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which position will Major- General Pollock's force remain during
the hot months with most security to itself and with the least


290 Life of Sir George Pollock.

pressure upon the health of the troops, its ultimate retirement
within the Indus being a point determined upon, because the
reasons for our first crossing the Indus have ceased to exist."

In conclusion, the Commander-in-Chief was directed
to issue his own instructions to General Pollock. In
the third letter, addressed to Sir Jasper Nicolls on
this 19th April, after speaking of the withdrawal
orders to Pollock and Nott, the Governor- General
goes on to say :

" If new aggressive movements upon Afghanistan should be
deemed to be necessary, it will be for our consideration whether
it may not be possible to select a new line of operations leading
directly upon Ghuznee, which may enable us to concentrate our
forces, and to hold them in more immediate and secure commu-
nication with India. It will, however, .likewise be for consider-
ation whether our troops, having been redeemed from the state
of peril in which they have been placed in Afghanistan, and, it
may still be hoped, not without the infliction of some severe
blow upon the Afghan army, it would be justifiable again to
push them forward for any other object than that of revenging
our losses, and of re-establishing, in all its original brilliancy,
our military character."

In his communication to the Secret Committee of
the India House, dated 22nd April, his Lordship, in
transmitting copies of these three letters, speaks of
the recent successes in Afghanistan, but adds :

" These several events, although they improve our prospects
to some extent, have in no respect altered my deliberate opinion
that it is expedient to withdraw the troops under Major- General
Pollock and those under Major-General Nott, at the earliest
practicable period, into positions wherein they may have certain
and easy communication with India. That opinion is founded
upon a general view of our military, political, and financial
situation, and is not liable to be lightly changed."

Life of Sir George Pollock. 291

In reply to the Governor-General's directions to
Sir Jasper Nicolls that he should give any further
instructions to General Pollock he might deem
necessary, the Commander-in-Chief stated in a letter,
dated 27th April, to his Lordship's address, that he
had not ventured to give any such instructions.

" The General," he added, " is a clear-headed, good officer, and
you have loaded his advance with heavy cautions ; but he will
stand alone, and treat those around him (as far as I know)
rather as advisers than agents. By his despatches of the 16th,
your Lordship will perceive that he feels it necessary to send
back a part of his force to aid Lieutenant- Colonel Bolton through
the pass. He promises an explanation of this necessity. My
great doubt is that he can equip the force for a movement in
advance, at such a distance from our resources, and under the
rooted dislike and fear of the Afghans, entertained by every
class of camp followers. If they are ill equipped, or placed in
an unhealthy position, the losses may be very heavy."

Although Lord Ellenborough prided himself on the
indifference with which he regarded the animadversions
of the public and press, yet he was in reality more
thin-skinned and sensitive to the oscillations of public
opinion than he would allow. The effect caused by
the disaster at Hykulzye began to wear off, and per-
haps his Lordship felt a little ashamed that a single
repulse should disturb the equanimity and alter
the plans of so mighty a potentate as the Governor-
General of India, while his subordinate, the General
commanding " our " armies beyond the Indus, gave the
matter scarcely a second thought ; or if it did engage
his attention at all, only nerved his brave heart and


292 Life of Sir George Pollock.

steeled his resolution not to yield one inch, to all the
armed might of Afghanistan. Perhaps these reso-
lutions influenced Lord Ellenborough when, on the
28th April, he wrote to General Pollock :

" The aspect of affairs in Upper Afghanistan appears to be such,
according to the last advices received by the Govern or- General,
that his Lordship cannot but contemplate the possibility of your
having been led, by the absence of serious opposition on the part
of any array in the field, by the divisions amongst the Afghan
chiefs, and by the natural desire you must, in common with
every true soldier, have of again displaying the British flag in
triumph upon the scene of our late disasters, to advance upon and
occupy the city of Cabul. If that event should have occurred,
you will understand it will in no respect vary the view which the
Governor- General previously took of the policy to be now pursued.
The Governor- General will adhere to the opinion that the only
safe course is that of withdrawing the army under your command
at the earliest practicable period into positions within the Khyber
Pass, where it may possess easy and certain communications with

