I compiled the notes below originally as an aide-memoire in pre-Google and Wikipedia days, when checking who fought whom and where in some obscure conflict meant searching the bookcases for a suitable volume and then spending time working one's way through the index or contents.

Nowadays things similar to the below are available online at the click of a mouse...and now here as well!

The list appears in chronological order. 


Dutch-Belgian War (1830-1)


Following the defeat of Napoleon, the 1815 Congress of Vienna united Belgium (then known as The Southern Netherlands) and the Northern Netherlands (Holland) to form one State. This new state was ruled by the Dutch king William I.

Although the Belgian bourgeoisie largely benefited from the union, there was protest from both Catholics and Liberals. The former objected to the interference of the protestant king in clerical matters and the latter demanded more freedom.  In 1828 Catholics and Liberals drew up a concerted programme of demands which were considered then rejected by the Dutch.

After a series of incidents, revolution erupted in Brussels in 1830. William I sent in troops, led by Crown Prince Frederick, but the towns people received support from all over Belgium, and the Dutch were expelled from the city on September 27th after heavy street-fighting.  Independence was declared in October, with a constitution proclaimed February 7th 1831 and Leopold von Sachsen-Coburg-Gotha elected King Leopold I of Belgium on June 4th 1831.

However, the Dutch were still smarting over their loss and, having failed to persuade the Great Powers of Europe to intervene (the Russians were dealing with a rebellion in Poland; the French, who wanted to annex Belgium themselves, held at bay by the British who, in turn, were not really interested in intervening anyway) invaded Belgium on August 2nd 1831.

In what was known as the Tiendaagse Veldtocht or 10 Days' Campaign (August 2nd to 12th 1831), the Dutch defeated the Belgian forces near Hasselt and Leuven, only retreating in the face of a French army entering the country from the other side.

A diplomatic conference on the future of Belgium opened in London on the November 4th. The great powers of the time recognised the secession of Belgium from the (Northern) Netherlands. Leopold I of Saxe-Coburg became the first King of the Belgians (1831-1865).

Spanish Civil or Carlist Wars (1830-9)


Information Needed

Cape Frontier Wars (1834-1878)


 In the 19th Century, the British and Boers fought the Xhosa in a series of Cape Frontier Wars: the Sixth (1834); the Seventh (1846-7); the Eighth (1850-53); and the Ninth (1877-8). 

All these followed the same pattern: with a Xhosa uprising and heavy raiding being eventually squashed by punitive British and European Volunteer columns striking against Xhosa kraals.

The Great Trek (1835-40)


In 1835, more than 10,000 Boers, the Voortrekkers, left Cape Colony with their families and went north and north-east on the Groot Trek.

They were leaving behind their economic problems, the growing danger of conflict with the Xhosa, and, primarily, their discontent with the English colonial authorities who didn't provide them with sufficient protection against marauding tribesmen and had forbidden the slave trade, postulating the equality of whites and non-whites.

Under the leadership of Louis Trichardt and Hans van Rensburg, the Voortrekkers opened up the north of today's Mpumalanga. Other groups, under the command of Andries Pretorius, Gert Maritz and Piet Retief followed. In the area around ThabaNchu in what would become the Orange Free State, a huge Boer camp of 5,000 Voortrekkers eventually gathered.

The Boers then headed for Natal to gain land for settling and grazing. To that end they had to negotiate with Dingane, the king of the Zulus. The negotiations ended with the agreement that large areas in central and south Natal would be ceded to the Boers. However, when the delegates under Piet Retief prepared to leave the King’s corral, they were lured into an ambush by the Zulus and killed. The Zulu warriors then fell upon the Voortrekkers who had made camp at the foot of the Drakensberg to wait for the return of their leaders, killing 500 of them and stealing almost all their cattle.

The Voortrekkers, now worn out through the death of their second leader Gert Maritz, and through internal quarrels, were at the end of their power. Despite this, they elected Andries Pretorius as their new leader, who prepared them for a retaliatory strike against the Zulu king.

On December 16 1838, the Zulus were completely defeated in the famous "Battle of Blood River". This enabled the founding of the first short-lived Boer Republic in Natal, with Pietermaritzburg as its capital. By 1842, British troops occupied Port Natal, today's Durban, and annexed the hinterland as a Crown Colony. The Voortrekkers retreated behind the Drakensberg.

Texan War of Independence (1835-6)

North America

The Texan War of Independence started in October 1835, after American colonists in Mexican Texas (forming the larger part of the population) rebelled against the despotic rule of President Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna.  

The Texians captured San Antonio and the Alamo;  but were then pushed back by Santa Anna:  losing the Alamo again, and having one of their two forces defeated at Coleto.   Santa Anna split his forces to chase the remainder down:  but the  troops that he himself commanded were attacked and heavily defeated by the Texians at San Jacinto.  Santa Anna was captured and exchanged his freedom for Texas’ independence.

2nd & 3rd Seminole War (1835-42/1856-8)

North America

Information Needed

Afghan Invasion of the Punjab (1837)


In early 1837,  an army of 25,000 Afghans and Pathans with 18 heavy guns descended upon Jamrud: the most advanced Sikh outpost on the Afghan border. The garrison of Jamrud consisted of 600 men and a few light guns under the command of Maha Singh.

Despite a fierce pounding and repeated attacks, the garrison held out for four days, which allowed a Punjabi force under the command of Hari Singh Nalwa to march from Peshawar. Turning to face Hari Singh, the Afghans took up a defensive position in the Khyber Pass and waited.

After a time Hari Singh ordered his army forward and the Sikhs began to drive the Afghans before them. In the heat of battle, Hari Singh, who was riding his elephant, advanced too far ahead of his troops and was killed. Despite this, the Afghans lost 11,000 men to the Punjabi's 6,000. Jamrud was retaken and no other Punjabi outposts were threatened.

1st Opium War (1839-42)


Information Needed

Baluchistan (1839-41)


In 1839, Baluchistan was ruled by Mehrab Khan, khan of Kalat. Although the khan had signed a treaty with the British allowing their forces safe passage en route to India, his wazir, Mahummed Hasan, as an act of revenge for the khan having murdered Hasan's father, plotted the khan's downfall. Hasan told the British and the khan that each was plotting against the other, and encouraged Baluchi tribesmen to attack the British as they passed through the country.

The British sent a brigade of the Bombay Army under Major-General Sir Thomas Willshire to punish the khan for the perceived treachery. Willshire reached Kalat on 13th November 1839, defeated the khan's followers, and stormed the city. Mehrab Khan was killed in the fighting, and despite the fact that Hasan's duplicity was discovered, his son and heir, Nasir Khan was not given the throne: a rival claimant Shah Nawaz Khan being appointed.

Baluchistan continued to simmer. The British garrison at Khahan (300 men of the 5th Bombay Infantry) was besieged by members of the Marri tribe between April and September 1840, with a relief force being beaten off in August. Safe passage was eventually granted to the beleaguered garrison in return for the handing over of the fort.

Nawaz Khan, however, lacked the support of the local chiefs, and abdicated in favour of Nasir Khan in August 1840. The British political officer and his small garrison were overwhelmed, and, upon this, a new British expedition was sent under Major-General William Nott. Nott re-captured Kalat at the end of 1840, but skirmishing between the two sides continued until a compromise was reached in October 1841, with Nasir Khan confirmed on his throne.

1st Afghan War (1839-42)


Information Needed

Sikh Invasion of Tibet (1841-2)


In 1841, one faction of the Punjabi government led by the Dogra brothers Gulab Singh, Dhian Singh and Suchet Singh, took it upon themselves to extend the influence of the Punjab by invading Tibet. This resulted in a war against the forces of Imperial China and the massacre of the Punjabi army as it attempted to fight its way out of Tibet during the winter.

In 1842, a Chinese force advanced from Lhasa, was defeated and on 17th October a treaty was signed between the Punjab and the Emperor of China.

Annexation of Sind (1843)


Sind (or Scinde) occupied a strategically vital position between British India and  the threat of Russian-inspired hostilities from either Afghanistan or Persia.  Initially concerned with the threat of the Sikhs, its Baluchi rulers accepted British terms in a treaty signed in 1838, and allowed their country to be used by the British as a conduit for troops to Afghanistan during the First Afghan War.

British reverses in Afghanistan and troubles in Baluchistan, however, led relations to deteriorate and when British troops began coming under attack from Baluchi marauders, the British decided to annex Sind.

Thus in 1842 Sir Charles Napier was sent to Hyderabad (not to be confused with the more famous city and state of central India) with a new treaty so stringent that the amirs of Sind could not possibly accept it.  On 15th February 1843, the British Residency was attacked in retaliation, with its defendants escaping onto Indian Marine vessels lying in the Indus.

Napier used this as a cause for war, and, eager to strike a telling blow before the amirs could properly concentrate their forces, attacked an army of some 22,000 Baluchis with the 2,800 men at his disposal (22nd Foot; 1st, 12th and 25th Bombay Native Infantry;  9th Bengal Light Cavalry;  the Scinde Irregular Horse;  and a detail of the Poona Irregular Horse;  and 12 guns).  The armies met on 17th February 1843 at Miani (aka Meeanee), with the Baluchis attempting a series of charges at the British line.

The line held and the Baluchi's flank was turned by a charge from the 9th Bengal and Scinde Horse:  with the Baluchi's losing an estimated 5,000 men to the British's 256.  On the following day, many of the chief amirs surrendered to the British, and Hyderabad was occupied on 20th February 1843.

Napier then led 5,000 men against Amir Shere Mahomed and his 20,000 men at Dubba (although known as the battle of Hyderabad) on 24th March 1843:  carrying the position for a loss of 267 casualties verses the amir's 500 dead and many more wounded.

This was the last major clash of the Annexation and although Baluchi bandits continued to raid for the next few years, constant and harsh police actions by the British (such as the Cutchi Hills expedition of 1847) kept matters under control.

NB  Napier's famous telegram "Peccavi" - the Latin for "I have sinned" - is actually fictional:  it was the caption on a cartoon of Napier in Punch magazine and represents the opinions of many contemporary British commentators vis a vis the dubious justification for/legality of the annexation.

Annexation of Gwalior (1843)


Years of turbulence and intrigue in Gwailor culminated in 1843 in the adoption of the child-heir Jayavi Rao Sinhia to the vacant throne. With the country's geographical position so strategically significant to British interests, especially regarding the Punjab and Sind, and the fact that Gwailor possessed significant military forces, the British naturally wanted certain re-assurances from the Gwailor council of regency. The council refused even to discuss the situation with Lord Ellenborough and, in 1843, war was declared.

The British formed two armies: one at Agra under Sir Hugh Gough; and one at Jansi under Major-General John Grey. Opposing them was an army which included European-trained "regulars" and a formidable force of artillery.

On 29th December 1843, Gough's force of two cavalry and three infantry brigades encountered about 17,000 Marathas in a strong position at Maharajpore. Naturally Gough attacked immediately and, despite strong resistance, the Mahrathas were routed and 56 guns captured. Gough suffered almost 800 casualties.

On the same day, Grey's column encountered a second Maratha force some 12,000 strong at Punniar, about 20 miles away from Gough. Again the British attacked, and again the Marathas were routed and their artillery captured.

Under these twin blows, the Gwalior regency capitulated and on 31st December 1843 a treaty was signed that effectively gave control of the country to the British.

1st & 2nd Sikh Wars (1845-6/1848-9)


The death of the pro-British Ranjit Singh and the British annexation of Sind in 1843 led to a pre-emptive strike by the Sikhs in 1845.  

The First Sikh War involved battles at Moodhee;  Ferozeshah;  Aliwal and Sobraon:  victories for the British under Gough, but with heavy casualties due to the tactics of full frontal assault.

The second Sikh War (or Punjab Campaign) began with Sikh rebellion centered around Multan in April 1848.   Minor skirmishes led to battles at Chillianwalla and Gujerat that effectively broke the power of the Sikh army and led to eventual annexation of the Punjab.

US/Mexican War (1846-8)

North America

In 1846, Mexico rejected an offer from the US to buy New Mexico, and the resultant bad feeling on both sides led to war.  

The initial phase was in the north of Mexico, along the Texas border: where a US army under General Zachary Taylor defeated a Mexican army at Matamoros, and advanced south capturing Saltillo.  Santa Anna led a relieving army north by forced march, but was held at bay by the Americans: with Taylor’s winning draw effectively ending the northern campaign.  

Meanwhile, another US army was assembled and in March 1847, under General Winfield Scott, invaded Mexico itself at Vera Cruz.   Mexican defeat followed Mexican defeat as the Americans, despite the small size of their army and stretched line of communications, fought their way to Mexico City: capturing it in September 1847. Peace negotiations lasted until February 1848, but the war was effectively over, with the US agreeing to pay $15 million to the Republic of Mexico for California, Nevada, Utah, parts of Colorado and Wyoming, and most of Arizona and New Mexico.   The last US soldier left Mexican soil in August 1848.

Navajo Wars (1846-64)

North America

Information Needed

Cayuse Wars (1847)

North America

Information Needed

Samoa (1847-99)

South Seas

Between 1847 and 1861, the United States, Great Britain and Germany all established diplomatic missions on Samoa and laid claims to the islands. Armed and advised by foreigners, the Samoan paramount chiefs fought bitter wars for supremacy (1848-73), until US Special Agent Colonel A.B. Steinberger negotiated a peace (1873), helped to draft a European constitution (1875), and then ruled as a virtual dictator until his arrest and deportation by the British in 1875.

In 1880, after a number of years consolidating their interests, the three powers established Malietoa Talavou as King in exchange for trading rights. Malietoa spent several months fighting off rivals and, when he died, was succeeded by Malietoa Laupepe.

In 1886, the Germans, with British consent, landed naval forces in Western Samoa and attempted to establish German rule over the islands. They drove Laupepe from his capital, Apia, and proclaimed a friendly-to-the-Germans local chief, Tamasese, as King of all Samoa.

