H. B. (Henry Bathurst) Hanna.

The second Afghan war, 1878-79-80 : its causes, its conduct and its consequences (Volume 2) online

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Macpherson crossed the Kabul River by the new trestle bridge, and
sent forward his Cavalry, supported by the 20th Punjab Infantry, to
seize some high ground on the further side of the Kunar river, with the
object of surprising the Mohmands and cutting off their retreat from
Shergarh and the neighbouring villages ; their advance, however, was
checked by numerous irrigation-channels and retarded by the boggy
nature of the ground, ^ and when, at last, the river was reached, its
channel proved to be so wide, its current so swift, that the Commanding
officer wisely decided not to attempt to cross it in the dark. In the
interval, the Infantry, unencumbered by baggage and doolies which,

^ Many of the mounted men slipped into the bog and were with difficulty
drawn out again.


under a strong escort, had been left to follow, came up, and at dawn
the whole Force was thrown across the stream — not without many acci-
dents, though none of them, fortunately, of a fatal character ; ^ but
the enemy had got wind of its approach, and had disappeared, leaving
only a few men to cover their retreat. The 10th Hussars, with their
Martini-Henry carbines, got a few shots at this rear-guard, whose
position was betrayed by the glittering of its weapons, and Major E. J. de
Lautour's mountain-guns dislodged another small party from a higher
peak beyond ; but the main body had secured too good a start to be
overtaken, and so the Cavalry, after a pursuit of some miles, turned
back, and joined by the guns and the 1st Sikhs, returned the same day
to Jellalabad. The rest of the Infantry bivouacked in a raging north
wind, and the next morning Macpherson himself superintended its
re-passage of the Kunar River, which was again effected without loss
of life, though several men were carried off their feet, and many ren-
dered nearly insensible by the intense cold of waters which flow direct
from the great glaciers of the Hindu Kush.

As the tribesmen retired by a different route from that by which
they had advanced, neither Tytler's nor Gough's co-operation was
required; but the former's column came in for its share of difficulties,
for, after marching do-wn to Chardeh in the dark, and crossing three
channels of the Kabul River, it was brought to a standstill by a fourth,
which was too deep for the Infantry and guns. Major Battye, with the
Cavalry, however, managed to get over, and reconnoitred to the foot
of the hills, three miles away. No enemy was met with, but it was dis-
covered that, the previous day, the invaders had attacked a group
of villages called Maya, lying to the west of Goshta, one of which they
had burned after killing and wounding a score of its defenders, a son
of the Chief being among the dead.

The danger that had threatened Sir S. Browne's Forces had been for

^ Three camp-followers and some mules that were carried away and reported
drowned, were subsequently recovered and resuscitated.



a short time very grave, for later information left no doubt that the
Mohmand raid was part of a scheme for an attack upon Jellalabad,
planned by the Mir Akhor, in which the Mohmands and Bajauries,
the Ghilzais, Shinwaris and Kujianis were to have taken part. The
death of its author, who was accidentally killed before it could be
put into execution, led to its abandonment, and Macpherson's Expedi-
tion broke up, for the time, the confederacy of the tribes, and relieved
the pressure on Jellalabad and its communications. Other troubles,
however, soon cropped up. Azmatulla, the chief of the northern section
of the Ghilzais, was reported to be busy in the populous and fertile
Lagman Valley, arranging for a fresh rising, and on the 22nd of Febru-
ary, Jenkins, with a small column, penetrated into and reconnoitred
it for a distance of thirty miles. Crowds of armed men were seen, but
they kept beyond the range of the British rifles, and though a number
of headmen were seized and carried off as hostages for the good be-
haviour of their respective clans, Azmatulla and the Lagman Chief
made good their escape. The intelligence that the eldest son of the
Akliand of Swat, with a following of five thousand men, had entered
Lalpura territory, and was trying to induce Mahomed Shah Khan to
make common cause with him and the Afridis against the British, was
not re-assuring ; nor yet, the news that Yakub Khan was working
hard to re-constitute the Afghan Army, and that the seven thousand
Cavalry and twelve thousand Infantry, with sixty guns, already con-
centrated in and about Kabul and Ghazni, were in high spirits and
eager to avenge the defeats of Ali Masjid and the Peiwar.

