Narrative Summary of Real Soldiers of Fortune

Overview: This book is a collection of biographical sketches of real-life Soldiers of Fortune from the 19th century. I, the author, take the reader through the lives of these men, focusing on their varied experiences, motivations, and struggles as they fought for different causes and countries. The book delves into their personal lives, their military campaigns, their unique personalities, and the circumstances that shaped their destinies.

Main Parts: The book is divided into sections dedicated to different Soldiers of Fortune, each providing a detailed account of their lives and exploits. The narrative follows a chronological order, highlighting key events, campaigns, and challenges they faced. Each part examines their motivations, their methods, and their successes and failures in their chosen field.

View on Life: The book showcases a variety of standpoints on life and how to live it.

  • The Romantic Idealist: Many of these Soldiers of Fortune were driven by a deep-seated desire for adventure and a yearning for a life outside the constraints of ordinary society. They saw war and conflict as opportunities for personal glory and fulfillment.
  • The Nationalist: For some, their motivations were rooted in a strong sense of patriotism and loyalty to a particular cause or country. They fought for what they believed in, even when it meant defying their own governments or risking their lives.
  • The Opportunist: Others saw war and conflict as a way to make a living, seeking wealth, power, and social recognition through military service. They were willing to fight for any cause that offered them the best opportunities.

Scenarios and Situations: The book presents a multitude of scenarios and situations encountered by these Soldiers of Fortune.

  • Military Campaigns: The text features accounts of various military campaigns and battles, including the Sepoy Mutiny, the Italian Wars of Unification, the American Civil War, the Carlist Wars in Spain, the Egyptian-Sudan Wars, and the Boer Wars.
  • Filibustering Expeditions: The book details several filibustering expeditions, such as William Walker’s attempts to establish a slave-holding empire in Central America, and the Goicouria-Christo expedition to Cuba.
  • Imprisonment and Escape: Several of these men experienced capture and imprisonment, often facing harsh conditions and the constant threat of death. The book narrates their attempts to escape, demonstrating their resourcefulness, courage, and determination.
  • Exploration and Discovery: The text highlights Burnham’s expeditions into Africa and Mexico, showcasing his skills as a scout, explorer, and mining expert.

Challenges: The Soldiers of Fortune faced numerous challenges in their lives.

  • Combat: They endured the physical and psychological hardships of war, facing enemy forces, dangerous terrain, and the constant threat of injury or death.
  • Disease and Injury: They often suffered from illnesses and injuries due to the harsh conditions of the campaigns, the lack of sanitation, and the dangers of the wild.
  • Betrayal and Mistrust: Some faced betrayals from allies and even their own governments, highlighting the often fickle nature of political alliances and the constant threat of treachery.
  • Lack of Recognition and Support: These men often risked their lives and their futures fighting for causes that were ultimately forgotten or disavowed by their home countries.

Conflict: The book focuses on several major conflicts:

  • The Conflict between Idealism and Reality: The text explores the clash between the Soldiers of Fortune’s dreams of glory and adventure and the harsh realities of war and the complexities of international politics.
  • The Conflict between Individualism and Authority: The book showcases the struggles of these men to reconcile their desire for freedom and autonomy with the demands of military discipline and government policies.
  • The Conflict between Personal Ambition and National Interest: Several Soldiers of Fortune faced ethical dilemmas, often pitting their personal ambitions against what they perceived as the best interests of their own countries.

Plot: The book lacks a single overarching plot, but instead features multiple, interwoven biographical narratives. Each Soldier of Fortune’s story follows a distinct arc, showcasing their rise to prominence, their adventures, their challenges, and their eventual downfall or retirement.

Point of View: The book is written from the perspective of an objective narrator, providing a factual and insightful account of the Soldiers of Fortune’s lives. The author incorporates primary sources, including letters, diaries, and memoirs, to provide a more intimate and nuanced understanding of these men.

How it’s Written: The author uses a descriptive and engaging style, drawing upon colorful language and anecdotes to bring the personalities and experiences of these Soldiers of Fortune to life. The author’s tone is respectful, even when highlighting the shortcomings or contradictions in their character.

