Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Royal Scots Greys at Balaclava

Initially, no heavy cavalry were listed for deployment in the Crimea campaign. Eventually they were embarked and the two squadrons of the 2nd Dragoons Royal Scot’s Greys (the Greys) were the last to leave England on board the Himilaya, the 3,438 ton P&O steamship – the largest passenger ship in the world when launched in 1853 and with the new screw propeller. Some sources have the 5th Dragoons Guards aboard the Himalaya.

The Greys were transported from England directly to Kulalie Barracks, Constantiniple on 10 August and thence to the Crimea, the Grey’s only joining the army on 23 September at the Alma River after the battle of Alma, disembarking the bulk of the regiment at the Katcha River. Whilst they were the last to leave home, they were first to arrive in theatre; the rest of the brigade having the misfortune to take temporary residence at Varna, Bulgaria. 

The Greys were fortunate in avoiding the cholera which affected the men at Varna, and the severe wastage of horses from glanders and farcy, exacerbated from the poor conditions, bad forage and exposure. By the time the rest of the Brigade reunited with the Greys at Balaclava Bay, their mixed fortunes at sea added to a total loss of 226 mounts with most of the rest in bad condition. So, when the Greys were formed up in the Vanguard of the army after Alma in its approach to Sevastopol, their picturesque appearance was remarked upon.

As the regiment skirted Sevastopol, it engaged in skirmishing with the rear-guard of Menshikoff’s column on 25 September in what is called the 'Affair of Mackenzie Farm'. Encountering Russian infantry, they had formed up in open ground whilst elements dismounted and skirmished through the woods from where the Russians were sniping. With support from ‘I’ Troop RHA under Captain Maude and Shakespeare, they were finally ordered to charge down the baggage train, dispatching six troopers and capturing several wagons containing ammunition, supplies and Menshikoff’s personal wagon laden with champagne and a drunk Colonel.

The remainder of the Heavy Brigade joined the Greys at Balaclava. On the day of the battle, the Greys were early into action. They were initially ordered forward with a troop of horse artillery ('I' Troop) up to a position between the redoubts to cover the Turkish garrison and their eventual withdrawal. Taking up position they found themselves outgunned but kept post until the ammunition ran out – with some loss from rifle fire as well as round shot. I presume the Greys were kept back from the firing line but able to cover the guns. Withdrawing under fire from Liprandi’s artillery, sources state that a good many horses and some men had fallen victim to enemy fire – I imagine more amongst the gun and limber crews.

Details concerning the Charge of the Heavy Brigade can be conflicting but there is no doubt that is was led by the Greys and  the second squadron 6th Inniskilling Dragoons to their right flank under the overall direct command of Brigade Commander Lieutenant General Sir James York Scarlett. The Greys were led by Lieutenant Colonel Henry Darby Griffith (Lt. Col. From 1852); one squadron commanded by Major George Calvert Clarke on the right, and the other by Captain Samuel Toosey Williams on the left. Cornet Henry Edwards Handley, Lieutenant Robert Scott Hunter, Lieutenant George Buchanan and Lieutenant Francis Sutherland were the four troop leaders of the regiment. Average strength of the Greys fielded in Crimea was 223.

The two regiments had previously formed the left of two columns (the 6th  Inniskillings followed by the Greys) which were wheeled to meet a surprise appearance of something in the order of 1,700-3,000 Russian cavalry supported by horse artillery. The Greys now formed the left flank of a rushed advance finding themselves advancing through the tent lines of the Light Brigade adjacent to an abandoned vineyard with the 6th Inniskillings to their right. The previous right column were in order, the fist squadron 6th Inniskillings, both squadrons of the 5th Dragoon Guards and those of the 4th all of whom were now in support, wheeling to their left. Lord Lucan (General Commanding Cavalry Division) was to the rear, rallying the Brigade and later directing the 4th Dragoons up the South Valley and onto the Russian right flank in support of the developing Brigade counter-attack. The Royals were well back in reserve.

As the 6th advanced if found itself forward of the Greys due to the Grey's entanglement amongst the tents of the Light Brigade camp they were forced to cross. The 6th held back to keep the line but once the Greys finally came abreast of the 6th just in time to put in the final charge at the gallop. As the Inniskillings shouted their battle cry, Faugh A Ballagh, observers reported that the Scots Greys made an eery, growling moan.

General Scarlet with his aides Major Alexander Elliot, Captain Sheridan and a trumpeter were up to fifty yards in front of the Greys and were seen to be enveloped completely by the Russian cavalry before the Greys and the 6th could catch them. The fighting was famously savage on the part of the British heavies which were unexpectedly received at the halt by the Russians. By the end of the encounter General Scarlet had received five sabre cuts and a dented helmet and Major Elliot a ‘bad cut across the back of the head’ and fourteen sabre wounds. During the advance Cornet Grey Neville’s horse stumbled amongst the Light Brigade encampment tents, throwing him to the ground where he was said to have been stabbed to death, suggesting some fighting might have occurred amongst the cavalry encampment.
General Scarlet at Balaclava
Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Griffith took a wound to the head from rifle fire when leading the advance and is said to have been unable to lead the rest of the charge being temporarily incapacitated. The regimental history records him as having received a ‘slight wound’. A total of 78 casualties were incurred across the brigade through this action. The Greys took 2 men killed and 54 wounded (several mortally) by the end of the day. The Heavy Brigade inflicted up to 270 casualties on the Russian cavalry, including Major-General Khaletski during their charge.

Most of the casualties inflicted that day on the Heavy Brigade with particular emphasis on the Greys occurred during their supporting advance with the charge of the Light Brigade. Advancing as far down the valley as Redoubt No:3 Lord Lucan withdrew them only after severe exposure to enemy artillery fire and significant loss.
Major George Calvert Clarke after the battle with his wounded horse, Sultan.

Two members of the Scots Greys were among the first to be awarded the Victoria Cross (VC) for their actions on 25 October. Sergeant Ramage galloped out to the assistance of a private who was surrounded by seven Russians, dispersed them and saved his comrade's life. Later that day when covering the retreat of the Light Brigade, he lifted from his horse a private who was badly wounded and carried him safely to the rear under heavy fire and he had also managed to take a prisoner. His VC is displayed at The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards Museum at Edinburgh Castle in Edinburgh, Scotland. Sergeant Major John Grieve saved the life of an officer surrounded by Russians during the when riding into the skirmish, cutting off the head of one Russian, disabling and dispersing the others. His VC is on display at the Art Gallery of South Australia in Adelaide.


Into the Valley of Death: The British Cavalry Division at Balaclava 1854 - Mollo and Fosten 1994

The Invasion of the Crimea: Its Origin and an Account of Its Progress, Alexander William Kinglake 1863 

The History of the Second Dragoons “Royal Scots Greys”, Edward Almack, 1908

A History of the British Cavalry 1816-1919: Volume 2: 1851-1871 By Lord Anglesey

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