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Slaves of Fortune

Slaves of Fortune: Sudanese Soldiers and the River War, 1896-1898

Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Slaves of Fortune
    Book Description:

    The Anglo-Egyptian re-conquest of Sudan - Churchill's 'River War' - has been well chronicled from the British point of view, but we still know little about its front line troops, the Sudanese soldiers of the Egyptian Army, the men who fought in all the battles, served as interpreters, military recruiters, and ethnic ambassadors throughout the campaign, and who were the real victors at the Battle of Omdurman. Making use of both published contemporary accounts and unpublished primary sources located in the United Kingdom and Sudan, 'Slaves of Fortune' provides an historiographic correction. It argues that nineteenth-century Sudanese slave soldiers were social beings and historical actors, shaping both European and African destinies, just as their own lives were being transformed by imperial forces. Ronald M. Lamothe is Lecturer in the Department of History at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-013-2
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations, Figures & Maps
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Glossary
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Egyptian Army Ranks for Officers, Warrant Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers & Men (with corresponding English equivalents)
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  7. Transliteration Note & List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  8. Introduction ‘Ali Jifun’s Fashoda Homecoming
    (pp. 1-9)

    ‘Ali Jifun was coming home. Some forty years since he had last seen fōte chol, “the country of the Shilluks,” he watched as the fort at Fashoda came slowly into view, the Nile flowing past him on its way north to Khartoum, and to Egypt.² Captured as a young man by Baggara slave dealers and enrolled into the Egyptian Army, ‘Ali Jifun had fought in countless battles over the years throughout Northeast Africa, and once even as far abroad as Mexico. And now here he was on the morning of 19 September 1898, this old Shilluk soldier returning to his...

  9. 1 “Backbone of the Egyptian Army”
    (pp. 11-43)

    Whereas historians have tended to ignore, or understate, the contributions of Sudanese soldiers, Francis Reginald Wingate never did. He understood better than most the important military role they served in the Nile Valley, and could potentially occupy throughout the British Empire. The Upper Nile’s hydrostrategic importance to Britain in terms of Egypt and the Suez Canal notwithstanding, for Wingate and the War Office that “wretched stuff ” of Sudan’s Bahr al-Ghazal, as Lord Salisbury once referred to the region, also possessed those “martial races” that might prove useful in protecting British interests in Africa and elsewhere, and conversely, might otherwise...

  10. 2 “Servants of His Highness the Khedive”
    (pp. 44-71)

    The first engagement of the River War took place on 7 June 1896 at Firket, a village on the east bank of the Nile one hundred miles south of Wadi Halfa. That morning an army of some 9,000 Egyptian and Sudanese soldiers routed a Mahdist force one-third its size in a matter of two hours. Although it is not considered one of the major battles of the Nile Campaign, the action at Firket reveals something of the unique status and complex identity of the Sudanese slave soldier. Identity, of course, is an elusive concept, and the task of describing a...

  11. 3 “Flavour of Domesticity”
    (pp. 72-120)

    Sudanese soldiers who fought in the River War were well fed, well clothed, and well armed. They were regularly paid, were of relatively good health, and were the only soldiers in Kitchener’s Anglo-Egyptian army allowed to have domestic lives. They were frequently given downtime during the campaign for recreational pursuits, religious life, and social gatherings. They even had opportunities for military advancement, and upon their retirement, were sometimes given pensions, civil administration jobs, or cultivable plots of land. Of course, it had not always been this way, especially during the Turkiyya, when military issue was more theoretical than real, when...

  12. 4 “Brotherhood that Binds the Brave”
    (pp. 121-154)

    Interactions between Sudanese and British soldiers during the River War existed in something of a paradox. Certainly, one finds plentiful proof of British bigotry in contemporary accounts, the scope and character of which would not surprise any student of Victorian attitudes to race. However, these relationships were also marked by both camaraderie and competition, what correspondent Bennet Burleigh called “a brotherly challenge ‘twixt white and black to intrepidity.”² And while it is true that British soldiers and war correspondents often segregated themselves from Sudanese troops and held them in rather low regard, commonly referring to them as “savages” and “Sambos,”...

  13. 5 “Tea with the Khalifa”
    (pp. 155-188)

    Hilaire Belloc’s couplet on the Maxim gun notwithstanding, it was Sudanese soldiers that effectively decided the Nile Campaign.² However, one would not get this idea reading Winston Churchill’s The River War, or the many accounts of “the reconquest of the Sudan” that have been published since. Rather, there is the sense that Sudanese soldiers, though gallant and willing fighters, were undisciplined and unskilled, and that their battalions were only held together in the face of the enemy by the strong will of British officers. Moreover, such accounts give the impression these men occupied only a combat role in the Nile...

  14. Epilogue Mutiny at Omdurman
    (pp. 189-204)

    The mutiny broke out in the Omdurman barracks on the night of 22 January 1900. At sunset, following a medical inspection and the reading of orders, four companies of the XIth Sudanese rushed the Battalion Store, recovering ammunition they had earlier that day given up per the Station Order of their commander, Colonel John Maxwell.² Later that same night, as rumors continued to swirl that they had been disarmed because they were being sent to South Africa, the Sudanese XIVth Battalion followed suit, overwhelming the quarter guard and making off to their barrack rooms with some 10,000 rounds of ammunition....

  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 205-214)
  16. Index
    (pp. 215-230)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 231-231)