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Soldiers of Misfortune?

By James A. Morgan III
9/5/2018 • Civil War Times Magazine

Charles Chaille-Long was a Marylander who wanted to join the Confederate Army early on but was underage, and his father refused permission. The young man later changed his mind and joined the Union Army, becoming a captain in the 11th Maryland Infantry.

One of the few Americans who bothered to learn Arabic, Chaille-Long first was assigned to the staff of Ratib Pasha—who did not want a staff at all and ignored him. He later became chief of staff to one of the khedive’s remaining non-American advisers, British Colonel Charles “Chinese” Gordon, who later achieved glory fighting the Mahdi at Khartoum. Gordon led one of the major expeditions up the Nile, and Chaille-Long accompanied him part of the way until it was decided that he should proceed with his own smaller expedition to make contact with M’Tesa, the king of Uganda.

Chaille-Long, with only half a dozen men accompanying him so as not to appear to be on a mission of conquest, set out on this expedition in late April 1874 and successfully reached M’Tesa after several weeks of trekking through deep jungle and fighting off mosquitoes, fevers and hostile tribes. Approaching the king on his horse, appropriately named Uganda, the American officer caused quite a stir. This was the first horse that any of the natives had seen, and until Chaille-Long dismounted, they believed the horse and man were one.

M’Tesa was impressed, especially by gifts such as a music box that played “Il Trovatore” and a small, hand-cranked electric battery with which the king amused himself by administering shocks to his retainers. M’Tesa pledged his homage to the khedive in faraway Cairo and eventually assisted Chaille-Long in getting started on the return journey via a route that would take him through previously unexplored portions of the upper reaches of the Nile.

Chaille-Long returned to Cairo in May 1875 with invaluable information that would later help authenticate the source and true channel of Egypt’s great river. Following two other significant exploratory missions to the Nile-Congo watershed and into Somalia, Chaille-Long left Egypt in 1877, studied law at Columbia and returned to Egypt as a member of an international court in 1882. He also served for a time as U.S. consul there. He died in 1917 and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Raleigh Colston was a professor of French at the Virginia Military Institute when the Civil War began. He and his colleague, Thomas J. Jackson, received their initial Confederate commissions on the same day, but their careers took different paths. Jackson became the immortal “Stonewall,” while Colston went on to a creditable but mixed career in various posts. He commanded a brigade under James Longstreet on the Peninsula and a brigade under Jackson after that. He also led Jackson’s old division at Chancellorsville but was criticized for his handling of it. He finished the war in a relative backwater, commanding Confederate forces in Lynchburg, Va.

Colston ran a military school for several years after the war and entered the khedive’s service as a colonel in 1873. Hired as a professor of geography at the military academy, he was diverted into active explorations almost immediately, first conducting hydrographic surveys of Egypt’s Red Sea coastline, then mapping the areas between the coast and the Nile.

In December 1874, Colston set out on an 18- month expedition that nearly killed him. Despite severe physical ailments that paralyzed him from the waist down for several months and required that he be carried on a litter, he oversaw the exploration of the vast Kordofan region of central Sudan.

Colston spent six months being nursed by the nuns at a Catholic mission in El Obeid, some 200 miles southwest of Khartoum. At one point his doctor advised him that he had no more than three or four days to live. To everyone’s surprise, however, he improved, and he came to believe that his recovery was a miracle. He did, however, suffer from semiparalysis in later years.

Colston wrote extensively on his Egyptian experiences and worked as a translator in the surgeon general’s office in Washington. He died in the Confederate Soldier’s Home in Richmond in 1896 and is buried in Hollywood Cemetery.

Alexander McComb Mason was a descendent of Virginia statesman George Mason. A member of the Annapolis class of 1862, he resigned to join the Confederate Navy when Virginia seceded. On November 8, 1861, while acting as private secretary to his uncle, James Mason, he was forcibly removed, along with his uncle and John Slidell, from the British mail packet Trent when that vessel was stopped by USS San Jacinto, thus precipitating the Trent Affair. Mason ended the war in command of a small naval contingent that was captured at Sailor’s Creek.

He became one of Ismail’s most productive military explorers, taking part in five major expeditions from 1870-78. He is credited with discovering the Semliki River and with determining the correct measurements of Lake Albert. He was one of three Americans who, following the 1878 dismissals, remained as civilian employees.

Mason spent the remainder of his life in the khedive’s service as governor of Eritrea and on numerous diplomatic missions. He died in 1897 while on leave in Washington.

