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rear-guard to protect it through the night, moved cautiously forward
with the main body. No opposition was met with, and the troops,
having threaded their way through the hills, passed down a wide
drainage channel to Balk, a group of villages like those at Jaji
Maidan, situated in a perfectly flat, cultivated plain. Here, there was
a day's halt to give time for tb.e supply-convoy to come up, and to
rest the camels, which were already in miserable plight.^ During this
halt, a Non-commissioned Officer of the 28th Punjab Infantry was
murdered within fifty yards of the camp sentries. The murderer
escaped, but, fortunately for the villagers, there was strong reason to
identify him with a man who, sometime before, had been flogged at



^ " On the next day, the 4th, we were obhged to halt, owing to the done-up
condition of the baggage-animals, and to allow the convoy and troops left behind
the evening before to come up. When these arrived, which was about noon, the
camels looked totally unfit to go another step, and a good many died the same
night." (Surgeon R. Gillham-Thomsett's Kohat, Kuram and Khost, p. IGl.)
The same writer mentions having seen " lovely, fair children m Balk."



THE INVASION OF KHOST 205

Hazir Pir, and who, quite recently, had been heard to threaten to
avenge the deaths of four Natives, hanged under revolting circum-
stances for killing some camp-followers in the Darwaza Pass.^

On the 5th, the march was resumed, troops and baggage moving
on a broad front, through open country, to the Kam Khost River,
which, owing to the absence of the winter rains, they had little diffi-
culty in crossing. At Khubi, on the southern bank, where the Force
halted for the night. General Roberts and Colonel Waterfield, his
political adviser, had an interview with the Governor of Khost, who
came to renew in person the promises already made by him in writing.
Next morning the Force marched for Matun in three columns, and,
at the outset, in open order, the Infantry stretching right across a
flat boggy plain ^ three miles in width ; then, as the valley contracted,
drawing closer together, till, on arriving at the foot of a low range of
hills, pierced by a track scarce wide enough to admit of the passage
of laden beasts in single file, a complete change of formation became
necessary. Beyond these hills, the road descended into the rich and
peaceful Khost Valley, with its terraced rice-fields, irrigated by
numerous channels drawn from the streams that flow down into it
from the surrounding mountains,^ and dotted with pretty, clean,

1 " Four of the prisoners were hanged, and the fiftli, who was proved to be
a milder offender, was doomed to be an eye-witness of the scene, and then
stripped and horse-whipped. It was, indeed, a horrible sight ; there stood
the gallows — an unfinished one surely, but looking, perhaps, more grim in its
simpUcity than would be a better made one. In front and beneath the gallows
were dug graves for the reception of the culprits ; in fact, they were actually
being made under their very eyes." The unfinished structvare gave way, and only
two of the men were hanged. " The other two actually got up and staggered
about, and, amidst struggling and groaning, were brained by the Provost-
Sergeant." (Ibid. p. 129.)

2 " I saw two or three horses with their riders sink suddenly down for three
or four feet deep and have the greatest difficulty in getting up again." (Ibid. p.
163.)

3 "On arriving at the summit of the last hill, a beautiful view of the Khost
Valley lay beneath us, which contrasted well with the surrounding mountains.



2o6 THE SECOND AFGHAN WAR

whitewashed villages ; a smiling scene, pleasant to look upon, but
with fever lurking in the fertile, water-logged ground.^

Whilst the troops halted to allow the baggage to come up, the
General, accompanied by his Political Officer, Colonel Waterfield
and his Staff, galloped on to Matun, where the Governor formally
surrendered to him the dilapidated, unsanitary fort — a square enclosure
with circular bastions at the corners, connected by curtain-walls a
hundred feet long.

With the fulfilment of his own engagements, Mahomed Akram's
power to serve the new Government of Khost was exhausted, and he
had to warn the British General that the inhabitants of the valley,
though peaceable enough when left to themselves, might be forced
into resistance by their warlike neighbours, whom he knew to be
gathering in the hills, attracted by the smallness of the British Force,
which they believed to have " been delivered into their hands." ^
Roberts's personal observations confirmed the ex-Governor's warnings,
so far as the uncertain temper of the people of Khost was concerned —
he had noticed that many Maliks refrained from waiting on him till
sent for, and that some of those who had come out to meet him had
asked leave to return to their villages ; » and though, as yet, no armed
hillmen had been sighted, he knew by this time enough of their ways
to be aware that there might be thousands of them close at hand, for,

The valley indeed looked very snug and peaceful. ... As we descended into
the valley signs of agriculture became very apparent. . . . Rice ... is growTi
plentifully in the Khost district, and the inhabitants lay out the ground in tiers,
one below the other, so that it can be well supplied with water by a stream
running along the border of each tier. . . . The little wliite cottages, garnished
as they were with cherry trees, looked uncommonly pretty in the distance."
(Ibid. pp. 158-59.)

