Balaklava, 30th Nov, 1854
My Lord — In your Lordship’s Report of the Cavalry Action at Balaklava of the 25th ultimo, given in the Papers which have just arrived from England, you observe “that from some Misconception of the Instruction to advance, the Lieutenant-General considered that he was bound to attack at all Hazards, and he accordingly ordered Lord Cardigan to move forward with the Light Brigade.” Surely, my Lord, this is a grave Charge, and an Imputation reflecting seriously on my professional Character. I cannot remain silent; it is, I feel, incumbent on me to state those Facts which I cannot doubt must clear me from what, I respectfully submit, is altogether unmerited.
The Cavalry was formed to support an intended Movement of the Infantry, when Captain Nolan, the Aide-de-Camp of the Quartermaster-General, came up to me at Speed, and placed in my Hand this written Instruction:—
(Copy:) “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 of Horse Artillery may accompany. French cavalry is on your Left. Immediate.(Signed) R Airey”
After carefully reading the Order, I hesitated, and urged the Uselessness of such an Attack and the Dangers attending it. The Aide-de-Camp, in a most authoritative Tone, stated that they were Lord Raglan’s Orders that the cavalry should attack immediately. I asked where? and to do what? as neither Enemy nor Guns were within Sight. He replied, in a most disrespectful but significant Manner, pointing to the further End of the Valley, “There, my Lord, is your Enemy; there are your Guns.”
So distinct, in my Opinion, were your written Instructions, and so positive and urgent were the Orders delivered by the Aide-de-Camp, that I felt it was imperative upon me to obey; and I informed Lord Cardigan that he was to advance; and to the Objections he made, in which I entirely agreed, I replied that the Orders were from your Lordship.
Having decided, against my Conviction, to make the Movement, I did all in my Power to render it as little perilous as possible. I formed the Light Brigade in Two Lines, and led to its Support Two Regiments of Heavy Cavalry, the Scots Greys and Royal Dragoons, only halting them when they had reached the Point from which they could protect the Retreat of the Light Cavalry, in the event of their being pursued by the Enemy, and when, having already lost many Officers and Men by the Fire from the Batteries and Fort, any further Advance would have exposed them to Destruction.
My Lord, I considered at the Time — I am still of the same Opinion — that I followed the only Course open to me. As a Lieutenant General, doubtless, I have discretionary power; but to take upon myself to disobey an Order written by my Commander in Chief within a few Minutes of its Delivery, and given from an elevated Position, commanding an entire View of all the Batteries and the Position of the Enemy, would have been nothing less than direct Disobedience of Orders, without any other Reason than I preferred my own Opinion to that of my General, and in this Instance must have exposed me and the Cavalry to Aspersions against which it might have been difficult to defend ourselves.
It should be remembered that the Aide-de-Camp, well-informed of the Instructions of his General, and the Object he had in view, after first insisting on an immediate Charge, then placed himself in front of one of the leading Squadrons, when he fell the First Victim.
I did not dare to disobey your Lordship; and it is the Opinion of every Officer of Rank in this Army to whom I have shown the written Order, that it was not possible for me to do so.
I hope, my Lord, that I have stated the Facts temperately and in a becoming and respectful Manner, as it has been my Wish to do.
I am confident that it will be your Desire to do me Justice. I will only ask that your Lordship should kindly give the same Publicity to this Letter that has been given to your Report, for I am sensitively anxious to satisfy my Sovereign, my Military Superiors, and the Public, that I have not on this unhappy Occasion shown myself undeserving of their Confidence or unfitting the Command which I hold.
I have the honour to be, &c
Lieutenant-General, Commanding Cavalry Division
His Excellency the Commander of the Forces.