«The Fall of the Conservatism» by Francesco Riva
The war in Crimea and its consequences on the reactionary politics of the strong continental Powers in Europe of XIX century.
The Russian social backwardness
The Russian nation that interposed itself with a really monolithic fervor between French Emperor Napoleon and his imperishable fame as conqueror of whole Europe had not changed so much from 1815 until 1825, year in which Nicholas I became Czar and it would have changed even less during the kingdom of this sovereign that has to be considered the most reactionary among the rulers of Russia.
This reactionary vein of the czar seemed to find a reason of existence in the revolt of December 1925. The rebels, essentially of liberal extraction, were a little minority inside the Russian managing class, still firmly tied up to the land aristocracy of feudal nature. On December 14 of that year (On 26 according to the orthodox calendar), some rebel officers of the imperial Guard by exploiting the day of oath of the regiments, succeeded in letting some selected units revolt up to threatening the imperial palace of Petersburg. For the whole day, the situation was very uncertain, but toward the sunset, when it became clear that the rebellious troops were in minority, the imperial artillery supported the legitimate power and did an intense bombardment of the rebels, who were forced to abandon the field. This fact didn't do anything else other than strengthening the personal convictions of Nicholas I, who saw in every liberal activity or also only innovating ones, a threat against the constituted power and therefore, indirectly, against his own power.
Despite this fact, to limit the danger that could derive from a groundless conservatism, the czar acted in such a way that, at least apparently, the progressive factions of the Russian society could see how he was trying to change the more hated and antiquated aspects. Several «committees» were created with the most different functions and the most fanciful compositions. Certainly, these organs, we can say «of reform», spent their own time searching real solutions for the problems of the country, as, for example, the servitude of the glebe, about which we will speak subsequently more diffusely, but they never produced any effective disposition for the simple reason that such committees didn't do anything else other than proposing the solutions to the czar, who punctually rejected them or applied them with so light and deprived of authoritativeness formalities to empty them from any reforming sense.
Even when such propensity to the conservatism didn't directly derive from Nicholas I, a particularly effective filter existed against any movement of innovation: the Imperial Chancellery. This ulterior organ of the czarist bureaucratic apparatus although didn't have a sure position inside the Russian government institutions, it had a role of primary importance in the reactionary game. Being the Chancellery the tool of mediation between the decisions of the czar and their practical application in the legislation in force, whatever intervention or change to the status quo had necessarily to pass through its check and being its members of imperial nomination and aristocrats, it appears logical how it was impossible that the Chancellery could be a source of innovation. The Chancellery as executive instrument of the wish of the czar gained more and more power, so much to enlarge itself through the creation of special sections among which it became sadly and grotesquely famous the third one: the political police.
As in all states in which the repression becomes primary function of the public action, also in Nicholas' Russia, the institution in charge for the discovery of real or presumed conspiracies degenerated in a repository of false notifications and denunciations. On its behalf, the political police didn't make anything in order to prevent such distortions. Indeed, it promoted them. It intervened in the transactions between private people by favoring this or that business man according to the political inclination of the contractor. During trials between citizens, an accusation of liberalism by the political police had more weight than the decision of a civil judge. Nevertheless, the effectiveness of this special unit to prevent the «crimes», for which it had been created, often was not so great. In fact, the only real radical organization (the petra�evcy) that was destroyed during the kingdom of Nicholas I was discovered and neutralized by the ordinary police.
Close to the police activity practiced by the political police, there was the censorship that represented the farcical soul of that institution. Every activity of freedom of thought was carefully checked: the literary, theatrical and above all university works had to pass a preventive check before accessing the phase of publication or representation. In some cases the censors arrived to discuss the writing style of the authors by modifying adjectives or verbs that were considered «inadequate» to the context. The censorship proliferated so much that any organ of the state had a section of it. After 1848, there was a «censorship of the censorship», where the officials in charge for the censorship were controlled by other censors.
