Varna, Bulgaria


          In 2001, Varna had a population of 350,000. However, in 1854 this small Black Sea port was a sleepy little fishing village of 16,000 people. On 18 May, 1854, in order to prepare for the coming conflict, a conference took place in this small village between British, French, and Turkish military leaders.  The result of this conference was to begin moving British and French troops to Varna where they could support the Turkish flanks in the lower Danube. Between June and August of that year, the French and British armies established camps near the town.


The road that Cardigan 
used to begin his
 "soreback reconnaissance".

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Galata Point in 2001. 
Then the "home" of the
British 3rd Division.


     In May, Allied forces began to arrive in Bulgaria. Shortly after the armies had settled in, fierce fighting between Turkish and Russian troops took place at Silistra to the north.  Soon it was reported that the Russians were in retreat.  Needing to verify this report, Lord Raglan ordered the Light Brigade under Lord Cardigan, to determine whether or not the Russians had indeed re-crossed the Danube.  On 24 June, Cardigan took 200 cavalrymen on what became known as the "soreback reconnaissance".  

     Returning on 11 July, Cardigan had not gathered any useful intelligence, although the Russians had in deed re-crossed the river.  Moreover, Cardigan returned with animals that were of no use to the army thereafter.  The lack of water and forage, and the heat, caused a number of horses to collapse, and many of the noble survivors would be unable to see any further active service.  The men, too, had suffered greatly. 

Lord Cardigan


Monument to British Fallen

    The cavalry were not the only ones suffering. Cholera had followed the Allied armies to Varna, and the troops quickly succumbed to the effects of the epidemic. British forces were soon dispersed to distant camps in an attempt to limit exposure, but little attention was paid to the water supply, and Cholera soon spread claiming more than 10,000 British casualties 1.

     As would be the case later, the medical services in Varna and off-shore were woefully ill-equipped to deal with the outbreak. The town's hospital was an old barracks into which the poor victims were packed with but little chance to survive. Some were sent to Scutari, across the Bosperous from Constantinople, where the conditions were no better.

     With the Russians on the north side of the Danube, the reason for Allied troops remaining in the area was questioned.  However, politically it was felt the the troops should be put to some useful military purpose, for why else have a military? Thus it was, that on 7 September, 1854 the Allied armies sailed for the Crimea.  Tightly packed aboard ships were men, equipment, horses, a few civilians, and Cholera. Destination? Somewhere near Sevastopol.  Exactly where, no one knew.          

1. Crimea, The Great Crimean War 1854-1856, Trevor Royal, St. Martin's Press, New York, 2000.

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