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Chapter LVI, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 7


Lord Ellenborough appointed Governor-General in the room of Lord Auckland - The Garrison of Peshawur - Occupation and abandonment of the Khyber Pass - Arrival of General Pollock at Peshawar- Demoralised State of the Troops - The Garrison at Jelalabad - Its Difficulties - Holds a Council of War - Proposals to Surrender Resisted by Colonel Broadfoot - The Defences - Destructive Earthquake - Restoration of the Fortifications - Advance of General Pollock to the Relief of the Garrison - The Khyber Pass forced - Destruction of the Afghan Camp by the Garrison at Jelalabad, and utter Rout of Besiegers - Votes of Thanks to the Army by both Houses of Parliament - Proclamation of Lord Ellenborough - His Efforts to save India - The English Prisoners - Measures taken for their recovery by Sir Robert Sale - Sufferings of the Captives - They agree to purchase their own Ransom - The Bond - Glad Tidings - Arrival of Sir Robert Sale and his Column of Liberators - Joyful Congratulations - Submission of the Hostile Chiefs - Measures of Retribution - Capture of Istaliff, containing the Afghan Women and Treasures - Punishment inflicted on Cabul - Proclamation of Lord Ellenborough reversing our Indian Policy - Restoration of the Gates of Somnauth - Absurd and Mischievous Proclamation of the Governor-General.
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The indignation which had been excited in India by the horrifying accounts of the destruction of the army in its retreat from Cabul, and the atrocities that had been perpetrated by the enemy, caused the public to lose all patience with the feebleness and supineness of Lord Auckland, who proved altogether unequal to the emergency. It was therefore a great relief when the mail arrived announcing the appointment of the Earl of Ellenborough to take his place. The appointment was hailed with the greatest satisfaction alike by Whig and Tory. He was elected in October, 1841, and attended the usual complimentary dinner given by the directors on such occasions. When returning thanks for the drinking of his health, he expressed his determination, on assuming the reins of government, to direct all the energies of his mind to the cultivation of the arts of peace, to emulate the magnificent beneficence of the Mahomedan conquerors, and "to elevate and improve the condition of the generous and mighty people of India."

Meanwhile Brigadier Wild occupied a position of great difficulty at Peshawur. He had four native infantry regiments, containing a large number of young soldiers, whom the mutinous Sikhs had impressed with a great horror of the Khyber Pass. The only cavalry he had was a troop of irregular horse, and the only guns, four pieces of Sikh artillery. Besides, the owners of the camels, which had been hired at Ferozepore to proceed as far as Jelalabad, refused to advance further than Peshawur. It was under these circumstances that Sale and M'Gregor earnestly urged the advance of the brigade for the relief of that place. The fortress of Ali Musjid, regarded as the key to the Khyber Pass, is situated about twenty-five miles from Peshawur: and as it lay between the two positions of Sale and Wild, it was of the utmost importance that it should be occupied. It was accordingly resolved that one-half of Wild's brigade should be dispatched for this service. On the 10th of January, Colonel Moseley, with the 53rd and 64th Sepoy Regiments, started under cover of the night, and reached their destination early in the morning. The fortress was about five miles up the Pass. Soon after they had taken up their position, they discovered to their dismay, that owing to some mistake, instead of 350 supply bullocks, which had been ordered, only fifty or sixty had arrived. Here, then, were two regiments shut up in an isolated fortress without provisions. Day after day passed and no succour came. Wild made an effort to send forward supplies, but the attempt was a disastrous failure. The Sikh auxiliaries mutinied to a man, and refused to enter the Pass. The misconduct of the Sikhs, wrote Captain Lawrence, was rendered more atrocious, and our own mortification more bitter by the circumstance that a lac and a half of rupees had been advanced to the Sikh authorities for the payment of those men.

" We have been disgracefully beaten back," he said. "Both our large guns broke down: one was on an elephant; it was taken down to be put together when the other failed; but its carriage breaking too, the sepoys lost all heart, and I grieve to say that I could not get men to bring one off, though I tried for an hour, and at last, finding we were only expending ammunition, we left it in their hands, but it was broken completely down and spiked." The column fell back on Jum road, and the garrison of Ali Musjid was so far left to its fate. Its condition was most deplorable. The sepoys were put on half rations, but in a few days the supplies were nearly exhausted. With unwholesome water, without tents or bedding under a severe climate, and surrounded by depressing influences of all sorts, the health of the men gave way. There being no prospect of relief, Colonel Moseley determined to evacuate the fortress. Captain Burt and Captain Thomas offered to remain and keep' possession of so important a position, if only 150 men would volunteer for the service. But none were found willing to undertake the perilous duty, and so Ali Musjid was abandoned, and suffered to fall into the hands of the Afreedis. The brigade had some fighting on its' way back. Some of its officers were killed, some wounded and sick abandoned, and some baggage lost. But when they had arrived Captain Lawrence wrote to Mr. G. Clarke, "The regiments are safe through. Thank God."

