By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
In 1944, Margaret Landon published her
novel of expurgated Orientalism, Anna and
the King of Siam. Based on the memoirs of
English governess Anna Leonowens at the court
of King Mongkut, it became a successful Rodgers
and Hammerstein film starring Yul Brynner,
later re-made with Jodie Foster and Chow
Anna Leonowens took some healthy liberties
with reality in telling her tale, inventing
a background for herself and numerous incidents
at the Siamese court. One such partial truth
that's worked its way into a number of Western
accounts of Thai history is the supposed
offer by Mongkut of war elephants to Abraham
Lincoln, for use in the American Civil War.
Siam had become an imperial power in the
late 18th century under the reign of Taksin
the Great. Taksin expelled Burmese invaders
and re-united the country before he fell
into a religious mania that would lead to
his overthrow by his leading general, Thuong
Duang (also known as Chakri), who became
King Rama I. Rama I and his son fought wars
with Siam's traditional enemies, Burma and
Vietnam, but change was coming to South-East
The British established Singapore in 1819,
and seized much of southern Burma in 1826
with the support of Siamese troops and elephants.
Under King Rama III, the Siamese signed a
commercial treaty with Britain that same
year, allowing the British considerable latitude
but also giving the Siamese access to modern
arms. The Siamese crushed a rebellion in
Laos the next year, strengthening their hold
there through forced popualtion transfers,
and defeated the Vietnamese in a four-year
war over Cambodia in the early 1840s.
In 1850, the British and Americans both
demanded further concessions. Rama III died
the next year, leaving the problem to his
younger brother, Mongkut, who had spent the
previous 27 years as a Buddhist monk. Mongkut,
taking the name Rama IV, came to the throne
already 47 years old. But he had acquired
a wide range of knowledge during this time
in yellow robes, speaking and reading several
European languages with a sound grasp of
their politics and cultures.
Beset by powerful colonial powers on either
flank, Mongkut sought connections to other
powers that might help redress the balance
of power. British desires for commercial
hegemony seemed less harmful to his kingdom's
independence than France's record of conquest
in southern Vietnam, and in 1855 the king
gave them the treaty they sought. But the
French took Saigon in 1859 and looked likely
to press deeper into modern-day Cambodia,
then ruled by Siam.
And so Mongkut sent a proposal to Washington,
addressed to President James Buchanan. The
United States should import Siamese elephants,
the king suggested, as they could provide
valuable labor in undeveloped areas just
as they did at home. Lincoln, in office by
the time the Siamese letter arrived, politely
declined and noted that steam power could
fulfill the same needs.
Mongkut's proposal had much greater merit
than Lincoln and later amused writers have
allowed. The elephant is a famously hard
worker, and in the days before electrification
and the internal combustion engine it offered
a very mobile heavyweight force for lifting
and carrying. Trade in elephants would have
established a connection to a non-European
power, something the king deeply desired,
and forged ties outside Britain or France.
The king did not offer war elephants, but
his army did employ them, chiefly in the
artillery branch and in the supply train.
Elephants pulled heavy artillery, and at
times went into battle with light cannon
mounted on platforms on their backs. The
Siamese general Tengu Kudin deployed elephants
bearing light artillery at Kuala Kedah on
the Malay Peninsula in 1839 helped crush
the fortress garrison of Malay rebels and
Rajput mercenaries. Royal Navy observers
reported that the Siamese infantry was well-armed
with modern muskets, and used the elephant-mounted
artillery to spearhead their assault.
Against a modern enemy — as Siamese
troops faced during the 1893 loss of Laos
to the French — elephants proved fantastically
vulnerable to both artillery and rifle fire.
But against poorly armed rebels they were
extremely intimidating, and even effective
against Rajput professionals armed with muzzle-loaders.
For many years, one of our distributors — Blackhawk
Hobby Distribution — was run by a man
named Dan Masterson, who stayed on in sales
after the company was sold. Dan, who died
several years ago, was a Vietnam veteran
who once used an anti-tank rocket to shoot
a North Vietnamese elephant loaded with supplies.
Dan was a dedicated player of our games,
and I think he would have liked this variant.
