The Pollock Memoir
This book, published in 1875, was written to accompany the presentation of the Pollock Prize, an award given to the best cadet of the season at, first, the Military Academy at Addiscombe, and later the Royal Military College at Woolwich. It contains a brief biography of Field Marshal Sir George Pollock and quite a comprehensive study of his campaign in Afghanistan in 1842.
I have respected the original spelling and grammar, and the only changes I have made in the punctuation is to remove the speech marks at the beginning of each line of the quotations contained within the text.
For those looking for references to specific places and people, the following are mentioned:
Places (modern or alternative versions in brackets when known)
– Afghanistan – Agra - Ali Musjid Fortress - Ava
Balla Hissar – Bamean (Bamian) – Begramee – Bengal – Bhurtpore – Bolan Pass – Bombay – Boodkhak – Budeeabad – Burmah (Burma)
Cabul (Kabul) – Calcutta – Candahar (Kandahar or Qandahar) – Cawnpore (Kanpur) – Charekur (Charikar)
Deig – Dinapore - Dum Dum
East India Military Seminary, Addiscombe
Ferozepore (Firozpur) – France – Futtehabad
Ghorebund Valley – Ghuznee (Ghazni) – Great Bazaar of Kabul – Gundamuck
Hindoo-Koosh (Hindu-Kush) – Hindostan – Huft-Kotul – Hykulzye
Indus – Istaliff
Jellalabad (Jalalabad) – Jugdulluck – Jugdulluck Pass – Jumrood
Khelat-i-Ghilzye (Qalat) – Khyber Pass – Kohistan – Kojuck Pass – Koochle Khail – Koord Cabul Pass
Lahore – Lalpoora – Lucknow
Mammoo Khail or Mamoo Khail – Meerut – Mookoor (Moqor) – Mydan
Pagahm Mew – Peninsula – Peshawur (Peshawar) – Prome (Pyè) – Punjaub (Punjab)
Rangoon – Royal Military Academy, Woolwich – Roza
Shinwarree Valley – Simbike – Sindh – Sukkur or Sukhur – Sultanpore - Sutlej River - Sydeabad
Tezeen – Toorkistan (Turkistan) – Tower of London
Vauxhall – Vittoria
Westminster – Westminster Abbey – Woolwich
People: Those indicate with a (1) are Cadets from Addiscombe or Woolwich who were awarded the Pollock Prize.
Captain (Sir Frederick) - Addison, John C. (1) - Akbar Khan - Alexander the
Great - Ameen-oollah Khan - Anderson - Anquetil , Brigadier - Auckland, Lord
Backhouse - Basevi, James P. (1) - Beauchamp, Clayton S. (1) - Bhurtpore, Rajah of - Bolton, Colonel - Broadbent, John E. (1) - Broadfoot, Captain - Brydon, Dr. - Burgoyne, Field Marshal Sir John - Burnes, Sir Alexander - Bygrave, Captain
Cameron, Maurice A. (1) - Campbell, John C. (1) - Campbell, William M. (1) - Campbell,Sir Archibald - Cardew, Phillip (1) - Chambers, Harry M. (1) - Champain, John M. (1) - Chermside, Herbert C. (1) - Christie, Captain - Clarke, George S. (1) - Clerk, George - Cotton, General - Craigie, Captain - Craster, George A. (1) - Cunningham, Allan J. C. (1) - Cunynghame, Henry H. S. (1)
Davis, Lieut. - Day, Francis J. (1) - Delafosse, Major - Dost Mohammed - Durand, Lieutenant (Sir Henry)
Eckford, John (1) - Ellenborough, Lord - Elliot, Arthur W. (1) - Elphinstone, General - England, General
Fraser, General - Fraser, Thomas (1) - G. R. Gleig, Reverend - George III, King - Georges, Henry R. G. (1) - Gholab Singh, General - Godsal, William C. (1) - Goodwyn, Henry (1) - Gordon, Lewis C. (1) - Grant, Sir Francis
Hadden, Charles F. (1) - Hardinge, Lord - Harman, Henry J. (1) - Hastings, Lord - Herschel, John (1) - Holkar, Chieftain - Holland, Edward R. (1)
Innes, James J. Mc. L. (1)
Jacob, Sydney L. (1) - Jeffreys, William (1) - Johnson, Captain - Jopp, Keith A. (1)
Kaye, Sir J. W. - Khelati-Ghilzye, Khan of - Knocker, Herbert P. (1) - Kunhardt, Henry G. (1)
