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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she had been delivered of a baby that morning. On asking to look at the child,
a thumping thing of five or six months old was shown, and the woman was re-
quested to get up. Under her bedding was foimd the entrance to a granary, in
which 150 maunds of wheat were hidden." — Sir Donald Stewart's Life, p. •249.

3 On the arrival of the Cavalry Brigade at Khelat-i-Ghilzai, its Commander,



252 THE SECOND AFGHAN WAR

Not all the Force shared in this prolongation. Partly in order to
lessen the Commissariat difficulty, partly with a view to examining
into the resources of new districts, Stewart, very soon after his arrival
at Khelat, sent two small columns back to Kandahar — the one via
the Argandab, the other via the Arghesan Valley ; the former, com-
manded by Colonel B. W. Ryall, consisting of 2 guns of 11-11
Brigade Royal Artillery, 1 squadron 19th Bengal Lancers, 25th Pun-
jab Infantry ; the latter, under Lieutenant-Colonel J. W. Hoggan,
2 guns of 11-11 Brigade Royal Artillery, 1 squadron of the 15th
Hussars and one of the 8th Bengal Cavalry. To these last-named
troops a wing of the 3rd Gurkhas, sent up from Mundi Hissar, was
added en route,^ when Colonel A. Paterson, as senior officer, assumed
command.

With the exception of an attack on this second column, delivered

with great courage and determination by a small party of horse and

footmen, who were driven back with loss into the hills, neither Force

was molested on its march, but both were delayed for some days by

snowstorms ; and the result of the investigation into the resources of

the two valleys was disappointing — there was fish in the rivers, and

plenty of mallard, teal and other wild ducks along their course ; also,

in sheltered places, an abundance of fruit trees, already white with

blossom ; but the quantity of grain and forage in the possession of

the people barely sufficed for their own wants, and the attempt to

extort from them so much as a few days' supplies deepened their

natural dislike to the invaders of their country. ^

Brigadier-General W. Fane, deeply impressed by its miserable condition —
Stewart himself states that the Cavalry and Artillery horses were half starved —
recommended that it should be sent back to Kandahar before things grew worse.
Had his suggestion been acted upon, the Infantry and Artillery must have starved,
since it was only the ceaseless activity of the Cavalry which secured to them their
daily bread.

^ The march of the Gurkhas was much impeded by a heavy snowstorm.

" The people hero say they can't fight us, but they don't hesitate to give
out that they will worry us in every way they can." — General ^Stewart,
26th January, 1879, p. 247



EXPEDITION TO KHELAT-I-GHILZAl 253

General Stewart had held on to Khelat-i-Ghilzai in the hope of
obtaining the Indian Government's sanction to an advance on
Ghuzni, and when that hope had been disappointed, he was not sorry
to receive an order to return with his Division to Kandahar. So
great, however, had been the deterioration in his transport service,
that by no possibility could sufficient camels be mustered to admit of
his whole Force getting under weigh together, and he had to arrange
to leave Brigadier-General Hughes with the Head Quarters and
wing 19th Bengal Lancers, Head Quarters and wing 12th Bengal
Infantry, 9th Company Sappers and Miners, and the Engineer Field
Park, at Khelat-i-Ghilzai until such time as more could be pro-
cured, when the fort was to be handed over to a Ghilzai chief, who
had undertaken to hold it for the British Government against the
Amir.

In the teeth of a bitter wmd laden with sharp dust, Head Quarters
and the bulk of the Division marched on the 2ndof February to Jaldak,
where the Divisional Hospital was waiting to join them. The next
day proved calm and mild, but the transport animals were so exhausted,
that the day's march had to stop short of Firandaz, the next halting
place ; and hardly had the Force encamped when the long delayed
rain, alternating with violent snowstorms, descended in torrents,
turning the ground into a half frozen quagmire, sunk in which the
starving camels died as they lay.^ The state of the horses was hardly
less wretched . Fuel ran short ; the men shivered in their wet clothes ;
and had the storm continued for a week, the whole Force might have
perished of cold and hunger, or been destroyed by the Ghilzais, who
would have been as willing to complete the work of destruction begun

^ " Unluckily, last night we were caught in a storm of rain and snow ; the
former has, however, prevailed ; the camp is simply a sea of mud, and the poor
camels can't move to feed themselves. The horses, too, are in a miserable
plight, and it is difficult to see how they are to bo fed if this weather continues.
... If we had had this weatlier at the proper season, the troops would have been
unable to do anything." — Sir Donald Stewart's Life, p. 250.



