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Sitana

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Sitana
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Author(s): John Adye
Date Published: 2011/08
Page Count: 100
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-640-4
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-639-8

A small war on the burning border

The North west frontier of India was always a troubled one for the British Empire. It offered perfect terrain for defence and the opposite for offensive operations and control thereafter. As is common with all mountainous regions it bred men equal to the challenges of their homeland and this typically meant fierce tribesmen disinclined to accept domination from anybody. Of course, the Raj knew well the magnitude of the problem it perennially faced. It had suffered the disaster of the First Afghan War, there had also been many outbreaks by fractious tribesmen before this confrontation as there would be many more to come. The Sitana campaign, which is also known as the Afghan Frontier War, was a short war that took place in 1865 in a district that had never suffered incursions from the British before. This narrative was written by an eyewitness, an officer of artillery, and covers the entire conflict including the actions at Laloo, Umbeylah and Mulka. Adye’s book is an interesting North West Frontier account of the early post Indian Mutiny period, it provides valuable insights into why the region remains troubled even in the 21st century, as well as a view of the difficulties of undertaking a military campaign within it.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.

On the morning of November 20, the enemy showed in great numbers on the high ground overlooking the Crag Picket, which was held by a hundred men of the 101st Fusiliers, and a hundred men of the 20th Punjab Infantry. The attack continued for hours, and the men of the tribes gradually advanced to within a few feet of the breastworks, and displayed numerous standards. Suddenly, about 3 o’clock in the afternoon (owing, as General Chamberlain says, to the unaccountable conduct of a portion of the garrison), the enemy gained possession of the crest.<br>
The defences of the picket were in two parts; but although the upper had thus fallen, the officers and men in the lower held on gallantly until the place became quite untenable, more than two-thirds of them being killed or wounded. Major Delafosse, of the 101st, and Captain Rogers, of the 20th, distinguished themselves by their courage; as also Ensign A. E. Sanderson and Assistant-Surgeon Pile, of the 101st. The two latter were, unfortunately, killed whilst endeavouring to rally their men.<br>
Thus for the third time had this commanding outwork fallen. Flushed with their success, the enemy swarmed into the abandoned breastworks, capturing some muskets and boxes of ammunition; and shouts of triumph rose from the hill-sides all round, as the tribes beheld our men retreating down the rocks. Victory, however, was, soon snatched from their eager grasp. The 71st Highland Light Infantry, who had taken a full share in every action of the campaign, were the men selected by Chamberlain to retrieve the fortunes of the day, and they were not wanting in this hour of need.<br>
Although every credit must be given to our native regiments, and although the officers employed with them had shown high qualities as leaders, still it must be remembered, after all, that the quarrel which was being fought out on the Mahabun was an English one, and it was therefore fitting that English regiments should be relied on in the last resort. Such has been, and ever must be, the case in India. Devoted and brave as are many of the native soldiery, they have not the feelings, nor can they be imbued with the same sympathies, which tie the English soldiers to their officers; so that in critical moments the latter can alone be fully depended on, whether it be to assault or to defend a desperate position.<br>
General Chamberlain therefore sent for the 71st Highlanders, and associating with them the brave little Goorkhas, prepared once more to storm the Crag. In the meantime the field and mountain guns, which were in position at various points of our general line of defence, were turned in the direction of the captured work; and by an incessant flight of shells, they held the mountaineers in check, prevented them from following up their advantage, and forced them to lie close under cover of the rocks on the summit.<br>
Under a perfect storm of matchlock-balls and showers of rocks hurled from the top, Colonel Hope, the gallant leader of the Highlanders, deliberately formed his men at the foot of the Crag; and sending the Goorkhas to turn the flank, he placed himself at the head of his corps, and with a cool determination, which excited the admiration not only of his own men, but of every soldier in the force, proceeded to march up the height. The mountaineers throughout the war had shown themselves ready to do and to dare a great deal, but they were not quite prepared for the direct assault of a Highland regiment, which in open day, with its colonel at its head, was steadily climbing the steep ascent, and which would infallibly in a few seconds close upon them, with a volley and a bayonet-charge.