« PreviousContinue »
should forthwith evacuate Afghanistan, and that all property, not portable, should be surrendered to the victors, who would also retain in their custody the married Englishmen with their wives and families, until Dost Mohammed and the other Afghan prisoners were restored to their native country. Besides this, they demanded the waggons, ammunition, and all the guns, with the exception of six field-pieces, which they permitted the troops to retain for the purpose of defending themselves during their retreat.
The strong repugnance of the English officers to place their wives at the mercy of a faithless and barbarous enemy, occasioned the final omission of one portion of the treaty; the other conditions were accepted, and the agreement having been signed, the English army commenced its disastrous march. It was the depth of an Afghan winter, the snow lay thick upon the ground; and no firewood could be obtained at any price. Even the hardy sons of a northern clime looked forward with anxiety and alarm, to a long and perilous journey during such a season, exposed to the continual attacks of enemies, whom no treaties could bind, and whom it was now hopeless to think of resisting. Yet their sufferings were as nothing compared with the agonies endured by men recently drafted from the burning regions of Hindoostan, where snow is never seen, and the existence of frozen water is regarded as a fabulous tale. The unfortunate Sepoys crowded together like a herd of animals, or crouched hopelessly over a few sticks and worn-out accoutrements, by the aid of which they had succeeded in raising a feeble flame. Without spirit, and totally deprived of energy, the men seemed to have lost even individual courage;
they possessed no confidence in their leaders, and almost trembled at the very sight of an Afghan.
The number of the troops when they left the cantonments considerably exceeded 4,000; while the camp
THE RETREAT FROM CABOOL.
followers, not including women and children, have been estimated at about 12,000. As they abandoned the lines, a mob of furious Ghazees poured into the deserted encampment, plundering whatever they could find, and cutting to pieces those who had not yet taken their departure. Nor did this even satiate their sanguinary and revengeful feelings; for one party turned their guns upon the retreating troops, while another, bursting in upon the crowd of defenceless camp followers, commenced an indiscriminate massacre. The miserable victims, mad with fear, and incapable of offering resistance, rushed forward to the front, thus encumbering the troops and preventing them from forming to repel the enemy. Unfortunately too the English commanders shrank from aggressive measures, and contented themselves with invoking the protection of the Afghan chiefs, who invariably proved either unable or unwilling to arrest the violence of their own followers.
As the column proceeded, numbers fell down overcome by cold, hunger and fatigue. The snow was literally covered with wounded men, and the corpses of women and children. The beasts of burden dropped exhausted beside their drivers, and it was soon found absolutely necessary to abandon two of the guns. At last, Akbar Khan inade his appearance, and promised to escort the English in safety to Jellalabad. These promises proved as fallacious as all the former engagements had been. When the column entered the pass of Koord Cabool, they found the precipitous rocks on each side lined with enemies, who poured down upon them an incessant fire of juzails as they marched along. Resistance seemed hopeless, for the juzail, or Afghan matchlock, carried its ball much farther than an ordinary musket, and thus enabled the marksman to attain his object from a distance beyond the reach of an opponent's weapon. The ladies galloped on to the head of the column, exposed every moment to the flying bullets; but Lady Sale alone received a slight
wound. It was a period of intense individual suffering. Here a dying officer lay expiring on the snow, while his wife hung over him in speechless agony; there another beheld his comrade falling beneath the knives et the Ghazees unable from weakness to lend him the slightest assistance. The excitement of action was wanting to diminish peril and inspire courage; it was in fact the horrible reality, the unadorned butchery of war.
As the troops ascended, the cold became greater, and their sufferings increased tenfold. Akbar Khan now proposed that the ladies should be placed under his protection, and secured in this manner from the dangers of the journey. They had scarcely tasted food since they left Cabool; some were nursing infants a few days old, while others expected every hour to become mothers. Under these circumstances the offer was accepted, and the ladies were accordingly led off under the escort of a strong body of Afghan cavalry, the married ones being accompanied by their husbands.
The main body of the troops still advanced, mowed down at each step by the pitiless fire of the Ghiljies, which had already almost annihilated the native regiments. Of the 4,000 armed men who quitted Cabool barely 400 now remained, searcely able to march from weakness, and dragging along with them one solitary gun. They halted for a short time at Kubbur-i-jub bar, but soon perceived a body of Afghan horse approaching, upon which General Elphinstone, who was now in a dying state, drew up his men and prepared for an attack. The cavalry proved to be a detachment under Akbar Khan, who, as usual, affirmed that he could afford them no assistance in their present condition. He recommended, however, that the troops should lay down their arms, place themselves under his protection, and leave the camp followers to their fate. This proposition the officers rejected unanimously, and once more the weary and dispirited soldiers commenced their march.
ARRIVAL OF DR. BRYDON.
The enemy still continued their opposition, and notwithstanding some desperate and successful efforts made by the little band of survivors, it soon became evident that few, if any, would reach Jellalabad alive. General Elphinstone being induced to hold a conference with Akbar was detained prisoner, and his troops, alarmed at his protracted absence, moved forward towards Gundamuck. Here their number had diminished to about -100 men, including officers, but these determined to sell their lives as dearly as they could.
In the meantime, General Sale, with his gallant brigade, were defending themselves stoutly at Jellalabad. At the beginning of January 1842, they had received a communication from Major Pottinger, making known officially the evacuation of Cabool, and directing that the garrison of Jellalabad should return to India. This General Sale, after some deliberation, resolved to disregard, considering that the convention had been entered into under intimidation, and was therefore not binding. He heard also, on good authority, that Akbar Khan intended to attack the Cabool army during their retreat, and imagined that by retaining possession of Jellalabad he might afford them some assistance.
He therefore did his utmost to repair the fortifications of the town, and having succeeded in making suitable arrangements for its defence, awaited with anxiety some further intelligence from the retiring force.
On the 13th of January the sentry reported that an European, mounted on a small pony, was approaching the walls. As he drew near, both horse and rider seemed ready to sink with fatigue, but a party of cavalry being despatched to his assistance, they brought him half alive into the town. It proved to be a Dr. Brydon, who conveyed the melancholy tidings that out of an army of 16,000 men, he only had escaped to tell the mournful tale.
B B 2
ADVANCE OF BRIGADIER WILD- EARTHQUAKE AT JELLALABAD
ARRIVAL OF LORD ELLENBOROUGA- ASSASSINATION OF SHAH SUJAH -THE ENGLISH ADVANCE INTO CABOOL A SECOND TIME-RECOVERY OF THE CAPTIVES, AND FINAL EVACUATION OF THE COUNTRY.
When the Government of India received intelligence of the revolt in Afghanistan, a reinforcement of 4,000 men, under Brigadier Wild, was immediately ordered to Jellalabad. They reached the Khyber Pass in January 1842, and an advanced guard succeeded in occupying the small fort of Ali Masjid. But the main body being attacked on all sides by the hill tribes were unable to support their companions, and the garrison, finding themselves in an isolated position, without stores or ammunition, cut their way through the enemy and retreated with the brigadier to the mouth of the pass.
The news of this failure soon arrived at Jellalabad, but its brave commandant, though much dispirited, determined to maintain his position. Scarcely, however, had he completed the necessary defences, when a violent earthquake destroyed nearly the whole of his labours. * The city was thrown into alarm,” says the general,* 6 within the space of little more than one month, by the repetition of full one hundred shocks of this terrible phenomenon of nature."
The earthquake was followed by the appearance of
* General Sale's Despatches.