H. B. (Henry Bathurst) Hanna.

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

. (page 20 of 32)
Online LibraryH. B. (Henry Bathurst) HannaThe second Afghan war, 1878-79-80 : its causes, its conduct and its consequences (Volume 2) → online text (page 20 of 32)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

terrified Turis. Wliilst the Cavalry watched the enemy, six thousand
of whom occupied a strong position only two miles away, the Infantry
loaded their camels with as much grain as they could carry, flung the
remainder into a neighbouring pond, destroyed the ammunition and
set fire to the Fort. The retirement was carried out with great skill
and coolness. Behind a screen of Cavalry skirmishers, thrown forward
as if to attack the enemy, the mountain-guns and the Infantry gained
so great a start that the Mangals' chance of falling upon them with
any prospect of success, was lost, and they made no attempt to meddle
with the Cavalry when the time had come for these also to withdraw.
At 5 p.m. relievers and relieved arrived safely at Sabbri, where Barry
Drew and his men, whilst on the alert to respond to a call for assistance,
should any such call reach them from Roberts's column, had been busy
all day, first, striking half the tents so as to bring the camp into smaller
compass, and then, surrounding it with a rampart, three feet six inches
high, built up of men's kits, Officers' baggage, camel-saddles, flour-bags,
tents, etc.

The next day, escorted by the 5th Punjab Cavalry, General Roberts
and his Staff rode into Hazir Pir, followed, on the 31st, by the main
body under Barry Drew. Its starting-point regained, the Expedition-
ary Force was broken up and the troops composing it distributed
along the line of communications, which the Viceroy, on the recom-
mendation of the Commander-in-Chief, had strengthened during their
absence by the addition of the 14th Bengal Cavalry, the 92nd High-
landers, the 11th Native Infantry, and the troops contributed by the
Rajahs of Fared Kot, Nabha, Pattiala, and Nahun, under the com-
mand of Brigadier-General John Watson, V.C, C.B.



Observation I. There are notable discrepancies between the de-
spatch of the 10th of January, 1879, and the Memorandum of the 1st of
April, of the same year. In the former. General Roberts gave a straight-
forward and fairly full account of the circumstances connected with the
attack on liis camp ; in the latter, he omitted all reference to the efforts
made by the Mahks of the Matun villages to induce the Mangals to retire
from the valley, and suppressed the fact that, in proof of their good
faith, these same men had voluntarily constituted themselves his
prisoners. On the other hand, the murder of " unarmed camp-
followers in villages within half a mile " of the British camp, mentioned
in the justificatory documents, finds no place in the purely historical
narrative, and Major Colqulioun's detailed diary of the operations in
Khost, makes no mention of any camp-follower who lost his life before
the Matun villages were destroyed, except the driver killed by the
Mangals when they captured and carried off some camels, an offence
which Roberts also sought to saddle upon the people of Khost. ^ One
point, however, on which both accounts agree is the putting forward
of the threat to exact summary and severe retribution from all who
should give admittance to " persons having hostile intentions towards
us," made on the 6th of January, as an excuse for the destruction
wrought on the 7th. But that threat was, in itself, a violation of
justice and policy ; firstly, because there were no means of ascertaining
whether admittance to the Matun villages would be given, or forced ;
secondly, because only an effective occupation can, morally and
legally, deprive a people of the right to defend its territory against
invasion, and the arrival of a British Force at Matun did not constitute
an effective occupation of Khost ; thirdly, because a punishment
inflicted on the inhabitants of the valley could have no deterrent effect
on the inhabitants of the hills, whose homes were in no danger of

^ Parliamentary Paper of 17th June, 1879, '•Proceedings in Klwst.",


suffering a like fate ; fourthly, because the fear of being called to
account for the acts of the Mangals, was certain to drive the villagers
into co-operation with the former ; fifthly, because the execution of
the threat could not fail to alienate completely the people of the valley,
whom it was Roberts's interest to reconcile. Memories of burned
houses are not to be blotted out, either by moral lectures, or promises
of future benefits ; and in Khost, as later on in Kabul, Roberts did his
country the disservice of associating the British name with acts of
" implacable vengeance," ^ which, but for his own reckless generalship,
he would never have been tempted to commit.

