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Sir Garnet Wolseley
01.08.2016 632882432345

"Man-shooting is the finest sport of all. There is a certain amount of infatuation about it; that the more you kill, the more you wish to kill." - Garnet Wolseley, letter to his aunt


 

Field Marshal Sir Garnet Wolseley, 1st Viscount Wolseley, is a man who completely embodied the Civilization V ultra-domination martial brutality of Victorian England so hard that the only two things in life that made him happy were the Coldstream Guards Band's rendition of "God Save the Queen" and the act of actively bayonetting enemy warriors to death with his own two hands.  A hardcore, one-eyed Redcoat officer with a pith hat, a bushy mustache, a fucking monocle, and a healthy disrespect for anyone who wasn't a respectable, up-standing English gentleman, this guy was an epic war hero across four continents who demolished the enemies of imperialism from Beijing to Pretoria and used a bunch of cringe-worthy words like "savages" and "barbaric" any time he was writing about people of non-English ethnic, political, or social backgrounds.  He fucking hated Americans ("hastily-enlisted, ill-trained civilians in uniform"), the Irish ("a howling, begging lot of savages"), Africans ("good for nothing"), Indians ("cursed woman-slayers"), newspaper correspondents ("they eat the rations of fighting men and do no work at all"), and pretty much everyone else he came across ("nine men out of ten are simply fools"), and this fox-hunting, cane-swinging ultra-Brit  was so fucking mega Union Jack that you could broadcast Jason Statham eating bangers and mash in the TARDIS with Eric Idle on BBC One and  he'd still think you were a fucking communist.

However, I just finished an epic stint where I wrote a 60,000 word book about the American Revolution in three months while moving apartments during the holidays, and after going through all that I think it's probably time I said something nice about a British person for once.

So, here is the story of Sir Garnet Wolseley, a once-impoverished British boy who rose from Ensign to Commander-in-Chief of the British Army without ever once paying for a commission, and a man who battled Ashanti warriors in Africa, overthrew a revolution in Canada, stormed fortresses in India, captured forts in China, claimed the Suez Canal for England, captured a Zulu king, and got half his face blown off in Burma.  A man so efficient, cold-bloodedly calculating, and thorough in the destruction of his enemies, that the phrase  "it's all Sir Garnet," became a popular 19th century British Army expression meaning "everything is in order".

 

 

Born in Dublin, Ireland on June 4, 1833, Wolseley's father had spent decades serving as a Major in the 25th Regiment of Foot.  Despite his prestigious military heritage, Wolseley's dad had married a woman 25 years younger than him and he died while Garnet was just 14, leaving young Garnet to provide for his mom and his seven younger siblings (!) pretty much by himself.  Wolseley wrote a letter to the Duke of Wellington asking to be appointed with a commission in the British Army, but Wellington wrote back and said, yeah kid, sure thing, but write back when you're 16

Wolseley actually had to wait until he was 19 to receive the Duke of Wellington's appointment.  He was initially assigned to a regiment in England, but Wolseley was too poor to pay to travel from Ireland to London so instead of taking that assignment he just immediately requested a transfer to a Regiment on active duty in the Burma War.

 

 

Wolseley joined the 80th Regiment of Foot in Rangoon 1853.  In the crippling heat and humidity, he was part of a detachment of 800 men sent to defeat a Burmese chief named Myat Toon.  The British went on a 12 day march through the jungle, where they were met every step of the way by snipers, cholera, and the crucified corpses of British soldiers from previous expeditions.  When they finally reached the base, Wolseley was so excited to finally see combat that he volunteered to lead the first attack.  Charging ahead, screaming for his men to follow him, he immediately fell into a pit trap and knocked himself unconscious.

Later that day, volunteered to lead the second attack, and that one went slightly better.

Rushing ahead, leading his men up the stockades and into the enemy, bayonets at the ready, Wolseley took a bullet in the thigh, but just tried to stem the bleeding with one hand while he waved his sword forward with the other.  After the battle he almost died of infection while in the field hospital, but toughed it out by forcing himself to "starve out" the fever by not eating anything for a week and a half.

 

 

Wolseley's next deployment was to the Crimea, where he volunteered for the Royal Engineers.  In a time and an Army where most men paid money or used their aristocratic connections to get promoted, Wolseley was so fearless and capable that he was promoted to Captain just on merit.  Building works and bridges on the front lines, he took another bullet (this one didn't keep him out of action too long), and then was unlucky enough to be at ground zero of a Russian artillery shell that killed two of Wolseley's friends and blew half of the Captain's face off.  He lost a big piece of his shin, his eye was hanging out of its socket, his jawbone poked through his cheek, and a Royal Army doctor used forceps to pull several chunks of stone out of Wolseley 's face – without anesthesia.  They just held him down and yanked.  Yikes.

