Gateway to the Classics: Historic Poems and Ballads by Rupert S. Holland
 
Historic Poems and Ballads by  Rupert S. Holland

The Charge of the Light Brigade

T HIS famous charge occurred during the Crimean War, which was fought between the allied armies of England, France, Sardinia, and Turkey on the one side, and Russia on the other. The allied armies had invaded that part of southern Russia called the Crimea during the autumn of 1854, and were attempting to capture the very strongly fortified town and arsenal of Sevastopol. By the end of October, however, a very large Russian army was in the field, and the Russian general, Prince Menshikoff, determined to attack the allied forces. On October 25th, he opened fire on the rear of the British lines at Balaklava. This began a series of engagements, in which Sir Colin Campbell, with the 93d foot regiment, received and drove back a tremendous onslaught of Russian cavalry. At the same time General Scarlett, with the English Heavy Cavalry Brigade, completed Sir Colin's advantage by routing another part of the Russian army.

While this fighting was in progress a message was sent to Lord Cardigan, who commanded the English Light Brigade of Cavalry, to attack. Either through a misunderstanding of the message, or a blunder, he gave the word to try to take a Russian battery that was stationed at the far end of a long, narrow valley. This meant that the Light Brigade would have to run the gauntlet of two lines of infantry and artillery, as well as meet the full fire of the battery in their face.

The Light Brigade charged, although it was seen that the order was foolhardy in the extreme. Six hundred and seventy-three men went into action, but only one hundred and ninety-five returned unhurt.

The charge, although it made the battle of Balaklava famous, had little to do with the victory won by the English army. As the French said of it, "It was magnificent, but it was not warfare."

The report of the charge made a great sensation in England, and Tennyson, the Poet Laureate, wrote this poem of it. It is a fine war-chant, and the thunderous echo of the rhymes give it a charging effect like the actual galloping beats of the Light Brigade.

The Charge of the Light Brigade

by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

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 though the soldiers knew

Some one had blundered.

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 turn'd in air,

Sabering the gunners there,

Charging an army, while

All the world wonder'd:

Plunged in the battery-smoke,

Right through 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 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?

O, the wild charge they made!

All the world wondered.

Honor the charge they made!

Honor the Light Brigade,

Noble six hundred!


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