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Encyclopedia Britannica

Eleventh Edition, Vol VII, 1910

by Charles Francis Atkinson

(See also our entries on the Battles of Alama, Inkerman and Balaklava and on Sevastopol.) The war of 1853-56, usually known by this name, arose from causes the discussion of which will be found under - the heading Turkey: History. When Turkey, after a period of irregular fighting, declared war on Russia in October 1854, Great Britain and France (subsequently assisted by Sardinia) intervened in the quarrel. At first this intervention was represented merely by the presence of an allied squadron in the Bosporus, but the storm of indignation aroused in Great Britain and France by the destruction of the Turkish fleet at Sinope (30th November) soon impelled these powers to more active measures. On the 27th of January 1854 they declared war on the tsar, and prepared to carry their armaments to the Danube. In this, the main, theatre of war, the Turks had hitherto proved quite capable of holding their own. The Russian commander, Prince Michael Gorchakov, had crossed the Pruth with two corps early in July 1853, and had overrun Moldavia and Wallachia without difficulty. Omar Pasha, however, disposing of superior forces, was able to cheek any further advance. During October, November and December the Turks won a succession of actions, of which that at Oltenitza Nov. 4th) may be particularly mentioned, and a little later Gorchakov found himself compelled to fight at Cetatea (Tchetati) before reinforcements could come up. The defeat he sustained was for the time being decisive (6th Jan. 1854). Three months later, the Russians, now under command of the veteran Prince Paskievich, took the offensive in great force. Crossing the Danube near its mouth at Galatz and Braila, they advanced through the Dobrudja and closed upon the fortress of Silistria, which offered a strong and steady resistance, with an effect all the greater as the Turks from the side of Shumla, now supported by the leading British and French brigades at Varna, prevented a close investment. The Turks, however, avoided a decisive encounter, and the stormers stood ready in the trenches before Silistria, when the siege was suddenly raised. The decision had passed into other hands. The tsar had learned that the Austrian army of observation in Transylvania, 50,000 strong under Feldzeugmeister Hess, was about to enforce the wishes of the "Four Powers." The Russian offensive was at an end, the army hastily fell back, and on the 2nd of August 1854 the last man recrossed the Pruth. The principalities were at once occupied by Hess.

The Invasion of the Crimea.

The primary object of the war had thus easily been obtained. But Great Britain and France were by no means content with a triumph that left untouched the vast resources of an enemy who was certain to employ them at the next opportunity. The two nations felt that Sevastopol, the home of the Black Sea fleet, the port whence Admiral Nachimov had sailed for Sinope, must be crippled for some years at least, and as early as June 29th Lord Raglan and Marshal Saint Arnaud, the allied commanders of England and France had received instructions to "concert measures for the siege of Sevastopol." Dynastic considerations reinforced the arguments of policy and popular opinion in the case of, France, in Great Britain soldier and civilian alike saw the menace of a Russian Mediterranean fleet in the unfinished forts and busy dockyards. The popular strategy for once coincided with the views of the responsible leaders. Yet there is no sign that either the commanders on the spot or their governments realized the magnitude of the undertaking. Few but the most urgently necessary preparations were made, and cholera, breaking out virulently amongst the French at this time, reduced the army at Varna, and even the fleet at sea, to impotence. The troops were so weakened that, even in September, the five-mile march from camp to transport exhausted most of the men. Heavy weather still further delayed the start, and it was not until the 7th of September that the expedition began to cross the Black Sea. One hundred and fifty war-vessels and transports conveyed the army, which, guarded on all sides by the fighting fleet, crossed without incident and drew up on the Crimean coast on September 13th. Tactical considerations prevailed in the choice of place. The landlocked harbours south of Sevastopol were for the time being neglected, and a spot known as Old Fort preferred, because the long beach, the heavy metal of the ships' broadsides, and a line of lagoons covering the front offered singularly favourable conditions for the delicate operation of disembarkation. Still, on the side of Sevastopol there was no good harbour, and it was quite open to question whether in this came the strategic necessities of the situation were not neglected in favour of purely tactical and temporary advantages. As a matter of fact no opposition was offered to the landing, but the weather prevented the disembarkation being completed until the 18th. St. Arnaud and Raglan had at this time under their orders 51,000 British, French and Turkish infantry, 1000 British cavalry, and 128 guns, and on the 19th this force (less some detachments) began the southward march in order of battle, the British (who alone had their cavalry present) on the exposed left flank, the French next to the sea, the fleet moving in the same direction parallel to the troops.

