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Volume 23, Number 1January/February 1972

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Stone of Egypt

Written by John Luter
Illustrated by Penny Williams-Yaqub

When the Khedive Ismail set out a century ago to rebuild the Egyptian Army, which had won glory and renown in the reign of his grandfather Muhammad Ali, he turned for help to what must, at the time, have seemed an unlikely source. To direct the reorganization, training and expansion of his 18,000-man military force, he employed a foreign officer—but not, as might have been expected, an expert loaned by one of the European powers then competing for influence in the Middle East. The new chief of staff of the Egyptian Army in the year 1870 came instead from a young and distant nation still nursing the wounds of civil war. He was Charles Pomeroy Stone, formerly a brigadier general in the army of the United States.

Stone is a neglected figure in American military history, remembered mainly as the victim of a shameful injustice that forced him out of the Union Army in the midst of the Civil War. Yet his later achievements in Egypt, as well as his early record in the U.S. Army, suggest that he was one of the remarkable military men of his time.

A trim, erect New Englander, with drooping moustache. Van Dyck beard and a thoroughly military manner. Stone was 45 years of age when he became the Khedive's chief of staff. He had been out of army service for more than five years and the stigma of past misfortune still clung to him, but as events were to prove, the Khedive could scarcely have chosen a more capable or loyal officer than this scholarly, sometimes stiffly formal career soldier whom he appointed lieutenant general and later a pasha. Stone served Egypt devotedly for more than a dozen years, and with the aid of some 50 other Americans who were to hold the rank of colonel or above in the Khedive's service, transformed the poorly trained, ill equipped Egyptian Army into a formidable military force which for a time—until financial difficulties developed and European powers intervened—spread the. Khedive's influence deep into Central Africa.

Stone's early career was almost as eventful as his years in Egypt. A member of a respected Massachusetts family, he had been graduated with honors in 1845 from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where he specialized in engineering and ordnance and ranked seventh in his class, and had served with distinction in the United States war with Mexico, twice being cited for gallantry.

In the years following the Mexican War, Stone as a young officer taught for a time at West Point and traveled in Europe to improve his knowledge of foreign cultures and languages. But he was too adventurous and wide ranging in his interests to be content with life in the peacetime army. In 1855, after serving at a number of military arsenals, he resigned his army commission as a major to live in California, where he became president of a bank in San Francisco. The bank failed, and Stone then embarked on an expedition to survey the sparsely settled Mexican state of Sonora. But he left California with his dignity and reputation intact. A senator from California said of him a few years later in a speech to the Federal Congress: "Never since the state was founded has a man gone into or gone out of it with higher consideration on the part of all those who knew him."

In December of 1860, Stone found himself in the nation's capital, preparing to report on his Sonora survey. The threat of civil war was growing, and the city of Washington was especially vulnerable to rebellion. Surrounded by areas sympathetic to the cause of the southern states, it had no military defenses, and its 60,000 inhabitants were divided in their loyalties. The Federal Government at the time had fewer than 15,000 regular troops and most of these were far away in Texas or fighting Indians elsewhere in the West.

By chance, in late December, Stone met his old commander from the Mexican War, General Winfield Scott, who though old and ailing, still held the U. S. Army's top command. Scott shared Stone's worries about the danger to Washington, and as a result. Stone in January, 1861 became the first man mustered into service for the defense of the capital. Appointed Inspector General of the District of Columbia, he was charged with organizing and instructing volunteers to protect the seat of government.

In the months that followed. Stone performed heroic service. Washington soon became a city in turmoil. By March, high ranking military officers were resigning almost daily to join the rebel states, which had organized a Government of the Confederacy and were busy assembling an army and navy. The Federal Government under President James Buchanan, then in the final weeks of his term, remained complacent, assuming that the new administration would somehow maintain peace. Stone, however, recognized the peril and worked energetically to avert disaster. In preparation for the war he felt might break out at any moment, he rallied and drilled companies of volunteers, commandeered and stored supplies, drew up detailed plans for defense, and posted armed detachments each night at key public buildings and on the approaches to the city. By April 12, when the first shots in the Civil War were fired, he had nearly 3,500 well drilled volunteers ready to defend the capital—enough, he hoped, to hold off a rebel attack until troops from the northern states could come to their aid.

