The Retreat From Cabul
Thursday, 6th January, 1842.--We marched from Cabul. The advanced guard consisted of the 44th Queen's, 4th Irregular Horse, and Skinner's Horse, two H. A. six-pounder guns, Sappers and Miners, Mountain Train, and the late Envoy's escort. The main body included the 5th and 37th N. I.; the latter in charge of treasure; Anderson's Horse, the Shah's 6th Regiment, two II. A. six-pounder guns. The rear guard was composed of the 54th N. I., 5th Cavalry, and two six-pounder II. A. guns. The force consisted of about 4500 fighting men, and 12,000 followers.
The troops left cantonments both by the rear gate and the breach to the right of it, which had been made yesterday by throwing down part of the rampart to form a bridge over the ditch. All was confusion from before daylight. The day was clear and frosty; the snow nearly a foot deep on the ground; the thermometer considerably below freezing point.
By eight o'clock a great part of the baggage was outside the cantonments. It was fully
expected that we would have to fight our way out of them, although terms had been entered into with the Sirdar for our safe escort. Bills were granted on India for fourteen and a half lakhs of rupees, by the political authority (Major Pottinger) to the Cabul Shroffs, to be paid to the following Sirdars, who were, on their part, to protect the force as far as Peshawer:--
Mahommed Zeman Shah Khan, three lakhs:
Amen Oollah Khan, six lakhs:
Khan Shireen Khan, head of the Kuzzilbashes, two lakhs:
Mahommed Akbar Khan, one lakh:
Osman Khan, two lakhs:
The Ghilzye chiefs, half a lakh.
We started at about half-past nine A. M. The advance party were not molested; there might have been 50 or 100 Affghans collected about the gateway to witness our departure. The ladies, collectively speaking, were placed with the advance, under the charge of the escort; but Mrs. Sturt and I rode up to Capt. Hay, and mixed ourselves with his troopers.
The progress was very slow; for the first mile was not accomplished under two and a half hours. There was only one small bridge over the Nullah, which is eight feet broad, but deep, situated about fifty yards from cantonments.
Great stress had been laid on the necessity of a bridge over the Cabul river, about half a mile from cantonments. In vain had Sturt represented over and over again, that as the river was perfectly fordable, it was a labour of time and inutility: with snow a foot deep, the men must get their feet wet. However, as usual, every sensible proposition was overruled; and Sturt was sent long before daylight to make the bridge with gun carriages. They could not be placed over-night, as the Affghans would have carried them off: he had therefore to work for hours up to his hips in water, with the comfortable assurance that, when his unprofitable task was finished, he could not hope for dry clothes until the end of the march; and immediately on quitting the water they were all frozen stiff. I do not mention this as an individual grievance, but to show the inclemency of the weather, and the general misery sustained.
The bullocks had great difficulty in dragging these gun carriages through the snow, and when the bridge was made it was proved to be an unnecessary expense of time and labour. The baggage might have forded the river with great ease, a little above the bridge, where it was not deep. Mrs. Sturt and I rode with the horsemen through the river, in preference to attempting the rattling bridge of planks laid across the gun
carriages: but the camp followers determined not to go through the water, and jostled for their turns to go over the bridge. This delay was the origin of the day's misfortune, which involved the loss of nearly all the baggage, and the greater part of the commissariat stores.
The troops had been on half rations during the whole of the siege: they consisted of half a seer of wheat per diem, with melted ghee or dhal, for fighting men; and for camp followers, for some time, of a quarter of a seer of wheat or barley. Our cattle, public and private, had long subsisted on the twigs and bark of the trees. From the commencement of negotiations with the chiefs, otta, barley, and bhoosa were brought in in considerable quantities; the former selling at from two to four seers per rupee, and the latter from seven to ten; but neither ourselves nor our servants benefited by this arrangement: it came to the commissariat for the troops. The poorer camp followers had latterly subsisted on such animals (camels, ponies, &c.) as had died from starvation. The men had suffered much from over work and bad feeding, also from want of firing; for when all the wood in store was expended, the chiefs objected to our cutting down any more of the fruit trees; and their wishes were complied with. Wood, both public and
private, was stolen: when ours was gone, we broke up boxes, chests of drawers, &c.; and our last dinner and breakfast at Cabul were cooked with the wood of a mahogany dining table.
When the advance had proceeded about a mile, an order was brought for a return to cantonments, as Mahommed Zeman Shah Khan had written to say the chiefs were not ready; but shortly afterwards a counter order arrived to proceed without loss of time.
When the rear guard left cantonments, they were fired upon from the cantonment then filled with Affghans. The servants, who were not concerned in the plunder, all threw away their loads, and ran off. Private baggage, commissariat, and ammunition were nearly annihilated at one fell swoop. The whole road was covered with men, women, and children, lying down in the snow to die.
The only baggage we saved was Mrs. Sturt's bedding, on which the ayah rode; and keeping her close to us, it was saved.
The Mission Compound was first vacated: and when the force from thence came into cantonments in order to pass through them, it was immediately filled with Affghans; who, in like manner, occupied the cantonments as our troops went out.
It was the General's original intention to halt at Begramee, close to the Loghur river, and about five miles from Cabul (reiterated was the advice of our Affghan friends--alas, how little heeded!--to push on at all risks through the Khoord Cabul the first day): but the whole country being a swamp encrusted with ice, we went on about a mile further, and halted at about 4 p. m. There were no tents, save two or three small palls that arrived. All scraped away the snow as best they might, to make a place to lie down on. The evening and night were intensely cold: no food for man or beast procurable, except a few handfuls of bhoosa, for which we paid from five to ten rupees. Captain Johnson, in our great distress, kindly pitched a small pall over us: but it was dark, and we had few pegs; the wind blew in under the sides, and I felt myself gradually stiffening. I left the bedding, which was occupied by Mrs. Sturt and her husband, and doubled up my legs in a straw chair of Johnson's, covering myself with my poshteen. Mr. Mein and the ayah fully occupied the remainder of the space. We only went in all six miles, and had to abandon two H. A. guns on the road: we were also much delayed by the bullocks that dragged the planks, in case the Loghur bridge should have been
destroyed. We had, however, positive information that it was all right; and so it proved.
Previous to leaving cantonments, as we must abandon most of our property, Sturt was anxious to save a few of his most valuable books, and to try the experiment of sending them to a friend in the city. Whilst he selected these, I found, amongst the ones thrown aside, Campbell's Poems, which opened at Hohenlinden; and, strange to say, one verse actually haunted me day and night:--
"Few, few shall part where many meet,
The snow shall be their winding sheet;
And every turf beneath their feet
Shall be a soldier's sepulchre."
I am far from being a believer in presentiments; but this verse is never absent from my thoughts. Heaven forbid that our fears should be realized! but we have commenced our retreat so badly, that we may reasonably have our doubts regarding the finale. Nearly all Hopkins's corps, the Shah's 6th, deserted from this place; as also the Shah's sappers and miners, 250 in number.
We afterwards heard that 400 of Hopkins's men went back to Cabul the next day.
7th..--Yesterday's rear-guard did not get up to our bivouac till two this morning, as there was no attempt to form any lines. As stragglers came up we heard them shouting out, to know where
their corps were; and the general reply,--that no one knew any thing about it.
During last night, or rather towards the morning, there was an alarm. Had it proved the enemy, we were perfectly defenceless; fortunately it was only camp followers, &c.
At daylight we found several men frozen to death, amongst whom was Mr. Conductor Macgregor.