Observation II. Responsibihty for the costly and unsuccessful
Expedition into Khost must be borne entirely by General Roberts.
His instructions did, indeed, order him to take possession of that
valley, but, as regarded the time and manner of the occupation, they
left him the latitude without which no discreet and independent-
minded Officer would care to accept a command in the field ; yet, he
rushed into it at the earliest possible moment, taking with him an
inadequate Force and leaving behind him a dangerously weakened and
sickly garrison to keep open his communications, and its own. His
preparations made no provision for the state of things that any intelli-
gent Frontier Officer could have told him would confront him at Matun ;
and, as the whole business was planned and conducted on a scale com-
mensurate to a punitive Expedition, into a punitive Expedition it
soon degenerated, with the ordinary ending of all such expeditions —
a rapid retreat from an untenable position. That it ended merely in
failure, and not in disaster, was due to two causes, on neither of which
was it possible to count beforehand, viz., the dryness of the season,
and the lack, on the enemy's side, of any leader endowed with average

^ " In the eyes of the Afghans, General Roberts is the personification of the
implacable vengeance of a conqueror " — words used by an Afghan Khan in a
letter to a Persian Minister. (See, Letter to Sir Henry Rawlinson, in a volume
entitled Tracts : Central Asia.)


military ability. Had the winter rains set in after the arrival of the
troops at Matun, flooding the rice-fields in which they were encamped,
and filling the wide river-beds in their rear, they would have been
unable to move in any direction, the supply-convoy could not have
come up from Hazir Pir, and man and beast would have had reason
to be thankful if nothing worse happened to them than the being put,
temporarily, on half rations ; ^ and had the Mangals understood their
business as well as the Afridis in the Tirah Campaign of 1897-98 under-
stood theirs ; had they kept to the ordinary tactics of hill-peoples, and
contented themselves with nightly firing into camp, and with daily
cutting the Force's communications with Hazir Pir, the troops would
have had no chance of lightening the pressure of peril for as much
as a day ; and the retreat that had in the end to be accepted, would
have come earher, and been carried out under worse conditions.

^ " Rain himg about for the first few days, and had it come down we would
have been in an awful hat, for we had only seventeen days' provisions with us.
. . . We were therefore praying that no rain might fall to complicate matters."
{Kohat, Ktiram and Khost, p. 172, by Surgeon R. Gillham-Thomsett.)


The Occupation of Kandahar


On the 1st of January, 1879, the day after the 1st Division of the
Kandahar Field Force had concentrated at Guhstan Karez, on the
hither side of the Khwaja Amran Mountains, and the 2nd Division
at Ghaman, on the further side of the same range, the advance
guards of both forces started for the Takht-i-Pul Valley, where the
converging tracks to be followed by the left and the right columns, re-
spectively, merge into one ; the Brigades composing the main body of
each, following at intervals of a day's march.

The advanced guard of Stewart's column, under Brigadier-
General Palliser, was composed of the —

15th Hussars, one squadron ;
lat Punjab Cavalry, two squadrons ;
A.B. Royal Horse Artillery, two guns ;
25th Punjab Infantry ;
32nd Pioneers ;

Wing of 2nd Beluchi Regiment ;
4th and 9th Companies of Sappers and Miners ;
Strength about 1,800 men.

Biddulph's advanced guard, commanded by Colonel T. G. Ken-
nedy, consisted of the —

15th Hussars, one troop ;
2nd Punjab Cavalry, two squadrons ;
3rd Sind Horse, one troop ;
A.B. Roj'al Horse ArtUlery, two guns ;
Strength about 350 men,



Nominally, Palliser was in command of both bodies, for Stewart,
knowing that the distance between them — only twenty-five miles at
the outset — would steadily diminish, supposed that they would all
along be able to co-operate, their cavalry joining hands to screen the
march of the entire force ; but the intricate nature of the ground separ-
ating them, rendered joint action impossible ; each had to act inde-
pendently of the other, and all correspondence between the Divisional
Commanders was carried on by relays of horsemen, posted at convenient
distances, in rear of their respective forces. The distance by either
route was much the same — about fifty miles, divided into three
marches ; the country to be traversed a rough, stony plain, broken
by rocky hillocks and cut up by nullahs ; but Stewart's line of advance
had no exposed flank, his left being covered by the drifting sands of
the Registan Desert ; whilst Biddulph's right had to be carefully
patrolled, and great care taken to maintain touch between the advanced
guard and the two Brigades — Nuttall's and Lacy's — echelonned in
its rear, in order to guard against surprise from the extensive Kadani
valley, which it was impossible to reconnoitre satisfactorily.

