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Cache of the Light Brigade
John Harrison
John Harrison
The Charge of the Light Brigade

The following story was published in “Ruts in the Road, Vol. 3” an original volume of local, Delaware County history. Copyright 1985 by John E. Raitt. Used with permission.

A Member of the Light Brigade


            Among the many poems which I read, memorized or heard recited fifty years ago, two stand out in my mind as prime examples of unwavering loyalty and obedience. One was concerned with a boy that “Stood on the Burning Deck,” while the other was Lord Tennyson’s stirring “Charge of the Light Brigade.” To a young lad the latter poem conjured up a picture o galloping horse, colorful uniformed riders, and raised sabers. With the words “Into the Valley of Death rode the Six Hundred,” flashed a vison of terrible carnage of dead and dying amid the roar and smoke of battle. Above all this was the spectacle of unquestioned obedience to an officer’s command.

            Has the night stillness of Upper Prospect Street in Delhi ever been shattered by the thundering sounds of hoof beats and the ghostly cries of a youthful charging dragon? It could be possible, for nearby in a remote corner of Woodland cemetery lies the mortal remains of a wounded survivor of that immortal charge.

            No markers, flags, or engraved words adorn his resting place to attest  to his exploits. Just a small, simple family gravestone is there listing six names, one of which reads, “1827 – JOHN HARRISON – 1905.”

            Yes, John Harrison was a member of A Troop, First Royal Dragoons while he served with the British Army in the Crimean War. As one of Lord Cardigan’s Light Brigade, he responded with a clear and prompt “Here!” on the morning of October 25, 1854, as the troop formed at Balaklava, before Sevastopol. When the evening sun went down that day, John was one of the few of the Light Brigade who escaped alive although terribly wounded by a Cossack’s saber thrust.

John Harrison was born in the City of Chester, England, on January 1, 1827. Before entering the British army he served considerable time as an apprentice in the painting or decorating trade. He enlisted in the First Royal Dragoons on April 10, 1854.

Recuperating from his wounds, Mr. Harrison received a discharge at his own request and some months later embarked for the United States. He reached New York City on May 4, 1863. There he found this country involved in a bitter civil war and reports are that a short time later he enlisted in Company I of the 71st New York Regiment under Captain Belknap. His service under the Union flag is said to be a matter of that regimental history. If this is true, his grave site offers no evidence of such military service. Is this, perhaps, because he served not as a citizen but rather as an alien or mercenary?

Eventually Mr. Harrison established his residence at Delhi, New York, occupying a home on Meredith Street. This was his home for many years while he pursued his trade as a master workman in and about the Village of Delhi. The Stamford paper in 1895 reported from a boastful Delhi correspondent that John Harrison was the best painter in the state, having painted 1,461 houses in the Villageof Delhi, the number equal to his assigned number in the British Dragoons.

To a few privileged friends he would occasionally show his British medal awarded members of the First Royal Dragoons and relate some of his experiences, although it was said he was a man of retiring disposition.

He died at his Meredith Street home on December 11, 1905, at the age of 78 being survived by his wife, Sarah; two sons, Richard of Delhi and John of Pennsylvania; and a daughter, Mrs. William Holloway, of Meredith, New York.

Ten years earlier Mr. Harrison had told his story which was printed in the “Leslie’s Weekly,” a popular magazine of the time.


Into the Valley of Death


 “There was a bad blunder that day on the part of some one, or the Light Brigade would never have been sent against the solid ranks of the Russians,” avowed John Harrison in reporting his experiences during the Charge of the Light Brigade. Lord Cardigan was the commander but York Scarlett was really the officer that was in charge.

            A day or two earlier a battery of guns had been captured by the Russians from Lord Raglan, and it was for a possible recapture that the charge was proposed. The error of judgment was that, in order to reach the causeway heights where the battery was located, the cavalry had to ride straight down a valley where the enemy held the high ground in front and on both flanks.

            “The men looked at each other uneasily as we started on a trot down the valley…we had a mile to go and the Russians had a good range on us most of the way.”

            “‘From the centre, extend! Canter!’ sang out Scarlett’s voice, then the trumpet sounded charge, and off we went. I confess I wanted o go back. The shells began to whistle, and the only thing that reminded me of being alive was my good horse under me…the longer I rode the more desperate I got. Over and over again our line was broken.”

            “’Zip!’ a piece of shell or grape knocked my helmet off…my horse for the first time began to get nervous. We were getting close to the guns and the smoke and fires were suffocating. I held him straight and on we went on a canter.”

            Harrison and his horse moved right up to the guns along with the remaining Dragoons. The Russians began to desert their cannons as the cavalrymen slashed right and left. “I cut one gunner’s skull open with my sabre, and I don’t believe he ever knew what hit him…then, just as retreat was sounded a single shaggy little Cossack, with lance at the charge, came riding down on me like the wind. I can see the rascal yet. He sat on his horse like a monkey, and his red eyes were fastened on me alone. I met him with parry and point. Then both our horses came together with a crash and down we both went. I with his lance sticking in my thigh and burning like a red hot iron, and he with a red gash on his stone-like head.”

            John Harrison’s right hand strapped to his sabre with a buck-skin keeper was useless at short range. His horse was gone. With a wrench “I felt from the top of my head to my toes, I tore it (the spear) out of my hip. A gush of blood followed…and I began to grow faint.” He and the Cossack were alone. The Russians were on the retreat. Harrison kept his eye on the Cossack fearing that, in his weakened condition, he would be unable to protect himself but he saw that the Russian was dying.

            “Things began to grow dark to me, and I heard the tramp of horses. The tide of battle was once more about me, and I saw and felt a horse step on me as I closed my eyes in unconsciousness. When I opened my eyes, hours afterwards, a surgeon was looking me in the face. I was safe among my friends under cover.”

            John Harrison remembered Florence Nightingale and her staff of nurses and ministering angels. “They wore white dresses that day, and the cool drinks they brought me took me back to my mother’s home…”

            The memory remained vivid for Mr. Harrison and time and again he would awake from sleep with a raging battle disturbing his dreams. He was indeed one of the fortunate ones. Of the six hundred and seventy-five members of the Light Brigade who rode down the valley that day, only one hundred and ninety-five came back.