The order of marching--Ghazni and Kelat-i-Ghilzai --Food required daily for the force--A letter from General Phayre --Kandahar--Reconnoitring the enemy's position--A turning movement
Before daybreak on the 11th August, as I was starting from camp, I received my last communication from the outside world in the shape of a telegram from my wife, sent off from a little village in Somersetshire, congratulating me and the force, and wishing us all God's speed. She had taken our children to England a few months before, thinking that the war in Afghanistan was over, and that I would soon be able to follow.
Four days brought us to the end of the Logar valley, a distance of forty-six miles. So far the country was easy and supplies plentiful. I thought it wise, however, not to attempt long distances at first, that both men and animals might become gradually hardened before entering on the difficult and scantily cultivated ground between Ghazni and Kelat-i-Ghilzai, where I knew that forced marches were inevitable, and that their powers of endurance would be sorely taxed. Moreover, it was necessary to begin quietly, and organize some system by which confusion in the crowded camping-grounds might be avoided, and the physical strain upon everyone lightened as much as possible.
When it is remembered that the daily supply for over 18,000 men and 11,000 animals had to be drawn from the country after arrival in camp, that food had to be distributed to every individual, that the fuel with which it was cooked had often to be brought from long distances, and that a very limited time was available for the preparation of meals and for rest, it will readily be understood how essential it was that even the stupidest follower should be able to find his place in camp speedily, and that everyone should know exactly what to do and how to set about doing it.
On the march and in the formation of the camps the same principles were, as far as possible, applied each day. The 'rouse' sounded at 2.45 a.m., and by four o'clock tents had been struck, baggage loaded up, and everything was ready for a start.
As a general rule, the Cavalry covered the movement at a distance of about five miles, two of the four regiments being in front, with the other two on either flank. Two of the Infantry brigades came next, each accompanied by a Mountain battery; then followed the field hospitals, Ordnance and Engineer parks, treasure, and the baggage, massed according to the order in which the brigades were moving. The third Infantry brigade with its Mountain battery and one or two troops of Cavalry formed the rear guard.
A halt of ten minutes was made at the end of each hour, which at eight o'clock was prolonged to twenty minutes to give time for a hasty breakfast. Being able to sleep on the shortest notice, I usually took advantage of these intervals to get a nap, awaking greatly refreshed after a few minutes' sound sleep.
On arrival at the resting-place for the night, the front face of the camp was told off to the brigade on rear guard, and this became the leading brigade of the column on the next day's march. Thus every brigade had its turn of rear guard duty, which was very arduous, more particularly after leaving Ghazni, the troops so employed seldom reaching the halting-ground before six or seven o'clock in the evening, and sometimes even later.
One of the most troublesome duties of the rear guard was to prevent the followers from lagging behind, for it was certain death for anyone who strayed from the shelter of the column; numbers of Afghans always hovered about on the look-out for plunder, or in the hope of being able to send a Kafir, or an almost equally-detested Hindu, to eternal perdition. Towards the end of the march particularly, this duty became most irksome, for the wretched followers were so weary and footsore that they hid themselves in ravines, making up their minds to die, and entreating, when discovered and urged to make an effort, to be left where they were. Every baggage animal that could possibly be spared was used to carry the worn-out followers; but notwithstanding this and the care taken by officers and men that none should be left behind, twenty of these poor creatures were lost, besides four Native soldiers.
The variation of temperature (at times as much as eighty degrees between day and night) was most trying to the troops, who had to carry the same clothes whether the thermometer was at freezing-point at dawn or at 110° Fahr. at mid-day. Scarcity of water, too, was a great trouble to them, while constant sand-storms, and the suffocating dust raised by the column in its progress, added greatly to their discomfort.
Daily reports regarding the health of the troops, followers, and transport animals were brought to me each evening, and I made it my business to ascertain how many men had fallen out during the day, and what had been the number of casualties amongst the animals.
On the 12th August the Head-Quarters and main body of the force halted to allow the Cavalry and the second Infantry brigade to push on and get clear over the Zamburak Kotal (8,100 feet high) before the rest of the column attempted its ascent. This kotal presented a serious obstacle to our rapid progress, the gradient being in many places one in four, and most difficult for the baggage animals; but by posting staff officers at intervals to control the flow of traffic, and by opening out fresh paths to relieve the pressure, we got over it much more quickly than I had expected.
