Tinclads, Timberclads and Cottonclads: Naval Innovation in the US Civil War

Andrew McGregor

A Lecture Delivered to the Civil War Roundtable, Royal Canadian Military Institute, Toronto, February 5, 2020


Though Civil War battlefield tactics had difficulty in shaking off the influence  of the Napoleonic wars, rapid change and innovation were hallmarks of the naval part of the Civil War from the beginning. The wooden sailing ships armed with smoothbore, muzzle-loading guns were soon replaced by iron ships powered by steam engines and armed with rifled, breech-loading guns. This process was far from smooth, however, and expediency and necessity fuelled innovation as much as improved technology. While the ironclads were the war’s greatest contribution to naval architecture, their lesser-known cousins, the shallow-draft tinclads, timberclads and cottonclads, performed vital service for both sides.

These ships fought on an enormous maritime front, including the Gulf of Mexico and 700 miles of the Mississippi River as well as its great tributaries, most notably the Tennessee River, the Red River and the Yazoo River. Seizing control of the Mississippi’s southern reaches was part of the Union’s grand plan to strangle the Confederacy through a coastal blockade and a two-pronged takeover of the Mississippi that would split the south and diminish its ability to wage war. The plan was fine, but the north had no ships for an offensive river campaign and the south had none to mount a defense. The construction of naval ships for river work began quickly on both sides, though both parties found it quicker to use existing ships modified for naval work. The variety of these existing ships led to an intense period of experimentation and innovation in an effort to gain the upper hand, reviving ancient tactics and producing the poor cousins of the famous ironclads, the less well-known tinclads, timberclads and cottonclads that fought just as hard.

The Timberclads

Though the Union’s naval efforts on the Mississippi first came under control of the US Army, certain officers were released by the navy to assist in the formation and command of the river fleet. Work began on the construction of ironclads, but in the meantime three sidewheel steamers, the Lexington, the Tyler and the Conestoga, were purchased for conversion into naval ships.

The USS Lexington

With high sides that invited enemy fire and engines above the water-line that could easily be put out of action, the three steamers were manifestly unfit for combat. Their conversion into battle-ready craft was put in the hands of naval architect Samuel Pook, who lowered the engines, reinforced the hulls and reduced the height of the superstructure. Decorative trim was removed and the glass pilot houses were replaced with stronger wooden structures. The urgent need for river-going warships could not be filled through the slow and still experimental construction of ironclads, so the steamers were fitted with the five-inch thick oak beams that gave the ships their name – timberclads. This wooden armor was capable of defending against small-arms fire, but was largely ineffective against shot and shell. The work, carried out in Cincinnati, was judged to be of low quality and the conversions were plagued by the usual demands by local businessmen for lucrative government contracts.

Nonetheless, the timberclads went into service at Cairo (Care-O), Illinois, in August 1861 with naval crews under army command.

From the beginning, the Tyler and Lexington usually worked in tandem. The Tyler carried one 32-pounder smoothbore and six 8-inch smoothbore guns, while the Lexington carried two 32-pounder smoothbores and four 8-inch smoothbores. The Conestoga, the weakest of the three, carried four 32-pounder smoothbores. (For those unfamiliar with naval gunnery, the weights refer to the size of the shot, measured by weight or circumference, rather than the size of the gun).

The armament of the Tyler and Lexington was improved in late 1862, when they were issued with 30-pounder rifled guns well suited for work against riverside defensive works. This was the timberclads’ primary role, and they played an important part in forcing the surrender of Forts Henry and Donelson on the Tennessee River.

During the Battle of Shiloh (April 6-7 1862), the Confederates attempted to anchor their right flank on the Mississippi and drive the Union forces into the river. The timely arrival of the Tyler and the Lexington at Pittsburg Landing prevented this deployment. The timberclads then supported a general advance with their guns. Grant later acknowledged the important role played by the ships in preventing a disastrous Federal defeat. In February 1863, the Lexington again saved the day when it arrived at Fort Donelson just as the defenders had run out of ammunition, preventing the Confederates from recapturing the fort.

Confederate Cottonclads

With warehouses full of cotton that could not be brought to market, the Confederates found a novel use for it as armor for its converted steamers. Cottonclad CSS Stonewall Jackson

The cottonclads’ boilers and engines were protected by 500 lb bales of compressed cotton. Sometimes the bales were sandwiched by double pine bulkheads. Many of the rams were converted wooden tugboats or towboats, preferred for their strong “walking-beam” steam engines.

Eventually the Union would also adopt cotton as a cheap and quick means of providing some protection to the crews of its river steamers.

Though the war brought an end to most commercial river traffic, experienced rivermen were hard to find for both sides, many of them having enlisted in the armies. The Union’s War Department began to transfer these men to their river craft, along with a transfer of naval officers to army command. Discipline and efficiency began to improve once the ships were transferred to navy command in 1862. The Confederates had greater difficulty – requests for the return of rivermen from the army to the river craft were frequently met with transfers of the infirm, incapable and incompetent instead. River pilots were in high demand and both sides made a practice of offering captured pilots financial incentives to change sides.

Battle of New Orleans, April 24, 1862

Confederate control of the Mississippi rested on two bastions, New Orleans and its outer defense works in the south, and Forts Donelson and Henry in the north.

The LSNS Governor Moore Fires through its Own Bow to Sink the USS Varuna

The small Confederate river fleet that met Commodore Farragut’s squadron south of New Orleans on April 24, 1862 consisted of two gunboats and two ironclads under the command of the Confederate Navy, six lightly armed cottonclads and rams under the command of the Confederate Army, as well as two sidewheel cottonclad rams, the Governor Moore and the General Quitman, that were part of the Louisiana State Navy. The Governor Moore was commanded by Captain Beverley Kennon, whom some of you might remember from one of my earlier talks as the designer of Alexandria’s defenses while attached to the Egyptian Army after the Civil War. During the battle, the Union gunboat Varuna was rammed on the starboard side by Captain Kennon’s Governor Moore. With the two ships locked together, Kennon discovered the Governor Moore’s bow gun could not be sufficiently depressed to fire on the Varuna, so he ordered the gun to fire twice through his own ship’s bow into the Varuna. Kennon freed his ship and again rammed the Varuna in nearly the same spot. The Confederate ram Stonewall Jackson rammed the Varuna once more to polish her off. The Federal fleet then concentrated its fire on the Governor Moore, sending it to the bottom of the river.

The defeat of the Confederate fleet sealed the fate of New Orleans, the largest city in the Confederacy, which surrendered to Farragut days later.

The Ellet Rams

Colonel Charles Ellet Jr. was one of the most forceful proponents of reviving the ram as a naval weapon. Ellet published a pamphlet advocating the use of rams in 1855, but the US Navy took no interest. The ram had been the centerpiece of naval tactics in the ancient world for centuries, but was reliant on the ability of the galleys that carried it to reverse direction by its oars to pull the ram back from a punctured ship and prevent the attacking vessel from being drawn down into the deep along with its victim. As galleys were gradually replaced with sailing ships that were less maneuverable in tight quarters and the introduction of gunpowder enabled ships to sink each other at a distance, the ram fell out of use, seemingly forever. The introduction of steam, however, with engines capable of running in reverse, had made the ram a viable weapon once more, especially for close-quarters action of the type that could be expected in river warfare. Both the Federals and Confederates would adopt the ram as the primary weapon on many of their river gunboats.

The Ellet Rams

In 1862, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton gave Ellet the task of creating a ram flotilla consisting of seven converted sidewheelers and sternwheelers. The ram bows were built of 5 inches of oak encased in iron but retained their original shape rather than the projecting “beak” typical of the ancient rams. These lightly armed ships, with reinforced hulls to withstand the force of a collision, were intended to serve alongside the timberclads on the rivers. Rams could be dangerous even to their own side; accidental collisions involving a ram usually ended with the sinking of the ship that was struck. The regular navy was unimpressed by Ellet’s designs, deeming them unsuitable for combat.

Ellet was allowed to choose the commanders of his new rams. Nepotism was his guiding light in these choices, as he chose brothers, nephews and even his own 19-year-old son Charles Rivers Ellet as commanders.

Battle of Plum Point Bend, May 10, 1862

The Confederate River Defense Fleet ran into the Union’s Mississippi River Squadron four miles north of Fort Pillow, Tennessee on May 10, 1862. The place was known as Plum Point Bend. The Confederate fleet attacked Union ironclads of the Mississippi River Squadron during a thick morning fog. The General Bragg slowed the Federal ironclad Cincinnati by ramming it, allowing the General Sterling Price to ram the ironclad’s stern, completely disabling it. The Sterling Price was badly damaged in the engagement, but was quickly repaired in time for the later Battle of Memphis.

Though the Union squadron consisted mostly of ironclads assigned to protect mortar boats bombing Fort Pillow, the Confederate cottonclads won the day with their surprise attack, ramming and sinking two Federal ironclads, the Cincinnati and the Mound City.

Battle of Memphis, June 6 1862

The Confederate River Defense Fleet consisted of 8 cottonclad sidewheel rams converted under the direction of Colonel WS Lovell. The fleet was run by the War Department rather than the navy and was charged with the defense of the upper reaches of the Mississippi.

Battle of Memphis

Though faster than the Union ironclads, the cottonclads were no match in battle. All the ships of the River Defense Fleet were sunk, burned, captured or run aground in the battle, which was watched by thousands from the river bluffs.

The battle began as Ellet’s flagship, the USS Queen of the West rammed the CSS Colonel Lovell, splitting her in two. Before the Queen could pull back, she was in turn rammed by the CSS Sumter. There was little in the way of strategy in the battle as it quickly descended into a chaotic brawl.

CSS General Sterling Price

The General Price and General Beauregard both attacked the USS Monarch, but collided with each other, leaving both as helpless targets for federal rams. The General Beauregard received a shot to her boiler from the Monarch, scalding to death most of its crew, save for 14 terribly burned men who were rescued by the Monarch. Colonel Ellet, who commanded the Union fleet, was wounded in the battle and died 15 days later. The General Price, the best armed of the Confederate rams, sank after colliding with the USS Queen of the West. After the battle, the ram was raised and repaired before entering Union service. The ship joined Admiral Porter’s ironclads in running the blockade off Vicksburg on April 16, 1863, an important step in the fall of the city. The General Price took part in the Red River Campaign, but in March 1864 it accidentally rammed the USS Conestoga and sank her.

One of the ships that had helped sink the ironclad Cincinnati at Plum Point Bend was the CSS General Bragg, named for Confederate General Braxton Bragg. The ship was badly damaged in the battle, but repaired in time to take part in the Battle of Memphis. The General Bragg ran aground during the battle and was captured by Federal troops. After repairs, the ship was brought into Union service as the USS General Bragg. She spent 15 months patrolling the Mississippi, but was disabled by a Confederate battery in Louisiana in June 1864.

The Tinclads

After the Battle of Memphis, the Union had little use for its rams, which were designed almost exclusively for offensive naval actions. Shallow draft river steamers were now armed and altered by the addition of a thin belt of metal armor. Commonly known as “tinclads,” these steamers became the workhorse of Federal “brownwater” naval operations.

Sidewheel Tinclad USS Black Hawk

While the rams were built to engage Confederate ships, the Union purchased dozens of sidewheel and sternwheel flat-bottomed steamers for other duties on the rivers, such as patrols, fire support and transport escort. In their conversion to military service, the steamers were equipped with a light iron sheeting up to an inch thick capable of repelling small arms fire. Tin was not actually used – the term “tinclad” was only meant to distinguish these steamers from the heavier and more formidable ironclads. The flagship of the 69-ship fleet of tinclads, as they came to be called, was the USS Black Hawk, a former ocean-going luxury passenger steamer named New Uncle Sam.  The most powerful of the tinclads was the USS Ouachita, a captured Confederate steamer that was armed with five 30-pounder Parrot rifles, eighteen 24-pounder smoothbores and fifteen 12-pounder smoothbores. Though the tinclads were typically slow, they carried between four to eight guns and performed valuable work that ships with a deeper draft could never accomplish.

With their light armor providing some protection from small arms fire, the tinclads carried out patrols, guarded river crossings, carried dispatches, cleared mines, provided fire support to land operations, escorted transports, shipped prisoners, towed ironclads and skirmished with Confederate guerrillas. It is difficult to imagine Federal success in the Western theater without the contribution of these converted river steamers.

Yazoo River Expedition to Vicksburg

Frustrated in their attempts to take the city of Vicksburg from the Confederates, Union commanders devised a plan to flank the city’s riverside defenses by sending a naval expedition through the backwaters and bayous of the Mississippi Delta to reach the Yazoo River and eventually Vicksburg.

The flagship of the expedition was the USS Rattler, a tinclad sternwheeler that had played an important part in the capture of Fort Hindman from the Confederates and the capture of its 6500 man garrison.

However, the going was extremely tough for the five tinclads, two ironclads and transport steamers of the expedition carrying 6,000 troops. Shallow water, felled trees, overhanging limbs and driftwood slowed the expedition’s progress, while exhausted men complained of having to “dig the gunboats out of the woods.” The slow pace permitted Confederate General Pemberton to build a rudimentary fort in their path. As the narrow channel prevented the gunboats from deploying anything more than the bow gun of its lead ship, the expedition was finally called off. The Rattler was driven aground by a storm in 1864, where its guns were salvaged before Confederates burned it.

Indianola vs. Queen of the West, February 24, 1863

The CSS Queen of the West Attacks the USS Indianola on the Red River (Tom W. Freeman)

While patrolling the Mississippi near Vicksburg, the Federal ironclad Indianola encountered a Confederate flotilla consisting of the newly captured Queen of the West, the Webb and two smaller cottonclads carrying troops for boarding operations. The Webb and the Queen of the West rammed the Indianola seven times, forcing her to run aground, partly sunk. The crew surrendered and the Confederates began planning to raise and repair the ship. Admiral David Porter, in command of the Union’s Mississippi fleet, described her loss as “the most humiliating affair that has occurred during this rebellion.”

