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 by so timing marches that baggage and rear-guard shall reach
the camping ground before dark. Malcolmson's detachment was
not a rear-guard in the ordinary acceptance of that term, for it had


no connection with the main body ; and, for the same reason, the
detachment which marched to Abbazai by the northern road was
not a flanking party. Both were dangerously weak, and the recon-
noitring performed by Tanner's men could have been done equally
well from the Helmand. On the important point of keeping a force
together. Sir William Nott gave excellent advice to Colonel Wymer
in the letter already quoted from. " The Major-General," so he wrote,
" has taken every precaution in his power to fit out your detachment
in the most efficient manner, and provided you keep it together and,
unless absolutely necessary in your military judgment, never allow
of it being divided and frittered away into parties, it must be suc-
cessful." ^

Observation IV. In the action of the 26th February, the troops
were skilfully handled and well led ; but, before the fight, military
precautions seem to have been neglected. Had Malcolmson on his
arrival at Kushk-i-Nakhud despatched strong Cavalry patrols to
search the ground beyond the screen of hills, and posted an observa-
tion party on its crest, he would have received timely warning of the
enemy's presence. Until this step had been taken, a saddle parade
was out of place, and one half the troops should have been held
ready to mount at a moment's notice.

^Major-General Sir William Nott, G.C.B., by J. H. Stoqueler, vol. I.
p. 337.


Visit of the Commander-in-Chief to Jellalabad

In the midst of the Mohmand troubles, Sir S. Browne received the
welcome news that the Commander-in-Chief and the Headquarters
Staff had left Calcutta, and were on their way up country to visit
the Peshawar Valley and the Kuram Field Forces. It was a relief
to the harassed General to have the prospect of submitting his
arrangements to a higher judgment, and of obtaining from the best
authority some information as to the work which he might still be
called upon to perform.

On the 24th of February, Sir Frederick Haines arrived at Jumrud,
where he visited the hospitals, inspected the fortifications, and re-
viewed the troops, on whose soldierly appearance he was able to
compliment General Maude.i That night he slept at Ali Masjid,

1 " On this occasion the 5th Fusiliers (1st Battalion) turned out so strong
that, as the ground available for parade purposes was limited in space, the
Regiment formed up in half battalions. This regiment had passed the hot
weather of 1878 in the hills, and was largely composed of seasoned soldiers,
who maintained their efficiency and health during the campaign, while other
regiments, such as those that had been stationed at Peshawar, . . . were so
impregnated with fever that hard duty and variations of climate soon told on
their shattered constitutions. . . . No regiment should, if possible, be kept
at a notoriously unhealthy station . . . for a longer period than a year. The
prospect of a change for the better . . . would have a good effect on the men's
spirits, and any expense the Government would incur in carrying out these reliefs
would be amply compensated for by the increased efficiency of the regiments
concerned, to say nothing of the saving of life and health." — General Maude's
Diary, 24th February, 1879.



and the next day rode through the Khyber, the hills on either side
of the pass being crowned with troops to ensure him and his party
against the possibility of attack. On the 28th he was at Jellalabad,
where he remained till the 3rd of March. During this time he in-
spected the garrison, selected a site on the hills, about a mile from
the town, for the cantonments which had become necessary since
the Government had made up its mind to a permanent occupation
of that post, issued orders for the erection of huts for the accom-
modation of the men during the coming hot season, and sanctioned
the construction of a fortified enclosure to protect the great sheds con-
taining supplies and military stores. But whilst busy with these
immediate details, the Commander-in-Chief was on the alert to take
in and weigh every feature of the general situation, a knowledge of
which might enable him to advise the Government as to its future
military policy, and afterwards he held a long consultation with Sir
S. Browne and General Maude at Peshawar, when many important
matters were discussed.

The distribution of troops between Jumrud and Jellalabad had
not satisfied Sir Frederick ; it seemed to him that there was too much
overlapping of Browne's and Maude's commands, and that Jella-
labad, at the extreme end of the line of advance, and the point from
which a further forward movement would have to be made, was far
too weak. To obviate these defects it was now agreed that the 2nd
Division should take over charge of the whole line of communica-
tions, with its Headquarters at Lundi Kotal, where a fort and huts
were to be erected ; and that, strengthened by the addition of a wing
of the 9th Lancers, the 10th Bengal Lancers, the 12th Foot ^ and the
39th Bengal Infantry, it should be distributed for the time being,
at its Commander's discretion, between Jumrud, Ali Masjid,

* " The 12th Foot, a very nice Battalion, commanded by Colonel Walker,
joined my Division. ... A good many young soldiers in it." — General Maude's
Diary, 18th April, 1879.