The reason the rear-guard were so late was, that they did not leave cantonments till sunset. Previous to their quitting them the Affghans had entered; and set fire to all the public and private buildings, after plundering them of their contents. The whole of our valuable magazine was looted by the mob; and they burned the gun-carriages to procure the iron. Some fighting took place between the Affghans and our Sipahees. About fifty of the 54th were killed and wounded; and Cornet Hardyman, of the 5th Cavalry, killed. A great deal of baggage and public property was abandoned in cantonments, or lost on the road; amongst which were two Horse Artillery six-pounders, as before mentioned.
The officers of the rear-guard report that the road is strewn with baggage; and that numbers of men, women, and children, are left on the road-side to perish. Captain Boyd's office accounts, to the
amount of several lakhs of rupees, have been lost.
Two or three small tents came up to-day.
The men were half-frozen; having bivouacked all night in the snow, without a particle of food or bedding, or wood to light a fire.
At half-past seven the advance-guard moved off--no order was given--no bugle sounded. It had much difficulty in forcing its way ahead of the baggage and camp followers; all of whom had proceeded in advance as soon as it was light. Amongst them there were many Sipahees; and discipline was clearly at an end. If asked why they were not with their corps, one had a lame foot, another could not find his regiment, another had lost his musket: any excuse to run off.
The whole of what little baggage was left, was not off the ground ere the enemy appeared, and plundered all they could lay their hands on.
As the mountain train, consisting of three three-pounders dragged by yaboos and mules, was passing a small fort close to our back-ground, a party of Affghans sallied out, and captured the whole. Scarcely any resistance was offered on the part of our troops, and the saces immediately absconded. Brig. Anquetil and Lieut. Green rallied the men, and retook the guns; but were obliged to abandon them, as the 44th, whose duty
it was to guard them, very precipitately made themselves scarce: but this was not done until Anquetil and Green had spiked them with their own hands, amid the gleaming sabres of the enemy.
As the troops advanced on their road, the enemy increased considerably on both flanks; and greatly annoyed the centre and rear.
It was the General's intention to proceed through the Khoord Cabul pass to Khoord Cabul; and as it was not above one p. m. when the advance arrived at Bhoodkhak, having only come five miles, it was with dismay we heard the order to halt.
We left Cabul with five and a half days' rations to take us to Jellalabad, and no forage for cattle, nor hope of procuring any on the road. By these unnecessary halts we diminished our provisions; and having no cover for officers or men, they are perfectly paralysed with the cold. The snow was more than a foot deep. Here, again, did evil counsel beset the General: his principal officers and staff objecting to a further advance; and Capt. Grant, in whom he had much confidence, assured him that if he proceeded he risked the safety of the army!
On our arrival at Bhoodkhak, the enemy had very greatly increased around our position; and
we heard that Mahommed Akbar Khan was with them. Scarcely any baggage of either officers or men now remained. In a very small pall of Johnson's we slept nine, all touching each other.
We were also indebted to Johnson and Troup for food. They had a few Cabul cakes and some tea, which they kindly shared with us.
During this short march we were obliged to spike and abandon two other six-pounders, the horses not having strength sufficient to drag them on. We have only two horse artillery guns left, with scarcely any ammunition.
Again no ground was marked out for the troops. Three fourths of the Sipahees are mixed up with the camp followers, and know not where to find the head-quarters of their corps.
Snow still lies a foot deep on the ground. No food for man or beast; and even water from the river close at hand difficult to obtain, as our people were fired on in fetching it
Numbers of unfortunates have dropped, benumbed with cold, to be massacred by the enemy: yet, so bigoted are our rulers, that we are still told that the Sirdars are faithful, that Mahommed Akbar Khan is our friend!!! &c. &c. &c.; and the reason they wish us to delay is, that they may send their troops to clear the passes for us! That they will send them there can be no doubt; for
every thing is occurring just as was foretold to us before we set out.
Between Begramee and Bhoodkhak, a body of the enemy's horse charged down into the column (immediately after the 5th and 37th had passed); and succeeded in carrying off an immense quantity of baggage and a number of camels, without experiencing the least resistance.
8th..--At sunrise no order had been issued for the march, and the confusion was fearful. The force was perfectly disorganised, nearly every man paralysed with cold, so as to be scarcely able to hold his musket or move. Many frozen corpses lay on the ground. The Sipahees burnt their caps, accoutrements, and clothes to keep themselves warm. Some of the enemy appearing in rear of our position, the whole of the camp followers rushed to the front; every man, woman, and child, seizing all the cattle that fell in their way, whether public or private. The ground was strewn with boxes of ammunition, plate, and property of various kinds. A cask of spirits on the ground was broached by the artillerymen, and, no doubt, by other Europeans. Had the whole been distributed fairly to the men, it would have done them good: as it was, they became too much excited.
The enemy soon assembled in great numbers.
Had they made a dash at us, we could have offered no resistance, and all would have been massacred.
After very great exertions on the part of commanding officers, portions of their corps were got together. The 44th, headed by Major Thain, drove the enemy off to a short distance, and took up a position on a commanding height. The cavalry were also employed. Bullets kept whizzing by us, as we sat on our horses, for hours. The artillerymen were now fully primed, by having had some brandy given them from the 54th's mess stores, which were being distributed to any one who would take them. They mounted their horses; and, with the best feeling in the world, declared that they were ashamed at our inactivity, and vowed they would charge the enemy. Capt. Nicholl, their immediate commandant, came up; abused them as drunkards, and talked of punishment: not the way, under such circumstances, to quiet tipsy men. They turned to Sturt shortly after their own officer had left them, having showered curses and abuse on them, which had irritated them dreadfully. Sturt told them they were fine fellows, and had ever proved themselves such during the siege; but that their lives were too valuable to be risked at such a moment: but, if need were, and their services
were required, he would himself go with them. This, in a certain degree, restrained their ardour; yet still they kept on talking valiantly. These men listened the more readily to Sturt because they knew him well: he was daily and hourly in the batteries with them, encouraging them by being ever the foremost in the post of danger; and on those dreadfully cold nights during the siege, whilst there was a bottle of brandy to be had at any price, after his own small store was expended, he gave those men on duty each one glass to warm and cheer them--a comfort they fully appreciated, as they had long been without what was now become necessary, though it is in general the soldier's banc. For myself, whilst I sat for hours on my horse in the cold, I felt very grateful for a tumbler of sherry, which at any other time would have made me very unlady-like, but now merely warmed me, and appeared to have no more strength in it than water. Cups full of sherry were given to young children three and four years old without in the least affecting their heads.
When Major Thain took command of the 44th, he took part of the 37th N. I. with him. The 44th lines were nearest to the men who were firing into our camp; which was only saved by the promptness of Thain and Lawrence, who brought up the escort at a trot in the direction of the
firing. He had to pass to the right of the 44th, and there he found about 150 of that regiment falling into their ranks. Major Thain was about 200 yards in advance, apparently reconnoitring the enemy, who were creeping up under cover of the ravines and hillocks, and keeping up a desultory fire on our camp. About this time a company of the 37th N. I. formed on Lawrence's right, and on Thain making a signal all moved forward, and drove off the enemy in good style. Anderson's horse were formed on the opposite face of the camp, with orders to keep back the camp followers, who were rushing towards the entrance of the pass. Major Thain appears to have acted on the spur of the moment; which is the only reason I can assign for his commanding the 44th. Lawrence was not under any one's orders; as the General, before quitting cantonments, told him that his escort would be an independent body.
I am by no means certain that our chiefs pursued the wisest course. Had they, when the enemy first appeared, showed a good front, and dashed at them, they would probably all have scampered off as fast as they could. The Affghans never stand a charge.