In this climate of absurd conservatism, the problems that gripped the Russian state were still unchanged. First one above all: the servitude of the Glebe. This institution was born in feudal period and declined in the rest of Europe during the Renaissance. Indeed, it was still alive and rooted into the Russian society of half XIX century. Straight, it was close to real slavery. In fact, until 1830, year when it was enforced the new civil code of Speranskij, the only innovation of the period, the taxation of the land owners was based on the number of farmers who cultivated the lands and not on land extension. The farmers, therefore, were considered as commodities that could be exchanged and even sold. This fact was true even when the land owner was the State. Besides, until that date, there were neither schools nor hospitals for the rural villages and the local self-government was ruled by the same land owners, who not only had full jurisdiction on their own lands, but also on the country villages that were seen as instrumental good of their property.
The enormous progress that would have brought the application of the new code was enormously limited from the systematic misapplication of the norms on local level. The maintenance of the Status Quo, even before being an imposition of the czarist power, was a recognized privilege of the dominant aristocratic class.
The Russian foreign politics preceding the conflict of Crimea.
What could be also seen as an hard necessity for the safeguard of the inside sovereign power, it was transformed by Nicholas I into the cornerstone principle of his own foreign politics. The safeguard of the legitimate constituted power, anywhere and whatever was the threat, became the holy mission of this sovereign.
After the Congress in Vienna that had canceled with few lines on a map some secular ethnic realities, the Restoration of the state of legitimacy pre-French-revolution, was at the same time final goal of the winning continental powers and primary target of the revolutionary forces. If on one hand, the Austrian empire and Prussia could be considered as the moderate expression of the conservative movement, on the other one Russia represented the most extremist point of it. Right the extreme coherence between his own political thought and the action exerted on international level, would have conducted Nicholas I to the disastrous war of Crimea.
The relationship between Russia and the Ottoman Empire had been already very bad for many decades when in 1828 there was a first war between the two nations. Russia had just gone out from a victorious conflict against Persia that had allowed the large Slavic nation to appropriate of Georgia threatening with an encirclement the traditional Turkish enemy. To West, the Russian interest toward the orthodox Danubian principalities was strong, while to East, the recent conquest of the Georgian region opened the road to a direct invasion of Anatolia. The Russian declaration of war was also facilitated by a wrong evaluation of the enemy forces. In fact, the Turkish army had been considered weak and easy prey of the Russian numerically more numerous and surely more modern armed forces.
Contrarily, the war lasted more than a year. Unfortunately for the Turkish nation, to the brave resistance offered against the Russian imperial troops, they corresponded as many hard conditions of peace. In fact the peace of Adrianopoli foresaw:
- the passage of the mouths of the Danube to Russia
- the extension of the Russian protectorate on the Danubian principalities of Moldova and Valacchia
- the free passage of the Russian merchant ships through the Dardanelles
Incredibly, however, such an agreement didn't foresee anything about the Russian military fleet in the Black Sea and, in conclusion, it allowed the Ottoman empire to survive, although notably weakened. This decision, was not casual. A special committee had been created by Nicholas I to study what consequences the disappearance of that state would have involved for the stability of the area. The members of the committee, influenced perhaps by the recent insurrection of Greece against the Sultan (1821), had expressed favorable opinion about the maintenance of the status quo that had been judged more important than a possible Russian territorial widening. The fragmentation of the Turkish empire into a multiplicity of national states would also have surely involved some indirect repercussions on the Russian empire that was as much as multi-national as that Ottoman one.
The fears of an international destabilization seemed confirmed by the 1830 Belgian insurrection. The union between Belgium and Holland, happened after the 1815 Vienna Congress in order to constitute a puppet state between France and the German states, demonstrated how hard the co-habitation could be for nations accustomed to a full independence. The logic of a national identity was too distant, however, from the political concepts of Nicholas I to understand the Belgian desire of Freedom from a foreign dominion, especially if the «dominator» was Russian.
In fact, almost contemporaneously to the Belgian revolt, also the Polish nationalists, subjects to the Russian domination, pretended a full independence. The struggle with Polish was not a simple repression, because they had a real permanent national army. It was a long and hard conflict that was concluded with the defeat of the rebels, who practically lost all their liberties granted by the 1815 Constitution that was replaced from a rigid Statute in 1932. Beginning from that date it was started a «russification» of Poland imposing the Russian language either in the school system either in the public administration. The Belgian and Polish experiences convinced Nicholas I that the only good for Russia was or a strong friendly neighbor or the expansion of the Russian empire up to the annexation of all these «small» states.
