The Near Suicidal Charge of the Light Brigade during the Crimean War


A Brief History

On October 25, 1854, the United Kingdom, the Ottoman Empire, and the French Empire fought against Russia in the Battle of Balaclava, which included the famous (and disastrous) “Charge of the Light Brigade”.

Digging Deeper

The Crimean War (October 1853 – February 1856) was an absolutely massive war, easily one of the most significant wars fought between Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo in 1815 and the onset of World War I in 1914.  An Alliance of France, the Ottoman Empire, Britain, and the Kingdom of Sardinia challenged the Russian Empire and Bulgaria.  The Franco-British-Ottoman alliance enjoyed a strength of a million men versus some 720,000 Russo-Bulgarians.  The combined dead would tally around 700,000 to 825,000.

In such a costly struggle, without any doubt the single most famous aspect of the fighting concerns the  Siege of Sevastopol (October 17, 1854 – September 9, 1855) in the present-day Ukraine.  The Battle of Balaclava was part of that Allied effort to take Sevastopol.


During the battle, Britain’s Lord Raglan planned on sending the Light Brigade, which consisted of light cavalry, to chase after and harass a retreating Russian artillery battery.  Unfortunately, the orders were not accurately received and so instead the Light Brigade, armed with sabres launched a frontal assault against a different, better-prepared artillery battery.  As a result, the Light Brigade was mauled, suffering incredibly high casualties, suffering perhaps 270 or more losses out of a force of 670 or so, i.e. losses of at or above fifty percent!

We have two outstanding and memorable descriptions of the engagement which capture the essence of the brave, but futile attack.  First, is Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s famous poem, “The Charge of the Light Brigade”, now in the public domain and so reproduced below:

“Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death,
Rode the six hundred.
‘Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns’ he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

‘Forward, the Light Brigade!’
Was there a man dismay’d?
Not tho’ the soldiers knew
Some one had blunder’d:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley’d and thunder’d;
Storm’d at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.

Flash’d all their sabres bare,
Flash’d as they turned in air
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army while
All the world wonder’d:
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right thro’ the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian
Reel’d from the sabre-stroke
Shatter’d and sunder’d.
Then they rode back, but not
Not the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volley’d and thunder’d;
Storm’d at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell,
They that had fought so well
Came thro’ 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?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wonder’d.
Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred!”

More succinct was French Marshal Pierre Bosquet’s summation of the charge of the Light Brigade:  “C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la guerre.  C’est de la folie” (“It is magnificent, but it is not war.  It is madness.”).

Despite the debacle, Britain and its allies would eventually go on to win the war.  Thus, despite such monumental disasters as the Charge of the Light Brigade, an alliance of Britain and Napoleon III’s France achieved what Napoleon I’s France did not pull off in 1812: a successful invasion of the Russian Empire!

Historical Evidence

Of the films about the incident, the more historically accurate version is 1968’s The Charge of the Light Brigade, although even that version has some “departures from history.”  For a recent book about the real life encounter, see Hell Riders: The True Story of the Charge of the Light Brigade.  For a nice illustrated online history of the event, head over to the BBC’s website.

Hell Riders: The True Story of the Charge of the Light Brigade (Hardcover)

List Price: $27.50
New From: $25.00 USD In Stock
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Dr. Zar

Dr. Zar graduated with a B.A. in French and history, a Master’s in History, and a Ph.D. in History. He currently teaches history at multiple universities.

  • KellyMcBrown

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  • KellyMcBrown


  • Mary

    The general’s orders were not followed to the correct area of battle. This caused hundreds of casualties. The foolishness of this, is not the first time soldiers have lost their lives needlessly, and unfortunately it has happened throughout history. This is a horrific result of war.

  • Zey Tavia

    Unfortunately, this is what happens when orders are misinterpreted, people are ill-equipped, and the enemy is better manned and prepared. The result is often certain major injury or death. 🙁

  • Tyler Cates

    I think the quote summarizes this better. War is madness and when orders get misinterpreted it is just asking for madness. This results in many deaths that could have been avoided.

