Civil War Surprises—Confederate Flashman: The Adventures of Henry R. H. MacIver, Part 3

Editor’s note: This blog post is part of a series. Check out Part 1 and Part 2.

Gentleman Adventurer

MacIver wasted no time in trying to become involved in another war. On his way to fight in Mexico, while in Vicksburg, Mississippi, he fought a duel with a U.S. officer from Vermont named Major Tomlins.

MacIver as a general in the Serbian Army. (University of Virginia Library)

On March 26, 1866, The North York Tribune received an anonymous letter from a man who allegedly observed the two men dueling with swords in the woods.

“As I approached,” the eyewitnesses said, “the tallest of the two [MacIver] struck the other across the face with the blade, then parried and ran him through.”[1]

The Memphis Daily Avalanche claimed the duel was a hoax since no U.S. officer named “Major Tomlins” existed. However, the newspaper incorrectly stated that “Colonel McIvor” was also a fictitious character.[2]

In 1867, MacIver again made headlines when Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan, who commanded the U.S. forces in Texas, had him arrested.[3] The soldier of fortune supposedly had been ordered by Gen. Mariano Escobedo to go into foreign countries and recruit men to fight against Emperor Maximilian’s troops. Sheridan reportedly permitted MacIver to raise troops in the United States to fight against Maximillian, which would have violated the Neutrality Act of 1818.[4]

John E.P. Doyle, a journalist with the New York Herald, insinuated Sheridan turned on MacIver to save his own skin. He told President Andrew Johnson that when he brought up MacIver it startled Sheridan. Doyle claimed that Sheridan sent detectives to arrest MacIver soon after. When New Orleans Chief of Police Thomas E. Adams arrested MacIver, Col. Thomas W.C. Moore of Sheridan’s staff took what papers MacIver had on him, hoping to secure anything linking him to Sheridan. MacIver was charged with being a member of the Knights of Arabia, a group of ex-Confederates who wanted to colonize an unidentified republic in the Caribbean, and was imprisoned for 57 days.[5]

MacIver’s endorsement of Peruna. (The Saginaw Evening News, May 4, 1901)

The abovementioned incident only captures a glimpse of MacIver’s adventures during the postwar years. He commanded a foreign legion during the War of the Triple Alliance; fought alongside Panos Koronaios during the Cretan revolt; participated in Domingo de Goicouria’s failed expedition to Cuba; sailed to Egypt to serve in Khedive Ismail Pasha’s army; and led a cavalry brigade in the Serbian Army.[6] In 1883, while in Australia, he planned to annex New Guinea, but the British government foiled his expedition.[7] Ten years later, President Grover Cleveland appointed him consul at Denia, Spain, where he attracted attention due to his “antics and eccentricities,” challenging a U.S. State Department official to a duel.[8] MacIver offered his services to U.S. President William McKinley during the Spanish-American War and tried to organize a unit of Americans to fight in South Africa against the Boers.[9] After his soldiering days came to an end, he traveled and lectured about his adventures, endorsed a tonic, and campaigned for political candidates.[10]

War journalist Richard Harding Davis published an article about MacIver’s life as a career soldier of fortune. On October 25, 1902, Davis furnished a $100 advance so that he could use MacIver’s military commissions, letters, scrapbook, old photographs, and other papers for his magazine article.[11] The mementos, stored in a dented tin box, were MacIver’s most prized possessions.[12] He made Davis fill out a receipt stating that he only loaned them in case an “unfortunate accident might invite you or disrobe yourself on this life for spiritual freedom, in advance of myself.” MacIver desired to place them under fireproof security in New York, so he asked Davis if he could recommend a safe place.[13] Davis returned the material — along with an extra $50 — to MacIver after completing the magazine article.[14]

Check out Part 4.


[1] “A Duel in Mississippi,” New-York Daily Tribune (New York, NY), April 6, 1866.

[2] “Miscellaneous Items,” The Memphis Daily Avalanche (Memphis, TN), April 25, 1866.

[3] “Local Matters,” Delaware Republican (Wilmington, DE), September 27, 1866; The Daily Phoenix (Columbia, SC), October 3, 1866.

