What Was the Crimean War?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The Crimean War was a 19th century military conflict between Russia on one side, and France, Great Britain, the Ottoman Empire, and the Kingdom of Sardinia on the other. Ultimately, the allied European forces prevailed, and a treaty was successfully negotiated in Paris to end the Crimean War. This war is particularly notable because it marked a major transition point between historical methods of doing battle and modern warfare, laying the groundwork for the military advances of the First World War.

Telegraphs were used in the Crimean War.
Telegraphs were used in the Crimean War.

This conflict started in 1853, dragging on through 1856 and concluding with the Treaty of Paris. Ostensibly, the Crimean War started because of arguments over control of holy sites in Palestine. The Ottoman Empire controlled these sites, but the British and the French were both vying for a more active role in the area, and the Russians became nervous about the potential for English governance in the region. The Russians were also concerned about the alliance between France and the United Kingdom.

In fact, while arguments over holy sites may have sparked the Crimean War, the conflict was really about carving up the collapsing Ottoman Empire. The surrounding nations were well aware of the fact that the Ottoman Empire was extremely unstable, and that a great deal of territory in Eastern Europe and the Middle East would open up in a power vacuum. The belligerents in the Crimean War were interested in ensuring that they got a chance to control some of this territory, and in preventing their foes from gaining a foothold.

The Crimean Peninsula in modern-day Ukraine was a major site for conflict in the Crimean War, although battles also took place in Western Turkey and along the Baltic Sea. The Siege of Sevastopol was one of the more memorable events of the Crimean War, with over 100,000 Russians dying during this protracted battle for the city of Sevastopol.

One of the more positive outcomes of the Crimean War was a reform in military medicine, spearheaded by Florence Nightingale. This Victorian woman is credited with introducing women to battlefield medical care, and with reforming conditions in military hospitals to improve medical outcomes for injured soldiers. The Crimean War also marked the introduction of trenches, more accurate artillery, the military telegraph, and the military use of railroads, a far cry from previous conflicts, in which messages were carried at the speed of the fastest horse, and troops moved at walking pace.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote a poem after an event in the Battle of Balaclava, which took place in the Crimean War. His poem, titled "The Charge of the Light Brigade," recorded the valiant effort led by Lord Cardigan in a classic example of an epic and courageous tragic loss.


It is sad how so many wars such as the Crimean War and the Korean War have been clouded out of the memory of so many people. Normally, only history majors and professors remember these wars, and they are overshadowed in our minds by other wars of the past.

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