254 ^^E SECOND AFGHAN WAR

by the elements, as their fathers had shown themselves thirty-seven
years before in the Khurd Kabul Pass.^ Luckily, it only lasted two
days,and on the 6th, the march could be resumed ; but the loss of camels
had been so enormous that only a portion of the troops could move
at one time, and those who got off first had to halt two miles south of
Tirandaz, that their transport might be sent back to bring up the bag-
gage left behind . The same state of things repeated itself day by day,
progress growing slower as more and more camels gave out; and it
was not till the last day of February that the 1st Division was once
again concentrated at Kandahar. Its Commander had arrived there
on the nth, to find that during his absence his orders with regard to
providing accommodation for the sick^ had been effectually carried
out ; also that only one serious incident had occurred, and that, out-
side the city, not within its walls. One morning, late in January, a
band of Pathans , eluding the sentries , rushed into the camp of the Royal
Artillery and 59th Foot, cutting and slashing right and left. Some
of the soldiers lost their heads, and, instead of using their bayonets,
seized their rifles and began firing with such recklessness that more
of their comrades were injured by their bullets than by the knives of
theGhazis. Of these latter, five or six were killed on the spot, but not
a single man taken alive; and, as in the confusion, no one saw in what
direction the survivors made good their escape, the affair could never
be thoroughly investigated ; but from the fact that none of the dead
were identified as belonging to the town, it was surmised that the

1 " The Commissariat are out of wood, camels are dying off, and move we
must before long, if we want to get out of our trip with any chance of success."-
Kandahar in 1879 (February 4), p. 103, by Major Le Messurier.

2 Native string beds had been provided, with thick felt mats m lieu of
mattresses, and each patient was provided with a rough table. The whole citadel
had been put into excellent sanitary condition ; the dry earth system mtroduced ;
all refuse removed daily and buried in trenches outside the city walls. In the
opinion of the Principal Medical Officer, Dy. Surgeon-General A. Smith, the
whole arrangements, considering the means at his disposal, reflected the highest
credit on Brigade-Surgeon J. B. C Reade's zeal and energy.



EXPEDITION TO KHELAT-I-GHILZAI 255

whole party had entered it, in twos and threes, the evening before de-
Uvering their desperate attack.' ^

Observations
Observation I. Wliere a captured or occupied city is without
any civil authority, or machinery for the control of its turbulent
elements, the more drastic the measures adopted to prevent disturb-
ance and crime, the better both for the victors and the vanquished.
General Stewart's first act on entering Kandahar, should have been to
issue two proclamations : the one, to its inhabitants, commanding them
to bring in and give up their weapons of every description ; the other,
to the people of the surrounding country, forbidding them to come
armed within the British outposts ; and until time had been allowed
for these proclamations to have their full effect, no camp-follower or
soldier, not on duty, should have been permitted to pass through the
city gates, at each of which a search party should have been stationed,
with orders to arrest every man found in possession of arms, whether
worn openly or concealed about his person. A fair interval should
have been granted to the townspeople and the villagers in which to
learn and obey the order affecting them ; but, after a specified date,

1 In this affray one Artilleryman lost his life, and three were wounded, of
whom one mortally ; one man of the 59th and one of the 70th Foot woimded ; also
a Native officer of the Ist Punjab Cavalry and three followers. After this occur-
rence the troops were strictly enjoined to make use of their side arms, not of their
rifles. " Our only excitement is trying to avoid these rascally Ghazis. A gang
of them ran amuck in camp a few days ago, and the soldiers, losing their presence
of mind, began to fire recklessly, and killed more men with their bullets than the
Ghazis did with their knives. It is very disgusting having to guard against these
brutes, and I am surrounded by sentries as if I were the Emperor of Germany.
The mischief of the whole matter is that all the sentries in the world won't save
one from a man who has no regard for his own Hie."— Sir Donald Stewart's Life,
p. 250.

