Charge of the Light Brigade

In an event alternately described as one of the most heroic or disastrous episodes in British military history, Lord James Cardigan leads a charge of the Light Brigade cavalry against well-defended Russian artillery during the Crimean War. The British were winning the Battle of Balaclava when Cardigan received his order to attack the Russians. His cavalry gallantly charged down the valley and were decimated by the heavy Russian guns, suffering 40 percent casualties. It was later revealed that the order was the result of confusion and was not given intentionally. Lord Cardigan, who survived the battle, was hailed as a national hero in Britain.

Publication of ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’

Richard Cavendish remembers the events of December 9th, 1854.

Alfred Tennyson had been Poet Laureate since 1850, but it was the Balaclava poem which carried his reputation far beyond literary and intellectual circles, turned him into the nation’s poet and made an indelible impression on what his own and subsequent generations felt about the Crimean War. To the poet’s chagrin, it was far more popular than his earlier ode on the death of the Duke of Wellington, which he considered a much better piece of work. It was written at Farringford, the villa on the Isle of Wight, which Tennyson and his wife Emily, enchanted by the sea views, had rented before the outbreak of the war. In November he read the account of the Light Brigade’s gallant charge in The Times which spoke of ‘a hideous blunder’. In Tennyson’s mind this turned into the crucial line ‘Some one had blundered’. He dashed the poem off in only a few minutes on December 2nd and sent it to the London Examiner, which printed it a week later.

Tennyson had mainly been busy in 1854 writing ‘Maud’, his own favourite among his poems, which he completed in April 1855 and published in July in a slender volume along with the Wellington ode and an altered version of the Light Brigade ballad, which left out ‘Some one had blundered’. Critics had spoken reprovingly of rhyming ‘blundered’ with ‘hundred’ and Tennyson was uneasy about it. He was even less easy about the deletion, however. A letter from a chaplain at the Scutari military hospital told him that the ballad was a tremendous favourite with the men and that the best thing Tennyson could do would be to send copies out to the Crimea for them. Early in August the poet restored ‘Some one had blundered’ in what became the final version. This was issued with a note from Tennyson: ‘Having heard that the brave soldiers at Sebastopol, whom I am proud to call my country-men, have a liking for my ballad on the charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava, I have ordered a thousand copies of it to be printed for them. No writing of mine can add to the glory they have acquired in the Crimea but if what I heard be true, they will not be displeased to receive these copies of the ballad from me, and to know that those who sit at home love and honour them.’

The ‘Maud’ volume sold so well that the Tennysons were able to buy Farringford, while the Light Brigade ballad remained the most widely familiar and admired of all Tennyson’s works. Long afterwards, in 1890, when the aged poet was persuaded to bawl bits of his verse down a tube for primitive gramophone recordings, ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ was among the selections, and when he was buried in solemn state in Westminster Abbey two years later, veterans of Balaclava lined the aisle.

Through the valley of death…again

In the ensuing melee many more were killed as the Russians continued to fire – seemingly without caring that they might hit their own men. Unable to hold the gains they had taken for long, Cardigan lead the remnants of his men back, braving more fire as they attempted to reach safety.

Of the 670 men who had so confidently ridden into “the mouth of hell,” 278 were now casualties. There could be no disguising the scale of the disaster, or the extent of the fruitless waste of life. However, something about the raw courage of these doomed men struck a chord with the British public, and Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade” lives on as a fitting tribute to their sacrifice.

Charge of the Light Brigade - HISTORY

W hat specifically ignited the Crimean War in 1854 has long been forgotten in the collective memory. The conflict erupted in 1854 with the Russian Empire on one side and Britain, France, the Kingdom of Sardinia and the Ottoman Empire on the other. Their dispute centered on which side would have dominant influence in the declining Ottoman Empire. The wars's major battleground was in Russia's Crimean Peninsula, which gave the conflict its name. British and French forces landed in the Crimea in the fall of 1854 with the objective of attacking Russia's naval base at the city of Sevastopol and thereby weaken its naval presence in the Black Sea.

An artist's conception of the
Charge of the Light Brigade

Although the war itself is only a dim recollection, what is vividly remembered is one valorously tragic incident of the campaign: the headlong cavalry charge of the British Light Brigade into murderous Russian fire an action immortalized by Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem.

The Charge of the Light Brigade took place during a battle near the city of Balaclava on October 25, 1854. Through a miscommunication of orders, the Light Brigade of approximately 600 horsemen began a headlong charge into a treeless valley with the objective of capturing some Russian field artillery at its end. Unbeknown to them, the valley was ringed on three sides by some 20 battalions of Russian infantry and artillery.

The result was disastrous. An estimated 278 of the Light Brigade were killed or wounded. Observing the charge, a French Marshall remarked: "It is magnificent, but it is not war. It is madness." When news of the action reached London, it caused a national scandal that prompted Tennyson to pen his poem. History remembers the charge of the Light Brigade as an example of the extraordinary bravery of the British soldier in the face of enemy fire in spite of poor leadership.

