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Category: Conflicts/Others

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The Crimean War 1854/56 and Australian Involvement

In 1853, Russia sent troops to defend Christians within the Ottoman Empire. Within months, Russian troops had occupied parts of the Ottoman Empire and the Turks declared war on Russia

. On 28 March 1854, looking to prevent Russian expansion, Britain and France (with Austrian backing) also declared war on Russia. 

In September 1854, Allied troops invaded the Crimea and within a month were besieging the Russian held city of Sebastopol.

British Crimea medal 

Turkish Crimea medal

Sydney, NSW. c. 1880. Studio portrait of Charles Dalton, wearing the uniform of the 8th King's Royal Irish Hussars. 

Born in London on 24 November 1832, he served in the Crimea and Turkey at Alma, Balaclava, Inkerman and Sebastapol and took part in the charge of the Light Brigade. 

He also served in India at the Siege of Kotah, recapture of Chundaree Kotah Ki Seari, capture of Gwalior Powrie, Sindwah and Koonoyr. 

He spent twenty five years in charge of the Governor's Escort in New South Wales and died in Balgowlah, NSW, on 5 February 1891. 

His grandson 96 Sergeant Trumpteter Clive M. Dalton, 4th Light Horse Brigade, died of wounds received at Gallipoli on 12 August 1915  (Donor M. Aspinall).

On 25 October 1854, the Russians were driven back at the Battle of Balaclava (including the foolhardy Charge of the Light Brigade). Eleven days later, the Battle of Inkerman was also fought (with high casualties on both sides). Poorly supplied and with little medical assistance (despite the self-publicity of Florence Nightingale), the British troops suffered immense casualties - 4,600 died in battle; 13,000 were wounded; and 17,500 died of disease.

On the obverse is a Young Queen Victoria. On the reverse, a British Cavalryman charging over the dragon serpent that is Russia. At the top of that is "TO BALACLAVA!". This 1854 medallion is 23mm or almost an inch in diameter.

The French and British forced the fall of Sebastopol on 11 September 1855 and peace was subsequently concluded at Paris. Within fifteen years, the Russian were back in Sebastopol and rearming.

Interesting Side Note 1:It was the first war where the electric telegraph started to have a significant effect; the first 'live' war reporting to The Times, and British generals' reduced independence of action from London due to such rapid communications. Newspaper readership informed public opinion in Britain and France as never before. Interesting Side Note 2: The Crimean War occasioned the invention of hand rolled "paper cigars" - cigarettes - by French and British troops who copied their Turkish comrades in using old newspaper for rolling when their cigar-leaf rolling tobacco ran out or dried and crumbled.
The Thin Red Line - Original painting by Robert Gibb. The 93rd Sutherland Highlanders facing Russian cavalry at the Battle of Balaklava 1854.

Diplomatic Prelude

As he had on other occasions, Nicholas I tried again in 1853 to get an understanding with England about the position of Turkey and to prevent a rapprochement between England and France. The Russians would not tolerate the establishment of the English in Constantinople, but did not want to annex the city either. Temporary occupation by Russia might, however, be necessary to secure Russia's aim of finally getting secure outlet from the Black Sea. In discussions with Foreign Minister Russell of Britain Russia suggested an independent Moldavia and Wallachia, a Serbia under Russian protection, and an independent Bulgaria. The English were to get Egypt and Crete. The Austrians could establish themselves on the Adriatic.

Russell rejected the "offer" and said that France would have to be consulted on the matter. 

Nicholas I, however, was under the erroneous impression that some sort of "new system" existed as a result of Nesselrode's Memorandum of 1844, which had suggested a arrangement with regard to the Straits. 

This particular memorandum and the substance of the current diplomatic conversations with British Ambassador Seymour in St. Petersburg were published by Britain and touted as proof that "dark ambitions of a foreign despot" were endangering the peace of Europe.

