Crimean War produced one of the first modern correspondents

William Howard Russell

William Howard Russell, believed to be the first modern war correspondent, covered the Crimean War. (Photo: U.S. Library of Congress, Roger Fenton; 1855)

Sir William Howard Russell was one of the earliest modern war correspondents. Rather than wait until the Crimean War ended, Russell wrote his stories and published them intermittently. He worked for the British daily newspaper The Times. In 1854 when Great Britain and France declared war on Russia, Russell was only 34 years old. Russell’s accounts were compiled into a book, The Crimean War: As Seen by Those Who Reported It.

The book can be viewed online at Google Books by permission of Louisiana State University Press.

The introduction to Russell’s book explained how the war began, with the czar claiming “the right to protect Orthodox Christians in the Ottoman Empire.” That empire controlled the Holy Land.

Eventually the battle arena comprised the Baltic region, Southern Russia, and the Crimea. Russia was defeated in 1856. Underlying motives involved France and Britain’s determination to keep Russia from gaining more territory. The book also said the first war photography was done during the Crimean War.

A fascinating account of the war at Al Arabiya describes the involvement of Arab troops—40,000 from Egypt alone—in helping defeat Russia whose army had a reputation that was much feared.

Al Arabiya said:

Arab involvement was ‘erased from history,’ said Egyptian historian Mahmoud Sabit.”

Part of the reason involved the lack of correspondents like Russell.

The photo of Russell is one of many historic photos in the U.S. Library of Congress’ digital collection. The photographer was Roger Fenton; the photo is dated 1855. Russell was an Irishman by birth.

The intro to Russell’s book said, “What made Russell outstanding was the power of his descriptive reporting and the forcefulness of his newspaper and editor.”

Russell covered the charge of the Light Brigade, the battle made famous in the elegy by the poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

(Filed by Kay B. Day/March 4, 2014)

About Kay Day

Kay B. Day is a freelance writer who has published in national and international magazines and websites. The author of 3 books, her work is anthologized in textbooks and collections. She has won awards for poetry, nonfiction and fiction. Day is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and the Authors Guild.
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