Lundi Kotal, Dakka, BasawaP and Barikab, with the addition,
later on, of Jellalabad.- The 1st Division, reinforced by the Heavy
Battery and the 51st Foot, whilst temporarily continuing to have
its Headquarters at Jellalabad, was to occupy Gandamak, at which
place, in view of the likelihood that it might have to serve as a
secondary base of operations, a strong position was to be secured,
extensive enough to contain a field hospital and a depot for Commis-
sariat stores, but not so extensive as to require to be defended by
a large force.

When these and other matters had been settled, the Commander-
in-Chief left Peshawar for the Kuram, and Sir S. Browne returned
to Jellalabad charged with the responsibility of preparmg a com-
prehensive scheme for that advance on Kabul which the political
aims of the Indian Government might at any moment demand. The
desire to have his name associated with the capture of the Afghan
capital must have been a powerful inducement to Browne to place
the undertaking m the most favourable light ; but the uprightness
of his character, and his exhaustive knowledge of all the conditions
of the problem given him to solve, prevailed over personal ambition,
and the document which was to have shown how Kabul could be
reached, amounted, when complete, to a demonstration of the fact
that, under then existing circumstances, it could not be reached at all.

So far as troops were concerned, Browne considered that if he

took with him his whole Division and estabhshed no posts to keep

open his communications,^ he would be strong enough to overcome

^ A Commissariat depot was to be formed at this place, and shelter pro-
vided for troops and Commissariat establishment.

2 The new arrangement gave Maude —

4 Batteries Royal Artillery,

1 Regiment of British Cavalry,

2 Regiments of British Infantry,
6 Regiments of Bengal Infantry.

3 Browne justified this departure from ordinary miUtary caution on the
grovmd that he would not be able to spare the men to hold tlie posts, and that


any resistance he might encounter, either in going or returning, and,
marching by the Khurd Kabul route— the same that Pollock had taken
in 1842— he would reach Kabul on the eighth day ; but he could not
assume a like adequacy with regard to transport. The weather would
be warm, therefore tents could be dispensed with, and little baggage
need be taken ; but in the matter of food there could be no stuiting
and no trusting to the resources of the country. An ill-fed army,
his experience taught him, was an inefficient one ; and though he
did not anticipate delays, he felt bound to provide against them to
the extent of carrymg fifteen days' supplies for his eight days' march.
Calculating on this basis, he found that for eight thousand men and
two thousand one hundred horses he should need —






For Guns .
Baggage Stores
and Ammunition.
15 Days' Supplies .

Total . . .








and if, to save the time and stores and labour that would be con-
sumed in converting Gandamak into an auxiliary base, the expedition
started from Jellalabad — an alternative preferred by him— fourteen
hundred and fifty-two additional camels would be required. But
as two mules are always reckoned equal to one camel, the necessary
carrying capacity expressed in camel-loads would amount to ten
thousand six hundred and sixty-seven,i while the carriage actually
at his disposal amounted only to three thousand five hundred and
sixty loads — two thousand eight hundred camels, fifteen hundred

the posts themselves would be in danger of being cut off, and unable to com-
municate with either the front or the rear. If the point should be decided
against him, he suggested that fortified enclosures should be established at
Jugdallak, Kala Sang and Tezin.

