Massacre of Elphinstone's Army

Massacre of Elphinstone's Army

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{{more footnotes|date=January 2011}} {{Campaignbox First Anglo-Afghan War}} The '''Massacre of Elphinstone's Army''' was the destruction by [[Afghanistan|Afghan]] forces, led by [[Akbar Khan (Afghanistan)|Akbar Khan]], the son of [[Dost Mohammad Khan]], of a combined [[United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland|British]] and Indian force of the [[British East India Company]], led by Major General [[William George Keith Elphinstone|William Elphinstone]], in January 1842. After the British and Indian troops captured [[Kabul]] in 1839, an [[Demography of Afghanistan|Afghan]] uprising forced the occupying garrison out of the city. The East India Company army of 4,500 troops, along with 12,000 working personnel or [[camp-follower]]s, left Kabul on 6 January 1842. They attempted to reach the British [[garrison]] at [[Jalalabad]], {{convert|90|mi|km}} away, but were immediately harassed by Afghan forces. The last organised remnants were eventually annihilated near [[Gandamak]] on 13 January. Apart from about a dozen high-ranking prisoners, including Elphinstone and his second-in-Command Brigadier Shelton, only one British officer from the army, Assistant Surgeon [[William Brydon]], survived the retreat and reached Jalalabad. ==The British campaign== {{Main|First Anglo-Afghan War}} In 1838 the [[British East India Company]] feared an increased [[Russia]]n [[European influence in Afghanistan|influence in Afghanistan]] after [[Dost Mohammad Khan]] had seized power from former ruler [[Shuja Shah Durrani]] in 1834. Dost Mohammad had rejected earlier overtures from Russia, but after [[George Eden, 1st Earl of Auckland|Lord Auckland]], the [[Governor-General of India]], tried to force Afghan foreign policy under British guidance, he renewed his relationship with the Russians. Lord Auckland followed the advice of State Secretary [[William Hay Macnaghten]] to support Shuja Shah, dismissing the advice of [[Alexander Burnes]] that Dost Mohammad should be supported, and resolved to seek a military solution. He began to assemble his forces in late 1838. The army, under the command of General Sir [[Willoughby Cotton]] with Macnaghten as his chief adviser, consisted of 20,000 soldiers and were accompanied by 38,000 civilian camp followers (craftsmen, stretcher bearers, cooks, servants, barbers, tailors, armourers, cameleers, etc. plus the families of both Indian and British soldiers). In March 1839 they crossed the [[Bolan Pass]] and began their march to [[Kabul]]. They advanced through rough terrain, crossing deserts and mountain passes at a height of {{convert|4000|m|ft}} but made good progress and took [[Kandahar]] on 25 April. They also captured the until-then impregnable fortress of [[Battle of Ghazni|Ghazni]] on 22 July in a surprise attack, suffering 200 men killed and wounded while the Afghans lost nearly 500 men and 1,600 were taken prisoner with an unknown number wounded. An Afghan had betrayed his sovereign and the British troops managed to blow one city gate and marched into the city in a euphoric mood. The fact that Ghazni was well supplied eased the further advance considerably, if not made it possible at all. Dost Mohammed fled and sought refuge in the wilds of the [[Hindu Kush]]. Shuja Shah was proclaimed emir and Kabul fell on 6 August 1839, without a fight. Dost Mohammed surrendered to Macnaghten on 4 November 1840, and was exiled to India. ==British occupation== Kabul at that time was a clean, pleasant city with spacious wooden houses surrounded by gardens. Macnaghten was established as political agent. He soon sent most of his troops back to their garrisons in India and quickly established a [[Victorian era]] lifestyle. The occupying forces enjoyed themselves arranging cricket matches, horse races and hunting parties. In the evenings amateur dramatics were staged, where officers and their wives performed [[William Shakespeare]]'s play ''[[A Midsummer Night's Dream]]''. It was considered a special honour to be invited to Lady [[Florentia Sale]]'s evening companies, at which salmon and stew with [[madeira wine]], [[port wine]] and [[champagne (wine)|champagne]] was served. The Afghan people chafed under the British occupation and were not willing to be colonised. Britain had replaced a (relatively) popular ruler with a weak puppet who was seen as much more cruel and vindictive to his enemies than Dost Mohammed. [[Akbar Khan (Afghanistan)|Akbar Khan]], the son of Dost, assembled new followers amongst the tribesmen in the rural areas, where British influence was slight. He soon started a guerrilla war, which kept the British forces permanently on the move. The British government back in India soon became frustrated with the costs of maintaining the large garrison in Kabul, and eliminated the subsidies, actually bribes, they had been paying to the various tribes in the area around Kabul and the Khyber Pass to keep the peace. Once the subsidies ended, there was no more reason to remain under the thumb of the British invaders. Macnaghten