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Lord Raglan to the Duke of Newcastle

Official letter dated 16.12.1854

Before Sebastopol, Dec. 16, 1854.

My Lord Duke, — I regret to be under the necessity of forwarding to your Grace the copy of a letter which has been addressed to me by Lieutenant-General the Earl of Lucan. When I received it I placed it in the hands of Brigadier-General Airey, the Quartermaster-General, and requested him to suggest to his lordship to withdraw the communication, considering that it would not lead to his advantage in the slightest degree; but, Lord Lucan having declined to take the step recommended, I have but one course to pursue — that of laying the letter before your Grace and submitting to you such observations upon it as I am bound in justice to myself to put you in possession of. Lieutenant-General the Earl of Lucan complains that in my despatch to your Grace of the 28th of October I stated that “from some misconception of the instruction to advance the Lieutenant-General considered that he was bound to attack at all hazards.” His lordship conceives this statement to be a grave charge, and an imputation reflecting seriously upon his professional character, and he deems it to be incumbent upon him to state the facts, which he cannot doubt must clear him from what he respectfully submits is altogether unmerited. He has referred to my despatch, and, far from being willing to alter one word of it, I am prepared to declare that not only did the Lieutenant-General misconceive the written instruction that was sent him, but that there was nothing in that instruction which called on him to attack at all hazards, or to undertake the operation which led to such a brilliant display of gallantry on the part of the light brigade, and, unhappily, at the same time occasioned such lamentable casualties in every regiment composing it. In his lordship’s letter he is wholly silent with respect to a previous order which had been sent him. He merely says that the cavalry was formed to support an intended movement of the infantry. That previous order was in the following words:— “The cavalry to advance and take advantage of any opportunity to recover the heights. They will be supported by infantry, which has been ordered to advance on two fronts.” This order did not seem to me to have been attended to, and therefore it was that the instruction by Captain Nolan was forwarded to him. Lord Lucan must have read the first order with very little attention, for he now states that cavalry was formed to support the infantry, whereas he was told by Brigadier-General Airey “that the cavalry was to advance and take advantage of any opportunity to recover the heights, and that they would be supported by infantry” — not that they were to support the infantry; and so little had he sought to do as he had been directed that he had no men in advance of his main body, made no attempt to regain the heights, and was so little informed of the position of the enemy, that he asked Captain Nolan “where and what he was to attack, as neither enemy nor guns were in sight.” This, your Grace will observe, is the Lieutenant-General’s own admission. The result of his inattention to the first order was, that it never occurred to him that the second was connected with and a repetition of the first. He viewed it only as a positive order to attack at all hazards (the word “attack”, be it observed, was not made use of in General Airey’s note) an unknown enemy, whose position, numbers, and composition he was wholly unacquainted with, and whom, in consequence of a previous order, he had taken no step whatever to watch. I undoubtedly had no intention that he should make such an attack — there was nothing in the instruction to require it — and therefore I conceive I was fully justified in stating to your Grace what was the exact truth — that the charge arose from the misconception of an order for the advance, which Lord Lucan considered obliged him to attack at all hazards. I wish I could say, my lord duke, that, having decided against his conviction to make the movement, he did all he could to render it as little perilous as possible. This, indeed, is far from being the case in my judgment. He was told that the Horse Artillery might accompany the cavalry. He did not bring it up. He was informed that the French cavalry was on his left. He did not invite their co-operation. He had the whole of the heavy cavalry at his disposal. He mentions having brought up only two regiments in support, and he omits all those precautions either from want of due consideration or from the supposition that the unseen enemy was not in such great force as he apprehended, notwithstanding that he was warned of it by Lord Cardigan after the latter had received the order to attack. I am much concerned, my lord duke, to have to submit these observations to your Grace. I entertain no wish to disparage the Earl of Lucan in your opinion, or to cast a slur upon his professional reputation, but, having been accused by his lordship of having stated of him what was unmerited in my despatch, I have felt obliged to enter into the subject, and trouble your Grace at more length than I could have wished in vindication of a report to your Grace in which I had strictly confined myself to that which I knew to be true. I had indulged in no observations whatever, or in any expressions which could be viewed either as harsh or in any way grating to the feelings of his lordship.

I have, &c,

To his Grace the Duke of Newcastle.

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