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Crimean War

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Crimean War

How did Russia, a major power which had the world’s largest army, lose a war? This article is about the Crimean War and Russia's defeat against an alliance of France, the Ottoman Empire, the United Kingdom, and Piedmont-Sardinia.

The background to the Crimean War

The great powers in Europe (France, Austro-Hungary, Britain, and Russia) had been carefully balanced since the 1815 Treaty of Vienna. However, the Ottoman Empire had been in decline since 1820. This provided an opportunity for other European powers to expand their influence.

What caused the Crimean War?

Tsar Nicholas I saw the decline of the Ottoman Empire as an opportunity to increase Russian influence in the Middle East. Nicholas called himself the Protector of Slavs and Christians and demanded the right to protect the Orthodox subjects of the Ottoman Sultan. The Slavonic Benevolent Committee, a pan-Slavic movement of Russian intellectuals, put pressure on the Tsar to intervene.

Tsar Nicholas’ demands were opposed by Turkey, Britain, and France, who wanted to stop Russia from expanding.

Sultan

A King or sovereign, usually of a Muslim state.

Crimean War Map

The Crimean War Kaart van Griekenland en Klein-Azië Bacon's panoramic view of the entire seat of war StudySmarterKaart van Griekenland en Klein-Azië Bacon's panoramic view of the entire seat of war, Wikimedia Commons.

The Crimean War battles

In June 1853, Tsar Nicholas I sent a Russian army to Moldavia and Walachia. Turkey responded by declaring war in October 1853. After Russia sank a Turkish squadron in Sinope, Britain, and France entered the war in defence of Turkey.

In September 1854, France and Britain began a joint Crimean campaign. They sent over 60,000 troops to the Crimea, attacking the naval base of Sebastopol.

The Russians were defeated at Balaclava in October and Inkerman in November 1854.

Tsar Nicholas died in March 1855, passing on command to his son Alexander. By September 1855 Sebastopol had fallen. Peace negotiations began in Paris in February 1856. This resulted in the signing of the Treaty of Paris in March 1856.

The Crimean War Painting of the Siege of Sebastopol during the Crimean War in 1855 StudySmarterEpisode of the Siege of Sebastopol during the Crimean War in 1855, by Adolphe Yvon, Wikimedia Commons.

Crimean War dates

The Crimean War spanned around three years. Below are the most important dates:

  • The Battle of Sinop, November 1853.

  • The Battle of Balaclava, October 1854.

  • The Siege of Sevastopol, October 1854.

  • The Siege of Taganrog, May 1855.

  • The Congress of Paris, March 1856.

The short term consequences of the Crimean War

  • 450,000 Russians died

  • The Treaty of Paris prevented Russian warships from using the Black Sea in peacetime - this was humiliating and limited Russia's influence in the Middle East

  • Economic disruption - the Crimean War had prevented trade and used up much of Russia’s grain and industrial capacity

  • Peasant unrest - serfs protested against conscription and against Alexander II’s delay in freeing conscripted serfs after the war had ended

The long term consequences of the Crimean War for Russia

The Crimean War revealed Russia's pre-existing military inadequacies. Let’s explore them in detail.

Poor transport

Transport across the Empire was underdeveloped. It took the Russians longer to send equipment to the front line than for France and Britain to send resources from their ports.

Inferior technology

Military equipment was outdated and in short supply. The Russian troops had just one musket to every two soldiers. The Russian navy still used sails, wooden ships, and even galley boats rowed by conscripted serfs. Western ships were steam-powered and had metal cladding.

Inadequate leadership

Military offices were given to nobles on the basis of status, not ability. While the Russian army outnumbered the French and British forces, they lacked a winning strategy.

Military failure shocked the government and led to public discussions about the future of the Russian empire. Dmitry Milyutin, a Russian military scholar and member of the intelligentsia, argued that military reform was necessary to avoid similar failures. The Crimean War was a key factor for future reforms, most significantly the Emancipation of the Serfs.

The Crimean War's impact elsewhere

Not only did the Crimean War have lasting consequences for Russia, but it is also associated with key developments in wartime photography and the legacy of two nurses; Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole.

Crimean War photos

The Crimean War became the first conflict to be systemically covered due to the work of the photographer Roger Fenton, who spent around three months taking over 300 photos of the war. His images did not display the destruction and death of the Crimean War, more the impact of war on daily life. This new development in documentation led to a deeper understanding among the general public of what war was like.

The Crimean War Photograph of Zouaves in the Crimean war by Roger Fenton StudySmarterZouaves in the Crimean war by Roger Fenton, Wikimedia Commons.

