On surveying the horrors of that day

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league, onward,
Into the Valley of Death,
Rode the Six Hundred!
TENNYSON.

Recoiling before the glorious charges of our Heavy Brigade, the Russian
horse and foot had retired into a narrow gorge at the head of the long
green valley. There thirty pieces of cannon were in position, and in
rear of them were formed six solid columns of cavalry and six of
infantry, while other dense masses occupied the slopes beyond.

Notwithstanding this formidable array, in an almost unassailable
position, a message was received by Lord Lucan from Captain Lewis Edward
Nolan, of the 15th Hussars, undoubtedly one of the bravest of the brave,
to the effect that the Light Brigade was to carry those thirty pieces of
cannon. Another account says that he simply pointed to the guns with his
sword, and said, “We should take them,” and that the motion was taken
for an order.

Ere many minutes were passed, poor Nolan paid the full penalty of this
misconception or error in judgment—if error it was.

Perilous, rash, and desperate though the attempt, Lord Lucan reluctantly
ordered the Earl of Cardigan to advance with his brigade, and cheerfully
we obeyed the startling order.

We numbered only six hundred and seven horsemen, officers included.

Each officer took up the words in succession—”The brigade will advance.
First squadron, march, trot, gallop!” And then for the first time, as I
led my squadron on, did I become aware how thirsty we unconsciously
become when under fire. My lips were quite baked, yet the morning air
was moist and cool. We had before us a mile and a half to gallop over,
level and open ground, encumbered here and there by the dead and wounded
men and horses of the previous encounter; but these we swept over in our
advance towards where the black and grim artillery stood, with round and
gaping muzzles, before the solid array of Russian horse and foot—those
dark columns in long grey capotes, all cross-belted, with fixed bayonets
glittering in the sun; those darker and less distinct clouds of
horsemen, whose forest of lances, sword-blades, and brighter
appointments glittered and flashed from among their umbered masses.

On and on we rode, and faces flushed red, and hearts beat wildly—while
the Earl, brave as every English gentleman should be, with all his
faults of temper—led us on with brandished sword. Every hand was firm
on the bridle, every grasp was firm on the sword, every knee was pressed
to the saddle-laps, every rowel was tinged with blood; so, holster to
holster and boot to boot, the squadrons were pressing on.

“CHARGE!” escaped me, almost before the time, and then the maddened
horses rushed on at full racing speed, with long, invigorating strides.
Our lances were all unslung, and in the rest, the banneroles fluttering
before the horses’ heads and outstretched necks, from which the manes
were floating backward like smoke.

We were soon within the line of fire. Like the thunder of heaven the
park of artillery shook the air, as cannon, mortars, and rifles opened
like a fiery hell on front and flanks at once. An iron shower of round
shot and grape, shells, and rockets, with a tempest of conical rifle
bullets, whizzed past our ears, or tore through horses and men, and down
they went on right and left at every stride.

Struck on the breast by a shell, the gallant Nolan fell back on his
saddle, with a wild and harrowing cry, as his horse swept round, and
bore his body to the rear, with his feet still in the stirrups,
vindicating, even in death, his reputation as one of England’s noblest
horsemen.

Man after man, horse after horse, are now going down, thick and fast,
and shrieks, and prayers, and curses rise together to Heaven; but the
rest close in from the flank, and firmer, denser, wilder, and more
resolute than ever we ride the race of death!

On, and on yet, steeds snorting, lances rising and falling, pennons
fluttering, and sabres flashing in the sunshine.

“Steady, lads, steady!” cried Lionel Beverley, as another shower of
grape tore through the squadrons, and many more went down, though some
of the horses remained riderless in the rank, and galloped mechanically
on. For a moment, amid the confusion, I saw the colonel for the last
time, as he led us—that noble heart, that polished gentleman and gallant
lancer. He was deadly pale, for he was mortally wounded in the left
side. His life-blood was ebbing; but his sword was still uplifted, and
a light was flashing in his eyes, which already could see “the glories
and the terrors of the unknown world.”

