These edited extracts are from Paget's own account, The Light Cavalry Brigade in the Crimea Extracts from the Letters and Journal of General Lord George Paget (John Murray, 1881).Alvin Wee of the University Scholar's Programme, created the electronic text using OmniPage Pro OCR software, and created the HTML version. Edited and added by Marjie Bloy, Ph.D., Senior Research Fellow, National University of Singapore.
The division had as usual turned out an hour before daybreak, and were "standing at their horses," when Lord Lucan and his staff, hardly discernible in the darkness that prevailed, passed by us, coming from his tent (to our right rear), and making his way to the scene of his usual morning's ride to the front. They were riding at a foot's pace, when I jogged off and joined Lord W. Paulet, A.A.G., and Major McMahon, A.Q.M.G., who were following the Lieutenant-General at a distance of some fifty yards.
We rode on at a walk across the plain, in the direction of the left of " Canrobert's Hill," in happy ignorance of the day's work in store for us; and by the time we had approached to within about three hundred yards of the Turkish redoubts in our front, the first faint streaks of daylight (for the sun had not yet appeared on the horizon), showed us that from the flag-staff, which had, I believe, only the day before been erected on the redoubt, flew two flags, only just discernible in the grey twilight.
The conversation which ensued will ever be vividly impressed on my memory. "Holloa," said Lord William, "there are two flags flying what does that mean?" "Why, that surely is the signal that the enemy is approaching," said Major McMahon. "Are you quite sure?" we replied. We were not long kept in doubt! Hardly were the words out of McMahon's mouth, when bang went a cannon from the redoubt in question, fired on the advancing masses of the enemy.
Off scampered my two companions to their chief, while, I turned round and galloped back "best pace" to my brigade, which I at once mounted (Lord Cardigan not having yet appeared on parade). A moment after (on the arrival of a message from Lord Lucan), we advanced across the plain at a trot, the white volumes of smoke in our front increasing each moment, and telling us of the continued advance of our foes.
We halted under the hill of No. 2 battery, and were not long in being made sensibly aware of what was going on, by the huge, cricket-balls coming "lobbing" through us, from over the hill in our front. The balls were mostly spent, and it was not difficult, with a sharp look-out, to avoid them; though this did not always hold good, for one of the first of them caught the horse of the front rank-left flank man of the leading squadron of the Fourth, and completely whizzed him round, and I can well remember the slosh that sounded, as it went through the centre of his belly.
Many were the shouts during the next half-hour, "Look-out! look-out!" and exclamations at the narrow escapes of particular individuals. On one of these occasions I was standing with my side to the redoubt, and clear of the front of the brigade, when all sorts of gesticulations and cries of "Look-out, Lord George!" met my ears. Bewildered, of course, I moved my horse on two or three paces, which had the effect of bringing me into the line of the round shot which they saw coming, and which bounded actually between my horse's fore and hind legs, bursting, a cloud of dust up into my face. What a shout followed; for probably there were few eyes that were not on me, standing in my conspicuous place, and few doubted the result as they saw the shot coming! A shout of congratulatory exultation, as I said, followed, for it is curious to witness the anxiety evinced by all in the safety of a comrade, be he general, cornet, or private, when all are in the same boat. The first knowledge I had of the danger I had passed was a laugh from my rollicking orderly, " Ah, ha! it went right between your horse's legs" ; responded to by me, "Well, you seem to think it a good joke; I don't see anything to laugh at." Nothing, makes one so captious as being frightened!
We advanced from our bivouac lines in echelon of brigades from the right (the Heavy Brigade to our right), Captain Maude's troop of Horse Artillery having during our advance galloped to the front, and taken up its position on the ridge in front, from whence it opened fire.
The outlying picket, which had been for some days previously stationed some quarter of a mile beyond the village of Kamara, had been surprised early in the morning, and had had a narrow escape of being taken prisoners. Major Low, field officer of the day, when making his morning rounds having found them, I fear, little on the alert. Had he arrived five minutes later, they would have been caught, for he was in the act of hustling them out of their half-drowsy state, when they were attacked by the Cossacks in large numbers, and had to gallop in for their lives. They joined us in our advance.