On the 15th we reached Ghazni, ninety-eight miles from Kabul, a place of peculiar interest to me from the fact that it was for his share in its capture, forty-one years before, that my father was given the C.B.
I was met by the Governor, who handed me the keys of the fortress, and I placed my own guards and sentries in and around the city to prevent collisions between the inhabitants and our troops, and also to make sure that our demands for supplies were complied with. Up to this point we had been fairly well off for food, forage, and water.
Our next march was across a barren, inhospitable track for twenty miles to a place called Yarghati. On the way we passed Ahmedkhel, where Sir Donald Stewart won his victory; the name had been changed by the Natives to 'the Resting-place of Martyrs,' and the numerous freshly-covered-in graves testified to the ghazis' heavy losses. The remains of the few British soldiers, who had been buried where they had fallen, had been desecrated, and the bones were exposed to view and scattered about.
At Chardeh, our next halting-place, a communication from Colonel Tanner, Commanding at Kelat-i-Ghilzai, was brought to me by a Native messenger; it was dated the 12th August, and informed me that Kandahar was closely invested, but that the garrison had supplies for two months and forage for fifteen days.
On the 21st we arrived at a point thirty miles from Kelat-i-Ghilzai, whence we opened heliograph communication with that place, and were told of an unsuccessful sortie made from Kandahar five days before, in which General Brooke and eight other British officers had been killed.
On the 23rd Kelat-i-Ghilzai was reached. The garrison had been well taken care of by Colonel Tanner, and a large quantity of food for man and beast had been collected; but I thought it unadvisable at present to continue to hold the place, and have to keep open communication between it and Kandahar, and as I could see no compensating advantage in doing so, I determined to withdraw the troops and take them along with me.
Colonel Tanner's report satisfied me there was no immediate danger to be apprehended at Kandahar, so I decided to halt for one day; both men and animals greatly needed rest after a continuous march of 225 miles.
I had endeavoured to keep the Government of India informed of my progress by a message from Ghazni, and one from Oba Karez on the 18th August, but neither reached its destination. I now despatched a message which was more successful, and was delivered at Simla on the 30th August. It was as follows:
'KELAT-I-GHILZAI, '23rd August, 1880.
'The force under my command arrived here this morning. The authorities at Kandahar having stated on the 17th instant that they have abundant supplies and can make forage last until 1st September, I halt to-morrow to rest the troops, and more especially the transport animals and camp-followers. The force left Ghazni on the 16th, and has marched 136 miles during the last eight days; the troops are in good health and spirits. From this I purpose moving by regular-stages, so that the men may arrive fresh at Kandahar. I hope to be in heliographic communication with Kandahar from Robat, distant twenty miles, on the 29th. If General Phayre reaches Takht-i-Pul, I should also hope to communicate with him and arrange a combined movement on Kandahar. I am taking the Kelat-i-Ghilzai garrison with me, making the Fort over to Mahomed Sadik Khan, a Toki Chief, who had charge of the place when we arrived in 1879; the present Governor, Sirdar Sherindil Khan, refuses to remain. We have met with no opposition during the march, and have been able to make satisfactory arrangements for supplies, especially forage, which at this season is plentiful. The Cavalry horses and Artillery mules are in excellent order; our casualties to date are, one soldier 72nd Highlanders, one sepoy 23rd Pioneers, one 2nd Sikhs, two sepoys 3rd Sikhs dead; one sepoy 4th Gurkhas, two sepoys 24th Punjab Native Infantry, one Duffadar 3rd Punjab Cavalry missing; six camp-followers dead, five missing. The missing men have, I fear, been murdered. I telegraphed from Ghazni on the 15th, and from Oba Karez on the 18th August.'
I wrote also to Major-General Phayre, telling him of the date on which I expected to reach Kandahar, and that if I heard of his being anywhere near I would arrange my movements to suit his, in order that the two forces might make a combined attack on Ayub Khan's position.
As I was afraid the supplies at Kandahar would be insufficient for the additional troops about to be collected there, I sent General Phayre a memorandum of the amount of food required daily by my force, and begged him to get pushed up from the rear such articles as were more particularly wanted. I pointed out that we were badly off for boots, and that the 92nd Highlanders had only one hundred greatcoats fit for wear, which were used by the men on night duties.
