Category Archives: military

Taken for a Spy in Mississippi, 1863

From Three Months in the Southern States, April-June 1863, by Arthur James Lyon Fremantle (Golden Springs, 2014), Kindle pp. 105-108:

I had not proceeded far before a man with long grey hair and an enormous revolver rode up to me, and offered to carry my saddlebags. He then asked me who I was; and after I told him, he thought a few moments, and then said, “Well, sir, you must excuse me, but if you are a British officer, I can’t make out what on earth you are doing at Jackson just now.” I could not but confess that this was rather a natural idea, and that my presence in this burning town must have seemed rather odd, more especially as I was obliged to acknowledge that I was there entirely of my own free will, and for my own amusement.

Mr Smythe, for so this individual was named, then told me, that if I was really the person I represented myself, I should be well treated by all; but that if I could not prove myself to be an English officer, an event would happen which it was not difficult to foresee, and the idea caused a disagreeable sensation about the throat.

Mr Smythe then gave me to understand that I must remain a prisoner for the present. He conducted me to a room in the Bowmont House Hotel, and I found myself speedily surrounded by a group of eager and excited citizens, who had been summoned by Smythe to conduct my examination.

At first they were inclined to be disagreeable. They examined my clothes, and argued as to whether they were of English manufacture. Some, who had been in London, asked me questions about the streets of the metropolis, and about my regiment. One remarked that I was “mighty young for a lootenant-colonel.

When I suggested that they should treat me with proper respect until I was proved to be a spy, they replied that their city had been brutally pillaged by the Yankees, and that there were many suspicious characters about.

Everything now looked very threatening, and it became evident to me that nothing would relieve the minds of these men so much as a hanging match. I looked in vain for some one to take my part, and I could not even get any person to examine my papers.

At this critical juncture a new character appeared on the scene in the shape of a big heavy man who said to me, “My name is Dr Russell; I’m an Irishman, and I hate the British Government and the English nation; but if you are really an officer in the Coldstream Guards there is nothing I won’t do for you; you shall come to my house and I will protect you.”

I immediately showed Dr Russell my passport and letters of introduction to General Johnston and other Confederate officers; he pronounced them genuine, promised to stand by me, and wanted to take me away with him at once.

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Bellicose Southern Belles, 1863

From Three Months in the Southern States, April-June 1863, by Arthur James Lyon Fremantle (Golden Springs, 2014), Kindle pp. 142-144, 233-234:

We all breakfasted at Mrs ——’s. The ladies were more excited even than yesterday in their diatribes against the Yankees. … They reproved Mrs —— for having given assistance to the wounded Yankees at Wartrace last year; and a sister of Mrs ——’s, who is a very strong-minded lady, gave me a most amusing description of an interview she had had at Huntsville with the astronomer Mitchell, in his capacity of a Yankee general. It has often been remarked to me that, when this war is over, the independence of the country will be due, in a great measure, to the women; for they declare that had the women been desponding they could never have gone through with it; but, on the contrary, the women have invariably set an example to the men of patience, devotion, and determination. Naturally proud, and with an innate contempt for the Yankees, the Southern women have been rendered furious and desperate by the proceedings of Butler, Milroy, Turchin, &c. They are all prepared to undergo any hardships and misfortunes rather than submit to the rule of such people; and they use every argument which women can employ to infuse the same spirit into their male relations.

Compare the ladies of Winchester, Virginia, which changed hands several times during the war.

Before leaving Richmond, I heard every one expressing regret that Milroy should have escaped, as the recapture of Winchester seemed to be incomplete without him. More than 4000 of his men were taken in the two forts which overlook the town, and which were carried by assault by a Louisianian brigade with trifling loss. The joy of the unfortunate inhabitants may easily be conceived at this sudden and unexpected relief from their last captivity, which had lasted six months. During the whole of this time they could not legally buy an article of provisions without taking the oath of allegiance, which they magnanimously refused to do. They were unable to hear a word of their male relations or friends, who were all in the Southern army; they were shut up in their houses after 8 p.m., and sometimes deprived of light; part of our kind entertainer’s house was forcibly occupied by a vulgar, ignorant, and low-born Federal officer, ci-devant driver of a street car; and they were constantly subjected to the most humiliating insults, on pretence of searching the house for arms, documents, &c. To my surprise, however, these ladies spoke of the enemy with less violence and rancour than almost any other ladies I had met with during my travels through the whole Southern Confederacy. When I told them so, they replied that they who had seen many men shot down in the streets before their own eyes knew what they were talking about, which other and more excited Southern women did not.