A few weeks later, while he was in the hospital, he heard a rumor that the final assault on Sevestapol was about to begin.  Wolseley grabbed his sword, ran to his horse, and tried to go join the battle, but he was almost completely blind and could barely walk so eventually he had to frustratedly give up

After healing up, Wolseley joined the 90th Regiment and shipped out for China.  He never made it, unfortunately, because a couple weeks into the journey his transport ship was caught in a storm and wrecked in the shark-infested waters of the Bay of Biscay.  It was all good though, because when the rescue ship picked him up they immediately took him to India, where a huge portion of the British Army's Indian forces had just mutinied and killed a bunch of British soldiers and civilians.  Ok, no big deal.  Wolseley helped liberate the town of Cawnpore, where most of the civilian-murdering had gone down, and he was so pissed at what he saw that when the British Army attempted to break the Mutineers' siege of Lucknow, Garnet Wolseley was one of the first men to bayonet his way through the enemy lines.  He later claimed he would have received the Victoria Cross, if his commanding officer wasn't so mad that he'd disobeyed orders not to press the attack.

 


British troops storming Lucknow

 

He finally got to China in 1860, where he stormed Qing Dynasty Chinese fortifications as part of the Second Opium War.  Wolseley helped captured the Taku forts, and was present (but did not participate) when the British and French Armies captured Beijing and looted the Emperor's Palace.

After China, Wolseley was sent to Canada in 1862 to hang out just in case the British decided to join the Civil War on the side of the Confederates, and Wolseley decided to take a two-month vacation from the Army so he could go hang out with Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson and see how things were going there.  He met the rebel Generals in the aftermath of the Battle of Antietam and ended up writing an article in the Montreal newspaper about why Britain should ally with the Confederacy.

 

 

For the next couple years things were pretty quiet, so he got married to a blonde Englishwoman who had "the same bodily proportions as the Venus de Milo" and wrote a book that basically was everything a soldier needed to know in order to be successful in the British Army – all the good stuff, and all the bad stuff.  He kind of got in trouble for this because the British Army didn't like him talking shit about some of their stupid practices that didn't make any sense, but Wolseley told them to cram it up their gob holes.  A few years later they actually asked him to come help them make some reforms to the army, and Wolseley immediately suggested that it was fucking stupid that any idiot could buy ranks in the British Army if they had enough cash (they ended the process shortly after he mentioned this).  Wolseley also led the Red River Campaign, a punitive expedition against a rebel uprising in Manitoba.  Wolseley marched 1200 men across 1200 miles of largely-uncharted Canadian wilderness to storm the rebel stronghold, but was super pissed to find that they all ran away when they heard he was coming.  On the upside, he covered 2400 miles on goddamned Manitoba without losing a single soldier from his command to injury, disease, bear attacks, drowning, heat exhaustion, or any other ailment, and the Canadians pretty much all thought he was the coolest thing since ice hockey.

Well, before long, Lieutenant-Colonel Garnet Wolseley was like the fucking SEAL Team Six of Violently Enforcing the Will of the British Empire on Her Subjects.  In 1873 he was deployed to West Africa, where a particularly-warlike tribe called the Ashanti were attacking British protectorate of Ghana.  Wolseley showed up, totally fucking lied to the local British media about what direction he would be marching, and then surprised the Ashantis (who were reading British newspapers) by ramming the fucking bayonets of the Black Watch up their asses from the other direction. He built bridges and laid telegraph lines through a couple hundred miles of undiscovered inland Africa, almost died of malaria, beat the Ashanti in three major battles, burned their capital to the ground and forced their chief to sign a treaty agreeing to pay England 50,000 ounces of gold, stop doing human sacrifices, and open their kingdom for trade with the West.  The entire expedition cost the lives of 68 of Wolseley's soldiers.  For his efforts, Queen Victoria gave him an awesome sword, knighted him, and initiated him into a bunch of prestigious military orders.

 

 

After this came another slow period, where Wolseley didn't do much... you know, he just was an ambassador to South Africa, was commander-in-chief of British forces in Cyprus, led a mission that captured the Zulu King who massacred all those British troops at the Battle of Isandlawana, and stormed a fortress called "The Gibraltar of the Transvaal" that was defended by an African chief who was notorious for ceremonially mutilating Boer and English colonists in South Africa (Wolseley had that guy and his harem paraded down the streets of Pretoria like something out of an old-school Roman Triumph).  All of that is basically like a fucking footnote in this guy's life.

