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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of Charles Williams, Journalist & War Correspondent

Charles Frederick Williams, Scottish-Irish writer, journalist, and war correspondent, is born in Coleraine, County Londonderry on May 4, 1838.

Williams is descended on his father’s side from the yeomen of Worcestershire who grew their orchards and tilled their land in the parishes of Tenbury and Mamble. His mother’s side descended from Scottish settlers who planted Ulster in 1610. He is educated at Belfast Academy in Belfast and at a Greenwich private school. Later on, he goes to the southern United States for health purposes and takes part in a filibustering expedition to Nicaragua, where he sees some hard fighting and reportedly earns the reputation of a blockade runner. He is separated from his party and is lost in the forest for six days. Fevered, he discovers a small boat and manages to return to the nearest British settlement. He serves in the London Irish Rifles with the rank of Sergeant.

Williams returns to England in 1859, where he becomes a volunteer, and a leader writer for the London Evening Herald. In October 1859, he begins a connection with The Standard which lasts until 1884. From 1860 until 1863, he works as a first editor for the Evening Standard and from 1882 until 1884, as editor of The Evening News.

Williams is best known for being a war correspondent. For The Standard, he is at the headquarters of the Armée de la Loire, a French army, during the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. He is also one of the first correspondents in Strasbourg, where the French forces are defeated. In the summer and autumn of 1877, he is a correspondent to Ahmed Muhtar Pasha who commands the Turkish forces in Armenia during the Russo-Turkish War (1877-78). He remains constantly at the Turkish front, and his letters are the only continuous series that reaches England. In 1878, he publishes this series in a revised and extended form as The Armenian Campaign: A Diary of the Campaign on 1877, in Armenia and Koordistan, which is a large and accurate record of the war, even though it is pro-Turkish. From Armenia, he follows Muhtar Pasha to European Turkey and describes his defence of the lines of Constantinople against the Imperial Russian Army. He is with General Mikhail Skobelev at the headquarters of the Imperial Russian Army when the Treaty of San Stefano is signed in March 1878.

At the end of 1878, Williams is in Afghanistan reporting the war, and in 1879 publishes the Notes on the Operations in Lower Afghanistan, 1878–9, with Special Reference to Transport.

In the autumn of 1884, representing the Central News Agency of London, Williams joins the Nile Expedition, a British mission to relieve Major-General Charles George Gordon in Khartoum, Sudan. His is the first dispatch to tell of the loss of Gordon. While in Sudan, he quarrels with Henry H. S. Pearse of The Daily News, who later unsuccessfully sues him. After leaving The Standard in 1884, he works with the Morning Advertiser, but later works with the Daily Chronicle as a war correspondent. He is the only British correspondent to be with the Bulgarian Land Forces under Prince Alexander of Battenberg during the Serbo-Bulgarian War in November 1885. In the Greco-Turkish War of 1897, he is attached to the Greek forces in Thessaly. His last war reporting is on Herbert Kitchener‘s Sudanese campaign of 1898.

In 1887, Williams meets with United States General of the Army, General Philip Sheridan in Washington, D.C. to update the general on European affairs and the prospects of upcoming conflicts.

Williams tries to run as a Conservative Party candidate for the House of Commons representative of Leeds West, a borough in Leeds, West Yorkshire, during the 1885 United Kingdom general election. He fails to win the seat against Liberal candidate Herbert Gladstone. He serves as the Chairman of the London district of the Institute of Journalists from 1893 to 1894. He founds the London Press Club where he also serves as its President from 1896 to 1897.

Williams dies in Brixton, London on February 9, 1904 and is buried in Nunhead Cemetery in London. His funeral is well attended by the press as well as members of the military including Field Marshal Sir Evelyn Wood.

(Pictured: Portrait of Charles Frederick Williams, London President, The Institute of Journalists, from The Illustrated London News, September 30, 1893 issue)


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Birth of Januarius MacGahan, Journalist & Correspondent

januarius-macgahanJanuarius Aloysius MacGahan, American journalist and war correspondent for the New York Herald and The Daily News, is born near New Lexington, Ohio on June 12, 1844. His articles describing the massacre of Bulgarian civilians by Turkish soldiers and irregular volunteers in 1876 creates public outrage in Europe, and are a major factor in preventing Britain from supporting Turkey in the Russo–Turkish War of 1877–78, which leads to Bulgaria gaining independence from the Ottoman Empire.

