There fell in this action 120 British officers and men, the heaviest losses being among the Black Watch. Lieutenant Montresor, R.N., Lieutenant Almach, R.N., and Lieutenant Houston, R.N., with seven of their men, were killed at their guns. The enemy's force was estimated at 15,000 and their loss at over 5000.
THE EXPEDITION TO KHARTOUM—1884 AND 1885.
The fighting around Suakin in 1884, though successful as to its immediate result, namely, the defeat of local levies of the Mahdi, had no beneficial effect upon the position of Gordon in Khartoum; rather, it would appear, the contrary. The defeat and terrible slaughter of the Arabs at El-Teb and Tamai seem to have been taken as an earnest of the intention of the British to reconquer the Soudan, and so to have decided many hitherto friendly, or at least neutral, Sheikhs to throw in their lot with the Mahdi. Whether this view is correct or not, the fact remains that up to March Khartoum was open, and by the end of the operations it was besieged. Our purpose being rather to relate achievements of "Our Soldiers" than a history of the events which preceded them, we will not attempt to state the cause which led to the seclusion of Khartoum and the isolation of the heroic Gordon and his companions, Colonel Stewart and Consul Power, nor the causes which rendered the splendid engagements at Suakin fruitless, and led to the fall of Berber. It is enough to say that at length the people of Great Britain could bear the spectacle no longer, and the force of public opinion compelled the Government to take steps in the summer of 1884 to achieve, if it were not too late, the relief of Khartoum. What was a possible task a few months before had now become an exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, one, and it was thought that, under the circumstances, the route which was the most feasible would be by the Nile.
In the early part of October news arrived that Colonel Stewart and Mr Power, the special correspondent of the Times, who had also acted as Vice-Consul at Khartoum, had been murdered on their way to Dongola. They were proceeding down the Nile in one of Gordon's steamers in order to open communications with the British expedition under Lord Wolseley, which was then advancing up the river, and with them were some forty-five other people, including the French Consul at Khartoum. The steamer struck on a rock, and the whole party had to disembark. They were hospitably received by the Sheikh, who promised no harm should happen to them if they came unarmed. This they accordingly did; but no sooner had Colonel Stewart and the Consul entered the Arab's house than they were attacked, and having no weapons but their fists, were eventually overcome and killed. General Gordon was now absolutely alone, and still holding Khartoum against the Mahdi, and no time was to be lost if he was to be released. Strenuous efforts were made to push on the expedition, and by the middle of December a strong force had assembled at Korti, on the Nile, 1400 miles by the Nile from the sea.
Here Lord Wolseley arrived on the 16th of December. The latest news from General Gordon was dated 14th November, saying that his steamers awaited the expedition at Metammeh, and that he could hold out for forty days, but that after that the defence would be difficult. Upon this news Lord Wolseley decided to send a flying column as soon as possible across the desert to Metammeh, with instructions to send a detachment by the steamers up to Khartoum. The desert route to Metammeh direct from Korti is 176 miles, but the distance is very much greater by the river, which between these two places makes a bend of three parts of a circle. The command of the force selected was given to General Sir Herbert Stewart, with Sir Charles Wilson as second in command. A strong depot having previously been established at the wells of Jakdul, about 100 miles towards Metammeh, the expedition started on the 8th January. It consisted of 5 naval officers and 53 bluejackets under Lord Charles Beresford (sent for service on the steamers), a battery of artillery, 9 officers and 120 men of the 19th Hussars under Colonel Barron, the Guards Camel Regiment under Colonel Boscawen, the Heavy Camel Regiment, consisting of Household troops and cavalry, under Major Gough, infantry mounted also on camels, 400 men of the Royal Sussex, some transport engineers and hospital details—in all 114 officers and 1687 men, with 153 horses and 2888 camels, and some 350 native drivers, etcetera.
THE BATTLE OF ABU KLEA.
Nothing of importance took place until the 17th of January, when the wells of Abu Klea were approached and found to be held in great force by the enemy. Leaving a few men of the Sussex and mounted infantry to hold the camp, the General advanced the remainder of his force to seize the wells, the possession of which was, of course, a matter of supreme importance. The British as usual advanced in the form of a hollow square, the troops being disposed as in the diagram.
As the square approached the enemy's position, the attack was delivered in the shape of a well-ordered charge, commencing with a wheel to the left and falling upon the left front and rear of the square. It was a matter of wonder to our men how such a regular formation was preserved over a space of 300 yards in face of a continuous and withering rifle fire. When the enemy got well within 100 yards, the fire of the mounted infantry and Guards began to tell, and the Arabs fell in heaps. The rear left was not so fortunate, for either from the rear not closing rapidly enough, owing to the fact that the Heavies were not trained to infantry work, or from its opening out in order to bring the Gardner gun into action, the square at the left rear corner was not able to bear the force of the charge, and was driven in by sheer weight of numbers, and several of the Arabs got inside. The Gardner gun had become jammed at the tenth round, and so became a source of weakness to the solidity of the square, a fact of which the enemy was quick to take advantage. At this point Colonel Burnaby, who had joined the expedition as a volunteer, was killed while gallantly facing the crowd. The Naval Brigade, as usual refusing to retire from their gun, suffered heavily, and lost all their officers except Lord C. Beresford, who was knocked down in the melee. For a few moments the Arabs were in the square and among the camels, and many of the officers had narrow escapes, while Major Gough and others were killed. For five minutes it was a hand-to-hand fight, but after the first wild rush no more of the enemy could pierce the ranks of the Heavies, and all who had entered the square were killed; and the enemy retreated, while the column marched down to and occupied the wells, and rejoiced in abundance of sweet if muddy water. The square had another fight of the same nature before the Nile was reached, but on this occasion the enemy failed to penetrate the zone of fire, and left all their leaders and many of their men lying dead on its front. In the early part of the day General Stewart received a wound which subsequently proved fatal.
It is sad here to relate that all this gallantry of the men, the loss of valuable lives, and the slaughter of thousands of Arabs, which had become necessary by delaying operations until the Mahdi had gathered so much strength, failed in its object, namely, the relief of Khartoum and the rescue of its heroic defenders. For when Colonel Wilson and his party, having found Gordon's steamer, reached the city, they found it in the possession of the Mahdi, and subsequently learned that Gordon had been killed, and the garrison put to the sword, but two days before their arrival; but, in the words of Lord Wolseley's despatch—
"It was not through any lack of zeal or want of energy that the steamers only reached Khartoum two days after it had fallen. There is no hesitation in saying that all ranks worked as hard as human beings could, hoping to render the earliest possible assistance to their heroic comrade who was besieged in Khartoum."
FIGHTING ROUND SUAKIN—1885.
In addition to the operations undertaken for the relief of Khartoum by way of the Nile and across the desert, the British Government had placed General Sir G. Graham in command of a strong force collected at Suakin, with instructions to destroy the power of Osman Digna, and to occupy the Hadendowa territory in order to enable a railroad to be built between Suakin and Berber, for which purpose vast quantities and stores had been despatched from England. Among the components of this force were not only Indian troops, both the cavalry and infantry, but for the first time in history a well-equipped body of Volunteer Horse, some 800 strong, despatched at the expense of the Colony of New South Wales, who joined the force on March 8th, and proved to be of great assistance and well worthy of a place among the Soldiers of the Queen.
