On 25 October 1854, at the Brigade of the British cavalry charged a battery of Russian Battle of Balaclava, the Light artillery that was deployed at the end of a mile-long valley. The valley was flanked on both sides by additional guns that fired down from above. The action, which was in defiance of every basic principle of cavalry action in warfare, was the result of an erroneous interpretation of an ambiguous order given by Lord Raglan, the commander of the British forces in the Crimean War, to Lord Cardigan, the commander of the Light Brigade. Of the approximately 670 men who participated in the charge, almost three hundred were killed, wounded or taken prisoner. Some observers were nonplussed by this horrific casualty rate. General Sir Richard Airey, second-in-command to Lord Raglan in the Crimea, merely shrugged: `These sorts of things will happen in war. It is nothing compared to Chillianwallah.’ In Airey’s eyes, the Charge of the Light Brigade was just another heroic failure.
Cavalry soldiers in the first half of the nineteenth century were regarded as impetuous, foolhardy and unreliable. Moreover, by midcentury, the replacement of the musket by the rifle had made cavalry charges riskier and less effective. It is conventionally assumed that it was the introduction of the breech-loading repeating rifle and more powerful and accurate artillery that decreased the effectiveness of the cavalry charge by the end of the nineteenth century. Even so, the charge still had numerous proponents in the British military establishment, who developed new tactics that took into account the increased fire- power of the infantry and artillery. In an age before mechanization, the cavalry served the vital purpose of making rapid movement possible. It was not until the First World War that the age of the cavalry charge truly came to an end. One of the last charges in Western military history took place during the retreat from Mons in August 1914, when the 2nd Cavalry Brigade advanced against the German 1st Army in an attempt to protect the British Expeditionary Force’s vulnerable left flank. The result was a swift rebuff and 250 casualties.
Cavalry charges could thus still achieve impressive results on the battlefield in the late nineteenth century. This was particularly true in colonial theatres, where enemy forces were usually less well armed than their British counterparts. Not surprisingly, then, it was at the height of the empire that perceptions of the cavalry began to change. Whereas previously its failures had been blamed on impetuous soldiers who refused to follow orders and exercise restraint, now the cavalry came to be celebrated for its dash.
The Charge of the Light Brigade
Captain Soame Gambier Jenyns survived the Charge of the Light Brigade, the most famous heroic failure in British military history. Two years later, in 1856, he returned to his familial home, Bottisham Hall in Cambridgeshire. A large crowd cheered him as he rode into the village on his horse, Ben, another survivor of the charge. The parish priest observed: `it must have been grati- fying to our gallant friend to see the welcome accorded, while there was not a man, woman or child, but what turned out to do him honour’. In 1873, two years after he retired from the army, Jenyns died suddenly while out shooting on his father- in- law’s estate in Shropshire. His funeral cortege in Bottisham featured a military band and a column of Hussars; Ben, now twenty-five years old, was led behind the coffin. Hundreds of people packed the church and the surrounding streets; after the coffin was placed in the family vault, three volleys were fired by a rifle team, followed by a trumpet flourish. A memorial was later installed in the chancel of Bottisham church that referred to Jenyns as a survivor of the Charge of the Light Brigade.
Jenyns’s example illustrates how the Charge of the Light Brigade was enshrined as an heroic failure. The survivors became celebrities who were feted at annual banquets and, as the decades passed, were given lavish public funerals. This was despite the fact that the charge was a disaster that had resulted from a string of errors and misunderstandings in the British chain of command. It had occurred during the Crimean War, which resulted from conflicts among the European powers as they grappled with the long, slow decline of the Ottoman Empire. For their part, the British saw the war as necessary to ensure that Russian expansionism did not threaten the route to India. In the autumn of 1854, 27,000 British, thirty thousand French and seven thousand Turkish troops invaded the Crimean Peninsula, with their primary target the Russian naval base at Sebastopol. British forces included a division of cavalry, split into a Heavy and a Light Brigade. Traditionally, light cavalry (smaller men and horses) had been used to carry out reconnaissance work, while heavy cavalry (bigger men and horses) were used to overwhelm the enemy in battle. But in the decades after Waterloo, the army had shrunk from 250,000 men to 110,000, and such specialization was no longer possible. The two types of cavalry were thus now used almost interchangeably.
