Wolseley or Roberts Rings?

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Wolseley or Roberts Rings?

Postby Mark » 27 Jun 2014 12:18

This one is just a bit of light-hearted fun, so please don't take it too seriously.

Would you say you are in either of the 'Wolseley' (African) or 'Roberts' (Indian) rings, and if so why?

Lately I have found myself heavily drawn to the numerous conflicts fought in and around India, so I guess I am very much under the latter. That said I still enjoy popping over to Africa from time to time.

Of course I may have to consider changing my avatar in light of this! :shock:

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Re: Wolseley or Roberts Rings?

Postby Waggoner » 27 Jun 2014 12:43

Mark,

I am firmly a member of the Garnet Ring! After all, it had its beginnings in Canada and a Canadian logistics officers was a founding member of it.

All the best,

Gary
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Re: Wolseley or Roberts Rings?

Postby jf42 » 27 Jun 2014 13:37

I guess most of us would like to think that we would have been in the ranks of the modernisers but as man and a general, I think, 'Bobs' will always take the prize.
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Re: Wolseley or Roberts Rings?

Postby Josh&Historyland » 27 Jun 2014 13:48

If only Becasue my interests in India are mainly based in 1799-1850, I would be in the Garnet Ring with Gary!

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Re: Wolseley or Roberts Rings?

Postby rclpillinger » 28 Jun 2014 17:11

Roberts....

I have always had a fascination about India, and the way it was so central to the Empire; the move of the British from being almost a guiding force in the direction of the sub-continent, to becoming a more active and verging on dictatorial ruler under the Governerships in the early eighteen hundreds.

Whilst I haven't read a huge amount about Wolseley, he seems to me to be a soldier who made many descisions for self-serving reasons, and some of very dubious merit. I think that Roberts was a much better soldier over time.

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Re: Wolseley or Roberts Rings?

Postby Waggoner » 28 Jun 2014 17:28

Richard,

In my opinion, you do Wolseley a disservice! He was brilliant and innovative in his earlier campaigns such as the Red River and Ashantee. His strength and weakness was his "ring" that became unwieldily once the scope of operations expanded and he could not exert direct control. Hence, the failure of the Egyptian campaign. Many of the changes he introduced remain in effect today.

All the best,

Gary
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Re: Wolseley or Roberts Rings?

Postby jf42 » 28 Jun 2014 18:54

I suspect that Wolseley was an early example of the contemporary notion that many people tend to rise to one rank above their capabilities. If he had remained content to do good work as a reforming Adjutant General, his reputation would have remained intact. Instead he manoeuvred to have himself inserted to supersede Macpherson in Egypt and over-reached himself. The epitome of hubris. The 'ring' was of his own creation so responsibility for the failures of command on the Nile in 1884-85 must be his.

I confess, I am freshly indignant, having recently read 'Beyond the Reach of Empire.'
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Re: Wolseley or Roberts Rings?

Postby acanthus » 28 Jun 2014 20:52

Hi Mark,

Interesting coincidence, as I have just been researching the subject of Roberts sword; that aside, I would say without doubt India and the Robert's camp.

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Re: Wolseley or Roberts Rings?

Postby mike snook » 28 Jun 2014 23:32

Gary

I take as read that you meant to say failure of the Nile Expedition, not the Egyptian campaign, which is the one instance where W really did display some serious generalship in my view. But I have to challenge you on your other rather throwaway line: just what was so brilliant about the Red River or Asante campaigns? Here's the essay question..... 'Couldn't any average-ishly talented colonel of the age have pulled off those two piddling little side shows? Wherein lies the military brilliance or innovation in those two campaigns. Discuss.' Then we might consider just how defeated the Asante and the Metis actually were at the end of those two notable military promenades.

My personal view is I that I think we've accepted the propaganda line (and man they were good at that) of the Ring too unthinkingly for too long. Was Redvers Buller a brilliant soldier? Or Sir Evelyn Wood? Or Sir George Colley? Or Sir Herbert Stewart? Or Sir John McNeill? Sir William Butler? Because I can tell you I've doffed my hat at the graves or markers of an awful lot of brave men in such places as Hlobane, Majuba Hill, Ingogo, El Teb, Tofrek, Abu Kru, Colenso, Spion Kop and so forth, and I'm not convinced that they really needed to have died in such numbers. A modicum of skill and many of those losses could have been avoided. Think of attempting to save the guns at Colenso for example, an operation carried out at Buller's personal direction (in which young Freddie Roberts was killed). All great colonels, those guys, but pretty hopeless generals weren''t they? What about this Wolseley Ring thing then? It's not really up to much as far as military talent spotting goes...is it?

Isn't Africa just one cock up after another (?), compared with only occasional pantomimes in the sub-continent (granted Kabul was pretty serious, Maiwand was bad and he Bengal Army disintegrated wholesale in 1857, but none of that was down to Roberts or anybody he had pushed on at the expense of others). Anyone of course...not just Gary. Interested to hear what you think.

As ever

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Re: Wolseley or Roberts Rings?