On the 5th of February General Pollock reached Peshawur, and found the troops under Brigadier Wild for the most part sick and disorganised. His first care was to restore the morale of the troops. Eyen the officers had yielded to an unworthy panic. Some of them openly declared against another attempt to force the Khyber Pass, and one said he would do his best to dissuade every sepoy of his corps from entering it again. Owing to this state of things, Pollock was compelled to remain inactive through the months of February and March, though the eyes of all India were turned upon him, and the most urgent letters reached him from Sale and M'Gregor to hasten to their relief. But the general was resolved not to risk another failure, and his duty was to wait patiently till the health, spirits, and discipline of the troops were restored, and until fresh regiments arrived. No wonder that pressing entreaties for succour came from Jelalabad. The garrison had exerted themselves with the utmost diligence to fortify the place, which they expected soon to be invested by hosts of Afghans, flushed with victory and thirsting for blood and plunder. The camp followers were organised to assist in manning the walls, and foraging parties were sent out with good effect, while there was yet time to get in provisions. In the meanwhile Sale received a letter from the Shah, demanding what were his intentions, as his people had concluded a treaty with the Afghans, consenting to leave the country. There was an army preparing for their expulsion, and there were many of their countrymen and countrywomen hostages in the hands of a fanatical and vindictive enemy, while there was little prospect of any immediate relief from the Indian Government. There was even a feeling that they had been abandoned by the Government at Calcutta, which did not wish to maintain the supremacy of the British arms in Afghanistan. A council of war was called on the 26th of January; a stormy debate ensued; the majority were for coming to terms with the enemy and withdrawing from the country, for which purpose the draft of a letter in reply to the king was prepared. For two days its terms were debated, the proposition to surrender being vehemently resisted by an officer named Broadfoot, who declared it impossible that the Government should leave them to their fate, and do nothing to restore their national reputation, especially as a new Governor-General was coming out, doubtless with new counsels, and the Duke of Wellington, now in power, would never sanction so inglorious a policy. He was overruled, however, by the majority, and the letter was sent to the king. An answer came demanding that they should put their seals to the document. Another council was held; Colonel Broadfoot renewed his remonstrances; he was joined by Colonel Dennie, Captain Abbott, and Colonel Monteith. An answer was sent which left the: garrison free to act as circumstances might direct. Next: day tidings came from Peshawur, that large reinforcements were moving up through the Punjab, and that; all possible efforts were to be made for their relief. There was no more talk of negotiation; every one felt that it was his duty to hold out to the last.

The place had been fortified so well as to be able to defy any attack that could be made upon it without artillery. Captain Broadfoot had insisted on bringing an ample supply of working tools, which were found to be of the greatest advantage. In the official report of General Sale, written by Havelock, there is a description of the works that had been executed, and the immense labour that had been undertaken to clear away everything that could serve as a cover for the enemy. They demolished forts and old walls, filled up ravines, destroyed gardens, and cut down groves; they raised the parapets six or seven feet high, repaired and widened the ramparts, extended the bastions, re-trenched three of the gates, covered the fort with an outwork, and excavated a ditch, ten feet deep and twelve wide, round the whole of the walls. The enemy soon approached, under the command of Akbar Khan; the white tents, which the English were obliged to abandon, appearing in the distance. But the garrison were full of confidence, proudly rejoicing in the work of their hands, and feeling that they were perfectly safe behind the defences which they had raised with so much labour. In a short time, however, they had an astounding illustration of the vanity of all confidence in human strength, showing that, in a moment, it can be turned into weakness.

