Tag Archives: France

Remembering History: Storming the Bastille (14 Jul 1789)

The Storming of the Bastille by Jean-Pierre Houël (1735–1813)
National Library of France
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

On 14 July 1789, the storming of the Bastille, a formidable stone prison originally built to protect the eastern entrance to Paris, is considered the launch of the French Revolution and celebrated as a holiday in France. The prison often held political prisoners and was seen as a sign of tyranny. By this time in 1789, the prison only held seven prisoners none of whom were of a political nature. Four were charged with forgery and two were considered mad or lunatics. The Bastille was actually being scheduled for demolition to make way for public square.

France was facing economic and social problems. Louis XVI had inherited considerable debt from his predecessor but continued to spend (along with his wife Marie Antoinette) considerable sums of money further deepening government debt. Crop failures in 1788 led to a national famine and the cost bread prices to soar. Unemployment was a factor as well and many thought they had lost jobs due to lessening of customs duties with England (resulting in more jobs there than in France). With violent food riots breaking out, King Louis XVI tried to resolve it through the Estates-General (a national assembly of clergy, nobility and the common person).

While in theory all three were equal, two of the other parts could outvote the third. This left many deputies upset demanding a greater voice and proclaiming their own National Assembly. This would lead to the famous Tennis Court Oath of 20 June 1789 not to separate until they had a constitution. Many nobles and clergy crossed over to this National Assembly which Louis XVI gave consent to. His ordering of army regiments into Paris though made many fear he was going to break up the assembly by force. The dismissal of Jacques Necker, a non-noble minister for the government on 11 July, triggered massive protests and destruction of custom posts. Custom posts were hated as they imposed taxes on goods.

On 14 July a mob seized muskets and cannons from a military hospital and then decided to get more at the Bastille. The governor of the Bastille saw the mob and invited them in to discuss terms of surrender. Outside the crowd grew restless awaiting word and it is possible some thought the delegates had been arrested. A group climbed over the outer wall and climbed in to open the drawbridge to the courtyard. The governor broke his pledge not to fire and bullets rang out killing 100 outright leaving others wounded. The royals only lost one soldier. The arrival of the French Guards, sympathetic to the mob, would force the governor to surrender after having cannons blasting away at the Bastille. Without adequate provisions, he surrendered the Bastille. Some of the royalist troops would be butchered after the surrender. The governor was taken prisoner and beheaded by the mob.

Aftermath

The Bastille was dismantled, and its only prisoner later would be Louis XVI. He would be executed on 21 January 1793 along with his wife. The French Revolution, once thought a means to reform France into a constitutional monarchy, slid into a revolutionary government that completely overturned the ancien regime. During its tenure, it became increasingly bloody killing off enemies of the new order. Anyone who was thought to disagree with them could be denounced and executed. Instead of creating a better stable system, it became one long food riot as one professor said to me once. And the revolutionaries fought amongst themselves as to who was the better one to lead. That led to more bloody executions and the guillotine became the image of the French Revolution. Ultimately the people tired of this turmoil and wanted order. And it would come from Napoleon Bonaparte, but that is another story.

 

Sources:


Remembering History: Germans Take Paris (14 June 1940)

German Troops in Paris, 14 June 1940
Photo: Heinz Fremde (1907-1987)
German Federal Archives:Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-126-0350-26A / Fremke, Heinz / CC-BY-SA 3.0

On 14 June 1940, the open city of Paris was taken by the German army. There was no opposition. Le Havre in the north fell as to German control. The Maginot Line in the east was broken by the German 1st Army under General Erwin von Witzleben near Saarbrucken. The French government had relocated to Bordeaux and appealed to the United States to enter the war. Prime Minister Winston Churchill had asked the French to hold on and not surrender.

In the United States, the fall of France was seen as a catastrophe but there was hesitation on what to do. The French premier Paul Reynaud asked President Roosevelt for aid in either a declaration of war or, if not possible, any help they could provide. Roosevelt was sympathetic but advisors such as Cordell Hull, the Secretary of State, argued any open support for the French would be seen as a declaration of war by the Germans. Public opinion was still in support of the U.S. staying out of the European war, and the Congress would not wholly support it either.