Meanwhile, in late February, he helped thwart a suspected plot against the life of the President-elect, Abraham Lincoln. Learning from detectives in Baltimore that rebel sympathizers planned to assassinate the incoming President when he passed through that city enroute to the inauguration ceremonies in Washington, Stone promptly warned his superiors, with the result that Lincoln changed his travel plans and slipped into the capital by night in disguise. The following week. Stone on horseback rode alongside Lincoln's carriage in the inaugural parade, and supervised security arrangements, which included the posting of riflemen at strategic locations along the parade route and the concealment of 50 armed men beneath the platform on which the new president took the oath of office.

Washington faced its greatest crisis in the first week after war began, and Stone again rose to the occasion. Cut off from the northern states, the capital lay nakedly exposed to rebel forces whose campfires were visible along the heights on the Virginia side of the Potomac River, and apprehension mounted almost to panic. For seven days, until a regiment of Union troops broke through from the north, the responsibility for protecting the city rested almost entirely with Stone and his force of volunteers. During this critical week, he slept only three hours in his bed; the rest of the time he was in uniform, working feverishly to maintain morale and oversee the defenses.

Stone's career advanced rapidly in the next few months. In recognition of his ability and valor in the defense of Washington, he was appointed colonel of one of the new regiments of the Union Army. In July, he commanded a brigade in the advance through the Shenandoah Valley, and soon after, commissioned a brigadier general, he was selected to command an army division, which was assigned to occupy the valley of the Potomac above Washington.

Then disaster struck. Ordered by a superior at headquarters to reconnoiter near Leesburg, Virginia, where the rebel forces were reported to be making ominous moves. Stone in October,1861 sent a brigade across the Potomac to scale the muddy heights of Ball's Bluff and conduct the maneuver known to military men as a reconnaissance in force. The brigade was ambushed and butchered, with a loss of nearly a thousand men killed, wounded and captured. Among those killed was the commander of the detachment. Colonel Edward D. Baker, a powerful and popular Republican Senator who was one of President Lincoln's closest personal friends—the man for whom Lincoln had named his second son.

The battle of Ball's Bluff was a small engagement, and there was no real evidence that Stone, who was not present at the battle, had been responsible for the blunder. But the war had been going badly for the North, and the death of Colonel Baker came as a particular shock. Republican leaders in Congress demanded a scapegoat for this latest disaster, and Stone was an inviting target. Not only was he a member of the opposition Democratic party, but in matters other than military, he had been tolerant and courteous in his dealings with slaveholders in areas of Maryland controlled by his troops. Only a short time before, in fact, he had issued orders that fugitive slaves who sought sanctuary within his lines should be returned to their owners. This was in keeping with the policies of President Lincoln, who was trying to keep the state of Maryland loyal to the Union. But it had enraged the radical anti-slavery Republicans in Congress and had led to an acrimonious exchange of letters between Stone—who bristled at what he regarded as political interference in his command—and the governor of his home state of Massachusetts.

To some impassioned politicians. Stone's apparent softness on the slavery issue together with his involvement in the debacle at Ball's Bluff, suggested that he was a rebel sympathizer and probably guilty of treason, and the unfortunate general soon found himself caught in a web of suspicion. The two houses of Congress established a Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, dominated by radical Republicans, and in secret proceedings, the committee gathered evidence against Stone and judged him, without hearing his defense. Stone three times asked that a court of inquiry investigate his conduct, and General George McClellan, who had succeeded General Scott as commander of the Union forces, appealed in vain for a military court martial so that the brigadier might have opportunity to clear his name. Finally, at McClellan's urging. Stone was summoned before the Joint Committee and allowed to protest his innocence, but the committee members had already made their decision, in early February, while still in command of his troops. Stone was seized in his tent at midnight and carried off to imprisonment in Fort Lafayette, in the New York harbor.

Forbidden for a considerable time to communicate with anyone. Stone was never informed of the charges or told who had denounced him. Although the Articles of War provided that no officer could be held for more than eight days or longer than it might take for a court martial to be assembled, he languished in prison for 189 days. Then, as abruptly as he had been arrested, he was released—without trial or explanation.