The Crimean War, Florence Nightingale, and Mary Seacole

Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole, British and British-Jamaican nurses respectively, became renowned for their work supporting injured soldiers during the Crimean War. Nightingale’s work improving sanitary conditions in the hospital saved hundreds of lives and her report from Crimea led to the establishment of the Royal Commission for the Health of the Army in 1857. Mary Seacole worked tirelessly healing the sick in the Crimean War, as well as riding into battle to treat wounded soldiers on the front line.

The Crimean War - Key takeaways

  • The Crimean War was primarily caused by Tsar Nicholas I’s desire to expand Russian influence in the Middle East
  • Nicholas claimed he was the protector of Slavs and Orthodox Christians
  • Failure in the Crimea was damaging and surprising for Russia
  • It exposed Russia’s poor transport, technology, and military leadership
  • The Crimean War was a significant motivation for future reforms

Frequently Asked Questions about Crimean War

The Crimean War began in October 1853, when the Ottoman Empire declared war on Russia. It ended in March 1856, when Russia sued for peace.

The Crimean War was fought by Britain, France, Russia, and the Ottoman Empire. Russia lost the Crimean War. France and Britain won.

The main reason for the Crimean War in the short term was the rights of Christian minorities in the Holy Land. The main reason in the long term was the decline of the Ottoman Empire. This was an opportunity for Russia to increase its influence in the Middle East.

Britain fought in the Crimean War because they were worried about Russia’s expansion. They feared that Russian expansion in the Danube region could continue through Afghanistan into British India.

The Battle of Sinop, November 1853

The Battle of Balaclava, October 1854

The Siege of Sevastopol, October 1854

The Siege of Taganrog, May 1855

The Congress of Paris, March 1856

Final Crimean War Quiz

Question

What opportunity for the other European powers did the decline of the Ottoman Empire (from 1820) represent?

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Answer

An opportunity to expand their influence

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Question

What did Nicholas style himself as?

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Answer

The Father of Slavs and Christians

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Question

 Which three powers opposed Russian expansion?


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Answer

Turkey, Britain, and France

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Question

When did Nicholas first send a Russian army into engagement?


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Answer

June 1853

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Question

Which power first declared war, and when?


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Answer

Russia - June 1853

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Question

In September 1854, France and Britain began a joint Crimean campaign. Where did they attack?

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Answer

Inkerman

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Question

 How many troops did France and Britain commit to their joint campaign (in total)?


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Answer

40,000

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Question

When did Tsar Nicholas die?


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Answer

March 1855

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Question

What treaty was signed as a result of the Crimean War?


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Answer

The Treaty of Paris

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Question

What effect did the Treaty of Paris have on Russian influence?


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Answer

Broadly, it was humiliating to be forced into signing a treaty which limited Russian powers. Specifically, the Treaty prevented Russian warships from using the Black Sea in peacetime.

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Question

How many Russians died during the Crimean War?


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Answer

200,000

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Question

How did the Crimean War affect the Russian economy? (2 ways)


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Answer

1) it prevented international trade (Russia was fighting a war in a major shipping route)

2) It used up much of Russia’s grain and industrial capacity (to feed and equip troops


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Question

How did the Crimean War lead to peasant unrest? (2 ways)


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Answer

1) Peasants protested against forced conscription during the war

2) Peasants protested against the delay to their freedom once the war had ended


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Question

Give 2 (of 3) major Russian weaknesses revealed by the Crimean War.


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Answer

Poor transport, inferior technology, outdated leadership

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Question

Give an example of how Russian technology was inferior to Western technology.


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Answer

 One of: 

1. One musket to every two soldiers

2. Navy used sailboats, wooden ships, galley boats rowed by slaves

3. Navy was not steam-powered or metal-clad (unlike the West)


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Question

To what extent was the Crimean War a catalyst for future reforms?


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Answer

For: failure in the Crimean War was surprising and embarrassing. It revealed structural inadequacies in Russian transport, military equipment, and military leadership. Russia had prided herself on her military strength, so losing a war led to a reevaluation of the future of the Empire. Significant thinkers (e.g. Dmitry Milyutin) called for reforms.


Against: Alexander II’s ascension signalled that change was coming to the Russian Empire, regardless of the outcome of the Crimean War. Nicholas II had headed a repressive police state. Growing peasant unrest and economic stagnation made it clear that this couldn’t continue for much longer. Losing the Crimean War was a symptom of Russia’s problems, rather than an issue that demanded reform in its own right. 


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