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An Officer in the First Afghan War

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An Officer in the First Afghan War
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Author(s): Lewis Robert Stacy
Date Published: 2010/11
Page Count: 196
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-378-6
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-377-9

The sharp end of the First Afghan War

The author of this book, Colonel Stacy was a highly regarded and capable British soldier destined to acquire much experience of campaigning and battle upon the Indian Sub-Continent. After the events described here he served with distinction during the Gwalior War and commanded a brigade under Dick in the First Sikh War where his leadership ‘from the front,’ particularly at the hard fought Battle of Sobraon, brought recognition from Gough. In 1841 the British initiative to place Shah Shuja on the throne of Afghanistan saw Stacy as part of the ‘Army of the Indus’ with the 43rd regiment and he served with it under Nott. Service in Kelat followed, but after the disaster at Kabul, Stacy returned once more to campaigning and played an active part in the march to Kandahar and once more to Kabul. Stacy’s action in the Jungdulluk Pass is especially noteworthy. This is an excellent account of the First Afghan War told by a serving British officer, it is filled with battle detail and dialogue and reveals the difficulties of soldiering in the most difficult terrain which was both familiar to and dominated by the enemy. Available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.

The attack on the village of Emillah was as bold in its character as it was spirited in its execution. The two columns, one being from General Pollock’s army, and the other from General Nott’s, displayed a spirit of chivalrous emulation throughout the day. The right column certainly not only reached, but entered, the village before the left, which, however, had thereby harder work, for the enemy were driven upon the left column. They suffered severely at this spot from the cross fire of the two columns, more so than at any place or in any action during the campaign, and being crowded within walls, they could not readily escape.<br>
The village of Emillah being taken and fired, both columns brought up their left shoulders. The village was a mile beyond the gardens of Old Istaliff, which ground we had necessarily to retrace; I had entered in front; the right column on the flank. The right column made a quarter circle, and pushed after the flying enemy over hills and through orchards and gardens, without giving them time to breathe, passing considerably to the right of the old castle of Istaliff, and crossing the stream which runs at the foot of Istaliff, this column entered the town at the south-east corner, in two divisions, in parallel lines. The people in the town must have lost courage from our first vigorous attack upon Emillah.<br>
We had been delayed at this village about half an hour, which allowed time for a man to carry the intelligence of its storm and capture to the town of Istaliff; and the scene which presented itself on our approach to it was singular and picturesque. The footpath which leads from the back of Istaliff, winding over the range of hills dividing Kohistan-e-Cabool from Toorkistan, was thronged with women, wending their way along the zigzag tracks which ran by the scarped sides of the hills, their snow-white dresses, in which they were shrouded from head to foot, giving them the appearance of a vast cavalcade of nuns. Ameenoolla and his party, so full of vaunt and vapour the night before, were amongst the first to fly.<br>
After the left column had completed the attack on the fortified village of Emillah, a very respectable body of the enemy, composed of both horse and foot, still shewed on their (the enemy’s) extreme right. To leave them unmolested, and in possession of so commanding a position, menacing the rear of the left column particularly, should it move on without dispersing them, would have been highly imprudent, and moreover it was impossible to take the guns much farther, as the hills and gardens which lie between this and Old Istaliff are scarcely passable for camels, and we could not afford to leave even a wing to guard the guns, the enemy being ten to one, with a fortification to fight behind. I therefore ordered on the guns. The four 9-pounders of Blood’s horsed battery were soon within range of the enemy, escorted by two companies of the 43rd Native Infantry.<br>
Whilst the brigade, in the meantime, moved on gently towards the town, I watched on the left the movements of the enemy from the top of the first hill. The 18-pounders coming steadily on, and being near at hand, the 9-pounders opened. The first shot fell short, which drew a shout from the enemy, who brandished their swords; but the second was sent amongst them, creating confusion, and they fell back just under the brow of the hill, whilst some of the horsemen took post on another hill about 150 or 200 yards in the rear, at which distance it was found that the 9-pounders could not master them, though the excellent practice of Blood’s guns dropped the shot so close over the summit of the nearest hill, under which the enemy had taken shelter, that they retreated again, and joined their companions on the hill in the rear. By this time, the 18-pounders were in position and opened; they fired but three rounds, but the practice was so excellent, that each shot told, and the enemy scampered off, never to be seen again, at least that day.<br>
The two companies of the 43rd Native Infantry were directed to remain with the guns, and the brigade then pushed on at the double. The Light Companies of Her Majesty’s 41st and the 42nd and 43rd Native Infantry had reached the first enclosure as the column crowned the top of the last hill; Lieutenant Evans, with Her Majesty’s 41st Light Company, on the left; Captain Macpherson and Lieutenant Trotter, with the 43rd, in the centre, and Lieutenant Woollen, with the 42nd, on the right. The 2nd brigade had made up their ground as they climbed over the first enclosure. Her Majesty’s 9th, under Lieutenant-Colonel Taylor, and the 26th Native Infantry, under Major Huish, were on the right.<br>
To preserve order over such ground was utterly impracticable, and the greatest care was necessary to prevent our suffering from our own fire; so densely crowded were the graperies and masses of fruit-trees. The enemy, outflanked by the right column, and flying towards the town, fell in great numbers. Their fire was too high, and when we got into an enclosure, and they had fired their matchlocks, they ran; our men, who were particularly cool and steady this day, never gave the enemy time to reload. Considering that the Kohistanees were under a cross-fire from the village of Emillah to the old castle of Istaliff, it is not astonishing that so many of them fell.<br>
When the two columns entered the town of Istaliff, the firing had almost ceased, but all were pushing for the fort on the summit. About two-thirds up, the heads of the two columns met in the part of the town where the streets crossed: the right led by Lieutenant-Colonel Taylor, commanding Her Majesty’s 9th, and the left by Major Browne, Her Majesty’s 41st.<br>
One gun was found abandoned by the enemy as the 2nd brigade passed Old Istaliff; another was seen on a spur below, as we reached the summit of Istaliff, still manned by the enemy. The Light Companies of Her Majesty’s 9th and the 43rd Native Infantry made off at the double to charge this gun, and so equal was the race, that men of both companies claimed the merit of its capture. In the general’s despatch, the honour was awarded to an officer of Her Majesty’s 9th Foot, simply from the fact that Captain Macpherson, commanding the Light Company of the 43rd Native Infantry, belonged to my brigade, and being left after the action to take up a position at Old Istaliff, and watch the enemy during the night, I could not send in any report, and Brigadier Tulloch made no mention of any people of the 2nd brigade being there. Brigadier Tulloch, with Her Majesty’s 9th and a party of the 26th Native Infantry, went down to the spur on which the last gun was captured. From this point Lieutenant Mayne, deputy assistant quarter-master-general, rode back to General McCaskill, reporting the total defeat of the enemy, and the capture of the town of Istaliff.
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