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.

 

Religious Extremist or Force for Moderation? A Profile of Imprisoned Saudi Shaykh Salman bin Fahd al-Ouda

Andrew McGregor

March 8, 2018

Shaykh Salman bin Fahd al-Ouda (Sydsvanskan/Lars Brundin)

One of Saudi Arabia’s leading Salafist religious scholars, Shaykh Salman bin Fahd al-Ouda, is currently hospitalized under guard after spending nearly five months in isolation without charges in a Saudi prison. [1] Once a strong opponent of the American military presence in the Arabian peninsula and often described as an inspiration to leading jihadists such as Osama bin Laden, al-Ouda’s failure to endorse the Saudi rivalry with Qatar has brought a bitter end to years of cooperation with the Saudi regime. With millions of followers in the Saudi Kingdom and abroad, the shaykh’s death in custody would have a direct impact on Saudi stability and the long-term plans of Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman al-Sa’ud to reform the nation according to his own vision and succeed his father as king.

Early Career

Shaykh al-Ouda is today a leading scholar of Salafist Islam, one of the most influential preachers in Saudi Arabia and a member of the influential International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS), a movement often associated with the Muslim Brotherhood.

Al-Ouda was born in 1955 in the village of al-Basr near the Saudi city of Burayda in Saudi Arabia’s al-Qassim Province, a relatively poor agricultural region in the center of the Kingdom known for its religious conservatism. The region is considered the heartland of Wahhabism, the 18th century Islamic reform movement that united with the al-Sa’ud royal family to form the Kingdom’s enduring power base. [2] By 2001, it was estimated that 80% of the Kingdom’s judges (experts in Shari’a, the nation’s sole system of jurisprudence) hailed from al-Qassim (Economist, June 16, 2001).

Al-Ouda  is a scholar of the Hanbali madhab, one of the four Sunni schools of Islamic jurisprudence (madahib), Hanbali is the dominant school in Saudi Arabia and is the one most commonly followed by Saudi Arabia’s conservative Salafis (“followers of the pious predecessors,” i.e. the first three generations of Islam). The shaykh carries a Ph.D. in Islamic jurisprudence from the prestigious Imam Muhammad bin Sa’ud. After completing his Islamic education, al-Ouda returned home to become a professor at the al-Qassim campus of the Imam Muhammad ibn Saud Islamic University in Burayda. In those years, al-Ouda operated under the shadow of well-known Burayda-based Salafist scholar Shaykh Muhammad bin Salih al-Uthaymin, who was frequently critical of the young al-Ouda.

Osama Bin Laden and the Gulf War

The internal controversy over the Kingdom’s participation in the First Gulf War (1990-1991) provided al-Ouda with the opportunity to become internationally known in the Islamic world through a series of audiotapes critical of a fatwa (religious ruling) issued by Saudi Grand Mufti Abd al-Aziz bin Baz that permitted non-Muslim allies led by the United States to use Saudi Arabia as a base for the war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Al-Ouda questioned why the Kingdom was still reliant on U.S. protection after billions of dollars of American arms purchases. The presence of kaffir (infidel) U.S. troops on the Kingdom’s sacred soil during the campaign was also used to propel the career of a supporter of the Islamic jihad in Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden.

Al-Ouda was not alone in using cassette tapes to address Islamic issues; indeed, Shi’a Iran had been prepared for the return of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979 by a series of audiotapes recorded by the Ayatollah in his Paris exile. With such tapes being collected like books by Saudi citizens, al-Ouda even addressed the importance of the phenomenon in a sermon entitled Al-sharit al-Islami ma lahu wa ma ‘alih (The Islamic Tape: An Assessment).

During the next three years, al-Ouda became a leading opposition figure and a signatory of the Khitab al-Matalib (Letter of Demands), a 1991 document requesting the king to open the political system to reforms and greater consultation (shura). It is al-Ouda’s belief that shura rather than democracy is the core of a successful Islamic state; those that relied on shura, such as the Ummayads, Abbasids and Ayubids survived, while those that rejected shura, such as the Ottoman Empire, ultimately disintegrated. [3] In September 1994 the regime asked him for a pledge to desist from preaching on politics. His refusal led to his arrest two days later. [4]

