The circumstance of an English army penetrating into Central Asia, through countries which had not been traversed by European troops since Alexander the Great led his victorious army from the Hellespont to the Jaxartes and Indus, is so strong a feature in our military history, that I have determined, at the suggestion of my friends, to print those letters received from my son which detail any of the events of the campaign. As he was actively engaged with the Bombay division, his narrative may be relied upon so far as he had an opportunity of witnessing its operations; and it being my intention to have only a few copies printed, to give to those friends who may take an interest in his letters, I need not apologize for the familiar manner in which they are written, as they were intended by him only for his own family, without an idea of their being printed. A history, however, may be collected from them most honourable to the British soldiers, both Europeans and natives of India. They shew the patience with which, for more than twelve months, the soldiers bore all their deprivations and fatiguing marches through countries until then unknown to them, whether moving through arid sands or rocky passes, under a burning sun; or over desolate mountains, amidst the most severe frosts, with scarcely an interval of repose. Neither was their gallantry less conspicuous than their patience, when they had the good fortune to find an enemy who ventured to face them. Although the circumstances which his letters detail might well deserve a better historian than my son, yet are they of that high and honourable character, that they cannot lose any part of their value by his familiar manner of narrating them.
When I decided upon printing these letters, it became a matter of interest to place before the reader a short account of the countries in which the operations of the army were conducted, as well as of the native rulers who took part in, or were the cause of them; in order that the letters might be more clearly understood by those friends who have not felt sufficiently interested in the history of those countries to make any inquiries about them. But, before I do so, I shall draw the attention of the reader to the army of Alexander, to which I have before alluded.
Without entering into the causes which led to his extraordinary conquests, predicted by Daniel as the means ordained of God to overthrow the Persian empire, then under the government of Darius, certain it is that he conquered the whole of those countries which extend from the Hellespont to the Indus, when his career was arrested by his own soldiers. Having overrun Syria, Egypt, Media, and Parthia, keeping his course to the north-east, he not only passed the Oxus, and forced his way to the Jaxartes, but, pressed by the Scythians from its opposite shore, he crossed that river, and beat them in a decisive battle. From the Jaxartes he returned in a southern direction towards the Indus, and having suffered the greatest privations, and struggled with the most alarming difficulties during the time that he was engaged in the conquest of those mountainous districts, he at length reached Cabool, making himself master of Afghanistan. Here he appears to have halted for a considerable time, to refresh and re-equip his army, which, with the addition of 30,000 recruits, amounted to 120,000 men.
At this place, Alexander first came upon the scene of the campaign referred to in the following letters. Here he meditated the invasion of India, intending to march to the mouth of the Ganges; but the conquest of that country was destined for a nation almost unknown in the days of Alexander, and lying far more remote from it than Greece; and, until the campaign of 1839 drew our armies to the western side of the Indus, the Sutlej was alike the boundary of Alexander's conquests to the east, as of those of England towards the west.