Parisians had been fleeing the approaching German troops. It has been estimated that over 2 million Parisians fled ahead of the German arrival in Paris. Parisians awoke that morning with messages blaring over loudspeakers that a curfew would begin at 8 pm that night. The Germans took quick control raising the German swastika on the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower. The Gestapo quickly began to start rounding up those already on lists for arrest, interrogation, and execution or deportation to Germany. While the United States did not offer any formal support for France, it implemented a freeze on Italian and German assets in the country (meaning they had no access to funds in U.S. banks or to any property they owned).

By this time, the formal relationship between had already deteriorated. As a response to Kristallnacht in 1938, the U.S. ambassador had been withdrawn. Only a Charge d’Affairs*represented the U.S. from that point on. Germany withdrew its ambassador in response. This would remain unchanged until Germany formally declared war on 11 December 1941.

*A charge d’affairs is a diplomat who handles the ordinary duties of an ambassador when they are not present (whether temporary or permanent). Often this will occur when an ambassador has ended his tour and they are awaiting a new one to be posted. A person acting in this capacity has the same immunities that the ambassador does. In formal ceremonies, a charge d’affairs is treated with a lesser precedence than an ambassador.

Sources:

History.com
History.net
World War II Database


Remembering the Historic Flight of Charles Lindbergh(20 May 1927)

Charles Lindbergh, with Spirit of St. Louis in background. Public Domain (U.S. Library of Congress,digital id# cph.3a23920)
Charles Lindbergh, with Spirit of St. Louis in background.
Public Domain (U.S. Library of Congress,digital id# cph.3a23920)

It was a cold morning and the runway was muddy from the rain when an unknown contract Air Mail pilot by the name of Charles Lindbergh took off from Roosevelt Field, New York in his Wright Whirlwind monoplane named Spirit of St.Louis. His destination was Paris, France. Others had tried and failed. Scrimping together his own funds and financing from backers, he would attempt a feat that would prove transatlantic air travel was possible.

After taking off at 07:52 am on 20 May 1927, he would fly solo for his entire trip. He had to fly over storm clouds on occasion and other times just above the water having to avoid wave tops. There was fog that made it hard to see and icing on his wings. He had to fly, when possible, by the stars and dead reckoning.

He would land in France at Le Bourget Airport at 10:22 pm(22:22) on Saturday 21 May. The airfield was seven miles northeast and he originally thought, due to all the lights he saw, it was a industrial plant. In fact it was the headlights of thousands of cars whose passengers had come out to see Lindbergh land. Which he did to great acclaim. He was mobbed by thrilled spectators although a few were souvenir hunters who grabbed items from the plane. A combination of French aviators, police, and even soldiers got him and the plane away from the mob.

He would not only receive the $25,000 Orteig Prize for an aviator who achieved this feat, he would receive several other honors as well. He was awarded the Legion of Honor by France, U.S. President Coolidge awarded him the Distinguished Flying Cross, and the U.S Post Office issued a special 10 cent Air Mail stamp with his plane and map of the flight on it. He also had a ticker tape parade in New York. And the U.S. Congress would award him the Medal of Honor which tells you how much in awe of his achievement they were. The Medal of Honor is usually reserved for heroism in combat and only rarely given to civilians (usually the Congressional Gold Medal is given to civilians). And Lindbergh was just 25 years of age when he did all this.

Aside from changing his life forever, his flight was a major boost not only to the aviation industry but encouraged many to become aviators. It was the Lindbergh Boom. The use of Air Mail would increase and last until 1977 when its use for domestic mail was discontinued. Today most first class mail destined outside a regional delivery area (like New York to San Francisco)is put on airplanes. Lower class mailings go the slow route via trucks and rails. The only mail delivered by air today are in remote areas such as in Alaska or other remote areas of the U.S.

The Spirit of St. Louis was given to the Smithsonian Institution by Lindbergh in 1928. It has been on display in the atrium of the National Air and Space Museum and worth the trip to see it.


