« PreviousContinue »
hussars. Then they move en échelon in two bodies, with another in reserve.
The cavalry, who had been pursuing the Turks on the right, are coming up to the ridge beneath us, which conceals our cavalry from view. The Heavy Brigade in advance is drawn up in two lines. The first line consists of the Scots Grays, and of their old companions in glory, the Enniskillens; the second, of the 4th Royal Irish, of the 5th Dragoon Guards, and of the 1st Royal Dragoons. The Light Cavalry Brigade is on their left, in two lines also. The silence is oppressive; between the cannon bursts one can hear the champing of bits and the clink of sabers in the valley below. The Russians on their left drew breath for a moment, and then in one grand line dashed at the Highlanders.
The ground flies beneath their horses' feet; gathering speed at every stride, they dash on towards that thin red streak topped with a line of steel. The Turks fire a volley at eight hundred yards, and run. As the Russians come within six hundred yards, down goes that line of steel in front, and out rings a rolling volley of Minié musketry. The distance is too great; the Russians are not checked, but still sweep onward through the smoke, with the whole force of horse and man, here and there knocked over by the shot of our batteries above. With breathless suspense every one awaits the bursting of the wave upon the line of Gaelic rock; but ere they come within a hundred and fifty yards, another deadly volley flashes from the leveled rifles, and carries death and terror into the Russians.
They wheel about, open files right and left, and fly back faster than they came. "Bravo, Highlanders! well done!" shouted the excited spectators; but events thicken. The Highlanders and their splendid front are soon forgotten, men scarcely have a moment to think of this fact, that the 93d never altered their formation to receive that tide of horsemen. "No," said Sir Colin Campbell, "I did not think it worth while to form them even four deep!" The ordinary British line, two deep, was quite sufficient to repel the attack of these Muscovite cavaliers. Our eyes were, however, turned in a moment on our own cavalry. We saw Brigadier General Scarlett ride along in front of
his massive squadrons. The Russians-evidently corps d'élite-their light-blue jackets embroidered with silver lace, were advancing on their left, at an easy gallop, towards the brow of the hill. A forest of lances glistened in their rear and several squadrons of gray-coated dragoons moved up quickly to support them as they reached the summit.
The instant they came in sight the trumpets of our cavalry gave out the warning blast, which told us all that in another moment we should see the shock of battle beneath our very eyes. Lord Raglan, all his staff and escort, and groups of officers, the zouaves, French generals and officers, and bodies of French infantry on the heights, were spectators of the scene as though they were looking on the stage from the boxes of a theater. Nearly every one dismounted and sat down, and not a word was said. The Russians advanced down the hill at a slow canter, which they changed to a trot, and at last nearly halted. Their first line was at least double the length of ours-it was three times as deep. Behind them was a similar line, equally strong and compact. They evidently despised their insignificant-looking enemy, but their time was come. The trumpets rang out again through the valley and the Grays and Enniskilleners went right at the center of the Russian cavalry. The space between them was only a few hundred yards; it was scarce enough to let the horses gather way," nor had the men quite space sufficient for the full play of their sword-arms.
The Russian line brings forward each wing as our cavalry advance, and threatens to annihilate them as they pass on. Turning a little to their left, so as to meet the Russian right, the Grays rush on with a cheer that thrills to every heart-the wild shout of the Enniskilleners rises through the air at the same instant.
As lightning flashes through a cloud, the Grays and Enniskilleners pierce through the dark masses of Russians. The shock was but for a moment. There was a clash of steel and a light play of swordblades in the air, and then the Grays and the redcoats disappear in the midst of the shaken and quivering columns. In another moment we see them emerging and dashing on with diminished numbers, and in broken order, against the second
line, which is advancing against them as fast as it can to retrieve the fortune of the charge. It was a terrible moment. "God help them! they are lost!" was the exclamation of more than one man, and the thought of many.
With unabated fire the noble hearts dashed at their enemy. It was a fight of heroes. The first line of Russians, which had been smashed utterly by our charge, and had fled off at one flank and towards the center, were coming back to swallow up our handful of men. By sheer steel and sheer courage Enniskillener and Scot were winning their desperate way right through the enemy's squadrons, and already gray horses and redcoats had appeared right at the rear of the second mass, when, with irresistible force, like one bolt from a bow, the 1st Royals, the 4th Dragoon Guards, and the 5th Dragoon Guards rushed at the remnants of the first line of the enemy; went through it as though it were made of pasteboard; and, dashing on the second body of Russians as they were still disordered by the terrible assault of the Grays and their companions, put them to utter rout. This Russian horse, in less than five minutes after it met our dragoons, was flying with all its speed before a force certainly not half its strength.
A cheer burst from every lip-in the enthusiasm, officers and men took off their caps and shouted with delight, and thus keeping up the scenic character of their position, they clapped their hands again and again. Lord Raglan at once dispatched Lieutenant Curzon, aide-de-camp, to convey his congratulations to Brigadier General Scarlett, and to say: "Well done!" The gallant old officer's face beamed with pleasure when he received the message. "I beg to thank his lordship very sincerely," was his reply. The cavalry did not long pursue their enemy. Their loss was very slight, about thirty-five killed and wounded in both affairs. There were not more than four or five men killed outright, and our most material loss was from cannon playing on our heavy dragoons afterwards, when covering the retreat of our light cavalry.
CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE.
A disastrous scene followed this triumph-the famous Light Cavalry charge. It had been Lord Raglan's inten
tion that the cavalry should aid in regaining the heights surmounted by the redoubts taken from the Turks, or, in default of this, prevent the Russians from carrying off the guns at those redoubts. Some misconception occurred as to the order; Captain Nolan, who conveyed the message, fell in the charge; but it was construed by the lieutenantgeneral, Lord Lucan, to mean that he should attack at all hazards, and the Earl of Cardigan, as second in command, put the order in execution.1
1 Lord Tennyson commemorated this splendid but melancholy feat of war in
THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE.
Half a league, half a league,
All in the Valley of Death
"Forward the Light Brigade!"
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them,
Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well;
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell,
Rode the six hundred.
Flashed all their sabers bare,
Flashed all at once in air,
Sabering the gunners there,
All the world wondered:
Plunged in the battery smoke,
The whole brigade scarcely made one effective regiment according to the numbers of continental armies; and yet it was more than we could spare. As they rushed towards the front, the Russians opened on them from the guns in the redoubt on the right, with volleys of musketry and rifles. They swept proudly past, glittering in the morning sun in all the pride and splendor of war. We could scarcely believe the evidence of our senses! Surely that handful of men are not going to charge an army in position?
Alas it was but too true-their desperate valor knew no bounds, and far indeed was it removed from its socalled better part-discretion. They advanced in two lines, quickening their pace as they closed towards the enemy. A more fearful spectacle was never witnessed than by those who, without the power to aid, beheld their heroic countrymen rushing to the arms of death.
At the distance of twelve hundred yards, the whole line of the enemy belched forth, from thirty iron mouths, a flood of smoke and flame, through which hissed the deadly balls. Their flight was marked by instant gaps in our ranks, by dead men and horses, by steeds flying wounded or riderless across the plain. The first line is broken; it
Right through the line they broke;
Reeled from the saber stroke
Then they rode back, but not,
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon behind them
Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell,
They that had fought so well
Came through the jaws of Death
Back from the mouth of Hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred.
When can their glory fade?
Noble six hundred!