Alexander having prepared his army for this expedition, moved towards the Indus, taking many strong places on his march. Having crossed that river, the king of the country offered no resistance, but became the ally of Alexander, who expected to have found Porus, whose kingdom was on the other side of the Hydaspes, equally ready to submit. But it required the utmost skill of Alexander to cross the river, which he effected, and conquered Porus, after a most severe struggle, with the loss of his renowned charger, Bucephalus, and he was so pleased at the magnanimity of Porus that he not only gave him back his kingdom, but added several small states to it, making him a sincere ally. Alexander then continued his march towards the east, conquering all who opposed him, until he reached the banks of the Hyphasis (Sutlej), which he was about to cross, when his progress was arrested by murmurs and tumults in his camp. His soldiers declared their determination not to extend his conquests, and entreated him to return. He then marched back to the Acesines, gave the whole country as far as the Hyphasis to Porus, and thus made him ruler of the Punjab. Alexander encamped near the Acesines until the month of October, when the fleet which he built, consisting of 800 galleys and boats, being ready, he embarked his army and proceeded towards the Indus; but before he reached that river he came to two countries possessed by warriors who united their armies to oppose his progress. After beating them in many engagements, Alexander attacked the city of the Oxydracæ, into which the greater part of those armies had retired. Here his rash valour had nearly terminated his career: he was severely wounded in the side by an arrow, from the effects of which he was with difficulty restored to health. He then descended the river, a portion of his army marching on its banks, conquering every nation that opposed him. About the month of July he reached Patala (Tatta), where he built a citadel and formed a port for his shipping. He then proceeded, with part of his fleet, by the western branch of the river, to discover the ocean. This he accomplished at great hazard, when he sacrificed to the gods (particularly to Neptune), and besought them not to suffer any mortal after him to exceed the bounds of his expedition. He then returned to join the rest of his fleet and army at Patala, and to make arrangements for his march to Babylon. He appointed Nearchus admiral of his fleet, and having given him orders to ascend the Persian Gulf to the Euphrates, he commenced his march through Beloochistan, leaving Nearchus to follow him as soon as the season would permit. Alexander was more than sixty days in reaching the frontiers of Persia, during which time his army sufficed such dreadful privations from want of food, that the soldiers were obliged to eat their own war-horses, and from the sickness consequent upon such a state of distress, his army was reduced to less than one-half of the number which left Patala. It is not necessary to follow him to Babylon, or to describe the voyage of Nearchus, who, having sailed up the Persian Gulf, united his forces to those of his royal master in the river Pasi-Tigris, near Susa. Enough, however, may be learned from this history to convince us that if such an army could be conducted 2000 years ago from the Hellespont to the Jaxartes and Indus, the march from the southern shores of the Caspian Sea to Cabool would require comparatively but very slight exertion, if those who have the means should have the desire also to accomplish it.
I can say little of my own knowledge of the political causes which gave rise to the war, as I am unacquainted with the affairs of India and the motives which actuated its governors; but a brief outline may be collected from a book lately published by the Hon. Capt. Osborne, military secretary to the Governor-General, to which I shall refer, after making some observations upon the countries through which the operations of the army were conducted, and particularly on the situation of Afghanistan, in reference to those persons who had before been, is well as those who were, its rulers, when Shah Shooja was restored by the British Government to its throne. These observations I have chiefly collected from the valuable work of that enterprising officer Lieut. Burnes, which he published after visiting those countries in 1831, 1832, and 1833.
The chief portion of the Bombay division of the army engaged in the operations to which these letters refer, landed at the Hujamree mouth of the Indus, and marching through Lower Sinde, by Tatta, ascended the Indus by its western bank. On arriving in Upper Sinde, it was found that Shah Shooja with his contingent, as well as the Bengal division of the army, had crossed the Indus en route from that Presidency, and had advanced towards Afghanistan, and that the Bombay division was to follow them. To effect this, the division marched through Cutch Gundava, and the Bolan Pass, which is situated in the mountains which divide the province of Sarawar, in Beloochistan, as well as Cutch Gundava, from Afghanistan. Having made their way through the Bolan Pass, the army entered the Shawl district of Afghanistan, and thence proceeded through the Ghwozhe Pass to Candahar, Ghuzni, and Cabool; at which last-mentioned place Shah Shooja's eldest son joined his father with some troops of Runjet Sing's, which had crossed the Indus from the Punjab, marching by Peshawur and the Kyber Pass. The division of the Bombay troops under General Willshire having remained at Cabool about a month, returned to Ghuzni, and thence in a straight direction to Quettah, leaving Candahar some distance on the right; Capt. Outram, who commanded a body of native horse, preceding the main body of the division for the purpose of capturing the forts, or castles, belonging to those chiefs who had not submitted to Shah Shooja. From Quettah, General Willshire moved with a part of his division upon Kelat, and thence through the Gundava Pass and Cutch Gundava to the Indus, where these troops were met by the rest of the division, which came from Quettah by the Bolan Pass. Hence they descended to Curachee to embark for their respective quarters in India. The fate of one of the regiments of the division, the 17th, as it is recorded in a Bombay paper, is most distressing. They embarked at Curachee for Bombay, and sailed in the morning with a fair wind and a fine breeze, but before the night closed in upon them the ship was fast aground upon a sandbank, off the Hujamree branch of the Indus, scarcely within sight of land. Everything was thrown overboard to lighten the ship, but in vain; she became a total wreck, and settled down to her main deck in the water. She fortunately, however, held together long enough to allow all the men to be taken on shore, which occupied three days, but with the loss of everything they had taken on board with them. The other regiments, we may hope, have been more fortunate, as they were not mentioned in the paper which gave this melancholy account of the 17th regiment.
