Reminiscence from Days of Liberation*

Views on BG | March 3, 2011, Thursday // 08:54| Views: | Comments: 13
Bulgaria: Reminiscence from Days of Liberation* The battle for the Shipka passage in August 1877 reproduced by artist Dimitar Gyudzhenov. Photo by

The national liberation movement of Bulgaria reached its peak in the April uprising of 1876. It had a worldwide response. World public opinion raised its voice in defense of the Bulgarian people. British, American, Italian, French, German and Russian journalists and consuls made known to their governments and their peoples the truth about these monstrous crimes. Prominent statesmen, political and public figures, intellectuals and scholars to whom the Bulgarians would always be indebted, joined in a campaign for the Bulgarians' right to lead free life.

Some of the names that stand out among the champions of the Bulgarian people's cause are those of William Gladstone - leader of the Liberal party of Britain, Charles Darwin, Oscar Wilde, Victor Hugo and Giuseppe Garibaldi. The first Chancellor of the German Reich, Bismarck made a speech in the Reictistag to the effect that the abominable bloodshed in Bulgaria had rendered Turkey no longer eligible to a place in the community of the European states.

Appalled and indignant as it could be, the European public opinion also urged their respective governments to undertake decisive actions against this barbaric smash of the uprising.

The suppression of the April uprising was the immediate reason underlying a large-scale international concern that culminated in the Russian-Turkish War of 1877-78.

In the summer, autumn and winter of 1876 the Russian government went out of its way to settle the Bulgarian question in a peaceful way. It made attempts to smooth its contradictions with the other European powers. The so-called Tsarigrad conference (the south Slavonic name for Constantinople), which took place in December 1876, was the culmination of their diplomatic effort with Russia, Britain, France, Austria-Hungary, Germany and Italy all partaking.

The joint reform-prescribing plan to which Turkey committed itself in advance, made provision for the autonomy of all Bulgarian-inhabited lands in Macedonia, Moesia, Thrace and Dobrudja. These lands were part of the two Bulgarian states with their respective capital cities of Turnovo and Sofia. The territories of these two states extended as far as the ethnic boundaries of the Bulgarian people and, despite their artificial division, they were adequate to the Bulgarians' needs and aspirations. Turkey, however, rejected that plan on the very day of its signing.

This last-ditch prestige-harming flop made even the Turkey-supporting West European states withdraw their customary back-up and agree to a military settlement of the Bulgarian question.

After preliminary talks with the European Great Powers on the possible outcome of hostilities, Russia declared war on Turkey on 12 April 1877. As early as that day, a military campaign was launched along the Russo-Turkish Caucasian border. On the Balkans the Russian army had to overcome the Danube - a major water barrier, before coming anywhere near the Turkish troops. The Russians crossed the Danube in June 1877.

The Bulgarian people met the news of the Russo-Turkish war with great enthusiasm and it too, rose against its centuries long oppressor. A Bulgarian military detachment called 'Bulgarian volunteers', consisting of 12 battalions 12 500-strong, joined the Russian army. Hundreds of concomitant guerrilla detachments having from several dozens to several hundreds of soldiers were organized, too.

Thousands of other Bulgarians directly joined the Russian army to help as reconnaissance officers, engineers of fortification facilities, medical orderlies, suppliers of fodder and food, etc.

About the middle of July, the Russian leading detachment with Bulgarian volunteer forces included in it, reached as far as Stara Zagora that was almost half-way through to Constantinople. The troops meant to protect the western flank of the Russian army in Bulgaria suffered a defeat in two assaults against the strategic fortress of Pleven, located only sixty kilometers away from the Danube.

The crippled Russian army at this site was not even able to keep off the besieged Turkish army. At that time the Turkish military forces, concentrated on the eastern flanks of the corridor occupied by the Russians, also grew unimpeded. Soon their number was three times as large as the Russian troops withholding them. Turkish crack regiments four times as big as the Russian advance detachment were coming on from its opposite direction.

Having no alternative but to sucumb to the superior force, the Russians and the Bulgarians withdrew to position along the Balkan Mountain ridge in the region of the Shipka pass.

