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The Desert March to Relieve Gordon: the Nile Expedition 1884-5

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The Desert March to Relieve Gordon: the Nile Expedition 1884-5
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Author(s): Alex Macdonald & Bennet Burleigh
Date Published: 2014/12
Page Count: 300
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-1-78282-390-2
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-78282-389-6

Two special correspondents during the war in the Sudan

The profession of war correspondent has always been a perilous one. Fortunately for students of the military history of the early Victorian era, journalists were prepared to travel to inhospitable lands to tramp alongside the troops in order to report momentous events, campaigns and battles. Their well-crafted reports combined sharp observation, with a keen intellect and understanding of the events they witnessed with the ability to communicate clearly. This book brings together two accounts of the abortive Nile Expedition to relieve Gordon in Khartoum. There is no doubt that the Canadian, Macdonald, was a fine writer who transported his readers through his immediate and graphic descriptions of long, weary marches, heat and dust. His account of the Mahdist attacks on the British squares is particularly evocative with the danger, terror and chaos of close quarter fighting in the desert described in fine detail. The second piece, by Bennet Burleigh, has rarely been published in this form and provides readers with an interesting perspective of pitched battle from another fine correspondent and eyewitness. This was a hard campaign in which two other journalists were killed in battle in very close proximity to these writers. A unique Leonaur edition and highly recommended.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.

At daybreak many of the enemy, emboldened by our inaction, came running down the hill, and crept up towards the zereba, while their less courageous companions began blazing away at us from behind their stone breastwork. The fire now became so hot that skirmishers from the Guards and Mounted Infantry were sent out to keep it down.
Soon after sunrise the bullets came thicker than ever from the hill, and from the edge of the shallow depression running parallel with our right front. Amongst the hits was Colonel Burnaby’s horse. He was complimented after he obtained an early remount, but gloomily responded, ‘I am not in luck today.’
The enemy now appeared to concentrate their fire on the right front—taking in flank the shallow ravine in which the horses of the 19th Hussars were picketed. Many of these were soon disabled, and some of them killed.
Noticing the general’s red flag in motion near the gun-fort, I made towards it, but had no sooner reached this ravine than a man of the Mounted Infantry just before me was hit by a bullet in the left breast, which came out at his back and whizzed past me. The poor fellow turning round exclaimed, ‘I am badly hit, sir,’ and fell into my arms. As I laid him gently down I noticed that the hole made in his grey tunic by the bullet had a scarlet and a black ring round it. A file of the bearer company soon came along with a stretcher and carried him off to the hospital. I then heard several voices calling out to me to get under cover, ‘or sure as anything you’ll get hit!’ These friendly warnings were almost immediately emphasised by the whiz of a bullet past my head. This decided the matter, and hoping the squall of lead would soon blow over I sought cover.
Noticing Cameron making his way up to the hospital fort, I followed him thither in order to discuss the situation. We saw that a square was being formed for the purpose of attacking the enemy, and I asked if he intended going out with it. ‘No,’ he replied, sternly, ‘I do not think it is the right thing to do. It will be a mob of camels, sailors, cavalry, and artillery, all mixed up together.’ So we quietly arranged that one should go out with Colonel Barrow and his squadron, and that the other should remain in the zereba, for, said he, ‘we are going to have a hot time of it here when the square goes out, for those fellows on this hill and those horsemen on our left mean mischief.’
During our conference more wounded men were brought in, and amongst them Major Dickson, who had been sent with us to accompany Sir C. Wilson to Khartoum. He had been hit below the knee, but the bullet had fortunately missed both bone and arteries. One of the surgeons told me that human skill would be puzzled to take a bullet through a man’s leg in so harmless a direction as this one had gone. Then Major Sunderland’s groom was carried in, hit by a bullet which had passed through both his thighs. The surgeons could do nothing for him, as arteries had been cut in both, and in agony the poor fellow bled to death. Shortly before this groom was hit, a bullet passed through the nostrils of his master’s horse. When any of the wounded died, a blanket was placed over the stretcher on which they lay, and before I left the hospital fort there were seven poor fellows thus covered up.
Leaving the hospital in order to look after my men and camels, several bullets struck the gravel slope down which I was walking. One came very nearly securing for me the notoriety of being returned amongst the wounded, for it drove a pebble against the calf of my left leg, but not with force sufficient to leave even a mark on the leather of my top boot.
I found my Greek fellow quite cool and happy, and my camels and horse untouched. In fact this part of the zereba, which was nearly abreast of the engineers’ fort, seemed well out of range, for no casualties had occurred there to either men or animals.
Cameron now seemed anxious to go out with the Hussars, and I therefore consented to remain in the zereba and watch events. After saddling my horse and dividing my remaining water with him, I returned to the hospital fort, as its comparatively elevated position afforded a good view of everything going on.
Just as I entered, young Lieutenant Lyall, R.A., was brought in unconscious, having been wounded by a bullet passing through one of his lungs. Then Major Gough was brought in stunned by a bullet, which, after passing through his pugaree and helmet, had not sufficient impetus left to break the skin.
About this time a body of the enemy’s horse were noticed moving in the direction of our right flank, but were soon sent to the rightabout by two or three of Captain Norton’s skilfully fired shells. If all our artillery officers are as efficient as those with our half-battery of screw guns were, we have good reason to be as proud of that arm of the service in the present as we have been in the past.
The hospital was now quite full of wounded officers and men, and some fourteen who had died in it were lying in a row outside. It did appear high time for something to be done in order to check the harassing fire of the enemy. Up till nine o’clock, and for two long hours, we had been a target for his sharpshooters, who having fairly got our range were now making good practice. It was, therefore, a relief to learn that General Stewart had given up hope of the enemy pushing home, and was going to march out at once to attack them, and had given orders for the formation of a square for the purpose.