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The Journal of Military History 70.1 (2006) 123-136

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Americans in the Nineteenth Century Egyptian Army:

A Selected Bibliography

Exporting American military talent is no recent phenomena. The nineteenth century abounds with examples in Latin America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. Some were mercenary ventures, while others were vetted by the government, but whether crowned with success or failure, all provide interesting stories of encounters with "the other."1

More than fifty Americans served as officers in the armed forces of Egypt's Muhammad Ali Dynasty. Some were eccentric soldiers of fortune like George Bethune English, but most came from a semiofficial mission led by West Point graduate Charles Pomeroy Stone. A few published accounts of their adventures, but most simply left behind papers. Several cry out for a modern biographer, or could easily serve as a good topic for a master's thesis or dissertation.

America's first military connection with Egypt dates from 1804, when "General" William Eaton landed at Alexandria and hired several hundred Arnauts to back up his Marines as they marched to "the shores of Tripoli."2 Seventeen years later, Egyptian gold connected with a true [End Page 123] American character. John Bethune English graduated from the Harvard Divinity School in 1807, but then questioned the validity of Christianity. Obtaining a commission in the United State Marine Corps also failed to satisfy, so he resigned in 1821, leaving his shipmates at Alexandria.

Following his conversion to Islam, English accepted a position with Egypt's powerful ruler, Muhammad Ali. A year later, commanding the artillery of an invading Egyptian army, he became the first American to visit the Sudan.3

Muhammad Ali hired several hundred western mercenaries, some, like English, to serve in combat, others as technicians or instructors.4 Overall, the experience proved beneficial to both sides, and it is thus not surprising the experiment continued. The next American connection to this story takes place in the late 1860s when Ismail, Muhammad Ali's grandson, supported a significant effort to expand Egyptian military power.5

Ismail wanted modern weapons, and men to train his army in using them. His needs coincided with a massive reduction-in-force for the post–Civil War Federal Army; moreover, ex-Confederates could not find employment with the U.S. military. Drawing from both pools, Ismail hired instructors, technicians, and explorers. At first this employment resembled a well-organized mercenary venture, but after Charles Pomeroy Stone became Chef of Egypt's État Major, the U.S. Army began to send active duty officers for one year stints with the Egyptian military.6 [End Page 124]

Ismail's Americans were a mixed lot. Some performed valuable service, others were useless drunkards, and a few simply could not connect with Turks, Arabs, or Muslims. Their story ended in 1882, when a nationalist revolution led to a British invasion. Now it was Britain's turn to send officers to the land of the Nile.7

Although America's nineteenth-century connection with Egypt was brief, it is fairly well documented, and worthy of study. Two general accounts, Crabitès (1938) and Hesseltine (1961) (see below), are adequate introductions, but long out of print. Neither employed all the manuscript sources available, and both could be labeled partisan. In addition, individuals like Stone, English, or Graves, are interesting enough to merit biographical treatment. The following list shows material accessible in the United States.

Selected Bibliography

Primary Sources

Butler, Benjamin Franklin. Papers. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Contains letters from his nephew, George, involving his diplomatic duties in Alexandria, and a famous gun battle between the same and several of Ismail's American mercenaries. See 1871–72.

Chaillé-Long Bey, Le Colonel. L'Égypte et ses provinces perdues. Paris: Librairie de la Nouvelle Revue, 1892.

Contains reprints of selected Egyptian documents and letters to support Long's extreme antipathy for England. Wonderful front cover depicts nasty looking English lion with talons thrust into the globe.

Chaillé-Long, Colonel Charles. "Colonel Chaillé-Long on the...