The American Civil War & the London War Correspondent

London calling.

London Walks connecting.

London Walks here with today’s London fix.

Story time. History time.

A couple of announcements first.

New walks heading your way.

Ian’s created a special he’s calling London’s Three Historic Jewish Quarters. It combines highlights of our Old Jewish Quarter walk in the East End and our Jewish London Walk in the City. In Ian’s words, he’s curated it

for those who want to unlock the full thousand-year history of London’s Jewish Communities from the mediaeval to the twentieth century in two hours. He’s created the walk by way of extending a welcoming hand to the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies conference. It’ll just run twice – on August 2nd and August 4th. It’ll go at 10.45 am on August 2nd and at 2.15 pm on August 4th. Meeting point is just outside the exit of Tower Hill Underground Station. And for the record, Ian is the guide who donates his fee to the World Jewish Relief’s Ukraine and Turkey/Syria Earthquake Crises Appeal.

Ian’s a retired Senior Partner of a City of London International Law Firm. Busy time for the cohort of London Walks guides who are lawyers because Tom, whose a barrister, and Joanne, who’s a criminal defence lawyer, have teamed up to create a Lawyer-guided Inns of Court Walk. We’re calling it an Inns of Court Exclusive. It’ll be a guaranteed small group outing. The size of a jury plus four alternates. Yes, the maximum group size will be sixteen people. In short, it’ll be an insider’s take with the chance to get to grips with our legal system, ask as many questions as you like and to view court proceedings (subject to court listings).

The first one will take place on Friday, August 18th at 10.15 am from Chancery Lane Underground Station, exit 3. You want one of those sixteen places you will have to book. Go to – bring up the calendar on the right hand side of the home page, put in August 18th and there it is, awaiting your reservation.

Now let’s do what we mainly do here – let’s do some history. Let’s get started by crossing the Atlantic. Head to the Commonwealth of Virginia. About 30 miles south-southwest of Washington DC.

Just north of the city of Manassas. Perhaps better known as Bull Run.

It’s July 21st, 1861. And anyone who knows their American history will know that that was the date and the place of the first major battle of the American Civil War.

The Federals – the Northern army – went into the battle supremely confident. Treated it like it was a lark. A holiday outing. As did Congressmen and other members of Washington society. Accompanied by ladies with picnic hampers they came out to watch the fun. Hours later the carefree lark was transmuted into something out of a nightmare. The men in grey – Johnny Reb – badly mauled Lincoln’s army. Out of the roiling cauldron of dust and smoke the Federals turned and ran. The civilians heard the soldiers shout, “Turn back, turn back, we are whipped.”

The men from Alabama and Georgia and Mississippi and Virginia were convinced they’d done it, the Yankees had been shown for once and for all. The war was won.

Southern independence was a fact beyond all doubt.

How else interpret the rout. And indeed the casualty figures: 481 Union soldiers were dead; 387 dead Confederates.

Add in the wounded and prisoners, the Union army had lost more than 3,000 men. The Confederates under 2,000.

In the words of the London Times, “so short has been the American union that men who saw its rise may live to see its fall.”

And the London Times is our cue. Because the Battle of Bull Run was witnessed by history’s first great war correspondent. William Howard Russell. And what a colourful character he was. Anglo-Irish he was born in County Dublin. Educated in private schools in Ireland and then Trinity College Dublin. Came to London. Was described as a middle-class Mick on the make. Read for the bar. Was for a term a junior mathematical master at Kensington grammar school, a proprietary school in Kensington Square. That tidbit is a grace note for my Kensington Walk. Mental note to self: find out which house in Kensington Square that was.

Russell was called to the bar at Middle Temple but didn’t apply himself. Wasn’t a success. Tried his hand at journalism. Caught on with the Times. And he was away. And what a career. Covered the Crimean War. In the words of his biographer, he rose like a meteor in the Crimean War. Then he was the Times’ man in India. Covered the Indian Mutiny in 1857. Next stop, America, given that the American Civil War was looming. Russell favoured the north, not least because he was opposed to slavery.

