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[Thread] The Charge of the effing Light Brigade.

Ok, y'all, I usually don't read much military history but I picked up "Hell Riders" by Terry Brighton and I COULD NOT put it down.

It is an AMAZINGLY well-done book. BUY IT! This is only a taste.…
It's a great and important read just for the breadth of topics. Demonstrates great detailed research, covers memory, class, gender, etc.

I'm gonna take you on some of this wild ride. All info comes from the book; direct quotations in ""

Buy the book!
Here we go...

So, you probably have an idea of what the Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaklava was during the Crimean War in October 1854 made famous by Tennyson's poem.

But, Brighton is going to blow your mind like he blew mine.
So, let's start with the total dumpster fire that is the leadership of both the Light Brigade and the Cavalry Division (which contained the Light and Heavy Brigade).

So, first we have Lord Cardigan. This guy is a real piece of work.
First, as most officers of the day, he had bought every rank he ever held. And, the kicker is that even though he ended up as a brigade commander, he had never actually commanded anything.
The trick was: buy your commission, but then go on half-pay when your unit goes to war and you don't have to go. And we thought draft deferments were bad.

(Brighton's section on the racket of commissions is GOLD btw.)
Cardigan was a grade-A dirtbag. He reprimanded one of his captains for overstaying a leave when his wife went into labor.

He also spent a ton of money on tight, flashy, red uniforms that he made his troopers wear...which earned them the nickname "Cherry Bums."
Then there's this other guy, Lord Lucan. Oh, brother! THIS guy. So, he, too, buys his way up the ranks, never actually doing any soldiering. He also liked to play dress up with his unit (which was called "Bingham's dandies) and was the 19th century definition of toxic.
Moreover, he moved to Ireland where he had his estate. Lucan was such an asshole that during the Potato Famine he tried to consolidate his tenants' land in large farms to make money. If they couldn't pay, he pulled their huts down, sometimes with them winter.
Dude wiped out so many Irish villages that he was literally nicknamed "The Exterminator." (Seriously. This is real.)
He married Lady Anne Brudenell who was...Lord Cardigan's sister.

Yeah, you know where this is going. Lucan was a dick to his wife who complained to her brother. Cardigan told Lucan to stop being a dick. This pissed him off to no end.

Lady Lucan dumps Lord Lucan.
These guys HATE each other, folks. Like deep, burning, incredibly awkard and uncomfortable British hate. I mean, Lucan did Cardigan's sister wrong. And Cardigan butted into Lucan's marriage. They didn't even TALK to each other. And everyone knew it. It was a joke in Eng.
Meanwhile....Crimean war! This is one of those lovely 19th century goat rodeos between the great powers. It literally is started because one set of Orthodox monks in Bethlehem won't give the church keys to another set...and they kill each other over this.
So, Britain is, like, man, gotta stand up for the Ottomans' right to not answer to Russia over monk issues. But REALLY they are like, now is our chance to once again cock block Russia from a warm water port by taking Sevastopol and deep sixing the Russian navy.
This should be fine. War's a comin'! Lucan who hadn't been in the military for almost 20 years wanted in on this presumably easy campaign. He got command of the Cavalry Division in the British Army.

Yayyy!!!! I'm going to war with my horsies!
Lord Cardigan also wanted in on a little Russian beatdown. He wrote to Raglan, the British commander and a family friend asking for a command. B/c that's how shit worked back then. Despite serving for 30 yrs and not doing anything, he gets command of the Light Brigade. YAY!
Then Cardigan realizes that...his boss is effing Lucan. And Lucan realizes that one of his two subordinate commanders is that bastard Cardigan.

And all their cavalrymen realize that Fuck, Our commanders are Cardigan and Lucan who empirically suck.
So, it's off to war in balmy Crimea. But, logistics is everything. You could get there in around 14 days on a steam ship, or you could go on a SAILING SHIP and be on the ocean for five weeks.

The British army decided the fricking cavalry should take the five week option.
This means that the horses could literally not lie down or really move around for five weeks, if you don't count when they were slammed against the walls of the stalls constantly in heavy seas.

Lots of horses break legs, go crazy, or otherwise die. Everyone is miserable.
One regiment was delayed and DID get to go on a steamer. But, they put the horse stalls next to...the engine room so all the heat from the engines combined with the Mediterranean heat to drive their horses literally mad and kill them.