"They swept proudly past, glittering in the morning sun. . ."

William Howard Russell was a correspondent for the London Illustrated News and was present at the battle. It was his description that prompted Tennyson's poem. We join Russell's account as the Light Brigade begins its charge:

"They swept proudly past, glittering in the morning sun in all the pride and splendor of war. We could hardly believe the evidence of our senses! Surely that handful of men were not going to charge an army in position? Alas! it was but too true - their desperate valor knew no bounds, and far indeed was it removed from its so-called better part - discretion.

They advanced in two lines, quickening their pace as they closed towards the enemy. A more fearful spectacle was never witnessed than by those who, without the power to aid, beheld their heroic countrymen rushing to the arms of death. At the distance of 1200 yards the whole line of the enemy belched forth, from thirty iron mouths, a flood of smoke and flame, through which hissed the deadly balls. Their flight was marked by instant gaps in our ranks, by dead men and horses, by steeds flying wounded or riderless across the plain.

The first line was broken - it was joined by the second, they never halted or checked their speed an instant. With diminished ranks, thinned by those thirty guns, which the Russians had laid with the most deadly accuracy, with a halo of flashing steel above their heads, and with a cheer which was many a noble fellow's death cry, they flew into the smoke of the batteries but ere they were lost from view, the plain was strewed with their bodies and with the carcasses of horses. They were exposed to an oblique fire from the batteries on the hills on both sides, as wed as to a direct fire of musketry.

Through the clouds of smoke we could see their sabers flashing as they rode up to the guns and dashed between 'them, cutting down the gunners as they stood. . .We saw them riding through the guns, as I have said to our delight we saw them returning, after breaking through a column of Russian infantry, and scattering them like chaff, when the flank fire of the battery on the hill swept them down, scattered and broken as they were.

Wounded men and dismounted troopers flying towards us told the sad tale. . . .At the very moment when they were about to retreat, an enormous mass of lancers was hurled upon their flank. Colonel Shewell, of the 8th Hussars, saw the danger, and rode his few men straight at them, cutting his way through with fearful loss. The other regiments turned and engaged in a desperate encounter. With courage too great almost for credence, they were breaking their way through the columns which enveloped them, when there took place an act of atrocity without parallel in the modem warfare of civilized nations.

The Russian gunners, when the storm of cavalry passed, returned to their guns. They saw their own cavalry mingled with the troopers who had just ridden over them, and to the eternal disgrace of the Russian name the miscreants poured a murderous volley of grape and canister on the mass of struggling men and horses, mingling friend and foe in one common ruin. It was as much as our Heavy Cavalry Brigade could do to cover the retreat of the miserable remnants of that band of heroes as they returned to the place they had so lately quitted in all the pride of life.

At twenty-five to twelve not a British soldier, except the dead and dying, was left in front of these bloody Muscovite guns."

This eyewitness account appears in: Russell, William Howard, The British Expedition to the Crimea (1858) Royle, Trevor, Crimea: the Great Crimean War, 1854-1856 (2000).

October 25, 1854 Charge of the Light Brigade

Shattered remnants of the Light Brigade actually managed to overrun the Russian guns, but had no means of holding them. They milled about for a time, and then back they came, blown and bleeding horses carrying mangled men back through another gauntlet of fire.

1854 was the second year of the Crimean war, pitting an alliance including Great Britain, France, and the Ottoman Empire against the Russian armies of Czar Nicholas I.

The Battle of Balaclava opened shortly after 5:00am on this day in 1854, when a squadron of Russian Cossack Cavalry advanced under cover of darkness. The Cossacks were followed by a host of Uhlans, their Polish light cavalry allies, against several dug-in positions occupied by Ottoman Turks. The Turks fought stubbornly, sustaining 25% casualties before finally being forced to withdraw.


For a time, the Russian advance was held only by the red coated 93rd Highland Regiment, a desperate defense recorded in history as the Thin Red Line. Finally, the Russians were driven back by the British Heavy Brigade, led by George Bingham, 3rd Earl of Lucan, a man otherwise known to history for the brutality inflicted on tenants in Mayo, during the Irish potato famine.

The light cavalry of the age consisted of lightly armed and armored troops mounted on small, fast horses, usually wielding cutlass or spear. They’re a raiding force, good at reconnaissance, screening, and skirmishing. The “Heavies”, on the other hand, are mounted on huge, powerful chargers, both rider and horse heavily armored. They are the shock force of the army.


Lucan’s subordinate was James Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan, in command of the Light Brigade. There could not have been two worse field commanders. Though possessed of physical courage, both were prideful, mean spirited and petty men. What’s more, they were brothers-in-law, and thoroughly hated one another.