The Samoans fought back, already sick of years of heavy handed German oppression, with a local chief, Mataafa of Saana, defeating first Tamasese's warriors under the leadership of German officers, and then a force of German marines. The German consul declared martial law, ordered the bombarding of Mataafa's villages, but had his request for reinforcements turned down it was feared that the US might intervene (the American consul had, on his own, and in response to the German invasion, already declared Samoa a US protectorate).

The Americans called a convention in Washington DC in 1897 to discuss the situation, but nothing was resolved. The US then landed forces on Samoa, and all three powers despatched naval vessels to the scene. Between November and March 1889 it looked as if the US and Germany might go to war! However, on 20th March 1889, a hurricane blew in, destroying all the American and German warships plus ten merchant ships (the British HMS Calliope survived). The three powers then agreed the Act of Berlin, establishing a three-power protectorate over Samoa, and restoring Laupepe as King.

In 1893, Mataafa, now backed by the Germans, rebelled against Laupepa, but, after some tribal fighting and the eventual intervention of British and American warships, he was persuaded to surrender (the First Samoan Civil War 1893-4). In 1898, however, following the death of his rival Laupepe, and after fierce fighting, Mataafa seized power again, and a second civil war began: with the US and Great Britain supporting Laupepe's son Tanu, and the Germans backing Mataafa.

On 15th March 1899, warships of the British and American navies bombarded the Samoan city of Apia in an attempt to intimidate Mataafa. An Anglo-American landing force then seized the city, but was not able to pacify the interior: being heavily defeated at the Battle of Tagalii on April 1st - some 56 Americans and 62 Britons (both sailors and marines) were ambushed by 800 or so warriors as they marched for the German plantation of Vailele, east of Apia.

Finally, with the Anglo-American forces controlling the roads and more urban areas, and the German-Mataafan forces controlling the bush, an agreement was drawn up on 8th November 1899, abolishing the monarchy and partitioning the islands between Germany and the US, with Britain receiving Tonga and part of the German Solomons.

1st War of Italian Unification (1848-9)


When France and Napoleon were expelled from Italy at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the various Italian states were largely returned to either their Austrian (Hapsburg) or local royal family rulers (including the Pope in the Papal States). Both the Austrians and the traditional monarchs were generally eager to return the States to an almost feudal political system and isolation from the rest of Europe. The States had, however, tasted reform and the modern world under the French, and calls grew either for a change from traditional monarchy to constitutional monarchy or for the disparate states of Italy to unite as one nation.

A refusal on the part of the Austrians, in particular, to accept any reform led to the Austrian garrisons of Milan and Venice being expelled by their citizens and, on 24th March 1848, Carlo Amberto, King of Sardinia (at the time an area composed of the Piedmont region on the mainland and the island of Sardinia), declared war on the Austrians and invaded the Austrian-ruled neighboring state of Lombardo-Veneto.

The rest of the Italian States mobilised with various degrees of efficiency and numbers: with some sending either regular or volunteer units to aid the Sardinians. Successes at Goito and Pastrengo bottled the Austrians up in what were known as the Quadrilateral City-fortresses (Verona; Mantua; Legnago and Peschiera) protecting their lines of communication to Vienna.

The Italians were, however, beset by political turmoil: for example, the question of whether Sardinia was actually fighting for a united Italian republic or a united Italy ruled by Sardinia. Not only this, but they were a volunteer army run by untrained aristocrats and had been raised with no preparation of supplies. They were also fighting one of the most professional armies of Europe on, effectively, that army’s home ground. Although Peschiera was captured, the Austrians, under the experienced Radetsky, received reinforcements by forced march from Vienna and, at the same time, Naples, the only other Italian state with a ‘regular’ army, withdrew from the war.

A four day battle on 22-25 July at Custoza led to the first proper Austrian victory: with the Italians fighting bravely but being defeated almost by the Austrians’ superior training and staff work. On the fourth day, for example, the Italians were exhausted and out of supplies, whereas the Austrian units facing them had been properly rotated with their reserves and were therefore relatively fresh.

The Italians fell back, river by river, to Milan where, amid scenes of riot and turmoil, an armistice was agreed. Garibaldi, who had joined the fight for independence just as the armistice was about to be agreed, took his followers into the mountains and fought on for another three weeks, winning two stunning victories with his 500 men against an Austrian army of 5,000, but then was forced to retreat to Switzerland. This left only the Venetians still fighting the Austrians.

The armistice lasted seven months until Carlo Alberto, under pressure from his ministers, reluctantly canceled it and once more led Sardinia to war. The Sardinian army was now about 80,000 strong and facing a more experienced Austrian army of about 75,000. The Sardinains again expected Radetsky to retreat to the Quadrilaterals, and were somewhat surprised when, as they moved north towards the four cities, the Austrians moved south: outflanking the Sardinians and thrusting towards Turin itself (the capital of Sardinia). A great battle was fought at Novara in Piedmont on 23rd March, with the Austrians actually between the Italians and Turin. Although at some stages it looked as if the Sardinians might win, the Austrians eventually achieved a comprehensive victory. Carlo Alberto first surrendered, then abdicated in favour of his son Vittorio Emanuele, and the Sardinian part of the conflict was over.

In Venice, the Venetians, although now bottled up in their lagoons, still resisted the Austrians.

In Rome, however, the Pope (known as Pio Nono, and even more reluctant to reduce his absolute secular authority than the Austrians) had been expelled by republicans: who had declared the Papal States to be a new Roman Republic. This was a more significant act for the rest of Europe than a mere rebellion: it was a slap in the face for Catholics in general. For a month the great Catholic European powers (Spain, France, Austria) argued amongst themselves about what to do until eventually, seizing the opportunity to make a name for himself, Louis Napoleon (who would later become by coup d’etat Napoleon III) sent 10,000 troops under Oudinot to capture Rome and restore the Papacy.

The Roman Republic’s army consisted of a mish-mash of volunteers from all over Italy including, obviously, Garibaldi and his Italian Legion of 1300 men. Incredibly this rag-tag volunteer army held off the French for two months of fierce, often hand-to-hand, street fighting. The French, determined that they would not be beaten, sent reinforcements until eventually, they had 30,000 men besieging Rome and, on 30 June, the city surrendered. Garibaldi escaped, however, and began ‘the retreat from Rome’: in terms of providing a focus for Italian republicanism almost more of a victory than the unsuccessful defense of the city itself.

Meanwhile, the Sardinian defeat at Novara released Austrian troops for Radetsky to use to crush the Venetians. Protected by its geography, the fight for the city centered around the forts of Malghera and Chioggia (the Forte di Brondolo). After Malghera was abandonned by the Venetians in May, the city held out until August: when its people were forced to capitulate by a combination of disease and starvation.

With the fall of Venice, the first War of Italian Unification was over.

Austro-Hungarian War (1848-9)


Information Needed

1st Schleswig-Holstein War (1848-50)


Schleswig  and Holstein were two duchies on the German/Danish border that were, after an agreement of 1460, "eternally linked" and ruled by a male Royal heir.  In 1848, this ruler was the Danish King Frederik VII, and, as a Danish King had held this position for centuries, the Danes considered the two linked Duchies as part of the Danish kingdom. 

Holstein, however, had a population almost exclusively German, and was a member of the German Federation.  Schleswig, on the other hand, had a population of both Germans (in the north) and Danes (in the south).

In 1848, the German liberals of Schleswig declared secession from Denmark's autocratic rule: stating that they intended to set up a free constitution, affiliate with Holstein properly, and join the German Federation.  They were backed by both Prussia and the German Federation.

The Danes objected strongly and stated that Schleswig was actually part of the Danish Kingdom anyway, and should now be formally recognised as such and annexed accordingly. 

On 24th March 1848, Schleswig-Holstein insurgents captured the fortress of Rendsburg.  The result, unsurprisingly, was war:  with the Prussians and German Federation backing Schleswig-Holstein.

The 1848 Campaign

The Schleswig-Holstein army (about 7000 strong), keen to win independence without the intervention of their allies, advanced northwards to Bov/Flensberg, but were forced to retreat after being defeated by the Danes on 9th April 1848 in what was really a large scale skirmish.

Joined by a division of Prussians (some 12,000 men) and a division of German Federation troops (some 10,000 men), the Schleswig-Holstein army (approx. 6,000 men) inflicted a defeat on the Danes  at Busdorf (The Battle of Schleswig) on 23th April 1848, although the outnumbered Danish army (approx. 18,000 men) carried out an ordered withdrawal and so remained largely intact.

The Danes fell back to Flensberg but, made overconfident by the way that they had survived the Battle of Schleswig against a numerically superior enemy, and believing the Prussians, who had done most of the fighting, to be incapable of following up, neglected to post more than a token rearguard.  This led to disaster when the German Federation troops, unbloodied at Schleswig and keen to prove themselves, carried out an eager pursuit, and, on 24th April 1848,  hit the back of the Danish army at Oeversee.  Some parts of the Danish rearguard were captured after fierce skirmishing, the rest managed to flee to the main body of the army but only managed to panic them as well ("the Prussians are coming, the Prussians are coming!"). 

The Danes retreated across the Als Sound, followed by the Allies.  On 28th May 1848, 14,000 Danes counterattacked the Allied forces across the Als Sound at Dybbol, and forced them back towards Graasten and Adsboel.

Both sides dug in, and apart from a few fierce skirmishes, nothing more of note happened before the end of the 1848 campaigning season.

The 1849 Campaign

The campaign of 1849 started (3rd April) with a Schleswig-Holstein & German invasion of Southern Jutland with 61.000 men. There were 46.000 German soldiers in three divisions: the First Division was Kurhessian-Bavarian;  the Second was Hanoverian;  and the Third, Prussian.  They were accompanied by the Schleswig-Holstein army of 16.000 men.

The Danes needed to protect northern Jutland and withdrew most of their army far northwards, leaving 15,000 troops on the strategically important Island of Als (from where they could threaten the Allied line of communication and be easily re-supplied and supported by the superior Danish navy);  and a 7,000-strong garrison in the Fortress of Frederica (again threatening the potential Allied line of communication and again protected by the Danish fleet).

The Allies split their forces:  20,000 Federation troops protected the line of communication from the Danish forces on Als at Sundeved;  the whole Schleswig-Holstein army laid siege to Frederica;  and the rest followed the remaining Danes, fighting several small scale actions before the Danes withdrew onto another peninsular at Helgenaes.

This left the Danes in a strong position.  The Allies could not advance further north without making sure that the Danes were contained, or they risked being attacked in their rear.  Unfortunately, once they had assigned enough troops to contain the Danes, they didn't have any left for further advances!  The Danes were also receiving supplies by sea, so couldn't be starved out of their positions and, technically, could very quickly concentrate their forces, again using their fleet to do so.

At seige at Frederica began on the 9th of May and, at first, although they managed to construct a series of four redoubts, the Schleswig-Holstein forces made no headway against the defenders:  the Danish garrison being rotated on and off the island of Funen and so remaining fresh and at full strength.

Then the Schleswig-Holsteiners began to construct two more redoubts, on the beach, that effectively threatened to cut the fortress off from the sea, and the Danes decided to break out.  They used a feint of two sea borne landings, and attacked late at night (1am on 6th July 1849), after one of their divisions failed to receive its orders in time for a daylight action.  This worked to their advantage as the weary Schleswig-Holsteiners had gone to bed after spending all day on the 5th on alert against a possible Danish attack!

The Danish attack was successful, although their General Olav Rye was killed, and the Schleswig-Hostein army fell back in a south-westerly direction.  As neither side was now in a strategically sound position, an armistice was agreed, and all German troops were withdrawn from Danish territory.  This was the end of the 1849 campaign.

After pressure from Russia, the Prussians and German Federation withdrew their support for Schleswig-Holstein's cause, but the Duchy determined to go it alone and, by July 1850 had advanced their army (now 30,000 strong and headed by a mercenary Prussian general) from Schleswig to Isted, where they dug in and awaited the Danes.

The Danes duly advanced, and made contact on 24th July:  a significant skirmish being fought before nightfall.  On 25th July 1850, the Danes attacked again.  Although the two wings of the Schleswig-Holstein army held, the centre crumbled after a series of three implacable Danish attacks.

The Schleswig-Holstein army fell back, with the Danes following cautiously.  A Schleswig-Holstein counterattack was fought at Mysunde on 12th September 1850, but the action did not dislodge the Danes, who consolidated their position and kept the pressure on.

Further actions at Fredrickstadt ("the siege of Fredrickstadt") and a further attempt to dislodge the Danes at Mysunde on 31st December also proved futile, and the forces of Schleswig-Holstein conceded defeat.

In the Treaty of London, signed in 1852, the Danes agreed not to try and annex Schleswig, although this treaty was not subscribed to by the entire German Federation.

In 1864, things came to a head again...


The British Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston, famously said that only three people had ever known the answer to the Schleswig-Holstein question, and of these, the first, Prince Albert was dead; the second, a Foreign Office official, was mad; and the third and last, he himself, had known the answer but had now forgotten it"

Rogue River Wars (1851-6)

North America

Information Needed

Taipeng Rebellion (1851-65)


The Taiping Rebellion was a popular revolt that undermined China's Qing dynasty. The rebellion was triggered by the famine of 1849-50, and was led by Hong Xiuquan (Hung Hsui-ch'an, 1813-1864). The most serious and widespread of a number of mid-19th century rebellions, it began in the southern province of Guangxi, where the Hakka community had been partly Christianized. Hong Xiuquan declared himself to be the younger brother of Jesus Christ. Many of his followers were drawn from marginal mining, charcoal-burning, boating, and secret-society communities.

By 1853 the rebels had secured control over much of the central and lower Chang Jiang valley region, instituting radical, populist land reforms. Civil war continued until 1864, when the Taipings, weakened by internal dissension, were overcome by the provincial Hunan army of Zeng Guofan and the Ever-Victorious Army, led by the American F T Ward and the British soldier Charles Gordon. Nanjing was made capital for 'Heavenly King' Hong Xiuquan, who committed suicide when the city came under siege.