2 The following extracts from a Diary of the march of the 15th Hussars in
1878-9, kept by " A Soldier in the Ranks " (T. C. Hamilton), give a vivid pictiu-e
of the hardships undergone by the men and the suffering endured by the animals
who took part in the Khelat-i-Ghilzai Expedition : — January 15. " Halt at



256 THE SECOND AFGHAN WAR

any violation of either proclamation should have rendered the
offender liable to capital punishment. In a country like Afghanistan,
however, where every man habitually carries arms for his own de-
fence, the area within which such a proclamation should apply,
ought always to be small, and so distinctly marked out that there
can be no question as to its limits; and in no case should the death
penalty attached to its violation be inflicted, except on a sentence
pronounced by a regularly constituted military court, confirmed by
the General Commanding, for its object is not the terrorizing of a
people, but the prevention of crime, and the detection and punishment
of the criminal. Had the measures recommended above been
adopted, Lieutenant Willis would not have lost his life ; there would
have been no rushing of the camp of the Royal Artillery and 59th
Foot, and many outrages of later date would never have occurred.

Robat. Forage rims short ; horses on half rations." January 16. " Numerous

fatigues, these last two days getting in forage." January 18. ... " Fatigues

for foraging. Commissariat is getting scanty. Got one pound of bread.

January 19. " Got extra feeds for our horses to-day." January 20. " Very cold

to-day ; out foraging till 6 p.m. Not much grain to be got, and not enough

wood to cook all our rations. The element fire is. indeed, scarce up here. Roti

(bread) getting short ; want of grain one of the reasons we left Kandahar."

January 22. "Fearfully cold last night and this morning. No wood.

Am weaker to-night." January 23. "General Stewart inspects our

horses, which are mostly in very poor condition . . . supplies are very

short now." 24th. " Awfully cold last night ; the thermometer down to

5° or 6°. Stock of vegetables run out. Foraging parties out every day." 25th.

" Out foraging till 6 p.m. . . . Our tea and sugar is further cut." 26th. " Troops

go off reconnoitring to the Arghasan Valley, probably on account of scarcity of

supplies. Got extra half-pound of mutton yesterday in lieu of groceries cut.

Rain at night. 27th. " Out foraging Patrolling still kept up every

night " 28th. " Very cold. Great scarcity of wood." 29th. " Find extra
sentries and picket . . . duty is heavy." February 1. " Out foraging . . .
Send a great many sentries and pickets now ; am gettmg only two or three
nights in bed." February 5th. "Convoy comes in with highlows, socks,
gloves, guernseys and waterproof sheets." 6th. "Very great difficulty m
getting the camels to move in the mornings, as they are often frozen to the
ground and unable to rise." 8th. Baggage often late, as the camels succumb m
numbers to cold and hunger."



EXPEDITION TO KHELAT-I-GHILZAI 257

Observation II. Although the occupation of Khelat-i-Ghilzai
formed part of the Indian Government's programme of operations
in Southern Afghanistan, the time of that operation was left as much
to the discretion of General Stewart as the time of the annexation of
Khost to the discretion of General Roberts ; and the responsibility for
a risky and futile expedition rests even more exclusively with the man
who planned and conducted it in the former case than in the latter,
since the Viceroy and Commander-in-Chief were aware of Roberts's
intention to invade Khost at the beginning of the year 1879, and for-
bore to interfere ; but they had no knowledge of Stewart's intention to
march on Khelat-i-Ghilzai within a week of arriving at Kandahar,
till too late for their attempt to stop him to prove successful. That
Stewart knew the expedition to Khelat-i-Ghilzai to be risky and futile
can be shown from his own correspondence.

On the 15th January, he wrote to his wife : " It has been rather a
risky trip, this, as we have only two or three days' supplies in hand,
and are living from hand to mouth on what we can pick up." And
again, three days later, " A fall of snow would cut us off entirely from
our base and source of supply." He might, with equal truth, have
added, " And from the opportunities of picking up enough to keep us
going from day to day," on which he had come to depend. The day
after his entry into Kandahar he had written : "I am ordered to take
Khelat-i-Ghilzai and Girishk, which I can easily do in eight or ten
days, but what is to be done after that is a puzzle to me. I cannot
get to Ghazni till spring, and by that time the Government of Afghanis-
tan will have tumbled to pieces " ; and in the letter of the 18th
already quoted from, he admitted that he did not know what he was to
do after he got to Khelat-i-Ghilzai, unless it were to return to
Kandahar. Of the two reasons assigned by General Stewart for doing
what, on his own showing, he had better have left undone, the one —
that " it is better to keep moving about and occupying the country
than squatting in a place like Kandahar, where the troops will suffer



