Copyright
Charles Rathbone Low.

The life and correspondence of Field Marshall Sir George Pollock ...(constable of the Tower) online

. (page 21 of 40)
Online LibraryCharles Rathbone LowThe life and correspondence of Field Marshall Sir George Pollock ...(constable of the Tower) → online text (page 21 of 40)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


" Our troops had a wearisome march back to rejoin head-
quarters, and came in thoroughly fagged, but without further
accident.

" On the 15th we were at AH Boghan, about seven miles dis-
tant from Jellalabad, and several of the officers, so long pent up
within its walls, enjoyed the unusual recreation of riding over
to our camp, all traces of the enemy having vanished since their
sally of the 7th, and the approach of our army having caused
the disappearance of every Afghan in the neighbourhood.

" Somehow or other we had adopted a notion that the defen-
ders of the beleaguered fortress would be found in a deplorable
condition, with long beards, haggard faces, and tattered gar-
ments. This, when examined, was not a reasonable expecta-
tion, but certainly many of us had conceived it, and a comical
surprise arose when we found the European officers and men, all
fat and rosy, in the highest health, scrupulously clean shaven,
and dressed as neatly as if quartered in the best regulated
cantonment in India. We, on the contrary, the relieving army,
presented the strongest possible contrast to all this. Our bag-
gage, reduced to the smallest quantity, afforded only essential
changes of clothing ; our coats and trousers were torn and dirty,
our lips and faces burnt and blistered by the sun ; and although
the troops, when marshalled in array, made a goodly show and
stalwart, soldier-like appearance, yet for the most part each



Life of Sir George Pollock. 277

individual was in himself a particularly shabby-looking person.
The walls of Jellalabad were manned by the garrison as we
passed to our encamping ground, and when the salute was fired
and returned, a loud and thrilling cheer burst forth to welcome
us ; it was a most exciting scene. Rarely, indeed, have so many
hearts beat happily together as throbbed at that moment in the
ranks of the relieving and relieved. I trust that many, too,
felt it to be an occasion of deep solemnity, and lifted up their
grateful thoughts to the Almighty."

General Pollock, writing to a friend, says of the
appearance of the Jellalabad garrison, " We found
the fort strong, the garrison healthy, and, except
for wine and beer, better off than we were. They
were, of course, delighted to see us. We gave three
cheers as we passed the colours, and the band of each
regiment played as it came up. It was a sight worth
seeing. All appeared happy."

But great events had taken place at Jellalabad only
a few days before the arrival of Pollock's force, and
had altered the position of the garrison materially,
though not to the extent generally inferred by people
who say that Sale relieved himself. His troops had
been shut up for five long months in the fortifications
reared by their own energy, and the genius of Broad-
foot, of the Madras Native Infantry, and were in
a state of semi- starvation, when on the 1st of April
they managed to secure, by a successful raid, a flock
of 500 sheep and goats browsing near the walls; this
stroke of luck secured them a further ten days' sup-
ply of meat. On the 7th April, Sale, who, though as
brave a soldier as ever lived, had a singular dread of



278 Life of Sir George Pollock.

incurring responsibility, at the instigation of Broad-
foot, and Havelock (his Persian interpreter), and
other brave hearts, and authorized by a council of
war he had convened to consider the measure, sallied
out at early morning at the head of almost the entire
garrison ] ,800 men, in three columns under Dennie,
Monteith, and Havelock with the object of attack-
ing Akbar Khan, who had drawn out his troops,
6,000 strong, in battle array, to meet the Jellalabad
brigade. The conflict that ensued was short and
decisive, but the victory, though complete, was
dimmed by the death of the gallant Brigadier Dennie
of the 13th L. I. By seven A.M., Akbar Khan was
in full retreat, with heavy loss, his cannon captured,
his camp in flames. Thus Sale was said to have
relieved himself; and though he had done so in the
sense of utterly routing the enemy, yet had not
Pollock advanced through the Khyber and cleared the
route to Jellalabad of every murdering Afghan and
Afreedie, how could he have forced that tremendous
succession of defiles, twenty-six miles in length, with
the means at his disposal? He and every officer
of his force knew well they could not accomplish
this, unless they had incurred the risk of bringing on
their own heads the fate that befell General Elphin-
stone's division in the Khoord Cabul Pass. The fol-
lowing extract from a letter now before me, written
by Captain Augustus Abbott,* of the Bengal Artil-

* Afterwards Major- General Abbott, C,B,



Life of Sir George Pollock. 279

lery, wlio commanded a battery at Jellalabad, and
was renowned in the service, like his brothers,
Frederick and James, for dash, as well as skill and
an intimate knowledge of his profession, is conclu-
sive on this point : " Pollock did relieve Jellalabad.
We could have done nothing without his aid; we
could not even have retired without suffering great
loss."