The Arabs had been in no way disheartened by the defeats inflicted upon them by Sir G. Graham in the preceding year, and from the very first offered a fierce resistance to the advance of the expedition, so that skirmishes of more or less importance took place daily. The first serious battle took place on March 20th near the village of Hasheen, upon which the British column was advancing. About nine a.m. the Berkshire Regiment, supported by some marines, advanced upon the Dhilibat Hill, which was held by swarms of the enemy, who were soon driven down the opposite slope. In pursuing these the 9th Bengal Cavalry were ordered to dismount and fire volleys, but as this most unfortunately took place in thick bush, they were placed at a great disadvantage when the Arabs turned upon them, and they in turn were pursued, and many who were unable to mount in time lost their lives. This pursuit, however, cost the Arabs very dear, for it brought them right down to the square of the Guards, who were in reserve below the hill, before they were aware of them. With their usual bravery the Arabs charged the square, but so heavy and well-sustained was the fire that none got within fifteen yards of the rifles. The hills for the time were cleared, but the Arabs did not retire far, and hung in around the troops in the dense bush, full of fight and as undaunted as ever. The estimate of the enemy's losses was about 250, while the British loss was 22 killed and 43 wounded; and, in the words of the official despatches, "The conduct of the force was satisfactory in all respects. The Dhilibat Hill was carried by the Berkshire Regiment with the greatest spirit, and the behaviour of the Guards' square under a heavy fire from an unseen enemy was marked by extreme steadiness."
Two days later, on Sunday, March 22nd, a second engagement took place, very much more serious than the first, and much more important in its result. General Graham had decided to form a zareba eight miles out on the road to Tamai, in order to make a depot for water and stores,—more especially the former,—preparatory to an advance in force on that place; it was intended to leave troops in this zareba, and on the return of the main body to form and occupy a smaller zareba between it and Suakin. The force selected for the purpose of effecting this object consisted of one squadron 5th Lancers, Naval Brigade with four Gardner guns, detachments of Royal Engineers, Berkshire Regiment, Royal Marines, and company of sailors with four Gatlings, some Royal Engineers, Madras Sappers, 15th Sikhs, 17th Bengal Native Infantry, and 28th Bombay Native Infantry, and one squadron of Hussars, and was under the command of General Sir John McNeill; General Hudson of the Indian force being second in command. The convoy which these troops had to protect consisted of about 1000 camels carrying water and supplies, as well as a large number of mules and horses—no easy task in a country covered with dense bush, which afforded concealment to an enemy who were absolutely fearless. The column started at 6:30, and its troubles soon began, for no sooner was it fairly within the bush than the difficulty of keeping the transport together became apparent, and the rate of progress was necessarily so slow that Sir J. McNeill saw that it would be impossible to carry out the programme of building and occupying the two zarebas before night, and therefore decided to form one only on an open space that the troops had reached about 10:30 a.m. Up to this time no sign of the enemy had been seen, but all precautions were taken to prevent a surprise. The force was drawn up as follows: the Indian troops occupied three sides of a hollow square, the open side being towards the bush through which the column had just come; outposts of infantry, and beyond them of cavalry, were placed in advance on the three sides; and the road to Suakin in the rear was patrolled by the Lancers, and all the convoy was drawn up in the square. All hands at once proceeded to form the zareba. The idea was to form a zareba with its north-east corner pointing to Suakin, and its south-west to Tamai, and at each of these corners to form a minor zareba or redoubt to contain two Gardner guns apiece, and to leave these garrisoned by the Berks, the marines, and the bluejackets, who would thus be able to guard the main zareba, all sides of which could be swept by their fire. The work proceeded merrily, and by three o'clock was nearly finished. At that time the marines had got inside the north-east zareba, and half the Berkshire were having their dinner outside, behind the camels, which, by this time having unloaded, were filing out of the square at the rear of the open side; the other half of the Berkshire were busy cutting bush, leaving their arms piled in the south-west zareba, with half the bluejackets and the two Gardner guns, and the central zareba was nearly completed.
Suddenly a yell was heard, some cavalry videttes came galloping in, and in a moment 5000 Arabs were rushing upon the unclosed square.
The outposts got together and stood back to back, forming rallying squares which the enemy could not break; the Berkshire men who were cutting bush rushed back to the zareba where the small naval brigade was suffering severely, for the guns not being in position the enemy got into the square, but so quickly did the Berks men follow them and recover their weapons, that, though 124 Arabs got into the square no Arab came out again. The other half of that regiment formed square, and with a steady fire kept the Arabs at bay, and eventually gained the north-east zareba without losing a man. But amongst the transport animals the state of affairs was very different. The 17th Native Infantry fell back before the rush, and the enemy, following their retreat, dashed into the central zareba among the transport animals, cutting and slashing in every direction, and in a few moments a general stampede ensued; camels, mules, and horses made one wild rush for Suakin followed by triumphant Arabs, who in their turn were met and routed by the Bengal Cavalry and 5th Lancers. At the first rush a number of the enemy succeeded in getting into the north-east zareba, the east side of which was at the moment undefended, and for a few minutes the marines were in a dangerous position, but while the front rank continued to fire on the enemy on their side, the rear rank faced about, and, fighting back to back, soon cleared the zareba of the enemy and lined the open side. After about twenty minutes the bugle sounded "Cease fire," and as the smoke cleared away, the enemy were seen streaming away. Thus ended the fight. It was indeed a soldiers' battle, and but for the steadiness and heroism of the individuals it would have proved another Isandlana. The enemy's loss was very heavy, and the power of Osman Digna utterly crushed; but the cost to the British was heavy, for the losses of British and Indian troops was 600 in killed and wounded, and a large proportion of the transport train was destroyed.
THE CHITRAL CAMPAIGN—1885.
In January 1895 the reigning Mehtar of Chitral was murdered by his brother, whom, in breach of a time-honoured custom of Chitralis, he had neglected to murder or exile upon his own accession. Umra Khan, the chief of Jandol, who had long had designs upon Chitral, made this occasion a pretext for invading the territory off which he had been repeatedly warned by the British Government as the Suzerain of Chitral, and laid siege to Kila Drosh. On February 1st, Dr Robertson, the British resident at Mastuj, arrived in Chitral, and at once ordered Umra Khan to retire. Umra Khan, however, who had in the meantime taken Kila Drosh, retorted by calling upon Dr Robertson to retire, and to recognise Sher Afzul as Mehtar. This, of course, the British resident refused to do; and called a durbar, at which Soojah-ul-Moolk was declared Mehtar of Chitral, on 1st of March. The position of the British resident and his small party, which by way of precaution had occupied the fort some time previous, now became very serious. On 2nd of March, Sher Afzul had advanced upon them, and Chitral was very soon invested on all sides, and indeed, as will be seen, the actual siege commenced on 3rd of March.
THE SIEGE AND DEFENCE OF CHITRAL.
