Page images
PDF
EPUB
[graphic]
[graphic][merged small][merged small]

the enemy began to ay round the eastern

nt-Colonel Williams, injab Cavalry) in the > be on the look-out, at direction. About long the left bank of the same regiment, g; he most gallantly men, the remainder ed upon them from persing these heavy very brilliant service,

en, as I hope I have
ng with the enemy in
the city and the Bala
traordinary numbers
eason to believe that
ined troops; but the
xen gave me a more
, and shook my con-
1 force to resist the
every advantage to
that it might be my
Sherpur, a measure
and the Bala Hissar,
the tribesmen.

to pursue, for, if I
unition must be sent
e hills above the city,
ention of the Asmai
ire the direction in
numbers were still
dily advancing from
were momentarily
rge of the signalling
ardeh valley remind

from all isolated hereby securing the w become a useless

ed the evils of the

1879]

THE RETIREMENT TO SHERPUR

447

measure, but I considered that no other course would be justifiable, and that I must act for the present entirely on the defensive, and wait until the growing confidence of the enemy should afford me a favourable opportunity for attacking them, or until reinforcements could arrive.

The inevitable order reached the two Generals at 2 p.m., and the retirement was begun at once. The Afghans speedily discovered the retrograde movement, and no sooner had each post in its turn been evacuated than it was occupied by the enemy, who pressed our troops the whole way back to the cantonment. There was hand-to-hand fighting, and many splendid acts of courage were performed, Major Hammond, of the Guides, earning the Victoria Cross; but throughout there was no hurry or confusion, all was conducted with admirable coolness and skill, and shortly after dark the troops and baggage were safe inside Sherpur. That night the Afghans occupied the city and the Bala Hissar.

It is comparatively easy for a small body of well-trained soldiers, such as those of which the army in India is composed, to act on the offensive against Asiatics, however powerful they may be in point of numbers. There is something in the determined advance of a compact, disciplined body of troops which they can seldom resist. But a retirement is a different matter. They become full of confidence and valour the moment they see any signs of their opponents being unable to resist them, and if there is the smallest symptom of unsteadiness, wavering, or confusion, a disaster is certain to occur. It may be imagined, therefore, with what intense anxiety I watched for hours the withdrawal. The ground was all in favour of the Afghans, who, unimpeded by impedimenta of any kind, swarmed down upon the mere handful of men retreating before them, shouting cries of victory and brandishing their long knives; but our brave men, inspired by the undaunted bearing of their officers, were absolutely steady. They took up position after position with perfect coolness; every movement was carried out with as much precision as if they were manoeuvring on an ordinary field-day; and the killed and wounded were brought away without the slightest hurry or confusion. In fact, the whole of the hazardous operation was most successfully and admirably carried out; and as each regiment and detachment filed through the Head-Quarters gateway I was able to offer my warm congratulations and heartfelt thanks to my gallant comrades.

Our losses during the day were: 19 killed, including Captain Spens and Lieutenant Gaisford, 72nd Highlanders, and 88 wounded, amongst whom were Captain Gordon, 92nd Highlanders, Lieutenant Egerton, 72nd Highlanders, and Captain Battye, of the Guides.*

*The same officer who so gallantly met his death during the recent Chitral campaign, while commanding the regiment of which he was so justly proud,

[graphic]
[graphic]

DIA

the result of the day's ef, for I knew that the ication with India by ad ordered Brigadierm Gandamak as fast ght should have more en the route to Kabul, apossible to clear the satisfaction to be able ise painful telegrams, ty of the troops; that erpur for nearly four ere was abundance of sufficient ammunition sistance being carried ons, for our numbers Wali Mahomed Khan n Sherpur, on the plea turn to the city. They ould not trust them; d I could not refuse condition that each A number of followers. ceeded by a period of ts were strengthened, al were prepared for

ready mentioned, was ine of defences owing ment was in the form ning along, and proand the hills, which lake, or rather jhil, a naru ridge no enemy

was twenty feet high,

all fifteen feet high; at 700 yards by gate

efore him-Quinton at

an war.

ways, three in number, protected by lofty circular bastions, and between these and at the four corners were a series of low bastions which gave an admirable flanking fire. The wall on the western flank was of similar construction, but had been considerably damaged at the northern end, evidently by an explosion of gunpowder.

The weak part of our defence was on the eastern face, where the wall, which had never been completed, was only seven feet high, and did not extend for more than 700 yards from the south-east corner; the line then ran to the north-west, and, skirting the village of Bimaru, ended at the foot of the ridge.

From this description it will be seen that, though the perimeter* of Sherpur was rather too large for a force of 7,000 effective men to defend, its powers of resistance, both natural and artificial, were considerable. It was absolutely necessary to hold the Bimaru ridge for its entire length; to have given up any part of it would have been to repeat the mistake which proved so disastrous to Elphinstone's army in 1841. In fact, the Bimaru heights were at once the strength and the weakness of the position. So long as we could hold the heights we were safe from attack from the north; but if we had been forced, either from the weakness of our own garrison, or from any other cause, to relinquish the command of this natural barrier, the whole of the cantonment must have lain open to the enemy, and must forthwith have become untenable.

The question of how Sherpur could best be defended had been carefully considered by a committee,† assembled by my orders soon after our arrival in Kabul; and a scheme had been drawn up detailing the measures which should be adopted in case of attack.

On the recommendation of this committee six towers had been constructed on the Bimaru heights, and shelter trenches and gunpits made at the points where Infantry and Artillery fire could be used with the greatest advantage. These trenches were now deepened and prolonged, so as to form one continuous line of defence, protected by an abattis; and the defences in the depression between the heights were so arranged that fire could be brought to bear on an enemy advancing from the north. To strengthen the north-east corner, a battery was thrown up on the slope of the ridge, which was connected with the tower above and the village below. The village itself was loop-holed, the outlying buildings to the front made defensible, and the open space to the north-east secured by abattis and wire entanglements. The Native Field Hospital was strengthened in like manner, and sand-bag parapets were piled upon the roof, which was somewhat exposed.

* Four and a half miles.

†The committee consisted of Brigadier-General T. D. Baker, Lieutenant Colonel E. Perkins, commanding Royal Engineers, and Lieutenant-Colonel B. Gordon, commanding Royal Artillery. 29

[graphic]
« PreviousContinue »