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, again and again, were they driven back at the point of the bayonet.
About 3 o'clock in the afternoon, the attack on the front facing the
Pass relaxed a little, but the other three sides were assailed with even
greater fury than before ; and though the troops fought with unabated
spirit, ammunition was running short, and every man knew that help
must come soon, or it would come too late. Luckily, Creagh's second
messenger did succeed in reachmg Dakka, and Barnes instantly
telegraphed the bad news he brought, to Headquarters at Lundi
Kotal. General Maude, who up to that moment had been unaware
of the despatch of Creagh's Force to Kam Dakka, now took prompt
steps to provide for its safety. In a very brief space of time, two
Forces — the one starting from Dakka Fort, under Captain D. M.
Strong, the other from Haftchar, a fort lying half way between Dakka
and Lundi Kotal, under Major J. R. Dyce — were hurrying over the
hills to the rescue of their beleaguered comrades, whilst Colonel F. B.
Norman, who with a small column of Artillery and Infantry was re-
cormoitring between Lundi Kotal and the Kabul River, warned by a
heliographic message of the emergency which had arisen at Kam
Dakka, was hastening across country to Creagh's assistance, and two
companies 2nd Gurkhas from Basawal, and three companies 12th Foot,
and two mountain guns 11-9 Royal Artillery from Lundi Kotal, under
Lieutenant-Colonel C. J. C. Sillery, were on the march to strengthen
the weakened garrison of Dakka.


Strong's party, consisting of a troop of the

lOth Bengal Lancers,

One Company 5th Fusiliers,

One of the Mhairwarra Battalions;

and accompanied by Captain Trotter, the Political Officer, was the first
to arrive on the scene of action. Soon after 3 p.m., descending the
Kam Dakka Pass, it reached a point from which all the details of the
unequal contest in the valley below, could distinctly be discerned. On
its left lay the Kabul River, winding through yellowing cornfields ;
the mountain slopes and the plain at its feet crowded with blue-
togared Mohmands, and gay with red and white banners. But the
point that drew all eyes was the graveyard, with its improvised defences,
behind which glimpses could be caught of the gallant Mhairwarras,
some with bandaged limbs and heads, firing slowly into the surg-
ing throng which threatened every moment to overwhelm them.
Recognizing the imminence of their peril, Strong, with the Fusiliers,
scattered the nearest Mohmands, posted his Company of the Mhair-
warras on a ridge to maintain communication with his rear and to
protect his flanks ; and then, despatching Lieutenant C. E. Pollock
to bring up at once the troop of the 10th Bengal Lancers, he and
Tucker, at much risk, succeeded in getting mto Creagh's enclosure.
When the Cavalry came up. Strong dashed out again, and succeeded
in joining it unhurt. Putting himself at the head of the Lancers,
he charged through the fields, driving the astonished Mohmands head-
long down the steep bank into the river, which was soon full of strug-
gling men and floating flags and turbans. Simultaneously, the
garrison of the graveyard, its ammunition at last exhausted, rushed
from its entrenchments, and attacking with the bayonet, completed
the enemy's discomfiture. Bewildered and terror-stricken, the Tribes-
men fled to high ground, and the combined British Force at once with-
drew, with all its killed and wounded, to the shelter of the Pass. This
retirement was the signal for the return of the Mohmands ; but hardly


had they swarmed down into the valley, and occupied the abandoned
entrenchments, than the relief Force from Haf tchar came hurrying up,
and with its mountain guns soon drove them out, and forced them, for
the second time, to seek safety among the hills.

Strong had been instructed to hold the Pass till morning, but the
Mohmands were still in great strength, and not only Creagh's men,
but the corps which had come to his aid, were much exhausted ; there
were wounded requiring treatment, and neither rations for the men,
nor forage nor water for the horses and mules ; so Major Dyce, the
senior officer of the united Force, very judiciously decided on an imme-
diate withdrawal, and, thanks to his careful dispositions, Dakka was
reached, with few casualties, at 8 p.m., though the column, hampered
by baggage and doolies, moved slowly, and the Mohmands followed
it up and harassed it by continuous and heavy firing. When, the
following morning, Colonel Sillery, with a strong column, re-crossed
the Pass, he met with no resistance, nor did Norman who joined him
at Kam Dakka after a long march through the ShOman Valley. The
Mohmands had melted away as quickly as they had come together ;
and thenceforward, till the end of the campaign, they gave no further
trouble as a tribe, though individuals still continued to steal, rob and
murder whenever they had the chance. Their losses on the 22nd of
April had been heavy — about two hundred killed and wounded —
whilst the British casualties were only six killed and eighteen wounded,
an inconsiderable number when it is remembered that the slightest
hesitation or error of judgment on the part of Creagh or Strong must
have entailed the destruction of the whole detachment. General
Maude showed his appreciation of the former officer's skill, coolness and
determination, by obtaining for him the Victoria Cross ; and he com-
mended Captain Strong's name to the favourable consideration and
notice of the Commandcr-m-Chief, an honour shared by Hospital-
Assistant Syud IMur Khan and Bheestie Nadari, both belonging to
Creagh's Company of the Mhaiiwarras.