Were any further proof required of the fact that,
though Sir Eobert Sale completely defeated Akbar
Khan in the engagement of the 7th April, before the
walls of Jellalabad, he did not thereby relieve himself
(as it was, and still is, the fashion to say), it would
be afforded by the official report of the gallant
General himself, detailing the incidents of the
memorable defence of the Afghan town. Sir Eobert
Sale's letter to the Secretary to the Govern-
ment of India, dated 16th April, 1842, an ably-
written despatch, supposed to be penned by the late
lamented hero, Sir Henry Havelock, commences as
follows : " The relief of this place having been
effected by the victorious advance through the passes
of the Khyber of the army under Major- General
Pollock, C.B." This unqualified acknowledgment
ought surely to be conclusive.



280 Life of Sir George Pollock.



CHAPTEE VI.

Jellalabad. Lord Ellenborough and his Afghan policy. Negotiations
for the release of the prisoners. The halt at Jellalabad, 16th of
April to 20th of August, 1842.

JELLALABAD, in which General Pollock was doomed to
pass some months of enforced inactivity, is situated
on the right bank of the Cabul river (which flows
past in a broad and rapid stream), and is encircled by
a mud wall, the height of which had been much
augmented by the unremitting labours of the garrison,
which numbered about 2,600 men. The extent of the
ramparts was 2,600 yards, comprising 32 bastions.
The sandy plain around is of great extent, and the
view from it, to the south, of the Safed Koh, or White
Mountain, so called from its crown of perpetual snow,
very magnificent. To the north is another snowy
range, one conspicuous part of which is called the
Durrah-i-noor (" valley of light "), but not so extensive
as the Safed Koh. Westward are the mountains
traversed by the road to Cabul, and to the east are
the Khyber hills through which Pollock's force had
marched.*

Major Smith writes :

* Owing probably to its situa- greatly subject to atmospherical
tion, Jellalabad appeared to be perturbations. General Pollock



Life of Sir George Pollock.



281



"At a short distance from Jellalabad, are some remarkable
rocks, of such elevation as to command a part of the walls,
a circumstance which on some occasions during the blockade
caused annoyance to the garrison. Akbar Khan once brought
a gun to this position, with the expectation of doing, a
deal of business, but just as his people were about to fire it,
a shrapnel was pitched most accurately among them by Cap-
tain Abbott, doing admirable execution. The gun was forth-
with dragged away, and no similar attempt was ever made again.
When the Afghans assembled on this rock, they were always
attended by a musician playing on the peculiar instrument of the
country, much resembling the Scottish bagpipe. From this cir-
cumstance, the soldiers of the 13th gave it the name of Piper's
Hill. The designation is now fully established, and the spot
is so described in the orders for posting our pickets, by one
of which it is occupied."

On General Pollock's arrival at Jellalabad, he assumed,



has detailed some interesting elec-
trical phenomena he witnessed.
About the end of April, or the
beginning of May, 1842, the air
being quite clear, and not a cloud to
be seen, while the European sentry
on duty carried his arms, with
fixed bayonet, sparks might be
drawn from any part of the barrel
of the musket by a second person
bringing his knuckle near to it.
General Pollock witnessed this,
besides having often himself drawn
sparks from the firelock. He
stated that a succession of sparks
could be obtained from the same
musket, and that it did not require
any great interval of time to elapse
before a second could be elicited
after one had been felt.

The stocks of the muskets were
made of the sipoo-tree, a peculiar
wood which grows in the East



Indies, and of which the musket-
stocks of the Indian troops are
usually made. There is generally
a band of brass which goes round
the lower end of the butt of the gun :
this must have been touched by
the sentry's hand while he carried
his musket, but it is not con-
nected with any other part of the
metal.

