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Having been kindly promised by Mr Kinglake that he will make me acquainted with the nature of the observations he intends to make in the third volume of his history of the Crimean war, I am anxious to give him the fullest information with regard to all which occurred connected with the charge of the Light Cavalry Brigade against the Russian battery at Balaclava. 1
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I commence by stating that the time occupied from the movement of the brigade to the attack to the time of re-forming on the same ground did not exceed twenty minutes — the distance passed over was one mile and a quarter, at the lowest calculation — and in that space of time 300 men who had gone into action were killed, wounded, or missing, and 396 horses were put hors de combat. Of the 670 men who had gone into action, only 195 were mounted when the brigade re-formed on the ground from which they had moved off, and during the engagement 24 officers were killed or wounded.
I presume that no one doubts that I led the first line of the brigade, consisting of the 13th Light Dragoons and 17th Lancers, through the Russian battery, and that, being the first man into the battery, that I pursued my course until I came up to the line of the Russian cavalry. That, being alone there, in consequence of the officers of my Staff being wounded or disabled, I was attacked by two Cossacks, slightly wounded, and nearly dismounted; that, on being nearly surrounded by Cossacks, I gradually retreated until I reached the battery into which I had led the first line; that, on arriving there, I found no part of the first line remaining there. Those which survived the charge had passed off to the left, short of the Russian gun limber-carriages, or retreated up the hill.
I can upon my most solemn oath swear that in that position, and looking round, I could see none of the first line or of the
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supports. The supports ought to have followed me in the attack, instead of which they diverged to the right and left.
I have already stated that the first line did not follow me after I passed through the battery in leading the charge ; but whilst I was engaged with the Cossacks they passed off to the left, to avoid the Russian limber-carriages, or retreated up the hill.
My aides-de-camp were prevented by different causes from being with me; I was consequently nearly or quite alone.
I have already positively stated that when I got back to the battery which we had attacked and silenced, I could see none of the first line, except those returning up the hill, and no troops formed either on the right or the left.
I therefore found myself alone, and I ask, Was it not my duty to retreat gradually and slowly in rear of the broken parties of the first line up the hill, rather than turn and ride through the Russian cavalry in search of my supports, without knowing at the time which way they had gone, they not having followed the first line in the advance, as they ought to have done? My humble opinion is that it is quite sufficient for a general of brigade to return with as well as lead the attack of the front line, unless he should by chance come in contact with his supports, in which case he would remain with them; but it may be observed that no general officer could have rendered any service or assistance in an affair like that of Balaclava, in which all the loss of men and horses was sustained in twenty minutes, and there were no troops left with which to attack an overwhelming force like that of the Russians in position on that day.
Twenty minutes being the time occupied in the affair, and the distance a mile and a quarter at the least, gives eight minutes for the advance, eight minutes for the retreat, and only four minutes for fighting or collision with the enemy.
Before concluding, I must revert to a subject already alluded to — viz., that the only point really to be considered is whether, after leading into the battery, and up to the Russian cavalry, and being wounded and nearly taken prisoner by the Cossacks,
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and having with difficulty got away from them — whether I was justified in returning slowly in rear of my own line, who were retreating up the hill, or whether it was my duty to turn and ride through the Russian cavalry in search of the supports, they not having led straight, but having separated in the advance, one to the right of the valley, and one to the left; whether I was bound to ride through the Russian cavalry in search of the supports, or to remain on the ground I have referred to, there being none of our troops formed there, or to be seen in any direction? As to my having retired, as it is asserted, under the Fedioukine Heights, the evidence of the non-commissioned officers in the printed pamphlet completely contradict such an assertion. The question is, Whether some officer of the 11th Hussars, wounded, was not seen by the men of the 4th Light Dragoons retiring in the rear of that regiment under the Fedioukine Heights?
References appended by Lord Cardigan to the above Statement, and by him headed ‘Evidence in Proof’
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rear line of the brigade; but very early in the charge the 8th Hussars and the 4th Light Dragoons became gradually separated, the 8th Hussars bearing to the right, and the 4th Light Dragoons to the left; and as we advanced farther, the distance between the two regiments increased very materially.’
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1.The promise above mentioned by Lord Cardigan was made under these circumstances: Several years ago — I believe in 1864 or 1865 — I sought to allay in some measure Lord Cardigan’s extreme anxiety by saying that, with respect to those points on which my opinion might be unfavourable to him I would call his attention to them before the publication should take place, so that he might have an opportunity of submitting to me any considerations tending to change my view, and I intimated that I would do this in the form of queries, asking whether he had any further explanation to offer upon such or such a point. During the years which followed, Lord Cardigan (in his anxiety to do himself justice) honoured me with visits so frequent and with a correspondence so ample (on his part) that I considered the subject as exhausted. Accordingly, when he adverted to my promise, I submitted to him that considering the great extent to which I had given up my time to him since the period when the promise was made, it would be well for him to release me from it. He showed an indisposition to do this; and the slight feeling of anger which his persistency gave me tended much to counteract the pain that I felt in fulfilling the promise. I said I would fulfil it at once. Accordingly, I wrote the promised queries in Lord Cardigan’s presence, read them out to him, and gave him a copy of them. This was on the 15th of February last. Lord Cardigan, under the pain which he thus brought upon himself, showed at the time a perfect command of temper; and though he afterwards brought me a kind of written protest strongly questioning my impartiality, he offered to withdraw this before reading it, and after reading it, expressed a wish that it should be considered as withdrawn. I said I wished that the paper should not be withdrawn, and upon Lord Cardigan’s saying that he wished to take it away with him, I obtained from him a promise to let me have it afterwards. This he did.
2. Lord Cardigan should have written this name ‘Johnson.’
3. General Scarlett afterwards explained that he meant ‘among the last of the first line which he [Lord Cardigan] commanded in person.’ — Letter to Colonel Calthorpe, 1st May 1863.
4. Lord Cardigan should have written this ‘Thomas George Johnson.’