A. B. (Alfred Burdon) Ellis.

A history of the Gold Coast of West Africa online

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column then cut its way into the main road a little to the
south of the hollow ; but about I p.m. a furious attack was
made on Egginassi, and on the right side of the road as far
as Amoafu, which was lined with troops the whole way, and
was not repulsed till the Rifle Brigade advanced into the
bush and took Egginassi hill.

The Ashantis, who were in very superior numbers, had
endeavoured to follow their usual outflanking tactics, and
the battle was really won by the piercing of their centre by
the 42nd while the columns to the right and left prevented
the Ashantis from enveloping it. The 42nd owed much of
their success to the fact that they kept moving on ; for the
Ashantis, wonderfully adroit at taking cover, could face the
fire of the breech-loaders, but could not stand the continual
advance, which did not give them time to reload. The
British casualties were Major Baird, 2 privates of the 42nd,
and I native, killed: 21 officers, 139 Europeans, and 34
natives, wounded. The 42nd had suffered the most, having
2 killed, and 9 officers and 104 men wounded. The Ashantis
.had been commanded by the old general, Asamoa Kwanta,



who had chosen his position with much skill. Among th
slain were Amankwa Tia, who fell on the left, and the chie
of Mampon, who was killed on the right. The Ashanti losse
were alleged to be very heavy ; but only about 130 dead
Ashantis were found and buried by the troops, and it is not the
custom of that people to carry off their slain, unless they are
chiefs. The only trophy secured by the enemy was the head
of a soldier of the 42nd, who had been surrounded when in \
advance of his company, shot down, and instantly decapitated
It was now determined to send the wounded back tc
Insarfu, and to bring the baggage on from that place tc
Amoafu ; but shots were soon heard in the direction o
Kwaman, and a company of the Rifle Brigade was sent dowr
to reinforce its garrison. The left of the Ashanti army had
after attacking Egginassi, moved off to the south, and was nov
attacking the line of communications ; but the garrison o
Kwaman, consisting of fifty-three of the 2nd West Indi
Regiment and thirty natives, held their own until the arriva
of the Rifle Brigade, and at four o'clock all firing ceased
About five o'clock, however, the Ashantis again opened fir
upon Kwaman, both from the north and south, just as
large convoy of baggage and ammunition, nearly five mik
long, which had started from Insarfu for Kwaman unde
an escort of the. 2nd West India Regiment, was approaching
As it drew near, the Ashantis attacking on the south turne
upon it, and the carriers, abandoning a number of load
rushed back to Insarfu, leaving the road strewn with baggag ,
Captain Dugdale, Rifle Brigade, then in command at Kw;
man, having some inkling of what was going on, endeavoure
to clear a way for the convoy by sending out a party, whic
found the enemy in great numbers in the bush at the edge
the road, and engaged him till about half-past six, whe
owing to the darkness and the increasing numbers of tl
enemy, it returned to Kwaman. A great many loads f< .1
into the hands of the Ashantis, but during the night all th t
could be found were packed in the road and left under a
guard of the 2nd West India Regiment.


In order to pass the baggage on from Insarfu to Amoafu,
it was necessary next morning to line the whole of the road
between these two places with troops ; and after the convoy
had arrived at its destination orders were issued for the attack
of Bekweh, the chief town of the province of the same name.
?ar l It was situated off the main road, about a mile to the west
of Amoafu, and as the chief of Bekweh commanded a con-
!nitt l siderable force, it was considered dangerous to leave this
large town on the flank. It was surprised and burned, and
the force returned to Amoafu unmolested.

At daybreak on February 2nd the whole force, advanced
1 from Amoafu, which had been entrenched on the previous
on day, and was now left in charge of a garrison of the 2nd
4 West India Regiment. Russell's Regiment led the advance,
no* and was more or less opposed at each village on the road ;
i of but, without meeting with any serious opposition, it reached
idii Agemmamu, about six miles from Amoafu, shortly before
ival i p.m. The main body arrived soon after, and it was
sed - decided to move no further that day, as it would be late
fa I before the baggage, which had been left at Amoafu, could
arrive. The difficulties connected with the advance of large
convoys of baggage had now become so serious, that a
change of plan was made at Agemmamu. The convoy
from Insarfu to Amoafu had only been passed on by lining
the whole road with troops on February 1st, and now, on
February 2nd, many of the European troops had to be kept

out till after dark to protect the carriers, who were still
coming in, though the column had only made a march of
six miles. If this slow rate of progress was to be continued,
it would be necessary to make a protracted halt till more
supplies were brought up. The alternative was to make a
dash at Kumassi, only fifteen miles distant, and return ; and
as the force now concentrated at Agemmamu had with
it four days' supplies, Sir Garnet Wolseley decided to
adopt it.