The General and Major Pottinger soon discovered that Mahommed Akbar Khan was there, and entered into communication with him: he
agreed to protect the troops, on condition that he should receive hereafter 15,000 rupees; and that Pottinger, Lawrence, and Mackenzie should be given over to him as hostages for General Sale's evacuation of Jellalabad; but that the troops should not proceed further than Tézeen until information be received of the march of the troops from that place. These disgraceful propositions were readily assented to; and the three officers went off to the Sirdar.
Capt. Lawrence received a note from Conolly, telling him to be cautious, to put ourselves as little as possible in Akbar's power, and above all things to push on as fast as we could: but this note did not arrive until the conference was over, and all points adjusted.
We commenced our march at about mid-day, the 5th N. I. in front. The troops were in the greatest state of disorganisation: the baggage was mixed in with the advanced guard; and the camp followers all pushed ahead in their precipitate flight towards Hindostan.
Sturt, my daughter, Mr. Mein, and I, got up to the advance; and Mr. Mein was pointing out to us the spots where the 1st brigade was attacked, and where he, Sale, &c. were wounded. We had not proceeded half a mile when we were heavily fired upon. Chiefs rode with the advance, and
desired us to keep close to them. They certainly desired their followers to shout to the people on the height not to fire: they did so, but quite ineffectually. These chiefs certainly ran the same risk we did; but I verily believe many of these persons would individually sacrifice themselves to rid their country of us.
After passing through some very sharp firing, we came upon Major Thain's horse, which had been shot through the loins. When we were supposed to be in comparative safety, poor Sturt rode hack (to see after Thain I believe): his horse was shot under him, and before he could rise from the ground he received a severe wound in the abdomen. It was with great difficulty he was held upon a pony by two people, and brought into camp at Khoord Cabul
The pony Mrs. Sturt rode was wounded in the ear and neck. I had fortunately only one ball in my arm; three others passed through my poshteen near the shoulder without doing me any injury. The party that fired on us were not above fifty yards from us, and we owed our escape to urging our horses on as fast as they could go over a road where, at any other time, we should have walked our horses very carefully.
The main attack of the enemy was on the column, baggage, and rear guard; and fortunate
it was for Mrs. Sturt and myself that we kept with the chiefs. Would to God that Sturt had done so likewise, and not gone back.
The ladies were mostly travelling in kajavas, and were mixed up with the baggage and column in the pass: here they were heavily fired on. Many camels were killed. On one camel were, in one kajava, Mrs. Boyd and her youngest boy Hugh; and in the other Mrs. Mainwaring and her infant, scarcely three months old, and Mrs. Anderson's eldest child. This camel was shot. Mrs. Boyd got a horse to ride; and her child was put on another behind a man, who being shortly after unfortunately killed, the child was carried off by the Affghans. Mrs. Mainwaring, less fortunate, took her own baby in her arms. Mary Anderson was carried off in the confusion. Meeting with a pony laden with treasure, Mrs. M. endeavoured to mount and sit on the boxes, but they upset; and in the hurry pony and treasure were left behind; and the unfortunate lady pursued her way on foot, until after a time an Affghan asked her if she was wounded, and told her to mount behind him. This apparently kind offer she declined, being fearful of treachery; alleging as an excuse that she could not sit behind him on account of the difficulty of holding her child when so mounted. This man shortly after snatched her shawl off her shoulders,
and left her to her fate. Mrs. M.'s sufferings were very great; and she deserves much credit for having preserved her child through these dreadful scenes. She not only had to walk a considerable distance with her child in her arms through the deep snow, but had also to pick her way over the bodies of the dead, dying, and wounded, both men and cattle, and constantly to cross the streams of water, wet up to the knees, pushed and shoved about by men and animals, the enemy keeping up a sharp fire, and several persons being killed close to her. She, however, got safe to camp with her child, but had no opportunity to change her clothes; and I know from experience that it was many days ere my wet habit became thawed, and can fully appreciate her discomforts.
Mrs. Bourke, little Seymour Stoker, and his mother, and Mrs. Cunningham, all soldiers' wives, and the child of a man of the 13th, have been carried off. The rear was protected by the 44th and 37th; but as they neared the pass, the enemy, concealed behind rocks, &c. increased their fire considerably upon them. The companies that had been skirmishing on the flanks of the rear-guard closed in; and they slowly entered the pass, keeping up a heavy fire on the assailants, who had by this time got amongst the straggling camp followers and Sipahees. Owing to a halt having
taken place in front, the pass was completely choked up; and for a considerable time the 44th were stationary under a heavy fire, and were fast expending their ammunition. The 37th continued slowly moving on without firing a shot; being paralysed with cold to such a degree that no persuasion of their officers could induce them to make any effort to dislodge the enemy, who took from some of them not only their firelocks, but even the clothes from their persons; several men of the 44th supplied themselves with ammunition from the pouches of the Sipahees: and many proceeded to the front owing to their ammunition being expended. Major Scott and Capt. Swinton, of the 44th, had also gone to the front severely wounded; and the command of the regiment devolved on Capt. Souter. Lieut. Steer, of the 37th N. I., with great difficulty succeeded in bringing to the rear a yaboo loaded with ammunition: but scarcely were the boxes placed on the ground, opened, and a few rounds taken out, than they were obliged to be abandoned; as, owing to our fire having slackened, the enemy became bolder and pressed upon the rear in great numbers. They had the advantage of being covered by our stragglers, which compelled our men to retire, firing volleys indiscriminately amongst them and the Affghans. At this time our men were dropping fast from a
flanking fire from the heights; and, seeing it was useless to attempt to maintain a position in the rear, under such circumstances, with only about sixty men, they were withdrawn; and with difficulty forced their way through the crowd to a more commanding position, where the rear-guard of the 44th was joined by Gen. Elphinstone, Col. Chambers, of the 5th Lt. Cavalry, with some troopers, and Capt. Hay, with a few of the Irregular Horse, and the only remaining gun, one having been abandoned in the pass. The 37th and the camp followers gradually passed to the front; but the Affghans were checked from following them.
After halting full an hour to let the stragglers, &c, get well to the front, they resumed their march; but, owing to the depth of the snow, the troops were compelled to assist the gun by manual labour, the horses being unable to get it on. In this way they reached the encamping ground, without molestation from the enemy.
On leaving Cabul each Sipahee had forty rounds of musket ammunition in pouch, with 100 spare loads--we have now not three camel loads left; and many Sipahees have not a single cartridge in pouch.
500 of our regular troops, and about 2500 of the camp followers, are killed.
Poor Sturt was laid on the side of a bank, with his wife and myself beside him. It began snowing heavily: Johnson and Bygrave got some xummuls (coarse blankets) thrown over us. Dr. Bryce, H. A., came and examined Sturt's wound: he dressed it; but I saw by the expression of his countenance that there was no hope. He afterwards kindly cut the ball out of my wrist, and dressed both my wounds.
Half of a Sipahee's pall had been pitched, in which the ladies and their husbands took refuge. We had no one to scrape the snow off the ground in it. Capt. Johnson and Mr. Mein first assisted poor Sturt over to it, and then carried Mrs. Sturt and myself through the deep snow. Mrs. Sturt's bedding (saved by the ayah riding on it, whom we kept up close with ourselves) was now a comfort for my poor wounded son. He suffered dreadful agony all night, and intolerable thirst; and most grateful did we feel to Mr. Mein for going out constantly to the stream to procure water: we had only a small vessel to fetch it in, which contained but a few mouthfuls.
