In the spring of 1855, as the Crimean War dragged on into its third year, the British and the French decided to begin operations in the Sea of Azov. They reasoned that this would allow them to cut off the Crimea even further from Russia and prevent further supplies from reaching Russian forces there by sea via the seaports in the Taman. This required of them to occupy the Strait of Kerch, which was undertaken by a joint force of British and French soldiers and warships.
As British-French force preceded to take part in the developing Azov campaign, they began looking at Taganrog at the far, eastward end of the Sea of Azov as a potential target for invasion. Taganrog sits on a strip of land jutting out slightly into the Sea of Azov and, to the British and the French, an excellent stepping stone to Rostov-on-Don. If the two allies were to slow down Russian advances in the Caucasus, it would be by taking Rostov-on-Don, which would allow them to threaten the rear of the Russian front.
Plans were drawn up, and the British and the French prepared 16,000 ground troops and about forty small warships for the Taganrog operation. Meanwhile, Taganrog's governor-general, Nikolay Adlerberg left his position the earlier year due to the Crimean War and was replaced by Yegor Tolstoy, an aging, but versatile general who had served in the Russian army previously against the Turks. In April 1854, Tolstoy assumed command at Taganrog, along with ataman Ivan Krasnov (who commanded the Don Cossacks in the region) and prepared his forces. At his command at the time of the siege, he had two regiments of Don Cossacks and a local garrison of some 630 soldiers. A unit of "home guards" were recruited from the local population, which totaled some 250 men. Taganrog lacked any modern fortifications and Tolstoy had no artillery to speak of.
Starting on May 12, 1855, the British and the French began operations in the Sea of Azov. They landed troops on either side of the Kerch Strait, capturing the cities of Kerch and Enikale quickly. Following those actions, naval power destroyed the Russian coastal battery at Kamishevaya Bay and entered the Sea of Azov.
By May 22 the English-French squadron, which consisted of 17 armed steam boats and 20 gunboats, appeared off Taganrog after crossing the Sea of Azov. The commanders of the expedition sent the city an ultimatum to surrender the town. The boat with French envoys carrying a white flag was met by Tolstoy's official for important missions, Otto Pfeilizer-Frank and poet Nikolay Sherbina, who later described the event in Moscovskie Vedomosti of June 21, 1855. In one hour's time, Baron Pfeilizer-Frank returned to the envoys with Tolstoy's reply rejecting the offer by the British and the French. The Britist-French fleet began an initial bombardment of Taganrog that lasted about six and a half hours. A landing operation near the Old Depaldo Stairway (Каменная лестница) in downtown Taganrog followed the bombardment. However, the allies were thrown back by the Cossacks and the volunteer corps. Seeing the town as temporarily impossible to take, the fleet retreated to launch other operations in the Sea of Azov.
After the first phase of the Siege of Taganrog, the Russians deployed another fourteen regiments of Don Cossacks to the region around the Sea of Azov to protect the various coastal cities (for a total of 16 regiments when the two at Taganrog are included). These new forces arrived at the time when the British and the French began planning a second attempt at reaching Rostov on Don. Early in the month, the fleet of allied warships moved back of the Sea of Azov towards Taganrog, attempting to force their way up the Don River. Starting on July 7, the fleet began bombarding Taganrog again. Their attempt to move upriver on the Don was brought to a halt, however, due to the Russian steamer Taganrog and a pair of gunboats.
Blocked, the fleet moved back out into the Sea, but continued to bombard Taganrog for several weeks. Early in this bombardment, the allied fleet received a minor setback after local fishermen moved various buoys that marked water depth. This had the end result of forcing the H.M.S. Jasper, a British gunship, ashore. The ship was taken by Don Cossacks and was sunk with explosives found on board. Towards the end of July, the British-French fleet withdrew from the Taganrog region of the Sea of Azov.
A third siege attempt was made by the British and the French beginning on August 19. However, their indecisiveness on how to take Taganrog allowed the Russians to build up fortifications and bring in reinforcements to make the city a stronghold. The combined British-French fleet attempted to move in to the city, but were pushed back by cannon fire and ground fire and could not launch appropriate ground operations against the city. Dissatisfied with the results, the allies pulled back on August 31, retreating back out into the Sea of Azov.
Following the retreat out of the Gulf of Taganrog, the British and French continued to launch minor military operations at coastal Russian positions, but these efforts simply wasted manpower. Operations in the Sea ceased on October 23.
Defense forces at Taganrog stood down on June 21, 1856, and the city began to return to normalcy. The Crimean War cost the city of Taganrog more than one million rubles. Further, much damage was done to local structures. Twenty mansions were completely lost, and 74 were damaged to some capacity. One hundred and eighty-nine other buildings, primarily granaries and storehouses were destroyed and 44 damaged. Nearly a year after combat operations in the region were finished, Alexander II, the czar, exempted the citizens of Taganrog of taxes for the year of 1857.
A total of 163 Taganroger soldiers were awarded with medals and military orders because of their service during the siege.