Tone: The overall tone of the book is one of admiration, respect, and even a hint of nostalgia for a bygone era of adventure and daring. The author maintains a balanced perspective, acknowledging the flaws of these men while celebrating their courage, determination, and the uniqueness of their lives.

Life Choices: The Soldiers of Fortune made crucial choices that shaped their lives:

  • Embracing a Life of Adventure: They made the conscious decision to abandon conventional careers and embrace a life of risk, uncertainty, and constant change.
  • Seeking out Conflicts: They deliberately sought out wars and conflicts, driven by their desire for adventure, a sense of purpose, or a need to prove themselves.
  • Choosing Loyalty: They faced dilemmas when choosing which causes or countries to serve, often making decisions based on personal beliefs, financial opportunities, or a sense of loyalty.

Lessons: The book offers several life lessons:

  • The Value of Courage and Determination: The lives of these men illustrate the power of courage, determination, and resilience in the face of adversity.
  • The Importance of Personal Responsibility: The text reveals that individual actions, even in the midst of war and chaos, have significant consequences.
  • The Futility of War: The accounts of these men demonstrate the human cost of war and conflict, showcasing the suffering, loss, and tragedy inherent in armed conflict.
  • The Dangers of Blind Ambition: The book warns against the dangers of unchecked ambition and the potential consequences of pursuing personal glory at the expense of ethical principles.


  • Major-General Henry Ronald Douglas MacIver: An enigmatic and highly decorated soldier of fortune, MacIver served in numerous conflicts throughout the world, fighting for eighteen different flags. He was known for his incredible bravery, his determination, and his adventurous spirit.
  • Baron James Harden-Hickey: A colorful and unconventional figure, Harden-Hickey was a self-proclaimed king who claimed the derelict island of Trinidad in the South Atlantic. He was driven by a romantic vision of kingship and a desire to escape from the constraints of modern society.
  • Winston Spencer Churchill: A highly ambitious and charismatic young man, Churchill had a successful career as a soldier, war correspondent, author, and politician. He was known for his audacity, his intelligence, and his ability to exploit opportunities to his advantage.
  • Captain Philo Norton McGiffin: A graduate of the US Naval Academy, McGiffin sought out a career in the Chinese Navy after being denied a commission in his own country. He was known for his skill as a naval officer, his courage in combat, and his unwavering loyalty to his adopted country.
  • General William Walker: A controversial and ambitious figure, Walker led several filibustering expeditions into Mexico and Nicaragua, aiming to establish a slave-holding empire in Central America. He was known for his military prowess, his strict discipline, and his unwavering belief in his own destiny.
  • Major Frederick Russell Burnham: A renowned scout, soldier, explorer, and mining expert, Burnham was known for his exceptional tracking skills, his courage, and his ability to navigate treacherous terrain and outsmart his enemies. He served with distinction in the Matabele Wars in Rhodesia and the Boer Wars in South Africa.


  • The Quest for Adventure and Glory: The book explores the human desire for adventure and recognition, showcasing how this drive led many men to seek out conflict and challenge themselves in extreme situations.
  • The Nature of War and Conflict: The text delves into the complexities of war, examining its human cost, its impact on the lives of individuals, and the conflicting ideologies that fuel it.
  • The Ethics of Power and Authority: The book raises questions about the legitimacy of authority, the responsibility of those in power, and the dangers of unchecked ambition.
  • The Relationship between Identity and Nationality: The text showcases the struggles of these men to reconcile their individual identities with their nationalities and allegiances, particularly when serving foreign countries or engaging in activities that conflict with their home nations’ policies.


  • The Importance of Courage and Determination: The text emphasizes the importance of courage, determination, and resilience in achieving one’s goals, even when faced with insurmountable obstacles.
  • The Need for Personal Responsibility: The book underscores the idea that individuals are responsible for their actions and must face the consequences of their choices, regardless of the circumstances.
  • The Importance of Ethical Decision-Making: The text showcases the significance of making ethical decisions, even when faced with challenging situations or conflicting incentives.