^ " I discovered that there was water very near the surface of the ground
upon which we had formed our camp. . . . This, doubtless, was the cause to a
great extent of the malarious diseases which prevailed among the troops during
our stay in the Khost Valley." (Ibid. p. 171.)

2 Major Colquhoun, p. 189; Forty-One Years in India, vol. ii., p. 159.

3 Despatch dated Matun, Khost Valley, Jan. 10, 187'J.



THE INVASION OF KHOST 207

in the mountains that surround Khost, dwell some of the most formid-
able of the Independent Tribes — Mangals, with whom he had already
made acquainance in the Sappari Pass, who could put some eight
thousand fighting men into the field ; Darwesh Khels, a section of the
powerful Waziri tribe ; and Judrans, a smaller people, but so uncouth
and savage that Elphinstone had described them as more like bears
than men.

In view of the grave uncertainties that overhung the fast approach-
ing night, where to place the British camp was an anxious question.
The fort had, for tlie moment, to be left in the hands of the ex-Governor
and his two hundred native levies, whose loyalty was not so assured
as to allow of taking up a position under its walls, and, in its neighbour-
hood, there was no good site. The imperative need of a large supply
of water determined the one finally selected, which was defective
from the fact that the southern side of the camp would rest on the
edge of a deep, wide nullah, where the enemy might collect unobserved.
Whilst the work of pitching and fortifying the camp was being pressed
forward, Akram Khan sent in word that the Mangals were assembling
in large numbers ; that some of the Khost people had joined them ;
and that an attack on the British position might be looked for after
dark. On receipt of this message the British General sent for the
headmen of all the adjacent villages, and curtly informed them that
they and their fellow-villagers would incur severe punishment if any
hillmen were found next day within their boundaries. The terrified
Maliks hurried away to see what they could do to avert the evils
hanging over their homes, and returned before midnight bringing word
that the Mangals had promised to leave the valley, and offering them-
selves as hostages for the good faith of their own people.^ Their
presence was some guarantee for the safety of the camp, and every
precaution had been taken for its protection — rifle-pits dug, sentries
doubled, strong pickets placed on either flank, each with two guns ;
1 Despatch, January 10, 1879.



2o8 THE SECOND AFGHAN WAR

nevertheless, the Infantry lay down with their arms beside them, and
the Cavalry stood all night at their saddled horses' heads.^

Next morning Roberts sent out some of the Maliks to ascertain
the position of affairs, and the news that they brought back was very
disquieting : — the Mangals who, the previous evening, had pledged
themselves to leave the valley, had, indeed, started for their homes,
but, on meeting crowds of their kinsfolk streaming down from the
hiUs, had turned back, and all Khost, with the exception of the
villages nearest to the British position, was now swarming with armed
men. At the time, it seemed strange that the camp should have
remained unmolested during the night, but it was discovered later
that, trusting in their numerical superiority, and believing that by
daylight they could more easily compass the total destruction of the
British Force, the tribesmen had dehberately put off attacking till
morning ; - when Roberts, who was not the man to wait inactive
whilst dangers thickened round him, forestalled them by himself
assuming the offensive.

The General's first step was to despatch a troop of the 5th Punjab
Cavalry under Major J. C. Stewart, accompanied by Captain F. S. Carr,
to test by a reconnaissance the truth of the Malik's report. Three
miles from camp, the party came upon fifteen hundred to two thousand
tribesmen, and as in the face of so formidable a body there was nothing
to be done but to retire, Stewart having sent off a messenger to ask for
assistance fell back slowly, till the appearance of Hugh Gough, at
the head of two hundred and fifty troopers, turned the tables on the
Mangals, who, quickly dispersing, made a rush for the hills. The
Cavalry, admirably handled, gallantly followed them up,^ and seizing

^ Telegram to Standard, dated January 7th, 1879.