Immediate Cause

The Franco-Russian dispute over the holy places in Palestine was the immediate cause of the Crimean War. At the time Turkey controlled Palestine, Egypt, and large chunks of the Middle East. The Port (Moslem ruler of Turkey) had given privileges to protect the Christians and their churches in the Holy Land to many nations. That explains why so many different churches and nationals control various holy shrines in Israel to this very day. At the time France and England had gotten more specific commitments from the Port than other nations.

France's interest in Palestine had been stimulated by a domestic crisis in 1840-1841. Napoleon II pushed it because he relied on the support of militant clerical groups in France. In 1850 Napoleon III requested the restoration to French Catholics of the capitulations of 1740. This meant that the French wanted the key to the Church of the Nativity in the old city of Jerusalem and the right to place a silver star on Christ's birthplace in Bethlehem. The French threatened military action if the Porte did not give way and the Russians threatened to occupy Moldavia and Wallachia if he did. The weak Porte did the best he could under the circumstances and gave a yes answer to foreign parties. This bit of typical Turkish duplicity was soon discovered. When it was discovered the French send the warship Charlemagne to Constantinople and a squadron of ship the Bay of Tripoli. In December 1852, having no other choice, the Porte gave in to Paris.

In February Nicholas responded by mobilizing two army corps and sending his ambassador, Menshikov, to Constantinople. Menshikov demanded not only the restoration of Greek rights but also a secret alliance and the protection of all orthodox laymen under Turkish rule-that meant some 12 million subject of the Porte. At this point the British got into the act in the person of a very clever diplomatic operator in Constantinople by the name of Stratford de Redcliffe. The latter outfoxed Menshikov who got concessions on the Greek rights issue but non of the other demands. So Meshikov went home.

It seems silly to us today that they argued over the keys to a church, but then it was not just any church. And besides, the religious issue was not the essential factor in the Franco-Russian dispute. France wanted to break down the continental alliance that had paralyzed her for half a century. National interests were involved here. England and France, in particular responded to popular sentiment stirred up by liberal and patriotic groups in their countries. Financial and trading groups, as always, were involved as well. Such pressure is not evident in the case of Russia. The Black Sea trade at this time was still quite insignificant.

When the Menshikov Mission became public knowledge it strengthened the anti-Russian faction in the British cabinet. So the British decided it was worth a war to keep and expand their interest in the Eastern Mediterranean. In June 1853 an Anglo-French naval force entered the Dardanelles. In July the Russian army invaded the principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia (modern day Rumania).

The war could still have been prevented. There were 11 different project for pacification at the end of 1853. But the only important one was the so-called "Vienna Note" to Turkey and Russia by France, Austria, Prussia, and England. The Porte was to promise no change in the status quo without the explicit consent of France and Russia. Russia accepted this condition, but Turkey naturally rejected it. Nicholas I and Francis Joseph of Austria even had a personal summit at Olmütz. Nicholas promised not to intervene in Turkey or to extract some right to protect orthodox Christians under Turkish, like in the famous Treaty of Kuchuck Kainardje. The English, however, turned this deal down.

The following letter to the editor appeared in the SMH early last century.

Sydney Morning Herald, Monday, May 1, 1911
         THE OLDEST VOLUNTEER (letter)

Sir, I have noticed several letters in your paper claiming the above title. During the Crimean War, in 1854, a volunteer force of cavalry, artillery and infantry respectively was formed: I joined the
cavalry under Captain Macdonald, an Imperial officer from India.  We were sworn in and took the oath of allegiance by Major Cockburn at his office which was then on the first floor at the southern end where the Sydney Mint is now.  I still have in my possession the forage cap worn by me.  We had to find our own uniforms, which were expensive, as also horse and accoutrements.  When peace was
proclaimed I joined the First infantry Regiment in 1867, and had 33.5 years' service altogether.  I think it will be very difficult to beat my claim, at all events, to be one of the oldest volunteers now living.
  I am, etc.,
           J.H. MORRIS  Lieut. Col., V.D."

