Crimean War: Battle of Balaclava

The Light Brigade at Balaclava
The Charge of the Light Brigade by Richard Caton Woodville. Photograph Source: Public Domain

The Battle of Balaclava was fought October 25, 1854, during the Crimean War (1853-1856) and was part of the larger Siege of Sevastopol. Having landed at Kalamita Bay in September, the Allied army had commenced a slow advance on Sevastopol. When the Allies elected to lay siege to the city rather than mount a direct assault, the British found themselves responsible for defending the eastern approaches to the area including the key port of Balaclava.

Lacking sufficient men for this task, they soon came under attack from Prince Aleksandr Menshikov's forces. Advancing under the command of General Pavel Liprandi, the Russians were initially able to push back British and Ottoman forces near Balaclava. This advance was finally halted by a small infantry force and the Heavy Brigade of the Cavalry Division. The battle ended with the famed charge of the Light Brigade which came about due to a series of misinterpreted orders.

Fast Facts: Battle of Balaclava

  • Conflict: Crimean War (1853-1856)
  • Dates: October 25, 1854
  • Armies & Commanders:
    • Allies
      • Lord Raglan
      • 20,000 British, 7,000 French, 1,000 Ottoman
    • Russians
      • General Pavel Liprandi
      • 25,000 men
      • 78 guns
  • Casualties:
    • Allies: 615 killed and wounded
    • Russia: 627 killed and wounded


On September 5, 1854, the combined British and French fleets departed the Ottoman port of Varna (in present-day Bulgaria) and moved towards the Crimean Peninsula. Nine days later, Allied forces began landing on the beaches of Kalamita Bay approximately 33 miles north of the port of Sevastopol. Over the next several days, 62,600 men and 137 guns came ashore. As this force commenced its march south, Prince Aleksandr Menshikov sought to halt the enemy at the Alma River. Meeting at the Battle of the Alma on September 20, the Allies won a victory over the Russians and continued their advance south towards Sevastopol.

Lord Raglan
Field Marshal Fitzroy Somerset, 1st Baron Raglan. Library of Congress

Though the British commander, Lord Raglan, favored a swift pursuit of the beaten enemy, his French counterpart, Marshal Jacques St. Arnaud, preferred a more sedate pace (Map). Slowly moving south, their tardy progress gave Menshikov time to prepare defenses and re-form his beaten army. Passing inland of Sevastopol, the Allies sought to approach the city from the south as naval intelligence suggested the defenses in this area were weaker than those in the north.

This move was endorsed by noted engineer Lieutenant General John Fox Burgoyne, son of General John Burgoyne, who was serving as an advisor to Raglan. Enduring a difficult march, Raglan and St. Arnaud elected to lay siege rather than directly assault the city. Though unpopular with their subordinates, this decision saw work begin on siege lines. To support their operations, the French established a base on the west coast at Kamiesh, while the British took Balaclava in the south.

The Allies Establish Themselves

By occupying Balaclava, Raglan committed the British to defending the Allies' right flank, a mission that he lacked the men to accomplish effectively. Located outside of the main Allied lines, work began on providing Balaclava with its own defensive network. To the north of the city were heights which descended into the South Valley. Along the northern edge of the valley were the Causeway Heights across which ran the Woronzoff Road which provided a vital link to the siege operations at Sevastopol.

To protect the road, Turkish troops began building a series of redoubts beginning with Redoubt No. 1 in the east on Canrobert's Hill. Above the heights was the North Valley which was bounded by the Fedioukine Hills to the north and the Sapouné Heights to the west. To defend this area, Raglan had only Lord Lucan's Cavalry Division, which was camped at the western end of the valleys, the 93rd Highlanders, and a contingent of Royal Marines. In the weeks since Alma, Russian reserves had reached the Crimea and Menshikov began planning a strike against the Allies.

The Russians Rebound

Having evacuated his army east as the Allies approached, Menshikov entrusted the defense of Sevastopol to Admirals Vladimir Kornilov and Pavel Nakhimov. A savvy move, this allowed the Russian general to continue maneuvering against the enemy while also receiving reinforcements. Gathering around 25,000 men, Menshikov instructed General Pavel Liprandi to move to strike Balaclava from the east.

Capturing the village of Chorgun on October 18, Liprandi was able to reconnoiter the Balaclava defenses. Developing his plan of attack, the Russian commander intended for a column to take Kamara in the east, while another attacked the eastern end of Causeway Heights and nearby Canrobert's Hill. These assaults were to be supported by Lieutenant General Ivan Ryzhov's cavalry while a column under Major General Zhabokritsky moved onto the Fedioukine Heights.