.On this day the post of Fomana was hotly attacked by
le Adansis. It was garrisoned by an officer and 38 men



<of the ist West India Regiment, and 102 men of Russell'
Regiment, while in the chief's house, situated in the main stre(
of the long, straggling town, were 24 European soldiers an<
sailors, convalescents. The attack, which was somewhat
a surprise, commenced about 8.30 a.m,, and the enemy, pen<
trating into all the southern side of the town, which was fa
too large to be defended by so small a garrison, fired tl
liouses. The convalescents were hastily moved to a stocka<
which had been made at the northern end, the neighbouring
houses being pulled down as rapidly as possible, and t]
struggle continued till I p.m., when the firing ceased, thou^
a party which went down for water an hour later was fii
upon. The British casualties were two officers and ten m<

On the morning of February 3rd the advance to Kumas
commenced, Agemmamu being garrisoned by all the weakl
men of Russell's Regiment, and prepared for defence. Thn
quarters of an hour after starting the enemy was met
a stream, beyond which, on some rising ground, he h;
taken a position ; but he was driven away after a sm;
skirmish, in which one scout was killed and seven Europe;
and ten natives wounded. From this point the advance We
continued more slowly, as the enemy formed numerou
ambuscades, from which they fired and retreated, inflictin;
some loss at every discharge. Shortly before noon mes
sengers arrived from Kumassi with a flag of truce an
a letter from the King, in which he begged for some dela) ,
and said he was willing to meet all demands. Mr. Dawso L
also wrote to beg that the advance might be stopped, othe: -
wise, he said, he and all the Fanti prisoners would be kille
Sir Garnet replied that he could not halt till the hostage
were in his keeping, and, as time pressed, he would accept < s
such the queen-mother and Prince Mensa. From the bean
of the letter it was learned that the army which had fought .
Amoafu was encamped on the north side of the Ordah Rive
to bar the approach to the capital.

About three in the afternoon the troops arrived at tl ~


Ordah River, where it was resolved to bivouac. The stream
was about fifty feet wide and waist-deep, and the engineers
at once set to work to construct a bridge, Russell's Regiment
being passed across the river as a covering party. A clearing
was made on the south bank, and rough shelter-huts of palm-
branches and plantain-leaves were soon made by the troops.
Just as it was growing dark an Ashanti was captured in
the act of loading his gun close to the bivouac, and on being
examined, he declared that there were still 10,000 men on
the south bank of the river, who only did not attack because
they had received the King's orders not to do so. At dark
the camp and picquet fires were lighted and the bivouac
presented a gay appearance, which, however, was not doomed
to last ; for soon after sunset the sky became overcast,
thunder was heard in the distance, and before long that
cold gust of wind which is always the precursor of rain
swept through the camp. The rain fell in a steady down-
pour all night, much to the discomfort of the men, who
were soon drenched, a plantain-leaf hut affording but little
shelter from tropical rain ; and it was peculiarly unfortunate
that the troops should have been subjected to this trial on
the first night on which they had to bivouac.

By daybreak next morning the bridge was completed,
and the advance from the Ordah took place shortly before
six o'clock. The Opobo company of Wood's Regiment, and
three companies of the Rifle Brigade, with a seven-pounder
gun, formed the advanced guard, under Colonel M'Leod;
while the remainder of the Rifle Brigade, the company of
the 23rd, and the 42nd Highlanders, formed the main body,
under Sir A. Alison. The Naval Brigade was ordered to
wait till the baggage was across the river, and then to bring
up the rear. Almost immediately the advance began the
enemy opened fire on the head of the column, and as the
Opobos fired wildly, and delayed the advance by lying down
every few yards, a company of the Rifle Brigade was passed
to the front ; but a more vigorous resistance was then at
once offered, and though the advanced guard was reinforced


