Gateway to the Classics: The Story of France by Mary Macgregor
The Story of France by  Mary Macgregor

The Siege of Sebastopol

In this book you have often read of the wars between France and England. But in the Crimean War, of which I am going to tell you now, France and England fought side by side against Russia.

Nicholas, the Russian emperor, was full of ambition and wished to add to his already large dominions. Turkey was near enough to tempt him.

Now, while along the south Russia touches the Black Sea, half of the shore at least belonged to Turkey, and she, if she chose, had the right to forbid ships of other nations to enter. This added to the emperor's desire to seize part of Turkey's dominions. He wished himself to have control of the Black Sea.

France and England determined to protect Turkey, and in any case they were resolved that Russia should not become more powerful than she already was.

The allied French and English armies met at Vama, a town near the mouth of the Danube, and sailed across to the Crimea, a little peninsula in the Black Sea.

Marshal St. Amaud commanded the French army, Lord Raglan the English.

Sebastopol was the chief seaport of Russia, and here a great arsenal had been built, in which the Russians made and stored their weapons. It was this important town which the allied armies determined to besiege.

The Russian winters, as you remember, were terribly severe, and soon both the French and English were suffering from the intense cold, as well as from hunger and a dreadful disease called cholera.

In the English camp the sick soldiers were nursed by Florence Nightingale. So gentle she was, so kind, that the men often forgot their pain and the terrible hardships they had to endure. Before long the roughest soldiers learned to love this sweet woman, who, when she could not bring healing to their bodies, yet brought ease and comfort to their homesick hearts. They even grew content if only her shadow might fall upon them as she passed quietly from bed to bed.

For more than a year Sebastopol was besieged, and though the allied armies had not taken the town, they held the fortress of Balaclava, which was situated on the south side of the city.

It was here that the famous Charge of the Light Brigade took place, of which you have often read in your English history.

One day, when the Russians were making a desperate effort to wrest Balaclava from the enemy. Lord Raglan sent a message to the officer of the cavalry regiment of the Light Brigade, ordering him to take the Russian batteries.

It was plain that a mistake had been made, for to charge the Russian guns was certain death. Yet with dauntless courage the officer and his six hundred men rode straight forward, in the face of a tremendous storm of fire.

Nor was the fire only in front.

"Cannon to right of them,

Cannon to left of them,

Cannon in front of them,

Volley'd and thunder'd;

Stonn'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."

Through that awful fire the English soldiers forced their way, silenced the Russian guns and slew the Russian gunners.

Then began the terrible ride back through the narrow pathway, now as before riddled with shot and shell.

Of the six hundred that had set out so bravely, only a handful returned from the "jaws of death."

"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 go well

Came thro' the jaws of Death,

Back from the mouth of Hell,

All that way left of them,

Left of six hundred."

Soon after this the Emperor Nicholas died. People believed that disappointment had made him ill and that, as his army was defeated again and again, he did not care to live.

However that may be, the war did not end when Nicholas died, for his son Alexander ii. still carried it on.

At length the allied troops made a last determined attack upon the town they had so long besieged. Although they did not succeed in taking it, they drove the Russians from their strongest positions, so that it became impossible for the defenders to hold the city. They therefore set fire to the town and escaped from the burning citadel.

Soon after this the war ended, and peace was signed at Paris in 1856. By the Treaty of Paris the rights of Turkey were secured, and no vessels of war were allowed to enter the Black Sea, save only a number of coastguard ships belonging to Russia and Turkey.

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