H. B. (Henry Bathurst) Hanna.

The second Afghan war, 1878-79-80 : its causes, its conduct and its consequences (Volume 2) online

. (page 9 of 32)
Online LibraryH. B. (Henry Bathurst) HannaThe second Afghan war, 1878-79-80 : its causes, its conduct and its consequences (Volume 2) → online text (page 9 of 32)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


necessary on the Peiwar Mountain, General Roberts started off to
complete the first part of his work by reconnoitring the Shutargardan,
taking with him No. 1 Mountain Battery, a detachment of the 12th
Bengal Cavalry, a wing of the 72nd Highlanders, the 2nd and 5th
Punjab Infantry, and the 5th Gurkhas, the whole under the command
of Colonel Barry Drew. That day, the Force marched twelve miles, and



RECONNAISSANCE OF SHUTARGARDAN PASS 97

halted for the night at the village of Alikhel. On the the 7tli, Roberts
with an escort of two hundred and fifty Highlanders and two hundred
and fifty men of the 5th Punjab Infantry, under Lieutenant-Colonel
F. Brownlow, encamped at Rokian three and a half miles west of
Alikhel. On the 8th, he and his escort pushed on through the Hazar
Darakht ^ defile to Jaji Tanna, where Ghilzai territory begins; whilst
two mountain guns and the 2nd and 5th Punjab Infantry, Colonel
Tyndall commanding, moved up to Rokian to be at hand to cover
the General's retreat should the Shutargardan prove to be strongly
occupied by the enemy. On the 9th, leaving its camp standing, the
reconnoitring party crossed the Surkai Kotal and descended to the
plateau on its further side. Here, Roberts halted his escort whilst he
himself, accompanied by a few ofiicers and some Ghilzais, ascended
to the summit of the Shutargardan Pass, from whence the fertile
vallej^s of the Logar and Kabul rivers could clearly be discerned, though
enshrouding mist hid the Amir's capital from view. An abandoned
battery of mountain-guns was observed at no great distance — a tempt-
ing prize — but, for lack of means of transport, it had to be left where
it lay, the Afghans subsequently recovering and removing it,^

The features of each day's march had been the same — a boulder-
strewn pathway, running, for the most part, up the bed of a frozen
stream at the bottom of a deep ravine, above whose precipitous banks,
steep hill-sides, dark with deodar and pine, sloped boldly upward,
but emerging, here and there, on to open spaces where a village or two
and patches of cultivated ground might be seen, and whence the eye
could roam over an endless maze of mountains. Day by day, too,
the cold had deepened, bitterest at dawn when icy winds swept down



1 "Hazar Darakht or the Thousand-Tree Defile, so named from a forest of
pines and yew-trees near its centre." (Bellew.)

2 According to the Times Correspondent (Dec. 9, 1878), the guns had already
been carried away, and the six gun-carriages and four Umbers were discovered
" tlu-own down a steep ravine and irredeemably smashed."



98 THE SECOND AFGHAN WAR

the narrow gorges ; i and everywhere the inhabitants, though anxious
to concihate the invaders whom they had so recently helped to oppose,
had had nothing but their services as carriers to offer ; for the country,
which yielded them a bare subsistence, could furnish neither food
nor forage to the strangers who had so unexpectedly intruded on its
remote soHtudes.

Having convinced himself that there were no Afghan troops remain-
ing on the eastern side of the Shutargardan, General Roberts returned
on the 10th of December, to Alikhel, to arrange for the withdrawal of the
troops to lower ground before the advent of snow should render the
mountain-roads impassable. Judging, however, that it was important
to exercise some supervision during the winter over the region lying
between th'e two Kotals, he invested Captain R. H. F. Rennick, an
officer of much resolution and well versed in the language and habits
of the frontier tribes, with political powers, selected a house domi-
nating the village as his residence, and ordered up a company of the
29th Punjab Infantry for his protection.*

On the 11th, the 2nd and 5th Punjab Infantrj^ and the four guns
Royal Horse Artillery, started for the Kuram Valley via the Peiwar
Kotal, and, next morning, the Highlanders, Gurkhas, Pioneers and
the Mountain Battery, with a long transport train consisting of
baggage, ordnance stores and a commissariat column,^ marched for

^ " Letter- writing was a difficulty, as the ink froze in the bottles, and washing
was out of the question, as sponges and water were alike blocks of ice." ("Old
Memories," by Sir Hugh Gough ; Pall Mall Magazine, June 1898, p. 200.)

