Into the Valley of Death: a noble disaster

In the year 1854, Russian Czar Nicholas I decided to expand his territory to include the land of present-day Turkey. The Turks tried desperately to defend their land, but the Russians shattered the Turkish fleet. In desperation, the Turks cried out to England and France, who came to their aid in order to protect their own borders. Arriving just in time to face a freezing, dry winter with few provisions, the combined armies lost many men to cholera and dysentery.

When spring came, supplies reached the starving armies, enabling them to remain in Turkey. The Russians were steadily losing ground and needed to act quickly to avoid total defeat. The Russian army toiled over land to Balaclava, where the allied armies were encamped and engaged in the Battle of Balaclava.

Lord Lucan, commander of the cavalry division of the English army, spotted the advancing Russian army from his lookout at the top of Causeway Heights. He sent the 93rd Regiment of Scottish Highlanders to hold off the main body of Russian military. As the Russians advanced, a thin, two-man-deep, Scottish line formed before their eyes. The brave regiment stood firm, sending volleys down onto the Russians. Eventually, the Russian commander wheeled his horse around and led the army away. This brave resistance by the the 93rd regiment earned them the fond nickname, “the thin red line.”

Surrounding Causeway Heights was a deep, dark valley known as the Valley of Death. On the other side of the valley, tall hills rose from the earth where the Russians were camped. From his position, Lord Lucan spied some Russian soldiers carrying off some of the French guns. He sent a hasty message to another general, Lord Raglan, by way of Captain James Nolan. The message simply stated: “Send men to prevent the enemy from carrying off the guns.”

Raglan, who was stationed further down Causeway Heights, could not see either the Russians or the guns. As he tried to find the guns the message spoke of, Nolan became increasingly annoyed. Gesturing broadly to the Russians camped on the other side of the valley, he cried, “Here, my lord, is the enemy; here are your guns!” When Raglan pointed out the suicidal odds of attempting such a mission, Captain Nolan refused to listen. Word was quickly sent to Captain Cardigan, the commander of the Light Brigade. Cardigan, too, found the order ridiculous, but he had no choice but to obey. The disastrous mission, later memorialized as the Charge of the Light Brigade, had begun.

The Light Brigade consisted of 675 determined soldiers who, despite incredible odd, actually did face the entire Russian army unflinchingly. By terrifying the Russians with their bravery, the Light Brigade was able to capture the guns, which Cardigan had thought impossible. Tragically, only one hundred ninety-five men survived the charge. With insufficient numbers, they were unable to hold the guns for more than a few minutes and were pressed to retreat back across the Valley of Death. The entire ordeal took only twenty minutes.

While the charge proved ultimately unsuccessful, the heroic miscommunication threw the Russians off guard. The allied armies continued pressing forward and eventually won the day, preserving Turkey’s liberty as well as England and France’s safety.

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