Such preconceptions would have brought to the 1844 big Anglo-Russian misunderstanding that can be considered as the base for the following conflict in Crimea. The bases of that accord or, as we will see subsequently, presumed agreement, have to be searched into the 1832 Egyptian revolt. Mohammed Alì, governor of Egypt, had undertaken a war of independence, invading with his army the Turkish homeland and threatening the survival of the Ottoman empire. The czar, because of what has been recommended from the 1829 committee and from the events in Belgium and Poland, didn't desire the dissolution of the decadent neighbor and decided an armed intervention in favor of the traditional enemy. During February and March 1833, firstly a Russian fleet defended the Straits and then a division of infantry landed in that region to protect the legitimacy of the Sultan. For the first and only time, some Russian troops were walking on the Asian shores of the Bosporus. The alarm that such an intervention provoked in the western nations was enormous. Until that moment either France either Great Britain had always thought as possible to prevent a Russian penetration in the region because the Ottoman empire was hostile to the Slavic state. Instead, the Turkish state was about to become ally of Russia, if not just a protectorate.
Insofar, the two western nations worked with great interest to achieve the fastest possible peace between the Sultan and Egypt (Convention of Kütahya). The Russian military presence resulted, so, superfluous, but its withdrawal was not immediate. It was completed only after the accord of mutual help signed at Unkar Skelessi (July 8 th 1833) between the Ottoman Empire and Russia. Such an agreement, of eight year-long duration, foresaw the impossibility for foreign war ships to pass through the Straits, guaranteeing to the Russian fleet the dominion of the Black Sea.
The pacification of the southern frontiers constituted only a part of the safeguard politics of the Russian borders. In 1833 it was also concluded the Convention of Berlin with the middle-European powerful states of Prussia and Austria. Although the accord was of mutual assistance among the signers, Russia would have been the policeman of Europe in brief time. The convention foresaw that in case of revolts or inside tumults, each one of the allies could intervene to help the neighbor and the czar found any occasion to apply this disposition.
With the dangerous 1848 revolts, Russia rose as the firm (and armed) answer of the Conservatism. It was really the Russian imperial army that fought in favor of Austria against the Hungarian nationalists that threatened the House of Hapsburg. Russia of Nicholas I was so powerful that its army could race across Europe in order to help any ally during their moments of difficulty.
The Eastern War
The help provided to Austria convinced the Czar to have found a brotherly friend and an imperishable ally in the emperor Francis Joseph of Hapsburg. This was only one of the several errors that Nicholas I would have done in rapid succession beginning from 1840 and that would have created inexorably the chaos in Eastern Europe.
In 1839-40, the war between the Ottoman Empire and Egypt restarted with new strength. According to the Russian-Turkish agreement, the Russian imperial army would have had to support the Sultan, but he understood well soon that the accord of Unkiar Skelessi would not have been respected for the great international pressures practiced from Great Britain and France. The two western nations pushed once more the two contenders to sign a peace in London in 1840, but in order to prevent whatever Russian expansion in the Mediterranean Sea, all the great powers of the epoch (Great Britain, France, Austria and Prussia) imposed the 1841 Straits Convention to the czar that established the impossibility for whatever foreign war ship to cross the Bosporus and the Dardanelles.
Despite Nicholas I was not willing to accept this restrictive solution, he bore the consequences of it because of what happened only 3 years later during the reserved talking between the czar and the British Foreign Minister, Lord Aberdeen. Nicholas I, who personally traveled to Great Britain, had discussed the re-design of the Danubian and Middle-Eastern area in the eventuality of a collapse of the Ottoman empire. The two interlocutors agreed that the primary worry of Russia and Great Britain was to keep alive the ancient Turkish empire, but in case of «imminent possibility» of its dissolution, the two powers had to meet in order to determine immediately the destiny of those lands. At the end of the private talking, the Russian delegation worded an official protocol that was delivered to the British exponents, who didn't comment it, but they didn't expressly accept it too. This event would have created several and severe misunderstandings.
