“Rode The Six Hundred”

Charge of the Light Brigade by Richard Caton Woodville Jr.

The Charge of the Light Brigade, written by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, in 1854 was based on the real-life events during the Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War. The poem memorialized a brigade of cavalry sent on a disastrous and useless charge.

This piece of writing has fascinated me since the first time I heard it and later recited it at a school performance. Read it aloud – there is a rhythm that captures that feeling of a fast moving horse. Sometimes, I think of this piece as one of the final glory moment for the ideal of cavalry. No, cavalry did not disappear after the 1850’s and the Crimean War; in fact, the military was still trying to use cavalry on battlefields in the early part of World War I. But tactics and weaponry was changing by the 1850’s, leaving behind the heavy-hitting, plough cavalry charges of the Napoleonic Era.

The Charge of the Light Brigade
BY ALFRED, LORD TENNYSON
I
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.

II
“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.

III
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.

IV
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.

V
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.

VI
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!

With hindsight on our side, perhaps Tennyson’s poem can be seen as the death ride symbol of an era of warfare or perhaps even ideals. At the end, he concludes that honor remains.

As a student of the American Civil War, I find it interesting how his conclusions of glory and honor were reflected in the Confederacy’s ideals—particularly around horsemen and cavalry. However, like the ill-fated charge in the Crimean War symbolized a closing of the Napoleonic cavalry tactics, the Civil War and its changing weaponry also changed the horsemen’s roles. Not so many heavy cavalry charges bursting into enemy infantry and a lot more raids, rides, and covering the movements of an army.

Sarah

Published by Sarah Kay Bierle

I’m Sarah Kay Bierle, author, speaker, and researcher. Past and present, everyone has a story. What will we discover and discuss?

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