An article about George Baynes 4LD which appeared in the Sunday Star, Washington D.C. on 28 January 1912.
Thanks to Philip Boys of The Lives of the Light Brigade for finding this article.
Sunday Star 28 January 1912
Survivor of Famous `Charge of the Light Brigade' Now in the Soldiers' Home
Tells Interesting Story of Wonderful Charge - Old Fighter Spending Twilight of Long and Eventful Life in Washington - Enlisted as an English Soldier When Eighteen Years of Age - The `Light Brigade's' Wonderful Dash Through Shot and Shell - Only a Small Number of Survivors Living.
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Volleyed and thundered.
Stormed at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of death,
Into the mouth of hell,
Rode the six hundred.
To no other man in the United States, perhaps, and certainly no other man in Washington, does the stiring poem of Tennyson's `The Charge of the Light Brigade' appeal as it does to George H. Baynes, soldier of fortune, veteran of three wars and, he states, one of the handful of survivors of the immortal charge of the English Light Brigade at the battle of Balaklava, in the Crimean war. He is spending the twilight of a long and eventful life at the National Soldiers' Home.
The piercing eye of the old warrior is little dimmed by age. Although for six years during the past century he fought the Maori cannibals in the New Zealand bush, and in more recent times has received an honorable discharge from the United States cavalry on account of disabilities from hard riding, his years, which now number but four less than four score, weigh lightly upon him.
Survivors of the tragic charge of the Light Brigade were never many. Of the 600 cavalrymen who entered the fatal valley under the ambiguous command, `Advance on the enemy's front,' but a hundred odd remained. The reason for the charge being made as it was has never been satisfactorily settled, although the theme for whole volumes, whose authors delved into the question from every possible angle.
To `Cornet' Baynes - for in the English army he had the commission of cornet, which corresponded very nearly to that of second lieutenant in the army of the United States - the events of the war of the Crimea in 1854 are as well remembered as events of yesterday. Although his life has been crowded with deeds of daring, and although he has faced every weapon of offense from the broadsides of Russian batteries to the tomahawk of western Indians in the United States, soon after the close of the civil war, when the red men trailed the warpath, he says that the most vivid recollection of his life, the one thing which stands out above all else, is the desperate ride he made into the teeth of Russian gunners on the plain of Balaklava, between the guns on the Causeway heights and the Fedioukine hills.
Baynes receives his visitor affably in the pleasant sun parlor at the Soldiers' Home. He is comfortable there, despite the fact that he expects soon to remove to his old home in Colorado Springs, Col., where his wife is buried, and where his friends live. Pressed to tell the story of the Crimean war, and especially of the carnage made immortal through the song of a poet, he looked quizzically at his visitor, and said:
`It may be a long story, my friend. Though the battle of Balaklava was the most noted battle of the war, and the best known in countries where Tennyson's poem is read, yet there were other fights, even more desperate encounters, and, withal, battles which told more for England than did Balaklava.' He speaks in the broad inflections of the true Englishman, and every sentence shows the effect of a thorough education received in Eton College, England.
His father was Charles Robert Baynes, chief justice of the English presidency of Madras, in India. The son was born there, and when George was three years old the elder Baynes took his family back to England, where he carefully attended to the education of his son, who received the training customarily given a gentleman's son in England in that day. Mr. Baynes was born August 2, 1836. A wealthy uncle purchased a commission of cornet in the English army for him at the outbreak of the war in the Crimea, when he was eighteen years old, making him one of the youngest officers in that conflict.
`I never will forget the bleak, forbiding capes and stern promonteries of the Crimean coast as they appeared to the invading troops, who had entered the Black Sea by way of the Golden Horn, at Constantinople,' says the old veteran, brightening, as he remembered what to him was but an adventure. `Most of the transports and warships had left the sickly harbour of Varna, where a mysterious scourge had fallen upon the troops, creating great havoc among the English forces for a time. We cast anchor off the inlet of Balaklava, which, though small, was capable of taking the largest warships sent by the English government. Our disembarkation was made quite unopposed on the 14th of September, 1854, and by the 18th the entire force of the `allies,' consisting of the English, French and Turkish forces, had established themselves on Russian soil in the peninsula of Crimea. Although it was impossible at that time to unload much of the baggage of the soldiers, we nevertheless seized about 350 `arabas' or native wagons of the Tartars who inhabit the steppes of the coast, using them to convey the munitions and rations. A thousand cattle and sheep, which poultry, fruit and vegetables, were seized from the hostile tribes.
