Combat: The History of the Charge



Charge of the Scotts Greys at Waterloo - 1815
Charge of the Scotts Greys at Waterloo – 1815

…by  Jim W. Dean,  VT Editor


The Light Brigade
The Light Brigade

[ Dear Folks, this is a rerun of a classic from my archives, back from the early days of experimenting with magazine layouts before we converted over to the multimedia Journal format.

The Charge has always been one of the most incredible of military maneuvers, and not only for their historic  highlights passed down like the Charge of the Light Brigade.  They are an incredible story of the bond of trust built between men and their officers.

The troops have to trust that their officers’ decision is the correct one at the time, either to turn a battle or save another from disasater. And the officers must have confidence that the men will not only follow, but attack like supermen to create that critical moment where the opossing troops break and run.

I was studying the Crimean War for good examples because it was the first one to use photo journalism, where actual battlefield images accompanied the correspondents’ dispatches. I chose two for you to put at the end.

After doing this piece, with a patient Dufster helping me out sometimes at 2:00 am in the morning, I saw great potential for this format and VT.  The rest is history…so to speak. But we really are just carrying on a tradition started by others, and trying to leave our mark on it… Jim W. Dean  ]


The Battle of Inkerman – Crimean War  – Nov. 5th, 1854

Also known as the Soldier’s Battle for the initiative shown by so many units.

 –  First published  March 21, 2011  –


General Cathcart Killed

The one act of military prowess that surpasses all others is that of the charge. Military history is ripe with examples of magnificent ones and also disasters.

In this series I will dig down into the training, fighting spirit, complete confidence in leadership, and lastly good timing. These are the determinants to either a lifetime of complimentary drinks at the local pub, or flowers once a year on your grave…if you even got one.

I am not going to do this chronologically, starting off with the first cave man charge as I don’t have any of that material. As this is a multimedia site I have been looking for those where I have some visuals to use.

My recent VT History piece on Sir Richard Francis Burton the infamous British East Indian Company spy and future adventurer/explorer got me back into the Crimean War, home of the Charge of the Light Brigade, and the lesser known Charge of the Heavy Brigade.

Tennyson immortalized the Light Brigade. Unfortunately, to a much lesser degree William Howard Russell, the Irishman London Times war correspondent, did the same for the Heavy Brigade. But alas poetry won out over good old fashioned combat reporting. The Crimean War was the first to be photographed and have war correspondents file their reports by telegraph.

"Charge of the Light Bridgade"
Charge of the Light Brigade

Russell later found himselfin the American Civil War at the first Bull Run where his reporting of Yankee soldiers’ zeal in exiting the battlefield earned him an immediate suggestion that leaving the country would have a positive effect on his longevity. But in his later years Russell was knighted for his work.

I am going to leave the Brigade Charges for another time. Why? Because I found another one great battle, also in the Crimean War that I had known nothing about, and they are always more fun to share.

The Battle of Inkerman is just filled with charges, including some hard to believe. But first some battle framing and the landscape.

Czar Nicholas I

British and French troops were fighting against the Imperial Russian Army as part of their campaign to capture the Russian naval base of Sevastopol.

The Russians had received reinforcements from Tsar, Nicholas II with instructions to go on the offensive. The troop numbers involved in the battle were: British; 8,500 and 38 guns; French; 7,500 and 18 guns; Russian; 42,000 and 134 guns.

On 5th November 1854 the Russians launched a heavy attack on the right of the allied positions to the east of the city. The attacking force was made up of infantry and guns from the garrison of Sevastopol, commanded by General Soimonoff, and a second column from the field army, commanded by General Pauloff.

The attack fell on the British Second Division, comprising 2,700 men and 12 guns. The initial objective in these types of engagements is to overwhelm your opponent and break into their lines enable to attack their interior lines from the flank before supporting units can arrive.

Defensive commanders, despite being outnumbered have to buy time for reinforcements. To make this easier to follow I found a good map.