In the 1850s, cavalry officers continued to be predominantly men from elite backgrounds who had purchased their commissions and promotions. Lord Lucan, who commanded the cavalry at Balaclava, had joined the army the year after Waterloo and had spent much of his career on half- pay, as many wealthy officers did to avoid being sent to colonial theatres. Through purchase he had risen from being a sixteen- year- old ensign in 1816 to the rank of lieutenant colonel only ten years later. He had been promoted to major general in 1851, even though he had not been on active service for fourteen years. In command of the Light Brigade, meanwhile, was the 7th earl of Cardigan, who, like Lucan, had had no battlefield experience. He, too, had been promoted through purchase, rising from cornet to the lieutenant colonelcy of the 15th Hussars in only eight years between 1824 and 1832. Four years later, he paid £40,000 for the more prestigious lieutenant colonelcy of the 11th Hussars.
Cardigan was Lucan’s brother- in- law – Lucan was married to his sister Ann – but in this case the familial connection bred enmity rather than accord. Lady Lucan had complained to her brother that her husband mistreated her, which chilled relations between the two men. Just prior to their departure for the Crimea, Lady Lucan had left her husband, increasing the animosity between them even further. `They do not speak,’ wrote Lieutenant Colonel Edward Hodge of the Heavy Brigade. `How this will answer on service I do not know.’ Such squabbles among the British commanders were deemed unimportant, however, as the army expected to take Sebastopol in a matter of weeks. Confidence was further boosted by the first confrontation with the Russians, at the Battle of Alma, which resulted in an emphatic British and French victory.
Next, the British turned their attention to Balaclava, a fishing village 6 miles (9.6 km) from Sebastopol that possessed a deep, sheltered harbour in which the fleet could land the army’s supplies prior to the attack on the Russian base itself. The British seized the village without opposition, but the Russians soon mounted a counterattack. On 25 October, the Russian commander, Prince Alexander Menshikov, ordered an infantry advance of thirty thou- sand men. The six hundred Turkish militia who manned the poorly constructed redoubts that defended the British position were quickly overwhelmed. All that now stood between the Russians and Balaclava was a `thin red line’ of 93rd Highlanders, who withstood the Russian charge, thereby passing into British military legend, though their victory did not become nearly as famous as the Light Brigade’s defeat shortly afterwards. The Heavy Brigade then charged the Russian cavalry, pushing them back despite the fact that they were outnumbered nearly three to one and were fighting uphill.
With the initial Russian attack blunted, Lord Raglan endeavoured to retake the redoubts before the Russians could regroup. He wanted to use General Sir George Cathcart’s infantry division for this purpose, but they had not yet arrived on the battlefield. He thus opted to send the Light Brigade forward without infantry support. This was in direct contradiction of standard military practice, but he assumed that the Russians were in such disarray that the redoubts could be occupied quickly. Lucan, however, interpreted Raglan’s order as meaning he should advance only after the infantry arrived, so he kept the Light Brigade waiting at the entrance to the northernmost of the two valleys that formed the battlefield’s terrain. Viewing the scene from the heights above the battlefield, Raglan could not understand why Lucan was not advancing as ordered. When he heard a report that the Russians were dragging away the British guns from the redoubts, his impatience boiled over. (Losing a gun was considered a severe embarrassment for a British general; Wellington was famous for never having done so.) At 10:45 a. m., Raglan issued what became the most infamous order in British military history: `Lord Raglan wishes the Cavalry to advance rapidly to the front – follow the Enemy and try to prevent the Enemy carrying away the guns.’
