"Charge of the Light Brigade" by Alfred 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 tho' the soldier knew
    Someone had blunder'd:
Their's not to make reply,
Their's not to reason why,
Their's 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,
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 wondered.
Honor the charge they made,
Honor the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred.

--"Charge of the Light Brigade" by Alfred Tennyson

October 25, 1854. Balaclava, near Sebastopol, Crimean Republic, Ukraine. The Charge of the Light Brigade was one of the most disastrous events in the history of the British Army. During the Crimean War, as a consequence of the incompetence of its officers, the Earls of Cardigan and Lucan, brothers-in-law and sworn enemies, who fought over matters of prerogative and recognition while military organization suffered. Through lack of clear communication, organizational confusion and petty infighting, the brigade was doomed to destruction. The Brigade, a cavalry company, was commanded to attack a well-entrenched and defended Russian machine-gun position, and was consequently slaughtered. Around 200 survived, many to die later of battle wounds and infection.

The whole affair was caused by the commanding officer ordering that the Light Brigade take the guns on a hill. Down in the valley, the Light Brigade can only see a different set of guns, and try to take them even though it is a suicide mission. They did not at any point try to question the order or wonder why they were being sent along a valley flanked on both sides by cannons.

Gone are the days when every properly educated British schoolboy could recite this by heart. Why is (arguably) one of the most famous poems in British literature about the most disastrous military defeat in British history? Because the Light Brigade was told to charge a position, and followed orders despite the obvious outcome. Tennyson portrays this as the ultimate sacrifice of life for the greater glory of the empire. Compare how Saddam Hussein still paints his defeat in the Gulf War as noble resistance to the American oppressor. Historically, this says volumes about societal beliefs of England at the time.

It should be noted that the British had all but won the battle of Balaclava; the guns to be taken were a retreating Russian division of cannon whose lines had been decimated by the heavy cavalry, rather than the well-entrenched positions flanking the valley.

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