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Title: Real Soldiers of Fortune
Author: Richard Harding Davis
Posting Date: February 22, 2009 [EBook #3029]

Release Date: January, 2002

Language: English
Character set encoding: ASCII

Produced by David Reed, and Ronald J. Wilson


By Richard Harding Davis

ANY sunny afternoon, on Fifth Avenue, or at night in the _table d'hote_

restaurants of University Place, you may meet the soldier of fortune who

of all his brothers in arms now living is the most remarkable. You may

have noticed him; a stiffly erect, distinguished-looking man, with gray

hair, an imperial of the fashion of Louis Napoleon, fierce blue eyes,

and across his forehead a sabre cut.

This is Henry Ronald Douglas MacIver, for some time in India an ensign

in the Sepoy mutiny; in Italy, lieutenant under Garibaldi; in Spain,

captain under Don Carlos; in our Civil War, major in the Confederate

army; in Mexico, lieutenant-colonel under the Emperor Maximilian;

colonel under Napoleon III, inspector of cavalry for the Khedive of

Egypt, and chief of cavalry and general of brigade of the army of King

Milan of Servia. These are only a few of his military titles. In 1884

was published a book giving the story of his life up to that year. It

was called "Under Fourteen Flags." If to-day General MacIver were to

reprint the book, it would be called "Under Eighteen Flags."

MacIver was born on Christmas Day, 1841, at sea, a league off the shore

of Virginia. His mother was Miss Anna Douglas of that State; Ronald

MacIver, his father, was a Scot, a Rossshire gentleman, a younger son of

the chief of the Clan MacIver. Until he was ten years old young MacIver

played in Virginia at the home of his father. Then, in order that he

might be educated, he was shipped to Edinburgh to an uncle, General

Donald Graham. After five years his uncle obtained for him a commission

as ensign in the Honorable East India Company, and at sixteen, when

other boys are preparing for college, MacIver was in the Indian Mutiny,

fighting, not for a flag, nor a country, but as one fights a wild

animal, for his life. He was wounded in the arm, and, with a sword, cut

over the head. As a safeguard against the sun the boy had placed inside

his helmet a wet towel. This saved him to fight another day, but even

with that protection the sword sank through the helmet, the towel, and

into the skull. To-day you can see the scar. He was left in the road

for dead, and even after his wounds had healed, was six weeks in the

This tough handling at the very start might have satisfied some men, but

in the very next war MacIver was a volunteer and wore the red shirt of

Garibaldi. He remained at the front throughout that campaign, and until

within a few years there has been no campaign of consequence in which he

has not taken part. He served in the Ten Years' War in Cuba, in

Brazil, in Argentina, in Crete, in Greece, twice in Spain in Carlist

revolutions, in Bosnia, and for four years in our Civil War under

Generals Jackson and Stuart around Richmond. In this great war he was

four times wounded.
It was after the surrender of the Confederate army, that, with other

Southern officers, he served under Maximilian in Mexico; in Egypt, and

in France. Whenever in any part of the world there was fighting, or the

rumor of fighting, the procedure of the general invariably was the

same. He would order himself to instantly depart for the front, and on

arriving there would offer to organize a foreign legion. The command of

this organization always was given to him. But the foreign legion was

merely the entering wedge. He would soon show that he was fitted for

a better command than a band of undisciplined volunteers, and would

receive a commission in the regular army. In almost every command in

which he served that is the manner in which promotion came. Sometimes he

saw but little fighting, sometimes he should have died several deaths,

each of a nature more unpleasant than the others. For in war the obvious

danger of a bullet is but a three hundred to one shot, while in the pack

against the combatant the jokers are innumerable. And in the career of

the general the unforeseen adventures are the most interesting. A man

who in eighteen campaigns has played his part would seem to have

earned exemption from any other risks, but often it was outside the

battle-field that MacIver encountered the greatest danger. He fought

several duels, in two of which he killed his adversary; several attempts

were made to assassinate him, and while on his way to Mexico he was

captured by hostile Indians. On returning from an expedition in Cuba he

was cast adrift in an open boat and for days was without food.
Long before I met General MacIver I had read his book and had heard of

him from many men who had met him in many different lands while

engaged in as many different undertakings. Several of the older war

correspondents knew him intimately; Bennett Burleigh of the _Telegraph_

was his friend, and E. F. Knight of the _Times_ was one of those who

volunteered for a filibustering expedition which MacIver organized

against New Guinea. The late Colonel Ochiltree of Texas told me tales

of MacIver's bravery, when as young men they were fellow officers in the

Southern army, and Stephen Bonsal had met him when MacIver was United

States Consul at Denia in Spain. When MacIver arrived at this post, the

ex-consul refused to vacate the Consulate, and MacIver wished to settle

the difficulty with duelling pistols. As Denia is a small place, the

inhabitants feared for their safety, and Bonsal, who was our _charge

d'affaires_ then, was sent from Madrid to adjust matters. Without

bloodshed he got rid of the ex-consul, and later MacIver so endeared

himself to the Denians that they begged the State Department to retain

him in that place for the remainder of his life.
Before General MacIver was appointed to a high position at the St. Louis