Fifteen minutes later, the order was pressed into Lucan’s hands by Captain Louis Nolan, aide- de- camp to General Richard Airey, Raglan’s second- in- command. Lucan was unclear what it meant. Most military historians believe that the Russians were not attempting to take away the guns from the redoubts, and in any event Lucan would not have been able to see them from his position even if they had been. Nor could he see any enemy retreating that he could `follow’. He asked Nolan for clarification. Nolan told him that he should `attack immediately’. When Lucan asked what precisely he should attack, several witnesses later claimed that Nolan gestured with his arm towards the end of the valley. Lucan was astonished that Raglan would issue such an order. To launch a cavalry charge of well over a mile without infantry support down a valley that was defended to the front and on both sides by artillery was suicidal. But instead of sending Nolan back to Raglan for further clarification, Lucan rode over to Cardigan and ordered him to attack the battery at the far end of the valley. The astounded Cardigan protested on the grounds that `there is a battery in front, a battery on each flank, and the ground is covered in Russian riflemen’. Lucan acknowledged this, but confirmed that the order had come directly from Raglan.
When the trumpet call for the advance came, even the lowest- ranking private could see that a mistake had been made somewhere in the chain of command. They had proceeded between 100 and 200 yards (90-180 m) when the Russian guns on the sides of the valley opened up and shells began tearing gaps in the line. Some of the men tried to quicken the pace, but Cardigan kept them steady. Because the distance that had to be covered was so great, the Light Brigade had to move forward slowly, at a rate of about 4 miles (6.4 km) an hour, down most of the length of the valley, only increasing the pace to a full gallop for the last 250 yards (228 m). This meant that it took about seven minutes to reach the Russian battery. Fewer than half of the British troops who had started in the front line made it to the battery, while the second line no longer existed in any meaningful form.
The Charge of the Light Brigade had taken barely twenty minutes from start to finish. The participants were unaware that they had just been part of what would become one of the most famous military events in British history. Many of them did feel, however, that something extraordinary had occurred. Captain Jenyns declared: `never was such murder ordered’.
George Goad, a cornet in the 13th Light Dragoons, described the charge as `the most terrible thing you can conceive’. Lieutenant Fiennes Wykeham Martin of the 4th Dragoons wrote to his brother:
My Regiment is cut up and the rest of the Light Brigade are completely annihilated owing to a mistake in the orders. We charged for about a mile and a quarter down a valley flanked on both sides with artillery and infantry and with a tremendous force of cavalry at the bottom. They bowled us over right and left with grape shot, balls and round shot. Of 700 men who went into action only 190 came out and all for no good as we were not backed up. We have twice heard from a Russian officer who was taken prisoner, that our little Brigade charged 20,000 – rather long odds!
Captain Arthur Tremayne of the 13th Light Dragoons, whose horse had been shot from under him as he reached the Russian guns, wrote to his family that the charge had been `the most tremendous cavalry action ever recorded’. Tremayne was well aware that the order had been a blunder: `It was seen by all to be madness, unsupported by guns, or infantry . . . I am sincerely grateful to God for my preservation . . . and though one is always more or less in a dangerous position in war, no danger can be greater than that I have escaped.’ A week later, on 3 November, he added: `All agree in saying that there must have been some mistake in the order, as no such cavalry attack is on record.’ The men recognized the significance of what had occurred as much as did the officers. `Thank God I escaped that dreadful massacre . . .,’ wrote Henry Gregory of the 13th Light Dragoons to his sister. `A more dreadful sight I never saw, for our poor men was [sic] actually mowed down by dozens . . . The ground was actually strewed with dead men and horses, and men and horses running about in all directions, it was a horrible sight for any human being to witness.’
There have been plenty of battles in which generals have sacrificed large numbers of men to achieve victory. In these cases, the heavy losses are accepted as the cost of war. The Light Brigade’s casualty rate of around 40 per cent was certainly high, but it was lower than that of other famous charges, including Pickett’s Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War in 1863, in which over half the participants on the Confederate side were killed or wounded. In fact, given the foolhardiness of the advance of unsupported cavalry against well- placed artillery, the casualties at Balaclava were remarkably low. But it was the utter futility of the charge that made it so famous. If it had succeeded, or had it even been possible for it succeed, it would not occupy the prominent place in British memory that it quickly came to take up. Alone among the examples of charges cited in this chapter, it had no military purpose whatsoever. It was caused by a series of blunders, mistakes and misunderstandings so numerous that historians still fiercely debate which one was the most significant.