As fate has strangely willed it, the liberation of Bulgaria was entirely dependent upon the efficiency of the several thousand Bulgarian volunteers in keeping their positions on Shipka in those summer days. For, due to its misjudging the direction of the Turkish main effort, the command of the forces on Shipka had to send Russian operational reserve contingents to help in the defence of Hainboaz, another throat in the mountain. The Bulgarian volunteer detachment and only one Russian regiment remained on Shipka.

During the hot days of August 1877 epic battles took place on that mountain peak at the geographical intersection point of the Bulgarian lands. There the Bulgarians proved that they thoroughly deserved their freedom. When the arms and ammunitions finished, the volunteers resorted to blank weapons to repulse the attacks. In fierce man-to-man fighting they showered boulders and other mass of rock, even their dead comrades' bodies.

Pertinacious and murderous was the Bulgarians' effort that crushed the Turkish army and caused it to lose nearly half of its strength. The Bulgarian volunteers withstood their positions and thus, coped with a situation that spelled more and even greater danger.

A quick change of scene and reversal of the war occurred after the arrival of fresh Russian reinforcements. They took Pleven and, at the end of 1877, crossed the Balkan Mountains in a wide-ranging counter-offensive. Following victorious battles at Sofia, Plovdiv and Sheinovo, the Ottoman military machinery was shattered, dilapidated and ruined.

A preliminary peace treaty was signed in the small town of San Stefano near Constantinople on 3 March 1878. It made provision for an autonomous Bulgarian state extending to almost all Bulgarian lands in the geographical areas of Macedonia, Thrace and Moesia.

The terms of the San Stefano peace treaty included the restoration of Bulgaria's state independence and the Bulgarians' reunification within the boundaries of one state.

*An extract from the book "Bulgaria Illustrated History"

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» To the forumComments (13)
Tango - 12 Mar 2011 // 01:07:41


Honterus - 12 Mar 2011 // 00:48:16


" Wouldn't it be more honest & noble for Prince to support Bulgarian Uprising? Immediately, independentely & without any trade?"

Oh , but he did. Or rather the Romanian govenment did. If you'll care to inquire you'll find that some of the most important parts of the activities of revolutionaries such as Hristo Botev, Ivan Vazov, Vassil Levski took place in Romania with the knowledge of the Romanian government. In hard times they found refuge in Romania.

If your question is specific about military intervention, then I hope it is candid for I cannot imagine that you are asking - in full knowledge of the situation - why Romania , a tiny autonomous principlaity within the Ottoman Empire until 1877 , did not started a war alone against the Turks with casus belli the Bulgarian revolt and the atrocities perpetrated by the Turkish army.

I'll add here - again - that the Romanian government OFFERED the unconditional participation of the Romanian troops to this war from the very beginning just to be refused by the Russian government.

sa-sha - 8 Mar 2011 // 16:54:50

Thank You, Viking, though I haven't got Your idea in full, I'm afraid. Not English, but
French is -as well as Russian-my language.
Honterus, sorry for 'additional role'. Peoples are not responsible for Chiefs. Rumanians, Bulgarians, Russians....All they sacrificed their lives. Nothing to divide
Our forefathers would have agreed with it, I think. Eternal Glory to all......
The episode: my wife is waiting for me in transit zone of Lagos(Nigeria) airport. Some stupid formalities(bribe). Aeroflot flight to Moscow: 10-45. It is 10-30 already.
I don't agree to pay...We risk to stay in Nigeria. With all unpredictable consequances...All(!!!!!)Russians were in the plane already....And only crew of Rumanian pilots(in full!!!)- they were as well passengers of that damned flight-so, they (not Russians!)were staying in tranzit zone, consolating my wife & waiting for me...How to forget it?

viking - 8 Mar 2011 // 15:08:15

"Wouldn't it be more honest & noble for Prince to support Bulgarian Uprising? Immediately, independentely & without any trade?"
You mean just like the Bulgarians always "help" their Romanian neighbors?
This is the Balkans we are talking about, right?

