What were the Effects of the Crimean War in Britain?

The Impact of the Crimean War
What was the social and political impact of the Crimean War on mid-Victorian British society?
The Crimean War was the first European war to be covered by journalism. Though William Russell for the Times, despised the term “war correspondent” – his coverage of the conflict brought him international renown, and Florence Nightingale later credited her entry into wartime nursing to his reports (and although she was not as famous, the international renown of Mary Seacole was mainly down to Russell). He was described by one of the soldiers on the frontlines thus, “a vulgar low Irishman, [who] sings a good song, drinks anyone’s brandy and water and smokes as many cigas as a Jolly Good Fellow. He is just the sort of chap to get information, particularly out of youngsters.” This reputation however, led to Russell being blacklisted from some circles, including British commander Lord Raglan who advised his officers to refuse to speak with the reporter.
His dispatches were hugely significant. For the first time, the public could read about the reality of warfare. Shocked and outraged, the public’s backlash from his reports led the Government to re-evaluate the treatment of troops and led to Florence Nightingale’s involvement in revolutionising battlefield treatment.
On September 20, 1854, Russell covered the battle above the Alma River – writing his missive the following day in an account book seized from a Russian corpse. The story, written in the form of a letter to Delane, was supportive of the British troops though paid particular attention to the battlefield surgeons’ “humane barbarity”, and the lack of ambulance care for wounded troops. He later covered the Siege of Sevastopol where he coined the contemporary phrase “thin red line” in referring to British troops, writing that “[The Russians] dash on towards that thin red streak topped with a line of steel…” Following Russell’s reports of the appalling conditions suffered by the Allied troops conducting the siege, including an outbreak of cholera, Samuel Morton Peto and his partners built the Grand Crimean Central Railway, which was a major factor leading to the success of the siege.
Russell’s dispatches via telegraph from the Crimea remain his most enduring legacy as, for the first time, he brought the realities of war, both good and bad, home to readers. Thus he helped to diminish the distance between the home front and remote battle fields. Russell’s war reporting (often in semi-verbatim form) features prominently in Northern Irish poet Ciaran Carson’s reconstruction of the Crimean war in Breaking News (2003).
In postwar Britain, the popularity of the returning heroine Florence Nightingale led to her receiving a fund of £50,000 – a huge sum in those days – to form an institution for the training of Nurses at St Thomas’ and King’s College Hospital, and the creation of the modern Nursing profession was very definitely a direct result of the war. The Army also benefited through the press publicity of its shortcomings throughout the war, and a systematic programme of reforms was instituted. Henceforward the soldiery was no longer regarded as the ‘scum of the earth’ although the epithet ‘lewd and licentious’ stuck for many years. Also the system of purchasing of commissions began its way to abolition – some said that the whole social system of the quasi-divine rule of the aristocratic classes took a fatal knock in the Crimea. Though this is a bit strong the image of their Lordships certainly took a hammering.
The starting point was a Royal Commission in 1858, established in the aftermath of the Crimean War, under Jonathan Peel, then Secretary of State for War. In addition to the obvious instances of incompetence and maladministration which had been revealed, it was evident that the provision of an army of only 25,000 in the Crimea had stripped Britain of almost every trained soldier. The lesson was reinforced by the Indian Mutiny, which once again required almost the entire usable British Army to suppress.
The Commission reported in 1862, but few of its lessons were immediately implemented. The main obstacle had been objections by the defunct British East India Company and its executors, who wished to maintain their own military establishment, and by the “die-hards”, senior officers who opposed almost any reform on principle. The arch-conservatives among the Army’s officers were led by the Commander in Chief, Prince George, Duke of Cambridge, who was Queen Victoria’s cousin, and:”… almost the last of the typically Hanoverian characters thrown up by the English ruling dynasty, and derived his ideas on drill and discipline from Butcher Cumberland and the Prussian school of Frederick the Great.”
On August 2, 1870 Parliament voted for 20,000 additional men for the army and two million pounds on a vote of cr. This was followed by one of the most successful military pamphlets to appear in all Victorian England, The Battle of Dorking, written by Colonel (later General) Sir George Chesney, head of the Indian Civil Engineering College. This work raised the idea that, despite the acts of Parliament during the previous year in regard to the military, Britain faced the possibility of a German invasion.
Edward Cardwell, protégé of William Ewart Gladstone and Secretary of State for War since 1868, was determined not merely to update the British military but to reform it as well. Both were to be an uphill battle, but the need was great. Even the hard lessons of the Crimea had, by this time, been dismissed, ignored, or forgotten, leaving critical needs unmet. As British historican R.C.K. Ensor wrote about that era: “If…[no] criticism had made headway, it was that England had no notion of the art of war. British officers were expected to be gentlemen and sportsmen; but outside the barrack-yard they were…’entirely wanting in military knowledge’. The lack of it was deemed no drawback, since Marlborough’s and Wellington’s officers got along without it. Only the rise of the Prussian military…availed to shake this complacency.”
Cardwell set about with three initial reforms:
In 1868, he abolished flogging and other barbarous disciplinary measures in the Army during peace time. This action was opposed by nearly every senior officer, who used the opinions of the Duke of Wellington to validate their objections. Yet it was imperative to attract good quality recruits by ensuring the private soldier’s life was better than a kind of penal servitude. Flogging was retained as a punishment on active service, on the pretext that extraordinary powers of punishment might be required in the field, until finally abolished in 1880.
In 1869, troops were withdrawn from self-governing colonies, who were encouraged to raise their own local forces. This scattering of troops over far-flung colonies was likewise a Wellingtonian policy. Its initial motives had been to avoid the traditional British suspicion of a standing army (led by the Whigs). The policy was a failure on economic practicality, and also prevented training at any level above that of battalion. By 1871, 26,000 British troops had been withdrawn from overseas territories and returned to Great Britain.
1870 saw the abolition of bounty money for recruits, and the setting out of guidelines for the swift discharge of known bad characters from both army and navy.
Cardwell also reformed the administration of the War Office, preventing infighting and bickering between the various departments and abolishing the separate administration of the Reserves and Volunteers. The defence policy of Canada, Australia and New Zealand was devolved to those dominions, and several small garrisons were replaced by locally-raised units.
These reforms started to turn British forces into an effective Imperial force. A change of government put Cardwell out of office in 1874, but his reforms stayed in place despite attempts from the Regular Army to abolish them and return to the comfortable and familiar old post-1815 situation.

This entry was posted in A Level History, British Empire, Crimean War, Empire and Expansion, History, Imperial Expansion 1815-1870 and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to What were the Effects of the Crimean War in Britain?

  1. adam says:

    too hard to read

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