2nd Burmese War (1852-3)


Information Needed

Sioux Wars (1854-90)

North America

Information Needed

Crimean War (1853-5)


The decline of the Ottoman Empire badly affected the balance of power in Europe.  Russia saw it as an opportunity to gain a much-desired Mediterranean port, and picked a fight with the Turks over the control of the Christian shrines in Jerusalem.

When their unreasonable demands weren’t met, Russian troops began to occupy Turkish Moldavia and parts of Rumania in July 1853.  The Turks declared war in October, and a Turkish army crossed the Danube, defeating the Russians at the battle of Oltenitza in southern Rumania on 4th November 1853. On 30 November the Russians obliterated a Turkish fleet at Sinope (shell guns were used by the Russians for the first time), but their control of the Black Sea was short lived, as a Franco-British fleet entered the Black Sea in January 1854. On 28th March 1854, Britain and France declared war on Russia, both being eager to curb the Tsar’s expansionist tendencies, and moved to help the Turks.

On 20th March 1854, the Russians invaded Turkish Bulgaria, but withdrew in August after Austrian intervention.

Fighting also took place in the Caucasus, where the Russians besieged the Turkish-held fortress of Kars:  forcing it to surrender on 26th November 1855, only months before peace negotiations ended the war.

However, the most important fighting was on the Crimean peninsular. Austria's intervention had in effect achieved the British and French aims, removing the Russian presence in the Balkans, but it was decided to reduce Russian naval power in the Black sea by the occupation and destruction of the main Russian naval base at Sevastopol.

The campaign in the Crimea is most notable for the poor quality of the leadership of both sides. This was amply demonstrated at the start of the campaign:  the allied expedition sailed before the leaders - Lord Raglan for the British, the seriously ill Marshal Armand de Saint-Arnaud for the French - had even decided where to land, only picking their point once they had reached the Crimea:  choosing to land at Old Fort, an open beach 30 miles north of Sevastopol.

The landing took five days (13th to 18th September 1854), and during this time the Russian commander, Prince Alexander Menshikov, showed his lack of ability by failing to take the opportunity to attack the vulnerable allies.

The British and French now started to move towards the Sevastopol, and only now, with the allies outnumbering him, did Prince Menshikov attempt to stop them. An attempt to hold the line of the River Alma on 20th September 1854 cost Menshikov 5,700 of his 36,400 men, and the allies 3,000 of their 52,000, although Russian reinforcements were already starting to reach the area.

Menshikov pulled back to Sevastopol, which the allies approached on 25th September, and when the idiocy of their landing point became apparent. With no easy port in their hands, the allies were forced to march around Sevastopol to Balaklava and Kamiesch, south of the city, before they could begin a siege. At the same time Menshikov was moving the bulk of his army away from the city to join with Russian reinforcements, and it was only by chance that the two armies failed to collide. The allies regained contact with their fleets, and established themselves in their new bases, the British at Balaklava, the French at Kemiesch, where the death of Marshal St. Arnaud raised General Francois Canrobert to command.

The allies were now free to concentrate on the siege of Sevastopol, 17th October 1854 to 8th September 1855, but to the amazement of the Russian garrison, missed their chance to simply walk into the city before its defences had been completed. Instead, while the bulk of the allied army protected their flank against the Russian field army, the siege was slowly put into place (8th to16th October), before the bombardment began on 17th October. Over the previous weeks, however, Colonel Frants Todleben, the Russian chief engineer, had built up new fortifications that almost totally negated the allied efforts.

The Russians made repeated attempts to disrupt the siege by attacking the vulnerable supply lines between the besieging troops and their ports. The first attempt resulted in the Battle of Balaclava on 25th October 1854, renown for three significant actions:  the “thin red streak” of Highlanders standing up to a Russian cavalry charge of overwhelming numbers; the successful uphill Charge of the Heavy Brigade, under General Scarlett, into even more Russian cavalry; and, of course, the Charge of the Light Brigade. 

The main result of the battle was to leave Menshikov's army dominating the only proper road between Balaklava and Sevastopol. A second Russian attempt led to the Battle of Inkerman on 5th November 1854, which degenerated into a formless melee after both the British and Russians lost effective control of their armies. The battle was won by the late arrival of a French division, which drove off the Russians, who suffered by far the heavier casualties. Inkerman is also known as the Fight in the Fog.

The fighting then ended for the winter, but the misery of the allied troops only got worse. Neither the French nor British were fully prepared for a winter siege, while the Russians still commanded the road between Balaklava and Sevastopol. A storm sank thirty transport ships containing most of the British supplies, and cholera raged through the camp, reducing the British army to only 12,000 effective soldiers. For the first time, improved technology allowed news to reach home very quickly, and the telegraph reports sent by William Russell, war correspondent of the Times of London enraged British public opinion to the extent that the government of Lord Aberdeen fell:  the first time the condition of the fighting men had aroused such emotions.

Things slowly improved early in 1855. Florence Nightingale's famous nursing innovations improved the military hospitals, while a newly constructed road and railway improved the supply route between Balaklava and Sevastopol.

Another Russian attempt to intervene, under Prince Michael Gorchakov, on 17th February 1855, was repulsed by the Turks in the Battle of Eupatoria.

An Easter bombardment (8th to 18th April 1855) destroyed a great deal of the Russian defences, while the resignation of Canrobert led to the appointment of General Pelissier, a more able commander.

The capture of Kerch on 24th May, which secured allied command of the Sea of Azov, severed the Russian overland supply lines and, over the remains of the summer, the allies slowly nibbled at the Russian defences.  The battle of the Traktir on 16th August 1855 saw the final Russian attempt to relieve the city defeated by French and Sardinian troops.

Finally, on 8th September 1855, the French launched one of the few well-planned attacks of the war, aimed at the Malakoff, one of the two key strongpoints of the Russian defence. A heavy bombardment was followed by a well timed assault by an entire French corp. Surprise was achieved by the first use of synchronised watches to time an assault, and after intensive fighting the Malakoff was captured. This put the remaining strongpoint under an intolerable strain, and so that night Prince Gorchakov evacuated the city.

The capture of Sevastopol was the last significant fighting of the war. Peace terms were agreed on 1st February 1856 at Vienna, and the final peace agreed at the Congress of Paris, 28th February to 30th March 1856.

Persian War (1855-7)


War was declared on Persia by the British on 1st November 1856, following Persia’s annexation of the Afghan city of Herat.

A British division landed, unopposed, near Bushire, which surrendered after its protecting forts were captured, and a short naval bombardment. The British expedition was reinforced with a second division in January 1857, and fought a battle at near-by Koosh-ab: where 6,900 Persians under Shooja-ool-Moolk were soundly defeated by 4,500 British Indian troops commanded by Outram and Havelock.

Supported by gunboats, the British advanced to Mohmubra and then on to Ahwaz: with the Persians retreating without fighting. On 5th April, Outram learnt that a peace had been negotiated by which the Persians agreed to quit Herat, and the war was over!

Indian Mutiny (1857-8)


The ‘Great Mutiny’ of 1857-58 had the most profound consequences in the history of the British presence on the Indian sub-continent. Although its causes were varied, it centred around the mutiny of the Bengal army, and the subsequent attempts of various native rulers to take advantage of an opportunity to throw off British rule. It was a conflict fought without quarter on either side: with isolated British garrisons holding out against desperate odds until relief forces could be organised; and then a series of pitched battles slowly regaining control of disputed regions.

The French in Annam (1858-62)

South-East Asia

The French had had interests in Annam (Vietnam) since the beginning of the 17th Century, increasing its activities over time:  for example using its merchant ships and navy to intervene in the persecution of Vietnamese Catholics in the 1840’s.

When the French wanted to increase their commercial control of the area, seeking to rival the British in Singapore and Hong Kong, it was therefore easy for the government of Napoleon III to use continuing reports of the persecution of Catholics (all grossly exaggerated) as an opportunity for the acquisition of territory in South Vietnam.

In 1858, a joint Franco-Spanish expedition proceeded to Vietnam ostensibly to save missionaries from persecution.  The Spanish quit after being given assurances of non-persecution by the Vietnamese government, but the French landed at Tourane (modern day Danang) in August 1858, and demanded that they be allowed to install a Consulate and Commercial Attache.

Their demands were rejected and some missionaries killed, so on September 2nd the French forces attacked the garrison of Tourane and took the city.

The French continued to fight their way into the country, taking Saigon on 17th February 1859; and gaining control of most of the Gia Dinh region in 1861.  The Vietnamese government, led by Emperor Tu Doc, realizing that it was powerless to resist the modern army of the French and needing its troops to put down a revolt in North Vietnam, secured a treaty with the French in 1862.  This treaty gave the French formal control of the areas of South Vietnam that they had already taken, and the right to navigate the Mekong river.

The French renamed this area of South Vietnam Cochin China, and continued their expansion.  In 1863, they announced that they had taken over the protectorate of Kampuchea (modern day Cambodia) that had previously been held, against bitter revolts, by the Vietnamese; and in 1867, made Cochin China a French colony, having now established complete control over the region.

Peru & Ecuador (1859)

South America

Information Needed

Franco-Austrian War (2nd War of Italian Unification) (1859)


Although soundly beaten in the first war of Italian Unification, the Sardinians under their new king Vittorio Emanuele and chief minister Camillo Cavour were still eager to evict the Austrians from their Italian provinces. They realised, however, that they could not defeat the mighty Austrian Empire on their own and therefore, in 1856, sent troops to fight in the Crimea allied to Britain and France. As a result, and also because of Napoleon III’s ambition, Cavour managed to persuade the French Emperor to agree to a Treaty of Defensive Alliance against the Austrians and, with this safely signed, set about provoking the Austrians to war.

This proved easy. Cavour put Piedmont on a war footing and called for volunteers to enlist in a new war of Italian liberation. The Austrians demanded that the Sardinians stand down and, when they refused, declared war on April 26th.

The Austrian plan was to use their superior forces (the Austrian 2nd Army was approximately 140,000 strong facing the 70,000 men of the entire Piedmontese army) to crush the Sardinians before the French could intervene. Unfortunately, the Austrian army had become a parade-ground army: led by men chosen by the Austrian Emperor Franz Josef for their social standing rather than their ability to fight. Under its commander Field Marshall Count von Ferenc Gyulai, and to the surprise of everyone, the 2nd Army advanced into Piedmont at a crawl and, rather than striking swiftly at Turin, took almost ten days to travel the fifty or so miles to be within reach of the Sardinian capital. There, now faced with reports of a combined Sardinian/French army massing to his southern flank, he lost his nerve, and retreated.

A skirmish at Montebello (May 20th) convinced Gyulai that the Allies would try to circle around him to the south and cut his lines of communication. He had, however, completely misread the situation. Napoleon III had joined the Allied army in early May, assumed personal command, and decided to circle north, rather than south, of the Austrians: using the railways to accomplish the rather tricky maneuver of shifting his entire army across the front of the enemy and cross the River Ticino near Novarro.

To cover this maneuver, he ordered the Sardinians to feint towards Palestro and there, at the end of May, when the Austrians responded with a reconnaissance in force, the first serious battle of the war was fought. Some 14,000 Austrians supported by 40 guns attacked a combined French/Sardinian force of 10,700 men and 18 guns: but were thrown back with heavy casualties. As a point of interest, Vittorio Emanuele, who had been watching the battle, was unable to restrain himself: and, as probably the last European monarch to do so, charged into battle at the head of his troops!

Gyulai, totally confused, retreated back across the river Ticino and dug in. Napoleon, now ready to complete his northern thrust, left most of his men on the Sardinian side of the river, and took 30,000 troops across the Ticino heading for the village of Magenta where he intended to establish a bridgehead. There, however, he ran into significant numbers of Austrians and, as both sides realised what was happening, a battle developed between Napoleon’s vanguard (desperate not to be cut off on the wrong side of the river) and the Austrians: with both sides calling up reinforcements as fast as possible.

Magenta was another victory for the Allies and, on June 6th, the Austrians abandoned Milan and retreated east. Another Allied victory at Melegnano kept them on the run until they arrived back in the Quadrilaterals.

From there, and reinforced from Vienna, the Austrians sortied out from Solferino to attack the Allied Army: assuming that it would be strung out in pursuit. Unfortunately, the Allies had moved quickly, and their whole army was closer than the Austrians thought. The Allies, however, thought that they were fighting only another Austrian rearguard.

The battle rapidly developed into a series of attacks and counter-attacks as the Austrians tried to crush the French right wing and ‘roll up’ the rest of their army, and the Allies tried to capture Solferino and pierce the Austrian centre. It ranged over an enormous area, some sixty square miles, with the Allies committing their forces to action as soon as they arrived on the field. Eventually, however, Napoleon committed the Imperial Guard, and the Austrians were driven back into the Quadrilaterals.

It had been, however, a bloody day: with the Allies taking 17,000 casualties out of 137,000; and the Austrians taking 21,000 casualties out of 128,000. A young Swiss tourist, Henri Dunant wrote an account of his experiences of Solferino that directly led to the founding of the Red Cross.

Napoleon, too, had been badly affected by Solferino’s butcher’s bill. He signed an armistice with the Austrians without consulting his Sardinian allies: knowing that they could not continue the war on their own. Although furious with the French, Cavour had to agree but, by clever political maneuvering, managed to ensure that Sardinia absorbed Lombardy and the Duchies of Parma and Magenta (as the war continued, both had declared that they wished to join with Sardinia: with their Austrian-backed rulers fleeing in the face of bloodless, popular uprisings). The Unification of Italy had finally begun!

PS Garibaldi led a force of 3-4000 volunteers (the Cacciatori delle Alpi) against the Austrians throughout the war: leading the Sardinians into Lombardy and then, when the French arrived, regularly defeating Austrian forces on the far north of the main Allied army, so tying up large numbers of Austrian troops and protecting the Allied flank.

