Balaclava, Battle of

views updated Jun 08 2018


Battle that occurred during the Crimean War.

On 25 October 1854, a Russian field army under General Menshikov attempted to relieve Sevastopol, besieged by British, French, and Turkish forces, by driving a wedge among British units. The relative success of the attack netted some Turkish cannons, but a subsequent Russian cavalry attack was repulsed by the British Heavy Cavalry Brigade and the stubborn resistance of the 93rd Highlanders. The latter's success gave rise to the phrase "the thin red line," after their uniforms and signifying dedication against high odds.

The British Light Cavalry Brigade, in suicidal disregard for conventional military wisdom, then attacked the Russian field guns to their front. Whether Lord Lucan, commander of the cavalry division, or Lord Cardigan, commander of the Light Brigade, gave the order for the attack or whether it was the result of confusing dispatches has remained a mystery. The brigade's charge into the mile-long valley under murderous enemy crossfire from both flanks was immortalized by Alfred Tennyson's poem "The Charge of the Light Brigade." The brigade reached the guns and rode beyond them to clash with Russian cavalry. Returning through the same crossfire, the survivors were assisted by the Fourth French Chasseurs d'Afrique. Of the 673 mounted officers and men entering the twenty-minute-long charge of the Light Brigade, 247 men and 497 horses were killed. A fitting epitaph was coined by French General Pierre-Jean-François Bosquet, who remarked: "It is magnificent, but it is not war." The Russians retained possession of the Vorontsov ridge commanding the SevastopolBalaclava road while the allies kept Balaclava and the approaches to Sevastopol. Neither the battle itself nor the charge of the Light Brigade had any effect on the outcome of the campaign.

see also crimean war.


Rich, Norman. Why the Crimean War? A Cautionary Tale. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1991.

Jean-Marc R. Oppenheim

Balaclava, battle of

views updated May 18 2018

Balaclava, battle of, 1854. On 25 October 1854 the Russian commander in the Crimea, Menshikov, attempted to lift the siege of Sebastopol by attacking with 25,000 troops towards the British base at Balaclava. The ‘thin red line’ of 93rd Highlanders repulsed a charge by Russian cavalry. This was followed by a successful attack on the main body of the Russian horse by the numerically inferior British heavy [cavalry] brigade and by the notorious Charge of the Light Brigade. The battle was a victory for the allies, commanded by Lord Raglan and General Canrobert, although the Russians retained the Causeway Heights.

Gary Sheffield

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Battle of Balaclava

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