With Dr Robertson were Captains Colin Campbell and Townshend of the Central India Horse, Lieutenant Harley of the 14th Sikhs, Surgeon— Captain Whitchurch, Captain Baird of the 24th Punjaub Infantry, and Lieutenant Gurdon, who was acting as political officer before Dr Robertson's arrival; the troops consisted entirely of natives, there being eventually shut up in the fort, in addition to those named, 543 persons, of whom 460 were combatants, namely 361 Kashmirs and 99 Sikhs. On the 3rd of March, Captain Campbell with 200 men was sent out to make a reconnaissance in the direction of Sher Afzul's position, and with him were Captains Townshend and Baird, and Surgeon-Captain Whitchurch, joined afterwards by Dr Robertson and Lieutenant Gurdon. They were at once attacked by the enemy in strong force, and were met with a very hot fire, and eventually had to retire to the fort, fighting every inch of the ground, with the enemy on the front and both flanks, and firing from the cover of garden walls. Captain Campbell being wounded, the command devolved upon Captain Townshend, who fought his way back with his wounded to a small hamlet where Dr Robertson was rallying the men; meantime a message had brought out from the fort Lieutenant Harley and 50 Sikhs, a reinforcement which enabled the party to retire steadily into the fort, which they reached at eight o'clock. At the same time a detachment of 50 men under Captain Baird and Lieutenant Gurdon were hotly engaged in another part of the ground. Captain Baird was wounded early in the action, and under the care of Surgeon-Captain Whitchurch, while Lieutenant Gurdon conducted the retreat to the fort. With Whitchurch were a few Kashmir sepoys and some hospital bearers, but the two parties soon got separated in the melee, and Whitchurch and his men had to fight their way back inch by inch, carrying their wounded officer. Every now and then they had to stop and make bayonet-charges to clear the enemy out of the shelter of stone walls around them, and when at length they reached the fort nearly half the party had been left dead on the field, yet not a man had left the party. Poor Captain Baird was hit three times in the retreat, and died next day; while, strange to say, his gallant rescuer, Whitchurch, escaped untouched. Many heroic acts are done by our men in war and peace, but none can be greater heroes than these few sepoys, who were able so long to bear the strain of an apparently hopeless retreat and retire orderly, resisting all temptation to a sauve qui peut, when a speedy retreat without encumbrance of the wounded and bearers must at times have seemed the only chance for life. For his gallant conduct on this occasion, Surgeon—Captain Whitchurch received the Victoria Cross.
The total loss on this day was very heavy, and in addition to Captain Baird, General Baj Singh and Major Bhikam of the Kashmirs, and about 60 men, were killed; an ominous outset for the defence, which at first had a very depressing effect upon the troops, the majority of whom, it must be remembered, were of newly raised regiments, and without any British troops to give them confidence. Everything therefore depended upon the vigilance and calmness of the few British officers, one of whom unfortunately, Captain Campbell, was severely wounded in the knee, the command in consequence falling upon Captain Townshend.
From this day the siege commenced, and the fort was cut off from the outer world. On taking stock of their resources the garrison found that, everyone being on half rations, there was supply until about the middle of June, by which time, if they could hold out, they might expect relief; while there was a supply of about 300 rounds of ammunition per man. Of water there was no lack, as fortunately when first the fort was occupied a covered way had been made down to the river, and this covered way was all through the siege one of the principal objects of the enemy's attacks, and had to be held day and night by a strong guard. The fort itself was 80 yards square, the walls being 25 feet high, and made of stone held together by a frame-work of wood, and 8 feet thick at each angle was a tower, while a fifth guarded the way to the water. Outside the walls were gardens and out-buildings, which afforded shelter to the enemy; these, owing to the rapidity with which the siege had developed, there had been no time to destroy, and this necessary work had therefore now to be done under fire. The enemy all through fought very well, and made every use of the cover afforded to their riflemen, who were excellent shots; and they built sangars on the rising ground above, commanding the fort, so that it was necessary for the besieged to build sheltering galleries to protect the men going from post to post. Hardly a night passed without an attack of some sort, and three times the enemy succeeded in setting the towers on fire, only to be extinguished with great difficulty by the use of earth and water. The enemy employed every device to get into the fort, and succeeded in mining close up to the walls, adding thus the labour of making counter-mines to the other tasks of the garrison. The principal fight took place on the 17th April. The enemy had been for some days previous in the apparently innocent amusement of making a noise with drums and pipes in a summer-house not far from the walls. One of the men suggested that the noise was made to cover the sound of mining—a not uncommon trick of Umra Khan's. Accordingly men were told off to listen, and the sound of mining was heard close to a tower, so close indeed that no time was to be lost in blowing it up. This dangerous duty was successfully performed by Lieutenant Harley, who rushed the summer-house with 100 men. There was a fierce hand-to-hand fight, and some 30 Chitralis were killed, and the mine successfully destroyed; Harley and his men regaining the fort in an hour and twenty minutes. From the start 22 of the brave 100 were hit, of whom 9 were killed. Nothing of importance occurred after this, for the enemy had heard of the close approach of Colonel Kelly, and by the 19th of April had disappeared.
Thus ended a defence as gallant as any recorded in this book. For forty-six days this little band of sepoys, with five English leaders, held the fort, with inadequate defences and no artillery, against a superior force; the sepoys suffering greatly from want of food, for their caste forbade their eating horseflesh,—their ghi or melted butter, which is as meat to the native, had run out, and all they had left was half rations of flour. To the want of food must be added the mental effect, first of the disastrous day at the opening, then of the absolute ignorance of the measures taken to relieve, and the apparent hopelessness of their position, if we are to take due measure of the pluck and determination of the garrison.
THE DEFENCE OF RESHUN.
On the 5th of March, Lieutenants Edwardes and Fowler left Mastuj with orders to join the British agent at Chitral, and they had with them 20 Bengal Sappers and 40 men of the Kashmir Rifles, conveying sixty boxes of ammunition and seven days' rations. The day on which they arrived at Reshun they heard rumours of opposition ahead of them, and therefore intrenched themselves as well as possible near the river. The next day they were attacked by the tribes, and finding the position too exposed, they carried the houses of the village close by with the bayonet, and hastily made them defensible, and succeeded by nightfall in getting in all their ammunition and supplies and all the wounded. Here the little force, now reduced to about 50 men, was regularly besieged. The first great difficulty was the want of water, as the enemy had diverted the rivulet, thus making it necessary for the garrison to go some distance under fire to bring in sufficient for their daily wants. Food was fortunately plentiful, as, in addition to the rations, eggs and fowls and flour were found in the village. The enemy, after several attempts to take the place by assault, contented themselves with besieging the village, doing as much damage as possible by a continuous fire from the cover of houses and trees, and at length succeeded in occupying a house not more than a few feet from the wall.
On the 13th the enemy hoisted a white flag, and informed the officers that there had been some fighting at Chitral but that now peace was made, and offering to let the garrison go either to Chitral or to Mastuj. Lieutenant Edwardes upon this agreed to a three days' armistice, and sent letters to Chitral and Mastuj; meantime the garrison were well treated and supplies sent in to them. On the 14th the enemy proposed a game of polo, and invited the officers to come and see it. This invitation was unfortunately, as it turned out, accepted, for, although under the fire of their own men, the two officers were suddenly seized from behind and bound, and a sudden attack was made upon the house occupied by the troops. This was taken by assault, most of the sepoys being killed. On March 16th, the officers were taken to Chitral, where they found about a dozen of the sepoys who had been taken prisoners; after being kept here some time, they were sent to Drosh to Umra Khan. He treated them very well, and even offered to let them join the force in Chitral, but as he would not let their men accompany them they declined. They were afterwards taken with Umra Khan on his return to Jandol, and though strictly guarded were treated with every respect and courtesy, and finally sent in safety to Sir R. Low's camp. The sepoys also were allowed to go unharmed—an act of forbearance on the part of Umra Khan almost without precedent among Pathans.