Garibaldi’s Unification of Italy (1860)


At the end of the Second War of Italian Unification, Piedmont/Sardinia now controlled all of northern Italy except the region of Veneto, and its capital Venice, which were still controlled by the Austrians. This left only the Papal States in the centre and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (ie Sicily and the Neapolitan mainland) to the South. Cavour and King Vittorio Emanuele were fully occupied in sorting out the aftermath of the war, but Garibaldi was still fanatically dedicated to the idea of fighting for a wholly unified Italy.

Over the preceding years, there had been various rebellions on the island of Sicily, but all had been put down by Neapolitan troops. The leaders of the rebel faction, knowing that Garibaldi was their only real hope, invited him to Sicily and, after some soul-searching as to what this would man to his relationship with the King, he agreed to lead an invasion.

Accordingly, on May 11th 1860, Garibaldi and his “Thousand Men” (actually 1049) landed at Marsala, and began marching inland towards the capital, Palermo. They defeated a force of some 2000 Neapolitan troops at Calatafirmi and, with numbers now swollen to over 3000 by Sicilian volunteers, arrived at Palermo on 26th May. Garibaldi attacked immediately: narrowly defeating the garrison of 15,000 Neapolitan troops largely due to the inactivity, indecisiveness and lack of willpower of the Neapolitan governor, Lanza. So narrow was the victory, in fact, that had Lanza delayed his request for a ceasefire by even one day, Garibaldi would probably have been forced to retreat from Palermo.

Garibaldi spent the next two months consolidating his hold on the island, winning a significant victory over the Neapolitans at Milazzo - a victory that finally broke the rest of the Sicilian-based Neapolitan army’s resolve - and preparing for an invasion of the mainland. This began on the night of August 18th/19th with an attack on the heavily defended town of Reggio Calabria, which fell despite stiff opposition from the Neapolitans. From there, Garaibaldi marched on Naples, which fell on 7th September after the King of Naples, Francis II, fled to the region surrounding Capua with his army of 50,000 men.

The Garibaldini followed and, after a heavy defeat at Caiazzo on 19th September without Garibaldi present, fought a great defensive battle at the river Volturno on 1st October with him there. This battle was Garibaldi at his absolute best: with him leading his 20,000 men to victory over the 30,000 Neapolitans facing them.

Meanwhile, Cavour and Vittorio Emanuele, determined not to lose their central role in the Unification, had invaded the Papal States from the north on 11th September. Two Sardinian columns, numbering in total about 33,000 men, struck at the forts of Ancona, Castelfidardo and Loreto: and heavily defeated an army of Papal volunteers (a mixed bag of Swiss and Austrians, with aristocratic French commanders) at Castelfidardo. From there, the Sardinians marched south into the Kingdom of Naples (fighting a small action against the Neapolitans at Macerone on October 20th): with the King and Garibaldi finally meeting on 26th October near Teano. Garibaldi turned over Sicily and Naples to the King, and his army of “Red Shirts” was either disbanded or absorbed into the main Sardinian force.

The Sardinians then fought a series of small engagements against the remaining Neapolitan troops: eventually bottling them up in the fortress of Gaeta. There, on February 13th 1861, they surrendered, leaving all of Italy, save Veneto and the area immediately surrounding Rome (known as the Patrimony of St Peter), united under Vittorio Emanuele.

2nd China or Opium War (Arrow War) (1860)


Information Needed

Southern Plains War (1860-79)

North America

Information Needed

Apache Wars (1861-1900)

North America

Information Needed

American Civil War (1861-5)

North America

War 1861-65 between the Southern or Confederate States of America (the Rebels, Rebs or Johnny Rebs) and the Northern or Union States (the Yankees). The former wished to maintain certain 'states' rights', in particular the right to determine state law on the institution of slavery, and claimed the right to secede from the Union; the latter fought primarily to maintain the Union, with slave emancipation (proclaimed 1863) a secondary issue.

Upon Abraham Lincoln's inauguration as president March 1861 he affirmed that he did not propose to interfere with slavery where it already existed but he also asserted that no state could withdraw from the Union, and that he regarded it at his duty to preserve, protect, and defend the Union. Rebel Confederate forces began bombarding the federal garrison at Fort Sumter, South Carolina, 12 April and 34 hours later the fort was surrendered. With the fall of Fort Sumter the Civil War began.

The North had certain advantages in the forthcoming war which were ultimately to weigh decisively in the balance. Its white population, and hence its fighting strength, was four times as large as the South - if there was to be a lengthy war, the North's numerical superiority would enable it to sustain casualties far better. It was also immeasurably more advanced industrially and could meet all its own needs and those of its armies, while the Southern states were mainly agricultural and dependent for most non-agricultural produce on purchases from the North and Europe. The Union states also had the stronger navy and soon had command of the sea, enabling them to blockade Confederate ports.

Two days after the fall of Fort Sumter, Lincoln called for 75,000 troops to join a militia to fight for the Union while the Confederate commander Jefferson Davis asked for 100,000. In the South, Virginia, which had at first been against secession, now joined the Confederacy together with Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina and soon all the 11 Southern states were united. The Confederate capital was moved to Richmond, Virginia. There were four border slave states - Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri and the Confederates put much effort in trying to win over Missouri and Kentucky, but although their governors favoured secession, their legislatures overruled them.

There was dismay in the North when Britain issued a declaration of neutrality 13 May 1861 which recognized the Confederacy was entitled to the belligerent rights of a sovereign nation; most European nations soon followed suit. However, the Union army was beginning to gather strength, with nearly half a million recruits compared to only about half that number who had responded in the South.


The first real clash of arms came at the Battle of Bull Run 21 July 1861 between the Union army under Irvin McDowell and the Confederates under P G T Beauregard and Johnston. The Union forces were routed, retreating as far as Washington. Federal strength first began to show 1862. In the West, Ulysses S Grant captured Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River 15 Feb 1862; the Confederate general Simon Buckner was forced to accept Grant's stipulation of unconditional surrender, and surrendered an army of 14,000. The two sides next met in battle at Shiloh 6 April. The first day's fighting favoured the Confederates, but Albert S Johnston, one of the best of the Confederate commanders, was killed. In the second day's fighting the Union forces won and the Confederates retreated to Corinth. The Confederates suffered a further blow with the Union capture of New Orleans.

The principal Union advance against Richmond began March 1862 as George McClellan led the Army of the Potomac up the Virginia Peninsula, first coming upon the Confederates at Yorktown. His army had been weakened by the sudden withdrawal of 25,000 troops to defend Washington, and he settled down for a siege, only to find that the enemy had retreated. He met them in battle at Williamsburg, where once more the enemy retreated toward Richmond. McClellan was unable to pursue as he was then ordered to march on Thomas 'Stonewall' Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley. Davis sent reinforcements to Jackson, who defeated Banks at Winchester, evaded the other two Union armies which were seeking him, and triumphantly led his troops back to join the forces in line near Richmond.

In the meantime McClellan's army fought a great battle at Fair Oaks 31 May-1 June. At first it seemed as if the Union force had lost the day but the timely arrival of a new corps put the Confederates to flight. Davis now appointed General Robert E Lee as commander-in-chief of the Southern armies. Lee was quick to take advantage of the pause in McClellan's movement. He rushed up reinforcements from all over the South until he had an effective fighting force of 90,000 troops against his enemy's 100,000 and drove the Union forces back in the Seven Days' campaign, June-July. The campaign only relieved the threat to Richmond temporarily and McClellan was soon ready to attempt the capture of Richmond again. All his plans had to be abandoned when the Union government ordered him to return with his army to cover Washington. Henry Halleck was appointed commander-in-chief of the Union forces and General John Pope was given the best part of McClellan's army. The Union defeat at the second Battle of Bull Run 29 Aug and at Chantilly shortly after completely destroyed Pope's reputation as a general and Lincoln called on McClellan to resume command of the army at the Potomac once more.

Lee had moved into Maryland, hoping to win the state to the Confederacy, capture Baltimore, and then advance into Pennsylvania, carrying the war into Union territory. McClellan met him in the great struggle at Antietam 17 Sept. Lee was forced to retreat across the Potomac and McClellan did not following his victory through: he was then relieved of his command for good.

Lincoln now took a bold step. He had until this point merely struggled to preserve the Union intact, holding the issue of slavery in abeyance for fear of alienating the Democrats in the North and the border states. But on 22 Sept 1862, he issued his famous proclamation of emancipation, declaring that the slaves in all states in rebellion against the government should be free as from 1 Jan 1863. In Europe, the declaration was well received as most nations were already abolitionist. But the reaction in the US itself was more mixed and the Democrats made big gains in the elections held in Nov, and it was only New England and the border states which kept the House of Representatives Republican.

In the autumn of 1862, Union victories at Corinth and Murfreesboro left most of Tennessee held by General William Rosecrans while in the East Lee severely defeated Ambrose Burnside in the Battle of Fredericksburg 13 Dec 1862.


The Confederates won a great victory at Chancellorsville 1 May 1863 but at the cost of Stonewall Jackson. In the West, Grant took Vicksburg 4 July 1863 after a siege lasting six weeks. While this siege was still in progress, the Confederates were decisively defeated at at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania 1-3 July 1863, in probably the greatest battle of the war and Lee retreated back into Virginia. This victory, the turning point of the war, was followed by success in the West. Initially, Braxton Bragg beat Union forces under Rosecrans at Chickamauga, Tennessee, Sept 1863 but the Confederates suffered heavily at the subsequent battle of Chattanooga in Nov, forcing them back into Georgia. This was one of the most important actions in the war, ensuring ultimate Federal success in the West.


Ulysses S Grant's success as commander-in-chief late 1863 led Lincoln to appoint him lieutenant-general in charge of all the armies Feb 1864. Grant now planned to end the war. He set out to face Lee in Virginia, intending to destroy his army and take Richmond. At the same time he dispatched Sherman to face General J E Johnston in Georgia. After the indecisive Battle of the Wilderness May 1864 there was a further clash at Spotsylvania, Virginia, with similar results. At the Battle of Cold Harbor 3 June 1864, over 12,000 Union soldiers were killed or wounded in less than an hour. Grant had lost 60,000 troops in his campaign by this time, compared with Confederate losses of 40,000. However, he knew that the South could not replace its losses as easily as the North could.

The Confederate fleet was destroyed at the Battle of Mobile Bay Aug 1864 and in the early autumn Sheridan won victories at Winchester and Cedar Creek and then laid waste the entire Shenandoah Valley. Sherman entered Atlanta 2 Sept 1864 and in Nov set out on his famous march to the sea from Atlanta with an army of 62,000 leaving destruction in its wake. He entered Savannah unopposed 21 Dec 1864. In Tennessee, General George Thomas defeated the Confederates at the Battle of Nashville Dec 1864 driving them out of the state.


With the capture of Wilmington, North Carolina, Jan 1865 the last remaining port of the Confederacy was closed and Sherman began his march back from the sea. Columbia was burned down, and Charleston was deserted by the Confederates. Union forces captured Petersburg April 1865 and entered Richmond 3 April. Lee was completely surrounded and he surrendered at Appomattox Court House 9 April. Johnston surrendered to Sherman 26 April, and by the end of May all organized Confederate forces in the South had laid down their arms. Five days after Lee's surrender, Lincoln was assassinated by a Confederate actor, John Wilkes Booth.

The civil war was enormously costly: over 620,000 lives had been lost, while tens of thousands of soldiers returned with their health permanently impaired. The Union's debt had risen to nearly $3,000 million: the cost to the Confederacy has never been definitely estimated. Despite all this, the North was stronger than ever; while the South was ruined. The victory of the Union, however, did not bring real reconciliation between the sections. Reconstruction was only finally achieved at tremendous social and political cost, and many of the problems of 20th-century America stem from the post-Civil War period.

The Maximillian Adventure/French Intervention in Mexico (1862-7)

North America

Using problems over repayments of loans for his own Imperial and political ends, Napoleon III of France, trying to live up to his famous ancestor’s reputation, invaded Mexico in 1862.  Despite suffering a humiliating defeat at the hands of a Mexican force under General Ignacio Zaragoza at Puebla, the French subdued every other Mexican force they encountered:  entering Mexico City in June 1863.   A puppet government was then set up, with the Archduke Fernando Maximilian of Austria-Hungary as Emperor, who arrived in Mexico in 1864.   It was, however, only the French army, now under control of the great Bazaine, who kept Maximilian on the throne:  rebel Mexican forces under Juarez, the ex-President, in the north, and Porfirio Diaz in the south, being constantly defeated, but never eradicated, by the French flying columns.  

The American Civil War ended in 1865, allowing the US Government to begin looking south with some concern:  but the guerrilla war was slowly turning into one of territorial conquest. The French army, although still generally victorious in the field against a rebuilt Mexican Republican army, was gradually pushed back into the major cities: any attempt at setting up a series of garrisons merely resulting in the French units being ‘bottled up’ and gradually worn down by vast numbers of Mexicans.   Napoleon, unable to justify any further financial and military commitment to Mexico, began replacing French units in the field with units from Maximilian’s new Mexican Imperial Army, and the war continued throughout 1866 with French troops defending the cities whilst their Imperial Mexican colleagues were either defeated by, or deserted to, the Republicans.  

Finally, in February and March 1867, the French army withdrew from Mexico, and fighting concentrated around the last Imperial stronghold of Queretaro. This fell in May 1867, with Maximilian being formerly deposed, tried, and then shot by the Republicans on June 19th.   Benito Juarez regained his place as leader, but had barely started the process of rebuilding Mexico when he died in 1872.  Diaz took power and ruled like an Emperor for the next thirty years.

2nd Schleswig-Holstein War (1864)


Although the 1st Schleswig-Holstein War had resulted in a Danish victory over the Schleswig rebels who wanted to join Holstein in the German Confederation, it had not resolved the question of what to do with the two duchies in the long term.  Eventually, in 1863, the Danes made it clear that they favoured effectively annexing Schleswig, joining it to the main Danish helstat and cutting it away from Holstein, which would be allowed to go it’s own way except for the fact that the Danish king would retain his position as Duke.

This solution pleased no-one.  The pro-Denmark Nationals in both States wanted to ensure their current, privileged, status continued; the anti-Danes wanted a complete break for either one or both States.

