Gale Encyclopedia of World History: War. Volume 2. Detroit: Gale, 2008.
Czar Nicholas I
The autocratic ruler of Russia, Czar Nicholas I (1796-1855) essentially started the Crimean War.
Life Before Ruling
Nicholas was born in Tsarkoye Selo, Russia, the third son of Grand Duke Paul and his wife, Grand Duchess Maria. His father became Czar Paul I after the death of Catherine the Great a few months after Nicholas’s birth. Paul held the throne for only four years before being assassinated. Nicholas’s eldest brother, Alexander, then became Czar Alexander I.
Nicholas received an education befitting a potential national leader. He studied political economy, government, and public finance, and he learned six languages (including English and Latin). One particular interest of Nicholas’s from childhood was the science of warfare, encouraged by tutor General Matthew Lamsdorff. Nicholas was especially talented in military engineering and developed into a proficient drillmaster, adept at handling both horses and guns.
After completing his education in 1813, Nicholas became a member of the Russian army. Nicholas worked as the army engineers’ inspector general and also took charge of a guard brigade. His fondness of the military remained with him for the rest of his life because of these early experiences.
Ascension to Power
After Alexander I died unexpectedly in 1825, Nicholas assumed the throne, as his other older brother, Constantine, had given up his claim on the throne several years earlier. At that time, Alexander officially made Nicholas his heir, as Alexander had no children. Nicholas’s succession was challenged, however, by the Decembrist Rebellion that year. The conspiracy included members of the army and was partially caused by confusion over succession as the royal brothers’ arrangement was not made public. Supporters of the revolt believed that Nicholas had taken away Constantine’s throne illegally. Acting with the ruthlessness which would be common throughout his time in power, Nicholas crushed the rebellion and had many of its leaders executed.
During his reign, Nicholas squelched calls for reform and progress, as he was more concerned with maintaining his autocracy and authoritarianism. In 1842, for example, Nicholas acknowledged that serfdom was wrong; he then stated that to fix it would be even more erroneous. A conservative, Nicholas did not trust—and was even afraid of—the Russian masses, and he essentially ruled as a dictator. The czar ran the Russian government as if it were a military entity, relying primarily on military men as advisors. Ignoring bureaucratic procedures, official government structures, and red tape, Nicholas used emissaries to ensure his desires were fulfilled.
Nicholas, the “Gendarme” of Europe
The czar’s conservative beliefs and polices deeply affected Russia’s foreign policy, which he took charge of himself. He did not believe in national self-determination, which spread throughout Europe in the 1840s and resulted in the collapse of many monarchies. Thus, Nicholas was in conflict with all such democratic movements in Europe and England, and he used military power wherever he could to back up such beliefs. He became especially unpopular when he used force to put down the Polish uprising of 1830 to 1831, which resulted in the destruction of Poland’s autonomy. In the process, Nicholas also wiped out the Polish people’s identity as much as possible and even considered destroying the Polish city of Warsaw. People even suspected of being involved in the Polish rebellion—the czar maintained a vigorous secret police force—were executed or sent to Siberia.
Nicholas’s foreign policies and harsh attitudes towards democracy put him at odds with many countries in Europe, particularly England and France. Compounding these philosophical differences was the czar’s expansionist hopes; one aspiration Nicholas had during his reign was annexing Turkey. To that end, he had the Russian Army invade two Ottoman territories, Moldavia and Wallachia, in 1853. Nicholas publicly proclaimed the invasion was a holy war against the Muslims who ruled the Ottoman Empire. European countries knew that Nicholas was really acting on long-harbored land annexation ambitions.
When Nicholas started what became the Crimean War, he invited Great Britain to join the Russian side in the conflict with the promise of dividing up the land gained. Instead, Britain fought the Russians, and added France and the Kingdom of Sardinia as allies. Though Austria and Prussia had long been allies of Russia, even they declined to join the Russians.
The war soon revealed that the Russian military was lacking. Though the Russians had a few victories in the conflict, the war showed that Russia lacked the military and technological acumen of its European counterparts.
As the Crimean War raged on and Russia was losing ground in the conflict, Nicholas became ill. A cold turned into pneumonia for the czar, resulting in his death. There have been some suggestions that he committed suicide, but this theory is generally dismissed. Either way, he died on March 2, 1855, in St. Petersburg, Russia, and was succeed by his eldest son, who became Czar Alexander II. Nicholas’s reign was generally regarded as a failure because of Russia’s defeat in the Crimean War.
As emperor of France, Napoleon III (1808-1873) restored his country’s political importance through involvement in such conflicts as the Crimean War. Louis Napoleon, as he was commonly called, was the nephew of Napoleon I, who was also known as Napoleon Bonaparte, the famous eighteenth-century ruler of France.
A Rocky Start
Born Charles Louis Napoleon Bonaparte in Paris, France, he was the son of Louis Bonaparte, then the king of Holland, and his wife, Hortense de Beaubarnais. His parents’ marriage was on the verge of divorce by the time of his birth. Since Napoleon Bonaparte would not allow the divorce, his parents separated geographically. Louis Napoleon was raised primarily by his mother, first in France until the fall of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1815, then in Switzerland and Germany after the whole Bonaparte family was banished from France. Louis Napoleon was educated by tutors and also attended a gymnasium in Augsburg, Bavaria, where he was one of the best in his class.