To sleep in such anxiety of mind and intense cold was impossible. There were nearly thirty of us packed together without room to turn.
The Sipahees and camp followers, half-frozen, tried to force their way, not only into the tent,
but actually into our beds, if such resting-places can be so called--a poshteen (or pelisse of sheep skin) half spread on the snow, and the other half wrapped over one.
Many poor wretches died round the tent in the night.
The light company of the 54th N. I., which left Cabul, thirty-six hours previously, eighty strong, was reduced to eighteen files. This is only one instance, which may fairly be taken as a general average of the destruction of our force.
9th..--Before sunrise the same confusion as yesterday. Without any order given, or bugle sounded, three fourths of our fighting men had pushed on in advance with the camp followers. As many as could, had appropriated to themselves all the public yaboos and camels, on which they mounted.
A portion of the troops had also regularly moved off, the only order appearing to be, "Come along; we are all going, and half the men are off, with the camp followers in advance!" We had gone perhaps a mile, when the whole were remanded back to their former ground; and a halt for the day was ordered, in accordance with the wishes of the Sirdar; who had represented to the General, through Capt. Skinner, that his arrangements were not made either as regarded our security or provisions. Skinner urged the General to show
some mark of confidence in the Sirdar's promises; which he instantly did by sending Capt. Anderson to order back the troops and baggage.
Mrs. Trevor kindly rode a pony, and gave up her place in the kajava to Sturt, who must otherwise have been left to die on the ground. The rough motion increased his suffering and accelerated his death: but he was still conscious that his wife and I were with him; and we had the sorrowful satisfaction of giving him Christian burial.
More than one half of the force is now frostbitten or wounded; and most of the men can scarcely put a foot to the ground.
This is the fourth day that our cattle have had no food; and the men are starved with cold and hunger.
Reports are prevalent in camp that the Irregular Cavalry, and the Envoy's escort, are about to desert to Mahommed Akbar Khan; and also that the Affghans are tampering with our Sipahees to leave us and return to Cabul. The Subadar Major of the 37th N. I. has deserted: he was a Subadar Bahakur of the order of British India.
Shortly after Pottinger, Mackenzie, and Lawrence arrived at the Khoord Cabul fort with the Sirdar, he turned to Lawrence and said that he had a proposal to make, but that he did not like to do so lest his motives might be misconstrued;
but that, as it concerned us more than himself, he would mention it; and that it was, that all the married men, with their families, should come over and put themselves under his protection, he guaranteeing them honourable treatment, and safe escort to Peshawer. He added, that Lawrence must have seen from the events of the day previous--the loss of Capt. Boyd's and Capt. Anderson's children, &c.--that our camp was no place of safety for the ladies and children. Lawrence replied, that he considered the proposition a most admirable one; and, Skinner coming in just then, he repeated what had passed to him, who replied, "This is just what I was thinking of suggesting." On which Lawrence begged he would go off and get the General's sanction, and bring them all without delay. Major Pottinger concurred entirely in the expediency of this measure.
Our present position is one of imminent peril. Immediately on Skinner's arrival about mid-day, we set off escorted by some chiefs to a fort about two miles distant, where Mahommed Akbar Khan had taken up his temporary residence. Capt. Troup, Brigade-major to the Shah's force, who was wounded, accompanied the party, as did also Mr. Mein of the 13th, who, having been sent back with a year's sick-leave to Cabul, after he was wounded in October, followed Mrs. Sturt's and
my fortunes, not being attached to any corps, nor having any duty to perform.
There can be little doubt but that the proposition was acceded to by the General in the twofold hope of placing the ladies and children beyond the dangers and dreadful privations of the camp, and also of showing the Sirdar that he was sincere in his wish to negotiate a truce, and thus win from him a similar feeling of confidence.
Overwhelmed with domestic affliction, neither Mrs. Sturt nor I were in a fit state to decide for ourselves whether we would accept the Sirdar's protection or not. There was but faint hope of our ever getting safe to Jellalabad; and we followed the stream. But although there was much talk regarding our going over, all I personally know of the affair is, that I was told we were all to go, and that our horses were ready, and we must mount immediately and be off.
We were taken by a very circuitous route to the Khoord Cabul forts, where we found Mahommed Akbar Khan, and the hostages. Mr. Boyd's little boy had been brought there, and was restored to his parents. Mrs. Burnes and young Stoker were also saved, and joined our party. Anderson's little girl is said to have been taken to Cabul, to the Nawaub Zeman Shah Khan.
Three rooms were cleared out for us, having no
outlets except a small door to each; and of course they were dark and dirty. The party to which I belonged consisted of Mrs. Trevor and seven children, Lieut. and Mrs. Waller and child, Mrs. Sturt, Mr. Mein, and myself, Mrs. Smith and Mrs. Burnes, two soldiers' wives, and young Stoker, child of a soldier of the 13th, who was saved from people who were carrying him off to the hills, and came in covered, we fear, with his mother's blood: of her we have no account, nor of Mrs. Cunningham, both of the 13th. The dimensions of our room are at the utmost fourteen feet by ten.
At midnight some mutton bones and greasy rice were brought to us.
All that Mrs. Sturt and I possess are the clothes on our backs in which we quitted Cabul.
Here I must divide the account I shall go on with my own personal adventures; and afterwards, from the same date, follow up the fortunes of our unhappy army, from the journals of friends who, thank God! have lived through all their sufferings.
10th..--Mahommed Akbar Khan left us, to escort our troops. 500 deserters are said to have come in to him. It is reported that the thieves have nearly exterminated our force; and that four of Mahommed Akbar's sirdars are killed Akbar
is expected back at night; and if the road is clear, we are to march at night and go thirty miles. Some officers are said to have taken refuge in a fort near this place. A letter came from the General, stating that he wished Capt. Anderson and Capt. Boyd to return: this was in consequence of a representation made to him that Anderson's making over the command of his corps to Lieut. Le Geyt, and going away, might have a bad effect on his men, who now showed symptoms of an inclination to leave us to our fate. But it was decided by the politicals that for those officers to return would have the appearance of their faith in the Sirdar's promises being shaken, and that it would be productive of much evil: they remained therefore with us. Here was another instance of the General's vacillation. Anderson, on his return from taking the message to bring the troops back, was ordered by the General to go off with the other married men and families. Whatever may have been his own sentiments on the occasion, his opinion was never asked, and he had but to obey.
11th..--We marched; being necessitated to leave all the servants that could not walk, the Sirdar promising that they should be fed. It would be impossible for me to describe the feelings with which we pursued our way through the dreadful scenes
that awaited us. The road covered with awfully mangled bodies, all naked: fifty-eight Europeans were counted in the Tunghee and dip of the Nullah; the natives innumerable. Numbers of camp followers, still alive, frost-bitten and starving; some perfectly out of their senses and idiotic. Major Ewart, 54th, and Major Scott, 44th, were recognised as we passed them; with some others. The sight was dreadful; the smell of the blood sickening; and the corpses lay so thick it was impossible to look from them, as it required care to guide my horse so as not to tread upon the bodies: but it is unnecessary to dwell on such a distressing and revolting subject.
We hear that Mahommed Abkar Khan offered to escort the army down, provided the troops laid down their arms; but that the General went on, upon his own responsibility.
We arrived at the Tézeen fort, where we were well treated; and where we found Lieut. Melville, 54th. He had, in guarding the colour of his regiment, received five severe wounds. He had fortunately seven rupees about him; these he gave to an Affghan to take him to the Sirdar, who dressed his wounds with his own hands, applying burnt rags; and paid him every attention.
