Sentence of the Day: The Reason Why, p. 238

After 238 pages of the most excruciating build-up, the moment for the charge of the light brigade at Balaclava is at hand. Here it comes. The order is given by the Mutt & and Jeff of the British Army, Lord Cardigan and Lord Raglan. And the men are off!

While there’s no suspense about the events, the manner of telling is truly incredible. There were “watchers on the heights,” and what they saw was this: The lines of British horsemen in the plain below were “expanding and contracting with strange mechanical precision.”

This is how author Cecil Woodham-Smith explains it, in a sentence that is more than fitting for the honor of being the Sentence of the Day:

  • “Death was coming fast, and the Light Brigade was meeting death in perfect order; as a man or horse dropped, the riders on each side of him opened out; as soon as they had ridden clear, the ranks closed again.”

A moment of silence, please, for the fallen.

The Russians were so incredulous at what the British cavalry had just done that, instead of pressing their advantage (and finishing off some seventy-odd survivors), they began to hesitate. Which is the only reason there were any survivors at all.

Fondly Hoping that Lord Raglan

pays with his life for his incredible stupidity, but he is so stupid that he always manages to be far from the scene of battle. His troops in the meanwhile receive the most incredible bruising.

p. 197: Lord Raglan decides to make the port of Balaclava his base.

  • It was a place of incredible beauty. The harbour, all but landlocked, had the appearance of an inland lake, a sheet of silver reflecting the surrounding heights. The village, a favourite summer resort for visitors from Sebastopol, was celebrated for its picturesque charm. Gay little villas with roofs of green tiles were set in carefully cultivated gardens. Roses, clematis, honeysuckle, and vines loaded with large, pale, green Muscatel grapes festooned every house and fence, orchards stretched up the slopes, vegetable gardens were neatly set out in rows of tomatoes, pumpkins, and lettuce. Overnight the charm vanished. More than twenty-five thousand men, of whom nine out of ten were suffering from diarrhea, marched into the village. Gardens were trampled into mud, fences smashed, vines dragged down, doors and windows broken, trees destroyed. The lovely little landlocked harbour, only half a mile long and less than a quarter wide, was ridiculously inadequate to serve as the port of supply for an army. Ships crowded in, the water ceased to mirror the surrounding heights, refuse floated everywhere, and soon there was a horrible smell.

The Reason Why, pp. 183 – 184

Under terrific fire — forty guns were trained on the river, and the bullets whipped the surface of the water into a bloody foam — the first British troops began to struggle across the Alma, the men so parched with thirst that even at this moment they stopped to drink. Everything was confusion: the advance on the two-mile front was obscured by dense clouds of smoke, the Russians had fired a village on the British left after stuffing it with straw, and on the slopes before the Great Redoubt piles of brushwood were set alight. Men could not see each other, could not see their officers . . . It seemed impossible that the slender, straggling line could survive — huge columns of Russian infantry raked it with fire, heavy guns in the Great Redoubt poured round shot, grape, and canister into it at a distance of a few hundred yards. Again and again large gaps were torn in the line, the slopes became littered with bodies and sloppy with blood, but the survivors closed up and pressed on, their officers urging, swearing, yelling like demons.

Oh, good job, Cecil Woodham-Smith. The battle is so vividly described that self almost felt sure you were a man.

Stay cool, dear blog readers. Stay cool.

There Is No Other Word for It

STUPEFYING.

Self is on p. 176 of The Reason Why. She sincerely hopes battle will be joined soon, because so far the book’s been about a bunch of squabbling lords.

Anyhoo, four squadrons of British cavalry form “line with beautiful precision” in “the little valley of the Bulganek.” Above them, on the slopes, “a body of Russian cavalry about two thousand strong.”

On the ridge opposite, Lord Raglan and General Airey see what no British commanders “in the valley below could see, that the four squadrons were confronted with a far more formidable force than two thousand cavalry: on the plateau above was waiting an overwhelming body of troops, afterwards learned to consist of sixty-thousand infantry, two batteries of artillery, a brigade of cavalry, and nine troops of Cossacks.”

The 2000-strong squadrons of British cavalry are about TO CHARGE AN ENEMY FORCE OF SIXTY-THOUSAND.

HOLY HELL.

To be fair, Lord Raglan was not completely stupid. He was trying to extricate his cavalry, while providing them with the means for an orderly retreat. Providing rearguard support were “two divisions of infantry, two regiments of cavalry, and two batteries of artillery; and, inexplicably, the Russians allowed these supports to come into place. They were, it seemed, confused by the extraordinary steadiness, the ceremoniously exact formation, of the small force confronting them.”

To be continued.

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