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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and through this bright crowd carts filled with country produce, and
camels laden with merchandise, come and go, whilst here and there
a woman, clothed from head to foot in the " burkha," a formless robe,
or domino, glides silently by. For the traveller, weary and hungry
after weeks of toilsome journeyings, no pleasanter sight, even in
winter, can be imagined than the food shops of Kandahar, with their
piles of juicy pomegranates and almonds and raisins, of dried figs
and apricots, to say nothing of cooked vegetables and fish and cresses,
fresh from the watercourses which give life and fertility to the valley
in which the southern capital is situated. But on that January
evening, all these tempting delicacies were hidden from the eyes of
the British soldier and his Native comrade. Every shop was closed ;
buyers and sellers stood, sullen and scowling, in dense ranks on
either side the road ; and every roof was crowded with women gazing
downi, half in wonder, half in fear, on the white-faced infidels, rumours
of whose approach had so long agitated the city, and who were now
actually in its midst.

Arrived at the Charsu, the column ought to have turned to the
right, but its guide went steadily forward into the Topkana, or
Place d'Armes ; a square closed, on the further side, by the citadel's
southern wall. At sight of this unexpected obstacle, the leading
troops came to a standstill ; and, whilst Sir Donald Stewart and his
staff rode forward to ascertain the cause of the halt, the regiments
behind continued to advance, and soon there was a dangerous block


just outside the square, where the roadway narrowed down to half
its original width, and in the still narrower stretch of street just out-
side the Charsu. The growing darkness added to the difficulty of
the situation ; but coolness and discipline soon set matters straight.
The Commander-in-Chief and his staff forced their way back through
the press ; the men faced about where they stood ; the Artillery, with
a good deal of trouble, turned their horses' heads in the right direction,
and then the column once more got into motion, and after retracing
its steps to the covered crossways, swung round to the left and, a
few minutes later, began issuing from the Kabul Gate and marching
north-eastward towards the old graveyard of the city, in the vicinity
of which tents and baggage were expected to be awaiting its arrival.^
This expectation was fulfilled for half the Force only. The original
order with regard to the impedimenta of the Army, had been that they
should all follow the road which, much cut up by watercourses, run
through the villages on the south and eastern side of the city ; but an
officer on Biddulph's Staff who, after careful inquiry, had convinced
himself that the Mand-i-Hissar road, which branches off from the
southern road three miles from the Shikarpur Gate, though rough and
winding, yet, as lying outside the region of irrigation, was safer and
easier than the route selected, went to General Stewart, and, with
some difficulty, obtained his permission to use it for the stores and
baggage of the 2nd Division. This officer's information proved
correct, and Biddulph's tents were being pitched and food got ready
for issuing when his troops reached their camping ground ; but
Stewart's transport, entangled in narrow streets, and perpetually

1 " Retracing our steps we again reached the Charau, and turned down the
road leading to the Kabul Gate, from whence we emerged at about five o'clock
in the evening. The troops, however, continued to pass through the streets
until long after dark. The guns had some difficulty in getting through the
narrow turnings of the Shikarpur Gate, there was consequently delay, and it was
nearly nine o'clock before the bayonets of the last regiment filed through the
streets." — Correspondent of the Bombay Gazette.


stopped by canals, many of them with broken bridges, moved so
slowly that it was hours late in arriving, and in the First Division
of the Kandahar Field Force, man and beast celebrated the end
of their long march by going supperless to bed.^


Observation I. In their advance from the Kliwaja Amran range
to Kandahar, both Stewart's and Biddulph's advanced guards were
too weak in Artillery ; a complete battery should have been attached
to each, and Kennedy should also have been given a regiment of In-
fantry and a company of Sappers and Miners, because (1) opposition
was expected and its strength uncertain ; (2) the country, especially
as regarded the eastern column, offered the Afghans many oppor-
tunities for concealment and attack ; (3) the advanced guards were
not marching in light order, but had their baggage to protect ; (4)
the supports of each were a day's march in the rear.

