One Man’s Opinion

Dick Nicholas

Volume 15, Number 11
November 2007

A new and timely book Power, Faith, and Fantasy, gives a good account of America’s relationship with the Middle East from 1776 until the present. Of special interest to Civil War historians is a chapter titled Rebs and Yanks on the Nile which is an overview of the little-known post-Civil War episode when forty-six American veterans of the war, twenty-five former Confederates, and twenty-one men who had served in the Union army, were employed from 1868 to about 1878 as military advisors to Ismail Pasha, the khedive of Egypt. Several older books such as The Blue and Gray on the Nile and Americans in the Egyptian Army go into greater detail and are even more informative about that adventure.

At the time Egypt was essentially an autonomous province of the declining Ottoman Empire, and was governed by Ismail Pash, the viceroy or khedive (pronounced kid-eve’), who was appointed by the Ottoman court at Constantinople. A decent man, Ismail had assumed power in 1863 and set about trying to transform and modernize Egypt into a Western nation. In addition to improving the economy and general welfare of his people, he sought to expand his country’s borders southward into eastern and equatorial Africa. He dreamed of achieving full independence for Egypt and restoring some of its ancient glory.

In order to accomplish all these lofty goals, the khedive needed a modern army. To build an army he needed a cadre of Western advisors to train Egyptian soldiers. Egypt had traditionally employed French and British officers as military instructors, but Ismail rightfully suspected the European powers of imperialistic designs. Alternatively, he looked to the United States for help because the Americans had recently acquired a reputation for military power in the Civil War, and had never shown any designs on his country.

To assist him in the formidable task of recruiting military advisors, Ismail enlisted an American Thaddeus P. Mott, an adventurer with service in wars in Mexico, Italy, and turkey, a world sailor, and formerly a colonel in the cavalry in the Union army. Mott was hired in 1868 as the khedive’s personal advisor in all that related to American officers with the nominal rank of general. For advice, Mott consulted with William Tecumseh Sherman who had taken over the job of General of the Armies since U.S. Grant was elected president.

The new American advisors were offered a generous package to enlist: they would be paid approximately that of similar grades in the United States Army, and for those who served in any of the distant provinces, an additional 20 percent. Transportation costs were paid between New York and Cairo. If a man became ill during his term, he could accept two month’s severance pay and resign, and any man who died in service received a full year’s pay, and the widow of any who died in battle would receive benefits. Although most of the men were “free-lancers” and had no official connection to the American government, a selected few junior officers still in the Union army were given leave by Sherman to participate and gain experience. In the Union and Confederate service they had held rank from major general to private. In their new jobs in Egypt, the expatriates would rank from major general to captain.

Acting on Sherman’s recommendations, Mott recruited a cross section of former Union and Confederate veterans. he is alleged to have attempted to interest several prominent generals including former Confederates Beauregard, Johnston, and Pickett, and Union general Fitz-John Porter, but none expressed any interest in going to Egypt. Undeterred by these initial rebuffs, Mott proceeded to hire a motley collection of Union and Confederate veterans, primarily to develop the Egyptian military.

Five past Confederate generals were included in the lot: William Wing Loring, Raleigh E. Colston, Alexander W. Reynolds, Henry H. Sibley, and Charles W. Field. Three ex-Union generals were hired: Charles P. Stone, William McEntyre Dye, and Washington Carroll Tevis. Most of the names on the list make me wonder if Sherman really wanted to held the Egyptians, because only one of them men had a distinguished record in the Civil War, and most came with a lot of baggage and questions about their abilities.

The one-armed Loring had gotten crossways with Stonewall Jackson during the infamous Romney campaign in Northwest Virginia during the winter of ’62. Afterwards he was promoted to major general but eventually transferred to the Confederacy’s western armies. He served under Pemberton, but somehow managed to escape the debacle at Vicksburg in ’63, and ended up in the commands of Johnston and Hood in Georgia and Tennessee. He surrendered with Johnston in North Carolina in April 1865. Loring worked after the war as a consultant for a New York bank until he was recruited in late 1869. “Old Blizzards” arrived in Egypt in 1870, was commissioned a brigadier general, and made inspector general and specifically charged with coastal defense. He did a commendable job and participated in the Abyssinian campaign of 1875. He returned to the United States in 1879, wrote a voluminous book “A Confederate Soldier in Egypt” in 1884, and died in New York in 1886.

