An American Condottiere: The Post-War Career of General Charles Carroll Tevis (Part 3)

Tevis (c. 1860-1870)
C. Carroll Tevis, c. 1860-1870 (courtesy Library of Congress).

In Parts I and II of my Tevis biography, I covered this West Pointer turned soldier of fortune’s early life through the end of the Civil War. If his career had ended with his dismissal from the Union Army in 1864, it would hardly be worth remembering. Tevis’s most colorful days, however, were still ahead of him in the service of various European armies, as well as those of Egypt and Turkey. Although a complete understanding of Tevis’s post-war career will require travel to numerous foreign archives and the ability to read sources in French, Italian, Latin, Turkish, and Arabic, the account below is the best that can be pieced together from the University of Notre Dame Archives, contemporary newspapers, secondary sources, and his West Point obituary.

With the end of the American Civil War in 1865, Irish American nationalists known as the Fenians were eager to employ the military training they had received in the Union Army for the purpose of freeing Ireland from British rule. Tevis, who had Irish roots himself, was appointed Adjutant General of the Fenian Brotherhood in late October by fellow Union veteran General Thomas W. Sweeny. Tevis threw himself energetically into the work, traveling to his hometown of Philadelphia the following March to procure muskets for the Fenian troops. By early 1866, Sweeny and the rest of the “Senate Wing” of the American Fenians had decided to invade Canada in an effort to provoke an Anglo-American war that would lead to Irish independence.[1]

General Thomas W. Sweeny, an Irish American Union veteran who led the Fenian invasion of Canada in 1866 (courtesy Wikicommons).

Sweeny’s bold plan to invade Canada at three separate points, however, proved to be overly ambitious. Tevis, stationed in Chicago and given charge of the left wing of the invasion, failed to procure adequate transportation for his men. Thus he was unable to take part in the invasion of Canada that began on June 1 and was repulsed after only a few days. Sweeny quickly removed Tevis from command “for disobedience of orders.” Infuriated, Tevis wrote to the British minister in Washington, Frederick Bruce, offering his service as a spy. Bruce began paying him to spy on his former friends in 1867 noting that Tevis having “quarreled with the Fenian leaders… is now ready to do them as much harm as possible.”[2]

Still seeking a military career, however, Tevis soon left North America altogether to offer his services as a “private soldier” in the army of Pope Pius IX. Pius, who was then besieged by hostile forces intent on making Rome the new capital of a united Italy, relied heavily on foreign Catholics known as “Pontifical Zouaves” to staff and serve in his papal army. While serving as a papal soldier, Tevis began writing letters to American Catholics, particularly the ultramontane editor of the New York Freeman’s Journal, James A. McMaster, seeking monetary support for the defense of the Papal States. Encouraged by the news of Canadian volunteers, the two men worked together to try to recruit Catholic Civil War veterans for an American regiment to defend Pius’s sovereignty. The plan came to nothing, however, when prominent American Catholic archbishops blocked it, sending a chagrined Tevis, who had traveled to New York personally to help raise troops, packing empty handed back to Rome. Despite this failure, the pope honored Tevis by making him a “secret Chamberlain of the Cloak and Sword” in 1868.[3]

The Battle of Lisaine, January 1871 (courtesy Wikicommons).

When war broke out between Prussia and France in 1870, Tevis left Rome and offered his services to the French government. In December, he was given command of his own brigade in the General Charles-Denis Bourbaki’s Army of the East. This assignment was probably the largest military command of Tevis’s entire career. According to his obituary and French accounts, Tevis performed well but was wounded in a French defeat at the Battle of Lisaine in January 1871. He continued to serve with the French forces until Bourbaki’s army was forced to retreat to the Swiss Border. Tevis escaped Switzerland and rejoined French forces shortly before the end of the war. For his service, he was honored with the Legion of Honor. In 1871, Tevis also officially became a French citizen and would spend much of the rest of his retired life in Paris.[4]

Tevis finished his military career serving in the Egyptian and Turkish armies. In Egypt, he served from 1872 to 1873 under the command of General Charles P. Stone, the former Union general who had enticed many other Civil War veterans into the service of the Khedive in the 1870s. Although appointed to head the Egyptian military school, Tevis soon left Egypt and rejoined the Turkish Army in 1874. Not much is known about the length or nature of his second stint with Sultan’s forces, but it is certain that he also served as the New York Times correspondent on Turkish affairs during this time. Some sources later claimed that he fought at the Battle of Plevna in 1877 during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878. Others indicated that while reporting on the war for the Times the Russians expelled him from Romania well before that battle had ended. Regardless, 1877 marked the end of Tevis’s active military career.[5]

As a British spy, Tevis befriended and betrayed Maharaja Duleep Singh, the rightful heir of the Sikh Empire (courtesy Wikicommons).