I found this soldier in the NSW Govt's "1894 BLUE BOOK" on page 50, as a Major in the Military Forces - Infantry - 1st Regiment.

The Blue book states he joined the NSW Govt Military establishment on Feb 14, 1871 and was promoted to his then current position of Major on the Nov 15, 1888.
  • Can you please give me other information about this officer?
    • i.e. What other wars did he fight?
    • when was he promoted to Lt Col?
    • when did he leave the military?
    • what is his military history?
    • etc

Thank you for your assistance with this matter.

All the Best

J J Mitchell

The Crimean War: an overview 

        In the years 1854 to 1856, Britain fought its only European war between the ending of the Napoleonic conflict in 1815 and the opening of the Great War in 1914. Although eventually victorious, the British and their French allies pursued the war with little skill and it became a byword for poor generalship and logistical incompetence. 

        The war began as a quarrel between Russian Orthodox monks and French Catholics over who had precedence at the holy Places in Jerusalem and Nazareth. Tempers frayed, violence resulted and lives were lost. Tsar Nicholas I of Russia demanded the right to protect the Christian shrines in the Holy Land and to back up his claims moved troops into Wallachia and Moldavia (present day Rumania) then part of the Ottoman Turkish empire. His fleet then destroyed a Turkish flotilla off Sinope in the Black Sea. In an early instance of propaganda, British newspaper reports of the action said the Russians had fired at Turkish wounded in the water. Russian domination of Constantinople and the Straits was a perennial nightmare of the British and with the two powers already deeply suspicious of each others intentions in Afghanistan and Central Asia, the British felt unable to accept such Russian moves against the Turks. Louis Napoleon III, emperor of France, eager to emulate the military successes of his uncle Napoleon I and wishing to extend his protection to the French monks in Jerusalem allied himself with Britain. Both countries dispatched expeditionary forces to the Balkans. The British was commanded by Lord Raglan, who had last seen action at the Battle of Waterloo; the French by General St. Arnaud and, after his death from cholera, General Canrobert both veterans of France's Algerian wars.

        The war began in March 1854 and by the end of the summer, the Franco-British forces had driven the Russians out of Wallachia and Moldavia. The fighting should have ended there, but it was decided that the great Russian naval base at Sevastopol was a direct threat to the future security of the region and in September 1854 the French and British landed their armies on the Crimean peninsula. 

        From their landing beaches the allies marched southward to invest Sevastopol. On the way they fought their first major battle. At the River Alma, a Russian army tried unsuccessfully to prevent the Allies crossing the river and scaling the heights beyond. The defeated Russians retreated inland  and as the siege of Sevastopol began a regrouped Russian army hovered menacingly on the flank of the British army who were using the inlet of Balaklava as its supply harbour. Sevastopol was invulnerable to any kind of sea borne attack and her landward defences were also formidable. Soon the major strong points in the defences, the Redan, the little Redan and the Malakoff bastion, would become household words in Britain.

        As the British and French prepared their siege works the Russian army on the British right flank struck. They were flung back at this the Battle of Balaklava but only with great loss and the near annihilation of the British light cavalry. A further attempt by the Russians resulted in the Battle of Inkerman, a murderous fistfight fought out in a fog so thick that sometimes the troops could only see a few yards ahead. again the Russians were pushed back. 
The war settled down to one of spade and artillery as the Allies pushed their trenches nearer the defensive lines of Sevastopol. 

The winter of 1854-55 brought great misery to the troops, particularly the British as their commissary department was grossly incompetent and for months the men were clothed in rags, cold, hungry and short of everything. 

The only bright light in this sorry tale of official negligence and stupidity was the work of Florence Nightingale who almost single-handedly drastically cut mortality rates for the British wounded at the hospital in Scutari.

        Finally, in early 1856, Sevastopol fell and the war was brought to a conclusion by the Peace of Paris.