by three more companies of the Rifle Brigade, no progres:
could be made till after two hours' fighting. For the firs
half-mile from the river the path rose gradually, then afte:
a rapid ascent it passed along a narrow ridge with a ravini
on each side, after which it dipped again deeply, and finall)
rose to the village of Ordahsu. As the enemy's fire began tc
slacken a few rounds were fired from the gun, and the Rifles
made 'a short rush; then the gun was again brought uj
and another advance made, and in this manner the villag<
was at last reached and carried ; but the enemy still hek
the bush round it, and kept up a hot fire.

While the advanced guard was thus engaged in front
a strong flank attack was made on the right of the mair
body, and the beating of drums was heard away in the righ
rear. The main body, however, pushed on till it reachec
the ridge along which the path ran, when a tremendous fin
was suddenly opened by the enemy on both flanks; but
though very heavy, it was not nearly so destructive as a
Amoafu, and the enemy did not close with the same vigou
that they had there displayed. The road was now linec
from Ordahsu to the river, which the baggage and the Nava
Brigade had not yet crossed, and a halt was ordered so tha
they might come up. As the convoy passed on, the troops
were drawn in and the enemy allowed to close round the rear.
This they did with loud shouts and war songs, believing
that they had cut off" the retreat of the force, and a number
of them at once entered the camp and destroyed it.

About II a.m. the Ashantis made a determined attack or
Ordahsu, and the whole circle round the village was for thf
next hour one sheet of flame and one roar of musketry. Tin
enemy at times pressed boldly up, cheering and shouting
before they advanced ; and on one occasion they came up ir
as close line as they could form in the bush and fired '
regular volley, but were at once mown down by the fire o
the Sniders. About noon it was decided to advance, am
as the Rifle Brigade was engaged all round the village
the 42nd was ordered to break through the enemy in fron


and push straight on to Kumassi, disregarding all flank
attack ; the Rifle Brigade being directed to follow as soon
as the cessation of the flank attacks on the village would
permit it.

On first debouching from the village a heavy fire was
opened on the 42nd by a body of Ashantis concealed behind
an immense silk-cotton tree, which had fallen almost across
the path, and six men fell at the first discharge ; but the
flank companies pressed steadily on through the bush, the
men in the path sprang forward with a cheer, and the
ambuscade was carried. " Then followed," says Sir A.
n j Alison, " one of the finest spectacles I have ever seen in war.
Without stop or stay the 42nd rushed on cheering, their
pipes playing, their officers to the front; ambuscade after
ambuscade was successfully carried, village after village won
in succession, till the whole Ashantis broke and fled in the
wildest disorder down the pathway on their front to Kumassi.
The ground was covered with traces of their flight. Um-
brellas and war-chairs of their chiefs, drums, muskets, killed
and wounded covered the whole way, and the bush on each
side was trampled as if a torrent had flowed through it. No
pause took place till a village about four miles from Kumassi
was reached, when the absolute exhaustion of the men
rendered a short halt necessary." While the 42nd had thus
been carrying all before them, the attack on Ordahsu had
been continued with just the same vigour as before; but
when, shortly before two o'clock, a despatch from Sir A.
Alison, saying that he would be in Kumassi that night, was
communicated to the troops, such a ringing cheer was raised
that the enemy's fire immediately ceased, as if by magic, and
not another shot was fired, the Ashantis knowing instinctively
that the day was lost.

The arrangements for this battle had been made by
Asamoa Kwanta, but the King himself had been present
during the seven hours' fighting, looking on, seated on a
golden stool, under his red umbrella. When defeat was
certain he fled to Amanghyia, a suburb of Kumassi. The



plan of action was ingenious. It was intended to mak
Ordahsu the main position, but a large clearing was mad
to the south-west of that village, with the design of collectin
there a force sufficient to cut the only road of communica
tion, and hold it, should Ordahsu be forced. This plan w
fully carried out, and as the troops occupied Ordahsu
very considerable body of the enemy seized the road ; bu
the irruption of the 42nd from the village, which had n
been foreseen and provided for, neutralised its effect. Th
Ashantis could not understand how a force could push o
disregarding all attack in flank, and even leaving the f<
behind ; for to their ideas an army was lost as soon as it wa
outflanked. It must also be said that they had lost their forme
self-confidence, and did not stand against attack as they di
at Amoafu. The strength of the British force engaged
Ordahsu was 118 officers, 1,044 European soldiers, and
natives ; and the casualties were Lieutenant Eyre and
native killed, 6 officers and 60 men wounded.