Fair, I saw much of him in New York. His room was in a side street in

an old-fashioned boarding-house, and overlooked his neighbor's back yard

and a typical New York City sumac tree; but when the general talked one

forgot he was within a block of the Elevated, and roamed over all

the world. On his bed he would spread out wonderful parchments, with

strange, heathenish inscriptions, with great seals, with faded ribbons.

These were signed by Sultans, Secretaries of War, Emperors, filibusters.

They were military commissions, titles of nobility, brevets for

decorations, instructions and commands from superior officers.

Translated the phrases ran: "Imposing special confidence in," "we

appoint," or "create," or "declare," or "In recognition of services

rendered to our person," or "country," or "cause," or "For bravery on

the field of battle we bestow the Cross----"

As must a soldier, the general travels "light," and all his worldly

possessions were crowded ready for mobilization into a small compass. He

had his sword, his field blanket, his trunk, and the tin despatch

boxes that held his papers. From these, like a conjurer, he would draw

souvenirs of all the world. From the embrace of faded letters, he would

unfold old photographs, daguerrotypes, and miniatures of fair women and

adventurous men: women who now are queens in exile, men who, lifted on

waves of absinthe, still, across a _cafe_ table, tell how they will win

back a crown.
Once in a written document the general did me the honor to appoint me

his literary executor, but as he is young, and as healthy as myself, it

never may be my lot to perform such an unwelcome duty. And to-day all

one can write of him is what the world can read in "Under Fourteen

Flags," and some of the "foot-notes to history" which I have copied

from his scrap-book. This scrap-book is a wonderful volume, but owing

to "political" and other reasons, for the present, of the many clippings

from newspapers it contains there are only a few I am at liberty to

print. And from them it is difficult to make a choice. To sketch in a

few thousand words a career that had developed under Eighteen Flags is

in its very wealth embarrassing.
Here is one story, as told by the scrap-book, of an expedition that

failed. That it failed was due to a British Cabinet Minister; for had

Lord Derby possessed the imagination of the Soldier of Fortune, his

Majesty's dominions might now be the richer by many thousands of square

miles and many thousands of black subjects.
On October 29, 1883, the following appeared in the London _Standard_:

"The New Guinea Exploration and Colonization Company is already

chartered, and the first expedition expects to leave before Christmas."

"The prospectus states settlers intending to join the first party must

contribute one hundred pounds toward the company. This subscription will

include all expenses for passage money. Six months' provisions will be

provided, together with tents and arms for protection. Each subscriber

of one hundred pounds is to obtain a certificate entitling him to one

thousand acres."
The view of the colonization scheme taken by the _Times_ of London, of

the same date, is less complaisant. "The latest commercial sensation is

a proposed company for the seizure of New Guinea. Certain adventurous

gentlemen are looking out for one hundred others who have money and

a taste for buccaneering. When the company has been completed, its

share-holders are to place themselves under military regulations, sail

in a body for New Guinea, and without asking anybody's leave, seize

upon the island and at once, in some unspecified way, proceed to realize

large profits. If the idea does not suggest comparisons with the large

designs of Sir Francis Drake, it is at least not unworthy of Captain

When we remember the manner in which some of the colonies of Great

Britain were acquired, the _Times_ seems almost squeamish.

In a Melbourne paper, June, 1884, is the following paragraph:
"Toward the latter part of 1883 the Government of Queensland planted the

flag of Great Britain on the shores of New Guinea. When the news reached

England it created a sensation. The Earl of Derby, Secretary for the

Colonies, refused, however, to sanction the annexation of New

Guinea, and in so doing acted contrary to the sincere wish of every

right-thinking Anglo-Saxon under the Southern Cross.

"While the subsequent correspondence between the Home and Queensland

governments was going on, Brigadier-General H. R. MacIver originated and

organized the New Guinea Exploration and Colonization Company in London,

with a view to establishing settlements on the island. The company,

presided over by General Beresford of the British Army, and having

an eminently representative and influential board of directors, had a

capital of two hundred and fifty thousand pounds, and placed the

supreme command of the expedition in the hands of General MacIver.

