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Siege of Silistria
Part of the Crimean War
Decisive battles since Waterloo - the most important military events from 1815 to 1887 (1900) (14778318051).jpg
Plan of the siege of Silistria
Date11 May – 23 June 1854[1]
LocationSilistria, Ottoman Bulgaria
Coordinates: 44°7′9.01″N 27°15′40.9″E / 44.1191694°N 27.261361°E / 44.1191694; 27.261361
Result Russian retreat
(see Aftermath)
Ottoman Empire Ottoman Empire Russian Empire Russian Empire
Commanders and leaders
12,000 – 18,000[2] 50,000 – 90,000[3][lower-alpha 1]
266 guns[4]
Casualties and losses
1,400 killed[5] 2,500 killed[lower-alpha 2]
1,783 wounded[7]

"Victorious sally by the Turkish garrison of Silistria"
Illustration by unknown artist

The Siege of Silistria, or Siege of Silistra, took place during the Crimean War, from 11 May to 23 June 1854, when Russian forces besieged the Ottoman fortress of Silistria (present-day Bulgaria). Sustained Ottoman resistance had allowed French and British troops to build up a significant army in nearby Varna. The Russian command, which wanted to capture the fortress but feared a trap, ordered its troops to lift the siege and retreat from the area, thus ending the Danubian phase of the war.[3]


This battle took place during the Danube campaign of the Crimean War. In the spring of 1854, following the winter lull in campaigning, the Russians determined to advance into Ottoman territory. In the east, an army numbering 50,000 under General A. N. Luders crossed the border from Bessarabia into Dobruja to occupy various strong points there. By the beginning of April the Russians were at the site of Trajan's Wall, 30 miles east of Silistria. Meanwhile, the central force under Prince Mikhail Gorchakov had crossed the river and had advanced to lay siege to Silistria itself. Silistria was defended by an Ottoman between 12,000[8] and 18,000[2] men under Commander Omar Pasha,[lower-alpha 3] and was heavily fortified.[10]


In 1854 Silistria was fortified with an inner Citadel and an outer ring of ten forts.[11] The Ottoman army at Silistria was composed mostly of Albanians and Egyptians[12] under the command of Ferik Musa Hulusi Pasha. About six British Officers were helping the Ottomans. Captain James Butler and Lieutenant Charles Nasmyth,[lower-alpha 4] were some of the foreign officers assisting the Ottoman troops. Nasmyth arrived in Silistria on 28 March 1854, before it was besieged by the Russians. Nasmyth and Butler of the Ceylon Rifles, offered their services to the garrison, both men had served with the East India Company Army.[13]

On 5 April the vanguard of the Russian force under General Karl Andreyevich Schilder and his assistant Lieutenant-Colonel Eduard Totleben arrived at the fortress and commenced the siege by building entrenchments. Schilder had taken Silistria in 1829 by mining operations, this time military engineer Lieutenant-Colonel Eduard Ivanovich Totleben was in charge of fortifications and sapper work.[8] However, they were unable to completely surround the town, and the Ottoman forces were able to keep the garrison supplied. On 22 April Field Marshal Prince Ivan Paskevich, the commander of all Russian forces took personal control of the Danube campaign and arrived from Warsaw to Bucharest to take charge of the siege.[14]

On 28 May, after a sally from the Turkish Garrison, the heavily fortified fort of Arab Tabia, a key outwork, was assaulted and briefly captured, but the attackers were left without support and were ordered to withdraw, losing 700 men in total,[15] including General Dmitriy Selvan, who was mortally wounded in the assault.[16] Official Ottoman proclamations announced that their losses were 189 men.[16] Musa Pasha, the Turkish commander, was killed by shrapnel on 2 June, he was replaced by British officers Butler and Nasmyth.[17] Paskevich in his reports to Nikolai stated that the Ottomans were defending the city with good strategic knowledge because of the assistance of foreign officers.[18]

On 10 June Ivan Paskevich claimed to have been hit when an Ottoman shell exploded nearby.[11] Although he was not wounded, the seventy-two-year old Field Marshal retired and returned to Warsaw while his place was taken by Prince Gorchakov.[6] On 13 June Schilder was also wounded and died shortly after, a week later, on 20 June, Arab-Tabia was finally captured.[11] On 21 June the Russians prepared to storm the main fortress, the attack was scheduled for 4am.[18][6]

The siege of Silistria must be raised if the fortress is not yet taken at the receipt of this letter.

However at 2 am on 21 June, just two hours before the assault was due to take place and in the midst of troop movements, Gorchakov received orders from Paskevitch to raise the siege and return to his positions north of the Danube. The concentration of allied troops in the vicinity of Varna, 50,000 French and 20,000 British, as well as Austria's new treaty with Turkey, signed on 14 June, made Nicholas I order a strategic withdrawal.[18] The order was obeyed immediately on 24 June the Russian army crossed the Danube destroying the bridge behind them, the Ottoman army did not follow. The Russian's casualties were 2,500 dead and 1783 wounded during the siege.[7]


The Russian offensive had not been stopped by Ottoman resistance[19] but by diplomatic pressure and the threat of military action.[6] The Austrians had been concentrating troops along the borders of Wallachia and Moldavia and had warned Russia not to cross the Danube,[4] then on 30 June 1854, 12,000 French troops commanded by Vice-Admiral Bruat arrived at Varna where 30,000 British troops had already arrived on 27 June,[20] that recent buildup added pressure on Russian command to leave the area.

Following the retreat Nicholas I acceded to the Austrian-Ottoman occupation of the Danubian principalities thus signaling the end of the Danubian phase of the war.[3] The Turks under Omar Pasha then crossed the Danube into Wallachia and went on the offensive engaging the Russians in the city of Giurgevo in early July 1854.[21]


  1. By May 1854, the Russian forces around Silistria had reached 90,000 men, at the time the single largest Russian siege force ever deployed against an Ottoman fortress.[4]
  2. Another source has 419 killed [6]
  3. Omar Pasha was a former Serbian Orthodox Austrian soldier known as Mihajlo Latas[9]
  4. Nasmyth was also news correspondent for the London Times, Nasmyth's letters in the Times, from April to June 1854, described the siege in details[2]


  1. Sweetman 2014, p. 7.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Reid 2000, p. 256.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Ágoston and Masters 2010, p. 162.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Candan Badem 2010, p. 184.
  5. Tyrrell 1855, p. 139.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Winfried Baumgart 2020, p. 110.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Ponting 2011, p. 65.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Candan Badem 2010, p. 183.
  9. Cuvalo 2010, p. 138.
  10. [[#CITEREFÁgoston and Masters2010|Ágoston and Masters 2010]], p. 161.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Ponting 2011, p. 64.
  12. Ágoston and Masters 2010, p. 161.
  13. Reid 2000, p. 254.
  14. Ponting 2011, p. 62.
  15. Russell 1865, p. 17.
  16. 16.0 16.1 Candan Badem 2010, p. 185.
  17. Jaques & Showalter 2007, p. 945.
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 Candan Badem 2010, p. 186.
  19. Hötte 2017, p. 7.
  20. The Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal 1858, p. 241.
  21. Small 2018, p. 63.


General references

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