Civil War Surprises—Confederate Flashman: The Adventures of Henry R. H. MacIver, Part 1

Ethel Smyth, the composer and suffragette, recalled an eccentric American that left an impression on her decades after he had visited her family during the 1870s. The man had supposedly rescued her mother, Emma, from being run over by an omnibus in Paris and called on the Smyths during his visit to England.

“He described himself as a ‘real soldier of fortune, one who has fought for lost causes all over the world,’” Smyth remembered. However, she stated, “as the day went on his tales of adventure by field and flood became more and more incoherent, so much so that after dinner a strong hint was given him by my father to leave next morning by an early train, which he did.”

Ethel Smyth. (LOC)

Smyth afterward discovered that the stranger, Henry Ronald Hislop MacIver, had proposed to both her sisters, Alice and Mary, and allegedly “made improper advances to the children’s governess” before he departed.[1]

MacIver’s life was filled with tales of adventure, intrigue, scandal, duels, hairbreadth escapes, and womanizing. The restless Virginian served in 18 different armies, beginning his career as a British soldier during the Indian Mutiny and ending it as a general in the Serbian Army. While he was undoubtedly a braggart at times with loose morals, MacIver was also cunning, convincing, and brave. Like most 19th-century soldiers of fortune, he died impoverished and forgotten.

India and Italy

MacIver claimed his mother, Anna Douglas, was the daughter of a Virginian plantation owner. She met his father, Ronald MacIver, while visiting Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1840. He was born aboard a ship headed back to Virginia on December 25, 1841.[2]

British and Scottish volunteers with Garibaldi. (The New York Public Library)

When he was 10 years old, MacIver’s parents sent him to Scotland to live with his grandfather’s foster brother, General Donald Graham, so that he could prepare for a career as a soldier. He claimed Graham secured him an appointment as an officer in the East India Company six years later.[3] During the siege of Jhansi Fort during the Indian Mutiny, MacIver said a sowar nearly split his head in two with a tulwar. The sword penetrated MacIver’s toppe and sliced deep into his skull. MacIver was left for dead on the field, but his comrades rescued him and he recovered from the fearful wound. However, the saber cut left a noticeable scar across his forehead for the rest of his life.[4]

MacIver returned to Scotland after the Indian Mutiny, but he longed for a new adventure. Giuseppe Garibaldi’s effort to unify Italy provided the opportunity. Despite being opposed to the principles of the revolutionary’s cause, MacIver was moved by the deeds of valor he read about Garibaldi and his Red Shirts, so he volunteered to serve in the British Legion with several friends and other “excursionists.”[5]

He transferred to the Légion de Flotte and participated in the siege of Capua during the fall of 1860, where John McAdam, a supporter of Garibaldi’s Scottish volunteers, said, “McIvor [MacIver], who is tall, agile, muscular, and resolute, besides being a skilled swordsman, distinguished himself far in advance of his French comrades, and was made sub officer by their leader.”[6]

Henry Ronald Hislop MacIver. (University of Virginia Library)

McIver admitted to “not being blessed with too amiable a temper” and “being of an exceedingly hasty disposition,” which caused him to quarrel with both friend and foe while not on the battlefield. For instance, he quarreled with Chatham Roberdeau Wheat, who he later befriended, and British Army veteran Bradford Smith Hoskins, both killed while fighting for the Confederacy during the Civil War.[7]

MacIver allegedly was also involved in numerous love affairs which ended in bloodshed on at least one occasion. He claimed that a jealous Neapolitan lured him to a room with a note and attempted to assassinate him in revenge for wooing the man’s lover, but Robert Scott, later a first lieutenant with the 8th Alabama Infantry and mortally wounded at Gettysburg, rescued him by engaging the attackers in a sword fight.[8]

MacIver returned to Scotland after his campaigns in Italy, but he did not remain there for long. McAdam believed he would settle down in Edinburgh, but instead McAdam received a letter from MacIver addressed from Richmond, Virginia, and a carte de visite of him in a Confederate uniform.

“Knowing his dare devil character and the waste of human life,” Adams wrote, “I thought that was the last I would hear of him,” but it turned out to be only the beginning of MacIver’s escapades in North America.[9]

Editor’s note: This blog post is part of a series. Check out Part 2.