Postby rclpillinger » 29 Jun 2014 00:22

Mike, although we seem to be widening the issue well away from the origional question, perhaps the answer to all your speculations comes back to the basic facts of purchased commissions. Commissioned officers of any rank were presumably where they were, not because of their leadership skills or depths of training, but purely because they had enough money to purchase a ranking place in the forces. This was a system designed to ensure that aristocracy remained unchallenged in their privileged position.

Whilst this system did work very well for that purpose, it did mean that these officers were seldom strategists but, at the same time, had little compunction about throwing men into ill-prepared situations in great numbers in order to ensure success, no matter what.

I wonder if Roberts was a better strategist, but also if Wolseley, by the time he got to Egypt, had become so arrogent and wrapped up in his own circle, stopped listening. (Just the same as any of our recent third-term governments, I might suggest)

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Re: Wolseley or Roberts Rings?

Postby Josh&Historyland » 29 Jun 2014 00:58

I really don't know enough about Roberts to be able to comment on his generalship. This has probably affected my view on the subject of which ring I would prefer to be in. In fairness, choosing my favourite Victorian General would take allot of thought, and Wolesley probably wouldn't be it.

Mike.

Good question about Red River and Asante.
My answer would be that in my opinion I would not say that Wolseley was the only man for the job, but he did have a fair track record up until the Nile expedition, he was seen as a capable soldier until that point, Egypt probably being his best work.
The challenges of these two campaigns, fought over differing but challenging terrain, in the case of Asante (a campaign shakily handled perhaps) against an enemy very much at home in his environment, cannot be underestimated and Wolesley therefore showed skill and talent in bringing them off. How he would have tackled the Zulu's would probably reveal allot.
I think the Metis were fairly well dealt with, the Asante less so. But I agree that many capable officers above the rank of Colonel would've would probably have done no worse.
W's lieutenants were also certainly less than perfect, I for one have never been particularly impressed by Buller, and though Butler might have had his moments had he not been a card carrying anti imperialist, it is men like Butler that would have been able to carry off the above campaigns with as much skill as W showed. But then there aren't many protégés that managed to do better than their mentors. If you look even at the Duke of Wellington's "Ring" not that he would have acknowledged such an personal organisation outside of the army system, most of them ended up having learned rather less than you'd have thought. Which would lead me to pose the question that given the high toll of reverses and disasters during the Victorian era, were there many officers who could have done better?

But now you mention it I suppose Africa is pretty much a roll of misfortunes, barring the Tel El Kebir and Omdurman campaigns perhaps, they all leave a rather bad savour. Especially perhaps when stacked against some of the more successful Indian campaigns.

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Re: Wolseley or Roberts Rings?

Postby jf42 » 29 Jun 2014 03:19

rclpillinger wrote: This was a system designed to ensure that aristocracy remained unchallenged in their privileged position.

Whilst this system did work very well for that purpose, it did mean that these officers were seldom strategists but, at the same time, had little compunction about throwing men into ill-prepared situations in great numbers in order to ensure success, no matter what.


Not really.The system was designed to have an army officered by men who had a stake in a stable state, as well as a stake in the corps in which they held a commission; that second part didn't work out so well. The system did have glaring shortcomings and many an officer turned out to be not up to high command, from Abercromby in 1758 to Buller in 1899. Strange as it may seem, though, callous expenditure of men's lives to further personal ambition was not a particular vice of British generals. Incompetence in their officers, lack of imagination and obstinacy were probably a much greater danger to British soldiers.
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Re: Wolseley or Roberts Rings?

Postby mike snook » 29 Jun 2014 11:18

Interesting perspectives....

Morning Richard

Purchase was abolished in 1871, was just a fact of life anyway and certainly didn't favour one ring over another.....to my mind, therefore, it tends to rule itself out as a prime suspect for the failings of British generalship in the high or late Victorian period. It might arguably be a fair shout in the age of the Crimea and the Mutiny, (and even then it's by no means easy to attach much blame to it), but surely is not altogether relevant to events from 1871 on. The first 'ring' campaign was 73-4 on the Gold Coast - so that's where the 'age of the ring' begins. Most of the serious ringers were captains, or at best majors, at that time. Thus, the ring system is primarily a post-purchase phenomenon. The point is this. In 1879 Herbert Stewart was a captain. In 1884, a paltry five years later, he was a brigadier general! That''s really the point of the Ring system (not that it really was a 'system'!). What we see here is hugely accelerated promotion on the basis of the personal patronage of a key general officer. Isn't one of the issues that Wolseley would not have wanted any old major general, when he was a major general, or any old lieutenant general when he was a lieutenant general (and so on), to enjoy the same powers of patronage as he himself did. This would have defeated the object. W sought the powers of a latter day Casear surely? Prof Adrian Preston of RMC (in those days) certainly accused him of 'sinister Caesarism' (marvellous phrase) in something of his I read.

As an aside you would almost certainly have believed strongly in purchase if you had been any sort of stakeholder in British society at any point between 1646 and 1850!