Confederate Brigadier General Raleigh Edward Colston was born in France, graduated from V.M.I., and was hired in 1873. A protégé of Stonewall Jackson, he commanded a division at Chancellorsville, but was faulted for his performance and soon afterwards transferred away from the Army of Northern Virginia. He eventually ended up in a backwater job as Commandant of the Post and District of Lynchburg at the end of the war. He lectured on Jackson after the war and operated a military school in Wilmington, N.C., before being recruited for the Egyptian job in 1873. Colston was commissioned as colonel on the general staff and professor of geology at the Egyptian military academy. He never taught any classes but commanded two major expeditions exploring and mapping primitive areas in southern Egypt and the Sudan. The Egyptians were nearly bankrupt by 1878 resulting in Colston and all but one of the other Americans being discharged. In addition to the normal severance pay, he eventually received an additional $5,000 for injuries sustained. Colston returned to America and died in poverty at the Soldiers Home in Richmond in 1896.

Raleigh Colston and his family had close connections to Albemarle. He owned “Hill and Dale” (now called “Woodstock Hall”) on Dick Woods Road west of Ivy from 1862 to 1871. The family name is memorialized by the subdivision adjacent to his old house on the south named “Colston.” A nearby road is also named “Raleigh Mountain Trail.”

Brigadier General Henry Hopkins Sibley was a West Pointer, class of ’38. His claim to fame was the invention of a single-pole conical tent based upon the design of tepees used by the Plains Indians. The tent was later adopted as standard equipment by the army. He served in New Mexico and Louisiana during the Civil War without distinction. One of his biographers stated that Sibley had failed as a military leader and “must rank as one of the worst generals to serve the southern Confederacy.” Jobless after the war, Sibley arrived in Egypt in 1870 and was assigned as inspector general of artillery. He worked with Loring on Egyptian coastal defenses, but was fired by the khedive in 1873 for “drunken incompetence” and indebtedness.

Alexander Welch Reynolds, West Point class of ’38, ended the war as a brigadier general. He began his career in western Virginia where he acquired the name “Old Gauley,” but thereafter saw action in the western armies in Tennessee, Mississippi, Kentucky, and Georgia. Although he preformed competently at times, he had a checkered career and ended the war inspecting garrisons and recruiting troops in Georgia. He, and his son Frank, a Lt. Col. in the Confederate Army, arrived in Egypt in 1870. “Old Gauley” was made a colonel and acted as quartermaster, commissary, and paymaster general. His wife and son both returned home in 1875, leaving the lonely and despondent old man in Alexandria. He took to the bottle and died heavily in debt there in 1876.

Charles William Field was the exception to the above named crop of mediocre and incompetent Confederate generals. West Point class of ’49, he was rated as one of the more able brigade and division commanders in the Army of Northern Virginia. His life insurance business failed after the war, and the former major general accepted the offer of former Union General Charles P. Stone, the chief of staff of the Egyptian army, to become a colonel in 1875. He participated in the disastrous Abyssinian campaign of 1876 as inspector general for the inept Egyptian commander Ratib pasha.

Field’s duties would down after the Abyssinian campaign and his services were terminated in 1877. He returned home, was employed as doorkeeper of the House of Representatives for three years, afterwards worked as a civil engineer, and from 1885 to 1889 was superintendent of the Indian reservation at Hot Springs, Arkansas. He died in 1892 and was remembered as one of Lee’s best “Lieutenants.”

Although there were some notable exceptions, as a group the American Civil War veterans rendered valuable service to the Egyptians. Even though hampered by vast cultural, customs, and language differences, they helped build a general staff, re-organized the army, strengthened defenses, and explored new provinces. For the most part, they gave to Egypt an example of dedication in the performance of duty.

Next month we shall review the history of some of the former Union veterans who served in Egypt. To be continued. . . .