Completing his education, Louis Napoleon served in the Swiss Army as a captain and was trained in artillery. By 1830, he was in Italy and involved in the antipapal revolutionary movement with his elder brother, Napoleon Louis Bonaparte, through 1831. His brother died of measles during the conflict, and in 1832, Napoleon Bonaparte’s only son died. Louis Napoleon became the heir to the legacy founded by his famous uncle, and he began to act like it.
In 1836, Louis Napoleon and some coconspirators tried to stage a military coup at Strasbourg, which failed miserably. The government of King Louis-Philippe forced Louis Napoleon to live in exile in the United States.
Louis Napoleon returned to Switzerland a year later to visit his ailing mother. However, the French did not want him to be that close to their country and, after her death, he went to England on his own accord in 1838.
After publishing a pamphlet which outlined his revolutionary politics, Louis Napoleon attempted to stage another uprising in 1840 at Boulogne-sur-Mer, which also failed. This time he was captured and charged with a crime. At the resulting trial, Louis Napoleon was convicted and sentence to life in prison.
During his six years in prison at Ham, he continued his education and wrote books, pamphlets, and letters. In 1846, Louis Napoleon escaped when the prison was being repaired by putting on the uniform of a laborer. He again returned to England, where he spent the next two years.
From the Cell to the Throne
Louis Napoleon went back to France after the February 1848 revolution that deposed the unpopular and increasingly conservative Louis-Philippe. After gaining supporters, Louis Napoleon was elected to the French national assembly. In December, he was overwhelmingly elected the new French president, primarily because of his name and the country’s longing for a return to the glory France found when his uncle was ruler.
By law, Louis Napoleon was allowed only one four-year term in office, but he made use of his time to consolidate and add to his supporters. (For example, he managed to gain the backing of the Roman Catholic Church, which had previously opposed him.) Before his term in office ended, Louis Napoleon tried to get a constitutional amendment passed to allow the president more than one term. After its failure, he started planning a coup d’etat.
The coup took place on December 1, 1851, and was successful with little bloodshed. Though some French tried to stop it, they were put down in brutal fashion. Louis Napoleon disbanded the legislative assembly and established universal suffrage. A new plebiscite was elected, but the election was managed to ensure a majority would vote to revise the constitution.
Under the terms of the new constitution (which passed in January 1852), the French president was essentially a dictator who ruled over the legislature. By the end of 1852, the plebiscite voted for the founding of France’s Second Empire. The president, Louis Napoleon, became Emperor Napoleon III at a ceremony on December 1 and enjoyed a free expanse of power. Domestically, the new French ruler encouraged internal growth such as the construction of railways, industrialization, and the rebuilding of cities including Paris, but he also enforced censorship of the press.
Louis Napoleon used foreign policy involvement to improve France’s reputation as a European leader. In 1854, he joined the British in condemning the Russian invasion of parts of the Ottoman empire. France became involved in the resulting Crimean War and was allied with Great Britain. French troops saw much action in the conflict as they defended their country’s protectorate of holy places. Louis Napoleon was also able to take revenge on Russia for its defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte. Emerging on the victorious side, Louis Napoleon further added to France’s importance by hosting the negotiations which led to the 1856 Treaty of Paris.
While Louis Napoleon’s actions in the Crimean conflict proved popular, his next major foreign policy moves proved to be blunders. In exchange for the cities of Nice and Savoy, he created a secret agreement with Sardinia to help remove Austria from Italy and to form a pope-led Italian federation. However, after the Franco-Austrian war began in 1859 and France paid a huge price for victory at Solferino, the French emperor caved into French clerical opposition to the new Italy, abandoned his Italian allies, and negotiated his own peace with Austria. These events made Louis Napoleon unpopular with the French people.
Retaining power in France by allowing more liberal domestic policies such as freer civil liberties and a more influential legislative assembly, Louis Napoleon continued to pursue an aggressive foreign policy. For example, France joined Britain in an expedition against China at the end of the 1850s.
Empire in Decline
After Otto von Bismarck took power in Prussia after the 1866 Austro-Prussian War, Louis Napoleon recognized the new Prussian leader as a powerful challenger in Europe, but he did not do much to improve the French military. Louis Napoleon tried to hold on to his position by supporting the claim of Leopold, a Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen prince, to the throne of Spain. Bismarck used these circumstances and a perceived insult to provoke the French emperor into starting a war with Prussia.
During the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871, Louis Napoleon himself served on the battlefield. This might not have been the wisest move, as he was captured by the Prussians after the Battle of Seden in September 1870. A few days after his detainment, Louis Napoleon was deposed as the ruler of France by a bloodless coup.
After the war’s end, Louis Napoleon was released by the Prussians. He again went into exile in Great Britain where his family had already fled. Long suffering from gallbladder stones, Louis Napoleon died after several operations on his gallbladder in London on January 9, 1873.
James Brudenell, Seventh Earl of Cardigan
James Thomas Brudenell, the seventh Earl of Cardigan (1797-1868), led British troops during the Crimean campaign. He is best known for leading the doomed “Charge of the Light Brigade” during the Battle of Balaclava.