Americans have a very short memory when it comes to the French. If it was not for the help they gave us in 1776, the British would still "own" the USA and we would be speaking English and calling ourselves Southern Canada.

sa-sha - 8 Mar 2011 // 12:23:02

Honterus, 'ThankYou' I wrote... Serious historians don't 'reduce' Rumanian contribution! But Your 'Help was given'...Look, Tsar wasn't begger! He'd have achieved the general goal even without Rumanians...But more time & much more victimes!!! And weren't Rumanians (at least not less than Russians, Honterus!) interested in annihilating Turkish Yoke? Wouldn't it be more honest & noble for Prince to support Bulgarian Uprising? Immediately, independentely & without any trade? As to Bulgarians: agree with You.
Dr., again? 'Reliable data about victims', i.e. report with the figure of killed in Gulag,
was for Stalin! Human life was nothing for him, so, to 'decrease/increase' was not
only dangerous, but stupid. What on earth is not clear? As to victims: 100%!!!!!!!
Finnish: true. But couldn't You precise:'a very big part', how many soldiers is it?
'Many people in Russia...' Partially true. The same phrase with ' Europe...' will make the picture completed...History is re-writing, becoming more & more Servant
of political trends...
Nellie, nice joke.......

Nellieherself - 7 Mar 2011 // 19:54:20


"It's a bit ironic that Totleben's Turkish counterpart Mehmet Ali Pasha, the leader of the Turkish Army in Bulgaria at that time was also a German (born as Ludwig Karl Friedrich Detroit in Brandenburg)."

It may be ironic, but it is not surprising. There is something to be said for German efficiency. In the 1877-1878 war against Russia, Mehemet Ali led the Turkish army in Bulgaria, before being superseded by Suleiman Pasha who lost the war. If Mehmet Ali had not been replaced, Bulgaria would be speaking Turkish now. lol

DrFaust - 7 Mar 2011 // 06:25:23


"And your approach shows WHY this was not mentioned in the article: that is because most (if not all) Russian and some Bulgarian historians tend to reduce and even completely carve out from history the Romanian participation in this war."

Many people in Russia (and Bulgaria) learn what they learn about history in school usually from teachers or books which give a very distorted and manipulated view of many events in history. Chalga historians like Bozhidar Dimitrov do the rest.

That's why someone on this forum believes for example that a Stalinist henchman is the only reliable source when it comes to have reliable data regarding the number of victims of the GULag. It's very much like someone who would accept only Heinrich Himmler as the only reliable source for the number of victims of Nazi concentration camps. Simply disgusting.

DrFaust - 7 Mar 2011 // 06:12:36


you are absolutely right to mention the big contribution of Romania in the Russian-Turkish War and especially in the liberation of Bulgaria.

Bulgarians and Russians are usually either not aware of all of that fact or they try - we have a very typical chauvinist example here on the forum - to downplay or ridicule the Romanian role which cannot be underestimated.

It should be also mentioned that a very big part of the 'Russian' troops fighting in Bulgaria were in fact Finnish.

As for the name 'Totleben': you could easily find many other generals or General Staff officers in the Russo-Turkish War with similar 'treacherous' names.

It's a bit ironic that Totleben's Turkish counterpart Mehmet Ali Pasha, the leader of the Turkish Army in Bulgaria at that time was also a German (born as Ludwig Karl Friedrich Detroit in Brandenburg).

Honterus - 6 Mar 2011 // 16:02:04


"Rutine blackmail: 'No post, no participation'. So great Liberator from
Ottoman Yoke. "

On other words - the Russians NEEDED the help from the Romanian troops. Otherwise they would have not ASKED for it. Actually they refused the Romanian participation in the war at the beginning. And - of course - they were absolutely free to refuse it even later if they would consider any proposal as an unacceptable blackmail. But they were not in the position to do that.

The help was given in the most important moment and in the most important place.

And your approach shows WHY this was not mentioned in the article: that is because most (if not all) Russian and some Bulgarian historians tend to reduce and even completely carve out from history the Romanian participation in this war.

We do not claim that we liberated anyone but ourselves from "the Ottoman Yoke". The Russians troops liberated Bulgaria. But that would have not been possible without the long struggle of the Bulgarian patriotes during the process of the Bulgarian national awakening, without the contribution of the Bulgarian volunteers during the actual war and - to some extent - without the contribution of the Romanian army.