Imprisonment

Al-Ouda was arrested in September 1994 along with fellow Sahwa movement leader Shaykh Safar bin Abd al-Rahman al-Hawali. Bin Laden spoke approvingly of al-Ouda shortly after the latter’s arrest in his “Open Letter to Shaykh Bin Baz on the Invalidity of his Fatwa on Peace with the Jews.” [5] Two years later, Osama bin Laden would insist the arrests were made on the orders of the United States in his “Declaration of jihad on the Americans.” [6] The claim was repeated by al-Gama’a al-Islamiya leader Omar Abd al-Rahman while he was serving a life sentence in the U.S. for various terrorist activities, including the 1993 bombing of New York’s World Trade Center. [7] While awaiting trial in 1995 for his role in the World Trade Center, imprisoned terrorist Ramzi Yusuf claimed his “Liberation Army” was preparing strikes in Saudi Arabia in retaliation for the arrests of al-Ouda and al-Hawali (al-Hayat, April 12, 1995).

Bin Laden’s biographer, Hamid Mir, recalled that Bin Laden had described al-Ouda as his “ideal personality, a savior who was the first to demand the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Saudi.” According to Mir, Bin Laden claimed al-Ouda had written several pamphlets on jihad for al-Qaeda, though these had not been issued under his name. [8]

In 1998, former Bin Laden bodyguard Abu Jandal (a.k.a. Nassir al-Bahri) told an interviewer that Bin Laden had told him that he would never have entered into opposition to the Saudi government had al-Ouda and al-Hawali not been detained. [9] In his pre-9/11 communications, bin Laden frequently addressed themes contained in al-Ouda’s written works and taped messages. [10] Al-Ouda’s five-year imprisonment failed to silence the preacher, as he continued to record audiotapes smuggled out of prison and released for public consumption.

The Sahwa Movement

After his release, al-Ouda became an important member of the Saudi al–Sahwa al-Islamiya (Islamic Awakening) movement.  The group emerged when Muslim Brotherhood members fleeing repression in Egypt began to interact with normally hostile Saudi Salafists in the 1960s. A shared conservative approach to Islam was the foundation for greater cooperation, particularly in urging a greater political role for religious scholars in the state. The Sahwa movement was strongly opposed by the Kingdom’s Madkhalis, another Salafist faction that advocates an almost extreme form of loyalty to the state and its rulers. [11]

Letter to Bin Laden

Bin Laden’s admiration of al-Ouda does not appear to have been reciprocal; six years after the 9/11 attack, al-Ouda released an open letter to the al-Qaeda leader. [12] In the letter, al-Ouda accuses Bin Laden of tarnishing the image of Islam: “People around the world are saying how Islam teaches that those who do not accept it must be killed. They are also saying that the adherents of Salafi teachings kill Muslims who do not share their views.” Al-Ouda asks who benefits from turning Muslim nations into battlefields “where no one feels safe” and questions whether obstructing governments is a solution for anything: ‘Is this the plan – even if it is achieved by marching over the corpses of hundreds of thousands of people – police, soldiers, and civilians, even the common Muslims? Are their deaths to be shrugged off, saying: “They will be resurrected in the hereafter based on the state of their hearts?”

The shaykh also asked what violent extremists could contribute should they succeed in taking power: “What can people who have no life experience hope to achieve in the sphere of good governance? People who have no knowledge of Islamic law to support them and no understanding of domestic and foreign relations? Is Islam only about guns and ammunition? Have your means become the ends themselves?” Al-Ouda concluded with one last question for the al-Qaeda leader: “What have all these long years of suffering, tragedy, tears, and sacrifice actually achieved?” (Muslim Matters, September 18, 2007).

Overall, the letter falls short of being a clear denunciation of Bin Laden or his terrorist tactics. Instead, al-Ouda treats Bin Laden as a Muslim believer who has strayed from the path of Islam but still has the opportunity to review his approach much like the imprisoned jihadists occupied with compiling “revisions” of their past activities. The fact that it took six years for al-Ouda to compose his critique suggests a long period of either indecision or fear that such criticisms might alienate the shaykh’s following.

Becoming a Voice for Moderation?

Moving on from production of audiotapes, al-Ouda embraced the internet, becoming in 2001 a director of IslamToday.net, which carries content in Arabic, English and Chinese. Islam Today has become the shaykh’s most significant avenue for influence, supplemented by numerous YouTube videos and the publication of over 50 books on Islamic theology. Al-Ouda also realized the potential of Twitter and has today something between 11 to 14 million Twitter followers (The Peninsula [Doha]. January 26, 2017).  14.3 million (Al-Bawaba, October 7, 2017).

