A Brief Speculation on Flashman’s Career, part 4: 1860-1868


We have now reached the hinge-point in Sir Harry Flashman’s career. Up till now, we have had a fairly consistent account with occasional breaks. From here, we have little but hints and references, with the occasional account. I propose to continue by using actual recorded events as the punctuation point between phases.
We left Flashman falling unconscious in the whore-house in Hong Kong being run by the Reverend and Mrs Carpenter. Flashman has attempted to blackmail Phoebe Carpenter into bed and she has retaliated by having him drugged, preparatory to his being shipped out somewhere.
When I first read the Eighth Packet, I naively assumed that Flashman would be spirited away to America, there to commence his long involvement in the Civil War. However, it’s now been reasonably established that Flashman did not become involved until 1862, at the earliest, so some other destination was involved.
I had originally intended to place Flashman’s Solomon Islands/Fly River country experiences alongside his visits to Australia and the Philippines, between 1850 – 1853, purely on geographical grounds, until I made the connection. According to his Who’s Who entry, Flashman was acting as trader and Christian Missionary during his time in that area, west of Papua New Guinea.
The connection with a shanghaing by a Christian Minister is too obvious to ignore. Flashman is shipped out to the Solomon Islands or Fly River, where he sees the jungle, before escaping and finally making his way back to England, and Elspeth, presumably in 1861. He holds a blackjack bank at one point, on board the South Sea Trader!
We have his offhanded mention to confirm that, early in 1862, he was at the Curragh, assisting HRH The Prince of Wales inspecting troops. Flashman has not mentioned acquaintance with the Prince at any earlier stage, and I would assume the appointment to have been organised by Victoria herself. This incident is infamous: Prince Albert himself came out to inspect his son’s progress, but contracted an illness that killed him shortly thereafter. Victoria blamed her son for the rest of her life and withdrew from public view for a long time. Does anyone else suspect that Flashman may have had a poltroonish role to play in all this?
Now we come to the great Lost Adventure, the one all Flashman fans wanted to read but which, unaccountably, Fraser became unwilling to write. When it comes to considering this, Flashman has given away more hints about his involvement in the American Civil War than any other unchronicled aspect of his career, enough for us to build a decent outline.
According to Flashman’s Who’s Who entry, he joined the Union Army as a Major in 1862, in circumstances unknown, but you can bet that it wasn’t willingly. Flashman does mention being blackmailed (presumably over his escapades as Beauchamp Comber) by President Lincoln into ‘saving his Union and risking my military reputation’. Given that the Union Army and its Generals prosecuted a poor campaign for at least the first two years of the war, Lincoln may simply have forced Flashman to sign up to the Army to improve its fortunes.
Or, which I find marginally more likely, the blackmail may have been to force Flashman to enter Confederate territory as a spy, travelling to the Southern White House in Virginia, i.e. the home residence of the South’s only ‘President’, Jefferson Davies.
We know from numerous references that Flashman was found on the roof of the building, but that he successfully persuaded Davies and his staff that he was there to repair the lightning conductor, escaping the consequences of being discovered as a spy, and subsequently receiving a handwritten letter of thanks from Davis!
Flashman went on, in 1863, to serve as a Colonel in the Confederate Army, under, so far as we know, his own name. How this was reconciled with his impersonation of a handyman we can only imagine, but in this role he served directly under Robert E Lee, at Gettysburg, hinting that his military advice was the main reason why this was not a massive military victory for the South, and the taking of Washington.
He was also present at the earlier Battle of Chancellorsville, where famously ‘Stonewall’ Jackson died as a result of friendly fire (undoubtedly thanks to Flashman).
At some point, Flashman was imprisoned in the infamous Confederate Prison, Libby Prison. As this had been reserved exclusively for Union officers since 1862, we have two options for when this occurred. Either Flashman was captured at some point in 1862 as an open Union officer, or, which I personally find more likely, he was exposed as a Union officer at some late point in 1863 and imprisoned then.
This would place him in custody at the time of the notable Libby prison Escape of February 1864, when a hundred Union officers escaped and returned to Union lines. Certainly, Flashman has several times referenced accompanying General Sherman in his devastating March Through Georgia, to the sea, that accelerated the end of the War, which took place between November and December that year. His appearance at Yellow Tavern took place earlier that year.
From there to the end of the War, Flashman has left no notes of his whereabouts or doings. We know him to have been present at Appamattox Courthouse, and to have witnessed Lee’s formal Surrender to Grant, and to have been back in Washington a few days later – presumably as part of the delegation sent to report victory to President Lincoln – where he had a private audience with the President. It appears, however, that Flashman arrived there with Lee’s hotly-pursued delegation, which indicates that he was back on the Southern side of affairs again!