Field Marshal Fitzroy James Henry Somerset, 1st Baron Raglan, was in overall command of the allied armies. Raglan occupied a high spot where he could see the battle unfold before him, but didn’t seem to realize that his subordinates below couldn’t see what he could see. Spotting a small Russian detachment trying to get away with captured cannon, Raglan issued an order to Lucan, in overall command of his Cavalry. “Lord Raglan wishes the Cavalry to advance rapidly to the front, follow the enemy, and try to prevent the enemy carrying away the guns.” As Staff Officer Louis Nolan left to deliver the message, Raglan shouted “Tell Lord Lucan the cavalry is to attack immediately“.


The Light Brigade was well suited to such a task, but the men below had no idea what Raglan meant by such a poorly worded order. The only guns they could see were dug in Russian artillery a mile away, at the other end of the valley. When Nolan brought the order, Lucan demanded to know what guns. With a contemptuous sweep of his arm, Nolan pointed down the valley. “There, sir, are your guns“.

The order which then came down from Lucan to Cardigan called for a suicide mission, even for heavy cavalry. The “Lights” were being ordered to ride a mile down an open valley, with enemy cannon and riflemen lining both sides, into the muzzles of dug in, well sighted, heavy artillery.

Nose to nose and glaring, neither man blinked in the contest of wills. In the end, Cardigan did as ordered. 674 horsemen of the Light Brigade mounted up, drew their swords, and rode into the valley of death.

Louis Nolan should have gone back to Raglan, but rode out instead, in front of the Light Brigade. He was almost certainly trying to redirect the charge and could have saved the day, but it wasn’t meant to be. Louis Nolan, the only man in position to change history that day, was the first casualty of the raid.

Private James Wightman of the 17th Lancers, describes Nolan’s last moments. “I saw the shell explode of which a fragment struck him. From his raised sword-hand dropped the sword. The arm remained upraised and rigid, but all the other limbs so curled in on the contorted trunk as by a spasm, that we wondered how for the moment the huddled form kept the saddle. The weird shriek and the awful face haunt me now to this day, the first horror of that ride of horrors“.

Russian Artillery Battery of the Crimean War

Raglan must have looked on in horror at the scene unfolding below. Instead of turning right and climbing the Causeway slopes, almost 700 horsemen first walked, then trotted and finally charged, straight down the valley, into the Russian guns. Captain Thomas Hutton of the 4th Light Dragoons said “A child might have seen the trap that was laid for us. Every private dragoon did“.

Charge of the Light Brigade, from the Russian perspective.

It took the Lights a full seven minutes to get to the Russian guns. Cannon fire tore great gaps out of their lines the whole time, first from the sides and then from the front. Shattered remnants of the Light Brigade actually managed to overrun the Russian guns, but had no means of holding them. They milled about for a time, and then back they came, blown and bleeding horses carrying mangled men back through another gauntlet of fire.

Captain Nolan’s horse carried his dead body all the way down, and all the way back.

When it was over, 110 were dead, 130 wounded, and 58 missing or captured. 40% losses in an action which had lasted 20 minutes. Captain Nolan’s horse carried his dead body all the way down, and all the way back.

Cardigan and Lucan pointed the finger of blame at each other, for the rest of their lives. Both laid blame for the disaster on Nolan, but he wasn’t there to defend himself.

Today, the Battle of Balaclava is mostly forgotten, but for a stanza in the Alfred Lord Tennyson poem, The Charge of the Light Brigade.

“‘Forward, the Light Brigade!’

Was there a man dismay’d?

Not tho’ the soldiers knew

Some one had blunder’d:

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”.


The Crimean War itself may be remembered as a waste of blood and treasure, for all it accomplished. But for the efforts of one woman, who all-but invented the modern profession of nursing. The soldiers knew her as “The Lady with the Lamp”, for her late night rounds, taking care of the wounded.

History remembers this “Ministering Angel”, as Florence Nightingale.

History - The Charge of the Light Brigade - What Went Wrong?

If you ask a dozen people in the street whether they've heard of the Charge of the Light Brigade, they'll almost certainly all say they have. If you ask them definitively what went wrong, few, if any, will know. So let's tell the story of this glorious disaster that occurred during the Battle of Balaclava, on the 25th. of October, 1854.

The Officer Commanding the British Army was Lord Raglan. He wanted to prevent the Russians from taking away the naval guns from the redoubts they'd captured on the other side of the hill, named the Causeway Heights, that formed the left side of the valley. This is the valley named by Alfred, Lord Tennyson as "The Valley of Death" in his famous poem.

The order, which I give verbatim, was issued by Lord Raglan and drafted by Brigadier Richard Airey. It read as follows

"Lord Raglan wishes the cavalry to advance rapidly to the front, follow the enemy, and try to prevent the enemy carrying away the guns. Troop Horse Artillery may accompany. French cavalry is on your left. Immediate."