The affair of Reshun, which cost the lives of so many brave men, was the indirect cause of the loss of many more at the same time. For as soon as the British officers discovered the state of things at Reshun, they sent back word to Mastuj, and Captain Ross and Lieutenant Jones with 93 Sikhs at once set out to their assistance. Thirty-three men were left at Buni, and the remaining 60, with the two officers, pushed forward towards Reshun. On the way they had to pass through a narrow ravine with precipitous cliffs on either side. Here they were suddenly attacked by the enemy in great force from the cliffs above. Soon the enemy closed the end of the pass, and retreat or advance was equally impossible. For a time shelter was found in a cave, and an attempt was made to rush out of the defile in the night; but the enemy were found on the alert, and though the rifle fire could be faced, it was impossible to pass several stone shoots which were in the possession of the enemy, who could annihilate with avalanches of rocks any troops passing below. The cave was again occupied for a day, but without food, and therefore it was necessary to make one desperate effort if the men were to escape starvation. Accordingly, in the middle of the night a sudden rush was made, and after a desperate fight the sangars held by the enemy were taken, but with heavy loss, Captain Ross being among the first killed. Eventually, after desperate fighting, and a great number having been killed in crossing the stone shoots, a small remnant reached the end of the ravine; here a stand was made, and at length Lieutenant Jones with 17 men, of whom 9 and himself were wounded, returned to Buni, where the enemy did not attack them; and on the 17th reliefs arrived from Mastuj, to which the whole party returned. Here they were besieged, and would in all probability have in time been reduced by famine had not Colonel Kelly's force arrived.
COLONEL KELLY'S MARCH.
While these stirring events were taking place on the frontier, the Indian Government had not been inactive, for in the month of March an army of 14,000 men was mobilised, under the command of Major-General Sir R. Low, the intention being originally that this expedition should be sent to Chitral through Swat and Bajour, starting in April. On receipt of the news of the disaster at Karagh it became necessary to not only advance the troops as early as possible, but also to take immediate steps for the relief of Chitral at the earliest possible moment, as it was known that that place was only supplied till the end of April. It was impossible to send troops from India to Gilgit for this purpose, as the passes would not be open till June. Most fortunately a force of the 32nd Pioneers, under Colonel Kelly, were at this time road-making at Bunji, on the Indus, only 38 miles from Gilgit; it was therefore determined to send Colonel Kelly with all the men he could collect to march as rapidly as possible to Chitral. On the 21st of March Colonel Kelly received orders by telegraph to march, and he set off the same afternoon. And a famous march it was!
On the 23rd of March the expedition set out from Gilgit. It consisted at starting of 400 men of the Pioneers, two guns of Number 1 Kashmir Mountain Battery, and 100 Hunza and Puniali Levies under their own chiefs; the officers with Colonel Kelly being Captain Borrodaile, Surgeon-Captain Browning-Smith, and Lieutenants Beynon, Bethune, Cobbe, Paterson, and Cooke; and these were joined at Gupis by Lieutenant Stewart, R.A., who took charge of the guns, and Lieutenant Oldham, R.E., with 40 Kashmir Sappers, and Lieutenant Gough with 100 Kashmir Rifles. It will be noticed that again the troops and non-commissioned officers were entirely native.
On April the 1st, in spite of five days' snow, the column set out from Ghizr to attempt the Shandur Pass. The first difficulty was a stampede of the impressed native bearers, who had bolted in the night and were not collected again till late in the afternoon. After a few miles the guns stuck in the deep snow, and it was found impossible to get them along. Captain Borrodaile, with Lieutenant Oldham and 140 men, with the Hunza Levies, remained at Teru with provision for ten days. The rest of the column with the guns had reluctantly to return to Ghizr. The snow continuing, it was impossible to attempt the pass; but the Kashmirs set to work to dig a road from Teru through the snow to Langar, the camping-ground on their side of the pass, and on the next day the guns were got along to Teru and thence to Langar, but this was only effected by carrying the guns, carriages, and ammunition. These were divided amongst squads of four men, relieved every fifty yards, so that the progress did not exceed a mile an hour, the men being often up to their middle in snow in a bitter wind and a glaring sun. The camping-ground at Langar, some 13 miles from Teru, was not reached till near midnight, and the guns had to be left by their exhausted bearers a mile or so outside the camp. This was indeed a great achievement, but there remained still the pass. First there was a very stiff climb for about a mile, then a more gradual ascent up to 12,300 feet above sea-level, then five miles of fairly level plain, a sheet of glaring snow swept by a bitter wind. The distance from Langar to Laspur on the other side of the pass is only ten miles, but though Borrodaile's party of Pioneers and Levies started early next day, they did not reach Laspur till evening. The villagers were as surprised as though the party had dropped from the moon, and thought it expedient to be friendly. The enemy had so implicitly relied upon the impossibility of getting through the pass in such extreme weather that no preparation to block our movements had been made. The next day the village was put into a state of defence, and supplies were collected, and with the aid of the villagers the guns were brought down. Both men and officers suffered severely; most had blue spectacles, but by the time the whole column had got over there were 68 cases of snow-blindness and 43 of frost. The opposition shown by the enemy as the column proceeded was overcome by the gunfire, which the Chitrali seemed quite unable to stand; and Mastuj, from which the enemy had retired on the same day in the direction of Chitral, was reached on the afternoon of the 9th of April. The march was continued the next day, and after a sharp fight on the 13th, in which Colonel Kelly lost eight men, Chitral was entered on the 20th. In this wonderful march the column had gone 350 miles in 35 days over a very difficult country, climbed a difficult pass, carrying the guns through the snow and in the face of an enemy. The men carried each two days' rations; and only seven days' rations being provided, after that the force had entirely to depend upon what the country afforded, which was very little.
THE CAPTURE OF THE MALAKAND PASS.
We have now to return to the actions of the army, which, as we have seen, had been ordered to assemble under General Sir R. Low in March. The first Army Corps, consisting of 14,000 men, was mobilised at Nowshera and Hoti Mardan, with General Sir Bindon Blood, Chief of the Staff, and Lieutenant—Colonel H.S. Craigie, Assistant Adjutant-General; the three brigades being commanded by Generals Kinloch, Waterfield, and Gatacre. When the news arrived of the danger at Chitral the preparations were pressed forward, and on the 1st of April the troops were moved forward, marching without tents, and water supplies for only three weeks; and on the 2nd of April the second and third brigades were at Dargai, a village at the foot of the Malakand Pass. There are three passes into the Swat valley, namely, Malakand, Shakhot, and Morah; all of these were held by the enemy, but as it had been given out that the British intended to cross by the Shakhot Pass, to which the first brigade had been sent, the enemy were not in such force at Malakand as they should have been.
The fact was that when Sir R. Low learned that the greater part of the enemy were at the Shakhot and Morah Passes he determined to mislead them into staying there by acting as though he intended to attack the Shakhot Pass, and for this purpose marched the first brigade in that direction with orders to rejoin him if possible at Dargai by a forced night-march; intending that the three brigades should meet on the 2nd of April at 8 a.m. and carry the pass before the enemy had discovered their intention. The weather frustrated the carrying out of this plan, the night-march had to be abandoned and the attack postponed until the 3rd, but the plan of deceiving the enemy was quite successful, for the enemy had not time to get across the hills to help their comrades in the Malakand Pass. And this was fortunate, for the pass was so obstinately defended as it was that all three brigades, with the exception of one regiment held in reserve, were engaged in the attack.