258 THE SECOND AFGHAN WAR

from sickness and ennui " — though sometimes vaHd, had no applica-
tion to the circumstances of the case ; and the other — that he wanted
" to show the Russians that we can go where we Hke, even in winter
^^l^Q " 1 — savours more of the spirit of the EngHsh schoolboy than of
the judgment of a British Commander, Who can doubt that what
Stewart's troops needed, after a long and terribly arduous march, was
rest, and that they were far more likely to suffer from ennui in the
wilderness into which he flung them, than in a large town, with bazaars
full of objects of interest, and streets teeming with strange and vivid
life ; and what could his advance to Khelat-i-Ghilzai teach the Russians
save the old, old lesson, that, in a country like Afghanistan, the armies
of a civilized state may, indeed, go where they like ; but how long they
can remain at the points reached, and in what condition withdraw
from them, depend, not on the will of their Commander or on their own
courage and discipline, but upon their ability to procure food, and
upon the greater or less severity of the season. How many of
Stewart's camp-followers and men succumbed on the march to and
from Khelat-i-Ghilzai, how many of the sick sent back to India shortly
after the return of the Expedition to Kandahar, had belonged to it —
cannot be ascertained ; but the corpses of nineteen hundred and twenty-
four camels^ strewn along its route, reveal something of the price paid
by General Stewart to vindicate his liberty of movement in the eyes
of men who, noting his losses with cynical satisfaction, were in no
danger of being deceived into mistaking failure for success. The
extraordinary errors into which British Commanders allowed themselves
to fall, both in the First and Second Afghan Wars, were largely due
to ignorance of, or incapacity for assimilating the teachings of military

1 Life of Sir Donald Stewart, pp. 243, 244.

2 " Out of curiosity I asked Brigadier Hughes to count the skeletons of camels
lying on the road from Khelat-i-Gilzai to Kandahar, and the list was 1,924.
This was what we lost out of a division transport of about 3,500. Many more
disappeared, but there is no doubt about those, as the carcases were counted
by officers." (Ibid. p. 25.5.)



EXPEDITION TO KHELAT-I-GHILZAI 259

history. If General Stewart had had present to his mind the example
set him by the Duke of Welhngton, when, arriving victorious on the
northern frontier of Spain, he disappointed the expectations of those
who beheved he would at once invade France ; had he reflected on
the reasons assigned by that great soldier for his determination to
consider the question of such an invasion only in reference to the
convenience of his (my) " own operations," — he would have spared his
troops the trouble of marching to Khelat-i-Ghilzai, only to march back
again. " An army which has made such marches and fought such
battles as that under my command has," so wrote the Duke to Earl
Bathurst from Lusaca on the 8tli August, 1813, "is necessarily much
deteriorated. Independently of the loss of numbers by death, wounds
and sickness, many men and officers are out of the ranks for various
causes. The equipment of the army, their ammunition, the soldiers'
shoes require renewal. The magazines for the new operations require
to be collected and formed, and many arrangements to be made with-
out which the Army could not exist a day, but which are not generally
understood by those who have not had the direction of such concerns
in their hands." Leaving out the allusions to battles fought and to
the numbers of killed and wounded, this passage describes exactly
the state of things in Stewart's army when it entered Kandahar.
Men and transport were exhausted with long marches, the ranks of
both thinned by death, sickness and various other causes ; equipment
of all kinds required renewal, magazines re-stocking, and there were
endless arrangements calling for attention — when the man who had
" the direction of such concerns in his hands," for no object that he
could himself define, decided to press on into a country resembling
France in that " everybody was a soldier and the whole population
armed," ^ but differing from it, in being poor and barren instead of
rich and fertile.

^ " Then observe that this new operation is the invasion of France, in which
country everybody is a soldier, where the whole population is armed." — Despatch
dated 8th August, 1813.



26o THE SECOND AFGHAN WAR

To General Stewart's honour, however, it must be recorded that,
though he did not profit by other men's experience, he learned wisdom
from his own. Kandahar once regained, he embarked on no more
adventures, but set himself steadily to the work of reorganizing and
re-equipping his Force ; and when the day came for him to be consulted
with regard to the terms of peace, ^ he opposed the retention of a
province which, as he had come to recognize, could never maintain
either a British or a Russian army of occupation of even twenty
thousand men.^

^ See Memorandum on the Strategical and Political value of Kandahar as
a Position, given on pp. 263-5 of Field-Marshal Sir Donald Stewarfs Life.

