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Charge of the Light Brigade

I smell the makings of a kick-ass poem

I'm going to immortalize the shit out of this

You don’t need to be a Victorian poet to appreciate that a 19th century battle involving feuding commander-in-laws, tragic battlefield misunderstandings, the “Valley of Death,” at least three types of knitwear, and heroic French cavalry is going to be a total disaster. These were the ingredients of the Battle of Balaklava.

The Crimean War began in 1853, with the British, French and Ottomans fighting the Russians for control of the fading Ottoman Empire. Modern historians consider it the first modern war, due to the involvement of telegraphs, repeating rifles, and high-explosive artillery. How hilarious, then, that perhaps its most famous military action involved horses, sabers, and verbal misunderstandings.

Attack the Russian nuns? Where are the nuns?!?!

Attack the Russian nuns? Where are the nuns?!?!

On October 25, 1854, English and French troops were attempting to capture the Black Sea Russian port of Sevastapol. Their 4,500 soldiers faced 25,000 Russians across a U-shaped valley. While these odds may seem extreme, the Russians never approach a battle without waaaay too many soldiers. And, recall, that it was the first modern war. So everybody was excited and unsure of what, exactly, would be required of them in this bold new day.

Attack soon! Wheel about! Go that way! Why aren't you following orders?

Take the whosiewhatsits to the placeahmahut! Post haste!

Let’s cut to the charge. The British commander, Lord Raglan, kept giving his cavalry, commanded by Lord Lucan, confusing orders. The fourth, and worst of the bunch, was carried to Lucan by a snotty Captain named Nolan.

“Lord Raglan wishes the cavalry to advance rapidly to the front, follow the enemy, and try to prevent the enemy carrying away the guns. Horse artillery may accompany. French cavalry is on your left. Immediate.”

Besides sounding like a Mad-Libs battle command, it seemed to Lucan to have nothing to do with the battle whatsoever. The only guns he could see were the Russian artillery at the other end of the valley, more than a mile away (and what the hell are ‘horse artillery’?). Lucan asked for clarification. Nolan vaguely swept his hand across the valley and said contemptuously, “There my lord, there are your guns.”

The secret for these babies is honey and horse manure.

I couldn't have won this award without the help of...Cardigan's sister! Ba-zing!

Second place.

Second place.

Lucan took this order to Earl Cardigan, his direct subordinate and commander of the Light Cavalry. Lucan also happened to be Cardigan’s brother-in-law and, if that were not sufficiently galling, had just won the regiment’s coveted “Most Luxurious Muttonchops Award.” A reluctant Cardigan led his 600-odd men on a one-mile charge across the entire battlefield, being fired upon from three sides by Russians who probably felt like they were hunting buffalo in “Oregon Trail.” Tragically, the charge may have succeeded if Lucan had followed with the heavy cavalry (or at least the featherweight or welterweight cavalry). Instead, Cardigan’s Light Cavalry roughed up the Russians until the Russians realized they vastly outnumbered the British, at which point they sent the Light Cavalry back across the same one-mile gauntlet of artillery and rifles.*

Somehow, this guy survived, hat intact.

Somehow this guy survived, hat intact.

The Light Cavalry were probably saved from total annihilation by a flanking movement from the French Chausser’s d’Afrique, who sufficiently engaged one side of the Russian guns to cover the British charge and retreat. The whole action took 20 minutes. Of the approximately 660 British who participated in the Charge of the Light Brigade, 110 were killed, 161 wounded or captured, and 375 horses killed. Nolan was among the dead. Cardigan survived and argued bitterly with Lucan about who was at fault for the suicidal order.

Cardigan got the last muttonchop-quivering laugh when he had the button-front sweater named for him. Indeed, knitwear was thrown about after the battle like purple hearts. The town of Balaklava got its name attached to ski masks, Raglan ended up with a namesake sweater, and trendy trousers were named after British officer Duke Skinnyjeans. Lord Tennyson honored them all with his famous poem Charge of the Light Brigade, and his lesser-known essay, Totally Sweet Cavalry Charges, Poetry, and You.

Thanks, Battle of Balaklava!

Thanks, Battle of Balaklava!

*This strategy for chasing a superior enemy force was later made famous by Han Solo’s charge in the Battle of the White Subhallway in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.

Drink: The Valley of Death


  • chilled Russian vodka
  • currant liqueur
  • French champagne
  • one copy of Tennyson’s Charge of the Light Brigade


  1. In a narrow champagne flute, pour one ounce of chilled Russian vodka.
  2. Mishearing something, recklessly pour one ounce of currant liqueur into the flute.
  3. Top off the glass with French champagne, stirring gently to mix until the concoction becomes poetic.
  4. Read Tennyson’s poem aloud, taking a sip every time you come across the word ‘death.’

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First Battle of Bull Run

You are green it is true, but they are green, also; you all are green alike.” ~ President Lincoln, addressing a general’s concern about the unpreparedness of their troops before the First Battle of Bull Run.

