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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General Furguson, was composed of four thousand nine hundred
British troops of all arms, and six guns ; the right, under Colonel Trant,
of one thousand and fifty Portuguese, and the centre, led by Sir Arthur
in person, of nine thousand men with twelve guns. The advance
of the flanking parties, neither of which was ever more than a mile and
a half distant from the main body, and the vigorous attack delivered
by the latter, compelled the French general, Laborde, to retreat ; and
when, with admirable skill, he secured a second strong position, one



meditating an attack on the camp ; but though they had the will, by not attack-
ing on the night of the 1st, but postponing the assault to the 2nd, they lost
their opportunty for ever. Their reinforcements may have been tired, and
probably were, as the garrisons of the Peiwar and Spin Gawai Kotals were not
very much on the alert on the morning of the 2nd December ; but whatever may
have been the cause of the delay ... it was fatal to the Afghans." {With the
Kuram Field Force, by Major Colquhoun, p. 97.)

* The Duke of Wellington in his Dispatches uses the generic name of Vimeiro
for the two actions, of which he wrote : — " The action of Vimeiro is the only
one I have ever been in, in which everything passed as was directed, and no
mistake was made by anj^ of the officers charged with its conduct." (Dispatch
of August 22nd, 1808.)



ACTION ON THE PEIWAR MOUNTAIN 85

and a quarter miles in rear of the first, a repetition of the triple move-
ment, carried out with the same caution and precision, soon rendered
that, too, untenable.

Observation II. No commander is justified in pushing forward
one portion of his force into a patliless wilderness in such a manner as to
separate it entirely from the remaining portion ; still less, in accompany-
ing that advanced guard, and thus allowing himself to lose all know-
ledge of and control over his main body. The imprudence in General
Roberts's case was doubly reprehensible, as the regiment whose leader
he constituted himself, had just given proof of disloyalty.



CHAPTER X
Action on the Peiwar Kotal

THE FRONT ATTACK

At 5 a.m. on the morning of the 2nd December, Major Palmer and his
Turis set out to endeavour to turn the right of the enemy's position,
and the two Horse Artillery and three Field guns, escorted by one
hundred men of the 8th " King's," under Captain J. Dawson, Major
S. Parry commanding the whole body, moved out of camp and took up
a position about a mile higher up the valley, waiting for day to dawn
to open fire upon the gun half-way up One Gun Spur. At 6.15 a.m.,
when it was just light enough for them to come into action, the
5th Punjab Infantry and the 2/ 8th " King's "—the two regiments
combined only numbering seven hmidred and sixty-three officers
and men, including the one hundred men of the 8th, detailed
to protect the guns— left Camp Gubazan and, passing the Artillery,
took ground to the right amidst sheltering jungle, behind a lateral
spur, one of many which descend from the ridge flanking the valley
on its north-eastern side. There they remained till 8 a.m., when two
companies of the " King's," under Lieutenant-Colonel E. Tanner, and
the 5th Punjab Infantry, under Major J. M. McQueen, secured a
position three hundred and fifty yards nearer to the enemy. Meantime,
the guns had been turned upon the Afghan battery on the Kotal
which replied vigorously, until, about eleven o'clock, two of its pieces
were silenced. Wliilst this fierce Artillery duel was raging, the Infantry



ACTION ON THE PEIWAR KOTAL 87

pressed steadily on, crossing spur after spur — the 8th " King's " on
the left, the 5th Punjab Infantry on the right — working their way
towards the ridge from which, as from a backbone, these spurs descend.
Once, about ten o'clock, the enemy made a movement to cross the
ravine and come to close quarters, but the two squadrons of the
12th Bengal Cavalry which, so far, had been drawn up out of range
in front of the camp, undeterred by the frightful nature of the ground —
a perfect wilderness of rocks and stones — led by Captain J. H. Green,
charged up the valley, and the Afghans fell back ; and, though the
Cavalry also retired, their watchful attitude at the foot of the pass
prevented any renewal of the attempt to take the Infantry in flank.
About noon, the 8th " King's " came out upon the crest of a spur
distant only fourteen himdred yards from the kotal, and just opposite
the ridge running up to it from the " Crow's Nest," the summit and
slopes of which were held by the enemy in considerable strength. Here,
where the regiment was exposed not only to a direct, but also to an
enfilade fire, the chief losses of the day occurred, the drum-major being
killed, and two sergeants and several men wounded, whilst Brigadier-
General Cobbe received a bullet in the thigh which obliged him to resign
the command to Colonel F. Barry Drew. The change of command
made no difference to the vigour with which the " King's " returned the
Afghan fire ; but for so small a force, in the presence of a strongly posted
and unshaken enemy, the position was a critical one, all the more so
because the 5th Punjab Infantry, whose duty it was to cover their
right flank, had failed to do so.^ The incident has never been ex-
plained, but a study of the geography of the Peiwar Mountain throws
light upon what occurred. Up to a certain point, the two regiments
kept in touch with each other, so far as the violent accidents of the
groimd would permit ; but, entangled among ravines and scrub jungle,
they drew apart ; and, in the end, the 5th, bearing more and more away