^ " I am quite sure that, with all India at our back, we could not keep up a
force of 20,000 men in one place, and I don't think Russia could do much better
than ourselves in that respect." (Ibid. p. 248. )



CHAPTER XXIII

Expedition to the Helmand

The constitution of the 2nd Division of the Kandahar Field Force,
after contributing its quota to the garrison of the city, was as follows :—

Abtillery
I Battery, 1st Brigade Royal Artillery, 6 guns.
nth Battery, 11th Brigade „ 2 mountain guns.

Peshawar Mountain Battery, 4 guns.
Cavalry
2nd Punjab Cavalry.
3rd Sind Horse.

Infantry
70th Foot.

Wing 19tli Punjab Infantry.
29th Bombay Infantry (Baluchis).
32nd Pioneex's.

5th and 10th Companies Sappers and Miners.
Engineer Field Park.
2 Pontoon Boats.

Strength of Force

3,035 Troops of all ranks.

2,087 Camp-followers.

991 Horses.

278 Bullocks.

3G4 Ponies and Mules.

2,251 Camels.

The Division had lost Brigadier- General Nuttall, Captain Bissett,
R.E., and Lieutenant Colonel Lane, placed in charge of the important
depot of Kandahar ; but Brigadier-General Palliser and his Brigade-
Major, Captain Abadie, had been re-transferred to it, and Captain
W. Luckhardt had succeeded Lane as Principal Commissariat Officer,



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262 THE SECOND AFGHAN WAR

Lieutenant J. E. Dickie, R.E., being attached as signalling officer,
and Captain R, Beavon in charge of Survey party.

Girishk, the objective of the expedition, lies on the right bank
of the Helmand, and the distance from Kandahar to Abbazai, the
village facing it on the left bank, is seventy- six and a half miles by
the southern, and seventy-four and a half, by the northern road,
divided, in each case, into eight stages, four of which coincide.

(1) 8 miles Kokeran ....

(2) 4 ,, Sinjiri ....

(3) 12| „ Haus-i-Madat Khan .

(4) 8J „ Ata Karez

(5) 10 „ Killa Sayad. Kushk-i-Nakhud

(6) 11 „ Band-i-Tomtir. Kliak-i-Chopan

(7) 12 „ Bala Khana. Heckelial

(8) 10 „ Abbazai

Immediately after his arrival at Kandahar, General Biddulpli
had personally reconnoitred the first of these stages, and had subse-
quently sent out working parties to widen the road where it runs
through the suburbs of the city, and to strengthen the bridges over
the numerous water-courses by which it is intersected. On the
14th of January, Palliser, with the cavalry, proceeded to Kokeran,
on the left bank of the Ai-gendab, to collect supplies, and, that duty
accomplished, gave place on the 16th, to Headquarters and the
main body, and, crossing the river, occupied Sinjiri, where, on the
17th, he was reinforced by the 32nd Pioneers, who had pushed on
to join him after helping the Sappers and Miners to ramp the banks
of the Argendab 1 for the passage of the guns. On the 18th, the
main body encamped at Sinjiri, and the advanced guard, a march
ahead, at Haus-i-Madat Khan. There was nothing in the nature of
the country — a hard, flat, stony plain — to have prevented a rapid
advance; but Biddulph, solicitous for the well-being of his sickly

1 The Argendab is not a difficult river to cross, its fords, except during
floods, being only two feet deep, with good gravelly bottoms, and its current
not exceeding four miles an hour.



EXPEDITION TO THE HELMAND 263

transport, aware that the immediate object of his expedition was
to relieve the pressure on the scanty food stores of Kandahar — he
had started out with supplies for only one and a half days — and
anxious, alike from motives of policy and humanity, to avoid driving
the people along his route to despair by cruelly enforced exactions,
moved slowly, drawing grain and forage from as wide an area as
possible, and enforcing his requisitions according to a scheme thought
out by his political officer, Colonel Moore, through the Maliks of the
principal villages within reach.^

Advancing thus in leisurely fashion, he arrived at Ata Karez
on the 23rd, where, to protect his right flank, and to reconnoitre the
northern route to Abbazai, he detached a small column, under
Colonel Tanner, to Kushk-i-Nakliud, with orders to regulate its sub-
sequent movements by those of the main body, which was to follow
the southern road, because, running for two more marches at no
great distance from the Argendab, it seemed to hold out a better
prospect of supplies. The reality proved so disappointmg, that at
Killa Sayad, the very next halting place, Biddulph ordered General
Lacy, with the undermentioned troops —

I-l Royal Artillery, 4 gmis.
11-11 Royal Artillery, 2 giins.
70th Foot.

Wing 19th Punjab Infantry.



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