He obtained a commission as an ensign in the 12th Foot in March 1852 without purchase, in recognition of his father's service. He then transferred to the 80th Foot, with which he served in the Second Burmese War. He was severely wounded in the thigh on 19 March 1853 in the attack on Donabyu, was mentioned in despatches, and received the war medal. Promoted to lieutenant and invalided home, Wolseley exchanged into the 90th Light Infantry, then stationed in Dublin.
He accompanied the regiment to the Crimea, and landed at Balaklava in December 1854. He was selected to be an assistant engineer, and attached to the Royal Engineers during the Siege of Sevastopol. Wolseley was promoted to captain in January 1855 after less than three years' service, and served throughout the siege, whwere he was wounded at "the Quarries" on June 7th, and again in the trenches on August 30th, losing an eye.
After the fall of Sevastopol, Wolseley was employed on the quartermaster-general's staff, assisting in the embarkation of the troops and supplies, and was one of the last British soldiers to leave the Crimea in July 1856. For his services he was twice mentioned in dispatches, was noted for a brevet majority, received the war medal with clasp, the 5th class of the French Légion d'honneur, the 5th class of the Turkish Mejidie, and the Turkish medal.
Six months after joining the 90th Foot at Aldershot, he went with it in March 1857 to join the China expedition under Major-General Ashburnham. Captain Wolseley was embarked in the transport "Transit" which was wrecked in the Strait of Banka - the troops were all saved, but with only their personal arms and minimal ammunition. They were taken to Singapore, and from there were dispatched to Calcutta on account of the Indian Mutiny.
Capt. Wolseley distinguished himself at the relief of Lucknow under Sir Colin Campbell in November of 1857, and in the defence of the Alambagh position under Outram, taking part in the actions of December 22, 1857, of January 12 and January 16, and also in the repulse of the grand attack of February 21. That March, he served at the final siege and capture of Lucknow. He was then appointed deputy-assistant quartermaster-general on the staff of Sir Hope Grant's Oudh division, and was engaged in all of the operations of the campaign, including; the actions of Bari, Sarsi, Nawabganj, the capture of Faizabad, the passage of the Gumti and the action of Sultanpur. In the autumn and winter of 1858 he took part in the Baiswara, trans-Gogra and trans-Rapti campaigns ending with the complete suppression of the rebellion. For his services he was frequently mentioned in dispatches, and having received his Crimean majority in March 1858, was, in April of 1859, promoted to be a lieutenant-colonel, and received the Mutiny medal and clasp. Lt.-Col. Wolseley continued to serve on Sir Hope Grant's staff in Oudh, and when Grant was nominated to the command of the British troops in the Anglo-French expedition to China of the year 1860, accompanied him as the deputy-assistant quartermaster-general. He was present at the action at Sin-ho, the capture of Tang-ku, the storming of the Taku Forts, the Occupation of Tientsin, the battle of Pa-to-cheau and the entry into Beijing (during which the destruction of Chinese Imperial Old Summer Palace was begun). He assisted in the re-embarkation of the troops before the winter set in. He was mentioned, yet again, in dispatches, and for his services did receive the medal and two clasps. On his return home he published the Narrative of the War with China in the year 1860.
In November of 1861, Wolseley was one of the special service officers sent to Canada in connection with the Trent incident. When the matter was amicably settled he remained on the headquarters staff in Canada as assistant-quartermaster-general. In 1862, shortly after the battle of Antietam, Lt.-Col. Wolseley took leave from his military duties and went to investigate the American Civil War. He befriended Southern sympathizers in Maryland, who found him passage into Virginia with a blockade runner across the Potomac River. He met with the Generals Robert E. Lee, James Longstreet, and Stonewall Jackson, all of whom impressed him tremendously.
On April 10, 1892, the New Orleans Picayune published his ten-page heroic portrayal of Lieutenant-General Nathan Bedford Forrest which recycled much of what was written about Forrest by biographers of the time. This work appeared in the Journal of the Southern Historical Society in the same year, and is commonly cited today, although it is a great example of how Post-Reconstruction biographers of Forrest at the time tried to elevate Forrest's reputation as a citizen-soldier and military genius of classical proportions. Wolseley apologized for Forrest's role at the Fort Pillow Massacre near Memphis, Tennessee in April, 1864 in which African-American USCT troops and white officers were slaughtered after Fort Pillow had been conquered. Wolseley wrote, "I do not think that the fact that one-half of the small garrison of a place taken by assault was either killed or wounded evinced any very unusual bloodthirstiness on the part of the assailants."
