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The Story of Frederick Townsend Ward

by Caleb Carr

Pub Date: Aug. 27th, 1991
ISBN: 0-87113-462-4
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

 From novelist-turned-historian Carr (Casing the Promised Land, 1979), a thorough but plodding biography of American soldier-of- fortune Frederick Townsend Ward. During the 1860's, Ward's brief but meteoric career in the service of the Chinese emperor gave him exceptional influence and status in a society largely closed to foreigners. Ward first appears as a capable mate on American clipper ships engaging in the brisk China trade, with little other than his boldness to suggest the generalissimo of the Ch'ing dynasty he was to become in its protracted struggle against the Taiping Rebellion (1851-64). Taking advantage of Chinese fears in the treaty port of Shanghai, Ward raised a company of foreign irregulars, trained them speedily, and threw them into battle--with less-than-inspiring results. Suffering a bloody rout in an assault on a rebel-held city close to Shanghai, he quickly changed tactics, recruiting Chinese for his main force and closely drilling them in Western methods so that within months he enjoyed a string of successes, becoming known internationally as the brilliant commander of the Ever Victorious Army. His exploits became the stuff of legend, and by the time he fell mortally wounded in battle in September 1862, his place in Chinese military history was assured. Carr, meticulous and scholarly throughout, debunks myths as much as possible given the scant information that survives about Ward, but fails to rise above his sources to provide a compelling account. Solid under the circumstances, but disappointing given Ward's persona and his incredible feats: less the measure of the man than a colorless reassembling of his deeds. (Photographs--not seen.)