The Pulpit and the Sword
Cardigan was born in Hambleden, Buckinghamshire, England. The only son of Robert, the sixth Earl of Cardigan, and his wife Penelope Anne Cooke, Brudenell was educated at Christ Church, Oxford University for two years, but did not receive a degree.
Politics came before the military in Cardigan’s professional life. He was first elected to Parliament in 1818, representing Marlborough. Cardigan held the post until 1829 when he resigned because of differences with the seat’s owner, the Marquis of Ailesbury, over the question of Catholic emancipation. During Cardigan’s term in office, he also began a military career. In 1824, he joined the army when he bought the first of many commissions. Cardigan was part of the Eighth Hussars, beginning as a cornet, before buying the ranks of lieutenant, captain, and major. After leaving office, Cardigan purchased a command as a lieutenant colonel in the Fifteenth Hussars in 1830.
Possessing a fierce temper, Cardigan often butted heads with other officers in the unit. Despite such conflicts, Cardigan managed to revive his political career by being elected again to Parliament for a year in 1832, this time from North Northamptonshire. However, his abrasive personality led to problems in his military life. Cardigan was compelled to resign from the Fifteenth Hussars in 1834, after illegally placing an officer, Captain Wathen, under arrest. Cardigan was censured after the related court-martial.
Down but not out, Cardigan revived his military career in 1836 when he became the commander of the Eleventh Hussars, originally known as the Eleventh Light Dragoons, because of the influence of his family. He spent his own funds on the squadron to greatly improve its standing, primarily after he inherited his father’s title and wealth in 1837.
Even with the benefit of deep pockets, Cardigan’s difficult personality continued to create issues. He fought a duel with an officer serving under him, Captain Harvey Tuckett, which led to a hearing before the House of Lords in 1841. Cardigan was acquitted, but only because of a legal technicality.
In addition to being querulous and compelling his officers to become insubordinate, Cardigan also believed in the strict discipline of his troops at a time when the military was quite relaxed. Despite such issues, he was basically respected by the soldiers who served under him. Cardigan remained in command of the Eleventh Hussars until 1847, when he was appointed a major general.
Into War and Into Poetic History
In the spring of 1854, Cardigan was sent to serve in the Crimean War, where most historians concur that his leadership came to be seen as questionable, at best. Early in his post, Cardigan took charge of a patrol which did reconnaissance over one thousand square miles as they made their way toward the Danube. Though they lacked supplies, Cardigan followed orders to the letter. The patrol made it back to camp, where their leader was both approved and condemned for his actions.
Cardigan’s trying leadership led to greater difficulties a few months later. As part of the cavalry division helmed by his hated brother-in-law Lord Lucan, Cardigan was the commander of the Light Calvary Brigade, better known as the “Light Brigade.” His men, also dubbed “the Six Hundred,” were sent on the disastrous “Charge of the Light Brigade” during the Battle of Balaclava on October 25, 1854.
Though Cardigan did not agree with the orders of his superior officers to charge the Russians, nor did he fully understand what the orders truly intended, he and his men went on a mission to ride through a valley and prevent the Russians from seizing guns abandoned earlier in the day by the Turks. When they charged the Russians, the British men under Cardigan’s command were destroyed, first by artillery fire from both sides of the valley, then by the Russians positioned at its end. Cardigan’s men were able to take the guns, but could not hold them. Cardigan himself was wounded, but not seriously, while less than two hundred of his 673 soldiers returned fit for duty.
Despite his failures in Crimea, Cardigan was welcomed as a hero in Great Britain when he returned home in January 1855. He was soon named the British cavalry’s Inspector-General. He held this post until 1860. Despite retaining this prestigious position and remaining a popular figure, there was some questioning of how Cardigan and other British officers handled the war effort in Crimea during his lifetime. Cardigan died on March 28, 1868, at his home in Deene Park, Northamptonshire, England, after suffering injuries when he fell from his horse during a riding accident.
During the Crimean War, Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) established the modern profession of nursing. By introducing sanitary conditions, organizing, and reforming field hospitals. Nightingale saved numerous soldiers’ lives.
Early Life in Italy
Born in Florence, Italy (she was named after the city of her birth), Nightingale was the daughter of William and Fanny Nightingale. Raised in England in a family of wealth and privilege, Florence claimed by the age of six that the society-focused life she was forced to live lacked much meaning and worth to her. Nightingale was often in conflict with her parents and elder sister Parthenope, who embraced the Victorian expectations of womanhood—expectations which included marriage, parties, and European tours.
Educated by her father at home, Nightingale learned the classics, modern languages, and philosophy. At sixteen, she claimed the voice of God talked to her and told her to work in service of him. Though Nightingale received no further instructions from God over the next several years, she decided to make herself worthy by refusing to marry.
Continuing to look for a deeper sense of purpose in life than entertaining and doing needlework, Nightingale studied mathematics for a year. Even more inspiring were her trips with her mother into slums, where they gave money and soap to the poor and sick.
