The Crimean War and the Battle of Balaklava

About the Battle of Balaklava in the Crimean War a fight between the Russians and the English, French, and Turkish armies in 1854.


In September, 1854, the Franco-British force of 56,000 men, supported by a Turkish group of 5,000, invaded the Crimea. Their objective was the capture of the Russian naval base at Sevastopol. The defense of the British base of operations, Balaklava, depended upon the control of the terrain immediately to its north. Two valleys, named South and North, respectively, ran nearly parallel to the coast, separated by the Causeway Heights, a ridge of low hills between them. Unless the Heights were controlled, the Russians could approach, sight unseen, down the North Valley and launch an attack over the Causeway Heights, coming across the South Valley to storm Balaklava.

As an advance warning, the British commander-in-chief, Lord Raglan, constructed 6 redoubts on the Heights, manned by 3,000 Turks with 9 12-lb. cannon. At the west end of the Heights and stationed in the North Valley, he posted Lord Lucan's cavalry division, comprised of Sir James Scarlett's Heavy Brigade and Lord Cardigan's Light Brigade.

The Russian attack by 25,000 men, led by Count Liprandi, came down the North Valley as expected, but it wheeled left to capture the redoubts from the Turks on the Causeway Heights. Scarlett responded in a counterattack that drove the Russians back in confusion. His fellow commander, Cardigan, chose to remain idle, although his added support would have turned the Russian withdrawal into a rout.

Lord Raglan's staff, watching from the plains, observed the Russians preparing to remove the captured Turkish cannon with them. Raglan issued an order to the Light Brigade: Advance and prevent the removal of the cannon.

He neglected to be specific. Lord Lucan, observing the action from a position on the plain, could see only the Russian cannon at the far end of the North Valley. Therefore he objected strenuously to the Raglan order, brought by Captain Nolan, but a long-standing feud between the 2 men prevented any clarifying discussion from taking place. Raglan's aide continued on to deliver the order to Cardigan, who also protested it in vain, pointing out that its execution meant certain disaster.

Cardigan finally complied. He led the illfated charge down the North Valley, taking heavy fire from Russians in positions to his left and right, on the Heights bordering the valley, and from the main Russian force to his front. Although he reached the guns he mistakenly believed he had been ordered to capture, the waiting Russian cavalry, stationed behind the guns, swept forward and drove him back with heavy losses. Of 673 men who began the charge, 113 were killed and another 134 were wounded or captured.

The Russian victory had little effect on the outcome of their campaign. Within 6 weeks, they abandoned the Causeway Heights redoubts for which the men of the Light Brigade had erroneously died.

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