On 15th November 1863, just as things were coming to a head, the Danish king, Frederick VII, died. If anything, this complicated the matter further:  as Salic law seemed to technically prevent the next Danish king, Christian IX, becoming Duke of Schleswig and Holstein.  The Danes favoured ignoring this problem and continuing with their plans to annex Schleswig.  The German Confederation was divided:  some wanting a successor appointed (“who” was another question), some suggesting that one or both states should be allowed to join the Confederation.  In addition to this, Prussia, under Bismark, was working towards its own goal:  annexing Holstein, and maybe Schleswig, for itself!

On 18th November, the new Danish King signed a bill that bound Schleswig closer to Denmark:  effectively breaching the terms of the peace treaty that had ended the first war.  A combined Saxon-Hannoverian Division occupied Holstein in December, to protect it from Danish “aggression”, and under strict orders to act defensively only.  In response, the Danes withdrew their forces from Holstein peaceably, content to keep hold of Schleswig as had been their intention all along.

Austria and Prussia also sent troops, but with the stated aim of occupying Schleswig as well.  The Saxon-Hannoverians disagreed with this more aggressive policy, and withdrew their men and, by the end of January 1864, only the 55,000 Prussian and Austrian troops, united under the Prussian von Wrangel, remained.

Facing them were the 39,000 or so soldiers of the Danish army:  drawn up in Schleswig behind a defensive works known as the Dannewerk that stretched for 13 1/2 miles right the way across the peninsular.  Following their strategy from the first war, the Danes also had forces at Dybbøl and Frederica:  ready to threaten the right hand flank of any force advancing into Jutland and able to be reinforced/supplied by sea from the Danish Islands.

On 31st January 1864, the Prussians ordered the Danes to withdraw their troops from Schleswig.  They refused and, on 1st February, the Austro-Prussian forces crossed the Eider Canal and the war began. The Austrians advanced from Rendsberg, the Prussians from Kiel, encountering light Danish resistance around Windeby.

On 2nd February, the Austrians made contact with the Danes at Torfschuppen, and the Prussians were more heavily engaged at Missunde.

On 3rd February, the Austrians attacked Schleswig Town, strongly held by the Danes as part of the Dannewerk, and with detachments in the nearby villages of Jagel and Overselk.  The Austrians began their attack late in the afternoon, and succeeded in taking both Jagel and Overselk at the point of the bayonet, but sustained heavy casualties in doing so.

The next day, the Danish commander, de Meza, decided that the Dannewerk could not be held with the amount of men he had at his disposal, and ordered a retreat into the positions prepared at Dybbøl and Frederica.  This began on 5th February, despite appalling weather conditions that led to the abandonment of 150 heavy cannon to the enemy and the removal of de Meza from command on the 9th as a result of political fallout – the Dannewerk was, after all, supposed to be impregnable.

On 6th February, the Danish rearguard, retreating through Flensberg, was attacked by the Austrians just north of Oversø.  The Danish line was broken, and they lost almost 1000 men to the Austrians’ 325 or so.  The rest of the Danish army was allowed to retreat into the Dyppøl fortifications, although the Cavalry Division and one infantry division retreated into Denmark proper.

The Austrians advanced to occupy Northern Schleswig, the Prussians faced the Danes at Dyppøl, which was protected by four lines of defence, the second of which consisted of ten earthwork forts.  The Danes had placed most of their men behind the first and second lines of defence: the third and fourth (more networks of fortified positions and villages) were manned by strong outposts.

The two sides faced each other until 18th February, when the Prussians launched a probing attack and the Danes began to evacuate their infantry.  On the same day, the Prussians engaged Danish troops at the (Danish-Schleswig) border town of Kolding and, pursuing them, crossed into Denmark proper.  This “invasion of Denmark” was against the stated war aims of the Allies, and was to have serious repercussions: with both Britain, the Austrians and the German Diet strongly objecting.

On 22nd February, the Prussians at Dyppøl managed to take the outposts of Ragebøl and Dyppøl Village, despite continuing bad weather, the Prussians losing around 40 men in the action as opposed to the Danes’ 530 or so.

Meanwhile, the Prussians had been working on the reluctant Austrians and, on 6th March 1864, the Austrians agreed that military necessity demanded that the war aims be changed to include the occupation of Southern Jutland, protecting the current Prussian left flank and threatening the Danish fortress of Frederica.  According, on 8th March, the Austrians supported by the Prussian Guard, started for Frederica.

Skirmishing took place near Gudso, and a larger action at Veile.  The Danes were forced to retreat again, falling back towards Mors via Skanderborg, Viborg and Skive, finally investing Frederica itself.

Meanwhile, Duppøl had been the subject of several heavy clashes (5th, 13th and 14th March) and an ill-advised Danish counterattack (16th March), the result of which was to drive the Danes out of their outposts back to the forts and trenches of defensive lines one and two.

On 28th March, the Prussians launched a major attack on Duppøl:  which was only just repulsed by the Danes, who were assisted by the monitor “Rolf Krake”.

The Prussians then decided to bombard the Danes prior to a second major assault.  Between 29th March and 18th April, they brought up heavier siege guns, and dug several siege parallels.  The bombardment was so fierce that the Danes were unable to repair the damage and, on April 18th, two days prior to a conference scheduled in London to discuss the war, the Prussians attacked again.

The Attacking Prussians numbered 37,000 men, verses a defending Danish force now 11,000 strong.  Forts 1-7 were stormed, with great loss on both sides, and the Prussians now began to bombard forts 8 and 9.

The Danes decided to retreat to the island of Alsen, and did so under cover of a counter-attack by the 8th Brigade which the Prussians eventually contained with some difficulty.

The rest of the Danish positions fell to the Prussians one by one as the Danes retreated across the bridges to Alsen.  Prussian losses were approximately 270 killed and 900 wounded or taken prisoner; the Danes lost 808 dead, 909 wounded, 2800 prisoner and 215 missing, and lost 118 artillery pieces and 40 colours.

On 20th April, the London Conference began, but failed to achieve anything.  The Prussians transferred units to Frederica, which was evacuated by the Danes on 28th/29th April, with 219 guns being abandoned to the enemy.

An armistice was declared on 12th May, but peace negotiations failed to agree a new frontier line, so hostilities were renewed on 26th June. 

The Austrians, however, were convinced that diplomacy now held the key to ending the war, and refused to countenance any further hostile actions to the north or east.  Not so the Prussians, and on 29th June a force of 24,000 soldiers attempted to storm Alsen.  The 12,000 Danish defenders were smashed out of their lines in fighting that continued until 1st July:  with both sides losing about 350 dead or wounded, although the Danes lost a further 2700 taken prisoner or straggling.

With their forces consolidating their positions in northern Jutland, the next major actions were on the Danish west coast, where the Austrians took the islands of Syyllt (13th July); Rømø (14th July) and Føhr (15th July).  On the 19th they captured the main Danish defence fleet in the area after tricking its commander that an armistice was already under way.

The actual armistice began on 20th July, and signalled the end of the war, although a treaty wasn’t formally signed until 30th October 1864. The Danes were forced to surrender Schleswig and Holstein to joint Austro-Prussian administration, and to pay a war indemnity.  It was this joint administration that was to lead to the Austro-Prussian war of 1866:  at the end of which Prussia formally annexed both Schleswig and Holstein.

Great Paraguayan War (War of the Triple Alliance) (1864-70)

South America

Also known as the War of the Triple Alliance, the GPW was the largest and most destructive war ever fought in South America. Using continued border violations as an excuse, Brazil invaded an Uruguay split by civil war. Paraguay, a supporter of the other faction of this civil war, invaded Brazil in return, capturing the Motto Grosso province without much difficuly. When Paraguay asked Argentina to allow passage through its land to get at the Brazilian army in Uruguay, Argentina refused, and when pressed, declared for the Brazilians: the Triple Alliance was formed.

Attempting to invade Brazil’s Rio Grande do Sul province, Paraguay suffered a terrible defeat at Uruguaiana, and its army retreated slowly up the R. Parana chased by the Allies.

The Paraguayans halted at Humaita, and a series of bloody battles between 1866 and 1868 led to eventual annihilation of the Paraguayuan army. The war, now more a fight between Brazil and Paraguay, eventually ended in 1870:  with about 90% of the male population of Paraguay having been killed! The Paraguayans were fanatically devoted to their President, Lopez: their troops would often stand to be slaughtered rather than run away.

Austro-Prussian War (1866)


The Austro-Prussian war of 1866, engineered by the German Chancellor Bismark, was nominally over posession of Schleswig-Holstein, but was actually to confirm Prussia as the leading German state.

After the early part of the campaign, the Austrian army had retired behind the river Elbe. The Prussian 1st and Elbe Armies attacked the Austrians at the bridge of Sadowa early in the morning, and were able to drive the Austrians back for a short distance, but were prevented from making further progress by the Austrian artillery fire. The arrival of the Prussian 2nd Army in late morning threatened the Austrian right flank, which duly pulled back to face its newly arrived enemy.

However, a bold advance by the Prussians, taking advantage of the cover provided by high corn and the smoke of the Austrian artillery fire, led to their infantry managing to get close to the Austrian lines and then charge home, breaking the line and capturing over 50 guns. The Austrians began to pull back, and finally retreated from the field, leaving 40,000 dead and wounded against Prussian loses of about 10,000.   Seven weeks after it had started, the war was over!

Austrian allies included Baden, Bavaria, Hanover, Saxon, Wurtemburg and Hesse Cassell.

3rd War of Italian Unification (1866/1867)


Part of Bismark’s preparation for the Austro-Prussian War was a Prussian-Italian alliance aimed firmly at Austria. The Third War of Italian Unification began when Austria refused to allow Italy to buy Veneto from them, and, concerned about the Italian alliance with Prussia, accused the Italians of strengthening their army in Lombardy. Both sides began to mobilise and, when the Prussians finally declared war on the Austrians on 16th June 1866, the Italians and followed suit.

Although the Italians outnumbered the Austrians about 250,000 to 190,000, this advantage was largely negated by the fact that the Austrians could fight defensively from behind the Quadrilateral forts and had a shorter supply chain through the valley of the Adige. This advantage was also greatly increased by the fact that the Italian army had no clear chain of unified command: Garibaldi unilaterally commanded 20,000 volunteers in the Alps to the north; and the main Italian army was split into two forces commanded by La Marmora and Cialdini, the latter being wildly jealous of the other and refusing to take direct orders. Add the intervention of Vittorio Emanuele, armchair strategist extraordinaire, and it is hardly surprising that no sensible line of attack could be decided upon.

The first fighting was at Custoza: where La Marmora allowed himself to get sucked into an unexpected battle fighting an Austrian force under Archduke Albrecht fighting from prepared positions on higher ground and with internal lines. Casualties were about even in this inconclusive fight; but La Marmora, lacking intelligence (of the military, not cerebral, sort), reacted as if the Italians had suffered a great defeat. This feeling spread throughout the army, and succeeded in demoralising the entire country!

The Austrians, however, did not follow up and, after their northern army was soundly defeated by the Prussians at Sadowa, recalled Albrecht and the bulk of his force to defend Austria itself. The Italians, with the main force now wholly under Cialdini, started forward again, bypassed the Quadrilaterals, and began to take Venetian cities behind them. Garaibaldi also managed to clear the Austrians from some of the Alpine valleys, although he was now leading his men from a carriage after taking a wound to his leg.

Unfortunately for the Italians, this was the high point of their campaign. They lost a naval battle at Lissa despite outnumbering the Austrians twelve ironclads to seven (the Austrians, under von Tegethoff, using the ram rather than their inferior guns) and, when the Prussians broke the terms of their Prussian-Italian alliance and signed a peace treaty with the Austrians, found themselves facing the entire Austrian army of some 300,000 troops!

An armistice was signed on 12th August which led to a treaty that gave Italy control of Veneto and recognition by Austria as a nation. The Third War of Italian Unification had led to political, if not military, gains.

Garibaldi was still, however, not content: the unification of Italy required Rome and the reduced Papal States. The Italian/Sardinian government, recognising that they did not have the backing of the European powers for an invasion, was content to try to negotiate themselves into Rome but, after a year of furious politiking, Garibaldi lost patience and led a volunteer army into the region.

Although the Garibaldini succeeded in capturing the Papal city of Moterotondo, he and his ten thousand volunteers then found themselves facing the Papal army of 15,000 and a newly-arrived French force landing at Civitavecchia, armed with new-fangled breech-loading rifles. Even worse, the Italian/Sardinian government had also announced that it would not tolerate this latest ‘rebellion’, and was planning to send Italian troops to arrest Garibaldi and the volunteers!

With men leaving his army in droves, Garibaldi fought a battle at Mentana: where his 4,000 remaining troops faced a combined Papal and French army of 9,000. Although Garibaldi tried his usually tactics of inspirational charges, the odds were too great, and the volunteers already too dispirited. After suffering a conclusive defeat, Garaibaldi and the survivors were forced to retreat back across the border: Garibaldi being arrested as he attempted to return home to Caprera.

Postscript: Rome was eventually joined to Italy towards the end of the Franco-Prussian war. After the French defeat at Sedan, their troops in Rome were withdrawn to help defend Paris. The Italians ‘seized the day’, and sent an overwhelming force (30,000 plus artillery) into the Papal States and, after a short fight with the Papal army, Rome was formerly annexed to the Kingdom of Italy. The Risorgimento was over.

British in Abyssinia (1868)


A British Indian army, under Sir Robert Napier, carried out a successful punitive campaign against Emperor Theodore of Abyssinia in 1868. A skillfully planned expedition involving a 400-mile march from the coast culminating in a battle at Arogee and the storming of the Abyssinian fortress capital of Magdala.

Franco-Prussian War (1870-1)


The immediate cause of the conflict was the question of the Hohenzollern candidature for the Spanish throne. In 1868, Queen Isabella had been deposed, and the throne was finally  offered to Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, a relative of the King of Prussia.