Each of these reports, emanating, as they all did, from Native
sources, was accepted with large deductions ; but, even after due allow-
ance had been made for intentional, or natural exaggeration, the
cumulative effect of so many was to add heavily to the burden of care
borne by the British Commander, and to the labours and fatigues of
his troops ; yet, as if the dangers inevitably attendant on an occupation
of tribal territory were not sufficiently numerous, the passion of the


Survey Department for adding to its knowledge of the topography of
the country, gratuitously provoked others. Mr. G. B. Scott and his
assistants when sketching near Michni Fort, on the 26th of Febru-
ary, were fiercely attacked by a number of hillmen, probably Moh-
mands. Scott, though a civilian, at once took command of the escort,
consisting of twenty men of the 24th Punjab Infantry, and by his cool-
ness and skill brought off his party, not, however, without loss, four
of the escort being killed and two wounded.^ Three weeks later, a
similar incident occurred in Shinwari territory. A survey party, in
charge of Captain E. P. Leach, escorted by a troop of the Guide Cavalry,
under Lieutenant W. R. P. Hamilton, and a Company of the 45th
Sikhs, commanded by Lieutenant F. M. Barclay, started on the 16th
of March from Barikab, a British post midway between Basawal and
Jellalabad, and encamped for the night near the village of Chilgazai.
The next morning, leaving half his infantry and a few sabres to guard
his camp. Leach pushed on to a hill lying about four miles to the south.
On the further side of this hill, there is a group of villages called Mai-
danak, the inhabitants of which were thrown into a state of the wildest
excitement at sight of the survey party and its escort. Swarmincr out

1 " The Pathans have an inveterate hatred of the surveyor. They have an
idea that Government sends a surveyor first, then an army. This is not the only
time that Mr. Scott has been placed in the same predicament. In August 1 868
when surveying the Khogam Valley, he was attacked by a large body of Cis-Indus
Swatis. He was accompanied by a small escort of the 2nd Punjab Infantry
(5th Gurkhas ?), who behaved in the most gallant manner, and thouo-h harassed
for many miles by several hundreds of hillmen, he succeeded in beating them off
and reached camp at Oghi without loss, though not without casualties. The
men of the escort received substantial rewards ; the Non-commissioned Officer
in charge was decorated with the Order of Merit, and Mr. Scott received the warm
acknowledgements of the Viceroy, Sir John Lawrence. It was rvunoured that
he was recommended for the Victoria Cross, but there were difficulties in the way
which proved insuperable." {Times Correspondent, 8th of March, 1879.) The
Sepoys on this occasion refused to leave Scott when he urged them to secure
their own safety by abandoning him. The retreat to Oghi lasted several days.
— H.B.H.


of their houses like angry bees, they made a rush for some rising ground
that commanded the eminence occupied by the intruders. In vain
the Malik of Chilgazai was despatched to calm and reassure them,
— they continued firing volley after volley. Barclay soon fell,
dangerously wounded, and Leach, assuming command, ordered the
handful of Infantry to fall back on the Cavalry which had been left
with Hamilton at the foot of the hill. Instantly the villagers began
gathering from all directions round the retreating troops, and one
compact body of fifty men were advancing boldly to the attack, when
Leach shouted to the Sikhs to fix bayonets, and, charging at their head,
drove back the assailants. The hesitation which followed on this
spirited counter-attack, lasted long enough to enable the survey party
to rejoin the Cavalry ; and, when once the escort was re-united, the vil-
lagers lost courage and ceased to pursue. Barclay succumbed to his
wounds, and the gallant conduct of Leach who, in the charge, had
received a severe cut from an Afghan knife, was brought by Sir S.
Browne to the notice of the Commander-in-Chief, and rewarded by the
bestowal of the Victoria Cross.^

Sir S. Browne, whose earnest desire it was to avoid an open rupture
with the Shinwaris — a powerful, well armed clan, a portion of whose
scattered territory commanded the left flank of his communications —
was glad that the attack on Leach's party had been so clearly unpre-
meditated, and due to surprise and alarm as to call for no heavy punish-
ment. Some notice he was obliged to take of it, but he instructed
Tytler, to whom he committed the task of obtaining reparation, to
avoid bloodshed, and to use no unnecessary severity. With four guns
and twelve hundred men, Tytler marched quickly to Maidanak, blew
up the towers, levied small fines on the villagers, and, thanks to the

^ In recommending Captain Leach for this honour. Sir S. Browne wrote : —
" In this encounter Captain Leach killed three or four of the enemy himself, and
he received a severe wound from an Afghan knife in the left arm. Captain
Leach's determination and gallantry in this affair, in attacking and driving back
from the last position, saved the whole party from annihilation."


excellence of his dispositions and to the tact shown by Captain E. R.
ConoUy, the Assistant Political Officer attached to his force, returned
to his Headquarters at Basawal without having fired a shot, though,
from all the hills around, crowds of armed tribesmen had watched his
proceedings. It was mortifying to find that, during his short absence,
a convoy had been waylaid and plundered near Deh Sarak by the in-
habitants of another group of Shinwari villages, and to have to enter
at once on a second punitive Expedition.