Observation II. It is a matter of regret that Sir Donald Stewart
should have allowed himself to run so great a risk as was involved
in his triumphant entry into Kandahar, for the sake of a mere
spectacular effect ; for no practical end was served by rushing into
the town in ignorance of the temper of its notoriously treacherous
population, and with no certain information as to the whereabouts

^ In a letter, dated 4th March, 1879, General Stewart writes : —
" That account of our march to Candahar is quite true. We were seven
or eight hours doing eight miles, and a weary time we had of it. I don't admit,
however, than any part of the delay was due to avoidable causes, because the
stoppage was caused by watercourses, which had to be bridged over for the
guns. The mistake was bringing the guns at all. But, before I ordered them
to go, I had ascertained from our news-writer, a man who had only left Can-
dahar a week before, that the road was a splendid one, fit for guns of any size,
etc., etc. A native's idea of a good road is a place along which a pony or mule
can scramble, and the country round the city was so intersected by water-
courses that we had to work our way in. It was very aggravating, but liaving
once got into the labyrinth of lanes and watercourses, there was no way of
getting out of a fix except by going on." — Life of Sir Donald Stewart, p. 253.


of the large body of troops which had so recently been within its
walls. And not only was the march through Kandahar a grave error
in itself, it was marked by faults of still greater gravity. No pre-
cautions were taken to diminish its dangers ; not a gate was seized,
nor any strong force of Artillery and Infantry told off to hold the
Charsu and the Citadel ; nor, yet, were patrols sent out to make sure
that every part of the town was clear of the Afghan soldiery. Had
there been a capable leader within its walls that winter afternoon,
its inhabitants, all of whom were armed, might have annihilated
their invaders when closely jammed together in the cul-de-sac, into
which ignorance of its topography had betrayed them. That the
Kandahar Field Force escaped unscathed, is no excuse for the temerity
which exposed them to the chance of destruction; and the success
of the demonstration was one of many incidents in the war which
tended to confirm British officers in their inveterate habit of neglect-
ing precautions and courting unnecessary danger.


Expedition to Khelat-i-Ghilzai

Early on the morning of the 9th January, the gateways of Kandahar

were occupied by strong European detachments, and the wing of a Native

regiment was encamped in the square outside the citadel — measures

excellent in themselves, but quite inadequate to the protection of the

soldiers and camp followers who, later in the day, poured into the city ;

for bazaars and streets were swarming with disbanded soldiers, armed

with the jezail or the terrible Afghan knife ; and amongst those

seetning crowds were many Ghazis (religious fanatics), men ever ready

to give their lives for the chance of slaying an unbeliever. That

first afternoon, Major St. John, riding in the principal bazaar, had

his bridle seized and a gun fired point-blank into his face, by a man

who sprang suddenly out of the throng. The startled horse swerved

aside, the bullet whistled harmlessly by, and, with the assistance of his

companion, Nawab Gholam Hussain Khan, late British Resident at

the Court of Shere Ali, St. John succeeded in securing his assailant,

who was subsequently tried by a military commission, found guilty,

and hanged on the scene of his attempted crime. In a different part

of the town. Lieutenant Willis, a young Artillery officer, was stabbed

to the heart ; and the assassin cut down three soldiers and wounded

Captain H. De la M. Hervey, 1st Punjab Cavalry, who bravely tried to

seize him, before he was killed by a non-commissioned officer of the same

regiment.^ Strong detachments of troops were hurried into the city,

1 Referring to these outrages in a letter dated 12th January, 1879, General
Stewart writes : " There are a lot of Ghazis about the place, but I have told the
troops they must look out for themselves, as I am not going to let them bully

us or frighten us into not going about the town, or wherever we like." Sir

Donald Stewart's Life, p. 242.



where the merchants were hastily closing their shops, to collect and
bring out their comrades scattered about its streets ; and, when this
had been accomplished, the gate guards strengthened and the bazaars
diligently patrolled — the dangerous wave of excitement sweeping over
the population died away ; but from that time forward no officer or
soldier was permitted to enter Kandahar singly and unarmed ; and its
citizens were warned, by proclamation, that every man among them
was liable to be searched, and that whoever should be found with
weapons concealed on his person, would be handed over to the Provost
Marshal for condign punishment.

