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  • Writer's pictureWilliam Tyler

Victorian Age: War with Russia 1853-56


'The war', said Frederick Engels,' was a colossal comedy of errors'. And so it was, but it nevertheless cost over 600 thousand lives, from enemy action and from disease.

The Allies - France, Britain, and tiny Piedmont - were drawn into the war for a variety of reasons in order to support The Ottoman Empire against that of Russia. The ostensible cause of the war was a row over Christian holy sites in Jerusalem, but there was far more at stake than that. Why was Piedmont involved? Why didn't France and Britain just stand aside as they had done on countless Russo-Ottoman conflicts in the past?

'A comedy of errors' it certainly proved to be as the disastrous British Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava illustrates - immortalised by Tennyson in a patriotic poem; the Battle of Inkerman fought in a fog; the British Commander getting confused over who the enemy were; the appalling tragedy of disease in the ranks of all combatants accounting for more deaths than those caused by battle.

The heroism of the British nurses, Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole. Both held up as heroes, yet were they all they seemed to be?

The war is misnamed by historians as fighting also took place along the Danube, in the Arctic and Baltic Seas, as well as far away in the Pacific.

What can we make of this war today as Crimea is again caught up in conflict? What were (are?) the consequences of this war?

As for the war itself, a Russian historian has described it 'as a medieval conflict fought in a modern age'. Perhaps, Tennyson in the end caught the mood music of The Crimean War best when he penned the famous lines, 'Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die'.

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