Now, this was all very fine and large for Raglan, because he could see what was happening, perched as he was on top of the Causeway Heights on the west of the valley. However, the officer commanding the cavalry, Lieutenant General, the Earl of Lucan, on the other hand, together with his cavalry, had no idea what was going on because of the lie of the land where they were situated.

The officer given the task of carrying the message was Captain Louis Nolan. He was further charged with the oral instruction that the cavalry was to attack immediately.

Nolan dutifully gave the message to Lucan, adding the oral instruction. Lucan, remember, couldn't see, so he asked Nolan to what guns he referred. Nolan, apparently, gave an indication with a sweep of his arm, the Russian guns massed at the end of the valley, not those in the Causeway redoubts. Why he misdirected so disastrously, no-one will ever know, for he was killed in the ensuing battle.

The Light Brigade itself was under the command of Major General, the Earl of Cardigan, and consisted of the 4th. and 13th. Light Dragoons, the 17th. Lancers, and the 8th. and 11th. Hussars.

Lucan responded to Raglan's order by telling Cardigan to take his cavalry, some 673, (although the exact figure is in dispute), right into the valley between the Causeway Heights and Fedyukhin Heights. Lucan was to follow with his Heavy Brigade.

It didn't help one bit that Lucan and Cardigan were brothers-in-law who had hated each other with a passion for thirty years.

The Charge of the Light Brigade

These words were made famous by Alfred Lord Tennyson in his poem, ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’, and refer to that fateful day on 25th October 1854 when around six hundred men led by Lord Cardigan rode into the unknown.

The charge against Russian forces was part of the Battle of Balaclava, a conflict making up a much larger series of events known as the Crimean War. The order for the cavalry charge proved catastrophic for the British cavalrymen: a disastrous mistake riddled with misinformation and miscommunication. The calamitous charge was to be remembered for both its bravery and tragedy.

The Crimean War was a conflict which broke out in October 1853 between the Russians on one side and an alliance of British, French, Ottoman and Sardinian troops on the other. During the following year the Battle of Balaklava took place, beginning in September when Allied troops arrived in Crimea. The focal point of this confrontation was the important strategic naval base of Sevastopol.

The Allied forces decided to lay siege to the port of Sevastapol. On 25th October 1854 the Russian army led by Prince Menshikov launched an assault on the British base at Balaklava. Initially it looked as if a Russian victory was imminent as they gained control of some of the ridges surrounding the port, therefore controlling the Allied guns. Nevertheless, the Allies managed to group together and held on to Balaklava.

Once the Russian forces had been held off, the Allies decided recover their guns. This decision led to one of the most crucial parts of the battle, now known as the Charge of the Light Brigade. The decision taken by Lord Fitzroy Somerset Raglan who was the British commander-in-chief at Crimea, was to look towards the Causeway Heights, where it was believed the Russians were seizing artillery guns.

Lord Raglan

The command given to the cavalry, made up of Heavy and Light Brigades, was to advance with the infantry. Lord Raglan had conveyed this message with the expectation of immediate action by the cavalry, with the idea that the infantry would follow. Unfortunately, due to lack of communication or some misunderstanding between Raglan and the commander of the Cavalry, George Bingham, Earl of Lucan, this was not carried out. Instead Bingham and his men held off for around forty five minutes, expecting the infantry to arrive later so they could proceed together.

Unfortunately with the breakdown in communication, Raglan frantically issued another command, this time to “advance rapidly to the front”. However, as far as Earl of Lucan and his men could see, there were no signs of any guns being seized by the Russians. This led to a moment of confusion, causing Bingham to ask Raglan’s aide-de-camp just where the cavalry were supposed to attack. The response from Captain Nolan was to gesticulate towards the North Valley instead of the Causeway which was the intended position for attack. After a little deliberation back and forth, it was decided that they must proceed in the aforementioned direction. A terrible blunder that would cost many lives, including that of Nolan himself.

Those in a position to take responsibility for the decisions included Bingham, the Earl of Lucan as well as his brother-in-law James Brudenell, the Earl of Cardigan who commanded the Light Brigade. Unfortunately for those serving under them, they loathed each other and were barely on speaking terms, a major issue considering the severity of the situation. It had also been said that neither character had earned much respect from their men, who were unfortunately obliged to obey their ill-fated commands on that day.

Lucan and Cardigan both decided to proceed with the ill-interpreted orders despite expressing some concern, therefore committing around six hundred and seventy members of the Light Brigade into battle. They drew their sabres and began the doomed mile-and-a-quarter-long charge, facing Russian troops who were firing on them from three different directions. The first to fall was Captain Nolan, Raglan’s aide-de-camp.

