Recollections of the Balaklava Affair of 13 October, 1854.

By Lieutenant Koribut-Kubitovich [Note 1].

(From Voennyi Sbornik, 1859, No. 2: "Vospominaniya o Balaklavskom dele 13-go Oktyabrya 1854 goda". Reprinted in Materialy dlya istorii Krymskoi voiny i oborony Sevastopolya, Vol. 4, edited by N. F. Dubrovin, St. Petersburg, 1871-72. This is the eyewitness account of a lieutenant in Yeropkin’s Composite Reserve Lancer Regiment, and parts are quoted in Albert Seaton’s The Crimean War; A Russian Chronicle. Dates are Old Style; add 12 days for the Western Calendar. Translated by Mark Conrad, 1999.)

After the Battle of the Alma, Prince Menshikov remained in a defensive attitude as he waited for reinforcements. Troops from the [Danubian] principalities were impatiently awaited from day to day. All of us sere sure that offensive operations would begin when they arrived; everyone burned with the desire to be in action!

At that time the lancer march regiment [marshevoi ulanskii polk] in which I had the honor to be serving was stationed in the Baidar Valley, keeping watch over the Tatars and keeping them from driving their herds over to the enemy and delivering much-needed forage to them. The regiment was occupied in patrolling, maintaining pickets, and in general carrying out the most difficult yet boring advance-post duties. It had been formed before the allies landed in the Crimea from the reserves of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th Light Cavalry Divisions [Note 2] due to the shortage of cavalry, which was almost all in Moldavia. But since this regiment, at the demand of the commander-in-chief, had just sent out squadrons to provide replacements for the active regiments [Note 3], we only had a small number of older personnel and horses. The majority of the squadrons were composed of recruits with only a year’s service time. The horses were also young. It was only on the march that some of them had bits put on for the first time. In our regiment it was well understood how important it was to train the horses to constant work and not to break them down, this being inseparably linked with an intelligent system of training the horses for riding.

From the beginning of our march on up to Nikolaev—where we had been directed before the enemy landing—we moved by alternating march days with rest days, so that men and mounts would gradually become used to exertion. In the Crimea, however, we made forced marches without rest days, covering 30 miles a day. Nevertheless, we arrived at our goal without being worn out. The horses were fresh and sound in body, and the men were healthy. During all of our stay in the Crimea no other regiment had fewer sick than we, or more swift and fit horses.

We had to carry out advance-post duty by taking turns by division [Note 4], changing every 48 hours. We well understood that when the regiment would be summoned for action, part of it would have to stay in the Baidar Valley, and each of us feared nothing so much as to have to be part of that detachment while comrades got to go into battle. For this reason, every time we went to relieve those on duty it was very unwillingly.

But finally the long-awaited forces began to arrive. The first to come was the 12th Infantry Division, forged in battle and under the command of Lieutenant General Liprandi. They came in full strength from Kishinev, making that long journey in a manner worthy of Suvorov. For a Russian soldier, being on the march is nothing. On the contrary, while on campaign he becomes more fit and cheerful. This is not hard to figure—the Russian peasant is used to long marches from childhood. Just look at our carpenters and stoneworkers who walk a thousand or more miles as if it were nothing.

On the morning of 12 October, a cossack brought a special packet to the regimental commander. We greeted this messenger with unaffected joy and conducted him to the hut of our brave commander, the late Colonel Yeropkin [Note 5]. We could guess that he brought a notice of a forthcoming battle in which we might get to take part, and we were full of curiosity as we waited for confirmation of our assumptions. The colonel did not keep us waiting long. In just a few minutes he stood before us with a happy face and ordered that the horses be saddled, three days of forage be gathered, and all noncombatant equipment and extraneous items be sent to the wagon train. He also announced that the division on duty would stay in place. This meant the 2nd Division, which is to say the march squadrons of the 4th [Light Cavalry] Division.

By the way, let me note that two days before this, I was assigned to command the 2nd Squadron on account of my squadron commander being sick.

After listening to the orders, we joyfully ran to our squadrons. The soldiers were already busy around their horses. Old soldiers in such situations have a special kind of sense. They talk among themselves of a march or battle before the commanders know anything about it. They have their own omens for various events, which they believe in absolutely. For example, if the horses neigh and lie down in the daytime, it means a long march If a horse does not eat and stands with its head lowered—it will be killed. If on the eve of battle it keeps nuzzling its owner, then that man will be killed.

I myself observed how sometimes such portents occurred. On the evening before the battle I noticed that one old soldier, respected by the whole squadron, was standing in front of his horse and weeping bitterly. I went over to him and asked the reason for his tears. "How, your honor, can I not be crying?" he said. "Truly, tomorrow my Yunona will be killed. She doesn’t eat out of her feedbag and stands here sadly. It’s eight years now that I’ve been riding her, and she’s devoted to me. She understands what I say, and doesn’t allow anyone else to brush her except me. Tomorrow I’ll be left an orphan, with no one to love!"

In fact, this was the wildest horse in the whole regiment. She would not let anyone else approach her, but loved and obeyed her owner. The old soldier’s foreboding came true: Yunona was killed.

A quarter hour after receiving its orders, the regiment stood in formation, ready to march. Soldiers bade farewell to each other and charged fellows from their own districts to send the small sums of money they had on them to their families if they were killed.