When the 42nd reached Karsi, the last village before
Kumassi, a messenger arrived with a flag of truce and a
letter from Mr. Dawson, who wrote under the influence oi
great terror, begging the Major-General to stop, " since the
destruction of the whole blessed kingdom after we are killed
would not bring us back " ; but no notice was taken of this
and the 42nd pushed on. After leaving Karsi, the fores 1
dwindled to jungle, and numerous paths joined the mail
road from the right and left. At a cross road, a numbe
of executioners armed with knives were found on the poin
of killing a man, who was to be offered as a sacrifice t<
stop the advance, and a little further on a second flag c
truce was met with a letter. This messenger was mos
anxious that the march of the troops should be arrested, an
Sir A. Alison forwarded the letter to Sir Garnet, saying h :
would wait half an hour. A short distance from where th r
42nd were halted was a group of armed men, who stood res
lessly moving their guns in their hands and looking savage] r
at the white men ; but when the messenger went an I


remonstrated with them, they shouldered their muskets and
walked away.

As soon as the half-hour had elapsed the 42nd pushed on,,
and crossing the Suban swamp, entered Kumassi, without
opposition, about half-past five. At the top of the first street,
which was a broad road of rising ground, with here and there
a detached house on either side, they turned to the left and
entered the main street, which commands both the town and
the palace. In the main street hundreds of armed men were
collected to observe the entry, but not a shot was fired ; and
many men even came up to the soldiers and shook hands..
The spectators seemed to have no feeling but that of wonder
and pleasure, laughing and uttering cries of amazement and
delight, as if the presence of the troops was a pleasant
spectacle that had been arranged for their gratification,
and bringing them water to drink. Among the crowd were
numbers of men who had been engaged at Ordahsu, powder-
stained and naked, with shot-belts round their waists and
guns upon their shoulders. All this time there was a con-
stant stream of people going by, with guns, and barrels, or
kegs of powder upon their heads. They were taking these
things to the bush, perhaps to use on another occasion, but
they were not disarmed, nor was any one interfered with.
Perhaps never before had an invading force entered a hostile
town under similar circumstances.

About six o'clock Sir Garnet Wolseley arrived, followed
by the remainder of the troops, and strong outlying picquets-
were placed at all the main entrances to the town, with one
great inlying picquet in the market-place. Mr. Dawson,
who was found at liberty in the street, had the effrontery to
declare that he did not know the way to the palace, and
could not point it out ; but a building, which was believed
to be the palace, was discovered, and a party at once sent
down to it. The King, however, was nowhere to be found ;
he, the queen-mother, and all the persons of distinction having
disappeared. Mr. Dawson also vowed that he had no idea
where the King could be, and that he could not possibly find


out ; but after a little pressure had been applied he brougl
up a nephew of the King, named Awusu Kokor, and anoth<
Ashanti, who promised they would deliver any message
letter to the King, though of course they would not say wh<
he had gone. A letter was accordingly written to the effe
that as the King did not wish to give up the queen-moth<
and Prince Mensa, other hostages of rank would be accept<
and peace could be made next day upon the terms originall]
proposed. If the King, the queen-mother, or Prince Men;
would come to see the Major-General next day, they woulc
be treated with all honour, and allowed to return in safety.
At the same time the messengers were warned that all
precautions had been taken against treachery, and that i:
during the stay of the troops in Kumassi, a single shot was
fired against them, the town should be destroyed, and ever}
living person in it put to death. On the other hand, if th(
King would come in to treat, the town would be untouched
and the troops would leave it as they found it.