The horrors that followed would have shocked even the most experienced officer. Witnesses told of blood splattered bodies, missing limbs, brains blown to smithereens and smoke filling the air like a huge volcanic eruption. Those who did not die in the clash formed the long casualty list, with around one hundred and sixty treated for wounds and about one hundred and ten dead in the charge. The casualty rate amounted to a staggering forty percent. It was not just men who lost their lives that day, it was said that the troops lost approximately four hundred horses that day too. The price to pay for lack of military communication was steep.

Whilst the Light Brigade charged helplessly into the aim of Russian fire, Lucan led the Heavy Brigade forward with the French cavalry taking up the left of the position. Major Abdelal was able to lead an attack up to the Fedioukine Heights towards the flank of a Russian battery, forcing them to withdraw.

Slightly wounded and sensing that the Light Brigade were doomed, Lucan gave the order for the Heavy Brigade to halt and retreat, leaving Cardigan and his men without support. The decision taken by Lucan was said to be based on the desire to preserve his cavalry division, the ominous prospects of the Light Brigade being already unsalvageable as far as he could see. “Why add more casualties to the list?” Lucan is reported to have said to Lord Paulet.

Meanwhile as the Light Brigade charged into an endless smog of doom, those who did survive engaged in battle with the Russians, attempting to seize the guns as they did so. They regrouped into smaller numbers and prepared to charge the Russian cavalry. It is said that the Russians attempted to deal with any survivors swiftly but the Cossacks and other troops were unnerved to see the British horsemen charging towards them and panicked. The Russian cavalry pulled back.

By this point in the battle, all of the surviving members of the Light Brigade were behind the Russian guns, however lacking the support of Lucan and his men meant that the Russian officers quickly became aware that they outnumbered them. The retreat was therefore halted and an order was given to charge down into the valley behind the British and block their escape route. For those watching on, this looked to be a chillingly dire moment for the remaining Brigade fighters, however miraculously two groups of survivors quickly broke through the trap and made a break for it.

The battle was not over yet for these daring and courageous men, they were still coming under fire from guns on the Causeway Heights. The astounding bravery of the men was even acknowledged by the enemy who were said to have remarked that even when wounded and dismounted, the English would not surrender.

The mixture of emotions for both the survivors and onlookers meant that the Allies were incapable of continuing with any further action. The days, months and years that followed would lead to heated debates in order to apportion blame for such unnecessary misery that day. The Charge of the Light Brigade will be remembered as a battle steeped in bloodshed, mistakes, regret and trauma as well as valour, defiance and endurance.

Jessica Brain is a freelance writer specialising in history. Based in Kent and a lover of all things historical.

Defeated by Their Own Charge

The Charge of the Light Brigade wasn’t just a disaster in its own right – it marked the final turning point of the Battle of Balaclava. The shattering destruction of the Light Brigade, and their failure to drive back the Russians broke the nerve of the allies. Raglan could not risk his infantry in an attack on the Russians on the heights. He pulled back, losing the outer ring of allied defenses.

For the Russians, Balaclava was a morale-boosting victory. Yet it is in Britain that the ill-fated charge became a legend.

Could the Charge of the Light Brigade have worked?

Middle East tensions. Russian soldiers in Crimea. Western nations’ warships in the Black Sea. Those descriptions sound like Russia’s 2014 takeover of Crimea.

But they also applied 150 years earlier during The Crimean War between Russia and a British-French-Turkish alliance. That war is largely forgotten now, apart from its famous nurse Florence Nightingale.

However, another of its features also remains in our memories: The Charge of the Light Brigade. That was a small engagement that ended the inconclusive Battle of Balaclava on Oct. 25, 1854. But it became infamous for its brave soldiers, incompetent leaders and senseless bloodshed. It quickly inspired a magnificent poem by Lord Tennyson and later a colourful movie.

During the charge, Lord Cardigan’s light cavalry brigade attacked Russian cannons in “the valley of death.” The brigade defeated the gunners, but was counter-attacked by roughly 2,160 Russian light cavalry. It lost 469 of its 664 cavalrymen. Outnumbered 11-to-1, the 195 survivors retreated.

The British leaders immediately blamed each other for the fiasco.

The British army commander, Lord Raglan, had issued notoriously vague orders to his cavalry commander, Lord Lucan: “Lord Raglan wishes the cavalry to advance rapidly to the front, and to try to prevent the enemy carrying away the guns.”

But which cavalry: the Light Brigade alone or the Heavy Brigade too? Which guns: those in the valley or those on the adjacent Causeway Heights?

The Light Brigade rode smaller, faster horses. In battle it typically charged enemy troops who were disorganised or retreating. The Heavy Brigade had larger, stronger horses. It could overpower lighter cavalry or charge against infantry lines. Either unit could charge cannons, but normally from their defenceless flanks, not head-on into their gunfire.

