The case for an attack on Russia, 1853

Footnotes to the Napoleonic Wars

Napoleon escaped from Elba and after the ‘100 days’ fought and lost the Battle of Waterloo against Wellington, was exiled to St Helena in the South Atlantic, died there but was disinterred later to lie in an ornate tomb at The Tuileries in Paris.

The remainder of the 19th century saw the first 35 years without war following the principles set out at the Congress of Vienna, orchestrated by the host, Klemens von Metternich whose name was given to the Peace that followed.  He died in 1848.

The New Order

He was barely in his grave before there were uprisings in the major cities across Europe, including Paris again, where the new monarchy of Louis-Philippe I was overthrown.  Louis-Napoleon became president and was later proclaimed the second Emperor of France as Napoleon III.  Uprisings apart though, Europe went into the second half of the century peacefully.

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Napoleon III

Great Britain however had a profound distrust of Russian expansionism in Central Asia.  Russia had progressively overrun the Khanates to its south (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkestan and others), reaching the northern frontier of Afghanistan and giving Britain cause to believe that her ultimate goal was India, the Jewel in the Crown of her empire.  Once before, in 1842 (see battle scene above), she had sent an emissary with a token force from the British Indian Army to Kabul to negotiate with the government there to maintain a buffer state.  The expedition ended disastrously with the soldiers and families massacred on their return journey.  Another delegation in 1878 was to suffer similar atrocities, although a larger British force subsequently defeated the Afghan fighters.  Of this war Rudyard Kipling, the poet, wrote the following as dire advice from a sergeant to his new recruits:

When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains

And the women come out to cut up what remains

Then roll on yer rifle and blow out yer brains

And go to yer Gawd like a soldier.

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Rudyard Kipling

This stand-off with Russia is recorded by Britain, oddly, as ‘The Great Game’.

Napoleon also had issues with Russia.  Both countries claimed the right to protect the Christians in Turkey and Palestine, Napoleon’s view being that Catholicism was more appropriate than the Russian Orthodox Church.  In addition, both Britain and France were determined to prevent Russia from carrying out its intention to invade Turkey and seize Constantinople.  They would take total control of the Bosphorus Strait, giving herself and her navy access to the Mediterranean while denying Black Sea access to Britain and France.  In an extraordinary accord between the two constantly warring nations, they jointly declared war on Russia in support of the Ottoman Empire. The main purpose of what was to become a bloody and protracted conflict was to neutralise the Russian Black Sea Fleet at anchorage in its home port of Sevastopol.  This was to be the Crimean War, which follows in my next article.

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