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War Against the Turk:
Barbary Wars 1801-1805 & 1815
Since the 16th century, North Africa west of Egypt on was known as the Barbary Coast. Morocco was an independent country, but its three central states, Algiers, Tunis, and Triplitania were all vassals of the Ottoman Empire. By the 18th century they had grown relatively strong enough to manage their own affairs and became a substantial menace to trade on the Mediterranean. They engaged in many wars, not out of politics or religion but for economic gain. These conflicts largely consisted of naval actions with their privateers seizing enemy shipping, ransoming or enslaving their crews. Piracy was common on the Mediterranean since ancient times; one succeeding culture following in the tradition after the next. Most European powers found that bribes to the Pashas were enough to have their commerce left unmolested.
Until the Revolution broke out in 1776, American ships were protected under such arrangements paid out by the British Royal Navy. Afterwards, when Americans began being seized, there was much debate over whether tribute or war was the cheaper solution. Eventually President George Washington chose war but the United States had no navy to wage one. Washington then authorized construction of the first six ships of the U.S. Navy in 1794 so that the fight might be brought to the Barbary Pirates.
Debates over Federal spending continually hampered the war effort. When the Pashas agreed to accept tribute, naval construction was stopped with only three of the authorized ships built. By the time Thomas Jefferson became President the Navy had managed to grow a little larger. He dispatched these warships to the Mediterranean in 1801 as a provocative act, only to find that Tripoli had already declared war on the United States because of insufficient tribute payments. A blockade and negotiations soon commenced but they produced no results. In 1804 when the U.S. frigate Philadelphia was captured after getting stuck on a reef, actual hostilities began. A daring American raid on Tripoli destroyed the captured ship but subsequent actions bore little fruit.
A pact was then made with Hamid Karamanli, brother of the Pasha of Tripoli. An army would be raised in Tunis, and with American support they would advance on Derma and then Tripoli with the aim of putting Hamid on the thrown. In return Hamid would guarantee that American interests would be upheld. In 1805 this Joint force captured Derma and repelled a counter attack, but before they could advance any further the panicked Pasha in Tripoli negotiated a peace with the United States. American hostages were released but Hamid’s family was seized in return.
While peace was made with Tripoli, other Barbary states, particularly Algeria, continued to plague shipping. When the War of 1812 broke out Algeria sided with the British and began harassing American shipping in earnest. When the war with Britain ended, the now seasoned U.S. Navy was dispatched to the Mediterranean in 1815 to finalize maters. After destroying a few Algerian warships they coerced all the Barbary States into agreeing to stop praying on American commerce even without tribute being paid. Britain and then France would then follow with similar demands. Eventually all the Barbary States would fall to the expansionist polices of French and Italian imperialism.
While little can be said in defense of these violent acts directed against international commerce, labeling them as piracy was an endeavor to delegitimize the States that were carrying them out as an act of war. This notion of protecting oneself against the barbarity of the outside world became the counterweight to America’s isolationist tendencies. While the United States generally avoided entanglements in conflicts beyond our borders for a long time, it felt free to engage militarily with any nation that interfered with its business interests abroad. Few postcards were published to commemorate this long conflict with the Barbary states. Perhaps this was due to their status as European colonies by the time postcards became popular. If the particulars of these wars have faded from public memory, their spirit remains with us as they reinforced the older European myth of the dangerous Turk by bringing it to America’s shores.
Crimean War (Eastern War) 1853-1856
In a bid to raise his popularity and consolidate power at home, France’s Emperor Napoleon III tried to persuade and then coerced the Sultan Abdulmecid to recognize him as the protector of all Christians within the Ottoman Empire. This move would have supplanted Russia’s traditional role as protector of Orthodox Christians, and Csar Nicholas I moved his armies across the Danube and into the Ottoman provinces of Bessarabia and Walachia in protest. After the Russians won a naval victory against the Turks at Sinope, Great Britain and France, always fearing an expansion of Russian power into the eastern Mediterranean, declared war. The Russians were already concerned that Austria might enter the war and attack their flank. Russia then pulled their forces back over the Danube, and the Austrians moved in to take their place as a neutral peacekeepers. While the war might have ended here, politicians in England and France had drummed up such a frenzy at home that they boxed themselves into a corner and now felt obliged to launch an offensive.