Their sacrifice deserve a mentioning in a lousy article.

sa-sha - 6 Mar 2011 // 13:17:29

Honterus, (1) my approach shows not 'why', but FACTS. They explain HOW & by WHOM Pleven was taken. (2)Russians didn't succeed not only in the first(July,19),
but in the second(July,30) & third(September,7-10)battles. (3)Prince Carol didn't
'make conditions' to Russian Emperor(it would be strange& impolite), he 'expressed
the desire'. Rutine blackmail: 'No post, no participation'. So great Liberator from
Ottoman Yoke. To save more Russian lives, Alexandre 'met the desire' & Carol became NOMINAL Chief of joint forces. But Russians were continuing acting absolutely at their own discretion, sure...(4)Neither me, nor the article'author,sure, have the smallest desire to despise Rumanians. I 'believe You' since I believe facts: Rumanians were fighting desperately. Eternal Glory. Simply their role-contrary to Your idea & following FACTS which cannot despise-was additional, not decisive...And let's not forget about Bulgarians themselves'participation.............
(5)Apart from Totleben, there are many other glorious 'Russian' names: Dale, Barclay-de-Tolly, Lermont(ov), Lefort, Schnitke, Sophia Annalt-Tserbstskaya(Ekaterina the Great)......Thank You for discussion.....

Honterus - 5 Mar 2011 // 19:48:33


You're Russian - ain't you ?

Anyway you are both right and wrong. You are right in describing some of the events but you are partial in doing that.

You are deffinitely wrong is the fact that you are despising the Romanian effort in this war.

In the first battle of Plevna the Russians did not succed in conquering it. Hence the Russians sought and obtained reinforcements from the army of Prince Carol of Romania (later king Carol I of Romania), who made the condition that he should be given command of the joint besieging force. The condition was accepted by the Russian commander-in-chief .

Eventually Plevna failed in the so-called Fourth Battle. Mind that I did not say that it was due solely to the Romanian efforts for it was not. Out of 150,000 troops sieging Pleven only 32,000 were Romanians and the operations were conducted by Russian general Totleben ( surely a genuine Russian name). However Russia was (and still is) a huge empire and Romania was ( still is in many ways ) a tiny country. The Romanian effort of war was huge - believe me.

My point is that in the article the Romanian participation in the war was completely eluded. Your approach shows why.

sa-sha - 5 Mar 2011 // 16:52:30

Rumanian 'refreshment' was 32,000 soldiers. Russian one was more. 'Grivitsa redoubts' (what 'fortress'?) was the episode of the third storm of Plevna in August
1877. Unsuccessful as two previous ones. Redoubts were taken by Romanians
(when Russians-while the third attack-came to help), but were left next days. Not
these storms, but the following siege of Plevna by General Totleben brought the victory. Result(what 'romanian attack'!?): December,10 (November,28)1877. Morning. Osman Pasha' Guard's attempt to break through RUSSIAN trenches-hand to hand combat-Russian Egor Jdanov snatches Turk Colours-General Starikov in Osman Pasha' headquaters urges Unconditional Surrender-Osman Pasha: 'No similar days. One is fortunate, another...I surrender fully to Your Wish'
Osman Pasha' message to Stanbul:'I decided to break...through raws of Russian
soldiers. I failed & now I'm a prisonner with all my Pleven garrison...His Imperial
Highness [Tsar Alexandre II ]...favoured me...'. Russian Tsar' favour: Alexandre
(what on Earth 'Prince Carol'!?) turned back to Osman Pasha his Turkish Sabre...
Thanks & glory to Rumanian soldiers. But Truth above all: Totleben & Skobelev!!!

Honterus - 5 Mar 2011 // 08:46:16

"A quick change of scene and reversal of the war occurred after the arrival of fresh Russian reinforcements. They took Pleven and, at the end of 1877, crossed the Balkan Mountains in a wide-ranging counter-offensive..."

Really ?

The "fresh Russian reinforcement" was the Romanian army. A joint Russsian-Romanian force leaded by price Carol of Romania took Pleven. Actually the Grivitsa fortress ( where one of the strongest turkish resistances was met) was taken solely by the Romanians and Osman Pasha surrendered the city of Pleven, the garrison, and his sword to the Romanian colonel Mihail Cerchez.

Of course - the Russians were by far the most important military force fighting agains the Ottomans in this war . It was the Russians that started and that won this war who put back the Bulgarian state on the map of Europe after 500 years, but - please - let's not provide false and missleading info.

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