12th..--We went to Seh Baba; and thence
out of the road, following the bed of the river, to Abdoollah Khan's fort. We passed our last gun, abandoned, with poor Dr. Cardew's body lying on it, and three Europeans close by it.
During the march, we were joined by Mr. Magrath, surgeon of the 37th N. I., and six men of the 44th. He had been wounded and taken prisoner on the 10th, whilst endeavouring to rally a party of some forty or fifty irregular cavalry, and bring them to the assistance of the unfortunate wounded men, who were being butchered at the bottom of the Huft Kohtul. On his coming up with this party, and again ordering them to halt, to his great disgust he found Khoda Bukh Khan, a Ghilzye chief, amongst them; to whom they were apologising for not having gone over the day previous, as their comrades had done. Mr. Magrath had several narrow escapes; and, when surrounded by Ghilzye footmen with their long knives drawn, owed his life in a great measure to an Affghan horseman, who recognised him as having shown some little kindness to some of his sick friends at Cabul.
At night we had snow.
Our whole party, ladies and gentlemen, crammed into one room; one side of which was partitioned off with mats and filled with grain. Here an old woman cooked chupatties for us,
three for a rupee; but, finding the demand great, she soon raised the price to a rupee each.
13th..--We travelled over mountain paths, where the camels found it difficult to get on with the kajavas, till we arrived at Jugdaluk: near the Ghavoy there had been fearful slaughter, principally of Europeans.
We found Gen. Elphinstone, Brig. Shelton, and Capt. Johnson here in tents.
Having brought our party safe to Jugdaluk, I now return to the proceedings of our unfortunate army; taking up the tale at the period when the ladies and their party took protection. On the 9th a round Affghan tent was pitched for the ladies; and we felt the courtesy of the sirdars, who slept in the open air to give us shelter, even such as it was, for the wind blew in in every direction.
Immediately after our departure the irregular horse, with the exception of about eighty men, went over in a body to the Sirdar; and as they were afterwards seen in company with a body of Affghan horse at about a mile distance, there was an attack from them apprehended: all was consternation. Several of our Sipahees absented themselves during the day, also a number of camp followers. A message was sent to Mahommed Akbar Khan, and a hope expressed that
he would not favour the desertion of the troops; and he promised that all going over to him should be shot, which was immediately made known to the men. One of the Mission chuprassies was caught in the act of going off, and shot.
Lieut. Mackay, assistant to Capt. Johnson, was sent in the afternoon to the Sirdar (to the fort where the ladies were), for the purpose of being the bearer of a letter to Gen. Sale at Jellalabad, to order him to evacuate his position. This letter was written by Major Pottinger.
All the dhooley bearers either deserted or were murdered the first day.
The whole of the camels and yaboos have been either taken by the enemy or plundered by our no less lawless camp followers and soldiers.
The greatest confusion prevailed all day; and anxiety and suspense for the ultimate fate of the army was intense; all expecting that if in a few hours they were not deprived of life by cold and hunger, they would fall by the knives of the Affghans; which, had they been then attacked, must indubitably have occurred; for on the return of the troops after their set-out in the morning, commanding officers had great difficulty in collecting sixty files a corps: but even of these many could scarcely hold a musket; many died of cold and misery that night. To add to their wretchedness,
many were nearly, and some wholly, afflicted with snow blindness.
10th..--No sooner was it light than the usual rush to the front was made by the mixed rabble of camp followers, Sipahees, and Europeans in one huge mass. Hundreds of poor wretches, unable to seize any animals for themselves, or despoiled by stronger persons of those they had, were left on the road to die or be butchered.
After much exertion, the advance, consisting of the 44th, the only remaining six-pounder, and about fifty files of the 5th cavalry, managed to get ahead of the crowd. The Affghans were appearing on the hills early: on arriving at the Tunghee Tareekee, a narrow gorge about ten feet wide and two miles distant from their last ground, Capt. Johnson was sent with the advance; the heights were taken possession of by the enemy; who fired down incessantly on the road, from which they were inaccessible. The snow increased in depth as the army advanced. There is a gradual ascent all the way from Khoord Cabul to Kubber-i-Jubhar, a distance of five miles; the progress was necessarily slow, and many poor fellows were shot.
After getting through the pass, not above fifty yards in length, they proceeded to Kubber-i-Jubhar; where they halted for their comrades.
Latterly no Affghans had been seen, except at a distance; the horror of our people was therefore the greater when a few stragglers from the rear came up, and reported themselves as the remnant of the rear column, almost every man of which had been either killed or wounded: Capt. Hopkins had his arm broken by a musket ball. There was now not a single Sipahee left of the whole Cabul force.
A desperate attack had been made by a body of Affghans, sword in hand: our men made no resistance, but threw away their arms and accoutrements; and fell an easy prey to our barbarous and bloodthirsty foe.
The rear-guard was composed of the 54th regiment. On arriving at the narrow pass called Tunghee Tareekee, or "the dark pass," a turn in the road shut out from their sight the enemy, who had followed close on their heels, but on whom they had received strict orders not to fire; although the Ghilzyes, from the heights and ravines, had kept up a sharp discharge, killing many Sipahees and camp followers, and cutting up all wounded and sick left behind. On arriving at the above-mentioned pass, the turn in the road allowed the Ghilzyes to close up; and a general attack was made on all sides: hundreds of Affghans rushing down from the rocks and hills cut to
pieces their now reduced regiment. Here Major Ewart, commanding 54th, had both his arms broken by bullets from the Juzails; Lieut. Morrieson, the adjutant, was wounded; and Lieut. Weaver, of the same corps, slightly. Lieut. Melville, on observing the Jemadar, who carried the regiment's colour, wounded and dropping his charge, seized it; and, after vainly attempting to tear it off the staff, to which it was too firmly attached, made his way on foot (his horse having been killed), with the colour in his hand. This made him a mark for the enemy; and ere he had got out of the pass, being nearly, or quite, the last man of the column, or rather rabble, he received a spear wound in his back, which threw him on his face: ere well able to rise, a severe sword-cut in the head again laid him prostrate; but he contrived to crawl as far as the fast retreating column; when again the knife of an Affghan wounding him in the neck, and a spear in the chin, he gave up all for lost He was now surrounded by a dozen Ghilzyes; and no man, save the dead and dying, near him; when the enemy, observing a box of treasure on the opposite side of the pass, left him, for the purpose of rifling the money, either supposing they had already killed him, or intending to return when they had secured the more valuable booty. This
pause gave Lieut. Melville an opportunity of escaping and regaining the column; which, although weak from his wounds, he availed himself of; and by going through the snow in the ravines, he contrived to reach the column; where a pony without an owner, or saddle of any description, presenting itself, he scrambled on to it; and, with the assistance of a Mehter, gained the centre of the column, where the 44th and one gun still kept some order. Lieut Melville was tied on the gun, and was told by Gen. Elphinstone, that he should be sent over to the charge of the Sirdar, Mahommed Akbar Khan, on reaching Tézeen, or at any opportunity of going.
On a report of a large body of horse being observed in the rear, the gun was ordered there; and Lieut Melville was placed on a bank on the road-side. The column passed on; and he was expecting the fate of the other poor fellows who had fallen; when, providentially for him, a horseman rode up, who had known him in cantonments, and who strapped him on his horse, and took him over to the party of horsemen, consisting of Mahommed Akbar Khan and his followers; who received him most kindly, and, binding up his wounds, gave him a loonghee, his regimental cap being cut to pieces.