The futility of the Charge of the Light Brigade was comprehended immediately, and was highlighted by the two most widely read accounts. The first was provided by William Howard Russell, the war correspondent of The Times, who watched the charge alongside Lord Raglan. Russell’s first report of Balaclava reached Britain on 14 November 1854, less than three weeks after the battle. It emphasized the pointlessness of the charge:
As they passed towards the front, the Russians opened on them from the guns in the redoubt on the right, with volleys of musketry and rifles. They swept proudly past, glittering in the morning sun in all the pride and splendour of war. We could scarcely believe the evidence of our senses! Surely that handful of men are not going to charge an army in position? Alas! it was but too true – their desperate valour knew no bounds, and far indeed was it removed from its so- called better part – discretion.
The second account was Alfred Tennyson’s `The Charge of the Light Brigade’, one of the best- known poems in the English language, which was based on Russell’s account. Tennyson later claimed to have been so inspired after reading it that he wrote the poem in a few minutes. It was first published in the Examiner on 9 December. Tennyson attributed the blame for the charge to an anonymous `someone’ who had `blundered’, while the men of the Light Brigade were identified only as `the six hundred’:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.
The way of presenting the charge espoused by Russell and Tennyson soon became the prevailing mode, shifting it from a military disaster to an episode whose very pointlessness made it something uniquely noble. In 1855, an anonymous publication satirized Russell’s role through a series of cartoon- like depictions of the activities of `our own correspondent’ in the Crimea. In one scene, the correspondent `becomes frantic with enthusiasm at beholding the splendid charge of cavalry at Balaclava’, thereby simultaneously poking fun at and acknowledging the public’s near- reverential view of the charge.
Visual as well as verbal representations played a key role in enshrining the Charge of the Light Brigade in heroic myth. Though he did not arrive in the Crimea until mid- November, three weeks after the event, the Scottish artist William Simpson included a watercolour of it among the dozens of paintings he sent back to be made into engravings by the London art dealers Colnaghi. The engravings were first exhibited at the Graphic Society in 1855, and eighty of them were published in a volume entitled The Seat of War in the East later that year. Their popularity was such that a selection was issued in a smaller octavo volume, with an introduction by the military historian George Brackenbury. Brackenbury demonstrated that Tennyson’s version of the Charge of the Light Brigade had by this point taken firm hold: `The Light Cavalry was ordered to advance, without supports, over a plain of nearly a mile and a half in length, and exposed to a crushing fire of artillery and musketry in front and on both flanks. Without a murmur or a moment’s hesitation these lion- hearts rushed on to the discharge of the fearful duty assigned to them; resolved, since the ordinary alternative of death or glory was denied, to do and die.’ (Italics in original.) He concluded: `The Light Cavalry charge was over; a glorious and ineffaceable page has been added to the records of chivalry, and to the annals of England.’
The ensuing decades would see the appearance of a multitude of visual depictions of the charge. In general, the visual representation of warfare during the Crimean War moved away from the traditional emphasis on the heroism of elite officers and towards scenes featuring the common soldier. A particular focus was camp life during the devastating winter of 1854-55. As the Athenaeum declared in its review of Simpson’s paintings:
All looked with painful interest at views of the spots . . . where the flower of England, unscathed by fire, unsmitten and unhurt, rotted away, with their faces turned towards England. For them, there will be no victory, no rejoicing – for them, no open arms and happy faces, no flags waving or jubilee of bells – but in their stead, cold, narrow graves, in an enemy’s country, on a spot perhaps to be blasted by a great nation’s greatest and most terrible disgrace.
In this context, the Charge of the Light Brigade was useful for confirming this perception of the inept commanders who had needlessly squandered the lives of their men, while at the same time emphasizing the heroism of the common soldiers.