Free again, but with his career in ruins. Stone for months walked the streets of Washington—the city he had valiantly defended the year before—seeking vindication and an opportunity to return to combat. But no one in authority would listen. General Joseph Hooker, then commander of the Army of the Potomac, asked for Stone as his chief of staff, but the War Department refused, and the discredited brigadier remained unemployed until General Ulysses S. Grant, his friend and fellow officer in Mexican War days, emerged as the Union's top commander, with enough prestige to override the politicians. Then, nine months after his release from prison. Stone was assigned to Louisiana, under General Nathaniel Banks, in the relatively unimportant Department of the Gulf.

Stone served under Banks for nearly a year, first as a brigade commander and then as chief of staff. But he still had powerful political enemies, and Banks proved unsuccessful as a military tactician. As a result, Stone again was relieved of command. He was returned to combat in the late summer of 1864, as a subordinate commander in the siege of the strategic Confederate base at Petersburg, Virginia, but after only a few weeks the strain of the suspicions against him became more than he could bear. Kept under surveillance most of the time, he abruptly resigned his commission and quit the army in mid-September—seven months before the end of the war.

Despite the misfortunes that had forced him from the Union Army, however. Stone still had loyal friends in the American military establishment. Too strict and formal to win wide popularity among his troops, and too outspoken to please the politicians, he nevertheless was highly regarded by many of the professional military men with whom he had served—among them General Grant, who as the military hero of the Union victory, was elected President in 1868.

When the Khedive Ismail began casting about in 1869 for foreign experts to train his army. Stone, by coincidence, was looking for new employment, after four years as superintendent of a Virginia mining company which had gone bankrupt. He was eager for the opportunity to prove himself in a new military career, and his friends had no hesitation in recommending him to the Khedive.

For Ismail, a shrewd, intuitive man of 39 who then was in his fourth year as Viceroy of Egypt, the employment of an American as his chief of staff offered obvious advantages. Not only had American military expertise recently been pushed to new heights by four years of civil war, but more important, the Khedive wanted a man whose loyalty he could command. In his first years on the throne, he had entrusted the training of his troops to French officers loaned by the Emperor Napoleon III. But the members of this French military mission owed primary allegiance to their Emperor, and their practice of looking for guidance to the French consul-general in Cairo had so weakened their influence that all but one had returned home. An American, the Khedive must have reasoned, would be free from obligations to any European power and would present no such problem.

Invited to Cairo in the winter of 1869-70. Stone was soon joined in the Khedive's service by other former officers from the United States, ranging in rank from generals to captains and drawn from opposing sides in the American civil war. All, including Stone, were commissioned as officers in the Egyptian Army, which gave them authority to command as well as to instruct, and placed them on a different footing from European officers in Egypt's military service. In return, the Americans took an oath of loyalty to the Khedive, swearing to fight against any who might become his enemies, with a single exception: they could not be required to make war against the United States.

The army these Americans' had undertaken to help train was, in 1870, only a tattered remnant of the great Egyptian Army that had inflicted resounding defeats on the Turks only a few decades before. In the 1830's during Muhammad Ali's reign as Viceroy of Egypt, troops led by his son Ibrahim, father of the Khedive Ismail, had swept northward beyond the farthest point reached even by the army of the famous 17th dynasty, which had conquered Tyre and Sidon 1,450 years before the birth of Christ. They had crossed the Taurus range and defeated the last army the Sultan of Turkey could raise against them, and on two occasions, only interposition by a coalition of European powers—England, Russia, Prussia and Austria—had prevented the Egyptian Army from taking Constantinople.

In 1841, however, Muhammad Ali and his army of 146,000 men had been made to yield by the forces and intrigues of the European powers who allied themselves with the Turks to curb his ambitions. Under the terms of peace, Egypt retained its quasi-independence, but Muhammad Ali as its Viceroy remained subject to the Turkish Sultan, required to send one-fourth of Egypt's gross revenues to the Sublime Porte. It was further stipulated that the Egyptian Army in the future would be limited to 18,000 men, unless Turkey should need its aid in war.