To Help the Sick
When she was twenty-four years old, Nightingale chose a career stimulated by these excursions as well as a calling from God. She wanted to be a nurse, though nurses of the time had a poor reputation as drunk, uneducated women of questionable morals who were of little practical use to those they were supposed to help. Nightingale told her parents of her plans, which included working as a nurse at Salisbury Hospital for part of a year. Predictably, her parents did not support this idea; they were able to prevent her from taking such actions, leaving Nightingale uncertain about the direction of her life.
Nightingale continued to inhabit the existence expected of her by British society while still looking for an outlet for her ambitions. She did find a role model while on a trip to Rome in 1848; she met Sidney Herbert, who would later help her realize her nursing aspirations. In 1849 she turned down a marriage proposal. Nightingale’s reading lists reflected her true passion, as she devoured texts on public health, hospitals and their history, and sanitary issues.
In 1850, Nightingale finally achieved her life’s goal by working as a nurse at the Kaiserwerth Institution in Germany. This first stint as a nurse lasted only three months, but it was followed by another nursing position in Paris. By 1853, Nightingale’s family began to accept that her nursing desires had substance and that Nightingale herself had become more independent. That August, she became the superintendent of a charity-supported nursing home in London, which she dubbed “Sanitarium for Sick Governesses run by a Committee of Fine Ladies.” She came to this position with the help of Herbert. Though Nightingale regarded a majority of their illnesses as questionable, she expressed concern for her patients and had the home running efficiently within a half a year.
By 1853, Nightingale’s family began to accept that her nursing desires had substance and that Nightingale herself had become more independent. That August, she became the superintendent of a charity-supported nursing home in London, which she dubbed “Sanitarium for Sick Governesses run by a Committee of Fine Ladies.” She came to this position with the help of Herbert. Though Nightingale regarded a majority of their illnesses as questionable, she expressed concern for her patients and had the home running efficiently within a half a year.
The War Presents an Opportunity
After the Crimean War began in early 1854, British newspapers published reports of horrific conditions under which wounded and ill British soldiers in army hospitals were forced to recover. Again with the help and support of Herbert, who was working in the British War Office, Nightingale went to the Crimea in November 1854 with thirty-eight nurses (primarily from religious orders), under the appointment of his office.
Nightingale and her nurses immediately went to work improving the environment at the base hospital at Scutari (in Istanbul). Ignoring British misinformation about adequate supplies at the hospital, Nightingale had purchased her own supplies using private money raised by the London Times. This material proved to be greatly needed. As a result of bureaucratic red tape, indifference, and even incompetence, the hospital at Scutari had been poorly run.
Nightingale essentially took over and reorganized the hospital’s operation. She also found to time to help patients, and was dubbed the “Lady with the Lamp” by the soldiers who greatly appreciated her work on their behalf. The death rate at the Scutari hospital soon dropped dramatically from 42 percent to 2.2 percent due to her efforts.
The British hospital at Scutari was not Nightingale’s only accomplishment in the Crimea. She also traveled to inspect other hospitals in the area. Nightingale’s tireless efforts eventually caught up with her and she became ill with what was known as “Crimean fever.” After nearly dying from its effects, she refused to return to Great Britain and continued her work at Scutari. Nightingale also laid the foundation for the future of nursing by playing a role in the establishment of the Medical Staff Corps and the founding of the Nightingale Fund to helped educate nurses.
Ill But Active
Returning to England in 1856 totally exhausted, Nightingale was greeted as a national hero by the public and was invited to a reception with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Though doctors ordered Nightingale to rest, she wanted to use the meeting to share her plan for the establishment of a Royal Commission to revamp the British Army’s medical system, as well as the War Office itself, and save lives. She was able to get the Royal Sanitary Commission established to improve conditions in 1857. Herbert served as its chairman.
By late 1857, Nightingale was essentially an invalid confined to bed, couch, and wheelchair. Even so, she continued to push her agenda of reforming the War Office with the help of several assistants, ignoring the advice of her doctors to concentrate on her own health. Nightingale began to see reforms put in place from 1859 to 1861, as the Royal Commission’s actions reached some fruition while Herbert held the influential position of secretary of state of war.
A recognized expert on nursing, Nightingale also wrote several books, including Notes on Nursing and Notes on Hospitals. She also opened up a nursing school, the Nightingale Training School for Nurses, in 1860.
Because of failing health, Herbert was forced to resign his influential post in 1861 and died a short time later. Nightingale’s loss of a powerful ally led to the end of War Office reforms for a time, though she continued to somewhat influence its operations until 1872. The last years of her life were spent studying subjects such as theology, philosophy, and mysticism. Blinded at the age of eighty-one and further isolated from the world, Nightingale died in London on August 13, 1910.
Alma, September 20, 1854
The Battle of Alma was the first major combat encounter of the Crimean War. Russian troops failed to stop British, French, and Turkish troops from marching on towards Sevastopol, resulting in a victory for the allied forces.
The Terrain of the Battlefield
The Alma River flowed about eighteen miles from the Crimean coast, though it generally only had a knee-deep water level in the fall. On the south bank of the river between the sea and the village of Bourlick, about 33,000 Russian troops had military camps nestled in nearby cliffs and hills. In preparation for an attack by allied troops of France, Great Britain, and Turkey, the Russians had cut down the abundant trees and undergrowth on the north side of the river, leaving them no camouflage.
