The Richmond Special Legionnaires

Officially commissioned in January of 1863, The Richmond Special Legionnaires was a secret Confederate army created for a single mission: a sneak attack against the Federal capital and the conquest thereof.



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History of the Outfit:

The seeds for the R.S.L. were planted in December of 1862 when British Prime Minister, Viscount Palmerston, met secretly with Queen Victoria in the Robing Room of the British Parliamentary Palace.  There he proposed what was later categorized as an “ill-conceived” and “stupid” plan to regain America for the British Empire by (Phase One) aiding the South in its bid to divide the US, and then (Phase Two) individually conquering the resultant severely weakened constituents.

Queen & Palmerston

Although the plot never achieved its ultimate goal, Phase One (or “Operation Helping Hand”, as it was presented to Confederate President Jefferson Davis) saw the clandestine importation of 30,000 British mercenaries, along with rifles, ammunition, artillery, and other war matériel into Texas by way of Mexico.  From thence the force journeyed to a clandestine training camp near Massanutten Mountain in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, where it was outfitted in Confederate uniforms and joined by 4,000 native Southern troops who were especially familiar with the environs in which they were to operate.

Sin gripping gloves

Major General Sinclair Whittier


At the helm of this hybrid army was Major General Sinclair Whittier.  It had evidently been difficult in the honor-obsessed South to find a qualified commander willing to accept a assignment that by definition was to be “underhanded,” and Whittier, an otherwise undistinguished officer, had been advanced two ranks in order to fill the post.


Though strategically speaking, the plan for Washington’s conquest seemed all but foolproof (the Legionnaires were to attack the unsuspecting capital after the bulk of the US Army had been safely lured into Pennsylvania), from the get-go, the R.S.L. itself proved a bit of an albatross.  Training in the isolated camp, while essential, lasted longer than was ideal as the Confederate government bided its time, waiting for the perfect time to strike.  As the months dragged on with no set deployment date, however, the men began to get stir crazy. This situation was additionally exacerbated in that the Southern troops did not mesh well with the British mercenaries, who, like most Englishmen, comported themselves with an undisguised swagger of superiority.


Tea: did the lack thereof contribute to the R.S.L.’s defeat?

Furthermore, as was fairly universal in both US and CS armies, the troops’ rations did not include tea – a substance from which the British soon began to experience violent pangs of withdrawal.  The unrest caused by these exigencies left the under-experienced Whittier with a barely manageable “clusterfuck”.


By late June, when the R.S.L. finally received its marching orders, the situation was ripe for disaster.  Still, as the only obstacle between that army and it’s (and England’s) goal of winning the Civil War in favor of the South was the tiny 13th Rhode Island, it is nothing short of a miracle that it was prevented from succeeding.

Click on the player below to watch an excerpt from the documentary and hear an an entry from Major General Whittier’s diary regarding the R.S.L.

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