However, it was now the Confederates’ turn to experience a little humiliation. Federal troops quickly assembled a fake ironclad, a 300-foot long hollow wooden vessel with logs for guns and smudge pots to generate smoke from its fake stacks. Flying a skull and crossbones flag at its bow and the message “Deluded Rebels, Give In,” the imposter was carried by the current past the guns of Vicksburg, which made a furious attempt to sink the intruder. Confederate vessels on the river turned away rather than confront this new and apparently powerful ironclad, abandoning the salvage crew working on the Indianola. Panicked, the salvage crew spiked the Indianola’s guns and blew her up before fleeing. Without firing a shot, the great hoax deprived the Confederates of a potent addition to their river fleet.

Battle of Galveston

In the early morning of January 1, 1863, Confederate forces under General John B. Magruder launched an attack intended to retake the city of Galveston from Union forces. Off Galveston a small fleet of six federal ships lay at anchor, with only one, the USS Westfield, ready to sail, though it quickly ran aground. Confederate troops retook the forts and turned the guns on the Federal ships, while infantry attempted to board them.  Battle of Galveston

Two Confederate ships arrived, the armed tugboat Neptune and the Confederate Army cottonclad Bayou City. The two engaged with the largest of the Federal ships, the Harriet Lane, using their rams and guns. The Neptune was sunk, but the Bayou City continued its attack. Badly damaged, the Harriet Lane was boarded after its commander was killed and its second in command mortally wounded. The latter Union officer was discovered by his father, Confederate Major Albert M. Lea. Also found on the ship was the U.S. signal code book, a valuable acquisition.

With the battle going badly, the remaining Union ships fled to New Orleans, while the still-grounded flagship Westfield was blown up to prevent its capture. Even that went badly, as the Union fleet commander and part of his crew were killed when the charges went off prematurely. The departure of the Federal fleet was taken as a sign by Federal troops still ashore to surrender. The Confederate triumph in the six hour battle left Galveston in Southern hands until the end of the war.

Red River Campaign

The naval war on the Mississippi was pretty much finished in July 1863 but continued to the end of the war on the rivers that fed it.

One of the war’s most poorly conducted campaigns was the Federal Red River campaign of March 1864. While the official aim was to extinguish resistance in Louisiana and Texas, Admiral David Porter, who conducted naval operations on the river, later described it as “a big cotton raid” meant to seize some 100,000 bales of cotton from the Confederates. Some 90 Federal ships joined the expedition, the largest fleet ever assembled in North America at that point.

The plan was to send Union gunboats 350 miles up the river to Shreveport, with Federal troops led by Nathaniel Banks marching on land parallel to the fleet. Banks was a political general with no military experience – Porter was under the impression General Sherman would lead the land forces when he agreed to the campaign. Porter had little faith in Banks, who had already suggested he might abandon the fleet if he ran into trouble.

Launched on March 10, 1864, the campaign went well enough at first with the rebels pulling back ahead of the Union forces. The army reached the city of Alexandria eight days later, but without their commander. Banks arrived a week later on a ship full of cotton speculators with political connections in Washington. Porter was outraged.

However, the Union troops became confused in unfamiliar terrain, not even discovering the road that ran alongside the river. Confederates burned the cotton rather than allow it to fall into Federal hands, and started to mount successful counter-attacks.

Ironclad USS Eastport

Thirty miles from Shreveport, the tinclad fleet encountered a large steamboat blocking the river. It was as far as they would get, with Federal troops now fleeing back to their starting point in Alexandria. Rebel artillery and marksmen were able to deploy on the banks without opposition, keeping the tinclads under constant fire. To make matters worse, the river, which should have been rising at that time of year, was falling instead. The ships began to snag or run aground, requiring men to perform the hard labor of freeing them while under murderous fire. The strongest ship in the fleet, the USS Eastport, a former Confederate steamer captured by the Union and converted to an ironclad, struck a mine and had to be blown up to prevent its capture. Another steamer carrying slaves taken from plantations had a shell pierce her boiler, killing over 100 right away. 83 others were scalded so badly most of them died. The nightmare threatened to turn worse as it became apparent the fleet would be unable to cross the rapids at Alexandria due to low water. It looked like ships worth a total of $2 million would have to be abandoned and destroyed.

The USS Lexington Crosses the Dam and Rapids at Alexandria, Louisiana

At this point, a Wisconsin engineer, Colonel Joseph Bailey, employed thousands of men, many of them timbermen from Wisconsin and Maine, to work on a massive dam across the 758-foot wide river, using lumber, bricks and even the machinery from a demolished sugar mill. After ten days, the water had risen high enough to allow four ships to shoot the rapids, but others could not make it. Another three days of dam construction finally allowed the rest of the fleet to escape total destruction. It was a brilliant piece of engineering in the midst of an otherwise disastrous campaign that cost more than 5000 Federal lives.

Nonetheless, the campaign was judged a disaster. Porter declared he never wished to command a river fleet again and was transferred to the Atlantic blockade. The ambitious Banks lost any hope of running for the presidency and spent the rest of the war testifying about his own incompetence in front of Congress.

Final Run of the CSS William Webb

For the last major Confederate naval action on the Mississippi, a wooden sidewheeler privateer converted to a cottonclad ram by Colonel Lovell was armed with a bronze 130-pounder James rifle on its forecastle and two 12-pounder howitzers. The James rifle was the largest used on any of the river warships, weighing 14,896 pounds.

Lieutenant Charles “Savvy” Read, CSN

Taking command of the CSS William Webb was Lieutenant Charles “Savvy” Read, one of the naval war’s most outstanding characters. Bold and fearless, Read had graduated from the US Naval Academy only a year before the war broke out. Read served as an officer on Confederate commerce raiders such as the CSS MacRae and the CSS Florida, as well as serving on the Confederate ironclad Arkansas when it made its dramatic passage through the Union fleet on the Mississippi. Given command of one of the Florida’s prizes, Read raided the Atlantic coast, capturing or destroying 22 ships. Finally captured off Maine, he served time as a prisoner before being freed in an exchange. He then commanded several torpedo boats in the James River before taking command of the Webb in Shreveport.

On April 23, 1865, the Webb began a southwards dash from Shreveport, down the Red River to the Mississippi, where it broke through the blockade of the Red River. The Webb now made a run for the Gulf, with the intention of steaming out to the Pacific to raid Federal shipping there. Evading all kinds of Union warships, the Webb made it past New Orleans but was brought up short by the USS Richmond, a powerful steam sloop. Recognizing the stronger Richmond would easily destroy the Webb and her crew, Read ran the Webb aground and set her on fire. It was the last significant naval action of the war on the Mississippi and her tributaries.


With the war finally over in the spring of 1865, nearly all the converted river steamers were sold for scrap or returned to commercial use. The United States would never again fight a war on its rivers.

Ram warfare continued for some time, being an important part of naval architecture until the end of the 19th century, when it was finally realized by all that powerful new guns would fight naval battles at a distance. Several terrible accidents involving rams and other warships, and even a collision with a passenger ship that took over 500 lives, effectively put an end to the naval ram as an instrument of war.

In conclusion then, we can say that there were more dramatic and romantic parts of the naval Civil War that inspired songs, paintings and poetry, episodes such as the global cruises of the Confederate commerce raiders, the battle between the Alabama and the Kearsage or the ground-breaking battle between the Virginia and the Monitor at Hampton Roads. Nonetheless, the hard and often relentless fighting done by these often ungainly, unsightly and quickly improvised Union steamships in the war’s Western theater played just as important a part in the war’s conclusion as the better known Union blockade by helping to split the Confederacy in two.


Coffey, Walter: “Confederates Confront the Indianola,” February 1, 2018, https://civilwarmonths.com/tag/c-s-s-william-h-webb/

Frazier, Donald S.: Cottonclads!: The Battle of Galveston and the Defense of the Texas Coast (Civil War Campaigns and Commanders Series), State House Press, Abilene, Texas, 1998

Joiner, Gary: One Damn Blunder from Beginning to End: The Red River Campaign of 1864, Scholarly Resources, 2003

Konstam, Angus: Mississippi River Gunboats of the American Civil War, 1861-65, Osprey Publishing, Oxford, 2002

McPherson, James M.: War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865, University of North Carolina Press, 2012

Miller, Francis Trevelyan: The Navies: The Photographic History of the Civil War, Castle Books, New York, 1957

Smith, Myron J. Jr.: The Timberclads in the Civil War: The Lexington, Conestoga and Tyler on the Western Waters, McFarland & Company, Jefferson NC, 2008

Smith, Myron J. Jr.: Tinclads in the Civil War: Union Light-Draught Gunboat Operations on Western Waters, 1862-1865, McFarland & Company, Jefferson NC, 2010

Van Doren Stern, Philip: The Confederate Navy: A Pictorial History, Bonanza Books, New York, 1962

Wideman, John C.: Naval Warfare: Courage and Combat on the Water, Civil War Chronicles, MetroBooks, New York, 1997

The Terrible Tale of Bloody Bill Anderson: Rebellion and Revenge on the Missouri Frontier

Andrew McGregor

A Talk given to the Civil War Roundtable, Royal Canadian Military Institute, Toronto on April 3, 2019.

Part One

William “Bloody Bill” Anderson

A low level conflict had already been raging in the Missouri-Kansas borderlands in the years preceding the outbreak of the Civil War. Fuelling this conflict was a dispute over whether Kansas should be a slave-holding state or not. By the time the war started, Missouri’s pro-rebel guerrillas were known as “Bushwackers,” while their pro-Federal counterparts in Kansas were known as “Jayhawkers” or “Redlegs” from their preference for red pants as a type of uniform. The Jayhawkers typically had access to Union arms and supplies while the guerrillas depended on foraging and the support of pro-secession families.

Early Anderson

Bill Anderson arrived in Kansas as a child in 1857 along with his Southern parents, two brothers and three sisters. When the war started, the 21-year-old Bill appeared to be running a business in stolen horses with his younger brother Jim. Soon Bill was mounting small raids into Missouri, though his devotion to the Confederate cause was questionable – he told a friend he was trying to recruit that he didn’t care anything about the South, but there was good money in bushwacking.

In May 1862, Bill and Jim took revenge on a man named Baxter who had killed their father in a dispute. Both Baxter and his 16-year-old brother-in-law were wounded by the Andersons, who then locked them in the cellar of their house and set it on fire. Baxter shot himself in the head to escape death in the flames, and the boy escaped through a window but soon died from his terrible injuries. It was the first public sign of the combination of vicious anger and callous regard for life that would characterize his short career as a guerrilla leader.

The War Begins

While it is possible that at least half the Missouri population were against secession, repressive measures by out-of-state Union forces turned many into reluctant supporters of the Southern cause. The activities of the Jayhawkers were even more counter-productive – Union General Henry Halleck complained that their outrages had done as much for the enemy in Missouri as could be done by 20,000 Confederate troops.

Senator Jim Lane

Senator Jim Lane, for example, led his Jayhawkers into Missouri in September 1861. There they burned down the entire town of Osceola and executed nine male civilians. Lane became known as the “Grim Chieftain.”

Halleck issued an order in March 1862 that declared the Confederate guerrillas to be outlaws subject to summary execution. The guerrillas responded with a policy of no quarter, and black flags began to appear in the rebel ranks. A further order forcing the conscription of all able-bodied men into Union militias convinced many young men in Missouri to join the guerrillas instead. Still, some 52,000 recruits of questionable value and loyalties were impressed into the Union ranks.

Both Confederate president Jefferson Davis and his Secretary of War Judah Benjamin were opposed to the existence of guerrilla bands outside government control, but with ever larger parts of the Confederacy passing beyond the control of regular forces, the guerrillas presented a lone if distasteful alternative.

Pea Ridge

After some initial Confederate victories in Missouri, Confederate forces under General Earl Van Dorn were defeated at the two-day Battle of Pea Ridge. The rebel army was driven south into Arkansas and would not return to Missouri for over two years. This left the field open to independent guerrilla commanders who took little if any direction from Confederate authorities.


In the Fall of 1862, Bill and Jim ran afoul of guerrilla leader William Quantrill, who took their horses as punishment for robbing Southern sympathizers as well as pro-Unionists. In May 1863 the brothers discovered their family home was nothing more than charred ruins, courtesy of the Kansas Jayhawkers.

Anderson joined Quantrill’s guerrillas. A school teacher from Ohio, Quantrill became one of the most notorious figures of the US Civil War. Beginning with a small group of men fighting the pre-war Kansas Jayhawkers, Quantrill eventually came to lead hundreds of guerrillas. Though it is a matter of some dispute, Quantrill may have held a Confederate commission as a captain of partisan rangers. His guerrillas certainly did not operate in the same way as the commands of partisan rangers such as John Singleton Mosby and John Hunt Morgan, which were much more tightly integrated with the CSA.

In late 1862, the Union ordered the imprisonment of all women known to be related to the guerrillas. Bill’s 16, 14, and 12-year-old sisters were imprisoned upstairs in a 3-storey building in Kansas City. After Union troops removed the supports for the building’s central girder on the main floor, leading to the building’s collapse and the death of four women, including one of Anderson’s sisters. His other two sisters suffered crippling injuries and disfigurement.

Quantrill’s outraged band blamed the federal troops. Anderson was beside himself with anger and now became dedicated to a single purpose; the killing of as many Union soldiers as possible. If this could be done while inflicting fear and pain, all the better. The aims and reputation of the Confederacy would henceforth play little if any role in determining his strategy and tactics.

John Noland, Quantrill’s Chief Scout

Quantrill and his followers decided that revenge would be had for the girls’ deaths, and the location would be the Kansas town of Lawrence, an abolitionist hotbed and home to Jayhawker Senator James Lane, who had led the raid on Osceola. A reconnaissance of the town was done by John Noland, a black Confederate and one of Quantrill’s most trusted scouts. Noland was one of five known Black Americans who rode with the Missouri bushwackers.

