A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, January 29, 2010

Stone Pasha and the Khedive Isma‘il's Yanks and Rebs

This is going to be one of my "And now for something completely different" posts. I've mentioned an interest in military history and you know my interest in Egypt. This post combines the two.

At left, Brigadier General Charles Pomeroy Stone of the Union Army, early in the US Civil War. Below, Lieutenant General Charles Pomeroy Stone (Stone Pasha) during his 13-year tenure (1871-1883) as Chief of Staff of the Egyptian Army under the Khedives Isma‘il and Tawfiq.

Probably relatively few Americans, other than Civil War buffs and historians interested in 19th century Egyptian history, are aware of Isma‘il's recruitment of a number of American officers, both former Union and former Confederate, in the years after the American Civil War.

It's not hard to understand why the Khedive was interested in Americans. He hoped to keep up the expansionist policies of his predecessors Muhammad ‘Ali Pasha and Ibrahim Pasha, especially in the Sudan; the country was already incurring large debts in Europe, that would ultimately lead to a British (unofficial but de facto) protectorate, and therefore France and Britain were not a good source of military advice since you don't want your potential colonizers to have intimate knowledge of your military. The United States, on the other hand, had no visible interests in the Middle East (except for Christian missions) in those days.

And having just fought the bloodiest war in its history (which proved a temporary boon to Egypt since Southern US cotton was blockaded from the world market), the US also was a source of experienced and underemployed military officers. To the Egyptians, which army they had served in was moot. It would be nice to say it was moot to the Americans as well, but there was one notorious shootout in Alexandria between ex-Rebs and ex-Yanks.

According to the most detailed study of the Americans who served in Egypt, William B. Hesseltine and Hazel C. Wolf's The Blue and the Gray on the Nile (University of Chicago Press, 1961; still some copies listed on Amazon), around 50 Americans eventually were recruited for Egyptian service. A few of them were prominent enough that the average Civil War buff may know them, among them Stone (more on whom in a moment); Henry Sibley, inventor of the Sibley tent and who, as a colonel, led the Confederate invasion of New Mexico until defeated at Glorieta; William W. Loring, who reached Corps command in the Confederate Army; and a few others. Some would make their name in Egyptian service, however, notably Charles Chaillé-Long, who only rose to be a captain in the Union Army, but achieved lasting fame as an explorer of sub-Saharan Africa, serving under Gordon in Equatoria, then exploring the great lakes (he was the second explorer to visit Lake Victoria), and writing a number of books. (Though I suspect Central Africa: Naked Truths of Naked People would not be given that title today.)

Many prominent ex-Confederate generals reportedly considered Egyptian service, among them P.G.T. Beauregard and Joseph Johnston, but didn't go. William Tecumseh Sherman, General in Chief of the US Army in the late 186os (under the Presidency of his close friend and predecessor, U.S. Grant), encouraged the Egyptian adventure and even released some serving officers to participate.

The driving force of this whole adventure was Thaddeus P. Mott. Before the Civil War he had lived in Constantinople, was a favorite at the Ottoman Sultan's court, married a Turkish wife and was reportedly quite at home in the East. He went home to serve in the Civil War, rose to colonel in the Union Army, then returned to Turkey after the war. There he met the Khedive Isma‘il and soon found himself in Egyptian service in time for the grand opening of the Suez Canal. He became Khedivial chamberlain and went to the US to recruit for the Egyptian Army.

Which brings us back to Charles Pomeroy Stone. Stone had been badly treated by the Army and the political authorities, so much so that later some would refer to him as an "American Dreyfus" for his alleged culpability in the military disaster that was the Battle of Ball's Bluff, up the Potomac from Washington, on October 21, 1861.

Stone's war started well: a West Pointer and a Mexican War veteran, he was considered a favorite of General-in-Chief Winfield Scott. He famously secured the City of Washington before President Lincoln's arrival, and helped set up its defenses.

But Stone was no politician, and he fell out with two key figures from his home state: Massachusetts Governor John Andrew and Senator Charles Sumner, both Radical Republicans and abolitionists. The exact details are not so important as that he made powerful political enemies early on, but among the charges were that he returned runaway slaves in Maryland. But Maryland was a Union state which had slavery, and its law required that, as did Federal law.

In October, with George McClellan having replaced Scott, Stone was given command of a "Corps of Observation" and sent up the Potomac to observe the fords of the river. He was ordered to make a "demonstration" against Leesburg, Virginia.

Stone held a position south of Leesburg and sent half his force, under Colonel Edward Baker, to the north to make a landing and push towards Leesburg from the river. Now, Colonel Baker was also a sitting United States Senator from Oregon. (Yes, a sitting Senator was commanding an Army regiment.) But Colonel/Senator Baker had friends in high places. He'd started out as a lawyer in Springfield, Illinois, and had worked with a chap called Lincoln. Abraham Lincoln's son Eddie's full name was Edward Baker Lincoln. Is a picture starting to emerge?

