian field battery was posted on a spur of the Fedioukhine heights, half a mile distant on our left front, and more guns were posted behind it higher up the hill, whilst a cloud of skirmishers flanked these batteries, which were supported by six squadrons of Lancers, besides many Cossacks.
After moving forward about a couple of hundred yards, the trot was sounded, and most of us felt that if we continued to advance it was quite likely that but few of us would come out alive, and we began to experience a desultory fire from the sharpshooters, when, as I told you before, Lord Lucan, galloping up on our left rear, called out “Halt, the Heavy Brigade ! They have done their duty; let the Lights go”.
We, thereupon, halted; Billy Hartopp, who was riding next to me, observed, “That’s a let off”, a remark that I, being very short sighted, did not appreciate, and, hearing trumpets sounding on our left, we looked in that direction and saw the Light Brigade trotting steadily down the valley, the flags of the 17th Lancers being particularly conspicuous, although they were the regiment farthest from us.
As soon as they had got in advance of us they increased their pace to a gallop, and we, bringing up our right shoulders, broke into a trot, following them in a well-dressed line at a good pace. It should be remembered that this movement down the valley was supposed to be in execution of the order to recover the heights, emphasized by the subsequent order to prevent the enemy carrying away the guns, which were on those height’s, and not in the valley at all.
We now came under a very heavy fire from the skirmishers on our right front and on our left in the brushwood of the Fedioukhine heights, whilst the fire of the batteries, both there and in our front, that missed or tore through the ranks of the Light Brigade, plumped into us, and, as many men were falling and the first remnants of the Light Brigade already returning, we were rather injudiciously halted to cover their retreat.
At this moment we saw the Fourth Chasseurs d’Afrique execute a very brilliant charge in loose order over the hither slope of the Fedioukhine heights, which had the effect of driving away the batteries that were pounding our left flank, whilst the dare devil charge of the Light Brigade and our steady advance parallel to the Arabtabia Redoubt, had the effect of making the enemy evacuate that fort after blowing up the magazine, which created a terrific explosion close to our right as we halted.
The whole ground round us seemed literally torn up with missiles, and one wondered how it was that so few men were hit; just before we halted, a smart young trumpeter, named Aslett, if my recognition serves me, came up to the troop sergeant major, alongside of whom I was riding, and said “What shall I do now, sergeant major ?” His right arm had been torn off by a round shot at the shoulder and was hanging down supported by the sleeve of his coatee.
It was during the next few minutes that Yorke, Elmsall, Campbell and Hartopp were wounded, and Robertson had his horse killed under him, whilst Charteris, of the Divisional General’s staff, was killed and Lord William Paulet wounded. Lord Lucan thought that this was a needless sacrifice of life, although there is no knowing what might have been the result had the Heavy Brigade been launched down upon the already disorganised enemy. Anyhow, this was not done, and the word ‘threes about’ was given by the Divisional General himself.
John Sandeman's horse hit
Horses, as well as men, get excited under such circumstances as we were passing through, and I had some trouble to restrain the spirits of the impetuous little Arab horse I was riding, and as we were just going about I had got – to put it in a slangy way – his nose in to my right boot, in other words, his head was bent round to the right as far as it would go. I had just seen Robertson’s horse bowled over when down went my Arab on his knees, and nearly rolled over on me. My first idea was to extricate myself from the saddle, and I kicked my feet out of the stirrups, when to my astonishment and delight the little horse sprang on to his legs and, putting his head nearly between his forelegs, gave a shake, as a dog does when coming out of the water.
I had not quitted the saddle and, knowing he must have been shot, I looked all round him to see where it was; the last place my eyes lighted upon was his neck, and there on the near side, halfway between his cheek and his shoulder, I saw a swelling as large as half an apple dumpling, but no sign of any blood. A closer inspection showed a patch of skin, the size of half a crown, taken clean off, quite red, but the flesh not broken. At first I felt for the bullet, which I imagined must have penetrated, but I afterwards came to the conclusion that it must have been caused by a round shot which, fortunately, only grazed the skin. I had no time to think then, as I have thought since, that a deviation of a few inches might have made a considerable difference to the narrator of these lines.
It was at this time that Lord Cardigan galloped back from where he had certainly led to the attack, and, coming up to Lord Lucan, said in loud and excited voice : “By God, my Lord, you have destroyed my Brigade !” I did not hear whether Lord Lucan made any reply.
The retrograde movement was carried out at a walk, and, by the time we arrived at the position from which we had started, we were relieved from the fire from which we had been suffering, and, having dismounted, we had time to give the horses a feed and break our own fast with whatever we had brought with us, or what our servants brought out from the camp, which was not more than three quarters of a mile distant. The fare, however, that was brought from the camp was very meagre, as our servants had told us that the officers of the Guards, who, on the march down from the front, had halted close by our camp, had devoured everything they could lay their hands on.
We remained in this manner on the crest of the Western extremity of the Northern slope of the causeway until sundown, up to which time the Russians made no further movement, and, after dark, collecting what brushwood we could find, we made large fires in front of our horses and retired to our camp, where, of course, we found nothing to eat, what little we had in the morning and for our daily ration having been consumed, as above mentioned, by our good ‘friends’ in the Guards.
Next morning we observed the Russian vedettes on all the redoubts from Canrobert’s Hill to the Arabtabia, and the position of our camp being deemed too exposed, we were moved within the lines to a position on the Eastern slope of a spur of the Col, on the summit of which a large square redoubt had been thrown up, which was now occupied by Turkish troops. This fort was on our right rear, the village of Karani being in the adjacent Southern valley, and from our camp we had a magnificent view of the whole extent of the Balaclava Valley.
The accompanying photograph was taken in May 1895 and represents a general view of the Southern Balaclava Valley from near the Woronzoff Road, about seven hundred yards south west of the Arabtabia redoubt.
The dog cart in the centre of the picture is driven by Captain Murray, the British Vice Consul at Sebastopul, and stands on the spot where the successful charge of the Heavy Cavalry Brigade took place. The photograph is taken from the ground upon which the flank charge of the Royal Dragoons and one squadron of the 4th Dragoon Guards was made.
On the left are seen the almost inaccessible hills which divide the Balaclava and Baidar Valleys. In the centre is the harbour, crowned by the ruins of the Genoese Castle, on the left of which are the heights occupied by the Marines, at the foot of which is the knoll where the 93rd Highlanders were posted. On the right centre is the stony hill, occupied afterwards by a French Division, beyond which rises the upland, while behind the picturesque monastery of St George stands snugly embedded in the centre of a little precipitous rocky bay, charmingly wooded and looking down on the deep blue waters of the Black Sea. Just over the French position is seen the valley where the British Cavalry Division wintered in 1854 and 1855. On the extreme right rise the spurs of the Sapoune Heights, leading to the plateau upon which the allied armies were encamped; and Captain Murray’s dog cart points in the direction of the railway, subsequently constructed, up the valley, past Lord Raglan’s headquarters, to the British camp.