Intentions of the Characters:

  • Soldiers of Fortune: Many were driven by a desire for adventure, personal glory, and financial gain. They were often willing to fight for any cause that offered them the best opportunities.
  • William Walker: He sought to establish a slave-holding empire in Central America, motivated by his belief in the legitimacy of slavery and his ambition for power.
  • Frederick Russell Burnham: His intentions were to serve his country by utilizing his exceptional scouting skills and to explore new frontiers, driven by a deep love for the outdoors and a desire to contribute to the advancement of civilization.

Unique Vocabulary:

  • Filibuster: A person engaged in an unauthorized military expedition, particularly one aimed at seizing territory or overthrowing a government.
  • Vortrekkers: Boer pioneers who migrated into Southern Africa during the 19th century.
  • Spoor: The trail or track left by an animal or person.
  • Donga: A gully or ravine, often used for shelter or camouflage.
  • Assegai: A traditional African spear.
  • Umlimo: A spiritual leader or prophet among the Matabele people.
  • Mealies: A South African term for maize, or Indian corn.
  • Trek Wagon: A covered wagon used by the Boers during their migrations and for transportation.


  • MacIver’s Escape from Indians: While travelling through Texas after the American Civil War, MacIver was captured by hostile Indians. He spent three months as a prisoner until he managed to escape into Mexico.
  • Harden-Hickey’s Proclamation as King: Driven by a desire to escape from the mundane world of business and to create his own kingdom, Harden-Hickey proclaimed himself King James the First of the Principality of Trinidad. He created a royal court, a system of government, and even designed postage stamps and a royal crown.
  • Churchill’s Escape from Pretoria: During the Boer War, Churchill was captured by the Boers and imprisoned in Pretoria. He escaped by scaling a wall and navigating through the city and the surrounding wilderness.
  • McGiffin’s Examination for the Chinese Navy: After being denied a commission in the US Navy, McGiffin travelled to China seeking employment. He persuaded the Viceroy to grant him a position by passing a rigorous examination in all branches of naval science.
  • Walker’s Defeat at Rivas: Walker’s first attempt to conquer Nicaragua ended in defeat when his forces were overwhelmed by a larger enemy army. He was forced to flee into the jungle and ultimately surrender to the US troops.
  • Burnham’s Rescue of Wilson’s Patrol: Burnham, as a scout for the British South Africa Company, played a crucial role in attempting to rescue a patrol led by Major Alan Wilson that was surrounded and wiped out by the Matabele warriors. His efforts to reach the patrol and warn their commander of the impending disaster saved his own life but failed to save those he was sent to aid.


  • The Appeal of Adventure and Risk: The book explores the idea that a life of adventure and risk can be deeply appealing to some individuals, even if it comes at a high personal cost.
  • The Power of Individual Will: The text emphasizes the potential of individual determination and action to shape events and even change the course of history.
  • The Importance of Personal Belief Systems: The book reveals how personal belief systems, particularly in the realm of politics and ideology, can drive individuals to take extraordinary actions.

Facts and Findings:

  • The Role of the Accessory Transit Company: The book discusses the crucial role played by the Accessory Transit Company in facilitating travel across Nicaragua, and how William Walker’s seizure of the company’s assets and steamers led to his downfall.
  • The Impact of Filibustering on Central America: The book explores the impact of filibustering expeditions, particularly those led by William Walker, on the political landscape of Central America.


  • Walker’s Forces in Nicaragua: The book mentions that William Walker had a force of 2,000 to 3,500 men at his peak, with a total of 10,000 men serving under his banner at various times.
  • Burnham’s Exploration in East Africa: Burnham explored a tract of land larger than Germany, covering a thousand miles to the borders of the Congo Basin.

Point of View: The text is written from a primarily objective point of view, providing factual accounts of the Soldiers of Fortune’s lives and exploits. The author uses a neutral tone and incorporates multiple sources to present a comprehensive and unbiased perspective on these historical figures.

Perspective: The book offers a unique perspective on the lives of individuals who lived outside the conventional norms of society and chose to dedicate their lives to a life of adventure and conflict. The text highlights the complexities of their motivations, their struggles, and the challenges they faced, providing a glimpse into a different way of life that was prevalent in the 19th century.

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