Thursday, October 15, 2009
One For The Scotts: The Battle of Balaklava: The Thin Red Line: Octobber 25th, 1854:
With all of the talk in the last entry of St Crispens Day being on October 25th, and falling on the heels of our Address to the Haggis and our Georgia Chips event at the Stone Mountain Highland Games, I am remiss in not mentioning The Thin Red Line. One for our Scotsmen. 'Er ye goo lads!
The Russian cavalry force of 2,500 rode down the road to Balaklava. It was early morning and the sole force that lay between the oncoming cavalry and the disorganized and vulnerable British camp was the 93rd Regiment.
Campbell is said to have told his men, "There is no retreat from here, men. You must die where you stand." Sir Colin's aide John Scott is said to have replied, "Aye, Sir Colin. If needs be, we'll do that." (Campbell's relationship with his men was almost family-like.) Campbell formed the 93rd into a line two deep — the "thin red line". Convention dictated that the line should be four deep, however Campbell, a grizzled veteran of 41 years military service, had such a low opinion of the Russian cavalry that he did not bother to form four lines, let alone a square, but met the charge head on with the 2-deep firing line. Contrary to popular belief, the 93rd discharged three volleys, at 800, 500 and 350 yards, and not one at point-blank (as at Minden in 1759). However, despite the casualties inflicted, the Hussars and Cossacks would undoubtedly have overrun the British line; it was good fortune that saved them, as the Russian commander, seeing so thin a line of British infantry, concluded that this was a diversion and that there was a much stronger force behind the 93rd, and ordered the cavalry to withdraw. At that, some of the Highlanders started forward for a counter-charge, but Sir Colin stopped them with a cry of "93rd, damn all that eagerness!".
The Times correspondent, William H. Russell, wrote that he could see nothing between the charging Russians and the British base of operations at Balaclava but the "thin red streak tipped with a line of steel" of the 93rd. Popularly condensed into "the thin red line", the phrase became a symbol for British sangfroid in battle.
The battle is represented in Robert Gibb's 1881 painting of the same name, which is displayed at the National War Museum in Edinburgh Castle. It is also commemorated in the assembly hall of Campbell's former school Glasgow High School, where there is a painting of the action hung in the grand position, a tribute to one of the school's two generals, the other being Sir John Moore who was dismembered by a cannonball during the Peninsular War.
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