General Pennefather – 2nd Div

Pennefather, a highly aggressive officer always inclined to the attack, sent all the units of the Second Division forward to engage the Russians. His actions were exactly appropriate for the day, even though he was committing a small number of troops to battle against overwhelming odds.

The Russian heavy artillery on Shell Hill opened a bombardment of the Second Division’s position and camp on Home Ridge. The camp was destroyed but there were no troops on the crest, the division having moved off the ridge into the valley.

The bottleneck formation of the ground prevented the Russians from making their final approach to Home Ridge on a broad front. The first Russian column to attack emerged from the constricted ground and advanced on the Second Divisions left.

A wing of the British 49th Regiment fired a volley into the column and charged with the bayonet, driving the Russian column down the slope and across the valley to Shell Hill.

The next assault, also on the Second Division’s left, was in substantially greater numbers and led by General Soimonoff himself. As the Russians approached the ridge, troops of General Buller’s brigade from the Light Division and a battery of guns came up. The 88th Regiment passed the crest followed by the battery, but were driven back, three guns falling into Russian hands.

Buller with the 77th Regiment and the 88th charged the column. The 47th Regiment attacked the Russians in flank and the column retreated, giving up the captured guns.

The 47th Regiment Charges – Cpl McDermond wins Victoria Cross
General Soimonoff was killedin the struggle and General Buller wounded. A column of Russian sailors attempting an approach from the Careenage Ravine was also attacked by Buller’s men and driven back.

The remainder of Soimonoff’s first line advanced down the post road to the Barrier. They were bombarded by a British battery and finally driven back by the assembled British pickets and the remaining companies of the 49th Regiment.

The initial Russian assaults had all failed. Soimonoff’s attack took up the first part of the battle. Some of his regiments were so severely handled, losing a high proportion of officers, that they took no further part in the war.

Soimonoff had attacked Pennefather’s 2700 men with 6300 troops in his initial attack and 9,000 in reserve. The training and first class leadership of the 2th Division saved the day by deploying forward and charging the lead elements of the Russian advance.

Fog added to the confusion of the attacking forces as did the restricted terrain. Pennefather bought time for the Light Division units to reach him, which also charged and completely broke the Russian attack and inflicted heavy losses on them.

British Footguards Retake Sandbag Battery

While the struggle had been intense it could not compare with the severity of the fighting that began with the arrival of Pauloff’s force from across the Tchernaya River.

Pauloff’s 15,000 men advanced down the axis of the post road towards the northern and north eastern sides of Home Ridge and Fore Ridge. The main focal points of the battle became the Barrier, the Sandbag Battery and the crest of the ridge above them.

Pauloff’s attacking line stretched from the post road to the Sandbag Battery.

As the Russians advanced, the wing of the British 30th Regiment holding the Barrier, 300 men, leaped the wall and attacked with the bayonet.

After a savage fight the leading Russian battalions were driven back down the slope. A further five Russian battalions were assailed by the British 41st Regiment under Brigadier Adams, advancing in extended order. Their intense fire drove this column back to the banks of the Tchernaya River.

General Dannenberg now took command of the two Russian forces, Pauloff’s troops from the field army and the 9,000 men in Soimonoff’s reserve, and began a sustained and ferocious attack on the Second Division’s positions on Home Ridge.

At this time support was coming up for Brigadier Pennefather, the Guards Brigade arriving from its camp to the South and General Cathcart approaching with his Fourth Division.

Royal Fusiliers Holding the Barrier

The British troops holding the Barrier abandoned the position to the Russians for a time, but Pennefather sent forward men from the 21st Royal North British Fusiliers, the 63rd and the Rifles to retake it and the Barrier remained in British hands for the rest of the battle, in spite of repeated and determined assaults by the Russians.

Brigadier Adams held the Sandbag Battery with 700 men, supported by the 1,300 men of the Guards Brigade.