The French were naturally unwilling to see a Hohenzollern on their western frontier and protested. King William, himself lukewarm about the idea, acquiesced but refused to undertake that the candidature could never be renewed. France tactlessly insisted, and when the King refused to discuss the matter further or to see the French Ambassador, Bismarck managed to make it appear that France had been insulted. The infamous Ems Telegram threw the French Assembly and people into a rage, and war was declared.   General Leboeuf assured the government that the army was ready down to “the last gaiter button”.   This unfortunately was untrue.

Most military pundits assumed that the war would begin with a rapid French thrust across the Rhine to disrupt German mobilisation plans. Events were to prove, however, that French planning was haphazard, contrasting sharply with the efficient German preparations, and after a brief foray against Saarbruken in early August 1870, the French fell tamely back across the frontier. The Germans then took the initiative and moved into France in three large armies. Moltke, commanding the German forces, planned an enveloping attack by the third Army, whilst the 1st and 2nd Armies attacked frontally. This plan was frustrated by Steinmetz, commander of the 1st Army, who attacked prematurely at Spicheren (August 6th). Although successful, his attack persuaded the French to withdraw, thus escaping the turning movement. The same day, the 3rd Army was also unintentionally engaged at Froeschwiller. Again the French were driven back, though both sides suffered heavy casualties. Already the difference in attitude between the French and German commanders was becoming clear:  the French generals seemed reluctant to take the initiative, whilst their opponents attacked at every opportunity.

French morale suffered considerably after these initial setbacks, and as they trudged back towards Metz it became worse. As order and counter-order flew back and forth between the Emperor, the Ministry of War in Paris, MacMahon and Bazaine, the army became split: part under Bazaine retired on Metz, the remainder under MacMahon moved towards Chalons-sur-Marne. Disaster struck almost immediately. Bazaine failed to secure his line of retreat, and soon found himself cut off. An attempt to break through at Mars la Tour failed due to a complete lack of drive on the part of the French commander, despite inflicting nearly 25% casualties on the enemy. The French then pulled back to an excellent defensive position to the West of Metz, where they were engaged again on August 18th. The battle of Gravelotte-St Privat was decisive. Although suffering heavy casualties in a hard fought contest, the Germans succeeded in turning the French right flank, and forced them to seek refuge in the fortress of Metz itself. Despite their efforts, the trapped army was unable to break out, and surrendered ten weeks later. As the investment of Metz was completed, Moltke reorganised his forces to operate against MacMahon, who, after lingering listlessly around Chalons, had been ordered to aid Bazaine. MacMahon’s demoralised army moved on Metz, only to be blocked at Beaumont. He then ordered a withdrawal on Sedan, where he was cornered and forced to surrender.

It was fully expected that France would now sue for peace, but the newly formed republic affirmed its intention of continuing the war, and began the mammoth task of building new armies. The Germans, meanwhile, advanced on Paris, which they surrounded in mid-September. For the next four months the French capital was closely besieged, whilst a series of provincial armies tried unsuccessfully to relieve it. The poorly trained provincial armies, despite heroic efforts, were defeated. A guerrilla war waged by the francs-tireurs provoked savage reprisals. Finally, in January 1871, peace was signed: with France losing Alsace, Lorraine and five billion francs;  and the German Empire forged from Prussia and her allies.

Modoc War (1872-3)

North America

Information Needed

1st & 2nd Ashanti Wars (1873-4/1900)


The First Ashanti War began after the Dutch ceded the port of Elmina to the British in April 1872. The Ashanti Asantehene Kofi Karikari, partly in response to a loss of revenue from the surpressed slave trade, demanded that the British continue to pay the tribute agreed with the Dutch for the rights to use the port. The British refused to pay and he marched to war. Sir Garnet Wolseley was appointed to sort the situation out and, after he had driven the Ashanti from Elmina’s immediate environs with a token force of 100 marines, and had his terms for peace rejected, led a force of some 2,200 men (about 1,500 Europeans) into the interior. After actions at Amoafu (31 January 1874) and Odasu (4 February 1874) he arrived at and burnt the undefended Ashanti capital of Kumasi. British honour having thus been satisfied, he withdrew back to the coast.

Following British interference in the various civil wars that followed Kofi Karikari’s removal from power, an small expedition in late 1895 under Colonel Sir Francis Scott occupied Kumasi and imposed a British Resident on the Ashanti. All was relatively peaceful until 1900, when the British Governor of the Gold Coast, Sir Frederick Hodgson, demanded that the Ashanti hand over the famous Golden Stool, symbol of Ashanti authority and the embodiment of the spirit of the Ashanti peoples. The Ashanti rose in revolt, Hodgson and the other Europeans in Kumasi taking refuge in the British-built fort there, until forced by disease and imminent starvation to break out: leaving a small holding force behind. A relief force organised by Colonel James Willcocks (all local troops, as no European troops were available because of the South African War) rescued this holding force, and went on to defeat the Ashanti at Obassa. Ashanti was annexed formally in 1901.

Red River War (1874-5)

North America

Information Needed

Egyptians in Abyssinia (1875-6)


The Egyptians had had a presence in Abyssinia since the Turks had leased the Massowah coastline to them. In 1853 an Egyptian army had attacked and taken Keren, and, in 1875, the port of Massowah was also under Egyptian control, with the area surrounding it being claimed by both the Khedive and King Yohannes of Abyssinia.

The Egyptians first invaded inland Abyssinia in October 1875, with a column of some 3400 men under the command of a Colonel Arendrup, a Dane in the service of the Khedive. The expedition was designed not necessarily to do any fighting, but to overawe the “ignorant savages” into accepting the fact that Egypt held the Massowah region, and to stop them constantly raiding into Egyptian-held territory.

Unfortunately, Arendrup severely underestimated his foe. Although accounts vary, it seems almost certain that he split his force into several parts, with the 800-strong section that he was leading being wiped out, along with their illustrious leader, in the defile of Goundet. The remainder of Arendrup’s expedition either made it back to Massowah under the guidance of its American officer, Major Dennison, or were slaughtered by the Abyssinians as well. The confusion may have arisen as there are also accounts of a column of around 2000 Egyptian reinforcements from Kassala being attacked and slaughtered by Donkali tribesmen at Mereb near Adowa.

This slap in the face for the Egyptians could not go unpunished, so in December 1875 a second expedition was dispatched: numbering about 16,000 men and under the command of Ratib Pasha, who was accompanied by an American advisor, General Loring, who had fought in Mexico and was now in service to the Khedive.

This was a well-armed and well-equipped force of picked men sent down from Suez, with the infantry being armed with Remington rifles, and the artillery equipped with Krupp guns.

The expeditionary force remained at Massowah for some months, but then moved some 80 miles inland, up onto the Kayakhor plateau. There, two Forts were established: the closer, on the slopes of Mount Kayakhor itself, being named Fort Kayakhor and the other, six miles further inland, in a valley that effectively commanded the communication lines for the area, Fort Gura.

Ratib Pasha had about 7,500 men at Fort Gura and 5,000 men at Fort Kayakhor: the rest being distributed between two more strong points established along the route back to Massowah.

Meanwhile, King Yohannes had gathered around 45,000 of his warriors (one quarter armed with a variety of ancient firearms; one quarter with swords and shields; and the rest with clubs) and was heading towards the waiting Egyptians.

In the face of this obvious threat, rather than concentrate his forces at either Gura or Kayakhor, Ratib Pasha dithered: eventually marching 5,000 of his men out of Fort Gura to a position approximately midway between the two strong points! Here, on 7th March 1876, the Abyssinians attacked: scoring a great victory over the Egyptian troops, who were abandoned by their officers as soon as their enemy came into view, and slaughtered like lambs in the confusion that followed. Only some 500 immediately escaped back to Forts Gura and Kayakhor: 2,000 or so died in the battle, 1,000 or so were captured and killed by the Abyssinians in revenge for the mutilation of Abyssinian dead and wounded, and the remaining 1,500 straggled in over the next few days. The garrisons of the two forts never left the safety of their walls, content to watch their comrades die.

Although an Abyssinian attack on 9th March on Fort Gura was repulsed, the heart had gone out of the Egyptian force: Ratib Pasha particularly seemingly to have lost his nerve.

Leaving garrisons in place, the Egyptians retreated first to Kayakhor, and then back to Massowah itself. Ratib Pasha’s failure so damaged the Khedive’s influence over the Abyssinian question that opponents to the scheme were able to get their way. The garrisons were left to rot and the Egyptians withdrew from Abyssinia, never to return.

Nez Perce War (1877)

North America

Information Needed

Russo-Turkish War (1877-8)


The Russo-Turkish Was began when Russia used the barbaric ferocity with which the Turks put down a revolt in Serbia as an excuse to once again attempt to re-unite Eastern Orthodox Christians and/or Slavs in Turkey-in-Europe under a Russian banner.  The war also promised the opportunity to gain the Russian "holy grail":  a warm-sea port on the Mediterranean.

The Russians sent 70,000 troops into the Caucasus to invade Turkey-in-Asia, and a further 250,000 across the Roumanian border in June into Turkey-in-Europe: an act that led to Roumania immediately declaring their independence from Turkey.

At first all went well for the Russians, with victories at Svistov and Nikopol followed by the taking of the Shipka Pass through a cunning tactic of General Gourko:  who led a flying column through the Khainkoi Pass to circumvent the Turkish defenders of the Shipka.  The Russian army advanced further, and ran into the small army of Osman Pasha entrenched at the small town of Plevna.

For four months 48,000 Turks kept 250,000 Russians at bay: repulsing their attacks at three great battles (July 19 & 30; September 11). It was losses at Plevna that made the Russians ask for re-inforcements from their Roumanian allies.

Meanwhile, in the Caucasus, the Russians under Grand Duke Michael had defeated the Turks at Aladja Dagh, forcing them back to the two great fortresses of Kars and Erzerum.  Kars was stormed on November 18th, and Erzerum invested shortly afterwards.

However, with Plevna taken (December 10th) the Russians were free to advance again on the Turkey-in-Europe, eastern front of the war.  They won a great victory at Senova under General Skobelev, and eventually pinned the last remaining Turkish army against the Aegean at Enos.

Although the Turks managed to extract this army by sea and ship the troops back to Constantinople, the Russians quickly advanced to the last line of Turkish defence at Chatalja, only 20 miles from the capital.

An armistice was signed 30th January 1878.

2nd Afghan War (1878-80)


The Second Afghan War stemmed from the British fear of Russian invasion of their Indian territories via Afghanistan. When a Russian mission arrived at the court of Sher Ali, the unpredictable Afghan ruler, in Kabul, the British insisted that the Afghans accept a British mission as well. When this was refused, an ultimatum was presented: and war inevitably followed.

There were two main campaigns. For the first, launched in November 1878, the British sent three armies simultaneously into Afghanistan: the Peshawar Valley Field Force (Lt-Gen Sir Samuel Brown, VC); the Kandahar Field Force (Lt-Gen Donald Stewart); and the Kurram Valley Field Force (Maj-Gen Frederick Roberts).

Brown forced his way through the Khyber Pass to Jalalabad, despite an initially unsuccessful attempt to outflank the Afghan forces stationed there.

Stewart advanced unopposed to Kandahar.

Roberts advanced through the Kurram Valley, driving the Afghans before him until he reached their main defensive position at Peiwar Kotal. There he attacked: planning to pin the Afghans in place with frontal demonstrations while he stormed the position from the flanks. His flank attacks were unsuccessful, but his frontal demonstrations turned into successful attacks which, combined with artillery fire onto the Afghan baggage train, caused the Afghans to withdraw in panic.

Realising that defeat and invasion was inevitable, Sher Ali appealed unsuccessfully to the Russians, and then fled to Russia: leaving his throne to his son Yacub Khan, who, with the Treaty of Gandamack, 26th May 1879, agreed to accept a British Envoy in Kabul in exchange for the withdrawal of British forces to India.

The second campaign was a punitive strike following the murder in September 1879 of Sir Louis Cavagnari, the British Envoy in Kabul, and members of his staff and escort of Guides massacred after an heroic defence
of the Residency.

Roberts rejoined the Kurram Field Force and marched to Kabul: fighting a hard battle at Charasia (where Gatling Guns were used for the first time by the British Army). On reaching Kabul, Roberts established a British military government but the harsh regime that he imposed led to insurrection.

Unable to defend the whole city, Roberts withdrew to cantonments at Sherpur where, on 23rd December 1879, the whole Afghan army threw itself against the defences in a desperate assault. The assault was unsuccessful and, re-inforced, Roberts reoccupied the city the next day. Yacub Khan abdicated, and was replaced by his cousin, Abdur Rahman.

In April 1880, Stewart, who was marching from Kandahar to join Roberts at Kabul, was attacked by Afghan fanatics at the battle of Ahmed Khel. Although at one point it looked as if the initial rush of the Afghans would overwhelm the British force, the 3rd Ghurka Rifles and 2nd Sikhs formed square and stood fast until the rest of the line steadied and the Afghans were repulsed.

With the Kabul area now quiet, Ayub Khan, a popular Afghan prince, claimed the right to rule Kandahar. Elements of the old Afghan Regular Army and Ghazi religeous fanatics flocked to his cause and, at Maiwand in July 1880, he defeated a British brigade: forcing it to retreat to Kandahar.

Roberts was tasked to relieve Kandahar and, with a force consisting on three brigades of infantry, one of cavalry and four mountain batteries, covered 305 miles in 23 days under the worst conditions possible. He reached Kandahar on the 31st of August and, on 1st September, destroyed the Afghans at the Battle of Kandahar.

With stability now restored, the British withdrew: leaving Abdur Rahman to rule Afghanistan: free of a British Envoy as long as he had no dealings with the Russians.

Zulu War (1879)


The 1879 Zulu War was provoked by Sir Bartle Frere, governor of Cape Colony & High Comissioner for Native Affairs in South Africa, in order to find an excuse to negate Zulu power in the region.   Frere gave Cetshwayo, King of the Zulus, an ultimatum which he had to refuse, and war was declared.  