The Alma

Old Fort was beyond the reach of Menshikov, the Russian commander, but, as the fortress communicated with the interior of Russia via Kerch and Simferopol, it was to be expected that he would either accept battle on the Sevastopol road, or cover Simferopol by a flank attack on Lord Raglan. Both these contingencies were provided for by the order of march, and in due course it was ascertained that the Russians adopted the former alternative, and barred the Sevastopol road on the heights of the river Alma. Menaced by the guns of the fleet, Menshikov had wheeled back his left, and at the same time he strengthened his right in order to cover the Simferopol road. From this it followed naturally that the brunt of the attack fell upon the British divisions, whilst the french, nearer the sea, struck to some extent dans le vide. The two commanders, after a reconnaissance, decided upon their plan. The French divisions in echelon from the right were to cross the river and force Menshikov inwards, whilst the British were to move straight to their front against the strongest part of the Russian line. Substantially this plan was carried out on the 20th of September. Owing to want of men (he had but 36,400 against over 50,000) Menshikov was unable to hold his left wing very strongly, and the French were scarcely checked save by physical obstacles; but opposite the British force the ground sloped glacis-wise up to the Russian line, and nothing but their iron discipline, the bet heritage of the Peninsular War, brought them victorious to the crest of Kurghane hill. The Russians had no option but to retreat, which they did without molestation. The allies lost about 3,000 men, mostly British (though Prince Napoleon's men also suffered heavily); the Russians reported 5709 casualties.

The March on Sevastopol.

On the 23rd of September the advance was resumed, and by the 25th Sevastopol was in full view of the allied outposts. It was now that the necessary consequences of the choice of Old Fort as the landing-place presented themselves as a problem for instant solution. Whatever chance there had been of assaulting the north side of Sevastopol was now gone. Menshikov had sacrificed some ships in order to seal up the harbour mouth, and naval cooperation in attack was now impossible, while the other Russian ships could in safety aid the defenders with their heavy guns. A siege, based on the beach of Old Fort or the open roads of Kacha, was out of the question, as was re-embarkation for a fresh landing. There remained only a flank march by Mackenzie's farm and the river Chernaya. Once established on the south side, the allies could use the excellent harbours of Kamiesh and Balaklava; this could almost certainly be effected without fighting, while in besieging Sevastopol itself and not merely the north side, the allies would be striking at the heart. But a flank march is almost always in itself a hazardous undertaking, and in this case the invaders were required further to abandon their line of retreat on Old Fort. In point of fact, the army, covered by a division opposite the Russian works, successfully accomplished the task. At the same moment Menshikov, after providing for the defence of Sevastopol, had marched out with a field army towards Bakhchiserai, and on the 25th of September each army, without knowing it, actually crossed the other's front. On arrival at Balaklava the allies regained contact with the fleet, and the detachment left on the north side, its mission being at an end, followed the same route and rejoined the main body. The French now took possession of Kamiesh, the British of Balaklava.

Beginning of the Siege.

Thus secured, the allies closed upon the south side of the fortress. A siege corps was formed, and the British army and General Bosquet's French corps covered its operations against interruption from the Russian field army. The harbour of Sevastopol, formed by the estuary of the Chernaya, was protected against attack by sea not only by the Russian war-vessels, afloat and sunken, but also by heavy granite forts on the south side and by the works which had defied the allies on the north. For the town itself and the Karabelnaya suburb the trace of the works had been laid down for years. The Malakoff, a great tower of stone; covered the suburb, flanked on either side by the Redan and the Little Redan. The town was covered by a line of works marked by the Flagstaff and central bastions, and separated from the Redan by the inner harbor. Lieut.-Col Todleben, the Russian chief engineer, had very early begun work on these sites; and daily recreating, rearming and improving the fortifications, finally connected them by a continuous enceinte. Yet Sevastopol was not, early in October 1854, the towering fortress it afterwards became, and Todleben himself maintained that; had the allies immediately assaulted, they would have succeeded in taking the place. There were, however, many reasons against so decided a course and it was not until the 17th of October that the first attack took place. All that day a tremendous artillery duel raged. The French siege corps lost heavily and its guns were overpowered. The fleet engaged the harbour batteries close inshore, and suffered a loss of 500 men, besides severe damage to the ships. On the other hand the British siege batteries silenced the Malakoff and its annexes, and, if failure had not occurred at the other points of attack, an assault, might have succeeded. As it was Todleben, by daybreak, had repaired and improved the damaged works. Meanwhile General Canrobert had succeeded St Arnaud (who died on the 20th of September) in the joint leadership of the allies. It was not long before Menshikov and the now augmented field army from Bakhchiserai appeared on the Chernaya and moved towards the Balaklava lines and the British base.


