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2/10/09

Soldiers of Fortune: Americans In The Egyptian Army

Soldiers of Fortune: Americans In The Egyptian Army

In 1865, after Lee signed the surrender to Grant at Appomattox, after Johnny Reb turned, dusty, tired, to wend his way to farms and villages in Mississippi, Georgia, or Alabama, after Billy Yank trudged wearily back to Iowa, Ohio, or New Hampshire, the war was not over for some officers on both sides. No, they were not ready to fight again. Rather, they liked soldiering, it was all they knew, and the United States was not the place for it--not unless they wanted to spend dreary years at some wilderness outpost on the plains or in the desert, waiting the next sutler's wagon with salted beef and whiskey to wash it down, helping them forget where they were--as they waited for some excitement such as the next hunt for Indians, who were rarely found.

Some had other ideas. Pick up and move on, they thought, but not toward the Western horizon, and instead across the waters to where the sun arose. Not to them just the East, but in those days the far, far East. Over there somewhere somebody could use a good soldier, tested in battle. One was Thaddeus Mot and he wound up fighting in the Egyptian army. You might say that he got there because Cotton was King in the South. With the War of The Rebellion, as it was then called by Northerners, cotton exports to Europe dried up. Europe turned to Egypt for her supply, and the Egyptian economy boomed. Cotton became King in Egypt, and when it was deposed the way was paved for Mot and his fellow soldiers. Here is the story.

Egypt's ruler, the Khedive Ismail had plans for his country. With money in his coffers from huge cotton exports during the American Civil War, he wanted to modernize Egypt. Not just for its own sake, but because the Khedive wanted to free Egypt from the Ottoman Empire, and to build Europe into a nation equal to European countries. His uncle Saïd had begun construction of the Suez Canal and Ismail finished the project. As money flowed to Egypt, Ismail tossed it on projects, especially the Suez Canal, finished at immense cost. The Canal's cost weakened his economy and opened the door to English and French influence in Egypt; he had fallen to their suasion.

The Khedive had a new problem, how to strengthen Egypt against their influence. An obvious answer was to build up his army, modernize it, and then use it to rattle his saber, the louder the better, and to fight wars, a disastrous one with Abyssinia. The Nile flowed quietly into the Mediterranean as it had to, the sun baked the pyramid at Cheops as it had since the time of the Pharoahs, and from afar Ismail had watched something new, a war in what was called the New World. This was a different kind of war, with fresh inventions and tactics. Gatling guns, armor plated warships, and men trained on the battlefield. The Khedive was interested in it.

Thaddeus Mot found his way to Turkey and became a familiar of those in power. In 1868, Mot, a Union colonel and a favorite of the Turkish court, met the Khedive Ismail in Constantinople, now Istanbul.

He impressed the Khedive, and was soon commissioned as a major general in the Egyptian army.

Mott quickly convinced Ismail to add more American veterans to the Egyptian staff. With the Khedive’s blessing he returned to the United States, and with the help of General of the Army William T. Sherman, began enlisting recruits. One of them was Confederate Major William Wing Loring, one-armed veteran of the Mexican war.

The situation presented a new chance for dozens of Civil War veterans. About fifty former Union and Confederate officers would make the three-week journey to Egypt. In addition, at least four active U.S. officers were given leaves of absence, allowing them to gain experience in Egypt. All of these men accepted actual commissions in the Egyptian Army, agreeing to fight for Egypt in any war, except one against the United States. One of then would become chief engineer in erecting the Statue of Liberty, originally proposed for the mouth of the Suez Canal.

Some stayed for only a few months (or even days), while others remained for years. Several Confederate luminaries, including P. G. T. Beauregard, Joseph Johnston, and George Pickett considered going, but declined.

More at Americans In The Egyptian Army. Also see A Confederate Soldier in Egypt, and An American Pasha's Neglected Tomb, among others.

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