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On this date in 1875, Ethiopia won the Battle of Gundet over Egypt. This conflict was carefully observed in Black America due to a growing Black Nationalist idealism and the views of people such as Edward Blyden and Martin Delany.
Egypt emerged as a powerful force in Africa during the latter stages of the decline of the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire. In the second half of the 19th century, an ambitious and energetic new ruler, Khedive, negotiated with the Ottomans to take control of Egypt. He intended to create an Egyptian African empire by swallowing up Sudan and Ethiopia. For this purpose he recruited a large army staffed with European officers and Confederate officers from the American Civil War, which had ended 10 years earlier. In December 1874, a force of 1,200 Egyptian troops from Kassala, under the command of a hired Swiss adventurer, Munzinger, occupied Keren. After withdrawing, a small defense force was left for the protection of the Roman Catholic mission.
Owing to the presence of Turco-Egyptian troops within what he regarded as the Ethiopian frontier, the African hired Colonel Kirkham entrenched a force of Ethiopians at Ginda. Earlier, during the month of October, Colonel Arendup with an Egyptian force occupied Ginda without resistance, hoisting the Turkish flag. He then sent the Naib Muhammad of Arkiko to King John of Ethiopia with an ultimatum, the immediate delimitation of the frontier. King John locked up the messenger. In the meantime, reports reached the Ethiopians that the Egyptians had crossed the frontier into Ethiopian territory on the way to Gondar. This force under the command of Munzinger consisted of about 2,000 men. On November 7th, they were ambushed, and Ethiopian tribesmen killed Munzinger and nearly all his followers.
On November 16th, Colonel Arendup’s force was attacked at Gundet. His column consisted of 2,500 infantry, armed with Remington rifles, and 12 mountain guns. There were a number of European and American officers under his command. Possibly, due to overconfidence at the victory at Ginda, without any resistance, Colonel Arendup was not ready for an attack, and the fact that the Ethiopians had rifles was a complete surprise. The Egyptian force was practically annihilated, despite the personal bravery of its commander.
Among those killed were Colonel Arendup, Arakel Bey Nubar (nephew of the Egyptian Prime Minister), Count Zichy, and Rustem Bey. One American officer collected the survivors, and managed to reach Massowah.
Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D.,
Department of Philosophy,
Los Angeles Valley College,
Van Nuys, California 91401-4096,