The following year, Tevis returned to Paris where he served as one of the American commissioners at the Paris Universal Exposition. In 1885, he divorced his wife of twenty years, Blanche Florance, the daughter of a wealthy Jewish merchant from Philadelphia. Tevis continued to report on military and foreign affairs for the New York Times throughout the 1880s. More importantly, Tevis again served the British government as a spy during the Irish dynamite campaigns of that decade. He became a leading figure in Fenian circles in Paris, passing along their plans and correspondence to British officials in London. Although his role as a Fenian leader was exposed in the so-called “Black Pamphlet,” a document that sought to tie Irish Home Rule leader Charles Stewart Parnell to the violent Irish Republican Brotherhood, if anything this revelation only strengthened Tevis’s anti-British credentials among Irish revolutionaries in Paris. Tevis also befriended Prince Duleep Singh, the rightful ruler of the Sikh Empire that Britain had conquered in the 1840s. Tevis betrayed the prince’s plans to the British, who feared the young prince would cause trouble for them in their Indian colony. Indeed, Tevis’s pretended career as a sympathizer with anti-British revolutionary movements was probably the most successful, if not most disreputable, occupation of his post-Civil War life.[6]

Tevis spent the remainder of his life in Paris where he died on September 29, 1900. Despite his relative lack of success on the battlefield, he left behind an impressive array of medals from his services with the Turks, the pope, and the French army. His funeral took place in the church of Saint-Philipe du Roule on October 2, and he is buried in the Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris. He left behind an only daughter, Marie-Adele Florance Tevis, who in 1888 had married a lieutenant colonel in the French Army, Henri Etienne Esperance Gouget. His daughter and son-in-law were the likely authors of a flattering 1901 West Point obituary that praised Tevis’s “knightly career” while leaving out any of the sordid details of his dismissal from the Union Army, his time with the Fenian Brotherhood, or his career as a British spy. Although General Tevis died in relative obscurity and is little known today among Civil War scholars, his unusual, colorful, and scandalous exploits made him the greatest American condottiere of the nineteenth century.[7]

[1] Joseph Denieffe, A Personal Narrative of the Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood: Giving a Faithful Report of the Principal Events From 1885 to 1867, Written, At the Request of Friends (New York: The Gael Publishing Co., 1906), 198, 222-3.

[2] Denieffe, A Personal Narrative, 258-9, 262; David A. Wilson, “Macdonald and the Fenians,” in Patrice Dutil & Roger Hall, eds., Macdonald at 200: New Reflections and Legacies (Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2014), 105.

[3] For a more detailed discussion of Tevis’s failure to recruit an American regiment of Papal Zouaves, please see William B. Kurtz, Excommunicated from the Union: How the Civil War Created a Separate Catholic America (New York: Fordham University Press, 2016), 133-135, and Howard R. Marraro, “Canadian and American Zouaves in the Papal Army, 1868-1870,” Canadian Catholic Historical Association Report, 12 (1944–45): 83–102; Annual Reunion, 89.

[4] Annual Reunion, 89-91; Henri Dutrait-Crozon, Gambetta et La Defense Nationale, 1870-1871 (Paris: Editions due Siecle, 1934), 84.

[5] Annual Reunion, 91; William B. Hesseltine and Hazel C. Wolf, The Blue and the Gray on the Nile (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961), 241, 260; New York Times, June 19, 1876; St. Louis Globe-Democrat, July 5, 1885; Army and Navy Journal, November 10, 1877; New Orleans Times, December 5, 1877.

[6] Reports of the United States Commissioners to the Paris Universal Exposition, 1878 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1880), 1: 223; Bridgeport Morning News (CT), July 7, 1885; St. Louis Globe-Democrat, July 5, 1885; Cullum, Biographical Register, 389; The Repeal of the Union Conspiracy; or, Mr. Parnell, M.P., and the I.R.B. (London: William Ridgway, 1886), 22; Lepel Griffin, K.C.S.I., “Maharaja Duleep Singh,” The Imperial and Asiatic Quarterly Review (Woking: The Oriental University Institute,  1894), VII: 49; For evidence of Tevis’s career as a British spy from British archival sources, please see Christy Campbell’s two books, Fenian Fire: The British Government Plot to Assassinate Queen Victoria (London: Harper Collins Publishers, 2002) and The Maharajah’s Box: An Imperial Story of Conspiracy, Love, and a Guru’s Prophecy (London: Overlook Press, 2002).

[7] Annual Reunion, 86, 92; Le Figaro, October 2, 1900; “Henri Etienne Esperance Gouget”, Paris, France & Vicinity Marriage Banns, 1860-1902 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2008.