‘Briggs‘ was a survivor of the famous Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaklava on 25 October 1854 and the real life War Horse that helped inspire Tennyson’s epic and enigmatic poem Charge of the Light Brigade. He has been nominated by Davy Russell, who lives in Builth Wells, in Breconshire. A chestnut stallion with black stockings ‘Briggs‘ measured 15 hands. He was a steeplechase champion and was named after a family servant, but after showing remarkable bravery during the battle, despite taking a sabre wound to the head. He was unofficially knighted, ‘Sir‘ Briggs. His owner, Captain the Honourable Godfrey Charles Morgan (later Viscount Tredegar, 1831-1913), commanded a squadron of the 17th Regiment of Light Dragoons (Lancers) in the famous charge, during the Crimean War (1854-1856).
Due to a misinterpretation of orders, the British Light Cavalry Brigade charged Russian artillery stationed at the end of a long valley, while exposed to Russian fire on both sides. On reaching the Russian guns, they rode through them to charge Russian cavalry beyond. After some fighting, the remnants of the force returned along the ‘Valley of Death‘ (as described in Tennyson’s poem), under continued fire. The number of horses killed was far higher than the 113 human lives lost in the charge. Of the 643 animals paraded that morning, over 370 were killed in action and another 85 returned, wounded.
A prominent Welsh landowner, Morgan sold his commission in January 1855 but continued to serve in the Royal Gloucestershire Yeomanry until 1875. He was Honorary Colonel of the Royal Monmouth Engineer Militia from 1885 and Member of Parliament for Breckonshire from 1858 to 1875. Sir Briggs survived the tough conditions of a war that saw many other horses perish from starvation and fatigue. He eventually died in 1874 and was commemorated with a memorial in the grounds of Tredegar Park, his master’s home in Wales.
Sir Briggs, horse of Lord Tredegar, 17th Lancers, ridden at Balaklava, 1854, in camp in the Crimea, 1854 Oil on canvas, by Alfred Frank de Prades, 1856.
The artist probably visited the Crimea in 1854, when he may have made the preliminary sketches for this oil. He is particularly noted, both for his equestrian and sporting paintings, and for scenes from the Crimean War.
The Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaklava on 25 October 1854 has come to symbolize both the bravery of the British soldier and the incompetence of the Army commanders during the Crimean War (1854-1856). In one of the most notorious military blunders in history, over 260 men out of the 673 who attacked the Russian guns were killed or wounded. The order, written by General Airey and approved by Lord Raglan, the Commander-in-Chief in the East, reads as follows:
‘Lord Raglan wishes the cavalry to advance rapidly to the front, follow the enemy & try to prevent the enemy carrying away the guns. Troop Horse Artillery may accompany. French cavalry is on your left. Immediate. R. Airey’.
Disastrously, Airey’s orders were misunderstood, some of the blame resting with Captain Nolan, who took the message to the Light Brigade. The horsemen charged in the wrong direction straight towards the entire Russian army, rather than towards the guns the enemy had captured earlier. The casualties sustained, along with the loss of 475 horses, meant that the Light Brigade was almost wiped out as an operational force. But the legend of the ‘gallant 600‘ remains deeply rooted in the public mind today.
Image and words courtesy of the National Army Museum.