^ See Sketch of Operations on the Peiwar Mountain.



88 THE SECOND AFGHAN WAR

to the right, came out in the rear of Pic-nic Hill.^ As, under the
enemy's fire, it pushed u^ the last ascent, through a narrow opening
in the pine-woods, its commander, Major McQueen, caught a ghmpse
of the Afghan camp with all its followers and baggage- animals,
lying, in fancied security, at the entrance to the defile behind the
Kotal. McQueen instantly realized that it M^as possible, from this
point, to carry confusion and dismay into the very heart of the
enemy's position, and pointed this out to Colonel Perkins, the Com-
manding Engineer, who, on joining the Turning Party, reported the
matter to General Roberts. Lieutenant Sherries was at once directed
to take two of his mountain-guns to the spot indicated, and, a few
minutes later, their shells were bursting in the camp and among the
crowded transport animals. The shells set fire to some of the tents ;
the conflagration spread ; the terrified mules, camels and ponies,
and their no less terrified drivers fled in hot haste, hurrying away to
westward in the direction of Zabardust Killa. The panic communi-
cated itself to the Afghans on the conical hill a little to the left of
the camp, and these, fancying themselves in danger of being cut off,
abandoned their post and joined in the flight. Their retreat exposed
the right of the enemy's position on Afghan Hill, and some, at least,
of its defenders must very quickly have followed the example thus set
them, for the withering fire to which General Roberts's men had been
so long exposed, began to slacken. About the same time, the Horse
Artillery guns on elephants came up and fired a few rounds into the
dense woods in which the Afghan left lay concealed. Wliether they
did any execution it was impossible to discover, but they probably
contributed to the enemy's discomfiture.

General Roberts and his Staff now crossed the neck of land con-

" The 5th Punjab Infantry liad worked away we knew not whither (they
eventually joined Roberts's column), and we began to tliink we should really
have to storm the Kotal with the weak battalion of the King's." ("Old
Memories," by Sii- Hugh Gough; Pall Mall Magazine for May, 1808, p. 47.)



ACTION ON THE PEIWAR KOTAL 89

necting the two hills, and pushed a little way up the opposite slope.
The reconnaissance only proved that it was vain to attempt to reach
the Peiwar Kotal from this side. The trees and undergrowth with
which the mountain was thickly covered, formed a barrier too strong
to be broken through, even if no other resistance were to be feared ;
and of this there could be no certainty, for although the enemy had
disappeared from Roberts's left, they were still firing away on his
right, and it was impossible to know in what direction and for what
purpose they had withdrawn. It was already one o'clock ; only a
few hours of daylight remained ; and the men who had been marching
and fighting for fifteen hours, were, for the most part, without food,
and all, without water, none having been met with since leaving the
Spin Gawai Kotal. Under these circumstances, his communications
being already lost, General Roberts decided on separating himself still
further from the troops he had left behind, by entering on a second
turning movement in the direction of Zabardust Killa, with the object
of getting in rear of the Afghans' position, and, supposing them to be
really retiring, of cutting off their retreat.^

After a short interval of rest, during which the men who were
lucky enough to have any food remaining in their haversacks, shared
that little with less fortunate comrades, and British lightheartedness
gave to the scene of this scanty repast the name by which, in anticipa-
tion, it has already been designated — General Roberts's troops, with
the exception of the 2nd Punjab Infantry which stayed behind to
guard against a possible return of the enemy, retraced their steps to
the edge of the Spin Gawai Plateau. Here, after parting from the
29th Punjab Infantry ordered back to the kotal to watch over the
Field Hospital estabHshed there, they dropped down into a nullah on
the northern side of the plateau, crossed its frozen stream, pushed up

1 " I asked Perkins to retiu-n and tell Drew to press on to the kotal in the
hopes that Sherries's fire and the turning movement I was about to make would
cause the enemy to retreat." {Forty-One Years, vol. ii. p. 145.)



