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The Times 5.4.1855 p 6

Letter


TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES

Sir, — ‘Jacob Omnium’ has quoted from a work by Captain Hartmann, of the 15th Hussars, upon cavalry and cavalry tactics. Allow me to draw attention to the work of an officer of the same regiment (published not long before his death), the late lamented Captain Lewis Nolan, who was the bearer of the order to advance to Lord Lucan, and who was killed in the memorable charge at Balaklava — a work which merits the attention of the authorities.

Captain Nolan makes known a most extraordinary circumstance in respect to the effectiveness of the weapons used in cavalry of various nations.

He relates that at the battle of Villiers en Couche, in the Low Countries, his regiment, the 15th Hussars (now in India) distinguished itself in collision with a superior body of French cavalry, then considered the best in Europe. Three squadrons of the 15th charged twice through the enemy — once in advancing, and then again in retiring. They left in these two collisions but three men killed on the field, and four were wounded, of whom one was the officer then commanding the regiment, the late Sir James Irskine. The regiment now bears ‘Villiers en Couche’ on its standards for its distinguished conduct there. But mark the difference between European and Asiatic encounters of cavalry! At the battle of Goojerat, the last great battle fought and won by Lord Gough in India, Lieutenant-Colonel Unett (then Captain Unett) was ordered to advance and attack a body of Sikh cavalry with two squadrons of his regiment (the 3d Dragoons), supported by two native cavalry regiments on his flanks. They charged; but the two flank regiments, not liking the fire of some matchlock men into which they got, turned and fled. The two squadrons of the 3d went on, and cut their way through the enemy’s cavalry! When they returned, the Sikhs opened out, and let them through, so that they did not come into collision in retiring; but how many men out of these two squadrons were left upon the field in that one collision with the Sikhs, think you? 46!

Captain Nolan asked himself how this could be, that at Villiers en Couche three squadrons of English Dragoons, charging through a body of European cavalry, lose but seven men, four of whom were only wounded; while against Asiatic cavalry two squadrons coming into collision with the enemy but once only lose 46 men.

He determined to see what sort of cavalry these were that had shown such prowess, and had caused us so remarkable a loss; and he took the first opportunity that offered of visiting an encampment of them. He found them small, mean-looking men, mounted upon small, mean-looking horses, and armed, to his great surprise, with our much-abused sabres of the old pattern — the old regulation Light Dragoon sabre — of which it was said, I recollect, when they were in use in our service, that they never cut at all, but only bruised an enemy. The Asiatics, however, considered them (when sharpened as they had them) as the best weapons in the world. They had altered them in some respects, however. They had accommodated the size of the hilt to their smaller hands; and there was this remarkable change from the original shape of the hilt, — that whereas when used by us they had a round grasp, the Sikhs had substituted a square one, which not only enabled them to hold the weapon more firmly, but enabled them to apply the edge of the blade exactly to a nicety; so that in this way, they (literally) lopped off, at one shave, heads and arms, wherever they struck, the blades being as sharp as a razor, and kept so by being, when not in use, thrust into a close-fitting wooden sheath, instead of the rattletrap steel thing we use, which turns every blade. Let us have some such cavalry light men as ‘Jacob Omnium’ recommends, armed with swords with square-hilted grasps, and sharpened as a razor, upon horses from 14 hands 2 inches to 15 hands high, and as near the Arab as possible, and they will give a good account of the enemy’s heavies, you may depend upon it, except, it may be, in a confined space, as in a street, where weight will tell, as it told before Waterloo, in the charge of the French Cuirassiers against the gallant 7th Hussars, which were brought up against them, perhaps unadvisedly, by Lord Anglesey, when the army retired from Quatre Bras to Waterloo.

I am, Sir, your obedient humble servant
OMNIBUS


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