Sinde, the country through which the army first passed, is divided into three districts, each governed by an Ameer, the chief of whom resides at Hydrabad, the second at Khyrpoor, and the other at Meerpoor; and when Lieut. Burnes ascended the Indus, in 1831, the reigning Ameers were branches of the Beloochistan tribe of Talpoor. With these the chief of Kelat and Gundava, Mehrab Khan (who was related by marriage to the Ameer of Hydrabad), was more closely allied than any other prince. Like them, he had been formerly tributary to Cabool, and had shaken off the yoke, and, possessing a very strong country between Afghanistan and Sinde, he became as useful as he had at all times proved himself a faithful ally to the Sindeans. Shikarpoor, with the fertile country around it, as well as Bukker, had formerly belonged to the Barukzye family of Afghanistan, and, although they still possessed Candahar, Cabool, and Peshawar, they had in vain endeavoured to withdraw Mehrab Khan from his alliance with the Sindeans, or to recover those lost possessions.
To understand the political state of Afghanistan, into which the army marched for the purpose of restoring Shah Shooja to its throne, it will be necessary to go back to the early part of the last century, when Nadir Shah had raised himself to the throne of Persia. His name having become formidable as a conqueror, he turned his thoughts to the conquest of India, and, assuming sufficient pretexts for breaking the relations of amity which he professed for the monarch of that country, he determined to invade it, and for that purpose began his march in 1738. Taking with him some of the chiefs of Afghanistan, he crossed the Punjab and entered Delhi. He there raised enormous contributions, and seized upon everything worth taking away; amongst other things the far-famed Peacock throne, in which was the renowned diamond called "The Mountain of Light." The spoils with which he returned to Persia were valued at nearly seventy millions of pounds sterling. It is not necessary to follow the history of Nadir; it will be enough to say that, amidst the confusion which followed his death, Ahmed Khan obtained possession of part of his treasure, amongst which was the great diamond. He escaped with it into Khorassan, where he made himself master also of a large sum of money which was coming to Nadir from India. Ahmed was a brave and intelligent man, had been an officer of rank under the Shah, and, being in possession of the treasure necessary for his purpose, he proclaimed himself king, and was crowned at Candahar "King of the Afghans." Ahmed was of the Suddoozye family, which were but a small tribe; but he was greatly assisted by the powerful Barukzye family, whose friendship he justly valued and made use of to his advantage: of this latter family Hajee Jamel was then the chief. Ahmed knew how to conciliate the independent spirit of his Afghan subjects, and by making frequent incursions on his neighbours, kept alive that spirit of enterprise which was congenial to their feelings; but from the time of his death the royal authority began to decline, as Timour, his son and successor, had neither the sense nor enterprise necessary to uphold it. Affairs became still worse under the sons of Timour. Shah Zumaun was of a cruel disposition, and wanted the education necessary to the situation he was called upon to fill; his brothers, Mahmood and Shah Shooja, were not better disposed; and towards the Barukzye family, who had been so instrumental in placing their grandfather, Ahmed, on the throne, they conducted themselves not only most imprudently, but with dreadful cruelty.