Thus the Governor- General could not muster suffi-
cient magnanimity to allow that his opinion was
changed, if that could be called opinion which
appeared to fluctuate from day to day, and might,
perhaps, with more propriety, be termed caprice even
though General Pollock, in carrying out in its entirety
the only programme that could thoroughly rehabilitate
the honour of his country, occupied the city of Cabul
itself, the scene of British dishonour and defeat. We
can offer no explanation of the reason that induced his
Lordship to entertain the idea that Pollock might have
advanced upon the capital of Afghanistan in the face
of positive instructions to the contrary; though it

Life of Sir George Pollock. 293

has been surmised that it probably arose from "a
temporary apprehension arising out of a not erroneous
estimate of the military aspirations of General Pollock."
On the 4th May (only six days later), Mr. Maddock,
the Governor- General's secretary, writes to General
Pollock from Allahabad, to the following effect :

" The Governor- General was in expectation that, in pursuance
of the request contained in his Lordship's letter to the Commander-
in- Chief of the 19th ultimo (of which a copy was communicated
to you), His Excellency would probably have addressed instruc-
tions to you, founded upon the more recent and accurate know-
ledge of your situation, which His Excellency's position at Simla
enables him to obtain ; but his Lordship is now informed that His
Excellency has not deemed it necessary to issue any such further
instructions, relying upon your discretion in acting upon the
instructions you already have, contained in the letter of the
Governor- General in Council to His Excellency, dated the 15th of

" 2. You have since received, in the letter of the 19th ultimo,
above referred to, a further indication of the views of the
Government, views which have been in no respect varied by the
demise of Shah Soojah, or by the victory of Sir Robert Sale.

"3. On the contrary, that victory, in conjunction with your
success, going far towards the re- establishment, in the minds of
the Afghans, and of our troops and subjects and aTlies, of that
sentiment of confidence in our military superiority, which it is so
essential to preserve ; and the decease of Shah Soojah having
manifestly relieved the British from all such engagements as
might have been deemed to have been of a personal character
with him, it is in reality, and it will be in the opinion of all men,
more easy for you to withdraw your troops from the advanced
position they occupy, than it would have been had political con-
siderations of great importance appeared to require other and
ulterior operations.

" The most recent accounts which have been received of the
difficulty experienced by you in obtaining supplies from Jellalabad,

294 Life of Sir George Pollock.

and in bringing forward supplies from Peshawur, and the very-
deficient means of movement, as well as of provision, which you
possess, induce the Governor-General to expect that you will
have already decided upon withdrawing your troops within the
Khyber Pass, into a position where you may have easy and
certain communication with India, if considerations, having
regard to the health of the army, should not have induced you to
defer that movement.

" The Governor- General is satisfied that you will have felt that
no great object can be accomplished by any army having deficient
means of movement and supply, and that nothing but a great
object could justify the incurring of great risks.

" His Lordship is too strongly impressed with confidence in your
judgment to apprehend that you will ever place the army under
your command in a situation in which, without adequate means
of movement and supply, it could derive no benefit from its
superior valour and discipline, and might be again subjected to
a disaster, which, if repeated, might be fatal to our power in

" The first object of the Governor-General's anxiety has ever
been to withdraw, with honour, into positions of security the
several corps of the army which he found scattered and sur-
rounded in Afghanistan. That object may now be accomplished
with respect to the army under your command ; and the Governor-
General could experience no higher satisfaction than that of
hearing that the health of that army, in whose welfare he takes
so deep an interest, having been preserved, it was in a secure
position, having certain communication with India."

The Governor-General, depressed at Brigadier Eng-
land's unfortunate repulse at Hykulzye, appeared to
regard security of position as the sole object to be at-
tained, and though shortly before he had laid down the
sound principle that " in war, reputation is strength,"
he now turned his back upon this cardinal military
axiom. Unless the release of the prisoners could be
effected with comparative safety, he little recked of the

Life of Sir George Pollock. 295

tender women and children, the widow of a British
envoy, the wife of a British general, the head-quar-
ters of a British regiment, ignominiously left in the
hands of the brutal Afghans. None of these things
disturbed the equanimity of the Governor-General
at Simla.

