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Crimean War (1853-1856)

The Crimean War, in which France and Great Britain fought on the side of Turkey against Russia, resulted practically in a draw, though Russia was obliged to make important concessions to her rival by the Treaty of Paris. Tn the Crimean War, and in the last Turkish War, Russia astonished the world by the comparatively insignificant number of troops she was able to put into the field at the decisive moment.

The Crimean War seems especially deplorable, because it terminated the long period of peace which had practically prevailed in Europe for forty years. It led directly to the Franco-Austrian war of 1859; the war of 1859 was the predecessor, if not the cause, of the Danish war of 1864, and the war between Austria and Prussia in 1866. The war of 1866 led to the great duel between France and Prussia which desolated Western Europe with blood and fire in 1870. The Russo-Turkish war of 1877 was largely due to the determination of Russia to reverse the decision of 1856. The Crimean war therefore let loose the dogs of war on Europe. Whether right or wrong in its inception or in its conduct, it introduced continental Europe to a quarter of a century of blood-shedding.

Up to the middle of the 19th century the Ottoman Empire had exerted a tremendous influence upon the history of Europe for over 400 years. The Turks had proved themselves not only redoubtable warriors, but a distinct peril to Western civilization and Christianity. The Turk devastated and massacred, but made no effort to colonize or introduce tolerable government. In all the territories that fell under his sway the Turk was ever in the minority; he was not assimilated with the natives nor they with him; he was ever a stranger to the soil and his "government* merely an army of occupation to suppress the natives. The Mohammedan Turk looked town on those of other creeds with contempt: they could not be placed on a level with him.

It was reserved for the 19th century to witness the anomalous spectacle of Christian nations rushing to the defense of the Turk and the preservation of his dominions - at least in Europe. This political phenomenon is known as the "Eastern Question," which is treated under that head. The first important manifestation of this policy was the war in the Crimea. Already in 1853 the Tsar Nicholas I described Turkey as the "Sick Man of Europe" to the British Ambassador and proposed a division of his property when the patient should die. "We have on our hands," said the Czar, "a sick man - a very sick man; I tell you frankly it would be a great misfortune if he should give us the slip some of these days, especially if it happened before all the necessary arrangements were made."

Nicholas had cultivated friendly relations with the English government, and he now proposed that England and Russia, as the parties most directly interested, should divide the estate of the " sick man." England was to be allowed to take Egypt and Crete, while the Turkish provinces in Europe were to be taken under the protection of the Czar, which meant of course the complete absorption, in due time, of all Southeastern Europe into the Russian empire. The Turkish possessions in Europe at that time contained populations of more or less well-marked races which could be set up as independent states - as they eventually were.

In 1854, the prodigious expansion of Russia perplexed and alarmed the statesmen of Western Europe. Napoleon's prediction that Europe would be either Republican or Cossack inspired the belief that monarchy had as much to fear from Russia as from revolution. In Great Britain the advance of the Muscovite was associated with another danger. Great Britain had vast interests in India and the East, and the power which held Constantinople - the magnificent prize for which Russia was working - might presumably cut the nearest route to Hindustan. During the reign of George IV, statesmen like the second Lord Ellenborough, already dreaming of empire, had watched, in consequence, every advance of Russia with dismay. Her progress in Armenia placed her on the flank of the route which it was in contemplation to make the chief link of communication with the East. Novelists who were to become statesmen were haunted by the same apprehension; and Mr. Disraeli made Fakredeen suggest to Tancred the suzerainty of England over Asia Minor.

Lord Palmerston had neither the arrogance of Lord Ellenborough nor the imagination of Mr. Disraeli. But he was animated by the same desire to resist the advance of Russia, and he thought that the best means of resisting it was to maintain the integrity of Turkey. Thus, in the 1830s, he made it his persistent aim to neutralize and overthrow the treaty of Unkiar Skelessi, which he thought virtually bound Turkey hand and foot to Russia. In the 1840s he prevented the dismemberment of Turkey, at the risk of a war with France, by the military and naval movements which culminated in the bombardment of Acre. While in the 1850s, as a member of a Cabinet which desired peace, he advocated war from first to last; or - if that statement be too strong - he refused to be a party to any settlement which left Russia a predominating influence in Turkey.

It ought to be added in Lord Palmerston's excuse that he believed almost to the end of his life in the possible regeneration of Turkey. His almost childish faith in this respect was partly due to a want of knowledge; for Lord Palmerston was almost as ignorant of the abuses which were sapping the power of the Ottoman Government as he was unacquainted with the causes which were building up a new German Empire. The natural resources were great, and if the Sultan would only clear out his harem, dismiss his architects, and turn off his robber Ministers, all would be well. Lord Palmerston might as well have desired the sun to stand still in its course through the heavens. Years before, indeed, when the Crimean war was still raging, Lord Palmerston himself had been righteously indignant because the Sultan had squandered on his own vicious pleasures the proceeds of a loan which he had been allowed to raise on the joint guarantee of the Western powers. But even this object-lesson did not bring home the hopelessness of the Ottoman position to the Prime Minister. With a firm and lively faith in the virtues of reform in every country except his own, he addressed to the Ottoman Government, through our Minister to the Porte, reams of sensible advice. He thought that Turkey would reform herself; and "long experience had proved" - in the language of one of his successors - "that Turkey would not reform herself."

