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Crimean texts

I Troop at the Charge

Troop of horse artillery may accompany.(Lord Raglan, 25.10.1854, ordering Lucan to advance - the order that resulted in the charge of the Light Brigade.)

He was told that the Horse Artillery might accompany the cavalry. He did not bring it up. (Lord Raglan, 16.12.1854, blaming Lucan for the disaster.)

Just fancy a troop of horse artillery proceeding through this field, which was a ploughed field, at a gallop, to face three of the Russian guns opposite! . . . if I had taken these guns into that valley the horses would have fallen, and the guns would have been lost without ever coming into action, or with any probability of doing so. I, however, exercised the discretion that I thought was reposed in me, and saved your guns. (Lord Lucan, 19.3.1855, defending his actions.)

So what exactly did I Troop RHA do during the charge? A first-hand account by the officer then commanding the troop was published in The Times on 3 April 1855. Captain Shakespear’s letter is quoted extensively by Anglesey, but has been unaccountably neglected by most other historians from Kinglake onwards.

In trying to support the Light Brigade, the troop crossed the Causeway Heights four times, starting and finishing on the south side. Shakespear does not mention ploughed land, but otherwise confirms Lucan’s assessment that deploying the guns in the north valley would have led to their loss. Even on the southern side of the heights progress was halted by the nature of the terrain. The horses were tired and below complement. In this action the troop did not fire a shot, unable to get within range of any useful target. At one point they were forward enough to be between the two cavalry brigades, but by the time of the withdrawal their detour over the crest had put them behind the Heavy Brigade.

The account raises some questions. What was the mission that Captain Charteris was on when he met Shakespear on the heights? As he knew about the order, he must have been with Lucan when it was received, and he returned in time to be killed at Lucan’s side during the action. What had he been doing in the meantime? Could he have been sent by Lucan to see Cathcart? In the Lords debate of 19 March 1855 Lucan said,

The Duke of Cambridge never received any order to advance, nor did Sir George Cathcart; because my aide-de-camp went to Sir George to ask him, and he said he could not, because he had no instructions to do so.

Might Charteris have been on his way back from that mission when he met Shakespear? If so, it is surprising that Lucan did not make more of it. For Cathcart to refuse to advance was one thing, but to do so knowing that the cavalry were about to attack was another thing entirely.

Did Lucan send Major Walker back for the artillery? Lucan never claimed as much, and from Shakespear’s account the Light Brigade was already well on its way before Walker came up to him.

And where into this narrative are we to fit the reported ‘spirit flask’ encounter between Shakespear and Cardigan?

Whatever the problems, no source of information about I Troop’s movements during the charge can be more authoritative than this letter, from the pen of its commanding officer.

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