With an almost immediate further advance in prospect, Stewart's
most pressing business was to provide for the safety of the city and its
garrison during his absence. To render an alien rule as little irksome
as possible to its inhabitants, he appointed Nawab Gholam Hussain
Khan, a man of the same religion if not of the same race, to the Civil
Governorship, with Major St. John, his own Principal Political officer,
as his adviser.^ The command of the garrison, consisting of —

Colonel C. Collingwood Commanding —
E-4 Royal Artillery,

> Heavy Batteries,
6-11 j -^

Major C. S. Maclean Commanding —

5 troops 1st Punjab Cavalry,

Wing 59th Foot

6 Companies 26th Bengal Infantry,
4 „ 12th „

Strength — 14 gmis, 1,735 effective European and Native Troops,

^ In a letter dated 9th January, 1879, Stewart writes : " I am in a difficulty
to know what to do with the country now we have got it. I have to arrange.
for the government of the city and the collection of taxes. This is no easy matter,
as most of the officials have disappeared." — Ibid. p. 240.


he conferred on Nuttall, one of Biddulpli's Brigadiers ; and he
directed that the sick, of whom there were four hundred and sixty-
six, in charge of the Senior Medical Officer, Surgeon J. B. C.
Reade, should be accommodated in the Citadel — one hundred and
fifty beds for the Europeans in certain of its buildings, two to three
hundred for Native soldiers and camp-followers, in tents pitched in
its central square, which the Garrison Engineer, Captain W. S. S.
Bissett, was directed to put, as quickly as possible, into a defensible
and sanitary condition. ^

Meanwhile the subordinate General Officers and their respective
Staffs were employed in arranging for the occupation of further points
of the Amir's territory. The immediate goal of the First Division
was Khelat-i-Ghilzai, and that of the Second, Girishk, a fort of con-
siderable size, situated on the right bank of the River Helmand ; but
it was rumoured m camp that if the weather continued favourable —
so far it had been unprecedentedly fine — the former might go on to
Ghazni ; and every one regarded Girishk as only a halting place on
the way to Herat. Stewart certainly arrived m Kandahar with
both these distant objects in view, but a very few days in the " vile
barren country " ^ lying around that city, sufficed to limit his am-
bition to the attainment of either the one or the other. Any hopes
that he may have cherished of replenishing his supplies and renewing
his transport at the end of the first stage of his great under-
taking, had been quickly dissipated : Kandahar might offer a few
luxuries to those who were able to pay for them, but it could
not entirely support its own small garrison, still less furnish
the stores of food that would be needed by two large forces
on a journey of several hundred miles ; and if, to use his own
words, " having to draw all European supplies for three hundred miles

^ Deputy-Surgeon-General A. Smith, Principal Medical Officer.
^ Tlie expression appears in a letter of Stewart's dated 8th January, 1879. —
Sir Donald Stewart's Life, p. 240.


and more, through a country which produces little or nothing is a
serious undertaking, and anything that throws it out of gear plays
the mischief with us " ^ — to what straits would not his men have
been reduced by a doubling, in two directions, of the distance which
separated them from their depots ? Already the margin that lay
between them and starvation, was of the narrowest ; only seven days'
supplies remained in camp on the 13th January, and, four days
earlier, Stewart had written to the Adjutant-General that if he was not
to go on to Herat, he should like, on account of the scarcity, to send
some of the Force back to India. ^

* Sir Donald Stewart's Life, p. 243.

2 Ibid. p. 241. In his admirable little book, Kandahar in 1879, Major Le
Messurier gives an interesting calculation to show the daily consumption of food
by a force of 14,000 men — the total strength of the Forces at Kandahar and on
the line of communications being 14,025.

For Europeans

5,300 Loaves or 25 Camel loads of flour.

265 Sheep „ 25 „ „ of meat.

Rice 4 „ „

Sugar 3 ,, ,,

Tea 1

Salt 1

Vegetables 10 „ „

100 gallons Rum 3 ,, „

Wood 50


Native Troop.s and Followers

Flour 183 Camel loads.











The First Divison of the Kandahar Field Force,^ consisting of the
following troops : —

A-B Royal Horse Artillery.
D-2 „ Artillery.
11-11 „ „ (4 gims).

15th Hussars.
8th Bengal Cavalry.
19th Bengal Lancers.

1st Brigade
2nd 60th Rifles.
15th Siklis.
25th Bengal Infantry.

2nd Brigade
59th Foot.
3rd Gurkhas.
12th Bengal Infantry (4 Companies).