The armies of Britain and France invaded Crimea in March 1854, and after pushing the Russians aside at the Battle of Alma they laid siege to the port of Sevastopol, which held a major naval base. Deprived of a home port to operate from, the Russian Black Sea fleet was eventually scuttled. While Sevastopol was under siege, the allied forces besieging the city were also pinned against the coast by the Russian’s. Russian armies tried to cut off allied supply lines but the battles at Balaclava, Inkerman, and Tchemaya bore no results. Allied attempts at opening a new front against the Russians at Kerch also proved unsuccessful.
After many failed attacks against Sevastopol, the British and French launched a major assault on the Russian defenses on the Malakoff-Kurgan Ridge in September 1855. The fighting swung back and forth all day until the French finally seized the strategic stone tower a top the ridge. The Battle is often represented by a Zouave raising the French flag on the top of this fortification. With the loss of the heights that dominated the landscape, the Russians set fire to Sevastopol and abandoned it after a year of investment. The loss of this port ended Russia’s naval presence on the Black Sea and insured British and French interests in the Mediterranean would remain in their hands. Russia would soon sue for peace.
In 1905 the Russian historical painter, Franz Alekseyevich Roubaud finished a large panorama depicting the siege of Sevastopol. Though damaged during World War Two, it was restored in the 1950’s and was then reproduced in the Soviet Union on a large set of continental sized postcards.
Great Britain and France wanted more allies in the fight against Russia and thought Austria the perfect candidate. The problem was that they were concerned over the unrest in their Italian possessions, fearing they might be attacked from Piedmont if they withdrew their troops. This led to rounds of diplomacy to also bring the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia into the conflict so they could not threaten Austria. Minister Cavour agreed to this arrangement believing it would eventually provide support for a unified Italy. It was January 1855 before the first Italian troops arrived in Crimea, and so they played a less significant part in the fighting. This did not stop Italian postcard publishers who wanted to promote Italy’s military prowess from illustrating their role in this Crimea. Most of these cards seem to have been published between the two World Wars.
From the Caucasus the Ottomans made some moves against Georgia in 1853 but this campaign never really made headway. By the following year the Russians took this war to the Turks on this front and went on the offensive. After initially winning a series of battles including Akhaltsikh and Bachkadlar, their advance was eventually stopped and then pushed back. Another Russian offensive began in 1854, which achieved a string of victories ending with the Battle of Kurekdere. In 1855 the Russians would focus their efforts on seizing the fortress at Kars, which they besieged and eventually captured. The Turks then launched another offensive into Georgia but it this one also failed. The Russians began preparing for an offensive against Erzurum the following year but its was canceled when Russia asked for peace in March. This war also saw naval actions in the Baltic Sea and in the Pacific, but neither had an affect the war&rsdquo;s outcome.
Negotiations to end the War began at the Congress of Paris. In the Peace of Paris both sides agreed to return all captured land, though Russian controlled Bessarabia and Walachia became nominally independent states under Ottoman suzerainty (They would vote to combine in 1859 to form Romania). The Russians and the Turks also agreed not to build up their naval forces thus neutralizing the Black Sea, which satisfied British concerns.
There were many elements to this war that might have attracted postcard publishers to it. From a historical perspective many innovations such as the use of telegraphs and railroads were first used here for military purposes. Many of its events were already highly romanticized in word and song such as the Charge of the Light Brigade and the compassionate nursing of Florence Nightingale. The myths were already in place by the time postcards were popular, but alliances had shifted. Britain, France, and Russia were now allies, and sad memories of this conflict were more than useless for propaganda. The cards that were produced tended to be oriented toward those generally interested in military subjects. The Crimean war on postcards would just be presented as one more war in a long string of wars, though individual acts of valor were sometimes singled out.
Very often scenes from an older conflict will appear on a postcard as one subject in a larger set. These types of cards did not usually press forward an agenda that had anything to do with that particular conflict. They were generally meant to promote patriotism and respect for military traditions. While these type of cards had universal appeal, most were probably purchased by collectors interested in military subject matter. Britain’s Raphael Tuck & Sons were a large producer of such cards. Many popular military illustrators usually produced images depicting many different wars.