The officers of the 2nd Division watched us with envy, and also with sadness. It was hard to part with many of them, perhaps forever, oh how hard! Perhaps my words do not appear surprising for anyone who has had an occasion to witness the tight friendship which binds the officers together in army [Note6] cavalry regiments. Really, there is hardly anywhere else where there is such comradeship as in army regiments, where the way of life itself pulls members of the regiment close together. Our stations, for the most part, are far from attractive, especially in the settlements [Note 7], where squadrons are sometimes quite far from each other. It’s said that a person wishing to develop himself will always find the means to obtain books and engage in serious studies. But it must not be forgotten that studies require more than means. They require motivation, and in this case boredom by itself is far from sufficient. One cannot set oneself to serious work without some sort of defined goal, and therefor just the desire to kill time cannot motivate a person to academic studies. Finally, to be fair it must be said that to engage in reading is sometimes physically impossible for a very simple reason: from where do you order books? Imagine, for example, that you are sitting in a village some fifty miles from the nearest landowner, and that it is also autumn, when there is no way to get anywhere [due to rain and mud – M.C.], and your whole society consists of a half-educated priest.

There are not always libraries in regiments, and there are not the means to subscribe to journals. Perhaps the reader may not believe me when I say that under such conditions everything is read that comes to hand, even old newspapers, and "read" is an understatement—they are read and reread twenty times over!

The tedium of solitude and inactivity is so strong that even the sergeant-major’s report becomes a true diversion. He appears before you and says the old stereotyped phrase which you have already heard for several years running, always spoken in the same exact tone, "Everything is well in the squadron." You use this situation at least to pose questions to him for half an hour—questions with which you are also long familiar. For example, things like, "So, has Asmodei put on weight?"

"He’s put on weight, your honor! How could he not, with rolled fodder and as much as he wants?"

Such complete solitude is truly a special burden in an army officer’s life. Generally, for him a good situation in regard to social relationships is a rarity and only the fortunate lot of a few regiments. For the most part, an army officer’s society is limited to the tight circle of his regimental comrades. He becomes accustomed to them, and with them shares happiness and sorrow. Little by little the relationship becomes of the closest kind. Members of the regiment become more than the whole society of an army officer—they become his family.

Naturally, such a close relationship can only arise where private interest does not interfere. And this is the secret key of this wonderful regimental comradeship, of which anyone who has served in the army (I speak of the cavalry, in which I had the honor to serve) takes such a pleasant memory for the rest of his life. In an army regiment everything goes in an orderly and predictable manner. It is understandable that we were not without feelings as we took leave of our regimental comrades before battle, and shook hands with one another with warm emotion.

But I ask forgiveness if perhaps I have inappropriately expanded on this. I repeat, anyone who has served in the army carries away such pleasant memories of the close and happy circle of his regimental companions that the reader must not be surprised that if when I plucked this string I was somewhat drawn from my subject. This string so tugs at the heart of every army officer!…

The regiment did not wait long. The command rang out, "From the right by sixes!" ["Sprava po shesti!"], and then in a comradely atmosphere the squadrons filed out of the Baidar Valley, one after the other along the narrow road leading to the Chernaya River valley, bordered on one side by high hills and on the other by a deep ravine, beyond which were stationed small enemy cavalry pickets on the elevated points. It was vexatious to see the enemy yet not have the chance to clash with him. "The eyes see, but the teeth do not bite." But this, however, is something that is often experienced by cavalrymen performing patrols. True, our vexation was moderated by some hope of meeting the enemy soon, during which we hoped to avenge ourselves on him for our previous failures. Everyone had a special desire to fight the English cavalry, so famous for its furious attacks and cold-blooded hewing.

The journey was not long and we soon came into the valley of the Chernaya, where we saw infantry in bivouacs along the riverbank. This was the 12th Infantry Division. An adjutant of the commander-in-chief brought us orders to halt here and bivouac while awaiting further instructions. And thus there was now not the slightest doubt. Here troops were being concentrated for an attack on the enemy. There would be a battle!

In a short time horse lines were set up, the horses unsaddled, and some of the soldiers went to look for fellow countrymen among the infantry. The officers followed their example and hurried to make the acquaintance of the heroes from the Danube army.

Friendships between soldiers under such circumstances are made very quickly. In a half an hour we were all already on familiar terms with officers of the 12th Division, and conversed freely with them, exhaustively going over everyone’s predictions for the forthcoming battle. The infantry officers related some stories of their campaigns and battles on the Danube. It was not without envy that we listened to their stories, but we found comfort in that in a day we, too, would have much to talk about.

Other troops began to arrive bit by bit. At night came the 2nd Brigade of the 6th Light Cavalry Division and the Ural Cossack Regiment. In all there were concentrated 16 battalions, 22 squadrons, 8 cossack sotnias, and 52 pieces of artillery.

In the evening we learned of the dispositions for the coming battle. Here they are in a few words: Forces under the overall command of General Liprandi were to move against the enemy in two columns. The right and main column, under the command of Major General Semyakin [Note 8] (consisting of 16½ battalions, 22 squadrons, 2 cossack regiments, with 52 guns) was to move on Kadykioi. The left column (5 battalions, 6 squadrons, 1 sotnia of cossacks, and 10 guns), under Major General Gribbe [Note 9], was to go through the Baidar Valley to Komary to secure the main force’s left flank from being turned. At the same time, Major General Zhabokritskii [Note 10] with a force of 7½ battalions, 2 squadrons, and 2 cossack sotnias, was to march out from near Inkerman and move up along the Chernaya River, thus securing General Liprandi’s movement on his right flank. So, the object of our maneuvers: to carry out an attack on the allies at Kadykioi and Balaklava, two points defended by the English.