We're not even close to the charge btw
True to form, Cardigan had skipped this vomit-filled sea voyage and traveled separately over land "with his servants and baggage...a spring bed..." and two tents so he could have a separate dining tent.
Then, when the poor guys of the Light Brigade stagger off the puke-stained ships full of dead horses after five damn weeks, Lucan and Cardigan are there on the docks to "observe on the hair and beard of both officers and men" and basically be giant a-holes.
So, more stuff happens when the cavalry arrives in Turkey. Lucan tells Cardigan to do stuff and Cardigan tells Lucan to fuck off.

The Heavy Brigade isn't there yet so the Cavalry Division is only the Light Brigade. So Lucan tries to command that. Cardigan is not happy.
Lord Cardigan parks his Light Brigade in a place called "Death Valley." Because cholera. So...they all start dying from...cholera.

So Cardigan, leveling up to champion asshole status, moves the brigade out in the middle of the flaming desert.
Luckily, there's a small oasis with shade and a freshwater spring...where Cardigan sets up his two tents.

And then forbids anyone from his unit to take water from the spring.He even puts a sentry on it.

So the guys have to carry water uphill from a mile away for horses and men.
So, this really sucks b/c, you know, water is really important , especially in the desert and all.

And horses need a lot of water.

Oh, and...still cholera. So everybody is dying and they can't bury the horses, so they're just out there rotting.

Morale is...low.
Meanwhile, Lord Lucan loves a good parade and is making the regiments do all this drilling.

Except that he is literally using the wrong manual from 17 years ago that doesn't even have the same names for the commands in it. He orders everyone to learn the outdated shit.
SOMEONE is able to talk him out of this and so he grudgingly learns current doctrine.

The guys and the horses that aren't dead are skinny, bedraggled, and look like shit. must be time for the fighting!
There is a series of advances down the Crimean peninsula during which Lucan keeps trying to command Cardigan's brigade and then they both get lost trying to find a Scottish farmstead called "Khutor Mackenzie" Russia.

This was embarassing b/c cavalry is supposed to...recon.
Raglan, in command of the force, decides to go around Sevastopol and come at it from the south because...reasons.

So, the Light Brigade gets thrown out around Balaklava to guard the port against a possible attack.
This is SHITTY duty. The Light Brigade was sleeping on the ground (their tents were packed at the back of the ships) in terrible weather. And whenever someone heard a sound, they all had to mount up and ride out to stop a non-existent Russian attack.
Well, Cardigan didn't have to. He was sleeping on his LUXURY YACHT, the Dryad, in Balaklava harbor. He'd have a nice leisurely breakfast and lollygag his way up to his men by around 10am when often they had been up all night freezing (and dying of exposure).
Skipping a lot of (interesting) stuff, we move on. The Russians do send a force to try to attack the port at Balaklava. They capture some forts on some hills overlooking a valley.

But the British infantry clowns the Russian cavalry and stops them.
And the Heavy Brigade (not to be confused with the Light Brigade) has a successful little charge and puts an end to things.

So the Russians set up a substantial line of artillery and have a few people in these captured forts on the hills.
Raglan is PISSED. Losing your artillery pieces will make you the laughingstock of your posh gentleman's club in London, so that simply won't do. Not one little bit.
So, he issues a really poorly formed order to Lucan to go get those guns on the hills before those dirty Russians drag them away and put them in a church in Sevastopol (which is what they did).
Some idiot general's aide (it's always an idiot general's aide) delivers this D+ order to Lucan, telling him to take the guns.

Which guns?, Lucan asks.

That giant battery of guns at the end of the valley, aide responds.

Lucan: Ok.
(It was not ok.)
Lucan then tells Cardigan to lead his Light Brigade against the guns...a bunch of them...a mile away...with enemy artillery and infantry also on both sides of the valley pointing down.
Cardigan, in a surprisingly lucid moment, points out that this is probably not a great idea.

Lucan is sick of Cardigan's shit and tells him to just do it.

Because...ego and awkwardness and you can stay the hell out of my marriage and all.
Give the dipshit credit, Cardigan manned up when it counted and led his guys down this valley full of Russian artillerymen and infantry guys with absolute lust for destroying such a juicy target.
Things are...not good. Horses are getting hit with solid shot, canister is blowing people's arms off (and they politely then ask to retire- true story), One regiment kinda sorta drifts off to the right and misses the Russian guns entirely, the other one misses them on the left.
The Light Brigade is getting hammered from all sides, but, goddamn if they don't still make it to the Russian guns and then start in with the old hack-and-slash on the Russian gunners.

The high command just see the whole Brigade disappear into the smoke.