After the combined allied forces (about 63,000 total) under the joint command of the British Lord Raglan and the French Marshal St. Arnaud landed without Russian resistance in Crimea on September 14-16, they made their way towards Sevastopol beginning on September 19. To reach the Russian naval base at Sevastopol and capture it, the combined forces first had to cross several rivers, and there were clashes with Russians along the way. The most significant fight was at Alma, where Russian general Menshikov made his stand. The allies were forced to confront the Russians, positioned above the Alma on cliffs and hills, before making their way to their ultimate goal.
The Battle Begins
The attack on the Russians by the French and British troops started at 1:00 p.m. on September 20. The Russians expected an easy victory and barely fortified their positions, but were surprised by the allies. French troops were positioned on the right near the mouth of the Alma next to the sea, while British infantry soldiers attacked the Russians inland and on the left. With support from naval guns, a French division led the first assault on the Russians by traveling up a path by the coast then onto a road named for the nearby village of Almatamak. However, French troops became trapped in vineyards located below the Russian positions and failed to be effective.
During the French assault, the British infantry launched their attack and went on to conduct most of the battle, though the French had more troops and armaments available (28,000 infantry and seventy-two guns to Britain’s 26,000 infantry, one thousand cavalry, and sixty guns). First, the British Light and Second Divisions attacked the primary Russian positions by climbing uphill and assailing without mercy. While the Russian guns located on Kourgané Hill fired upon the British troops, the French were focused on a limited adjoining assault which consisted primarily of minor artillery support for the British infantry.
More British regiments marched across the river and began scaling a hill where additional Russian troops were stationed. Because of terrain difficulties, the advancement uphill created disarray among British troops. When they reached the Russian position, they found the Russian guns were already being taken to that army’s rear. The Russians missed an opportunity to inflict potentially heavy casualties on the British with their guns, but the Russians did attempt to cause severe damage with their infantry troops. The still-chaotic state of the British army led to a number of British retreats from the hill and back to the river.
The British troops that remained on the hill were soon bolstered by reinforcements, which helped shore up their position. They assaulted the Russian battery on Kourgané Hill, while other regiments began marching up and attacking Russians on nearby Telegraph Hill. British battery guns acted in support primarily of the latter skirmish. The Russians suffered heavy casualties and soon began retreating. The losses continued to mount for the retreating Russian soldiers as British guns continued to fire upon them.
The Battle Ends
When the battle ended (around three hours after it started), the British had advanced into the Russian position about one-and-a-half miles. The Russians fully retreated and began heading towards Sevastopol. The Russians had suffered the highest number of casualties, between 5,500 and 6,000 men. About 1,775 of those casualties were deaths. The British body count was much lower, with 375 soldiers killed and about 1,600 wounded. There were approximately 560-1,340 casualties among the French forces.
With the Russian loss, the allies had an opening to take the Russian naval base at Sevastopol. Since the British used most of their infantry in the Battle of Alma and St. Arnaud refused to send any of his immediately available 12,000 infantrymen, Lord Raglan was unable to immediately pursue the Russians and confront them that day. This hesitation gave the Russians time to regroup and ensured Sevastopol was properly defended, forcing the long siege of the city.
Balaklava, October 25, 1854
During the siege of the city of Sevastopol, Russian General Menshikov attacked the combined British, French, and Turkish forces in an attempt to divert forces and lessen the pressure on the city. The result was one of the best known battles of the Crimean War, primarily because of the “Charge of the Light Brigade,” the subject of a well-known poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. The Battle of Balaklava played no significant role in the outcome of the Crimean War, however.
Into the Valleys of Death
The battle took place on two valleys, north and south, which made up the Plain of Balaklava. The plain’s valleys were divided by the Causeway Heights. This ridge had a number of temporary forts under Turkish control, but also made it hard for Lord Raglan, the commander of all British forces, to see what was happening in the plain’s north valley.
At dawn, Russian forces commanded by Prince Liprandi captured four of the Turkish redoubts. The infantry battle began with a Menshikov-ordered attack on the only British infantry regiment in the area. His field army drove a wedge into them and was essentially successful in this first wave. Menshikov’s men were able to capture some cannons owned by the Turks and stationed at the redoubts, but then they were essentially driven off.
Menshikov followed this assault with a strike by the Russian cavalry, which was unsuccessful as the Ninety-Third Highlanders resisted the onslaught. The Highlanders rebuffed the Russians with their unique line formation—at a time when most infantries faced cavalries in a square formation—and musket fire. Their heroics and their red uniforms led to the coining of the phrase “the thin red line,” which came to mean perseverance in the face of seeming doom.
In the meantime, the Russians were able to regroup. The two-thousand-strong Russian cavalry was ordered into the south valley and prepared for battle. Sensing another Russian attack was imminent, Brigadier-General Scarlett, the commander of the British cavalry’s Heavy Brigade, moved his men into position. The Heavy Brigade then charged uphill to attack the unprepared Russian cavalry. The charge of the Heavy Brigade compelled the Russians to return to the north valley.