Our bivouac was at the village of Chorgun on the right bank of the Chernaya. Its left flank rested on the village of Karlovka, and its right on the Traktir bridge. The weather was mild and pleasant, very much the usual for fall in the Crimea. Spread out along the whole valley were campfires, around which sat officers in very picturesque groups, for the most part next to a samovar, the constant companion of life on the march and campaign. Loud sounds of laughter drifted far out in all directions. Some who were less carefree conversed quietly among themselves and made various preparations. They burned letters which they did not want to see in strangers’ hands in case of their deaths, and wrote last wills and testaments. Now it is amusing to recall much of what at that time did not surprise anyone and seemed to be in the natural order of things. What do you think of a will by someone who has nothing except a shabraque, two uniform coats, and a samovar, but who still earnestly wrote out his bequests?

There, near a small patch of woods, seeking solitude, several youths sat apart, deep in ardent conversation among friends, with memories of the past and visions of the coming battle, forgetting about the sleep and rest which would be useful for action. Others, as if in opposition to the excited fantasies, were wrapped in burka cloaks or greatcoats, sleeping deeply with no care for tomorrow’s business. There in the distance, in the semidarkness, around a patch of woods lit by the flickering glow of scattered campfires, could be seen the horse lines along which the soldiers were sitting in groups. They always gathered around the old veterans, and with animated interest listened to their stories of battles, of the first impressions when hearing a bullet whistle past, and of much else that each one would come to experience himself in a few hours. Some soldiers, less curious, or perhaps more worried, busied themselves around the horses. The bayonets on the muskets shone a little mysteriously, silver in the barely visible sparks of the dying fires.

Now suddenly everything became quiet. A profound silence reigned, broken only by horses neighing, the rattle of the sentries’ weapons, and the quiet murmur of men asleep. This silence did not last long. Soon dawn began to glow and the camp gradually began to wake up. Soldiers took care of horses and weapons, and the old veterans put on clean underclothes which they always kept in reserve as men ready for death at any moment. Others prayed, and they did so with all their soul. Commanders were busy with their units.

At the arranged signal, the infantry took up muskets and began to form up; cavalrymen mounted their horses; artillerymen pulled the guns onto limbers. Now came the order to move, and the troops began to step out in accordance with the given dispositions.

The columns walked in deep silence. Even the horses did not neigh, as if they were afraid to attract the enemy’s attention. After no more than a half-hour’s march we came before the enemy position. It ran along the Vorontsov Road itself, along the heights dominating the terrain. These heights were strengthened by four redoubts which covered the road and formed the first line of field fortifications in front of Balaklava.

Regardless of how far we army officers were from a true appreciation of the military events of that time, we nonetheless understood that the allied situation in the Crimea then was far from good. We understood that the slowness they demonstrated in front of Sevastopol deprived them of all the advantages which might have been won by their victory at the Alma, and that they had changed from an offensive attitude to defensive. We considered their situation to not only be difficult, but fatal. The English took on an especially difficult task for themselves. Being on the right flank of the allied position, they had to simultaneously construct siege approaches to Sevastopol and worry about securing themselves from the rear and flank. For all of this they had no more than 25,000 men available. With these troops they had to build a line of fortifications along the line of high points from Inkerman to Balaklava for a distance of ten miles.

One may suppose that special attention was paid to the defense of Balaklava, whose loss would be decisive blow to the allies. In front of Balaklava, English engineers built a fortified camp for at least 30,000 men. In addition, they were undertaking the construction of a series of redoubts around the camp on the heights which formed a belt, so to speak, around Balaklava. I do not know how extensive these defensive works were intended to be when completed, but four redoubts, very compact and not providing mutual flank defenses to each other, had been built by the time we advanced on the enemy position, but they were still not fully provided with guns and were occupied by several hundred Turks who had been provided with English officers and artillerymen. These fortifications were out in front of the general line of enemy defenses, and it was here that General Liprandi prepared to strike.

As we already noted above, each of us instinctively understood that the allies’ situation was not good, regardless of their numerical superiority. Previous failures did not dampen our troops spirits. On the contrary, they gave rise to a desire to avenge ourselves on our enemies, and it may be said that the troops’ morale was excellent. Within ourselves we harbored no doubt that we would surely dominate the enemy.

Our column (under the command of Major General Gribbe) reached its assigned goal before anyone else. A half-sotnia of cossacks, supported by a squadron of lancers (from the Bug Lancer march regiment [Note 11]), threw themselves on an enemy picket located at the St. John (John the Ascetic) Monastery and forced it to hurriedly retreat. At the same time as this, our infantry pushed back enemy advance posts at Komary village and occupied it with riflemen. Artillery deployed along the ridgeline, ready to support the troops of the right column, which had the mission of attacking the redoubts. By occupying his position, General Gribbe completely secured the main force’s left flank.

When some of the infantry and artillery under Major General Semyakin deployed on the north side of the Vorontsov Road in front of the enemy position, our regiment—three squadrons in strength [Note 12]—closed up to their left flank.

The first line of infantry formed into company columns and the second into attack columns. The rifle battalion and the riflemen [shtutsernye] from all regiments spread out in the bushes in front of the enemy position. The redoubts loomed menacingly before us. We did not doubt that we would take them and that they would fall on our first attempt, but we did fear that the whole affair might be limited to this capture, and operation in which, of course, cavalry would have nothing to do.