While trophies have always been gathered off the battlefield, they were usually retained as personal mementos when not added to arsenals. With the growth of public spaces in cities and towns, war trophies began being placed in parks alongside monuments and memorials or as a substitute for them. Sometimes they were even put on display in museums. By the mid-19th century battlefield artifacts became an ever more common element in the public arena where they would become a subject for view-cards. By picturing them, the postcard gives trophies iconic status and reinforces the validity of military values.
Remembrances of this conflict also exist as memorials to those who served and died. While this was a long tradition, the romanticism surrounding this war, especially within Great Britain led to greater representation in stone. While memories of this conflict were fading by the time the age of postcards arrived, images of memorials from the Crimean War still showed up on ordinary view-cards even when propaganda was not really an issue. Because Britain and France drew troops from their vast empires, statues and monuments related to this war can be found on postcards from unforeseen locations.
Turkistan War 1864-1873
During the 19th century there was constant encroachment on the Uzbek khanates of Central Asia by the British in India and the Russian Empire. Russia’s imperialist ambitions had already been eating away at this region since the late 1700’s, made easy by internal fighting among the khanates; but in 1864 Bukhara, Khiva, and Khokand united in their efforts to resist further Russian advances. This newfound unity seemed to make little difference to the Russians seizing Tashkent the following year. Bukhoro would fall in 1867 and Samarkand in 1868. At first much of this territory was turned into protectorates, but by 1873 these lands were directly annexed into the Russian Empire. While this conflict was more a result of imperialist ambition than religious conflict, Its support from within Russia was at least partially due to a culture clash. The raiders from the khanates that had long kidnaped Russians for the slave trade helped to build deep seated resentments and hatred.
While this war might be better placed within the Wars for Empire section of this guide, it sits here because of one man. Vasilii Vasilievich Vereshchagin arrived in Samarkand in 1868 as an official artist attached to the Russian army that was sent to put down a rebellion in the city. It gave him his first taste of Central Asia but it would not be his last. While he became a well known painters of historic and contemporary military scenes, he was greatly influenced by Orientalist painting and much of his work followed its themes. Though much of his Orientalist painting was based on first hand sketches, they tend to promote the exotic nature of people and places. This approach was not necessarily out of a political agenda as much as it was a career move as it provide a way to make his work more unique. He followed up on his experiences by creating historical paintings with Orientalist themes. Though his work was once very popular in the United States, nearly all postcard reproductions were produced in the Soviet Union.
The Serbo-Turkish War 1876-1878
Ethnic Christian Serbs, first in Herzegovina and then in Bosnia rose in revolt against the Ottoman Empire in 1875. They initially received some aid from Serbia and Montenegro but by the following year both States declared war on the Turks. While Serbia had a large army it was badly deployed allowing Ottoman forces to repulse their initial advance and then make their own gains. With only marginal support coming from Italian and Russian volunteers, the Serbs were forced to remain on the defensive.
These revolts would spur new uprisings against the Ottomans in Bulgaria, but they were poorly organized and lacked momentum. With most Turkish troops occupied in Bosnia and Herzegovina, an irregular force known as the bashi-bazouks were assigned to deal with the Bulgarians. While they quickly put down the rebellion they also committed large massacres in the process. As news of these atrocities leaked out, public support in Europe quickly shifted away from the Ottoman Empire, and in Russia where there was a strong pan-Slav movement, cries for intervention grew louder.
The Russo-Turkish War 1877-1878
The 1856 treaty that ended the Crimean War guaranteed that Christians would have the same rights as Muslims within the Ottoman Empire. In practice this turned out not to be the case, which generated serious unrest and some substantial uprisings. These in turn were often met by substantial massacres, such as the brutal suppression of Bulgarians in the April Uprising of 1876. This inflamed anti-Ottoman sentiments all over Europe that could not be quelled by further negotiations. After the Russians freed themselves from the threat of Austrian interference by accepting their influence over Bosnia and Herzegovina, they declared war on the Ottoman Empire.
The obvious rout to Constantinople lay near the mouth of the Danube, and this was guarded by Turkish strongholds. The Russians surprised the Turks by mining the river so their gunboats could not interfere with the bridgehead they were constructing further upriver at Svishtor in the newly created state of Bulgaria. The initial strength of the Russian army however proved too weak for an adequate offensive. They managed to quickly advance to Plevna in July but were halted by stubborn Turkish resistance, and were forced to lay siege to the fortress.