The pass is through a valley gradually narrowing for about two miles from Dargai, and at this point it bends for about a mile and a half to a point where the hills drop precipitately into the pass. From this bend the pass was strongly defended, the whole range on the west side being held by the enemy. The 4th Sikhs were sent along the heights to guard the left flank of the advance, and climbing up the sides cleared many sangars of the enemy with great gallantry. The Guides Infantry had an equally arduous task on the hills. Meanwhile the force advanced up the valley. To quote from the General's despatch—
"When the infantry advance was ordered it soon became apparent that if the assault was delayed till the position was turned by the Guides the action would be unduly delayed and the Guides themselves seriously out-numbered. At this time I ascertained that though the pass appeared to lie in the valley itself, and to round the corner of the western hill where it dropped into the valley, yet beyond this point there was no path or roadway whatever, the valley being blocked with huge blocks and boulders; and that the crossing of the pass lay to the left, over the heights to our left which were so strongly held by the enemy. Action was at once therefore taken to carry the hill to the left, which from this point was about 1000 feet high. The Gordon Highlanders were directed up the end of the western hill from the point where it touched the valley, and the King's Own Scottish Borderers were directed up the centre spur; the 60th Rifles were directed up the slopes from farther back on the line, while the Bedfordshire Regiment and the 37th Dogras pushed on and rounded the point from which the Gordon Highlanders commenced the ascent, and, turning to the left, ascended the hill from the northern side—the 15th Sikhs being held in reserve. As the infantry ascended it was seen how well the defence of the hill had been organised. The Gordon Highlanders and King's Own Scottish Borderers, ascending as they did on a direct attack, met with the greatest resistance and suffered most. Sangar after sangar was obstinately held; each sangar as it was rushed coming at once under fire of the one above it. And here I may note the admirable service done by the artillery and Maxim guns. Several attempts were made by the enemy to concentrate from above and hold the lower sangars and positions, but all such attempts were frustrated by the admirable practice of the Mountain Batteries and Maxim guns over the head of our advancing infantry. Although at several points sangars were only carried by hand—to—hand fighting, the enemy were gradually driven from position to position, and eventually fled down the other slopes of the western hill as the heads of the attacking columns reached the top when the pass was captured and the fighting over, though they were pursued down the other side as soon as the men got together."
The action commenced at 8 o'clock and lasted six hours. The force of the enemy was estimated at 12,000 men, of whom perhaps 4000 or 5000 had firearms. The loss on the British side was only 11 men killed, and 8 officers and 39 men wounded.
THE TERAH EXPEDITION—1897.
In 1897 a general rising of the tribes took place along the north-west frontier, which, in addition to minor expeditions, was the cause of the despatch of an expedition through the Terah country, under Sir William Lockhart. It is impossible here to detail the innumerable acts of gallantry called forth by almost daily skirmishes with fierce and numerous bands of hardy mountaineers, but we must content ourselves with referring only to the most stirring incidents of the campaign.
THE FIRST ACTION OF DARGAI.
It had become necessary to clear the enemy out of the commanding position at Dargai, from which a harassing fire had been kept up upon our men, and on 18th October this was achieved. The village lies on the north of a small plateau, which ends in a steep cliff approached by a sloping ridge; this ridge is well within range of the cliff, but by keeping on the south side troops can approach under cover; but connecting the ridge with the cliff is a narrow neck 100 yards long by 30 broad, completely open to fire from the cliffs, which must be crossed in order to get to the path up to the heights. The enemy were in force on the top of the cliff, under cover of rocks and boulders. On this occasion the attack was made by the 3rd Ghurkhas and the King's Own Scottish Borderers, and the Northampton Regiment in reserve. Every point from which rifle or artillery fire could be brought to bear on the enemy was occupied, and at noon a rush of Ghurkhas and Borderers was made across the ridge. A tremendous fire burst out from the heights, but so sudden was the rush that only twenty-two men were hit, of whom only three were killed. The enemy did not stay long when once the ridge was crossed and the heights were occupied. It was not, however, thought advisable to retain the position, and satisfied with having cleared the enemy out, Sir William Lockhart recalled the troops. As they retired the rearmost regiments were pressed by the tribesmen, who in consequence lost heavily; but several men of the Gordon Highlanders were wounded, and Major Jennings Bromley killed, in the fighting that ensued.
SECOND ACTION OF DARGAI.
On 20th October the enemy were again in force on the heights, and in much greater numbers, and a second attack became necessary. The troops upon whom this duty fell were the 2nd Ghurkhas, the 1st Dorset and the Derbyshire, with the Gordon Highlanders in reserve. The first to cross were the gallant Ghurkhas, led by Colonel Travers, Captains McIntyre, Bower, and Norie, and Lieutenant Tillard; these succeeded in crossing unhurt, but with the loss of 30 men, and Major Judge and Captain Robinson. The bullets now swept the ridge, and in attempting to follow many a brave Dorset and Derby was killed, officers and men, and but few reached the Ghurkhas. To quote from the despatch of Sir William Lockhart—
"By 11:30 the force was in formation under cover in readiness to capture the heights, but when the 2nd Ghurkas, accompanied by the Ghurka scouts of the first battalion 3rd Ghurkas, made their first rush across the open, they were met by such a hot and well-aimed fire that all they could do was to hold on to the position they had reached without being able to advance farther. At 2 p.m. the Dorsetshire Regiment was ordered to storm the enemy's intrenchments, but though a few men were able to get across the fire-swept zone, an advance beyond the line held by the 2nd Ghurkas was reported by the commanding officer to be impracticable owing to the large number of tribesmen lining the edge of the Dargai plateau, and the steepness of the slope leading up to it. The General officer commanding the second division accordingly ordered Brigadier-General Kempster to move up the Gordon Highlanders and the 3rd Sikhs, the former regiment being replaced on the lower spur which it had hitherto occupied by the Jhind Imperial Service Infantry.
"The Gordon Highlanders went straight up the hill without check or hesitation. Headed by their pipers, and led by Lieutenant-Colonel Mathias, C.B., with Major Macbean on his right and Lieutenant A.F. Gordon on his left, this splendid battalion marched across the open. It dashed through a murderous fire, and in forty minutes had won the heights, leaving 3 officers and 30 men killed or wounded on its way. The first rush of the Gordon Highlanders was deserving of the highest praise, for they had just undergone a very severe climb and had reached a point beyond which other troops had been unable to advance for over three hours.
"The first rush was followed at short intervals by a second and a third, each led by officers, and as the leading companies went up the path for the final assault the remainder of the troops, among whom the 3rd Sikhs were conspicuous, streamed on in support. But few of the enemy waited for the bayonet, many of them being shot down as they fled in confusion. The position was won at 3:15."
Amongst the losses of this day were—
Dorsetshire.—Nine men killed; Captain Arnold, Lieutenant Hewitt, and thirty-nine men wounded.
Gordon Highlanders.—Lieutenant Lamont and two men killed; Colonel Mathias, Major Macbean, Captain Uniacke, Lieutenants Dingwall, Meiklejohn, Craufurd, and thirty-five men wounded.
Derbyshire.—Captain Smith and three men killed, eight wounded.
The Victoria Cross was awarded to Lieutenant Pennell, who endeavoured under fire to bring in Captain Smith; to Piper Findlater, who though wounded in both legs still continued to blow his pipes; to Private Lawson for carrying Lieutenant Dingwall out of fire and returning to bring in another, being himself twice wounded; to Private Vickery and Colonel Mathias.
THE RE-CONQUEST OF THE SUDAN—1898.
