Sebastopol lies on the southern coast of the Crimean peninsula in the Black Sea, to the west of Yalta. In the autumn of 1854 British, French and Turkish forces attacked the Russian-held town, though they made little progress until April 1855 when they were able to bring in reinforcements. By summer 1855 the Russians were suffering losses of up to 3,000 a day under the Allied bombardment. Towards the end of August, the French General de Mac-Mahon captured a vital redoubt, leaving the Russians unable to defend themselves. They were forced to withdraw from Sebastopol, paving the way for an Allied victory. More than 200,000 men died during the siege. A young Leo Tolstoy fought there, publishing his Sebastopol Sketches to record his experiences.
The strategic importance of Sebastopol was reinforced during the Second World War, when the port was besieged again, from 1941 to 1942. This time the Germans besieged the city, and the Russians eventually lost it again, moving the conflict on towards Stalingrad.
The Charge of the Light Brigade was an extraordinarily ill-advised British offensive during the Battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War. On 25 October 1854, Lord Cardigan was ordered to advance on the Russians to prevent them from 'carrying away the guns'. However, the Light Brigade attacked the wrong position and lost over 270 of its 670 men, with more taken prisoner. This action was immortalised by Alfred, Lord Tennyson in his poem The Charge of the Light Brigade.
Read the poem, or listen to Tennyson himself reciting it, here.
Although the tensions that led to the American Civil War had been simmering for at least seventy years before his presidency, Franklin Pierce's time in office escalated the situation, mainly through his handling of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill. (See bookmarks to Page 27, " Franklin Pierce, the new president " and Page 274, " specifically the Kansas-Nebraska Act ").
The Kansas-Nebraska Bill led to a series of violent conflicts, known collectively as Bleeding Kansas, fought over the question of whether Kansas would enter the United States as a free or a slave state. The Civil War, which was predominantly fought over this issue, broke out in 1861 and lasted until 1865.