1 Sir George Pollock, for 8,000 men, took with him 10,736 camel-loads.


and twenty mules. Colonel G. S. Macbean whom he had consulted,
had promised to provide him with a fresh draft of eleven hundred and
thirty-two camels and twelve hundred and fifty-eight mules, and
to transfer two thousand camels and one thousand mules from the
line of communications ; ^ yet, even then, the total carrying capacity
of the transport provided would be equivalent but to seven thousand
five hundred and forty-three camel-loads, three thousand one himdred
and twenty-four loads less than his mmimum requirements.^ Under
these circumstances, all that he felt justified in recommending in
the matter of an advance on Kabul, was the immediate transference
of his Division to the cooler and healthier climate ^ of Gandamak. *
Preparations for this next step, which had long been in progress,
were now pressed forward with redoubled activity. In addition
to military movements, to be dealt with in a later chapter, they
included fresh efforts to accumulate supplies, to increase the stock
of transport animals, and to allay the suspicions and soften the
hostility of the Afridis ; for though the arrangements to secure
the line of communications through the Khyber were by this time
excellent, they were not so perfect but that a combination of the Pass

^ This transference would have deprived the Second Division of mobihty.

2 Sir S. Browne noted that his estimate made no allowance for deaths among
the transport animals, or for their drivers deserting with them, though he believed
that the losses from both causes would liave been heavy. He mentioned, too»
that he had no hope of obtaining any further camels from the Kabul traders.

3 There had been a sudden increase of sun heat, and the Eiuopean troops
had begun to suffer from fever, pneumonia and dysentery, in consequence of
the difference in temperature between the days and the nights : Maximum, 86°
minimum, 46^.

4 Sir S. Browne sent in his draft-scheme early in April, and it was quickly
apparent that his blunt statement of the difficulties standing in the way of an
advance on Kabul had not shaken Lord Lytton's desire to bring the war to
an end by the capture of that city, for, on the 13th, General Maude received,
from the Adjutant-General, an official intimation that, in such an advance,
he would command the First Division, Major-General R. O. Bright, the Second,
and Sir S. Browne, the whole Force, with Colonel C M. Macgregor as chief of
the staff.


Tribes might jeopardize them, and, with them, the very existence
of the troops in advance. And the Afridis were mieasy ; they had
not forgiv^en the invasion of Bazar, and the attempt to penetrate
into Bara, and they could not see why, now Shere Ali was dead, the
Indian Government should continue to keep an army in Afghanistan
and to build forts and barracks in their territory. It was no easy
matter to explain conduct so distinctly at variance with the promises
made to them at the beginning of the war ; but the Viceroy did the
best he could to appease their discontent by appointing Mr. Donald
Macnabb as Political Officer of Maude's Division, in succession to
Cavagnari, when the latter moved on to Gandamak.

Dvu-ing his visit to Jellalabad, Sir Frederick Haines was shown many places
of interest connected with the memorable siege of that town, by the only officer
in Sir Samuel Browne's Force, who had been a member of its " illustrious garrison"
— Lieutenant-Colonel J. J. Bailey, Rifle Brigade.

This officer was able to point out the bastion held by what was then his
regiment, the 13th Foot, from which Dr. Brj'don, the sole survivor of the British
Army massacred in the I^urd Kabul and Jagdalak Passes was first descried ;
the garrison graveyard, now covered by a mosque ; the tracings of the fortifica-
tions which it had taken the garrison three months to construct, and an earth-
quake an hour or two to destroy ; and, lastly, the spot, where his owna gallant
commanding officer. Colonel Dennie, fell in the engagement, in which Mahomed
Akbar was driven across the Kabul river with the loss of all his tents and baggage.
— H.B.H.


The Occupation of Gandamak


On the last day of March, information reached Sir S. Browne that
Azmutulla Khan, with a large following, had again descended into
the Laghman Valley, where he was working to bring about a fresh
combination of the Tribes against the British occupation of their
country, and that the Khugianis, a powerful clan, occupying the
fertile lands that lie to the south of Futtehabad, a large village seven-
teen miles west of Jellalabad, were assembling in great numbers in the
neighbourhood of Khaja, their principal border fortress. To prevent
the threatened mischief assuming larger proportions, Browne in-
stantly organized three lightly equipped columns — no tents were
taken, and the ammunition mules carried only half loads — one of
which, under Major E. Wood, was to march to Chaharbagh in the
Laghman Valley and capture, or drive out, Azmutulla ; another, under
Brigadier-General Macpherson, was to cross the Siah Koh (Black
Mountain) by the Jowari Chann Pass into the valley on its further
side, to cut what was expected to be that chief's line of retreat ; and
the third, under Brigadier-General Charles Gougli, was to march on
Futtehabad, and disperse the Khugianis.
Macpherson's Column, consisting of : —