" The sun was completely hidden by the hills on each side, and there was a
cutting wind sweeping down the gorges. I thought I should never feel warm
again." (Ibid. p. 202.)

* " A small body of troops would have been useless unless Captain Rennick
had been able to keep his position by force of character instead of force of
arms, and that he was able to do this, is, in itself, sufficient praise." (Major
Colquhoun.)

3 " The baggage of foui" regiments, even on the reduced scale, made a tolerably
ong column, and the Commissariat camels added somewhat to the length to be
protected." (With the Kuram Field Force, by Major Colquhoun, p. 130.)



RECONNAISSANCE OF SHUTARGARDAN PASS 99

the same goal by the more southerly patli that traverses tlie difficult
tangle of hiUs lying between the Peiwar Mountain and the Kuram
River. This path first followed the Harriab to its confluence with
the Kuram River, and then, after crossing and recrossing the latter
stream, turned sharply away to the left, and ascended a narrow,
thickly wooded glen tiU it came out into an upland valley on the
further side of which stood the village of Sappari, against whose
people— Mangals by race— General Roberts had been warned by the
headmen of a hamlet previously passed through.^ As, however, day
was dechning when Sappari came in sight, he thought it better to
spend the night on open ground than to tempt, in the dark, the perils
of the terrible Manjiar defile, which he knew to lie two and a half miles
ahead ; and accordingly, though he sent on the Pioneers to secure
the summit of the Sappari Pass overlooking the defile, he encamped
the remainder of the troops in the vicinity of the viUage, whose inhabi-
tants showed much alacrity in bringing in supplies, and seemed alto-
gether friendly and harmless. At 1 a.m., however, orders were
suddenly issued to strike tents and load up the camels which were
at once sent forward in charge of the Transport Officer, Captain F.T.
Goad, in advance of the main column, which marched an hour later.
No doubt Roberts's idea in making this sudden move, was to frus-
trate any treacherous plans which the villagers might have laid, by
getting through the defile hours before they expected him to enter
It, and had the road and the hour lent themselves to a rapid march,
he would probably have succeeded in outwitting them ; unfortunately,'
the night was dark, and the path steep, rugged and fearfully shppery,

j'u\V'T ^ ''^'''^^'^ ""^ ^^'^ '^"^S^ °^ Kamana, about three miles from Ali
Khel, he headmen came to pay their respects, and informed mo that it was
probable the force would be annoyed by the men of the Mangal tribe when
passmg through the defile which lay between Sappari and the next halting-place
Keramh, on the Kvn-am River. Although I was anxious not to come to blows
mth the Mangals, yet it was now too late to ttu-n back." (Despatch of General
Koberts, dated 18th December, 1878.)



100 THE SECOND AFGHAN WAR

having been converted into a succession of ice-slides by the recent
overflowing of a mountain stream.^ On these the laden camels
slipped and feU, and soon the track was strewn with frightened animals
struggling vainly in the darkness to regain their footing. Forcing
their way, as best they could, through this helpless mass, Roberts
and his troops left the miserable beasts and their miserable drivers
behind, and, toiling up the pass, joined the Pioneers on its summit.
Tlie morning light showed many small groups of herdsmen scattered
among the rocks, but their peaceful demeanor 2 apparently laid
the General's suspicions to rest,^ for leaving the Gurkhas as an escort
for the camels when they should come up, and giving the mules in
charge of a wing of the Pioneers, he started off with the remainder
of the troops and the Artillery, '' and descending the broken, rocky
staircase which constitutes the reverse side of the Sappari Pass,
threaded his way through the Manjiar Defile, and came safely down
to Keraiah on the Kuram River, where he encamped.

Matters went less smoothly with the Transport Train and its



1 Roberts attributes this unexpected difficulty " to the machinations of
our false friends in the village (Sappari), who directed on to the precipitous
path we had to ascend a stream of water which soon turned into a sheet of ice."
[Forty-One Years in India, vol. ii. ; p. 153.)

2 " It was believed that these few men were shepherds herding their flocks,
and so no further notice was taken of them or their movements." [With the
Kuram Field Force, by Major Colquhoun, p. 140.)

" In fact so peaceful did it all seem that Brabazon and I, preferring walking
to riding on a cold morning, entered occasionally into conversation with some
of the groups, though, our knowledge of their lingo being limited, we did not
gain much information." ("Old Memories," by Sir Hugh Gough ; The Pall Mall
Magazine, June 1898, p. 203.)

^ Roberts himself mentions that they had cut down two camp-followers who
had lingered behind, but he probably learnt this fact later in the day.