“Close up, gentlemen and comrades! Keep your horses well in hand; but
spur on—charge, and charge home! Hurrah!”

A ball hummed past—a twenty-four pound shot, apparently—and where was
Lionel Beverley?

Doubled up, a dead and ghastly heap, under a dying and mangled charger!
The next who fell was my friend Wilford. If he was somewhat of a dandy
in England, there was no want of pluck in him here. Leading his troop,
he fell close by me, and I leaped my horse over him as he rolled past,
churning a mouthful of grass and earth, his features awfully convulsed,
and his limbs trembling in their death agony. Poor Fred Wilford!

On and on yet! Many a familiar face is gone now; the gaps are fearful,
and men who were on the flanks now find themselves in the centre. Yet,
withal, it is impossible not to feel how—

One crowded hour of glorious life
Is worth an age without a name.

On we still gallop towards that mouth of fire—on, and fearlessly. The
best blood of the three kingdoms is in our ranks, all well and nobly
mounted, the flower of our gallant cavalry—on yet like a whirlwind, the
hearty British “Hurrah! hurrah! hurrah!” ringing in our ears; the
heart’s blood seems mounting to the brain; and _now_ we are upon
them!—now the red flashing muzzles of the cannon are passed; the gunners
are throwing themselves under the wheels and limbers, where we cut them
down, and spear or pin them to the turf. Others are rushing for shelter
to their squares of infantry, under whose rifles they lie flat and
securely, while sheets of lead are tearing through us!

Oh, the superlative bitterness of that moment, when, with all our horses
blown, I look back and see that we are without supports!

The guns are taken—the gunners almost annihilated; our horses are
breathless. We have no aid, and no resource but to ride back, under
such a concentrated fire as troops were never before exposed to.

“It’s all up—threes about—retire!”

A single trumpet feebly gives the call, and away we go.

Shot—in the heart, perhaps—my Arab steed sank down gently beneath me;
but I received a severe blow from something, I know not what—the
splinter of a shell, probably, which crushed my lancer cap, and almost
stunned me. I must have remounted myself mechanically, for when we
hacked our way back, and reached the rear, I was riding a bay horse of
the 11th Hussars, the saddle and holsters of which were slimy with
blood. The horse fell with me soon after, as it had been disembowelled
by a grape shot.

Of all those glorious regiments who formed the Light Brigade, there came
back but one hundred and ninety-eight men; many of these were wounded,
and many dismounted; and when the rolls were called over at nightfall,
it was found that one hundred and fifty-seven were dead, one hundred and
nineteen were wounded, and that three hundred and thirty fine horses
were killed, leaving more than one hundred and thirty dragoons
unaccounted for.

I had not the heart to number the forty men who represented the two
squadrons which followed Lionel Beverley. There, on the green sward of
that Valley of Death, lay our gallant colonel, cut in two by a round
shot; Travers, torn to pieces by grape shot; Scriven, slain by three
lance wounds; Howard, “the only son of his mother, and she was a widow;”
Frank Jocelyn, our old sergeant-major, and an incredible number of
others killed. The flower of our lancers were there, and among them my
faithful follower, Pitblado, with a rifle bullet in his leg.




Hot, breathless, stiff, sore, and covered with bruises, I now discovered
that in the _mêlée_—though I was unconscious of having struck a
blow—there were, at least, twenty notches in the blade of my sword, that
I had received three very severe lance prods, two sword cuts, and that
my uniform was torn to rags. When we halted to girth up, I threw myself
on the rich grass of the valley, and, taking off my battered lancer cap,
felt the cool breeze most grateful, as it came from the distant sea.
Then I buried my face among the verdure, less for coolness than from
excess of weakness, and to hide the sorrow that consumed me for the
losses we had sustained.

From a distance came the cheers of the Heavy Brigade, avenging us, and
completing the work we had begun. Then the fierce excitement—the devil
that had possessed me—passed away, and I thought only of the dying and
the dead.

* * * * *

“Is that you, Lanty?” said a voice near me.