Commencing his attack early on October 25, Liprandi's forces were able to take Kamara and overwhelmed the defenders of Redoubt No. 1 on Canrobert's Hill. Pressing forward, they succeeded in taking Redoubts Nos. 2, 3, and 4, while inflicting heavy losses on their Turkish defenders. Witnessing the battle from his headquarters on the Sapouné Heights, Raglan ordered the 1st and 4th Divisions to leave the lines at Sevastopol to aid the 4,500 defenders at Balaclava. General François Canrobert, commanding the French army, also sent reinforcements including the Chasseurs d'Afrique.

Clash of the Cavalry

Seeking to exploit his success, Liprandi ordered forward Ryzhov's cavalry. Advancing across the North Valley with between 2,000 to 3,000 men, Ryzhov crested the Causeway Heights before spotting Brigadier General James Scarlett's Heavy (Cavalry) Brigade moving across his front. He also saw the Allied infantry position, consisting of the 93rd Highlands and the remnants of the Turkish units, in front of the village of Kadikoi. Detaching 400 men of the Ingermanland Hussars, Ryzhov ordered them to clear the infantry.

Thin Red Line
The Thin Red Line, oil on canvas, by Robert Gibb, 1881. National War Museum of Scotland

Riding down, the hussars were met with a furious defense by the "Thin Red Line" of the 93rd. Turning the enemy back after a few volleys, the Highlanders held their ground. Scarlett, spotting Ryzhov's main force on his left, wheeled his horsemen and attacked. Halting his troops, Ryzhov met the British charge and worked to envelop them with his larger numbers. In a furious fight, Scarlett's men were able to drive back the Russians, forcing them to retreat back over the heights and up the North Valley (Map).

Battle of Balaclava
Charge of the Heavy Cavalry Brigade at Balaclava. Library of Congress


Retreating across the front of the Light Brigade, its commander, Lord Cardigan, did not attack as he believed his orders from Lucan required him to hold his position. As a result, a golden opportunity was missed. Ryzhov's men halted at the east end of the valley and reformed behind a battery of eight guns. Though his cavalry had been repulsed, Liprandi had infantry and artillery on the eastern part of the Causeway Heights as well as Zhabokritsky's men and guns on the Fedioukine Hills.

Desiring to retake the initiative, Raglan issued Lucan a confusing order to attack on two fronts with infantry support. As the infantry had not arrived, Raglan did not advance but did deploy the Light Brigade to cover the North Valley, while the Heavy Brigade protected the South Valley. Increasingly impatient at Lucan's lack of activity, Raglan dictated another vague order instructing the cavalry to attack around 10:45 AM.

Delivered by hot-headed Captain Louis Nolan, Lucan was confused by Raglan's order. Growing angry, Nolan insolently stated that Raglan desired an attack and began indiscriminately pointing up the North Valley towards Ryzhov's guns rather than to the Causeway Heights. Angered by Nolan's behavior, Lucan sent him away rather than question him further.

Charge of the Light Brigade

Riding to Cardigan, Lucan indicated that Raglan desired him to attack up the valley. Cardigan questioned the order as there were artillery and enemy forces on three sides of the line of advance. To this Lucan replied, "But Lord Raglan will have it. We have no choice but to obey." Mounting up, the Light Brigade moved off down the valley as Raglan, able to see the Russian positions, watched in horror. Charging forward, the Light Brigade was hammered by the Russian artillery losing nearly half its strength before it reached Ryzhov's guns.

Charge of the Light Brigade
Charge of the Light Cavalry Brigade at Balaclava. Public Domain

Following to their left, the Chasseurs d'Afrique swept along Fedioukine Hills driving off the Russians, while the Heavy Brigade moved in their wake until Lucan halted them to avoid taking more losses. Battling around the guns, the Light Brigade drove off some of the Russian cavalry, but was compelled to retreat when they realized that no support was forthcoming. Nearly surrounded, the survivors fought their back up the valley while under fire from the heights. The losses incurred in the charge prevented any additional action by the Allies for the rest of the day.


The Battle of Balaclava saw the Allies suffer 615 killed, wounded, and captured, while the Russians lost 627. Prior to the charge, the Light Brigade possessed a mounted strength of 673 men. This was reduced to 195 after the battle, with 247 killed and wounded and the loss of 475 horses. Short on men, Raglan could not risk further assaults on the heights and they remained in Russian hands.

Though not the complete victory that Liprandi had hoped for, the battle severely restricted Allied movement to and from Sevastopol. The fighting also saw the Russians assume a position closer to the Allied lines. In November, Prince Menshikov would use this advanced location to launch another attack that resulted in the Battle of Inkerman. This saw the Allies win a key victory that effectively broke the fighting spirit of the Russian army and put 24 of the 50 battalions engaged out of action.


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Hickman, Kennedy. "Crimean War: Battle of Balaclava." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Hickman, Kennedy. (2023, April 5). Crimean War: Battle of Balaclava. Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "Crimean War: Battle of Balaclava." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 3, 2023).