On the Battle of Balaklava;
Notes of Lieutenant General Iv. Iv. Ryzhov.

By Ivan Ivanovich Ryzhov [Note 1].

(From Russkii Vestnik, April 1870, Vol. 86. Pages 463-69, "O srazhenii pod Balaklave; Zapiska General-Leitenanta Iv. Iv. Ryzhova". Albert Seaton cites this article in his The Crimean War: A Russian Chronicle. Translated by Mark Conrad, 1999. Dates are Old Style; add 12 days to obtain the Western calendar.)

I arrived in the Crimea with two march regiments from the Combined Reserve Cavalry Division [Note 2]—one of lancers and one of hussars—in six-squadron strength, 18 files in a platoon [Note 3], and upon my arrival it suited the commander-in-chief, Prince Menshikov, to put under my command all the cavalry then located in the Crimea [Note 4]. This consisted of the hussar brigade [Note 5] of the 6th Light Cavalry Division, the two march regiments, the 1st Ural Cossack Regiment, a sotnia from the reserve of the Guards Crimean Tatars, and all horse artillery. These latter units were Battery No. 12 and three Don cossack reserve batteries [Note 6] under the command of Colonel Prince Obolenskii [Note 7], an aide-de-camp to the tsar. In this artillery there was one Don heavy battery that was distinguished by the quality of its personnel and overall bravery and efficiency. Up to 11 October, all the cavalry was in bivouacs on the Kacha River, some three miles from the town of Bakhchisarai, and each day it sent two, three, or more squadrons out on various little expeditions.

On 11 October I received an order from the commander-in-chief. Except for the march hussar regiment, which was ordered to go to the mouth of the Kacha River to set up posts and keep the enemy fleet under observation, I was to take all the artillery and cavalry and arrive at the MacKenzie Heights by nine o’clock at night, and from there descend the heights along with a jäger regiment and four rifle battalions [sic, a misprint which should read "4th Rifle Battalion" – M.C.]. With all military precautions, we were to move directly to the village of Chorgun to join up with General Liprandi’s force, under whose command I came. On the 12th we were used to observe the enemy position and for other tasks in preparation for battle on 13 October. On the 12th I received my battle orders, which differed greatly from those given to me by the commander-in-chief personally. I was ordered: on the occupation of the last enemy redoubt by our infantry, to immediately—even starting from the spot at full speed [v kar’er]—throw ourselves at the English cavalry occupying a fortified position near the village of Kadykioi and the town of Balaklava. Now, full justice must be done to General Liprandi, whose orders, including the most trivial, were the most well thought out and sensible. Each commander was given clear, well-founded, and detailed measures to be taken in every situation that could possibly arise.

At 5 o’clock in the morning of the 13th, the troops began to march out of Chorgun to each unit’s designated position. They quickly formed themselves up, and the entire artillery was sent out in front. The Turks occupying the redoubts opened up a heavy fire from large-caliber guns, but as soon as our artillery managed to set up, its own heavy and accurate firing almost completely silenced the first enemy redoubt in a very short time. And at that exact moment a column of our infantry with a company of the 4th Rifle Battalion in front fearlessly ascended the steep slope toward the redoubt. The Turks wavered, did not stand firm in the face of the courageous approach of our powerful infantry, and ran, abandoning the redoubt and everything in it. The other redoubts were also taken, very easily. Some kind of panic and fear overcame the Turks so that they were unable to withstand the approach of our infantry and betook themselves away almost before they had to. That I speak the truth can be shown by the very few casualties in our infantry when occupying the redoubts, built on such inaccessible terrain, so to speak.

My work began once the last redoubt was taken—work that incontrovertibly was the most difficult of that whole affair. I fully understood the task laid on me: with the 6th Division’s hussar regiments, in a weakened state though they were (they did not have more than ten files in each platoon, and some squadrons had even less), ascend a slope on which were all the English cavalry and even some of his infantry, in a fortified position. But it was not mine to reason why. It was enough that I received an order and I considered it a sacred duty to carry out what I had been charged with as best I understood it, placing my trust in God’s help. When General Liprandi’s adjutant transmitted the order to me, I moved my brigade, formed into columns of divisions [v divizionnykh kolonakh, see Note 8], into the attack in two lines, with the Leuchtenberg Regiment in front. I ordered the movement to be at a quick trot [bol’shoyu rys’yu], and did not set off at full speed as had been ordered, solely due to my experience with cavalry and keeping in mind that I had about a mile to cover before meeting the enemy. In this circumstance, horses would not otherwise have the kind of strength needed for a charge.