Ere this, all eyes had become riveted on the redoubts in our front, including Canrobert's Hill, and presently a sort of "Spread Eagle" was seen against the horizon, the splinters of broken guns, horses' legs, etc., shooting up into the air, reminding one of a battle picture.
Five minutes later, the mangled form of poor Maude, as he was carried past us to the rear, too truly confirmed our surmises of the total havoc caused by the bursting of a shell among the guns of his battery. He was actually covered with blood, that of the horse probably mingled with his own.
The first sense of discomfort that we felt on this somewhat uncomfortable day, was caused by a general cry of, "They have taken Canrobert's Hill." A short, a very short struggle, on the hill, and down came the "Buono Johnnys," (the well-known sobriquet of the Turks) helter skelter down the almost perpendicular descent, as if the Devil were at their heels, the Russians peppering, though not attempting to follow them. Halfway down, our allies made a sort of rally, but it was only for a moment, and what became of them we did not see, as our attention was soon diverted to the events that were occurring on the redoubt next to, and on the left of Canrobert's Hill, known as No. 2 (that redoubt close to where Maude's guns had so lately suffered, and which was closer to us, and more immediately in our front). The defenders of this redoubt did not make much resistance, though it is due to them to say that in each of these two first redoubts some faint sort of fight was made.
The abandonment of this redoubt made it necessary for the cavalry to commence retiring, which they did slowly, and at intervals of time all the early morning, during which retrograde movement (which must have occupied more than an hour) we had the mortification of seeing all the redoubts occupied by the Turks, in our front and left front, abandoned, one by one — the last, No. 3 (1) without a shot being fired in their defence; nay, the defenders evacuating them before the enemy had reached them. The Turks who thus abandoned these redoubts (situated so that their line of flight to Balaclava was immediately across our front, in our now retired position) did not run — there was no need for that, as they had taken time by the forelock — but crawled slowly by us in twos and threes, laden with their blankets and kits, which they had given themselves time to collect, their cry being "Ship, ship," a name by which they were for some time known, alternately with that of " Buono Johnny." (2)
Our gradual retreat across that plain, "by alternate regiments", was one of the most painful ordeals it is possible to conceive-seeing all the defences in our front successively abandoned as they were, and straining our eyes in vain all round the hills in our rear for indications of support. We had regained the vicinity of our lines long before there was any sign of our infantry from the plateau of Sebastopol, and, even when we first saw them, they were at such a distance as to give us no hope of the immediate support necessary in the event of a sudden forward movement of the enemy. (It must have been half-past ten before our two infantry divisions formed in the plain.) In fact, for some hours it would have devolved on our handful of cavalry to contest the plain against the large force of Russians, had they pursued their advantage, though to a certain extent we had the support of the guns defending Balaclava, and of the 93rd Highlanders in their mountain position. At length the brigade of Guards appeared, and took up a position in the plain, supported after an interval of time by the Fourth Division.
Our next movement was a flank one to our left, to the rising ground that forms the end of the ridge of low hills, on which were situated the line of Turkish redoubts; the whole of which (except No. 5, the one next to us) were by this time in the possession of the enemy. The Light Brigade was here formed into two bodies; the one consisting of the 8th, 13th and 17th, and the other of the 4th and (I think) the 11th, the first of these facing the end of the ridge of redoubts, and the latter (a short distance in their rear) placed in somewhat of a hollow in the undulating ground, and facing more to the left front, looking towards the lower ground that separated us from the Woronzoff road, as it wound down from the old telegraph station on the plateau.
The second of these lines was placed under my command by Lord Cardigan, who desired me to watch that approach to our position, in case of an attack from that side; while he with the three other regiments would await an attack from the direction of the redoubts, in the event of which he expected my "best support."
We remained in these positions for a very short time, when a new disposition was made; the first line moving more, forward to their front, the second line (which in the new disposition consisted of the 4th and 8th) throwing our left shoulders forward, and (ceasing to watch the point of attack on our left front) following the forward movement of the first line, and becoming therefore more directly a line of support to them.