The guerrillas rode into Lawrence on August 21, 1863, shouting “Remember Osceola.” Over 200 civilian men and boys were killed in four hours. Anderson was seen coolly killing fourteen men even as they begged for mercy. “I’m here for revenge,” said Anderson, “and I have got it.”

The Union responded to the Lawrence massacre by driving away the population of three Missouri counties and allowing Jennison’s Redlegs to torch everything left.

Lieutenants and Allies of Bloody Bill

By July 1863 Anderson had entered the historical record of the war as commander of a group of 30 to 40 guerrillas. Let’s have a look at some of his allies and lieutenants, keeping in mind the very fluid organization and command structure of the guerrilla bands.

Captain George Todd

Todd was born in Montreal and was probably the only Canadian amongst the guerrillas. A man of action, it was said that Quantrill planned, but Todd executed.

Though he was described by various sources as being crude, illiterate, hot tempered, callously brutal, a deadly shot, and uncontrollable when drunk, his personal bravery and thirst for action were unquestionable.  He was wounded nine times before his death and was described as “a maniac in battle.” Todd wrested control of Quantrill’s band in the spring of 1864 before allying himself with Anderson. He eventually died leading a charge while attached to General Price’s forces in 1864.

Captain Dave Poole

Dave Poole was one of Quantrill’s lieutenants and seems to have thought of himself as quite witty. Once he and his men caught nine Union soldiers in a schoolhouse and killed them. Poole propped the bodies up and “instructed” them at the chalkboard for an hour before complimenting them on their close attention. When Todd died in 1864, Poole took over his command.

Lil’ Archie Clements

Here we have teen-aged Archie Clements. 130 pounds and five feet of perpetually grinning malevolence, Clements was once described as Bloody Bill’s “chief devil.” Clements’ family home had been burned down and his brother murdered by Union militia, leaving Archie with a thirst for Union blood. He delighted in taking scalps and slitting throats.

The James Brothers, 1866

Frank James was an early member of Quantrill’s band. Jesse, at sixteen, later joined Anderson’s band when Frank was still riding with Bloody Bill. The James Brothers, needless to say, used the skills they acquired as bushwackers to become two of the most famous American outlaws in the post-war period.

Guerrilla Weapons and Tactics

A common trait of the guerillas was a distaste for discipline. Most had never joined the army, were paroled prisoners or even deserters. Discipline was light but failure to turn up for an operation could mean death.

Colt Navy .36 cal., 1861 pattern.

As mounted fighters, the guerrillas shared General John Hunt Morgan’s opinion that sabers were “as useless as a fence post.” The guerillas’ weapon of choice was the Colt Navy .36 cal., either in the 1851 or 1861 pattern. The Navy Colt was lighter than the Army Colt and thus preferable to men trying to carry as many as three to six at a time, which provided them with enormous firepower in battle.

Revolvers used in close provided overwhelming firepower in any clash with Union troops and the guerrillas carried as many as six each. Pre-loaded six-shot cylinders were carried in the pockets of their guerrilla shirts, allowing the guerrillas to quickly reload their weapons by swapping out the empty cylinders for full ones. The weapon of choice was the .36 caliber Navy Colt, favored over the heavier Army Colt. Their favorite long-arm was the breech-loading 1859 Sharps rifle, easy to handle on horseback, especially in its carbine version. The Sharps were large bore single shot rifles with a reputation for long-range accuracy. By 1863 both the guerrillas and the Union cavalry were carrying this weapon. The popularity of the weapons made it an icon of the “Old West” before production stopped in 1881.

Sawed-off shotguns were also in use and the personal arsenal was usually completed with Bowie knives and tomahawks for hand-to-hand fighting.

Guerrilla Shirt – Connections to Home

The guerrillas did not have access to Confederate uniforms, but in any case preferred to wear captured Union uniforms, which allowed them to confuse Union pickets and get close to their enemy, where their rapid-firing revolvers made the difference against muzzle-loading rifled muskets. When not wearing Union blue, the well-dressed guerrilla sported a slouch hat with a jaunty feather or squirrel tail, knee-high riding boots and the ubiquitous “guerrilla shirt.” Like the guerrillas’ long hair, the durable pullover shirt with its large pockets was a borrowing from the Great Plains hunters, who in turn had borrowed much of their style from the native Indians.

The Guerrilla Shirt: A Link to Home

The Guerrilla shirt could be “read” by anyone familiar with the code of different flowers, their arrangement and the color thread used for ornamentation. The shirt indicated the relationship the wearer had with its creator, mother, wife, sister or girlfriend and was a symbol of the important role women played in sustaining the guerrillas and nursing their wounds.

Missouri was known for the quality of its horses and the bushwackers always had better mounts than the indifferent nags and worn-out plow-horses sent to Union troops in a Civil War backwater like Missouri. This was a major factor in the guerrillas’ success in tying down large numbers of Union troops. For shelter, they would dig or find a cave in an inaccessible spot deep in the woods and conceal the entrance. Cooking was done only at night to avoid the smoke being seen and riders would enter or leave individually, each taking a different route and then reuniting at a pre-planned location. In winter, when concealment was difficult, the guerrillas would head south to Texas until the foliage returned in Missouri, though they did not leave drunkenness, mayhem and murder behind in their Texas sojourns.

The Charge

As the name “bushwacker” implies, the main tactic of the guerrillas was the ambush, sudden attack followed by a quick withdrawal and dispersal on fast mounts into country best known to the guerrillas.

The Guerrilla Charge

At other times the guerrillas could make ferocious frontal attacks on Union infantry, the rapid fire of their revolvers dealing death and panic among troops armed only with slow-firing muskets and bayonets. Many witnesses described the guerrillas charging with reins between their teeth to enable revolver fire with both hands, but Frank James dismissed this in 1897 as “dime novel stuff… It was as important to hold the horse as it was to hold the pistol.”

Use of Terror

The bushwackers never missed a chance to enrich themselves through the war, robbing stagecoaches, trains, shops, storehouses and riverboats alike. Hand-in-hand with this was the terrorization of the civilian population by murder, torture and property destruction. Anderson’s reputation actually helped in recruitment; according to Jim Cummins, a member of Anderson’s band: “Having looked the situation over I determined to join the worst devil in the bunch, so I decided it was Anderson for me as I wanted to see the blood flow.”

Union supporters or relatives of soldiers could expect little mercy. Germans (who were called “Dutch” by the guerrillas) were routinely murdered by the bushwackers, who regarded all of them as Unionists. In one case, a German was found at the last moment before his hanging to actually be a Confederate supporter. Anderson simply replied: “Oh, string him up. God damn his little soul, he’s a Dutchman anyway.”

Bill offered some simple advice to the citizens of Missouri: “If you proclaim to be against the guerrillas I will kill you. I will hunt you down like wolves and murder you. You cannot escape.”


Union counter-measures included the death penalty for interfering with the railroads. Cutting the telegraph led to one captured guerrilla executed and the torching of every home within a ten-mile radius of the cut. With so many guerrillas wearing Union blue, federal troops relied on an elaborate and ever-changing system of hand signals and passwords to separate friend from foe, but Anderson and his lieutenants always appeared to be up to date on these signals.

In January 1864, Union authorities recognized that the actions of the Jayhawkers were ineffective in countering the guerrillas but exceptional in turning the people against the Union by their murder, looting and arson. They were replaced in January 1864 by the Second Colorado Cavalry which, unlike the Jayhawkers, were eager to come to grips with the guerrillas rather than just civilians.

Quantrill’s guerrillas spent the 1863-64 winter with the Confederate Army in Texas. However, as details of the Lawrence massacre seeped in, Quantrill and his unruly gang were increasingly treated with disdain by the CSA officers. They were glad to see Quantrill, Todd and Anderson head back north to Missouri in March 1864.

Quantrill’s band broke up in the spring of 1864 after the guerrilla leader backed down from a challenge from George Todd. Lacking any real authority from the Confederate Army, bushwacker chieftains relied on respect, charisma, courage and ferocity to hold their commands. Anderson set off on his own with 20 men in March 1864. Anderson’s biggest objection to Quantrill was that he wasn’t intent on killing enough Unionists. When Quantrill executed one of Anderson’s men for robbing and murdering a farmer, that was the last straw for Bloody Bill.

By 1864 most of the older guerrillas who fought for the Confederacy had died, gone home or joined the regular Confederate army. Most of the bands now consisted of reckless and ruthless teenagers with lots of violent energy but little judgement. Many were illiterate farm boys who followed whoever could provide them with revenge, adventure, whiskey and loot. Politics provided only a veneer of legitimacy for their violence and descent into depravity.

Angered by incidents of scalping by Kansas Jayhawkers, the guerrillas took it up themselves in the summer of 1864. None were more enthusiastic about the practice than always smiling Lil’ Archie Clements.

The Battle at Centralia

As Sterling Price began his last attempt to retake Missouri in September 1864, he encouraged the guerrillas to mount attacks on garrisons and disrupt communications. Anderson’s group performed well, cutting telegraph lines and striking the Union supply lines. A Union patrol caught up to a group of seven of Anderson’s men, killed them and scalped them. The guerrillas swore revenge, and took it on September 27, 1864 at the Missouri town of Centralia.

Arriving in the morning, the guerrillas looted the town, drinking all the whiskey they could find. A stagecoach rolled in and was promptly robbed before a train arrived. All the passengers were robbed and some murdered except for 25 unarmed Union soldiers. These men were stripped and Anderson made a small speech, letting them know “You are all to be killed and sent to hell.”

Anderson ordered Clements to “muster out” the naked prisoners. Clements opened fire on them and the rest of the bushwackers joined in. All were killed, save one sergeant, who spent several unhappy weeks as Anderson’s prisoner, the only one Bloody Bill was ever known to have taken.

Deployments at the Battle of Centralia

After Anderson left the town, he was pursued by a Union major, AVE Johnston, and 240 men of the 39th Missouri mounted infantry, a force roughly equal to the guerrillas. Johnston unwisely left half his force at Centralia to chase a small group of bushwackers led by Dave Poole, who led them into a large clearing in the midst of a forest. At the other end of the clearing were Anderson’s men, waiting by their horses. Unknown to Johnston, many more guerrillas lay in wait in the woods. The rifled muskets carried by the Union cavalry were unwieldy on horseback, so Johnston ordered his men to dismount and form a line, with a quarter of his force held back to hold the horses. As Anderson launched a furious charge, the Union volley went high. Before they could load again, Anderson’s men were among them with pistols blazing as scores of guerrillas poured out of the woods. Frank James later claimed his brother Jesse was the one to kill Major Johnston, but this is questionable – Jesse may not have even been there. On the other hand, Frank would later claim that he wasn’t there, admit that he was there, or say he was there but missed the events that followed as he was busy pursuing fleeing Union troops.

Most of the Union prisoners begged for their lives. After killing their captives execution-style but shots to the head, the guerrillas brought out their Bowie knives and tomahawks and spent the coming hours in what a witness described as a “carnival of blood,” dismembering, scalping, mutilating and decapitating their near-naked victims. It was considered good sport to switch the decapitated heads to different bodies or impale them on fence posts. The bodies lay so thick that Dave Poole amused himself counting them by jumping from body to body.

When the slaughter ended the guerrillas headed into Centralia to finish off the rest of Johnston’s command. The final death toll was three guerrillas to at least 116 Union dead. There were only two Union wounded, and these only survived the massacre because they had managed to flee,

The Centralia battlefield was excavated by archeologists, who published their report in 2008.

See Part Two at: https://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=4438

The Terrible Tale of Bloody Bill Anderson: Rebellion and Revenge on the Missouri Frontier: Part Two

Andrew McGregor

A Talk given to the Civil War Roundtable, Royal Canadian Military Institute, Toronto on April 3, 2019.

 For Part One of this talk, see:  https://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=4425

General Price’s March Through Missouri

Price’s Failed Campaign

General Sterling Price led the last Confederate attempt to secure Missouri in September 1864. The plan was to take St. Louis, but it was too heavily defended. Instead Price began a meandering march in which he wasted his strength in a series of pointless battles. Price was strongly criticized by Jefferson Davis and others for his misuse of the guerrillas. Price sought to incorporate most of them into his column rather than dispersing them throughout the state to draw off Union troops.

Anderson’s command rode into General Price’s camp on October 11. Perhaps showing some detachment from reality, Bloody Bill rode up to Price and Governor Reynolds with scalps hanging from his saddle. The general and governor both erupted with rage at the display and told Anderson the CSA would have nothing to do with his band until all scalps disappeared.

Price and Anderson met again later that day. Instead of dismissing Anderson and his wild bushwackers, Price, desperate for support, issued a written order to “Captain Anderson” to destroy the North Mississippi Railroad. Bill gave Price a stolen set of fine pistols, which the general accepted.

Westport – October 23, 1864

Largely relieved from having to pursue guerrillas by Price’s choice to attach them to his force, Union troops were able to concentrate in a force much stronger than Price’s at Westport. By this time, discipline had broken down in Price’s army and the expedition increasingly occupied itself with looting, murder and rape, especially of German women.

The battle at Westport was the turning point of the campaign, with Price’s Army of Missouri badly defeated. The general was chased into Indian Territory, and by the time he returned to Arkansas he had only half the 12,000 men he had started with.

The Last Days of Bloody Bill

Bloody Bill’s reign of terror came to an end on October 27, 1864 at Albany Missouri. Lieutenant Colonel Samuel P. Cox had been assigned the task of eliminating Anderson. As one of the few regular officers to bother studying guerrilla tactics, Cox was the man for the job and was given men experienced in fighting bushwackers. Anderson, typically, decided direct action was appropriate. He led a charge expecting results similar to those at Centralia, but the veteran Union troops laid down a withering fire that brought the charge to a halt at 100 yards distance. Only two riders continued, plunging hell for leather through the Union line, but the troops turned round and brought both men down dead. One of these men was Bloody Bill.

