Robert Alexander Hillingford (British, 1825-1904)


WEB IMAGE 012   Robert Alexander Hillingford (British, 1825-1904), signed, oil on canvas, 18″ x 24″ 

Hillingford was an English artist who specialized in painting historic battle scenes. He spent his early years in London, and in 1841, moved to Düsseldorf to begin his studies. After completing a rigorous five years of training, he traveled to Munich, Rome, Florence and Naples. He settled in Italy for several years and focused on paintings scenes of Italian life. One painting from this period, entitled “The Last Evening of the Carnival,” was exhibited at St. Petersburg in 1859. He returned to London in 1864, and exhibited his first painting at the Royal Academy in 1866. It was at this point in his career that he began to concentrate on historical subjects, producing many images of the Napoleonic Wars. He was applauded for his accuracy and attention to detail and became a regular exhibitor at the Royal Academy, British Institution, and at other galleries.

The Crimean War – The Battle of Balaklava and the Battle of Inkerman

The Crimean War took place from October 1853 to February 1856. It was a conflict that involved Russia against an alliance of Britain, France, the Ottoman Empire, Sardinia and the Austrian Empire. The Crimean War was fought mostly in the Crimean Peninsula as Russia attempted to expand its territory and take advantage of the decline in the Ottoman Empire. The three major encounters in the Crimean War were the Battle of Balaklava, the Battle of Inkerman and the Battle of Malakhov. The Battle of Balaklava took place in October of 1854. Russians attacked the allied base of Balaklava while two British units, the 93rd Highlanders and the Light Cavalry Brigade, held out against the Russians. The Light Brigade was sent on an almost suicidal mission against the heavily armed Russian forces. Of the 700 men, 278 were killed or wounded. Alfred Lord Tennyson memorialized the Light Brigade in the famous poem “Charge of the Light Brigade.”  This failed campaign was followed by another bloody encounter in November, the Battle of Inkerman, with the allies coming in victorious.

The Crimean War is considered to be one of the first “modern” wars. It introduced the first strategic use of the railways and the electric telegraph, and was one of the first wars to be documented extensively by war correspondents. Florence Nightingale’s pioneering fight for the improvement of sanitary conditions in field hospitals and her reorganization of the entire military medical care system also came out of this 19th century conflict. However, the Crimean War is most known for thetactical errors and battlefield blunders made during the 1854 Battle of Balaklava. The Light Brigade of the British cavalry, acting on a misinterpreted order, rode directly into heavy Russian artillery. After being bombarded by a barrage of bullets, the Light Brigade found itself at the end of a valley, and had no other option but to return the same way it had come, resulting in even more loss of life.

“The Charge of the Light Brigade

Lord Tennyson, the Poet Laureate during much of Queen Victoria’s reign, eloquently described the Battle of Balaklava in his poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade.” Tennyson’s poem, first published on December 9, 1854, is a celebration of the heroic soldiers in the Light Brigade who fell in service to their commander and their cause. The poem tells the story of the British Light Brigade, consisting of 600 soldiers, who rode on horseback into the “valley of death” for half a league (about one and a half miles). The soldiers were obeying a command to charge the enemy forces that had been seizing their guns. Not a single soldier questioned the command to charge forward, even though all the soldiers realized that their commander had made a terrible mistake:

“Some one had blunder’d: Theirs not to make reply, Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do & die, Into the valley of Death Rode the six hundred.”

The 600 soldiers were assaulted by canons in front and on both sides of them. Still, they rode courageously forward toward their own deaths:

“Cannon to right of them, Cannon to left of them, Cannon in front of them… Into the jaws of Death … Rode the six hundred.”

The story is told that Tennyson wrote the poem inside only a few minutes after reading an eyewitness account of the battle by William Russell, one of the greatest and most respected British war correspondents of all time. Tennyson’s poem became enormously popular, eventually reaching the troops in the Crimea, where it was distributed in pamphlet form.