Through the Valley of Death with the Light Brigade

Sevastopol Travel Blog

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Monument to Sevastopol
Our main focus today was on Sevastopol. Sevastopol is considered the third best natural harbour in the world (with 39 harbours), after Hong Kong and Sydney. The city was built as a naval city, with Odessa being the merchant port. When Catherine the Great visited it on her first tour of the Crimea, Potemkin (who wanted to impress her) gave her an escort of 10 000 carriages. He also brought with him many Russian serfs and dressed them in satins and gave them bread and salt, setting up props of a village. Then each night he moved the fake village forward so Catherine the Great could see how prosperous he had made her new region (leading to sayings about “Potemkin villages”)


Sevastopol has been the main naval base for the Russian Black Sea Fleet since its development.

The Valley of the Death, Charge of the Light Brigade
As an aside, there are three theories for why the Black Sea is called the 'Black' Sea. The first is due to the ancient Greek name, the 'Inhospitable Sea', Pontos Axeinos, which may have later been converted to the Iranian axšaina or Dark Sea. The second is due to the ancient Greek habit of labelling compass directions by colour (and north was black).
Russian military equipment, Sevastopol
The third is because of the darker colour of the sea, due to increased algae levels in the top brackish 200m (below that the sea is dead and heavily saline due to low input of freshwater and slow mixture through the Bosphorus to dilute out the evaporated salts, with a layer of hydrogen sulfide separating the two). Anyway, now that Sevastopol is part of the Ukraine, Russia leases the port for $97million/year. The lease is through to 2017, and there is tension as the President of the Ukraine does not want to release it, while Russia of course does (Sevastopol itself is the most pro-Russian of all the Ukrainian cities, due to the large investments from Russia in the city).


Sevastopol was also central stage for the Crimean War.

Sevastopol
The origin of the Crimean war was an argument over who had the duty to protect the “Holy Land”, with both Russia and England/France claiming the duty to protect it from Islam. After Russia asserted its right by invading Romania (under Ottoman control), England and France (worried about the growing power of Russia) joined forces with the Ottoman Empire (and Sardinia) to push back Russia. They invaded Romania in 1853 and pushed Russia out quite quickly, then moved into the Russian Crimea in September of 1854 in a war which lasted until 1856 and became known for poor generalship, incompetence and stupidity.


The main push was to stop the Black Sea Fleet, which meant taking Sevastopol. The Admiral of the Black Sea Fleet (Admiral P.

The Monument to the Scuttled Ships, Sevastopol
Nakhimov) scuttled his fleet at the entrance to the Sevastopol harbour, to prevent the British from conquering it by sea. Instead, the British landed at Balaclava (which rapidly became known as “Little Liverpool”, just outside Sevastopol, and pushed towards the city. The first battle on the 20th of September was a British slaughter due to poor coordination with the French (although they eventually won), setting the scene for Lord Raglan’s disregard for human life. The British expected it to be a very short war, and so their troops were not prepared for winter (the French, on the other hand, remembering Napoleon’s route from Moscow, were prepared well). After the first terrible winter, with more troops dying from malnutrition, cold and disease than from military action, better equipment was sent over. It was due to the English families knitting woolen cover-all hats for their Crimean troops and sending them to Balaclava that the name acquired its current English meaning.
The Defence of Sevastopol Panorama


The most famous battle was on the 25th of October, 1854, the Charge of the Light Brigade. On this day 18 000 Russians marched from Sevastopol to take Balaclava, a movement which could have pushed the British out of Crimea. They rapidly crushed four of the six Turkish redoubts, and were only stopped from reaching Balaclava by the 550 men of the 93rd Highlander division. These men, lead by Sir Colin Campbell, formed “a thin red line, tipped with steel” two men deep across the valley, withstood the fire and waited until the last minute to retort, causing horrible damage to the Russians. They managed to hold the line until Raglan got the Heavy Brigade to charge in and break the Russians. Lord Raglan then sent the Light Brigade to stop the remaining Russians from carting off the Turkish guns from the redoubts as trophies (a standard policy after Waterloo).

