The Crimean War was a military conflict in which Britain, France, and Turkey fought against Russia on the Crimean Peninsula, from 1853 to 1856. This armed struggle originated over the attempt to control or exercise political hegemony in the Middle East by the Great powers, with Czar Nicholas of Russia trying to annex a swath of Turkey’s European territory and to control the Danubian Principalities in Eastern Europe. The Crimean War altered the balance of power in Europe and set the stage for the "armed peace" period, which led to World War One.
In January 1853, Czar Nicolas disclosed his plans in two important interviews with Sir Hamilton Seymour, the English ambassador. He suggested that the two powers should divide between them the territories of the "sick man", which was the term used to refer to Turkey. The Danubian Principalities, Serbia, and Bulgaria were to be formed into independent states under Russian protection; England might annex Egypt, so important for the route to India, and also Candia (in Crete).
In March, 1853, the Russian Prince Menschikoff appeared in Constantinople, and arrogantly demanded from the Turkish government the recognition of a Russian protectorate over all Turkish subjects belonging to the Greek church. Abdul Medjid replied by offering to secure the rights of the Greek Christians by charter, but refused to do so by treaty. Menschikoff withdrew after presenting an ultimatum, and the Russian Army under Gortschakoff crossed the Pruth (July 3, 1853), to occupy Moldavia and Wallachia as a guarantee for the fulfillment of Russian demands. The Turkish treated this as an act of hostility, and declared war on Russia on October 1.
Napoleon III of France seized the opportunity to secure his recently established empire by embarking in a great war and by obtaining the countenance and support of England. The two western powers concluded a treaty with the Turkish government on November 27, and promised their assistance if Russia would not accept peace on moderate terms. The destruction of the Turkish fleet at Sinope by Admiral Nakhimof destroyed the last chance of terminating the contest by diplomacy. The French and English fleets entered the Black Sea, and the Russian admiral had to retire to Sevastopol. In 1854 France and England declared war on Russia. Austria and Prussia remained neutral, but agreed to oppose the Russians if they attacked Austria or crossed the Balkans.
By sea the Allies had an overwhelming superiority. In the Black Sea they blockaded Odessa, but in the Baltic they found Cronstadt too strong to be attacked, and had to content themselves with the capture of Bormasund. In April 1854, the Russians, under the veteran Paskiewitsch, laid siege to Silistria, but all attempts to storm the fortress were foiled. In July the siege was raised, the Principalities were evacuated, and Austria undertook their occupation by a treaty with the Turkish. Meanwhile the French and English armies, under St. Araaud and Lord Raglan, had landed at Gallipoli and proceeded to Yarna. Finding the war in the Principalities settled without their intervention, the Allies determined to transfer the scene of hostilities to the Crimea and to attack Sebastopol.
On September 14, 1854, the Anglo-French forces landed without opposition at Eupatoria. After defeating the Russians at the Battle of the Alma September 20, 1854, they made their way to the great fortress of Sevastopol. A vigorous pursuit of the Russians might have taken Sevastopol at once, but the delay enabled the Russian commander, Prince Menschikoff, to make elaborate preparations for defense. The siege lasted for more than twelve months and absorbed the interested attention of Europe. At the Battle of Balaclava on October 25, and Inkermann on November 5, the Russian attack was only repulsed after hard fighting and serious loss on both sides. In January, 1855, the allied forces were strengthened by the arrival of 18,000 Sardinian troops under La Marmora.
The disasters of 1854 were a bitter humiliation to Nicolas, and probably hastened his death, which occurred on March 3, 1855. His successor, Alexander II, was more pacifically disposed, and it was hoped that his accession might lead to the conclusion of peace. But the military honor of the allies could only be satisfied by the capture of Sevastopol, and hostilities were soon renewed. The English fleet rendered conspicuous service by destroying the Russian base of supplies, but the garrison, which was now commanded by Gortschakoff, held out with unflinching courage. A grand assault, in which the English attacked the Redan and the French the Malakoff, was repulsed with great loss on June 18, 1855. The French were now commanded by Pelissier, who had superseded Canrobert, the successor of St. Arnaud. On the death of Lord Raglan (June 28), General Simpson undertook the command of the English army. Although the two armies supported each other with creditable loyalty, there can be no doubt that the dual command was a great obstacle to the success of the besiegers. On August 16, a Russian attack was repulsed with great loss on the Tschernaya, a battle in which the Sardinian contingent distinguished itself. The Allies had at last succeeded in bringing a superior force of artillery to bear upon the fortress, and on August 17, they initiated a massive bombardment.
For twenty-three days the batteries kept up an almost incessant fire, which inflicted terrible damage. On September 8, 1855 a general assault was ordered. The French stormed the Malakoff, but the English, after carrying the Eedan, were compelled to retreat for want of support. The Russian position, however, was no longer tenable, and on September 10, Gortschakoff evacuated Sevastopol and retired to the north side of the harbor. The success of the Allies was by no means complete, the Russians still occupied a very strong position. But, at this point, Austria undertook to mediate and the bases of a pacification were agreed upon in January, 1856, and an armistice was concluded. A conference met at Paris, where the final treaty was signed on March 30.
Provisions of the Peace Treaty
The Russian protectorate over the Danubian Principalities was abolished; the free navigation of the Danube was to be secured by the appointment of an international commission; the Black Sea was neut ralized, and all ships of war, including those of Turkey and Russia, were to be excluded, except a small number of light vessels to protect the coasts; the Sultan undertook to confirm the privileges of his Christian subjects, but the powers agreed not to use this as a pretext for interfering with his domestic administration.