Raglan complained the Lucan had ineptly misinterpreted his orders. The charge was supposed to target Russian cannons on the heights, not in the valley. Lucan in turn complained that Raglan’s orders had been unclear and unwise.

For his part, Cardigan complained the Heavy Brigade should have charged too, to support his men. That brigade actually had started to advance. But Lucan halted it once he saw the cannon fire’s intensity.

The leaders’ bickering ignited two ongoing historical debates. Which leader(s) deserved the blame for the disastrous charge? And could it have succeeded if it had followed one of the other alternatives?

To answer those questions, I collaborated with history student David Connors and history professor John Bonnett on an interdisciplinary study.

Using math to analyse the battle

We began by building a mathematical model of the charge. Our model was adapted from earlier research on naval combat involving cruise missiles or aircraft carriers.

This study is an example of “digital humanities” research. It uses math and computers to investigate a humanities topic. Other examples include studies of the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg and the 1942 Battle of the Coral Sea. In those projects I likewise collaborated with historians to get results that neither of us could have obtained on our own.

For our project on the Battle of Balaclava, we initially calibrated the model with historical troop strengths and losses. This ensured it reproduced the actual charge by the Light Brigade along the valley.

We then adjusted the model to represent three alternative charges: the Light Brigade against the heights both brigades against the heights and both brigades along the valley. For each alternative, the model estimated the British losses and survivors.

Bad odds under all scenarios

For example, suppose the Light Brigade had charged the cannons on the heights. Our model estimated British losses would have been 19% higher than the historical ones. The 106 survivors would have been outnumbered 41-to-1 by the 4,400 Russian infantry and cavalry there.

Next, suppose instead that both brigades had charged the heights, as Raglan had intended. British losses would have been 51% higher. The 661 survivors would have been outnumbered 7-to-1.

Finally, suppose both brigades had charged along the valley. British losses would have been 22% higher. The 794 survivors would have been outnumbered 3-to-1.

These results have several implications. First, any of the charges would have overrun the targeted guns. The challenge was to also defeat the Russian troops behind them.

Second, all the alternative charges would have increased Britain’s already-high losses. The historical charge Lucan executed was the “least bad” by that measure.

Third, Raglan’s intended charge by both brigades against the heights would have been the worst. That scenario has the highest losses and too few survivors to beat the Russian soldiers. It’s fortunate that Lucan misunderstood his orders.

Most intriguingly, the charge that Lucan started but then half-cancelled is the only one that might have worked. Sending both brigades along the valley would have put the most survivors into melee and at the best odds.

Fighting while outnumbered 3-to-1 would have been tough. But earlier that day, the Heavy Brigade had defeated the lighter Russian cavalry despite being outnumbered 2-to-1 and attacking uphill. Aided by their momentum, a charge by both brigades might have won again.

Officers and men of the 13th Light Dragoons, survivors of the Charge of the Light Brigade. Roger Fenton.

These results matter because a successful charge could have turned the battle into a Russian defeat. That might have discouraged Russia’s later attack at Inkerman and thereby hastened the allied siege of nearby Sevastopol.

Conversely, an even worse charge might have led to a decisive Russian victory. They could have captured Balaclava’s port and forced the allies to abandon the Sevastopol siege. This could have allowed Russia to win the war.

As it was, the battle was only a minor victory for Russian. It made the allies’ siege more difficult, but didn’t stop it. They captured Sevastopol 11 months later, after heavy casualties on all sides.

That capture eventually forced Russia to surrender by signing the Treaty of Paris in 1856. Alas, the treaty settled very little. It instead led to new rivalries and more European wars in subsequent decades.

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.

from the poem The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred Lord Tennyson

This article was originally published in The Conversation.

This map provides a detailed timeline of the charge.

Charge of the Light Brigade timeline.

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Were iron maidens ever actually used?

Posted On April 29, 2020 16:04:12

PandaGuy5 asks: Were people ever really tortured in Iron Maidens?

The people of the Middle Ages have a reputation for wanton brutality and, as supposed evidence of this, countless instruments of torture sit in museums around the world, arguably the most famous of which being the Iron Maiden. This hellish contraption supposedly caused unthinkable pain and anguish for those unlucky enough to be sentenced to suffer its merciless sting, condemning them to a slow and agonizing death. Or, at least, that’s what the stories say, because as far as anyone can tell, the Iron Maiden didn’t exist as a real world object until the 19th century- and for reference here the so-called “Medieval Times” are generally considered to have ended around the end of the 15th century.

So who invented the Iron Maiden and why, how did it become the face of Medieval torture, and has anyone actually ever been killed in one?

As for historical examples, there are a couple references to similar devices in history, with the oldest being a device known today as the “Iron Apega”, supposedly made about 2,200 years ago. Described by Greek historian Polybius, the device was an automaton replica of the wife of 2nd and 3rd century BC Spartan leader Nabis, with the woman in question named- you guessed it- Apega.

