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Captain Nolan's mission to buy horses

The suddenness of his departure

By David Kelsey


Preparations for the war against Russia were under way long before its formal declaration on 28th March 1854. Among those preparations was the provision of cavalry mounts for an expeditionary force. Captain Nolan had come to the attention of the authorities by the recent publication of his book, Cavalry, Its History and Tactics, and it was suggested that he might be sent out in advance to purchase horses locally.

In a single frantic weekend the decision was finalised and put into effect. Late on the night of Saturday, 11th March, the Duke of Newcastle, the Secretary of War, got a sudden brainwave. Arrangements had already been made for some despatches to be carried to Constantinople. At 6 pm on Monday a courier was to leave London for Marseilles, where a steamer for Constantinople would wait for him. Why not send Nolan out by the same boat? Newcastle immediately wrote a note to Lord Raglan:

Will it be possible for Captain Nolan to go by that Boat to purchase horses for the Army? You can tell me when we meet at 1½ tomorrow, and if he goes I will arrange for letters to Constantinople and credit upon the Treasury to the necessary amount. Pray send for Captain Nolan, if you think it possible for him to go so soon. 1

Nolan was summoned to London and given his instructions. By 6pm on Monday he was on his way, together with an army veterinary surgeon.

On that same Monday Newcastle implemented the rest of his proposal. He instructed Commissary-General Filder to make appropriate financial arrangements, and wrote a hurried note to Lord Stratford advising him of Nolan's appointment. This note was probably carried by the very courier with whom Nolan was travelling.

Nolan had been despatched on his mission at such short notice that no official appointment had been made for him. The following month he was appointed as aide-de-camp to Brigadier General Airey, commander of the 1st Brigade of the Light Division, the appointment being back dated to 17th March. It does not seem to be known whether Airey requested Nolan, or had Nolan imposed upon him. Either way, the effect was to deprive Airey of the services of an adc until July, when Nolan completed his procurement mission. This was particularly hard because, in addition to his Brigade responsibilities, Airey had to fulfil many of the duties of a Divisional commander, Sir George Brown being absent at Headquarters much of the time.

Nobody could have foreseen the consequences of Nolan's unlikely appointment. Before the army left Varna to invade the Crimea, Airey became its Quartermaster General and Lord Raglan's right hand man. In that capacity he penned the fateful fourth order to the cavalry at the battle of Balaklava. Nolan was still Airey's adc, in which capacity he carried the order to Lucan. The result was an indelible chapter in the history of warfare.


1. Quoted by Moyse-Bartlett, "Louis Edward Nolan, and his influence on the British Cavalry" Leo Cooper 1971 p.159


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