Shah Zumaun was succeeded by Shah Shooja, of whom, although the chief person in the present drama, little more need be said of this part of his history than that, ignorant of the mode of governing such independent tribes as the Afghans, his power was never great, and, after the fall of his vizier, and the murder of his comrade, Meer Waeez, it gradually declined, until he lost his throne at Neemla, in 1809. He had taken the field with a well-appointed army of 15,000 men; but was attacked by Futteh Khan, an experienced general, at the head of 2000 men, before the royal army was formed for battle; Akram Khan, his vizier, was slain, and he fled to the Kyber country, leaving the greater part of his treasure in the hands of his conquerors. Shah Shooja had failed to conciliate the Barukzye family; Futteh Khan, their chief, had therefore espoused the cause of the king's brother, Mahmood, and having driven Shah Shooja from his throne, he placed Mahmood upon it, and accepted for himself the situation of vizier. Under his vigorous administration, the whole of the Afghan country, with the exception of Cashmere, submitted to the dominion of the new sovereign. The Shah of Persia, anxious to possess himself of Herat, sent an army against it, but was defeated in his object, and Herat was preserved to Mahmood by the successful exertions of Futteh Khan. No sooner, however, was Mahmood thus firmly established in his dominions, than his son Kamran became jealous of the man who had raised him to the situation, and had secured to him the kingdom; he therefore determined to effect the ruin of the vizier. The prince was not long in gaining over his father to his views; and Futteh Khan being at Herat, Kamran seized on his person and put out his eyes. In this state he kept him prisoner for about six months, during which time the brothers of the vizier, irritated at the conduct of Kamran, began to show signs of disaffection. Mahmood ordered Futteh Khan to be brought before him in the court of his palace, and accusing the brothers of the vizier of rebellion, directed him to bring them back to a state of allegiance. The vizier, in the dreadful condition in which he had been reduced, replied to the demand of Mahmood, "What can an old and blind man do?" when, by the order of the king, the courtiers cut the vizier to pieces, limb after limb: his nose and ears were hacked off; neither did he receive his death blow until not a member of his person was left upon which they could inflict torture. With the fall of his vizier the king's power rapidly declined, and he fled to Herat, virtually yielding up the rest of his kingdom. He died in 1829, his son, Kamran, succeeding to the limited government of that portion only of his former dominions. Upon the flight of Mahmood to Herat, the horrid murder of their brother threw the whole of the Barukzye family into open revolt, the eldest of whom, Azeem Khan, recalled Shah Shooja from his exile. From the time Shah Shooja lost his throne, he had been first a captive in the hands of the son of his former vizier, and then a pensioner on the bounty of the Maharajah, at Lahore, who in return extorted from him the famous diamond, "The Mountain of Light," and other jewels, which he had brought away with him when he fled at Neemla. He then made his escape from the Maharajah, and found protection and support from the British government of India. Upon the summons from Azeem Khan, Shah Shooja immediately hastened to Peshawur; where, before his benefactor had time to meet him, he practically displayed his ideas of royalty so unwisely, and so insulted some of the friends of the Barukzye family, that the whole party took offence, and they at once rejected him, and placed his brother Eyoob on the throne.
Eyoob was but a puppet king, the tool of the family who raised him to the government; Azeem Khan, who was appointed his vizier, being in truth the ruler. Several of the young princes who aspired to the throne were delivered over to Eyoob, who put them to death.
Shooja, driven from Peshawur, retired to Shikarpoor, which the Ameers of Sinde ceded to him; where, in place of conducting himself with prudence, he was so addicted to low intrigue with those about him, that his enemies availed themselves of this propensity to effect his ruin, and drove him from Shikarpoor, when, crossing the Indus, he fled through the desert by Juydalmeer, and returned to Loodiana. "The fitness," says Lieut. Burnes, "of Shah Shooja-ool-Moolk for the station of a sovereign seems ever to have been doubtful. His manners and address are highly polished, but his judgment does not rise above mediocrity; had the case been otherwise, we should not now see him an exile from his country and his throne, without a hope of regaining them, after an absence of twenty years, and before he has attained the fiftieth year of his age."