On the 25th we marched to Jaldak, seventeen miles, and the same distance the next day to Tirandaz, where I received a letter from Lieutenant-General Primrose, informing me that Ayub Khan had raised the siege on the 23rd, and was entrenching himself at Mazra, beyond the Baba Wali Kotal, in the valley of the Arghandab.
I awoke on the morning of the 27th feeling very unwell, and soon found I was in for an attack of fever. The heat during the day was becoming more and more overpowering as we proceeded south, and I had lately been feeling somewhat knocked up by it and by exposure to the sun. I had now to give in for the time being, and was compelled to perform the march in a doolie, a most ignominious mode of conveyance for a General on service; but there was no help for it, for I could not sit a horse.
That day the 3rd Bengal and 3rd Punjab Cavalry marched thirty-four miles to Robat, in order to establish direct heliographic communication with Kandahar. The main body halted about half-way, when I again reported progress as follows:
SHAHR-I-SAFA, '27th August, 1880.
'My force arrived here to-day. I received a letter yesterday, dated 25th, from Colonel St. John. He writes: "The rumours of the approach of your force have been sufficient to relieve the city from investment. On Monday night the villages on the east and south were abandoned by their mixed garrisons of ghazis and regulars. Yesterday morning Ayub struck his camp, and marched to a position on the Arghandab, between Baba Wali and Sheikh Chela, due north of the city, and separated from it by a range of rocky hills. He has about 4,000 Infantry regulars, six 12-pounders and two 9-pounders rifled, four 6-pounder smooth-bore batteries, and one 4-pounder battery, 2,000 sowars, and perhaps twice that number of ghazis, of whom a third have firearms. The Kizilbashes and Kohistanis in his army, about 1,200 Infantry and 300 Cavalry, offered to desert and join us directly we made a show of attack. They are at last aware of Abdur Rahman's succession, but I think Ayub will remain unmolested until the arrival of the Kabul force, provided he waits, which is unlikely. He will, I expect, strike away north into Khakrez, on which line a vigorous pursuit will give us his guns. Maclaine, Royal Horse Artillery, is still a prisoner; I am making every effort to obtain his release, but I am not very hopeful of success. This morning, the 25th, I went to the field of the unlucky sortie of the 16th, and found the bodies of the poor fellows who fell there, some forty in number; they will be buried this afternoon. All the wounded are doing well. No signs or tidings of Phayre." General Gough, with two regiments of Cavalry, is at Robat; they are in heliographic communication with Kandahar. General Primrose heliographs that Ayub Khan has entrenched his camp at Baba Wali. The force marches for Robat to-morrow, seventeen miles distant from Kandahar.'
The following day the column joined the two Cavalry regiments at Robat, where I was met by Lieutenant-Colonel St. John, from whom I heard that Ayub Khan was likely to make a stand. I thought it prudent, therefore, to halt on Sunday, the 29th, and divide the last twenty miles into two short marches, in order that the men and animals might arrive as fresh as possible, and fit for any work which might be required of them; for should Ayub Khan retire towards Herat, he would have to be followed up, and his army attacked and defeated wherever we might overtake him.
Before leaving Robat, a letter arrived from General Phayre, which put an end to all hope of his force being able to co-operate with mine, for his leading brigade, he wrote, had only just got to the Kohjak Pass. This was to be regretted, but it was unavoidable. I was well aware of the strenuous efforts the gallant Commander had made to relieve the beleaguered garrison, and I knew if co-operation had been possible it would have been effected.
We encamped at Momund on the 30th, whence I sent the following telegram to Simla:
'My force arrived here to-day; we march to Kandahar to-morrow. General Primrose heliographs that a letter from Ayub's camp brings information that the mother of the late Heir-Apparent, Abdulla Jan, with other ladies, has been sent to Zamindawar. Arrival of the young Musa Jan in Ayub's camp is confirmed. Hashim Khan is also there. The position is being strengthened, especially on the Pir Paimal side, where two guns have been placed with two regiments. From further information, I learn that the Baba Wali Kotal is occupied by three regiments and two guns. The Kotal-i-Murcha is held by the Kabul regiments, and Ayub's own camp is at Mazra, where it is said that the majority of his guns are parked. I propose to encamp the Infantry to the west of Kandahar immediately under the walls, and the Cavalry under the walls to the south. Should I hear that Ayub contemplates flight, I shall attack without delay. If, on the contrary, he intends to resist, I shall take my own time. The country he is occupying is, from description and map, extremely difficult and easily defensible, and each separate advance will require careful study and reconnaissance to prevent unnecessary loss of life.'
