The Crimean war remains one of history’s forgotten wars. With it’s causes; intentions and even its location remaining a bit of a distant blur. Ultimately though, its legacy is prominent in the modern world and has had a larger effect than most care to mention.
The causes of the conflict are complicated and vast. Concerning a jostle for territories in the declining Ottoman Empire, a disagreement in Orthodox and Catholic Christianity for hegemony in the holy lands. And to a lesser, but by no means uninteresting extent, a feud between the Tsar of Russia and Napoleon III over the heinous crime of the former addressing the French Emperor as “mon ami” instead of the more respectful “mon frère”.
These factors were vaguely labeled ‘The Eastern Question’ and approached tentatively by all sides.
History it seems, whatever the time period, has always had an “Eastern Question” and it has never been a simple one. Religious, cultural and historical differences between East and West have always manifested themselves in bouts of terrorism or armed tourism.
From medieval times up until the Renaissance, there were the Crusades, after that, angst about Ottoman expansion and in modern times, the troubles in Palestine and Kosovo as well as the Pan-Arab revolution. Ultimately, it is when one stops to think about this, that one sees the historical trends and the remnants that the modern world has been left to sweep up.
The Crimean War is widely regarded as the first modern war. Things suddenly and painfully shifted from the old doctrines of lines and columns engaging in open fields, to the ungentlemanly prospect of trench warfare, blind artillery fire and widespread rifling. Collectively this altered the balance of war.
Firepower, accuracy and range were increased. Consequently It became far harder to attack then defend. This lesson was often learnt in the hardest way and then frustratingly forgotten in time for the next War.
With the modernisation of warfare, came the modernisation of its logistics. The Crimean War saw the first use of telegrams and railways in a military sense, allowing troops, supplies and ideas to be moved efficiently and quickly over a large area. The heroics of Florence Nightingale, Mary Seacole and countless others revolutionised modern nursing practices.
Curiously, it was also the first War to use extensive media coverage as a way of keeping the domestic front up to date. This became a bit of a problem as the daily horrors of war lead to domestic discontent. Bizarrely epitomised in the Trafalgar Square “snowball riot” of 1855, where protestors gathered to pelt passers by. This boisterousness, in many ways was an indication of modernity, where coverage became one of the most volatile engines of public opinion and in the conflicts to come; the views of the masses could influence the outcome.
On the Russian side of things, the newly crowned Tsar Alexander II was so unimpressed by the showing of his Serf Army that he emancipated them. For his moral efforts he received the title of ‘Tsar Liberator’, a commendable move. Unfortunately though, things resumed largely unscathed, this time with a free, but slightly hungrier peasant class. How this affected The Russian Revolution, it is hard to say, but it is plausible that an agitated and disgruntled section of society, making up around 80% of the population was bound to have some effect on its course of history.
As well as the Crimean Wars tangible effects, its cultural implications are not to be understated. Tennyson’s poem “The charge of The Light Brigade” depicting a doomed, but glorious charge went on to become one of the most popular poems in the English language. The term “Thin Red line” which has become a recognised figure of speech, hailed from the endeavours of the 93rd Highlanders at the Battle of Balaclava. Even the balaclava, a staple of shysters across the world, came about as a way of combating the bitter cold of the Crimea.
The perennial notion of the well meaning, but reckless British Officer, searching for idle glory was consolidated with the blunders of the Crimean war. And in the decades to come, notably the First World War, this sentiment became further established and even exists under a comical guise in modern times.