dismissed all warnings from his officers and instead wrote to his superiors that, ''"this is the usual state of Afghan society"''. The British freedom of movement was more and more restricted during spring and summer 1841. Despite this, Sir Willoughby Cotton was replaced as commander of the remaining troops by the aging and infirm [[William George Keith Elphinstone|William Elphinstone]]. Brigadier [[Robert Henry Sale]], the husband of Lady Sale, was called to Jalalabad, on the line of communication between Kabul and [[Peshawar]] with his brigade in the autumn of 1841, but left his wife behind. ==General Elphinstone== [[Image:General William Elphinstone.JPG|200px|thumb|General William Elphinstone]] {{Main|William George Keith Elphinstone}} William Elphinstone was born in 1782 and entered the British army in 1804. He commanded the [[Duke of Wellington's Regiment|33rd Regiment of Foot]] at the [[Battle of Waterloo]] and was made a [[Companion of the Bath]] for his action in that battle. He was promoted to colonel in 1825 and to major-general in 1837. He was a man of high birth and perfect manners but is also regarded as "the most incompetent soldier who ever became general" in words of his colleague and contemporary general [[William Nott]]. Elphinstone himself was ill, and initially was unwilling to accept the appointment. ==Afghan uprising== On 2 November 1841, Akbar Khan proclaimed a general revolt and the citizens of Kabul followed suit. Elphinstone and Macnaghten were caught by surprise. The East India Company troops in and around Kabul numbered only 4,500 men, of which 690 were Europeans. The Afghans stormed the house of Sir [[Alexander Burnes]], one of the senior British political officers, and murdered him and his staff. Elphinstone took no action in response to the incident, which encouraged further revolt. The British situation soon deteriorated when Afghans stormed the poorly defended supply fort inside Kabul on 9 November. The British forces had refrained from occupying the citadel and instead occupied cantonments {{convert|1.5|mi|km}} outside Kabul, a badly chosen place. On 23 November, Afghans occupied a hill overlooking the British camp and began bombarding the camp with two guns. A British force sallied out to drive them away, but the Afghans inflicted heavy casualties firing [[jezail]]s at long range, and the British force fled, leaving 300 wounded to be killed. It was evident that morale was low in the British force. Elphinstone called for reinforcements from Major General Nott in Kandahar, but they found the passes blocked by snow and turned back. Macnaghten realised their desperate situation and tried to negotiate a free retreat for the troops and the 12,000 British and Indian civilians still at Kabul. The Afghan diplomats invited Macnaghten for tea on 23 December, but at the moment the British delegation dismounted from their horses, they were seized and slain by Akbar Khan. Macnaghten's body was dragged through the streets of Kabul. The guard which was supposed to protect him had not shown up. Elphinstone had already partly lost command of his troops and his authority was badly damaged. To the utter horror of all his officers Elphinstone again ignored the murder and instead signed a capitulation on 1 January 1842, which had some unfavourable conditions. For example, his troops had to hand over their gunpowder reserves, their newest muskets and most of their cannon. However, they were promised a safe retreat, and the troops and civilians, amongst them children, women and the elderly, began to move out on 6 January. They planned to retire to Jalalabad, {{convert|90|mi|km}} away, through snowy mountains. At the start of the retreat, Elphinstone's army consisted of one British infantry battalion (the [[44th (East Essex) Regiment of Foot|44th Regiment of Foot]]), three regiments of regular [[Bengal Native Infantry]] (the 5th, 37th and 54th BNI), one regiment of Shah Shujah's Levy (a British-subsidised force of Indian troops recruited for Afghan service), Anderson's Irregular Horse, the 5th Bengal Light Cavalry and six guns of the [[Bengal Horse Artillery]], with some [[sapper]]s. In total, there were 700 British and 3,800 Indian troops. The camp followers, including Indian and British families, numbered approximately 12,000. ==The massacre== [[Image:Remnants of an army2.jpg|thumb|300px|''Remnants of an Army'' by [[Elizabeth Butler]] depicting [[William Brydon]].]] The sick and wounded people were left behind, as Akbar Khan had guaranteed their safety, but when the last of Elphinstone's soldiers had left the cantonments, their tents were set on fire and all were [[massacre]]d. The first dangerous passage Elphinstone's troops had to face was the [[Khord-Kabul pass]], {{convert|15|mi|km}} from Kabul. Instead of hurrying and securing the pass, Elphinstone ordered a rest after covering just {{convert|6|mi|km}}. Any effort to maintain military organisation on the retreat failed. It was so slow that it was two o'clock in the morning before the last reached the resting place. This gave the Afghans the opportunity to seize the pass themselves. When