Forward the Light Brigade
British forces then made what seemed like a suicidal assault on the Russians, perhaps due to a misunderstanding over what Raglan actually wanted. The Earl of Cardigan, the British commander of the Light Brigade, claimed he was ordered by Lord Lucan, the British cavalry division commander, to charge the Russian position at the end of the north valley. Others claim that Cardigan or Lucan simply ordered the Light Brigade to attack.
No matter why the order was given or who ordered it, the Light Brigade swept through the north valley and faced fire from the Russian’s field guns on both sides. At the end of the valley, more Russian cannons were stationed, which mowed down more British soldiers. The surviving members of the Light Brigade then rode past the Russian guns to engage the Russian cavalry and drive them off. With the help of a French cavalry unit charge, the British then made their way back through the valley to their starting point, again facing heavy fire. The charge of the Light Brigade lasted only about twenty minutes, but of the 673 British soldiers who started the charge, less than two hundred returned fit to fight again. In addition to the numerous soldiers killed or wounded, almost five hundred horses were lost as well. Despite this bloody price, the Russians were demoralized by British courage shown during the charge.
Like the Charge, the Battle Achieved Little
At the end of the Battle of Balaklava, Russian and allied casualties both numbered over five hundred. No territory had changed hands, as the Russians still possessed the Voronstov ridge and controlled the Sevastopol-Balaklava road. The combined allies retained Balaklava as a British base of operations as well as related approaches to Sevastopol.
While the battle did not affect the outcome of the Crimean War, there was a long-term controversy over who gave the fatal orders for the charge of the Light Brigade.
Inkerman, November 5, 1854
The Battle of Inkerman was another attempt by the Russians to disrupt the allies’ march toward Sevastopol. Known as the “Soldier’s Battle,” it was primarily a fight between British and Russian forces, with a French appearance at the end. The result was no change in territory held by either side.
The Russians Hoped to Turn the Tide of War
For the Russians, the Battle of Balaklava failed to stop the allies. The next Russian move was the launching of what became the Battle of Inkerman. They attacked the British lines located on the east side of Sevastopol early in the morning on the densely foggy day of November 5. The Russians hoped to take advantage of insufficient allied troops stationed in siege lines around the city. Russian troops for the battle numbered 42,000 soldiers from the infantry and the field army, while British forces had a relatively paltry 8,500 participating by battle’s end.
The initial Russian assault was on the British Second Division, which only had 2,700 soldiers and was camped on the Home Ridge Hill. Led by three hundred riflemen, 6,000 Russian troops advanced under the command of General F. I. Soimonoff. Since the British believed an attack was imminent, they were somewhat prepared. The acting British Second Division commander, Brigadier J. L. Pennefather, went forth to engage the Russians. Russian heavy artillery stationed on nearby Shell Hill then started bombing the original Second Division position on Home Ridge.
As foggy conditions persisted the entire day, both sides could not see clearly enough to form an adequate strategy nor comprehend how the battle was developing. This meant that most of the action consisted of hand-to-hand combat between Russian and British troops deployed in the area. Individual British regiments found themselves fighting the columns of Russian infantrymen who had their large numbers organized into sizable columns. British troops had a more reliable firing mechanism on their muskets, so they had a sometimes significant advantage over their counterparts.
The Russians kept trying to take Home Ridge, but the British were able to repel the first column of Russian troops back to Shell Hill. When the Russians tried another attack, led personally by Soimonoff, the result was the same, and Soimonoff was killed. What was left of Soimonoff’s first line was also pushed back by the British. Further attacks by Russian soldiers—led by General Pauloff, then General Dannenberg—met a similar fate, especially after the arrival of more British soldiers.
The French Role
While the primary battle was between Russian and British forces, a small force of Russians from Sevastopol distracted some of the French troops with a small attack to keep them away from the primary battle. Other Russian soldiers, helmed by Prince Mikhail Gorchakov, diverted French General Pierre Bosquet and his men in the Tchernaya valley.
With twilight approaching, a number of French reinforcements appeared on the scene to help their British allies. Russia was unable to rupture allied strongholds. As a result, the British won the battle and remained in control of their battle lines and the battlefield. Losses were heavy, with the Russians losing more soldiers than the British or the French. Russian casualty estimates were 12,000-20,000, while British casualties were a relatively small 2,300-2,600. The French casualties numbered 929.
The Battle of Inkerman failed to disrupt the siege of Sevastopol or gain any advantage for the Russians. The British became more confident in battle as they now understood that they could fully defeat the Russians. British commander-in-chief Lord Raglan wanted to attack Sevastopol right away, but he could not convince his French counterpart, General François Canrobert, of this plan.
From September 1854 until September 1855, British and French forces besieged the city of Sevastopol, site of the Russian naval base in the Black Sea. For the Russians, maintaining Sevastopol was essential to keeping the Russian navy at sea. From the allied perspective, the siege defined much of the Crimean War.
Preparations for the Siege
After winning the Battle of Alma, the combined allied troops began preparing to take the coastal city of Sevastopol, the control of which was central to British and French war strategy. With a contingent of Turkish soldiers, the allied forces marched to the area in late September. The British established their operating base at the harbor of Balaklava while the French one was located at Kamiesch Bay. The French base bordered Sevastopol.