When everything was ready for battle, General Liprandi rode along the troops with his suite. He turned toward his division and expressed his hope that it would fight as courageously as on the Danube. He added that he had no doubt of the success of our arms. Nothing inspires as much bravery and determination as does confidence of success. Certainly, every military man has experienced this for himself more than once, and this rule is just as valid for whole masses of troops. I note on the side that nothing is so easy to transfer to our soldier as this confidence. With his few words, General Liprandi completely electrified his force. The soldiers answered the words of their beloved commander with a tremendous "Ura!" And this was not that response which is given so languidly and calmly on exercises; it was a cry foretelling victory, unaffectedly rising from the mighty chests of our soldier heroes.

Our regiment was in the center of the second line, which made it able to witness the whole course of the battle and appreciate the courage of our infantry, demonstrated so magnificently in this instance.

At eight o’clock, General Liprandi moved his infantry to the approaches to Redoubt No. 1. Under the leadership of Colonel Krüdener [Note 13], the Azov men went forward in company columns in a fine orderly fashion. Accurate enemy artillery and rifle fire did not make them waver. Officers were out in front and provided a magnificent example of fearlessness. The soldiers went on with no regard to artillery and musket fire. With each casualty they closed up as if on training maneuvers. And now in a well-formed mass they reach the foot of the hill. Further on it is impossible to maintain the previous order. A drawn-out shout of "Ura!" breaks forth and the steep slope is covered with a dense crowd of soldiers making their way up. With such a quick, brave attack, success cannot be long in doubt. Our soldiers climb up to the fortification itself and cover it like a swarm of buzzing bees! There are many already on the wall, many are going through the embrasures… A good many drop down into the fortification.

In vain an English battery that had driven up between Redoubts No. 1 and No. 2 opened fire on our troops’ flank; our riflemen forced it to retreat. The successful seizure of Redoubt No. 1 decided the affair in our favor.

The Turks occupying Redoubts No. 2 and No. 3 hardly saw the right-wing troops being directed toward them before they quickly turned to flight. Far from us, on the end of our right wing, Colonel Skyuderi [Note 14] with the Odessa Jäger Regiment meanwhile also took Redoubt No. 4 (abandoned afterward on General Liprandi’s order as being a point too far distant for us).

In the meantime, almost at the very beginning of the battle, a Scottish regiment, the only enemy troops near the attacked point, and alarmed by our attack, deployed in front of the village of Kadykioi in the main path of our force’s advance. The Turks who had run from the redoubts closed up on their flanks. A little later, the English cavalry division of Lucan deployed on the Scots’ left flank. The appearance of the English cavalry made us glad; we hoped that our wish to fight them would come true.

The reader may like to note from the outline I am presenting that I do not at all intend to go into a detailed analysis of the Balaklava affair, but rather only wish to transmit to him that to which I was a direct eyewitness. I allow myself to depart from the role of eyewitness only when necessary for continuity in describing the battle, a continuity which I do not consider to have the right to interrupt.

After a short period of inactivity following the occupation of the redoubts, Lieutenant General Ryzhov, cavalry commander in our force, received the order to make an attack with the Leuchtenberg and Weimar Hussar Regiments, the Ural Cossack Regiment, and Horse Battery No. 12.

Our cavalry passed over the opening between Redoubts No. 3 and No. 4 and descended into the valley. Having detached some cossacks on ahead, Lieutenant General Ryzhov followed with his hussars. The cossacks headed for the Scots standing on the height’s slope beside their camp, and moved round to engage them on both their flanks. The enemy artillery met them with canister while the Scottish riflemen mounted the rise and coolly allowed them to approach to close range and only then did they open up a murderous fire. The stunned cossacks were bowled over but reformed and again threw themselves into the attack. This was again as unsuccessful as the first time. Meanwhile our hussars moved forward in fine order and started to deploy, heedless of the artillery fire. The Weimar Regiment deployed in the first line, extending six squadrons with four guns on each flank, these being covered by a squadron in column on each flank, too. In the second line were the Leuchtenberg men in attack columns.

During this attack, Lieutenant General Ryzhov showed his usual fearlessness and cool head. Like Murat, he went in front of his cavalry, not drawing his sword. The artillery fire did not stop the hussars and cossacks, encouraged by the example of their old veteran leader. A brigade of heavy cavalry under Scarlett moved to meet them, but their movement was delayed by the cut-up nature of the ground, overgrown with vineyards.

General Scarlett then reinforced his cavalry with two guards regiments. These fresh forces enveloped our hussars from both flanks. At the same time, our cavalry was showered with canister and bullets. It did not withstand that treatment and quickly withdrew.

This fight was not without heroic deeds. Brave Captain Khitrovo, commander of the 1st Squadron of the Weimar Regiment, was wounded by a bullet and several saber blows and surrounded by the enemy, but fought desperately. The squadron rushed to the rescue of its beloved commander, but seeing the certain death of his men, Captain Khitrovo ordered them to go back. Already unhorsed, he continued to fight on until he fell beneath the enemy’s blows [Note 15].

Here is another episode, showing the character of the Russian soldier. Lieutenant General Ryzhov’s horse was shot dead under him during the fight. It looked bad for the brave commander, but the self-sacrifice of a non-commissioned officer of the Weimar Regiment saved him from certain capture. The brave man slid from his horse and gave it to his commander. He then took the general’s saddle from the dead mount, caught an enemy horse, unsaddled it, put on the general-officer’s pattern saddle, and galloped off. After rejoining his regiment, he turned in the saddle he had saved. When he was asked why he had not left it on the dead horse, he answered, "What? You think you can leave a general’s saddle in enemy hands?"

