New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1933. First U.S. edition. Hardcover. This is the elusive U.S. first edition of Churchill's second book, increasingly scarce thus in the striking dust jacket. Originally published in England in 1899, this was one of the few Churchill books that did not see a U.S. first edition concurrent with the British. In 1933 a new edition was issued in both England and, for the first time, in the U.S. with a bibliographically significant new introduction by the author explaining that "A generation has grown up which knows little of why we are in Egypt and the Sudan.” This is one of just 1,040 U.S. first edition copies issued. Per Richard Langworth (p.35), binding was probably done in England, using English sheets and a Scribner's title page cancel, since copies are bound in the identical lilac cloth as the Eyre & Spottiswoode edition of the same year. However, the striking dust jacket is unique to this U.S. first edition, printed in red and black, bearing R. C. Woodville's dramatic illustration of the Charge of the 21st Lancers.
This copy is very good in a good dust jacket. The lilac cloth binding is clean and tight with unfaded color and sharp corners, but nonetheless shows shelf wear to the extremities, including some fraying of the cloth at the spine heel. The contents are clean; we find neither previous ownership marks nor spotting. All of the extensive maps and plans are present, and all folding maps remain properly folded. The contents are modestly age-toned, including differential toning to the endpapers that aligns with the dust jacket flaps, affirming that this copy has spent life jacketed. The dust jacket has a neatly price-clipped upper front flap, shallow loss at the spine ends, and minor loss to the corners, but is otherwise complete. The jacket shows overall soiling, toning, and wear, most conspicuous at the hinges and flap folds. Nonetheless, this is a respectable example of a scarce and striking jacket unique to the single printing of this U.S. first edition. The jacket is newly fitted with a clear, removable, archival cover.
The River War recounts Churchill's experiences and perspective on British involvement in the Sudan. The text is arresting, insightful, powerfully descriptive, and of enduring relevance. Mohammed Ahmed was a messianic Islamic leader in central and northern Sudan in the final decades of the 19th century. In 1883 the Mahdists overwhelmed the Egyptian army of British commander William Hicks, and Great Britain ordered the withdrawal of all Egyptian troops and officials from the Sudan. In 1885, General Gordon famously lost his life in a doomed defense of the capitol, Khartoum, where he had been sent to lead evacuation of Egyptian forces. Though the Mahdi died that same year, his theocracy continued until 1898, when General Kitchener reoccupied the Sudan.
With Kitchener was a very young Winston Churchill, who participated in the battle of Omdurman in September 1898, where the Mahdist forces were decisively defeated. In his book about the British campaign in the Sudan, Churchill - a young officer in a colonial British army - was unusually sympathetic to the Mahdist forces and critical of Imperial cynicism and cruelty. This is manifestly evident in the highly critical comment about Kitchener prominently quoted and bordered in red on the front face of the dust jacket – something else unique to this first U.S. edition. Here is a chief figure of the Second World War on horseback on a colonial battlefield, participating in what has been called by some the last "genuine" cavalry charge of the British Army. This work offers us the candid perspective of the future 20th century icon from the distinctly 19th century battlefields where Churchill learned to write and earned his early fame.
Reference: Cohen A2.5, Woods/ICS A2(db), Langworth p.35. Item #006654