The civil wars which had thus so frequently occurred in Afghanistan weakened the resources of the country and its means of defence. Runjet Sing availed himself of the advantage which this state of affairs presented to him, and obtained possession of Cashmere; when, continuing his conquests, he crossed the Indus, and made himself master of Peshawur, burning its palace, and laying the country under tribute. Azeem Khan made a precipitate retreat before the army of the Sikhs towards Cabool, without attempting to arrest their progress, and was so stung with remorse at the weakness of his conduct that he died on reaching that city. With the death of Azeem the royal authority was extinguished. The king fled to Lahore, and lived under the protection of his conqueror. Herat alone remained in the possession of one of the Suddoozye family. The brothers of the late vizier seized his son, and deprived him of his treasure and his power. The kingdom was then divided between them. Cabool fell into the hands of Dost Mahomed; Peshawur and Candahar were held by two of his brothers; the Sindeans threw off their yoke, and refused to pay tribute; Balk was annexed to the dominions of the King of Bokhara; the richest portion of the provinces having fallen into the possession of the Sikhs. In seventy-six years from the time that Ahmed Shah was crowned at Candahar, the Dooranee monarchy again ceased to exist.
As I have given the character of Shah Shooja, it will be interesting to quote that of Dost Mahomed, from the same author. "He is unremitting in his attention to business, and attends daily at the courthouse, with the Cazee and Moollahs, to decide every cause according to law. Trade has received the greatest encouragement from him, and he has derived his own reward, since the receipts of the customhouse of the city have increased fifty thousand rupees, and furnished him with a net revenue of two lacs of rupees per annum. The merchant may travel without a guard or protection from one frontier to another, an unheard-of circumstance in the time of the kings. The justice of this chief affords a constant theme of praise to all classes. The peasant rejoices at the absence of tyranny, the citizen at the safety of his home, the merchant at the equity of his decisions and the protection of his property, and the soldier at the regular manner in which his arrears are discharged." "One is struck with the intelligence, knowledge, and curiosity which he displays, as well as at his accomplished manners and address."
To this short sketch of Afghanistan, and of the persons connected with its political history, I will add some extracts from the work of the Hon. Capt. Osborne, because they explain the circumstances which led to the campaign of the Indus, and to the restoration of Shah Shooja to the throne of Cabool. He says, "In May, 1838, a complimentary deputation was sent by Runjet Sing to the Governor-General at Simla, consisting of some of the most distinguished Sikh chiefs, who were received with all the honours prescribed by oriental etiquette. Shortly afterwards, Lord Auckland resolved to send a mission to the court of Lahore, not merely to reciprocate the compliments of the Maharajah, but to treat upon all the important interests which were involved in the existing state of political affairs in that quarter of the world. The recent attempts of the Persians on Herat, the ambiguous conduct of Dost Mahomed, and the suspicions which had been excited with respect to the proceedings and ulterior designs of Russia, rendered it of the greatest importance to cement the alliance with Runjet Sing, and engage him to a firm and effective co-operation with us in the establishment of general tranquillity, the resistance of foreign encroachment, and the extension of the benefits of commerce and the blessings of civilization. Accordingly, W.H. Macnaghten, Esq., was deputed on the mission to the Maharajah, accompanied by Dr. Drummond, Capt. Macgregor, and the Hon. W. Osborne, military secretary to the Governor-General.
"The object of the Governor-General's mission to Lahore having been accomplished, and the concurrence, and, if necessary, the co-operation of Runjet Sing, in the restoration of Shah Shooja, secured, Mr. Macnaghten repaired to Loodiana, for the purpose of submitting to the Shah the treaties that had been concluded, and announcing to him the approaching change in his fortunes. The envoys seem to have been much struck with the majestic appearance of the old pretender, especially with the flowing honours of a black beard descending to his waist, always the most cherished appendage of oriental dignity. He had lived for twenty years in undisturbed seclusion, if not 'the world forgetting,' certainly 'by the world forgot,' consoling himself for the loss of his kingdom in a domestic circle of six hundred wives, but always 'sighing his soul' towards the mountains and valleys of Afghanistan, and patiently awaiting the kismet, or fate, which was to restore him to his throne. The preparations thenceforward went rapidly on. The contingent raised by the Shah was united (more for form than use) to the British force, and in three months the expedition began its operations."