Various neo-medieval torture instruments. An iron maiden stands at the right.

The automaton was apparently lavishly dressed up in one of Apega’s outfits, with Polybius then stating of those who were made to meet the wife replica,

So in a nutshell of the whole story, anyone who refused to pay their taxes would be made to give this mechanical version of his wife a hug, with at any point them being able to make the hug of death stop if they agreed to pay. If they did not, the hug continued until they died. Whether this device actually existed or not, or was just an allusion to Apega’s supposedly ruthless nature to match the reported cruelty of her husband, isn’t know.

Moving on from there, we have an account from one of the earliest Christian authors and the so-called “Father of Latin Christianity”, Tertullian, who lived in the second and third century AD. In his work “To the Martyrs”, he states of the death of Roman General and consul Marcus Atilius Regulus,

A follow up account by Augustine of Hippo in his 5th century “City of God” elaborates on the tale of Regulus’ death,

That said, whether any of that actually happened or not is up for debate as 1st century BC Greek historian Diodorus claims Regulus died of natural causes, with no mention of such a torture device involved.

Regulus returning to Carthage (1791) by Andries Cornelis Lens.

Moving on from there are old European fairy tales of unknown dating and origin, in which certain individuals were killed by being placed inside casks that had nails driven in. The cask would then apparently be rolled down a steep hill, sometimes into water… which if we’re being honest almost sounds worse than the actual Iron Maiden. Sort of the spiked version of death by a thousand papercuts and then as a reward at the end, terrifying slow drowning as you writhe in agony from all the little holes in your body no doubt also trying to reflexively break the cask to get out once it starts to fill with water, creating some more holes in the process. We suppose at least this one’s a bit quicker, if a lot more dramatic.

Other than that, there are no references to such an Iron Maiden-like device until just before the 19th century. This first reference comes from German philosopher, linguist, archeologist, and professor at the University of Altdorf, Johann Philipp Siebenkees in 1793.

According to Siebenkees, on August 14, 1515 a coin forger was sentenced to die in a casket that had metal spikes driven into various parts lined up with particularly sensitive bits of the forger’s anatomy. Writes Siebenkees,:

Of course, if this was a real method of execution used, each such cask would have had to have been custom spiked for each new victim in order to line everything up perfectly, given people come in all shapes and sizes. This creates something of a logistical problem that many other means of torturing and killing someone wouldn’t have. Nevertheless, Siebenkees claimed it happened at least this once. So did it?

Well, given the complete lack of evidence or even reference to any other such Iron Maiden-like device used elsewhere in this era, nor who this forger was or any such pertinent details other than the oddly specific date, most historians think he made it up, or that this was an exaggerated tale of the use of a device that we do know existed in Europe.

So what was this real instrument of torture? Sometimes called the Schandmantel (“coat of shame”), the “Drunkard’s Cloak”, or the “Spanish Mantle”, this was essentially a wooden cask someone who was being punished for some crime would be made to wear about town- sort of a mobile version of stocks with similar purpose- mocking someone publicly and having people throw random things at them, in this case as they trudged along.

Consider this account from Ralph Gardiner’s 17th century England’s Grievance Discovered,

Jumping across the pond to the land of the free, at least some soldiers were not always so free, as noted in an article titled “A Look at the Federal Army,” published in 1862 where the author states,

In another account by one John Howard in 1784 in his “The State of Prisons in England and Wales”, he writes,

Of course, much like the Iron Maiden, as you’ll note from the dates mentioned here, most detailed contemporary accounts of these devices of humiliation and sometimes torture seem to indicate they weren’t really a Medieval thing, despite sometimes claimed to go back to the 13th century in Germany.

In any event, whether Siebenkees’s much more elaborate cask with spikes put in was really just a tale he picked up that was exaggerating these “coats of shame”, he made it up completely, or whether some inventive executioner thought to add the addition of spikes to such a cask and a forger really was executed in this way in the 16th century isn’t known, with most leaning towards Siebenkees making it up. Even if it did really happen, however, this still is post Medieval times by most people’s reckoning.

Whatever the case, a handful of years after Siebenkees’ account, the first known actual Iron Maiden appeared in a Nuermburg museum in 1802 not far away from Siebenkees’ home in Altdorf. This device was supposedly “discovered” in a German castle in the late 18th century. Not just a cask, this killing machine was roughly human shaped, made of iron, and even had a face, supposedly based on the face of the Virgin Mary, hence the torture instrument’s name- the Iron Maiden.

This probably first real Iron Maiden was sadly destroyed during WW2 by Allied bombers, but a copy created “as decoration for the ‘Gothic Hall’ of a patrician palace in Milan” in 1828 survived and currently resides in the Rothenburg, das Kriminalmuseum (Museum of Crime). From this copy, we can see that the device was certainly designed to cause unimaginable agony in its victims. Along with having strategically placed spikes designed to pierce approximately where a person’s vital organs and sensitive nether-region dangly bits are, the face of the Maiden did indeed have spikes designed to pierce a victim’s eyes upon closing, assuming the person wasn’t vertically challenged.