Feature illustration of MacIver by Walter Appleton Clark (1876-1906).


[1] Ethel Smyth, Impressions That Remained: Memoirs by Ethel Smyth. Part 1: The Smyth Family Robinson (…. to 1877), vol. 1 (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1919), 106-107.

[2] W. D. L’Estrange, Under Fourteen Flags: The Life and Adventures of Brigadier-General MacIver, Soldier of Fortune, vol. 1 (London: Tinsley Brothers, 1884), 1-5; John W. McDonald, A Soldier of Fortune: The Life and Adventures of General Henry Ronald MacIver, Being a History of His Brilliant Achievements Under Many Flags (New York: The New York News Co., 1888), 11-14.

[3] L’Estrange, Under Fourteen Flags, 6-8; McDonald, A Soldier of Fortune, 14-15. MacIver claimed to have served with the Bengal Yeomanry Cavalry and Bengal Horse Artillery.

[4] L’Estrange, Under Fourteen Flags, 9-13; McDonald, A Soldier of Fortune, 16-19; Richard H. Davis, “Real Soldiers of Fortune: Major-General Henry Ronald Douglas MacIver,” Collier’s: The National Weekly 37 no. 2 (April 7, 1906): 15.

[5] L’Estrange, Under Fourteen Flags, 23-24; McDonald, A Soldier of Fortune, 21-22; John McAdam, Autobiography of John McAdam (1806-1883): With Selected Letters, ed. Janet Fyfe (Edinburgh: Scottish History Society, 1980), 82-83. MacIver is listed as “H. M.  Hishop” and a veteran of the “Bengal Y. Cavalry, Indian Service” on the unit’s muster roll. See “Muster Roll of The British Legion (or Garibaldi Excursionists) (1860) copy,” Bishopsgate Institute, George Jacob Holyoake Archive, accessed March 8, 2023,; Janet Fyfe, “Scottish Volunteers with Garibaldi,” The Scottish Historical Review 57, no. 164 (October 1978): 171-72.

 [6] L’Estrange, Under Fourteen Flags, 31; McDonald, A Soldier of Fortune, 22-23; Fyfe, “Scottish Volunteers with Garibaldi,” 172-73; McAdam, Autobiography of John McAdam (1806-1883), 83.

[7] Fyfe, “Scottish Volunteers with Garibaldi,” 173; L’Estrange, Under Fourteen Flags, 26, 41-45, 76, 85-86; McDonald, A Soldier of Fortune, 25, 36-37, 58.

[8] L’Estrange, Under Fourteen Flags, 56-63; McDonald, A Soldier of Fortune, 422-48; John W. Busey and Travis W. Busey, Confederate Casualties at Gettysburg (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2016), 84. Scott is buried in an unmarked grave at Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia.

[9] McAdam, Autobiography of John McAdam (1806-1883), 83.

12 Responses to Civil War Surprises—Confederate Flashman: The Adventures of Henry R. H. MacIver, Part 1

  1. Hopefully, future installments on MacIver will look more closely at his fanciful claims and compare them to known facts. For example, he claimed to have been promoted to Major CSA, but on his 1871 UK census he claims to have been a colonel; and born in Scotland, not as sea or in Virginia.

    1. Bruce, I think you’ll enjoy the rest of the series. I did my best to separate fact from fiction.

      1. It’s hard to get all the facts even today . I think you did a good job. I can’t wait to read the rest . I love the civil war facts . There trying to erase history and that’s sad. We don’t want to hurt anyone feeling God forgive lol. Thank you sir can’t wait.

  2. Ethel Smyth’s account makes me wonder if the saber wound left more than a tissue scar. He sounds like a man struggling with a degenerative brain injury.

  3. Pingback: Emerging Civil War
  4. Pingback: Emerging Civil War
  5. For a fictional account of a Flashman-like character by the name of Snooks in the American Civil War, see Amazon books offering of “Snooks North and South” and “Snooks: The President’s Man” by Peter Brian.

  6. Oh, the real Factual people and the American Civil War.. Makes for great Reading.

  7. Pingback: Emerging Civil War

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