Lord Lucan, standing on the valley floor, read Lord Raglan’s orders with maddening care. The young captain who had just barreled down the hill to deliver them could scarcely contain his anger as he waited for his superior’s instructions. He could thank his Irish/Italian ancestry for the tinder, and the British government for the spark, that fanned the flame of his ire.
Stupid, bloody idiots. Put a “Lord” in front of their names and they become experts in something they know nothing about! Should be in their drawing rooms sipping tea, not here in the Crimea telling real soldiers how to fight a war.
Nolan’s horse, sensing his master’s disquiet, pranced and shied, forcing the captain to concentrate on something other than the splendidly attired nobleman facing him.
The consternation on Lord Lucan’s face was obvious.
“Nolan, these orders are impossible!”
They usually are!
Nolan kept his mouth shut — for once. He had a reputation for being somewhat outspoken. After all, he had written books about military strategy. Of course, a “Lord” never consulted a captain on how to conduct an offensive however knowledgeable that soldier might be.
The trouble was, Raglan hadn’t described in his orders what he was seeing from the safety of his perch on top of the hill six hundred feet above Lucan. He had pointed out the positions being held by the Russians to the ladies and gentlemen who accompanied him, spectators of the “reality” of war who sipped lemonade and picnicked on the heights above the battlefield. It was plain to all the non-participants that the Russians had taken the British guns on the Causeway Heights and were attempting to haul them away. It was also obvious that there were battalions of enemy soldiers and a score of guns flanking the valley. However, little hills and ridges blocked Lucan’s line of sight. He couldn’t see the Russian artillery lined up, ready and waiting. All he could see were the guns at the end of the valley.
“What does Lord Raglan expect me to attack? What guns? And where are they?”
Nolan, frustrated at the foolishness of fops and their kin, lost all reason. He extended his arms, trapping within their circle all the land seen, and all the enemy unseen.
“The enemy! Attack the enemy and take their guns, sir!”
Since the only enemy he could see was at the north end of the valley, Lord Lucan assumed this was the enemy Raglan meant. Pride demanded that he not ask any further questions. He didn’t get along with Raglan and, by Jove, he wasn’t going to go crawling to him for more information. Surely Nolan’s somewhat vague indication was sufficient. Lucan personally delivered the order to Lord Cardigan, the commander of the Light Brigade.
“May I remind you, sir, that the Russians have fortifications on both sides of the valley as well as guns at the end.”
Lucan looked almost pained.
“No doubt there will be some small resistance. Nevertheless, Lord Raglan has ordered us to take those guns, and take them we will. We have no other choice but to do as we have been told.”
Cardigan, jaw set, led the charge, riding well ahead of the Light Brigade. By the time Raglan realized where they were headed it was too late. Captain Nolan rushed out to warn Cardigan and was among the first to die as the Russians let loose a volley of cannon fire. The battle almost forgotten, Cardigan steamed at the insult of a subordinate officer daring to overtake him during a charge.
In spite of terrible loses, fifty men managed to reach the twelve Russian guns at the end of the valley, including Cardigan. By this time, his lordship was so angry that even when Russian soldiers attempted to capture him, he tossed them off, turned his horse around, and headed back down the valley to complain to Raglan about Nolan’s insubordination.
The Brigade rushed on without him, to finish the job they thought they had been sent to do. The Russians moved in behind them to cut of their retreat but, perhaps moved by such foolish gallantry, they did not press their advantage and allowed the remnants to stumble back to safety through the Valley called Death.
Less than two hundred of the almost seven hundred men who rode out, returned: “Their's not to make reply, Their's not to reason why, Their's but to do and die.”*
*The Charge of the Light Brigade, Alfred, Lord Tennyson
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