Civil War Surprises—Confederate Flashman: The Adventures of Henry R. H. MacIver, Part 2

Editor’s note: This blog post is part of a series. Check out Part 1.

War Between the States

MacIver arrived in New York City during the summer of 1861, intending to fight to defend his native Virginia.[1]

“A young man wearing the Indian war medal with two clasps, who said his name was Mac Ivor Hilstock [MacIver], came in to inquire after some unknown friend of his,” British war correspondent William H. Russell noted in his diary on August 26, 1861. “He told me he had been in Tomb’s troop of Artillery [Major Henry Tombs’ Bengal Horse Artillery] during the Indian Mutiny, and had afterwards served with French volunteers during the siege of Caprera [Capua].”[2]

William H. Russell. (LOC)

What happened between MacIver meeting Russell and enlisting in the Confederate Army is unclear. If you believe MacIver’s account, he traveled to Alexandria, Virginia, where he was arrested and imprisoned for pulling a revolver on two U.S. officers after one of them accused him of being a secessionist. After two months in prison, MacIver escaped one evening and fled towards the Confederate lines. He dodged U.S. cavalry patrols and even disarmed a federal trooper. MacIver finally reached the pickets of the 24th Battalion Virginia Partisan Rangers, or Col. John Scott’s Rangers, and told Colonel Scott that he had escaped from prison and he desired to fight for the Confederacy.[3]

MacIver claimed he led a unit of scouts attached to Brig. Gen. Isaac R. Trimble’s brigade during “Stonewall” Jackson’s 1862 Shenandoah Valley Campaign and served with Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry, even befriending Capt. John Pelham. At the Battle of Antietam, he suffered a serious wound when an enemy ball knocked out four of his upper teeth and exited the back of his neck. Despite the severity of his wound, MacIver returned to the Confederate Army at the end of October 1862. At the beginning of 1863, he was ordered to report to Lt. Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith in the Trans-Mississippi Department.[4]

MacIver’s version of his service with Lee, Jackson, and Stuart makes a great story, but most of it can’t be corroborated. Washington, D.C.’s Evening Star did mention a “H.M. Hislop,” one of his known alias, being brought from the Central Guard House before Justice Thompson and fined $1.94 for disorderly conduct on November 11, 1861.[5] Confederate records indicate that MacIver joined Scott’s Rangers as a private and served with the unit from May 29, 1862, to August 2, 1862.[6] MacIver never mentioned serving in Scott’s Rangers, but said he turned down the colonel’s offer to join the unit to accept a commission as a first lieutenant.[7] MacIver alleged that he was wounded and captured at the Second Battle of Bull Run in August 1862.[8] In early September 1862, the Richmond Daily Dispatch reported he arrived in the city after being paroled and said he had been mistreated at the hands of his Yankee captors.[9]

MacIver as a Confederate first lieutenant. (Author’s collection)

On May 21, 1863, Gen. Kirby Smith authorized MacIver to raise a company of mounted rangers to serve for three years, but there’s no evidence that it was actually mustered in. On October 20, Smith provided MacIver with transportation from Shreveport, Louisiana, to Richmond, Virginia. On November 27, President Jefferson Davis appointed him a drill master with the rank of first lieutenant. Secretary of War James A. Seddon ordered MacIver to report to Maj. Gen. Stephen D. Lee who commanded the Confederate cavalry in Alabama, Mississippi, Western Tennessee, and Eastern Louisiana. On December 22, 1863, Lee sent him to Brig. Gen. William Wirt Adams with orders to serve as a drill master or any other duty Adams “may see proper.”[10]

MacIver claimed that the reason Gen. Kirby Smith let him go to Richmond was so that he could recover from his Antietam wound. However, Confederate records show that MacIver was suffering from a serious case of syphilis.[11]

On March 17, 1864, he requested a leave of absence to travel to Montgomery, Alabama. On May 10, the hospital examining board in Uniontown, Alabama, found him unfit for duty and recommended that he avoid exposure for several months. A day later, MacIver wrote to Lt. Gen. Leonidas Polk’s aide-de-camp requesting to be assigned to the provost marshal for duty at some post where he “may be enabled to procure good watter [sic] for the benefit of my health.” MacIver reasoned that he “would much prefer doing some sort of duty, than [sic] to be lingering in a hospital.” By August 16, MacIver resigned his commission, explaining to Secretary of War Seddon that physical debility and business of private and family nature compelled him to leave for Scotland.[12]

Judah P. Benjamin. (LOC)

While in Richmond, Confederate officials entrusted MacIver to recruit Scottish volunteers to serve in the Confederate Army. On September 6, 1864, Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin wrote to Colin J. McRae, the Confederate financial agent in Europe, ordering him to provide the necessary means to enable the commercial agent at Matamoras, Richard Fitzpatrick, to receive MacIver’s Scottish recruits.

“This gentleman [MacIver] thinks that he can get many hundreds of his countrymen to emigrate to our country in the same manner as the Polish emigrants propose to come,” Benjamin wrote, referring to Walerian Sulakowski’s plan to recruit Polish volunteers. “If he is successful in what he proposes, you are requested by the President to furnish a passage to those who may desire to come in the same manner and on the same terms and conditions explained in my dispatch of the 1st instant.”[13]

Two days later, Benjamin wrote to Secretary of Navy Stephen R. Mallory requesting that he provide MacIver with a public vessel at Wilmington, North Carolina, and if one wasn’t available, to order his agent in the city to provide him passage on a private vessel. MacIver arrived in London in late December, but McRae wrote to Benjamin telling him that “after having a full explanation of his views, I have come to the conclusion that it would not be advisable under existing circumstances to attempt the accomplishment of what he proposes.” In 1865, MacIver returned to the United States in search of a new adventure.[14]

To be continued…


[1] L’Estrange, Under Fourteen Flags, 108-109; McDonald, A Soldier of Fortune, 63.

[2] William Howard Russell, My Diary North and South, vol. 2 (London: Bradbury and Evans, 1863), 314.

[3] L’Estrange, Under Fourteen Flags,110-29; McDonald, A Soldier of Fortune, 64-72.

[4] L’Estrange, Under Fourteen Flags, 126-94; McDonald, A Soldier of Fortune, 69-92.

[5] “Central Guardhouse Cases,” Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), November 11, 1861.

[6] National Archive Catalogue ID 586957, Compiled Service Records of Confederate General and Staff Officers and Nonregimental Enlisted Men, M331, Record Group 109, Roll 1061, available on Fold3. MacIver is listed is as “H.R.H. MacIvor.”

[7] L’Estrange, Under Fourteen Flags, 129-32; McDonald, A Soldier of Fortune, 72.

[8] L’Estrange, Under Fourteen Flags, 177-78, 180-82, 184; McDonald, A Soldier of Fortune, 90.

[9] “Yankee Treatment of Their Prisoners,” Daily Dispatch (Richmond, VA), September 12, 1862.

[10] National Archive Catalogue ID 586957, Compiled Service Records of Confederate General and Staff Officers and Nonregimental Enlisted Men.

[11] L’Estrange, Under Fourteen Flags, 194; McDonald, A Soldier of Fortune, 93.

[12] National Archive Catalogue ID 586957, Compiled Service Records of Confederate General and Staff Officers and Nonregimental Enlisted Men.

[13] Judah P. Benjamin to Colin J. McRae, September 6, 1864, in Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, series 2, vol. 3 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1922), 1,202-03.

[14] Judah P. Benjamin to Stephen R. Mallory, September 8, 1864, Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, 1,203; Colin J. McRae to Judah P. Benjamin, December 23, 1864, Colin J. McRae Papers, Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.

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