Sir Garnet Wolseley did not interfere with the remova
of property, but an embargo was placed on the remova
of arms and ammunition, and a proclamation was issuec
threatening with death any one caught plundering ; whil
at the same time an Ashanti crier went round and prc
claimed, in the name of the King, that no one was t
attack or molest the troops. After dark fires, evident!
the work of incendiaries, sprang up all over the town, an
throughout the night the troops were employed in puttin ;
them out, and in pulling down houses to prevent th :
spread of the conflagration. One lurid blaze after anoth('
sprang up in various quarters, followed by explosions of tl ;
powder stored in nearly every house, and the men had 1 >
work hard, and deprive themselves of the night's rest, so muc i
needed after the exertions of the day, to save the town fro i
destruction. These incendiary fires were the work of tl
Fanti prisoners who had been released from "log"; and whc i
they and Mr. Dawson left Kumassi, they took with them i
.suspicious amount of property. Every effort was made >


check plunder, and a Fanti policeman, caught in the act, was
hanged, while several of the carriers were flogged. The
destruction caused by these fires, the glow of which could be
seen for miles, must, to the King's mind, have har-
monised ill with the promise made to protect the town ; and
would naturally tend to prevent him from coming in to treat,
or sending the queen-mother or Prince Mensa.

By daybreak next morning the Ashantis had all gone
away, and the entire town was deserted. It has been said
that a party had been sent down to the palace, but it does not
appear that any guard had been placed over it, for Mr.
Winwood Reade, The Times correspondent, tells us that he
visited it at eight o'clock in the morning, and that there
were no sentries. He says : " Any one might enter, and
any one whose conscience allowed him could take whatever
he pleased. As I passed through the courtyard at the
foot of the stairs I met some natives passing in. I sup-
posed them to be Fantis, and told them they could not go
up to the private apartments. But it turned out that they
were Ashantis, people of the King, and they said with a
charming candour that they had come to fetch things away.
I presume that this sort of thing had been going on all night.
Some golden treasure was still left in the palace ; how much,
then, must have been taken away ? " The palace consisted of
many courtyards, surrounded with verandahs and alcoves,
and having two gates or doors, so that each court was a
thoroughfare. There were ten or twelve such courts, and in
addition there was, fronting the street, a stone house,
Moorish in style, with a flat roof and a parapet, and suites of
apartments on the first floor. On the southern side the palace
merged into an irregularly built cluster of houses. There
were thus many entrances to the building, and as it was past
six o'clock and nearly dark before its situation was discovered,
it could not be expected that it would be carefully guarded
that night. When Sir Garnet Wolseley visited the palace,
one hundred men of the Rifle Brigade were at once ordered
down, and sentries were so posted as to render it impossible



to enter it or leave it without being observed ; but thirteen
sentries were found necessary to watch all the entrances.
The supporting pillars of the roofs of the recesses of the
great court, which would have held two hundred men, were
highly ornamented with scroll-work in glazed red clay, and
the floor of the recess at the southern end, in which the
King received embassies, was ornamented with various
devices in the same material. The heavy door of the King's
bed-chamber was covered with stamped plaques of gold
and silver, and the room itself contained a large four-post
bed, covered with silk, and a brass basin containing some
preparation made by the priests. In one place was found
a number of litters covered with silks and velvets, or
the skins of animals, and a quantity of umbrella canopies,
amongst them the one afterwards brought to England. The
rooms on the first floor of the stone building were filled
with articles of all kinds books in many languages, clocks,
silver plate, Bohemian glass, pictures, rugs, carpets, silks,
gold-studded sandals, gold ornaments, and heaps of chests
and coffers. Other things also were seen the great death-
drum, on which three peculiar beats were given whenever
a human victim was sacrificed, and country stools, which
had belonged to the former Kings of Ashanti, and were
clotted thick with the blood of the hundreds of human
beings who had been sacrificed to their manes.

Early in the morning a messenger from the King was
received, who said that his master would come in during
the morning ; and after a time another arrived, who said thai
he would come later in the day. The King, however, die
not appear, and his messengers, being discovered taking of
powder and arms from the town, were arrested. All thi<
day, the only one which the troops could pass in the capital
was spent in inaction, waiting for the King, and many hav(
expressed an opinion that it ought to have been employed ii

Online LibraryA. B. (Alfred Burdon) EllisA history of the Gold Coast of West Africa → online text (page 28 of 34)