The loonghee is the cloth worn as a turban
commonly by the Affghans, and is generally of blue check with a red border: those worn by the Khyberries are much gayer, and have a large admixture of yellow.
Melville gave to Omer Khan, the horseman who saved his life, seven rupees, being all the property he possessed.
Every particle of baggage was gone.
The small remnant of the army consisted of about seventy files of the 44th, fifty of the 5th cavalry, and 1 six-pounder gun. Observing a body of cavalry in their rear, they determined to bring their solitary gun into position, and make a last effort for existence. Finding it was again Mahommed Akbar Khan, Capt. Skinner (Assist-Com.-Gen.) by direction of the General, went over, under escort, to him; to remonstrate on the attack made on our troops after a treaty had been entered into for our protection. He replied, he regretted it, he could not control the Ghilzyes (the inhabitants of this part of the country) with his small body of horse, about 300; but that as the remnant of our troops was merely a few Europeans, he would guarantee their safety, and that of all the European officers, to Jellalabad, if the General would conduct them all disarmed, whilst the Affghans were to have the use of their weapons. He said his motives for this were, that
should they bring their arms with them, his own followers would be afraid of treachery. To this proposition the General would not assent.
Mackay returned with Skinner from the Sirdar, as the road to Jellalabad was said to be unsafe.
The troops continued their fearful march: the remnant of the camp followers, with several wounded officers, went ahead: for five miles they saw no enemy: all who could not walk were necessarily left behind. They descended a long steep descent to the bed of the Tézeen Nullah. At this dip the scene was horrible: the ground was covered with dead and dying, amongst whom were several officers: they had been suddenly attacked and overpowered. The enemy here crowded from the tops of the hills in all directions down the bed of the Nullah, through which the route lay for three miles; and our men continued their progress through an incessant fire from the heights on both sides, until their arrival in the Tézeen valley, at about half-past four
The descent from the Huft Kohtul was about 2000 feet; and here they lost the snow.
About 12,000 persons have perished!
A quarter of an hour after their arrival, the Sirdar and a party came into the valley to a fort higher up belonging to his father-in-law,
Mahommed Shah Khan. A signal was made to his horsemen to approach: two came, and Capt. Skinner, by the General's desire, accompanied them to Mahommed Akbar Khan, to devise some means of saving the remnant--about 4,000 people of all descriptions.
Skinner returned at dusk; and brought back the same message as from Kubber-i-Jubhar, regarding disarming the Europeans: and again this was refused.
The General then decided, weak and famished as the troops were, and without any prospect of procuring provisions at Tézeen, to march at seven in the evening (they had left Khoord Cabul, fifteen miles from Tézeen, half-past six a. m.), and proceed, if possible, through the Jugdaluk pass by eight or nine the next morning. In this consisted their only chance of safety; for, should the enemy obtain intimation of their approach, the pass would be occupied, and the object defeated. Johnson pointed out to the General that Mahommed Akbar Khan and his party could, by means of a short cut across the mountains, start long after them, and arrive before them, ready to oppose them.
Jugdaluk is about twenty-four miles from Tézeen; the pass about two miles long, very narrow, and commanded on both sides by high and precipitous hills.
At Tézeen Gen. Elphinstone received a note in cypher from Capt. Conolly, warning him that Mahommed Akbar Khan had quitted Cabul, with the avowed intention of getting into his hands the person of the General, and all the married people with their families.
A message was sent to Mahommed Akbar Khan that they were going to march to Seh Baba, seven miles from Tézeen (this place is sometimes called Tukeea-i-Fakeer): the road lies down the bed of a Nullah, with high hills on either side. The place is only remarkable from having a few trees and a grave or two under them; and from the latter I believe it takes its name.
The camp followers having been the bane of this unfortunate army, they hoped to move off quietly and leave them behind; but no sooner did they start, than they found that all who were able to stand were accompanying them. They left their remaining gun behind; and Dr. Cardew, who was mortally wounded at the dip into the Tézeen Nullah, was laid on the carriage to await death, which was rapidly approaching: he was found dead by Mahommed Akbar's people the next morning.
The night was fine and moonlit, and they reached Seh Baba about midnight; here a few shots were fired on them; and the rear being
attacked, the whole remains of the 44th, with the exception of about nine files to form the advance, were ordered there; and thus the column remained until their arrival at Jugdaluk; their progress being again impeded by that evil which always attends Indian armies, the camp followers; who, if a shot is fired in advance, invariably fall back; and if in rear, rush to the front.
11th..--From Seh Baba the road turns off sharp to the right over the mountains to Jugdaluk; and across the Nullah is seen the short road to Cabul, but which cannot be travelled by guns or camels.
At Seh Baba Dr. Duff (the Surgeon-General to the forces in Affghanistan), who had had his hand cut off with a penknife at Tézeen, in consequence of a severe wound, was from weakness obliged to lag behind, and was two days afterwards found murdered.
Bareekub is three miles from Seh Baba: there is a clear stream of water, and several caves cut in the rocks. Here our force observed a number of people in the caves; with whom they did not interfere, as they did not molest them. They eventually fired some volleys on the rear.
At day-break the advance arrived at Killa Sung, about seven miles from Seh Baba, where there are some streams of water: this is the
general encamping ground, though very confined, and commanded by hills all round.
They proceeded about half a mile further on, and then halted, until the rear-guard should arrive; but they, having been much molested on the road, did not arrive for two hours. On their first arrival not an Affghan was to be seen; but shortly several made their appearance on the hills, and the number continued every moment to increase. Not a drop of water was procurable; nor would they get any until their arrival at Jugdaluk. They had marched for twenty-four hours consecutively, and had still ten miles to go before they could hope for rest On being joined by the rear-guard they continued their march; the enemy in small numbers watching every opportunity to murder stragglers from the column.
At two miles from Jugdaluk the descent into the valley commences.
The hills on each side of the road were occupied by the enemy, who kept firing from their long juzails; and again the road was covered with dead and dying, as they were in such a mass that every shot told.
On arrival in the valley, a position was taken up on the first height near some ruined walls. As scarcely any Europeans of the advance now
remained, and the enemy were increasing, the General called all the officers (about twenty) to form line and show a front: they had scarcely done so when Capt. Grant, Assistant-Adjutant-General, received a ball through the cheek which broke his jaw.
On the arrival of the rear-guard, followed up by the enemy, the latter took possession of two heights close to our position: on which our force went for security within the ruined walls. The men were almost maddened with hunger and thirst: a stream of pure water ran within 150 yards of the position, but no man could go for it without being massacred
For about half an hour they had a respite from the fire of the enemy, who now only watched their proceedings.
The General desired Johnson to see if there were any bullocks or camels procurable amongst the followers: he obtained three bullocks, which were killed, served out, and devoured instantly, although raw, by the Europeans.
A few horsemen coming in sight, they signed for one to approach: he did so, and on being questioned what chief was present, said Mahommed Akbar Khan. A message was sent to the Sirdar by the General to know why they were again molested: the chief replied, he wished to converse
with Skinner, who immediately accompanied the messenger. This was about half past three p. m. of the 11th.
After marching for thirty hours they lay down on the ground worn out by cold, hunger, thirst, and fatigue: but scarcely had Skinner taken his departure, when volley after volley was poured into the enclosure where they were resting. All was instant confusion, and a general rush took place outside the walls; men and cattle all huddled together, each striving to hide himself from the murderous fire of the enemy.
At this time twenty gallant men of the 44th made a simultaneous rush down the hill, to drive the enemy off the heights they occupied: in this they were successful; for, supposing they were followed by the rest, the foe took to flight ere our men could reach their position.