In recollecting this movement, I cannot fail to remember the following incident. I was familiar with the terrain only from the map, but I knew that there was an officer with Liprandi who knew the area around Sevastopol in complete detail. I rode over to General Liprandi and suggested to this officer that he might like to be my column guide [kolonnovozhatyi]. To my own surprise—and apparently everyone else’s—he declined. I do not think it necessary to bring forth this gentleman’s name. In his place, the excellent and brave general-staff officer, Captain Theoktistov [Note 9], offered his services. Together we galloped off and overtook the regiments, since the ground was not always suitable for them to move quickly.

During the same time, General Liprandi gave me to know that since he thought two weak regiments insufficient, he was ordering the regiment of Ural cossacks to go, too. I intended to keep this regiment in reserve, but as soon as another messenger sent by Liprandi directly to the regiment had announced his order, the regimental commander tore off at full speed without any thought or any of the necessary arrangements. Even worse, he set off from the right by sixes [sprava po shesti]. An officer sent with my orders was no longer able to stop them.

When I rode up onto the height, the following sight met my eyes: the entire English cavalry no more than 500 yards from me, drawn up in one line, resting its right flank [Note 10] on rough terrain and, in addition, protected by a rather strong battery emplaced in Kadykioi village. On its left flank [Note 11], about 200 yards away, stood infantry in echeloned columns [ustupami v kolonnakh]. The Ural Cossack Regiment had edged far to the right of the enemy, along the edge of the heights, in the same formation as they had started, which is to say—in sixes. They moved with a frightful "Ura!" and quickly shifted back and forth in a long row like some kind of flock or flight of birds, but not, however, closing with the enemy [Note 12].

At this same time the hussar columns began to ascend. First was a division of the Leuchtenberg Regiment under the command of the truly brave Colonel Voinilovich, whom I ordered to bear to the left as much as required to be face to face with the red English dragoon guards [Note 13]. As the rest of the divisions each came up the slope, I directed them to parts of the enemy formation, since to conform to the extended English front I was forced to also stretch out both my regiments in a single line, and was left without a reserve. One could not help being amazed as the enemy, superior in numbers, allowed up the freedom to ascend the height and, it may be said, gave me the time to draw up my units right in front of his nose and send them to indicated points. But that is the way it was: the enemy stood calmly and waited as by agreement. The silence on each side was surprising; only the cossacks were shouting, but that was far off and no one paid them any attention. Only an enemy battery’s heavy fire from the direction of Kadykioi reminded us where we were and why we had come. Finally my entire line flew quickly at the enemy’s front. The first to set off and the first to cut into the ranks of the red dragoons was Colonel Voinilovich. One and a half hours later this brave officer was cut down by two bullets in his chest. All my attention was turned to this bloody fight. I held my breath, waiting to see how this would end. As I did not have any reserve, if the hussars turned back I would not have anything with which to stop the enemy, while the descent from the heights, with its unavoidable disorder, would help the enemy cavalry deal us a great defeat. With God’s help, the end was glorious for us. The hussars slashed away at a standstill for about seven minutes, and although they suffered significant losses (of the Leuchtenberg men – 18 field and company-grade officers and 122 lower ranks, while for the Weimar Regiment – 12 field and company-grade officers and 105 lower ranks) we nonetheless forced the stubborn enemy to show us his rear. The English cavalry turned back and took cover behind his infantry. I saw that it was necessary to halt the hussars chasing after them, considering that moment most suitable for returning back. Here on the spot, under very heavy fire from the enemy battery at Kadykioi, I formed them up as well as possible, and in good order and under the eyes of our force, I descended the slope to a place suitable for cavalry to occupy. I formed ourselves into two lines again, occupying the whole width of the valley, and designated places for the artillery and ordered them to unlimber their guns.

