London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1915. Third edition, only printing. Hardcover. This is the Shilling Library edition of Churchill's second book. The River War recounts the experiences and reflections of a young Winston Churchill – then still just an itinerant cavalry officer and war correspondent - concerning British involvement in the Sudan.
Bibliographically the third edition (after the first of 1899 and the second, abridged and revised edition of 1902), this edition was billed as a “cheap edition” during the First World War - a momentous time for Churchill that saw him serve both in the Cabinet and on the Front and that nearly cost him both his political and corporeal lives. It was published in August 1915. Three months earlier Churchill had been forced to resign from the Admiralty after being scapegoated for military disaster in the Dardanelles. Three months after this edition was published, Churchill was serving as a lieutenant colonel, leading a battalion in the trenches on the Western Front.
This edition is a small, attractive book measuring 6.25 x 4.25 inches, bound in a bright blue cloth with blind rule bordered front cover, gilt-printed spine, gilt top edges, and illustrated endpapers. Though a small edition, it retains the full text of the 1902 abridged and revised edition (upon which all subsequent editions for 120 years were based) and includes numerous maps. The edition proved fragile and surviving copies typically show pronounced wear, the binding often sunned and loose with cracked hinges, the contents often spotted and toned.
This copy is very good plus. The blue cloth binding remains bright and clean, the spine only very slightly darkened, the spine gilt still vivid, and light shelf wear primarily confined to hinges and extremities. The contents are atypically bright for the edition, the gilt top edges a bit dusty but still bright. We find just a trivial hint of spotting confined to the endpapers and the otherwise clean fore edges. The endpapers show customary transfer browning from the pastedown glue. The sole previous ownership mark is contemporary; inked on the front free endpaper recto is "Frank Halliday ’16.”
In 1883, Mahdist forces of messianic leader Mohammed Ahmed overwhelmed the Egyptian army of British commander William Hicks and Britain ordered withdrawal from the Sudan. In 1885, General Gordon famously lost his life in a doomed defense of 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 young Winston Churchill, who participated in decisive defeat of the Mahdist forces and the last "genuine" cavalry charge of the British army during the battle of Omdurman in September 1898.
Writing about the British campaign in the Sudan, Churchill - a young officer in a colonial British army - is unusually sympathetic to the Mahdist forces and critical of Imperial cynicism and cruelty. 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. The text is arresting, insightful, powerfully descriptive, and of enduring relevance.
Reference: Cohen A2.3, Woods/ICS A2(c), Langworth p.32. Item #006875