 Battle of Balaklava & The Charge of the Light Brigade

as well as the less well known but much more successful

The Charge of the Heavy Brigade

It was the Russian army hanging on the flank of the British that caused the second of the Crimean War's battles, the Battle of Balaklava. North of Balaklava harbour was a slight rise where the 93rd Highlanders had made their camp. Beyond this there lay the South Valley, an open valley leading up to a  higher line of hills known as the Causeway Heights. The Causeway Heights looked down on a narrower valley called the North Valley and beyond it the Fedoukine Hills. It was in the North Valley that the greatest spectacle and most tragic event of the war would take place - the charge of the Light Brigade.

        Along the crest of the Causeway Heights were a string of six redoubts manned by Turkish infantry. On the morning of 25th October, 1854 they were approached by a massively superior force of Russian troops well supported by artillery. the Turks held their ground as frantic messengers run back to warn the British. Unfortunately, the British reacted very slowly and by the time they had started across the South Valley the Turks were in full flight, four of the redoubts in enemy hands and Russian cavalry was swarming over the Causeway Heights. Soon they approached the 93rd Highlanders under the command of Sir Colin Campbell , later famed for his relief of  Lucknow  in the  Indian Mutiny . Campbell ordered his men to stand firm and die if they must in their places in the line. There could be no retreat as they were all that stood between the enemy and the disorganized British camp. Hold they did and  in such a fashion that Times correspondent William Russell, watching from the hills above, was moved to coin the immortal phrase 'a thin red line tipped with steel'. Shortened to 'the thin red line' his phrase came to forever symbolize the stoicism and imperturbability of British troops when faced with superior numbers.

The Heavy Brigade and their successful charge

Though the Highlanders drove off the Russian cavalry on their front, a larger body of Russian horsemen were moving up the North Valley in the direction of the British H.Q.. Disturbed by the fire of a British gun, they crossed over the Causeway Heights to the left of the Highlanders and saw below them the Heavy Brigade, six squadrons of British heavy cavalry from the Royal Scots Greys, the Inniskilling Dragoons and the Dragoon Guards.

         The Russians were a dense grey mass all wearing yellowish-grey greatcoats and the British cavalry approaching them in lines of absurd thinness must have seemed hopelessly fragile, even effete, in their bright scarlet tunics. 

They were led by the aptly named General Sir James Scarlett, 55 years old, who had never ever commanded troops in battle. He was to show this day that he had a certain flair for such things. Taking his time to dress his men into perfect lines and ignoring an order to charge immediately, Scarlett organised his squadrons as if on parade. The Russian cavalry, from the slopes of the Causeway Heights watched with incredulous fascination. There had been no British cavalry charges so far in the war and only a fool would countenance such an action now, against a much stronger enemy.

        Scarlett's trumpeter sounded the charge and his men moved off. The Scots Greys wore heavy bearskins, the Iniskillings and the Dragoon Guards embossed helmets. If not the finest cavalry in the world they were certainly amongst the best attired. As they drove into the Russian line the red tunics seemed to disappear in a sea of Russian grey. There was no room for fancy swordsmanship and the troopers hacked about them as if with meat cleavers. The ferocity, execution and sheer arrogance of the charge, however, were too much for the Russians and they faltered. Then they broke and fled northwards back over the Causeway Heights. 

  • It was not the most spectacular charge ever made by British cavalry, but it was probably the most effective.  

As the Russians retreated and the wounded were being carried back to camp, an A.D.C. of Lord Raglan the British commander-in-chief trotted up and handed Scarlett a note. The exhausted Scarlett read the note and quickly turned away to hide the moistening of his eyes. The note read simply, "Well done, Scarlett." Raglan was not so pleased with Lord Cardigan, the leader of the Light Brigade, who let had a golden opportunity slip by not pursuing the Russians the Heavy Brigade had put to flight. The focus of the battle now moved over to the western end of the North Valley were the Light Brigade were positioned and a crucial factor came into play. 