During this time, my lancer regiment was standing near the Vorontsov Road, as mentioned above, almost opposite the Kadykioi Heights. One of Lieutenant General Liprandi’s orderlies misunderstood an order given to him, and rode over to our regiment and told its commander that the general ordered it to move forward to support the hussars. This order astonished us. We well understood that in carrying it out we could run into the retreating hussars, who might push and scatter us before we even met the enemy. But an order had been given, and we were not directed to discuss orders, which was in any case not always possible. We deployed our squadrons in a single line and moved off at a hurried trot. A hidden enemy battery drove out to meet us. It unlimbered and showered us with canister.

From Redoubt No. 1, where he was at the time, Lieutenant General Liprandi saw our movement and apprehended the terrible situation we were getting into, and he sent a adjutant with an order to immediately return to our previous place. Fortunately, we received this order in time. Otherwise, the groups of hussars hurrying back from their fight would have galloped into us and caused terrible disorder. We turned around to the left at a fast trot to our original position where we formed into column again. After finishing its business, Scarlett’s brigade also withdrew. General Zhabokritskii’s force meanwhile closed up to our right flank.

When the first shots were fired at seven-thirty, Lord Raglan and Canrobert came to the battlefield. Bosquet placed his entire corps under arms and ordered one brigade to descend from the heights in order to provide contact between the English and French forces. Lord Raglan ordered that his left be reinforced and for reserves to be brought up.

Lieutenant General Liprandi guessed that the enemy intended to make an advance and saw that it was necessary to make some changes in his troop deployments and reinforce his right flank. Infantry occupied the heights as before. The right flank was deployed in stepped-back echelons [ustupami nazad] and formed almost a right angle with our position’s front. It consisted of the Odessa Jäger Regiment with eight guns. We too were moved from the left flank to the right and deployed between Redoubts No. 2 and No. 3. The hussar brigade and Ural Regiment were in the valley separating the Kadykioi heights from the Fedyukhin Hills, where General Zhabokritskii was located.

The hussars and Ural men were formed as follows: the Ural cossacks stood in front near elevated ground; to their right was a Don battery with a division of the Weimar Regiment on each flank for protection, in attack column; behind the Weimar men were the Leuchtenbergers with an extended front [razvernutyi front].

Lord Raglan decided to attack our right flank, and to this end he moved the light cavalry (Cardigan’s brigade) forward. This had not taken part in the fighting with the hussars. Along with this, Raglan asked Canrobert to support his attack.

Now there occurred one of those misunderstandings that happen so often in the heat of battle. Captain Nolan, adjutant to the quartermaster-general, carried just that sort of written order to Lord Lucan: "Lord Raglan encharges you to advance in order to prevent the enemy from taking away the guns from the redoubt and to attack the Russian cavalry. Take a horse-artillery battery with you. Chasseurs d’Afrique will support you from the left." [Note 16.]

It is not known whether Lord Raglan actually gave an order to attack our cavalry, or if his words were misunderstood to that effect. Without picking apart this question, we note only that this misunderstanding had disastrous results for the English cavalry. Cardigan was horrified by this order. He understood the entire inescapable situation which he would fall into during an attack. He would in fact have to pass through crossfire from our artillery and riflemen, and afterwards—when in disorder due to enemy fire—he would have to meet an attack by Russian cavalry. But there was nothing to be done about it. He led his brigade forward, rounded Redoubt No. 4, deployed his force in the valley in two columns, and continued moving onward. The brave Englishmen followed swiftly behind their leader. The Russians met them with canister, and infantry, formed into square, opened up with battle fire. Nothing could stop the Englishmen—not canister fire that wiped out entire files of soldiers, nor the bullets that flew about them like flies. They kept moving quickly forward. Our cossacks saw the well-ordered enemy coming on towards them and could not stand firm. They turned around to the left and began to fire individually. They rode into the Weimar men who were covering the artillery, and caused great confusion in their ranks. The disordered Weimar men hurried backwards, ran into the Leuchtenbergers, and our entire line of cavalry began to quickly retreat. Brave officers tried to stop the soldiers, but in vain. The damage had been done; there was no means left to restore order. Some of the officers tried to force their way forward but paid for their courage with their lives. The brave Colonel Voinilovich perished here along with others. Lieutenant General Ryzhov was one of the last to withdraw. He was seeking death, knowing that the responsibility for failure would fall on him. Of course, this magnificent soldier could not be charged with lack of courage. The only thing which he can be accused of is the erroneous deployment of the cossacks which he placed in the first line.

The English galloped toward the batteries without regard for the canister fire of the Don artillery. The artillerymen saw that it would be impossible for them to take their guns with them, and retreated on their limbers. The enemy spiked some guns and continued onward, thinking to seize them on their return. They fell on the retreating hussars, slaughtering them mercilessly while pressing right on their backs. The pursued hussars reached the Chernaya River valley where they would have to cross that stream, over which was only one bridge. Once they got to the bridge, the hussars all wanted to rush over it at once. Now an awful confusion ensued. The artillerymen (Horse Battery No. 12 and the Don battery’s limbers), afraid of falling into enemy hands, used all their strength and forced their way through the chaotic crowd. The hussars fought desperately next to the bridge, but since they had already fallen into disorder at the beginning of the affair, they could not organize themselves, and in the midst of a terrible slashing fight they retreated little by little in the tracks of the artillery. The English followed them almost to the wagon train.

At this time our lancer regiment, located between Redoubts No. 2 and No. 3, received an order to move forward and attack the enemy upon his withdrawal. This news made us happy. We were finally getting our turn—and from being just onlookers we became active participants.