the British laboured up the narrow pass the next day, they were shot at from all sides by [[Ghilzai]]s armed with the captured British muskets and their traditional jezails. By the evening of 9 January, around 3,000 of Elphinstone's column had died due to enemy action, the freezing weather, or even suicide. The column had moved only {{convert|10|mi|km}}. A few hundred soldiers deserted and tried to return to Kabul, but none were spared by the Afghans. Elphinstone had ceased giving any orders and sat silently on his horse. On the evening of 11 January, Lady Sale and other officers' wives gave themselves up and accepted being taken hostage by Akbar Khan, whom they mistrusted deeply. All the Indian servants and wives of [[sepoy]]s were massacred, as they promised no ransom. On the same day Akbar Khan persuaded Elphinstone and his second in command, Brigadier Shelton, to also become hostages. It was a uniquely degrading act in British military history, that senior officers surrendered to save their lives, while their soldiers had to struggle on and face almost certain death. Elphinstone died on 23 April as a captive. On 12 January the remaining troops, now led by Brigadier [[Thomas John Anquetil]], reached the Jugdulluk crest, only to find it blocked by tribesmen. A desperate attack was mounted but only a few soldiers, mostly of the 44th Regiment of Foot, overcame the obstruction. All others were left for dead. The remnants dragged on and made a last stand near the village of [[Battle of Gandamak|Gandamack]] on 13 January. The force was down to fewer than forty men and almost out of food and ammunition. They were surrounded on a hillock and when a surrender was offered by the Afghans, one British [[sergeant]] gave the famous answer "Not bloody likely!" All were killed except Captain James Souter, Sergeant Fair and seven soldiers who were taken prisoner. Only one British officer from the army managed to reach Jalalabad, although a few sepoys were also reported to have subsequently done so. On 13 January, Assistant Surgeon [[William Brydon]] rode through the gate on his exhausted horse. Part of his skull was sheared off by a sword. An Afghan shepherd had granted him refuge and, when the shooting was over, put him on his horse. It is said that he was asked upon arrival what happened to the army, and answered "I am the army." Brydon later published a memoir of the death march. ==Aftermath== The annihilation of about 16,500 people left Britain and India in shock and the Governor General, Lord Auckland, suffered a [[stroke]] upon hearing the news. In the Autumn of 1842 an "Army of Retribution" led by Sir [[George Pollock]], with William Nott and Robert Sale commanding divisions, levelled Kabul. Sale personally rescued his wife Lady Sale and some other hostages from the hands of Akbar Khan. However, the slaughter of an army by Afghan tribesman was humiliating for the British authorities in India. The leadership of Elphinstone is seen as a notorious example of how the ineptitude and indecisiveness of a senior officer could compromise the morale and effectiveness of a whole army (though already much depleted). Elphinstone completely failed to lead his soldiers, but fatally exerted enough authority to prevent any of his officers from exercising proper command in his place. Historians still debate whether Akbar Khan ordered the massacre, sanctioned it, or was unable to prevent it. Some of the British officers and families taken hostage were later to claim that Akbar Khan had called out "Spare them!" in [[Farsi|Persian]], but "Kill them!" in [[Pushtu]] to the tribesmen. Either way, the British reaction to such an atrocity must have been clear to him. He died near the end of 1847, possibly poisoned by his father Dost Mohammad, who may have feared his ambitions. Dost Mohammed remained a British prisoner till the end of 1841 when he was set free by the British authorities who, after they took their revenge on Kabul, had resolved to abandon any attempts to intervene in the internal affairs of Afghanistan. After Shuja Shah was assassinated in April 1842, Dost Mohammed quickly reestablished his authority. He died on 9 June 1863 of natural causes, one of the few Afghan rulers in the past thousand years to do so. Interestingly, even after the two British invasions of his country, he did not intervene in any manner during the 1857 Indian Mutiny. German poet [[Theodor Fontane]] learned of the massacre during his visit to England in 1844. The events occupied him his whole life and 54 years later, just before his death, he wrote a striking ballade about the disaster. ==External links== *[http://www.britishbattles.com/first-afghan-war/kabul-gandamak.htm Account of the British campaign and the massacre] *[http://www.mainlesson.com/display.php?author=morris&book=english&story=massacre Account of the death march on ''The Baldwin Project''] *[http://meister.igl.uni-freiburg.de/gedichte/fon_t12.html Theodor Fontane, ''Das Trauerspiel von Afghanistan'', German original] *[http://www.jmhare.com/CentralAsia/history1.htm A Brief History of the First Afghan War] {{coord missing|Afghanistan}}