Bill’s grey mare was found adorned with Union scalps. On his person was a letter from his wife with locks of hair belonging to her and their child, $600 in gold and greenbacks, $15 in Confederate script, a small Confederate flag presented to him by a friend, and Price’s written order to “Captain Anderson.” There was also a silk cord to which Bill was said to add one knot for every man he killed by his own hands. The cord had 53 knots.

Bloody Bill Anderson in Death, Still Wearing a Guerrilla Shirt

Shortly before his death, Bloody Bill announced, “I have killed Union soldiers until I have got sick of killing them.” Most of the Missouri population was sick of Bloody Bill as well; as a local newspaper proclaimed, “An avenging God has permitted bullets fired from Federal muskets to pierce his head, and the inhuman butcher of Centralia sleeps his last sleep.” (St. Joseph Morning Herald).

Anderson’s Grave

Cox put Bloody Bill’s body on display in Richmond Missouri. Hundreds of people lined up to see it. The local dentist, who doubled as the town photographer, was summoned to take two shots of Anderson’s corpse propped up in a chair. Both photos show that his left ring finger has been cut off, likely to retrieve his ring. After the photo-op, Anderson was decapitated and his head stuck on a telegraph pole. The rest of his body was dragged through the streets. The remains were eventually gathered and placed in a shallow grave.

Jennison’s Jayhawkers later became enraged when they saw his grave in Richmond covered in flowers. Never having the nerve to face him in life they destroyed what they could with their horses and finished by urinating on what was left.

After a local request, the US government provided a new headstone for Anderson’s grave in 1969.

What Happened to Anderson’s Band?

Various experiments in counter-insurgency strategies failed to drive the guerrillas from the field by the end of the war. The ferocity and brutality of a conflict waged between neighbors and families precluded the possibility of an easy transition into a post-war peace. Murder, mutilation, looting and arson were not quickly forgotten crimes and there was little chance they could be considered as simply the fortunes of war. While some guerrillas attempted to start new lives, others had developed a taste for theft and butchery that could not be sated in peace-time.

At the war’s end, many of the guerrillas surrendered after receiving assurances they would not be hanged by the army but would still be subject to civil prosecution. The Kansas City Journal proposed that the bushwackers should be “decently treated, decently tried, decently convicted and decently hung.”

Some, like Lil’ Archie Clements, were unable to obtain favorable conditions and thus remained under arms. Many had no homes left to go to, and there was always the danger of being waylaid by vigilantes. Some of the guerrillas were unwilling to live under Union occupation and joined General Jo Shelby’s brigade as they crossed into Mexico to offer their services to Emperor Maximillian.

Others, like the James brothers, the Younger brothers and the Shepherd brothers, found the transition into peacetime difficult, both because they enjoyed the bushwacking life, but also because they were forced to live in constant fear of arrest or lynching by vigilantes. As bushwackers they had learned how easily banks and trains could be robbed and the hard life of a farmer held little appeal by comparison. These men went on to epitomize the lawlessness of the “Wild West” and their post-war violence has been both glorified and villainized in  popular culture ever since.

Of the Jayhawkers who had burned and murdered their way through Missouri without ever confronting the Confederate guerrillas, Dr. Charles Jennison was court-martialled in 1865 for looting western Missouri, while Jim Lane, who had narrowly avoided death in the Lawrence raid, shot himself in the head a year after the war ended.

After a last winter in Texas, Archie Clements, Dave Poole and Jim Anderson headed back up to Missouri. Clements was soon back to taking scalps and leading a band of as many as 100 men in a rampage of murder, arson and robbery even as the Confederate Army collapsed elsewhere.

With the war over, Clements began hanging out in Lexington saloons with Dave Poole, who was now robbing banks. There was a $300 reward on Archie’s head, but no-one had the nerve to try and collect. By late 1866 there was such an upsurge in violence in Missouri that all men of military age were again ordered to report for registration in the militia. As a joke, Clements, Poole and 25 heavily-armed former bushwackers rode into Lexington in military formation to report for militia duty. The garrison commander did not appreciate their humor but added their names to the roles as required and ordered them out of town.

Grave of “1st Lieutenant” Archie J. Clements

Clements, however, returned to town to have a drink with a friend. A squad of militiamen was sent to arrest him, but Clements burst out of the saloon firing furiously. He mounted his horse and got part way down the street before falling prey to sharpshooters who lined the rooftops to prevent his escape. Clements was only 21-years-old when he died on December 13, 1866.

Bloody Bill’s brother Jim disappeared around 1867-68. He was killed either by Dave Poole’s brother William or by guerrilla George Shepherd, who was reported to have cut Jim Anderson’s throat on the courthouse lawn in Sherman Texas.

As for Quantrill, he was captured after being badly wounded and died in prison in June 1865. His body suffered numerous indignities, his bones were stolen, some put on exhibit, and his skull served duty for decades as a prop in a college fraternity’s initiation rites. Eventually his remains were collected though they still occupy two separate graves, one in Ohio and one in Missouri.

Confederates or Bandits?

In March 1864, General Price reportedly made Quantrill a colonel in the CSA in exchange for turning over a large number of his men to the army. As a result Todd became a captain and Anderson a lieutenant, but these ranks existed only within the unit and do not appear to have ever been commissioned officially by the CSA.

General Jo Shelby, a Missourian and one of the Confederacy’s best fighting generals, held a low opinion of the guerrillas: “They are Confederate soldiers in nothing save the name… No organization, no concentration, no discipline, no law, no anything.” Bloody Bill even denied “the name” part, stating:   “I am a guerrilla. I have never belonged to the Confederate Army, nor do my men.” That was in July 1864, before Anderson accepted the October 11 1864 order from General Price’s staff addressed to “Captain Anderson.” While he did little about the contents, Anderson still carried it with him at his death 16 days later.

Anderson’s ally and sometime rival George Todd once told a captured Union officer that he was not a Confederate officer, but was a bushwacker, and “intended to follow bushwacking as long as he lived.”

Cultural Heritage

Bloody Bill, the guerrillas and the bloodshed along the Missouri Kansas border all became fodder for novels and films in the 20th century. Here we can see posters from some of these highly fictional films, Quantrill’s Raiders, Kansas Raiders, The Bushwackers, and The Outlaw Josey Wales, in which the 24-year-old Anderson was played by the 55-year-old John Russell.

This poster (Generale Quantrill: The Human Beast) is actually for an American movie called Dark Command, with Walter Pigeon playing “William Cantrell.” The film’s Italian distributors apparently felt Quantrill was more marketable, restoring his real name, making it the title and promoting him to General in the process.

A more recent film, Ride with the Devil, was a fictionalized version of Bloody Bill’s campaign that worked much harder than its predecessors to get details of the guerrilla’s style and tactics correct.


The Old Guerrillas Gather Round a Portrait of Quantrill

As passions faded over the post-war decades, the Missouri guerrillas began to hold reunions in 1898 like other Confederate units. Familiar faces at these events included Cole Younger, Frank James and John Noland, Quantrill’s loyal Black-American scout. Thirty-two such reunions were held, with the image of William Quantrill adopted as a kind of icon for the veterans, who posed with his portrait and wore ribbons with his image.


For the mostly teenage gunmen of Missouri, the war was more a matter of personal rebellion than political rebellion. If we assess their significance in the conduct and the outcome of the war, the best we can say is that they drew off large numbers of troops that might have been used elsewhere. However, most of the soldiers fighting the guerrillas were young, inexperienced conscripts of the Missouri militia. One of the main units engaged against Anderson, the 17th Illinois Cavalry, was described by their commanding general as unreliable and “almost worthless,” so the idea that these second-rate troops might have made a difference elsewhere is very much open to question. Once the hardened Second Colorado Cavalry took the field against them in 1864, the guerrillas began to take significant losses.

If we look at success or failure in the bushwackers’ own terms, the situation is different. By the summer of 1863, it was obvious the war in the West was lost. From this point on, the guerrillas fought in their own interest, not the Confederacy’s. Their flag was the black flag of no quarter, not the Stars and Bars. Anderson kept his Confederate battle flag carefully folded amongst his personal effects, like a memory of an earlier time and purpose.

The surviving guerrillas might even have judged their campaign as a success in their own terms: Was bloody revenge dealt out to the Union troops and their supporters? Were they able to loot stores and rob civilians? Was there plenty of whiskey and hootin’ and hollerin’ and shootin’ things up? Did they enjoy the fear they saw in their victims’ eyes? Did the war give them license to ignore the laws of both man and God?

The answer is yes to all. By war’s end the guerrilla war in Missouri had descended into a kind of Confederate version of the Lord of the Flies in which teenagers and young men used revenge as justification for operating outside the laws of war and conventional morality. Some, like the veterans attending the bushwacker reunions under Quantrill’s vacant gaze, managed to adjust to post-war life. Others, like William Anderson, had already entered a dark abyss from which there was no return and no escape except death.

And that is the terrible truth of the story of Bloody Bill Anderson.

A Note on Sources

It should be noted that much of our knowledge of the guerrillas and their methods of warfare is based on memoirs and interviews provided by the guerrilla veterans. These rarely agree in details and are usually colored by the perceived legal, political or personal need for the veteran to present his story in a certain fashion, resulting in a variety of contradictory accounts. Many guerrilla leaders, like Quantrill, Anderson and Todd, did not survive the war to give their own views and recorded nothing of consequence when alive (other than Anderson’s three letters to newspapers). The very nature of warfare in Civil War Missouri, often unseen and unrecorded, has rendered it difficult to produce a definitive account of the guerrillas despite the best efforts of many highly competent historians.  The speaker, an interested amateur in Civil War studies, has relied heavily on the following sources:

Barton, OS: Three Years with Quantrill: A True Story Told by His Scout, John McCorkle, Norman, Oklahoma, 1914

Beilein, Joseph M. Jr.: Bushwackers: Guerrilla Warfare, Manhood, and the Household in Civil War Missouri, Kent State University Press, Kent, Ohio, 2016

Brownlee, Richard S.: Gray Ghosts of the Confederacy: Guerrilla Warfare in the West, 1861-1865

Castel, Albert: William Clarke Quantrill: His Life and Times, New York, 1962

Castel, Albert: General Sterling Price and the Civil War in the West, Baton Rouge, 1968

Castel Albert: “Quantrill’s Bushwackers: A Case Study in Guerrilla Warfare,” Winning and Losing in the Civil War: Essays and Stories (Columbia, University of South Carolina Press, 1996), pp. 133-44.

Castel, Albert and Thomas Goodrich: Bloody Bill Anderson: The Short, Savage Life of a Civil War Guerrilla, Lawrence Kansas, 2006

Colton, Ray C.: The Civil War in the Western Territories, Norman, Oklahoma, 1959

Goodman, Thomas M., and Captain Harry A. Houston (ed.): A Thrilling Record, Founded on Facts and Observations Obtained During Ten Days’ Experience with Colonel William T. Anderson (the Notorious Guerrilla Chieftain), Des Moines, Iowa, 1868

Goodrich, Thomas: Black Flag: Guerrilla Warfare on the Western Border, 1861-1865, Indiana University Press, Bloomington Ill., 1995

Leslie, Edward E.: The Devil Knows How to Ride: The True Story of William Quantrill and His Confederate Raiders, New York, 1998

McLachlan, Sean: American Civil War Guerrilla Tactics, Oxford, 2009

Oates, Stephen B.: Confederate Cavalry West of the River, Austin (3rd ed.), 1995

Sutherland, Daniel E.: A Savage Conflict: The Decisive Role of Guerrillas in the American Civil War, Chapel Hill N.C., 2009

Thomas D. Thiessen, Douglas D. Scott and Steven J. Dasovich: “This Work of Fiends”: Historical and Archaeological Perspectives on the Confederate Guerrilla Actions at Centralia, Missouri, September 27, 1864, Lincoln Nebraska, March 2008, https://www.scribd.com/doc/267011623/doug-scott-report?secret_password=JA9mGQDVbs3Yvzd6ENoX#fullscreen&from_embed

Wood, Larry: The Civil War Story of Bloody Bill Anderson, Fort Worth, Texas, 2003

Younger, Thomas Coleman: The Story of Cole Younger by Himself, Provo Utah, 1903


A Trail of Burning Ships: Assessing the Value of Commerce Raiding to the Confederate Cause

Civil War Roundtable

Royal Canadian Military Institute, Toronto

November 21, 2018


Far from the grinding slaughter of the American Civil War was another front, one where, for the most part, casualties consisted of property rather than young lives. This was the campaign undertaken by a small number of Confederate commerce-raiding ships to drive the Union’s vast merchant fleet from the Seven Seas and to draw away Union warships imposing a crippling blockade on Southern ports.

The campaign was one of both monotony and wild adventure, often fought in remote and exotic locations in both baking heat and bone-chilling cold.  The most famous of these cruisers were the Alabama, the Florida and the Shenandoah, making cruises as long as two years with the illumination of burning Union ships to mark their progress.

As the war went on and it became apparent that the South had little chance of winning, commerce raiding actually intensified. The captains and officers of these ships went to sea in the knowledge that popular opinion in the North demanded they be hung as pirates.

The Privateer Model

Granting letters of marque to privateers was the usual model for states at war that wished to destroy enemy commerce at no risk or liability to themselves. Privateers worked not out of loyalty, but for the prizes they were entitled to take by their dubious authority. This was tried in the early Confederacy, but when it became clear that privateers could not easily bring their prizes back through the blockade into the southern states, privateering came to an abrupt end. There was, however, money to be made from blockade-running, and this is where financial backers went.

In Richmond, it became clear that new measures were called for. Ships flying the flag of the Confederacy, manned by commissioned Southern officers and part of an official navy would sail the seas to intercept shipments of Federal war supplies and destroy Union shipping in general.

Britain decided early in the war to bar privateers from its ports, providing another incentive for the Confederacy to bring its commerce raiders under naval command, which would allow the ships to access British ports as a belligerent power, with the various restrictions covered by international law.