This copy did a lot to help popularize the idea of the Iron Maiden as a real thing thanks to its prominent display at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893 in Chicago, and subsequent tour across the United States to much fanfare.

Incidentally, this was the same World’s Fair that gave us the name “Ferris Wheel” for a device previously called a “pleasure wheel,” with George Washington Gale Ferris Jr.’ iconic version being rather massive compared to anything that had come before, holding an astounding 2,160 people at a time. This was also the same fair that saw famed serial killer H.H. Holmes taking advantage of the extra people in town looking for a place to stay, keeping business booming at his so-called “House of Horrors Hotel”.

Going back to the Iron Maiden, beyond the tour of one of the originals and extra exposure at the World’s Fair, another man largely credited with popularising the idea of the Iron Maiden was 19th century art collector Matthew Peacock. Among other things, he managed to collect a wide variety of historic torture devices to, as he put it: “Show the dark spirit of the Middle Ages in contrast to the progress of humanity.”

You see, at the time it was en vogue to not just act like people from Medieval Times were all Scientific rubes (which is where the myth that people in Medieval Times thought that the world was flat came from despite all evidence to the contrary), but also that they were extremely barbaric, with the Iron Maiden creating a rather nice illustration of this supposed fact.

Naturally, unable to find the Real McCoy, Peacock cobbled together an Iron Maiden apparently partially from real artifacts of other means of torture, and then donated it to a museum to be displayed as a symbolic representation of the former era’s cruelty.

The public ate all of this up and the idea of the Iron Maiden slowly permeated throughout society to the point that most today assume it was a real thing used to kill people in a slow and very painful way during Medieval Times.

This all brings us the question of whether anyone has ever actually been tortured or killed in one? The answer, surprisingly, is possibly, but not in Medieval Times, nor even apparently in historic ones, unless you consider a couple decades ago historic.

Enter Uday Hussein. The eldest son of Saddam started his murderous rampage apparently by bludgeoning to death one Kamel Gegeo, who was at the time Saddam’s bodyguard, valet and food taster. This murder was done in front of a host of party guests in 1988. The party in question was in Egypt, in honor of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s wife, Suzanne. As to what Gegeo did to incite Uday’s rage, he apparently hooked Saddam up with a woman, Samira Shahbandar. Samira was married when Saddam met her, but that was quickly taken care of, freeing him up to take her as one of his mistresses and, later, as his second wife.

While still in the mistress stage, Uday decided to kill Gegeo for the facilitation of Saddam’s illicit relationship, which Uday seems to have felt was an affront to his own mother.

Saddam did sentence his son to death for this murder, but a few months later switched to exiling him to Switzerland, with the Swiss government allowing the well-known recent murderer to enter the country for some bizarre reason. However, after frequent run-ins with the law there, the Swiss finally gave him the boot and he returned to Iraq without apparent consequence. If all that wasn’t enough of a testament of what a swell fella’ Uday was, beyond some confirmed assassination attempts and other murders by the lovable rapscallion, rumors of frequent rape of random women swirled around Uday…

This all brings us back to the Iron Maiden and Uday’s eventual appointment as the chairman of the Iraqi Olympic Committee and the Iraq Football Association. In those positions, accusations were rampant that Uday occasionally had various athletes tortured when they were thought to have either under performed or otherwise screwed up in some way in competition. These included doing things like ripping their toenails off, scalding their feet, subjecting them to extreme sleep deprivation, having them kick cement balls, and dragged across gravel roads followed by being dipped into sewage… Allegedly after a 4-1 loss to Japan in the Asian Cup in 2000, he also had three of the players deemed responsible for the defeat beaten repeatedly for a few days.

As for the Iron Maiden, after Uday’s death and the fall of Saddam’s regime in 2003, a mere twenty or so meters away from the Iraqi Football Association headquarters an Iron Maiden was found on the ground. Time Magazine’s Bobby Ghosh states of this find,

That said, despite this report, there is no actual hard evidence the Iron Maiden was used, nor blood found on the device or the like. But given all the rumors of Uday’s penchant for torturing people, and some of the confirmed things he did do, as well as the device’s location, at the least he is presumed to have used it as a method of terrorizing people, as was more the norm even in Medieval Times with actual real world torture devices, rather than frequently using them.

All that said, given his proclivities for murdering people who upset him, it is further speculated by many that he might have actually followed through and killed someone with it at some point. But, again, despite reports, so far there has never been any concrete evidence of this, so it’s still not wholly clear if anyone was ever actually killed by an Iron Maiden or not.

This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.

Watch the video: The Charge of the Light Brigade (January 2022).