Young Folks' History of Russia - Nathan Dole

How "Don Quixote" Fought, but not with Windmills

(The Krim War)

For many centuries the eyes of pious pilgrims have turned lovingly toward Palestine. Ten years after the battle of Hastings the Turks took Jerusalem, and emperors, kings, and popes led their crusades in vain against the sacred walls. The infidel at last allowed the Christian to have a convent and chapel at Bethlehem and worship in the grotto where tradition says that Christ was born. After the second separation of the churches a great quarrel arose between the Greek and Latin monks for the right to possess and guard these holy places. The Porte favored now the Eastern, now the Western Church, but in the reign of Nicholas it was solemnly decreed that though the Greek monks should keep control of the holy places, yet the Roman monks might have a key to the great door of the church at Bethlehem, and place a silver star in the grotto. The Porte, however, failed to carry out the decree, and the petty quarrel still went on. From this trivial cause grew the Crimean War.

[Illustration] from History of Russia by Nathan Dole


Napoleon III., the new Emperor of France, warmly took the part of the Latin monks, and threatened to appeal to arms. France was more than ready to fight Russia. The eighteen years of Louis Philippe's reign had been one long series of insults on the part of Nicholas; the French had not forgotten the retreat from Moscow, the presence of the Russians in Paris, the partition of Poland. Nicholas, the protector of the Eastern Christians, naturally took the part of the Greek monks, but he had more ambitious designs. After the proclamation of the Empire a coolness sprang up between France and England. Nicholas resolved to take advantage of it, and if possible induce England to support him in his grievances against the Porte. In a private talk with Sir George Seymour, the English envoy, he compared Turkey to a sick man, and insisted that England and Russia ought to come to an understanding as to the division of his estate, if he should suddenly die upon their hands. "We cannot bring the dead to life again," he said; "if the Turkish Empire falls, it falls to rise no more." Sir George wrote to his government for instructions, and Lord John Russell replied that Russia would do well to show great forbearance to the "sick man" and restore him to health rather than hasten the crisis by any rash action. The Emperor was indignant, and said to Sir George, "I tell you that if your government has been led to believe that Turkey retains any elements of life it must have received false information. I repeat it: the sick man is dying, and we can never allow such an event to take us by surprise." The Emperor then proposed a plan of partition by which he should take the Danubian principalities and allow England to take Egypt and Candia. He disclaimed any designs upon Constantinople, and at the same time declared that he would not allow any Christian Power to control the Bosphorus.

The events which preceded the Crimean war have been compared to a drama. The next act was the appointment of Prince Menshikof as envoy to the Porte. He was sent with all the state of a conquerer, and was commissioned to settle the vexed question of the holy places and other grievances of the Emperor. The time was fitly chosen; the envoys of France and England were away. Prince Menshikof studiously neglected the rigid Eastern etiquette; his brusque ways led to the fall of minister after minister. Lord Stratford de Redcliffe and Mr. de Lacour hurried back to Constantinople, and on their arrival the question of the holy places was straightway settled; but still Prince Menshikof lingered for the ostensible purpose of "regulating a few unimportant business details." He at last laid before Rifaat Pasha, the new Minister of Foreign Affairs, a plan for a treaty by which Nicholas was to take the Greek Christians in the Ottoman Empire under his protection. This was to ask the Sultan to share his throne; the ultimatum was refused, and Prince Menshikof fulfilled his threat, broke off diplomatic dealings, and left Constantinople. Nicholas sustained his envoy's action, and announced that the Russian troops would immediately occupy the principalities, not for the purpose of making war "but in order to get security that the Porte would fulfil its obligations.

France and England saw danger in this threat; the French and English fleets cast anchor in Besika Bay at the entrance of the Dardanelles. Less than a month elapsed, and the Russian army, under Prince Gortchakof, crossed the Pruth.

[Illustration] from History of Russia by Nathan Dole


The third act in the drama was occupied with the last efforts on the part of the European Powers to preserve peace. A conference met at Vienna. It seemed as though the delegates of the Five Powers were about to succeed, when suddenly events at Constantinople changed the face of things. The students of the Koran petitioned the Sublime Porte to declare war. "You are now listening to infidel ambassadors, the enemies of the Faith," they cried; "we are the children of the prophet. We have an army, and that army cries out with us for war to avenge the insults heaped upon us by the giaours."

The excitement grew more intense. The Great Council of the Empire met at the palace of the Sublime Porte and unanimously voted for war. The Sultan summoned Prince Gortchakof to leave the Turkish territory; the French and English fleets crossed the Dardanelles and cast anchor in the Bosphorus. Hostilities immediately broke out between the Turks and the Russians, both in Asia and on the banks of the Danube. Even now peace might have been brought about. The last hope, however, was taken away by the destruction of a small Ottoman squadron in the harbor of Sinope. It was perfectly justifiable, but it roused great excitement throughout Europe. "The blow struck at Sinope was not against Turkey alone," cried the French; and France united with England to control the Black Sea. Nicholas declared that this was to take from Russia the right to protect its own coasts.

Such acts and feelings led to rupture. France and England offered their assistance to Turkey and concluded an offensive and defensive alliance. Austria and Prussia, from whom Nicholas had reason to expect at least gratitude, agreed together to remain neutral until Russia attacked Austria or crossed the Balkans.

The allied armies met at Malta and together sailed for Constantinople. At Varna, where they went into camp, the cholera broke out.