Raglan: Oh, shit.
When the survivors pop out of the smoke on the other side, they see they are outnumbered massively by Russian cavalry who are all thinking...WTF just happened? How the hell are these guys alive, let alone murdering our artillery?
Cardigan is lost in the melee, but the other commanders gather what survivors they can and decide, YOLO, and charge the massive numbers of Russian cavalry...who run away, b/c fuck if they're messing with the guys who just rode through all that shit.
After they drive the Russians back, the survivors are like, sweet, the Heavy Brigade should be here any minute to finish this up and secure a huge victory.

Except, no.

Because...Lord Lucan.
He was like, nope. Not gonna send another brigade down there. That was a really bad idea the first time around.

Plus, Lord Cardigan: fuck that guy.

So, the Light Brigade is shit out of luck.
The surviving commanders realize this and say, well, that's it then.

And then they all rider BACK THROUGH ALL THAT MESS again.

Dudes are trying to grab a hold of riderless horses while fighting off Russians with one hand. It's nuts.

Cardigan is one of the first guys back. 🧐
And that's the charge. (Really, read Brighton's book. It's awesome.)

At least 666 cavalrymen made the charge. (Yup. 666.)

Only 195 were fit to fight by the end. But actually, 75% of the Brigade survived which is NUTS. The horses didn't do so well.
So, some postscripts. You might think, well, these guys got some well-deserved R&R after that clusterfuck.

Nope. They got to stay on the heights, 7 miles from the snow...during a hurricane.
During said hurricane, 21 ships in the harbor sunk, including those carrying all of the Light Brigade's winter clothing and most of the food for the horses...which they had to trek a full day to pick up at the port anyway.

More horses and men die. Yippee!!!
But wait...some of the most wounded from the charge end up in the military hospital at Scutari...which is a soup sandwhich. It's in a church that has a sewer running under it.

Everybody is getting sick and no one knows why.

Also, no beds, or clean sheets, or blankets.
Enter Florence Nightingale. (Didn't expect this in the book, did you? It's there.)

She shows up in her super privileged 1% nurse whites along with a bunch of nuns and some...not so pious try to help out.

British army says, no way you can see our guys naked.
Finally, she gets to start tending to the wounded. They like her a lot.

But they're still dropping like flies. Because disease. Because...sewers.

Oh, and Florence doesn't believe in germs, so, that's not helpful.

Death rate goes UP after she gets there.
But wait...there's someone else who you've never heard of, but you should. Her name is Mary Seacole. She's from Jamaica. (Yes, THAT Jamaica). And she's a woman of color (Scottish dad, Jamaican mom).

She's basically a self-taught nurse but the Brit soldiers in Jamaica love her.
She's really good with herbal healing and successful in treating tropical diseases which she does in Panama where the Americans suggest that she bleach her skin to make her "more acceptable."

Mary Seacole: Fuck off into the son (or words to that effect)
When she hears about the clownshow that Florence Nightengale is running in Crimea, she travels to London to volunteer her services. Nightingale's snooty staff says, no thanks.

Mary doesn't give up. She pays her own way to Crimea. And buys her own supplies.
Seacole opens up her own aid station. Which starts actually healing people. British soldiers refer going there than to Nightingale's hospital.

They called her "Mother Seacole."
Now, Mary Seacole was a...bigger...woman. But beyond just out-nursing Florence Nightingale, she took her ass up to the frontlines and went out under fire to help wounded soldiers (though she had to ask for help sometimes getting up after she hit the deck).
Finally, the British medical corps send a team to investigate what the fuck is wrong with Scutari. I mean, they have FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE working there, after all.

The British doctors discover that...there's a SEWER running beneath the damn hospital.
They flush that out and, lo and behold, the casualty rates drop precipitously. Florence Nightingale volunteers her services again during the Indian Mutiny in 1857 but the British Army says, umm, no thanks. You've done quite enough.
After realizing what a dumbass she was in Scutari re: the germs and the sewers, Nightingale literally goes back to bed for the rest of her life. But she gets all kinds of statues and honors.

And Mary Seacole gets nothing because...well, duh.
Though, in a wonderful tidbit, Brighton points out that in 1999, the British Nurses' Union voted to move International Nurses' Day from Nightingale's birthday to "exorcise the myth."

Seacole's name figured prominently.
So, this was exceptionally long, but not even close to all the details in the book. Suicide, Murder, duels, adultery, snarkiness, and really solid historical research abound. Check it out!!!…
Literally the longest thread I ever wrote.

But, it's really a good and fun book.

And, damn, these people messed up.

Apparently there will be a movie about Mary Seacole!…
For more on Seacole...…
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