On the 29th April, Sir Jasper Nicolls, writing from
Simla, directed General Pollock to withdraw the
troops from Afghanistan, and advised the Governor-
General of the fact on the same day. The following
is the letter containing this explicit instruction, and
with which, as a soldier bound to obey his military
chief, George Pollock had no option but to comply,
or take upon himself an amount of responsibility
that few men would have had the moral courage
to incur. When reading the letter, it is well to
weigh for one moment what would have been the
fate of a soldier who had disobeyed and been un-

" The Governor- General having transmitted to you a copy of
his Lordship's despatch to my address of the 3 9th instant, yon
will be prepared to receive a communication from me on the
important subject thereof. You will be pleased therefore to
conform to the following instructions :

" 1. Shah Soojah being dead, Ghuzneelost, and Major-General
Kott directed by his Lordship's command (also of the 19th
instant) to withdraw the garrison of Khelat-i-Ghilzye, to evacuate
Candahar, and to retire first upon Quettah, and, when the
season admits, upon Sukkur ; you are required to make a similar
movement in Upper Afghanistan, and to withdraw every British
soldier from Jellalabad to Peshawur.

296 Life of Sir George Pollock.

"2. You are to destroy the fort, and any useless guns ; but as
there need be no haste in the retreat when commenced, you are
requested not to leave any trophies.

"3. The only circumstances which can authorize delay in
obeying this order are,

" 1st. That you may have brought a negotiation for the release
of the prisoners lately confined at Budeeabad to such a point
that you might risk its happy accomplishment by withdrawing.

" 2nd. That you may have detached a lightly-equipped force to
endeavour to rescue them.

" 3rd. That the enemy at Cabul may be moving a force to
attack you. In this improbable case, should any respectable
number of troops have descended into the plain below Jugdulluck
with that intent, it would be most advisable to inflict such a blow
upon them as to make them long remember your parting effort.
If you should have such a glorious opportunity, I advise you to
send your weak and inefficient men previously to Lalpoora.

"4. I do not recommend delay in the first case, unless the
prisoners are actually on their way to your camp, as no faith can
be placed in Afghan promises or oaths. The second would of
course require that you should await the return of your detach-

" 5. I allude entirely to the officers and ladies now or lately at
Budeeabad, or its vicinity. Those at Cabul cannot, I think, be
saved by any treaty or agreement made under existing circum-
stances at Jellalabad.

" 6. You will be pleased, on reaching Peshawur, to despatch to
Ferozepore without delay the troops of all arms which so
gallantly upheld our country's name at Jellalabad ; and further
instructions will be sent to you regarding the disposal of the
other brigades. Sir Robert Sale may be permitted to remain at
your head- quarters, should he desire to do so, and you will
transfer him accordingly to another command, placing Brigadier
Monteith in charge of the returning column."

And what did George Pollock do on receiving
these explicit instructions, which appeared in his
eyes to be a cowardly abandonment of helpless

Life of Sir George Pollock.


women and children, and calculated to entail the
humiliation of his country's high name and military
renown ? Why, he immediately sat down to his desk,
and wrote to General Nott, requesting him on no
account to retire, as directed by his superiors, until he
should hear again from him, Pollock* This despatch,
which was written with the medium sometimes em-
ployed, iodine, was carried, inserted in a hollow at the
end of a stick, by an old man, who hobbled the distance

* So important did this letter
appear to the writer of this Me-
moir, that he wrote to Sir George
Pollock asking for a copy. To
this request he received the follow-
ing reply :

" I think you are quite right
when you assert my letter to Nott
was perhaps one of the most im-
portant documents of all my Af-
ghan correspondence. I am sorry
to say I have not even a memo, of
the letter.