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Riding a Texas Railroad, 1863

From Three Months in the Southern States, April-June 1863, by Arthur James Lyon Fremantle (Golden Springs, 2014), Kindle pp. 60-62:

30th April (Thursday).—I have to-day acquired my first experience of Texan railroads.

In this country, where every white man is as good as another (by theory), and every white female is by courtesy a lady, there is only one class. The train from Alleyton consisted of two long cars, each holding about fifty persons. Their interior is like the aisle of a church, twelve seats on either side, each for two persons. The seats are comfortably stuffed, and seemed luxurious after the stage.

Before starting, the engine gives two preliminary snorts, which, with a yell from the official of “all aboard,” warn the passengers to hold on; for they are closely followed by a tremendous jerk, which sets the cars in motion.

Every passenger is allowed to use his own discretion about breaking his arm, neck, or leg, without interference by the railway officials.

People are continually jumping on and off whilst the train is in motion, and larking from one car to the other. There is no sort of fence or other obstacle to prevent “humans” or cattle from getting on the line.

We left Alleyton at 8 a.m., and got a miserable meal at Richmond at 12.30. At this little town I was introduced to a seedy-looking man, in rusty black clothes and a broken-down “stove-pipe” hat. This was Judge Stockdale, who will probably be the next governor of Texas. He is an agreeable man, and his conversation is far superior to his clothing. The rival candidate is General Chambers (I think), who has become very popular by the following sentence in his manifesto:—”I am of opinion that married soldiers should be given the opportunity of embracing their families at least once a-year, their places in the ranks being taken by unmarried men. The population must not be allowed to suffer.”

Richmond is on the Brazos river, which is crossed in a peculiar manner. A steep inclined plane leads to a low, rickety, trestle bridge, and a similar inclined plane is cut in the opposite bank. The engine cracks on all steam, and gets sufficient impetus in going down the first incline to shoot across the bridge and up the second incline. But even in Texas this method of crossing a river is considered rather unsafe.

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A British Colonel in Matamoros, 1863

From Three Months in the Southern States, April-June 1863, by Arthur James Lyon Fremantle (Golden Springs, 2014), Kindle pp. 8-10:

Brownsville is a straggling town of about 3000 inhabitants; most of its houses are wooden ones, and its streets are long, broad, and straight. There are about 4000 troops under General Bee in its immediate vicinity. Its prosperity was much injured when Matamoros was declared a free port.

After crossing the Rio Grande, a wide dusty road, about a mile in length, leads to Matamoros, which is a Mexican city of about 9000 inhabitants. Its houses are not much better than those at Brownsville, and they bear many marks of the numerous revolutions which are continually taking place there. Even the British Consulate is riddled with the bullets fired in 1861-2.

The Mexicans look very much like their Indian forefathers, their faces being extremely dark, and their hair black and straight. They wear hats with the most enormous brims, and delight in covering their jackets and leather breeches with embroidery.

Some of the women are rather good-looking, but they plaster their heads with grease, and paint their faces too much. Their dress is rather like the Andalucian. When I went to the cathedral, I found it crammed with kneeling women; an effigy of our Saviour was being taken down from the cross and put into a golden coffin, the priest haranguing all the time about His sufferings, and all the women howling most dismally as if they were being beaten.

Matamoros … suffers much from drought, and there had been no rain to speak of for eleven months.

I am told that it is a common thing in Mexico for the diligence to arrive at its destination with the blinds down. This is a sure sign that the travellers, both male and female, have been stripped by robbers nearly to the skin. A certain quantity of clothing is then, as a matter of course, thrown in at the window, to enable them to descend. Mr Behnsen and Mr Maloney told me they had seen this happen several times; and Mr Oetling declared that he himself, with three ladies, arrived at the city of Mexico in this predicament.

4th April (Saturday).—I crossed the river at 9 a.m., and got a carriage at the Mexican side to take my baggage and myself to the Consulate at Matamoros. The driver ill-treated his half-starved animals most cruelly. The Mexicans are even worse than the Spaniards in this respect.