It was suspected that some of the Kam Dakka people took part
in the attack on the graveyard ; but the offence coukl not be proved
against them, and as, after the dispersal of the Mohmand gathering,
they made haste to return to their original friendly attitude, it was
deemed unwise to punish them for a change of front which was, to
some extent, justified by the weakness of the column sent to their
assistance. A body of armed tribesmen belonging to Lalpura, who
had accompanied Captain Trotter, were also believed to have gone
over to the enemy. Certainly they took no part in the action on the
British side, and their unfriendliness, even if it went no further than
abstention from aid, was a fresh proof of the folly of expectmg Moh-
mands to fight against Mohmands, Afridis against Afridis, at the bid-
ding of a foreign authority, and in any interest but their own.

Observation I. The operations against Azmutulla emphasize
what has already been written about night marches, and wide turning
movements, in a mountainous country. In Wood's Column, the lives
of forty-seven British soldiers were thrown away in the attempt to
surprise an enemy, whose spies swarmed in Jellalabad, and watched
every yard of the Kabul River ; and Macpherson's Column ran
immense risks, and underwent exhausting fatigues, in striving to cut
off the retreat of a fugitive who was practically certain to get away
before the point at which, alone, there was a chance of intercepting
him, could be reached. Cough's enterprise succeeded, not because he
started out in the middle of the night — for the fact that he found
Futtehabad deserted proved that the enemy had been warned of
his approach — but because, after duly informing himself as to the
strength and dispositions of the Khugianis, he adopted the only tactics
by which the superiority due to position could be transferred from
them to him. No such military success was possible in the Laghman
Valley, but a single strong force, leaving Jellalabad by daylight, could


have accomplished all that Wood's and Macpherson's combined
movements were able to effect — namely, the evacuation of that valley
by the Ghilzais — without the loss of a single life. In the whole of
the first phase of the war, only one night march, Roberts's on the
1st of December, can claim to have attained its object ; and that,
though it succeeded, so far as the surprise of the Spingawai Kotal
was concerned, failed as a turning movement, in co-operation with
General Cobbe's frontal attack.

Observation II, The proceedings of the Court of Inquiry held
to take evidence as to the cause of the accident to the 10th Hussars,
have never been made public, but Sir S. Browne attributed the disaster
to a sudden rise in the Kabul River, similar to that which, in 1839,
swept away the leading troop of the 16th Lancers, when effecting the
passage of the Jhelam, on their return to India. The surmise was
probably correct ; but that spates are of frequent occurrence in Afghan
rivers, is an additional reason for the exercise of foresight and care in
crossing them, and, on the occasion under review, the most ordinary
precautions were neglected, the best known rules violated. The
river was known to be in flood, yet (1) the eccentric course of the ford
had not been staked out ; (2) only one guide was attached to the
column ; (3) baggage animals were allowed to interpose between the
two Cavalry corps ; (4) the troops were ordered to cross in half-
sections ; (5) no Staff Officer was present to superintend the operation ;
(6) the officer commanding the column, instead of remaining on the
island till all his men had landed on the further bank, crossed with the
first half of his Force, and left to subordinates the duty of watching
over the safety of the second half ; (7) the passage, risky by day, was
made at night. '

1 On the occasion of the accident to the 16th Lancers, the regiment entered
the ford six abreast, and missed it in trying to pass some camels. After the
accident, Sir J. Keane ordered the rest of the Cavalry to cross the Jhelam singly,
with a horse's length between each animal, and every troop led by a guide.