^ Desaptch of January 10, 1879.

3 " A troop of the 5th Punjab Cavalry made a brilliant charge up a hill in
the centre of the enemy's position, and rapidly dismounting, commenced to
harass them in their retreat. This charge, which was personally led by Major B.
Williams, struck me as one of the most gallant episodes in CavalryVarfare I had
ever seen." (Brigadier-General H. Cough's Report, dated 9th January, 1879.)



THE INVASION OF KHOST 209

commanding positions with dismounted men, tenaciously held their
ground, till the arrival of Colonel J. Hudson, with the 28th Punjab
Infantry, and of Major Swinley's mountain-guns, compelled the tribes-
men to retreat to still more inaccessible heights. Acting in accordance
with instructions received from General Roberts, Gough at once with-
drew the whole Force, covering its slow, steady retirement by the fire
of the mountain-guns, and holding his Cavalry in readiness to charge
should the enemy venture down into open ground.

Wliilst one body of Mangals was drawing away a large part of the
British Force, other bodies had stolen so secretly into the hitherto
unoccupied villages that no one in camp suspected their proximity ;
even the hurried return of some camel drivers, who had been set
upon, robbed of their camels, and one of their number killed, only half
a mile from the British position, awakened so little suspicion of the
true state of things that, about 1 p.m., Roberts rode out with his Staff
to see how Gough had fared, leaving Colonel Barry Drew in charge
with orders to stand on the defensive till he, the General, should
return. Hardly had Roberts and his party disappeared from view,
than large numbers of armed men ^ were seen to issue from the villages
lying north-west of the British position, and to gather in dense masses
in front of the nearest of them. The troops remaining in camp after
the departure of the 2Sth Punjab Infantry and practically of the whole
of the Cavalry, were too few in number to admit of any being held in
reserve, but each side of the camp was adequately protected — the
eastern, by a wing of the 21st Punjab Infantry and two guns. No. 1
Mountain Battery, under Major F. H. Collis, the southern, by the
remaining guns of the Mountain Battery and the other wing of the
21st, under Captain J. G. T. Carruthers, the northern and western sides,
by the 72nd Highlanders, under Lieutenant-Colonel W. H. J. Clarke
— and the enemy, though bold and wary, never had a chance of deliver-

^ Four thousand, according to Sir Hugh Gough. See article entitled " Old
Memories," in Pall Mall Magazine for June, 1898, p. 207.

P



2IO THE SECOND AFGHAN WAR

ing the intended assault. On the east, Captain Morgan's guns were
quickly at work dropping shells into their midst, and as they streamed
away southward. Captain Kennedy, with a handful of troopers,
dashed out to cut them off, but was pulled up by the nullah that lay
between him and them, and had to recognize that he was too weak to
attempt to recapture the stolen camels, which could be seen moving
away in a northerly direction. Meantime, a general fusillade had broken
out from the Afghan Cavalry Lines beside the fort. Protected by the
fire of the guns, a detachment of Highlanders and of Punjab Infantry,
commanded by Captain N. J. Spens, soon drove the Mangals from
their cover, but only for them to find fresh shelter in villages just out
of range. The fort, so far as could be seen, was not occupied by the
enemy, but from its roof the Governor's levies watched the fight,
ready, should the attack on the British camp succeed, to come to
the aid of the tribesmen, with whom they were suspected of having
communicated during the preceding night by means of vivid
flames, which, from time to time, had been seen to burst forth on the
ramparts.

At 2.30 p.m., the General, having returned to find his camp intact,
but the Mangals still in possession of the ground on three sides of it,
gave orders to carry all the villages lying to the east and south of the
British position, and to plunder and burn them as a punishment to
their inhabitants for having admitted the hillmen within their walls ;
but to spare those to westward, which had not been occupied by the
enemy, and where, earty in the day, camp-followers had been warned
of danger.^ Barry Drew, at the head of the 72nd Highlanders, and
a wing of the 21st Punjab Infantry, drove out the defenders of the
eastern villages and followed them up to the foot of the hills, three
miles away, whilst two guns and the other wing of the 21st cleared
the southern villages, from the back of one of which a large body of
tribesmen was seen to issue. Roberts instantly ordered Captain
* Despatch of January 10th, 1879.