The Crimean War did not, however, lead to the complete eradication of conventional forms for depicting heroism in battle. Instead, the older and newer visions of military heroism existed side by side. To be sure, there was much criticism of the elite commanders whose errors had led to the Charge of the Light Brigade. The war is often given credit for engendering the drive for military reform that culminated in the Cardwell reforms of the early 1870s, which abolished the sale of commissions and made promotion contingent on merit and experience rather than birth and wealth. But those reforms were not enacted for another fifteen years; in the intervening period, a fierce debate raged both within the political and military establishment and among the public at large as to whether the old, aristocratically based system was really so terrible. In a speech to the House of Lords in 1856, for example, the prime minister, Lord Palmerston, interpreted the Charge of the Light Brigade as confirming, rather than undermining, the value of aristocratic leadership on the battlefield:
Talk to me of the aristocracy of England! Why, look to that glorious charge of the cavalry at Balaclava – look to that charge, where the noblest and wealthiest of the land rode foremost, followed by heroic men from the lowest classes of the community, each rivalling the other in bravery, neither the peer who led nor the trooper who followed being distinguished the one from the other. In that glorious band there were sons of the gentry of England; leading were the noblest in the land, and following were the representatives of the people of this country.
Contemporary accounts of the Charge of the Light Brigade reflected this tension as to whether oligarchy or meritocracy represented the best path forward for the British Army. Certainly, there was ample criticism of some aristocratic commanders: there was no danger that either Raglan or Lucan would emerge from the Crimea as a hero. But Lord Cardigan was a different matter: he was seen not only as blameless – he had questioned Raglan’s order appropriately and then followed it when Lucan insisted that he must – but also as heroic. When asked how Cardigan had behaved in the charge, Captain William Morris of the 17th Hussars, another hero of the charge who will be discussed below, replied: `He led like a gentleman.’ Stories flew around the British camp that Cardigan’s horse had leapt over the Russian guns at the end of the valley as if he were fox- hunting. Even his bitter enemy Lucan had to concede that Cardigan `led this attack in the most gallant and intrepid manner’.
Deteriorating health led to Cardigan’s departure from the Crimea in December 1854. When he landed at Folkestone on 13 January 1855, he was greeted by a cheering crowd and a brass band playing Handel’s `See, the Conquering Hero Comes!’ All along the route of his train journey to London, people gathered to watch him pass, despite bitterly cold winter temperatures, and every station was bedecked with bunting. His portrait and prints of his horse leaping over the Russian guns were sold all over the country. He was, as a popular music- hall song extolled him, `Cardigan the Brave’; even Punch temporarily abandoned satire to show him charging at the Russian cannon. The `Cardigan jacket’, patterned after the woollen garment he had worn during the Crimean winter, became a popular fashion. Both Houses of Parliament offered their official gratitude, and he was invited to dine with Queen Victoria at Windsor, where the next morning he regaled the royal children with the story of the Charge of the Light Brigade. In February, a banquet was given in his honour at Mansion House by the Lord Mayor of London. He paraded to the event through the capital’s streets in his full- dress uniform, riding Ronald, the horse that had carried him during the charge – the crowds were so eager to obtain a souvenir that they plucked hairs from the latter’s tail and mane. In the pamphlet Our Heroes of the Crimea (1855), the journalist George Ryan wrote: `It may be said without fear of contradiction, that the Earl of Cardigan is now the most popular soldier in England. As a gallant chevalier he won his golden spurs in a tilt with giants. All salute him as the lion of the British Army; and a clasp to the Crimean medal will tell how he led heroes to fight on that bloody field, which gives to the world an example of devoted valour unequalled in warfare.’
Another hero to emerge from the Charge of the Light Brigade was Captain Louis Nolan, who prior to the Crimean War had a reputation as a skilled trainer of cavalry soldiers and horses and had authored two books on cavalry tactics. Although his regiment, the 13th Light Dragoons, was not sent to the Crimea, he was detached from it and placed on the staff of Brigadier General Airey so that he could help with the acquisition, transport and management of the horses for the cavalry division. After delivering the fateful order to Lucan, Nolan decided to ride forward in the Charge of the Light Brigade. It proved a fatal choice: most eyewitness accounts cite him as the first man killed, after a shell fragment struck him with full force in the chest. Once the recriminations began, Nolan was an obvious potential scapegoat, as he had not only delivered the infamous order to Lucan but had also possibly conveyed to him an erroneous sense of its meaning. Lucan, certainly, found it expedient to blame Nolan. In a letter published in The Times in March 1855, he claimed:
After carefully reading this order I hesitated, and urged the uselessness of such an attack and the dangers surrounding it. The aide- de- camp, in a most authoritative tone, stated that they were Lord Raglan’s orders that the cavalry should attack immediately. I asked him, `Where, and what to do?’ as neither enemy nor guns were within sight. He replied, in a most disrespectful but significant manner, pointing to the further end of the valley, `There, my Lord, is your enemy; there are your guns’.