On the morning of the 31st we marched into Kandahar, just over 313 miles from Kabul. The fever, which had attacked me rather sharply, had left me extremely weak, and I was unable to ride the whole way. I got on my horse, however, some distance from Kandahar to meet Generals Primrose, Burrows, and Nuttall, who came out to receive the column. As we approached the city, the whole garrison turned out and gave us a hearty welcome; officers and men, Native and British, crowded round us, loud in their expressions of gratitude for our having come so quickly to their assistance. We, on our side, were all anxiety to learn the particulars about Maiwand, how they had fared while invested, and all they could tell us of Ayub Khan, his position, strength of his army, etc.
I confess to being very greatly surprised, not to use a stronger expression, at the demoralized condition of the greater part of the garrison; there were notable exceptions, but the general bearing of the troops reminded me of the people at Agra in 1857. They seemed to consider themselves hopelessly defeated, and were utterly despondent; they never even hoisted the Union Jack until the relieving force was close at hand. The same excuses could not, however, be made for them, who were all soldiers by profession, as we had felt inclined to make for the residents at Agra, a great majority of whom were women, children, and civilians. The walls which completely surrounded Kandahar were so high and thick as to render the city absolutely impregnable to any army not equipped with a regular siege-train. Scaling-ladders had been prepared by the enemy, and there was an idea that an assault would be attempted; but for British soldiers to have contemplated the possibility of Kandahar being taken by an Afghan army showed what a miserable state of depression and demoralization they were in.
I halted the column for two hours outside the south wall of the city, where it was sheltered from the enemy's fire, Ayub Khan's position being within long range directly north of Kandahar. While the men rested and breakfasted, and the baggage animals were being unloaded, fed, and watered, I went into the citadel to talk matters over with General Primrose and Colonel St. John, and inquire whether there was sufficient accommodation for the sick men of my force, numbering 940, who needed to be taken into hospital. The thermometer now registered 105° Fahr. in tents during the day, but the nights were still bitterly cold, and the sudden changes of temperature were extremely trying to people in bad health.
On the advice of Lieutenant-Colonel Chapman, whose intimate acquaintance with the neighbourhood of Kandahar, gained while serving on Sir Donald Stewart's staff, was now most valuable to me, I determined to take up a position to the west of the city, with my right on the cantonment and my left touching Old Kandahar. This enabled me to cover the city, gave me command of a good supply of water, and placed me within striking distance of Ayub Khan's camp.
At 10 a.m. the first and third brigades moved off and occupied Piquet Hill, Karez Hill, and the north-east spur of the hill above Old Kandahar. A few shots were fired at the advance guard from distant orchards, and the ground proved to be within range of some of the enemy's Field-pieces on the Baba Wali Kotal, but it was a case of Hobson's choice, as water was not to be found anywhere else at a come-at-able distance.
Large numbers of men were to be seen crowning the Baba Wali Kotal, and constructing shelter-trenches along the crest of the low black ridge, which jutted out in a south-easterly direction from the more lofty range on which the kotal is situated. Piquets were immediately sent to occupy the northern spur of the Kohkeran Hill commanding the road to Gundigan, the village of Abbasabad, the Karez Hill, the village of Chihal Dukhtaran, the greater and lesser Piquet Hills, and the village of Kalachi, all of which were found to be deserted.
From a cursory examination of the ground, I satisfied myself that any attempt to carry the Baba Wali Kotal by direct attack must result in very severe loss, and I determined to turn it. But before I could decide how this could best be done, it was necessary to ascertain the strength and precise extent of the Afghan position. I therefore detailed a small party, under the command of Brigadier-General Hugh Gough, to make as complete a reconnaissance as time would allow. In the meantime I despatched the following telegram to the authorities at Simla:
'KANDAHAR, 31st August, 1880.
