The Charge of the Light Brigade was a failed military action involving the British light cavalry led by Lord Cardigan against Russian forces during the Battle of Balaclava on 25 October 1854 in the Crimean War.
British commander Lord Raglan had intended to send the Light Brigade to prevent the Russians from removing captured guns from overrun Turkish positions, a task for which the light cavalry were well-suited.
However, there was miscommunication in the chain of command, and the Light Brigade was instead sent on a frontal assault against a different artillery battery, one well-prepared with excellent fields of defensive fire. The Light Brigade reached the battery under withering direct fire and scattered some of the gunners, but they were forced to retreat immediately, and the assault ended with very high British casualties and no decisive gains.
The events were the subject of Alfred, Lord Tennyson's narrative poem "The Charge of the Light Brigade" (1854), published just six weeks after the event. Its lines emphasise the valour of the cavalry in bravely carrying out their orders, regardless of the nearly inevitable outcome. Responsibility for the miscommunication has remained controversial, as the order was vague and Louis Edward Nolan delivered the written orders with some verbal interpretation, then died in the first minute of the assault.
War correspondent William Howard Russell witnessed the battle and declared: "Our Light Brigade was annihilated by their own rashness, and by the brutality of a ferocious enemy
The futility of the action and its reckless bravery prompted the French Marshal Pierre Bosquet to state: "C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre." ("It is magnificent, but it is not war.") He continued, in a rarely quoted phrase: "C'est de la folie" -- "It is madness."
Poet Laureate Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote evocatively about the battle in his poem "The Charge of the Light Brigade". Tennyson's poem, written 2 December and published on 9 December 1854, in The Examiner, praises the Brigade ("When can their glory fade? O the wild charge they made!") while trenchantly mourning the appalling futility of the charge ("Not tho' the soldier knew, someone had blunder'd... Charging an army, while all the world wonder'd"). Tennyson wrote the poem inside only a few minutes after reading an account of the battle in The Times, according to his grandson Sir Charles Tennyson. It immediately became hugely popular, and even reached the troops in the Crimea, where it was distributed in pamphlet form.
Tennyson coined the phrase "The Valley of Death".
On 2 August 1890, trumpeter Martin Leonard Landfried, from the 17th Lancers, who may (or may not) have sounded the bugle charge at Balaclava, made a recording on an Edison cylinder that can be heard here, with a bugle which had been used at Waterloo in 1815.
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