In fact, all the foreign politics actions that Nicholas I would have undertaken subsequently were founded on his assumption that such protocol was a real agreement with Great Britain, which, on the other hand, considered it nothing more than an official exchange of views on topics of vital importance. In addition to this unusual way to see the same document, we have to add that the interpretative difficulty of the content of the agreement. It was never clear, neither it would have been able to be, what «imminent possibility» meant neither what degree of weakness had to reach the Ottoman empire to be declared as «presumed dead».
In 1853, Nicholas I thought that time has come for the end of the Turkish empire. The international conjuncture seemed particularly favorable to Russia. He had, or he believed to have, a strong ally to West: Austria. The Ottoman empire possessed an army more backward than the Russian one and therefore it was judged, again, as an easy prey. A pretext existed to instigate the conflict with some reasonable motivations: in 1850 a strong diatribe was raised between Christian-orthodox monks and Catholic one about who had to manage the Holy Places in Palestine. Russia as the only big nation of orthodox religion, pretended to defend the affairs of the Ottoman population of the same religion.
Of course, the interest of Russia was not only for those futile religious disputes, but also for the possibility to incorporate in its own empire the territories of Valacchia and Moldova that were, in large part, populated by people of Christian-orthodox religion. What had begun as a dispute of minor importance, it would have evolved into the first modern war among great European nations.
Already in February 1853, Russia had sent to the Sultan a Note that had the taste of an ultimatum. The Ottoman empire had to favor the orthodox faction in the religious dispute and, additionally, to recognize some kind of Russian protectorate on the whole orthodox population inside its own borders. While the first condition was approved, the second one was rejected disdainfully, because it implicated an unacceptable violation of the Turkish sovereignty.
The czar, founding his actions on the previous «presumed» agreement with Great Britain, sent several times to the British sovereign some requests in order immediately to proceed to the division of the Ottoman empire . They were not only declined, but even the attitude of Great Britain and France was colder and colder up to becoming aggressive. With a new evaluation error, Nicholas I thought that the most important step, that is the occupation of the Danubian principalities, had been made and therefore it was possible to wait for the evolution of the events from a position of strength. The diplomatic stalemate lasted for months, until October 1853, when Turkey, worried by the eventuality of an official recognition of the status quo in the principalities, declared war against Russia.
At the beginning, the conflict was anything else than an exchange of provocations, with the Ottoman troops who were fortified along the Danube waiting for the Anglo-French intervention and with the Russians were waiting with the hope of a diplomatic solution that would not have come. The equivocal position of Austria, nearer and nearer to the Anglo-French allies, finally forced the Russians to act. In May, Marshal Gorchakov went beyond the Danube and conquered Varna, in Bulgaria, without however succeeding in completely defeating the enemy troops. The Ottoman units withdrew in good order and barricade themselves inside the city of Silistra to the command of Mustafà Pasha. For more than one month the czarist soldiers besieged the fortress, defended with ramparts and trenches rather than with concrete works that the art of the war of that period recommended. The defense was insurmountable, so much that in front of the impossibility to take such a position, the Russians withdrew from the whole region by returning within the borders there were before the war.
Although the reasons that had caused the conflict were resolved, the war didn't finish. In fact, in the meantime, other motivations were added to the initial ones. The Anglo-French fear of an expansion in the Mediterranean through the Dardanelles of the Russian naval power seemed to come true in the moment in which a naval squad commanded by Admiral Nachimov destroyed the largest part of the Turkish war navy inside the port of Sinope in November 1853. Beginning from that date, Russia became by facts the dominator of the Black Sea and an imminent invasion of the region of the Straits was indeed more than a possibility. The whole 1853 winter was spent in long, but fruitless negotiations between the Western powers and Russia. At that time, it was sure that the conflict would have transformed in a new continental war.
The war is widened
The ultimatum of France and Great Britain against Russia was delivered on February 27 and because of no answer, on March 27 was signed the declaration of war. Taken the decision, it also had to be found the ground on which to fight that war that few people wanted, but all had now to do. Russia, withdrawing from the Danubian principalities had eliminated an ideal battleground for the Allies. They had landed their forces near the zone of Gallipoli with the hope that the czarist army accepted a battle in open field, but such hope had to be disappointed well soon. The high concentration of troops with scarce hygienic conditions, let an epidemic of cholera begin that would have become the first cause of death of the war, with 30% of positive cases among the soldiers and 20% of deaths.