CSS Manassas

The CSS Manassas, the Confederacy’s first ironclad, began its career as a privateer. Using the engines and hull of a steam tug-boat, private investors in Louisiana commissioned an innovative design, combining a powerful ram with a 32-pounder gun in its bow. The ship was expropriated by the Confederate Navy and its original crew of thugs driven off by a single naval officer.

The Manassas participated in two major battles on the Mississippi, ramming both the USS Brooklyn and the USS Mississippi. When the ironclad attempted to prevent Admiral Farragut from running the Union fleet past Forts Jackson and St. Philip, it ran aground and was set on fire by the guns of the USS Mississippi. Eventually the Manassas drifted downstream while still on fire until its magazine exploded.

Lincoln’s proclamation of the blockade included a warning that anyone caught molesting Union shipping would be treated as a pirate and hanged. When it appeared that some captured privateers would be executed, Jefferson Davis ordered an equal number of senior Union officers held prisoner to be executed if Lincoln’s orders were carried out. They were not.

By 1863, the privateers had pretty much disappeared, replaced by the Confederate Navy’s commerce raiders.

Captain James Dunwoody Bulloch

James Dunwoody Bulloch (left) with his brother, Irvine Bulloch of the CSS Alabama

The main Confederate naval agent in Britain was Captain James Dunwoody Bulloch, an extremely resourceful character who produced a mixture of triumphs and disappointments in his efforts to supply the Confederacy with modern naval ships. Most of the disappointments were due to the tireless efforts of American diplomatic officials and their agents to ferret out well disguised plans to purchase or build warships in Britain and staff them with British crews. Obtaining ships, weapons and crews for use in a conflict to which Britain was not a party was a violation of that nation’s Foreign Enlistment Act, so subterfuge was called for.

Bulloch believed that winning the naval war in home waters was more important than launching commerce raiders, saying “The destruction of unarmed and peaceful merchant vessels… is not defensible upon the principles of moral law.” Nonetheless, he continued to follow orders to assemble a European-built fleet capable of smashing the Union blockade.

In the shipyards, the more obviously warlike the ships under construction were, the more attention they drew from the formidable intelligence network presided over by the US Ambassador to Britain, Charles Francis Adams. Bulloch ran his own network of secret agents who warned Bulloch of impending seizures of ships being built for the Confederacy.

The ships built in Britain and France were paid for in cotton, the only real currency the South possessed in any quantity.

Bulloch also handled the financing of blockade-runners. Several Confederate commerce raiders became blockade-runners under new names; others had been blockade-runners before being purchased and armed by the Confederate government.  Bulloch also handled financing for Confederate intelligence operations in the British Empire, including Canada. There were accusations after the war that he may have funded the conspiracy to kill Abraham Lincoln.

The Commerce Raiders

A common process was followed with most of the European-built ships. Still unarmed, they slipped out to sea to rendezvous at some remote place with tenders carrying all the guns and military gear. At this point the officers donned their Confederate naval uniforms and informed the crew of the true nature of their voyage. The sailors were given the option of staying with the ship or returning with the tender. Many sailors were veterans of Her Majesty’s Navy, and the fact that some of these were still members of the Royal Naval Reserve created yet more violations of the Foreign Enlistment Act.

Desertions, expired contracts and illness ate away at crew numbers, and the cruisers were forced to recruit from the crews of their prizes. When the CSS Florida reached Martinique after two years at sea, its crew was mostly Italian, Austrian and Greek, with smaller numbers of French, English and Americans. Nearly all had been recruited from the crews of captured vessels. When the CSS Alabama went down, there were 19 different nationalities on board. Portuguese, Spaniards, Malays, Prussians, Frenchmen and even South Seas islanders all served on the commerce raiders.

Prisoners were another problem, with the cruisers forced to host large numbers of men from their prizes until they could be offloaded to some agreeable neutral ship or dropped at some port to find their own way home.

The commerce raiders were under strict orders not to directly engage Union warships unless there was no other alternative. The best possible result of such a fight was the destruction of a single Union warship, but remaining at large on the seas meant multiple warships would be drawn away from the blockade to pursue the raider. This, and the destruction of Northern merchantmen and their cargoes, was the real mission of the cruisers.

Stealth was central to commerce raiding – the cruisers carried a chest of international flags for use in luring trusting victims to their doom. Some ships tried to make a run for it after receiving a shot across the bow, leading to dramatic sea chases which the best Confederate cruisers usually won with their combination of steam and sail.

Most of the commerce raiders had little expectation of docking in any Confederate port, so provisions were obtained from their victims and repairs made in foreign harbors. These repairs were allowed to belligerent powers under international law so long as the military power of the ship was not enhanced or its complement of sailors increased. If a Union ship was present in the same foreign port, it was not allowed to take any action against the Confederate vessel, nor could it follow the ship when it left the port for 48 hours or to engage it within the three-mile range of national waters. Once discovered by a Union ship, it became imperative for a cruiser to leave a foreign harbor as quickly as possible before other Union ships could close in and trap it.

The Union never adopted convoys as a means of protecting their merchant fleet. The North never had enough ships to maintain both convoys and the blockade, so the latter was judged more important and the merchantmen were left to their fates. Convoys only work when there is a common destination; they cannot protect ships going to a variety of ports.

Discipline was always a problem on the cruisers, given that, other than the officers, the crews were not from the southern states and had no loyalty to the Confederate cause. Raphael Semmes, the commander of the Alabama, noted that many of the crew had the belief they were on some sort of privateer where “they would have a jolly good time and plenty of license.” He convinced these men otherwise with what he termed “a strong hand.” Confederate Marines served on all the cruisers to enforce the officers’ orders, but little is known about them as all their records were destroyed in a fire shortly after the war.

Drunkenness was a constant problem, especially when the crew discovered stores of alcohol in one of their prizes. When the Shenandoah seized a ship carrying 50 barrels of liquor and over 2100 bottles of spirits, a four-day drunken riot ensued before the officers could restore order. Fighting, insolence, theft and neglect of duty were other common offenses. Discipline could be enforced by extra duties, cancellation of grog, heavy fines, being clapped in irons, gagging or tricing. The latter was an unofficial naval punishment that gained popularity after flogging was banned and involved being hung by the wrists for hours with the feet barely touching the deck.

Ships’ officers tended to be very young. On the Shenandoah, 25-year-old Executive Officer William Whittle was expected to deal out discipline to older, hardened men with no real loyalty to the South or its cause. His commander, “Old Man Waddell,” was 41.

The captain of the Alabama came to trust his young officers; Captain James Waddell, however, never did, and often rose from his bed in the middle of the night to countermand the sailing orders of his subordinates. This drove a wedge between the captain and his young officers.

A small number of slaves were also part of the cruisers’ crews, usually employed in the galley or as stewards. The Alabama had two slaves in its complement; both died in its final battle. The Shenandoah had two free Blacks in its crew; one had eagerly volunteered after his ship was taken; the other was a veteran of the US Navy who had been aboard the USS Minnesota when it was attacked by the Virginia at the Battle of Hampton Roads. Impressed as a cook, he was a constant discipline problem, being triced as many as three times a week before he deserted.

Since Britain, France, Spain and their colonies all prohibited prizes from being brought into port for sale, there was little alternative for the cruisers to do anything more than burn, scuttle or bond their prizes. The latter practice spared the ship, but was actually a form of ransom in which the ships’ owners were obliged to pay a heavy fine to the Confederate government at the conclusion of the war. The practice presumed a Confederate victory or negotiated settlement would conclude the war.

The crews of the commerce-raiders were promised prize money for every ship ransomed, burned or sunk. The value of the vessels and their cargoes were carefully recorded in the ship’s log and the funds were to be paid out by the Confederate government at the end of the war. Needless to say, none of these funds appeared after the collapse of the Confederacy. Many sailors discovered there was far more money in blockade-running, which offered high wages and space within the ship to store their own speculative cargoes.

In general, the commanders of the commerce raiders did not allow looting of the ships they captured in order to avoid charges of piracy, but these rules were interpreted in different ways. One veteran of the Alabama complained: “Whenever we took a prize, the officers always made a rush for all the good eatables and drinkables, while the men were not allowed a single article, and severely punished if they touched anything.” Captain Semmes believed that relaxation of this rule could encourage boarding parties to try and take possession of the entire prize for themselves.

The most important parts of a cruiser intended to remain at sea for a long time were steam condensers to produce fresh water from salt water, and large coal bunkers that enabled the steamers to avoid entering foreign ports where they could be trapped by Union ships. Being composite vessels, they usually remained under sail, bringing their iron propellers into play only when necessary.

The crews became experts in arson, learning all the best techniques to send a ship up in flames. The sight of wooden ships blazing through the night in the midst of a vast ocean left indelible impressions on those involved. Many approached the work with enthusiasm; an officer recalled of one ship: “As she had no oil aboard, we found it a little hard to get the fire going, but when it did start, it burned beautifully.” Semmes described the sound of a burning ship as “the sound of a thousand furnaces.”

CSS Nashville

One of the earliest Confederate commerce raiders was the CSS Nashville, converted from a passenger-carrying paddle wheeler with powerful engines. The Nashville took only two prizes, but was politically important for being the first Confederate ship to arrive in a British or European port. US Ambassador Charles Adams demanded the British treat it as a pirate vessel, but Foreign Secretary Lord Russell declared it was a belligerent vessel with a regular crew, thus granting it the usual protections under international law.

CSS Nashville burns the Harvey Birch

With the legal status of the Confederate ships settled in Britain, the rest of Europe followed suit in what was a vital development for the survival of the small Confederate navy. Evading the USS Tuscarora, the Nashville returned to North Carolina loaded with Enfield rifles and eight batteries of artillery in February 1862.

The Nashville briefly entered service as a blockade-runner as the SS Thomas L. Wragg and then as a rare privateer under the name Rattlesnake. Before it could take any prizes, the Rattlesnake was destroyed by the monitor USS Montauk in the Ogeechee River of Georgia.

Raphael Semmes and the CSS Alabama

Captain Raphael Semmes, CSN

Captain Raphael Semmes was the most famous of the cruiser commanders. He began his raiding in the CSS Sumter, a former passenger steamer that was not especially suitable for use as a commerce-raider, but Semmes thought she had “a saucy air about her,” and undertook extensive renovations to turn her into a warship.

CSS Sumter Burns the Neapolitan off Gibraltar

After running the blockade, Semmes and his crew learned their new trade well, taking 18 prizes and burning seven. Its last two victims were taken off the coast of Gibraltar in April 1862. Afterwards the Sumter was trapped in Gibraltar’s port by Union warships and had to be abandoned.

Semmes’ next command was the Alabama, a British-built composite steamer armed with six 32-pounder guns on its flanks and two pivot guns, an 8-inch smoothbore and a 100 pounder Blakely rifle.

CSS Alabama vs the USS Hatteras (foreground)

In January 1863, the Alabama took on the USS Hatteras off Galveston. The guns of the Union’s paddle-wheel cruiser were no match for the Alabama’s, and the Union ship was sunk in only 13 minutes. This battle left other Union ships wary of tackling Confederate cruisers without support.

As the Alabama’s cruise went on and accusations of piracy became louder, Semmes seemed to take on a more piratical appearance, terrifying the masters of captured ships as he examined their papers in his cabin, stroking his ever-longer waxed mustache in front of a collection of chronometers taken from ships that had failed the test and been sent to the bottom.

Captain Semmes and First Mate John McIntosh Kell, CSS Alabama

After two years at sea, the Alabama was bottled in at the French port of Cherbourg in June 1864 by the USS Kearsage. Semmes’ choices were to offer battle to the Union ship before even more federal ships arrived, or to abandon the Alabama in port. The prestige of the Confederacy had been blemished by the defeat at Gettysburg and Semme’s own reputation tarnished by charges of piracy. In this situation, Semmes sought and received permission to engage the Kearsage. Semmes sent the captain of the Kearsage a brief note, reading: “I am undergoing a few repairs here which I hope will not take longer than the morrow. Then I will come out and fight you a fair and square fight.”

As the ships circled in the Channel, hurling shot and shell at one another, Semmes realized two things;

(1) The fire of the Alabama was having little effect on the Kearsage, due to the latter’s use of heavy chains draped over the sides of the ship, and (2) the superior speed of the Kearsage would make an Alabama victory difficult. Semmes attempted to resolve these issues by getting in close enough to board the Union whip, believing his veteran crew would make quick work of the less-experienced crew of the Kearsage. The attempt failed, and only resulted in greater damage to the Alabama from close-range fire.

Another reason for the Alabama’s inability to destroy the Kearsage was the powder in the Alabama’s shells had deteriorated at sea. The Alabama nearly ended the battle when it struck the stern of the Kearsage near its screw with a 100-pound percussion shell, which lodged in the ship’s timbers but failed to explode. The entire section was later removed and displayed as a relic of the battle.

With the Alabama steadily taking on water that threatened to put out her fires and most of her guns out of commission, Semmes struck his colors and ordered the survivors to abandon ship.

The Sinking Alabama Lowers its Flag

Even the sinking of the Alabama incited controversy; Semmes and a number of his officers escaped capture and probable trials for piracy when they were plucked from the water by the Deerhound, a private English yacht that took them to safety in England rather than turn them over to the victorious Americans, who claimed they had a right to take the Alabama’s crew as prisoners since the ship had surrendered to the Kearsage.

The wreck of the Alabama was discovered in 1984 by a French navy mine-sweeper. Two five-ton guns were raised in 2000, along with the ship’s bell, items of furniture, tableware and even a human jaw found under a gun.

By the time it sank, the Alabama had captured 65 Union merchantmen and burned 52 of them, with a total value of over $4.5 million. In 22 months, it had boarded 447 ships and taken over 2,000 prisoners.

After safely returning to the South via Cuba, Semmes was placed in command of the freshwater James River Squadron, using the ironclad Virginia II as his flagship.