`The first battle of any consequence in which I engaged before the fight on the Balaklava plain was the battle of the Alma, or, as it is called in the native language, `The Apple,' probably on account of the splendid apples which grow in the valleys along rivers sheltered by the mountains.'
He hesitated for a moment, trying to remember the date of the battle of the Alma.
`I think,' he said, slowly, `It was on the 19th or the 20th of September.' History records that it was on the 20th of September.
`While the Light Brigade did not take a very active part in the battle, as most of the fighting was done by the infantry, we nevertheless saw some sharp skirmishing in the battle, which cost the Russians about 6000 men and the English about 3000 killed and wounded. Two days were spend on the Alma while we buried our dead. The march around Sebastopol was a hard one, the high grassy steppes affording little water for either horses or men. My own charger suffered terribly for water, on one part of the march going for nearly forty-eight hours without it.'
`The weather during the months of September and October was delightful; the says were not cold, seeming to be about such weather as in the United States is called Indian summer. The siege of Sebastopol properly began a number of days before the battle of Balaklava was fought. All the non-combatants and all the citizens of the town had been slipped out of Sebastopol in the night, and the population left was composed entirely of hardened fighting men, who had sufficient rations for an indefinite time and whose fortifications were exceptional. Their garrison consisted of about 25,000 trained men. The day of the 17th of October, eight days before the charge at Balaklava, witnessed the most terrific bombardment known in warfare up to that time; but Sebastopol did not fall.
`The cavalry, being of no use in the neighbourhood of Sebastopol, were led towards the Uplands, as they were called, the hills above the straggling village of Balaklava, about the Tchernaya river. The march was made only after many maneuvres and skirmishes, none of which could hardly be called a battle. The battle of Balaklava really began at daybreak on the morning of the 25th of October. The early skirmishes had been in favor of the Russians, and a number of the English fortifications in the neighbourhood of Balaklava had been carried. Heavy losses had been sustained by both sides, the Light Brigade gradually worked to a position at the opening of the valley between the two ridges of hills.
`Lord Cardigan was leader of the Light Brigade - a most gallant officer. I, of course, had no way of knowing the orders that had been sent by the field marshal to govern the movements of the Light Brigade during the day, and did not know twenty seconds before the order was given to advance that any forward movement by the brigade was to be made. I never will forget the appearance of the valley down which the ride was made. The sober green of the hillsides was a most excellent setting for the bright figures of the troops and cavalry, in the showy uniforms then worn. To our left were the low clumps of hills of the Fedioukine range, in which were placed the heaviest batteries of the Russians.
`Directly in front of us, as the troops faced the head of the valley, were more Russian batteries discernible against the green of the hillsides, when the smoke which they belched out permitted them to be seen. To our right, held largely by our own forces, was the Worenzoff road, which threaded its glistening way along the hummocks of the Causeway heights. Far back of the batteries at the head of the valley could be seen the glistening ribbon of the Tchernaya river.
`Suddenly to our extreme right we saw an officer galloping madly toward the Light Brigade. It was Capt. Nolan, aid-de-camp to the commanding officer, whom I knew by sight. We were alert, but did not know the nature of the consultation between our leader and Nolan. Lord Cardigan seemed to be in doubt as to the nature of the orders he had received. Nolan answered him in what seemed to me to be an insolent manner, and our leader turned to the bugler of the brigade with an order. The shrill, thin notes of the bugle sounded out the order to mount. Then came the order to charge with drawn sabers. I was a member of the 4th Light Dragoons, `the queen's own troop,' as it was called.
`Lord Cardigan was at the head of the troops, and as he led the Light Brigade he looked neither to the left nor the right. We had proceeded on the charge but a short way when Capt. Nolan suddenly left the formation and, waving his sword, started to cross ahead of the troops. No one ever knew what the object of the mad act was, for before he had gotten two-thirds of the way across a splinter of a shell from a Russian gun burrowed its way into his breast, killing him instantly. His noble horse, feeling the change which had come over his master, wheeled, and bore him back to the English reserves, Capt. Nolan falling from his saddle just before reaching his own lines.
`Lord Cardigan seemed to think that it had been the object of Nolan to deprive him of his command, and resolved to carry the Light Brigade the full length of the valley to the farthermost guns of the Russian battery. He did not know until after the charge that Nolan had been killed. As soon as the range of the first Russian batteries was reached our pace quickened into a sharp trot. The battery was the one to the left at first, but we soon came into the range of the one to the right. The air was a perfect inferno of sound. Men and horses were stricken with instant death, the bursting shells making the bedlam of noises more awful, while the smoke rolled in upon us, mingling with the dust raised by the hoofs of the horses.
