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Volume 35, Number 5September/October 1984

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The Khedive's Cartographers

Written by David Icenogle
Illustrated by Michael Grimsdale

During the 1870's, two famous American generals passed through Egypt, and one infamous general came to stay. The first two were William Tecumseh Sherman and Ulysses S. Grant, and the third was Charles Pomeroy Stone, head of what might be called the first American military mission to Egypt.

Sherman and Grant came to Egypt as observers - as did Mark Twain about the same time. But General Stone and some 50 other Civil War officers from both the Union and Confederate armies came to serve Ismail, the khedive of Egypt as soldiers, diplomats and, above all, cartographers.

The term "infamous," it should be said, is most unfair to General Stone. He was accused of treason, it is true, and he was imprisoned as a result. But his disgrace was the result of an 1860's version of McCarthyism that swept the North during the war; a Congressional committee - eerily similar to the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) a century later - accused Stone of treason and imprisoned him for six months in Fort Lafayette on Governor's Island in New York harbor. He was never tried, but, though later released, was never exonerated either. As a result, he left the army and was working as a mining engineer in West Virginia when the khedive of Egypt began to recruit a corps of American military officers to help rebuild the Egyptian Army and map Egyptian territory in Africa.

For Stone, this was another chance and he seized it: in 1870 he was appointed chief of staff of the Egyptian Army with the rank of major general. Stone and his cadre of Civil War officers began to rebuild Egypt's military power, and, from spacious headquarters in Cairo's medieval Citadel, to direct a series of reconnaissance expeditions into Ismail's growing empire in The Sudan, Uganda, and the Ethiopian borderlands, expeditions that would prove far more important than retraining an army.

Although General Stone published relatively little himself, his staff put out a series of reports on these expeditions entitled Publications of the Egyptian General Staff (Cairo, 1876-1878). Stone was also instrumental in the foundation of the Societe Khediviale de Geographie in 1895, a society established to disseminate geographical information about the khedive's growing empire in the Nile Basin. From such reports has come much of the story of the khedive's cartographers.

Among those cartographers were any number of colorful personalities. Raleigh Edward Colston, son of the ex-wife of one of Napoleon's marshals; Samuel H. Lockett, the engineer who designed the famous defenses that defied Grant's siege of Vicksburg; E. S. Purdy, a wastrel who was to die in poverty in Cairo in 1881, and the most colorful and controversial of them all, Charles Chaillé-Long.

A native of the state of Maryland and an ex-captain in the Union Army (See Aramco World, November-December 1978), Chaillé-Long., a lieutenant colonel in the Egyptian Army, became chief of staff to the famous British soldier-administrator and religious mystic Charles "Chinese" Gordon - "Gordon of Khartoum" - during the first part of Gordon's tenure as governor of Equatoria Province in The Sudan. In that post, in April 1874, Chaillé-Long. set out on a diplomatic mission to Mutesa, king of the Buganda tribe. In completing this mission, Chaillé-Long. became the first American to visit Uganda and Lake Victoria, and while returning to The Sudan, he also discovered Lake Kyoga and navigated a previously unexplored section of the White Nile. .

With regard to Lake Kyoga, Chaillé-Long.'s involvement is particularly interesting. A broad and shallow expansion of the Nile, the lake was discovered and navigated by Chaillé-Long. in August, l874, and named "Lake Ibrahim" in honor of the khedive's father. Chaillé-Long., no doubt, expected that this honor bestowed upon the Egyptian vice-regal dynasty would result in promotion and honors for himself, as it did, though Chaillé-Long., a supreme egotist, apparently tried to bribe the cartographer to make what Chaillé-Long. called "my lake" appear larger on the map than it actually was.

In any case, that was how the lake was named on the Great Map of Africa produced by the General Staff in 1877. But although some German maps of the mid-1870's called it "Longs See," thus honoring its discoverer, both English and German maps were calling the lake "Coja," "Cojae" and "Kodscha" by the late 1870's, spurring Chaillé-Long into a long, acrimonious correspondence with the Royal Geographical Society, protesting what he called "British intrigue" in conspiring to deny him the explorer's right to name any geographical features that he had discovered. The battle was still going on in 1904.