Lord Chelmsford led three columns into Zululand, ordered to converge at the Zulu capital of Ulundi.   The central column, led by Chelmsford himself, further split its force and, on 22nd January 1879, a force of some 20,000 Zulus fell upon the 822 Europeans and 431 Africans he had left behind at Isandlwana and annihilated them.

Concurrent actions at Rourke’s Drift; Nyezane (No 1 Column under Colonel Charles Pearson); Hlobane and Khambula (No. 3 Column under Colonel Evelyn Wood) were British victories, but Chelmsford had determined to return to Natal and recommence operations.  He was forced to delay his retreat in order to rescue 1,300 men of Column No 1 garrisoning Eshowe, defeating the Zulus at Ginginlovu, but eventually operations recommenced in June 1879. Chelmsford led a force of some 4,000 whites and 1,100 Africans, in square, to Ulundi:  where they defeated 20,000 warriors and broke the power of the Zulus for ever.

The Pacific War (1879-84)

South America

The Pacific War was fought by an alliance of Bolivia and Peru against Chile. Chile seized Antofagasta and the coast between the mouths of the rivers Loa and Paposo, rendering Bolivia landlocked, and also annexed the S Peruvian coastline from Arica to the mouth of the Loa, including the nitrate fields of the Atacama Desert.

Rise of the Mahdists (1880-4)


Mohammed Ahmed Ibn Seyyid Abdullah, proclaiming himself Mahdi, or messiah, led the revolt against Egyptian rule in the Sudan from about 1880 onwards.   His followers inflicted crushing defeats on Egyptian forces sent out to  put down the insurrection.

Transvaal or 1st Boer War (1880-1)


In 1877, the British had annexed the Transvaal:  against the wishes of its largely Boer population and for almost purely economic reasons (diamonds and gold).

Taking advantage of Britain's involvement in the Zulu war of 1879, the Boer leaders of the state re-declared their independence in 1880, and prepared to resist British attempts to re-annex them.

The first action of the war occurred on 20th December 1880, when a Lieutenant-Commander Anstruther attempted to lead a column of the 90th Foot  back from Zululand across the Transvaal towards Pretoria:  then the British seat of administration.  A force of Boers informed Anstruther that the border was closed and the Transvaal independent again.  When the British refused to turn back and prepared to fight, the Boers opened fire onto the dense British column:  mortally wounding Anstruther and killing or wounding all his officers, forcing the column's surrender.

The British commander, High Commisioner Sir George Pomeroy-Colley, summoned reinforcements, but realised that the many isolated garrisons of British troops would need relief before they could arrive.  He therefore gathered some 1200 men (11 companies of infantry; about 200 cavalry and 8 guns) and, through some prodigious marching, was ready to advance from his camp at Mount Prospect into the Transvaal by late January 1881.

The first major encounter was at Laing's Nek:  where a Boer force entrenched in a semi-circle beat off badly co-ordinated British attacks on the centre and left of their line.

Colley retreated back over the frontier and awaited his reinforcements.  The Boers, meanwhile, held their ground, but dispatched raiding parties in the direction of Newcastle to harry British communications.

Learning of this threat to his rear, Colley detached a small force to escort an expected supply convoy from Newcastle, but this force was attacked at Ingogo, and forced to retreat back to Mount Prospect.  Colley had now sustained 340 casualties out of his original strength of 1200, but the garrisons were still holding out and preventing the Boers bringing more strength to bear on his men.

At this point, the Boers offered to cease hostilities if a Royal Commission was appointed to hear their case.  The British government was  keen  to accept, but Colley did not agree with this conciliatory attitude:  particularly as his reinforcements (two battalions of infantry and a regiment of Hussars) had arrived, and more were on their way.

Disposing of Evelyn Wood, commanding the reinforcements, on a couple of make-piece reconnaissance or supply missions, Colley gave the Boers an unfeasibly short time to accept London's agreement to their proposal.  When, obviously, he didn't get an answer in the allocated time, he prepared to resume hostilities.

His eyes fastened on Majuba Hill:  a position that overlooked the Boer strong point at Laing's Neck, and appeared undefended.  On the night of 26th February 1881, Colley personally led just over 360 men to the top of the hill, but failed to order them to dig in:  saying that they were probably "too tired" to do so.  When dawn broke, the Boers were at first surprised by this breeching of their defensive line but, as morning went on and the British did nothing except exchange the odd pot shot, became gradually emboldened.

Small parties of Boers ascended the slopes, using their superior shooting ability and fieldcraft to keep the heads of the British defenders down.  Despite pleas from his officers, Colley refused to order the bayonet charges that would have cleared the Boers before enough of them got into good firing positions and, gradually, the British were pushed back into one corner of the hill's plateau top.

The Boers attacked and, one by one, the British positions were overrun: with Colley himself being shot and killed.  Only 80 British soldiers survived unwounded, fleeing down the hill back to Mount Prospect, where the British prepared to make a stand.

The Boers did not attack, however, and, on March 6th, Evelyn Wood, now in charge, agreed a truce as per London's original instructions, and the war was over.

Arabi’s Revolt (1882)


In the late 1870’s, Egypt’s economy was becoming less and less stable.  This did not suit Britain (who, in 1875, had purchased the Suez canal) or France, the two European powers with the greatest interest in the area, and, in 1879, they persuaded the Sultan of Turkey to replace Ismail Pasha with his son, Mohammed Tewfik.

This gave the two powers more control over the country, but was colossally unpopular with both the common people of Egypt, who wanted an independent ruler even if he did bleed them dry, and with the nobility, who objected to “fairer” taxes as it lessened their incomes.  This resentment was even more pronounced in the army, under control of the Under-Secretary of War, Lieutenant-Colonel Ahmedt Arabi, and a major drain on the country’s economy.

In May 1882, a force of some eight battleships and eleven gunboats were sent by the British to Alexandria as a show of support for Tewfik.  Unfortunately, this gesture inflamed matters further, and throughout May and June nationalist-inspired chaos reigned in the cities of Alexandria and Cairo, culminating in the massacre of several Europeans.

On 3rd July 1882, Alexandria’s European population was evacuated to the waiting fleet, now reinforced, and an ultimatum was issued to the Egyptians:  surrender the defences of Alexandria to the British or their ships will bombard the city.

The Egyptians did not respond so, at 7am on 11th July 1882, the bombardment began:  putting the Egyptian defensive artillery out of action by the end of the morning.  On the following day, after setting fire to Alexandria, Arabi’s men withdrew southwards to Kasr-el-Dowar, and the British landed marines and sailors to restore order.

By 16th July, the British had established control of the Alexandria area, and, after an abortive attempt to persuade the Turkish Sultan to send troops to restore order, and with the French refusing to get further involved, decided to send an expeditionary force to quash what was now a full-scale rebellion led by Arabi.  Until this force could arrive, the 4000 or so British troops in the area would keep Arabi occupied with a series of feints and skirmishes designed to convince him that they were the only force that Britain was prepared to send to deal with the situation.

By 25th August 1882, the British had landed 25,000 troops under the command of Lieutenant-General Sir Garnet Wolseley. After the Suez had been made safe by a naval expedition supported by a party of Cameron Highlanders; Wolseley decided to move his men 150 miles south-east to Ismailia, which had been cleared of rebels and secured by the navy around the 20th of August.

Feinting towards Aboukir, and with a diversionary attack on Kesr-el-Duar, he arrived by steamer at Ismailia, and rapidly secured dams, constructed by the rebels to impede further British progress by water, at Tel-el-Nafisha, Magfar, and Tel-el-Mashkuta.  He then halted to consolidate his position and improve communications and supply, dispatching General Graham’s brigade to take and hold Kassassin Lock, 30 miles due west of Ishmailia.

Graham’s men secured Kassassin, but suffered greatly from the heat and lack of easy supply (all stores had to be carried over ten miles of soft sand).  There, on 28th August, they were attacked by large numbers of Egyptians (infantry, cavalry and artillery), but beat off their attackers with the aid of reinforcements in the shape of the main British cavalry force under Major-General Lowe.

The next twelve days were spent putting the railway line and Sweet Water canal into full working order but, by around 12th September 1882, Wolseley had concentrated his force on Kassassin and was ready to attack the rebels in their fortifications at Tel-el-Kebir.

Wolseley decided to launch a surprise night attack (no advance in the killing heat of the day, a full day to pursue the rebels if they broke) with no preliminary bombardment.  Accordingly, on 13th September 1882, in absolute silence, the British troops (2785 cavalry, 1214 infantry, 61 field guns and 6 gatling guns – 17401 in all) marched towards their enemy (estimated at 20-30,000 regular infantry with 75 pieces of artillery), guided by a naval officer.

The troops were still some 8-900 yards short of the Egyptian defences when dawn broke, but the Highland division charged the first line and took it at the point of the bayonet.  Other regiments followed suit, and by 6am the Egyptians were in full rout pursued by the British cavalry.

Cairo, some 50 miles to the south-west of Tel-el-Kebir, fell to Lowe’s cavalry without a fight (some 10,000 Egyptian regular’s surrendering their arms); and Zagazig, an important railway junction 16 miles to the west, fell, after some minor fighting, to the Indian contingent of the British force.

With his army defeated and fleeing, Arabi surrendered to the British on 14th September, and the revolt was over.

Zulu Civil War (1883-4)


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Sino-French War (1883-5)

South-East Asia

Not content with establishing Cochin China in South Vietnam, the French continued to expand northwards:  setting their sights on using Vietnam as a jumping-off point for a possible invasion of China.

In the early 1880’s, the French stationed troops in Hanoi and Hue, brushing aside any resistance with ease.  In 1883, they then forced the Vietnamese to declare the Annam (central Vietnam) and Tonkin provinces (north Vietnam) French protectorates, and set about consolidating their hold on the country.  The Vietnamese Emperor, in desperation, appealed to his former masters in China, who sent troops to garrison north Vietnam.

The French quickly defeated these Chinese reinforcements and, for a time, it looked as if the Chinese would sue for peace.  However, the ‘war-party’ in the Chinese court became dominant before any treaty could be agreed, and hostilities continued.

In early 1885, French forces attempted to advance into southern China, but were heavily defeated by a combined Chinese/Vietnamese army at Liangshan in northern Vietnam.  This defeat led to the fall of the French cabinet, but the French retaliated by attacking Keelung in Taiwan; occupying the Pescadores Islands; blockading the port of Foochow, and there destroying the Chinese navy (11 Chinese steamers being sunk).

The Chinese sued for peace and, on June 9th 1885, the Treaty of Tientsin recognised France’s rights over the twin protectorates of Annam and Tonkin, although the French had to put down serious revolts (the “Scholars Revolt”) until around 1889.

The French established the Indochinese Union in 1887, consisting of Kampuchea; Cochin China;  Annam;  Tonkin;  and Laos.

Gordon Relief Expedition (1884-5)


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Serbian Invasion of Bulgaria (1885)


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Russian Invasion of Afghanistan (1885)


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3rd Burma War (1885-6)


Information Needed

Mahdist Invasion of Abyssinia (1887-9)


In 1887, the Mahdists took advantage of the fact that Emperor Johannes IV of the Abyssinians was busy campaigning against the Italians (in what was to become Eritrea) by invading north-west Abyssinia.

As with Egypt when it controlled the country, the border between the Dervish-controlled Sudan and Abyssinia was a matter of some dispute.  To this was now added a religeous dimension:  the Mahdists wanting the Christian Abyssinians to convert to Islam (a Mahdist jihad had already been repulsed in September 1885).

Initially the Mahdists had some success:  with Yohannes’ vassal, the king of Goijam, defeated, and the holy city of Gondar sacked.

Johannes gathered an army of some 100,000 warriors (some from the loyal regions of Begemdir and  Tigre, some from less reliable Wollo) and, through a series of inconclusive skirmishes, pushed the Mahdists back (mainly through sheer weight of numbers) to the border town of Gallabat (aka Metemma). 

There, the Dervish commander, Zaki Tamal, made a stand and, on March 12th 1889, a great battle was fought.

At first the Abyssinians did well:  penetrating the Mahdist defences through a series of fierce attacks and, again, overwhelming numbers.  However, at the climax of the battle, Johannes was shot and killed:  and the Abyssinian army broke and fled. 

The Dervishes do not appear to have re-invaded Abyssinia:  perhaps more concerned with events in other parts of the Sudan.

Police Actions in Burma (1887-92)


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Mahdist Invasion of Egypt (1888-9)


Information Needed

The French in Dahomeay (1890-2)


In 1890 the Dahomeans attacked the French and in 1892 a French Army led by Colonel Dodds invaded the Kingdom of Dahomeay in order to put an end to the raids on friendly tribes, the slave trade and human sacrifices by King Behazin.

Prior to the 1890’s the Dahomeans had only had access to old smoothbore muskets. In the years before the invasion, the Germans, sold them 5,000 “rifles”, six Krupp guns and five “mitrailleuse”, and provided a few instructors to train them in their use.

Sino-Japanese War (1894)


The Li-Ito Convention of 1885 agreed that both Japan and China would withdraw their armies from Korea, and give notification of any new troop movements into the country.  When a rebellion erupted in Korea in 1894, both countries sent troops but, after the rebellion had been put down, the Japanese refused to withdraw their troops and, in fact, continued to send more.

War was declared in August 1894, and the Japanese army immediately besieged Chinese forces in Pyongyang (capital of today’s North Korea). The Chinese resisted until their commander, General Zuo Baogui, was killed by artillery fire on 15th September 1894, abandoning the city to the Japanese.

The Japanese then invaded China itself.  One force crossed Yalujiang and attacked Jiuliancheng; another assaulted Dalian and Lushun, capturing both easily.

Meanwhile, a huge naval battle on the Yellow Sea between the Chinese and Japanese navies had led to the Chinese Beiyang Fleet retreating into Weihaiwei (on the north shore of the Shandong peninsula) having suffered heavy losses.  There, they were besieged by the Japanese army by both land and sea:  the first Japanese landing taking place on 20th January 1895.