It would be hard to exaggerate the barrenness and loneliness of
the region into which the troops had now descended, for two days
the only sign of life was a group of Kabitkas,' the temporary dwellings
of a party of nomads, which Palliser's men caught sight of ; and
though, on the third morning, after the Mel Manda Valley had been
entered, a few scattered habitations were discerned and strips of
cultivation here and there, these were confined to the banks of
artificial watercourses, and far away the greater part of the land was
clothed with thick brushwood, smelling of sage. The foliage of this

1 These Kabitkas are formed of branches bent in a curve and stuck in the
ground, and then the framework is covered with a thick, coarse camel-hair
cloth, most neatly pinned together with large thorns, and fixed to the ground
by short ropes and pegs. In these domed tents, men, women, children and
animals all live together, and they suit the climate, being warm to a degree."
Kandahar in 1879, by Major A. Le Messurier.


shrub — though not actually poisonous — proved fatal to many a
starvmg camel, whose weakened stomach was unable to digest the
unaccustomed food which hunger compelled it to devour ; for the
difficulty of feeding the transport animals still weighed heavily on
the Kandahar Field Force, as did also the allied difficulty of keeping
up their numbers to a point compatible with the efficiency of the
Army. Even as late as the 1st of January, the Commissariat Officer
attached to Lacy's Brigade, had reported that very necessary stores
would have to be left behind for lack of carriage ; and when, the
next day, an Afghan brought in three hundred donkeys, they had
to be hired at the exorbitant rate which their owner's knowledge
of the Army's needs emboldened him to ask. Fortunately,^they were
particularly fine animals, almost as big as mules. ^

About the middle of the morning of the 4th of January, when the
two advanced guards were within three or four miles of each other,
parties of the enemy's horse were discovered, pushed well forward in
front of a low rugged chain of hills to protect the passes which lead
from the Mel Manda, into the Tukht-i-Pul Valley. Major G. Luck who,
with a squadron of the 15th Hussars, was scouting well ahead of
Palliser's force, pressed back the Afghans opposed to him into the
Karkoma Pass, and, driving them before him, descended at their heels
into the last named valley. Here the fugitives came upon their sup-
ports, and, turning back, rushed upon their pursuers, shouting and
waving their swords. Though greatly outnumbered. Luck boldly
galloped forward to meet the charge, and when the opponents were
only a few hundred paces apart, the Afghans hesitated, paused, broke,
and, scattering right and left, sought shelter in ground too rough and
rocky to make it safe for a mere handful of men to follow them up.

I Some people may ask why they were not pressed into tlie service, and fair
wages allotted to their owner. The answer to this is that the Afghan would
have taken the first opportunity to desert with his beasts, and no further trans-
port animals would have been brought into camp. — H. B. H.


Hardly had the squadron come to a halt, before a detachment of
the 1st Punjab Cavalry, led by Major C. S. Maclean, rode up, bringing
the order to fall back upon the guns which, by this time, were in the
Pass, and if possible to lure the enemy under their fire. This with-
drawal was part of a general scheme suggested by Kennedy, who,
finding himself confronted by a considerable body of Afghan Cavalry
and learning from his scouts that the Ghlo Kotal Pass was strongly
held, had determined, before advancing, to dislodge the former and
clear the latter, and had sent off a note to Palliser asking for his co-
operation in reconnoitring the Tukht-i-Pul Valley. Palliser took the
necessary steps for carrying out the proposed joint movement, by
recalling and, at the same time, strengthening Luck, by directing the
32nd Pioneers to hold the Karkoma Pass, and the 25th Punjab Infantry
to move rapidly in support of the Artillery, which was to stick to the
Kafila track. Meantime, Kennedy had reinforced his scouts, and
whilst they were gradually enveloping the enemy's flanks, he himself,
with the remainder of his cavalry, threatened them with a frontal
attack. Skilfully hidden by this screen of horsemen, the guns were
brought to the front, and, coming into action, compelled the Afghans
to fall back. At the first sound of Artillery fire, Palliser, with his
Brigade-Major, Captain H. R. Abadie, hurried forward to meet Luck's
party, placed himself at its head, turned sharply to the right, and,
as quickly as the rugged nature of the ground would allow, pushed
on towards the northern mouth of the Ghlo Kotal Pass. Just then,
a dust storm sprang up, so thickening the air that Palliser was for
an instant deceived into believing that a body of Afghan horsemen
who were just then issuing, in good order, from the pass, were Ken-
nedy's men ; whilst the Afghans, unaware that the British had already
penetrated into the valley, mistook Palliser's troops for a party of
their own cavalry. The deception was a short one on either side.
Maclean and Luck, at the head of Palliser's column, saw more clearly
than their chief, and, quickly deploying, dashed into the enemy's


