1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Balaklava

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BALAKLAVA, a village in the Crimea, east of Sevastopol, famous for a battle in the Crimean War. The action of Balaklava (October 25th, 1854) was brought about by the advance of a Russian field army under General Liprandi to attack the allied English, French and Turkish forces besieging Sevastopol. The ground on which the engagement took place was the Vorontsov ridge (see Crimean War), and the valleys on either side of it. Liprandi’s corps formed near Traktir Bridge, and early on the 25th of October its advanced guard moved southward to attack the ridge, which was weakly occupied by Turkish battalions behind slight entrenchments. The two nearest British divisions were put into motion as soon as the firing became serious, but were prevented by their orders from descending at once into the plain, and the Turks had to meet the assault of greatly superior numbers. They made a gallant resistance, but the Russians quickly cleared the ridge, capturing several guns, and their first line was followed by a heavy mass of cavalry which crossed the ridge and descended into the Balaklava plain. At this moment the British cavalry division under the earl of Lucan was in the plain, but their commander was prevented from engaging the Russians by the tenor of his orders. One of his brigades, the Heavy (4th and 5th Dragoon Guards, 1st, 2nd and 6th Dragoons) under Brigadier-General J. Y. Scarlett, was in the Balaklava plain; the other, the Light Brigade under Lord Cardigan (4th and 13th Light Dragoons now Hussars, 8th and 11th Hussars and 17th Lancers) in the valley to the north of the Vorontsov ridge. All these regiments were very weak in numbers. The Russian cavalry mass, after crossing the ridge, moved towards Balaklava; a few shots were fired into it by a Turkish battery and a moment later the Heavy Brigade charged. The attack was impeded at first by obstacles of ground, but in the mêlée the weight of the British troopers gradually broke up the enemy, and the charge of the 4th Dragoon Guards, delivered against the flank of the Russian mass, was decisive. The whole of the Russian cavalry broke and fled to the ridge. This famous charge occupied less than five minutes from first to last, and at the same time some of the Russian squadrons, attempting to charge the 93rd Highlanders (who were near Balaklava) were met by the steady volleys of the “thin red line,” and fled with the rest. The defeated troops retreated past the still inactive Light Brigade, on whose left a French cavalry brigade was now posted. The Russians were at this juncture reinforced by a mixed force on the Fedukhine heights; Liprandi’s infantry occupied the captured ridge, and manned the guns taken from the Turks. The cavalry defeated by the Heavy Brigade was re-formed in the northern valley behind the field guns, and infantry, cavalry and artillery were on both the Fedukhine and the Vorontsov heights. Thus, in front of the Light Brigade was a valley over a mile long, at the end of which was the enemy’s cavalry and twelve guns, and on the ridges on either side there were in all twenty-two guns, with cavalry and infantry. It was under these circumstances that an order was given by the British headquarters, which led to the charge for which above all Balaklava is remembered. It was carried to Lord Lucan by Captain L. E. Nolan, 15th Hussars, and ran as follows:—“Lord Raglan wishes the cavalry to advance rapidly to the front and try to prevent the enemy carrying away the guns . . . French cavalry is on your left.” Lucan, seeing no attempt on the part of the enemy to move guns, questioned Nolan, who is said to have pointed down the valley to the artillery on the plain; whereupon Lucan rode to Lord Cardigan, the commander of the Light Brigade, and repeated Lord Raglan’s order and Nolan’s explanation. The Light Brigade then advanced straight to its front, and soon came under fire from the guns on both flanks. Nolan was killed as he rode across the front of the brigade, perhaps with the intention of changing its direction to the Vorontsov ridge. Five minutes later the guns in front began to fire with telling effect. The pace was increased, though the “charge” was not sounded, and Cardigan and those of his men who remained mounted, rode up to and through the Russian line of guns. Small parties even charged the Russian cavalry in rear and on either flank. The French 4th Chasseurs d’Afrique made a dashing charge which drove the Russians off the Fedukhine heights, though at considerable loss. Lucan had meanwhile called up the Heavy Brigade to support the Light, but it lost many men and horses and was quickly withdrawn. Only two formed bodies of the Light Brigade found their way back. The 13th Light Dragoons mustered but ten mounted men at the evening parade; the brigade as a whole had lost 247 men and 497 horses out of a total strength of 673 engaged in the charge, which lasted twenty minutes from first to last. The two infantry divisions which now approached the field were again halted, and Liprandi was left undisturbed on the Vorontsov ridge and in possession of the captured guns. The result of the day was thus unfavourable to the allies, but the three chief incidents of the engagement—the two cavalry charges and the fight of the 93rd Highlanders—gave to it all the prestige of a victory. The impression created by the conduct of the Light Brigade was forcibly expressed in Tennyson’s well-known ballad, and in spite of the equally celebrated remark of the French general Bosquet, C’est magnifique mais ce n’est pas la guerre, it may be questioned whether the moral effect of the charge did not outweigh the very serious loss in trained men and horses involved.