Crimean War

Crimean War
   A Great Power conflict occurring midway between the Napoleonic Wars and World War I; it pitted the Ottoman Empire and its allies Britain, France, and Sardinia against the Russian Empire. The war had many causes, among which were Russia’s ambitions in the Balkans and its ostensible desire for Constantinople, Anglo-Russian tensions over central Asia and access to India, the British public’s distaste for the tsar as a result of his role in repressing the revolutions of 1848, Louis Napoleon’s desire to play a leading part in European power politics, and a series of obscure disputes about the status of Christians and their holy places in Palestine, then a part of the Ottoman Empire.
   The latter disputes were the official casus belli, which led Russia to invade the Ottoman Balkan provinces in 1853. In November 1853, the Russian Black Sea fleet destroyed the Turkish Fleet at Sinope, which provoked a British ultimatum demanding the return to port of the Russian fleet. The British and their French allies declared war on Russia in March 1854. Allied forced landed in the Crimea in September of that year and advanced on Sebastopol. The allied armies shortly ran in troubles with supplies, disease, and the weather, notwithstanding initial victories. The episode of the charge of the Light Brigade at Balaklava in response to botched orders, immortalized by Tennyson, came to symbolize the incompetence of the army staff. The new technology of the telegraph and the presence of war correspondents brought the sufferings of the army rapidly to popular attention. Motivated by the descriptions of William Russell of the Times, Florence Nightingale led a party of nurses who reformed the infamous hospital at Scutari in Turkey, and impressed on the military authorities the importance of sanitation. A motion was made in the House of Commons for an inquiry into the conduct of the war in January 1855, as a result of which the government of Lord Aberdeen fell. A government of a similar political complexion was formed under Lord Palmerston, who became prime minister for the first time with a mandate to prosecute the war with greater energy. Sebastopol was at length taken by a French assault in September 1855, a year after the allied troops had landed. Negotiations among the three major combatants resulted in the Treaty of Paris of March 1856, which in many ways restored the status quo ante with the qualification that the Black Sea was closed to warships. The Russians denounced the latter codicil in 1870, which is to say at the first opportunity. The Treaty of Paris was followed by the Declaration of Paris, which outlawed privateering, possibly the only enduring legal result of the Crimean war. The Crimean War had little effect on the expansion of European empires outside Europe. It did, however, mark the increasing importance of public opinion on the methods and conditions under which wars were waged.
   See also: <>; <>.
    Lambert, Andrew. The Crimean War. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1990;
    Royle, Trevor. Crimea: The Great Crimean War, 1854-56. Basingstoke: Palgrave-Macmillian, 2004;
    Woodham-Smith, Cecil. The Reason Why, London: Readers’ Union, 1957.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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