Battle of the Chernaya

"Tchernaya" redirects here. For the Tchernaya River, see Chornaya River (Crimea).
Battle of the Chernaya

Battle of the Tchernaya, August 16th 1855, plate from 'The Seat of War in the East', pub. by Paul & Dominic Colnaghi & Co., 1856 (litho), Simpson, William 'Crimea' (1823-99).
DateAugust 16, 1855
LocationChornaya River, Taurida Governorate, Russian Empire
Result Allied victory[1]
France French Empire
 Kingdom of Sardinia[2]
 Ottoman Empire
 Russian Empire
Commanders and leaders
France Aimable Pélissier
Kingdom of Sardinia Alfonso La Màrmora[2]
Kingdom of Sardinia Giovanni Durando[2]
Ottoman Empire Osman Pasha
Russian Empire Prince Michael Gorchakov
Casualties and losses
1,700 killed, wounded and missing[3] 2,273 killed
1,742 missing
4,000 wounded[3]

The Battle of the Chernaya (Battle of Tchernaïa, Сражение у Черной речки, Сражение у реки Черной, literally: Battle of the Black River) was a battle by the Chornaya River fought during the Crimean War on August 16, 1855. The battle was fought between Russian troops and a coalition of French, Sardinian and Ottoman troops. The Chornaya River is on the outskirts of Sevastopol. The battle ended in a Russian retreat and a victory for the French, Sardinians and Turks.


The battle was planned as an offensive by the Russians with the aim of forcing the Allied forces (French, British, Sardinian, and Ottoman) to retreat and abandon their siege of Sevastopol. Czar Alexander II had ordered his commander in chief in the Crimea, Prince Michael Gorchakov to attack the besieging forces before they were reinforced further. The Czar hoped that by gaining a victory, he could force a more favorable resolution to the conflict. Gorchakov didn’t think that an attack would be successful but believed the greatest chance of success to be near the French and Sardinian positions on the Chornaya River. The Czar ordered the hesitating Gorchakov to hold a war council to plan the attack. The attack was planned for the morning of August 16 in the hope to surprise the French and Sardinians as they had just celebrated the Feast day of the Emperor (France) and Assumption Day (Sardinians). The Russians hoped that because of these feasts the enemy would be tired and less attentive to the Russians.[4]

The battle

Battle of the Chernaya, the forces at the beginning of the battle and the Russian advance.
La battaglia della Cernaia, Gerolamo Induno.

58,000 Russian troops in two army corps under Prince Michael Gorchakov fought against 28,000 French and Sardinian troops under French General Aimable Pélissier and Italian General Alfonso Ferrero La Marmora. Although the British correspondents were amazed at the courageousness and impetuosity of their attack, the assault of the Russian army was handicapped by poor organization and lack of experienced soldiers which, due to Sevastopol, forced their corps to consist mostly of militia.

In the cover of the morning fog, the Russians advanced on Traktirburg with 47,000 infantry, 10,000 cavalry and 270 cannon under command of general Liprandi on the left and general Read on the right. The two generals had been ordered by Gorchakov not to cross the river until given explicit orders. Annoyed that things weren’t happening fast enough, Gorchakov sent a note to his generals with the words "Let's start it." By this, Gorchakov only meant that the Russians should start to deploy their forces. Unfortunately his generals interpreted his words as his order to attack and they acted accordingly, although reserve forces were still en route to the battlefield. The attacking Russians immediately met stiff resistance from the French and Sardinians. Read’s forces crossed the river near Traktirburg but without cavalry and artillery support, they were easily stopped by the French on the Fedyukhin Heights (Федюхины высоты). Read then ordered his reserve formation, the 5th Infantry Division, to attack the Heights but instead of launching a coordinated assault, he fed them piecemeal in to the fray. Going in regiment by regiment, the assaulting reserve troops accomplished nothing. Seeing this Gorchakov ordered Read to deploy the entire division against the French. This forced the French back up the hill but the Russians could not capture the Heights. In the following retreat general Read was killed. Upon the death of Read, Gorchakov took personal command of the right and ordered 8 battalions of Liprandi’s left wing to reinforce the right wing. These forces came under fire from the Sardinians and were driven back. At 10 o’clock in the morning, Gorchakov concluded that the situation was hopeless and ordered a general retreat.[4]

The bravery of Sardinian troops and the French soldiers of the 50th, 82nd, 95th, 97th of the line; the 19th Foot Chasseurs; and the 2nd and 3rd Zouaves was especially noted.


Russian Count Leo Tolstoy was a participant in the Battle of the Chernaya River. He witnessed as the Russians crossed the river and started up the hillside in the morning sunlight. Tolstoy saw Russian soldiers being killed in clusters as shells exploded around them. Before the morning was over, the Russians were forced to retreat. They left thousands of their dead comrades behind. Tolstoy was depressed and angered by the slaughter. He believed much of it was due to incompetent generals and staff. Tolstoy vented his anger by composing a satiric stanza, an approximate translation of which reads:

The toppest brass
Sat down to meet
And pondered long;
Lined paper black
But all forgot
The deep ravine
They had to cross! [5]

This humorous song soon gained widespread popularity among the Russian soldiers, and is the only piece of verse Tolstoy is known to have written.

The stanza from Tolstoy's song "Гладко вписано в бумаге, Да забыли про овраги" (It was smoothly written into the papers / But it was forgotten about the ravines) entered as a catch phrase, in a slightly modified form "Гладко было на бумаге... " ("It was smooth on the paper, ...").[6]


  1. Dupuy, Trevor N. and R. Ernest Dupuy, The Harper's Encyclopedia of Military History, (HarperCollins Publisher, 1993), 906.
  2. 1 2 3 Schneid (2012), p. 23.
  3. 1 2 3 Raugh, Harold E. The Victorians at war, 1815-1914: an encyclopedia of British military history. ABC-CLIO. p. 95. ISBN 978-1-57607-925-6.
  4. 1 2 Figes, Orlando (2010). Crimea. The Last Crusade. London: Allen Lane. ISBN 978-0-7139-9704-0.
  5. Troyat, Henri (1967). Tolstoy. Double Day & Company. p. 125. ISBN 0-8021-3768-7. Retrieved 9 September 2015.
  6. p. 158


Coordinates: 44°33′26″N 33°38′50″E / 44.55722°N 33.64722°E / 44.55722; 33.64722

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