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    Chapter 5

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    Chapter 6
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    The Crimean War, 1854-55--Siege of Sebastopol--Balaklava--Inkermann--Interest of the Queen and Prince-Consort in the suffering Soldiers--Florence Nightingale--Distribution of Victoria Crosses by the Queen.

    For a long time the Turkish empire had been gradually falling into decay, and the possessions of the Turk--the 'sick man,' as he has been aptly termed--had excited the greed of neighbouring countries. Russia especially had made several attempts to put an end to the 'sick man' by violent means, and seize upon his rich inheritance.

    The year 1853 seemed to the Czar Nicholas to be a favourable time for accomplishing his designs against Turkey. Great Britain and France both vigorously remonstrated against the proceedings of the Czar; but believing that neither of them would fight, he commanded his armies to cross the Pruth into Turkish territory. By this step the 'dogs of war' were once more slipped in Europe, after a peace of forty years' duration. The Russian forces pushed on for the Danube, doubtless expecting to cross that river and take possession of the long-wished-for prize of Constantinople before the western powers had made up their minds whether to fight or not. To their disappointment, however, the Russians met with a most stubborn resistance from the Turks, and utterly failed to take the fortress of Silistria, where the besieged were encouraged and directed by some British officers.

    Meanwhile, the queen of Great Britain and the emperor of France had both declared war against Russia, March 28, 1854. Before long, our fleets were scouring the Baltic and the Black seas, chasing and capturing every Russian vessel which dared to venture out, bombarding the fortresses, and blockading the seaports. Two armies also were sent out to the assistance of Turkey; the British force being commanded by Lord Raglan, and the French by Marshal St Arnaud.

    The Turks having repulsed the Russian armies on the Danube, the allies resolved to invade the peninsula of the Crimea, and make an assault upon the Russian fortress of Sebastopol. The great fortress was a standing menace to Turkey; and to effect its destruction seemed the likeliest means of humbling Russia and bringing the war to a close. Accordingly a landing of the allied forces--British, French, and Turkish--to the number of 54,000 men, was made on the Crimea, at Eupatoria, no opposition being offered by the enemy. The army then set forward along the coast toward the Russian stronghold, the fleet accompanying it by sea. In order to bar the progress of the allied forces, the Russian army of the Crimea was strongly posted on a ridge of heights, with the small stream of the Alma in front, September 20, 1854. After a severe struggle the heights were gallantly stormed, and the Russians retreated towards Sebastopol.

    The allied armies now laid siege to Sebastopol. It went on for a year, during which the invaders were exposed to many hardships from the assaults of the foe, and the severity of the climate during the winter months. Before the year was out, also, both Lord Raglan and the French general died, and their places were taken by others. Nor did the Czar Nicholas live to witness the result of the war which he had commenced. His son, Alexander, made no change, however, but trod in the footsteps of his sire.

    In the early days of the siege, and before the allies had got reinforcements from home, the Russians made several formidable attacks upon the camp. Their first attempt was directed against the British lines, with the design of capturing the port of Balaklava, October 25, 1854. They were gallantly repulsed, however, chiefly by Sir Colin Campbell and his Highlanders, who firmly stood their ground against the charge of the Russian horse. The British cavalry, advancing to the assistance of the infantry, cut through the masses of their opponents as if they had been men of straw. It was in this battle that the famous charge of the Light Brigade took place, when, owing to some misunderstanding on the part of the commanders, six hundred of our light horsemen, entirely unsupported, rode at full gallop upon the Russian batteries. It was a brilliant but disastrous feat; in the space of a few minutes, four hundred of the gallant men were uselessly sacrificed. 'It is magnificent, but it is not war,' was the remark of a French general.

    Shortly afterwards occurred the desperate fight of Inkermann, November 5, 1854, where about 8000 British troops bravely stood their ground for hours against 40,000 Russians. Upon their ammunition running short, some of our brave men, rather than retreat, hurled volleys of stones at the foe. Ultimately, a strong body of the French came to their aid, and the Russians were driven from the field.