  • T Goff

    Although the French General’s quote is true, I believe the poem better describes what happens. Troops in any military, at any time in history, were (and are) trained to do as they are told. So, even during the Charge of the Light Brigade when men knew that things might be amiss, did not say anything against their commanders. Thus, the “600” were crushed. I think the poem goes to show that maybe commanders, leaders, and generals should rely on listening to the suggestions of their men.

  • HB

    The French Marshal Pierre Bosquet’s summation of the charge of the light Brigade most likely summarizes it better. It discusses the madness behind war and that is true. Madness is the result of misinterpreted terms and directions, and this can lead to many deaths. Overall, war does exactly equal madness.

  • Emily Kaiser

    I think that the quote from Marshal Bosquet better summarizes the war: while training, the soldiers are trained to follow orders, which allows the general public to believe that war is an organized attack, but it is not–it is unorganized insanity, and this battle in particular seems to be lacking in the organization realm.

  • Melissa Smith

    I believe that Marshal Pierre Bosquet’s quote better summarizes this battle. This battle killed a lot of people and the best way to describe what was happening was that it was madness.

  • khummel

    I agree with Melissa in the idea that the quote shows the battle the best. The battle was indeed madness and that would be the best way to sum it up. To simply say that it was what it was, madness.

  • Amber J

    First of all, I have never read this poem. I agree with Melissa that the quote summaries the battle the best. The battle was madness that killed many. I believe the poem shows that many commanders and other official people should listen to their men serving more also.

  • Braden McDonnell

    Can’t believe the Officer in command would follow such suicidal orders, misinterpreted or not.

  • Evin R

    It’s always something else when you owe a stroke of luck above anything else for an accomplishment.

  • Tom Kubrak

    It is unfortunate that a kind leader like Napoleon had to lose not only at the battle of Waterloo, but many troops as well. At least they have the respect that they deserve through the poem in this article. I can only imagine what it must have felt like being surrounded by multiple armies and knowing that there is no hope.

  • Mike Rinicella

    This type of military tactic caused so many casualties unfortunately and the troops had no choice but to follow their orders.

  • Ben Nevers

    Just goes to show just how important good tactics and structure is for military battle. Leaders must be precise and soldiers must follow.

  • Corey McComas

    I think after reading this article and really learning about the battle, the quote by Bosquet really sums up everything that went on. It truly was chaos and madness.

  • David Purcel

    Bosquet nailed it with his quote. Based on the article, this truly was madness.

  • Alex Guthrie

    Considering these people are responsible for as many lives as they are, it’s insulting to examine the fact that more strategy is not involved.

  • Alec Ciferno

    actually, pretty surprising that only upwards of 50% of the brigade were lost in such a debacle

  • Gino Iacampo

    One million men armed and ready to fight is ridiculous. Then to have 700,000 on the other side? That’s an absolute bloodbath

  • Harvey Tolley

    The fact that orders were misread has occurred over and over in the annals of war time history. That is why we constantly are refining communication in the military and try to develop new ways to monitor troops as they move on the battlefield.

  • Anthony Jasany

    the mix up in commands obviously had a major effect on the battle

  • Jake Woolf

    “Unfortunately, the orders were not accurately received and so instead the Light Brigade, armed with sabres launched a frontal assault against a different, better-prepared artillery battery.”
    Commander: “Oops. My bad.”

  • Kevin Petnuch

    Even though 50% of the 600 or so died, that was a very small number compared to how many in total were fighting in the war. So at least it was overly detrimental and they were still able to win the war. No one can be perfect with all their orders.

  • Dana Janeda

    It is a shame that a miscommunication can cost so many lives. Hopefully, with today’s advance in technology, countries never have to experience this again.

