Horse’s Hoof Souvenir – The Charge of The Light Brigade

The Charge of the Light Brigade is one of the most infamous events in British history, and is still remembered to this day in wider society as a blunder. The controversy around the charge still provokes many heated debates, yet we will never know the full extent of what happened that fateful day. The 11th Hussars were one of the regiments that would face the fury of the “Valley of Death”.

The charge took place during the Crimean War, as part of the Battle of Balaclava on the 25th October 1854. As with most conflicts of the time, there was a mixture of political and religious reasons as to why Britain had gone to war against Russia in the Crimea. 

Allied with France, Turkey and Sardinia, British troops started landing on the Crimean peninsula in September 1854. British military aims were ultimately to capture the Russian Naval base at Sevastopol, thus limiting Russia naval access to the Black Sea and into the Mediterranean.  The 11th Hussars under the command of Lieutenant Colonel John Douglas, had embarked at Ireland for the Crimea. Unfortunately the horses suffered terribly during the 7 week voyage before landing in September 1854.

Our highlight of the month is a horse’s hoof, which has been lovingly made into a keepsake with a hinged silver plated lid. Although for many this might not be much to look at, this hoof belonged to a horse of the 11th Hussars who went through the Crimean War and took part in the Charge of the Light Brigade.

The inscription reads –

THIS HOOF

belonged to a Horse

of the

ELEVENTH HUSSARS

Was through the

CRIMEAN WAR

and in the

FAMOUS LIGHT CAVALRY CHARGE

at

Balaklava

W.J.FORD

Unfortunately we do not know the fate of this horse, but we can only assume that it survived and remained with the 11th Hussars. The regiment did not have a W J Ford at the time, so it is most likely this was the owner who had the hoof converted into an inkwell sometime later.

You can almost imagine that cold October’s morning in 1854, the anticipation of horse and rider, followed by the inevitable fear as this hoof stood in the ‘Valley of Death’ ready to make that gallant charge.

Balaclava was a small port town occupied by British forces as a base of operations in the Crimea whilst they intended to take Sevastopol. However, due to a lack of troops, Balaclava could not be sufficiently defended despite an outer ring of 6 Redoubts being hastily constructed. The Russian commander Prince Menshikov, realised this, and sought to take advantage by attacking the weak outer defences and thus cutting off British supply from Balaclava inland. The ill-fated charge of the light brigade was the final stage in the battle, and the intent had been to pursue and prevent the Russians taking the guns captured from the fallen redoubts.

We will leave the description of what happened next to somebody who was there. Troop Sergeant Loy Smith of the 11th Hussars –

“Lord Cardigan was ordered to attack the guns placed across the valley in front of us, about a mile off. The Russians had guns on the hill to our left. They had also taken our guns on the right, and had placed riflemen there. The enemy numbered several thousand, and we were not quite seven hundred. The trumpet sounded the advance. We moved off, soon breaking into a gallop. The Russian guns opened fire and the shells burst among us. We also came under a terrific fire from the infantry riflemen on the redoubts. Our men stayed well together, keeping their line and closing in as their comrades fell wounded or killed. Many riderless horses were galloping with us, forcing their way into the ranks and keeping their places as though their masters were on their backs.

We galloped past the Russian guns and Colonel Douglas halted us about 100 yards behind them. He advance had not taken many minutes. We were very close to the Russian cavalry. Waving our swords over our heads we galloped towards them but they turned away. We went after them, and at the end of the valley they turned back, charged us and nearly surrounded us. We thought that none of us had many more minutes to live. Colonel Douglas shouted “Fight for your lives, men”. Reluctantly we turned round, still together but no longer in a steady line. We had to fight hand to hand with some Russian Lancers who barred our way.

My horse was hit so I jumped off the saddle and started running. A riderless horse halted close to me, knowing the uniform. I mounted him and rode on.”

The Charge of the Light Brigade has been costly, the 11th Hussars started with 142 men of all ranks, and had lost 25 men killed, 30 wounded and 8 taken prisoner (3 of the wounded would later die of their wounds). They had also lost 72 of their horses killed and an unknown amount wounded. Lieut Dunn of the regiment received the Victoria Cross for his part in the charge.

The horses were much loved by the men, who spent vast amounts of their time caring for them. The loss of a horse was deeply felt as was mentioned by Sgt Smith. “I sat down and was moved to tears when I thought of the havoc I had seen and that I had lost my beautiful horse.”

Horse’s hoofs were often turned into inkwells and souvenirs during the Victoria era. They served as a reminder of a beloved equine friend and in this case of a horse who took part in one of the most infamous cavalry charges in history. The horseshoe on the bottom is stamped C BLACK, with the silver plate coming away from the lid where it has been cherished and polished over the years.

For more information and artefacts from the charge of the Light Brigade and the Crimean War, why not come and visit us here at HorsePower in Winchester. You can also see for yourself our monthly highlight, currently on show in our ‘”Stables” area.

Butler, Elizabeth Southerden Thompson; Balaclava; Manchester Art Gallery; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/balaclava-204619