Remembering History: Britain & France Sign Entente Cordiale (8 April 1904)

In the early years of the 20th century, the colonial powers of Britain and France became increasingly concerned with Germany’s military growth. France had suffered defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 and was concerned about its growing military power. Britain was concerned as well about Germany’s growing navy bringing both countries together in an agreement. Africa was the main point of contention with British, French, Belgium and Germany all having colonial territories. Belgium, Italy, Portugal and Spain also had territory in Africa.

Colonial Africa, 1914
Image Credit: Whiplashoo21/Creative Commons

 

On 8 April 1904, both countries declared that they recognized certain territorial claims of the other in Africa. The British agreed that France had control over Morocco and France agreed to recognize Egypt as under British control. The declaration became known as the Entente Cordial and the beginnings of an alliance between the two powers. Although there was an agreement to diplomatically support the other, there was no requirement they provide military assistance if they were attacked.

Why This is Important

While not a formal alliance, it put the world on notice and in particular Germany that Britain and France recognized each other’s colonial territories. Germany saw the agreement exactly for what it was and would take steps to challenge it. Germany supported the Sultan of Morocco in 1905 against France. Britain however sided with France and resulted in an international conference that confirmed France’s control over Morocco. Germany decided to send troops to Morocco in 1911 precipitating another crisis. This forced both Britain and France into an informal military alliance to counter Germany. Rather than break up the two parties, Germany’s actions only brought them closer together. And it would result in more formal military agreement that would include Russia as well. By 1912, Europe was divided into two main blocks: Britain, France and Russia and Germany, Austria-Hungary.

Sources:

Britannica.com
History. Com
Wikipedia


Remembering History: Charge of the Light Brigade (25 October 1854)

 

Charge of the Light Brigade by Richard Caton Woodville Jr.
The Charge of the Light Brigade by Richard Caton Woodville Jr, 1894
Public Domain (Wikimedia)

From 1853-1856, Britain and France were at war with Russia. Russia had sought to pressure Turkey in supporting its goals, but sent troops to take control. This threatened British commercial and strategic assets in the Middle East (and to a smaller extent France). France used the tension to bolster an alliance with Britain and to bolster its military power. The allies landed in the Crimea in September 1854 to destroy both Sevastopol and the Russian fleet. The Allies, after taking two weeks to set things up, started bombarding Sevastopol on 17 October. The Russians were well prepared but tried to break the siege attacking the British supply base in the fishing village of Balaclava. The Russians were repelled but occupied the Causeway Heights outside of the town. Lord Raglan, the British Commander-In-Chief, wanted to send in both Heavy and Light Calvary supported by infantry to get to the Russians and get back any British artillery they may have taken. Raglan wanted them to move immediately (meaning send in the calvary with the infantry to follow later). However the calvary commander George Bingham, the earl of Lucan,thought the order meant both calvary and infantry together. This caused a delay as they had to wait for infantry to arrive. Raglan issued a new order to advance rapidly to stop the Russians from taking any guns away. Bingham did not see this happening. He asked Raglan’s aide where to attack, and he pointed in the general direction of the Russian artillery at the far end of the valley. Lord Lucan conferred with his brother in law, James Brudenell, the earl of Cardigan who commanded the light brigade. Neither liked each other and apparently they were not respected by those under them. Both decided to follow Lucan’s order without checking first to confirm it.  670 members of the light brigade drew their sabers and lances and began the infamous mile and a quarter charge into the valley.

Half a league, half a league,

Half a league onward,

All in the valley of Death

   Rode the six hundred.

“Forward, the Light Brigade!

Charge for the guns!” he said.

Into the valley of Death

   Rode the six hundred.