Chersonesus, Crimea
He was very vague (negligently incompetent) as to his directions, however, so the glory-hungry Lord Cardigan, leader of the Light Brigade, lead his men to capture the Russian guns still in Russian hands. He charged his men into the “valley of death” with “canons to the left of them and canons to the right of them”, rushing light horse straight into volleys of canon shot. In a twenty minute span, of the 663 who charged 118 were killed, 127 were badly wounded and 500 horses were killed. The French general watching said “this is magnificent, but it is not war”. Despite the odds, the Light Calvary succeeded in its mission and so it was technically a victory, but at horrific cost. Despite this loss, Sevastopol eventually fell, after 149 days resistance. There were 500 000 causalities during the war, with 180 000 Russians, 60 000 British, 35 000 Turks, 35 000 French and 200 Sardinians killed. At the Peace of Paris, the borders remained unchanged, with the only outcome a binding of the Russians to lose their right to a Black Sea fleet for 17 years.
St Vladmir’s Cathedral, built 1861-1891


There were a few bright spots of the Crimean War too. One was the heroic doctors and nurses. The best known is Florence Nightingale, the head of the unit of 34 nurses at the British hospital in Balaclava. Perhaps even more deserving of recognition is Mary Seacole. She tried to enlist with Florence Nightingale, but was refused as she was from Jamaica and was black. She made her own way to the Crimea anyway, and served on the battlefield itself, helping all soldiers of either side, becoming known as the “Crimean angle”. On the Russian side, Danya Mihailova (known as “Dasha Sevastopolskaya”) also served on the battlefield as a nurse, while the doctor Nikoli Pirogov became known as the “father of the field hospital” as he utilized a systemic approach to battlefield anaesthesia, plaster castes and a five level triage system.

Chersonesus, Crimea
The Crimean War was also the birthplace of military journalism, with a corespondent publishing his letters in the London Times. They directly lead to the 1864 Geneva Convention of the protection of the sick and wounded on the front line and the founding of the Red Cross (which, despite popular misconception, is not a religious institution but was founded as a secular one - the Red Cross was selected as the inverse of the flag of neutral Switzerland).


On our visit to Sevastopol we saw the Valley of Death, Lord Raglan’s look-out, the Monument to the Scuttled Ships and the Defence of Sevastopol Panorama (a beautiful building displaying the magnificent panoramic painting of the Crimean War). We also walked along Grafskaya Pier, full of Russian military hardware. There are few old buildings in Sevastopol, as the city was heavily damaged by WWII (only 8 houses were left intact, but the city was rebuilt within seven years by Stalin’s order), but lots of monuments to war.

The ruins of Chersonesus


Following Sevastopol we visited Chersonesus. Chersonesus is an ancient Black Sea Greek city, founded in the 5th century BCE. You can see the old walls (10m high, 3m thick with two layers and a “corridor of death” in between, built as protection from the Scythians), the mint (casts for coin making were found inside), the agora and what little remains of the theatre (built to house 1500, it doubled in size during Roman times but was destroyed under Christian rule as theatre was considered promoting sin). The city survived for nearly 2000 years, but gradually died due to the decline in trade and was abandoned in the 12th century CE. On the same site is St Vladmir’s Cathedral, built 1861-1891.


We have now left Sevastopol and are on an overnight train to Kiev.

On the train to Kiev
Lydia, John, Martin, Julia and myself played geography quiz games until it became to hard.

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Monument to Sevastopol
Monument to Sevastopol
The Valley of the Death, Charge of…
The Valley of the Death, Charge o…
Russian military equipment, Sevast…
Russian military equipment, Sevas…
Sevastopol
Sevastopol
The Monument to the Scuttled Ships…
The Monument to the Scuttled Ship…
The Defence of Sevastopol Panorama
The Defence of Sevastopol Panorama
Chersonesus, Crimea
Chersonesus, Crimea
St Vladmir’s Cathedral, built 18…
St Vladmir’s Cathedral, built 1…
Chersonesus, Crimea
Chersonesus, Crimea
The ruins of Chersonesus
The ruins of Chersonesus
On the train to Kiev
On the train to Kiev
On the train to Kiev
On the train to Kiev
Chersonesus on the shores of the B…
Chersonesus on the shores of the …
Sevastopol
photo by: EmyG