Strength— 4,182 officers and men, 5,119 camp followers, 22 guns, 1,564 horses,
78 gun bullocks, 4,439 transport animals, of which 3,930 were camels.

set out on the 15th Jruuary for Khelat-i-Ghilzai, in the following
order —

Each horse 8 lbs. grain, 8 lbs. bhoosa ; other animals, ponies, mules, and

bullocks, half that rate ; each elephant 1 camel load.

For horses, ponies, \ ( 500 maunds grain 165 Camel loads.

mules, and bullocks) ( 500 „ bhoosa 200

/-, 1 r G50 ,, bhoosa \ .^_

Camels ■ ■ ■ • \ n^n ■ 450 „

l 650 ,, gram J

Elephants 15 ,, ,,

Total ... 830 „

Grand Total for one day's consumption, 1,453 Camel loads.
1 No change was made in the Divisional and Brigade Staff, but in Major St.
John's stead Lieutenant-Colonel Browne, R.E., accompanied the Force as
Political Officer.


Advanced Guard
Cavalry Brigade and Battery Royal Artillery, under Brigadier-General W.
Fane, one day's march in advance of Main Body.

Main Body
General Stewart's Head Quarters, 2nd Brigade, under Brigadier-General
Hughes, and three Batteries Royal Artillery under Brigadier-General Arbuthnot.

Rear Guard

1st Brigade under Brigadier-General Barter, one day's march in rear of
Main Body.

The distance to be traversed was 84 miles, divided into eight
stages —

1 Mohmand • ... 12 miles

2 Robat 8 „

3 Khel-i-Akhimi 12 „

4 Shahr-i-Safa 12 „

5 Tirandaz 10 ,,

6 Jaldak 14 „

7 Pul-i-Sang 9 „

8 Khelat-i-Ghilzai 7 „

and the road, which, after the third day's march, ran for the most
part in the valley of the Turnak,^ presented only one difficulty —
numerous irrigation channels — which was met, on the suggestion of
Captain A. Gaselee of the Quarter-Master-General 's Staff, by sending
ahead camels carrying gang boards, and laying them down for the use
of the Transport and Artillery over each watercourse in turn. But
all the way the ground rose steadily ; with each march the cold at night
grew greater, the east wind, which, day after day, swept down the
valley from dawn till noon, more and more cutting ; and though no
oj^position was encountered, the possibility of it had to be so constantly
guarded against that, short as were most of the stages, the men were

^ This tributary of the Argandab, at the time of Stewart's advance only
16 feet wide and 2 deep, diu-ing the rains is a considerable stream. " Its water
is good, and the country in its vicinity is extensively cultivated, yielding for
Afghanistan fair crops of wheat, the young shoots of which were just beginning
to show themselves above ground." — Surgeon-Major H. S. Muir's Diary.


kept under arms from before daylight until after dark.^ Cold and
fatigue would have been easily borne if those who endured them had
been well clad and well fed ; but nearly all the camp-followers and
many of the Native soldiers were still without warm clothing ; and,
by the substitution of meat for part of the usual allowance of flour and
ghee, soldier and camp-follower alike were put practically on half
rations for the whole period of their absence from Kandahar.^ This
confession of the paucity of the supplies accompanying the Force,
was made at the end of the first day's march ^ ; by the end of the
second, scarcity of forage, coupled with cold, had begun to tell on the
camels ; by the end of the sixth, the losses among them had been so
heavy that the Commissariat Department could no longer supply the
necessary carriage,* and General Stewart saw himself compelled to
decide that the Rear-Brigade and the Divisional Hospital should go
no further than Jaldak — a decision which dislocated the new medical
organization, left the greater part of the European troops ill-furnished
with medical necessaries and comforts,^ and, as the number of sick

1 Ibid.

^ This statement of Major Le Messurier's is confirmed by Deputy-Surgeon
General A. Smith. " The reduction of rations," wrote the latter, " fell most
heavily on the Native soldiers and followers, whose diet is mostly of a farinaceous
description. ... It was not until their return to Kandahar that the whole of
the Native troops were again able to have their full rations issued to them."

^ " Articles of provision are not to be trifled with or left to chance, and there
is nothing more clear than that the subsistence of the troops must be certain
upon the proposed service, or the service must be relinquished." — Duke of
Wellington's Despatch, dated February 18th, 1801.

* January 19th. " We are getting into cold regions again, and ovu' camels are
dying in large numbers every day." — Sir Donald Stewart's Life, p. 245.

