Dispatches from the 1st Maryland Mahouts Company

Posted: January 25, 2013 by kdatherton in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , ,

Upon discovery of a letter from the King of Siam to the President of the United States offering the use of elephants, Blog Tarkin has delved into an alternate timeline and retrieved these letters describing their use during the Civil War.

Thai war elephants

The elephants as presented to us by the King of Siam

September 2nd, 1862

Dear Father and Mother,

We have at last finished training with the new beasts of war, and so I find myself with a free moment in which to let you know of our progress.  The elephant as used in the orient is a composite machine of war, and we have learned not just how to control the creatures but to use the long rifles that the Siamese use from carriages on the elephants’ backs.  I eagerly await our advances against the secessors. God willing, we will join with the Army of the Potomac by the 20th.

Nothing more at present,

March 9th, 1863

Dear Sister,

I write to you now to tell you that the only risk we have encountered so far in our campaign is that of death by boredom. McClellan had retreated from Antietam before we could arrive to press the advance, and despite our mounts leathery thick skin, Burnside refused our company the opportunity to engage. The beasts seem to not mind. The eight of them eat more oats than a company of horses, and they seemed to enjoy drills in the snow more than any god-fearing creature should. We have now been attached to General Hooker’s command, and should soon see what retribution our elephants can deliver.

Write soon,

May 14th, 1863

Dear Parents,

I take this opportunity to let you know that I am well and hope that you are as well on this glorious day.  It has been a year since we first trained with our elephants and now they have finally seen combat.  After the first move at dawn a fortnight ago it seemed that we had advanced against Lee but only to camp downhill of him.  That next morning, we woke to cannon fire ranging down from the hill into our encampment. Captain Norton had told us not to expect an advance, but Hooker seems to have regained his courage over the night, and so we broke from the treeline and headed straight towards the church on the hill. The secesh had never before seen such creatures, and while their spies may have told them of our presence, the sight itself sent many running from their right lines. The confederate cannons, trained for our camps, were slow to adjust, and the scattered shots arrayed against us made little impact on the thick hide of our beasts. Pvt John, that wild-eyed boy I wrote to you about in the last letter, even managed to fire the jingal while we charged, and the rest of us had no sooner emptied our carbines before we were in pistol range. Behind us a couple hundred paces back came the advancing boys in blue, almost as stunned by our success as were the confederates.  For the afternoon of the 1st, we fought hard to hold the hill, but with much artillery captured and a path cleared to advance the battle was well won.  Hooker personally sent us to camp on the 2nd, so that we could tend our mounts.  If we keep up this pace, surely the war will be won by Christmas.

I remain your fond and affectionate son,

January 28th, 1864

Cousin Morris,

I am enjoying good health, but wish I could say the same for our elephants.  After their triumphant day at Chancellorsville, we pursued with Hooker’s army the remnants of Lee’s force, as best we could. They proved illusive, but nowhere we marched was free from sharpshooters. D’Artagnan was the first to fall, from a minnie ball to his left eye.  He broke for the woods, dislodging Moore in the process and nearly escaping our chains. We held him back, and he marched with us further into Virginia, but his now-blind eye grew worse and worse. We buried him in September.  The loss was felt not only among the men, but the beasts too seemed to mourn D’Artagnan’s passing. After months of campaigning without encountering Lee’s army, there had been talk of Lincoln recalling Hooker, until a sharpshooter answered the question for us. We are now under Meade’s command, and he has a least chosen fortification over snipe hunting. With no enemy to face us but death in every forest, it is hard to see how this war will end.

Your cousin,

July 4th, 1864

Dear Mother,

I take this time to inform you that I am well. My dispatch must be short – Lee’s army has appeared South of Richmond to engage Grant, and General Meade has finally seen fit for us to leave our fortifications and take the fight right to Davis’ doorstep. We are now only six elephants – Planchet passed during the last snow of winter, and was buried on the southern side of the Potomac. We have also given up the jingal long rifles. They are too slow to fire back at sharpshooters. Instead, we have tried 3-pounders. Artillery is the way of things, and we can get the cannons first this way. Tell Sarah and Mary that I am well, and let little Harris know that I will finish this war before he has to fight it.

Good night,

March 2, 1865

My Darling Wife,

I can barely count the number of lonesome nights I have had since this campaign began. Nor can I keep track of how many engagements we have undertaken to punish the rebels for their betrayal of our Union. It is a good fight, but even the beasts seem to be tiring of war. With Grant from the West and Meade from the North, we have pushed hard through to Richmond, but as you know Lee held Sherman’s army in South Carolina and the rebel government has followed Davis and fled south. The campaign looks set to continue until we can break Lee himself, as secessor government now follows the general.

I wish to tell you of one moment. We had left Richardson two days before, with our Meade staying as military governor and the 1st Maryland Mahouts now joined to Grant’s army. We followed the rail line south to Petersburg, hoping to take from the west the defenses that had held so long against attacks from the east.  With no trains allowed out of Richmond, we assumed the rail line would go unused until Meade sent down reinforcements, but sure enough chugging north came an armored car. We were ordered back, Grant intending to set up artillery to end this menace, when Pvt Stacks ordered Porthos into a charge towards the tracks. The rebels fired as they approached but their shot did as little harm to our creature as our shots would have done to their train. I assumed this was only to draw fire but sure enough Porthos slammed full body into the side of the engine, derailing it as the momentum sent the rest of the rain over poor Stacks and Porthos himself. With only a handful of casualties, Stacks ended the counter-offensive towards Richmond.

We will win this war and be united soon,


April 5th, 1865

Dear Father,

I hope this letter finds you well, as I send it alive but in poor spirits. I regret to inform you that the Might Mahouts are now no more.  While we had lost three of our mounts before, nothing prepared us for what Lee had at the Second Battle of  Rivers Bridge. With Grant from the north and Sherman from the west, Lee attempted to break through a roughly-laid set of bridges over the swamp, and we were placed directly opposite his main thrust. Our charge was slowed by the bog into a crawl, with the mud too thin to stand on and the water too thick to swim through. Our elephants could navigate it but the cavalry that tried to follow became stuck and soon we found ourselves alone in a swamp full of secesh. It was then that Lee’s cannons rang out, felling Grimaud and Mosqueton in the first volley. We fired back from our three pounders, but a confederate company advanced on us, wild yells from their throats and a made gleam in their eyes. We fired on them, and as we braced for return shots we realized that they had already fixed bayonets. With our mounts waste deep, confederate blades found elephant belly, and while we killed as many as we could, by the time relief troops came the entirety of His Majesty Monguts’ gift was beyond saving. Pvt Barnum took it particularly hard.

The battle was won elsewhere, and at last Lee surrendered in a church not far from that swamp. It is good to finally be done with this business, and I hope someday to thank Mongut in person myself.

Your affectionate son,
Townsend Harris


Many references were consulted to make this piece, but by far the most helpful was this Civil War Letters Archive.

  1. […] free peoples to reach a negotiated settlement. Consistent with BlogTarkin’s recent tack towards alt-history, further poliscifi researchers may find it useful to conceptualize alternative trajectories of the […]

  2. J.W. Wartick says:

    This really seems like the foundation for an alternate-history book. Calling Turtledove! (Or maybe you should write one yourself!) Great work.

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