A long line of works on the upland secured the siege corps from interference, and the Balaklava lines themselves were strong, but the low Vorontsov ridge between the two was weakly held, and here the Russian commander hoped to sever the line of communications. On the 25th of October Liprandi's corps carried its slight redoubts at the first rush. But the British cavalry stationed at the foot of the upland was situated on their flank, and as the Russian cavalry moved towards Kadikoi, the "Heavy Brigade" under General Scarlett charged home with such effect that Menshikov's troopers only rallied behind their field batteries near Traktir bridge. At the same time some of the Russian squadrons, coming upon the British 93rd regiment outside the Balaklava lines, were completely broken by the steady volleys of the "thin redline." The "light Brigade" of British cavalry, farther north, had hitherto remained inactive, even when the Russians, broken by the "heavies," fled across their front. The cavalry commander, Lord Lucan, now received orders to prevent the withdrawal of the guns taken by Liprandi. The aide-de-camp who carried the order was killed by the first shell, and the whole question of responsibility for what followed is wrapped in obscurity. Lord Cardigan led the Light Brigade straight at the Russian field batteries, behind which the enemy's squadrons had re-formed. From the guns in front, on the Fedukhine heights, and on the captured ridge to their right, the advancing squadrons at once met a deadly converging fire, but the gallant troopers nevertheless reached the guns and cut down the artillerymen. Small parties even charged the cavalry behind, and at least two unbroken squadrons struck out right and left with success, but the combat could only end in one way. The 4th Chasseurs d'Afrique relieved the British left by a dashing charge. The "Heavies" made as if to advance, but came under such a storm of fire that they were withdrawn. By twos and threes the gallant survivors of the "light Brigade" made their way back. Two-thirds of its numbers were left on the field, and the day closed with the Russians still in possession of the Vorontsov ridge.


If the heights lost in this action were not absolutely essential to the safety of the allies, the point selected for the next attempt at relief was of vital importance. The junction of the covering army and the siege corps near Inkerman was the scene of a slight action on the day following Balaklava, and the battle of Inkerman followed on the 5th of November. By that time the French had made good the losses of the 17th of October, their approaches were closing upon Flagstaff bastion, and the British batteries daily maintained their superiority over the Malakoff. On the 5th there was to have been a meeting of generals to fix the details of an assault, but at dawn the Russian army, now heavily reinforced from Odessa, was attacking with utmost fury the British divisions guarding the angle between Bosquet and the siege corps. The battle of Inkerman defies description; every regiment, every group of men bore its own separate part in the confused and doubtful struggle, save when leaders on either side obtained a momentary control over its course by means of reserves which, carrying all before them with their original impetus, soon served but to swell the melee. It was a 'soldiers' battle' pure and simple. After many hours of the most desperate fighting the arrival of Bosquet (hitherto contained by a force on the Balaklava ground) confirmed a success won by supreme tenacity against overwhelming odds, and Menshikov sullenly drew off his men, leaving over 12,000 on the field. The allies had lost about 3300 men, of whom more than two-thirds belonged to the small British force on which the strain of the battle fell heaviest. Their losses included several generals who could ill be spared, but they had held their ground, which was all that was required of them, with almost unrivalled tenacity. Lord Raglan was promoted to be field marshal after the battle.

The Winter of 1854-1855.