The CSS Florida

The CSS Florida

The CSS Florida left the Liverpool shipyard where it was built in March 1862. When it arrived in Nassau it was temporarily interned and its crew of 130 dispersed. When the ship was returned to its Confederate commander, John Maffitt, he was able to recruit only 20 local men to take it back to sea to load the guns and other war materiel that had arrived separately from Scotland. Things got worse, as Yellow Fever struck Maffitt and the small crew, killing four, including Maffitt’s stepson.

Incredibly, Maffitt was able to run the Florida through the Union blockade into Mobile, Alabama, where he was able to enlist a new crew. The ship was blasted by Union warships as it made its run into Mobile, and repairs took four months. Maffitt then made a brilliant night-time escape past nine Union warships determined to catch her leaving port.

The Florida was a great success as a commerce raider. One of its victims carried 10,000 boxes of fireworks from China, creating a spectacular display as it burned through the night. After taking many prizes, Maffit’s health failed and he left the ship at Brest in August 1863.

His successor, Lieutenant Charles M. Morris, continued to have triumphs until he sailed into the harbor of Bahia in Brazil, where the USS Wachusett was also docked. Morris accepted Brazilian guarantees of his safety in the harbor under international law and decided to allow his men much-needed shore leave. After 12 hours the starboard watch returned roaring drunk and the port watch was allowed ashore. At 3 in the morning the Wachusett illegally attacked and seized the ship, towing it away before the Florida’s port watch could return.

The Brazilians were outraged and demanded the return of the Florida, but the cruiser was taken to Hampton Roads, where it sank in mysterious circumstances. The Wachusett’s captain, Napoleon Collins, was court-martialled for his violation of international law, but later pardoned by US Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles.

The CSS Rappahannock

The CSS Rappahannock in Calais

An example of how desperate the Confederacy could be at times to acquire ships for commerce raiding is the sad story of the CSS Rappahannock, also known as “the White Elephant.” Originally the HMS Victor, the 500-ton dispatch steamer was judged defective by the Admiralty and sold at auction in November 1863. Its sale to a Confederate agent pretending to be interested in using her in the China trade was quickly detected and it was ordered not to leave port. An intrepid young Scotsman was hired and managed to run her out to sea so suddenly there were still workmen on the ship. However, her bearings burned out and the ship drifted to Calais, where it gained entry to port as a ship in distress. Once there, Lieutenant Fauntleroy, CSN, took command of the ship. Trapped in the harbor by two Union warships and French reluctance to allow her to go to sea, the Rappahannock remained there, rotting in its berth until the end of the war.

The Shenandoah– The World-Wide Cruise

Bulloch purchased the Sea King, a much-admired composite ship in London in September 1864. The vessel slipped past two Union warships guarding the outlet of the Thames and met a tender carrying all necessary arms and war materiel. It was the beginning of a voyage that would take the ship around the globe under her new name, the CSS Shenandoah.

Some of the Rappahannock’s crew was transferred to the Shenandoah, which suffered from personnel shortages throughout its voyage. When it set off on its world-wide cruise, 9 of 23 officers were British, as were all ten petty officers and nearly all the crew. When the ship stopped in Melbourne for repairs, the US consul made repeated complaints that the Shenandoah was recruiting locally in violation of the British Foreign Enlistment Act. Waddell denied all such charges, but after his ship took to sea some 42 “stowaways” emerged, asking to join the crew. Among them were 32 British and two Canadians.

By the time the last great Confederate commerce raider set sail again, boredom and poor morale at sea were becoming major problems due to the lack of prizes since its departure from London. The Shenandoah would literally have to go to the ends of the earth to find them.

Service on the cruisers did allow their crews to see remote places that few other men had seen, such as the visit of the Shenandoah’s officers to the ancient and mysterious stone city of Nan-Matal in the South Pacific. Nearly all the officers received native tattoos in the South Pacific.

Captain James I. Waddell of the CSS Shenandoah

The Shenandoah was not a happy ship, however; it was continually plagued by bitter rivalries and disputes in its officer corps as well as a general dissatisfaction with its skilled but sullen master. In a sign of declining discipline, the Shenandoah’s officers began to pilfer personal items from their prizes in the South Pacific, blurring the lines between piracy and commerce raiding.

Communicating with a ship deliberately trying to avoid detection was nearly impossible, and the Shenandoah steamed on ignorant that the war at home was quickly drawing to a close.

Bulloch had issued specific orders to Waddell to strike the American whaling fleet in the Pacific, which he described as “a source of abundant wealth to our enemies and a nursery for their seamen.”

The CSS Shenandoah Burns the New England Whaling Fleet in the Bering Sea

The Shenandoah burned its first New England whaler in the Bering Sea the day after Lee surrendered the Army of North Virginia on April 9, 1865. It was the first of many. One whaler’s captain had lost his first ship to the Alabama, and then another to the Shenandoah; a crewman pledged never to ship with that master again, saying that he was better at finding Confederate cruisers than whales! The Shenandoah fired the last shot of the Civil War on June 28, long after all the other Confederate commands had surrendered. The cruise continued, however, as Waddell was still unaware of the Confederate collapse.

Having destroyed the American whaling fleet, Waddell headed for San Francisco, intending to steam past the formidable harbor defenses at night. Once through, the Shenandoah would ram the Union monitor stationed there, board her, and then turn the guns of both ships against the city to demand its surrender. Before this audacious plan could be put into motion, Waddell finally received definitive proof of the war’s end.

Waddell ordered all the ship’s weapons stowed below. His orders in this case were to sail into Valparaiso, Chile, sell the ship, and pay off the crew. Many of the officers insisted on surrendering the ship to British authorities at Capetown or Sydney, but Waddell instead made the strange decision to take the ship 17,000 miles around the Horn and through Atlantic waters infested with Federal ships.

Newspapers intercepted by the Shenandoah revealed that President Andrew Johnson (Lincoln’s successor) had outlawed the cruiser and that Waddell and his crew were to be summarily hanged as pirates after their expected capture. Despite a near mutiny, Waddell persuaded the bulk of the crew to follow his plan, and, on November 6, 1865, seven months after Lee’s surrender, he sailed the Shenandoah into Liverpool and surrendered her to the city’s astonished mayor.  The Shenandoah had captured 38 Union vessels, burning 32 and bonding six on a remarkable cruise of 58,000 miles with stops on every continent save Antarctica.

The Navy that Never Was

By 1863 it had become apparent that the South’s home-made ironclads were capable of individual successes, but were not capable of shattering the Union’s blockade. Mallory decided that ironclads built in Europe would provide the necessary force to drive the blockaders from Southern shores. However, the shallow waters of the Southern coast and ports required shallow-draft ironclads still capable of taking on the Union’s Monitor-class ironclads. The problem was how to get such ships safely from Europe across 3,000 miles of Atlantic Ocean to the Southern states. Bulloch’s plan, never realized, was to ship pre-fabricated shallow-draft warships to the Confederacy for final assembly there.

Instead, Bulloch and other Confederate agents initiated the construction of a powerful, modern war-fleet. This consisted of:

  • Two “Laird Rams,” so-called after their builder
  • Two French-built rams, Cheops and Sphinx
  • Frigate no. 61, “the Scottish Sea Monster”
  • Four French-built corvettes.

Two blockade runners under construction in England were to also be equipped with incendiary shells and rockets to launch surprise attacks on New England towns and cities.

The Laird Rams

One of the Laird Rams

With 9-inch rifled guns in two revolving turrets, 5.5-inch-thick armor and powerful rams, Bulloch was convinced the Laird Rams would make quick work of the Union’s wooden warships. To deceive Federal spies, it was announced that the two ships were destined for the Egyptian Navy.

Under American threats of war, the British finally agreed to prevent the Laird Rams from sailing out of Liverpool to hoist a Confederate flag. Despite schemes to conceal their ownership, Union spies watching the shipyards had discovered the truth and the rams were eventually purchased by the Royal Navy for use as coastal defense vessels.

“The Scottish Sea Monster” – Frigate no. 61 after its sale to Denmark

At the same time a more advanced and partially armored version of the Alabama under construction on the Clyde was seized. This was followed by the confiscation of “Frigate no. 61,” a powerful ironclad ram built in Glasgow that became known as “the Scottish Sea Monster.” By late 1863, Mallory’s dream of superior European-built ironclads sweeping away a mostly wooden Union war-fleet was beginning to evaporate. Confederate defeats at Vicksburg and Gettysburg had greatly diminished French and British support for the South.

The Stonewall

Two ironclads were built for the Confederates in France in 1864. Also ostensibly destined for the Egyptian Navy, they were named Cheops and Sphinx. Emperor Napoleon III ordered that the still-unarmed ships be sold to neutral powers rather than the Confederacy. The Cheops went to Prussia, where it became the SMS Prinz Adalbert. The poorly-built ship’s short career ended in 1871, when it was discovered that its internal wooden construction had rotted beyond repair.

The Sphinx was sold to Denmark, which rejected her, then sold back to a French firm that in turn sold it to the Confederacy, as originally intended.

The CSS Stonewall

Renamed the Stonewall, this ironclad was fitted with a massive ram and a formidable 300 pounder Armstrong rifle mounted in the bow. Many of the crew were veterans of the Florida.

The ship, designed for coastal use, sailed badly in anything other than smooth waters and its junior officers came close to mutiny rather than try to take it across the Atlantic. Storms held it up in European waters long enough for the USS Niagara and the USS Oneida to try and seal it into port. Captain Thomas Jefferson Page, the Stonewall’s commander, took the ironclad out to sea and spent an entire day challenging the pair of Union ships, but they refused to fight. With no apparent opposition, Page took the Stonewall out the next day to cross the Atlantic.

Bulloch was aware of the Stonewall’s weaknesses and its captain was increasingly of the opinion that the ship was being sent on a suicide mission, but Bulloch also knew that the Stonewall’s strength was much exaggerated in the North, and its mere appearance off the North Carolina coast could cause panic in the mostly wooden Union fleet.

The Stonewall as the Japanese Azuma, 1871

In the event, the Stonewall arrived in Nassau just as the Civil War was drawing to a close. Captain Page took the ship to Cuba where he sold it to the Spanish government for just enough money to pay off the crew. The Spanish turned it over to the US for the same amount, which sold it in turn to Japan, where it participated in several battles and gained a reputation as a powerful and unsinkable warship before it was scrapped in 1889.

Post-War Litigation

At war’s end the United States demanded compensation from Britain for the destruction of its merchant fleet. Some US demands, such as receiving Canada in compensation, were viewed in London as excessive. The matter went to arbitration in Geneva in 1872, resulting in a British payment of $15.5 million in gold.

In agreeing to the compensation, Britain made what might have amounted to an admission of culpability when it announced, in diplomatic legalese: “The government of Her Britannic Majesty cannot justify itself for a failure in due diligence on a plea of the insufficiency of the legal means of actions which it possessed.”

It has been argued that Britain actually came out ahead, with most of the remaining American merchant fleet having been re-flagged during the war under the Union Jack. Other unintentional beneficiaries of the commerce raiding campaign were the whales, as the destruction of the New England whaling fleet in the North Atlantic and North Pacific helped hasten the end of whaling as an occupation.

After the war, Confederate naval officers, agents and diplomats involved in commerce raiding were excluded from the general amnesty. Most waited for a second, more inclusive amnesty in 1868 to return to America, though some, like Captain John Maffit, found their property had been confiscated. Bulloch avoided imprisonment by remaining in Liverpool, where he died in near-poverty in 1901. Other naval officers moved to Mexico or Argentina to avoid retribution.

Semmes was arrested and charged with treason, though he was released after four months in prison. His political enemies did not forget him, and succeeded in chasing him from several jobs and appointments. He eventually practiced law in Mobile, where he died in 1877 after eating contaminated shrimp. With time, his reputation improved; Semmes was featured on a 1995 US stamp and portrayed in a full-size statue erected in Mobile in 1900. The statue was suddenly taken down in 2020 in an attempt to appease Marxist Black Lives Matter militants.


In the latter days of the war prizes became few and far between, a frustrating development that was actually a tribute to the cruisers’ effectiveness in driving American merchant shipping from the seas. When the Alabama entered Singapore harbor in December 1863, Semmes discovered 20 Union merchantmen lying at anchor, afraid of taking to sea. There were similar scenes in ports across Asia, as insurance rates for American ships sky-rocketed. Union ships that attempted to avoid destruction by changing flags or carrying fake bills of sale to neutral parties rarely fooled the cruiser commanders, who knew every trick.

From the time of the launch of the CSS Sumter, Mallory and Bulloch had made sure that there was always at least one major commerce raider wreaking havoc on Northern shipping somewhere in the world. To cope with this, some 80 Federal warships were diverted from their blockade duties over the course of the war.

Bulloch realized the diplomatic cost of commerce raiding early on, but followed his orders to obtain and equip such ships with enormous energy. The brief reign of the commerce raiders and the litigation that followed spurred greater work on international law that helped reduce many points of friction between the United States and the European powers.

The Confederate commerce raiders could destroy Union shipping or drive it under new flags, but the North, unlike the South, was not deficient in raw materials or the manufacturing base needed to turn these into munitions, weapons, ships and every other type of war materiel. In this sense, it was impossible for the raiders to affect the resource-rich Northern war effort in any significant way. Bulloch was correct in suggesting powerful European-made ironclads capable of smashing the Union blockade were the way to go, if they could be delivered, but he and others eventually learned that no nation, especially one unrecognized, can rely on foreign construction of warships during a conflict to achieve victory.


American Civil War Veterans and the Egyptian Empire in Africa

Dr. Andrew McGregor

A talk given to the Civil War Roundtable at the Royal Canadian Military Institute, Toronto, March 28, 2018.

The Intention of this talk is to discuss the little known role of American Civil War veterans in the expansion of the 19th century Egyptian Empire into Africa. As those here tonight are primarily interested in the US Civil War rather than 19th century African history, the talk will begin with a summary of how the Americans came to be in Egypt as mercenaries and their part in Egypt’s failed invasion of Abyssinia (modern Ethiopia). It proceeds in Part Two with profiles of some of the most prominent Civil War veterans serving in Egypt.