* " The troops, with the exception of the 5th Gm'khas, were allowed to push
ahead of the baggage, and to make their way to camp, which was pitched at a
place called Keraiah." {With the Kuram Field Force, by Major Colquhoun,
pp. 140, 141.)



RECONNAISSANCE OF SHUTARGARDAN PASS loi

guard. " The ruined staircase, with its missing steps," ^ which had
no terrors for active men and sure-footed mules, was a fearful trial
to the camels. Slowly, painfully, with many halts and mishaps, they
stumbled down it, and, as the last weary beast disappeared into the
shadow of the defile, the peaceful herdsmen who for hours had sat
quietly watching their movements, sprang to their feet, the hidden
weapons flashed out, and a sudden rush was made to seize the stores
that had so long tempted their cupidity ; at the same time, from
every projecting crag commanding the road — deep-sunken between
towering rock-walls, and so narrow that the camels had to squeeze
their way along — bullets flew down into the gorge; for there were
no flankers, no pickets holding the heights above the defile to make
such vantage-points untenable by the foe.^ Captain Goad did his
utmost to keep order among the animals, and the Gurkhas, distributed
in strong parties along the column, protected ita rear and warded off
flank attacks from the side ravines which, running far back into the hills,
gave the Mangals access to the defile at many points. Fighting and
running, now turning to fire a volley, now charging back with the
bayonet, leading with their own hands the camels whose drivers
had deserted — for five long miles, the gallant regiment covered the
Transport Train's advance. Captain C. F. Powell, commanding the
rear-guard, was twice hit, and both he and Captain Goad, who was
shot through both legs, and only saved from falling into the enemy's
hands by the courage and devotion of Sergeant William Greer ^ and
three men of the 72nd Highlanders in charge of the regimental bag-
gage — subsequently succumbed to their wounds. At last, the rocky

* See Forty-One Years in India, vol. ii. p. 152.

2 " The Commissioner, Colonel Waterfield, who had gone on with the advance
guard, had assured the General that no resistance was likely, hence there was
some relaxation of the extra precautions taken in clearing the defile, nor were
the heights crowned as had been first intended by the General." (See Times
Correspondent's letter, dated January 5, 1879.)

3 A Commission in the army was subsequently conferred upon tliis gallant
non-commissioned officer.



I02 THE SECOND AFGHAN WAR

walls receded, the pathway widened out, and .the harassed column
issued from the defile in which, in addition to the^two British officers
mortally wounded, it had lost three Guikhas and two camp-followers,
killed, and eleven Gurkhas wounded, but, to its honour be it spoken,
not a single baggage-animal. i

That it should have escaped from such a trap at so small a cost
wa^ due primarily, of course, to the courage and coolness of the troops,
but also, in part, to the superiority of their weapons, ^ and, in part,
to the difficulty experienced by the Mangals in firing from the top of
lofty perpendicular rocks into the narrow cutting below; luckily,
they did not resort to the hillman's usual habit of hurling down
stones, which would have done far more damage than their bullets.

News that fighting was going on in the defile, reached Roberts
early in the afternoon, and he at once sent back two hundred High-
landers and two hundred Pioneers; but the column had extricated
itself from its difficulties before this relief-party came on the scene.3
Tribesmen were stiU, indeed, following it at a respectful distance,
who disappeared at sight of reinforcements, but attacks on the bag-
gage-train had ceased as soon as the gorge had been left behind.

On the 14th, the General and his staff rode on twenty- one miles



^ In his despatch of the 18th December, Roberts showed his sense of obliga-
tion to the 5th Gurkhas for saving him from the discredit of losing a large part of
his baggage, by warmly praising the gallantry of the whole regiment, and by
naming, individually, every officer who had been present with it at the Manjiar
Defile, viz. : Major A. Fitzhugh, Captain T. Cook, Captain C. F. Powell, Lieu-
tenant A. R. Martm, Lieutenant C. C St. E. Lucas, and Surgeon-Major G.

Farrell.

2 " To the fact that the Mangals are but scantily furnished with fire-arms
must be attributed the smallness of oiu- loss." (The Tiines Correspondent,
January 10, 1879.)

3 " We passed on, and had barely reached camp when the alarm was raised
that the Mangals had attacked the baggage and rear-guard, consisting of the
5th Gurkhas. Heavy fu-ing was heard, and reinforcements were at once sent
back. As soon as they appeared insight the Mangals retired. ("Old Memories,"
by Sir Hugh Gough ; The Pall Mall Magazine, June 1898, p. 203.)