90 THE SECOND AFGHAN WAR

its further bank and came out upon high ground, over which they
dragged along, their progress constantly delayed by precautions
which the fear of surprise imperatively demanded, till, at last, the
resolution of their Commander had to yield to their utter weariness
and the lateness of the hour.

Since it was clearly impossible to cut off the Afghans' retreat by
occupying Zabardust Killa before dark, there would be nothing gained
by lessening the distance between the two forces, so, at 4 p.m., the
order to halt was given, and, on the open hill-side, nine thousand four
hundred feet above the sea, in bitter frost, without tents, warm
clothing, or food, in ignorance of the fate of their comrades scattered
in small parties over an area of many miles, in doubt as to what the
morrow had in store for themselves — the Turning Party settled down
for the night.^ Luckily, there was an abundance of pine-trees on the
spot, and when the Pioneers had felled a few, large fires were lighted,
round which the tired and hungry men gathered to get what comfort
they could from the cheerful light and heat. At 8 p.m. the anxiety

^ In his despatch of the 5th December, 1878, General Roberts describes this
second movement thus — " Having ascertained, at one o'clock, from a reconnais-
sance that the Peiwar Kotal was practically inaccessible from the northern side
on which I was operating, I resolved to withdraw the troops from this line of
attack altogether, and ordered the following disposition : . . . A column formed
as follows to march imder my command in the Zabardust Killa direction, so
as to threaten the enemy's line of retreat." {See Map.)

In Forty-One Years in India, vol. ii. p. 145, he says — " The enemy's
position, it was found, could only be reached by a narrow causeway, which
was swept by direct and cross-fire, and obstructed by trunks of trees and
a series of barricades. It was evident to me that under these circmiistances
the enemy could not be cleared out of their entrenchments by direct
attack without entailing heavy loss, which I could ill afford, and was most
anxious to avoid. I therefore reconnoitred both flanks to find, if possible, a
way round the hill. On our left front was a sheer precipice ; on the right,
however, I discovered, to my infinite satisfaction, that we could not only avoid
the hill which had defeated us, but could get almost in rear of the Peiwar Kotal
itself, and tlireaten the enemy's retreat from that position."

The reader, to understand the movement, should consult the map. The line
by which Roberts retired is marked by arrow-heads.



ACTION ON THE PEIWAR KOTAL 91

which had lain heavy on every heart, was set at rest by the arrival of
a messenger bearing a pencilled note from Colonel Barry Drew, which
told that the Peiwar Kotal had been captured by the 8th " King's "
at 2.30 p.m., just after Roberts had turned back from Pic-nic Hill.
It was very shortly after taking over the command from General
Cobbe that Barry Drew had ordered a further advance, and, after a
desperate scramble up an almost precipitous hill, his gallant little band
had gained a point only eight hundred yards from the Kotal, whence
Martini-Henry rifles could be brought to bear on the Afghan gunners,
who were picked off, one by one, as they bravely served their guns. No
men could have behaved better, but the fire of the 8tli was too much
for them, and, about 2 p.m., the battery was abandoned. By this
time the effects of the destruction of the Afghan camp had made them-
selves felt on the Kotal, and Colonel Barry Drew, perceiving that the
enemy were much shaken, though ignorant of the cause of the con-
fusion that reigned among them, judged that the moment for the
crowning effort had arrived. He therefore directed the Artillery,
supported by the 12th Bengal Cavalry, under Colonel Hugh Gough,
to take up a more advantageous position for covering the attack, and
called up the two companies of his own regiment which, so far, had
protected the guns, to co-operate with their comrades in the final
advance. Two deep and difficult ravines still lay between the com-
panies on the ridge and the road leading up to the kotal. These were
crossed under a dropping fire, and then, behind the shoulder of a
projecting spur, the men were re-formed and pushed rapidly up the
rough, steep path to the summit of the pass.i There was no resistance,
and by 2.30 p.m. the Afghan position on the Kotal had been occupied,
and eighteen guns and a large amount of ammunition captured. The

^ " The reputation of our young soldiers was bravely sustained by the ' King's '
at the battle of the Peiwar Kotal. The average age of the men of this regiment
is about twenty-two, but on this day in powers of endurance, in resolute courage,
in a cheerful bravery and contempt of fatigue, they nobly sustained the honour
of the British Army." (Civil and Military Gazette.)