Lake, General (Lord) - Lang, Arthur M. (1) - Lawrence, Henry - Lockwood - Love, Henry D. (1) - Lowe, C. R. - Luard, Charles H. (1)
Macdonald, Aeneas R. R. (1) - Macgregor, Major - Mackeson - Macleod, General - Macnaghten, Lady - Macnaghten, Sir William - Maddock, T. H. - Mahomed Akbar - Mascall, Francis (1) - M'Caskill, Brigadier - McCallum, Henry E. (1) - McNeile, John M. (1) - Monteith, Brigadier - Montgomerie, Thomas G. (1)
Nicholson, William G. (1) - Nicolls, Sir Jasper - Nott, General
Outram, Sir James
Palmer, Colonel - Peel, Sir Robert - Pierson, William H. (1) - Pye, Kellow C. (1)
Rawlinson, Major (Sir Henry) - Robertson - Rowe, Valentine F. (1) - Runjeet Singh
Sale, General Sir Robert - Sale, Lady - Sankey, Matthew H. P. R. (1) - Shakespeare, Sir Richmond - Shelton, Brigadier - Shepherd, William (1) - Sinclair, Hugh M. (1) - Soojah, Shah - Stanton, Frederick S. (1) - Stewart, Patrick (1) - Sturt, Lieutenant
Tait - Taylor, Colonel - Trevor, Salisbury T. (1) - Tulloch, Colonel
Villamil, Richard de (1)
Walker, Lieut. - Watson, Charles M. (1) - Wellington, Duke of - Wild, Brigadier - Wilkinson - Williams, Edward C.S. (1) - Williamson, William J. (1) - Wiltshire, General - Wolski, Felician R. de (1) - Woodburn - Wymer, Colonel - Wyon, Mr
EXTRACTED AND COMPILED FROM Various SOURCES,
THE ORIGIN AND FOUNDATION
BODDY AND CO., MILITARY PUBLISHERS.
DEDICATED TO THE MEDALLISTS,
Past and Future,
By one who has the highest veneration
For the Memory of
The First British Artillery Officer,
Who ever commanded an army in the field,
And whose successes,
As briefly sketched herein,
Give promise of what may be expected from those,
Educated at the
ROYAL MILITARY ACADEMY,
Follow their profession
With unwearied zeal and attention,
And are thus at all times
Ready to seize any opportunity that may offer
In the path of duty,
For reaping honour in the service of
Their Queen and Country.
21st January, 1875.
TO ILLUSTRATE THE ORIGIN AND FOUNDATION
THE POLLOCK MEDAL.
ON 4th June, 1786, within the precincts of Westminster, was born George; the youngest of the four sons of Mr. David Pollock, saddler to His Majesty George III.
The family was of Scottish extraction. Three of Mr. Pollock's sons rose to distinction. The eldest, Sir David, became a judge of the High Court of Judicature of Bombay. Sir Frederick, the second son, achieved a brilliant reputation as a scholar, lawyer, and statesman; he filled the office of Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer for 22 years, and had the dignity of a baronetcy conferred upon him.
The brothers Frederick and George went to a school at Vauxhall, from which the latter, the subject of the present Memoir, proceeded to the Royal Military Academy, at Woolwich, which he entered on the 21st January, 1801, and left on the 7th May, 1803. Though he passed an examination which entitled him to elect service either in the Royal Artillery or Royal Engineers, he preferred the Artillery on the Bengal Establishment, at that time consisting of three battalions of seven companies each, as affording a better field for military advancement. The East India Military Seminary at Addisconbe not having been established until 1809 the officers of the Ordnance Services of the Honourable East India Company received their military education previously to that year at Woolwich.
In September, 1803, he embarked for India, and arrived, after a voyage of four months, at Calcutta. His first commission, dated November, 1803, was that of "Lieutenant Fireworker;" on the 19th April, 1804, when at the head quarters of his regiment at Dum Dum, he received his promotion as Lieutenant of Artillery.