MacGahan’s father is an immigrant from Ireland who had served on the Northumberland, the ship which took Napoleon into exile on Saint Helena. He moves to St. Louis, where he briefly works as a teacher and as a journalist. There he meets his cousin, General Philip Sheridan, an American Civil War hero also of Irish parentage, who convinces him to study law in Europe. He sails to Brussels in December 1868.

MacGahan does not get a law degree, but he discovers that he has a gift for languages, learning French and German. He runs short of money and is about to return to America in 1870 when the Franco-Prussian War breaks out. Sheridan happens to be an observer with the German Army, and he uses his influence to persuade the European editor of the New York Herald to hire MacGahan as a war correspondent with the French Army.

MacGahan’s vivid articles from the front lines describing the stunning defeat of the French Army win him a large following, and many of his dispatches to the Herald are reprinted by European newspapers. When the war ends, he interviews French leader Léon Gambetta and Victor Hugo and, in March 1871, he hurries to Paris and is one of the first foreign correspondents to report on the uprising of the Paris Commune. He is arrested by the French military and nearly executed, and is only rescued through the intervention of the U.S. Minister to France Elihu B. Washburne.

In 1871 MacGahan is assigned as the Herald‘s correspondent to Saint Petersburg. He learns Russian, mingles with the Russian military and nobility, covers the Russian tour of General William Tecumseh Sherman and meets his future wife, Varvara Elagina, whom he marries in 1873. In 1874 he spends ten months in Spain, covering the Third Carlist War.

In 1876 MacGahan quarrels with James Gordon Bennett Jr., the publisher of the New York Herald, and leaves the newspaper. He is invited by his friend, Eugene Schuyler, the American Consul-General in Constantinople, to investigate reports of large-scale atrocities committed by the Turkish Army following the failure of an attempted uprising by Bulgarian nationalists in April 1876. He obtains a commission from The Daily News, then the leading liberal newspaper in England, and leaves for Bulgaria on July 23, 1876.

MacGahan reports that the Turkish soldiers have forced some of the villagers into the church, then the church is burned and survivors tortured to learn where they have hidden their treasures. He says that of a population of seven thousand, only two thousand survive. According to his account, fifty-eight villages in Bulgaria are destroyed, five monasteries demolished, and fifteen thousand people in all massacred. These reports, published first in The Daily News, and then in other papers, cause widespread popular outrage against Turkey in Britain. The government of British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, a supporter of Turkey, tries to minimize the massacres and says that the Bulgarians are equally to blame, but his arguments are refuted by the newspaper accounts of MacGahan.

In the wake of the massacres and atrocities committed by the Ottoman forces during the suppression of the April Uprising, as well as centuries-long conflicts between Russia and Turkey in Crimea, the Russian Government, stirred by anti-Turkish and Pan-Slavism sentiment, prepare to invade the Ottoman Empire, and declare war on it on April 24, 1877. The Turkish Government of Sultan Abdul Hamid II appeals for help to Britain, its traditional ally against Russia, but the British government responds that it can not intervene “because of the state of public feeling.”

MacGahan is assigned as a war correspondent for The Daily News and, thanks to his friendship with General Skobelev, the Russian commander, rides with the first units of the Russian Army as it crosses the Danube into Bulgaria. He covers all the major battles of the Russo–Turkish War, including the Siege of Plevna and the Battle of Shipka Pass. He reports on the final defeat of the Turkish armies and is present at the signing of the Treaty of San Stefano, which ends the war.

MacGahan is in Constantinople, preparing to travel to Berlin for the conference that determines the final borders of Bulgaria, when he catches typhoid fever. He dies on June 9, 1878, and is buried in the Greek cemetery, in the presence of diplomats, war correspondents, and General Skobelev. Five years later his body is returned to the United States and reburied in New Lexington and a statue is erected in his honor by a society of Bulgarian Americans.