James M. Morgan (no relation to the author) was one of Ismail’s more rambunctious American mercenaries. The son-in-law of Confederate Treasury Secretary George Trenholm, James Morgan later penned a notable autobiography, Recollections of a Rebel Reefer.

A 15-year-old first year midshipman at Annapolis in 1861, Morgan joined the Confederate Navy, serving on the Mississippi and James rivers and aboard the commerce raider CSS Georgia. At war’s end he was part of Mrs. Jefferson Davis’ escort out of Richmond. One historian called him “a perennial juvenile,” and his behavior in Egypt certainly supports that view.

Morgan was an expert rider who loved to show off his skills, especially for the ladies. He owned a spirited bay Arabian stallion named Napoleon, once the property of Empress Eugenie of France, and the two of them were a familiar sight on the fashionable boulevards of Cairo.

One of Morgan’s rides nearly cost him his life. Seeing two lightly veiled young Egyptian beauties in an impressive carriage, Morgan put Napoleon through his paces and was rewarded when one of them tossed a rose in his direction.

Spurring Napoleon to a gallop, Morgan leaned down and scooped up the rose from the ground, an impressive feat of horsemanship that resulted in his being called over to the carriage, where the damsel handed him her handkerchief.

The two heavily armed court eunuchs who served as the lady’s escort were not amused at this gross violation of Islamic propriety. With cries of outrage, they rushed at Morgan, one brandishing a scimitar and the other a courbash (heavy rhinoceros-hide whip). Morgan escaped by jumping Napoleon over a lowered railroad-crossing barrier literally seconds ahead of a speeding train.

Ismail was furious when he learned of the incident, particularly because the young lady was his daughter. The wife of the Russian consul intervened, however, and convinced him that Morgan was just a harmless young boy who didn’t know any better.

This “perennial juvenile” had several such adventures during his nearly two years in Egypt but, deciding that he had no future there, Morgan resigned and returned to the United States in 1872. He farmed in South Carolina, served as a U.S. consul in the South Pacific during the 1880s, wrote Rebel Reefer in 1915 and died in 1928.

Walter H. Jenifer of Maryland was briefly a West Point classmate of Stone’s before being dismissed for “academic deficiency.” He later served in the 2nd U.S. Cavalry, and designed a saddle in the late 1850s that would become both famous and infamous. He cast his lot with the Confederacy in 1861 and commanded troops at Ball’s Bluff who helped create the disaster that had such a profound impact on Stone’s career.

Brought to Egypt as a cavalry instructor with the rank of colonel, Jenifer constantly squabbled with the Bedouins he was supposed to be training, then complained that Stone was not properly supporting him in his attempts to implement American-style discipline. He resigned after less than a year.

Jenifer had been colonel of the 8th Virginia Cavalry for a few months during the war but seems not to have gotten along any better with his Virginians than he did with the Bedouins. During the 1862 reorganization of the army, his men declined to reelect him, and he spent the rest of the war performing administrative duties.

General Loring, who knew him and reported on the results of the regimental election, wrote that Jenifer was “not equal to a great undertaking.” One can only imagine Loring’s feelings when Jenifer showed up in Egypt. Jenifer later bred Arabian horses in Maryland and died in Richmond in April 1878. He is buried in Shockoe Cemetery.

Thomas G. Rhett of South Carolina was another misfit. He had graduated 6th in the West Point class of 1845, one place higher than Stone. During the war he served as adjutant to Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston.

Rhett’s troubles in Egypt began on his arrival, when he was informed that, due to what most likely was an unfortunate administrative error, his promised brigadier generalship was not available and he must accept a colonelcy instead. Rhett accepted it but brooded over the “insult” and, like Jenifer, came to blame Stone for his problems.

Assigned to ordnance duty, Rhett built a black powder plant near Cairo. He became ill in mid-1872, however, and spent much of the next two years on sick leave before finally resigning. His problems seem to have been more mental than physical, and he is said to have become deranged in later years. Once home, he badgered the American consulate in Egypt with demands for back pay as a brigadier. He also obsessed on Stone, often publicly deriding him. Rhett died in Baltimore in July 1878.

David Essex Porter was a promising young officer with a strong naval pedigree, but his Egyptian service was short-lived and disappointing. The son of renowned Union Admiral David D. Porter and the grandson of Commodore David Porter, a hero of the War of 1812, he received a captaincy and participated in the Gura campaign. Like some other American officers, however, he spent more time drinking and complaining about his lot in Egypt than performing his duties. In October 1876, after less than a year in the country, he was asked to resign by the khedive.

 

Originally published in the February 2007 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here

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