The first action in which Lieutenant Pollock took part was the Battle of Deig, fought on the 13th November, 1804, between the British infantry of General Lake's army, under the command of General Fraser, and the famous Mahratta Chieftain Holkar. Pollock took a prominent part with his guns in this battle, described by Lord Lake as "the hardest fought on this side India," and as "a very near business," and was soon after placed in charge of a mortar battery at the siege of Deig, which city fell on Christmas-day of the same year. He was present at the siege of Bhurtpore, which proved unsuccessful after 50 days of open trenches, from the 4th January to the 22nd February, 1805, four assaults, and a loss of 3,100 men and 103 officers in killed and wounded, out of a total force of 10,000 men engaged. The pertinacity of the British force under Lord Lake, however, served to break up the alliance between Holkar and the Rajah of Bhurtpore, who eventually signed a treaty accepting the conditions of peace imposed upon him by the English general. In the following campaign George Pollock, being still a subaltern in his teens, was given the command of a .field battery of six six-pounders, which formed the only European portion of a brigade detached in pursuit of Holkar; while on this duty he was ordered to open fire on the Sepoys, who had broken out into open mutiny, if they continued to disobey orders. Fortunately the affair was arranged without recourse being had to such severity as might possibly have led to the massacre of every European in the force and the desertion of the whole body of natives.
Holkar soon sued for peace, which was signed early in l806, when Pollock was sent with his battery to Meerut, then a frontier station. After a few months Lord Lake, as a reward for his good services, appointed him Quarter-master of one of the battalions of artillery stationed at Dum Dum, from which he was soon removed to Cawnpore, having been selected for the post of Adjutant and Quartermaster to the artillery in the field at that station, which he held until his promotion to full Captain, on the 1st March, 1812. Meanwhile Pollock had received a commission from the Governor-General as Captain-lieutenant, on the 17th September, 1805, although his King's commission of that rank was not given until the 1st December, 1809.
On his promotion to full captain he was ordered again to Dum Dum, where for some time he performed the duties of Brigade-major to the whole of the artillery of the Bengal army.
The next occasion on which he saw active service was during the war in Nepaul, in 1814-16, where he commanded two companies of the Bengal artillery, but was attached to a portion of the army which, through the incompetence of its general, did not take any glorious part in the operations.
After this campaign he was appointed by Lord Hastings to the vacant post of Brigade-major of the Bengal artillery. He received the brevet of Major on the 12th August, 1819, and on the 4th May following was gazetted to the same substantive rank, which, according to the rules of the service then existing, entailed the relinquishment of the post of Brigade-major. He was, however, almost immediately made "Assistant-adjutant-general to the artillery" a new appointment which Lord Hastings appears to have created in order to retain Pollock on the staff, and which he held with credit to himself and advantage to his regiment until he received his commission as Lieutenant-colonel on the 1st May, 1824.
About this time Pollock was ordered to return to England for his health. As with his heavy family expenses he could ill afford to leave India the thought occurred to him that, war having commenced with Burmah, he would try to go there, hoping that the short sea voyage, with the excitement of active service, might effect a cure. He accordingly volunteered, and his services having been accepted, he joined the force at Rangoon soon after its capture, in 1824, as commanding officer of the Bengal artillery attached to the army, of which Sir Archibald Campbell was Commander-in-chief.
He was present, as commanding officer of artillery, with General Cotton's division at the storming of the stockades at Simbike, in front of Prome, and at the defeat of the Shaans on the 1st December, 1825, when the Commander-in-chief, in his despatches, made favourable mention of his service. General Cotton, upon whose division the brunt of the work fell, candidly owned that his success was due to his Commandant of artillery.
Colonel Pollock was again specially mentioned in the despatches of the Commander-in-chief for his conduct at the capture of Mellown on the 19th January, 1826, on which occasion the general wrote that the artillery occupied the most conspicuous place in the events of the day.
He also took part in the important action at Pagahm Mew, on the 9th February, when the Burmans, "departing from their cautious system of defence behind field works and entrenchments, which formed their usual device of war, and relying on their great numerical superiority, combined with singular advantages of ground, ventured on a succession of bold manoeuvres on the flanks and front of the British columns." The storming of Pagahm Mew immediately following the action decided the war, which was finally brought to an end by the treaty of Yandaboo, signed at that place on the 24th February, 1826, the army being then only three days' march from Ava.
