A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

For the 150th of Fort Sumter: The US Civil War and the Middle East: the Khedive's Yanks and Rebs

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the firing on Fort Sumter, beginning the US Civil War. Thursday will mark the 146th anniversary of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, so this week in many ways frames the four years of the US Civil War. It gives me an excuse to revisit a connection between the US Civil War and the Middle East. My Georgia great-grandfather fought for the Union and my Missouri great-great-grandfather fought for the Confederacy (as they say on Facebook, "It's complicated"), so I'll remember both by telling of the American vets who ran the Egyptian Army after the war. Yes, I can find a Middle Eastern connection to just about anything. (Royal Wedding coming up? Piece of cake. Prince William's multiple descents from the Prophet Muhammad, of course.)

Since I've told the US Civil War vets' story at length before, I'll refer you to the longer version there. To persuade you to click through, here's the short version. The Egyptian Khedive Isma‘il, builder of the Suez Canal, modernizer of Cairo, and so lavish in his spending he eventually spent Egypt into debt that led to British occupation under his successor Tawfiq, was building up the Egyptian Army at the time the US Civil War ended. He needed foreign military men, and was distrustful of the British and French, suspecting them (correctly of course) of having ambitions in Egypt, but a lot of experienced American officers were suddenly available once the war ended. It made little difference to the Khedive whether they'd worn blue or gray, so he hired veterans of both. Thus Brigadier General Charles P. Stone (left) of the Union Army became Lieutenant General Charles P. Stone (Stone Pasha), Chief of Staff of the Egyptian Army (second photo).

There's another irony in all this: though the Khedive ultimately bankrupted the country, one of the things that gave him his first burst of prosperity to embark on his great building efforts was the Union blockade of southern cotton exports during the war. As a result, Egyptian cotton suddenly surged to dominate the world market. Until, of course, 1865.

And, to balance things out after showing Stone Pasha, the second set of photos are of General Charles Loring, CSA in his Confederate uniform, and as Loring Pasha, Inspector General of the Egyptian Army (below, left); the empty left sleeve in both photos dates from his first war, in Mexico in 1846. (And the Khedivial uniform sure is fancier than the Confederate.)

In all several dozen Americans served in Egyptian service, and in its campaigns in Sudan and elsewhere, and while they mostly got on fairly well with their former enemies now in the same uniform, there was one duel between ex-Yanks and ex-Rebs fought in Alexandria, surely one of the last hostilities of the war.

For the fuller version of the tale, click the link above. As the US marks a century and a half since its great trial by fire, I thought it worth again remembering the men who also served another flag in the decades that followed. The whole adventure ended when the British moved in in 1881-82.

You'll find the longer story at the link above.

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