With our regimental commander, Colonel Yeropkin, not being present because he was previously summoned to the column commander, the division commander [divizioner], Major Tinkov, commanded "right" ["napravo"] and we moved out with our left shoulder and quickly trotted along our line of infantry. One of the Odessa Regiment’s battalions took us for the enemy because we were on variously colored horses (at that time Russian cavalry regiments normally had one color for horses), formed into square, and opened up on us with battle fire [batal’nyi ogon’]. We cried out with all our might so that they would see their mistake, but they did not stop shooting. Murmurs and talk of betrayal arose in our ranks. Fortunately, the battalion commander soon noticed his mistake and ceased fire. From this misunderstanding we lost three horses killed and two soldiers wounded. On coming to the road leading to the MacKenzie Heights, we stopped, formed a front, and began to deploy into an extended line. The enemy finished his pursuit of the hussars and was retreating. There is no better time to evaluate cavalry than during a withdrawal in the face of the enemy after a successful attack. Justice must be done to the Englishmen: they demonstrated the peak of perfection in this regard and moved at a trot in good order, as if on an exercise.

The 1st Squadron of our regiment, under the command of Captain Verzhbitskii [Note 17], after turning to the right and then to the front, was the first to swiftly throw themselves onto the enemy. After the front of my squadron was cleared, I lead it straight forward. The 3rd Squadron, under Major Lavrenius, turned to the left and followed after us. But at the very start of our forming up, brave Cornet Astaf’ev [Note 18], a platoon commander in my squadron, charged the approaching enemy alone and tore into the head of their column. Although this action was a breech of discipline, Astaf’ev’s heroic deed still served as a great encouragement for the recruits who made up our regiment. I had only just given the command to attack when the Fourth Platoon, which was Astaf’ev’s, threw itself forward, overtook the others, and hurried to the rescue of its beloved commander.

The enemy was stunned by our appearance, which was completely unexpected by them. Our attack was full on their flank, and thus fatal for cavalry. Our brave lancers swiftly cut into the English column. A desperate slashing fight ensued. At this time our infantry and artillery opened fire. It must be recognized, however, that we suffered from that at least as much as the enemy, so that a large part of our horses were wounded and killed by our own bullets. The Englishmen fought with amazing bravery, and even the unhorsed and wounded did not want to surrender and continued to fight back, as they say, to the last drop of blood.

Their column was almost completely destroyed; there were only a few of the enemy who returned to their camp. We pursued them almost to the 4th Redoubt. At this time, Colonel Yeropkin hurried to catch up to the regiment on Lieutenant General Liprandi’s order, but on the way he was attacked by three Englishmen. He killed one with a shot from his pistol while the second fought with his non-commissioned officer, Mukha. Yeropkin dealt with the third in true Russian fashion: unable to draw his saber, he struck the Englishman in the face with his fist, and when that man fell onto his horse’s neck, the brave colonel dealt him another blow on the temple, which finally stunned him. After this feat, Yeropkin joined the regiment and coolly took control for the rest of the battle.

After regrouping near the road to the MacKenzie Heights, we stood extended in line and awaited the order to dismount, supposing that we were all done with the enemy.

Suddenly there appeared in the distance a cloud of dust, and beyond it a mass of cavalry. It was too far to be able to make out whether it was our own or the enemy. As the column drew closer we saw that approaching us were hussars in black pelisses [mentiki] embroidered with gold, on dark horses, just like our Leuchtenbergers [Note 19]. A general-staff officer rode up to us and assured us that these were indeed the Leuchtenbergers coming to reinforce us. The column was already very close to us when we saw that our suppositions were mistaken, since it was another enemy column retreating in the footsteps of the first.

Nowhere is it so important to take advantage of a favorable moment as in the cavalry, where the loss of the right instant is absolutely irrecoverable. We lost just such a favorable moment. A few seconds earlier, and we would have been able to put ourselves in the path of the enemy’s retreat, charge into the attack, and turn him around into our hussars. In this way we would have put him between two fires and perhaps taken the whole column as prisoners. Now it was already too late, and in order to attack the enemy we had to make a significant shift in position.

This time we met the enemy face to face. For a long time neither one side nor the other gave way. The English fought desperately. They knew that there was only one way to save themselves—by breaking through. But only a few managed this.

After a very short fight, most of the Englishmen were killed or seriously wounded. Only a very few horsemen saved themselves from the general destruction and made their way across the open plain, pursued by lancers.

Pursuit is a special mode of action for cavalry. Here, after having overtaken an enemy, the cavalryman fights single-handedly, in cold blood. It is a kind of duel. Besides the motive of self-preservation, here a love of self also operates. Every man wants to be the victor, to show his boldness.

The first to save themselves from the general destruction were Lord Cardigan and his adjutant. The adjutant was soon overtaken and killed, but Lord Cardigan’s horse was faster than lighting. Once it appeared he would be overtaken—another gallop, and he would be in our hands. But this did not happen. Cardigan just barely spurred his horse, and it tore forward and again he was far out of reach. One could pay an enormous sum for such a horse.

Returning from the pursuit, we met with solitary dismounted and mounted enemy cavalry stragglers. Here again there were duels, again solitary fights. In this Lieutenant Pavlov had almost the same thing happen to him as happened with Colonel Yeropkin. He fought with two Englishmen, and a third one fell on him from behind. His horse was wounded. Things were going badly for him, but non-commissioned officer Ivchenko of His Imperial Highness Constantine Nikolaevich’s Lancer Regiment [Note 20] charged to the rescue, killed one Englishman, and Pavlov dealt with another himself.

But now, at the order of the regimental commander, the signal to rally [appel’] was sounded, and we stopped the pursuit to begin to regroup. At this time French light cavalry charged a battery in General Zhabokritskii’s force which had been maintaining an especially heavy fire on the retreating English cavalry. The Frenchmen were already beginning to cut down the crews, but General Zhabokritskii directed two battalions of the Vladimir Regiment forward with bayonets fixed. The enemy withdrew.

