Some historical personages…. in Flashman’s view II

I was in the middle of introducing you to various leading figures of the 19th century, as seen by the rather jaundiced but keenly perceptive eye of Sir Harry Flashman, VC, KCB. Given the various conflicts all over the globe that Flashman found himself in and his affinity for the battlefield (despite his efforts to wriggle out), lets deal with some more military commanders (it is possible I have overlooked some here buy you can be sure they will figure in the next installment…

As George MacDonald Fraser, the industrious chronicler of Flashman’s adventures has noted, Flashman’s attitudes to his military superiors vary from affection (Colin Campbell, Gough, Scarlett) to poisonous hatred (Cardigan), with degrees of respect (Ulysses Grant, Hugh Rose, Hope Grant) , contempt (Raglan, Elphinstone) and amused anxiety (Custer) in between.

Lets begin with Sir Henry Havelock. Another of Britain’s distinguished generals in India during the mid 1800s, Havelock is known for his role in the suppression of the 1857 Indian Mutiny, during which he happened to lose his own life as well. Called the “Gravedigger” by Flashman due to his mournful appearance and religious zeal, Sir Henry figures in all three volumes of Flashman papers dealing with India – the Afghan war of 1840-42 as recounted in Flashman, the Punjab crisis of 1847 in Flashman and the Mountain of Light, and the events of 1857 – Flashman and the Great Game. As a character to feature in three installments, Sir Henry deserves his own special and setailed post – and he will soon have one. But for the present, remember “Old Blood and Bones” (another epithet for the general) was for Flashman looking like “Abraham Lincoln dying of diarrhoea, with his mournful whiskers and bloodhound eyes”.

Colin Campbell, who finally relieved the Siege of Lucknow and effectively mopped up the last remanants of disaffection in north India was one of those highly regarded by Flashman, who still called him “Old Slowcoach” for his measured, unhurried approach. “Khabardaar” was another name given to Sir Colin for the same reason, I happen to recall.   For Flashman, he was “an ugly old devil, with a damned caustic tongue and a graveyard sense of humour, but I never saw a man yet who made me feel more secure.”

General of the Union Armies in the American Civil War and later President Ulysses S. Grant “was the same burly, surly bargee I remembered, more like a city storekeeper than the first-rate soldier he’d been and the disillusioned President he was.”

This no means does much justice to Grant, therefore a more fuller and colourful account may be seen here and in succeeding posts:

George Armstrong Custer – American soldier famous for his Last Stand at Greasy Grass. Flashman is acquainted with him from the American Civil War and clearly finds him annoying but also refers to him as a good cavalryman, as “a “crackpot” on one occasion and then more memorably as “a reckless firebrand who absolutely enjoyed warfare, and would have been better suited to the Age of Chivalry, when he’d have broken the Holy Grail in his hurry to get at it.”

James Hope Grant, another old Mutiny hand and then commander of the British forces during the Second Opium War, “wasn’t much of a general; it was notorious he’d never read a line outside the Bible; he was so inarticulate he could barely utter any order but ‘Charge!’; his notions of discipline were to flog anything that moved…But none of this mattered in the least because, you see, Hope Grant was the best fighting man in the world.”

And to end with this rather colourful, typically Victorian, description….

Yakub Beg, a Tajik military leader who fought against the Russians and in one episode, helped a doped Flashman scupper a planned Russian invasion of India, was “a tough customer, by the look of him; one of those genial mountain scoundrels who’ll tell you merry stories while he stabs you in the guts just for the fun of hearing his knifehilt bells jingle.”

To be continued….


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by DRG on June 14, 2011 at 10:42

    I contacted his agent a couple of years ago. There is no manuscript about the civil war or anything else, I’m afraid. With that in mind I wrote a Flashy novel covering his adventures post first Bull Run\Manassas to the end of the third day at Gettysburg. His agent was most discouraging about it.


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