The Russians launched an attack on his position with 7,000 men, beginning a series of charges and counter charges which saw the ground changing hands several times as the fighting raged up and down the hillside.

The British were only finally enabled to go on the offensive with the arrival of Cathcart’s Fourth Division. Cathcart’s men were rushed into the line wherever there appeared to be a gap, other than 400 men that Cathcart led himself in a flank attack on the Russians.

While initially successful Cathcart was taken in the rear by an unexpected assault from the crest of the ridge. Cathcart was killed and his force broken up.

The French Zouaves Attack

Cathcart’s initiative had the unfortunate effect of encouraging other British units to break from the line and attempt charges down the hill, giving a Russian regiment the opportunity to gain the crest of the ridge.

The situation was retrieved by the timely arrival of a French regiment which attacked the Russians in flank and drove them off the ridge.

During the day the 100 Russian guns on Shell Hill provided a substantial support for their infantry.

Towards the end of the battle two large British guns, 18 pounders of modern construction called up by Lord Raglan from the siege park, were manhandled onto Home Ridge by teams of gunners and brought into action.

These two guns with the assistance of the field batteries along the line overwhelmed the Russian guns, whose unprotected crews had been subjected to long range rifle fire.

Hamley described the end of the fighting saying: “This extraordinary battle closed with no final charge nor victorious advance on the one side, no desperate stand nor tumultuous flight on the other. The Russians, when hopeless of success, seemed to melt from the lost field.”

Royal Artillery Sargeant
The exhausted English regimentswith their French colleagues were left on a field strewn with casualties; the main points of the fighting, the Sandbag Battery and the Barrier, heaped with bodies.

The regiments stood down and returned to the siege positions around Sevastopol or to their encampments.The British suffered 2,357 casualties. The French suffered 929 casualties. The Russians suffered 12,000 casualties. Twelve Victoria Crosses were awarded to British soldiers for actions in the battle.

“G” Battery of the Royal Artillery, 2nd Division, particularly distinguished itself during the battle. The Battery fired all its ammunition at the advancing Russian columns, repelling several attacks.

When overwhelmed by the Russian infantry Sergeant Major Andrew Henry fought back with his small sword, attempting with a gunner to remove the guns.

Crimean Medal
Sergeant Major Henry received 12 bayonet wounds in his chest, left arm, back, right leg and head and was left for dead.

A counter attack by French infantry drove the Russians off the guns which were secured. Sergeant Major Henry was awarded the Victoria Cross and the Battery was given the title “Inkerman Battery'” which it still holds. This episode of the battle is a fine example of how the Victorian British soldier just would not give way.

Charges saved the day. Officers and even generals died leading their troops, something that has gone out of style but was just another day at the office in battles of that period. But victory did not come cheap for the British units in the worst part of the fighting.

The Grenadiers suffered more than 100 dead in total casualties of 9 officers and 225 men. One of the regiment’s companies, in memory of the battle, carries the title “The Inkerman Company”.
The Grenadier’s Captain Percy received the Victoria Cross for his conduct in the battle, in particular extracting 50 men of his regiment from the midst of the Russians.

The other two Foot Guards regiments suffered heavily. The Coldstream lost 8 officers killed and 5 wounded, with 181 men as casualties. The Scots Fusilier Guards suffered casualties of 9 officers and 168 men.

Of the Guards Brigade’s 1,331 men 605 became casualties in the battle. I guess this is why they called in the Soldier’s Battle.

A final treat. Roger Fenton also took an historic series of photos of the War, March-June, 1855, which include several hundred portraits of the battlefield and the various allies. Below is William Russell, the London Times war correspondent.

And lastly is my favorite one (so far) of General Peenefather of the British 2nd Division.


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Jim W. Dean was an active editor on VT from 2010-2022.  He was involved in operations, development, and writing, plus an active schedule of TV and radio interviews.