There’s a reason this plot of land is referred to as the “Valley of Death.” Though it now looks like no more than a tranquil vineyard, this spot was once the stage for a tragic battle caused by a terrible military blunder.
The Charge of the Light Brigade is one of the most storied military actions in British military history. The cavalry’s ill-fated charge was so disastrous, the Russian forces they battled allegedly believed the British soldiers had been drunk.
The Light Brigade was supposed to have been sent to prevent Russians from capturing guns from overrun Turkish positions during the Crimean War. But as a result of miscommunications in the chain of command, the troops were instead ordered into a full frontal assault against a well-defended artillery battery, where they faced direct fire from all sides.
Surprisingly, the Brigade was not annihilated, though casualties were predictably high. The men fought with just lances and sabres. Their mounts lacked armor. Of the approximately 670 who rode, 278 were killed or injured and 335 horses perished.
While the reputation of the British cavalry’s bravery may have been enhanced, the same cannot be said for the commanding officers whose subsequent attempts to blame each other for the disaster descended into farce. The charge itself achieved little, but the fact that there were no recorded objections to a potentially suicidal action has sealed the Light Brigade’s reputation in history.
Witnessing the charge in its full glory prompted a French Marshal by the name of Pierre Bosquet to utter the damning statement, “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”). The tragedy of the event was immortalized in the 1854 poem, “The Charge of the Light Brigade.”