Observation III. Though the incident at Kam Dakka reflects
nothing but credit on all concerned, it nevertheless brought out strongly
the need for well organized moveable columns, unconnected with the
defence of the communications, and free, therefore, to march to the
assistance of any threatened post. Had Barnes, on the 22nd of April,
been in command of such a column, anxiety for the safety of Dakka
would not have obliged him to refuse the prayer of the people of
Kam Dakka, and the adequate protection which he would have been
able to afford them, would have commanded their fidelity and kept
the Mohmands to their own side of the Kabul River.

Visit of the Commander-in-Chief to the Kuram


For some weeks after the close of the Khost Expedition, the Kuram
Field Force, except for road-making, in which it was greatly helped
by local labour, enjoyed a period of rest ; the severity of the weather
which protected its outposts from attack, condemning it to not un-
welcome inactivity. There was, however, no respite from toil and
anxiety for the troops on the line of communication within British
territory, where there was no snow to act as a check on the hostility
of the tribes. Around Thai, cattle were still frequently carried off
from their grazing grounds, and no man dared venture beyond the
walls of that fort without a strong escort, which a garrison, so weak
that it was not always able to relieve its outposts, could ill afford
to furnish. Between Thai and Kohat, the Zymukhts, tempted by the
stream of supplies flowing within sight of their hUls, were continually
raiding, and, early in March, a section of the Orakzais made a night
attack on an unfinished resting place for convoys, a walled, but gate-
less, enclosure, killed four Commissariat servants and a police constable,
wounded several drivers and carried off twenty-nine mules, without
losing a single man, the small guard, in a better protected enclosure
hard by, not daring to oppose or pursue them.

The strain on the Commissariat and Transport Departments also
knew no relaxation, for not only had the troops, from Kohat to the
Peiwar, to be fed, but supplies had to be accumulated as far forward as
possible "with a view to a fresh advance in the spring, a season of the


year when local food stores are at their lowest. The toil which thi''
necessity imposed upon the transport animals, steadily thinned their
ranks, and as each of the two thousand carts plying between Kohat
and Thai, had to carry fodder and grain for its buUocks, the labour
expended was out of all proportion to the result obtained.^ On
this section of the road, some relief was given by contracts with the
local Tribesmen for the conveyance of goods ; but beyond Thai, no
such arrangements were entered into ; and though the civil authorities
scoured the Bunnu district to replace losses among the camels, the
animals obtained were of inferior quality and died off so quickly
that when the order to prepare to march on Kabul was received,
General Roberts found that he had only four thousand fit for service
instead of the six thousand that would be needed, if his Force was
to take the field in an efficient condition.

Early in March, three guns, F.A. Royal Artillery, passed over
the new road from Thai to Kuram, accompanied from Chapri, their
first halting place, by the 23rd Pioneers.^ A week later, the 5th
Punjab Infantry and a squadron of the 9th Lancers marched by the
same road, which came thenceforward into general use. For its
better protection, General Watson, who was now in command of
Roberts's line of communications from Kohat to Thai, was requested
to send the Nabha Contingent to Badish Khel, and orders were issued
to prepare sites near Chapri, Shiimak and Badish Khel for the camp of
the Commander-in-Chief, who was expected in the valley at the close
of his visit to the Khyber.

1 These bullocks had been purchased in Bengal on the suggestion made by
General Roberts in December.

2 Stages on Thax-Kuram Road. Miles.

1. Thai to Chapri 7

2. Chapri to Alizai' 12

3. Alizai to Shinnak ....... 6

4. Shinnak to Badish Khel 9

5. Badish Khel to Wali Mahomed's Fort ... 7

6. Wali Mahomed's Fort to'^Kuram .... 10

51 milea.


On the 22nd, Sir Frederick Haines, accompanied by General
Roberts, arrived at Kuram, where he reviewed the troops assembled
to meet him, and inspected the forts and hospitals. On the 23rd,
he rode up to Peiwar, and after a day's delay, due to heavy rain, to
the Kotal. Everywhere he was able to compliment the men on the
excellence of their conduct, as attested by the fact that not a smgle
complaint had been preferred agamst them ; and on the Kotal, he
had words of special praise for the 8th " Kuig's," whose gallant deeds he
could fully appreciate, now that he had seen with his own eyes what
manner of ground it was over which they had climbed, in the teeth
of the Afghan guns.^ Sir Frederick Haines began his return journey
on the 27th, leaving with Roberts who took leave of him atShinnak—
the second stage from the Kuram forts on the new road— the order to
hold the undernamed troops m readiness to co-operate with Browne's
Division in an advance on Kabul, as soon as the Shutargardan should
be free from snow : —

Royal Artillery.

