Field Marshal Sir Garnet Joseph Wolseley, 1st Viscount Wolseley
(4 June 1833 – 25 March 1913)
Imaginative, innovative and dynamic, Sir Garnet Wolseley exemplifies the best of late Victorian generals. His widely known reputation for efficiency led to the phrase ‘all Sir Garnet’ – a guarantee that everything was under control. He had a substantial influence in many and varied theatres of war and for his brilliant Ashanti campaign became a household name.
Thanks to his father’s military rank (major), Wolseley obtained a commission as an ensign in the 12th Foot in March 1852 without having to pay for it. Lacking the means to pay for commissions throughout his career, Wolseley had to earn his promotions through conspicuous gallantry. He transferred to the 80th Foot (Staffordshire Volunteers) and saw action in the Second Burmese War (1852–53). After receiving a serious thigh wound, Wolseley was invalided home with the rank of lieutenant. On his recovery, he joined the 90th Light Infantry and went with the regiment to the Crimea in 1854. He made his name within the army during the war, being promoted to captain in January 1855 and mentioned in dispatches twice. He was awarded the war medal, French Légion d'honneur and the Turkish medal. He was also wounded twice, losing his left eye on the second occasion.
Captain Wolseley joined the 90th Foot, which was sent to China in March 1857 but diverted to India on account of the Mutiny (see Big Action Library In Times of Peril) There, he distinguished himself at the relief of Lucknow under Sir Colin Campbell (November 1857) and Sir James Outram in five separate actions. After serving at the final capture of Lucknow (21 March 1858), Wolseley was involved in all the operations that eventually ended the last pockets of resistance across the north of India. Promoted to lieutenant-colonel in April 1859, he was awarded the Mutiny medal, served under Sir James Hope Grant in Awadh and went with him in 1860 when Grant commanded the British troops in the Anglo-French expedition to China in retaliation for the Chinese refusing the establishment of foreign legations in Peking (Beijing).
In the following year, Wolseley was sent to Canada when relations between Britain and the USA – then in the early throws of the civil war – deteriorated after a Union warship intercepted the British mail ship Trent and removed two Confederate diplomats bound for Britain. The matter was settled without resort to hostilities, and Wolseley remained on the headquarters staff in Canada, becoming a brevet colonel in 1865. It was his command of the Red River Expedition which established British-Canadian control of the Northwest Territories and Manitoba, with its outpost capital of Fort Garry (Winnipeg)
Returned to England, Wolseley was appointed assistant Adjutant-General at the War Office in 1871, working closely with Edward Cardwell to achieve much needed army reforms. He was the natural choice to command the British and native troops in the expedition against the Ashanti in West Africa’s Gold Coast (Ghana). Wolseley went ahead of his troops and all the arrangements were in place when they arrived in January 1874. The sheer efficiency of his methods (which appear in the Big Action Library By Sheer Pluck) enabled him to complete the campaign in eight weeks and get the white soldiers home before the rainy season brought on the fevers associated with the ‘White Man’s Grave’.
Thanks to the unprecedented number of newspaper reporters and illustrators allowed to accompany the campaign, Wolseley’s became a household name. The Houses of Commons and Lords personally thanked him and granted him £25,000 (a millionnaire's sum today). Numerous other honours were showered on him by civil and educational institutions. Between 1875 and 1880, Wolseley served as governor and general-commanding in Natal, India, Cyprus and South Africa.
Major General Wolseley was appointed Adjutant-General to the forces in 1882 and given command of the British forces in Egypt to suppress the revolt against the British puppet khedive, Muhammed Tawfik, by the Egyptian army officer Urabi Pasha. Supported by General Graham, Wolseley quickly seized the vital Suez Canal and then defeated Urabi at the battle of Tel el-Kebir.
Within two years, he was pulled away again from his post of Adjutant-General at the reluctant command of Prime Minister Gladstone to command the Nile Expedition to the Sudan to rescue General Charles Gordon and relieve Khartoum from the forces of the Mahdi. Wolseley’s famous attention to detail resulted in a two pronged attack across the desert by the Camel Corps, as described in Dash for Khartoum, and a River Column, using specially constructed, shallow-draught whaling boats handled by Canadians who had shown their expertise during the red River Expedition. However, due to the British government’s tardiness, the expedition arrived too late, and Gordon was dead.
For his efforts, vain though the real purpose had been, he was made a viscount, given further high honours and promoted to field marshal in 1894. Although he was right-wing in his politics and Tory in his voting, because of his constant push for army reform there were those in the elite who regarded Wolseley as a dangerous radical, including Queen Victoria. His belief in relying on a small, tried and trusted clique of staff officers also made him unpopular with the wider officer elite, who anticipated that nepotistic patronage rather than merit would advance their careers. Despite these problems, he was given command of Ireland in 1890 and given the honorary rank of colonel of the Royal Horse Guards in 1895. In the same year the newly elected Conservative government appointed him to succeed the Duke of Cambridge – a cousin of the queen and one of Wolseley’s harshest critics – as Commander-in-Chief instead of his long-time colleague Redvers Buller.
Sadly, shifts in governmental attitudes and his own ill health curbed further reforms. He retired in 1900, handing over to his fellow field marshal, Earl Roberts. Wolseley was unfairly blamed for the early failures of his protégés in the Boer War (1889–1902), and yet the unanticipatedly large force required for South Africa, was eventually supplied through the army reserve forces Wolseley had created.
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lthough he doesn't appear in Storm of Peril, Sir Garnet Wolsely contributed to Britain's damping down of the Indian Mutiny, but he is present as the commander of the forces attempting to rescue Gordon in Avenging Khartoum, and appears in greater detail in the By Sheer Pluck, an adventure set against the background of the bloody Ashanti War in West Africa.