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Messenger of Death: Captain Nolan and the Charge of the Light Brigade Hardcover – 24 Jul 2008
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Captain Louis Nolan delivered the order that started one of the most famous blunders in all military history - the Charge of the Light Brigade. Nolan's conduct and the Charge itself have been the subject of intense, sometimes bitter debate ever since. To some he is a hero who died in the act of trying to correct the terrible mistake. Others believe that he was the cause of the calamity - accusing him of sending the Light Brigade to its doom. Yet there has been no recent biography of Nolan. He remains an ambiguous, controversial figure to this day.
In this fresh and perceptive study David Buttery reassesses Nolan the man and looks at his entire career. There was much more to Louis Nolan than his fatal role in the Charge, and his background, his character and his contribution to the army of his day have been obscured and sometimes distorted.
David Buttery's sympathetic account of the life of this misunderstood, sometimes maligned soldier throws new light on the Victorian army and its officer class, and on the conduct of the war in the Crimea. And it offers the reader an inside view of the most notorious episode of that war, the Charge at Balaklava on 25 October 1854.
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While any biography of Louis Nolan must inevitably culminate in the tragedy of the Charge, with an analysis of what he may have been doing when he was killed, Buttery rightly emphasises that there was far more to his life and career than its dramatic end at only thirty-six. Indeed, this publication complements perfectly the republishing of Louis's own masterwork Cavalry: Its History and Tactics.
Louis Nolan was a remarkable man and a worthy subject of biography before Balaklava. The biography depicts his colourful family background: the ambitious father, the orphan son of an Irish trooper, inclined to inflate his own rank when in consular service in Italy; the older, twice-widowed English mother who already had a string of children from her two previous marriages to wealthy Scotsmen; his upbringing in Canada, Scotland and Italy. Louis's military career began in the Austrian service, with professional training that informed his own later thoughts and writings on military equitation and cavalry. Buttery also explores his travels in Europe and India, and his study of international cavalry. His well-researched and influential books are given the credit they deserve, with extensive quotations. A number of illustrations from 'The Training of Cavalry Remount Horses' (which may depict the author himself) are reproduced.
Buttery has made excellent use of sources which were unavailable to Moyse-Bartlett, such as Austrian military records and Louis's own Crimean campaign journal, which was feared lost for over a century. The only gaps stem from the nature of the sources themselves: Louis seems to have left little in the way of personal correspondence, so we see him primarily in his professional role. There are only occasional glimpses of him off-duty from friends such as fellow horse-enthusiast Fanny Duberly. He keeps us at arm's length, still the rather aloof, aquiline-profiled figure of the equestrian portrait which is described but not shown. (I should have welcomed more illustrations, but, from my own experience, appreciate that there are often publishing cost factors involved.)
I recommend this book to anyone with an interest in military history or in horsemanship. It is a concise and highly readable introduction to one of the 19C's most under-appreciated military writers, a fine cavalry historian himself. Indeed, I hope that it will encourage any reader to read Louis's own works.
This is a fine addition,from a fine writer on a intresting subject.
Nolan is a complex and (thanks to his role in the Charge of the Light Brigade, plus later portrayals in film and fiction) semi-mythical figured, obscured by the controversy that surrounds his last moments. One biography, published by Moyle Bartlett back in the 1970's, in part remedied this, but there is still a veil drawn over the life of this man, even to the extent that few will agree what nationality he was.
Mr Buttery throws open the curtains on Nolan's life. He looks at his early years, and his time in the Austrian Army, where he cut his military teeth, as well as his books about military equestrianism. His role in the Crimea was not simply restricted to carrying the order that launched the Light Brigade on its ill-fated Charge, either. Mr Buttery examines Nolan's astonishing travels through Syria buying horses for the Army, and later his service as a galloper for the Quarter-Master General.
Of course the Charge itself receives a lot of attention. Mr Buttery talks us through the events leading up to the Charge, through the event, and then delves in to the controversies, scape-goating and politicking that followed. His close and well argued text takes us through the different arguments and theories in a balanced and logical way before coming to his own conclusion.
As a biography of a fascinating man, this book is a great read. As an expose of the life and actions of a controversial and pivotal man, this book is an absolute must for anyone interested in the Charge, the Crimea, or the British Army. I am more of the latter than either of the former, and picked the book up only because Nolan is a person who everyone seems to know of, but no-one really knows anything about. I found it fascinating, well-written, very well researched (Mr Buttery uses a surprising number of new sources), and a book I would recommend unreservedly.
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