Louis Nolan

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Louis Nolan

Louis Edward Nolan (January 4, 1818 – October 25, 1854), was a British Army officer of the Victorian era, an authority on cavalry tactics best known for his controversial role in launching the disastrous Charge of the Light Brigade during the Battle of Balaclava. He was the first casualty of that engagement.

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Early life

Louis Edward Nolan (also known as Lewis or Ludwig) was born in Upper Canada, now Ontario, the third, but second surviving son of Captain John Babington Nolan, 70th Regiment of Foot, and his wife Eliza Harleston Hartley. They had met and married in Perth, Scotland in 1813. It was Eliza's third marriage, and she already had two sons living from her previous marriages to Andrew Macfarlane and Charles Macfarlane.

The family returned to Edinburgh, Scotland in 1819, to an apartment in 79 Queen Street. Babington Nolan left the 70th Foot in 1820 and retired on half-pay. Little is known of the years which followed, but by 1829, when Louis was eleven, the family was living in Piacenza, Italy, and shortly after moved on to Milan, then within the Austrian Empire. In 1832 his father obtained an unsalaried position as British Consular Agent and Vice-Consul there.

Austrian military service

Louis Nolan and his brothers were sent for training in the Austrian Imperial army. In 1832 he became a cadet in the Royal Friedrich Wilhelm III. König von Preussen 10. Husaren-Regiment, and trained at the Engineer Corps School in Tulln. Finishing his training in 1835, he was posted to his regiment and served in Hungary and Poland. By 1838 he was a Senior Lieutenant.

In 1838 Nolan went to London, England to see Queen Victoria's coronation. He also attended the military review at Hyde Park. Over the following months he determined to follow his family's tradition by joining the British Army.

British military service

Nolan was gazetted Cornet in the 15th King's Hussars in 1839. Nolan's subsequent career was divided between Bangalore and Madras in India, and the Cavalry Depot in Maidstone, Kent. He fell ill on arrival in India, and was sent home. On recovery, he began to train as a riding master at Maidstone. In 1841 he purchased his Lieutenancy, and returned to India in 1843. In 1844, Nolan was appointed Riding Master in his regiment. His effective training of horses and riders impressed his superiors, but although considered a very promising officer by many, he was regarded by others as impulsive, careless and insolent, with a reputation for arrogance.[citation needed] In 1849, Nolan was appointed ADC to General Sir George Berkeley, Commander-in-Chief at Madras. He purchased the captaincy of a troop in his regiment in March 1850, two months after his father's death. He returned to Britain on leave in 1851, and began his first book, The Training of Cavalry Remount Horses: A New System, 1852.

From March to August 1852 he travelled around Europe researching the training of cavalry in several countries, as preparation for his next book. In October 1852 he commanded the regimental depot troop at Maidstone, and that November led his regiment's detachment in Wellington's funeral procession. He also worked on a saddle design, which was tested by the Mounted Staff Corps in the Crimea, and adopted in its essentials after his death. His second book, Cavalry: Its History and Tactics, was published in 1853.

Crimean War and death

In 1854 Nolan was gazetted ADC to Brigadier-General Richard Airey, before being sent to the Ottoman Empire to purchase horses for the army for the Crimean War. Nolan travelled around Turkey, Lebanon and Syria. He arrived in Varna, Bulgaria, in July, with nearly 300 animals.

On arriving in the Crimea, Nolan continued serving as Airey's ADC, and as an interpreter between the British and the French. Airey was Lord Raglan's quartermaster-general in the campaign, and wrote an infamous series of confusing orders for Raglan during the Battle of Balaclava on 25 October 1854. Since landing in the Crimea, Nolan had become increasingly bitter at the conduct of the campaign, particularly his perception of the misuse of the cavalry division in its failure to pursue the retreating enemy during the Battle of Alma. From the hilltop vantage point where Raglan and Airey could see the whole battle, Nolan delivered the controversial 'Fourth Order' for the Light Brigade in the valley below to charge. Lord Cardigan, commander of the cavalry division, afterwards reported that Nolan had added his own verbal interpretation of the order: "He [said], in a most significant but disrespectful manner, pointing to the further end of the valley, 'There, my Lord, is your enemy; there are your guns.'"[1] Joining in the charge, Nolan galloped to its front in a possible attempt to reach Cardigan to try to change the direction of the charge towards the wrong guns. He was killed by shrapnel from the first Russian artillery salvo before his true intentions could be shown. Initially unaware of Nolan's death, Lord Cardigan was angered by Nolan's insubordinate behavior, and accused him of both attempting to usurp command of the charge and of cowardice, saying to Major General James Yorke Scarlett, "Imagine the fellow screaming like a woman and riding to the rear!" "Say no more, my Lord," Scarlett entreated, "For I have ridden over Nolan's dead body." The newspapers refused to allow Nolan's memory to be tarnished. William Howard Russell, war correspondent, paid tribute in The Times of London, writing : "A braver soldier than Captain Nolan the army did not possess. A matchless horseman and first rate swordsman. God forbid I should cast a shade on his honour."

His death prevented any definitive explanation of his role and motives in the tragedy that saw the Brigade almost annihilated. Numerous books, such as Mark Adkin's The Charge (1996), have been written seeking to explain the "reason why" the brigade was lost.

In popular media

Nolan was played by David Hemmings in the 1968 film The Charge of the Light Brigade. In the film Nolan is portrayed as a haughty, glory-hungry officer, but also a "symbol of youth, energy and professionalism...desperate...to reform the army".[2] His character as depicted in the film appears to be a composite of several officers who had managed to incur Cardigan's dislike over the years;[3] the 'black bottle' incident actually involved a Captain John Reynolds of the 11th Hussars.

References

  1. ^ Lucan, Lieutenant-General, Cavalry Division (2 March 1855). "Lord Lucan and Lord Raglan". The Times (21991): 7. 
  2. ^ Connelly, Mark (2003). The Charge of the Light Brigade. The British Film Guide. 5. London: I. B. Taurus. pp. 37; 45. ISBN 1-86064-612-3. 
  3. ^ Woodham-Smith, Cecil (1956). The Reason Why. Penguin Books. 

External links