Misled by his experience at Maidanak, Tytler, on this second occa-
sion, took with him only seven hundred men and two guns. The start
was made at 1 a.m. ; at daybreak, Mausam, the principal village of the
offending group, came into sight. At the first glimpse he caught of
its strong defences and commanding position, high up on a slope of the
Safed Koh, with a great drainage line protecting it on either side,
Tytler understood his mistake ; and his anxiety deepened when he saw
the villagers hurrying to man the walls, and streaming through the gate
to take up a position outside. From the high ground on which he
had halted, he could see a troop of the lltli Bengal Lancers working
up one of the nullahs, and in imminent danger of being cut off and over-
whelmed. Hastily recalling them, he waited for the rest of his Force
to come up, and then ordered the Infantry, under cover of the fire of
the guns, to make a direct assault on the village, and sent Captain
D. H. Thompson, with the Cavalry, to surprise the villagers collected
on a plateau beyond it. Thompson carried out his instructions with
promptitude and skill . Taking advantage of the accidents of the ground
to conceal his movements, he crossed the nullah, circled round to his
right, recrossed higher up and charged down upon the enemy, who,
busily engaged in firing on the Infantry, had taken no heed of his
approach.^ Yet, though caught at unawares, the Shinwaris fired off
their matchlocks, killing two men and wounding seven, before they
broke and fled. The pursuit was short ; horses had no chance against

i Captain Thompson was highly commended for this gallant charge.


the nimble Afghans on a steep hillside, and the charge had effected
its purpose. At sight of their friends' discomfiture, the men within the
village, who had hitherto offered the most desperate resistance,
abandoned their defences and fled ; all but a single man, who, for some
time, continued to hold one of the towers and to keep the victors at
bay. When he had been shot down, Mausam was in Tytler's hands,
and he at once blew up its towers, as well as those of Darwaza, a
neighbouring village whose people had fired on his rear-guard, and
promptly began his retreat. The moment the troops were seen to be
retiring, the men of Mausam rallied and became, in their turn, the
assailants. By this time, the news of the British invasion had spread
far and wide, and large reinforcements came hurrying up, many of the
newcomers being inhabitants of Maidanak, eager to avenge the punish-
ment to which a few days previously they had had to submit. All in
all, Tytler reckoned that on that day he had had to deal with three
thousand tribesmen ; and, though many of them were only armed with
matchlocks and swords, their courage and determination and their skill
in taking shelter made them formidable foes. So great was the peril,
that only a General possessing the entire confidence of his men could
have brought them safely through it. That confidence Tytler had
won for himself ; and, secure in the certainty that he had nothing to fear
from panic, he echelonned the Cavalry on his flanks, and coolly retired
his Infantry by alternate lines, halting the whole Force, from time to
time, to bring the guns into action against the enemy, pressing in upon
his flanks and rear with such boldness that, at one point, they came
within eighty yards of the troops. This running fight was maintained
for nearly ten miles until, on high ground under the walls of Pesh
Bolak, Tytler's men found safety, and the enemy drew off into the
adjacent hills. In this expedition the British loss was only two killed
and twelve wounded, but the Shinwaris buried one hundred and sixty
men the following day, and they must have had at least three hundred
wounded. Tytler had only been twenty-four hours away from his


Headquarters, and yet, in that brief interval, men of the same tribe
had made a serious raid on his communications, in which two men of
the 17th Foot were killed, and forty-four camels carried off.

Tytler's column was badly constituted, as well as dangerously
weak. In addition to the guns, it consisted of detachments drawn
from no less than six regiments : —

11th Bengal Lancers
13th Bengal Lancers
1/5 Foot ....
l/17th Foot . . .
27th Punjab Infantry
2nd Gurkhas .

1 squadron.

1 troop.

2 companies.
2 companies.
J a company.
J a company.

