A Day in History
March 27, 1854
CRIMEAN PENINSULA — The Brits went to war with the Russians. It started when Russia moved into Wallachia and Moldavia in the summer of 1853 to “protect the Orthodox Christians living there.” The French and the British stood up and declared in a single, united voice: “Bullshit.” What the Russians really wanted, they said, was an outlet to the Black Sea and a heap of more territory. It would not happen, however, because the European allies stepped in. The Russian military, in comparison to their enemies, was deplorable. They did not possess rifled muskets and tried to make do with archaic smoothbores. The British army, albeit smaller, was much better trained than the Tsar’s band of peasantry. Many bloody battles raged.
“Half a league onward. All in the valley of Death.” Alfred Tennyson made that famous.
A long siege at the fortress of Sevastopol in 1855 sealed the Russian’s defeat. Peace finally concluded in Paris, and the Russian Empire lost its credibility.
In the process, however, disease ran rampart through the armies killing hundreds of thousands. Florence Nightingale debuted but was powerless to stop the deadly infections. Many more soldiers succumbed to disease than to bullets. When the smoke settled in 1856, over 500,000 men were dead, and the concert of peace that Europe had maintained since the fall of Napoleon was over. Sixty years later, Europeans would find even more effective ways to kill each other, but that is another story.