This war was remarkable not so much for the complete and almost bloodless character of its chief victories as for the boldness and arduous nature of the marches in a bad climate, over. indifferent roads, into territories far distant from the basis of operations, and in which a severe outbreak of cholera had to be contended with; it tried the energies of all engaged, and not the least so of the subject of this Memoir, who had to organise the means for conveying his guns, employing horses and oxen with native drivers and syces of various nationalities, including even Burmese, and who, notwithstanding the great length of the marches and the almost impassable nature of the roads, had his guns always ready and well to the front whenever required.
Colonel Pollock's meritorious services in this war were specially acknowledged by the Governor-General in council in the general order thanking the troops, and gained for him the Companionship of the Bath.
At the end of the war Colonel Pollock returned to Calcutta, but his health had been so rudely shaken by all the exposure and hardships he had undergone that it soon completely broke down, necessitating sick leave to England for a lengthened period. He accordingly embarked from Calcutta early in the year 1827, nine months of which he passed on the sea on his passage home. While in England he was promoted to a brevet colonelcy in the Company's service on the 1st December, 1829, but did not receive his King's commission of that rank until the 3rd March, 1836.
Thanks to his native air, Pollock's health was soon completely restored. He returned to India in 1830, and was posted to the command of a battalion of artillery at Cawnpore, where he remained until, owing to his standing in the service, he was nominated early in 1838 as Brigadier general to command the division at Dinapore. He was subsequently posted to the command of the Agra district, and on the 28th June, 1838, was promoted to the rank of Major-general.
We are now approaching that portion of Pollock's career on which rests his claim to rank among the greatest of Indian generals. In the year 1838, Lord Auckland, the Governor-General of India, desirous of erecting a bulwark against Russian aggression, resolved to dethrone Dost Mohammed, the ruler of Cabul, and to replace him by Shah Soojah, who had formerly occupied that throne. With this object a British army invaded Afghanistan, passing through the Bolan Pass, and after taking Ghuznee with its famous citadel by assault, on the 23rd July, entered Cabul on the 6th August, 1839; Dost Mohammed fled and Shah Soojah was proclaimed king.
The war being considered at an end, the army was broken up, part of the Bengal troops returning by Jellalabad and the Khyber Pass to Peshawur, and thence through Runjeet Singh's dominions to the British provinces, while the Bombay column, under General Wiltshire, returned to India by the Bolan Pass, having first captured by assault, on the 13th November, 1839, Khelati-Ghilzye, the Khan of which was killed, and part of his Khanate confiscated and attached to the dominions of Shah Soojah. A British force, however, remained to assist the Shah's troops, which had been raised and organised and were in great measure commanded by British officers, in maintaining the puppet king who had been placed on the throne. Towards the end of 1841 the British troops in Afghanistan were under the command of General Elphinstone, a brave officer of good repute, gentlemanly manners, and aristocratic connections, but with no Indian experience of any kind. The chief qualification that determined his selection for this distant and trying command was that he was of a ductile nature, with few opinions of his own to clash with those of Sir William Macnaghten, the accredited minister and agent of the Governor-General at the court of the Shah. Under General Elphinstone were Generals Sir Robert Sale, and Nott, and Brigadier Shelton. Brigadier Anquetil was in command of the Shah's forces.
Sir Robert Sale had been detached with his brigade to tranquilize the country in the direction of Jellalabad; General Nott was at Candahar with outlying detachments at Ghuznee under Colonel Palmer and at Khelat-i-Ghilzye under Captain Craigie, while Elphinstone with Shelton and Anquetil was in cantonments close to Cabul, Sir W. Macnaghten and his political staff being with him.
These cantonments were in the plain outside the city, and about two miles from the Balla Hissar, or Citadel of Cabul, a large fortress on a hill completely overlooking the Shah' s palace and the city, and containing accommodation for a considerable garrison. When it
was first determined that the British troops were to remain in the country, a council had been held to decide the important question of the positions they were to occupy. Lieutenant (afterwards Sir Henry) Durand of the Bengal Engineers, who had been appointed chief engineer to the Shah's forces, and had been called to the council, insisted that the only fit position for the troops was the Balla Hissar, but Sir W. Macnaghten weakly attended to the political objections of the Shah to its occupation, and the cantonments were therefore built outside the city in a defenceless position. The want of common sense and firmness thus displayed by those upon whom the success of the enterprise depended was such that Durand threw up his appointment and returned to India in disgust.