RECONNAISSANCE OF SHUTARGARDAN PASS 103

to the Kurani Forts, following a track on the left bank of the river,
which proved to be impracticable for wheeled carriage. The troops
jemained for a day or two longer at Kerariah whilst Captain R. G.
Kennedy reconnoitred the adjacent country with a view to discovering
whether it would be possible to punish the Mangals for their treacherous
conduct ; ^ but as soon as it had been ascertained that the offenders
possessed no property to confiscate and no villages to destroy, except
one in an inaccessible nook of the Laggi Glen, all thoughts of retribution
were abandoned, and the little force rejoined its Commander; the
whole result of the difficult and dangerous march thus brought to a
conclusion, being the certainty attained to that there was no alternative
road to the Shutargardan, and that, in the event of an advance on
Kabul, both troops and convoys must keep to the Peiwar route.2

1 It was said that the Mangals were assisted by the Jajis aad Chakmanis and
some of the Amii-'s soldiers who had remained in hiding near the Peiwar. As
regards the presence of regular troops on this occasion, the only evidence
consists in the fact that an Enfield rifle was picked up, and a few men partially
dressed in uniform were seen.

2 Much dissatisfaction was rife in camp owing to the way in which the whole
afiair had been mismanaged. Writing on December 19th, the Special Correspon-
dent of the Standard says : — " I heard such questions as these asked over and
over again — ' Why did we recklessly expose our small force in an miknown
country, the inhabitants of which might have massacred nearly every soul ?
Why, if it was considered necessary, for deep political reasons, that we should
brave the Mangal in his den, were inquiries not made about the character of
the road, so that it might have been seen whether it would not be desirable to
send the convoy roiind, easily and safely, by Alikhel and the Peiwar ? And
why, above all things, were proper precautions not taken to have the convoy
protected the whole way through the defile, instead of leaving it solely to the
care of a rear-guard, in a declared hostile country ? ' It is the absence of any
satisfactory answer to questions Uke these, that makes attached friends use
such violent language as ' down-right murder,' when talking of the death of
those unfortunate officers who were killed by the Mangals."

" Although men were seen perched on the crags, beetling over the river
below, in a position described by an eye-witness as the ' nastiest one many of us
had ever seen,' no steps were taken by the General to cover the retreat of the rear-
guard, because he had been assured that resistance was imUkoly. There was,
in fact, a relaxation of the usual precautions adopted in hill warfare ; the heights
covering the pass were not even crowned . . . This affair calls for searcliing



I04 THE SECOND AFGHAN WAR

On his return to Kuram, General Roberts convened two Courts ; —
the one, a Court of Inquiry to investigate an unpleasant incident
which had occurred in his absence, the stealing of all the Government's
bank-notes from the field treasury chest, whilst in the charge
of a guard furnished by the 29th Punjab Infantry ; the other, a
Court-Martial for the trial of a Native officer and twenty men of the
same regiment for the crime of treachery committed on the night-
march to the Spin Gawai Kotal, and at the subsequent storming of the
Afghan position. The Court of Inquiry reported that the notes had
been kept in an ordinary mule-trunk instead of in a proper treasure-
chest, but came to no conclusion as to how and by whom they had
been abstracted ; subsequently, however, they were traced to the
Native non-commissioned officer in command of the guard, some,
if not all, of the men composing which must have been privy to the
theft. The Court-Martial found 'all the accused guilty, and the
severity of the sentences it passed on the offenders, marked its sense
of the extreme gravity of their crime. Sepoy Hazrat Shah, the man
who had fired the first of the two shots which so nearly betrayed
the approach of a British force to the garrison of the Spin Gawai Kotal,
was condemned to death, and Kazan Shah — the officer who had failed
at the time to point out the offender, and had continued to screen him
till he became aware that a wounded sepoy had given evidence by
which he himself was inculpated — to seven years' transportation.
The remaining nineteen men were sentenced to punishments varying
from one year's imprisonment to fourteen years' transportation.
Sepoy Mira Baz, who had fired the second shot, pleaded that he had
done so without criminal intent in the surprise caused by hearing a
rifle go off close to his ear, and as he had shown conspicuous bravery

investigation. The commonest rules of hill warfare were neglected. An un-
known defile, with a hostile population, was traversed as if an ordinary route
march were being executed . . . Hurrying on with the main body, he (Roberts) had
actually reached the camp, eight miles from the defile, when his rear-guard
was heavily attacked." (The Times Correspondent, January 8, 1878.)