The Russian military had already retreated to the city after the Battle of Alma, and headquartered most of their army to the northeast of the city. Russian general Menshikov prepared for the forthcoming siege by sinking a number Russian ships across the mouth of Sevastopol’s harbor to ensure the enemy could not enter the city that way. Using guns from Russian warships, the Russians also toughened the defense of Sevastopol by adding to already existing batteries in the city’s battlements. Other defenses were also strengthened, and the city was emptied of civilians on October 2.
The Siege Begins
As soon as the allied bases were in place and siege lines completed on October 16, the combined troops began laying siege to Sevastopol from the south. While maintaining only a southern position, British and French troops began bombing the city. The first wave of assaults took place between October 17-19, 1854. Since the allies lacked heavy artillery, this attack caused little damage to the city. The Russians were also able to destroy a French battery located on Mount Randolph, which essentially ended the French bombing assault. As a result of the failed bombardment, a planned assault by the allied infantry was canceled.
After this initial fire, British and French forces settled into a long-term pattern of siege, launching various bombing missions and assaults on the city throughout the winter of 1854-1855. Though the Russians caused other battles to be fought during this siege—most notably the Battle of Balaklava in October 1854 and the Battle of Inkerman in November 1854—British and French forces did not let up on Sevastopol.
Daily, the siege consisted of allied cannon fire on Russian fortifications. While often successful, the damaged fortifications were repaired every night by the Russians. The allied siege also included small raids and assaults, which often led to some hand-to-hand combat along the miles of trenches where soldiers were always stationed on either side. In the no man’s land between each side’s trenches, the Russians created so-called “rifle pits” for snipers. The Russians also attacked a number of allied positions, with some success.
As the British and French forces remained only to the south of Sevastopol, however, Russians essentially maintained control of the city as well as their naval base. The Russians easily accessed Sevastopol from the north and east for most of the year that the combined allied troops were striking at it. The Russian army was encamped to the east of the city. This positioning allowed defense of Russian supply lines, which came through the eastern part of the Crimean peninsula. The Russians also could menace communication lines for the British from there.
The Siege Intensifies
After a spring marked by better supply lines and more guns and ammunition for the allies, the British and French set the stage for their next big move. They began bombing Sevastopol’s defenses on April 8, using mortar fire for the first time. This assault continued for ten days and resulted in the silencing of Russian gunfire. At the end of this campaign, the allies had lost 1,600 men while the Russians lost 6,000 soldiers. More skirmishes followed for the next few months.
In June 1855, British and French forces stepped up their attacks on Sevastopol and made several costly attempts to take the city. A major attack, occurring on June 8, failed. Both sides suffered heavy causalities along the lines of 8,500 Russians and 6,900 combined British and French forces.
The second significant attack occurred on June 17-18 and targeted key temporary fortifications such as the Malakov and Redan, which were strongholds in the city’s defense. It proved to be another costly failure, as the prepared Russians had field guns in their forward positions. These guns were able to cause a significant number of British losses. Each side suffered, as there were 5,400 Russian and 4,000 allied (1,500 British, 2,500 French) casualties. The siege continued during the summer of 1855.
On September 8, 1855, British and French forces again tried to take Sevastopol and finally met with hard-fought success. The French were able to take the Malakov and hold on to the key fort, while the British briefly held the Redan before losing it to the Russians. Since the French were able to hold on to the Malakov, the Russians knew the city was lost. Before abandoning the city and their naval base, they spent September 9-11 destroying their arsenals and sinking what ships remained in the harbor. Both sides suffered extremely heavy casualties. About 13,000 Russians and 10,000 British and French troops suffered injury or died during the final siege.
As a result of the siege, the city of Sevastopol was left a ruin. The final siege of the Sevastopol marked the last major conflict of the Crimean War, which formally lasted until the spring of 1856.
Key Elements of Warcraft
Early in the Crimean War (and in most wars before it), the sick and wounded were often cared for in unspeakably horrific conditions. The British Army was completely unprepared for the medical aspect of the war. As reported by London Times correspondent William Howard Russell to the British public, the primary army base hospital at Scutari had terrible medical and sanitary conditions.
Care in a Cesspool
The hospital lacked basic supplies such as soap, towels, toothbrushes, and basins. Medical supplies were grossly lacking; there was often no anesthesia, common drugs, or bandages. In addition to supply problems, the odor from sewers beneath the ground could be smelled by patients, visitors, and caregivers. Raw sewage overflowed into the wards on a regular basis. Pests and parasites crawled everywhere, and many soldiers were left to lie in their own filth. Patient care was minimal, with men allowed to suffer and scream in agony.
As a consequence of these problems, epidemics of diseases such as cholera and dysentery were common. The death rate at the Scutari hospital was at least 42 percent. Soldiers who had made it off the battlefield alive but in need of medical attention often died because of conditions at the hospital. Overall, disease and the hospital environment killed more soldiers than combat operations in the Crimean War.
The British public was generally appalled by the reports of the soldiers’ poor treatment by the all-male staff of medical doctors and orderlies. The hospital’s conditions were primarily caused by army bureaucracy and regulations. Though the regulations were not working, no one working at the hospital was willing to take a stand and challenge these problems for fear of losing their own posts. Incompetence of medical staff also played a role.
