Long before Winston Churchill led his country through war, he participated in skirmishes across the British Empire as a young soldier.
In 1898, Churchill went to Africa as a cavalry officer and war correspondent to reconquer Sudan. His dispatches were published in newspapers. After the Anglo-Egyptian conquest, Churchill wrote a lengthy account of the war.
James W. Muller, editor of a new version of "The River War: An Historical Account of the Reconquest of the Soudan" by Churchill, participated in a Thursday webcast hosted by America's National Churchill Museum.
"Of the five books he wrote before he entered Parliament in 1901 at the age of 26, this one is the most impressive," Muller said.
Muller has been working on the new edition of the "The River War" for 33 years.
After the initial publication of "The River War" in 1899, Churchill abridged his work in 1902. Muller's version includes both versions so that readers can see how the work changed between the two original editions.
"In that abridgement, seven chapters disappeared completely and passages were cut from every other chapter, including his own adventures and controversial judgments," Muller said.
The war began after the Sudanese rose in rebellion against the Egyptians, inspired by religious leader Muhammad Ahmad bin Abd Allah, who called himself the Mahdi.
"Churchill thinks the Sudanese had good cause to rebel," Muller said. "And the way he treats the Mahdi in 'The River War' is remarkably generous."
The Egyptians were heavily indebted to the British — when the threat of rebellion rose, the British came in and ruled Egypt's financial affairs. The British decided that Egypt could not afford to keep Sudan.
Charles Gordon was tasked with evacuating Europeans from Khartoum in Sudan.
"For his part, Gordon tried to hold the Capitol, rather than evacuating the Europeans he had been sent to help escape and increasingly their situation became dire," Muller said.
Reinforcements came too late and Gordon was killed.
"Gordon was put to death by the Dervishes and he became a martyr," Muller said.
For several months before his death, the Mahdi ruled over Khartoum and Sudan. From 1885-98, Mahdist Sudan maintained sovereignty and control of the Sudanese territories.
In 1896, the British decided to help Egypt reconquer Sudan.
"Churchill, a young cavalry officer who was serving in India, had been following the campaign attentively and he was eager to be part of it," Muller said.
Churchill made it to Sudan just before the climax of the campaign. In the first edition of his book, Churchill told readers he became lost in the desert as he traveled to Khartoum. That story was cut from the later edition.
Churchill fought in the Battle of Omdurman, which the Egyptian and British forces won. Churchill critiqued how the British treated native religions and the Dervish soldiers.
"He describes the suffering of the wounded Dervishes, who were neglected and still left dying on the battlefield three days after the battle," Muller said.
In the book, Churchill speaks positively in many places about the Dervishes.
"Churchill denies that they were mad fanatics for pitting their trashy weapons against the machine guns and the gunboats of a far more advanced enemy," Muller said. "He claims, rather, that they were as brave men as ever walked the earth and that they fought to the death because they were noble and honorable. His magnanimity to a defeated enemy was controversial when he published it, but it remained his lifelong view."
Years later, Churchill would call on such bravery from his own people during World War II.
Muller said Churchill is lukewarm in his book about imperialism.
"He considered how Britain had changed the future of the country by reconquering it and he asked whether that would help or hurt the people of the Sudan," Muller said. "In this book, he's lukewarm about imperialism, grand projects of development, higher education, Christian missionary work and grasping entrepreneurs trying to make money in the Sudan."
The Sudanese did not receive their independence until 1956.