In about a quarter of an hour, as so small a party would not admit of any division, this party was recalled. They again entered within the broken walls; and instantly our inveterate foes were in their former position dealing death amongst them.
About 5 o'clock Skinner returned with a message that the Sirdar wished to see the General, Brig. Shelton, and Johnson; and if they would go over to confer with him, he would engage to put
a stop to any further massacre, and also to give food to our troops: and on condition of their remaining with him as hostages for Gen. Sale's evacuation of Jellalabad, he would escort all the small remaining party in safety.
Mahommed Shah Khan, father-in-law to the Sirdar, and whose daughter is with the Dost at Loodianah, is one of the principal Ghilzye chiefs: he came at dusk with an escort to receive them; and they started in the confident hope that some arrangement would be entered into to save the lives of the remainder of the army. The General and the above-mentioned officers proceeded to the top of the valley for about two miles, and found the Sirdar and his party in bivouac: nothing could exceed the kind manner in which they were received. The chief, on hearing they had not tasted food for forty-eight hours, had a cloth spread on the ground; and a good pillau and other dishes, as also tea, were quickly brought: and they formed a circle round it, and all ate out of the same dish.
Their hunger, though great, was not to be compared to their thirst, which had not been quenched for two days.
The party consisted of the Sirdar, Mahommed Akbar Khan, Mahommed Shah Khan, Abdool Ghyas Khan (son of Jubhar Khan), and a young
lad called Abdool Hakeem Khan, nephew to the Sirdar. The attention of the Sirdar and his party was excessive; and after dinner they sat round a blazing fire, and conversed on various subjects. The General requested that Mahommed Akbar Khan would early in the morning forward provisions to the troops, and make arrangements for supplying them with water: all which he faithfully promised to do.
The General was anxious for permission to return to his troops; and offered to send Brig. Anquetil, should the Sirdar require an officer in his stead. Johnson, by the General's desire, pointed out to the Sirdar the stigma that would attach to him as commander of the force, were he to remain in a place of comparative security, whilst such danger impended over the troops. To this the Sirdar would not consent. At about 11 P. M., the Sirdar promised he would early in the morning call the chiefs of the pass together, to make arrangements for a safe escort: he then showed them into a small tent, where, stretched on their cloaks, they found relief in sleep.
Our unfortunate force at Jugdaluk this day consisted of 150 men of the 44th; 16 dismounted horse artillery men; 25 of the 5th cavalry. Not a single Sipahee with arms, no spare ammunition, and the few rounds in pouch had been taken from the killed.
12th..--The English officers arose at sunrise, and found the Sirdar and his party were up. They showed them the same civility as over night; two confidential servants of the chief were appointed to wait on them; and they were warned not to attempt to leave the tent without one of these men, lest they should be maltreated or insulted by the Ghilzyes, who were flocking in to pay their respects to Mahommed Akbar.
About 9 a. m., the chiefs of the pass and the country around Soorkhab arrived. Soorkhab is about thirteen miles from Jugdaluk, towards Jellalabad, and is the usual halting ground.
The chiefs sat down to discuss affairs. They were bitter in their hatred towards us; and declared that nothing would satisfy them and their men, but our extermination. Money they would not receive. The Sirdar, as far as words could prove his sincerity, did all in his power to conciliate them; and, when all other arguments failed, reminded them that his father and family were in the power of the British government at Loodianah; and that vengeance would be taken on the latter if mercy were not showed to the British in their power.
Mahommed Shah Khan offered them 60,000 rupees on condition of our force not being molested. After some time they took their departure
to consult with their followers; and Mahommed Shah Khan mentioned to Johnson that he feared the chiefs would not, without some great inducement, resist the temptation of plunder and murder that now offered itself: and wound up the discourse by asking if we would give them two lakhs of rupees for a free passage. On this being explained to the General, he gave his consent; and it was made known to Mahommed Shah Khan, who went away and promised to return quickly.
The General again begged of the Sirdar to permit him to return to his troops; but without avail.
Johnson, by the General's desire, wrote early in the day to Skinner, to come to the Sirdar. This letter and two others, it is to be feared, he never received. A report was brought in that Skinner was wounded, but not dangerously; the Sirdar expressed much sorrow; poor Skinner died of his wound the same day.
Until 12 o'clock crowds of Ghilzyes with their respective chiefs, continued to pour in from the surrounding country to make their salaams to Mahommed Akbar Khan, to participate in the plunder of our unfortunate people, and to revel in the massacre of the Europeans. From their expressions of hatred towards our whole race, they appeared to anticipate more delight in
cutting our throats than in the expected booty. However, on a hint from the Sirdar, they changed the language, in which they conversed, from Persian to Pushtoo, which was not understood by our officers.
The Sirdar, to all appearance, whilst sitting with Johnson, endeavoured to conciliate them; but it very probably was only done as a blind to hide his real feelings.
In two instances, the reply of the chiefs was,--"When Burnes came into this country, was not your father entreated by us to kill him; or he would go back to Hindostan, and at some future day bring an army and take our country from us? He would not listen to our advice, and what is the consequence? Let us now, that we have the opportunity, take advantage of it; and kill those infidel dogs."
At about 12, the Sirdar left them, and went on the top of a hill in rear of the British bivouac. He did not return till sunset; and in reply to the anxious inquiry when Mahommed Shan Khan would return, they were always told immediately. Frequent assurances had been given that the troops had been supplied with food and water; but subsequently they learnt that neither had been given them in their dire necessity.
The Sirdar returned at dusk; and was soon
followed by Mahommed Shah Khan, who brought intelligence that all was finally and amicably arranged for the safe conduct of the troops to Jellalabad. The Sirdar said he would accompany them in the morning early. By the General's request, Johnson wrote to Brig. Anquetil to have the troops in readiness to march by 8 o'clock: he had also commenced a letter to Gen. Sale to evacuate Jellalabad (this being part of the terms). Suddenly, and before the first note was sent off, much musketry was heard down the valley in the direction of the troops; and a report was brought in that the Europeans were moving off through the pass followed by the Ghilzyes. All was consternation. At first the Sirdar suggested that he and the officers should follow them: in this the General concurred. In a few minutes the Sirdar changed his mind; said he feared their doing so would injure the troops, by bringing after them the whole horde of Ghilzyes then assembled in the valley. He promised to send a confidential servant to Meer Afzul Khan at Gundamuk (two miles beyond Soorkhab) to afford them protection; and agreed to start with them at midnight, as being mounted they would overtake the others before daybreak. When about to separate for the night, the Sirdar again altered the time of departure to the first hour of daylight. Remonstrances
were of no avail; and our party were too completely in the power of the enemy, to persist in what they had not the power to enforce.
Mahommed Akbar Khan told Johnson, after Mahommed Shah Khan went out to consult with the chiefs of the pass, that the latter were dogs and no faith could be placed in them; and begged Johnson would send for three or four of his most intimate friends, that their lives might be saved in the event of treachery to the troops. Gladly as he would have saved his individual friends, he was under the necessity of explaining to the Sirdar that a sense of honour would prevent the officers deserting their men at a time of such imminent peril. The Sirdar also proposed, that in the event of the Ghilzyes not acceding to the terms, he would himself, at dusk, proceed with a party of horsemen to the foot of the hill where our troops were; and, previous orders being sent to the commanding officer for all to be ready, he would bring every European away in safety, by each of his horsemen taking up one behind him: the Ghilzyes would not then fire upon them, lest they should hit him or his men. But he would not allow a single Hindostanee to follow; as he could not protect 2000 men (the computed number).--Johnson interpreted all this to the General: but it was deemed impracticable; as from past experience
they knew how impossible it was even to separate the Sipahees from the camp followers. Four or five times during the day they heard the report of musketry in the direction of our troops; but they were always told that all fighting had ceased. This was subsequently proved to be a gross falsehood. Our troops were incessantly fired upon from the time that the General and the other officers quitted them to the time of their departure, and several hundreds of officers and men had been killed or wounded. The remainder, maddened with cold, hunger, and thirst, the communication between them and the General cut off, and seeing no prospect but certain death before them by remaining in their present position, determined on making one desperate effort to leave Jugdaluk. Snow fell during the night.