F-A. Royal Horse Artillery.

G-3 Royal Artillery.

No. 2 Mountain Battery.

Cavalry Brigade.
Squadron of 9th Lancers.
12th Bengal Cavalry.
14th Bengal Lancers.
1st Infantry Brigade.

72nd Highlanders.

5th Gurkhas.

28th Punjab Infantry.

23rd Pioneers.

7th Company Sappers and Miners.

1 " Men of the ' King's ' Regiment, now that I have seen the ground that
you have come over and taken, I thmk that you have done wonders, and that
you have performed deeds that any man should be proud of." Words of the
Commander-in-Chief as conveyed to the " King's " Regiment in Regimental
Orders, 25th March, by Colonel Barry Drew.


2nd Infantry Brigade.
92nd Highlanders.
5th Punjab Infantry.
21st Punjab Infantry.

380 men of all ranks and 18 guns.

820 Sabres.

3,500 of all ranks.

Total 4,700

Cobbe, who had recovered from the wound received in the attack
on the Peiwar Kotal, was again in command of the 1st Brigade, but
Brigadier-General Thelwall having been invalided back to India, the
command of the 2nd Brigade was vacant, and remained so till the
middle of AprU, when it was given to the Commandant of the Bhopal
Battalion, Brigadier- General Forbes.^ The only change in the Stafif
was the substitution of Captain E. Straton, 22nd Regiment, as
Superintendent of Army Signallmg, for Captain Wynne, whose health
had broken down in the Khost campaign. The Regiments and
Corps selected to take part in the advance on Kabul were to assemble
at Alikhel, and a Reserve, consisting of : —

Half Battery C-4 Royal Artillery,
No. 1 Mountain Battery,

5th Punjab Cavalry,

2nd Battalion 8th "King's,"
67th Foot,

This appointment, except as regarded seniority, did injustice to Colonel
Barry Drew. The man who had led the 1st Brigade when, weakened in
numbers, it performed the deeds eulogized by SirF. Haines, and who had com-
manded it in the Khost Campaign, had the best claim to the command of the 2nd.
— H.B.H.


11th Bengal Infantry,
29th Punjab Infantry,

was to be formed in the Kuram and afterwards transferred to the
Harriab Valley. The command of this Reserve was conferred on
Colonel Osborne Wilkinson only three days before the conclusion
of peace. General John Watson's functions as Inspector-General of
Communications were extended to the Kuram; and in the course
of April, Colonel Mark Heathcote was appointed to his Staff as
Assistant Quarter-Master-General, and Major G. Wolseley, then on
his way back from Kandahar, as Assistant Adjutant-General.

The 28th Punjab Infantry, the 23rd Pioneers, and the 72nd High-
landers were the first regiments to be ordered to Alikhel, and each,
as it marched up, improved the road for the troops that were to follow
after. The advance above was supported by a corresponding advance
below; the 92nd Highlanders, the Headquarter wing of the 14th
Bengal Lancers and the 11th Punjab Infantry— regiments that had
been placed on Roberts's line of communications during his absence
in Khost— moved up to Kuram, also two companies of the 8th " King's "
from Kohat, and the 67th Regiment from Multan, accompanied
by half C-4 Royal Artillery, bringing with it thirty-seven elephants to
carry the 9-pounder guns over the mountains. The Nabha Con-
tingent already held posts on the new road ; now, half the Pattiala
Contingent accompanied General Watson to the Forts, and went to
work to improve their dilapidated defences, whilst the Artillery of
the Force was further strengthened by raising the number of guns
in each of the Mountain Batteries from four to six, and calling upon
the 2nd Punjab Infantry, as it passed through Kuram on its way
back to India, to furnish additional drivers.^ Two Catling guns

1 "The 2nd Punjab Infantry, who had suffered much from exposure in the
beginning of the campaign, wore now ordered to be withdrawn from the Kuram
Force, and their place was to be taken by the Uth Native Infantry."— TFzV/i
the Kuram Field Force, p. 288, by Major Colquhoun.


that were brought up by elephants on the 9th of April, turned out
to be defective ; and, though, after much tinkering, they were passed
as fit for service and allowed to proceed to Alikhel, the practice made
with them was never satisfactory.