92 THE SECOND AFGHAN WAR

enemy's flight had evidently been very sudden, for they had left their
tents standing, their food ready cooked, and a number of their dead
lying near the guns. The 12th Bengal Cavalry which had followed
the 8th up the pass, the men leading their horses, now remounted and
started off in pursuit. But neither in the deep, dark defile immedi-
ately behind the kotal, nor yet in the open country beyond, was any
body of troops to be discerned, only, here and there, a solitary fugitive
or a wounded man ; so, bringing with them a complete mule battery
which they had found in the pass, the Cavalry returned to the Kotal.^
When all the fighting was over, the left Turning Party appeared
in the nick of time to take an active share in the looting of the Afghan
camp; a congenial work in which they were ably seconded by crowds
of fellow- tribesmen who had hovered round the scene of war whilst
the contest was going on, ready, with perfect impartiahty, to fall
upon the defeated side whichever it might prove to be, and who now
swarmed up the pass, with their ponies and camels, at the heels of
the victorious " King's," and swooped down upon the abandoned
position Uke hungry wolves, hacking the bodies of the slain, ripping
up tents, tearing the prey from each other's hands, striking at each
other with their long, sharp knives, and smashing and destroying
what they could not carry off. The 8th were not well pleased to see
what they held to be their well earned spoil snatched from them,
under their very eyes, by men who had contributed nothing to the
success of the day ; but the PoHtical Officer, Colonel Waterfield,
thought it politic to allow those who, at least, professed to be friendly
to profit by the British victory, and to carry away to the villages
conclusive proofs of the defeat of their former rulers. Still, some
share of the plunder was secured by the troops, who, in particular,

^ " We went through an extremely narrow gorge for about three miles,
over ground so broken and frozen that it was impossible to move except at a
walk single file. Though still early in the day— about tliree o'clock— it was
dark as night, the gorge bemg so shut in that the sim could never penetrate.
("Old Memories," by Sir HughGough; Pall Mall Magazine, May 1898, p. 49.)



ACTION ON THE PEIWAR KOTAL 93

laid hands on eveiy " pushteen "—sheepskin coat— they could find,
in which, however dirty, they were glad to wrap themselves as a
defence against the bitter cold.

Looting, however, was not allowed for long ; day was decHning,
and order must be restored before dark. Strong piquets had been
thrown out as soon as the kotal had been occupied ; now. Colonel
Barry Drew recalled the rest of the men to duty, and gave orders to
clear the camp of all intruders. Turis and Jagis were summarily
ejected, and when the baggage came up the 8th " King's " encamped
in the position they had won, and the 12th Bengal Cavalry returned to
camp Gubazan, where their presence was all the more welcome as, for
some time, wounded men and stragglers had been dropping in with
the news that, after severe fighting, the Right Turning Party had been
driven back.^

Early on the morning of the 3rd December, General Roberts rode over
to the Peiwar Kotal ; the troops with whom he had bivouacked during
the previous night, moved nearer to Zabardust Killa; andtheKuram
Field Force was once more practically united.

ETAT DE SITUATION^ OF THE KURAM FIELD FORCE ON THE
NIGHT OF DECEMBER THE 2nd, 1878 ^
(1) Peiwak Kotal.

Wing 8th King's Tents and rations arrived before dark.

(2) Gubazan.

Two Squadrons 12th Bengal Cavah-y | j,^^^,^^^^ ^tli everything.
Five Guns Royal Artillery . . . -'

1 " On reaching camp news came in gradually of Roberts's force by stragglers
and wounded men, whose account showed that he had had severe fighting.
Many of the stragglers in question were Pathan sepoys of the 29th Punjab
Infantry, who had treacherously left their regiment at the commencement of
the attack, and whose false reports that we had been beaten back caused for a
time much alarm amongst the camp-followers and others." (" Old Memories,"
by Sir Hugh Gough ; Pall Mall Magazine, May 1898, p. 49.)

2 Technical phrase used by Napoleon to denote strength, position and con-
dition of a Force.

2 See Sketch of Operations on the Peiwar Moimtam.



Bivouacking without food, water,
or warm clothing.



94 THE SECOND AEGHAN WAR

(3) PiC-NIO HiLTi.

2nd Punjab Infantry Bivouacking without food, water, or

warm clothing.

(4) Spin Gawai Plateau.
29th Punjab Infantry .... In charge of Field Hospital. Bivou-
acking ^nthout food, or warm
clothing.

(5) Midway between Spin Gawai Kotal and Zabardust Killa.

Four guns Royal Horse Artillery'
(Elephant Equipment)

Four guns No. 1 Mountain Battery .