The Russians began shooting at them from three different angles (not at the same time though). Onward they rode though they took severe casualties. Descriptions of survivors reported horrors of horses covered in blood, arms and heads being carried off by gunfire or artillery, and human brains on the ground. The area was so thick with smoke from Russian gunfire that some said it resembled a volcano. Amazingly the Light Brigade reached its destination crashing the enemy lines and holding it for a brief time. They were forced back and Russian artillery fired from Causeway Heights. The Heavy Brigade had been turned around before it went further into the valley. When it was all over, 110 were dead and 160 injured and 375 horses were lost. 60 were taken captive. Reaction from many was to admire the bravery and honor of the calvary who were in the charge, but not so much their commanders that had ordered the attack. It took three weeks for it to be reported in Britain and recriminations would fly. Raglan blamed Lucan and Lucan was angry at being made a scapegoat. Raglan would argue that Lucan should have used his discretion while Lucan argued he was obeying orders. Cardigan blamed Lucan for giving the orders. Cardigan returned home a hero and was promoted. Lucan continued to defend himself in public and parliament and escaped blame as well. However, he never saw active duty again though promoted to general and later field marshal. In short recalled, promoted, and sent to the rear where he could do the least harm. The charge is still studied today of what happens when military intelligence is lacking and orders unclear. The Russians would claim victory despite never taking Balaclava and paraded the captured weapons in Sevastopol. However, the Allies in 1855 were able to cut Russian logistics and force them out of Sevastopol when it fell between 8-9 Sept 1855. Other battles in the Baltic in 1854 and 1855 had not gone well for the Russians either. The British appeared to be ready to destroy both Cronstradt and St. Petersburg in 1856 using naval forces. The Russians accepted defeat and sought peace in early 1856. Russia had lost 500,000 troops in the war (not from battle but apparently from diseases and malnutrition amongst other things) and its economy was ruined. They also lacked the industrial infrastructure to build modern weapons. The Peace of Paris on 30 March 1856 formally ended the Crimean War. Britain got what it wanted: the independence of Ottoman Turkey. The Black Sea was made a neutral zone (no warships allowed to enter), and the Danube opened to all commercial shipping. Bessarabia became part of Moldavia along with Walachia to become autonomous states (later Romania). Russia in 1870 would repudiate the Black Sea neutrality to rebuild its naval fleet. Tennyson’s Poem The Poet Laureate Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote an evocative poem called The Charge of the Light Brigade which was published on 9 December 1854. He praises the brigade while mourning the futility of the charge.

The Charge of the Light Brigade

Half a league, half a league, Half a league onward, All in the valley of Death Rode the six hundred. “Forward, the Light Brigade! Charge for the guns!” he said. Into the valley of Death Rode the six hundred.

“Forward, the Light Brigade!” Was there a man dismayed? Not though the soldier knew Someone had blundered. Theirs not to make reply, Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die. Into the valley of Death Rode the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,Cannon to left of them, Cannon in front of them Volleyed and thundered; Stormed at with shot and shell, Boldly they rode and well, Into the jaws of Death, Into the mouth of hell Rode the six hundred.

Flashed all their sabres bare, Flashed as they turned in air, Sabring the gunners there,Charging an army, while All the world wondered. Plunged in the battery-smoke Right through the line they broke;Cossack and Russian Reeled from the sabre stroke Shattered and sundered. Then they rode back, but not Not the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them, Cannon to left of them, Cannon behind them, Volleyed and thundered; Stormed at with shot and shell, While horse and hero fell. They that had fought so well. Came through the jaws of Death, Back from the mouth of hell, All that was left of them,Left of six hundred.

When can their glory fade? O the wild charge they made! All the world wondered. Honour the charge they made! Honour the Light Brigade, Noble six hundred!   

Sources:

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Remembering History: Germans Take Paris (14 June 1940)

German Troops in Paris, 14 June 1940
Photo: Heinz Fremde (1907-1987)
German Federal Archives:Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-126-0350-26A / Fremke, Heinz / CC-BY-SA 3.0

On 14 June 1940, the open city of Paris was taken by the German army. There was no opposition. Le Havre in the north fell as to German control. The Maginot Line in the east was broken by the German 1st Army under General Erwin von Witzleben near Saarbrucken. The French government had relocated to Bordeaux and appealed to the United States to enter the war. Prime Minister Winston Churchill had asked the French to hold on and not surrender.

In the United States, the fall of France was seen as a catastrophe but there was hesitation on what to do. The French premier Paul Reynaud asked President Roosevelt for aid in either a declaration of war or, if not possible, any help they could provide. Roosevelt was sympathetic but advisors such as Cordell Hull, the Secretary of State, argued any open support for the French would be seen as a declaration of war by the Germans. Public opinion was still in support of the U.S. staying out of the European war, and the Congress would not wholly support it either.