Shaykh al-Ouda was generally supportive of the Arab Spring uprisings as a much-needed corrective to Arab authoritarianism, but this did not play well with the Saudi regime. Al-Ouda’s relationship with the regime was further aggravated when he denounced the military overthrow of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood government in 2011 as a “coup.” Nonetheless, al-Ouda rejected the absolutism that runs as a common thread through Islamist politics:

We have to remember that the Islamists’ program in any country should not be mistaken for Islam itself, nor that anyone who disagrees with it is a loser. It is the Islamists’ right, like anyone else, to practise what the others practise [i.e. politics], as long as it respects the limits of moderation, justice, and distance from the assumption that they have the absolute truth or that what they are calling for is sacred. [13]

In March 2013, al-Ouda took the bold step of issuing an open letter to the Kingdom’s rulers, warning of the danger posed by censorship and political repression: “[The people] will not remain silent forever if some or all of these things are constantly denied to them. When revolutions are suppressed, they turn into armed conflicts. If they are ignored, they grow in reach and breadth” (IBTimes, March 18, 2013).

No Place in the Crown Prince’s Reforms

Saudi Arabia’s political climate began to undergo major changes with the accession of King Salman to the throne in January 2015. Foreign policy in particular took on a much more aggressive edge as Crown Prince Muhammad assumed the defense, economic and foreign affairs portfolios in the Saudi government while the eighty-one-year-old King, possibly suffering from pre-dementia, began to prepare for an expected abdication in favor of the Crown Prince.

Crown Prince Muhammad is well aware of the tenuous nature of his status – his two predecessors as Crown Prince since King Salman took the throne in 2015 were both removed. In this tense atmosphere it can be risky just to withhold public approval of the regime’s activities (including the feud with Qatar), most of which are already controlled by the ambitious Crown Prince.

For al-Ouda, 2017 began with tragedy when his wife Haya al-Sayari and his son Hisham were killed when their car collided with a truck (The Peninsula [Doha], January 26, 2017). Accusations of extremism came next, as al-Ouda appeared on a list of six “hate preachers” who were banned from Denmark in 2017, with the Danish government describing the six (five Muslims plus evangelical American preacher Terry Jones) as “travelling fanatical preachers” who “indoctrinate listeners to commit violence against women and children, spread ideas of a caliphate and undermine founding values” (Jyllands Posten [Copenhagen], May 2, 2017).

Crown Prince Muhammad moved to consolidate his personal power in September 2017, when he ordered the arrest of over a score of religious scholars, businessmen, politicians, poets, academics and writers, including al-Ouda (Middle East Monitor, September 14, 2017).

After news spread of a U.S.-brokered phone call between the Saudi Crown Prince and Qatari amir Shaykh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani on September 9, 2017, al-Ouda tweeted “May God bring their hearts together for the good of their people.” [14] Al-Ouda’s arrest followed only hours later. Even the suggestion of support for a Saudi reconciliation with a Qatari regime the Saudi leaders describe as supporters of terrorism was evidently enough to remove al-Ouda from the public sphere. According to the shaykh’s family, al-Ouda had resisted previous pressure from the regime to support its feud with Qatar and his brother Khalid was imprisoned just for announcing news of Salman’s arrest (AFP, January 18).

Shaykh Awad al-Qarni

Al-Ouda and fellow Sahwa leader Shaykh Awad al-Qarni (reputed to have close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood) were among those accused by the Saudi Security Directorate of engaging in intelligence activities “for the benefit of foreign parties against the security of the Kingdom and its interests, methodology, capabilities and social peace in order to stir up sedition and prejudice national unity” (Saudi Press Agency, September 12, 2017).

Al-Ouda’s actual Twitter message may not have been as offensive as its demonstration of defiance of regime instructions to scholars to attack the role of the Qatari government in the Middle East-North Africa (MENA) region. Al-Ouda’s international reach only helped make his recalcitrance impossible to ignore.

Al-Ouda’s greatest offense seems to have been his continued association with the IUMS and its leader, Egyptian-born Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, now living in exile in Qatar and viewed as the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. This association appears to be at the core of Saudi contentions al-Ouda, al-Qarni and other religious figures were acting as agents of the Qatari regime, which has sheltered leading members of the Brotherhood (Arab Weekly, September 17, 2017; Gulf Digital News [Manama], September 11, 2017).

Return to Prison

Al-Ouda was sent to solitary confinement in the Dahaban Prison, north of Jeddah on the Red Sea coast, where he quickly entered into a hunger strike to protest his detention, isolation and inability to secure legal assistance.