Now it's important to realize that, though ultimate command was his, General Stone was not present at the Battle of Ball's Bluff. Baker was the senior officer on the scene. If you go to the Battlefield today, you will find it still fairly unspoiled (though a Leesburg subdivision is creeping closer) and what you see is this: a steep bluff over the Potomac which required men to physically haul cannon up the cliff face while making an opposed landing on a hostile shore with a river at their back. My nine-year-old daughter has commented that that makes no sense. She's quite right. One look at the position should have been enough to warn off anyone over age nine. Let's see: steep bluffs we had to climb and drag our cannons up, check; superior enemy forces to our front, check; river at our back and no retreat possible, check; let's attack.

At first things seemed to go all right, and then the Confederates noticed the Union troops were there. The Confederate commander was Nathan "Shanks" Evans, who had a reputation (whether justified or not) for sometimes going into battle drunk, but given the situation at Ball's Bluff, that was no impediment to victory.

In the heated battle that followed, the Union troops found themselves pushed off the steep bluff, some falling to the river below. It's said that for a day or two bodies were washing up on the bridges of Georgetown. During the battle, Senator Baker made his only good career move of the day: he got himself killed, heroically of course. (I'm sure the image at right is highly accurate historically.)

Now, here's a powerful Republican senator and old personal friend of Lincoln (despite his actually having beaten Lincoln for a nomination in earlier years). He has proceeded to die a martyr's death. The war was only some six months old at this point and the carnage to come was only beginning. Somebody had to take the blame.

And it wasn't going to be the ruling party's newly martyred Senator/General.

And Stone, remember, had powerful enemies. The Radical Republican-controlled Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, a Congressional watchdog, called hearings.

Ball's Bluff was a disaster, and professional officers naturally may expect a disaster on their watch, even if due to a subordinate's incomprehensible decisions, to affect their career. But Ball's Bluff didn't just tarnish Stone's career. Amid charges of suspicious links with Confederates (his wife's father had been a roommate of Jeff Davis at West Point or something like that, but of course Jefferson Davis had later been the US Secretary of War) and hints of treason, Stone was arrested and confined to prison.

That was in January of 1862. He served in various fort-prisons until August when, no charges ever having been filed against him or specified, he was released. No apologies, explanations, or charges were ever forthcoming.

Of course his military career in US service was over. So when the war ended, he was looking for a way to vindicate is reputation. And Mott showed up, recruiting for the Khedive.

Stone became Chief of Staff of the Egyptian Army in 1871 and served in that post until 1883, serving Isma‘il and, from 1879, his son and successor Tawfiq. He built up a general staff (though it drastically countered the traditional command structure of Egyptian military forces) and also participated in some campaigns.

Most of the Americans did not stay as long as Stone Pasha. Ultimately, when Colonel ‘Urabi's revolt broke out in 1882, Stone stayed with the Khedive in Alexandria though his wife and children were in Cairo.

The British intervention ended the ‘Urabi revolt, but also brought new masters to Egypt. Frustrated by the emerging British protectorate-in-all-but-name, Stone finally stepped down in 1883.

His reputation seemingly redeemed in his homeland, Stone later directed the construction of the base on which the Statue of Liberty stands in New York harbor.

Since I've shown the US and Egyptian photos of Stone above, it is perhaps appropriate to do the same for one of his Confederate analogs: General William "Old Blizzards" Loring, one of the more senior Confederates in Egyptian service (probably the most senior since he'd held Corps command in the CSA), first as a Confederate General, then as Loring Pasha, variously Inspector General of the Egyptian Infantry, chief of Coastal Defenses, and a field commander. (You may note the empty sleeve in both pictures: he lost his left arm in Mexico City in his first war. For those of you reading this outside the US or Mexico, the US-Mexican war of 1846-48 was the training ground for a lot of Civil War generals, then junior company and field officers for the most part.)

There's a fan site for Old Blizzards in fact, with the motto "Three Flags, Four Continents" (the flags are the US, the Confederacy, and Egypt, though they (correctly for the era) use the Turkish flag. I think the continents are North America, Europe, Asia and Africa).

The name "Old Blizzards" comes from the early days of the Civil War when, opposing George McClellan in what was to become West Virginia, he supposedly gave the battle cry, "Give them blizzards, boys! Give them blizzards!" (Wouldn't have worked in Egypt, I fear.)

The site says he's the only one of the Americans who actually commanded Egyptian troops, but I'm not certain about that as some of the other Americans went on Egyptian operations from Sudan to the Indian Ocean.

1 comment:

LVprosewriter said...

I'm looking for the vintage source of the pic of Stone Pasha in uniform. Didn't see credits posted so I'm "commenting" to ask. I'm a curator/researcher.

Thanks.