Parisians had been fleeing the approaching German troops. It has been estimated that over 2 million Parisians fled ahead of the German arrival in Paris. Parisians awoke that morning with messages blaring over loudspeakers that a curfew would begin at 8 pm that night. The Germans took quick control raising the German swastika on the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower. The Gestapo quickly began to start rounding up those already on lists for arrest, interrogation, and execution or deportation to Germany. While the United States did not offer any formal support for France, it implemented a freeze on Italian and German assets in the country (meaning they had no access to funds in U.S. banks or to any property they owned).

By this time, the formal relationship between had already deteriorated. As a response to Kristallnacht in 1938, the U.S. ambassador had been withdrawn. Only a Charge d’Affairs*represented the U.S. from that point on. Germany withdrew its ambassador in response. This would remain unchanged until Germany formally declared war on 11 December 1941.

*A charge d’affairs is a diplomat who handles the ordinary duties of an ambassador when they are not present (whether temporary or permanent). Often this will occur when an ambassador has ended his tour and they are awaiting a new one to be posted. A person acting in this capacity has the same immunities that the ambassador does. In formal ceremonies, a charge d’affairs is treated with a lesser precedence than an ambassador.

Sources:

History.com
History.net
World War II Database


Remembering History: Britain & France Sign Entente Cordiale (8 April 1904)

In the early years of the 20th century, the colonial powers of Britain and France became increasingly concerned with Germany’s military growth. France had suffered defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 and was concerned about its growing military power. Britain was concerned as well about Germany’s growing navy bringing both countries together in an agreement. Africa was the main point of contention with British, French, Belgium and Germany all having colonial territories. Belgium, Italy, Portugal and Spain also had territory in Africa.

Colonial Africa, 1914
Image Credit: Whiplashoo21/Creative Commons

 

On 8 April 1904, both countries declared that they recognized certain territorial claims of the other in Africa. The British agreed that France had control over Morocco and France agreed to recognize Egypt as under British control. The declaration became known as the Entente Cordial and the beginnings of an alliance between the two powers. Although there was an agreement to diplomatically support the other, there was no requirement they provide military assistance if they were attacked.

Why This is Important

While not a formal alliance, it put the world on notice and in particular Germany that Britain and France recognized each other’s colonial territories. Germany saw the agreement exactly for what it was and would take steps to challenge it. Germany supported the Sultan of Morocco in 1905 against France. Britain however sided with France and resulted in an international conference that confirmed France’s control over Morocco. Germany decided to send troops to Morocco in 1911 precipitating another crisis. This forced both Britain and France into an informal military alliance to counter Germany. Rather than break up the two parties, Germany’s actions only brought them closer together. And it would result in more formal military agreement that would include Russia as well. By 1912, Europe was divided into two main blocks: Britain, France and Russia and Germany, Austria-Hungary.

Sources:

Britannica.com
History. Com
Wikipedia


Remembering History: Napoleon Defeated and Seward’s Folly (March 30)

Napoleon Defeated (30 March 1814)

The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries, 1812
Jacques-Louis David (1748–1825)
Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

Napoleon Bonaparte, who rose to power during the French Revolution and became emperor of France, was defeated when allied troops entered Paris on 30 March 1814. Since 1803, the Napoleonic War had inflamed Europe. England and other powers had united against France during this period. France had expanded its power into the heart of Europe, Portugal, Spain and the Mediterranean. His failed foray into Russia and his forces being ejected from Portugal and Spain, weakened his once powerful forces allowing for the invasion of France and the taking of Paris.

Why this Is Important

Napoleon was a major figure in European and French history. He reformed the French state after French Revolution, established and streamlined the justice system under the Napoleonic Code, and sought better relations with the Catholic Church. His military tactics (wins and loses) are still studied today in military academies around the world. The Napoleonic Code laid the basis for legal administration in France today and many of its former colonies.

Sources:

Britanica.com
Biography.com
History.com

Seward’s Folly

William H. Seward, Secretary of State 1861-69
Date Unknown
Public Domain/U.S. Library of Congress, digital id cph.3a23003

In a purchase ridiculed at the time, U.S. Secretary of State William Seward purchased Alaska from Russia for $7 million. While it only cost 2 cents an acre, it was widely jeered in the press and politicians alike. It was nicknamed “Seward’s Folly” and other names as well. Russia had tried to sell it to the U.S. prior to the Civil War, but talks stopped when the war began. Seward believed the landmass was important for the country. Others were not so sure and took a lot of convincing to get the Senate to ratify the treaty. The U.S. Senate ratified the treaty on 9 April 1867 and the formal transfer was at Fort Sitka on October 18, 1867.

