Lawrence C. Crider standing near a Crimean War canon displayed near Ely Cathedral. [Click on image for larger picture]

In 2004 Lawrence W. Crider of Phoenix, Arizona, who serves as the North American Agent of the Crimean War Research Society, published what strikes me as a triumph of amateur scholarship — amateur not in the sense that it fails to match the standards set by professional scholars but in the finer sense that it obviously derives from sheer love of its subject, the lives and identities of those who served in the Light Brigade during the Crimean War. This biographical dictionary appropriately begins with a photo-tribute to the author's predecessors and fellow researchers: Canon William Murrell Lummis, Dave Harvey, Ken Horton, Glenn Fisher, Andrew Sewell, Roy Mills, and E. J. Boys.

After an introduction, acknowledgements, and explanation of the book's scholarly apparatus, it proceeds to the 308 pages that make up the heart of the volume — the biographical dictionary of "The Men of the Light Brigade," which divides into six sections, one each for

  • The Staff and Non-Regimental Personnel
  • The 4th Light Dragoons
  • The 8th Hussars
  • The 11th Hussars
  • The 13th Light Dragoons
  • The 17th Lancers

Sample entries from near the top of page 15.

Individual entries range from a full page or more of fine print for Major-General James Thomas Brudenell, the Earl of Cardigan, to a one or two lines for many of the troops, such as Private William Clayton, who was born in Manchester and enlisted in early 1855, having previously worked as a weaver. Clayton arrived in the Crimea after the Charge of the Light Brigade and received a the Crimean War Medal. Crider uses a large number of abbreviations that, among other things, provide the sources of his information. The biographical dictionary is then followed by ten appendices packed with valuable information:

  1. A Tribute to James William Wightman, 1177, 17th Lancers
  2. The Annotated Balaclava Commemoration Society Lists
  3. The Annotated Casualty Lists
  4. Survivor's Accounts of the Charge
  5. Attendees to the First Balaclava Banquet, October 25, 1875
  6. Light Brigade Members receiving their medals from the Queen
  7. List of those believed to have Charged with supporting citations
  8. Maps of the Crimea related to the Cavalry Movements or Acitivities
  9. Annotated Bibliographies
  10. Miscellaneous Photos and Addendum

Anyone interested in history, narratives of research, and fascinating detective work involving long-gone events and people will find the editor's tribute to James William Wightman of the 17th Lancers of interest, in part because of the details of Wightman's life that Crider has assembled and because it was discovering this soldier's account of the famous charge in a nineteenth-century periodical in the collections of the Arizona State University Library that led to this entire project. Most readers, however, will probably find the survivors' accounts (Appendix 4) of most importance.

Cover of In Search of the Light Brigade. [Click on image for larger picture.]

The information appearing in In Search of the Light Brigade promises to lead to more detailed understanding and appreciations of this famous historical event. An obvious precedent of the way we can draw upon such research appears in Ed Ayers' The Valley of the Shadow project at the University of Virginia, which "details life in two American communities, one Northern and Southern, from the time of John Brown's Raid through the era of Reconstruction. In this digital archive you may explore thousands of original letters and diaries, newspapers and speeches, census and church records, left by men and women in Augusta County, Virginia, and Franklin County, Pennsylvania." By tracking down and identifying the occupations, homes, and other facts about the soldiers who served an both sides in the American Civil War, Ayers has made some surprising revelations, one of which is that many of the poorer Virginians, some of whose descendants display Confederate flags, actually fought for the Union, not the slave-holding South! Having looked at the occupations listed in the this biographical dictionary, one wonders what unexpected new discoveries about England at mid-nineteenth century are waiting to be found.

The only point at which one can criticize this valuable work of reference involves the illustrations, both the badly printed, blurry colored one on the cover and the rather muddy black-and-white ones in the appendices. Obviously, budget considerations required using photo-offset reproduction of images, and I sympathize having had a book or two of mine marred in the same way. Which leads to the following observation: reference works such as In Search of the Light Brigade really belong on the internet and not in the form of a printed book for several obvious reasons, the first of which it costs essentially nothing to use abundant color images (such as the that of the dress uniform of the 17th Lancers that Stephen Luscombe has shared with the Victorian Web. In addition, one easily links to available information, such as Marjorie Bloy's brief biography of Cardigan. Finally, more important, perhaps, than the matter of illustrations or even supporting information is the fact that the editor can near-effortlessly include new information — images, biographies, corrections, and so on — as it becomes available. Be that as it may, Lawrence W. Crider and his fellow researchers have created a treasure trove of information about the real people who experienced the Crimea. They deserve three cheers!

References

Crider, Lawrence W. In Search of the Light Brigade: A book to commemorate the services and sacrifices of all of the men of the five original regiments of the Light Brigade. In Memoriam. Barnham, West Sussex: Eurocommunica, 2004. ISBN 1 898763 12 7.


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Last modified 7 May 2005