In early 1875, Chaillé-Long led another expedition into Africa - to the Azande country along the Nile-Congo watershed - and in 1876 carried out a reconnaissance of the Juba river in Somalia. His book Central Africa: Naked Truths of Naked People (London, 1876; New York, 1877) recounts his adventures in flamboyant and egotistical prose.

As for Colston, he was the son of an American medical student and the Duchess of Valmy, ex-wife of Napoleon's Marshal Kellermann. Born in France, he lived there until 1842, when the family returned to Virginia - in time for the Civil War. During the war he became a brigadier general in the Confederate Army. After the war, however, Colston was unable to find remunerative employment and, needing to support his wife, an inmate of a mental asylum in North Carolina, he joined the American Mission with the rank of colonel in 1873. His personal papers are located in the Southern Historical Studies Collection at the University of North Carolina. Colston's diary, which covers his day-to-day activities during the period he spent in Egypt and The Sudan, is a valuable source, and, although it has been used by several researchers, it has never been published.

Colston conducted two topographic and geological expeditions which were reported on in the Publications of the Egyptian General Staff. The first, in 1874, surveyed the Nubian Desert between Qena (Qina) and Barbar. On this expedition he was accompanied by two ex-Union officers, Major Oscar E. Fechet and Colonel Purdy.

It was the second expedition, however, that was significant: a trip, in 1875, from Debba (al-Dabbah) on the Nile to El-Obeid (al-Ubayyid) in Kurdufan during which he was seriously injured in a fall from a camel.

Believing that he was going to die in the hot waste of the Sudanese desert, Colston wrote his will and sent it to the American consul in Cairo, Charles Beardsley. "By the time this reaches you," he wrote, "my mortal remains will be entombed in a lonely grave in the desert." Then, in an example of his incredibly high standards of honor and duty, he added, "... it also grieves me that I am unable to be of further service to His Highness, the Khedive."

As it turned out, Colston did not die in the Sudanese desert. Indeed, he survived for another 20 years, dying in the Confederate Old Soldiers' Home in Richmond, Virginia.

Colston's successor as commander of the expedition was Colonel Henry G. Prout, an ex-Union officer from New York, who continued into the province of Darfur, a formerly independent sultanate which had recently been conquered by a Sudano-Egyptian army. Prout and Colston each wrote reports on the results of the expedition which were printed in the Publications of the Egyptian General Staff. Prout then served as governor of the Equatoria Province for a short period in 1876, after the first resignation of Gordon from that post.

Of all the travelers, adventurers and administrators who passed through The Sudan in the 19th century, Colston, research suggests, may have been the most honorable and charitable. It is astounding, therefore, to read in his letter to George Hurlbut, librarian of the American Geographical Society, his opinion of Emin Pasha, governor of Egypt's Equatoria Province in 1887 - whom the famous Henry M. Stanley, of Stanley and Livingstone fame, set out to rescue when the Mahdist revolt trapped him near Lake Albert.

War Department Surgeon General's Office Washington, D.C.,

April 6, 1887

Mr. Geo. C. Hurlbut

Dear Sir,

I rec'd yesterday the Bulletin for which I am very much obliged. I will send copies to as many of my old Egyptian comrades as I can locate.

I read with interest your Geogr. Notes referring to Emin Pasha. It is possible that Stanley will arrive too late - but he has not been wasting time like Wolseley, and I think he is much superior to the latter as a leader. I met Emin Pasha at Khartoum in 1875 & 1876. He was then a mere adventurer seeking employment as a surgeon in the Egyptian service, which he obtained from Gordon. I was surprised to learn how he has come out since. He certainly was (apparently) one of the most contemptible specimens of humanity I ever met... I looked last night at my diary for that date and here is an extract.

"Dec. 14, 1875, met at Consul Hansal's (Austrian) ... a renegade trying to pass himself off as a Turk ... Attends mosk [sic] regularly. Presented as a great musician and could not play anything..."

