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Our Wars

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England had been used to spend by much the larger proportion of her years in war. During the eighteenth century she fought for more than fifty years; during the first fifteen years of the nineteenth there were but a few months of peace. But the extreme length and enormous dimensions of the war with Napoleon satisfied for a generation the national appetite for fighting. During a period of well-nigh forty years, England was at peace with her neighbours. A generation grew up and entered middle life strangers to the anxieties and agonies of war. It came to be an accepted belief that we had outlived the war era; that we had no longer any purposes which could not be peacefully attained; that in all the coming years of our history we were to give ourselves without distraction to the tranquil and gainful occupation of ministering to the wants and the welfare of mankind. It was a pleasing dream, and not contemptible even as a prediction. But the time for its fulfilment was not yet.

In the December of 1851, Prince Louis Napoleon possessed himself of supreme authority in France. His path to greatness led through crime from which he did not shrink. He overthrew the constitution, which he had sworn to maintain. He imprisoned the legislature, and all the prominent politicians and military officers whom he was able to seize. He slaughtered many hundreds of unarmed and peaceful men and women in the streets of Paris, that he might crush out all thought of resistance to himself by the sheer weight of terror. It was not well for him that the people of France should be suffered to brood over these atrocities. What has been called a spirited foreign policy, to divert the minds of Frenchmen from domestic questions, was indispensable to the existence of the man whom Frenchmen now permitted to call himself their- emperor.

He did not possess, nor could he decently create - most likely he did not then desire - a ground of misunderstanding with any of the great powers of Europe. In every way it suited his purpose better to exhibit the vigour of the new reign by urging unreasonable demands upon the feeble government of Constantinople.

The demands by which he broke up the peace of Europe can scarcely be listened to with gravity, but the illimitable evils to which they gave rise invest them with an interest terrible and sad. They related to the privileges of the Latin worshippers at the sacred shrines in Palestine (That the subject was not a pressing one is apparent from the circumstances that the negotiation which Louis Napoleon now took up had originated with Francis I. and the sultan of his day, but had not been completed by these parties; that it had been resumed in 1819, and again left incomplete, till its present resumption.). Practically they amounted to no more than this, that the Latin monks should have a key to the great door of the church of Bethlehem, and not be asked to content themselves with a key to the inferior door; that they should have a key to each of the doors giving entrance to the cave in which the nativity was supposed to have taken place; that they should have the high privilege of setting up in the same hallowed locality a silver star bearing the arms of France.

Unhappily any addition to the privileges of Latin Christians was a deduction from those of their Greek rivals. And as the Emperor Nicholas was the head of the Greek Church, the amenities of that institution enjoyed a guarantee which it was somewhat perilous to infringe. But France pressed her demands with such vehemence that the Turkish government was fain to yield. After a year of arduous negotiation, there were delivered to the Latin monks the keys which symbolized their victory over the Greeks. The silver star was borne in triumphal procession to Jerusalem, and victoriously established in its place in the sanctuary of Bethlehem. And the Emperor Nicholas, in wrath at his defeat, straightway directed the march of one hundred and fifty thousand men towards the Turkish frontier.

He could not with decency go to war about these trivialities, but he lost no time in supplying himself with a ground of quarrel which, at all events, was not laughable. He claimed that the rights conceded to the Christian population of Turkey should be secured by treaty with himself (Nicholas did not put this forward as a new demand. He asserted that a protectorate of the sultan's Greek subjects was conceded to him by the treaty of 1744, and lie merely wished now a more explicit acknowledgment of his right. The sultan of that day had given to the czar a promise that he would "protect the Christian religion and its churches," and this, it was now claimed, made Russia the supreme guardian of Christian interests in Turkey. Turkey and her allies utterly denied this construction of the treaty. Queen Victoria, writing to the Emperor Nicholas, stated that, after careful study of the treaty, she was convinced it was not susceptible of the meaning which he sought to attach to it.) Such an arrangement was virtually a Russian protectorate extending over three-fourths of the Turkish people. It would terminate the independence of Turkey, and make transfer of her sovereignty from Constantinople to St. Petersburg.