Josh,

I'm not sure I can agree with you on the effective harrying of the Metis cause. Perhaps our Canadian members would care to comment. 'Dealt with' how so? Boating a thousand men around their backyard? Incidentally I had plenty of sergeants who could have organized a convoy of small boats, some guides, a doctor or two and some supplies! Wherein lies the great military achievement? In truth there wasn't a shot fired in 1870. It really was little more than a grand military regatta wasn't it (?) and that in a land where there was already a century old tradition of conquering distance and logistics by means of small boats. Isn't that how Montcalm got to the south end of Lake George to wreak his mayhem on Ft Wm Henry? Didn't Cook and Wolfe have something to say on the importance of small boats in a Canadian context? Apart from boating W was certainly good at burning huts: Sekhukune's kraals, Kumasi.

One thing's for sure though: he is not fit to be mentioned in the same breath as Wellington! You must promise not to do that too often...I'm not sure my heart can take it!

On the other side of the coin, where few people could hold a candle to W was in terms of physical courage. He was bonkers brave for sure, but even this I tend to view as closely bound up with his ambition. He was determinedly brave (showy perhaps?) in pursuit of (non-purchase) promotions. An intriguing character, but a flawed one. In fact it's almost too easy to contemplate his flaws, though he does have biographers who haven't spotted any! What I'm interested in is just what did he actually do to be thought of in history as a great soldier? What did this great career as a 'reformer' actually consist of? Short service and the Army Reserve? Is that it? Do we really think of him as a great man, just because he told us he was one? Does he enjoy his reputation simply because he became fashionable at the right time and was prepared to court the Liberals (despite despising their politics!)?

And what about this Roberts chap?

Hey ho,

M
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Re: Wolseley or Roberts Rings?

Postby Josh&Historyland » 29 Jun 2014 12:03

mike snook wrote:Interesting perspectives....
Josh,

I'm not sure I can agree with you on the effective harrying of the Metis cause. Perhaps our Canadian members would care to comment. 'Dealt with' how so? Boating a thousand men around their backyard? Incidentally I had plenty of sergeants who could have organized a convoy of small boats, some guides, a doctor or two and some supplies! Wherein lies the great military achievement? In truth there wasn't a shot fired in 1870. It really was little more than a grand military regatta wasn't it (?) and that in a land where there was already a century old tradition of conquering distance and logistics by means of small boats. Isn't that how Montcalm got to the south end of Lake George to wreak his mayhem on Ft Wm Henry? Didn't Cook and Wolfe have something to say on the importance of small boats in a Canadian context? Apart from boating W was certainly good at burning huts: Sekhukune's kraals, Kumasi.

One thing's for sure though: he is not fit to be mentioned in the same breath as Wellington! You must promise not to do that too often...I'm not sure my heart can take it!

On the other side of the coin, where few people could hold a candle to W was in terms of physical courage. He was bonkers brave for sure, but even this I tend to view as closely bound up with his ambition. He was determinedly brave (showy perhaps?) in pursuit of (non-purchase) promotions. An intriguing character, but a flawed one. In fact it's almost too easy to contemplate his flaws, though he does have biographers who haven't spotted any! What I'm interested in is just what did he actually do to be thought of in history as a great soldier? What did this great career as a 'reformer' actually consist of? Short service and the Army Reserve? Is that it? Do we really think of him as a great man, just because he told us he was one? Does he enjoy his reputation simply because he became fashionable at the right time and was prepared to court the Liberals (despite despising their politics!)?

And what about this Roberts chap?

Hey ho,

M


Hi Mike.

Re the Metis, I actually agree, (I never meant ro disagree) I rather meant that the Asante was (on the a curve) a little more conclusive for the very reasons you have pur there was actually more fighting. Again I agree Wolesley was not the only man for the job, I'm sure many could have done it, I was merely giving him the credit for doing it.

Fear not, I assure you I would never even put (Ahem... W) in the same species as Garnet, I only meant to compare their respective officers. Believe me if I ever did, heart attack or no I would have to demand that you shot me down and take me with you because I was obviously going insane! (In fact Where you on the Napoleonic Wars Forum I'm sure we could have a lengthy debate as to what Wellington was and What Sir G wasn't.)

The question as to what he did, you hear that phrase allot, but I've not heard much elaboration. Brave? Yes, as a man, most interesting, as usual because of his flaws rather from the lack of, as for Roberts. I must shrug helplessly, as I know little about him, except the broad terms of his service record, but neither of the two seem particularly stand out as brilliant examples of their trade.


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Re: Wolseley or Roberts Rings?

Postby rclpillinger » 29 Jun 2014 16:59

I have recently finished reading Beyond the Reach of Empire, a book that I found exceeding well written and a delight to read, (infact I couldn't put it down, at times to my Wife's displeasure!) . The tale had a greater significance to me as my Grandfather took part in the earlier skermishs at El Teb and Tamai with the Tenth Royal Hussars on their way home from India in February, March 1884.

This thread has raised my curiosity about Roberts, about whom I would like to broaden my knowledge. Can anyone recommend some useful reading that will enlighten me accurately about his achievements and general military career, as well as his background. The more I think about him, the more he interests me.

Richard
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