It was now obvious that the army must winter in the Crimea, and preparations in view of t were begun betimes., But on the night of November 14th a violent storm arose which wrecked nearly thirty vessels with their precious cargoes of treasure, medical comforts, forage, clothing and other necessaries. After so grave a calamity it was to be expected that the troops would be called upon to undergo great hardships. But the direct cause of sufferings that have become a byword for the utmost depths of misery was the loss of twenty days' forage in the great storm. Of food and clothing enough was in store to tide over temporary difficulties, but the only paved road from Balaklava to the British camps was now in Russian hands, and the few starving transport animals were utterly inadequate for the work of drawing wagons over the miry plain; things went from bad to worse with Raglan's troops, until from the outposts before the Redan to the hospitals at Scutari a state of the utmost misery prevailed, relieved only by the example of devotion and self-sacrifice set by officers and men. The British hospital returns showed eight thousand sick at the end of November. Even the French, whose base of Kamiesh had escaped the storm, were not unhurt by the severity of the winter, but Napoleon III sent freely all the men his general asked, while the Russians in Sevastopol, who had made long painful marches from the interior, were the survivors of the fittest. Canrobert took over the lines before the Malakoff to relieve the British. He had at the end of January 1855 78,000 men for duty; Raglan could barely muster 12,000. But with the advent of spring paved roads and a railway were promptly taken in hand, and during the remainder of the war the British troops were so well cared for that their death-rate was lower than at home, while the hospitals in rear, thanks to the energy and devotion of Florence Nightingale and her nurses became models of good management.

Course of the Siege.

Meanwhile the siege works were making but slow progress, and the fortress grew day by day under the skilful direction of Todleben. Rifle-pits pushed out in front of the defenders' lines were connected so as to form a veritable envelope. Beyond the left wing a new line, the "White Works," sprang up in a single night, and the hill of the Mamelon was suddenly crowned with a lunette to cover the still defiant Malakoff. But the absence of bomb-proof cover exposed the huge working parties necessary for these defences to an almost incessant feu d'enfer, by which the Russians every week suffered the losses of a pitched battle. Meanwhile the field army was idle, Menshikov had been replaced by Prince Michael Gorchakov, Liprandi's corps had withdrawn from the Vorontsov ridge, and Omar Pasha, with a detachment of the troops he had led at Oltenitza and Cetatea, repulsed a Russian attack on Eupatoia (Feb. 17th). The besiegers steadily approached the "White Works", Mamelon, Redan and Flagstaff bastion, and as spring arrived the logistic and material advantages of the allies returned. On Easter Sunday (April 8th, 1855) another terrific bombardment began, which lasted almost uninterruptedly for ten days. The White Works and the Mamelon were practically destroyed and the Russians, drawn up in momentary expectation of assault, lost between six and seven thousand men.
But the bombardment ceased, and assault did not follow. For, at the allied headquarters and at Paris, grave differences of opinion on the conduct of the war had developed. Napoleon III. wished active operations to be undertaken against the Simferopol field army, whereas the leaders on the spot, while admitting the theoretical soundness of the French emperor's views considered that they were wholly beyond the means of the two armies. The discussions culminated in Canrobert's resignation of the chief command, though he would not leave the army, and took a subordinate post, which he filled with great distinction to the end of the war. His successor, General Pelissier, was a soldier trained in the hard school of Algerian warfare, and endowed, as was soon evident, with the most inflexible resolution of character. He did not hesitate to take up and maintain a position of decided opposition to his sovereign's views; and the capture of Kerch (24th May 1855), carried out by a joint expedition, was the first earnest of new vigour in the operations. This success served all the purposes of a complete investment of Sevastopol, the want of which had greatly troubled the allied generals. The line of communication and supply between Sevastopol and the interior was cut, vast stores intended for the fortress were destroyed, and the sea of Azov was cleared of shipping. On the 25th Canrobert established himself on the Fedukhine heights, his right continued along the Chernaya by General la Marmora's newly arrived Sardinians, 15000 strong, while masses of Turks occupied the Vorontsov ridge and the old Balaklava battlefield. As June approached, Raglan and Pelissier, who, unlike most allied commanders, were in complete accord and sympathy, initiated very vigorous methods of attack. They decided that the works west of Flagstaff could be comparatively neglected, and the full weight of the bombardment once more fell upon the Mamelon and the Malakoff. Once more these works were reduced to ruins, but the rest of the defences still held out.