But although Lucan hinted that Nolan’s conduct had bordered on insubordination, he could not assign him all of the blame for the debacle, for by doing so it would have appeared that he had been unwilling to stand up to a junior officer. Indeed, the Morning Chronicle wondered how such a relatively low- ranking officer could have been responsible for such a massive disaster: `What baffles the understanding is, in what respect Captain Nolan, whose position was merely that of an aide- de- camp, should thus have proved the unwitting instrument of the Light Brigade’s destruction.’
For that reason, few people saw Nolan as the primary culprit for the fiasco. Instead, he was often depicted as a martyred hero. His friends and admirers collected funds for a memorial, which was installed on the wall of Holy Trinity Church in Maidstone in Kent, where the depot for cavalry regiments serving in India was located. Each year, the Balaclava Commemoration Society held an annual dinner for veterans of the battle. In 1875, it was accompanied by a `Balaclava Festival’ in the central hall of Alexandra Palace. The centrepiece of the exhibition was an obelisk topped by a figure representing Honour and surrounded at the base by `relics of the engagement’. The obelisk listed the names of the seven officers who had been killed, with Nolan’s centrally positioned and in larger lettering.
A third individual who emerged from the Charge of the Light Brigade as a hero was Captain William Morris of the 17th Lancers. In March 1854, Morris was made deputy assistant quartermaster general of the forces that were being assembled for the upcoming Crimean campaign. This meant that, like Nolan, he served under General Airey, the quartermaster general. Still recovering from a serious bout of cholera, Morris arrived at Balaclava only days before the debacle. The senior officer of the 17th Lancers, Colonel John Lawrenson, was on leave, and his second- in- command, Major Augustus Willett, had died of cholera on 22 October. Despite his weakened state, Morris stepped in and took command of his old regiment on the day of the battle. When the Heavy Brigade charged in support of the 93rd Highlanders, Morris tried to lead the 17th forward to take advantage of the disarray of the Russians, but he was sharply rebuked by Cardigan. Several witnesses reported that Morris was furious at not being allowed to advance and, slapping his leg with his sword, said as he rode away from Cardigan: `My God, my God, what a chance we are losing.’ His wish for action was shortly to be granted. The Light Brigade was waiting at the entrance to the valley when Nolan, who knew Morris from Airey’s staff, galloped up carrying Raglan’s order. Nolan asked Morris where he could find Lucan. Morris pointed him out, then asked: `What is it to be, Nolan? Are we going to charge?’ As he spurred his horse towards Lucan, Nolan shouted back over his shoulder: `You will see. You will see.’
After relaying the order to Lucan, Nolan rode back to Morris and asked him permission to ride with his regiment, which Morris readily granted. Unlike Nolan, Morris survived the long ride down the valley. When he reached the Russian battery, he was accompanied by about twenty men, who charged the enemy cavalry positioned behind the guns. Seeing a high- ranking officer, Morris thrust his sword into the man’s body up to the hilt. He was then unable to extricate his blade, however, and as the man fell from his horse Morris was dismounted as well. He was still struggling to reclaim his sword when he received a severe blow to the head from a Russian sabre. He blacked out for a moment; when he recovered, he found that his sword had somehow come free, but he was now surrounded by Cossacks, one of whom delivered another head wound courtesy of his lance. The episode was witnessed by Sergeant Major Abraham Ransom:
Then I saw an act of heroism; [Captain] Morris was on foot, his head streaming with blood, engaging five or six Cossacks . . . Morris sought to defend himself by the almost ceaseless `moulinet’ or circling whirl of his sword and from time to time he found means to deliver some sabre cuts upon the thighs of his Cossack assailants. Soon, however, he was pierced in the temple by a lance- point, which splintered up a piece of bone and forced it under the scalp.