Once more our attention is directed to the doings of our soldiers in Egypt. All the toil, all the bloodshed, and all the treasure expended against Mahdism had been in vain. General Gordon nobly holding out at Khartoum waiting for the relief which the vacillating and divided counsels of the British Cabinet had delayed until it was too late, had been slain, and the inhabitants of Khartoum despoiled and massacred by the savage followers of the Mahdi. Berber, Dongola, and Tokar had shared the same fate; and the Anglo-Egyptian army, leaving the Sudan to its fate, had fallen back to Wady Haifa, at which the southern frontier of Egypt was fixed, and which became a barrier against which the tide of Mahdism was to rush in vain. Suakin was also strongly held, and the Mahdi's forces came no farther south; but the whole of the immense territory from the Second Cataract to the Equatorial Lakes was overrun by his fanatic hordes, who carried "fire, the sword, and desolation" far and wide over that unhappy land. It is not to the British administrators in Egypt that the blame of all this failure, and of the purposeless bloodshed of the two expeditions from Suakin, is to be laid, nor can it be said that after the fall of Khartoum any other course could have been adopted than to retire for a time; but it is to the British administrators in Egypt, and not to the Home Government, that belongs the credit of years of patient perseverance, of restoring the finances and resources of Egypt, and of instilling so much character into an oppressed race that at length the poor fallaheen were able to hold their own against the Sudanese, and to wipe out the disgrace of the defeat at El-Teb and the slaughter of the army of Hicks Pasha in 1883. And it may be said that it was these same English rulers in Egypt— administrators, engineers, military officers, and drill sergeants—that made it possible for the English to march in triumph through Khartoum and to avenge the death of Gordon, to some extent to wipe out the humiliations and blunders of past years.
The original Mahdi died within six months of General Gordon, and was succeeded by the chief Khalifa, Abdullah. Abdullah was an ignorant and wholly abominable person, and by his unspeakable cruelty and rapacity soon alienated vast numbers of the followers of his predecessor, and by 1889 Mahdism could no longer be looked upon as an aggressive but as a decaying force; yet, though dwindling, it still existed as a strong military power, with its headquarters at Omdurman.
Meantime the English had been making soldiers of the fallaheen, to whom successful skirmishes under their English officers and drill instructors were yearly giving confidence and self-reliance; and in addition to the fallaheen regiments, Sudanese regiments were formed of the very men who fought so bravely against our squares at Abu Klea, the "Fuzzywuzzy" of Kipling, "a first-class fighting man." Whilst the British campaigns in the Sudan, though affording many a brilliant fight, and many an example of the heroism and endurance of the British soldiers, were fruitless in result, the Egyptian campaigns were from 1885 onwards one continual success,—the fruit of steady effort and perseverance directed to one end through every kind of difficulty and disappointment, but which nothing could turn aside from its object, never faltering or swerving for fourteen years, the credit of which is wholly due to Sir Evelyn Baring (now Lord Cromer), Sir H. Kitchener (Lord Kitchener), Sir F. Grenfell, Colonel Wingate, Colonel H.A. Macdonald, and many others; and their subordinates, among whom must be remembered the English drill sergeants.
In 1888 Osman Digna again threatened Suakin, and threw up trenches against the town, but was defeated by Sir F. Grenfell, the Sirdar or Commander-in-Chief of the Egyptian forces, on December 20th. Next, Wad-en-Nejunii, the great Emir who had defeated Hicks Pasha, came south in 1889, attempting to get to the Nile at Toski behind Wady Haifa, the garrison of which, under Sir F. Grenfell, attacked him at Toski, with the result that he was killed and his army annihilated, and Egypt freed from fear of invasion.
After this Egypt began to advance; Sarras, beyond Wady Haifa, was reoccupied, and a railway laid between the two places. In February 1891 Colonel Holled Smith, commanding the Egyptian garrison at Suakin, marched out against Osman Digna's men with only Egyptian and Sudanese troops, and defeated them after a good fight and occupied Tokar. In this action Captain Barrow was killed, and of the enemy a large number of Emirs; but Osman as usual got away. The effect of this battle was to clear away the dervishes from the Eastern Sudan and re-establish Egyptian government there.
In 1892 the dervishes again gave trouble both on the Nile and in the Eastern Sudan, and there were many skirmishes. A serious attempt was made in January 1893 to cut the railway between Wady Haifa and Sarras, but without success; in the fight Captain Pyne, commanding the Egyptian force, was killed. Osman Digna again turned up near Suakin, but had no success except in his usual flight.
In this year Sir Horatio Kitchener, who had had a long experience both of Egypt and the Sudan, having been on active service in one or the other since 1882, became Sirdar in succession to Sir F. Grenfell, who was appointed to the command of the British forces in Egypt, and he set himself to the task of the re-conquest of the Sudan. He had not the British tax-payer to draw upon, but the very meagre Egyptian Treasury, and he had therefore to work with very limited means. His plan was not to raise a costly army for the purpose of winning victories glorious but fruitless, slaughtering Arabs by the thousand and then retiring till they gathered head and then slaughtering more, after the manner of the peace-loving Government of 1885, but to make sure of each stage of his progress as he went along, driving back the Mahdi and bringing confidence and commerce in his train, never retiring from ground once occupied, but never advancing till his course was clear; and his chief instrument for effecting his purpose was, as it will be seen, the railway.
THE ADVANCE TO DONGOLA.
During all these years, as has been said, the Egyptian army was in the making; and in 1896 it was decided to put it to the test, and to make an advance on Dongola. On March 21st the Sirdar left Cairo for Wady Haifa, taking with him a British regiment, the 1st Staffordshire, to join the Egyptians already at the front; Indian troops having taken the place of the Egyptian garrisons of Tokar and Suakin. Meantime, railway making had been pushed on apace, and the line reached Kosheh, a distance of 76 miles, by the end of April; but rapid as this was, it was as nothing to the achievements of the following year. On June 7th a considerable force of dervishes was attacked and utterly defeated by the Egyptian army, whose conduct delighted their officers and gave them all confidence in the future. A further advance was made in September, and Dongola was occupied. The campaign had been entirely successful, the character of the Egyptian soldiery was established, the fertile province of Dongola rescued from the devastating rule of the Khalifa, and the frontier pushed back as far as Mirawi and Abu Dis,—the steamboats could pass to this point up the Nile, and thus a great step was taken upon the road to Khartoum.
The Sirdar now conceived, and at once began to carry out, the bold idea of laying a railway from Wady Haifa across the desert to Abu Hamed, and thence to Berber and to Dakhala, and the junction of the Nile and the Atbara, a distance of nearly 400 miles. A bold idea indeed, for not only had every rail and every sleeper to be brought up to Wady Haifa, and thence along the rail itself as it disappeared into the trackless desert, but every mile the railway advanced the work was getting farther away from its base and penetrating deeper into the enemy's country, for at this time Abu Hamed was still held by the dervishes. Water was bored for and actually found along the route; and before the line arrived there Abu Hamed had been captured, and by the end of the year the railway reached the Nile again, at a point 234 miles from Haifa, and above the Third Cataract. General Hunter, after a sharp fight in which Major Sidney and Lieutenant Fitzclarence were killed, had seized Abu Hamed; and by the end of the campaign, Dongola, Debbet, Khorti, and Berber were held by Egypt, while the Nile was patrolled even up to Metammeh by the six steamers which, despite all difficulties, had been passed over the cataracts.
The railway making did not pause at Abu Hamed, but at once set out towards the junction of the Atbara with the Nile, a point 150 miles farther, and just south of the Fifth Cataract; the object being not only to provide for the rapid transport of provisions and stores, but also to get on to the Nile the three new steamers which had been brought from England in sections, so that they might be ready for the final advance.
THE ATBARA CAMPAIGN.