The system of mixing up men of a variety of regiments is vicious
in principle, as, so constituted, a Force lacks cohesion owing to the
multiplication of Commanding Officers, and the fact that the different
units have not been accustomed to work together. This faulty
organization was of frequent occurrence during the war, on all three
lines of advance. Sometimes it was imavoidable when, as in the case
under review, the troops destined for an Expedition were scattered
on the Hne of communication, though a better disposition of them
on that hne, with a view to such a contingency, might have been
made. In the Peninsular War, the rule was that a company, or a
troop, was to be regarded as the smallest unit for detached duty, and,
if any increase was necessary, such increase was not to be less than the
prescribed unit. In Afghanistan, the Indian Government was making
war with inadequate armies, for neither Browne nor Maude was strong
enough to form the moveable columns which should have been stationed
at Jamrud, Lundi Kotal and Basawal, ready to move at a moment's
notice, and they were driven to the dangerous expedient of weakening
the posts guarding their communications, and getting up scratch Forces
whenever an emergency arose.


The Invasion of Khost


If the condition of affairs in the Khyber at the beginning of the year
1879, was unsatisfactory, that in the Kiiram was distinctly worse.
Browne had in Peshawar, distant only a few miles from the Afghan
frontier, a real base ; Roberts's true base was at Rawal Pindi, 171
miles from Thai, and Thai was again 82 miles from the British out-
post at Ali Khel. No river broke the communications of the former ;
those of the latter were cut by the Kuram and the Indus, the flooding
of either of which streams would bring his Force face to face with
starvation, since there were no local supplies to count upon, and no
reserve of food had been accumulated in the valley.^ The weather,
though exceptionally dry, was very severe, and the health of the troops
had suffered so grievously from exposure and fatigue that, although
a large convoy of sick and wounded had left for India on the 2nd of
December, a week later there were no fewer than five hundred and

^ "My Commissary-General reported to me that only a few days' provisions
for the troops remained in hand, and that it was impossible to lay in any reserve
unless more transport could be provided. About this reserve, I was very anxious,
for the roads might become temporarily impassable from the rising of the rivers,
after the heavy rain to be expected about Christmas. Contractors were de-
spatched to all parts of the country to procure camels, and I suggested to Govern-
ment that pack-bullocks should be bought at Mirzapiu" and railed up country,
which suggestion being acted upon, the danger of the troops having to go hungry
was warded off." {Forty-One Years in India, p. 155.)



twenty-four officers and men in hospital. Great difficulty had been
experienced in getting together the camels required for the above-
named convoy, and a large proportion of the regimental transport
and of the animals incessantly engaged in provisioning the scattered
units of the Army, was non-effective/ The new road by which the
double crossing of the Kuram River would be avoided, was still un-
finished ; and the old road, from end to end, was infested by Mangals
and Zymukhts, who hung on the flanks and rear of the troops in
movement, and murdered stragglers and carried off camels from
under the very walls of Thai ; even the friendly Turis were suspected
of plundering whenever they had the chance.^ Thus every circum-
stance connected with the Kuram Field Force, pointed to the need of
consolidating the position it had won before calling upon it to extend
the sphere of its operations ; but the restless activity of its Commander
could so ill brook delay that, within three weeks of his return to the
Kuram from reconnoitring the Shutargardan, he had concentrated
two thousand and eighty-two men, with eight guns, and transport
amounting to fifteen hundred and thirty-nine camels and five hundred

^ In six months the Kuram Field Force lost 8,828 out of 10,861 hired camels,
besides a large number belonging to the Government." (Commissariat Return
of Camel Carriage, Kuram Field Force.) " The position of the camp at Kuram
. . . was not suited to keeping camels in a healthy condition. The distance
of the nearest range of hills where brushwood, which would do for their food, was
found, was about seven miles, and the camels had thus to walk foiu-teen miles,
there and back, to their feeding groimd daily ; the cold, added to their change of
diet, was trying to their constitutions, and the damage which was done in a few
weeks at the commencement of the campaign from these causes, which were
evident, and from other causes, which may not have been so clear, materially
affected the movements of the Force later on." (With the Kuram Field Force, by
Major Colquhoim, p. 150.)