The Assault of the Redan

On the 7th of June 1855 the French stormed the Mamelon and the White Works, the British captured and maintained some quarries close to the Redan, and next morning the whole of Todleben's envelope had become a siege-parallel. The losses were, as usual, heavy, 8500 to the Russians, 6883 to the allies. This was merely a preliminary to the great assault fixed for the 18th, the fortieth anniversary of Waterloo. But meanwhile Pelissier's temper and Raglan's health had been strained to breaking-point by continued dissensions with Paris and London. The telegraph, a new strategic factor, daily tormented the unfortunate commanders with the latest ideas of the Paris strategists, and on the fateful day the two armies rushed on to failure. The French attack on the Malakoff dwindled away into a meaningless fire-fight: the British, attacking the Redan in face of a cross-fire of one hundred heavy guns, at first succeeded in entering the work, but in the end sustained a bloody and disastrous repulse. Of the six generals who led the two attacks, four were killed and one wounded, and on the 17th and 18th the losses to the Russians were 5400, to the allies 4000. But the defenders' resources were almost at an end, and the bombardment reopened at once with increased fury.
On the 20th Todleben was wounded, and soon afterwards Nakhimov, the victor of Sinope, found a grave by the side of three other admirals who had fallen in the defence. Pelissier resolutely clung to his plans, in spite of the failure of the 18th against ever-increasing opposition at home. Raglan, worn out by his troubles and heartbroken at the Redan failure, died on the 28th, mourned by none more deeply than by his stern colleague.

The Storming of the Malakoff.

During July the Russians lost on an average 250 men a day, and at last it was decided that Gorchakov and the field army must make another attack at the Chernaya - the first since Inkerman. On the 16th of August the corps of Generals Liprandi and Read furiously attacked the 37,000 French and Sardinian troops on the heights above Traktir ridge. The assailants came on with the greatest determination, but the result was never for one moment doubtful. At the end of the day the Russians drew off baffled, leaving 260 officers and 3000 men on the field. The allies only lost 1700. With this defeat vanished the last chance of saving Sevastopol. On the same day (Aug. 16th) the bombardment once more reduced the Malakoff and its dependencies to impotence, and it was with absolute confidence in the result that Pelissier planned the final assault. On the 8th of September 1855 at noon, the whole of Bosquet's corps suddenly swarmed up-to the Malakoff. The fighting was of the most desperate kind. Every casemate, every traverse, was taken and retaken time after time, but the French maintained the prize, and though the British attack on the Redan once more failed, the Russians crowded in that work became at once the helpless target of the siege guns. Even on the far left, opposite Flagstaff and Central bastions, there was severe hand- to-hand fighting, and throughout the day the bombardment mowed down the Russian masses along the whole line. The fall of the Malakoff was the end of the siege. All night the Russians were filing over the bridges to the north side, and on the 9th the victors took possession of the empty and burning prize. The losses in the last assault had been very heavy, to the allies over 10,000 men, to the Russians 13,000. No less than nineteen generals had fallen on that day. But the crisis was surmounted. With the capture of Sevastopol the war loses its absorbing interest. No serious operations were undertaken against Gorchakov, who with the field army and the remnant of the garrison held the heights at Mackenzie's Farm. But Kinburn was attacked by sea, and from the naval point of view the attack is interesting as being the first instance of the employment of ironclads. An armistice was agreed upon on the 26th of February and the definitive peace of Paris was signed on the 30th of March 1856.

Decisive Importance of the Victory.

The importance of the siege of Sevastopol, from the strategical point of view, lies beneath the surface. It may well be asked, why did the fall of a place, at first almost unfortified, bring the master of the Russian empire to his knees? At first sight Russia would seem to be almost invulnerable to a sea power, and no first success, however crushing, could have humbled Nicholas I. Indeed the capture of Sevastopol in October 1854 would have been far from decisive of the war, but once the tsar had decided to defend to the last this arsenal, the necessity for which he was in the best position to appreciate, the factor of unlimited resources operated in the allies' favour. The sea brought to the invaders whatever they needed, whilst the desert tracks of southern Russia were marked at every step with the corpses of men and horses who had fallen on the way to Sevastopol. The hasty nature, too, of the fortifications, which, daily crushed by the fire of a thousand guns, had to be recreated every night, made huge and therefore unprotected working parties necessary, and the losses were correspondingly heavy. The double cause of loss completely exhausted even Russia's resources, and, when large bodies of militia appeared in line of battle at Traktir Bridge, it was obvious that the end was at hand. The novels of Tolstoy give a graphic picture of the war from the Russian point of view; the miseries of the desert march, the still greater miseries of life in the casemates, and the almost daily ordeal of manning the lines under shell-fire to meet an assault that might or might not come; and no student of the siege can leave it without feeling the profoundest respect for the courage, discipline and stubborn loyalty of the defenders.