At first settlement was slow (getting there required taking a ship on the Pacific side and sailing up to a port) but in 1898 gold was discovered causing a rapid influx of prospectors and of course businesses to support them. Other resources were found in due course allowing Alaska to grow into a prosperous territory (albeit a cold one). Alaska would become the 49thstate when it was admitted to the union on 3 January 1959. The folly turned out to be golden instead.

Why this is Important
The purchase of Alaska expanded the territory of the United States substantially. The West Coast borders of the country were now forming up. California and Oregon were now states and Washington would soon follow in 1889. The rich resources of Alaska would also contribute as well. By the end of the 19th century, the United States had grown across a continent with cities and settlements on each end and within it.

Sources:

American.historama.org
History.com
Wikipedia


Remembering History: Post-World War I Conference Leads to Versailles Treaty

World War I came to an end in November 1918. The next step was to hammer out a formal agreement that would end the war. The major allied powers-France, Great Britain, Italy and the United States-would meet to begin this process on 18 Jan 1919. The European powers, particularly Britain and France, wanted Germany punished. President Woodrow Wilson of the United States argued for a peace without victory strategy where Germany would not be treated to harshly. Unfortunately, the major powers wanted Germany punished for the costs of the war. Wilson eventually compromised in order to get an international peacekeeping organization, the League of Nations, established.

Aftermath

Map of Europe, 1923, with territorial changes under Treaty of Versailles
Image credit: Fluteflute (Wikipedia)

Germany was excluded until May and presented with a draft of the Versailles Treaty. That is when they learned that Wilson’s promises were not included. The draft required Germany and Austria-Hungary to forfeit a lot of territory and pay reparations. It also made Germany solely responsible for the war. This disillusioned the Germans and for many a bitter pill to swallow. The Treaty of Versailles was signed on 28 June 1919 on the five year anniversary of the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand that had sparked the war. Anger and resentment over the treaty would cause problems in Germany. And it would lead to extreme parties in Germany agitating against it. The Nazi Party would use the anger to achieve power, resulting in a second world war. Exactly what Wilson and others had hoped to avoid in 1919.

Sources
Treaty of Versailles (Britannica.com)
This Day in History (History.com)
Treaty of Versailles (History.com)


CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE (25 October 1854)

Charge of the Light Brigade by Richard Caton Woodville Jr.
The Charge of the Light Brigade by Richard Caton Woodville Jr, 1894
Public Domain (Wikimedia)

From 1853-1856, Britain and France were at war with Russia. Russia had sought to pressure Turkey in supporting its goals, but sent troops to take control. This threatened British commercial and strategic assets in the Middle East (and to a smaller extent France). France used the tension to bolster an alliance with Britain and to bolster its military power. The allies landed in the Crimea in September 1854 to destroy both Sevastopol and the Russian fleet. The Allies, after taking two weeks to set things up, started bombarding Sevastopol on 17 October. The Russians were well prepared but tried to break the siege attacking the British supply base in the fishing village of Balaclava.

The Russians were repelled but occupied the Causeway Heights outside of the town. Lord Raglan, the British Commander-In-Chief, wanted to send in both Heavy and Light Calvary supported by infantry to get to the Russians and get back any British artillery they may have taken. Raglan wanted them to move immediately (meaning send in the calvary with the infantry to follow later). However the calvary commander George Bingham, the earl of Lucan,thought the order thought he meant with both calvary and infantry together. This caused a delay as they had to wait for infantry to arrive. Raglan issued a new order to advance rapidly to stop the Russians from taking any guns away. Bingham did not see this happening. He asked Raglan’s aide where to attack, and he pointed in the general direction of the Russian artillery at the far end of the valley.