American military involvement in Egypt, whether official or unofficial, dates back much further than many might expect. In an early American attempt at regime change in the Middle East, the young republic’s consul in Alexandria, William Eaton, led a motley army composed of a handful of US Marines, and hundreds of Greek, Arab and Turkish mercenaries recruited in Egypt to put Thomas Jefferson’s preferred candidate on the throne of the neighboring Karamanli state of Tripoli in 1805. Following a five hundred mile forced march from Alexandria to Tripoli, Eaton’s frequently mutinous army took the Libyan city of Derna in America’s first overseas land battle.

At the same time, an ambitious Albanian, Muhammad ‘Ali Pasha, was emerging as the victor in a power struggle for control of Egypt, still an Ottoman domain. By force and intrigue, Muhammad ‘Ali became the Sultan’s khedive (viceroy) in Egypt, though the Albanian’s real plan was to eventually replace the Ottoman Empire and establish his own hereditary dynasty. In 1811, he slaughtered most of the powerful Mamluk military-slave caste (his last opposition) in an act of treachery. In 1821, the viceroy sent an army south to conquer the Sudan. Three Americans who converted to Islam joined the expedition, though it has never been confirmed whether they were acting as mercenaries or spies.

Egypt and Circassia

Egypt’s ruling class was a combination of Turks and Circassians who typically spoke Turkish and French, but rarely the Arabic of the people they ruled. Circassians from the North Caucasus had been brought to Egypt for centuries as slaves to receive military training and Circassian women, famous for their beauty, filled the harems of the Middle East’s rulers.  Though the Mamluk system had been broken in 1811, Circassians and their descendants continued to play major roles in the Egyptian military until the revolt of the Arab officers overthrew the dynasty of Muhammad ‘Ali in 1952.

Ismail Pasha and Thaddeus Mott Pasha

Muhammad ‘Ali’s grandson Ismail became the fourth Khedive in the dynasty’s line in 1863. It was a good time to take over; Egypt’s cotton industry had filled the government coffers as Egypt profited from the Civil War blockade around the cotton-producing southern states.

Ismail Pasha

Ismail was determined to consolidate Egyptian power over the entire Nile Basin as well as the Red Sea coast. Though Egypt had a large degree of independence, the Khedive was still the servant of the Ottoman Sultan and Egypt was expected to contribute militarily to Ottoman wars if called upon.

To build his empire Ismail required soldiers from a nation with no strategic or colonial interest in Africa. The sudden availability of many experienced officers after the American Civil War fit the bill perfectly.

Unfortunately, Ismail’s combination of ambition, extravagance and enthusiasm for borrowing cash on the international money markets would ultimately bring about his downfall and an end to the American military presence in Egypt.

Major General Thaddeus Phelps Mott Pasha

To recruit these officers, Ismail turned to Thaddeus Phelps Mott, an American serving as a major-general in the Ottoman Army.

When the New York City-born Thaddeus Mott enlisted in the Union Army as a 30-year-old in 1861, he was already a veteran of Garibaldi’s Redshirts in Italy and the Mexican Army. He had also spent several years at sea as a mate on clipper ships. Fluent in a number of languages, Mott was an excellent swordsman and dead shot with pistols who enjoyed duelling.

As a Union artillery commander, Mott saw heavy action in the battles of the Seven Days, but some of his most desperate moments came in his native New York as a lieutenant colonel of cavalry during the 1863 Draft Riots. Facing thousands of furious rioters, Mott killed one man with his saber who was trying to pull him from his horse.  Mott then ordered the guns under his command to sweep the streets with grape and canister shot.

Three years after the war Mott joined the Ottoman Army’s general staff and was stationed in Egypt. Seeking Western military experts who did not need to clear all the Khedive’s orders with their embassy (as did Ismail’s French advisors), Ismail turned to Mott to recruit American civil war veterans who were free of colonial baggage.

Mott in turn contacted General William Tecumseh Sherman, who agreed to recommend a number of veteran officers from both sides of the Civil War. Sherman had visited Egypt in 1869 and was well treated by the Khedive.

Battle of the Shipka Pass, 1877

Mott became aide-de-camp to Ismail Pasha in 1870, but declined to renew his contract in 1874. He instead returned to Turkey to take part in the Ottoman wars in the Balkans, distinguishing himself against the Russians at the Battle of Shipka Pass in 1877. Mott died in Paris in 1894.

Many of Sherman’s recommendations appear to have been made with the goal of sending discontented Union officers on half-pay and Confederates of suspect loyalty out of the country. A number of key Civil War figures, including former Confederate Generals Joseph Johnston, P.G.T. Beauregard and George Pickett, considered the proposal but declined for various reasons. However, service in Egypt was considered respectable employment and many of the officers who accepted came from some of the most distinguished families in America.

The Americans Arrive

On their arrival in Egypt, the Americans found an army suffering from illiteracy, no command structure, no intelligence apparatus, no signals corps, antique artillery and persistent ammunition shortages. The entire Egyptian army possessed only three maps.

The Citadel in Cairo: Headquarters of the Egyptian Army and Home of the American Staff

Some of the Americans were put to good use in exploration, training and engineering projects, while others had little to do and killed the boredom with drinking and dueling over petty disputes, some of them dating back to the Civil War. Many of these latter officers made early returns to the United States.

There was no pay department in the Egyptian Army, which at times forced the Americans to collect their salaries at gunpoint when it was months in arrears. Otherwise they accumulated debt which they had little hope of repaying, making the avoidance of creditors their main occupation.

As Muslims, the ladies of the Egyptian aristocracy were strictly off limits to the Christian Americans. There were Syrian, Greek and Armenian Christian women in Egypt, but they tended to live the same veiled and secluded life as their Muslim counterparts. The Americans instead turned for female companionship to the European ladies performing at the Cairo theaters and opera. While some French officers of Napoleon’s occupation army (1798-1801) had converted to Islam to marry Muslim women, it does not appear that any of the Americans did the same.

On a professional level, there were difficulties from the start in relations with the existing officers of the Egyptian Army, who resented the American presence and no doubt endured a certain amount of arrogance from the Civil War veterans. Egypt was a culture shock for many Americans; one officer described his surprise that eunuchs in the royal court were “beings of great importance” and was warned that they were not to be offended on any account as they had the ability to inflict serious harm on anyone who did so, including Americans.

The Invasion of Abyssinia

Ismail’s expansion into the Horn of Africa brought his troops into conflict with those of the Abyssinian emperor, Yohannes IV. After an Egyptian detachment was massacred, it was decided to send a massive invasion force under Ismail’s son, Prince Hassan Pasha, to punish the Abyssinians.

Emperor Yohannes had actually sent a letter to the US Secretary of State in 1872 requesting US help in preventing Egyptian moves on Christian Abyssinia. He also proposed a bilateral commercial treaty. No response was sent from Washington, and when Americans did arrive, they were part of the Egyptian invasion force.

Language was a problem throughout the campaign. The command language of the army was Turkish, spoken by officers who refused to learn Arabic, deriding it as the language of Egypt’s fellahin peasantry. Translators were thus needed to communicate with the Arabic-speaking rank and file. Some French-speaking Americans could communicate with the Turko-Circassian officer corps, but the rest required translators to speak to both officers and men, making the transmission of orders slow and complicated.

The Americans were also in the strange position of fighting their fellow Christians on behalf of a Muslim nation, but they tended to regard Abyssinian Orthodoxy as a barbaric form of the Christian faith. The Americans were also astonished that the Egyptians insisted on including a regiment of Sudanese blacks in the expeditionary force. Their own prejudices made them overlook the fact that the Sudanese troops were the finest and most experienced in the Egyptian Army. Many in the regiment had distinguished themselves fighting on behalf of Maximillian in Mexico at the same time the Civil War was raging north of the border.

Abyssinian Warriors

Once in Abyssinia, both Americans and Egyptians alike were shocked by the extreme form of psychological warfare used by the Abyssinians. Prisoners were subjected to horrible genital mutilations and then released naked and bleeding to find their way back to Egyptian lines. The impact on the Egyptian troops was devastating.

During a massive battle at Gura that lasted two days in March 1876, the Egyptian Army was badly defeated by native troops armed with far inferior weapons. American officers complained that the Egyptians failed to attack, preferring instead to “stand still and be killed like sheep.” The Americans attributed this fatalism to the work of the Islamic Imams attached to the expedition and the failure of the Turko-Circassian officers to adopt an aggressive attitude.

While the rest of the Egyptian officer corps returned home to acclaim and decorations, the Americans were ordered to remain at the Red Sea port of Massawa through the brutal summer heat. When they were finally allowed to return to Cairo, they found the Turko-Circassian officers had prepared the way with humiliating accusations of American incompetence.

Prince Hassan Ismail Pasha

In 1877, Prince Hassan led an Egyptian expeditionary force to assist the Ottoman Turks in their war against Russia. The remaining American officers, still blamed for the defeat in Abyssinia, were not welcome.

By 1878, most of the American mercenaries had been decommissioned and sent back to the United States. Because of a spiraling national debt fueled by Ismail’s financial extravagance and growing political pressure from his main creditors, the British and French, Ismail was forced to abdicate his throne in 1879 in favor of his son, Tawfiq. Ismail died in debauched exile in Constantinople, the final straw being an attempt to guzzle two bottles of champagne in one go.

It did not take long for the achievements of the Americans in Africa to be forgotten. Their service as Christian mercenaries in a Muslim state was eventually regarded as something of an embarrassment in both Egypt and their home country.

End of Part One.

See Part Two at: https://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=4270 

American Civil War Veterans and the Egyptian Empire in Africa

Andrew McGregor

A talk given to the Civil War Roundtable at the Royal Canadian Military Institute, Toronto, March 28, 2018.

See Part One at: https://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=4253

Part Two – Biographies of the Civil War Veterans in Egypt

Charles Pomeroy Stone Pasha

Charles Pomeroy Stone fought in most of the major battles in the Mexican-American War and was twice promoted during the campaign for outstanding performance on the battlefield.

When the Civil War broke out, General Winfield Scott put Stone in charge of Washington’s defenses, to which Stone applied himself with great energy. However, a few months later Stone ran afoul of abolitionist Republicans when he followed the government’s own policy by returning runaway slaves to Maryland. Shortly after that, Stone ordered a reconnaissance in force across the Potomac at Ball’s Bluff. Waiting Confederates killed over a thousand Union troops, including their commander, a Republican senator. Stone, a Democrat, was the scapegoat for this disaster. He was denied a court-martial and was instead sent to prison without charges at Fort Lafayette in New York harbor for 200 days. He was released through the intervention of General Ulysses S. Grant, but remained under suspicion as a potential traitor for the rest of the war.

Stone’s military talents were better recognized in Egypt than in his homeland, and he served for eight years as army chief-of-staff and aide-de-camp to Ismail Pasha. He organized a much-needed general staff and created schools for Egyptian soldiers and their children at a time when the army was plagued by illiteracy and thus unable to modernize. A number of the American officers were aware of Stone’s reputation and formed a cabal against him, but Stone handled them perfectly and soon, as one officer put it, had them “eating out of his hand.”

Stone Pasha remained loyal to the dynasty even after nearly all the other Americans had gone home and most notably protected Ismail’s successor Tawfiq during the British bombardment of Alexandria in 1882.

After Stone returned to the United States he continued working as a civil engineer. In 1884 he was the chief engineer on the Statue of Liberty project but fell ill after attending the dedication on a cold blustery day. He died several months later and was buried at West Point.

William Wing Loring Pasha

William W. Loring never attended a military school. Instead, he learned soldiering in the field, beginning as a 14-year-old volunteer with the Florida state militia.

Eventually he was commissioned in the pre-Civil War US Army, in which he participated in the 1857-58 Utah expedition (also known as the Mormon Rebellion) and the Indian Wars in the west. Loring lost his arm during the storming of Chapultepec Castle in Mexico. Legend has it that he smoked a cigar during the amputation.

Loring’s Civil War service was infused with controversy; after feuding with his superior Stonewall Jackson, the Confederate general had Loring charged with “neglect of duty” and “conduct subversive of good order and military discipline.” Fortunately for Loring, the War Department did not pursue the charges and wisely sent Loring far away from Jackson. At the Siege of Vicksburg, Loring repulsed an advance by General Grant but his command later became separated from the Confederate garrison inside the city. The Vicksburg commander, John C. Pemberton, blamed Loring for the fall of the city.

Loring would serve ten years in Egypt, beginning as Inspector General of the Army. At one point he escorted his old Vicksburg rival President Ulysses S Grant during his visit to Egypt.

In 1875 Ismail placed Loring in charge of the expedition to punish Abyssinia for its interference in Egypt’s expansion along the coasts of the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. Ismail implored Loring and Ratib, the Circasssian commander of the Egyptian Army, to work hand in hand. Once in the field, however, Ratib and his fellow Turko-Circassian officers created a parallel command structure using verbal commands, a custom in the Egyptian army where even many officers were illiterate. Furious disagreements between Loring and Ratib over the conduct and purposes of the war were a major factor in the disaster at Gura. Using an Eastern conception of war as a demonstration of strength that preceded negotiations, Ratib insisted on building forts in the Gura Valley. Loring, a fresh graduate of the “total war” philosophy that had destroyed the Confederacy, wanted to continue marching into the Abyssinian interior to destroy armed resistance.

After his return to the United States, Loring wrote his memoir, A Confederate Soldier in Egypt. Loring was buried in St. Augustine, Florida, in 1897 in one of the largest public events in the city’s history. By 2018, local social justice warriors wanted to tear down his grave monument and expel his remains from Loring Park. A statue of Loring commissioned in 1911 still stands at Vicksburg and does not yet appear to be threatened.