I called on Mr Oetling, the Prussian Consul, who is one of the richest and most prosperous merchants in Matamoros, and a very nice fellow.

After dinner we went to a fandango, or open-air fête. About 1500 people were gambling, and dancing bad imitations of European dances.

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1857: Uprising as Class Warfare

From The Last Mughal, by William Dalrymple (Knopf Doubleday, 2006), Kindle pp. 154-155:

Whatever its causes, the response to the Uprising fractured along distinct class lines. From the morning of 11 May onwards, the most enthusiastic insurgents among the people of Delhi were the workmen of the lower middle class—especially the Muslim weavers and textile merchants—and the same Punjabi Muslim manufacturing and merchant class who had long supported the mujahedin movement. It was these people who immediately swelled the ranks of the initially very small number of sepoys who had arrived in the Mughal capital, creating a panic and allowing many of the poorer Delhiwallahs to set off on an orgy of looting.

In contrast, the Delhi elite, both Hindu and Muslim, remained divided on the merits of joining the Uprising, and were from the start dubious about playing host to large numbers of desperate and violent sepoys from the east of Hindustan. According to one angry eyewitness, the nobleman Abdul Latif: “The teachings of all religions were ignored and violated; even the poor women and children were not spared. The elite and the respected gentry of the city were appalled at the actions [of the insurgents] and were seen pleading with them. Ah! An entire world was destroyed, and as a result of these sins this city was struck down by the evil-eye.” Ghalib was also quite clear that he didn’t like the look of what was happening: “Swarming through the open gates of Delhi, the intoxicated horsemen and rough foot soldiers ravished the city,” he wrote. …

For Ghalib, the Uprising was more about the rise of the rabble of the lower classes than it was about the fall of the British. For him the most terrifying aspect of the revolution was the way his own courtly elite seemed to have lost control to a group of ill-educated ruffians of dubious ancestry: “Noble men and great scholars have fallen from power,” he wrote,

and nameless men with neither name nor pedigree nor jewels nor gold, now have prestige and unlimited riches. One who wandered dust-stained through the streets as if blown by an idle wind, has proclaimed the wind his slave … In its shamelessness the rabble, sword in hand, rallied to one group after another. Throughout the day the rebels looted the city, and at night they slept in silken beds … The city of Delhi was emptied of its rulers and peopled instead by creatures of the Lord who accepted no lord—as if it were a garden without a gardener, and full of fruitless trees … The Emperor was powerless to repulse them; their forces gathered around him, and he fell under their duress, engulfed by them as the moon is engulfed by the eclipse.

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India Becomes a Mission Field, 1850s

From The Last Mughal, by William Dalrymple (Knopf Doubleday, 2006), Kindle pp. 61-62, 70:

India in the 1840s and 1850s was slowly filling with pious British Evangelicals who wanted not just to rule and administer India, but also to redeem and improve it. In Calcutta Jennings’ colleague Mr. Edmunds was vocal in making known his belief that the Company should use its position more forcibly to bring about the conversion of India. “The time appears to have come,” he wrote in a widely read circular letter, “when earnest consideration should be given to the subject, whether or not all men should embrace the same system of religion. Railways, steam vessels and the electric telegraph are rapidly uniting all the nations of the earth … The land is being leavened and Hinduism is being everywhere undermined. Great will some day, in God’s appointed time, be the fall of it.”

Nor was it any longer just the missionaries who dreamt of converting India. To the north-west of Delhi, the Commissioner of Peshawar, Herbert Edwardes, firmly believed an empire had been given to Britain because of the virtues of English Protestantism: “The Giver of Empires is indeed God,” he wrote, and He gave the Empire to Britain because “England had made the greatest effort to preserve the Christian religion in its purest apostolic form.” It followed that the more the British strove to propagate that pure faith, the more Providence would smile on their efforts at empire building. In this spirit, the district judge of Fatehpur, Robert Tucker, had recently set up large stone columns inscribed with the Ten Commandments in Persian, Urdu, Hindi and English and used “two or three times a week to read the Bible in Hindoostanee to large numbers of natives who were assembled in the compound to hear him.”