Lord Lucan conferred with his brother in law, James Brudenell, the earl of Cardigan who commanded the light brigade. Neither liked each other and apparently they were not respected by those under them. Both decided to follow Lucan’s order without checking first to confirm it.  670 members of the light brigade drew their sabers and lances and began the infamous mile and a quarter charge into the valley.

Half a league, half a league,

Half a league onward,

All in the valley of Death

   Rode the six hundred.

“Forward, the Light Brigade!

Charge for the guns!” he said.

Into the valley of Death

   Rode the six hundred.

The Russians began shooting at them from three different angles (not at the same time though). Onward they rode though they took severe casualties. Descriptions of survivors reported horrors of horses covered in blood, arms and heads being carried off by gunfire or artillery, and human brains on the ground. The area was so thick with smoke from Russian gunfire that some said it resembled a volcano. Amazingly the Light Brigade reached its destination crashing the enemy lines and holding it for a brief time. They were forced back and Russian artillery fired from Causeway Heights. The Heavy Brigade had been turned around before it went further into the valley. When it was all over, 110 were dead and 160 injured and 375 horses were lost. 60 were taken captive.

Reaction from many was to admire the bravery and honor of the calvary who were in the charge, but not so much their commanders that had ordered the attack. It took three weeks for it to be reported in Britain and recriminations would fly. Raglan blamed Lucan and Lucan was angry at being made a scapegoat. Raglan would argue that Lucan should have used his discretion while Lucan argued he was obeying orders. Cardigan blamed Lucan for giving the orders. Cardigan returned home a hero and was promoted. Lucan continued to defend himself in public and parliament and escaped blame as well. However, he never saw active duty again though promoted to general and later field marshal. In short recalled, promoted, and sent to the rear where he could do the least harm. The charge is still studied today of what happens when military intelligence is lacking and orders unclear.

The Russians would claim victory despite never taking Balaclava and paraded the captured weapons in Sevastopol. However, the Allies in 1855 were able to cut Russian logistics and force them out of Sevastopol when it fell between 8-9 Sept 1855. Other battles in the Baltic in 1854 and 1855 had not gone well for the Russians either. The British appeared to be ready to destroy both Cronstradt and St. Petersburg in 1856 using naval forces.

The Russians accepted defeat and sought peace in early 1856. Russia had lost 500,000 troops in the war (not from battle but apparently from diseases and malnutrition amongst other things) and its economy was ruined. They also lacked the industrial infrastructure to build modern weapons. The Peace of Paris on 30 March 1856 formally ended the Crimean War. Britain got what it wanted: the independence of Ottoman Turkey. The Black Sea was made a neutral zone (no warships allowed to enter), and the Danube opened to all commercial shipping. Bessarabia became part of Moldavia along with Walachia to become autonomous states (later Romania). Russia in 1870 would repudiate the Black Sea neutrality to rebuild its naval fleet.

Tennyson’s Poem

The Poet Laureate Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote an evocative poem called The Charge of the Light Brigade which was published on 9 December 1854. He praises the brigade while mourning the futility of the charge.

The Charge of the Light Brigade

Half a league, half a league, Half a league onward, All in the valley of Death Rode the six hundred. “Forward, the Light Brigade! Charge for the guns!” he said. Into the valley of Death Rode the six hundred.

“Forward, the Light Brigade!” Was there a man dismayed? Not though the soldier knew Someone had blundered. Theirs not to make reply, Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die. Into the valley of Death Rode the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,Cannon to left of them, Cannon in front of them Volleyed and thundered; Stormed at with shot and shell, Boldly they rode and well, Into the jaws of Death, Into the mouth of hell Rode the six hundred.

Flashed all their sabres bare, Flashed as they turned in air, Sabring the gunners there,Charging an army, while All the world wondered. Plunged in the battery-smoke Right through the line they broke;Cossack and Russian Reeled from the sabre stroke Shattered and sundered. Then they rode back, but not Not the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them, Cannon to left of them, Cannon behind them, Volleyed and thundered; Stormed at with shot and shell, While horse and hero fell. They that had fought so well. Came through the jaws of Death, Back from the mouth of hell, All that was left of them,Left of six hundred.

When can their glory fade? O the wild charge they made! All the world wondered. Honour the charge they made! Honour the Light Brigade, Noble six hundred!

Sources:

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