Ratib Pasha

Loring’s antagonist, Ratib Pasha, was one of the last Circassians to be brought to Egypt as a military slave in the 19th century. Unlike the earlier Mamluks, who tended to be powerful men with expertise in all the arms of the day, Ratib was only five foot four and roughly one hundred pounds. He had little military training and had served as a royal equerry during the reign of Khedive Abbas Pasha. At some point Ratib angered the Khedive, who struck him. The mortified Ratib attempted to shoot himself but only succeeded in blowing off part of his nose. To make amends, Abbas appointed the small man commander-in-chief of the Egyptian Army.

Unsurprisingly, many of the American professional soldiers had little respect for Ratib and presented him with a series of small humiliations, none of which Ratib was likely to forget. One of the Americans described Ratib as being “as shriveled with lechery as the mummy is with age.” Another officer cited Ratib’s “insane jealousy and intolerance of foreigners,” which compelled him to ignore all military advice from American sources.

The nominal command of the Abyssinian expedition was entrusted to the Khedive’s son, Prince Hassan Pasha. Unfortunately, much of the expedition’s Egyptian command viewed their primary role as protecting the Prince from all harm rather than pursuing the expedition’s political and military goals.

Charles Chaillé-Long Bey

A descendant of French Huguenots who fled to America in 1685, Charles Chaillé-Long joined the pro-Union Maryland Infantry in 1862, achieving the rank of Captain and seeing action at Gettysburg and Harper’s Ferry.

Chaillé-Long was commissioned as a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Egyptian Army. His fluency in French was a major asset, as French was commonly spoken by the royal and military elites in Egypt, while English speakers continually required interpreters. He was one of the few American officers to learn Arabic.

Chaillé-Long served on Colonel Charles George Gordon’s staff in Equatoria Province, the southern-most region of the Sudan. His public criticism of Gordon, who had been seconded to Egyptian service, would eventually damage his reputation after Gordon achieved a type of Victorian sainthood following his death at the hands of Egyptian Mahdists in Khartoum (1885).

In 1874, Chaillé-Long led a small party south on a secret mission to expand Ismail’s empire into tropical Africa. He succeeded in securing a treaty with the most powerful king in northern Uganda that made the latter a vassal of Egypt. On the return trip, Chaillé-Long was wounded in a two-hour battle with a rival king. When he reached Gordon’s headquarters in Equatoria he was a fearful sight; one eye closed and blackened, a gunshot wound to his nose, bearded, filthy and half-starved. It took some time for Chaillé-Long to convince Gordon it was really him. For his efforts he was eventually decorated and made a full colonel with the Turkish title of “Bey” (an honorific one step below “Pasha”).

Further expeditions followed to the northeast Congo and Somalia. These took a serious toll on his health, leading to Chaillé-Long’s resignation in 1877.

Chaillé-Long studied law after his US homecoming. He returned to Egypt in 1882 to practice law in the international courts in Alexandria. After US diplomats abandoned the Alexandria Consulate during the British bombardment later that year, Chaillé-Long took over as a temporary, unpaid consul and saved hundreds of Europeans from angry mobs of Egyptians who were massacring Europeans in the streets. He led 160 US sailors and marines as part of an effort to restore order in the city.

In 1887, Chaillé-Long was appointed US consul general in Korea. In his later years he became bitter over what he saw as disproportionate attention given to British explorers in Africa over his own efforts. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery in 1917.

Alexander Macomb Mason Bey

Alexander Macomb Mason Bey began his career in the US Navy before joining the Virginia Navy when the Civil War broke out in 1861. He was captured and sent to the Johnson’s Island prison camp in Ohio for the duration of the war. His relative James Murray Mason was one of the principals in the infamous Trent Affair that nearly brought the Union and Great Britain to blows.

After his release, Mason saw action as a mercenary with the Chilean Navy against Spain in the Chincha Islands War.  He joined the Egyptian army in 1870, where he worked as a military trainer and surveyor. He also explored western Uganda on behalf of the Khedive, being the first Westerner to visit the Semliki River, a tributary of the Nile.

Unlike most of the Americans who left after the Abyssinian debacle, Mason stayed on in Egypt, becoming the governor of Massawa on the Red Sea coast and Egypt’s unofficial ambassador to Abyssinia. In 1883 he was the Egyptian representative on a British diplomatic mission to Emperor Yohannes to negotiate a peaceful withdrawal of all Egyptian garrisons on the Red Sea coast, though these bases were quickly taken over by the Italians, who had their own designs on Abyssinia.

He stayed on in Cairo until he died in 1897 during a rare visit to his homeland.

Raleigh Colston Bey

Born in Paris, Raleigh Colston seemed to live life under a black cloud. He did not arrive in his adoptive father’s native Virginia until he was 17. He managed to avoid an uncle’s determination that he should become a Presbyterian minister and enrolled at Virginia Military Institute (VMI). He taught there alongside Stonewall Jackson after graduation and commanded a guard of VMI cadets at the execution of abolitionist John Brown. When the war came, he was quickly made a Brigadier in the Confederate Army despite a lack of combat experience. He was strongly criticized for his performance at the Battle of Seven Pines, which was followed by a six-month illness. Nonetheless, with Jackson’s sponsorship, he was made a divisional commander until his performance at the Battle of Chancellorsville led to being relieved of his command by General Robert E. Lee, commander of the Army of Northern Virginia. Later in the war, Colston served under General PGT Beauregard at the Siege of Petersburg.

After the war, Colston joined the Egyptian Army when his attempts to establish a pair of military schools came to naught and his wife was confined to an insane asylum. In 1873, Ismail sent him on a camel-borne expedition to the ancient city of Baranis on the Red Sea to investigate the possibility of linking the Nile to the Red Sea by railroad.

In 1874, Colston fell seriously ill during an expedition to the western Sudanese territory of Kordofan. Rather than return, he insisted on carrying on. Eventually he had to be carried on a camel litter, expecting death at any moment. He was eventually nursed back to health by the wife of a Sudanese soldier for whom he had once done a favor. Partially paralyzed as a result of his illness, he did not return to Cairo until two years after his departure.

On his return to the US, Colston found limited work as a clerk and translator. Having used his Egyptian pay to support his wife and two children, he eventually found himself a penniless invalid living at the Confederate Soldiers’ Home in Richmond, where he died in 1896.

William McEntyre Dye Bey

A graduate of West Point, William McEntyre Dye led a Union brigade at the Battle of Prairie Grove, Arkansas and then participated in the Siege of Vicksburg. He commanded a brigade at the Battle of Brownsville in Texas, close to where Sudanese troops he would later command were fighting south of the border in Mexico. He distinguished himself while leading his regiment in an attack on Fort Morgan during the Battle of Mobile Bay.

After the war, Dye joined the Egyptian Army as a colonel and served as assistant chief-of-staff to General Loring during the Abyssinian campaign. Dye was wounded at the Battle of Gura and returned to the US after being court-martialed for striking an Egyptian officer. He then served 11 years as chief military advisor to King Gojong of Korea. Dye learned Korean and wrote a military handbook in that language.

Charles W. Field Bey

Born on a Kentucky plantation, Charles W. Field graduated West Point and served in the American West under Colonel Albert Sidney Johnston in the 2nd US Cavalry. Joining the Confederate forces as a major in 1861, Field fought in Stonewall Jackson’s Valley Campaign and the Peninsula Campaign. His leg was badly damaged at Second Bull Run and never fully recovered. When he returned to the field as a major-general he suffered two more wounds in the Battle of the Wilderness. He led his division at Cold Harbor and the Siege of Petersburg before surrendering his command at Appomattox Court House.

Field joined the Egyptian Army as a colonel of engineers, and later served as the Inspector General of the Army during its Abyssinian campaign.

Field appears to have been one of the few Americans in the Egyptian Army to experience citizenship issues on his return as a consequence of having served in a foreign army. These were overcome when it was pointed out he had served on a private contract and had never pledged allegiance to a foreign head-of-state.

Erasmus Sparrow Purdy Pasha

An expert surveyor, Erasmus Sparrow Purdy worked with General Stone in surveying the Sonora and Baja regions of the American west before the war. He served during the Civil War as an officer in a New York infantry regiment.

After joining the Egyptian army, Ismail sent Purdy on various missions to explore the far reaches of his expanding empire, including Darfur, northern Uganda and the Red Sea coast.

Re-dedication of Purdy Pasha’s Grave Monument in Old Cairo

Like many of the American officers, Purdy fell into debt and was harassed by his creditors. He died bankrupt in Egypt in 1881. Egypt’s Khedivial Geographical Society raised funds for a tombstone in the Protestant cemetery in Old Cairo. With time and neglect Purdy’s grave fell into disrepair until the year 2000, when some long-term American residents of Cairo raised the funds for a new 10-foot tall memorial. A ceremony was held, attended by a US Marine honor guard and US Major General Robert Wilson, who said “We regard Major Purdy as a pioneer in building American-Egyptian military relations,” a significant nod to the role of the forgotten American mercenaries.

James Morris Morgan Bey

When the Civil War started, 15-year-old James Morris Morgan resigned from Annapolis and served as a midshipman in the Confederate flotilla on the Mississippi.

He then helped work the naval batteries at Drewry’s Bluff in Virginia during the Peninsula campaign in 1862. He returned to sea with the Confederate gunboat Patrick Henry in the James River squadron. Morgan then served on the CSS McRae (a former pirate steamer converted to Confederate warship) until its destruction in the Battle for New Orleans.

Morgan then joined the crew of the commerce raider CSS Georgia, which at one point became involved in a battle with Moroccan tribesmen while anchored off the Moroccan coast. Morgan described it as a “most narrow and fortunate escape for us slaveholders,” as they could expect to be murdered or sold into slavery themselves if captured. During the war Morgan’s two older brothers died while serving as officers under Stonewall Jackson.

Morgan did not participate in any significant campaigns in Egypt and seems to have spent most of his time dueling and chasing actresses. A forbidden flirtation with a Circassian princess nearly cost him his life.

After returning to the US, Morgan was hired by General Stone as an engineer on the Statue of Liberty project. He later became the US Consul for Australasia. He described his life in a highly entertaining account, Recollections of a Rebel Reefer, published in 1917. By the time of his death in 1928 Morgan was the last remaining American veteran of the Egyptian Army.

Henry Hopkins Sibley

Henry Hopkins Sibley was a graduate of West Point and was decorated for bravery in the Mexican-American War. When the Civil War began, Sibley was fighting the Navajo in New Mexico. He resigned his commission to join the Confederate forces and organized a brigade of Texans. Sibley’s greatest moment came when he led this brigade west in an attempt to capture the Colorado gold mines and reach the Pacific coast to establish a Confederate port in California.

Following a string of victories, the climactic battle of the campaign was fought in 1862 at the Glorieta Pass in the New Mexico territory. Sibley’s men won a tactical victory by driving the Federal forces back through the pass but lost all their supply train in the process, forcing a withdrawal into Texas. This brought an end to Confederate hopes of extending their territory to the Pacific.

Taking command of the Arizona Brigade in Louisiana, Sibley developed an unfortunate reputation for failing to follow orders and alcohol abuse that led to his court-martial in 1863.

Sibley was recruited by Mott after the war and served as the commander of the Egyptian artillery for three years. Sibley helped supervise the construction of Egypt’s coastal fortifications until problems with alcohol returned and he was dismissed from Egyptian service in 1873. The man who almost seized California for the Confederacy died in poverty and was buried in Fredericksburg Confederate Cemetery.

Though largely forgotten by history, Sibley’s character made a brief appearance in the spaghetti western The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, which is set in the midst of Sibley’s New Mexico campaign.

Beverley Kennon Jr. Bey

Beverley Kennon Junior’s father, Commodore Beverley Kennon, fought in the War of 1812 and the Second Barbary War.

The Governor Moore was an expropriated commercial paddle-wheeler turned into a warship by the addition of guns, iron rails fitted as a ram and cotton bales to protect its boilers. Kennon took command of this hybrid ship without pay and fought it in the furious April 1862 battle just south of New Orleans. At one point the Governor Moore was too close to the USS Varuna to use its bow gun, so Kennon ordered the gun to fire twice through the Governor Moore’s bow to sink the Union ship. By the end of the battle, most of Kennon’s ship was destroyed and 64 of her crew were dead or dying. The ship was run aground and set on fire, but Kennon was captured and endured three years of brutal captivity in the north.

After joining the Egyptian Army, Kennon devised a brilliant system of coastal defense. Instead of constructing large forts to defend Alexandria, Kennon proposed hiding single gun emplacements along the coast with interlocking fields of fire. The guns would be hidden in the sand hills, raised by a hydraulic system of Kennon’s own invention before taking a shot and disappearing again into the sand bank for reloading. Part of Kennon’s defensive works involved a modern wire-guided torpedo designed by Buffalo New York native John Lay, who began designing torpedoes in the Civil War.

The Bombardment of Alexandria, 1882

In 1882 the Arab officers and men of the Egyptian Army led by Colonel Ahmad ‘Urabi revolted against the Turko-Circassian aristocracy. The ensuing chaos put control of the newly-built Suez Canal in jeopardy and European lives at risk from murderous mobs in Alexandria. British and French warships soon arrived off Alexandria, where they began a bombardment of the city.

Despite putting up a good fight, the Egyptian coastal batteries were quickly destroyed by British firepower and British troops were soon investing Egypt. Kennon had finished a working prototype of the defensive system before being told the Khedive’s finances could not afford the completion of the system.  Implementation of Kennon’s plan could have easily changed the course of Egyptian history (and that of the Mid-East) by giving Colonel ‘Urabi’s forces the means of fending off the British invaders, who would remain for 76 years.

When the British troops reached the Citadel in Cairo, they destroyed all the maps and charts so painfully prepared by the American officers. The legacy of the American military presence in Egypt was thus eliminated in Egypt while the triumphs and errors of the Civil War veterans in Ismail’s African empire were fated to be forgotten in their US homeland.