Ward's Book of Days.

Pages of interesting anniversaries.

What happened on this day in history.


On this day in history in 1854, took place the Charge of the Light Brigade.

The famous Charge of the Light Brigade was a military blunder and a British defeat, which became a symbol of British daring in the face of the enemy.  

In 1854, Britain had got involved in a minor European conflict, The Crimean War, allied with the Turks against the Russians. British troops established a token presence in the Crimea, a peninsula on the north coast of the Black sea. The British cut off the Russian port of Sebastopol and the main action of the war consisted of the Russians attempting to destroy the British presence and relieve the city. 

The British encamped waiting for the Russians to attack, but it was some time before any assault was forthcoming. The British officers were patient. They beguiled the vacant time with card games, dinner parties and cricket. They had modern designer furniture sent over for their comfort and dined off the finest crockery and glassware. They even had foxes sent out so that they could indulge in a little hunting. The serving men, meanwhile, lived in grubby tents and many succumbed to dysentery.  

These agreeable circumstances came to an abrupt end when the Russians finally took action. They occupied the heights above the valley of Sebastopol but were beaten back by General Scarlett’s Heavy Brigade. The commanding British General, Lord Raglan, noticed the Russians attempting to remove their canon and ordered his reserve force, the Light Brigade, to disrupt them. The order became confused and when Lord Cardigan of the Light Brigade received the message, he understood the target to be a Russian force on the far side of the valley. He promptly led his cavalry through the valley beneath the heights, instead of attacking isolated Russian posts on high ground. Cardigan’s men swept through the valley between two lines of Russian artillery, consisting of fifty pieces of canon, with a further area of armed resistance, their intended objective, in front of them. The Light Brigade was torn to pieces by canon on three sides, but reached its objective on the far side and broke the Russian line. The Light Brigade suffered 40 % casualties in the charge.  

The gallantry, and the stupidity, of the British officers and men caught the public imagination. Cardigan was lionised on his return to London and gave a speech at the Mansion House, recalling the events. Tennyson wrote a poem on the event, which included the famous lines: 

Theirs not to make reply
Theirs not to reason why
Theirs but to do and die
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.  

An enquiry was held into the tragic incident but achieved nothing. Raglan blamed his subordinate, Lord Lucan, and Lucan blamed Captain Nolan, the carrier of the message, who by then was dead. The press and public blamed Raglan, and Cardigan blamed everybody except himself.  

Cardigan died in 1868. His horse, Ronald, who carried him in the Charge died in 1872. Ronald's head is exhibited, in a glass case, at the Cardigan family home. [Deene Park, Deene, Corby, Northamptonshire, NN17 3EW] Cardigan was also famous for his invention of a light woollen jacket, the cardigan, which kept away the cold in the long Russian winters.

People who have had things named after them

John Sandwich

Arthur Wellington

James Cardigan

John McAdam

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