'Cowardice' Jibe By Cossacks Led To Fatal ChargeRoundup: Talking About History
The Light Brigade charged into the"Valley of Death" because its soldiers were desperate to take revenge on the Cossacks sheltering behind the Russian guns, according to claims published today.
"Theirs not to reason why/ Theirs but to do and die" may have been Tennyson's verdict but Hugh Small, an historian and film-maker, asserts that far from the cavalrymen being the victims of their blundering aristocratic officers - as is popularly assumed - the commanders launched the attack to keep their troops happy.
Mr Small is a specialist on the Crimean War of 1854-56 in which Britain and France clashed with Russia for control of the disputed region of the Ottoman Empire.
He said accounts of the engagement, which took place 150 years ago today, written by the survivors, stress how they were desperate to avenge an insult from the Cossacks a month before when they had jeered at the Light Brigade for supposedly refusing to fight them.
The insult, which followed the brigade's decision to retreat against a force three times its size, was reported by the London press and led to the cavalrymen being mocked even by their comrades.
On the day of the charge itself, there had already been incidents of near mutiny because the brigade was held back while, in full view, the Cossacks killed Turks who were trying to surrender.
The Light Brigade had yet to be involved in a major engagement and its members believed they might not have another chance to"remove the stain" of the Russians' accusation, says Mr Small.
To support his theory, published in History Today magazine, Mr Small says that, during the charge by the 673-strong brigade, the men exceeded the regulation speed, riding too fast to pull back if resistance proved too heavy.
When they reached the Russian guns, rather than seize them, the brigade galloped straight through them to attack the Cossacks.
Mr Small argues that Capt Wykeham Martin, a survivor, disclosed the main reason when he wrote later:"To understand why we did this stupid act, you must know that lately there has been some chaff about the cavalry being afraid of the Cossacks".
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