My narrative now continues from information furnished by a friend remaining with the remnant of this ill-fated army.--They halted this day at Jugdaluk, hoping to negotiate an arrangement with Mahommed Akbar Khan and the Ghilzye chiefs, as before stated: but the continual firing, and frequent attempts made by the enemy to force them from their position during the day, but too well indicated that there was little or no chance of negotiations being effectual to quell hostilities, and admit of their resuming their march in safety:
on the contrary, there appeared an evident determination still to harass their retreat to the very last.
Near the close of the day the enemy commenced a furious attack from all sides. The situation of our troops at this time was critical in the extreme: the loss they sustained in men and officers had been great during the day, and the survivors had only been able to obtain a scanty meal of camel's flesh: even water was not procurable without the parties proceeding for it being exposed to a heavy fire. The men, under all this suffering, perishing with cold at their post, bravely repelled the enemy; and would then have followed them from under the dilapidated walls had they been permitted to do so. During this conflict Capt. Souter of the 44th, anxious to save the colours of his regiment, tore one of them from its staff, and folding it round his person, concealed it under the poshteen he wore: the other was in like manner appropriated by Lieut. Cumberland; but finding that he could not close his pea-coat over it, he reluctantly entrusted it to the care of the Acting Quartermaster-Sergeant of the 44th regiment.
Great anxiety prevailed amongst the troops, caused by the continued absence of Gen. Elphinstone and Brigadier Shelton, the two seniors in command. It was resolved, as they did not
return, to resume their march as soon as the night should shroud them from observation; and Brig. Anquetil, now in command, ordered the troops to fall in at eight o'clock: but before the men could take the places assigned to them, the camp followers, who were still numerous, crowded upon them as usual. At length between 8 and 9 o'clock they took their departure; which was rendered a very trying scene, from the entreaties of the wounded, amounting to seventy or eighty, for whom there was no conveyance; and therefore, however heartrending to all, they were necessarily abandoned, with the painful conviction that they would be massacred in cold blood, defenceless as they were, by the first party of Ghilzyes that arrived.
The enemy, who seem to have been aware of the intended removal, soon commenced an attack upon the straggling camp followers: and a number of Affghans, favoured by the darkness of the night, stole in amongst the followers that were in column, whom they quietly despatched, and proceeded to plunder. These daring men, however, were nearly all cut up or bayonetted by the enraged soldiery; who shortly after came upon an encampment of the enemy; in passing which they were saluted with a heavy fire, followed up by a sally upon the camp followers, as usual.
They proceeded on until they came to a gorge, with low steep hills on either side, between which the road passed, about two miles from Jugdaluk. Here two barriers had been thrown across the road, constructed of bushes and branches of trees. The road, which had been flooded, was a mass of ice, and the snow on the hills very deep. The enemy, who had waited for them in great force at this spot, rushed upon the column, knife in hand. The camp followers and wounded men fell back upon the handful of troops for protection; thus rendering them powerless, and causing the greatest confusion; whilst the men, in small detached parties, were maintaining conflicts with fearful odds against them.
In this conflict the Acting Quartermaster-Sergeant fell: and in the confusion, caused by an overwhelming enemy pressing on the rear in a night attack, it is not surprising that it was found impossible to extricate the colour from the body of the fallen man; and its loss was unavoidable. The disorder of the troops was increased by a part of them, the few remaining horsemen, galloping through and over the infantry in hopes of securing their own retreat to Jellalabad. The men, maddened at being ridden over, fired on them; and it is said that some officers were fired at; but that rests on doubtful testimony. When the firing
slackened, and the clashing of knives and bayonets had in some measure ceased, the men moved on slowly; and on arriving at the top of the gorge were able to ascertain the fearful extent of the loss they had sustained in men and officers. Of the latter Brigadier Anquetil and above twenty others were missing. The troops now halted unmolested for an hour; during which time a few stragglers contrived to join them.
The country being now of a more open description, our small force suffered less annoyance from the fire of the enemy: but the determination of the men to bring on their wounded comrades greatly retarded their marching; and from the troopers having proceeded onwards the wounded could not be mounted behind them: thus their pace did not exceed two miles in the hour. From time to time sudden attacks were made on the rear; particularly in spots where the road wound close under the foot of the hills, and there a sharp fire was sure to be met with. In this manner they went on till they reached the Soorkhab river, which they forded below the bridge at 1 a. m. on the 13th, being aware that the enemy would take possession of it, and dispute the passage. Whilst fording the river a galling fire was kept up from the bridge: here Lieut. Cadett of the 44th and several men were killed and wounded.
13th..--From Soorkhab the remnant of the column moved towards Gundamuk: but as the day dawned the enemy's numbers increased; and unfortunately daylight soon exposed to them how very few fighting men the column contained. The force now consisted of twenty officers, of whom Major Griffiths was the senior, fifty men of the 44th, six of the horse artillery, and four or five Sipahees. Amongst the whole there were but twenty muskets; 300 camp followers still continued with them.
Being now assailed by an increased force, they were compelled to quit the road, and take up a position on a hill adjoining. Some Affghan horsemen being observed at a short distance were beckoned to. On their approach there was a cessation of firing: terms were proposed by Capt. Hay, to allow the force to proceed without further hostilities to Jellalabad. These persons not being sufficiently influential to negotiate, Major Griffiths proceeded with them to a neighbouring chief for that purpose; taking with him Mr. Blewitt, formerly a writer in Capt. Johnson's office, who understood Persian, that he might act as interpreter.
Many Affghans ascended the hill where our troops awaited the issue of the expected conference; and exchanges of friendly words passed between both parties. This lasted upwards of an hour; but hostilities were renewed by the Affghans,
who snatched at the fire-arrns of the men and officers. This they of course resisted; and drove them off the hill: but the majority of the enemy, who occupied the adjoining hills commanding our position, commenced a galling fire upon us. Several times they attempted to dislodge our men from the hill, and were repulsed: until, our ammunition being expended, and our fighting men reduced to about thirty, the enemy made a rush, which in our weak state we were unable to cope with. They bore our men down knife in hand; and slaughtered all the party except Capt. Souter and seven or eight men of the 44th and artillery. This officer thinks that this unusual act of forbearance towards him originated in the strange dress he wore: his posh-teen having opened during the last struggle exposed to view the colour he had wrapped round his body; and they probably thought they had secured a valuable prize in some great bahadur, for whom a large ransom might be obtained.
Eighteen officers and about fifty men were killed at the final struggle at Gundamuk. Capt. Souter and the few remaining men (seven or eight) that were taken alive from the field were, after a detention of a month in the adjoining villages, made over to Mahommed Akbar Khan and sent to the fort of Buddeeabad in the Lughman valley, where they arrived on the 15th of February.
Table of Contents
Previous Chapter (Cabul) * Next Chapter (Captivity)