exposed flank. Though taken by surprise and their ranks broken
by the impetus of the British charge, the Afghans gathered in groups
and fought on bravely, till Kennedy's Cavalry, pressing them in
rear, obliged them to seek safety in flight, and they galloped away,
unpursued, in the direction of Kandahar.^ Wliilst this fighting was
in progress on the eastern side of the valley, the guns which Palliser
had left on the western Kafila road, and, as he thought, under the
protection of his Infantry, had, by some mistake, been pushed forward
four or five miles, escorted only by a small party of Cavalry. Near
the village of Saif-u-Din they came suddenly in sight of the main
body of the enemy, twelve hundred strong, posted on a hill about
a mile away. At the same moment, they were themselves discerned,
and the Afghans, seeing them so weakly guarded, poured down
towards the stream on the banks of which they had halted. Marshall,
the officer commanding, at once began to retire slowly on his distant
supports, and sent back an urgent message asking for assistance,
which Colonel H. Moore who^ had assumed command in Palliser's
absence, was not slow in rendering. Hurrying forward cavalry and
infantry, he covered the retirement of the guns with mounted skir-
mishers, whom he directed to fall back slowly as soon as they had
come into touch with the enemy ; and, in this way, he not only brought
the Artillery into safety, but, by its fire, inflicted some loss upon its
would-be captors.

1 " The curious mistakes during the day are worth noting, for they were
made by one and all. In the first place, the Afghans themselves, on issuing
from the Ghlo Kotal, saw the 15th Hussars and Punjab Cavalry, and at first
set them down for their own cavalry coming in from Kandahar ; then the 15th
Hussars took Kennedy's men for the enemy, and instances could be given in
which individuals nearly suffered, for their want of knowledge of the men in
whose vicinity they remained. One man of the 15th Hussars was out as a
scout, and actually, for a time, did left flanker to a party of the enemy ; and
in the evening, General Palhser, Sankey and myself at first thought we had
run on the main body of the enemy when we were close to our own men." —
Kandahar in 1879, by Major Le Messurier, pp. 57, 58.


The brief danger was over before Palliser rejoined his men, but
with evening closing in, the British forces in the valley widely scat-
tered, and the main body of the enemy still unshaken and near at
hand, it would have been imprudent to carry the reconnaissance
any further ; so the troops bivouacked as they stood, with strong
outposts thrown out on every side. The night proved a wild one.
At first it rained heavily, then a sharp wind arose, and, in its wake,
a second dust storm, making the darkness doubly dark ; and when
morning broke, Palliser and Kennedy found themselves in undis-
puted possession of the valley, for, under cover of that darkness, the
Afghans had retreated on Kandahar.

In his report on this very creditable little affair — the only engage-
ment on the whole long march from the Indus to Kandahar — General
Palliser brought to special notice Colonel Kennedy whose admirable
dispositions had contributed so much to its success. Majors Maclean
and Luck, Captain Abadie, and his own Aide-de-camp, Lieutenant
the Hon. R. Rupert. Three men of the 1st Punjab Cavalry enjoyed
a similar distinction : Sowar Mahomed Takhi, who in the face of
the enemy had picked up a dismounted comrade, and Ram Rukha
and Akhmat Khan, who, together, had boldly charged into the ranks
of a considerable body of Afghans to rescue J. Lower, a private of
the 15th Hussars. All these men were subsequently decorated with
the Order of Merit ; had they been British soldiers, or negroes belong-
ing to a West Indian regiment, they would have got the Victoria

The British casualties in the action were small : — in the 15th
Hussars, one officer, Major Luck, contusion of shoulder ; ^ one non-
commissioned officer and five troopers wounded, two severely ; in
the 1st Punjab Cavalry a native officer, Jemadar Huknewary Khan

1 Luck would have lost his ana but for the fortunate coincidence that the
night before the action he received a pair of steel epaulettes from his wife in
India, which his bearer at once sewed on his uniform.


and three sowars wounded, one severely ; whilst the enemy's losses
amounted to about a hundred men killed and wounded.