  • Stephen Ciocca

    Its crazy to think that due to a miscommunication, or something being lost in translation, 300 people or more lost their lives. It is also crazy to think that only 50% of the light brigade lost their lives when they were only armed with sabers, and the Russians had guns and cannons. I think the fact the the light brigade was able to fair so well really speaks to the moral and dedication of the allied troops during such a bloody war.

  • DM

    I also find it surprising that just upwards of 50% of the brigade were lost in such a miscommunication. Despite the miscommunication, the men in the light brigade still carried out their orders and did not back down and fought hard. This is a great example of extreme loyalty to one’s country and military.

  • Billy White

    Unnerving being at the command of others with regards to your life. It is especially sad and frightening to think of all the miscommunication in war that ends up costing lives. Unnecessary death, I assume is a part of every war.

  • Matthew Grabowski

    This situation goes to show how important it is to have a strong leader with clear communication. It is the difference between life and death.

  • ryan C

    Its crazy how important communication was in this war. any miscommunication can be life or death.

  • SW

    I imagine for the time period many military orders were misinterpreted since there was little way to communicate with out using messengers. I figure many messengers would not reach their destination in a period of war!

  • BV

    This is what happens with old technology. Now we can just send them an iMessage. But it’s disturbing to see that so many people died because of this.

  • kk

    What can you expect when you don’t listen to the leader. Everyone should always listen to there leader and things would go a lot smoother.

  • Isaac Talley

    Just one wrong order and many lives are lost. I always wanted to know why would people write poetry about battles is it to remember them or is it to express its importance.

  • Kamarin R

    Maybe something should’ve been done to make sure orders were communicated properly. Interesting how half the brigade was lost due to miscommunication.

  • Andy frick

    This certainly shows the importance of communication. So many lived were lost and a debacle resulted from miscommunication.

  • DW

    Huge debacle, but also an impressive display of bravery and courage.

  • Matt Smail

    not surprised this happened, seemed like a constant problem happening in this world. always a problem leading to more deaths. trying to express the courage they had for their countries.

  • Dakota A rinier

    It seems like there shouldbe been more deaths tbh

  • Alex Hewitt

    A lot of lives lost because of miscommunication

  • Loren deck

    Brave men

  • ac

    Some pretty brave men.

  • Mikayla Hutchings

    As French Marshal Pierre Bosquet stated, this battle seemed like complete “madness.” It is crazy how many lives can be lost due to a little miscommunication. Even with that miscommunication, it seems as if the Light Brigade fought with much courage. I would have thought more lives would have been lost from how unprepared they were.

  • Maria Ndini

    Another big win for Britain and its allies! I think it is obvious which was the most powerful country in Europe at the time. It was such a tragic incident that so many lives were lost because some orders were misinterpreted.

  • Ellen Liebenguth

    It just goes to show how detrimental one small mistake can be in war. It just seems like such a waste for so many men to be lost to one tactical mistake. However, their sacrifice wasn’t in vain. By the end of war, the British and their allies successfully invaded Russia.

  • Claire Fraser

    It is sad to see how much is at stake when miscommunication is involved.

  • Frank F.

    I agree with what Maria said that this is another great victory for the Britain’s. Communication is huge and this is just another way to learn from history.

  • Mark Baniewicz

    Communication is everything, especially in a situation like this. The result of bad communication and a misinterpretation, as seen in this story, had drastic consequences.

  • Morgan price

    I can’t believe the British for so foolish to chase after a force so much larger and more prepared than themselves. The light brigade sounds like an awful tragedy that could have been avoided. The British were probably lucky they only lost 50% of their soldiers. It sounds like they could have lost many more!

  • Nicholas Mog

    Wow, more than 50% of the Light Brigade died because of a wrong order. It’s sad to see when a general or other leader mistakenly sends his men into a battle when they have no chance of winning. I’m surprised that the British, French, and Ottoman forces still won the war.

  • Alexandra

    Another example of how losing one battle doesn’t necessarily equate to losing the war.