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Winston Churchill to the Duke of Marlborough, September 29, 1898
In 1898 Churchill was anxious to win a name for himself as a soldier and war correspondent. He maneuvered his way into a posting with a British cavalry unit, the Twenty-first Lancers, just before the climax of the Anglo-Egyptian expedition to reconquer the Sudan-the Battle of Omdurman. This letter to his cousin describes his participation in the last great British cavalry charge of the nineteenth century. It also discusses his future political plans, his need for money, and his feelings—not always positive—about the expedition's commander, General Herbert Kitchener.

Object Details:
Holograph letter. Marlborough Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (20)

Related Theme:
Warrior for Empire
Image: Winston Churchill to the Duke of Marlborough, September 29, 1898
September 29, 1898 In the train

Near Vienna

My Dear Sunny,

I shall set my pencil against your typewriter. If you forgive the one as readily as I forgive the other we shall not quarrel. I telegraphed to London to have my letters forwarded to Trieste, but yours was the only one of any consequence that reached me. That was however so agreeable to read and to receive that I knew no disappointment. "After compliments" let me proceed.

It is very good of you to say that you will help me in the financial affair. I am grateful not only from the material point of view but also because I appreciate the fact that you regard me with affection. I am coming home for at least a month and shall go thoroughly into the whole state of my mother's business and my own. Both are small but tangled. I am at present very ignorant of the details. When I have mastered the whole affair & have roughed out a plan I will talk it over with you & you shall say what you recommend and what you care to do. There is no longer an element of hurry. I was anxious to have the matter settled before the climax of the Soudan operations as had I been killed the money [with] the insurance would have been of use to Jack and to my mother. That eventuality is one which I need not now contemplate. I therefore leave the business matters until I have had some opportunity of doing as I have said above.

Now about the war: - Perhaps you will read my letters in the "Morning Post". They contain the best of my impressions put down as carefully, from the point of view of style, as I can. The military operations, though short, have been interesting. The Battle was a wonderful spectacle. The I had the good luck to ride through the charge unhurt-indeed untouched-which very few can say. I used a pistol and did not draw my sword. I had no difficulties and felt confident that I should get through if, neither my horse fell nor I was shot-for I must tell you the ground was execrable and there was the wildest shooting in all directions. Neither of these things happened and such of the enemy as approached me or attacked me I shot-three I think I killed. It is difficult to miss at under a foot's range. The whole thing was a matter of seconds-for as you may have gathered-we burst through their line and formed up the other side. The loss was most severe-1 officer and 21 men killed-9 officers and 66 men wounded and 119 horses out of only 320. Such a proportion and such a loss has been sustained by no regiment since the Light Brigade-forty years ago.

Leaving personal matters I would like to write to you about the Sirdar and about the whole conduct of the campaign. But if I embarked on such a voyage I should never get to the end. I am going to write an article called "Reflections on the Expeditions to Khartoum & Tirah" which will contain some criticisms and many comparisons, and the general drift tone of which will be calculated to diminish the inflated reputation which Sir H. Kitchener has acquired. I do not mean that such will be my intention or that such a result will follow the article. I mean only that the gist of my argument will tend to show that whereas the campaign in Tirah was the hardest ever fought, the campaign on the Nile was the easiest.

I try to be fair and not to allow my personal feelings to bias my judgment-but my dear Sunny, the Sirdar's utter indifference to the sufferings of his own wounded-his brutal orders & treatment with regard to the Dervish wounded-the shameless executions after the victory and the general callousness which he has repeatedly exhibited-have disgusted me. I have seen more war than most boys my age-probably more than any. I am not squeamish, but I have seen acts of great barbarity perpetrated at Omdurman and have been thoroughly sickened of human blood. I shall always be glad that I was one of those who took these brave men on with weapons little better than theirs and with only our discipline to back against their numbers. All the rest of the army merely fed out death by machinery.

If I am to commit myself to an opinion of Sir H. Kitchener I will say-He is a great man, with the power of making up his mind & of coming to great decisions. A man of unquestioned courage-of extraordinary memory foresight and organizing power-of unconquerable patience and perseverance-but a thoroughly bad tactician, ill-mannered, utterly callous, and probably equally unscrupulous.

He has been the Louvois of the war. General Hunter the Prince de Conde. He can put an army on the spot. But those who know him best say that he is a bad hand at moving troops in the presence of the enemy. His extraordinary tactics at Omdurman very nearly led to a disaster and were the laughingstock of the camp.

I wonder whether you will distrust the value of my opinion when I tell you that he detests me and has expressed himself freely on the subject-that he refused to have me with his Egyptian Army at any price-that he was furious with Sir Evelyn Wood for sending out in spite of him-that my remarks on the condition & treatment of our wounded officers & men were reported to him and that every petty annoyance that ingenuity could suggest was obtruded on me in return.

Perhaps you would make certain deductions. I do myself.

I do not propose to take up the pen of the historian to redress the wrongs of the soldier. I intend to write a history of the whole of the re-conquest of the Soudan-1896, 1897, 1898. Frankie Rhodes who knows all the generals and can collect facts is going to edit the book-Longmans will publish. I shall call it "A History of the River-War." If you will allow me I will dedicate it to you. But I shall keep my personal feelings to myself and shall aim only at recording the truth-and when all has been said-the truth is very brilliant and glorious.

I leave the Nile-I have drunk it-floated on it-seen it-washed in it-thought about it, talked about it until I am tired of it.

Politics-I like the idea of an autumn campaign. I suppose the big politicos will all take the field. I propose to deliver several harangues and am accumulating material. I do hope you will help me in some way. The idea of being given a dinner by the Birmingham Conservative Club is vy dear to me. I shall be in England all October-perhaps I shall not go back to India. I should appreciate the honour vy much. Bradford-I mean to go to-I told them I would come back after the Union Jack was hoisted at Khartoum.

You will see by all this-I am still full of vitality and energy. I only look for outlets. It is good to be able to look out on life again, without the feeling that perhaps death impended in the near future. I should have hated to lie in that hot red sand at Omdurman-after all the army had marched away. And yet on what do these things depend. Chance-Providence-God-the Devil-call it what you will. Had I started when I meant to from London I should have had Grenfell's troop and ridden where he rode. I could not get a place in the sleeping car and delayed two days. Whatever it may be-I do not complain-my luck has been "set fair".

Dick Molyneux is coming home with me-a shocking sword cut on his right arm. He is such a good chap and we have made great friends. He tells me he knows you. I shall see you soon.

Yours affectionately,

Winston S. Churchill

P.S. I noticed the "M M" on the envelope. You are quite right. This is not an age in which to let such distinctions die out. Besides alliteration is always popular.


A line to say I am now at Cumberland Place

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