The immediate cause of the Crimean war was the reluctance of Western Europe to permit the interference of Russia in the interests of the Christian subjects of the Porte. The powers felt that it would be a scandal if Greeks and Bulgarians were handed over to the Ottomans without even so much protection as Russia had afforded them. Christian Europe found it, consequently, necessary to obtain some concessions for these unfortunate peoples. Similar promises made in 1839 had been shamelessly broken. The Sultan would abdicate his position as the successor of Mahomed if he exempted from the punishment of death those who had renounced or blasphemed the faith of the Prophet; and it was obvious that, if this declaration still held good, a promise of civil equality and religious liberty to Christians was not worth the paper it was written.

A pretence for hastening the dissolution of the sick man was not long wanting. A quarrel between the Greek and Latin Christians at Jerusalem about the holy places was made the ground by Nicholas for demanding of the Sultan the admission and recognition of a Russian protectorate over all Greek Christians in the Ottoman dominions. The demand was rejected, and Nicholas prepared for war.

The Sultan appealed to the Western powers for help. England and France responded to the appeal, and later Sardinia joined her forces to theirs. England, rejecting the Czar's proposal of a division of the dying man's estate, fought to prevent Russia from getting through the Bosporus to the Mediterranean, and thus endangering her route to her Eastern possessions. The French emperor fought to avenge Moscow, and to render his new imperial throne attractive to his people by surrounding it with the glamour of successful war. Sardinia was led to join England and France through the policy of the far-sighted Cavour, who would thus have the Sardinians win the gratitude of these powers, so that in the next conflict with Austria the Italian patriots might have some strong friends to help them.

The main interest of the struggle centered about Sebastopol, in the Crimea, Russia's great naval and military depot, and the key to the Euxine. Around this strongly fortified place were finally gathered 175,000 soldiers of the allies. The siege, which lasted eleven months, was one of the most memorable and destructive in history. The Russian engineer Todleben earned a great fame through his masterly defense of the works. The English "Light Brigade" earned immortality in their memorable charge at Balaklava. The French troops, through their dashing bravery, brought great fame to the emperor who had sent them to gather glory for his throne.

The Russians were at length forced to evacuate the place. They left it, however, a "second Moscow." The war was now soon brought to an end by the Treaty of Paris (1856). Every provision of the treaty had in view the maintenance of the integrity of the empire of the Sultan, and the restraining of the ambition of the Czar. Russia was given back Sebastopol, but was required to give up some territory at the mouth of the Danube, whereby her frontier was pushed back from that river; to abandon all claims to a protectorate over any of the subjects of the Porte; to agree not to raise any more fortresses on the Euxine nor keep upon that sea any armed ships, save what might be needed for police service. The Christian population of the Turkish dominions were placed under the guardianship of the great powers, who were to see that the Sublime Porte fulfilled its promise of granting perfect civil and religious equality and protection to all its subjects.

The Crimean war was the most murderous of recent European wars. The French army had to struggle against three great dangers - the cholera, the enemy's fire, and the scurvy. In the month of September, 1854, the British army had not yet seen the enemy ; but it had already lost 8,084, men, chiefly through cholera. Throughout the campaign disease carried off four times as many victims as the Russian fire. Ambulances in the Crimea and hospitals at Constantinople and elsewhere received 436,144 attacked by cholera and various other diseases, while 80,590 more reported killed or dead, and 15,0^5 on their return to France died of wounds or diseases during the war.

From these figures can be calculated the proportion of lives lost. The troops sent by France at different times amounted to 309,268, and hence the losses were nearly one-third of the whole. Only 10,240 are said to have been killed by the enemy ; a number nearly one-third larger sank under their wounds ; and this leaves 75,QOO who died of cholera, scurvy and other diseases. During the first four months, the cholera carried off 8,084 men; and M. Jacquot attributes to scurvy one-third of the total loss. The 20,000 men who died on the field of battle, or in consequence of their wounds, had at least obtained a speedy death ; but these 75,000 victims of cholera, typhus, and hospital corruption, were obliged to undergo all the delays, sufferings and miseries of a death of unmitigated horror.

If 95,615 Frenchmen were carried off by death, are we to believe this was the limit of our losses? Are we to believe that the 214,000 soldiers who escaped death in this disastrous expedition, returned to France in the same con

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Page last modified: 17-01-2017 19:43:34 ZULU