Morris was saved by the arrival of a Russian officer, who intervened to prevent the Cossacks from finishing him off. He surrendered his sword, but as more British troops arrived behind the guns the Russians found themselves with more pressing business. His head bleeding profusely, Morris tried to mount a riderless horse, but could only manage to grab the saddle. He was dragged along until his dwindling strength caused him to lose his grip. As a Cossack approached, he desperately lunged for a second horse and struggled into the saddle. The horse was shot from under him as he attempted to ride back to the British lines; pinned beneath on the ground, he lost consciousness temporarily. After he awoke, he began limping down the valley on foot. He was almost back to the British lines when he saw the body of his friend Nolan and collapsed beside it. He was found there by Captain John Ewart, who sent word back that an officer required aid, and shortly there- after Surgeon James Mouat and Sergeant Charles Wooden arrived on the scene. Both would later be awarded the Victoria Cross for saving Morris, as they were forced to fight off several Cossacks when carrying him to safety.
Morris’s injuries included two severe cuts to the head, a broken right arm from a sabre blow and a broken rib on his lower left side. After two months in the military hospital at Scutari, he returned home to convalesce in January 1855 and was invited to dinner by Queen Victoria. By June, however, he was back in the Crimea, where he was a figure of renown. Captain Henry Clifford of the Rifle Brigade reported to his family:
I saw a Capt. Morris yesterday, you have perhaps seen his name in the papers. He behaved most splendidly in the unfortunate charge at Balaclava, and was badly wounded in the head with a sabre cut, had three ribs broken and side very much torn, with a thrust from a lance and his right arm cut to the bone by a sword. No one thought he would live, but he is well enough to walk about now, tho’ looking very ill and after spending a few months in England has come out here again.
That same year, he was promoted to major and made a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath. He was also made a Chevalier of the Légion d’Honneur by the French. In his native Devon, Morris became a local hero. In 1856, he was honoured by a banquet at the Globe Hotel in Great Torrington, near his birth- place of Hatherleigh. The ceremony was presided over by Sir Trevor Wheler, a veteran of Waterloo, who declared that they were gathered
to congratulate that gallant officer on his safe return to his native shores and are desirous of placing on record the deep sense we entertain of the zeal and gallantry he has shown on all occasions when his services have been required by the country . . . I do sincerely believe that if the British cavalry had to give this sword to one of their officers more deserving than another, though there might be great difficulty in making their selection, their unanimous verdict would be `Give it to Colonel Morris, the bravest of the brave.’ The local poet Edward Capern composed fulsome verses in his honour:
Hail to thee! Hail to thee! Champion of Liberty!
Fresh from the field of his struggle and pain,
Hail to thee, hail to thee, bold son of chivalry,
Hail to the land of the Hero again.
Capern’s poem displayed the key component of heroic failure in the mid- Victorian era: the link between `chivalry’ and `struggle and pain’. Suffering was heroic and noble, even, or perhaps especially, if it occurred in a context of futility. Morris’s response to the adulation, meanwhile, embodied perfectly the ideal of the self- sacrificing hero who accepted his suffering as being all in a day’s work: `I have been promoted and rewarded by Her Majesty for my services, while other men more deserving than myself have either lost their lives or owing to unfortunate circumstances have gained nothing.’
After the Crimea, Morris returned to his regiment and was sent to India in 1857 to help quell the rebellion that had broken out earlier that year. The following year, while stationed at Poona in the Bombay Presidency, he died of dysentery. His fellow officers collected funds for a memorial tablet, which was installed in the church at Poona. It referred to the Charge of the Light Brigade only obliquely by listing the battles in which Morris had fought, including Balaclava. Back home, however, his role in the charge was the focal point of memorial efforts. In 1860, a 60- foot- high (18 m) granite obelisk was erected on Hatherleigh Moor. A bas- relief on the base by E. B. Stephens showed his limp body being carried from the battlefield, with the single word `Balaclava’ inscribed beneath. It was an odd depiction of a soldier: Morris was wounded to the point of helplessness in what was presented as the most noteworthy moment of his career. But it was in keeping with contemporary notions of heroic failure, in which heroism was defined more by suffering in defeat than by any action undertaken in victory.