THE INVASION OF KHOST 211

J. C. Stewart, who, -svith thirty men of the 5th Punjab Cavalry, had
accompanied him back to camp, to charge, and, in answer to a question
put to him by that Officer, directed him not to burden himself with
prisoners. The sowars, dashing forward, overtook the enemy in a
nullah, and drove them, with a loss of some sixty killed and wounded,
up its broad, stony bed, till, in a village on its further bank, the
fugitives found temporary shelter, and, opening fire on their pursuers,
obliged them to withdraw out of range. The respite, however, was
short ; reinforcements of Infantry were already coming up, at sight
of which the hillmen made a rush for another village beyond a second
ravine. An attempt to intercept them proved partially successful.
Eighty or ninety, cut off from their comrades, ran back to the refuge
they had just deserted, and, after considerable hesitation, were induced
to lay down their arms and give themselves up. The Military Officers
on the spot, would have let them go, but Colonel Waterfield, discovering
that they were Waziris, decided to have them taken into camp, where
Roberts placed them in charge of the 21st Punjab Infantry, to be
kept in captivity till ransomed by their tribe.^ In addition to these
prisoners, the enemy had, at least, eighty men killed and wounded in
the course of the day, while the British casualties were only three
killed and four wounded — an extraordinary disproportion ; ^ but when
Major Colquhoun, in his narrative of the Khost Expedition, declare^
that " not a man turned on the small handful of troops who were
carrying fire and sword into their villages," he misses the true
explanation of the tribesmen's apparent cowardice. It was just
because the villages were not their own, that Mangals and Waziris —
the latter, perhaps, the bravest of all the Pathan tribes — abandoned
them to their fate, and recognizing that their attack upon the British

^ Parliamentary Paper of 17th Juno, 1879, proceedings of Major- General
Roberts in Khost on 7th and 8th of January, 1879.

2 " Our casualties were very small indeed, which was no doubt due to the
inferior weapons of the enemy, and to the longer range of ours." (Kohat, Kuram
and Khost, p. 190, by Surgeon R. Gillam Thomsett.)



212 THE SECOND AFGHAN WAR

camp had failed, hurried back to the hills to devise fresh schemes for
driving its occupants from the valley. The people into whose homes
fire and sword were carried, were really men of unwarlike disposition
and habits, accustomed to look to the Afghan troops quartered in
their midst, for protection against the very tribesmen who, having
coerced them into a contest with their new rulers, now left them to
bear the consequences of their weakness. There were no Afghan
troops to defend them now ; so they could but watch from afar, whilst
eleven of the pretty villages that had charmed the eyes of the British
soldier as he marched down into Kliost only the day before, were
burned to the ground, and all their treasured possessions, all their
means of subsistence, " bullocks, sheep, goats, fowls, ponies, gun-
powder, old-fashioned matlocks and swords of every Asiatic descrip-
tion," ^ were carried off by camp-followers, to whom General Roberts
had given leave to take whatever they could snatch before the torch
was applied to the houses, and, in some instances, by soldiers to whom,
apparently, such permission had not been accorded.^

Before dark the troops had been withdrawn to camp, the outposts
strengthened, and a strong in-lying picket posted in readiness to
proceed to their aid at a moment's notice. There was, however, so
little chance that the enemy would renew the attack that night, and
the brilliant moonlight and the glare from the burning villages made
it so impossible for them to approach unnoticed, that all who were
not on duty, could lie down to sleep with easy minds. ^

* Special Correspondent of tlie Standard, dated Matun, January 11th, 1879.

^ " VVlien the first village had been occupied and set alight, the camp-
followers, who had been on the watch for plunder, swooped down upon them
and carried off whatever was portable, though there was nothing left in them
to speak of." {With the Kuram Field Force, p. 199, by Major Colquhoun.)

^ "The night that set in on that day of fighting and devastation was one of
wonderful beauty. The moon shone in a blue sky, freckled with rippling snow-
clouds. On the broad plain around the camp, villages were burning luridly.
Sometimes a roof fell in, when sprays of fire shot high into the air. Altogether,
the scene was one as suggestive of the horrors of war as remarkable for its terrible
beauty." (Letter in Standard from " One who was Present.")