72nd Highlanders

5th Gurkhas

23rd Pioneers

5th Punjab Infantry (originally belong-
ing to Cobbe's Brigade) . . • • ;

Observations

Observation I. The march to Zabardust Killa was as ill-advised
as the turning movement by the Spin Gawai Kotal. It was begun too
late — two o'clock in the afternoon, at a season of the year when the
sun has set by five ; it followed a track nearly three times as long as
the line of retreat open to the enemy ; and, with night in prospect,
it took the main body of the Kuram Field Force farther and farther
away from the troops on the Peiwar Mountain, and the handful of
men guarding the camp at Gubazan. General Roberts's proper course,
when he found that " the Peiwar Kotal was practically inaccessible
on its northern side," ^ was to entrench an Infantry regiment and the
Horse Artillery guns in an impregnable position on the brink of the
chasm which had checked his advance, and to return to camp by the
track up which McQueen liad led the 5tli Punjab Infantry, thus
placing the safety of every portion of his Force on a perfectly secure
basis, and sparing his own men much unnecessary suffering.

Observation II. The Kuram Campaign was marked throughout

^ General Roberts's Despatch of December 5th, 1878.



ACTION ON THE PEIWAR KOTAL 95

by haste and rashness, and there was no need for the first, and no
excuse for the second. Its object was the occupation of the valleys
of Kuram and Khost with a view to their incorporation into the
Indian Empire, not the capture of Kabul ; there was no question,
therefore, of rushing on in order to cross the passes before snow had
closed them for the winter ; and though General Roberts's instructions
directed him to clear the gorge between the Peiwar and the Shutar-
gardan of the enemy, the time and manner of that clearance was left
to his discretion. From a political, as well as from a general military
standpoint. General Roberts's aim, on discovering that the Peiwar
was strongly held by the Afghans, should have been to facilitate the
advance of the Kliyber Force by keeping the largest possible number
of the Amir's troops at a distance from Kabul, and neither in his
Despatch of December the 5th nor yet in his autobiography, has he shown
any local military necessity for attacking those troops in an almost
impregnable position. 1 On the contrary, military science demanded
that General Roberts, bearing in mind the axiom that a commander
should always try to fight under circumstances the most favourable
to his own troops and the least favourable to those opposed to them,2
should have manoeuvred to draw down the Afghans from their fast-
nesses, as Lord Kitchener drew the Dervishes from their stronghold at
Omdurman. By such tactics, the chances of success which were largely
against the British and in favour of the Afghans, would have been
reversed, and the victory that must have ensued, though a little later
in time, would have been complete— no body of troops escaping to
strengthen the Amir's position elsewhere.

' " I confess to a feeling very nearly akin to despair when I gazed at the
apparently impregnable position towering above us, occupied, as I could discern
tlirough my telescope, by crowds of soldiers and a large number of guns."
{Forty-One Years in India, vol. ii. p. 133.)

2 Napoleon issued the following order in August, 1809 :— "A battle should
never be risked imless the chances are 70 per cent, in favour of success ; in fact,
a battle ought always to be the last resource, as, from the nature of things, its
result is always doubtful."



CHAPTER XI

The Reconnaissance of the Shutargardan Pass

THE PASSAGE OF THE MANJIAR DEFILE

The three days which followed on the reunion of the Peiwar Expedi-
tionary Force, were spent in making arrangements for the security
and comfort of the European troops who were to pass the winter on
that mountain. Three guns, G.3 Royal Artillery, were got into
position for the defence of the Kotal ; the 8th "King's," set to work
to lower the cannon abandoned by the Afghans down the steep hill-
side and to collect the enemy's scattered ammunition ; the Sappers,
called up from the Kuram Forts to erect huts for officers and men ;
the treacherous 29th Punjab Infantry, sent back to Gubazan ; whilst
the other regiments that had borne the fatigues and anxieties of the
1st and 2nd of December, were permitted to enjoy a well-earned rest
in the position near Zabardust Killa to which they had been trans-
ferred on the morning of the 3rd. In its neighbourhood, luckily for
them, were discovered sufficient stores of rice and grain left behind by
the Amir's army, to stay the hunger of men and animals, tiU, on the
4th, Lieutenant Buckland appeared with a convoy of provisions.

On the 6th, everything being in train, and his presence no longer



Online LibraryH. B. (Henry Bathurst) HannaThe second Afghan war, 1878-79-80 : its causes, its conduct and its consequences (Volume 2) → online text (page 8 of 32)