This small army had been maintained as a proud and efficient force until 1848. But it had greatly deteriorated during the reigns of the Khedive Ismail's two immediate predecessors. Abbas Pasha and Sa'id Pasha.

The conditions Stone found on becoming chief of staff in 1870 were described years later in a paper which he prepared and read to a meeting of the Military Institution of the United States. Egypt then had few of the raw materials it would need in case of war; its coastal defenses were antiquated and woefully inadequate; it was entirely dependent on foreign countries for small arms ammunition; the army had no signal service, and guns of the field artillery, besides being insufficient in number, were all muzzle-loaders of bad and various models. There was no staff, nor any organization into divisions or brigades, and instruction in drill and guard duty was conducted according to the ideas of each regiment's commander, who communicated directly with and received orders from the Minister of War. The value of education, moreover, had been downgraded. More than a third of the officers could neither read nor write, and in the rank and file, perhaps no more than one man in 10 could read or write his name.

As a first step, at the Khedive's request. Stone prepared a report explaining the need for a military staff and its relations to the army. He promptly received authority to organize a staff and select officers for it, and also to create a staff college for the training of young officers. These were set up along American lines, with the staff college following the model of West Point as closely as local customs would permit. By late summer of 1870, existing schools for the training of artillery, infantry and cavalry officers had also been enlarged and improved, and the Khedive, at Stone's urging, had issued an order forbidding the promotion of anyone in the army, even to the lowest non-commissioned rank, unless he could read and write.

With education thus made respectable again. Stone said in his account, the whole army became a school for an hour and a half each day, the prestige of educated officers grew, and by 1873 fully 75 percent of the army's rank and file could not only read and write but also had some knowledge of arithmetic and the geography of Africa. A special school was set up in 1873 to train noncommissioned officers, with the result that drill became uniform throughout the army. And this was followed, again at Stone's suggestion, by the creation in each division of the army of a school for soldiers' sons, who, the Khedive decreed, were to have the right to be educated at public expense between the ages of 8 and 16.

Other changes also were underway, and by 1876, the transformation of Egypt's military establishment was almost complete. Coastal forts had been modernized; the army had been extensively equipped with new and modern weapons, including 600 Krupp breech-loading cannon; and Egypt had set up a complete foundry for the casting of shot, as well as a factory capable of turning out 60,000 metallic cartridges per day. Storehouses were well stocked with ammunition and supplies, including mechanical and electrical torpedos, and orders had been placed abroad for a modern powder mill and a complete arsenal for the manufacture of muskets, carbines and pistols. Signal duty was being carried out efficiently in all batallions of the army, and new training facilities included a torpedo school and a target range that could accommodate all the arms of service and all classes of cannon.

In 1870 Stone had found in the Egyptian War Department only three maps, and no books except for a few copies of a volume on infantry tactics. By contrast, the army's general staff in 1876 possessed thousands of maps and a well-selected library of 6,000 books and manuscripts on military topics, and operated a printing office which was issuing new maps, reports of reconnaissances and surveys, and a monthly military magazine. The general staff also had been given jurisdiction over the Department of Public Works, formerly an independent ministry, and thus had taken over supervision of Egypt's extensive canal system, and the major harbor improvements that were underway in Alexandria and Suez. As a result, young Egyptian officers trained in the new staff college were beginning to replace British and French engineers as supervisors of canal and railway construction.

The most spectacular change, however, was in the size of Egypt's army. The Khedive in 1873 had obtained a lifting of the restrictions that limited it to 18,000 men, and major expansion began almost immediately, following a table of organization drawn up by Stone. By 1876. the Khedive had 60,000 well-drilled troops at his command in Egypt proper, and a separate army of another 30,000 on duty as an occupation force in the Sudan. In addition, Stone estimated that 60,000 reserves could be mobilized at any time from among the village guards, who were exempt from peacetime military service but were accustomed to obeying orders and using arms.

