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Highlanders in Red Coats

Five hundred and fifty men of the Argylls and 100 invalids were now left to stand between the Russian army and Balaclava, and Sir Cohn rode down the line telling them, ‘Men, remember there is no retreat from here. You
must die where you stand.’ To the Russian cavalry as they came on, the hillock appeared unoccupied, when suddenly, as if out of the earth, there sprang up a line two deep of Highlanders in red coats, the line immortahised in British history as ‘the thin red line’.

Every man in that line expected to be killed and, determined to sell his life as dearly as possible, faced the enemy with stern steadiness. The Russians were taken aback. Their intelligence service was quite as inadequate as the British; they had no idea of the strength and disposition of the British troops and they suspected once more that they had fallen into an ambush.

Indeed the gorge ahead would have been perfect for that purpose had the idea of an ambush ever occurred to the British command. The Russian cavalry checked, halted, and from the thin red line came a volley of the deadly musket-fire, every bullet aimed, which formation in
line made possible. The Russians wavered, steadied, advanced, and a second volley was fired. Once more the Russians wavered, and such was the eagerness of the Argylls that there was a movement forward; the men wanted to dash out and engage the enemy hand to hand, and Sir Cohn Campbell was heard shouting sternly, ‘Ninety-third! Ninety-third! Damn all that eagerness.’

The British line steadied, a third volley was fired, and the Russians wheeled and withdrew in the direction of the main body of their cavalry. The Highlanders burst into hurrahs. Balaclava, for the moment, was saved.

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