From these facts it would ap-
pear as if the electricity entered
by the point of the bayonet, and
was lodged in the barrel, until
drawn off by the approach of some
body having a connection with the
earth. The wood of which the
stock was made must have been
very dry almost in a baked state
and must thus have served as
an insulator or non-conductor to
the fluid.



282 Life of Sir George Pollock.

according to instructions from the Governor-General,
the military and political command, in the place of
Sale and Macgregor. In himself and JSTott, on either
side of Afghanistan, had been vested the supreme
direction of affairs. Sale, therefore, now commanded
a brigade, and Macgregor was appointed a simple aide-
de-camp on Pollock's staff. The General, however,
availed himself of Macgregor's great political ex-
perience, and uniformly successful method of dealing
with the Afghans, and throughout the campaign the
latter was his trusted adviser, and, indeed, performed
the ordinary duties of political officer, under the direc-
tion of the General, who retained all authority in his
own hands.

Lord Ellenborough had the strongest distrust of
the soldier-diplomatist, of which India has furnished
such brilliant examples; and hence in his indis-
criminating dislike, acted with but scant courtesy or
fairness to men like Eawlinson or Macgregor, who
deserved nothing but gratitude on the part of their
countrymen, but now found themselves cast on one
side, at a time when their energy and sagacity ought
to have met with more consideration. But, un-
happily, a strong and unreasoning current of feeling
had set in against all military political agents, and
General Nott made a great hit in popular estimation
when he wrote :

"If a man is too stupid or too lazy to drill his company,
he often turns sycophant, and cringes to the heads of depart-
ments, and is made a ' political j f and of course puts the Govern-



Life. of Sir George Pollock. 283

ment to an enormous expense, and disgraces the character of
his country."

This was as diametrically opposed to the truth as
anything could possibly be ; and although there were
one or two of the class at Cabul, or in its neighbour-
hood, whose moral conduct was not above suspicion,
and who, doubtless, created an ill feeling among
the Afghans, which found so terrible a vent in the
tragic deeds of the 2nd November, 1841, yet it was
unfair to judge thus disparagingly of a class which
included such names as Pottinger, Lawrence, Abbott,
Todd, Conolly and others. It was also foolish to
make sweeping assertions like the preceding, when
among men of Nott's own cloth, such dire incom-
petence or imbecility had been displayed, as by
General Elphin stone and Brigadier Shelton at Cabul.

While these events had been taking place at Pesha-
wur and in the Khyber, an important change in the
personnel of the Government had occurred at Calcutta.
The Earl of Auckland he had been created an earl
for the unhappy imbroglio in Afghanistan was no
longer the presiding spirit at the Council Board at
Government House. Lord Ellenborough, the newly-
appointed Governor- General, was a man of eminent
talent and great oratorical power, and had acquired
considerable experience in Indian affairs, as President
of the Board of Control. His appointment gave uni-
versal satisfaction in India, and great things were
expected from his energy and spirit, though his dis-
cretion could not be equally relied upon.



284 Life of Sir George Pollock.

Before we enter upon the consideration of the course
he resolved to adopt in the Afghan crisis, the parting
instructions of his predecessor should be recorded.

On the 24th February, in one of the last public
papers of any importance emanating from Lord
Auckland, General Pollock received the final in-
structions of the departing Governor- General. In
this lengthy document, dated " Fort William, 24th
February, 1842," after treating fully of the policy
Pollock should adopt towards Akbar Khan, Shah
Soojah, and the Sikh auxiliaries, he proceeds :

" Paragraph. 10. Yon will consider it one of the first objects
of your solicitude, to procure the release of British officers, and
soldiers and their families, and private servants and followers,
who are held in captivity, and their delivery to you or to other
British officers, at Peshawur or other certain place of safety. The
means of effecting this object must be left a great deal to your own
discretion. Paragraph 14. On the whole, you will understand
that the great present object of your proceedings at Peshawur
is, beyond the safe withdrawal of the force at Jellalabad, that of
watching events, of keeping up such communications as may be
admissible with the several parties who may acquire power in
the northern portion of Afghanistan, of committing yourself per-
manently with none of these parties, but also of declaring positively
against none of them, while you are collecting the most accurate
information of their relative strength and purposes for report to
the Government, and pursuing the measures which you may find
in your power for procuring the safe return of our troops and
people detained beyond the Khyber Pass."