In July 1861, spirits in the United States were high.  Sure, a Civil War was about to break out, but both the North and the South anticipated a short, glorious affair.  Political leaders on both sides pooh-pooh’d their generals’ concerns about unprepared troops, and demanded action.  The Civil War Bowl Committee selected the fields outside of Manassas, Virginia as the site of the inaugural battle.

The South won the coin flip and elected to defer their charge to the second half.

Despite the supposed neutrality of the Bowl Committee’s selected site, Manassas was a sensitive location for both sides.  For the South, its railroad junction connected the Shenandoah Valley to areas farther South.  For the North, Manassas’s proximity to Washington D.C. (merely 25 miles) allowed the Union a considerable advantage in the number of spectators who turned out to watch the battle on Bowl Sunday, July 21st.

Yes, that’s right. Members of the Washington elite, including congressmen and their wives, came to picnic and watch the battle.

Some showed up as early as 3 am to tailgate in their coach-and-fours, drink champagne, and grill cucumber sandwiches.

Some showed up as early as 3 am to tailgate in their coach-and-fours, drink champagne, and grill cucumber sandwiches.

The Union forces elected to kick off, and it looked like they had the early advantage.  Confederate General Pierre Gustave Beaugard deployed his Confederate forces anticipating a Union attack near the railroad bridge over Bull Run.  The Union forces, led by George McDowell, instead attacked the Southern bench a few miles upstream.  Outnumbered and caught in the middle of a chalk talk with their offensive line coach, the Confederate troops nevertheless managed to slow the Northern assault sufficiently to avoid a rout.  But by the end of the first quarter, the Confederates had been driven back towards the railroad junction.

Bull Run 1

The event led to Jackon's famous moniker "Stonewall Jackson," replacing his previous nickname, "Silky Sweet Jackson."

The momentum swung early in the second quarter when a brigade of Virginian troops, led by one Thomas J. Jackson, stopped the Northern advance in their tracks.  A Southern general exclaimed, “There is Jackson standing like a stone wall!  Rally behind the Virginians!  Ten, tango, globetrotter vixen eight, hike!”

At halftime, the Union troops still appeared to have the advantage, and the Union bleachers were yelling “Scoreboard!” at the few Confederate fans who had driven up in a rally bus.  Things went south for the North in the second half, however.

The hastily-scheduled inaugural Civil War battle (designed to get high telegraph ratings during the summer re-run season) meant that the South did not have time to design new uniforms, or even a flag.  After all, everybody had been in the same Army just a few months prior.  So the Union and Southern forces were both wearing blue uniforms (Lincoln confused his greens and blues).  This caused Union artillery to mistake Jackson’s charging troops for reinforcements.  No one picked up Jackon’s lead blocker, and the Union artillery were annihilated (some historians believe that the Union artillery were confused by the Confederate sideline’s chant of “C-S-A! C-S-A!” which sounded similar to the Union sideline’s “U-S-A! U-S-A”).

"I say, Methias, those blokes a'comin this way sure look peeved.  And the crowd's goin' nuts!"

"I say, Methias, those blokes a'comin this way sure look peeved. And the crowd's goin' nuts!"

Contractual issues also turned the tide against the North.  Whereas the Southern troops were mostly rookies years away from arbitration, many Union soldiers were nearing the end of their 90-day enlistments.  When the South gained the upper hand in the afternoon, these troops decided they wanted to live to see their free agency, and fled in rather spectacular fashion.  Shedding their weapons and supplies, they ran past the Union cheering section, who booed them for cowardice even as the spectators themselves fled the field, leaving behind half-finished scorecards, giant foam fingers, and weak-ankled Congressional secretaries.

While the Southern press jubilantly celebrated the victory (and the Southern troops did the “Confederate Shuffle” at midfield), generals on both sides realized that the war would not be over as quickly as the civilian populations hoped.  The South’s disorganization prevented it from pressing its advantage toward Washington D.C., and it was months before the North even considered moving back into Virginia.  For the moment, however, the South beat the spread on casualties and claimed the top spot in the Civil War Power Rankings.

NOTE: The Union referred to the battle as the “First Battle of Bull Run,” while the Confederacy called it the “First Battle of Manassas.”  Least used is the technically-correct name, “The Robert T. Goodfellow and Sons Haberdashery and Fine Dry Goods Emporium Bowl.”

Drink: The Picnic Sprint


  • lemonade
  • champagne
  • corn whiskey
  • cucumber sandwiches
  • picnic blanket [optional]


  1. Mix two parts champagne and lemonade in an elegant champagne flute.
  2. Sip your beverage while enjoying cucumber sandwiches, preferably while sitting on a red and white checkered picnic blanket.
  3. When half of drink is finished, unceremoniously pour in a shot (or two) of corn whiskey.
  4. Pound the remainder of the drink, grab the last cucumber sandwich, give a rebel yell and take off running.
  5. Insult the manhood and question the honor of anyone you blow past.


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