Notwithstanding the character of the gentlemen composing the board of

directors, and the truly peaceful nature of the expedition, his Lordship

informed General MacIver that in the event of the latter's attempting to

land on New Guinea, instructions would be sent to the officer in command

of her Majesty's fleet in the Western Pacific to fire upon the company's

vessel. This meant that the expedition would be dealt with as a

filibustering one."
In _Judy_, September 21, 1887, appears:
"We all recollect the treatment received by Brigadier-General MacI. in

the action he took with respect to the annexation of New Guinea. The

General, who is a sort of Pizarro, with a dash of D'Artagnan, was

treated in a most scurvy manner by Lord Derby. Had MacIver not been

thwarted in his enterprise, the whole of New Guinea would now have been

under the British flag, and we should not be cheek-by-jowl with the

Germans, as we are in too many places."
_Society_, September 3, 1887, says:
"The New Guinea expedition proved abortive, owing to the blundering

shortsightedness of the then Government, for which Lord Derby was

chiefly responsible, but what little foothold we possess in New Guinea,

is certainly due to General MacIver's gallant effort."

Copy of statement made by J. Rintoul Mitchell, June 2, 1887:
"About the latter end of the year 1883, when I was editor-in-chief of

the _Englishman_ in Calcutta, I was told by Captain de Deaux, assistant

secretary in the Foreign Office of the Indian Government, that he

had received a telegram from Lord Derby to the effect that if General

MacIver ventured to land upon the coast of New Guinea it would become

the duty of Lord Ripon, Viceroy, to use the naval forces at his command

for the purpose of deporting General MacI. Sir Aucland Calvin can

certify to this, as it was discussed in the Viceregal Council."

Just after our Civil War MacIver was interested in another expedition

which also failed. Its members called themselves the Knights of Arabia,

and their object was to colonize an island much nearer to our shores

than New Guinea. MacIver, saying that his oath prevented, would never

tell me which island this was, but the reader can choose from

among Cuba, Haiti, and the Hawaiian group. To have taken Cuba, the

"colonizers" would have had to fight not only Spain, but the Cubans

themselves, on whose side they were soon fighting in the Ten Years' War;

so Cuba may be eliminated. And as the expedition was to sail from the

Atlantic side, and not from San Francisco, the island would appear to be

the Black Republic. From the records of the times it would seem that the

greater number of the Knights of Arabia were veterans of the Confederate

army, and there is no question but that they intended to subjugate the

blacks of Haiti and form a republic for white men in which slavery would

be recognized. As one of the leaders of this filibustering expedition,

MacIver was arrested by General Phil Sheridan and for a short time cast

into jail.
This chafed the general's spirit, but he argued philosophically that

imprisonment for filibustering, while irksome, brought with it

no reproach. And, indeed, sometimes the only difference between a

filibuster and a government lies in the fact that the government fights

the gun-boats of only the enemy while a filibuster must dodge the boats

of the enemy and those of his own countrymen. When the United States

went to war with Spain there were many men in jail as filibusters, for

doing that which at the time the country secretly approved, and later

imitated. And because they attempted exactly the same thing for which

Dr. Jameson was imprisoned in Holloway Jail, two hundred thousand of his

countrymen are now wearing medals.
The by-laws of the Knights of Arabia leave but little doubt as to its

By-law No. II reads:

"We, as Knights of Arabia, pledge ourselves to aid, comfort, and protect

all Knights of Arabia, especially those who are wounded in obtaining our

grand object.
"III--Great care must be taken that no unbeliever or outsider shall gain

any insight into the mysteries or secrets of the Order.

"IV--The candidate will have to pay one hundred dollars cash to

the Captain of the Company, and the candidate will receive from the

Secretary a Knight of Arabia bond for one hundred dollars in gold, with

ten per cent interest, payable ninety days after the recognition of (The

Republic of----) by the United States, or any government.
"V--All Knights of Arabia will be entitled to one hundred acres of

land, location of said land to be drawn for by lottery. The products are

coffee, sugar, tobacco, and cotton."
A local correspondent of the New York _Herald_ writes of the arrest of

MacIver as follows:

"When MacIver will be tried is at present unknown, as his case has

assumed a complicated aspect. He claims British protection as a subject

of her British Majesty, and the English Consul has forwarded a statement

of his case to Sir Frederick Bruce at Washington, accompanied by a copy

of the by-laws. General Sheridan also has forwarded a statement to

the Secretary of War, accompanied not only by the by-laws, but very

important documents, including letters from Jefferson Davis, Benjamin,

the Secretary of State of the Confederate States, and other personages

prominent in the Rebellion, showing that MacIver enjoyed the highest

confidence of the Confederacy."