At the beginning of 1897 the Sirdar's force at the front was in four brigades, three Egyptian and one British. The Egyptian division of three brigades was under Major-General Hunter; the first brigade, three regiments of black hoofs, Sudanese, and splendid soldiers, and one of Egyptian, was commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel H.A. Macdonald, and quartered at Berber. The second brigade, also consisting of three Sudanese and one Egyptian regiment, and under the command of Lieutenant—Colonel Maxwell, was about half-way between Berber and the Atbara River; while the third brigade, under Lieutenant-Colonel Lewis, consisting entirely of Egyptians, was at the Atbara. The British brigade, commanded by Major-General Gatacre, had its camp about a mile away from the second brigade, and consisted of the 1st Lincolnshire, Colonel Verner; the 1st Cameron Highlanders, Colonel Money; 1st Warwickshire, under Lieutenant-Colonel Onagle Jones, and was afterwards joined by the 1st Seaforth Highlanders, Colonel Murray. The whole force in the field, exclusive of the railway battalion and the crews of the gunboats, but including four batteries of artillery under Lieutenant-Colonel Long and eight squadrons of Egyptian cavalry under Lieutenant-Colonel Broadwood, amounted to about 14,000 men.
About the end of February it was known that Mahmoud was concentrating at Shendy, and preparing to make an attack upon Berber, which being held only by Egyptian troops he hoped to capture before the Sirdar could come to its relief. Nor was this by any means an impracticable plan, for Mahmoud's force consisted of some 20,000 horse and foot, with ample supplies of arms and ammunition, guns, and transport animals; but Mahmoud reckoned without the Sirdar.
On the 25th February the British brigade was ordered to proceed from Abu Dis, to which point they had recently advanced, to Debeker, a village 10 miles or so south of Berber. The men had but just returned from a 16-mile route march, but the start was made without delay. The railway, which was always being pushed ahead, was available for 17 miles out, and by the evening of the 27th the whole force was on the march; while by the evening of 3rd March they had reached their destination,—as good a performance as even the records of British Infantry can show. To quote the Special Army Order issued from the Horse Guards at the end of the campaign, "The march of the British Brigade to the Atbara, when in six days—for one of which it was halted—it covered 140 miles in a most trying climate, shows what British troops can do when called upon."
On the 20th of March the entire force marched to Ras-el-Hudi, a point on the bend of the river which Mahmoud would have to pass if he decided to attack Berber. But Mahmoud, finding now that he would have the British as well as Egyptians to deal with, changed his plans, and instead of advancing intrenched his position, hoping to receive assistance from the Khalifa. On the 26th a raid was made on Shendy by the steamboats, under command of Commander Keppel and Lieutenants Beatty and Hood, R.N.; the troops being commanded by Majors Hickman and Sitwell, Captain Sloman, and Lieutenant Graham. This was completely successful: the dervishes fled; Shendy, where was Mahmoud's reserve depot, was occupied, and the forts and depot destroyed, and a large number of female prisoners released. Attempts to draw Mahmoud out of his cover were unsuccessful, and the Sirdar decided to attack him.
On April 7th the force, with the British leading, made a night-march, and after a short rest took up a position about one and a half miles from the enemy's camp, and about 4:30 a.m. a general advance in attack formation was made. The British brigade was on the left, Macdonald's in the centre, Maxwell's on the right, and Lewis's Egyptians were held in reserve. The enemy were in a large irregular enclosure, with its rear on the now dry bed of the river. The position was defended by trenches, and in part by palisades; and was surrounded by a strong zareba, the inside being full of shelter trenches and pits. After a bombardment by 12 guns and the rocket detachment, at 7:10 the general advance was sounded, and with pipes and bands playing the infantry bore down upon the zareba. In front of the British were the Camerons in line, and behind them the Warwicks on the left, Seaforths in the centre, and Lincolns on the right; General Gatacre, the Staff, and Colonel Money in front. The zareba was soon reached and torn aside, and in a few minutes our men were in the enclosure. The enemy fought bravely, and, refusing quarter, died fighting. In every hut and trench the dervishes were hid, and slashed and fired at their enemy till bayoneted, or shot themselves. There were many hand-to-hand fights and many narrow escapes, but in forty minutes the firing was over and the dervish army scattered and annihilated. With the exception of Osman Digna, who with his usual luck escaped, and three others, all the important leaders were killed, and Mahmoud himself taken prisoner. He was found in a hole under his bed! a rare instance of cowardice among dervishes. Of the British, Captains Urquhart and Findlay of the Camerons, and Lieutenant Gore of the Seaforths, who had only recently joined, were killed leading their men over the trenches, besides 22 non-commissioned officers and men; and 10 officers and 82 non-commissioned officers and men wounded. The Egyptian army lost 57 officers and men, and 5 British and 16 native officers and 365 non-commissioned officers and men wounded. The dervish losses were estimated at over 3000 killed at and around the zareba; but of the whole dervish army but very few, and none of the wounded, could have escaped to Omdurman,—in fact the army was practically annihilated.
Among the many escapes from spear or bullet that occurred, none are more curious than those of Corporal Lawrie of the Seaforths, which he related in a letter home, afterwards published in a daily paper. A bullet took off the toe of his shoe, his bayonet was bent by a shot; a shot passed through his sleeve, his rifle was struck by a bullet; a dervish striking at him with a spear only split his haversack; a shot entered the lid of his ammunition pouch, passed into his coat pocket, smashing a penknife and two pencils, tore four holes in his shirt, made a surface wound on his left breast, and came out near his left shoulder through his coat and pouch braces.
THE ADVANCE TO KHARTOUM.
After the battle of the Atbara the troops returned to the Nile and went into summer quarters, waiting for the time of high Nile, when the advance would be made.
The British troops settled down for a time in camp as in times of peace, for there was no fear of any dervish force, and were made as comfortable as possible; and the men, who were all well seasoned and inured to the climate, spared as much as possible during the heat. But it was a very busy time with the Egyptians, and especially with the railway brigade, which, under the able direction of the director of railways, Major Gerouard, R.E., laboured incessantly to complete the track to Dakhala, which now became the base and depot of the autumn campaign.
The new gunboats were brought up by rail in sections, and put together, as well as the barges for transport, and launched at Abadieh on the Nile, a village between Berber and the Fifth Cataract. Camping-grounds were prepared, commissariat stores and ammunition forwarded to the front, wood cut and stacked for fuel, and every preparation made, so that there might be no delay or hitch at the critical moment.
From the 17th of July, everything being in readiness to receive them, reinforcements for the British command, now to be raised to a division and commanded by Major-General Gatacre, were moved up from Cairo; amongst these were Royal Artillery, Royal Engineers, Army Service Corps, Medical Corps, and the 21st Lancers under Colonel Martin, a regiment which had never yet been in action, and was therefore burning to distinguish itself, as indeed it did, as we shall presently see.
A second British brigade had been formed, under the command of Colonel Lyttleton; it was comprised of 1st Northumberland Fusiliers, Lieutenant—Colonel Money; 2nd Lancashire Fusiliers, Lieutenant-Colonel Collingwood, from the Army of Occupation at Cairo; 2nd Rifle Brigade, Colonel Howard; and 1st Grenadier Guards, Colonel Hatton; which last two regiments had come direct to the front from Malta and Gibraltar respectively. There was also a detachment of Royal Irish Fusiliers, with Maxims, making in all about 7500 men.
The 21st Lancers numbered 500, the rest of the cavalry being Broadwood's Egyptians, about 1000 sabres. There was also an addition to the artillery of the 32nd Field-Battery R.A., Major Williams; 37th Field-Battery with the new 5-inch howitzers firing Lyddite shells, and two siege-guns, besides some twenty or more Maxims.
The first British division was composed, as before, of the Camerons, Seaforths, Lincolns, and Warwicks; the last two having changed colonels, Lieutenant-Colonel Louth now leading the Lincolns, and Lieutenant-Colonel Forbes the Warwicks. The brigade was commanded by Colonel Wauchope; General Gatacre, as has been said, being now in command of the division.