`Our ranks were closed as fast as men were lost. The ranks kept growing thinner and thinner and the pace of the horses increased to a mad gallop. I lost all sense of direction, could hear nothing but the whine of bullets and the hissing of bursting shells, the crossfire from the Russian guns getting in terrible work. But we were nearing the batteries to the front, the real goal of the charge, and deadly execution was being made on our depleted ranks from this new source.
`I can never be sure of what followed. It seems to me that we reached the guns at the head of the valley - at least history says we did. The frantic Russian gunners surpised and terrified by our onslaught, were tearing at their guns, trying to unlimber them, their horses rearing and charging. There was the thud of hoofs, the clash of sabers, groans of dying men - all forming a medley which Hades himself could not imitate.' The aged man stopped from sheer exhaustion. His hands and arms had been gesticulating, his eyes were flashing, the warrior in him was re-living the events of the most peculiar and deadly charges in history. He was again going through the blood and carnage, again smelling the smoke of battle.
`Do you remember the return of the remnant of the Light Brigade?' he was asked, after a time.
`No, I can remember nothing definite of it. I only know that once more we ran the awful gantlet [sic] of flame, again head the screaming shells as our excited horses bore us swiftly back over the plain, now strewn with the dead and dying horses and men. Practically all of us bore back a wounded comrade as we came.'
`What did you think of the sort of military order that led you into such a hopeless position?'
`We didn't think anything about it. It is a soldier's duty to act, not reason why,' replied the old man. `I simply did my duty, as did the rest of the command, and there is no special credit for that. I know that there has been a vast amount of talk about the orders we received, but as far as those who took part in the battle are concerned, Tennyson just about summed it up when he said: `Theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do, or die.' I don't see anything particularly heroic about that. After the battle of Balaklava I was one who did duty about Sebastopol, until its fall before the terrible cannonading poured in upon it from the guns of the English.'
After Sebastopol and the battle of Inkerman, in which Baynes took part, he was transported back to England. He speaks a good word for the work of Florence Nightingale, and the work of the nurses during the war, which was the real starting of the modern systems of caring for the wounded on the battlefield and in hospitals.
After arrival in England Baynes sold out his commission as cornet in the English army, retiring to private life for a while. The desire to wander seized him again, however, and, within three years after the close of the Crimean war, he set sail from England for Australia, to try his fortune in what then was England's frontier.
Here again he found opportunity to give vent to his desire for fighting. The Maoris, tribes of cannibals and savages, in New Zealand, had not yet been conquered by the English, and were giving much trouble by their raids and wars. Troops called the `scouts' were formed in Australia by former officers in the British army, whose business it was to crush these tribes. The invasions of New Zealand by the English took them into the heart of the bush, and for six years Baynes saw hazardous service in these wars. At times he was sent as spy, or courier, on missions so dangerous that when a dispatch was sent from one detachment of the army to the other, identical dispatches were given five different men at the same time in the hope that at least one of the dispatch bearers would get through. Drummond Hayes, a well known Australian character, was the most noted leader in the old days of the Australian `scouts.' Baynes says that he suffered more hardships while scouting in New Zealand than he ever did in the Crimean war.
At the expiration of his service in New Zealand he once more went back to England. He remained there but a short time, however, embarking for Canada, where he arrived in little over a year from the time he left Australia. From Canada he came to the United States, where the third chapter in his career as a fighter was completed. In 1872, on the eve of President Grant's election, he enlisted in Company I of the 6th Cavalry, at once being sent to the Indian territory, where the Arapahoe Indians had become very troublesome. He was in a number of skirmishes and fights before the Arapahoes were finally subdued.
After two years' service in the United States cavalry he was given an honorable discharge on account of disability contracted from hard riding as a cavalryman. While in the cavalry he was under the command of Gen. Adna Chaffee, and he is warm in his praise of that officer, declaring that he was the best cavalry officer that he ever knew.
After receiving his discharge from the army he removed to Colorado, where he has lived most of the time since. After his discharge from the United States army he was married at Fort Russell, Kan. His wife died in 1909.
Throughout all his military career Baynes has never received a wound. His has been practically a charmed life, for on many occasions it has seemed that his career was to have an abrupt end, but the goddess of fortune, who always befriended him, kept him unharmed. Of an essentially quiet nature, he does not have much to say of himself, and only when questioned does he grow reminiscent of happenings which have long since gone to make the history of nations. He has been in the Soldiers' Home since last October.
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