After an advance of some 100 yards, we again halted in the position from whence we started our unfortunate charge, this position being on the end of the ridge which, as I have said, terminated the chain of hills on which stood the Turkish redoubts. We thus faced about due east, looking down from our right on our encampment ground (situated between us and Balaclava), our left being skirted by the low valley ground which separated us from the plateau heights.
The 4th and 8th being thus placed in position and dismounted, I sauntered some 40 or 50 yards to my right to see what was going on in the valley below, and fortunate was it for my after-recollections that I did so, for I then witnessed, from the most perfect position imaginable, that most glorious and brilliant feat of arms known as the Charge of the Heavy Brigade.
We remained on the ground we were occupying in two lines some hour and a half, dismounted, and employing our time in the interchange of the commodities of life (of which we were in much need; not having yet broken our fast), consisting of biscuits, hard-boiled eggs and the like; the more provident sharing their flasks of rum with those who took no thought for the morrow, while others were consoling themselves with that universal panacea for soldiers in war, as well indeed as in peace, the "tobacco-leaf." (3)
We were thus engaged when the first intimation I received of our intended attack was conveyed by Lord Cardigan riding, up to me and saying, "Lord George, we are ordered to make an attack to the front. You will take command of the second line, and I expect your best support, mind, your best support," this last sentence being repeated more than once, and perhaps with rather a marked emphasis, as I thought, though it was probably more the result of excitement than anything else. But it caused me to answer with equal emphasis," Of course, my Lord, you shall have my best support." He then galloped back to his troops, and then commenced the affair known as the Charge of the Light Brigade, and it is a high compliment to the actors in it, in my humble opinion, that it may be called the rival of the Heavy Brigade charge.
On our return from the charge, the Light Brigade collected, as it were, on the slope of the hill looking towards Balaclava and remained there, some hours, on the chance of their services being again required. For some time stragglers and loose horses kept hobbling home, each being received by a hearty cheer at his unexpected appearance. There was then counting up of losses. A roll was soon called, and a melancholy ceremony it was, each narrating where they last saw a missing comrade, and all bewailing the known loss of many an old friend. It was a sad list indeed! The farriers' pistols were soon brought into requisition, to shoot such of the poor beasts as were too mutilated for further service (a repetition of which task was enacted for many mornings after).
Then came a more welcome occupation, that of profiting by the forethought of some commissariat officers, who sent us some rum and biscuit from Balaclava. There was hardly an officer or man who had broken his fast this day (3 o'clock), but it soon became necessary to limit the issue of grog, for some soon began to show unmistakable evidence of that condition which under other circumstances would have got them into trouble. The ensuing night we had to shift our ground more than once, and it was half-past one in the morning before we could get any sleep.
(2) A great deal was made of the behaviour of the Turks in their abandonment of these redoubts, and by none more than ourselves (the cavalry), but the truth is, they were placed in very trying circumstances. The bravest troops in the world never should have been placed in charge of those redoubts, en l'air, and unsupported as they were, or rather at such a distance from all supports. It is true that all the redoubts, after Canrobert's Hill, were abandoned in a manner inexcusable for good troops, but a good show of resistance was made in the former. [back]
(3) After we had mounted, and just before we commenced our advance, Colonel Shewell, commanding the 8th Hussars, happened to rest his eye on one of his men with a pipe in his mouth, which so excited his military ire that he holloaed to him that "he was disgracing his regiment by smoking in the presence of the enemy" — a grave view of the question which certainly I (his commanding officer) did not, or at least had not, up to that time, reciprocated, inasmuch as I at this very moment was enjoying a remarkably good cigar. The question then rose in my mind, "Am I to set this bad example? (in the Colonel's opinion at least) or should I throw away a good cigar? — no such common article in these days, be it remembered. Well, the cigar carried the day, and it lasted me till we got to the guns — with shame do I say it. It was often the subject of joke between us afterwards, his upbraiding a man for a fault which his senior officer was at the very time committing! and we could never agree as to which was right — he persisting in the perhaps more strictly military view of the question, while I, who had more experience of the comfort of so warm a friend, clung to my argument, that under the circumstances of our being rather in want of warm friends, such a relaxation of discipline was allowable. [back]
Last modified 29 May 2002