The Crimean War (October 1853 – February 1856), was a conflict in which Russia lost to an alliance of Britain, France, the Ottoman Empire and later Sardinia. In Britain, the Crimean War is principally remembered for the Charge of the Light Brigade, maladministration of the British army, and the pioneering work of the nurse Florence Nightingale. At time of the war, the author Charles Dickens was writing the novel Little Dorrit and he used the poor running of governmental institutions as an inspiration for The Circumlocution Office, a fictitious department beset by bureaucracy and nepotism.
The Crimean War had its roots in both religious differences and powerful countries asserting control of the Baltic region. In the years leading up to the war, France, Russia and Britain were all competing for influence in the Middle East, particularly with the Ottoman empire of Turkey. The British and French were concerned about Russian expansion in the region and the potential threat to their trade routes. The Ottoman empire allowed access to the Middle East and Asian trade routes.
The Crimean war was arguably the first media war, where technological advances combined with some brave reporting, gave the public a more immediate picture of the unfolding war. The invention of the electric telegraph enabled news to travel across the continent in hours, not weeks.
One noted reporter was The Times correspondent William Howard Russell, who sent first-hand dispatches from the front line and refused to be imbedded and censored by the British army. His reports highlighted military mismanagement and administrative incompetence and criticised Lord Raglan, the commander of the British troops in Crimea. Raglan’s failure to deliver orders with sufficient clarity caused the fateful Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava.
Another intrepid reporter was the photographer Roger Fenton, whose photographs brought the Crimean battlefields to life.
Reports of appalling suffering of the sick and wounded soldiers also had an effect on the British public. Far more soldiers died from sickness or treatable wounds than battlefield injuries, leading to a number of organizations and individuals to set out for the war zone to help the soldiers, including the nurse Mary Seacole.
Public opposition culminated in a riot on Sunday, 21 January 1855, at Trafalgar Square. Around 1,500 people had gathered to protest against the war by pelting buses, cabs and pedestrians and later the police with snow balls. The disturbance had to be put down by troops and police acting with truncheons. After the House of Commons passed a bill to investigate the accounting of soldiers and casualties, Lord Aberdeen resigned as Prime Minister ten days after the Trafalgar Square protest.
Faced with increasingly unsustainable losses and increased allied forces, Russia agreed to a ceasefire, which was drawn up at Paris in March 1856. Around 250,000 soldiers from the Ottoman, French, British and Sardinian alliance had died during the conflict, whilst half a million soldiers from the Russian Empire lost their lives. Many of the deaths occurred due to disease and neglect.
Timeline of key events in the Crimean War.
- 1853 (19 April). Russia claims protectorate over Christians in Turkey.
- 1853 (21 May). Turkey rejects Russian ultimatum.
- 1853 (2 July). Russian army enters Ottoman Empire territory crossing the River Pruth from Romania into Moldavia.
- 1853 (4 October). Turkey declares war on Russia.
- 1853 (30 November). Battle of Sinop. Turkish fleet destroyed.
- 1854 (12 March). Alliance formed between Britain, France and Turkey.
- 1854 (27 March). Britain declares war on Russia.
- 1854 (28 March). France declares war on Russia.
- 1854 (30–31 August). Siege of Petropavlovsk, on the Pacific coast.
- 1854 (20 September) Battle of Alma.
- 1854 (25 September 1854 to 8 September 1855). Siege of Sevastopol.
- 1854 (25 October). Battle of Balaclava. Results in the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade.
- 1854 (5 November). Battle of Inkerman.
- 1855 (21 January). In Britain, public opposition to the war culminates in a riot at Trafalgar Square, London.
- 1855 (26 January). Piedmont (Sardinia) joins in Crimean War against Russia.
- 1855 (31 January). In Britain, Lord Aberdeen’s government falls.
- 1855 (5 February). Lord Palmerston forms a new government in the aftermath of Lord Aberdeen’s failure.
- 1855 (17 February). Battle of Eupatoria.
- 1855 (16 August). Battle of the Chernaya (aka Traktir Bridge).
- 1855 (May to November). Sea of Azoff naval campaign.
- 1855 (June to 28 November). Siege of Kars.
- 1856 (29 January). Britain introduces the Victoria Cross medal.
- 1856 (25 February – 30 March). Peace Congress of Paris.
- 1856 (30 March). Treaty of Paris is signed, formally ending the conflict.
- 1856 (15 April). Britain, France and Austria guarantee integrity and independence of Turkey.
- 1856 (28 April). Treaty of Paris ratified.