“Ov coorse it is—barrin’ the tip of an ear.”

“Well, thank God, there are at least two of our troop left.”

“And the captain here!”

I must have fainted from exhaustion and loss of blood, for after a time
I was surprised to find my jacket open at the neck, and that I was
propped against my dead horse by Dr. Hartshorn, who was binding up my
cuts and scars, while Lanty O’Regan attended, with a short black dudeen
in his mouth, which had been enlarged by a sword cut, and then roughly
patched with plaster, which did not, however, prevent poor Lanty from
talking.

“Me mouth, is it, I’m to take care ov, docthor dear? Sure, if it is
only for the sake ov the girls, I’ll do that same; but, be gorra! I
wish that dirty Roosian had been holdin’ on the horns of the new moon
wid his fingers well greased, before I came across him.”

“Are you sure the farrier-sergeant is dead?”

“Quite sure, docthor.”

“You saw him get the sleeping draught?”

“Sure, the draught it was that finished him right off?”

“What the deuce do you mean? I took orf his leg successfully in the
Turkish hospital.”

“And sure, afther ye war gone, the Turkish Hospital sergeant, who was
blazing drunk with raki, made up a prescription of all the dhrugs in the
place, saying some o’ them would surely compose him.”

“Well—well?”

“The farrier-sergeant took it, sir; and he’s now composed enough, poor
man, and laying in the trinches, waitin’ to be covered up wid green
sods, if they can be got in that red valley ov blood and murder.”

Some brandy given by Hartshorn now rallied me a little, and I inquired
for Willie Pitblado. Lanty informed me that he was in a hospital tent,
and enduring great pain.

Pitblado’s sword had broken in his hand; he was looking wildly round him
for another, when poor Studhome, who lay dying beneath ahorse, placed
his own sword in Willie’s hand, saying—

“Use it, and wear it for my sake. All’s over with me!”

Pitblado cut down two Russian gunners, and actually bore Studhome for
some paces in his arms, before he discovered that he was dead, and then
a rifle bullet stretched him on the field.

A few men were now crawling back from the valley, where several
dismounted guns and dead bodies were all that remained of the Russian
host, which had now fallen back.

Numbers of horses, many of them severely wounded, with bridles hanging
loose, and saddles all bloody, careered along the green ridges, where
they were caught by the Turks. Some came trotting quietly into quarters,
when they heard the trumpet sound for “corn”; others cropped the bloody
herbage in the Valley of Death; and not a few who remained beside their
fallen riders were found by the burial parties.

Beverley’s body was discovered, terribly mutilated, stripped, and
deprived of the locket which contained the hair of his intended—the girl
who was shot in his arms on the retreat through the Khyber Pass.

On surveying the horrors of that day, I asked myself—was it for such
work as this that heaven created us?

But such was that glorious and disastrous episode of the war—the charge
of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava.

In foreign armies—as I once heard a brother officer remark—one would
have found plenty of officers to lead such a charge, but in what other
army would one find soldiers to follow as ours did? Though surrounded
on every side by the enemy, though apparently all was over with them,
though suffering under a withering fire, and seeing their comrades
falling in heaps around them, not a man flinched, or thought of shifting
for himself; but all looked to their officers, and followed them as if
they had been on an ordinary parade.

“There are eighty-one of ours, sir, to be buried in yonder pit,” said a
trumpeter named Jones, as he came to my tent next morning.

“Eighty-one!—my God!—the poor fellows!”

“Yes, sir—eighty-one,” repeated Jones, sadly.

“Where are they?”

“Some are in the trenches—others coming.”

They were borne from the field, where they had lain all night, and where
the only tears that fell on them were the dews of heaven, and then they
were half lowered, half flung in—eighty-one! all handsome young men—and
the Highlanders began to cover them up.

“God rest them,” said I, lifting my cap, as I leaned on the trumpeter’s
arm.

“Ay, sir,” said he, sadly; “the next trumpet they hear will be a louder
one than Bill Jones’s!”

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