The topography of the battlefield, with its hills and valleys, made it very difficult for officers in the field to see much more than what was on their direct front whereas the generals watching from the hills above enjoyed an almost unimpeded view. As the Heavy Brigade reformed and British infantry advanced on the westernmost of the captured redoubts, Lord Raglan ordered Lord Lucan, the overall commander of the cavalry, to take any advantage given and advance with infantry support to regain possession of the heights. Lucan could see no sign of the promised infantry support and declined to move. Lord Raglan fumed with impatience at this inactivity and just then the critical event occurred. The Russians brought up artillery horses to the captured redoubts obviously intending to remove their guns. Determined not to allow this to happen, Raglan sent Lucan an order telling him to prevent the removal of the guns.
Lucan conferred with Cardigan, his brother-in-law and a man he heartily detested. It was Cardigan's Light Brigade that would have to lead any forward movement. Unfortunately, the only guns that either of them could see were the Russian artillery, a mile away, at the eastern end of the North Valley.

Supported by massed infantry and cavalry and with other guns and riflemen on both sides of the valley, the Russian position was unassailable - a three-sided trap like the jaws of some ferocious beast.

 Cardigan mildly protested at the folly of charging such a position, but Lucan reminded him that he had a direct order in writing from the commander-in-chief. Unwilling to disobey a direct order, neither Lucan nor Cardigan made any attempt to verify whether Raglan really wanted them to make such a suicidal effort.

The Light Brigade and its spectacular and disastrous charge

Cardigan sounded the charge and the Light Brigade started forward. The first line consisted of the 13th Light Dragoons on the right, the 17th Lancers on the left and the 11th Hussars in support. The second was formed by the 4th Light Dragoons and the 8th Hussars. Cardigan rode well in front of the first line and for all his faults there is no doubting his courage. 673 men rode forward when the trumpet sounded. Less than 200, almost all of them wounded, would return.

       For the first fifty yards nothing happened and Lord Cardigan in his blue and cherry coloured uniform and gold trimmed pelisse looked, as Lord Raglan said, "as brave and as proud as a lion." Then the Russian guns opened up. The horses began to move faster from a trot to a canter to a gallop and the officers had trouble restraining some of their men from spurring on ahead. From three sides a storm of lead and iron winnowed the ranks of the British. The spectacle was incomparable and on the hills above a British officer burst into tears at the sight of such a suicidal tragedy. An elderly French general trying to comfort him said, "Pauvre garcon. Je suis vieux, j'ai vu des batailles, mais ceci de trop." Barely fifty men of the first line reached the Russian guns. They rushed past, slashing at those gunners who had been slow to find cover, and slammed into the Russian cavalry behind the guns. They drove it backwards in disorder until overwhelming numbers slowed the momentum of their charge and they were forced to retire. The second line slaughtered the Russian gunners and pushing forward were met by the remnants of the first line in retreat. 

Lord George Paget, commander of the second line, on being informed that Russian lancers were closing in behind them shouted, "Halt boys, halt front, if we don't halt now we're done!" His men obeyed and turned their weary horses back down the valley up which they had charged at such cost. As they retired the Russian lancers seemed to part to let them through with just a few desultory lance prods to see them on their way. Some said this was a Russian gesture of respect for the heroism of the charge. Some said it was the result of the ineffectual leadership that was apparent in the handling of Russian cavalry. Perhaps it was simply the ordinary Russian troopers disdaining to risk their lives against an obviously spent force that had shown such a proclivity to insanity. More than 500 British horses died in the charge and it's possible the Russians just felt sorry for the surviving mounts.

       The Battle of Balaklava was claimed as a victory by the British but in reality it was not so. British cavalry played were unable to play any significant role for the remainder of the war and the Causeway Heights were left in Russian hands. This would greatly add to the misery of the British Army as it faced the Crimean winter.

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