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The Charge of the Light Brigade

*Includes pictures *Includes descriptions of the charge made by survivors *Examines the myths and legends surrounding the charge *Includes a bibliography for further reading *Includes a table of contents The Charge of the Light Brigade is the most famous British cavalry charge in history, possibly also eclipsing the renown of any other mounted attack conducted by the armed forces of other nations in the general imagination. This cavalry action is certainly remembered far more vividly than the 1854 Battle of Balaclava during which it occurred, and even the wider Crimean War that led to the battle. Of course, the prominence of the Charge in popular and historical memory is due primarily to Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem describing the events of that distant late October afternoon. The bearded Poet Laureate crafted a powerful, gripping poetic narrative that fixed the encounter firmly in both the popular imagination and in the English literary oeuvre. Millions of people who know nothing else of the Crimean War between Great Britain and the Russian Empire are familiar with Tennyson's memorable verses. At the same time, however, his words also created a narrative about the combat which has obscured much contrary evidence, replacing fact with legend and completely obscuring the true significance of the Charge of the Light Brigade. Indeed, its perception by historians and depiction in history books has been massively influenced by the sheer artistic power of Tennyson's poem. Sober historians have unwitting cherry-picked the existing original documents to support Tennyson's "version" of the events while disregarding much contrary evidence that provides a very different perspective of the Light Brigade's attack. In fact, a closer examination of source materials casts the Charge of the Light Brigade in a very different light than the widely accepted version of men so highly disciplined and obedient that they obeyed a suicidal order without question. So unquestioningly obedient were the British cavalrymen, the legend declares, that they were willing to charge into a cannon's mouth and die rather than raise a voice of protest against the imbecility of their incompetent officers. This mix of doomed courage and absolute, unfaltering compliance with the orders of their superiors, however idiotic, had given the Light Brigade and the British soldier in general a character of tragic heroism. Powerful as this vision of buffoonish commanders leading soldiers infused with ant-like obedience may be in the world of poetry, considerable documentation still exists which at least partially refutes such an interpretation. These documents, recently revisited by a handful of historians, greatly diminish the role of upper-echelon mistakes in causing the Charge. They restore agency and initiative to the ordinary British soldiers, highlighting them as fierce, independent-minded, and energetic actors in their own right, who very nearly changed the outcome of the entire Battle of Balaclava with their skill, courage, and daring. Ironically, it is possible to argue that the Charge of the Light Brigade was an attack mostly initiated by the rank and file, and that it was largely successful. The actual blunder was the failure of other commanders to support the charge by sending in infantry in its wake, which could potentially have led to the complete rout of the Russian forces. Instead, the British commanders did nothing to exploit the breakthrough created by the initiative, skill, and ferocity of the ordinary cavalryman, squandering the opportunity they had been offered. The Charge of the Light Brigade chronicles the history and legacy of the ill-fated cavalry charge. Along with pictures of important people, places, and events, you will learn about the Charge of the Light Brigade like never before, in no time at all.
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