When rumors of al-Ouda’s death began to circulate after five months of solitary confinement, the shaykh’s son Abdullah demanded information on his condition. In frail health, al-Ouda was transferred to a hospital in Jeddah, but remained incommunicado until he was allowed to make a phone call to his son on February 6 of this year (Middle East Monitor, February 8).

Conclusion

Al-Ouda’s world-view is based on a kind of religious nationalism, in which Saudi Arabia remains the spiritual and physical homeland of an Islamic practise untainted by innovations or foreign influences (other than the Western experts who should be expelled and replaced by Islamic scholars). The shaykh melds this religious nationalism with a type of Arab supremacism in which Arabs are both intellectually and physically superior to other races and even non-Arab Muslims. [15] This sentiment is common in the Arab leadership of extremist movements such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.

Though some of his views (especially those presented in Western rather than domestic forums) appear to suggest a moderate approach to Islam, al-Ouda remains adamantly anti-Western and anti-Shi’a, including the Arab Shi’a in Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich al-Sharqiyah Province, where they form as much as one-third of the population. [16]

Despite al-Ouda’s popularity in many quarters, he remains a polarizing figure in Saudi society, where some view him as a progressive voice while others remain convinced he is a conservative extremist. Unlike many Saudi imams, al-Ouda does not rely on a government salary and this makes him dangerously independent in the eyes of the regime. For now, the shaykh’s millions of followers await his fate, which depends largely on the political mood of the determined Crown Prince.

Notes

  1. Other common transliterations of the shaykh’s nisba include al-Awda, al-Odah, al-Udah and al-Auda.
  2. Founded by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703-1792), the movement rejects the term “Wahhabism” as implying worship of its founder rather than God. Its followers prefer the terms “Salafi” or “al-Muwahidin” (Monotheists).
  3. Salman al-Ouda, Audiotape “Asbab Soqut al-Diwal,” (Why Do States Disintegrate), as cited in Mamoun Fandy, Saudi Arabia and the Politics of Dissent, Palgrave, New York, 1999, p.97.
  4. Mamoun Fandy, Ibid, p.92.
  5. Osama bin Laden: “Open Letter to Shaykh Bin Baz on the Invalidity of his Fatwa on Peace with the Jews” (September 29, 1994), https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Open_Letter_to_Shaykh_Bin_Baz_on_the_Invalidity_of_his_Fatwa_on_Peace_with_the_Jews
  6. “Declaration of jihad against the Americans occupying the land of the two holiest sites: A message from Osama bin Muhammad bin Laden,” August 23, 1996, https://ctc.usma.edu/app/uploads/2013/10/Declaration-of-Jihad-against-the-Americans-Occupying-the-Land-of-the-Two-Holiest-Sites-Translation.pdf
  7. “Fatwa of the prisoner Shaykh Doctor Omar Abd al-Rahman,” May 26, 1998, cited in Peter L. Bergen, The Osama bin Laden I Know: An Oral History of al Qaeda’s Leader, Free Press, New York, 2006, p. 204.
  8. Peter Bergen interview of Hamid Mir, March 2005, in: Peter L. Bergen, op cit, p.149.
  9. Khalid al-Hammadi interview with Abu Jandal, al-Quds al-Arabi, August 1998, as cited in Peter L. Bergen, op cit, p. 149.
  10. Mamoun Fandy, op cit, pp. 186-192.
  11. For Madkhalism, see: “Radical Loyalty and the Libyan Crisis: A Profile of Salafist Shaykh Rabi’ Hadi al-Madkhali,” Militant Leadership Monitor, January 19, 2017.
  12. “A Ramadan Letter to Osama bin Laden from Salman al-Ouda,” delivered on Saudi Middle East Broadcasting Center (MBC), September 14, 2007, (Muslim Matters, September 18, 2007).
  13. Salman al-Ouda, “Al-Siyasa,” Middle East Broadcasting Center (MBC), April 6, 2011, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FfKpSoccw5s
  14. https://twitter.com/salman_alodah/status/906280562956132352
  15. Salman al-Ouda, Audiotape “Jazirat al-Islam,” (The Island of Islam), as cited in Mamoun Fandy, op cit, p. 101.
  16. Graham E. Fuller and Rend Rahim Francke, “The Arab Shi’a: The Forgotten Muslims,” St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1999, p. 180.

This article first appeared in the March 8, 2018 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Militant Leadership Monitor.