But before I conclude this introduction to the letters, which detail the results of these treaties with the Maharajah, and the march of Shah Shooja to Cabool, as I have spoken of the leading characters of Afghanistan, I may be permitted to say a few words about the persons through whose exertions the Shah has been restored to the throne of that country--the officers of the British army; and I do so the more anxiously, because the naval and military glory of our country, which in my early days was the theme of every song, is now seldom heard of in society, and those gallant services appear to be nearly forgotten, which during a long protracted state of warfare, within our own recollection, placed England in a position to dictate her own terms of peace to the world:--a state of society which encourages a certain class of persons the more effectually to abuse the military profession, and to mislead their deluded followers, by clamouring about the expense of the army, and the aristocratic bearing of its members, that they may the more readily carry out their own schemes of personal vanity and demoralizing political economy.
It is the peculiar feature of the British army, to which we are indebted for its high and honourable bearing, that the sons of the first families in the land are ever anxious to bear arms under its standards, looking not to pecuniary emolument, but to those honours which military rank and professional attainments can procure for them; whilst the first commands and the highest stations in the service are filled without distinction from every grade in society. It is this happy mixture which induces that high sense of honour, so peculiarly characteristic of our service; that acknowledged distinction between the officers and the privates; that true discipline which, tempered with justice and kindly feeling, wins the respect of the soldier, and induces him to place that reliance upon his commander everywhere so conspicuous, whether in the camp or field of battle. But this high feeling in the army causes no additional expense to the country; the charge is altogether a deception. Let the following sketch of a young soldier's life of the present day, as applicable to others as to himself, answer the charge of these politicians.
He was educated for the highest walk of the legal profession, and had nearly prepared himself for the university, when he decided to change his course and go into the army. The Commander-in-chief placed his name amongst the candidates for commissions, and he went to Hanover, where, after he had made himself master of the German language, his Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge kindly gave him a commission in the Yagers of the Guard, better known in England, in the Peninsula, and at Waterloo, as the Rifles of the German Legion. Being only a volunteer in the regiment, he could not receive pay from the government; he was, therefore, at very considerable personal expense to keep his proper standing with his brother officers; and as soon as he had acquired all the military knowledge that he was likely to get in the regiment in time of peace, he obtained leave to return to England; and, as he had not any immediate expectation of a commission, he visited France, to make himself more perfect in the French language. After this, he was allowed to purchase a commission in the 2nd regiment, or Queen's Royals; and he embarked to join that corps in India. His letters will shew what that regiment, in common with others, have endured during a campaign of fifteen months in Central Asia, their privations and expenses; and when his second commission was paid for, during that campaign, he found himself at its close, at the age of twenty-five, a lieutenant on full pay, the amount of which, if he was in England, would be far short of the interest of the money which has been expended in his commissions and education, and with fifteen lieutenants still above him on the roll of his regiment.
It will be seen by his letters, and it is confirmed by the official despatches of the Commander-in-chief, that the company to which he was attached (the light company of the Queen's) led the storming party at Ghuzni. He was shot through the arm and through the body, and left for dead at the foot of the citadel at Kelat, whilst endeavouring to save the lives of some Beloochees who were crying for mercy. And for these services he is to be rewarded with a medal, by Shah Shooja; for Ghuzni, and for the capture of both places he has the full enjoyment of the highest gratification that a soldier can feel--the consciousness that he has done his duty to his country, and, let me hope, in the act of mercy in which he suffered, his duty to his God as a Christian. But he is not a solitary example of such good fortune. No one who was wounded and survived may have been nearer death than himself, yet are there others who have done more, and suffered more, as the history of the army of the Indus would bear ample testimony.
Let me then ask, in behalf of the British officer, when he is lightly spoken of as a man, or when the expenses of the army are cavilled at, on which side is the debt--on his, or on that of his country?
[Illustration] It may be right to draw the attention of the reader to a circumstance which, at first sight, may appear singular--that the same letters frequently contain reports quite contradictory to each other. It should therefore be borne in mind that such letters were probably written at different times, as the writer found opportunity; who, being anxious that his family should know all that passed as well in the camp as in the field, preferred leaving each report in the way in which it was circulated at the time of his writing it, rather than correct it afterwards, as the truth, might turn out. Such letters shew the situation in which an army is placed on its landing in a new country, where no account of the movements of the inhabitants can be relied upon, and the heavy responsibility which attaches to the officers who are entrusted with its command.