The siege took place in the worst possible winter conditions, including severe snow storms and temperatures of down to –26 degrees Celsius.  Finally, on 12thebruary 1895, the Japanese forces forced their way into Weihaiwei, and the Beiyang Fleet effectively ceased to exist.

The Chinese sued for peace and, under the Treaty of Shimonoseki, signed 17th April 1895, agreed independence for Korea (which, up to now, had technically been Chinese territory); and ceded Taiwan, the Pescadores Islands; Port Arthur and the Liaodong Peninsula to Japan.  Japan also imposed a hefty indemnity and forced China to open five new treaty ports.

Japan’s celebrations were short-lived, however, as a week after the treaty was signed, Russia, France and Germany (the Triple Intervention) forced Japan to agree to renounce claims to Port Arthur and the Liaodong Peninsular.  China, however, was forced to pay an additional indemnity, eventually paying out 200 million taels:  almost a whole year’s tax income!

The Batetelan Uprisings (1895/1897-1900)


In 1895, the Batetelan tribe of Congo revolted against the harsh rule of the Belgium King Leopold II.  This revolt was put down, but lingering discontent with colonial rule and exploitation led to a second revolt in 1897.

Despite the Dhani Mutiny by native troops commanded by Belgian Varon Francois Dhani in 1898/9, the colonial forces suppressed the Batetelan rebels.

Mozambican Revolts (1895-99)


A series of native uprisings against Mozambique's Portuguese rulers:  who were still exporting slaves to Brazil and Cuba as late as 1912.

Italian Invasion of Abyssinia (1896)


After Arabi’s revolt in 1882, the British had effectively taken control of Egypt and its holdings, including the Abyssinian port of Massowah.  In 1885, keen to divest themselves of this white elephant and to spread the burden of resisting the Mahdi, the British gave control of the port to the Italians, who were eager to create a colonial empire to rival those of their European neighbours.  Italian missionaries had been in the Eritrean region of Abyssinia since the 1850’s, and there was also an Italian commercial presence at Assab, purchased from the Egyptians in 1869.

The Italians steadily expanded into inland Eritrea, but were constantly harassed by Danakil tribesmen:  King Yohannes IV being furious at yet another invasion of his territory.  An Italian squadron landed troops at Massowah in February 1885 and, for a time, these proved sufficient to keep the marauders in check.  During a fight at Sabarguma in March 1885, for example, the appearance of an Italian observation balloon panicked the Abyssinian attackers; electric spotlights having the same effect at night.

All this contributed to a dangerous feeling of Italian superiority over their tribal opponents:  a feeling that was abruptly shattered on January 26th 1887 when a column of 550 Italians marching to relieve the besieged garrison of Saati was slaughtered by the Abyssinians in what became known as the Dogali Massacre.  The Italians responded by sending 20,000 troops to Massowah.

The Italians responded by sending 20,000 troops to Massowah, but these troops, however, were never deployed:  Yohannes was killed fighting the Dervishes at Gallabat in March 1889 (see Part 2) and his successor, Menelik II, keen to unite Abyssinia and build up his strength before confronting any external aggressors, did a deal with the Italian invaders, signing on May 2nd 1889, the Treaty of Uccialli (aka Wichale).  This treaty gave the Italians control of the Massowah region and part of Tigre.  The Italians consolidated:  taking Keren in June 1889; Asmara in August 1889, and deploying troops along the banks of the river Mareb.

Throughout the early 1890’s, Menelik consolidated his hold on Abyssinia and used the vast wealth generated from taxes, ivory, gold, silver, musk and slaves to arm and equip his armies with the best modern military equipment that money could buy.  Magazine-loading rifles, rifle-barrelled artillery, and plenty of ammunition all flowed to his new capital at Addis Ababa.  He also fell out with the Italians, who were now claiming that the Treaty of Uccialli actually made Abyssinia their protectorate, and effectively severed diplomatic relations with them some time in 1893.

The Italians, meanwhile, were attempting to consolidate their hold on Eritrea and Tigre.  This led to a small uprising by the Okule Basai (a tribe from the most northerly part of coastal Abyssinia) in December 1894, which was easily put down by the Italian military commander General Oreste Baratieri (who was himself just back from capturing Kassala from the Mahdists), with a Major Toselli defeating Batha Agos, leader of the Okule Basai, by arriving in his rear with a column of 1500 men and two guns as the Abyssinian besieged the 220-strong garrison of the small fort of Halai (near Saganeiti) with around 1600 poorly-armed tribesmen.

The surviving rebels fled to inland Tigre:  to Ras Mangasha, a chief who had previously been sympathetic to the Italians but had now decided to throw in his lot with Menelik after aid promised by his European “allies” had failed to materialise.  Baratieri sent an ultimatum to Mangasha:  ordering him not only to give up the rebels but also to send troops to attack the Dervishes at Ghedaref. 

Mangasha had actually been preparing an uprising against the Italians of his own:  so did not reply to Baratieri in the expected manner.  He continued to gather together his own army. 

Baratieri reacted instantly, and took 3,500 askari towards Adowa, which he captured without any sort of fight on December 28th 1894.  Although this rapid response cowed many local leaders into submission, Mangasha remained at large.  Baratieri, his small force somewhat exposed at Adowa, retreated to the strategically well-placed Adi Ugri four days later.

Re-inforced on 12th January, Baratieri then moved to intercept Mangasha’s army, now moving eastwards towards Coatit.  On 13th January 1894 the two sides fought the battle of Coatit:  with Baratieri’s force of 105 Italians; four mountain guns and around 3,750 askari’s taking on Mangasha’s 12,000 riflemen (around half of them would actually have had old-fashioned muzzle-loaders) and 7,000 sword and spearmen.  Although the battle was more of a draw than a win for either side, it was Mangasha who retreated first:  Baratieri pursuing him as far west as Senafe, where the Abyssinian army melted away.  Baratieri garrisoned Tigre and returned to Massowah and then to Italy:  hailed as a hero and promising to next defeat Menelik himself.

Menelik, meanwhile, calmly gathered his feudal host:  now ready to take on the Italians himself.  He had amassing a force of around 196,000 men:  over half armed with modern rifles, and at least 34,000 of them from Menelik’s own Shoa tribe.

Hostilities opened on December 7th 1895, with the annihilation of 1,300 askari’s under a Major Toselli by a force of some 30,000 Abyssinians in a narrow mountain pass near Amba Alagi.  Shortly afterwards the Abyssinians also besieged Makalle:  with Baratieri forced to withdraw all his men to Adigrat, where he dug in and waited to see what Menelik would do next.

The King, still keen to seek a diplomatic solution, allowed the 1,200-strong garrison at Makalle to go free after a siege lasting 45 days, and offered to negotiate with Rome.  However, the Italians refused any sort of compromise:  sending Baratieri reinforcements with which to settle the matter.

Baratieri wanted Menelik to attack his prepared positions at Adigrat, but the King outflanked him and occupied Adowa.  Baratieri withdrew further to Sauria, where his 20,000 men and 56 guns dug in anew.

Finally, with both sides now running short on supplies, on February 29th 1896 (leap year), Baratieri advanced out of his lines to attack Menelik’s army:  stung by thinly-veiled accusations of cowardice from Rome and encouraged by his less experienced brigade commanders.

The Italian General planned to advance under cover of darkness to high ground overlooking the Abyssinian camp at Adowa:  splitting his force into three fast moving, brigade-sized columns that would re-unite to crush the enemy at daybreak (Askari’s under Albertone and Dabormida on the left and right respectively, Europeans under Arimond in the centre).  Unfortunately, the terrain to be covered had not been properly scouted, and the Italian troops were still struggling, separated, towards their objective at dawn on the 1st.

The Abyssinians, surprised, nevertheless attacked at once:  82,000 rifle and sword armed infantry, 20,000 spearmen and 8,000 cavalry (supported by 40 quick firing mountain guns manned by Russian-trained Abyssinians) rapidly converging on Baratieri’s force of 17,700 men and 56 guns. 

The Italians were caught in their three separate columns, and although their superior fire-discipline held off the Abyssinians for some time, causing massive casualties and severely worrying Menelik, the centre and left-wing columns were overwhelmed and routed when the King, at the urging of his Empress and Ras Mangasha, committed his 25,000 Royal Guard to the battle.  Dabormida’s right-wing column had inexplicably marched away from their colleagues when battle was joined, and was overwhelmed in turn and largely annihilated.

The Italians lost around 12,000 men (over 4,000 Europeans) at Adowa:  a crushing defeat of a European force easily overshadowing the British defeat at Isandlwana.

Menelik did not follow up his victory with an invasion of Eritrea.  Some say it was because the 17,000-odd Abyssinians killed or wounded at Adowa took the fight out of the army, some say that he recognised that invading Eritrea would be a logistically very difficult task and force the Italians into a long-term confrontation that the Abyssinians would not be sure of winning. Whatever his reasons, he did force the Treaty of Addis Ababa on them:  ceding them Eritrea, but ensuring that inland Abyssinia itself was free of European influence, and allowing him to properly conquer the tribes of Kaffa and Galla to the south.

Forty years later, of course, the Italians took their revenge...

The Greco-Turkish War (1897-8)


Information Needed

French Conquest of Chad (1897-1914)


In 1897, the French expanded their sphere of influence in Africa by moving into the area of Lake Chad:  razing villages and forcing compliance with Paris' rule.

The natives resisted, with Rabah Zobeir, a follower of the Sudanese Mahdi, leading the way until his defeat in 1900.  Other native leaders and tribes continued their resistance to the French invasion.

The Spanish-American War (1898-1902)

North America

In 1895 revolution resurfaced in Spanish-ruled Cuba. As the US now had considerable trade interests in the island, the USS Maine was sent to the port of Havana to protect American citizens and property. On the night of 15 February 1898, the vessel was sunk by a huge explosion, with the loss of 266 lives.

The American people was whipped into a frenzy by this perceived act of sabotage (although it now appears that a faulty boiler was to blame), and Congress first asked, then demanded, then sent troops to ensure that Spain renounced its sovereignty over Cuba.

The first action of the war was naval. The American Pacific Fleet, visiting the Hong Kong, set off to attack the Spanish colony in the Philippines. There, on May 1st 1898, at Manilla Bay, they engaged a Spanish fleet, and destroyed it.

In June 1898, the Americans landed in Cuba, and set off to capture the Spanish capital of Santiago. After several encounters, the two armies faced each other: with the Spanish defending the San Juan ridge just east of Santiago. After a fierce battle, the Americans captured the ridge, and demanded that the Spanish surrender. An attempt by another Spanish fleet to break out of Santiago harbour led to its destruction, and the Spanish garrison surrendered shortly afterwards on 17th July 1898.

The Americans then invaded Puerto Rico: whose defenders were defeated easily before the end of the month.   A truce was then agreed that gave the Americans Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines, although they turned down Cuba. The Filipinos were somewhat surprised that the Americans were going to replace Spanish rule rather than liberate them, and the leader of the rebels, Emilio Aguinaldo, led his men into the jungle where, for the next three years, they waged a guerrilla war against the States. This war claimed four times as many lives as the war with Spain did and, as Andrew Carnegie wrote to a leading expansionist: “Congratulations! You seem to have about finished your work of civilising the Filipinos. It is thought that about eight thousand of them have been completely civilised and sent to heaven!”

Great (2nd) Boer War (South African War) (1899-1902)


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Fall of the Mahdists (1899-1900)


Information Needed

Boxer Rebellion (1900)


The emperor of China (who had come to the throne in 1875 as a child) was at loggerheads with the dowager empress soon after his personal rule began in 1889. When, in 1898, the reforming party seemed at last to be getting somewhere and a stream of reforming edicts and laws was issued in what was known as 'The Hundred Days of Reform', the empress enlisted the support of Manchu officials and soldiers whose sinecures and privileges were threatened, seized the emperor, locked him up and swept the reformers aside. At about the same time, signs of popular support for sticking to old ways could be seen in an outbreak of troubles in the provinces where certain militia units had come under the influence of a widespread and secret society called (somewhat oddly to western ears) the 'Society of Harmonious Fists'. Its members were usually called 'Boxers', for short. They were violently anti-foreign. They attacked Christian Chinese converts and, soon, foreign missionaries.

The Boxers were secretly favoured by the Manchu officials and the court, which hoped to use them against the foreigners. When there were diplomatic protests and demands that they be suppressed by the government, a full-scale rebellion broke out, egged on by the dowager empress and her agents. European troops seized Chinese forts in order to secure the route to Peking, where there was a large foreign community to be safeguarded. The empress declared war on all foreign powers, the German minister at Peking was murdered and the legations there were then besieged for several weeks; elsewhere, more than two hundred foreigners - mainly missionaries - were killed.

Retribution was swift and disastrous. An international expedition fought its way to Peking and relieved the legations. The Russians occupied southern Manchuria. The court fled from the capital, but after a few months had to accept terms: the punishment of the responsible officials, the payment of a huge indemnity, the razing of forts, foreign garrisons on the railway to Peking, and the fortification of an enlarged legation quarter. The Boxer rising had not only failed, but had done further damage to the already shaky Manchu regime. The external outlook was now more uncertain than ever and there were now Chinese who had begun to think about revolution.

Mad Mullah (1901-4)


The Somali's fought against British rule under their charismatic religeous leader, the self-styled Mahdi, Mahommed bin Abdullah:  known to the British as 'The Mad Mullah'! Operations began in May 1901, and consisted of attempts to chase down the Mad Mullah and his dervishes:  but no decisive actions were fought until 1902, when a British force was ambushed at Erigo, and only fought off the enemy after suffering heavy losses.  

The British suffered two set-backs in 1903, at Gumburu (where their advance guard was annihilated) and Daratole;  but a reinforced force under Major-General Sir Charles Egerton inflicted a decisive defeat on the Somalis at Jidballi in 1904, ending hostilities until the resumption of dervish raiding in 1909.

Russo-Japanese War (1904-5)


Information Needed