On the 6th of January, at Abdur Rahman, in the Tukht-i-Pul
Valley, the two divisions of the Kandahar Field Force concentrated
for the first time, and all the regiments and corps that had been
temporarily transferred from the one to the other, returned to their
respective commands. On the 7th, the combined forces marched
to Kushab, a village about eight miles short of Kandahar. The
two Cavalry Brigades, under General Palliser, carefully covered the
movement, and at night encamped well in advance of the main
body of the army, for news received at Abdur Rahman had pointed
to a stout resistance on the part of the enemy, and to the need of
regular siege operations for the reduction of Kandahar. On the line
of march, however, a deputation from that city waited upon the
British Commander-in-Chief to inform him that the Governor, Sirdar
Mir Afzul, had fled, with two hundred horsemen, to Herat, that the
troops retiring from Tukht-i-Pul had been refused admittance within
its walls, that the rest of the Afghan garrison had dispersed to their
homes, and that the citizens were prepared to submit to British

Stewart immediately decided to make, on the morrow, a cere-
monial entry into Kandahar. The whole army, except the two
Batteries, Heavy Artillery, C-4, and 1-1 Royal Artillery,^ escorted

^ By this time it had become a difficult matter to move the Artillery at all.
On the 1st January, General Stewart wrote, as follows, to the Adjutant
General: " The Artillery have simply collapsed, owing to complete failure of the
bullocks. They have died in large numbers, and from sore feet and from other
causes are hardly able to drag themselves, much less loaded waggons, along
even an easy road. ... At present most of the troops in this force are simply
working parties for the Artillery, and if I had not arranged for this, not one of
them would have reached Quetta. This is a very serious matter, especially as
we cannot get bullocks in this country." Again, on January the 4th, he wrote :
" If I had known they were in such a plight I should have left, the waggons
at Quetta, for as matters stand I am always in dread of beuag obliged to abandon
them." — Life of Sir Donald Stewart, pp. 235, 236.


by 59th Foot ^ and the troops needed to guard the baggage, was

to share in the triumphal march, passing in one long stream from

the Shikarpur Gate on the southern, to the Kabul Gate on the eastern

side of the town.^ The start next day was made early, but, owing

to the cutting of numerous watercourses,^ the road for miles was little

better than a swamp,* and the difficulties of getting the infantry,

guns and baggage along so great that it was four p.m. before the

head of the British column, after threading its way through the

narrow lanes of an extra-mural suburb, passed through the Shikapur

Gate into the broad street which runs northward in a straight line

^ 59th Foot came up the next day with C-4 and 1-1 Royal Artillery, and

the two Heavy Batteries, 5-11 and 6-11.— T. C. Hamilton' 8 Diary.

2 Order of March through the City of Kandahar: —

15th Hussars.

A-B Royal Horse Artillery.

1st Punjab Cavalry.

2nd Punjab Cavalry.

E-4 Royal Artillery.

D-2 Royal Artillery.

Peshawar Mountain Battery.

Jacobabad Moimtain Battery.

2-60th Rifles.

70th Foot.

25th Punjab Infantry.

32nd Pioneers.

29th Baluchies.

No. 9 Company Sappers and Miners.

8th Bengal Cavalry ") ^ . ,

, „ , ^ , \ Detachments.
19th Bengal Cavalry )

Generals Stewart, Biddulph, Fane, Palliser, Nuttall, and Barter took part
in the Procession. — Diary of the March of the I5th King's Hussars to Kandahar,
by T. C. Hamilton.

3 These watercourses had probably been cut to impede the advance of the
Force before the intention of defending the city had been given up. — H. B. H.

* " An officer galloping from rear, assured the General that his Infantry
were miles behind toiling through the slough, his Guns were entangled, his
Baggage in a desperate case. The sappers told off had doubtless done their
best, but the water was too much for them. . . . After weary hours the Infantry
appeared, crowning the slope, and with them A.B. Battery of Horse Artillery."—
Life of Sir Donald Stewart, p. 237.


to the citadel, and which, in the centre of the city, is crossed, at right
angles, by a similar thoroughfare connecting the Eastern, or Kabul
Gate, with the Western, or Herat Gate. At the point of intersec-
tion, both streets are arched over by the Charsu, a circular dome,
fifty feet in diameter ; and under this vast roof and along the half
mile of road between it and the Shikarpur Gate, are the principal
bazaars. These, as a rule, swarm with men of many nationalities,
all wearing Afghan dress, but in endless variety of hue and shade,

Online LibraryH. B. (Henry Bathurst) HannaThe second Afghan war, 1878-79-80 : its causes, its conduct and its consequences (Volume 2) → online text (page 20 of 32)