There was a lot of confusion leading up the Charge of the Light Brigade and what – or who – was t blame. Can we really blame this ‘Glorious Blunder’ on one individual? It was Lord Raglan who made the unclear order, but it was Captain Nolan who naively sent it and Lord Lucan and Lord Cardigan who unquestionably initiated the battle. I don’t think that the blame of this event can be pinpointed to one person – I think that the blame is in the out-dated system of the British Army.
To some extent, I think that Raglan is to blame; he was the commander and thus responsible for any events that happened under his command. It’s a fact that Raglan’s orders were unclear, not only because he failed to use proper military terms such as “North” or “West” but because he needed to send three orders to get his message across; this highlights the communication problems between the divisions in the British Army, which I think is more at fault than Raglan. Yet Raglan is still to blame as he showed himself to be an incompetent commander…surely he should’ve realised that he and the Light Brigade had different perspectives of the battlefront, due to their different positions, therefore his lack of simple military awareness resulted in great confusion which is largely to blame for the misunderstandings of his order. He was also incompetent as he didn’t appeal to the government for more aid – the Army was infested with numerous diseases to the point where more than 80% of the deaths were caused by disease. Appealing to the government could’ve at least ensured that those troops which were pushed into battle were in better health, making them more likely to come from the battle alive.
However, Raglan wasn’t the only individual at fault. Lucan is increasingly blamed for the charge as he didn’t use his initiative to realise that the order was incorrect, and Raglan wouldn’t send his army into a suicide mission. Lucan could’ve simply asked Nolan to go back to Raglan and clarify where exactly he wanted the cavalry to charge. But I think that Lucan – being a lower rank and getting stopped from using his initiative at the Battle of Alma only a month earlier – had little choice but to follow Raglan’s order; especially considering that Raglan was losing patience which is apparent by him saying “immediate” in his order. Hence, Lucan shouldn’t bear much of the blame. I also believe that Captain Nolan and Lord Cardigan were not much at fault; Cardigan was simply following orders and was in no position to question Raglan, and Nolan was just the messenger. Although, Nolan’s response to Lucan questioning the order was unnecessarily aggressive as he got flustered and ended up pointing Lucan into the wrong direction; it is said, however, that Nolan realised his mistake too late and sped ahead of the cavalry during the charge, only to be shot before warning the rest of the cavalry. At least Nolan tried to stop the blunder – Raglan, on the other hand, kept at his post and made no effort to stop the tragedy which was to occur.
One factor which I believe is more to blame than Raglan was the long-term logistical problems faced by the British Army. It was extremely difficult to get supplies to Sapun Ridge (Near Sevastopol) due to Russian occupation of the route from Balaklava to the siege lines. This weakened the army as a whole, reducing the energy of the troops thus the power of any attacks. This lack of nutrition heightened the number of deaths by disease, diminishing the manpower of the brigades. Moreover, the logistics of horses dampened the power of the Army; travelling 4000 miles in a cramped, swaying boat made the horses uneasy and disease rampant; and the smoke from the ships damaged the horses’ health. This meant that only days from eventually arriving at the siege lines, many horses died and the already tired men were forced to transport their own supplies. Although this had no significant direct impact on the Charge of the Light Brigade, I believe that these conditions led the British Army to state of desperation, which then led to some rash behavior (hence the immediacy in the unclear order sent by Raglan) and misunderstandings.
Nonetheless, I believe that the out-dated system of the Army, in particular the Purchase of Commissions, was the foremost fault of the Charge of the Light Brigade. This corrupt system meant that anyone who had enough money – even if they had never had any military training or set foot on a battlefield – were responsible for the lives of a great deal of men. This was the case for Raglan and Lucan; although Raglan had lost an arm at the Battle of Waterloo 40 years earlier, he was the equivalent to a secretary to Wellington and had never commanded an army before, and Lucan had no relevant military experience at all. This meant that Raglan and Lucan had no foundation of essential military knowledge and many of the soldiers beneath them were much more experience than they were. It is this cruel irony that resulted in poor communication and the preventable deaths of 110 men. This is important when weighing up the blame of the charge as, if this Purchase of Commissions system were nonexistent, Raglan would not have been allowed to be in power and somebody who actually had some military knowledge and experience wouldn’t of made this foolish error, so it is largely to blame for the Charge of the Light Brigade. Similarly, the British Army were not as good as they could’ve been due to the lack of training provided by the government; the British Army were terribly prepared for war as they completely depleted any funding or training that went into the military after the Napoleonic Wars 40-50 years earlier. This weakened the troops as they then lacked the knowledge to use their own initiative on the battlefield and were simply unaware of what to do in vital circumstances. If they did have training, the Charge of the Light Brigade would still inevitable occur yet the outcome may have been lessened.
In conclusion, I believe that Lord Raglan should take a bit less than half of the blame for the Charge of the Light Brigade. This is because it was him who sent the unclear order, emphasising his poor communication skills and lack of military knowledge and experience. He failed to realise that his positioning was different to the cavalry, and he failed to supply Nolan with enough information to sufficiently send the correct order. Lucan should also take some of the blame as the incorrect order was quite obviously a suicide mission and he could’ve just asked for more details instead of blindly following orders. However, it is understandable why he didn’t question Raglan as he had already been prevented from using his initiative only weeks prior. The failure of logistics put an immense strain on the British Army (for example, the lack of supplies led to lack of nourishment of the troops) and this could’ve reflected into Raglan’s actions – the army was under a lot of pressure and resulted into a state of desperation and rash decisions. But I believe that the main problem was the out-dated system of the British Army, especially the Purchase of Commissions. This led to incompetent people, such as Raglan and Lucan, being in control of hundreds of lives and making unwise decisions. If this system were abolished, then competent men with military experience and knowledge would’ve been in charge; they would’ve used proper military terms in their orders and realised the difference in perspectives of the battlefield; they would’ve pointed the cavalry in the right direction and the ‘Glorious Blunder’ would never have happened.
It’s been a couple of months since my last post…I’ve still been writing essays, just forgetting to post them! I now have a backlog of essays which I am improving and will be posting in the near future. Many of them are on the warfare part of the course, but I’m planning to write one on an aspect of the American side of the course shortly.