There must have been something more in him than appeared on the surface. I hope most sincerely that he may be relieved in time. The likenesses published of late of Emin Pasha are very good - I recognized him at first sight.

With best wishes I remain

Very truly yrs.

R. E. Colston

If Raleigh Colston was the most competent and indefatigable worker of the American Mission, Samuel H. Lockett was surely the best cartographer. Born in Virginia in 1837, Lockett graduated second in his class from West Point in 1858, became a colonel in the Confederate Army and designed the defenses of Vicksburg. After the war, he taught engineering and mathematics at Louisiana State University (where his unpublished papers are now located), and in 1873 completed the first accurate topographic map of Louisiana. But, unable to support his wife and five children in the difficult conditions which followed the war, he joined Stone's staff in Egypt in 1875.

In Egypt, Lockett's work first involved the planning and construction of fortifications. But then he surveyed the region of Eritrea between Mesewa and the escarpment of the Ethiopian Plateau, which resulted in a map and a lengthy report to General Stone, still unpublished. Lockett than went on to his supreme accomplishment: preparation of the "Great Map of Africa" with the help of Egyptian and American officers of the General Staff. A cartographic masterpiece, this map is almost certainly the finest and most accurate map of that continent produced up to that date, and is invaluable to anyone studying the extent of geographical knowledge of Africa in 1877. Measuring three by five meters (10 feet by 16 feet) with a scale of 1:3,000,000, it won a grand prize at the Paris International Exposition of 1878, but remained in manuscript form at the Abdin Palace Archives in Cairo until 1934, when it was first printed by the Egyptian government.

In 1877, Lockett returned to the United States to become a professor at the University of Tennessee. Six years later, he joined General Stone again - this time as Stone's assistant in a quite different undertaking: construction of a pedestal for what would be the Statue of Liberty. After providing most of the original drawings for the pedestal, he moved on to Bogota, Colombia, in 1891, where he died while seeking construction contracts.

Two other American contributors to the khedive's cartographic achievements were Purdy and Alexander McComb Mason (See Aramco World, March-April 1974), a former naval officer in the Confederacy. Mason, who was to spend more time in Egypt and The Sudan than any of the American members of the general staff - from 1870 to 1885 - served as acting governor of Equatoria in 1876-1877 during the absence of Gordon. In this time he made a thorough survey of Lake Albert, which had been discovered by Samuel W. Baker in 1864 and had been circumnavigated by Romulo Gessi in 1876. Despite such feats, Mason, to this day, remains a shadowy figure.

Purdy, an ex-Union officer from California, conducted two expeditions. In 1873, he surveyed the country between Barbar on the Nile and Berenice on the Red Sea, and in 1874-1876 commanded a survey party which traveled from Dongola (Dunqulah) southwestwards to El-Fasher in an investigation of the resources of the newly-conquered province of Darfur. His report was printed in the Publications of the Egyptian General Staff in 1877. A spendthrift, Purdy later squandered the money provided for his return to the United States, and died in poverty in Cairo in 1881.

Despite their successes, the khedive's cartographers spent a relatively short time in Egypt. On June 30, 1878, Ismail's regime, on the verge of bankruptcy, discharged all but General Stone, who, still uncertain of his reception in the United States, lingered on until 1883, when the British occupation of Egypt rendered his position superfluous.

In an ironic ending to his career, Stone then became chief engineer in charge of the construction of the Statue of Liberty's pedestal on Bedloe's (Liberty) Island, from which he had a splendid view of the Governor's Island military prison where he had been incarcerated 20 years before. Grateful to his old Egyptian comrades, however, he continued to employ them until, in January 1877, he died, thus bringing to an end an interesting footnote to the history of the American Civil War, and the history of Egyptian-American relations

Dr. Icenogle, assistant professor of geography at Auburn University in Alabama, is finishing a book on the Civil War officers who served the khedive of Egypt.

This article appeared on pages 16-23 of the September/October 1984 print edition of Saudi Aramco World.


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