The sultan, acting under the advice of the English ambassador, steadfastly, although with infinite politeness, refused the Russian demands. France, Austria, and Prussia bestowed upon the action of the Turkish government the support of their approval. The passionate czar, unable to effect his purposes by diplomacy, moved an army across the Pruth, and possessed himself of the Danubian principalities. He had not even now, as he informed his faithful subjects, "the intention to commence war." He merely desired "such security as will insure us the restoration of our rights" - in the matter of the keys and the silver star, and also of the protectorate.

This invasion imparted to the question a graver aspect than it had heretofore presented, and diplomacy hastened to interpose its good offices, lest results still more untoward should ensue. The representatives of the four mediating powers met at Vienna, and framed a note embodying proposals which, as it was deemed, the estranged governments might honourably accept. This note conveyed to the czar assurances that the ancient privileges of the Greek Church in the Ottoman Empire would be held sacred, but it conferred upon him no new right to enforce fulfilment of the pledge. The czar was willing to accept this compromise, and the mediators recommended it as one which, in their judgment, ought to be satisfactory to Turkey. It was deemed that the difficulty was at length overcome. Members of the English cabinet expressed their confident belief that it would never be heard of more. To the amazement of Europe, Turkey refused to be guided by the advice of her friends. She would not accept the Vienna note unless certain verbal alterations were adopted. These were insignificant; but Russia, having consented to the note in its original form, would not stoop to have it changed at the caprice of a power which she despised. The mediators stood aside. The Turks, after vainly summoning the czar to withdraw his armies from their territory, declared war against him, with all the gravity and dignity of a power able to give effect to the hostile purposes which it announced. The final differences between Russia and Turkey are scarcely appreciable by the most searching criticism. Europe was led into a bloody war because Turkey demanded, and Russia was too proud and too angry to concede, certain immaterial variations in the phraseology of a settlement which was substantially agreeable to both.

By what malign combination of circumstances was Turkey endowed with power to work this immeasurable evil? How did it come to pass that this despicable government was able to make enlightened and powerful Christian states the ministers of its fanatical and barbarous hatred?

Lord Aberdeen was the Prime Minister of England during the whole of the diplomatic process which terminated thus disastrously. He knew something of war, for in his youth he had witnessed the carnage of Leipsic, and a hatred of bloodshed was perhaps the deepest sentiment in the old man's mind. The premier's horror of war helped influentially to involve his country in the very evil which he dreaded ("Aberdeen has unfortunately made concessions which bring us nearer war," –Prince Albert, 15th October.). In his earnest desire for the peace of Europe, he allowed England to become the adviser of Turkey. The Turkish ministers listened deferentially to the counsels of a friend who had a powerful fleet lying at call in the Mediterranean. No step was taken without the approval of Lord Stratford de Redcliffe. After a time, no step was taken excepting on his suggestion; every note addressed to Russia conveyed the opinions which he had persuaded the Turkish ministers to adopt. His voice was ever raised for resistance to the demands of Russia. Unintentionally and imperceptibly England became committed by the meek acceptance with which the Turks received her warlike counsels. Long before the date of the Vienna note, Lord Clarendon stated that England could not now, with honour, withhold help from Turkey should the czar resent against her the course which she had followed under Lord Stratford's advice. And even so early as May, the sultan was emboldened by a private assurance that the Mediterranean squadron would be summoned to his defence in the event of danger from Russia.

But in truth, although England became bound, unintentionally, to maintain the cause of the Turk, she did not become bound reluctantly. The English people had grown willing to have a war. They chafed under the freely expressed Continental opinion that they were no longer terrible in the field, because their energies were now wholly devoted to shop-keeping For the first time in their history, they had spent nearly forty years in peace. The unwonted calm had become almost irksome. They were ready to be persuaded that any quarrel in which they had been led to take some part was a good quarrel, and that almost any good quarrel was sufficient cause of war.