As to the last statement, an open letter I found in his scrap-book is an

excellent proof. It is as follows: "To officers and members of all camps

of United Confederate Veterans: It affords me the greatest pleasure to

say that the bearer of this letter, General Henry Ronald MacIver, was an

officer of great gallantry in the Confederate Army, serving on the staff

at various times of General Stonewall Jackson, J. E. B. Stuart, and E.

Kirby Smith, and that his official record is one of which any man may be

"Respectfully, MARCUS J. WRIGHT, "_Agent for the Collection of

Confederate Records_.
"War Records office, War Department, Washington, July 8, 1895."
At the close of the war duels between officers of the two armies were

not infrequent. In the scrap-book there is the account of one of these

affairs sent from Vicksburg to a Northern paper by a correspondent who

was an eye-witness of the event. It tells how Major MacIver, accompanied

by Major Gillespie, met, just outside of Vicksburg, Captain Tomlin of

Vermont, of the United States Artillery Volunteers. The duel was with

swords. MacIver ran Tomlin through the body. The correspondent writes:
"The Confederate officer wiped his sword on his handkerchief. In a few

seconds Captain Tomlin expired. One of Major MacIver's seconds called to

him: 'He is dead; you must go. These gentlemen will look after the body

of their friend.' A negro boy brought up the horses, but before mounting

MacIver said to Captain Tomlin's seconds: 'My friends are in haste for

me to go. Is there anything I can do? I hope you consider that this

matter has been settled honorably?'
"There being no reply, the Confederates rode away."
In a newspaper of to-day so matter-of-fact an acceptance of an event so

tragic would make strange reading.

From the South MacIver crossed through Texas to join the Royalist army

under the Emperor Maximilian. It was while making his way, with other

Confederate officers, from Galveston to El Paso, that MacIver was

captured by the Indians. He was not ill-treated by them, but for three

months was a prisoner, until one night, the Indians having camped near

the Rio Grande, he escaped into Mexico. There he offered his sword to

the Royalist commander, General Mejia, who placed him on his staff, and

showed him some few skirmishes. At Monterey MacIver saw big fighting,

and for his share in it received the title of Count, and the order of

Guadaloupe. In June, contrary to all rules of civilized war, Maximilian

was executed and the empire was at an end. MacIver escaped to the coast,

and from Tampico took a sailing vessel to Rio de Janeiro. Two months

later he was wearing the uniform of another emperor, Dom Pedro, and,

with the rank of lieutenant-colonel, was in command of the Foreign

Legion of the armies of Brazil and Argentina, which at that time as

allies were fighting against Paraguay.

MacIver soon recruited seven hundred men, but only half of these ever

reached the front. In Buenos Ayres cholera broke out and thirty thousand

people died, among the number about half the Legion. MacIver was among

those who suffered, and before he recovered was six weeks in hospital.

During that period, under a junior officer, the Foreign Legion was sent

to the front, where it was disbanded.

On his return to Glasgow, MacIver foregathered with an old friend,

Bennett Burleigh, whom he had known when Burleigh was a lieutenant

in the navy of the Confederate States. Although today known as a

distinguished war correspondent, in those days Burleigh was something of

a soldier of fortune himself, and was organizing an expedition to assist

the Cretan insurgents against the Turks. Between the two men it was

arranged that MacIver should precede the expedition to Crete and

prepare for its arrival. The Cretans received him gladly, and from the

provisional government he received a commission in which he was given

"full power to make war on land and sea against the enemies of Crete,

and particularly against the Sultan of Turkey and the Turkish forces,

and to burn, destroy, or capture any vessel bearing the Turkish flag."

This permission to destroy the Turkish navy single-handed strikes one

as more than generous, for the Cretans had no navy, and before one could

begin the destruction of a Turkish gun-boat it was first necessary to

catch it and tie it to a wharf.

At the close of the Cretan insurrection MacIver crossed to Athens and

served against the brigands in Kisissia on the borders of Albania

and Thessaly as volunteer aide to Colonel Corroneus, who had been

commander-in-chief of the Cretans against the Turks. MacIver spent three

months potting at brigands, and for his services in the mountains was

recommended for the highest Greek decoration.

From Greece it was only a step to New York, and almost immediately

MacIver appears as one of the Goicouria-Christo expedition to Cuba,

of which Goicouria was commander-in-chief, and two famous American

officers, Brigadier-General Samuel C. Williams was a general and Colonel

Wright Schumburg was chief of staff.
In the scrap-book I find "General Order No. 11 of the Liberal Army of

the Republic of Cuba, issued at Cedar Keys, October 3, 1869." In it

Colonel MacIver is spoken of as in charge of officers not attached to

any organized corps of the division. And again:

"General Order No. V, Expeditionary Division, Republic of Cuba, on board

_Lilian_," announces that the place to which the expedition is bound has

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