" I felt at the time that to retire
would be our ruin the whole
country would have risen to en-
deavour to destroy us. I there-
fore determined on remaining at
Jellalabad until an opportunity
offered for our advance, if practi-
cable. I knew that Nott had been
ordered to retire, and I knew that
if he did go, his opponent would
pay me a visit, accompanied by
the army which eventually did
oppose me. We had some tough
work with that army, but if the
army opposed to Nott had joined
them, the odds against us would

have been very great. I had quite
enough to do with those who did
oppose me at Jugdulluck and Te-
zeen. Stopping Nott for a few
days, after his receipt of orders to
retire, was perhaps a very bold
step, but I looked upon it as the
only safe course to pursue, and it
succeeded. If it had not suc-
ceeded, I knew that I might lose
my commission, but I felt pretty
certain that if we worked together
in earnest, the game would be ours.
And I accordingly wrote to Nott
to halt wherever he might be until
he should hear from me again.
He had made, I think, two retro-
grade movements, and replied that
he would wait until he heard from
me again.

" I am sorry that I have no copy
of my letter or his reply; but of
this I feel certain, that if I had
not stopped him, our campaign
would have ended much in the
same way that occurred to the first
party that returned from Cabul
one individual reached Jellala-

298 Life of Sir George Pollock.

between Jellalabad and Candahar, and received the
handsome reward of 500 rupees for his trouble. It is
not often that elderly natives, who consider themselves
fortunate if in the prime of life they earn four rupees
a month in their poverty-stricken country of Afghan-
istan, can hobble to such a tune as that.

The Governor-General's withdrawal order astonished
and mortified both General Nott and Major Rawlinson,
the political agent at Candahar, but the former felt
he had no option, as a soldier, but to obey, and he
accordingly made preparations to evacuate the country
with his army, and informed the Government of his
intention to do as directed. He had been reinforced,
on the 10th of May, by Brigadier England's brigade,
which had been escorted through the formidable
Kojuck Pass, by Colonel (the late General Sir George)
Wymer, at the head of three fine Bengal regiments,
the 2nd, 16th, and 38th Native Infantry; but Nott
had, on the 19th May, agreeably to the Government
order of the 1 9th April, despatched the same brigade,
headed by its gallant commander, to the relief of
the garrison of Khelat-i-Ghilzye, an isolated fortress
standing upon a barren eminence some 80 miles from
Candahar. This little party, consisting of the Shah's
3rd Infantry Kegiment, 250 Sepoys of the 43rd, 40
European Artillerymen, and some Sappers, under com-
mand of Captain John Halkett Craigie, had defended
the fortress for months, though suffering every privation
of cold and hunger, and, after successfully repelling a
desperate attack made upon them by the Afghans on

Life of Sir George Pollock. 299

the morning of the 21st May, were withdrawn by
Colonel Wymer, who demolished the works they had
defended so nobly.

Upon receiving General Pollock's letter; Nott gladly
agreed to remain where he was until he should again
hear from him.

The Governor- General had issued a notification to
the army, dated " Benares, 19th April," announcing
the forcing of the Khyber Pass by General Pollock,
and expressing his gratification at the " zeal, gallantry,
and perseverance of the troops" engaged, while he
also complimented the Sikh troops on the gallantry
they had displayed. Again, on the 30th April, his
Lordship issued a general order on the recent victories
in Afghanistan, and said, with regard to George
Pollock's share in those successful operations :

" The Major-General has thus carried into effect the orders of
the Government in a manner which entitles him to the highest
approbation. Receiving the command of the army at Peshawur
under circumstances of peculiar difficulty, he has, in the midst of
new and unforeseen embarrassments and disappointments, pre-
served a firm mind, and justly relying upon his own judgment, he
has at last, with equal discretion and decision, accomplished the
object he was directed to effect. The Governor- General requests
Major- General Pollock to accept his acknowledgments of the
good service he has thus rendered to the Government of India,
and begs he will communicate to the gallant officers and troops
under his command, the entire satisfaction with which their
conduct has been regarded on this occasion."