Such Evangelical enthusiasms had even spread to the British Army in India. According to one trooper of the Dragoon Guards, “a religious mania sprang up and reigned supreme … the adjutant and sergeant major having become quite sanctimonious, attending religious meetings every morning.” It became a watchword in such regiments that “no soldiers ever show themselves more invincible than those who can pray as well as fight.” It was a similar case in the Company’s own army, where officers like Colonel Steven Wheler, commanding officer of the 34th Native Infantry, were in the habit of reading the Bible to his sepoys as well as proselytising to “natives of all classes … in the highways, cities, bazaars and villages … [hoping that] the Lord would make him the happy instrument of converting his neighbour to God or, in other words, of rescuing him from eternal damnation.”

THE NEW ATTITUDES of the Evangelicals were only part of a more widespread and visibly growing arrogance on the part of the increasingly powerful British. Since they had finally succeeded in conquering and subduing the Sikhs in 1849, the British at last found themselves the masters of South Asia: every single one of their military rivals had now been conquered—Siraj ud-Daula of Bengal in 1757, the French in 1761, Tipu Sultan of Mysore in 1799, and the Marathas in 1803 and again, finally, in 1819.

For the first time there was a feeling that technologically, economically and politically, as well as culturally, the British had nothing to learn from India and much to teach; it did not take long for imperial arrogance to set in. This arrogance, when combined with the rise of Evangelical Christianity, slowly came to affect all aspects of relations between the British and the Indians.

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1857: The Sepoy Jihad

From The Last Mughal, by William Dalrymple (Knopf Doubleday, 2006), Kindle pp. 22-23:

For many the appeal of the Mughal Emperor was as much religious as political. As far as the Indian participants were concerned, the Uprising was overwhelmingly expressed as a war of religion, and looked upon as a defensive action against the rapid inroads missionaries and Christianity were making in India, as well as a more generalised fight for freedom from foreign domination. The Great Mutiny has usually been presented by the Marxist historians of the 1960s and 1970s primarily as a rising against British social and economic policies, as both urban revolution and a peasants’ revolt sparked off by loss of land rights and employment opportunities as much as anything else. All this certainly played a part. Yet when the Indian participants of the Uprising articulate the reason for their revolt—as they do with great frequency and at some length in the Mutiny Papers—they invariably state that they were above all resisting a move by the Company to impose Christianity and Christian laws on India—something many Evangelical Englishmen were indeed contemplating.

As the sepoys told Zafar on 11 May 1857, “we have joined hands to protect our religion and our faith.” Later they stood in the Chandni Chowk, the main street of Delhi, and asked people: “Brothers: are you with those of the faith?” British men and women who had converted to Islam—and there were a surprising number of those in Delhi—were not hurt; but Indians who had converted to Christianity were cut down immediately. As late as 6 September, when calling the people of Delhi to rally against the coming assault by the British, a proclamation issued in the name of Zafar spelled out very plainly “that this is a religious war, and is being prosecuted on account of the faith, and it behoves all Hindus and Musalman residents of the imperial city, or of the villages in the country…to continue true to their faith and creeds.” Even if one accepts that the word “religion” (for Muslims din) is often being used in the very general and non-sectarian sense of dharma (or duty, righteousness)—so that when the sepoys say they are rising to defend their dharma, they mean as much their way of life as their sectarian religious identity—it is still highly significant that the Urdu sources usually refer to the British not as angrez (the English) or as goras (whites) or even firangis, but instead almost always as kafirs (infidels) and nasrani (Christians).

Although the great majority of the sepoys were Hindus, in Delhi a flag of jihad was raised in the principal mosque, and many of the insurgents described themselves as mujahedin, ghazis and jihadis. Indeed, by the end of the siege, after a significant proportion of the sepoys had melted away, unpaid, hungry and dispirited, the proportion of jihadis in Delhi grew to be about a quarter of the total fighting force, and included a regiment of “suicide ghazis” from Gwalior who had vowed never to eat again and to fight until they met death at the hands of the kafirs, “for those who have come to die have no need for food.” One of the causes of unrest, according to one Delhi source, was that “the British had closed the madrasas.” These were words that had no resonance to the historians of the 1960s. Now, sadly, in the aftermath of 9/11 and 7/7, they are phrases we understand all too well, and words like jihad scream out of the dusty pages of the source manuscripts, demanding attention.

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