26 December 2006 by Published in: Civil War books and authors 4 comments

After a brief stint as a lieutenant in the Austrian 10th Hussars, Louis Edward Nolan was commissioned a cornet in the King’s 15th Hussars, and later purchased his lieutenancy in 1841. He eventually became his regimental riding master and purchased his captaincy in 1850. He spent the next several years studying cavalry tactics and logistics throughout Europe, and wrote two important and well-regarded treatises–one on remounts for the cavalry, and the other a study of cavalry tactics and history. The second book was published in 1853.

Captain Nolan carried the fateful order from Lord Raglan to Lord Lucan to charge a battery of artillery at the Battle of Balaklava during the Crimean War in 1854. That set into motion a series of events that led to a monumental error being committed and the wrong battery being charged by the Light Brigade. Nolan was killed during the charge, and is one of the scapegoats for the Charge of the Light Brigade.

Westholme Publishing has just brought out a brand new edition of Nolan’s 1853 classic Cavalry: Its History and Tactics. The book has an excellent and informative new introduction by Prof. Jon Coulston of St. Andrews University in Scotland.

For those interested in the evolution of American cavalry tactics and doctrine, this book is a must-read. Nolan’s text became one of the principal treatises on doctrine and tactics for the mounted arms of the British and American armies. Philip St. George Cooke incorporated some of those tactics into his 1860 treatise on single-rank cavalry tactics. For those interested in the Charge of the Light Brigade, the history of mounted operations, and the evolution of tactics, this book is indispensable.

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  1. Dave Powell
    Wed 27th Dec 2006 at 8:31 am

    Scapegoat? Do you feel Nolan was blamed by mistake?

    Since Nolan died in the charge, we don’t know what he was thinking. But almost certainly he should have known which battery Raglan wanted attacked. He was on the heights, after all.

    Cardigan, in the valley, could see only the battery on the far end that he thought was the target. If Nolan and Cardigan disagreed with the target, or Cardigan was mistaken, why did Nolan set off at the head of the charge towards the wrong target as well?

    Nolan’s book on tactics is very interesting, but it is one of the later defenses of the efficacy of the heavy charge to the exclusion of other tactics. It is one of those peace-time treatises that elevates shock action from an important tactical element to the dominant tactic.

    Nolan would be heavily used in the post ACW era by traditionalists still seeking a role for Cavalry shock, as late as the turn of the century. He was the du Picq of cavalry, for a time.

    Eric, are you familiar with any of Col. George Denison’s writings on Cavalry?

    Dave Powell

  2. Wed 27th Dec 2006 at 10:54 am


    To some extent, yes. The order was poorly drafted.

    However, your point about leading the charge up the wrong valley is well-taken.

    I’ve not read any of Dennison’s writings.


  3. Rob Wick
    Wed 27th Dec 2006 at 9:02 pm


    Interesting you would mention this, because it came into the store today (along with Rush’s Lancers, I might add) and I was going to e-mail you asking if it would be worth my purchase, as I want to learn all I can about the cavalry before I start working on that aspect of EJC’s life. Thanks.


  4. Dave Powell
    Sun 31st Dec 2006 at 4:34 pm

    Denison’s “Modern Cavalry “was printed in 1868, and was one of the first treatises to try and incorporate ACW lessons. He thanks Fitz Lee, Rosser, and S D Lee for helping him study CSA cav ops.

    He does consider Nolan’s book one of the few useful works on Cavalry, but his conclusions are in many ways opposite Nolan’s: He embraces the mounted infantry concept wholeheartedly, for example, and is very impressed with the power and speed of late war Union cav ops.

    Denison was a colonial officer, served in the Indian Mutiny, and then went on to Canada to command the Governer-General’s body guard there. As such, he tended to be ignored by the continental establishment.

    It is interesting to note that Nolan’s work was still influencing cav tactcs well into the late 19th Century. Denison really didn’t get much attention from the professionals.

    Dave Powell

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