In the year 1865, he became a brevet colonel, was actively employed the following year in connexion with the Fenian raids from the United States, and in the year 1867 was appointed deputy quartermaster-general in Canada. In 1869 his Soldiers' Pocket Book for Field Service was published, and has since run through many editions. In the year 1870, he successfully commanded the Red River Expedition to establish Canadian sovereignty over the Northwest Territories and Manitoba. Manitoba had entered Canadian Confederation as the result of negotiations between Canada and a provisional Métis government headed by Louis Riel. The only route to Fort Garry (now Winnipeg), the capital of Manitoba (then an outpost in the Wilderness), which did not pass through the United States was through a network of rivers and lakes extending for six-hundred miles from Lake Superior, infrequently traversed by non-aboriginals, and where no supplies were obtainable. The admirable arrangements made and the careful organization of the transport reflected great credit to the commander, who upon his return home was made a KCMG and a CB. However, it should be noted that the English speaking troops under Col. Wolseley's command in effect laid a reign of terror on Metis families in the Red River, with harassment, beatings, and threats of death perpetuated by the rowdy and sometimes drunken soldiers.
Appointed assistant adjutant-general at the War Office in the year 1871 he worked hard at furthering the Cardwell schemes of army reform, was a member of the localization committee, and a keen advocate of short service, territorial regiments and linked battalions. From this time until he became commander-in-chief, Col. Wolseley was the prime mover in practically all of the steps taken at the War Office for promoting the efficiency of the army, under the altered conditions of the day.
In the year 1873, he commanded the expedition to Ashanti, and, having made all his arrangements at the Gold Coast before the arrival of the troops in January of 1874, was able to complete the campaign in two months, and re-embark them for home before the unhealthy season began. This was the campaign which made him a household name in England. He fought the battle of Amoaful on January 31 of that year, and, after five days' fighting, ending with the battle of Ordahsu, entered Kumasi, which he burned. He received the thanks of both houses of Parliament and a grant of £25,000 was promoted to be a major general for distinguished service in the field, received the medal and clasp and was made GCMG and KCB. The freedom of the city of London was conferred upon him with a sword of honour, and he was made honorary DC.L of Oxford and LL.D of Cambridge universities. On his return home he was appointed inspector-general of auxiliary forces, but had not held the post for a year when, in consequence of the indigenous unrest in Natal, he was sent to that colony as governor and general-commanding.
In November of 1876, he accepted a seat on the council of India, from which in 1878, having been promoted lieutenant-general, he went as high-commissioner to the newly acquired possession of Cyprus, and in the following year to South Africa to supersede Lord Chelmsford in command of the forces in the Zulu War, and as governor of Natal and the Transvaal and the high commissioner of South-East Africa. But, upon his arrival at Durban in July, he found that the war in Zululand was practically over, and, after effecting a temporary settlement, he went on to the Transvaal. Having reorganized the administration there and reduced the powerful chief, Sikukuni, to submission, he returned home in May of 1880 and was appointed quartermaster-general to the forces. For his services in South Africa he received the Zulu medal with clasp, and was made a GCB.
In the year 1882, the Major General was appointed adjutant-general to the forces, and, in August of that year, given command of the British forces in Egypt under Muhammad Ali and his successors to suppress the Urabi Revolt. Having seized the Suez Canal, he then disembarked his troops at Ismailia and, after a very short and brilliant campaign, completely defeated Urabi Pasha at the Battle of Tel el-Kebir, thereby suppressing yet another rebellion. For his services, the Major General received the thanks of Parliament, the medal with clasp, the bronze star, was promoted ("general") for distinguished service in the field, raised to the peerage as Baron Wolseley, of Cairo and of Wolseley in the County of Stafford, and received from the Khedive the 1st class of the order of the Osmanieh.