Had Siam provided an elephant corps to the
Union war effort, it's open to question how
effective they might have been in crushing
the Confederacy. But in Daily Content we're
not limited to the reasonable, and there's
not much in wargaming that's more fun than
In Dave Powell's Chickamauga & Chattanooga,
add the four units of the Siamese
elephant corps as follows. In all three Chickamauga
scenarios, place all elephant units and their
leader in Area 86 with Rosecrans. In all
three Chattanooga scenarios, place all of
them with Grant (Area 267 in Scenairos Four
and Six, Area 298 in Scenario Five). In Scenario
Seven, the Grand Campaign, they set up in
Area 86 with Rosecrans.
The Siamese corps is a formation, with its
own leader, Krisadapiharn (one of Mongkut's
many children by assorted concubines; he
appointed his 82 children and his dozens
of brothers and cousins to military and civil
posts). Siamese units may only enter areas
if accompanied by their own leader. If Krisadapiharn
is killed in action, all Siamese units are
removed from play (victory points are not
received by the Confederate player for them).
Horses and Elephants
Horses hate and fear elephants, so cavalry
and artillery units may never move into any
areas containing one or more friendly elephant
units. Elephant units can move into areas
containing friendly cavalry or artillery,
but this forces each cavalry and/or artillery
unit in the area to check morale. Each individual
unit rolls against its own morale (don’t
use area morale), unmodified by any leader’s
tactical rating. Each cavalry or artillery
unit that rolls higher than its morale suffers
a step loss.
When an elephant unit is eliminated, there
is a chance that surviving individual elephants
from the destroyed unit may go berserk. Whenever
an elephant unit is eliminated (not just
reduced), the Union player rolls one die
for it and adds one to the result if Krisadapiharn
is in the same area. If the modified result
is 1 or 2, the elephant unit goes on a rampage
at the end of the current combat segment
(after all combat is resolved). Resolve the
rampage by following these steps in the order
- If there are one or more friendly units
in the area with the rampaging elephant
unit, the owning player rolls one die.
On a result of 5 or 6, one friendly unit
choice if multiple units are there) loses
one step. That slakes the elephant blood-lust
and ends the rampage (remove the elephant
- If there are no friendly units in the
area with the elephant, or the die roll
result in the step above was 1 through
4, the Confederate player chooses any area
adjacent to the rampaging elephant’s area that contains Union
units. The Confederate player rolls one die,
and on a result of 5 or 6, one unit in the
selected area (owning player’s choice
if more than one unit is there) loses one
step. That ends the rampage (remove the
elephant unit from play).
- If there are no friendly units in any
area adjacent to the rampaging elephant
unit, or if the die roll result in Step
2 was 1 through 4, the player owning the
elephant chooses any area adjacent to the
rampaging elephant unit that contains one
or more enemy units. The Union player rolls
one die, and on a result of 5 or 6, one
enemy unit in the selected area (owning
choice if more than one is there) loses
one step. That ends the rampage (remove
the elephant unit from play).
- If there are no units in the same area
as a rampaging elephant or in any adjacent
area, then simply remove the elephant
unit from play.
Casualties inflicted by rampaging elephants
do generate victory points for the Confederate
Elephant units have two movement points.
They may conduct Cavalry Charges (10.0) under
all the same rules, but may not be combined
in the same charge with Union cavalry. If
they charge an area containing Confederate
cavalry, before the charge is resolved the
Confederate player must check the morale
of each cavalry unit in the target area.
Each individual unit rolls against its own
morale (don’t use area morale), unmodified
by any leader’s tactical rating, but
add one to the result. Each cavalry unit
that rolls higher than its morale suffers
a step loss. In the event of a successful
charge, elephant units may not pursue (10.7).
Elephant units are also artillery units.
They may conduct bombardment (11.0) attacks,
but like any unit they may not bombard and
charge in the same turn.
Elephants as Targets
Elephant units are very vulnerable to enemy
artillery fire. Add one to the bombardment
die roll result if the target area includes
an elephant unit. In an exception to rule
11.3, this is in addition to any other one
modifier (a maximum of +2 if elephants are
Seeing the Elephant
The morale of all Confederate units adjacent
to an elephant unit is reduced by one in
Scenario One or the first day of Scenarios
Three or Seven.
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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold. Leopold knows nothing of elephants.