[4] “Telegraph News,” Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH), January 12, 1867; “More Complications With Mexico,” The Crisis (Columbus, OH), January 23, 1867. Maj. Gen. Frederick Steele and Maj. Gen. Godfrey Weitzel were also implicated. Evan C. Rothera, Civil Wars and Reconstructions in the Americas: The United States, Mexico, & Argentina, 1860-1880 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2022), 66-67; Evan C. Rothera, “’The Men Are Understood to Have Been Generally Americans, in the Employ of the Liberal Government’ Civil War Veterans and Mexico, 1865-1867,” in The War Went On: Reconsidering the Lives of Civil War Veterans, eds. Brian Matthew Jordan and Evan C. Rothera (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2022), 48-49.

[5] John E.P. Doyle to Andrew Johnson, October 29, 1867, in Andrew Johnson, The Papers of Andrew Johnson, Volume 13, September 1867-March 1868, ed. Paul H. Bergeron (Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1996), 195-97; “From the South,” Springfield Republican (Springfield, MA), November 13, 1866.

[6] Davis, “Real Soldiers of Fortune: Major-General Henry Ronald Douglas MacIver,” 15-18; “Cuba’s Tribulations: The Goicouria-Cristo Expedition,” The New York Herald (New York, NY), October 26, 1869; “American Officers in Egypt,” New-York Tribune (New York, NY), August 25, 1870; Tarik Tansu Yigit, “Reconstructing the Self and the American: Civil War Veterans in Khedival Egypt,” Ph.D. diss., (Bilkent University, 2020), 296; H.R.H. MacIver, Experiences of the Servian War (London: James Blackwood & Co., 1876); Philip H. B. Salusbury, Two Months with Tchernaieff in Servia (London: Chapman and Hall, 1877), 46, 109, 112, 152; Irving Montagu, Wanderings of a War-Artist (London: W.H. Allen & Co., 1889), 333-34; Emma Maria Pearson and Louisa Elisabeth McLaughlin, Service in Servia Under the Red Cross (London: Tinsley Brothers, 1877), 70-71.

[7] Davis, “Real Soldiers of Fortune: Major-General Henry Ronald Douglas MacIver,” 16; “The McIver Expedition to New Guinea,” South Australian Weekly Chronicle (Adelaide, SA), December 15, 1883;  “General McIver’s Motives Questioned,” South Australian Weekly Chronicle (Adelaide, SA), July 12, 1884. In 1885, MacIver published a 54-page pamphlet titled Rivals for Supremacy in the Pacific; a Book for Every British Subject on the topic.

[8] Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America, Fifty-Third Congress, From August 7, 1893, to March 2, 1895, part 1, vol. 29 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1909), 100; New-York Tribune (New York, NY), July 10, 1895; “General MacIver Wants Blood,” New-York Tribune (New York, NY), July 9, 1895.

[9] Davis, “Real Soldiers of Fortune: Major-General Henry Ronald Douglas MacIver,” 18; “Hero of Many Wars,” American Citizen (Kansas City, KS), March 11, 1900.

[10] “General MacIver to Enter Lecture Field,” Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, VA), January 9, 1907; “Pe-Runa the World’s Best Tonic Enthusiastically Praised by a Hero of Thirteen Wars,” The Saginaw Evening News (Saginaw, MI), May 4, 1901; Illinois State Register (Springfield, IL), July 24, 1892; “Hero of Battles to Take Stump,” The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA), July 1, 1900.

[11] Henry R. H. MacIver to Richard H. Davis, October 25, 1902, Richard Harding Davis Collection, Special Collections Department University of Virginia Library, Charlottesville, Virginia.

[12] Davis, “Real Soldiers of Fortune: Major-General Henry Ronald Douglas MacIver,” 15; Charles Neville Buck, “Eighteen Flags: The True Story of an Adventurer of Adventures,” Adventure 6, no. 1 (May 1913): 162.

[13] MacIver to Davis, October 25, 1902, Richard Harding Davis Collection.

[14] Henry R. H. MacIver receipt, January 26, 1903, Richard Harding Davis Collection. Harding later published a chapter on MacIver in his book, Real Soldiers of Fortune. See Richard Harding Davis, “Henry Ronald Douglas MacIver,” Real Soldiers of Fortune (New York: P.F. Collier & Son, 1906), 3-39.

5 Responses to Civil War Surprises—Confederate Flashman: The Adventures of Henry R. H. MacIver, Part 3

  1. Pingback: Emerging Civil War
  2. Pingback: Emerging Civil War
  3. Pingback: Emerging Civil War

Please leave a comment and join the discussion!