Thus stood matters when Lord Ellenborough arrived
at Calcutta, on the 28th February, 1842. On the
15th of March following, the new Governor- General
addressed to the Commander-in-Chief a spirited letter,



Life of Sir George Pollock. 285

signed by the members of his Council, Mr. Bird,
General Casement, and Mr. H. J. Prinsep, as well as
by himself, announcing the policy he proposed to
adopt in reference to affairs in Afghanistan.

"Whatever course," he wrote, "we may hereafter take, must
rest solely on military considerations, and have, in the first
instance, regard to the safety of the detached bodies of our
troops at Jellalabad, at Ghuznee, at Khelat-i-Ghilzye, and
Candahar ; to the security of our troops in the field from all
unnecessary risk, and finally, to the establishment of our military
reputation by the infliction of some signal and decisive blow
upon the Afghans, which may make it appear to them, and
to our own subjects, and to our allies, that we have the power
of inflicting punishment upon those who commit atrocities
and violate their faith, and that we withdraw ultimately from
Afghanistan, not from any deficiency of means to maintain our
position, but because we are satisfied that the king we have set
up has not, as we were erroneously led to imagine, the support
of the nation over which he has been placed.

" In war, reputation is strength, but reputation is lost by the
rash exposure of the most gallant troops under circumstances
which render defeat more probable than victory ; and a succes-
sion of reverses will dishearten any soldiers, and, most of all,
those whose courage and devotion have been mainly the result
of their confidence that they were always led to certain success.
We would, therefore, strongly impress upon the commanders of
the forces employed in Afghanistan and Scinde the importance
of incurring no unnecessary risk, and of bringing their troops
into action under circumstances which may afford full scope to
the superiority they derive from their discipline. At the same
time, we are aware that no great object can be accomplished
without incurring some risk, and we should consider that the
object of striking a decisive blow at the Afghans, more especially
if such blow could be struck in combination with measures for
the relief of Ghuznee a blow which might re-establish our
military character beyond the Indus, and leave a deep impression
of our power, and of the vigour with which it would be applied



286 Life of Sir George Pollock.

to punish an atrocious enemy, wo aid be one for which risk
might be justifiably incurred, all due and possible precaution
being taken to diminish such necessary risk, and to secure
decisive success.

" The commanders of the forces in Upper and Lower Afghan-
istan will, in all the operations they may design, bear in mind
these general views and opinions of the Government of India.
They will, in the first instance, endeavour to relieve all the
garrisons in Afghanistan, which are now surrounded by the
enemy. The relief of these garrisons is a point deeply affecting
the military character of the army, and deeply interesting the
feelings of their country ; but to make a rash attempt to effect
such relief, in any case, without a reasonable prospect of success,
would be to afford no real aid to the brave men who are sur-
rounded, and fruitlessly to sacrifice other good soldiers, whose
preservation is equally dear to the Government they serve. To
effect the release of the prisoners taken at Cabul, is an object
likewise deeply interesting in point of feeling - and of honour.
That object can, probably, only be accomplished by taking
hostages from such part of the country as may be in, or may
come into, our possession ; and with reference to this object, and
to that of the relief of Ghuznee, it may possibly become a
question, in the event of Major- General Pollock's effecting a
junction with Sir Robert Sale, whether the united force shall
return to the country below the Khyber Pass, or take a forward
position near Jellalabad, or even advance to Cabul.

" We are fully sensible of the advantages which would be
derived from the re-occupation of Cabul, the scene of our great
disaster and of so much crime, even for a week, of the means
which it might afford of recovering the prisoners, of the gratifi-
cation which it would give to the army, and of the effect which
it would have upon our enemies. Our withdrawal might then
be made to rest upon an official declaration of the grounds upon
which we retired as solemn as that which accompanied our
advance ; and we should retire as a conquering, not as a defeated
power ; but we cannot sanction the occupation of an advanced
position beyond the Khyber Pass, by Major-General Pollock,
unless that General should be satisfied that he can, without
depending upon the forbearance of the tribes near the pass,



Life of Sir George Pollock. 287

which, obtained only by purchase, must, under all circumstances,
be precarious, and without depending upon the fidelity of the
Sikh chiefs, or upon the power of those chiefs to restrain their
troops, upon neither of which can any reliance be safely placed,
feel assured that he can, by his own strength, overawe and over-
come all who dispute the pass, and keep up at all times his
communication with Peshawur and the Indus."