The invasion of the endless possessions of the czar was seen as necessary. The eventuality of a continental war campaign towards Petersburg in Napoleonic style was immediately excluded, not to incur in the hard Russian winter. The Western Allies opted for the exploitation of the better weapon they had, that was the Navy. It was organized the biggest operation of amphibious invasion that has been ever seen in the history of the humanity until that moment. The selected objective was the peninsula of Crimea on the Black Sea that ensured a relatively long valid period for the ground operations for its particularly moderate climate.
In fact, all the allied military heads thought that their own technological superiority would have allowed to finish the conflict before the beginning of the winter.
Theoretically, this analysis was correct: French and English possessed a fleet of steam vessels that was able to transport and, above all, to supply 60.000 men of the first contingent that on September 14 1854 landed in Crimea. Those soldiers had also a better personal armament than Russian ones, with new rifles that ensured a longer range and more accurate shoot precision, as well as the support of an artillery also with rifled weapons that allowed the transformation of the cannon balls from spherical ones to cylindrical ones lengthening the cover range granted to infantry. Unfortunately, there were some unexpected defects in the allied armies that would have annulled the initial advantages.
On the Russian side, the amphibious attack was not really unexpected, but the answer was not ready and strong as it would have had to be. In Crimea, in September 1854, a number of Russian soldiers nearly equivalent to the force of invasion was present and a strong counterattack on the beaches would have been able to let the invasion fail . Contrarily, who commanded the defense forces, Prince Menshikov, decided that a compact attack in the zone of Sebatospoli against the allied forces during their phase of re-organization would have been the better solution. During the battle of Alma river, the great technological advantages of the allies were immediately shown. They could shot from long range against both Russian infantry and artillery that were well soon routed. The victory, however, was not exploited. Rather than advancing in direction of Sebastopoli that had not been immediately strengthened because of a Menshikov's error, the allied commanders marched toward the zone of Balaclava that would have become the zone of several battles and clashes.
How to justify a similar error of evaluation? The historians agree on thinking that the unpreparedness of the French commanders, but above all English ones, was the its cause. After the victories during the Napoleonic wars, in Great Britain it was spread the idea that an army of small dimensions, suited for defending the homeland, already well protected from the sea and from the Royal Navy, was the ideal weapon. The period of relative peace that there was between 1815 and 1853 didn't do anything else other than confirm this judgment. The only officers with some fighting experience were those people, who had fought in India during the colonial wars that, in comparison to what was happening in Crimea, had been simple skirmishes.
The two supreme commanders of the Anglo-French forces were Fitzroy James Henry Somerset and Jacques Leroy de Saint-Arnaud. The former one, an 64 years old English, was a brave soldier, who had fought during the wars against Napoleon and had stopped to that period for what it concerned tactic and strategy. Becoming older, he achieved higher ranks, but he had preserved the conviction that the courage of the troop was able to overcome whatever lack. The latter one, French, had abandoned the political charge of War Minister in order to assume that of Commander of the French expedition corp. He was a good soldier and had fought in Africa and as his British counterpart, he had an endless trust for the abilities of his own troops.
Unfortunately, although the allied soldiers would have fully confirmed the qualities only hypothesized by their commanders, the lack of «brains» in the high ranks would have sacrificed a large number of them in useless battles of infantry. The confirmation of this allied deficit there was during the attempt of naval block of the peninsula of Crimea. The Anglo-French would have had to block the isthmus of Perekop to prevent any outside Russian help, but they finally realized that the shallows of that sea were too low for their own war ships. The improvisation ruled...
The Russians, taking advantage of that sea passage kindly left open by the besiegers let arrive so many reinforcements and supplies that Menskikov could organize either the direct defense of Sebastopoli either a force of movement to North of the city. Despite the disposition of the Russian forces let see the possibility of ground counterattacks, the allies were sure to be able to take the fortress through contemporary bombarding from the sea and a terrestrial attack starting from Balaclava. During the week from 17 until 25 October 1854 they happened the clashes that would have entered in the military history either for the audacity with which they were fought by the soldiers either for the rashness (even if someone would define it as stupidity ) with which the allied commanders organized the operations. On October 17, the whole Anglo-French fleet bombed the fortress of Sebastopoli, without caring of the heavy answer that the Russian artillery returned from the fortifications. The bombardments lasted the whole day and on evening, claiming a presumed victory due to the damages inflicted to the enemy fortifications, the allied naval squad withdrew. For the whole following week, waiting for the French troops that would have had to join them for the final assault, English left practically without defense the zone of the river Cernaia.