    Not long after this encounter, the besiegers met with a disaster which did them more harm than all the assaults of the Russian hordes. A terrific storm swept across the Black Sea and the Crimea, November 14, 1854. A great number of the vessels in Balaklava harbour were wrecked, and there was an immense loss of stores of all kinds intended for the troops. The hurricane also produced the most dreadful consequences on land. Tents were blown down, fires extinguished, and food and cooking utensils destroyed. The poor soldiers, drenched to the skin, and without so much as a dry blanket to wrap round them, had to pass the dreary night as best they could upon the soft wet ground. For some time afterwards there was a great scarcity of food and clothing and other necessaries, and much suffering was endured during the long dreary winter. When tidings of these misfortunes reached England there was much indignation against the government, and especially against the officials whose duty it was to keep the army properly supplied with stores. The prime-minister, the Earl of Aberdeen, resigned, and was succeeded by Lord Palmerston. Vigorous steps were now taken to provide for the comfort of the troops, and in a short time the camp was abundantly supplied with everything necessary.

    All through the following summer the siege operations went on. Nearer and nearer approached the trenches towards the doomed city, which at intervals was subjected to a terrific bombardment from hundreds of guns. The allied armies had been strongly reinforced from home, and had also been joined by a Sardinian force, so that the Russians no longer ventured to attack them so frequently. At length the advances of the allies were completed, and the final cannonade took place, and lasted for three days. The storming columns then carried the main forts; and the Russians, finding that further resistance was useless, evacuated the town during the night, and the following day it was taken possession of by the combined armies. With the capture of Sebastopol, 8th Sept., 1855, the war was virtually at an end, though peace was not formally declared till six months afterwards by the Treaty of Paris.

    The Queen and prince watched intently every movement of the tremendous drama. In the terrible winter of 1855, the Queen's thoughts were with her troops, suffering in the inclement weather, amid arrangements that proved miserably inadequate to their needs. On 6th December 1854, the Queen wrote the following letter to Mr Sidney Herbert, Secretary of War. 'Would you tell Mrs Herbert that I begged she would let me see frequently the accounts she receives from Miss Nightingale or Mrs Bracebridge, as I hear no details of the wounded, though I see so many from officers, &c., about the battlefield; and naturally the former must interest me more than any one. Let Mrs Herbert also know that I wish Miss Nightingale and the ladies would tell these poor, noble, wounded and sick men that no one takes a warmer interest, or feels more for their sufferings, or admires their courage and heroism more than their Queen. Day and night she thinks of her beloved troops; so does the prince.' With her own hands she made comforters, mittens, and other articles of clothing, for distribution among the soldiers, and she wrote to Lord Raglan that she 'had heard that their coffee was given to them green, instead of roasted, and some other things of this kind, which had distressed her, and she besought that they should be made as comfortable as circumstances can admit.'

    The little princes and princesses contributed their childish but very pretty drawings to an exhibition which was opened for the benefit of the soldiers' widows and children. As the disabled soldiers returned to this country, the Queen and the prince took the earliest opportunity of ascertaining by personal observation in what condition they were, and how they were cared for. And when the war was over, Miss Florence Nightingale, the soldier's nurse and friend, was an honoured guest in the royal family, 'putting before us,' writes the prince, 'all the defects of our present military hospital system, and the reforms that are needed.' On 5th March 1855, the Queen wrote to Lord Panmure suggesting the necessity of hospitals for sick and wounded soldiers, which eventually took shape in the great military hospital at Netley.

    Victoria Crosses were distributed by the Queen in Hyde Park, 26th June 1857, to those soldiers who had performed special acts of bravery in presence of the enemy. This decoration was instituted at the close of the Crimean War, and has since been conferred from time to time. It is in the form of a Maltese cross, and is made of bronze. In the centre are the royal arms, surmounted by the lion, and below, in a scroll, the words 'For Valour.' The ribbon is blue for the navy, and red for the army. On the clasp are two branches of laurel, and from it the cross hangs, supported by the initial 'V.'
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