An expedition against the Russians who occupied the region bounded by the Danube, the Sea, and the wall of Trajan failed utterly. It was decided to carry the war to the Crimea and there strike Russia a mortal blow. The Russians meanwhile had failed in their long and costly siege of Silistria and had returned to the left bank of the Danube. Austria occupied the principalities.

The story of the great Krim war has been often told. Three hundred and fifty transports and frigates landed the allied armies on the "holy ground" where St. Vladimir had been baptized eight centuries before. The almost impregnable heights of the Alma were taken; Sevastopol lay before them. "The Battle of the Alma was a thunderbolt to Russia." Although Sevastopol was well protected on the water side, on the land side it was wholly defenceless. When the allies failed to take advantage of their victory and march straight upon the city the Russians set to work to remedy the defects. Soldiers, sailors, men, women, and children labored at the earthworks. The stony soil soon began to bristle with redoubts. Admiral Kornilof sank seven of the best ships at the mouth of the harbor. Eighteen thousand marines were transferred to the land defence. The bastions of the Centre, of the Flagstaff, of the two Redans, and of the Malakof, all historic names, crowned the heights around the city. "Children," said Kornilof to the soldiers, "we are going to fight the enemy till the last extremity. Each one of us must die at his post. Kill the man who dares to speak of going back. If I order you to retreat, kill me." At the first bombardment, after the English had taken possession of Balaklava and the French were on the Fediukhin heights, the brave admiral was killed by a cannon-ball. His last words were: "May God bless Russia and the Emperor. Save Sevastopol and the fleet."

[Illustration] from History of Russia by Nathan Dole


A week later, the Russians attacked the English entrenchments at Balaklava and gained some slight advantage. It was then that the Earl of Cardigan led the Light Brigade on their famous charge to save the field pieces captured by the Russians. The action is well described in the graphic and stirring poem by Alfred Tennyson:—

The Charge of the Light Brigade

Half a league, half a league,

Half a league onward,

All in the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred.

"Forward, the Light Brigade!

Charge for the guns!" he said:

Into the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred.

"Forward, the Light Brigade!"

Was there a man dismay'd?

No; tho' the soldier knew

Some one had blunder'd:

Theirs not to make reply,

Theirs not to reason why,

Theirs but to do and die:

Into the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,

Cannon to left of them,

Cannon in front of them

Volley'd and thunder'd;

Storm'd at with shot and shell!

Boldly they rode and well,

Into the jaws of Death,

Into the mouth of Hell

Rode the six hundred.

Flash'd all their sabres bare,

Flash'd as they turn'd in air,

Sabring the gunners there,

Charging an army, while

All the world wonder'd:

Plunged in the battery-smoke,

Right thro' the line they broke;

Cossack and Russian

Reel'd from the sabre-stroke

Shatter'd and sunder'd.

Then they rode back, but not,—

Not the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,

Cannon to left of them,

Cannon behind them

Volley'd and thunder'd;

Storm'd at with shot and shell,

While horse and hero fell,

They that had fought so well

Came thro' the jaws of Death

Back from the mouth of Hell,

All that was left of them,

Left of six hundred.

When can their glory fade?

O the wild charge they made!

All the world wonder'd.

Honor the charge they made!

Honor the Light Brigade,

Noble six hundred!

A few days later Prince Menshikof renewed the attack. For three hours the Russians tried to force "the Thermopylae of Inkermann," and they had nearly won the battle when a small band of French came to the aid of their allies. The Russians, thinking it was the whole French army, fell back a little in disorder and the day was lost. Eleven thousand lives were thrown away in this "badly planned, badly conducted" action.

The winter came on, and all the armies, especially the English, suffered terrible hardships from cold, storm, and disease. Still the "parallels" and mines drew near the walls, and the Russian engineers in turn, under the direction of Todleben, strengthened the fortifications of the town and built new redoubts.

One serious battle marked the winter. Omer Pasha landed twenty thousand Turks at Eupatoria, which had been greatly strengthened and fortified. Nicholas sent an imperative order to take the place by assault and drive the Turks into the sea. The attempt was made recklessly and failed disastrously.

This was a crushing blow to the Emperor. In Europe he was called the "Don Quixote of Autocracy," but in Russia his successes in the East and West, the part which he had seemed to play of "king of kings," blinded the people to real facts. The awakening came. The "invincible fleet" was sunk at Sevastopol; the army was vanquished; the ports of Russia on all its seas were blockaded or burned, Odessa, Kronstadt, Sveaborg, the Siberian ports, even the towns on the Amur. It was suddenly seen that owing to the silence of the press the government officials had practised all sorts of corruption undetected. "The greater men's hopes had been, the more they expected the conquest of Constantinople, the upheaval of the East, the extension of the Slav Empire, the deliverance of Jerusalem, the harder and more cruel was the awakening." Voices, pamphlets, broadsides, spread the tumult of popular judgment. Even the Emperor was not spared in the sudden outburst of injured pride.

"Arise, O Russia!" they said, "devoured by enemies, ruined by slavery, shamefully oppressed by stupid government officials and spies, awaken from thy long sleep of ignorance and apathy! We have been kept long enough in serfage by the successors of the Tartar kans. Arise and stand erect and calm before the throne of the despot; demand of him a reckoning for the national misfortunes."

Nicholas saw that he had been wrong. "My successor," he said, "can do as he pleases. As for me, I cannot change." He heard the sudden voice of the nation calling him to appear before the bar of history and truth. He could not bear to live. Less than a month after Eupatoria the word went forth: the Emperor is dead."