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Strange Days: Myth Busters

 

The Charge of the Light Brigade

How many men really died?

light brigade

The myth

Everyone knows what happened when “into the valley of death rode the six hundred”: they all – or almost all – died.

The “truth”

More than two thirds of those who took part in the disastrous charge survived: 673 men rode off, and (though no-one’s quite sure of the exact number) it seems that fewer than 200 died. During the battle of Balaclava (25 October 1854) the Russians captured some British cannons. Lord Raglan ordered Lord Lucan to prevent the guns being taken away.

Due to an error in commun­ications (some historians say the two noble generals were not talking to each other, as the result of an intra-toff dispute, though that theory is no longer as popular as it once was), Lucan sent his light cavalry against the wrong (and heavily-defended) Russian position.

The result was predictable, even to onlookers. However, the number of dead was not exceptional; nothing about the action was really extraordinary. But the Crimean was the first war to be covered by on-the-spot newspaper reporters and photo­graphers. Within weeks, the British public knew the story.

Eyewitness journalism set the tone for Tennyson’s famous poem and other works of art, and the Charge has been, ever since, the ultimate symbol of total slaughter, military stupidity, the dangers of blind obedience, and hopeless heroism.

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ARTICLE SOURCES:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/3944699.stm; The Oxford Companion to British History, ed. John Cannon (OUP, 1997).

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