17 September 2004
The important Victorian C.B. group of six awarded to General Sir Alexander Low, a senior Captain of the 4th Light Dragoons in the Charge of the Light Brigade, during which he reputedly accounted for 13 Russian gunners: described by a fellow officer as being ‘a fine figure of a man, weighing fifteen stone - a most gallant fellow - and perhaps the best cavalry officer in the service’, he became Colonel of his regiment in 1881
The Most Honourable Order of The Bath, C.B. (Military) Companion’s breast badge, gold and enamels, hallmarks for London 1867, with gold swivel-ring suspension and riband buckle; Crimea 1854-56, 4 clasps, Alma, Balaklava, Inkermann, Sebastopol (Lt. Coll. Low, 4th Light Dragoons), contemporary engraved naming; France, Second Empire, Legion of Honour, Chevalier’s breast badge, in silver, with gold and enamel centre and high relief crown suspension; Turkish Order of the Medjidie, Fourth Class breast badge, silver, with gold and enamel centre and suspension device; Sardinian Al valore Militare, silver, with reverse inscription ‘Spedizione D’Oriente 1856’, and ‘F. G.’ below wreath, and officially engraved naming, ‘Bt. Lieutt.-Colonel Alexr. Low, 4th Drags.’, last letter of surname officially corrected; Turkish Crimea 1855, Sardinian die, Officer’s Hunt and Roskill pattern, unnamed, enamel work chipped in places, otherwise very fine and better (6)
C.B. London Gazette 13 March 1867.
Alexander Low, who was born at Bath in June 1817, joined the 4th Light Dragoons as a Cornet in October 1835. A senior Captain of the regiment by the time of the Crimea War, he was present at Alma, and commanded one of two squadrons of the 4th Light Dragoons in the charge at Balaklava on 25 October 1854. A glimpse of the gallant Low in action in the “Valley of Death” is to be found in a letter sent to a newspaper - quite possibly a Bath publication where his father was resident - after that momentous event:
‘After that terrible charge at Balaklava, in which he slew and un-horsed several of the enemy, dealing sabre strokes, every one of which carried death with it, he found himself alone amongst the enemy horsemen, three of whom bore down on the British cavalryman, one on each flank and one in front. Seizing his revolver, he shot the first two, right and left, and cut down the third with his sabre; his good horse [then] bounded over him, and although with a jaw broken by a grape-shot, carried his heroic rider safe into British lines ...’
Kinglake, too, reputedly refers to Low in the following extract from his famous history:
‘There was one of our officers who became afflicted, if so one may speak, with what has been called the blood-frenzy. Much gore besmeared him, and the result of the contest was such as might seem confirmatory of the vulgar belief as to the maddening power of human blood. This officer, whilst under the frenzy, raged wildly against human life, cutting down, it was said, very many of the obstinate Russians with his own reeking hand ...’
In the moments immediately following the arrival of the 4th Light Dragoons at the Russian guns, Low’s C.O., Lord Paget, had turned to him, saying “Low, we are in a desperate scrape; what the devil shall we do? Has anyone seen Lord Cardigan?”
As it happened, Low had seen Cardigan, and told General Codrington afterwards that as the 4th Light Dragoons were going in, Cardigan was “riding back as hard as he could go.” In the same conversation, Low likened the fighting in the valley to “the noise of so many tinkers at hammering work”, and nor did he rate the Russian cavalrymen too highly - “they did not stand the attack [and] cannot ride.” But as W. Baring Pemberton observes in his Battles of the Crimean War, Low’s impressive tally of enemy slain was also attibutable to him using the point of his sword, rather than the edge, which rarely penetrated the thick coats of the enemy.
Indeed it is clear from a number of contemporary accounts and eye-witness statements that Low was a highly skilled and professional cavalryman, a big man blessed with a fine physique, ‘an anti-drawing-room man’, according to Lieutenant Robert Portal, another 4th Light Dragoon, who was ‘about the best cavalry officer out here.’ No doubt that was why Lord Paget felt bound to turn to him in those desperate moments at the guns.
The aforementioned Bath correspondent was equally glowing in his praise for the Balaklava hero, crediting Low as being ‘the very beau of the light cavalry sabreur’, while also describing his physique as ‘slightly above the middle size’, with ‘broad chest and shoulders, long arms, narrow girth, [and ] fine manly countenance’, the whole set-off by a ‘long light Saxo-moustache.’ Lieutenant Henry Adlington - another regimental contemporary - agreed, describing Low as being ‘a fine figure of a man, weighing fifteen stone’, and ‘a most gallant fellow, perhaps the best cavalry officer in the service.’
Yet mingled in with all the bravado and physical courage was a good deal of West Country common sense. When one of Low’s troop leaders, Captain Thomas, who was wounded in the right thigh as he charged down the valley, turned to Low, his senior, to ask for orders, he was told that if he could still sit on his horse he may as well stick with the crowd - “There’s no use going back now, you’ll only be killed.”
Low was next engaged at Inkermann, where, because of Paget’s advancement to Brigade command, and the death of Major John Halkett, he commanded the regiment in the rank of Major. There it had a worrying time in the vicinity of “Sandbag Hill”, being pounded by Russian artillery, Paget afterwards describing the bombardment as being ‘as heavy as any we had ever been under’, and as being ‘rendered doubly apparent, of course, by our having to sit still under it!’
Low went on to command the 4th Light Dragoons at Tchernaya and in the Eupatoria expedition, as well as in the Sebastopol operations. And when Lord Paget returned home, he was advanced to Lieutenant-Colonel. In addition to his 4-clasp Crimea and Turkish Crimea Medals, he was awarded the Sardinian Al Valore Militare, created a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honour and a 4th Class of the Turkish Order of Medjidie.
Advanced to Colonel in December 1857, Low gained steady promotion over the coming years, being appointed a Major-General in March 1868, Colonel of the 2nd Dragoon Guards in 1874, and a Lieutenant-General in 1877. Three years later he reached the pinnacle of his chosen profession with his advancement to General and, in 1881, when he was placed on the Retired List, he achieved his most gratifying appointment of all, namely the Colonelcy of his old regiment, now the 4th Hussars. He died at his residence in Geneva on 9 July 1904.
‘One month before his death his name appeared in the Crimea Jubilee Honours List as being created K.C.B. [12 June 1904]. In his obituary in The Times of 12 July, he is referred to as “Sir Alexander Low”, although it is doubtful whether he actually received the insignia or the accolade’ (Honour the Light Brigade refers).
The following items attributed to General Sir Alexander Low will be included in our auction on 1 December 2004:
(a) 4th Light Dragoons, full dress sabretache with honours to Afghanistan 1842
(b) 4th Light Dragoons tunic, blue with red facings, gold lace, gilt regimental buttons
(c) 4th Light Dragoons, associated pouch belt
(d) Cased Adams patent five shot revolver by Wilkinson, complete with accoutrements