These dignified sentiments struck a responsive
chord in Indian society, which, throughout all its
grades, was desirous that the honour of the country
should be maintained at its ancient pitch. But a
change soon came over the spirit of his Lordship's
dream. After a brief residence in Calcutta, he
exchanged the bracing moral and political atmosphere
of his Council Board, where his advisers were all in
favour of a vigorous policy, for the enervating
influence that pervaded the judgment of the Com-
mander-in-Chief, who, having been opposed to the
occupation of Afghanistan from the first, now
logically adhered to his original opinion, that we
ought to wash our hands of the whole business as
speedily as might be.

As Lord Ellenborough proceeded on his journey
up country, he received intelligence of the forcing of
the Khyber, and arrival at Jellalabad of General
Pollock, also of Sale's victory of the 7th April, which
latter achievement he announced to the public in a
proclamation which has become historical, he having
therein conferred the well-earned title of tf illustrious"
on that noble garrison. But notwithstanding these
successes, on receiving intelligence of the capitula-



288 Life of Sir George Pollock.

tion of Ghuznee by Colonel Palmer, who, with a regi-
ment of Native Infantry, had held the fortress for four
months against the Afghans, and hearing also of the
repulse on the 28th March at Hykulzye, a little
beyond Quettah, of Brigadier England, who, with
reinforcements and a convoy of provisions, was
hastening to join General Nott at Candahar, the
Governor-General turned his back upon his former
policy of " inflicting some signal and decisive blow
upon the Afghans," and wrote letters on the 19th
April from Benares to the Commander-in- Chief and
General Nbtt, in direct opposition to the spirited
policy he had first sketched out.

To Nott, his chief Secretary wrote :

" I am directed by tlie Governor-General to instruct you to
take immediate measures for drawing off the garrison of
Khelat-i-Ghilzye. You will effectually destroy all such guns as
you cannot conveniently bring away. You will destroy the fort
likewise, unless at the time at which the operation shall be
effected, which is hereinbefore enjoined, Prince Timour, having
remained faithful to British interests, shall possess a sufficient
force to be reasonably expected to be able to maintain that fort
upon their giving it into his charge. You will evacuate the
city of Candahar, giving tliat too into the charge of Prince
Timour under the circumstances above mentioned; you will
otherwise ruin its defences before you evacuate it. You will
then proceed to take up a position at Quettah until the season
may enable you to retire upon Sukkur. The object of our
above- directed measures is to withdraw all our forces to Sukkur
at the earliest period at which the season and other circum-
stances may permit you to take up a new position there. The
manner of effecting this now necessary object is, however, left to
your discretion."



Life of Sir George Pollock. 289

His letters to the Commander-in-Chief, for he
wrote no less than three on this 19th April, related
to the military policy which ought to be adopted in
view of the retreat of Brigadier England in conse-
quence of his repulse, which, though only of a
temporary character, had made a serious impression
on Lord Ellenborough's mind. The first letter
referring to this reverse, and enclosing the instruc-
tions to Nott, states the Governor- General's opinion
that it is " expedient to take immediate measures for
the ultimate safety of General Nott's force, by with-
drawing it at the earliest practicable period from its
advanced position, into nearer communication with
India." In the second letter, which relates to the
course to be pursued with regard to General Pollock's
force, he says :

" The retention of the combined force in the vicinity of
Jellalabad during the hot months may be more conducive to
the health of the troops than a retrograde march through the
Khyber Pass, and might have some material influence upon any
negotiation which might be instituted for an exchange of
prisoners. On the other hand, it is obvious that the position of
Major- General Pollock's force at one end of a long and difficult
pass, with an enemy in its front, and an ally, not to be entirely
depended upon, in its rear, is not one in which, having regard
to military considerations alone, a General would readily place
himself. It has been already intimated to your Excellency, in a
letter from the Governor- General in Council of the 15th March,
that, in the opinion of the Government, military considerations
alone should hereafter direct the movements of the British
armies in Afghanistan. The only question, therefore, will be in



Online LibraryCharles Rathbone LowThe life and correspondence of Field Marshall Sir George Pollock ...(constable of the Tower) → online text (page 21 of 40)