In the year 1884, the now full general, Baron Wolseley was again called away from his duties as adjutant-general, to command the Nile Expedition for the relief of General Gordon and the besieged garrison at Khartoum. The expedition arrived too late; Khartoum had fallen, and Gordon was dead. In the spring of 1885, complications with Imperial Russia over the Panjdeh Incident occurred, and the withdrawal of that particular expedition followed. For his services there, the Baron received two clasps to his Egyptian medal, the thanks of Parliament, and was created Viscount Wolseley, of Wolseley in the County of Stafford, and a Knight of St Patrick.
Lord Wolseley continued at the War Office as adjutant-general to the forces until the year 1890, wherein he was given the command in Ireland (at that time de jure a part of the UK under the Act of Union which had created the United Kingdom but, by the 1880s, had begun down the path to Irish political independence with the policies of Premier Gladstone, in particular the First Home Rule Bill). He was promoted to be a field marshal in the year 1894, and was nominated "colonel" of the Royal Horse Guards in 1895, in which year he was appointed by the Unionist government to succeed the Duke of Cambridge as "commander-in-chief of the forces". This was the position to which his great experience in the field and his previous signal success at the War Office itself had fully entitled him. Field Marshal Viscount Wolseley's powers in that office were, however, limited by a new order in council, and after holding the appointment for over five years, he handed over the command-in-chief to his fellow field marshal, Earl Roberts, at the commencement of the year 1901. The unexpectedly large force required for South Africa, was mainly furnished by means of the system of reserves which Lord Wolseley had originated; but the new conditions at the War Office were not to his liking, and, upon being released from responsibilities he brought the whole subject before the House of Lords in a speech.
Lord Wolseley was appointed colonel-in-chief of the Royal Irish Regiment in the year 1898, and, in 1901, was made goldstick in waiting. He was married, in the year 1867, to Louisa, the daughter of one Mr. A. Erskine, and his only child, Frances, being heiress to the viscountcy under special remainder. Frances Wolseley (1872-1936) founded The College for Lady Gardeners at Glynde and was an author.
Sir Garnet was deeply opposed to Sir Edward Watkin's attempt to build a Channel Tunnel. He gave evidence to a parliamentray commission that the construction might be "calamitous for England", he added that "No matter what fortifications and defences were built, there would always be the peril of some continental army seizing the tunnel exit by surprise." Various contrivances to satisfy his objections were put forward including looping the line on a viaduct from the Cliffs of Dover and back into them, so that the connection could be bombarded at will by the Royal Navy. All to no avail, and over 100 years were to pass before a permanent link was made.
A frequent contributor to periodicals, he also published The Decline and Fall of Napoleon (1895), The Life of John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough to the Accession of Queen Anne (1894), and The Story of a Soldier's Life (1903), giving, in the last-named work, an account of his career down to the close of the Ashanti War.
In recognition of his success, an expression arose (see Eric Partridge, "A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English," 1961): "all Sir Garnet" meaning; that everything is in good order. Garnet Wolseley was also the inspiration behind the celebrated Gilbert and Sullivan character "Major-General Stanley" (from The Pirates of Penzance), who was " ... the very model of a modern Major-General ...".
Wolseley Barracks, at London, Ontario, is a Canadian military base (now officially known as ASU London), established in the year 1886. The site of Wolseley Hall, the first building constructed by a Canadian Government specifically to house an element of the newly created, in 1883, Permanent Force. Wolseley Barracks has been continuously occupied by the Canadian army since its creation, and has always housed some element of The Royal Canadian Regiment. At present, Wolseley Hall is occupied by The Royal Canadian Regiment Museum and the Regiment's 4th Battalion, among other tenants. Wolseley is also the name of a Senior Boys house at the Duke of York's Royal Military School, where, just like Welbeck college, all houses are named after prominent military figures.
Wolseley is a residential area in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, located in the west central part of the city. Wolseley Avenue is the main street through the area.
Wolseley is a small village in the Western Cape in South Africa, named after Garnet Wolseley.
Wolseley is a street in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
"All Sir Garnet; a life of Field-Marshal Lord Wolseley" by Joseph H Lehmann; London, J. Cape, 1964.
"Sir Garnet Wolseley : Victorian Hero" by Halik Kochanski; London, Hambledon Press, 1999.