RECONNAISSANCE OF SHUTARGARDAN PASS 105

in the fighting of the 28th November, he escaped with the compara-
tively shght penalty of two years' imprisonment with hard labour.
The sentences were confirmed by General Roberts, who declared
that the Court-Martial would have been justified in condemning
every one of the prisoners to death, and Hazrat Shah was hanged
in the presence of all the troops who could be brought together to
witness his execution.

Affairs had now assumed such an aspect in the Kuram as appeared
to Roberts to justify him in carr5dng out that portion of his instruc-
tions which related to the occupation of the adjacent Kliost Valley ;
but, before entering on a second campaign, he desired to mark, in an
official manner, the successful conclusion of the first. He, accord-
ingly, called together the chief men of the tribes whose lands he had
traversed or had overrun, and announced to them the definite and
unalterable substitution of British for Afghan rule in the whole
country lying between Thai and the Shutargardan, and the deter-
mination of the Indian Government to permit no further meddling,
on the part of the Amir of Kabul, with the Indejaendent Tribes bor-
dering on the annexed territory. To allay any alarm that these
declarations might arouse in the minds of his hearers, he enumerated
the blessings that they would enjoy under a British administration,
and assured them that their religion would never be interfered with,
that their prejudices would be respected, and that they would be
allowed as much liberty as was compatible with good order. For
evildoers, he had words of warning : headmen were reminded of
the punishments that had been inflicted on two villages which, trust-
ing to the remoteness of their situation, had dared to connive, the
one, at the cutting of the telegraph line, the other, at an attack upon
a cavalry post ; priests were told that the undertaking not to interfere
with the religion of the people contained no promise to tolerate
attempts on the part of their religious instructors " to preach politics
and oppose the ruling power." " Government," so General Roberts



io6 THE SECOND AFGHAN WAR

went on to declare, " must prevent the ignorant from being misled,"
and, in proof of its power to do so, he cited the case of a Mulla ^ who
was in confinement to keep him from doing harm, and of another,
" notorious as an ill-wisher of the British Government," who, having
failed to pay his respects when called upon to do so, and having left
his home, " had had his house burned as a warning to others."
" Mullas," he added in conclusion, " who are dissatisfied with British
rule, should leave the country." ^

With the distribution of presents which followed this address, the
gathering came to an end ; and the political annexation of the Kuram
was thencefoiivard an accomplished fact.

Observations

Observation I. That General Roberts should have wished to
examine the Sappari Pass with a view to ascertaining if it could
serve as an alternative route to Kabul, was natural and right ; but to
encumber the exploring column with a large commissariat convoy,
especially as the transport animals consisted of camels, was most
unwise and played into the enemy's hands. As the expedition was
only to last a few days, the regimental transport should have been
cut down to a minimum, and the surplus baggage, together with the
convoy, should have been sent round by the Peiwar route.

Observation II. The occupation of the Sappari Pass by the Pion-
eers on the afternoon of the 12th of December, was a serious error. To
break up a small force in a country known to be ill-disposed was, in
itself, a dangerous thing to do, but to break it up at night and under
local conditions that rendered it equally impossible for the main
body to hasten forward to the relief of the advanced guard, or for
the advanced guard to hurry back to the assistance of the main body,
was to run a great risk for no useful end ; and the measure deserves
condemnation on the further ground of having exposed the troops to
intense cold without shelter of any kind.

1 Mulla, Priest. 2 Afghanistan, No. 4 of 1879.



RECONNAISSANCE OF SHUTARGARDAN PASS 107

The despatch of the baggage in advance of the troops, on the morn-
ing of the 13th, was a no less faulty disposition. Had the Mangals
showed as much enterprise when the convoy was struggling up the
slippery ascent to the top of the pass, as they displayed later in the
day, they would undoubtedly have stampeded a number of camels
and secured a considerable amount of loot.

To abstain from crowning the heights was a yet more serious
mistake ; and to march away with the main body, leaving the
transport train and the rear-guard without support, showed either
an ignorant contempt for the warlike aptitudes of the tribesmen, or
an equally ignorant trustfulness in their goodwill. The loss of life
on this occasion, was entirely due to the omission of military precau-
tions which are always imperative when troops are acting in a hostile,
or semi-hostile, country. Colquhoun excuses this neglect on the
ground that it would have been difficult to crown the heights on each
side, as these, in their turn, were commanded by successive ridges



Online LibraryH. B. (Henry Bathurst) HannaThe second Afghan war, 1878-79-80 : its causes, its conduct and its consequences (Volume 2) → online text (page 9 of 32)