On the 19th of February the men heard an awful and mysterious sound, as if of thunder, beneath their feet. They instantly rushed to their arms, and thus many lives were saved. A tremendous earthquake shook down all the parapets built up with so much labour, injured several of the bastions, cast to the ground all the guard-houses, made a considerable breach in the rampart of a curtain in the Peshawur face, and reduced the Cabul gate to a shapeless mass of ruins. In addition to this sudden destruction of the fortifications - the labour of three months - one-third of the town was demolished. The report states that, within the space of one month, the city was thrown into alarm by the repetition of full 100 shocks of this phenomenon of Nature. Still, the garrison did not lose heart or hope. With indomitable energy, they set to work immediately to repair the damage. The shocks had scarcely ceased when the whole garrison was told off into working parties, and before night the breaches were scalped, the rubbish below cleared away, and the ditches before them dug out. From the following day all the troops off duty were continually at work, and such was their energy and perseverance, that by the end of the month the parapets were entirely restored, or the curtain filled in, where restoration was impracticable, and every battery re-established. The breaches were built up with the rampart doubled in thickness, and the whole of the gates re-trenched. So marvellously rapid was the work of restoration, that Akbar Khan declared that the earthquake must have been the effect of English witchcraft, as Jelalabad was the only place that escaped. At length General Pollock had found himself in a position to advance for the relief of the garrison, and marched his force to Jumrood. On the 4th of April, while the troops were encamped at that place, he issued final orders for the guidance of his officers. The army- started at twilight, without sound of bugle or beat of drum. The heights on either side of the Khyber Pass were covered with the enemy, but so completely were they taken by surprise, that our flankers had achieved a considerable ascent before the Khyberese were aware of their approach. The enemy had thrown across the mouth of the Pass a formidable barrier, composed of large stones, mud, and heavy branches of trees. In the meantime the light infantry were stealing round the hills, climbing up precipitous cliffs, and getting possession of commanding peaks, from which they poured down a destructive fire upon the Khyberese, who were confounded by the unexpected nature of the attack. The confidence which arose from their intimate knowledge of the nature of the ground now forsook them, and they were seen in their white dresses flying in every direction across the hills. The centre column, which had quietly awaited the result of the outflanking movements by the brave and active infantry, now moved on, determined to enter the Pass, at the mouth of which a large number of the enemy had been posted; but finding themselves outflanked, they gradually retreated. The way was cleared, and the long train of baggage, containing ammunition and provisions for the relief of Jelalabad, entered the formidable defile. The heat being intense, the troops suffered greatly from thirst; but the sepoys behaved admirably, were in excellent spirits, and had a thorough contempt for the enemy. It was now discovered that their mutinous spirit arose from the conviction that they had been sacrificed by bad generalship. Ali Musjid, from which the British garrison had made such a disastrous and ignominious retreat, was soon triumphantly re-occupied. When there, General Pollock wrote that nothing refreshed him more than the thought that the sepoys had fairly won back the reputation they had lost. They had been under arms since three o'clock in the Tnorning, and after a hard day's work they had to bivouac on a bitterly cold night. But they bore all patiently, proud of their success, and willing to make every exertion necessary to secure the advantages they had gained. Leaving a Sikh force to occupy the Pass, General Pollock pushed on to Jelalabad. Writing to a friend, he said, "We found the fort strong, the garrison healthy, and, except for wine and beer, better off than we are. They were, of course, delighted to see us; we gave three cheers ńs we passed the colours, and the band of each regiment played as it came up. It was a sight worth seeing; all appeared happy. The band of the 13th had gone out to play them in, and the relieving force marched the last two or three miles to the tune, "Oh, but you've been long a-coming."

But they were not then in the position of a beleaguered garrison. Before relief came, they had won a victory that covered them with glory. The troops had been in the highest pluck, and never seemed so happy as when they could encounter any portion of the enemy. In this state of feeling an idea began to take possession of the officers that they were able to capture Mahomed Akbar's camp. A false report had come to the Sirdar, that General Pollock had been beaten back with great slaughter in the Khyber Pass; and in honour of this event, his guns fired a royal salute. A rumour also reached the garrison that there had been a revolution at Cabul, and that the enemy was obliged to break up his camp and hasten back to the capital. Whether either or both these reports should prove true, the time seemed to have come for General Sale to strike a blow. A council of war was held; the general would have shrunk from the responsibility of an attack upon the camp; "but," says Mr. Kaye, "Havelock was at his elbow - a man of rare coolness and consummate judgment, with military talents of a high order, ripened by experience, and an intrepidity in action not exceeded by that of his fighting commander. He it was who, supported by other eager spirits, urged the expediency of an attack on the enemy's position, and laid down the plan of operations most likely to insure success. Sale yielded with reluctance, but he did yield; it was determined that at daybreak on the following morning they should go out and fight."

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Pictures for Chapter LVI, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 7

Garnison of Jelalabad
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