Minor Operations.

A few words may be added on the minor operations of the war. The Asiatic frontier was the scene of severe fighting between the Turks and the Russians. Hindered at first by Shamyl and his Caucasian mountaineers, the Russians stood on the defensive during 1853, hut next year they took the offensive, and, while their coast column won an action on the 16th of June at the river Churuk, another force from Erivan gained an important success on the Araxes and took Bayazid, and General Bebutov completely defeated a Turkish column from Kars at Kuruk Dere (July 31st, 1854). Next year Count Muraviev completely isolated the garrison of Kars, which made a magnificent defence, inspired by Fenwick Williams Pasha and other British officers. In one assault alone 7000 Russians were killed and wounded, and it was not until the 26th of November 1855 that the fortress was forced to surrender. The naval operations in the Baltic furnish many interesting examples for the study of naval war. The allied fleet in 1854, after a first repulse, succeeded in landing a French force under Baraguay d'Hilliers before Bomarsund, and the place fell after an eight days' siege. In 1855 seventy allied warships appeared before Kronstadt, which defied them. Reinforced they attacked Sveaborg, but after two days' fighting had to draw off baffled. The numbers engaged in the Crimean War, and the cost in men and money is stated in round numbers below. In May 1855 the Crimean theatre of war occupied 174,500 allies (of whom 32,000 were British) and 170,000 Russians. The losses in battle were: allies 70,000 men, Russians 128,700; and the total losses, from all causes and in all theatres of the war: allies 252,600 (including 45,000 English), Russians 256,000 men (Berndt, Die Zakl im Kriege, p. 35). In the siege of Sevastopol the Russians are stated by Berndt to have lost 102,670 men dead, wounded and missing. Mulhall (Dict of Statistics 1903 ed., pp.586-587) gives much greater losses to each of the four powers principally engaged. The cost of the war in money is stated by Mulhall to have been 69,000,000 pounds to Great Britain, 93,000,000 to France, 142,000,000 to Russia.


Of the many works on the Crimean War those of greatest value are the following. English: the official work on the Siege of Sebastopol; A. W. Kinglake, The Invasion of the Crimea (London, 1863; "Student's edition" by Sir G. S. Clarke): Sir E. B. Hamley, The War in the Crimea (London, 1891); Sir W. H. Russell, The War in the Crimea (London 1855-1856); Sir Evelyn Wood, The Crimea in 1854 and 1894 (London, 1895); Sir D. Lysons, The Crimean War from First to Last (London 1895); Col. A. Lake, The Defence of Kars (London, 1857). French: Official, Guerre de l'Orient, Hist. De l'artillerie (Paris, 1859); Marshal Niel, Siege de Sebastopol (official account of engineer operations, Paris 1858) and Atlas historique et topographique de la guerre de Crimee (see also the map of Russia by the French staff, sheets 56 and 57); Baron C. De Bazancourt, L'expedition de Crimee (Paris, 1856); C. Rousset, Histoire de la guerre de Crimee (Paris, 1877). Russian: the work of Todleben, Die Vertheidigung von Sebastopol (St. Petersburg, 1864); Defense of Sebastopol (St. Petersburg, 1863); Anitschkoff, Feldzug in der Krim (German trans., Berlin, 1857); Bogdanovitch, Der Orientkrieg (St. Petersburg, 1876); Petroff, Der Donaufeldzug Russlands gegen Turkei (German trans., Berlin 1891); Of German works the most useful are: Kunz, Die Schlachten und Treffen des Krimkrieges (Berlin, 1889); Der Feldzug in der Krim; Sammlung der Berlichte beider Parteien (Leipzig, 1855-1856)

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