The men and events that turned the map 'red' for the Queen Empress
This is an excellent and readable account of the British and Imperial Armies at war during the great years of Empire. Accessible and entertaining it will satisfy the casual reader and the more serious student of military history alike. The author presents a comprehensive overview of the conflicts of the era, but has also imaginatively complimented these with anecdotes of the participants. These illuminate the history with vignettes of action and courage which bring the regiments and their men, their various exotic enemies and the battlefields of many lands vividly to life. These include the final battles for the British dominance of the Indian sub-continent including the First Afghan War 1839-42, the conquest of Scinde 1843, the Gwalior War 1843 and the First and Second Sikh Wars 1845-49. The 1850's brought conflict with Russia in the Crimea, a mutiny in the Indian Army, a campaign in Persia and collision with the ancient empire of China. Ferocious battles with the Maoris as New Zealand was settled by Europeans followed in 1863 before the race to claim Africa pitted British troops against an unbalanced Emperor in Abyssinia, a despot in West Africa, the mighty martial tribe of the Zulus and pitched battles in the sands of the north against the Mahdi and his army of religious zealots. In Afghanistan the tribes of the burning Northwest Frontier remained in turmoil as the Great Game was played out. The book concludes-as the 19th century itself drew to a close-with the epic account of how a British Army marched along the banks of the Nile to revenge the death of Gordon and re-conquer the Sudan.
On the 21st of July the army arrived before the famous fortress of Ghuznee, which was considered impregnable by the Afghans.
The city of Ghuznee lies between Candahar and Cabul, about 230 miles distant from the former, and 90 from the latter place. It stands on the extreme points of a range of hills, which slope upwards and command the north-east angle of the Balla Hissar. As the British advanced on it, and observed its strong fortifications rising up before them on the side of a hill, they saw that the place could not be reduced by artillery for want of the siege-guns left at Candahar, and at the same time a high wall with a wet ditch in front made operations with scaling-ladders or mining equally impossible.
It was discovered, however, by Captain Thomson, who made an inspection under heavy fire from the walls, that though the gates had been built up the Cabul gate still existed, and he reported that this one, though at great risk, could be blown up, and so an attempt to take the place by storm could be made. The want of supplies made it absolutely necessary to take the place, and therefore Sir John Keane gladly accepted Captain Thomson’s proposal.
The morning of the 23rd of July, just before daybreak, was the time fixed for the assault. The regiments told off for the service were the 2nd, 13th, and 17th (Queen’s), and the Company’s European regiment, under Major Caruthers, Lieutenant-Colonel Orchard, Colonel Croker, and Major Tronson. The advance consisted of the light companies of these four regiments. The night and morning were unusually stormy. The advance was placed under the command of Colonel Dennie of the 13th Light Infantry, and the main column under Brigadier Sale. The explosion party was directed by Captain Thomson, who had under him Lieutenants Durand and Macleod of the Bengal, and Captain Peat of the Bombay corps. Under cover of the darkness, the noise the men might make being overpowered by the roaring of the wind, the storming column advanced along the Cabul road, while the engineers carried up their powder-bags to the gate. Meantime the General filled the gardens near the city walls with the sepoys, who kept up a sharp fire on the wall, while the light batteries opened hotly upon the works.
This demonstration fixed the attention of the enemy, and called forth a responsive fire. Suddenly a row of blue lights appeared along the walls, illuminating the place, and showing that the Afghans were manning them in expectation of an escalade. All this time the British engineers were quietly piling their powder-bags at the Cabul gate. It was a work that required great courage, and it was done well; but at first the powder failed to ignite, and Lieutenant Durand was obliged to scrape the hose with his finger-nails. Again the port-fire was applied. The powder exploded. The noise of the explosion was almost overpowered by the roaring of the guns and the rushing of the wind. Still, many an Afghan trembled at the ominous sound. Mighty indeed was the effect. Down with a crash came heavy masses of masonry and shivered beams in awful ruin and confusion. Now occurred a slight delay. It had been agreed that the signal for the storming party should be the bugle-call “Advance,” but the bugler had fallen, and so Durand had to rush back to the nearest party he could find. At length the signal was given. The advance was sounded. Colonel Dennie at the head of his brave band rushed forward through the breach, amid clouds of smoke and dust, and soon the bayonets of his light companies were crossing the swords of the enemy, who had rushed down to the point of attack. A few moments of darkness and confusion, and then the foremost soldiers caught a glimpse of the morning sky, and pushing gallantly on, were soon established in the fortress.
Three hearty, animating cheers, so loud and clear that they were heard throughout the general camp, announced to their excited comrades below that Dennie and his stormers had entered Ghuznee.
Colonel Sale was pressing on to support Dennie, when, deceived by a false report that the latter had failed to enter the breach, he halted his column. There was a pause of painful doubt; but the true state of affairs was soon ascertained. Again the cheering notes of the bugle sounded the advance, and the British troops pushed on. But the enemy had profited by the pause, and numbers crowded to the breach. One of their number, rushing over the ruins, brought down the gallant Sale by a cut on the face with his sharp sabre. The Afghan repeated his blow as his opponent was falling; but the pommel, not the edge of his sword, this time took effect, though with stunning violence. He lost his footing, however, in the effort, and both rolled down together amid the fractured timbers of the gate. Sale now made an effort to master the weapon of his opponent. He snatched at it, but one of his fingers met the edge of the sharp blade. He quickly withdrew his wounded hand, and placed it over that of his adversary, so as to keep fast hold of the hilt; but the Afghan was active and powerful, and he was himself faint from loss of blood. Happily, at that moment Captain Kershaw, of the 13th, approached the scene of conflict. The wounded leader called to him by name for aid. He gave it effectually by passing his sabre through the body of the Afghan; who, however, continued to struggle gallantly. At length the Brigadier for a moment got the uppermost. Still retaining in his left hand the weapon of his enemy, he dealt him with his right a cut from his own sabre, which cleft his skull from his crown to the eyebrows. The Mohammedan once shouted “Ne Ullah!” (O God!) and never moved or spoke again.
At length the enemy gave way. The British pushed on. The support, under Colonel Croker, advanced, and the reserve speedily followed; and soon the colours of the 13th Regiment, planted by the brave young Ensign Frere, as well as those of the 17th, were flying out in the morning breeze from the ramparts of Ghuznee.