A big thanks to author Frank Jastrzembski for stopping by the blog and answering some questions about his book, Valentine Baker’s Heroic Stand At Tashkessen 1877: A Tarnished British Soldier’s Glorious Victory. You can enter to win an ebook version of this book by leaving a comment below. The winner will be drawn randomly and receive a Kindle or ePub version of the ebook. Good luck!
Tell me a little bit about Valentine Baker.
Valentine Baker was on top of the world in 1875. He had a distinguished career as a cavalry officer and explorer, was a close friend of Queen’s Victoria’s son, had a loyal wife and two beautiful daughters, and was financially sound. His world came crashing down in the spring of 1875 when Baker was arrested and tried for the sexual assault and attempted rape of a 22-year-old female train passenger. His guilt was questioned up until the time of his death, but Baker went to trial and the judge ordered him to serve a 12-month prison sentence.
Disgraced and cast out of the British Army, the exiled army officer sought an opportunity for redemption. He thought he could accomplish this by serving the British Empire in unofficial capacities around the world and by his heroic achievements on the battlefield.
Baker’s first opportunity came in August 1876 when the Prince of Wales offered him a chance to organize and lead the Ottoman gendarmerie (military police) on the eve of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78. Baker joined an Ottoman army in the field in the summer of 1877 and quickly established a reputation for his fearlessness and resourceful leadership on the battlefield. Despite being an infidel (a Christian) and unable to speak more than a few words of Turkish, the “Inglese Pasha” – as he became known in the ranks – shattered any cultural barriers that existed with his men and earned their devotion.
He fought a valiant and successful rearguard action outside the village of Tashkessen (modern-day Sarantsi, Bulgaria) on 31 December 1877. There Baker’s command of less than 3,000 Ottoman soldiers repulsed numerous efforts by 25,000 Russian soldiers to force their way through a mountain pass and cut off 12,000 defenders still holding the Kamarli entrenchments outside of the Araba Konak Pass. The Ottoman defenders held their ground for roughly ten hours until darkness ended the battle, suffering a staggering 800 casualties. That night, Baker’s battered but successful soldiers slipped away, achieving one of the last genuine Ottoman victories during the war and delaying the Russians long enough to permit the soldiers held up in the Kamarli entrenchments to escape annihilation.
Baker continued to serve the British in unofficial capacities for another decade or so trying to obtain his sought-after pardon. He was blocked by Queen Victoria on numerous occasions, even after his brilliant service during the Russo-Turkish War. The order reinstating Baker into the British Army finally arrived in 1887, but he tragically died only days before.
How did you come to learn about Baker? What made you go “I need to write a book about this guy.”?
I found out about Baker while doing research in graduate school on the military history of the Ottoman Empire. I thought his disgrace, exile, and redemption was a remarkable tale. Then there was his last stand at the village of Tashkessen during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78, where he managed to defeat 25,000 Russian soldiers with less than 3,000 (the main topic of my book). It was like a nineteenth-century version of Thermopylae.
What struck me the most about Baker was his constant fight to achieve redemption. He never gave up. I found his tale comparable to that of Harry Feversham, the fictional main character in Alfred E. W. Mason’s book Four Feathers. This quote about Baker stuck with me during the process of writing my book: “Any ordinary man would have succumbed to the blow; but he was not an ordinary man. No sooner did he come out of prison than he lost not a moment in endeavouring to regain his position, and not one word of complaint did I ever hear him utter.”
How did you research this book? What was something surprising you learned that you didn’t expect to find?
Baker left behind almost no correspondence or journals—at least none that still survive. But luckily Baker published an account of his service in the Russo-Turkish War shortly after the war. I relied heavily upon this. There were also two excellent books written about his life. I amassed a large amount of primary and secondary sources during my research, trying to provide a well-rounded view of Valentine Baker, his disgrace, and the Battle of Tashkessen.
It is hard to choose one thing that surprised me about Baker. He was an amazing individual. One of the most surprising accounts I came across was an arranged meeting between Baker and the famed Russian General Mikhail Skobelev at the close of the Russo-Turkish War. Skobelev wanted to meet the British hero serving with the Ottomans.
Fans of Byron Farwell would enjoy reading Valentine Baker’s Heroic Stand at Tashkessen 1877.
Enter to win an ebook version of Valentine Baker’s Heroic Stand at Tashkessen 1877 by leaving a comment below.
The winner will be randomly chosen and contacted via email on Friday, November 3. Good luck!