On receipt of a copy of the Command er-in-Chiefs
instructions of the 29th April to General Pollock, the

300 Life of Sir George Pollock.

secretary to Government wrote to the latter officer on
the 6th May :

" Of these instructions the Governor-General entirely approves.
They are in accordance with the general principles laid down by
his Lordship for your guidance, and you will execute them to the
best of your ability, having regard always to the health of your
troops, and the efficiency of your army objects of primary

After further informing him that, should Mr. Clerk
desire it, he was to deliver up Jellalabad to the Sikhs,
but that Ali Musjid was to be retained until the last
British soldier had passed it,- a suggestion scarcely
necessary to an officer of the experience and judgment
of General Pollock, the Governor-General says, in
conclusion, that he "trusts that you will have had
the discretion not to mention the nature of the
orders given to Major- General Nott," referred to
in the Commander-in-Chief's letter of the 29th.
On the same day, Lord Ellenborough wrote to Sir
Jasper Nicolls, acknowledging the receipt of the in-
structions forwarded for General Pollock's guidance,
and continuing :

" I have to thank your Excellency for having had the goodness to
give these instructions, of which I entirely approve. They are
in accordance with the general principles which, in my letter of
the 19th ult., were laid down for the Major- General's guidance."

By some means the news of the despatch of the
Commander-in-Chief s letter soon leaked out, and
created a storm of indignation throughout India,

Life of Sir George Pollock. 301

both in the official and non-official public, as well as
in the press, who were unanimous in their reprobation
of the policy it enunciated.

The Governor-General's letter of the 28th April,
called forth from General Pollock a noble response,
without which any memoir of this great soldi jr would
be indeed incomplete, and which will ever be regarded
as a monument to his sagacity and courage at a time
when both his superiors, the Governor-General and
Commander-in-Chief, had despaired of the cause of
England's honour.

" Jellalabad, May 13th, 1842.

gi r? I h a d the honour to forward with my letter, No. 32,
dated 12th instant, a copy of a letter from His Excellency the
Commander-in-Chief. I have now the honour to acknowledge
the receipt of your letter, dated 28th ultimo, which adverts to
the present aspect of affairs in Afghanistan, and the probability
of my having advanced towards Cabul ; stating also, that in
such an event, the views of the Governor- General as to the
withdrawal of the troops will not be altered ; and further, that
whatever measures I may adopt I must have especial regard to
the health of the troops. I trust that I am not wrong in con-
sidering this letter as leaving to me discretionary powers, and
co ling as it does from the supreme power in India, I venture to
delay, for some days, acting up to the instructions communi-
cated in His Excellency the Commander-in- Chief's letter, dated
29th ult.

" I regret much that a want of carriage cattle has detained
me here ; if it had not been so, I should now be several
marches in advance, and I am quite certain that such a move
would have been highly beneficial. Affairs at Cabul are, at the
present moment, in a very unsettled state; but a few days must
decide in favour of one of the parties. Mahomed Akbar is at
Cabul, exerting all his influence to overpower the Prince. He
is without means ; and if he cannot within a very short period

jo2 Life of Sir George Pollock.

obtain the ascendancy, he must give up the contest, in which
case I have no doubt I shall hear from him again. With regard
to our withdrawal at the present moment, I fear that it would
have the very worst effect ; it would be construed into a defeat,
and our character as a powerful nation would be entirely lost in
this part of the world. It is true that the garrison at Jellalabad
has been saved, which it would not have been had a force not
been sent to its relief. But the relief of that garrison is only
one object ; there still remain others which we cannot disregard,
I allude to the release of the prisoners. I expect about nine-
teen Europeans from Budeeabad in a few days. The letters
which have passed about other prisoners have already been for-
warded for the information of his Lordship. If, while these
communications were in progress, I were to retire, it would be
supposed that a panic had seized us. I therefore think that our
remaining in this vicinity (or perhaps a few marches in advance)
is essential to uphold the character of the British nation ; and
in like manner General Nott might hold his post ; at all events
till a more favourable season.

" I have no reason, yet, to complain that the troops are more
unhealthy than they were at Agra. If I am to march to
Peshawur, the climate is certainly not preferable; and here I
can in one or two marches find a better climate, and I should be
able to dictate better terms than I could at Peshawur.

" I cannot imagine any force being sent from Cabul which I
could not successfully oppose. But the advance on Cabul would
require that General ISTott should act in concert and advance
also. I therefore cannot help regretting that he should be

Online LibraryCharles Rathbone LowThe life and correspondence of Field Marshall Sir George Pollock ...(constable of the Tower) → online text (page 22 of 40)