^ " Our line of conuiiunications was constantly harassed by raiders, convoys
were continually threatened, outposts fu-ed into and telegraph wires cut. The
smallness of my force made it difficult for me to deal with these troubles, so I
applied to the Commander-in-Chief for the wing of the 72nd Highlanders left at
Kohat and the 5th Pimjab Cavalry at Thai to be ordered to join me at Kuram."
(Forty-One Years in India, p. 154.)


and sixty-five mules/ at Hazir Pir, and had completed the changes in
the distribution of the troops to be left behind in the Kuram, rendered
necessary by the withdrawal of a large part of its garrison.



No. 1 Mountain Battery.

No. 2 Mountain Battery.

1 Squadron 10th Hussars.

3 Troops 5tli Bengal Cavalry.

200 men of the 72nd Highlanders.

21st Punjab Infantry.

28th Punjab Infantry.



3 Guns F.A. Royal Horse Artillery.
1 Troop 5th Pvmjab Cavalry.
1 Company 8th Foot.
Wing 29th Punjab Infantry.

Hazib Pir
3 Giuis F.A. Royal Horse Artillery.
3 Troops 12th Bengal Cavalry.
1 Company 8th Foot.
Wing 29th Punjab Infantry.

Darwaza Pass
23rd Pioneers road-making between Kiu-am Forts and Hazir

Fort Kuram
1 Troop 12th Bengal Cavalry.
1 Company 72nd Highlanders.
5th Gurkhas.

1 " Total Regimental Carriage, which included sick and non-effective
attached to the Kuram Field Force on January 1, 1879 : 1257 camels, and 1169
mules." (Assistant Adjutant-General's Return.) Of these, 539 camels and 556
mules were absorbed by the Khost Expedition.


Peiwab Kotal and Vicinity
3 Guns C-3 Royal Artillery.
1 Squadron l'2th Bengal Cavalry.
Wing 8th Foot.

3 Companies 72nd Highlanders.
1 Company Sappers and Miners.
Total strength : 5,694 Officers and Men, and 6 gims.

No maps of Khost, or of the district lying between it and the Kuram,
were in existence,^ but from Native sources it had been ascertained
that the distance between the starting-point and the goal of the
expedition was only thirty-five miles, divided into four stages : —

Hazir Pir to Jaji Maidan 11 miles.

Jaji Maidan to Balk 10 „

Balk to Khubi 6

Khubi to Matun 8 „

and Captain F. S. Carr, who had reconnoitred the road for fifteen

miles, reported that it ran through fairly open country, and was

practicable for Cavalry. No organized resistance was expected on

the way, and Mahomed Akram Khan, the Afghan Governor of Khost,

had signified his readiness to hand over the administration and the

revenue records of the valley to General Roberts as soon as the latter

could take charge of them, in return for an assurance that he himself

should be free either to return at once to Kabul, or to take up his

residence in India till the war should have come to an end.

Preceded by a squadron of the 10th Hussars with flanking parties

furnished by the 5th Punjab Cavalry, the troops designed to add

Khost to the British Empire, left Hazir Pir, at 9 a.m. on the 2nd of

January, 1879, and pitched their camp early in the afternoon in the

rice-fields that surround the cluster of villages known as Jaji Maidan —

the plain of the Jajis — whose inhabitants brought in plentiful supplies

of milk, fowls, etc.

^ " The Khost country had till this time been represented on the map by a
blank space. The streams which ran into the Kuram River at Hazir Pir were
just marked at then embouchures as the roads by which the Amir's Sirdars went
to collect the revenue." (Major Colquhoun, p. 181.)


The second day's march proved more trying : first, a network
of small irrigation-canals so hamj)ered and hindered the movements
of the transport that it was noon before the rear-guard got clear of the
camping ground ; next, followed a long, steep, slippery descent,
strewn with boulders and cut by water-courses, where the ice lay five
to six inches thick ; and, beyond this, the valley was shut in to the
south, by a belt of rugged hills, four miles in depth, the path through
which was so rough and broken that the 23rd Pioneers, who had been
temporarily withdrawn from road-making in the Darwaza Pass, to
smooth and widen the track leading into Khost, had hard work to
render it practicable for camels.

Hearing on the northern side of this belt that Mangals had been
seen in the neighbourhood, and feeling sure that it would be impossible
to get the whole of his Force through the passes before dark, Roberts
parked his supply-convoy near the village of Dhani, and leaving the

Online LibraryH. B. (Henry Bathurst) HannaThe second Afghan war, 1878-79-80 : its causes, its conduct and its consequences (Volume 2) → online text (page 17 of 32)