Valley of the Shadow of Death Crimean war photograph (cropped) by Roger Fenton, 1855
From 1853 to 1856, the Russian Empire waged war against a coalition consisting of France, the United Kingdom, and the Ottoman Empire. While its immediate trigger was a dispute over religious rights in the Middle East, the war exemplified the kind of competition among mighty Europe nations seen through much of the 18th and 19th centuries. Jealously guarding their own power and attempting to check the dominance of their rivals, the belligerents became embroiled in a serious war on the Black Sea and the Crimean Peninsula. The particularly brutal 11-month siege of Sevastopol, the capital of Crimea, and the Battle of Balaklava became grimly famous before Russia finally sued for peace in 1856.
The Crimean War is perhaps best remembered by historians for its unique position as a bridge between two eras in warfare. It epitomized the kind of fighting that had dominated Europe for two centuries: Soldiers in bright uniforms deployed in lines, cavalry charges, and conscript armies led by an aristocratic officer corps. But it also anticipated the warfare that would characterize the 20th century, with the debut of technologies like railroads, the telegraph, explosive naval shells, and photography.
Historian Christopher Hamner, an associate professor at George Mason University, provides an overview of the Crimean War, emphasizing the ways the conflict straddled the traditional and the modern: the deadly charge of the Light Brigade, whose suicidal futility was immortalized in Alfred Tennyson’s poem; Florence Nightingale’s efforts to modernize battlefield medicine and improve sanitation; and how other nations attempted to interpret the lessons of the fighting in the Crimea to inform their own preparations for future conflicts.
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