I had served for 42 years, taken part in 10 campaigns, been in many great battles such as Kulm, Leipzig, Paris, and others, but never had I seen a cavalry attack in which both sides, with equal ferocity, steadfastness, and—it may be said—stubbornness, cut and slashed in place for such a long time, and even in the whole history of cavalry attacks we do not find many such instances. Senior and junior officers served as examples for the soldiers, as evidenced by such a large number of wounded, and for the most part all these wounds were in the face or head. The commander of the Leuchtenberg Regiment, Major General Khaletskii, with his own hands cut down two men and was wounded by a saber; one blow cut his ear, and another his neck above his neck cloth. Of the officers with me, my adjutant and another orderly were wounded. My horse was killed under me. Even those most ill-disposed to us cannot call this fight anything but most daring, decisive, and exemplary, and in its own time it will take its place in the history of cavalry actions. I do not know why, in the report of this notable day, this attack was not written about in detail, unless, as it seems to me, it is not appropriate for such a weak unit to ascend uphill and attack a strong enemy in a fortified position.

I cannot say with certainty, but I believe that about an hour and a half went by in which there was absolutely no activity on the enemy side. It appeared that the battle could be considered at an end. During this time I was with the Don heavy battery, talking with Colonel Prince Obolenskii about the way the affair went, when the sharp eyes of the Don men noticed that enemy cavalry was descending the heights. In not more than two minutes they would already be moving back. Our artillery at first met them with shell and roundshot [granatami i yadrami], and then with canister [kartech’yu]. I ordered the first line forward to meet the enemy, but just then it became clear how much loss we had suffered in division and squadron commanders, whose places were perforce taken by junior, inexperienced officers. Also, the small number of files showed that these were no longer the hussars who had fought so finely at Kadykioi. They started off slowly. Having moved no more than 150 paces, the front division of the Leuchtenberg Regiment was the first to turn back, and with a deafening cry of "Ura!" and not allowing themselves to be halted or given orders, they collided with the second line, part of which I wanted to take to strike the enemy flank. This could no longer be done. The second line was drawn away by the first, and in this state they galloped back for more than a quarter mile with the enemy on their horses’ tails. This misdeed, unforgivable for a Russian soldier, was atoned for by the courage and gallantry of the four squadrons of the march regiment of lancers. These squadrons were in squadron column on the left of our position so that their own left flank abutted the heights, and the uneven terrain and bushes made it hard for the enemy to see them. Their not being noticed was also helped by the enemy cavalry having drunk themselves to intoxication in order to give themselves courage after having been defeated. When the enemy dragoons, lancers, and hussars, all mixed up in disorder, pursued our hussars, our lancers changed direction almost completely around, successfully formed up, and quickly and decisively attacked the enemy from the rear. Soon the English were cut off and realized what had happened to them. I managed to halt my hussars, and they expiated their guilt in that they threw themselves after the enemy and put him between two fires. From this moment the battle could be compared to a rabbit hunt. Those who managed to gallop away from the hussar sabers and slip past the lances of the uhlans were met with canister fire from our batteries and the bullets of our riflemen. A few of them were fortunate enough to manage to return whole and unharmed; only a reserve which saw the misfortune playing out was able to turn back in time, without a thought to rendering help to their comrades.

Thus the affair ended. My pen writes the pure truth, as I personally was an eyewitness. There is nothing boastful here and nothing has been added. On the contrary, it is more likely that things have been let out [Note 14]. The only thing I regret is that Lord Lucan did not fall into our hands. For saving his life he is obliged to his magnificent and most swift horse. I saw with my own eyes how he went along, dodging and slipping away from his pursuers and swinging his saber in the air right and left as if in a state of drunkenness [Note 15].


Notes by the translator:

Note 1. Ivan Ivanovich Ryzhov was commissioned as an officer in October 1812. In the years 1813 and 1814 he was awarded the orders of St. Anne 4th class, St. Vladimir 4th class with bow, and the Prussian Iron Cross. He took part in the suppression of the Polish Revolt of 1830-31. He was promoted to major general in the cavalry branch in 1845, also receiving a diamond monogrammed ring from the tsar. In 1848 he was transferred from assignment as commander of replacement squadrons in the 1st Reserve Cavalry Corps to commander of reserve squadrons in the 2nd Reserve Cavalry Corps. He was awarded the order of St. Stanislav 1st class in 1850, and of St. Anne 1st class in 1852, by which time he was commander of the 1st Brigade of the Reserve Light Cavalry Division. He was promoted to lieutenant general in December of 1853.