This cavalry attack was the last effort by the allies in the Kadykioi affair. Embarrassed by the loss of a large part of their cavalry, they limited themselves to just a cannonade which lasted until three o’clock in the afternoon.

Lieutenant General Ryzhov rode up to our regiment after the battle. He had been our brigade commander until being named commander of all cavalry in the Crimea. The old man loved our reserve regiments very much, which is not surprising. He was with the reserves from the time they were first formed [in 1851 – M.C.] and played a big part in their tactical drill and training [frontovoe obrazovanie]. This veteran of long service thanked the regiment with tears in his eyes, saying that his fondest dreams had been realized. He had seen us in action in a battle where we conducted ourselves as befitted Russian soldiers.

Command-in-chief Menshikov, riding by the regiments, came up to us and said that we had begun our young career in a magnificent fashion, and wished that we would continue it just as well.

These praises gladdened us, but we well understood our situation. Our regiment was not a real one, but only a command temporarily put together by chance events. If the war were to end the next day, we would be immediately disbanded, we thought, and in time, many persons reading of the march lancer regiment in battle accounts would not understand what kind of regiment this was and where it came from. It would be a completely different thing if we had been in an active permanent regiment. Then this attack would have been entered in the chronicles, and the unit’s name would have been placed alongside those of the bravest cavalry regiments.

After the battle, cordons of infantry and cavalry were set up along with an hussar double-squadron to support them. The rest of the forces were deployed with one part of the infantry in the redoubts and the other, along with the cavalry, in the newly seized positions.

When we gathered around the campfires that evening, there was no end to the stories. Everyone interrupted each other in trying to tell of the deeds they had witnessed. But no matter how happy the thought of victory was for us, this evening was not so noisy and jolly as the preceding one. The battle, with its many frightening brushes with death, left a heavy feeling in the heart. Many of us were no longer present. Some were maimed, the bodies of the dead lay everywhere—all this together worked to depress all of us and we fell asleep in the most somber mood.

Lieutenant Koribut-Kubitovich


Notes by the translator:

1) Officer in His Imperial Highness Grand Duke Constantine Nikolaevich’s Lancer Regiment (originally the Volhynia Regiment), of the 3rd Light Cavalry Division.

2) Not quite accurate, as Koribut-Kubitovich’s regiment was officially the "Composite Reserve Lancer Regiment of the Composite Reserve Brigade of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Light Cavalry Divisions". See the Appendix to this translation.

3) Perhaps a reference to march squadrons sent out in April 1854. See the Appendix.

4) Here "division" means a double-squadron. There were thus three divisions in Koribut-Kubitovich’s six-squadron regiment.

5) Vasilii Ivanovich Yeropkin, a veteran of over twenty years’ service but at this time actually only a lieutenant colonel, not a full colonel. He was promoted to colonel for his part in the Battle of Balaklava. According to the army colonels’ list of 1856, his regiment was the Bug Lancers’ reserve squadron, part of the 2nd Composite Reserve Lancer Regiment [2-i Rezervnyi Svodnyi Ulanskii polk].

6) In contemporary Russian military usage, "army" and "guards" often meant two mutually exclusive groups. Koribut-Kubitovich’s extensive use of the adjective "army" makes me think that he did not intend his remarks to apply to the elite guards regiments stationed in the capital.

7) The old military settlements in the steppe of southern Russia. Under Alexander I, they had been the focus of much attention, but by Koribut-Kubitovich’s time government ambition in their regard had almost ceased. Shortly after the Crimean War, the last military aspects of the settlements were discontinued.

8) Konstantin Romanovich Semyakin, commissioned 1820.

9) Nikolai Karlovich Gribbe, commissioned 1819.

10) Iosif Petrovich Zhabokritskii, commissioned 1813.

11) Actually, the reserve squadron of the Bug Lancers, part of the 5th Light Cavalry Division’s contribution to Yeropkin’s Lancers.

12) Yeropkin’s Lancers had a total strength of six squadrons, but as the author indicates, two squadrons were left behind in the Baidar Valley and another squadron presumably still detached to the area around Komary.

13) In Russian, Fabian Mironovich Kridener.

14) Aleksandr Petrovich Skyuderi, who previously served for many years in the Life-Guards Semenovskii Regiment.

15) The regimental history of the Ingermanland Hussars records that Semen Vasil’evich Khitrovo joined the regiment in 1844 as a cornet. He was captured after being severely wounded at the Battle of Balaklava, but died shortly after being put on ship for Scutari.

16) Not quite an exact translation of the original English, which is: "Lord Raglan wishes the cavalry to advance rapidly to the front—follow the enemy and try to prevent the enemy carrying away the guns. Troop Horse Artillery may accompany. French cavalry is on your left. Immediate."

17) Archduke Albert of Austria’s Lancer Regiment (originally the Lithuania Regiment) of the 3rd Light Cavalry Division.

18) His Imperial Highness the Grand Duke Constantine Nikolaevich’s Lancer Regiment (originally the Volhynia Regiment) of the 3rd Light Cavalry Division.

19) The Leuchtenberg, or Kiev, Regiment had dark green pelisses and dolmans. The British hussars were actually only wearing dolmans, and not their pelisses.

20) Originally the Volhynia Lancer Regiment, in the 3rd Light Cavalry Division.

APPENDIX: "Yeropkin’s Lancers?"
By Mark Conrad.