As Egypt's military strength grew, the Khedive gradually extended his domains. His troops pushed farther and farther into the Sudan, conquered the empire of Darfour in 1874, and after a sharp but short campaign, occupied the Kingdom of Harrar in 1875, thus bringing under the Khedive's rule, in Stone's words, "nearly all the African territory anciently ruled by the pharaohs of the most brilliant dynasties." In 1874 one of the American officers pushed through to Lake Victoria, and in 1876, a steam
vessel bearing the Khedive's flag plied regularly on Lake Albert to supply the military posts which guarded the land of Unyoro. At that time, according to Stone's detailed account in later years,
"the Khedive's flag was maintained over military posts in his quiet possession from Damietta to near Urundogani, a stretch of 31 degrees latitude, while his staff officers, trained in the new college and led generally by his American officers, carefully explored and mapped vast regions until then practically unknown to European geographers."

The Khedive's free-spending ways, however, were rapidly bringing Egypt to the brink of bankruptcy, and this gave the British and French an excuse to intervene. In the summer of 1878, Ismail, under financial and political pressures that he could not easily resist, took into his cabinet two European ministers; a British Minister of Finance and a French Minister of Public Works. At the time, Egyptian troops who had been sent to the aid of the Ottoman Sultan in the Russian-Turkish war were returning home, and were due a year or more in back pay. Economies were necessary, and the two new ministers used the occasion to the political advantage of their governments. One of the first economies made was the discharge of all the American officers except Stone, whom the Khedive insisted on retaining. This was followed by abolition of the staff college and the schools for soldiers' sons, and the disbanding of most regiments of the army.

In an even greater blow to army morale, the government—while continuing to pay civil servants regularly and even increasing the salaries of the European ministers—placed army officers on half pay, ignored military pensions, and failed to pay most of the arrears to which soldiers were entitled. This injustice, though endured for months by the well-disciplined troops, led the following spring to unrest and a cabinet crisis, which brought British and French gunboats to Alexandria and resulted in increased power for the European ministers. Soon after, in June 1879, Britain and France, with the acquiesence of Germany, Austria and Italy, forced Ismail from the throne and replaced him with his son Muhammad Tewfik who, while Khedive in name, was subject to the orders of British and French controllers.

Stone stayed on to assist the young Khedive, serving him as loyally as he had Ismail. When Arabi and much of the Egyptian Army rose in revolt in 1882 against the arbitrary rule of the two foreign controllers, the American pasha and many of the ablest Egyptian officers—men he had helped train—remained faithful to the Khedive and his government. Stone did so with mixed emotions, realizing that victory for the young Khedive would also mean victory for the British, who sent an army to restore him to power. But his code of loyalty allowed him no other choice; he was among the first to take action against the revolt and, on more than one occasion, risked his life in defense of the sovereign.

Stone's fears were quickly realized. The first act of the British after defeating Arabi's forces was to require that the Khedive, before returning to the capital, issue a decree disbanding the entire Egyptian Army, including his personal guard and others who had defended him valiantly in times of peril. In its place the British organized a new force of 6,000 men, commanded and staffed by British officers. For the time, Egypt's independence was ended.

Stone's own eventful career was marked by a final touch of irony. Following his return to the United States in 1883, he was employed as chief engineer in charge of constructing the pedestal for the Statue of Liberty, which was to stand in the New York harbor, only a short distance from the fortress in which he had once been unlawfully imprisoned.

He completed this assignment, then died of pneumonia in New York in 1887, almost penniless and destined to be almost forgotten by later generations of his countrymen. Some two years before his death, however, he read into the record of the Military Institution of the United States a glowing tribute to the courage and ability of the Egyptian military men he had come to know and respect during his years as Egypt's chief of staff. Reflecting both sadness and deep affection, the paper reviewed the long history of military affairs in Egypt, and concluded with these words:

"Let us hope that the Egyptian Army, whose fortunes we have today followed through thousands of years, which we have considered in glorious successes and sad defeats, which has sometimes disappeared for generations and sometimes for centuries, and yet again reappeared and existed gloriously, may again, and that soon, within the time even of some of the elders among us, reappear in renewed glory, to assure greatness and happiness in the beautiful land of the pharaohs."

John Luter, director of the Ford Foundation's Advanced International Reporting Program at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, is a former foreign correspondent for Time and Life, was twice president of the Overseas Press Club, and is a Civil War buff of many years' standing.

This article appeared on pages 14-19 of the January/February 1972 print edition of Saudi Aramco World.


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