Note 2. Ryzhov arrived in the Crimea as commander of the "Combined Reserve Brigade of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Light Cavalry Divisions," which was a regrouping of the peacetime reserve squadrons of the Combined Reserve Cavalry Division. These squadrons had already sent drafts to the active regiments in the Danube theater of operations in early 1854, Ryzhov having received an expression of gratitude from the tsar for the fine state of those men.

Note 3. 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, each of Ryzhov’s reserve regiments had an authorized strength of 18 times 2 times 4 times 6, or a total of 864 rank and file privates.

Note 4. Not quite all the cavalry; not mentioned by Ryzhov were the several Don cossack regiments in the Crimea.

Note 5. The Hereditary Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar’s Hussar Regiment (otherwise known as the Ingermanland Hussar Regiment) and His Imperial Highness Duke Maximilian Leuchtenberg’s Hussar Regiment (the Kiev Hussar Regiment).

Note 6. Don Horse-Artillery No. 2 Battery, Don Horse-Artillery No. 3 Heavy Battery, and Don Horse Reserve No. 4 Battery.

Note 7. Prince Aleksei Vasil’evich Obolenskii, colonel in the Life-Guards Horse Artillery.

Note 8. A "division" in this case refers to a two-squadron subdivision of a regiment.

Note 9. Vladimir Khristoforovich Theoktistov (or Feoktistov). Originally an ensign in the 5th Artillery Brigade, in 1844 he graduated from the Imperial Military Academy and joined the general staff. He was awarded the order of St. Anne 2nd class with Imperial Crown for his performance at Calafat in April of 1854, against the Turks in the Danube theater. At the time of the Battle of Balaklava he was serving as the 12th Infantry Division’s "quartermaster", i.e. general-staff officer. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel in 1855. In 1864 Theoktistov left the general staff to take command of the 33rd Yelets Infantry Regiment, but was soon transferred to the infantry reserve, dying in the next year (1865).

Note 10. Here Ryzhov does not follow normal convention in designating flanks; he is actually referring to the English left flank.

Note 11. Right flank.

Note 12. Compare this with Seaton’s (less than accurate) translation: "In front of me was all the English cavalry, not more than 200 sazhens [450 yards] away, deployed in single line, the… [Russian] right being raked by a fairly strong battery near Kadikioi. On the [Russian] left at 100 sazhens distance stood infantry in columns. The Ural Cossacks, with a great hurrahing, galloped on, still in six-deep column, moving far to the right of the enemy but did not close with him. Meanwhile the hussars came close in on the English."

A word in defense of the Ural cossacks: the Ural Host’s normal military mission was to provide detachments to man the Central Asian frontier lines and to provide some units for internal security tasks in nearby Russian provinces. These cossacks were certainly not trained to operate on a formal battlefield.

Note 13. Seaton: "I ordered Voinilovich’s Kievsky to take the left so that they should engage the English red guard dragoons [sic – presumably Ryzhov’s confusion between Scarlett and ‘red’] and, because of the extended line, I was obliged to use both hussar regiments side by side, without any reserve. It was surprising how the enemy, superior to us in numbers, allowed us to come up the hill and deploy at leisure. He awaited us, however, with great composure; only the Cossacks continued their everlasting screaming, and they, anyhow, were some distance away."

I find Seaton’s idea that Ryzhov was confused between Scarlett and "red" to be uncalled for. Rather, I would question Kozhukov’s account where he remembers seeing red-coated English cavalry in the charge of the Light Brigade, which Seaton quotes without comment. Of course, all the British heavy cavalry at Balaklava had red coats, and all the light cavalry had dark-blue coats.

Note 14. On 6 December, 1854, Ryzhov was awarded the order of St. Vladimir 2nd class for his part in the "attack on the enemy park" during the Battle of Balaklava. In 1855 he was made commander of the 2nd Brigade of the Reserve Light Cavalry Division.

Note 15. Is Ryzhov thinking of Lord Cardigan during the charge of the Light Brigade (or someone he mistook for Cardigan), or is he remembering General Scarlett, who with his poor eyesight during the charge of the Heavy Brigade slashed indiscriminately from side to side?