The Hazara Mountain Battery,
A wing 4th Battalion Rifle Brigade,
Do. 4th Gurkhas,
Do. 20th Punjab Infantry,
A Company of Sappers and Miners,
Approximate strength — 1,000 men and 4 guns.


was the first to move. It left camp at 9 p.m. and, marching quickly,
followed the course of the Kabul River up-stream for nine miles, and
then, turning sharply northward, made its way through lands cut up
by muddy irrigation channels, which so delayed it that the moon had
set before it reached the Surkhab.^ Here, the usual ford was found
to be impassable, and another had to be sought. When this had been
discovered, about half a mile lower down, at a point where the river
divides into two branches — the whole force crossed m pitch darkness,
and, pressing on, arrived about 4 a.m., at the foot of the Siali Koh.
Here, there was a pause of fifty minutes, to allow of the troops closing
up, and then the passage of that range began. The track presented
many difficulties, its steep ascents and descents being strewn with
huge boulders, or running over layers of sheet rock, so slippery that
it seemed impossible for horse or mule to keep its footing ; but at
last the crest — five thousand three hundred feet above sea level — was
reached, and Macpherson, hearing that AzmatuUa was still in Laghman,
and hoping to catch him near Bairam Khan Fort, where he would
probably try to cross the Kabul River, hurried down the further
side of the pass with a detachment of the Rifle Brigade, only to find
that his expected prisoner had made good his escape, and that his
followers had dispersed to their villages.

As pursuit was out of the question, and the troops — the same who
five months previously had scaled the rocky heights of Rotas —
though now inured to steep hillsides and stony ways, were exhausted
by the long march, Macpherson determined to spend the night on the
further side of the mountains, and the men's eyes turned anxiously
to the path by which they had descended, watching for the rear-
guard and the loaded mules. But nothing was seen of them that
day, nor till 2 p.m. on the morrow, when they rejoined the main body
on its homeward march. It turned out that they had missed their way

^ A tributary of the Kabul River, and, like that stream, very dangerous
at the season of the melting of the snows.


and wandered down to Futtehabad, where they had blundered into
Gough's column, and been promptly sent back, by paths so steep and
narrow, that the 20th Punjab Infantry had been obliged, again and
again, to unload and reload their mules.

At midnight, orders reached Macpherson to detach De Lautour's
Mountam Battery, with an escort of two hundred Infantry, to rein-
force Gough, and to return himself, with the rest of the troops, to
Jellalabad. A few hours later, the column was again in motion, and
though the Duranda Pass, by which its commander had elected to
return, proved little less difficult than the Jowari Chann, by nightfall
it was once more in quarters.

Major Wood's Column, consisting of a squadron of the 10th Hussars
and one of the 11th Bengal Lancers, had left camp half an hour after
Macpherson's.^ To reach the Laghman Valley the Kabul River had to
be crossed, and as, owmg to its swollen state, the trestle bridge had
been removed, the troops were obliged to make use of the ford just
below the spot where that bridge had stood. The bed of the river at
this point is about three-quarters of a mile broad ; but, in mid-stream,
a stony island divides it into two channels. Between the right bank
and this island, the ford — a wide strip of gravel strewn with boulders —
is drawn in a straight line from shore to shore ; but between the
island and the left bank, it runs first down the stream at an angle of
45°, then up-stream at the like angle, and above and below it, are
rapids, broken by sandbanks and rocks. The V-shaped half of this ford
is at all times dangerous, yet Jenkins and Gough seem to have been
the only two senior officers who recognized the danger, and, unfor-
tunately, a report of the former, in which he deprecated the use of it at
night, was forgotten, or overlooked, by the Quartermaster- General's
Department, in the hurry and stress of preparing three forces, at short
notice, for the field. The moon was sinking and the dark shadows of

1 The infantry supports which were to have followed the next day, were
countermanded when news came that the Ghilzais had fled from Laghman.