Menshikov, though he was not a commander of great cleverness, on October 25 exploited this advantage and launched an attack of cavalry in order to divide the two expedition contingents in such a way to allow the Russian support infantry to penetrate up to the allied naval bases of Balaclava. Lord Raglan, apparently surprised by the operation, was fortunately saved from the complete defeat by the unbelievable resistance offered by the Scottish infantry that held out against the enemy assault, waiting for reinforcements that however delayed to come. At 11 AM, there was the bravest and contemporaneously most foolish cavalry assault that can be remembered. In the attempt to slow down the Russian advance with the only available forces, Raglan, rather than waiting for the French support, ordered to the light cavalry brigade commanded by Major James Thomas Brudenell, seventh count of Cardigan, to attack. That unit, starting from a disadvantaged position, rode against the experienced enemy lines and was nearly massacred by the Russian infantry fire. Since that episode, the epic story of the «600 horsemen charge» would have been proposed as example of military ardor and comradely solidarity, rather than as futile and criminal obedience to absurd orders. Finally, the Russian push was exhausted not because of the sacrifice of those cavalry men, but more realistically for the incessant fire of the British infantry that could exploit the advantage of the long range rifles.
The attempt of breaking the enemy lines was also repeated with equal failure in the lowland of Inkermann, on November 5. After that new defeat, Menshikov gave up every activity of movement and barricaded his troops inside Sebastopoli. The city was strengthened following engineer Todleben's directives, who knew how to learn the recent teachings gotten by the war against the Ottomans by creating only ground, easily feasible and repairable works. The war was about to change aspect again.
A new power in Europe
As many other conflicts in precedence and as many other other in the next decades, the war of Crimea degenerated in clashes of artillery, where infantry had a less important role either for the objectives that were assigned to this force, either for the scarce consideration that the life of the soldiers had for their commanders.
The terrible bombardments that had to exhaust the defenses of the Russian city are remembered by the great writer Lev Nikolaevic Tolstoj, who, after volunteering for the army, firstly fought in the Caucasus, then defended Sebastopoli during the bombardment that began on April 9 1855 and lasted for 10 consecutive days. From his prose written in the «Stories of Sebastopoli» we can know the anguishes and the actions of courage that there was in those sad days. The allied infantry had continually to attack after the bombardments that thanks to the skilled job of Todleben, had scarce destructive effectiveness. The losses among the lines of the assailants were so higher and higher and, accordingly, the number of men that had to be replaced with new unexperienced soldiers arrived from the homeland grew day by day. If for France this didn't constitute a real problem, so much that in the moment of highest effort around 100.000 French soldiers were present in Crimea, the little professional British army was never able to sustain an equivalent effort.
For such reasons, beginning from November 1854, for around two months, some frantic diplomatic negotiations were developed for finding a valid military help. Although Austria could be the ideal recipient for such attentions, because of its equivocal «neutrality» and the always increasing interests for the Balkan region, the Allies looked for a less binding support on the political point of view that allowed them not to grant any territorial compensation at the moment of the signature of the peace treaty. The final choice was the rising Piedmont.
The small Italian state had bossily entered on the international scene when it had tried with its forces only to defeat the Austrian giant in the attempt, then aborted, to conquer Lombardy in 1849. The hard defeat suffered had caused a generation change either for the reigning house of Savoia with the ascent to the throne of Vittorio Emanuele II either, above all, in the political ranks of the executive power with the new entry of Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour.
The initial proposal of the allies consisted in recruiting an Piedmontese expedition corp without any further political implication. This solution was essentially unacceptable for the Savoia, because the Kingdom of Sardinia would not have acquired any advantage from the venture other than the financial one. Therefore, Cavour refused in firm, but not definitive, way so that the Anglo-French were convinced to raise the Piedmont to the rank of ally, reaching a final agreement in January 1855. A Piedmontese military contingent of 20.000 men reached Crimea in April and immediately had to face the worst threat of the whole war: the epidemics of cholera. In few weeks more than 5% of the men died because of the disease. Among them, the Italian patriot Alessandro La Marmora.
