British Historian Names His Pick For ‘Most Fascinating Figure From Military History’

"Someone had blunder'd". That's how Alfred, Lord Tennyson famously characterized the Charge of the Light Brigade in his 1854 poem. The doomed cavalry unit had been ordered to ride down a retreating section of Russian artillery. Instead, the unit mounted a frontal assault and enemy battery. Calamity ensued.

“Someone had blunder’d”. That’s how Alfred, Lord Tennyson famously characterized the Charge of the Light Brigade in his 1854 poem of the same name. The doomed cavalry unit had actually been ordered to ride down a retreating section of Russian artillery. Instead, it mounted a suicidal frontal assault on an enemy battery. Calamity ensued.

FOR SEVERAL WEEKS NOW, MHN has been asking prominent historians, writers and journalists from around the world a single question: Which figure from military history do you find most fascinating and why? In our first installment of this new series, entitled Sound Off, we reached out to Alastair Massie of the National Army Museum in London, England for his insight. Here’s who he chose.

LouisObitEngravingCAPTAIN LOUIS EDWARD NOLAN (1818 to 54)

On Oct. 25, 1854, during the Crimean War, there took place probably the most memorable episode in the story of the British Army – the Charge of the Light Brigade.

Ever since, when people argue over the cause of the disaster, one name recurs: that of Captain Louis Edward Nolan. What could he possibly have been thinking as he delivered the order which sent the horsemen of the Light Brigade charging in the wrong direction straight into the mouths of the Russian cannon?

Unfortunately, Nolan was the first man killed during the charge and consequently was unable to defend his actions. This explains the enduring fascination of a man who was not only a noted military theorist but highly opinionated. Even the recent re-discovery of Nolan’s campaign journal, now in the National Army Museum (and published in 2010), only serves to raise as many tantalizing questions about his motivation that fateful day as it answers.

Dazed and confused -- Roger Fenton's famous photograph of the survivors of the 13th Light Dragoons shortly after their disastrous charge.

Dazed and confused — Roger Fenton’s famous photograph of the survivors of the 13th Light Dragoons shortly after their disastrous charge.

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Alastaire Massie

Alastair Massie is the head of Head of Academic Access at the National Army Museum and the author of a number of books on militaryhistory including Wives and Sweethearts: Love Letters Sent During Wartime and Expedition to Crimea.

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