Flashman was also present at Ford’s Theatre, though it seems to be beyond Fraser’s powers to have placed him in the Presidential box for Booth’s actual shot, and we may assume he was close at hand until Lincoln was declared dead, but we have no further evidence of his presence in America at this time.
Flashman implies at one point that he returned to England for brief reunions (plural: at least two) with Elspeth during the five years from 1862 to 1867. It is more than likely that once the Civil War was officially over, and Lincoln, the only other man to know the full details of Flashman’s service was dead, he returned to England.
Whether he returned during the Civil War is entirely speculative. The only time there seems to have been room for such a visit would be the 1864 – 1865 period, but the problem with this is that, having escaped from American, what could have got him back to the New World when the War was still in progress?
After the Civil War, Flashman returns to England and is reunited with Elspeth, albeit for a fairly short time. His next known adventure is in Mexico, as aide de camp to the Emperor Maximilian, towards the end of his short reign.
Fraser has supplied a surprising amount of detail about this escapade, though most of it is concentrated upon the fall-out, and Maximilian’s execution. What we do know is that he joins Maximilian in February 1867, on the run from the Foreign Legion, who want him as a deserter, and that prior to joining Maximilian, he took part in a bandit raid organised by Jesus Montero, who is under the impression that Flashman knows the whereabouts of Montezuma’s Treasure.
We know the end: can we suggest a plausible beginning?
I have already tentatively assigned Flashman a period in the Foreign Legion twenty years previously, with his bullet wound incurred during desertion. Once more, this is being made up out of whole cloth, but what if…?
Flashman has once again left the country, perhaps for recreational purposes, possibly France. There, his vicious tastes lead to an encounter with an old adversary, someone who was his superior during his previous service with the Legion, and who, perhaps, was punished for allowing Flashman’s desertion.
This adversary is supervising a fresh shipment of Legion troops to join those currently in Mexico, supporting Maximilian. Flashman is seized and transported back to the Americas.
How does Flashman escape the Legion a second time? We know he was with Jesus Montero’s bandits for a time, so I’m positing that the Legion platoon Flashman was with was ambushed and slaughtered by the bandits, but that Flashman survived by promising Montero to lead him to Montezuma’s treasure.
During his time with the bandits, Flashman takes part in an attack on Maximilian and his train, possibly when they are en route to Juarez, where Maximilian removed his court in February 1867. As Flashman was sentenced to execution, and was even led out to face the firing squad during his time in Mexico, it would seem he was captured. However, he somehow convinces Maximilian that he was aiding his men, which presumably leads to his letter of reprieve (and the oft-mentioned San Serafino Order of Truth and Purity). In gratitude, Maximilian appoints Flashman aide de camp, and when the Legion come to demand his return, the Emperor refuses. This may prove to be a factor in the Legion withdrawing from Mexico, leaving the Emperor vulnerable.
Flashman remains in Juarez until the end. He encounters,and is unable to seduce, Princess Agnes Salm-Salm. The Republic overwhelms and captures Maximilian.
Flashman then joins in the near-successful attempt by Aggy Salm-Salm and Montero (an unlikely pair: I’m not even going to try to guess how they come together, though I’d be surprised if Montero wasn’t still playing for the Treasure). However, Maximilian refuses to escape, as being below his royal dignity, and Flashman watches the execution from concealment on a nearby roof.
He is then chosen to escort Maximilian’s body home, to Trieste, in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which leads to his next recorded exploit. Anxious to escape the consequences of seducing the Captain’s teenage daughter, Flashman agrees to escort British funds to Egypt, where General Sir Bob Napier is mounting an expedition into Abyssinia, to recover British hostages help by its mad Emperor, Theodore.
Unfortunately, his fame having traveled before him as usual, Flashman is persuaded into another intelligence role, keeping distant of the main advance on a cross-country trek to the Galla tribe, where he is to persuade them to cut off Theodore’s escape routes. It is his first military service for his country since Pekin.
Flashman is successful, at the cost of alienating his native guide, Uliba-Wark (trying to kick people over waterfalls can do that). When she spirits him away to exact revenge, he falls into the hands of Theodore, and witnesses the end of the campaign, and Theodore’s suicide, from inside the fortress Magdala. Still, he survives, with his undeserved credit further advanced, still hoping for peace and quiet.

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