Ok, let's take a second here, and think about everything that has happened to this motherfucker so far.  Want to know something crazy? 

None of this stuff is what Sir Garnet Wolseley is best known for.

 

 

After years of being pissed off for a variety of pretty-understandable reasons, in 1882 there was a military coup in Egypt that was aimed at overthrowing the British and Turkish control in the area.  Well, once again Wolseley was called in to be the Hammer of Imperialism.  He immediately made arrangements for 40,000 men and 41,000 tons of supplies to be shipped from locations in India, Europe, and Africa, meet up in Egypt, and assemble into the largest British Expeditionary Force yet recorded in the history of the Empire.  The fact that he was able to make any kind of military logistics on that scale run smoothly or efficiently should tell you why "It's all Sir Wolseley" was a common 19th century expression for "it's all taken care of". 

Once again, Wolseley told the media (in complete confidence, of course) that he would be landing his forces at the Nile Delta – and then proceeded to totally not do that.  While the reporters (and the Egyptian army) were hanging out waiting for the Brits to arrive (Wolseley told half his own army they would be going there, and then held them back as a reserve just in case), Wolseley's invasion force slipped into the Suez Canal in the middle of the night, captured it, and then seized the telegraph office before they could send notifications out about what was going on.  In the morning he marched for Cairo, mowing down the Egyptians with a hail of gunfire in three decisive battles and driving them back to their heavily-fortified base at Tel-el-Kabir, just outside of Cairo. 

 

 

Tel-el-Kabir was supposed to be unbreachable.  The Egyptian dictator had 26,000 riflemen and dozens of artillery pieces behind fortified stone walls and four miles of trenches surrounded by wide-open desert with zero cover.  Wolseley had 11,000 operational infantry, 2,000 cavalry, and 61 cannon.  But, while surveying the enemy positions (which he deemed to be almost perfect), Wolseley noticed one important thing – the Egyptians didn't keep their advanced posts staffed at night.

So, in the dead of night on September 12, 1882, Sir Garnet Wolseley marched his entire army 5.5 miles through featureless desert.  He used Royal Navy navigators, brought up from the ships, to guide the men using the stars so they didn't get lost.  Then, while it was still dark, the British snuck up on Tel-el-Kabir, and the defenders were awoken by the horrible screams of three Scottish Highlander Regiments bearing down on them with fucking bayonets and broadswords.  The Egyptian lines wavered, then attacks from Wolseley's Irish, English, and Indian Regiments broke their lines.

The next morning, the Queen received a telegram from General Sir Garnet Wolseley:  The war in Egypt is over.  Send no more men from England.

 

 

He was already in Cairo and had the rebel Egyptian leader in custody.  Garnet Wolseley had lost 58 men killed in the expedition, and the Suez Canal, now officially seized by the British Empire, would remain in British hands until 1956.  When he returned home Wolseley was knighted by the Sultan of Turkey, promoted to Full General, given honorary degrees from Oxford and Cambridge, and made a Baron. 

A few years after this, 52 year-old Sir Garnet Wolseley commanded an expedition to the Sudan to try and rescue Chinese Gordon while he was besieged in Khartoum by forces of the Mahdi (this is a tale for a different article), but despite a heroic attempt he arrived at the city just two days after the British garrison had fallen.  Wolseley never forgave himself for this failure, although considering all the other shit he accomplished it seems like you’d be able to let one thing slide.  Either way, later in life he had his Baron title upgraded to Viscount, was part of the Department of the Army commission that suggested fuck yes we need more machine guns in the army, hunted foxes in Ireland, wrote a biography of the Duke of Marlborough, met Flashman, was commander-in-chief of the British Army for six years and then retired in 1900 when he started to show signs of Alzheimer's Diseases.  He died peacefully in bed in 1913, one of the most decorated and well-known badasses of Victorian England.  Which ain't bad, considering that this guy never once paid money or pulled political strings so he could get promoted.

 

 

Sources:

Davis, Paul K.  100 Decisive Battles from Ancient Times to the Present.  New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Farwell, Byron.  Eminent Victorian Soldiers: Seekers of Glory.  London: W.W. Norton, 1985.

Fremont-Barnes, Gregory.  The Indian Mutiny 1857-58.  Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2007.

MacDonald, John.  Great Battlefields of the World.  London: Marshall Editions Limited, 1984.

Sandler, Stanley.  Ground Warfare: An International Encyclopedia.  Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2002.

 

 

 



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