Nightingale Takes Charge
With the support of Britain’s War Office, Florence Nightingale, a well-born woman determined to provide proper care for the soldiers, went to the Scutari hospital with thirty-eight other female nurses to change how the hospital was run. In the process, they redefined what the term “nursing,” meant, especially in wartime, as the Crimean War marked the first time organized female nursing contributed to a war effort.
What Nightingale found at Scutari was often horrifying. Though the hospital administrators claimed not to have access to supplies, such goods were found to be stored elsewhere (left unpacked because the proper authority had not yet approved) or being shipped around several times before finally arriving at Scutari. Nightingale had bought a number of supplies herself before arriving in Crimea. Upon her arrival, the soldier-patients were given the personal supplies (including eating utensils and clean dressing gowns) that they needed, and they had their bed linens changed more regularly. Some privacy was afforded by the use of screens.
Improved Conditions and Patient Care
Army hospitals became much cleaner places under Nightingale’s guiding hand. Her nurses scrubbed the Scutari hospital soon after their arrival. Hygiene and sanitation were hallmarks of Nightingale’s nursing standards, which eventually became common practice in all hospitals.
Nightingale also established kitchens and laundries at Scutari to ensure a more efficient, productive operation which benefited patients. Until Nightingale’s arrival, patients were not fed nourishing food.
The work of Nightingale and her nurses was resented by the male doctors who ran the hospital, but the results were undeniable. The death rate fell to 2.2 percent within six months of their arrival. Thousands of soldiers’ lives were saved in the process.
Patient care also improved as the soldiers’ comfort was emphasized, another innovation key to the development of modern nursing. Caring about patients was not part of the concept of nursing before Nightingale, who saw the profession as a moral calling for women to care for the sick or injured. Believing around-the-clock nursing attention was essential, Nightingale herself made nightly rounds at the Scutari hospital to ensure the patients were able to sleep through the night.
As a result of the Crimean War, the British army began the long process of reforming its medical care and many other bureaucratic regulations. However, it took fifty years before the changes were fully implemented.
Nursing itself was also seen to have value and was on its way to becoming a recognized profession because of Nightingale’s work. Until then, the sick were cared for by friends or family at home. Those women who called themselves nurses before Nightingale were either nuns or unskilled, unprofessional women, who were recruited from prisons or worked as prostitutes. These nurses worked at hospitals that were as primitive and unconcerned with patient comfort as the British Army hospital in Scutari before Nightingale.
Because of Nightingale, nursing care began being provided by someone, usually a woman, who had knowledge of hygiene and medical know-how gained through experience. While Nightingale believed that nurses should work independently of, not beneath, doctors, it was soon common practice for nurses to be subordinate to medical doctors. Despite being considered the doctors’ inferiors, nurses and nursing became integral aspects of commonly accepted and expected medical care.
Impact on World History
The Crimean War is often placed at the crossroads of history in a world that was on the cusp of becoming a modern, industrial society. Generally considered the first modern war, the conflict reflected many of the ongoing changes in how wars were conducted.
Great Britain became the first country to use mass-produced rifles in combat as well as build railways with tactical intent. France devised the first warships with armor, while the Russians introduced submarine mines. The gathering of intelligence and strategic thought also grew during the conflict. The Crimean War saw the beginning of modern trench warfare, a strategy that would find its brutal fruition during World War I.
The way war was covered also changed during this conflict, emphasizing that the press could be quite powerful. For Britain, the Crimean War marked the first use of photography, allowing the British news media to add depth to their war coverage. The ability to send telegraphs across continents assured that war reports were published almost immediately.
The London Times sent William Russell to Crimea as its war correspondent; Russell’s reports about the unseemly conditions of the British Army hospital at Scutari were immediately disseminated to the British public. This innovation directly led to the involvement of Florence Nightingale, the blossoming of modern nursing, and the forcing of massive, far-reaching reforms within the British army.
The Crimean War had widespread political implications as well, as the balance of power in Eastern Europe remained stable. It also was truly a global conflict that saw two superpowers of the nineteenth century, Russia and Great Britain, taking the lead in fighting the war. France emerged as a significant power as well. With the allied victory, the last remnants of the Ottoman Empire remained viable for another fifty years.
Though Russia was powerful, the end of the war compelled the country to renovate both its statecraft and military. Peasant serfs believed that they would be freed in exchange for volunteering to serve during the Crimean War. Alexander was thus compelled to liberate all the serfs in 1861. The Peace of Paris also saw Russia agreeing to no longer play a role in issues related to the Ottoman Empire, allowing its navy to be controlled by the allies, and agreeing to not fortify locations around the Black Sea.
Noncombatants also were affected. Austria, which had helped negotiate the Peace of Paris, became diplomatically isolated after the Crimean War’s end. The country had been neutral during the war, though both sides went into the war believing that Austria-Hungary would join them. Austria remained neutral so as to remain friendly with Russia, Great Britain, and Germany. However, no country would ally with them when the war ended, in part because of their neutral stance.
Since Russia lost its influence in Prussia and because of Austria-Hungary’s isolation, Germany was able to unify in the late nineteenth century. Italy also unified in part because of the situation in Austria-Hungary. The emergence of these new countries marked losses of territory for Austria-Hungary and changed the European balance of power.