The Piedmontese participation to the conflict in Crimea was not a numerical one only. The Italian soldiers would have had an important role during the war operations. In fact, in August 1855, during the battle of Cernaia, they knew how to show that the military preparation of that small army was worth at least as much as that of the Great Powers. On August 16, Gorchakov, substitute of disappointing Menshikov, had prepared a mighty offensive against the besiegers that foresaw an outflanking of the enemy line on the right side that defended right from the Piedmontese units. They stood the initial numerically superior assault of the Russian infantry and then, thanks to the support of the French center of the line up, counterattacked with vigor, provoking a defeat of the Russians that was decisive. The defenders, after the casualties on August 16, gripped by the allied siege, didn't succeed in contrasting the enemy any longer and on September 8, under the combined attack of the Anglo-French forces, Sebastopoli surrendered. In conclusion, Piedmont would have sat at the same table of the winners consecrating its own notoriety as more and more important European kingdom.
The loss of Crimea didn't constitute an irremediable defeat for the Russians because the allies would have had to bear some serious logistic problems if they had continued the campaign invading the continental zone of the czarist empire. Nevertheless, Alexander II, Nicholas' successor on the throne of the czars, had a completely different approach than his predecessor. He surely was less reactionary and stubborn. Therefore, he suspended the fights in all border regions, except in Caucasus, where the Ottomans were defeated at Kars and forced officially to surrender vast territories in precedence only militarily occupied from Russia. Finally, on March 30 1856 the peace in Paris was signed.
Consequences and innovations derived by the war
Although at the end of the war Russia had even conquered some zones in the Caucasus, the loss of Crimea, only provisional, had serious consequences on strategic level. It had shown that the Western powers could strike in whatever part of the Black Sea and they were able to sustain the effort for long time. Besides, in the peace agreement signed in Paris there was a clause that imposed the de-militarization of the Black Sea depriving Russia of an important naval field for its own fleet. In conclusion, the Dardanelles could not be directly threatened any longer. The Ottoman empire, survived to that terrible moment, was slowly moving under the French protection that would have caused serious inside problems until the XX century revolts of the Young Turks. Nevertheless, the whole middle-east region was still under the control of the Sultan. Paradoxically, the allied intervention had a wider reactionary effect than what would have been realized by the Russian invasion that, indeed, had destabilized that part of the world.
Great Britain dominated with her naval power the whole Mediterranean sea, since France would have been soon defeated by Prussia in the French-Prussian war in 1870. The small Piedmont had gotten what its rulers wanted, that is an international recognition of its own strength and a good ally (France) that would have helped the Savoia during the second Italian Independence war. Austria, in its diplomatic conservatism, had lost a big chance to expand its own influence in the Balkan region, ending up favoring the Ottoman eternal enemy. The Hapsburg didn't even realized that the Kingdom of Sardinia was preparing the 1859 revenge and the consequent Italian unification.
The War in Crimea was also the first modern conflict, not only for the introduction of the rifled weapons, but for the contemporary presence of others two elements too: the war reporters and a stable nursery corp. Among the former ones, we have to remember the photographer Roger Fenton to whom they are due practically all images of that period currently available as well as the reporter of the London Times, William Russell, who thanks to the articles sent by telegraph was able daily to inform the British public opinion about the war events. His descriptions of the sufferings of the wounded soldiers during the battles was at the base of the adventure of Florance Nightingale, who organized a unit of 38 nurses in Crimea. They were the first women to help the ill-famed surgeons of the allied military hospitals by guaranteeing the assistance and human solidarity that until that moment had been absent from the battlegrounds.
In conclusion, the war in Crimea was a great lesson for the tactic of the following decades, as the second Italian independence war and the American secession war would have shown. The times of the fights among cavalries and infantries were finishing to leave the place to the long range fight, anonymous and antiseptic , but not less cruel and bloody than its predecessor.
Sources: «The war of the errors» by Simone Mambriani, «History of Russia» by Nicholas V. Riasanovsky, Bompiani publisher.
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