I must apologize for pushing Bob Gresh to a wrong tentative conclusion in his excellent article "Were There Polish Uhlans at Balaclava?" (The War Correspondent, Vol. 16, No. 3 [October 1998]). Bob examined the question of whether it was the 1st or 2nd Composite Reserve Lancer Regiment that was at Balaklava under the name "Yeropkin’s Lancers." I had informed Bob that the 2nd Composite Reserve Lancer Regiment went to the Danube theater in April 1854, and hence it was improbable that this was the same unit as Yeropkin’s Lancers. The source for my assertion was the following, from the official Russian gazette Russkii Invalid, 1854 No. 87 (18 April, O.S. All dates in the appendix are in Old Style. Add 12 days to convert to New Style.):

The SOVEREIGN EMPEROR deigned to receive with special satisfaction the testimony of the Commander-in-Chief of the Active Army that the march squadrons of the 4th Light Cavalry Division, inspected by him when passing through Focsani to join their regiments, were found to be in complete and perfect order. HIS MAJESTY therefore expresses His sincere recognition to the Inspector of Reserve Cavalry, General of Cavalry Graf Nikitin, and MONARCHAL GRATITUDE to: Commander of the Reserve Light Cavalry Division, General-Adjutant Prince Bagration-Imeretinskii; Chief of Staff of the Inspector of Reserve Cavalry, Lieutenant General von der Launits 1st; Commanders of the composite reserve regiments, Colonel Baron von Mirbach 2nd of the 2nd Lancer and Colonel Yuzhakov 1st of the 2nd Hussar; and all officers.

On closer reading, this does not say that the 2nd Composite Reserve Lancer Regiment went to the Danube theater through Focsani. It just says that march squadrons, replacements for the 4th Light Cavalry Division, were on the move. I believe that these squadrons were detached from the composite reserve regiments for the march to the Danube, where they would be broken up to provide replacements for the cavalry already there. The composite reserve regiments themselves, along with their colonels, would have remained in garrison in southern Russia, albeit now at a reduced strength until new drafts could make good the march units which had departed. At about this time, the 2nd Composite Reserve Lancer Regiment was somewhat reorganized, as it was no longer composed of squadrons from the 4th, 5th, and 6th Light Cavalry Divisions, as in peacetime, but of squadrons from the 3rd, 4th, and 6th Divisions. This also caused the unit to be re-titled.

This is confirmed by the reports of Russian army unit locations contained in the monthly Rospisanie Sukhoputnykh Voisk, an official limited-circulation publication detailing current army organization and deployment. The Rospisanie for 25 March 1854 shows the "Composite Reserve Lancer Regiment of the Composite Reserve Brigade of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Light Cavalry Divisions". The brigade commander was Lieutenant General Ryzhov and the regimental commander was Colonel Baron von Mirbach. This regiment’s permanent quarters are indicated as Novomirgorod (in the military settlements of southern Russia), but with a march to Voznesensk scheduled for 15 through 24 May. (Voznesensk is on the Southern Bug River, in southern Russia some ways inland from the Black Sea.) The regiment is further noted as being made up of six squadrons at "18-file strength." Cavalry regiments were commonly described by referring to the number of files in a platoon. With a file composed of two horsemen, one in front of the other, and with four platoons in a squadron, the reserve regiment had an authorized strength of 18 times 2 times 4 times 6, or a total of 864 rank and file privates.

The regiment must have made further movements, since my next available Rospisanie, for 25 September 1854, shows the regiment, still commanded by von Mirbach, as having been quartered in Nikolaev and its environs. (Nikolaev is also on the Southern Bug River, but further down river and much closer to the Black Sea.) However, the Composite Reserve Brigade of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Light Cavalry Divisions, including von Mirbach’s Composite Reserve Lancer Regiment, is also noted as having moved to arrive at Simferopol on 18 September. As Simferopol is just a few day’s march from Sevastopol, this regiment is undoubtedly the true identity of the sometimes elusive "Yeropkin’s Lancers." This same Rospisanie lists the other Composite Reserve Lancer Regiment, belonging to the brigade formed from the 1st, 2nd, and 6th Light Cavalry Divisions, as being at Uman, well over two hundred miles to the north of Sevastopol.

There is still some questions regarding the actual commander of our composite lancers. All official sources list the commander of the 2nd Composite Reserve Lancer Regiment and the reserve regiment formed from the squadrons of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Light Cavalry Divisions, before, during, and after the Crimean War, as Colonel Baron Eberhard von Mirbach (in Russian spelling, Ebergard Andreevich fon Mirbakh). He is even listed as the commander in the Rospisanie that reports his regiment as moving to the Crimea, even though Koribut-Kubitovich never mentions him, and quite definitely refers to Yeropkin as his commander. I believe that this contradiction is explained by the special nature of the composite reserve regiment. My thinking is that a kind of depot or cadre remained behind in the regiment’s permanent quarters in southern Russia, along with Colonel von Mirbach. Thus, the Rospisanie truthfully reported the operational strength of the regiment as moving to the Crimea, and for reasons of protocol listed the commander as von Mirbach, even though it was Yeropkin who actually accompanied the lancers on the march. Why did von Mirbach remain behind? I can only guess. Perhaps he was not in good health; perhaps the high command valued his services more as a trainer of reserves than as a field commander.

In summary, the reserve lancer regiment commanded by Yeropkin at the Battle of Balaklava was the slightly reorganized 2nd Composite Reserve Lancer Regiment, re-titled the Composite Reserve Lancer Regiment of the Composite Reserve Brigade of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Light Cavalry Divisions.