The line divides: the right half, which is
Conspicuous for madder breeches,
Presses, like flock of hunted sheep,
Towards yon tower, so grim and steep.
On that day, never to be forgotten in the annals of the British cavalry,
the 25th of October, when we fought the battle of Balaclava, no man in
all the Light Division mounted his horse with a more reckless heart than
I, and no man, perhaps, was personally more careless as to the sequel.
War and its contingent horrors were a relief, congenial to my bitterness
of spirit, and afforded me a relief from myself.
There is probably not a boy in Britain but knows how, on that terrible
day, the six hundred horsemen rode fearlessly into the Valley of Death;
yet I cannot resist the temptation to tell the gallant story once again.
We were roused early in our miserable quarters by tidings that the
Russians, in great force, were menacing Balaclava, the harbour of which
was of vital importance to the allies in their operations against
Sebastopol. Sir Colin Campbell—Lord Clyde, of glorious memory—had been
appointed governor; and to him and his Highland Brigade had this most
valuable post been intrusted by the allied generals. On this day he was
reinforced by a few marines from the fleet, and four thousand lubberly
Turks, who occupied four redoubts, which commanded the road to the camp.
The cavalry division—led by Lord Lucan, and composed of the Scots Greys,
the Inniskillins, 1st Royal, 4th and 5th Dragoon Guards, forming the
Heavy Brigade, under General Scarlett; and the 4th and 13th Light
Dragoons, the 8th and 11th Hussars, with the 17th Lancers and ours,
forming the Light Brigade, under the Earl of Cardigan—were to form
between those Turkish redoubts and the Sutherland Highlanders, who were
encamped under the cliffs, where the marines had a battery.
It was seven in the morning, when Captain Nolan, of the 15th Hussars,
Lord Raglan’s gallant aide-de-camp, dashed into our quarters on
“Get your men into their saddles, Colonel Beverley,” he exclaimed. “A
strong column of the enemy’s cavalry, supported by artillery and
infantry, some twenty-three thousand of all arms, are now in the valley
before Balaclava. General Baur has already stormed one of the Turkish
redoubts, and is opening fire on the other three. The Bono Johnnies are
flying in all directions. Pass the word along for the whole line to
turn out. We must floor them instantly!”
The trumpets blew loud and shrill among the tents, just as Studhome and
I were making a hasty breakfast.
“The deuce!” said he. “So we must take a turn against those troublesome
Cossacks; but if no Russian rifle bullet hath its place allotted in my
proper person, we shall devil those drumsticks, and polish off that
cooper of sherry in the evening.”
We were soon in our saddles, with pistols loaded and lances slung. All
were eager for the fray; and just as the sun arose General Bosquet, with
a few pieces of artillery and two hundred Chasseurs d’Afrique, arrived
to join us.
The surface of the valley into which the cavalry division advanced was
undulating, and numerous green grassy hillocks served to conceal the
movements of the various bodies of troops from each other. Above those
hillocks we could see the light smoke of the distant conflict curling,
as the Russians attacked and took in rapid succession the four redoubts,
turning the guns of each, as they captured it, on the fugitive Turks,
who fled in masses, and were decimated by round-shot and grape from
their own guns, which, in their haste to escape, they forgot to spike.
The last redoubt was speedily abandoned by the brutal Colonel Hadjie
Mehmet, who, bareheaded and without his sabre, was seen galloping
ignominiously over his own men, as they rushed like a flock of sheep
towards the steady line of the 93rd Highlanders, and there, by
superhuman exertions, Sir Colin Campbell formed them in a confused body
on his flank. But before this bourn was reached a Russian bullet had
sent the soul of Hadjie Mehmet in search of the wonders of Paradise.
In fierce pursuit the Russian horse came dashing on, their polished
lance-heads and black leather helmets shining in the sun, and, like
successive human waves, squadron after squadron came in view. Pausing
for a moment on the crest of a ridge, they looked with wonder—it might
be scorn—upon the thin red line of Scotsmen, whom, as Campbell said, in
his quaint way, he “did not think it worth while to form four deep or in
On came the Russians, with levelled lances and uplifted swords—on and on
at a gallop, and from thence to racing speed—down like thunder rolling
through the murky air. This sight proved too much for the red-capped
Turks. Once more their line of red breeches was turned to the enemy, as
they fled _en masse_; but calmly, steadily, and sternly, like their
native rocks, stood the men of the slender Scottish line.
A command is given. Now the Minie rifles are levelled from the
shoulder, the plumed bonnets seem to droop a little to the right as each
man takes his aim, the withering volley rolls along from flank to flank,
and, as the smoke rises, we see a confused heap of men rolling wildly
over each other, while swords, lances, and caps are scattered far and
near. Beyond these are the retreating squadrons—fugitives, and in utter
The cowardly Turks were objects of intense derision to our seamen, and
even to the little middies and soldiers’ wives. Many of the latter
kicked and cuffed the “Bono Johnnies” without mercy for their shameless
abandonment of the Highlanders, and for plundering our cavalry camp,
where they gobbled up the porridge which the Scots Greys had been
cooking for breakfast when the alarm sounded.
Many other regiments of cuirassiers and lancers now joined the baffled
horse, as they re-formed on the slope of a hill, from whence, for the
first time to-day, they saw us, the heavy and light divisions of
cavalry, drawn up in the small valley a little to the left of the
Highlanders, and having had enough of them, with us they now resolved
upon a trial of strength.
By many thousands they outnumbered us; but we knew that we were unaided;
that upon our own bravery, discipline, and hardihood depended the honour
and the fortune of the day; and all the many staff officers and other
spectators, who had come from the French camp and the harbour to witness
the result, knew this too, and looked silently and breathlessly on.
In two long, compact, and glittering lines, the Russian horse once more
came on. Among them were some cuirassier regiments of the Imperial
Guard, with magnificent helmets, adorned with silver eagles. But now,
without waiting for orders, the two advanced corps of our cavalry—the
Scots Greys and the Inniskillin Dragoons, galloped forward to meet them,
one in heart, in ardour, and in purpose, as when those two noble
regiments had ridden side by side, in the same brigade, in the
Septennial War, a century before, and on the plains of Waterloo.
Overlapped by the vast extent of the first Russian line, we thought they
would be literally swallowed up and exterminated. A ray of light seemed
to pass along the ranks, as all their sword blades flashed in the
sunshine; and then came the shock of battle.
The Scots on the left, the Irish dragoons on the right, broke through
the Russians, cutting and treading them down; then both regiments
actually disappeared! We held our breath; but anon a shout escaped us,
as we saw them on the crest of an eminence beyond, cutting through the
second Russian line!
All was then a wild and mingled chaos of uniforms, scarlet, blue, and
green; of flashing swords and brandished lances, of floating plumes and
swaying standards; of shrieking men, and horses kicking, plunging, and
rolling on the turf; and many an episode of chivalry and hand-to-hand
combat was there.
Then we heard the shrill trumpets above that infernal din, where no
commands would have availed. The tall black bearskins of the Scots, and
the brass helmets of the Irish dragoons, began to reappear; and, soon
emerging from that human sea of glory and honour, we saw our gallant
Heavies once more reforming in compact line, and retiring at a hand
gallop, after having taught the thick-skulled Muscovites the strength of
a Briton’s arm, and the temper of our Sheffield steel.
Conspicuous by their colour, we could see that many of the Scots Greys’
horses were covered with blood.
And now came our part in this terrible drama—the disaster of the day!