the hills were falling across the valley when the column rode down to
the river, and crossed over to the island without mishap, the single
guide attached to it, leading the way, followed first by the squadron of
the 11th Bengal Lancers in half sections, i.e. four abreast ; next, by
two mules led by their drivers ; and, lastly, by the squadron of the
10th Hussars, also in half sections. Captain R. C. D'E. Spottiswoode at
their head. By this time the darkness had deepened, so that no man
could do more than dimly discern his neighbour, and the roar and rush
of the river drowned every voice save its own ; yet, once again, the
guide and the Bengal Lancers, composed of men accustomed from
youth up to the treacherous rivers of the Punjab, reached the opposite
bank in safety. Nevertheless, in the long column there had been a
slight yielding to the pressure of the stream, so that at the apex of the
V its tail had been dangerously near the edge of the ford ; so near, that
the mules and muleteers, following close behind, stepped off into deep
water and were at once swept over the rapids.^ Almost at the same
moment, Spottiswoode's horse— a powerful English charger— lost his
footing, recovered it, lost it again, and finally, after being carried
down some distance, swam to land with his rider, on the further shore.
As with the leader, so with the rank and file. Too closely locked up
for one section to take warning by the fate of that in front of it, the
whole squadron missed the ford at the same point, and in a moment
men and horses, closely packed, were fighting for life, rolling over and
over in the swift, strong flood. Many of the men were drowned, or
kicked to death by the struggling chargers, a few carried on to
sandbanks and so saved. The last to enter the water, Sub-Lieutenant
C. M. Grenfell, escaped through the wise instincts of his horse, who
swung round the moment he felt himself in deep water, and regained
the shore which he had just left. The Bengal Lancers on the left

^ The official reports say nothing as to the fate of the mules and drivers,
but, according to private sources of information, they all succeeded in gettini?
back to land.


bank of the river knew nothing of this sudden tragedy; but two men
of the 10th who had lingered on the island when their comrades entered
the river, saw, as it seemed to them, the whole squadron in mid-
channel suddenly face to the right, gallop down stream and vanish
from sight.^ The first intimation of what had occurred, was carried
into camp by riderless, dripping horses, who about 11 p.m. rushed
through the lines of the Horse Artillery to those of the 10th
Hussars. That a great disaster had befallen that regiment was
evident, and the officers in camp belonging to it, hurried down to the
ford, followed by doctors and ambulances, and, as quickly as possible
by Major G. E. L. S. Sandford with the elephants of the Heavy
Battery, equipped with ropes, and carrying large bundles of firewood.
Soon a huge bonfire was blazing on the island, and, by its light, Lieu-
tenant the Hon. J. P. Napier and a few of his men were discovered
on a sandbank below the rapids, and dragged, bruised and exhausted,
to shore. Not till morning could there be any search for the dead,
and then only the bodies of Lieutenant Harford and eighteen men
were recovered ; '- all the rest had been swept away and were never
seen again, though, later on, a report was current that they had
been cast up by the flood, stripped by the Natives and flung back
into the river.

The loss sustained by the 10th Hussars on that fatal night was
one officer, three non-commissioned officers and forty-two rank and
file—total casualties forty-seven; nearly two-thirds of the squadron

^ Memoirs of the Tenth Royal Hussars, p. 402.

2 " As daylight came and the banks lower down were searched, the bodies
were found jammed amongst the boulders and under the rocky banks. The
men were in full marching order, khaki, with putties and warm underclothing.
They had their swords on and carried their carbines slung over their shoulders
and their pouches were full. A man so accoutred simply had no chance against
the swollen river."— Surgeon-Major George T. H. Evatt's Personal Recollections.

" Many amongst them were excellent swimmers . . . but the water was
bitterly cold from the molting snows, and the poor fellows were quickly be-
numbed."— Memoirs of the Tenth Royal Hussars, p. 401.


which had left camp seventy-five strong.* Only thirteen horses were
drowned ; the rest, when freed from their riders, having swum to land,
on one bank or the other.

In the hurry and horror of this unexpected catastrophe, Sir S. Browne
did not forget the important movement that was in progress, and
quickly despatched another troop of the 11th Bengal Lancers to take
the place of the lost Hussars. Furnished with guides and lighted by
the fire on the island, the Lancers crossed over safely, and, thus re-

Online LibraryH. B. (Henry Bathurst) HannaThe second Afghan war, 1878-79-80 : its causes, its conduct and its consequences (Volume 2) → online text (page 24 of 32)