^ " As there was no other arrangement to meet this unlooked-for contingency,
the European portion of the advanced Brigade had to go forward trusting to the
medical aid which could be afforded to the sick through the means at the disposal
of Batteries and Corps as provided under the arrangements prescribed in Appen-
dix A of the Precis." — Deputy-Surgeon- General A. Smith.

It is probable that the regimental hospital system, though less economical,
is the one best suited for campaigning in a country like Afghanistan, where troops
are constantly on the move, and forces are so often split up into small divisions.
-H. B. H.


outran the accommodation that could be provided for them in
Khelat-i-Ghilzai, subjected the worst cases among them to the suffering
attendant on removal.

On the 22nd, General Stewart, with the Divisional troops and the
2nd Brigade, arrived at Khelat-i-Gliilzai, which had been occupied by
the advanced guard two days before. Native reports asserted that the
garrison of six to seven hundred men, had originally intended to defend
the place, but that, disheartened by the splitting of their largest gun,
they relinquished theii- purpose and withdrew in the direction of Ghazni,
carrying off with them as much food and forage as they required for
their own use, and distributing the balance of their stores amongst
the inhabitants of the surrounding districts. Had they stood firm,
however, it is probable that the place would have been taken, without
great difficulty, by a cowp de main,^ for, though strongly situated on
the summit of an isolated eminence, well supplied with water by two
copious springs,^ and possessed of strongly defensible works — ram-
parts scarped out of the face of the hill, a substantial encircling
parapet, and on its western front a natural cavalier^ in the shape of
a rough pyramid of conglomerate, shooting up to a height of nearly
a hundred feet — its northern gateway had no flanking defences, and
large masses of conglomerate scattered in its vicinity would have
given good shelter to a covering party.'*

The First Division remained eleven days in Khelat-i-Ghilzai, and

^ This was the conclusion come to by Colonel Sankey and Major Le Messurier
after a careful inspection of the fort and its surroundings.

^ There are two copious springs of water, giving an abundant supply, rising
in the fort below the northern face of the cavalier ; its quality is said, however,
not to be good, but the existence of these springs in an isolated hill formed of
conglomerate and sandstone is curious, to say the least." — Kandahar in 1879, by
Major Le Messurier.

3 A work situated behind another, over which it has a command of fire.
From this point there is an extensive view of tlie bare, treeless plain, and also of
distant hills, with some small villages, half hidden in orchards lying at their foot.
— H. B. H:

* Major H. B. S. Lumsden.


during the whole of that tune, apart from some valuable surveying
work, its entire energies were devoted to keeping itself alive. To
make its supplies go further, the men's rations were reduced in respect
of several small articles of diet ; but the resultant economies were
effected at the expense of the health of the troops, more especially the
Native troops, amongst whom there were already many cases of
dysentery and pulmonary complaints. Dried fruits, eggs and fowls
found their way into the fort; but the men, being in arrears of pay, had
ittle spare cash, and the high prices offered by the Commissariat authori-
ties failed to induce the people to bring in the grain and bousa, deprived
of which they and their live stock, with one bad harvest behind them
and another in prospect, would be in danger of starvation. 1 What
could not be obtained by consent, had to be taken by force ; and a duel
of wits between the two interested parties ensued, the villagers growing
more and more cunning in hiding their stores, and the British foraging
parties more and more skilful in scenting them out and rifling their
caches. 2 On the whole, the despoilers had the better of the despoiled ;
but in the daily search for forage and food, camels and men were
worn out , and the only gai n resulting from their sufferings and exertions
was a slight prolongation of the term during which Khelat-i-Ghilzai
remained in British hands. ^

^ " There is forage in the country, but it is only natural that the villagers
should wish to keep it until their spring harvest is gathered." — Kandahar in 1879,
p, 102, by Major Le Messurier.

2 " Hereabout the people have no love for the Amir, and decline to do any-
thing for him. But they don't care about us, and would prefer our room to our
company ; my plan is to keep on good terms with them, but I insist on getting
wliat tlie troops want. They always say they have nothing, and yesterday,
when a foraging party went into a house to search for grain, they were shown
into a room where a woman was found moaning and groaning, and the people said

Online LibraryH. B. (Henry Bathurst) HannaThe second Afghan war, 1878-79-80 : its causes, its conduct and its consequences (Volume 2) → online text (page 21 of 32)