Besieged by the Earl of Cardigan's 11th Hussars, the Duke of Wellington, whoso desk was piled with fusillades from Cardigan's badgered officers and the Earl himself, directed that complaints be submitted instead ""to the General Officer who should be so unfortunate [sic] as to have the Regiment under his command."" The ""hero"" of Balaclava, who did most of his fighting in his headquarters, was throughout his pre-Crimean career a constant irritant -- in addition to instigating roaring rows with his subordinates, he had been court martialed for ""intent to kill"" another officer, had been involved in a suit charging him with ""criminal conversation"" with another's wife, and was ""the only Victorian peer to he tried by the House of Lords."" When Cardigan became Brigadier-General of the Light Cavalry Brigade under the divisional command of his brother-in-law, Lord Lucan, their mutual hatred flared into constant bickering. ""We call Lucan the cautious ass, and Cardigan the dangerous ass,"" wrote a young officer to his family. Yet until the Crimean war, Cardigan seemed merely an ass -- vain, unstrung, brave, a handsome, dashing habitue of clubs, elegant ""messes"" and parade drills in glittering uniform. As for the famous Charge, however, Thomas feels that the ""appalling blunder"" was not really Cardigan's. He queried the impossible order twice -- an order ""given"" by two superiors -- and had no choice. A responsible biography of an unstable and yet interesting man who represented an era and a military system about to pass, thanks to reform (three years after Cardigan's death at 70 commissions by purchase were abolished) and a deepening doubt about the value of ""do and die"" without asking ""why?