For France - or, rather, for the Emperor Napoleon - war was highly desirable. There were recent passages in the emperor's career from which it was most convenient that public attention should be quickly withdrawn, and nothing could accomplish that end so effectively as successful war. Here was a war which promised well to be successful for the British, who seldom went out of war excepting by the gate of victory, were prepared to engage in it. The enemy was Russia, on whose soil the glories of the First Empire had found a grave, - whose victorious standards had waved in the air of humiliated Paris. Above all, the new emperor, with his dubious title, certified in part by the blood of slaughtered subjects, would have the inestimable advantage of exhibiting himself to France as on terms of confidential alliance with the ancient and high-toned monarchy of England ("Louis Napoleon" wrote Prince Albert, in October 1853, "gives way to us even when his plan is better than ours, and revels in the enjoyment of the advantages he derives from his alliance with ns."). Louis Napoleon lent his willing help to the Turks, because in helping them he was establishing his own throne.

The sultan had thus two powerful allies secured to him. The Turks were, of course, eager for war. A rare opportunity had presented itself. The two great Christian powers of the west stood ready to fight, on their behalf, their powerful and dangerous neighbour. Never again could they hope to express so inexpensively and so effectively their fanatical hatred of Russia. By the time the Vienna conference met, it had become all but impossible to restrain Turkey from war.

These various influences were steadily drawing Turkey and her allies towards war, and constantly adding to the difficulties which stood in the way of peaceful solution. This solution was not possible otherwise than by the Emperor Nicholas desisting from claims which had no foundation in reason, and against which Europe had decisively pronounced. His willingness to accept the Vienna note proves that there was a time when Nicholas was well disposed to yield to the opinion of his neighbours. But when Turkey, in her eagerness to drag the western powers into conflict with Russia, refused the note, Nicholas took counsel only of his own pride and passion. The negotiating powers drifted rapidly into war. The Russians destroyed, with merciless slaughter, a Turkish squadron lying at Sinope. France and England thereupon intimated that no Russian ship-of-war would be allowed to sail the Black Sea, and moved up their fleets to enforce the warning. A little later the final step was taken; and in March, England and France, as well as Turkey, were at war with Russia.

Austria and Prussia were resolute not to suffer the Russian occupation of the principalities to continue. As their territories were nearer to the invaded provinces than those of England and France, the obligation lay primarily on them to correct the wrong which had been done. At first, they took part in negotiations with a heartiness which pointed towards stronger measures, should these become necessary. But finding that England and France were willing to undertake the heavy burden, they offered abundant counsel to all concerned, and prudently withheld themselves from war.

The allies put their hand promptly to the task which they had undertaken. Even before the formal declaration of war French and English steamers were hurrying eastward, bearing the armed men whose business it was to interpose between Russia and Turkey, and preserve for further evil the worst government which Europe has ever known. Throughout all the summer months men and stores were pushed forward, till a powerful army, completely equipped, lay at Varna, on the Black Sea. Lord Raglan, a companion-in-arms of Wellington, a man of large military experience and respectable military skill, commanded the English. The leader of the French was Marshal St. Arnaud, a soldier trained in the Algerian wars, who had made himself serviceable to Louis Napoleon in the revolution by which he had raised himself to the throne.

The seat of Russian power in this region was Sebastopol. An arm of the sea, one thousand to fifteen hundred yards in breadth, stretched for three miles and a half into the land. The city lay mainly on the south side of the bay. It was strongly defended by forts, which the fire of the allied fleets could not seriously affect. A powerful squadron rode secure within the shelter of the forts. There was a population of some forty thousand, chiefly in the employment of the government, for Sebastopol was little else than a fortress.

After delays which to the impatient people of England seemed interminable, an army of fifty thousand men landed on the Crimea, at a point twenty-five miles to the northward of the city which they had come to destroy. They knew imperfectly what forces could be brought to resist them, but they faced the uncertainty with unconcern, confident in their own prowess. A few hours' march southward brought them in presence of the Russian army, strongly posted on a line of hill rising steeply from the little river Alma. The allies waded the stream under a deadly fire of Russian artillery, and forced their way up the heights. The Russians fought stubbornly, and inflicted severe loss on their assailants. So steep was the ascent that the wounded as they fell were seen to roll helplessly down the hill. But no effort which the Russians made availed to stay the resolute advance of their enemies. As the infantry pressed them in front, Lord Raglan brought two guns to bear upon their flank. The well-directed fire cut lanes through the masses against which it was aimed. The dismayed Russians broke, and fled. We had fought our first battle, and gained our first victory. Our soldiers had behaved nobly; but three thousand of them lay dead or wounded upon the field.

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