West Point's Foreign Legion

The following is a "Gray Matter" article written by the editor of West Point's alumni publications, Julian Olejniczak, LTC(R), Association of Graduates, United States Military Academy , aka, "Your humble servant, J. Phoenix, Esquire", .

It was published electronically on December 7, 2006 to "Gray Matter" email subscribers. To subscribe, go to:

West Point's Foreign Legion

Many graduates have served with foreign armies as allies on combined staffs, liaison officers, advisors, military attaches, and such. A recent email from a reader, however, noted that graduates actually served in foreign armies as well, accepting commissions from foreign sovereigns and governments. The graduate in question was Washington Carroll Tevis, Class of 1849, and the email was prompted by the discovery a painting by Antoine Faivre (1830-1905) on display in the Appleton Museum in Ocala, FL. It is entitled "Portrait de Nessim Bey: Compagne d'Asie, dated 1855, and depicts Tevis on horseback wearing colorful pantaloons and a head wrap. At the time, Tevis was a lieutenant colonel (quaimaquam) in the irregular cavalry of the Turkish Army, having resigned his American commission in 1850. But this painting only tells a small, and early, part of the story of this member of West Point's foreign legion.

At some point shortly after graduation he changed his first name from Washington to Charles, but to the Turks he was Nessim Bey. He served with great valor with the Turkish Army in the Asiatic and Crimean Wars and was personally decorated by the Sultan with the Order of Medjidi, while the British Army awarded him a Crimean medal. After the wars, he briefly settled in Paris and converted to Catholicism but returned to America in 1862 to accept a commission as lieutenant colonel of the 4th Delaware Infantry Regiment and defend the Union in the American Civil War. He performed valiantly as an Infantry commander but left to join the 3rd Regiment of Maryland Cavalry in 1863. With that unit he led a 400-man cavalry raid to the vicinity of Richmond, VA; destroyed a Confederate cannon foundry; and captured several hundred head of cattle and horses, 150 weapons and various provisions. In early 1864, he raised another cavalry regiment in Baltimore, was promoted to colonel and given command of the regiment. In March of 1865, he was promoted to brigadier general.

After the Civil War, Tevis went to Rome and offered his services to the Pope as a private soldier in the Pontifical Zouaves. In February 1868, Pope Louis IX appointed him secret chamberlain of the Cloak and Sword, with the rank of Count, and in 1869, he was appointed a commander of the Order of Francis I. In late 1870, war with Russia loomed, and Tevis was appointed provisional brigadier general in the French Army and commander of the 20th Brigade of Cremer's Division, part of 18th Army Corps commanded by General Billot (later Minister of War), in the Army of the East. By early 1871 he had fought in several battles, was wounded at Chennebier, and awarded the cross of the Legion of Honor. When the French Army retreated to neutral Switzerland, Tevis covered the withdrawal but managed to move his 83rd Regiment of Mobiles into France as a still-viable fighting force.

In 1872, General Tevis was called to Cairo, Egypt, by General Stone, Class of 1845, then newly-appointed Chief of Staff of the Egyptian Army. Tevis was appointed commandant of the military school at Abbaziek, with the rank of General of Brigade, in January 1873, but continuing political discord prompted him to resign in May. In 1874 he served in a campaign with the Turkish Army and in 1877 in Bulgaria. Tevis died in Paris on 29 September 1900 at the age of 72, having spent the latter portion of his life writing articles for various military journals. He and his American wife had only one child, a daughter who married a French cavalry officer.

Of course, several other graduates (and former cadets) have become what is now known as "soldiers of fortune," from the aforementioned General Charles P. Stone to General David "Mickey" Marcus, portrayed by Kirk Douglas in the film, "Cast a Giant Shadow," about the heroic American commander of Jewish forces in Jerusalem in the late forties. Tragically, Marcus was shot by his own sentries during a misunderstanding about the password when challenged.

The first graduate known to have pledged his allegiance to a foreign cause was Augustus W. Magee, Class of 1809. In June of 1812 he resigned his commission in order to assist the Mexican patriots attempting to overthrow their Spanish rulers. Commissioned a colonel of the Patriot Army of Mexico, he was soon made commander of the Republican Army of the North and led his forces to capture Fort Bahia at Goliad. The Spanish loyalists in the south defeated the Republican Army there, however, and the revolution failed, Magee dying on 10 March 1813 at age 24.

Even General of the Army MacArthur '03 served under a foreign flag. Retiring as Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army in 1935, he was made Field Marshall of the Philippine Army in 1937, the only American to have held that rank. In 1941, of course, he was recalled to active duty as commander of U.S. and Philippine Forces at the beginning of World War II in the Pacific on this day of infamy.

But perhaps the man most deserving of the "soldier of fortune" title is a former cadet, Charles M. Sweeney, ex-1904. During his long career, he fought for five different nations in seven wars. After serving as a U.S. Army private in the Spanish American War, he joined the French Foreign Legion and saw service with them in the early stages of World War I. When the United States entered the conflict, he was permitted to transfer to the American Expeditionary Force as a major. When the Armistice was signed, he became a general in the Polish Army but later left to serve with the Turkish Army. Then, during the Riff Wars, he flew for France and later fought in the Spanish Civil War.

Afterwards, it was back to the French Foreign Legion, but this time as a major general. In World War II, he commanded the French Eagle Squadron and later was a group commander with the Royal Air Force. Althoughhe was wounded three times, he survived to die in Salt Lake City on 27 February 1963.

Of course, there are many other members of West Point's Foreign Legion.

Much of the material in this Gray Matter originally appeared as West Point's Foreign Legion, by George S. Pappas, in the July 1991 issue of ASSEMBLY magazine. Thanks to Carol Sheffer for finding the portrait of Nessim Bey and alerting Alan Lubke '61, who did additional research in support.

Your humble servant, J. Phoenix, Esquire

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