On October 25th, 1854, occurred the famous Charge of the Light Brigade during the Battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War. Long-time rivals and frequent enemies France and Britain had allied with the Ottoman Empire (1299–1923) to make war against Imperial Russia on the peninsula of Crimea in the Black Sea.
What happened: The Russian army captured Turkish naval artillery pieces on the edge of the battlefield, and British commander Lord Raglan sent a written order drafted by Brigadier Airey and carried by Captain Louis Edward Nolan to Lieutenant General the Earl of Lucan, to take "the guns." He in turn ordered the Light Brigade's Major General the Earl of Cardigan to execute the order. The problem was, it wasn't clear which guns were meant! The Light Brigade, due to the lay of the land, could see only the cannons of the main Russian force that was situated at the end of a long valley before them, and on either side of which were additional Russian batteries.
In one of the most famous displays of military discipline in Western history, approximately 670 horseman charged under Cardigan's leadership at 11:13 a.m. down the valley through artillery crossfire and toward more than 50 Russian cannons and the front ranks of 20 Russian infantry battalions.
This 2007 map by Roy Dutton (click map to enlarge) charts the charge, which lasted about 7 minutes. Impressively, the Light Brigade made it to the Russian cannons, but the overwhelming opposition not surprisingly forced a retreat, for which the the Chasseurs d'Afrique of the French cavalry provided desperately needed cover.
By 11:35 a.m., it was all over. The casualties: 110 men and 362 horses killed; 196 men wounded; 57 men captured.
Poet Laureat Alfred, Lord Tennyson, immortalized the charge in his famous poem, The Charge of the Light Brigade:
"Forward, the Light Brigade!"
Was there a man dismay'd?
Not tho' the soldier knew
Someone had blunder'd:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
French Marshal Pierre Bosquet supposedly stated about the charge, "C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre. C'est de la folie." "It is magnificent, but it is not war. It is madness."