'The force under my command arrived here this morning without opposition. Enemy are said to be in considerable strength at Mazra, but the ridge of hills which divides Kandahar from the Arghandab completely covers their position, and at present I have only been able to ascertain that the Baba Wali Kotal and one or two other points on this ridge are held in great strength, and that the enemy are busily engaged in defensive works. Reconnaissances are now being conducted, and I shall soon, I hope, be sufficiently acquainted with affairs generally to enable me to arrange for an attack. The Kandahar garrison are in good health; the horses and transport animals appear to be in good condition. Major Vandeleur, 7th Fusiliers, has died of his wounds; the remainder of the wounded, both officers and men, are generally doing well. The troops from Kabul are in famous health and spirits. The assurance of the safety of this garrison enabled comparatively short marches to be made from Kelat-i-Ghilzai, which much benefited both men and animals. The Cavalry horses and Artillery mules are in excellent condition, and the transport animals are, as a rule, in very fair order. General Primrose has arranged for the sick of the force from Kabul being accommodated inside the city; many of the cases are sore feet; none are serious. To-morrow the telegraph line towards India will commence to be re-constructed, and as General Phayre is probably on this side of the Kohjak to-day, through communication should soon be restored.'
The reconnaissance, which started at 1 p.m., proceeded towards the high ground immediately above the villages of Gundigan and Murghan. Here the Infantry and guns were halted, while the Cavalry advanced between two or three miles, avoiding the numerous orchards and enclosures, and coming out in front of Pir Paimal, which was found to be strongly entrenched.
As soon as the enemy's fire along this line had been drawn, the 3rd Bengal Cavalry fell back, admirably handled by their Commandant, Lieutenant-Colonel A. Mackenzie. In the meantime, two guns of No. 11 Battery 9th Brigade were brought into action, partly to test the range, and partly to check the enemy, who were passing rapidly into the gardens near Gundigan. The Infantry and Artillery then retired within the line of piquets, and the moment they began to fall back the Afghans came after them in great strength; they were so persistent that I ordered the whole of the 3rd Brigade and part of the 1st Brigade under arms. The enemy, however, were unable to come to close quarters owing to the bold front shown by the 15th Sikhs, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Hennessy, and before dark the troops were all back in camp, with a loss of five men killed and fifteen wounded.
From the information obtained by this reconnaissance, I found that it was quite practicable to turn the Afghan right, and thus place myself in rear of the Baba Wali range; I decided, therefore, to attack the position the following morning. It was too close to our camp to risk delay. Moreover, I knew that the retrograde movement of Gough's small body would be construed into a defeat by the enemy, who, if we did not move at once, would assuredly think that we were afraid to take the initiative, and would become correspondingly bold.
I accordingly issued orders for the troops to breakfast at 7 a.m., and for one day's cooked rations to be carried by the Infantry and two days by the Cavalry and Horse Artillery. Brigades were to be in position by eight o'clock, tents being previously struck and the baggage stored in a walled enclosure.
The night passed quietly except for occasional bursts of musketry along the line of piquets to the west, showing that the Afghans were holding the villages they had occupied the previous evening.
[Footnote 1: The garrison consisted of 2 guns of C/2, Royal Artillery, 145 rifles of the 66th Foot, 100 of the 3nd Sind Horse, and the 2nd Baluch Regiment, 639 strong.]
[Footnote 2: Now Lieutenant-General Sir Oriel Tanner, K.C.B.]
[Footnote 3: Estimate of daily requirements for the Kabul-Kandahar Field Force and the Kelat-i-Ghilzai garrison:
Transport—yabus 1,592, mules and ponies 5,926, camels 400, donkeys 400.
|Rum, 25 per cent.||80 gallons.|
A. R. BADCOCK, Major, Deputy Commissary-General.
KELAT-I-GHILZAI, 24th August, 1880.
[Note *: A maund is equivalent to 80 lbs.] ]
[Footnote 4: The effective garrison consisted of 1,000 British soldiers, 3,000 Native soldiers, and fifteen Field guns.]
[Footnote 5: One and all bore testimony to the unfailing good behaviour and creditable bearing of the Royal Artillery and the Bombay Sappers and Miners, not only during the investment, but in the very trying time of the retreat from Maiwand.]
[Footnote 6: The walls had an average height of 30 feet, and breadth of 15 feet on the north and east fronts.]
[Footnote 7: Two Royal Artillery guns, 3rd Bengal Cavalry, and 15th Sikhs. Lieutenant-Colonel Chapman accompanied the party, and was of great assistance to Brigadier-General Gough.]