All through the month of April, there was no pause in the upward
and onward movement of troops ; but the successive steps in advance
were necessarily slow where regiments had to march by detachments,
because the greater part of their transport was required to bring up
supplies, where ordnance stores and ammunition had to be trans-
ferred from one kmd of transport to another, at a great cost of time
and labour — loads calculated for camels being quite unsuited to
mules or men — and where weather varied from day to day, snowfalls
following hard on sandstorms, and torrential rains on both.

As it was clear that similar causes of delay would have to be
reckoned with in an advance from Alikhel to Kabul, when speed
might be of vital importance. General Roberts made up his mind
to increase the mobility of his Force by diminishing its impedimenta.
In accordance with this resolve, he ordered the daily ration of the
Native troops and camp-followers to be reduced from two pounds of
flour or rice to one and a half, and, in his plan for the coming cam-
paign, cut down the Commissariat reserve of food stuffs to fifteen
days, curtailed camp equipage both for officers and men, abolished
it altogether for camp-followers, and reduced the supply of ammuni-
tion, per man, to a hundred rounds for Infantry and fifty for Cavalry.

If General Roberts imposed sacrifices on his troops and demanded
of them unflagging industry and zeal, he certainly did not spare him-
self. But though perpetually on the move, now at Kuram, now at
Alikhel, again at Peiwar, Thai, and even at Kohat, seeing, with
his own eyes, what was being done from one end of his long line of
communication to the other, noting defects, ordering improvements,
fertile in expedients to meet the difficulties which were constantly
cropping up — he could not succeed in concentrating his troops and


guns till the 28th of April, eleven days after the date on which he had
telegraphed to Colonel Macgregor his readiness to begin the combined
movement on Kabul at a day's notice. Even then, the greater
number of his horses, mules and camels were still in the Kuram,
recruiting their strength after the fatigue and semi-starvation of
the winter, as well as six elephants, which had been sent back to
Peiwar for medical treatment, in consequence of an outbreak of foot
and mouth disease.^ He himself arrived at Alikhel on the 29th,
and established his Headquarters near the First Brigade. The Second,
and all the Artillery guns occupied a plateau six hundred yards away,
a deep nullah separating the two camps. Breastworks of loose stones
surrounded each, picket towers protected them at night against
snipers, and a redoubt and other fortifications commanded their
approaches. Strongly protected against attack, they had one internal
weakness — water had, at first, to be procured from the Hazardarakht,
a stream flowing in a deep ravine half a mile off ; and when, by the
construction of a channel two miles long, water was brought in from
a spring, there was always a chance that the supply thus obtained
might be cut off. Beyond the camps, a road fit for wheeled carriage
had been constructed, and a telegraph line laid to within eight miles
of the Shutargardan.

Whilst the military authorities, on both sides the Safed Koh, were
occupying positions from which to attack Kabul, events were in
progress which were to obviate the necessity for a further British
advance. Sirdar Wali Mahomed Khan, the candidate for the throne
of Afghanistan whose pretensions Lord Lytton was inclined to favour,
had arrived in the Kuram late in January, and Roberts, on his return
from Khost, had despatched him to Jellalabad, with Captain Conolly,
Assistant Political Officer, as his companion, and a squadron of the
10th Hussars as his escort. But the Viceroy's wish to impose a

^ This outbreak was attributed to feeding the elephants on rice straw. One
died of the seven attacked.


sovereign with British proclivities on the people of Afghanistan, had
already given place to the more sober desii'e of coming to an agree-
ment with the prince in possession, and it was with Yak ub Khan that,
after many delays, negotiations were at last opened. During their
progress, no movements directly hostile to the Government at Kabul
could be undertaken ; so the troops collected at Alikhel, filled up
the weeks of waiting with extensive survey operations. On the
1st of May, Generals Roberts and Watson rode up the Hazardarakht
defile as far as Drekulla. On the 6tli, Colonel J. Gordon, Major
Parry, Captains Rennick and Carr, Lieutenant Spratt and Dr. Duke,
set out from Alikhel to explore some of the side guUeys leading to the
Shutargardan plateau, on reaching which they split into two parties,
one returning by the Thabai Pass, the other by the Gogizal road.
The former, which runs into the Hazardarakht defile at Jaji Thanna,

Online LibraryH. B. (Henry Bathurst) HannaThe second Afghan war, 1878-79-80 : its causes, its conduct and its consequences (Volume 2) → online text (page 26 of 32)