The Americans were flattered that the great man had come amongst them. One paper called him “the most famous newspaper correspondent the world has ever seen.” He wore out his welcome in no time, though. His description of the Federal retreat didn’t go down well with his hosts. Russell didn’t pull his punches, he described the retreat as a disgraceful rout.

The Americans promptly nicknamed him Bull Run Russell. He was vilified. There were death threats. He was persona non grata with the Federal Army. In today’s parlance, he wasn’t embedded with them – after Bull Run he wasn’t allowed to accompany them.

Couldn’t get close to the action, there wasn’t much point in sticking around. Less than a year later he was back in England. And then it was off to the Austro-Prussian War and then the Franco-Prussian War. And then the Anglo-Zulu War. Well, you get the idea.

It needs must be said, though, that William Howard Russell did somehow find time to sire three children on his secret mistress.

With a wave and a nod, though, I think the time has come for us to bid him farewell.

Perhaps just mention that he died at 202 Cromwell Road. That also goes onto the To-Do List in the Diary. Go to 202 Cromwell Road and see if the house is still there. I hope it is. And if it is, while I don’t know if I’ll get a chance to guide it, but if I do it’ll be fun to say, “and right here lived and died “the first and greatest of War correspondents.” That’s some accolade. And I haven’t made it up. So reads the inscription on his memorial bust in the crypt of St Paul’s.

You’ve been listening to the Today in London History podcast. Emanating from – home of London Walks, London’s signature walking tour company. London’s local, time-honoured, fiercely independent, family-owned, just-the-right-size walking tour company. And as long as we’re at it, London’s multi-award-winning walking tour company. Indeed, London’s only award-winning walking tour company.

And here’s the secret: London Walks is essentially run as a guides’ cooperative.

That’s the key to everything. It’s the reason we’re able to attract and keep the best guides in London. You can get schlubbers to do this for £20 a walk. But you cannot get world-class guides – let alone accomplished professionals.

It’s not rocket science: you get what you pay for. And just as surely, you also get what you don’t pay for.

Back in 1968 when we got started we quickly came to a fork in the road. We had to answer a searching question: Do we want to make the most money? Or do we want to be the best walking tour company in the world? You want to make the most money you go the schlubbers route. You want to be the best walking tour company in the world you do whatever you have to do to attract and keep the best guides in London – you want them guiding for you, not for somebody else. Bears repeating: the way we’re structured – a guides’ cooperative – is the key to the whole thing. It’s the reason for all those awards, it’s the reason people who know go with London Walks, it’s the reason we’ve got a big following, a lively, loyal, discerning following – quality attracts quality.

It’s the reason we’re able – uniquely –

to front our walks with distinguished


By way of example,

Stewart Purvis, the former Editor (and

subsequently CEO) of Independent

Television News. And Lisa Honan

who had a distinguished career as

diplomat (Lisa was the Governor of

St Helena, the island where Napoleon

breathed his last and, some say, had

his penis amputated – Napoleon

didn’t feel a thing – if thing’s the mot

juste – he was dead.)

Stewart and Lisa – both of them

CBEs – are just a couple of our

headline acts.

The London Walks All-Star team of

guides includes a former London

Mayor, it includes barristers (one of

them an MBE); it includes doctors,

geologists, museum curators,

archaeologists, historians, criminal

defence lawyers, university professors,

Royal Shakespeare Company actors,

a bevy of MVPs,

Oscar winners (people who’ve won

the big one, the Guide of the Year Award)… well,

you get the idea. As that travel writer

famously put it, “if this were a golf

tournament, every name on the

Leader Board would be a London

Walks guide.”

And as we put it: London Walks Guides make the new familiar and the familiar new.

And on that agreeable note…come then, let us go forward together on some great London Walks. And that’s by way of saying, Good Londoning one and all. See ya next time.

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