The land forces numbered over 8000 British troops and about 15,000 Egyptian; in addition to this the Sirdar had a river flotilla of eleven steamboats well armed, besides iron barges especially made for transport of troops, and innumerable native craft.
THE BATTLE OF OMDURMAN.
On 15th August the final advance began, and on the 22nd the whole force was concentrated at Wad Hamed, some 50 miles from Omdurman, a brilliant achievement even for the Sirdar, for it meant that 23,000 men, with all impedimenta, stores, and ammunition, had been moved within ten days 150 miles across the desert into the enemy's country by means of marching and the use of the flotilla on the Nile.
"The task before them is one of the most arduous that an army has ever been called upon to perform, being at a distance of something like 1200 miles from the real base of operations, on the sea, in a climate the conditions of which are trying, and amidst deserts devoid of all resources—even of those few which existed in 1884 when the British forces under Lord Wolseley advanced to Metammeh, and which have since been utterly destroyed by the complete devastation of the villages on the banks of the Nile and the murder or despoliation of their inhabitants."—Field-Marshal Sir J.L.A. Simmons, in a letter to the Times.
On the 2nd September the army lay encamped at Agaiga on the Nile, a few miles only from Khartoum, having already come into touch with he Khalifa's outposts, the main body of whose army, some 40,000 or 50,000, had come out of Omdurman, and was intrenched between them and the city. The Sirdar's camp was in the form of a semicircle, with about one mile of the Nile for its diameter. On the extreme left was the 32nd Field-Battery R.A.; and next them, with their left on the Nile, and on the right of the guns, lay the second British brigade (Rifles, Lancashire, Northumberland, and Grenadier Guards); then the first British brigade (Wauchope's), Warwicks, Seaforths, Camerons, and Lincolns; then Maxwell's 2nd Egyptian; Macdonald's, and then Lewis with his right on the Nile. On the left, and extending close down to the lines, was a small hill, Gabel Surgham; and on the right, some way off, the rising ground of Kerrin. The camp was protected by a zareba and trench, with spaces at intervals, and all along the river were the flotilla of gunboats.
At an early hour the whole army was armed and everything in readiness for the advance, when the scouts and the pickets of the 21st Lancers came galloping in with the astounding but most welcome news that the Khalifa, instead of waiting to be attacked behind his intrenchments, as did Mahmoud at Atbara, was rapidly advancing with his whole army upon the zareba. Nothing could have been more fortunate for the Sirdar or more foolish on the part of the Khalifa; had he even remained in his position he would have caused his assailants heavy loss, while had he awaited our attack in Omdurman the siege might have presented many difficulties. As it was, over-confident in the fanatic courage of his followers, and their superior numbers, he threw his host upon our fire, verily "Quem deus vult perdere prius dementat" was true in his case.
The black flag of the Khalifa and the huge host of the Arabs was soon seen approaching, and at 6:30 a.m. the firing commenced. First the Maxims and 15-pounder field-guns, 2800 yards; then the Lee-Metford rifles. The air was full of shot and bullet, shrapnel and shell, mowing out great gaps in the charging masses, who never faltered in their movement. Thousands upon thousands fell, and were succeeded by thousands upon thousands who likewise fell; and of all that host never a man reached the zareba. Nothing could exceed the courage of the dervishes. Following their old tactics, they meant to rush the zareba, piercing, as they hoped, the line of fire by sheer force of numbers.
"Stormed at by shot and shell, Bravely they fought and fell."
A large body of horse tried to break through the centre, and were annihilated. At length human endurance could do no more, and the shattered remnants of what had been but an hour before a mighty host, withdrew behind Gabel Surgham. So ended the first act, with a loss of a few hundred in killed and wounded; 10,000 dervishes were slain.
It was at first thought when the last dervish disappeared behind the high ground that the fight was over, and that Omdurman lay open; and after a delay occupied in removing the wounded to the steamers, and replenishing ammunition, the army, about 9:30, re-formed for marching, moved out of the camp. Lyttleton's and Wauchope's brigade, turning by the left, moved round the bottom of Gabel Surgham; Maxwell passing on their right, while Lewis and Macdonald moved away much farther on the right; and thus the brigades became at some distance apart.
And now took place one of the most stirring events of this eventful day. The 21st Lancers, trotting ahead a mile or more beyond Gabel, came upon a small body of dervishes hiding in a hollow; and Colonel Martin having decided to cut them off, the regiment charged in line, led by Colonel Martin. Within 200 yards of the enemy the horsemen saw the trap that had been laid for them; instead of 200 or 300 men in a hollow, 2000 or more dervishes lay in wait for them in a narrow and rather deep ravine. Four hundred against 2000 rode the Lancers, and somehow or another were into the ravine and out again, and with lance and sword and revolver had pushed and hacked their way through the dense mass of the enemy. Clean through and out on the other side; but not all of them, for any whose horse fell and could not recover at once was cut to pieces. There were many wonderful escapes, and many acts of bravery. The colonel rode through well in front without drawing sword or revolver; his horse fell in the midst of the melee but was up again, and both came through without a scratch. Perhaps 80 dervishes were knocked over, but the Lancers suffered severely.
Lieutenant Grenfell fell at the head of his troop, and ten of his men with him. As he was lying surrounded by a crowd of dervishes, Lieutenant de Montmorency, who had got through safely, returned to his assistance. He succeeded in driving off the enemy, and finding Lieutenant Grenfell dead he attempted to place the body across his horse. While he was doing this his horse bolted, and he was left to face the enemy. Captain Kenna and Corporal Swabrick came to his assistance, and fortunately caught the horse and were able to keep the enemy at a distance with their revolvers, while all three got safely through. Lieutenant De Montmorency received the Victoria Cross, and also Captain Kenna, who had also saved Major Windham, whose horse was bolting, by taking him up behind him on his own horse.
Meantime Macdonald's brigade, which had moved away to the right, had to bear a sudden attack of 15,000 dervishes who had rallied behind the high ground, and with reckless courage threw themselves upon the Egyptian ranks, who now found themselves attacked on three sides at once. In old times no Egyptian troops could have sustained the shock, but all was altered now. Admirably handled by their commander, both men and officers as cool as on parade, the brigade thrown practically into line, with the left and right thrown back, held their own, mowing down the enemy with a well-sustained fire. The guns soon came to the relief, and shot and shell fell from steamers on to the devoted host; and Wauchope's brigade coming up, the rout of the dervishes was soon complete.
Again the army advanced, and soon after four o'clock the Sirdar with the captured standard of the Khalifa entered Omdurman, arriving just after the Khalifa, with a small body of followers, had succeeded in slipping away.
A Victoria Cross was also given to Captain Nevill Smyth, who galloped forward and engaged in single combat with an Arab who was attacking camp followers, and killed him, being slightly wounded himself.
The Funeral of General Gordon. On Sunday, 4th September, the Sirdar, Generals, and Staff, with detachments from all branches of the army, steamed up the Blue Nile to the ruins of Khartoum, and on the summit of Gordon's old palace, the scene of his death, hoisted the Union Jack and the Egyptian flag. After this ceremony the bands played the Dead March, the chaplains—Presbyterian, Roman, Wesleyan, and Anglican—offered prayer, and hymns were sung on the very spot where the hero fell.
Among the numerous rewards given for services in this campaign, none was more popular than the peerage conferred upon the Sirdar, now Lord Kitchener of Khartoum.