To prevent the Turks from relieving the siege on Plevna, the Russians sent a mixed force that included Bulgarians and Cossacks to Shipka Pass where they overwhelmed the Turks holding the position in a surprise attack. The Turks made three valiant attempts to recapture the pass but all these battles ended in defeat. The failure of the Turks to recapture the pass provided time for the Romanians to add their weight to the siege of Plevna. After months of attack and counterattack the city finally fell in December.
By the 1870’s the tradition of epic war painting had come of age and it proved to be a popular subject in the salons of Europe. This insured that there would be many depictions of this war in paint that postcard publishers could later draw from. The one most widely reproduced subjects on military postcards is the painting of Shipka Pass by Alexey Popov, where four battles were fought. While not of extreme military significance, the mythology surrounding these battles have grown substantially as they have come to symbolize the birth of the Bulgarian nation.
While it seems natural that the battles for Shipka Pass has come to play an important role in Bulgarian mythology, this far off battle also continued to resinate with Russians. It was an important victory for their army, and what is more important it represented Russia as the savior of fellow Slavic peoples. This allowed this conflict to be honored with postcards during the Soviet Era while the First World War was basically ignored as an imperialist struggle.
During this war the Russians had also launched an offensive in the Caucasus defeating the Turks at Aladja Dagh. They went on to seize the fortress at Kars, but the Turks quickly retook it. After a short armistice the Russians began a winter campaign advancing on a wide front. In the Caucasus they launched a new offense in which they captured Kars again. They then laid siege to Erzurum, which fell early in 1878. In the Balkans the Turks were continually defeated and forced to retreat back through Thrace followed by a great number of Muslim refugees. The Russians then took Adrianople but when they reached the outskirts of Constantinople, the Ottoman capital, they found a British fleet sent there to support the Turks. Afraid of a Turkish defeat, Britain and France compelled Russia to stop its advance and negotiate a peace. In the Treaty of San Stefano that ended the war, the Russians gained some territory and Bulgaria achieved statehood.
Western powers apprehensive of Russian expansionism constantly tried to curtail it as best they could. While they forced an end to the war, no one was happy with the terms of the treaty, especially with the formation of a greater Bulgarian State. The terms were then renegotiated in the Treaty of Berlin in which the Ottomans were forced to concede the total independence of Montenegro, Romania, and Serbia while Bulgaria was divided and left as a weakened autonomous principality. Austria-Hungary was also allowed to occupy Bosnia and Herzegovina, though this did not come without armed resistance from local Muslims. While this war can best be characterized in geopolitical and imperialist terms rather than a conflict between religions, the religious antagonism that was generated led to large massacres of civilians on both sides during the war. The most significant consequence was the withdrawal of the Russian army from their advanced positions in the Caucasus leaving many Armenians in the hands of the Turks who were hostile toward them.
Serbo-Bulgarian War 1885
In 1885 Bulgaria united with Eastern Rumelia, which had been denied her in the Treaty of Berlin that was signed at the end of the last Russo-Turkish War. At that time the Western powers did not want to see a greater Bulgaria competing with their own interests in the area, and by 1885 nothing had changed except Bulgaria’s defiance. This caused Serbia to invade, but the expected second front with the Ottomans never opened. This allowed Bulgaria to concentrate it forces solely against Serbia, which put an end to their offensive at the Battle of Silvnitsa. The Bulgarians then launched their own offensive into Serbia capturing Pirot. At this point Austria-Hungary threatened to intervene, which forced a ceasefire to be signed. Bulgaria remained a unified state but this poisoned its relations with Serbia.
All the conflicts discussed up to this point had been fought before the age of postcards began. Their representation on cards has more to do with their enduring symbolic value rather than their ability to convey newsworthy events. The timing of their publication however is often set to contemporary events. They often appeared when another conflict was brewing in order to stir up emotions and raise patriotic fervor. Even when they appear on seemingly more benign occasions such as anniversaries, their presence is still meant to remind the public of the dividing lines between them and the other. These cards may be casually viewed during times of peace, but their message often lays dormant until unfolding events draw them out. Evocations of the Turk could always be relied upon to drum up notions of a righteous war against a monstrous other. Such images were widely reproduced on popular prints in the late 19th century, and their message received even greater public dissemination when they began to be placed on postcards.