THE INVASION OF KHOST 213

Observation
Certain questions addressed by Mr. Anderson, M.P., to the Under-
Secretary of State for India, on the 17th of February, gave General
Roberts the opportunity of stating the grounds which he held to justify
the order given to Stewart to refuse quarter to the enemy on the after-
noon of the 8th of January, and the looting and burning of the villages
in the neighbourhood of Matun.^ Those grounds may be summed up
in the words — " miHtary necessity " ; the position of the troops under
his command in Khost, so he alleged, having been such that he could
not afford to take prisoners, and was obliged to inflict " speedy and
severe punishment " on " the tribes who had dared to organize an
attack on his camp," and to plunder and destroy " villages which had
harboured the enemy, and from which hostile shots had been fired." -
This defence must be rejected as invalid, for the barbarities it sought
to excuse cannot be shown to have lessened the hostility of the tribes,
and they certainly destroyed any chance there may have existed, of
retaining some kind of shadowy hold upon the valley till circumstances
should permit of its effective occupation. General Roberts's reputation,
however, would gain nothing by its acceptance, for it implied either
that he did not know before entering on the Expedition that " the
strength of his column was insignificant in comparison of the numbers
that might be arrayed against it," and that " it would be separated
by many miles of difficult country from its nearest supports " ^ — in
which case he had neglected the first duty of a Commander in failing
to acquaint himself with the conditions under which his projected
operations would have to be conducted — or, else, that knowing what
lay before him, he deliberately chose to run risks so great that, in his
opinion, they must absolve him from the necessity of observing the
honourable traditions of the Army to which he belonged. Those
traditions dated from the days when the East India Company was

1 Parliamentary Paper of 17th June, 1879, regarding proceeding in Khoot.
^ Ibid. 3 Ibid.



214 THE SECOND AFGHAN WAR

gradually extending its authority over a vast country, inhabited by
an enormous population, differing from their new rulers in colour,
customs, laws, and religion. The soldier-statesmen who wrought
what, viewed as a whole, seems little less than a miracle, never forgot
" the enormous disparity between their forces and those that might be
arrayed against them," and always sought to disarm the hostility
of the peoples with whose Governments they came in collision, by
making the burden of war fall as lightly as possible on all non-com-
batants. In the campaigns against Sultan Tippoo Sahib, at the end
of the eighteenth century, the troops of the East India Company not only
abstained from inflicting injury on the unhappy peasantry of Mysore,
but protected them, by force when necessary, against the lawlessness
and cruelty of the contingent furnished by the Company's ally, the
Nizam of Hyderabad. " A reputation for justice and humanity
preceding an Army, is of more consequence than an advanced guard
of 10,000 men," ^ wrote John Malcolm in commenting on this episode
in Indian history ; and Malcolm's friend, Arthur Wellesley, to whom
much of the credit of winning this -reputation for the Company's Forces
was due, carried faith in the same great truth back with him to Europe,
and acted on it when, after a five years' struggle to free Spain from
French domination, he followed Soult's retreating forces into France.
The General Orders of England's greatest Commander teem with
instructions as to the conduct of his troops now that they, in their
turn, were operating in an enemy's country ; instructions based as
much on enlightened concern for the safety and well-being of his Army,
as on a generous recognition of the rights of a vanquished people.

The higher code of military ethics which the East had given to the
West in the person of Wellington, the West gave back to the East
in his example and influence. A certain William Nott, who, as
an unknown officer, had made "a perfect study of the Wellington

^ Kaye's Life of tiir John Malculm, G.C.B., vol. i. p. 23.



THE INVASION OF KHOST 215

Despatches," ^ came, in due course, to hold first a subordinate, and
later an independent command in the first Afghan war, and, in both
positions, never deviated from " the humane principles of conduct
which had invariably animated the mighty Duke." ^ Standing by
them steadily, undeterred by misrepresentation and censure, for four
long years, he reaped at last his just reward in the tardily
bestowed confidence of the Indian Government, in the grateful
affection of the people of Kandahar, and in the consciousness that he
returned to India with a reputation alike free from the stain of cruelty
and the shadow of failure.^

Followdng closely in Nott's steps, John Jacob, whose life presented
the world with the rare spectacle of a man of great military genius
entirely free from the lust of personal distinction, insisted on applying
the rules of civilized warfare to the savage and troublesome tribes of
Sind, and their no less savage and troublesome neighbours. Punish-



Online LibraryH. B. (Henry Bathurst) HannaThe second Afghan war, 1878-79-80 : its causes, its conduct and its consequences (Volume 2) → online text (page 18 of 32)