01-116 Charge of the Light Brigade III
Vol. 01 No. 116 05/17/2013
Lead: Made famous in verse and legend, the charge and decimation of the Light Brigade was due to a misunderstood order - a classic wartime screw-up.

Intro: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: Seeking to punish Russia for having aggressive designs on the Balkans, Britain and France in the fall of 1854, attacked the port of Sebastopol, Russia's Black Sea naval base in the Crimean peninsula. Things were not going well for the allies. Barely clinging to their position in the small city of Balaclava, the allies were slowly being ground up by the Russians.

On the heights above Balaclava was an elongated flat plateau split by a range of low hills, the Causeway Heights. By October 25, 1854, the Russians controlled the heights and their artillery was threatening the city. Lord Ragland, Commander of British forces, wanted those cannons taken, a job normally reserved for infantry. In his haste he made a fatal decision. He sent word orders to Lord Lucan, commander of the British Cavalry, to capture the guns. Lucan asked, "Which guns?" The messenger pointed in the wrong direction, not toward the heights, but to the guns in place at the head of the valley three miles away.

Lucan sent for the commander of the Light Brigade and when the unit leader complained that the order was foolish, Lucan dismissed the complaint. "We have no choice but to obey." With artillery in the front, right, and left, the Russians blew the British away. The Light Brigade made it, but at the terrible cost of a third of its men and two-thirds of its horses. By spring 1856, public enthusiasm in Britain and France for this dirty, strange little war had evaporated, but the story of the Light Brigade's dance with death would live as an example of courageous sacrifice in the service of incompetent leadership.

The words of Alfred Lord Tennyson recall the brave but useless Charge of the Light Brigade executed by mistake:

Into the valley of death

Rode the six hundred

Cannon to the right of them.

Cannon to the left of them.

Cannon behind them

Volley’d and thunder’d;

Storm’d at with shot and shell,

While horse and hero fell,

They that had fought so well

Came thro’ the jaws of Death

Back from mouth of hell,

All that was left of them,

Left of six hundred.

The Producer of A Moment in Time is Steve Clark. At the University of Richmond, this is Dan Roberts.


Hamley, Edward Bruce. The Story of the Campaign of Sebastopol. New York: Greenwood Press, 1968.

Hibbert, Christopher. The Destruction of the Lord Ragland. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1962.

Seaton, Albert. The Crimean: A Russian Chronicle. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1977.

Selby, John Millin. Balaclava: Gentleman's Battle. New York: Athenaeum Publishing Company, 1970.

Woodham Smith, Cecil Blanche Fitz Gerald. The Reason Why. New York: McGraw-Hill Publishing Company, 1954.

Copyright 2013 by Dan Roberts Enterprises, Inc.