The French General's Dog
On March 5, 1811, a combined force of Spanish and British troops
attempting to break the French investment of Cadiz was ambushed near the town
of Chiclana, leading to the Battle of Barossa.
Although an Allied tactical victory, the battle had no effect on the siege,
which would continue into the following year.
After the battle most of the wounded from both sides
languished on the field through the night and into the following day. Among them was French General de brigade Pierre Guillaume Chaudron-Rousseau, who had led a desperate attack by some grenadiers.
Now the general had a white poodle, which he had left behind
in his quarters when his troops moved out to take part in the battle. When the French troops streamed back to their
camp, the general was naturally not among them.
Wondering what had happened to his master, the poodle went to look for
him. Amazingly, despite the onset of
darkness and a field littered with dead and wounded men and animals, the dog
found the general. When burial parties
arrived the following day, the dog was found beside his master's body. He accompanied the body after it had been
collected, and while arrangements were being made for a proper burial. When the general was finally interred, the
dog lay down on the grave. He would probably
have perished there were it not for the kindness of British Lt. Gen. Sir Thomas
Graham, who had commanded the troops that had slain his master.
Graham, who had ordered that Chaudron-Rousseau be given a
proper military burial, in deference to his rank (common soldiers were usually
just dumped in a pit), approached the dog.
Speaking kindly to the animal, the general coaxed him from the
grave. Renamed Fuss, the dog became the
general's close companion. Fuss followed
his new master throughout the wars and
later settled with Graham at his home in Perthshire, where he died many
Despite his long association with Sir Thomas, however, Fuss
never became a proper Briton, remaining, in the general's words, always "A
Frenchman and an ass."
By the outbreak of the Civil War the Kings of Massachusetts,
New York, and later Wisconsin were among the most distinguished of American
families. As a young man Richard King (1718-1775),
a prosperous Massachusetts
farmer and merchant, had taken part as a volunteer in the Louisbourg Expedition
of 1748. His son, Rufus (1755-1827)
served as a militia officer for a time during the American Revolution, rising
to major, represented Massachusetts in Congress under the Articles of
Confederation and was a member of the Constitutional Convention, before going
on to become a senator from New York. Rufus’
son Charles (b. 1789), had served as a volunteer in the War of 1812, and then
pursued a career in journalism and
politics before becoming President of Columbia University in 1848. Charles’
son, Rufus (b. 1814), had graduated from West Point
(1833), and later went on to a career in business and politics, first in New York, where he was
for several years adjutant general, and then in Wisconsin.
At the outbreak of the Civil War Rufus King was the U.S. minister-designate
to the Papal States, but forewent his foreign posting to become a brigadier
general, first in the Wisconsin militia and then in the volunteers, while his
eldest son, Rufus King, Jr. (b. 1838), went off to war as a private in the
famed 7th New York Militia, and shortly received a direct commission
as a lieutenant in the Regular Army.
During the war elder Rufus King formed what would later
become known as the "Iron Brigade," but otherwise had a lackluster
military career; while commanding a division during the Second Bull Run
Campaign he did so poorly he was charged with dereliction of duty and shortly relegated
to administrative and court martial service until he resumed his posting in
Rome in 1863, and later helped arrange the return of John Wilkes Booth's
co-conspirator John Surratt to the United States. The younger Rufus served as an artillery
officer until the end of the war, rising to battery commander before leaving
the Army with a brevet as a major.
But there was a third King in the army during the war, for
the younger Rufus had a brother, Charles (b. 1844). When he was just 12, young Charles served as
a guidon bearer in the Wisconsin militia. Only 16 when the Civil War broke out, Charles
briefly served as a drummer and orderly in his father’s brigade, until he won an
appointment to West Point in 1862, about the
time his father finally went off to be Minister to the Vatican.
Charles graduated from the Military Academy
in 1866, and was commissioned in the artillery.
In early 1870 he was promoted to first lieutenant, and later that year
managed a transfer to the 5th Cavalry. The youngest King saw extensive service on the
frontier, notably during the Great Sioux War, during which he was wounded at
Slim Buttes (September 9–10, 1876). His wound making it difficult to perform
some duties, Charles was assigned as regimental adjutant, but he retired for
disability as a captain in 1879.
Meanwhile, Charles King had developed an interesting
avocation. Hobbies were by no means
unknown among officers in the frontier army.
Duty in the west was often mind-numbing; Hollywood to the contrary,
Indian wars were quite rare. Officers
could spend years on isolated posts with almost literally nothing to do;
between April of 1865 and August of 1898, most of which he spent on the
frontier, Arthur MacArthur never once saw action. To relieve the boredom some officers took to
drink, and the number who died due to complications from booze was very high. Others, among them some of the most noted
Indian fighters, cultivated vegetable patches or flower gardens. Some undertook scientific or academic
pursuits, exploring local resources, researching the local plant and animal
life, or doing ethnological or linguistic studies among the Indians. Although he saw more action than most, Charles
King began to write fiction.
Well before leaving the Army, King had begun to publish
occasional short stories and novels, usually based on people and events he
encountered in the course of his military career, which he had carefully noted
in his diary
Once having left the Army, King became a full time
professional writer, though taking time out to serve a hitch as a brigadier
general of volunteers during the Spanish-American War, served under fire in the
Philippine War, and was later Adjutant General of Wisconsin during World War I.
Altogether King, wrote 250 short stories and 38 novels about
military life in the west, plus 34 other books, both fiction and non-fiction –
27 of his novels went into multiple printings – not to mention scripts for
stage plays, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, and several of early movies. Reportedly his royalties occasionally topped
$20,000 a year, an enormous sum for the times.
Several of King's works attracted favorable critical comment
as "serious literature," and one critic called him “The first
novelist of the American army.” His
adventure stories inspired a generation of imitators, among them Edgar Rice Boroughs,
the creator of Tarzan, and later inspired a number of notable films, including
John Ford, who populated his cavalry pictures with stock figures from King's
works, such as the lovable, and whiskey loving, Irish sergeant, the tough, but
fair officer, the green West Pointer, and so forth
In the reorganization of the National Guard following World
War I, some bureaucrats in the Army decided to remove King from the list of
officers eligible for duty. Hearing of this,
the personnel of the Wisconsin National Guard protested, and won the ear of the
Army's Deputy Chief of Staff, James G. Harbord, a tough veteran of the Indian
Wars who had commanded the 2nd Division at Belleau
Wood. Hobard concurred with
the Wisconsinites. Observing that King’s
books had inspired him and many others to join the army, he promptly had the
general restored to active reserve status.
Charles King died in 1933, still serving as Adjutant General
of Wisconsin, well over 70 years after having first donned the uniform.