The faulty position of the army encouraged the disaffection which was rife in the country, and the efforts to maintain the Shah were unsuccessful. A terrible outbreak occurred in the city on the 2nd November, 1841, when Sir Alexander Burnes and several other British officers were murdered. If prompt and vigorous action had then been aroused, and if the Balla Hissar had been seized, as advised by some officers and especially by Lieutenant Sturt of the Engineers, who had succeeded Durand as Engineer to the Shah's forces, and who urged that the position of the force in cantonments was untenable, the insurrection would have been strangled in its birth; the British forces, about 5000 combatants, would have had the city in their power, while they themselves would have been in a secure position, from which the united efforts of the whole Afghan race would not have been able to dislodge them. Instead of assuming this defiant attitude, a series of misunderstandings commenced; and conflicts of opinion, which in the absence of a resolute and master mind to fulfil the responsibilities of command, brought disaster upon disaster. The army was shut up in its cantonments, allowed the enemy to seize a small detached fort containing its commissariat stores, which by some unaccountable mismanagement were not within its lines, and at length submitted to the disgrace of witnessing the foulest indignity one nation can place upon another. The murder of the ambassador, Sir W. Macnaghten, on the 23rd December, in the performance of his ambassadorial duties, in broad day, upon the open plain, within 600 yards of their cantonments, roused not the dormant energies of the military Chiefs, nor awakened them to a sense of the depths of humiliation In which they were plunging their unhappy country; not a trigger was pulled; not a gun fired; not a company moved to rescue or to avenge. This lamentable inaction of a highly trained force, which included one of Her Majesty's regiments of British Infantry, and a number of native troops commanded by officers distinguished for personal courage, was solely attributable to the folly of Government in entrusting the chief command to a general, who, although possessing high personal courage, was borne down by years and physical infirmities.
The result, sad as it was, scarcely exceeds what might have been expected; a treaty was made with the insurrectionary chiefs according to which all the garrisons in Afghanistan were to be evacuated, and the British forces withdrawn from the country;
Dost Mohammed, who was a prisoner in India, was to be released and restored; a large sum was to be paid as ransom; all spare stores and small arms were to be surrendered, and all the gums except six field pieces, which were to accompany the retreating force, were to be given up to the enemy; a crowning indignity than which nothing could be more mortifying, nothing more humiliating to soldiers taught to honour their gums and regard them as trophies to be defended as obstinately and held as dearly as the consecrated colours of their regiments; and as if such moral degradation were not sufficient, the enemy demanded that General Sale, with his wife and daughter, and the other Europeans who were married, with their wives and children, should be left as hostages until the arrival of Dost Mohammed and other Afghan prisoners from Hindostan.
This last demand, however, was rejected, but immediately that this miserable treaty had been signed, the enemy, believing that the Feringhees had sunk into hopeless cowardice, assumed a still more haughty and insolent tone.
During the long weary blockade in their entrenched cantonments, which had lasted sixty-five days from the first outbreak, the troops and camp followers, had become enfeebled by continued watching; by occasional sorties, in which many gallant soldiers had fallen nobly on the field of battle, and by harassing duties on reduced rations, until at length when they commenced their fatal march on the 6th of January, 1842, although many brave men were bracing themselves up in the desperate resolution to sell their lives dearly to the enemy, if treachery were at work for their destruction, the great mass of the force was in sore condition to endure the fatigues of a long weary march in snow and frost, through the mountain fastnesses which separated them from Jellalabad, the nearest point on their road at which they could hope for support.
The English ladies and children accompanied the retiring troops, for the protection of whom, from the furious zeal of the Ghazees, and the uncontrollable cupidity of the Afghan bandits who infested the mountains through which they had to pass, it was humiliatingly agreed that the chiefs should furnish an escort. The arrangements of the march were of the worst; there was no order; already, on the 7th, the effect of the sharp frosts and exposure had told; there was no shelter, no fire-wood, no food, and the sun rose on many stiffened corpses. The enemy were pressing on the rear, seizing baggage, and capturing guns. The soldiers weary, feeble and frost-bitten, could make no stand against the fierce charges of the Afghan horsemen; all thoughts of effectual resistance were at an end, and there was nothing to be hoped for but from the forbearance of the treacherous Afghan chiefs.
the 8th of January, having only cleared ten miles in the two previous days
march, the force
Another night in the snow now deepened by a heavy fall, spent by the perishing troops without shelter, firewood, or food, was followed by a day of irresolution. The General ordered a halt while negotiating with Akbar Khan, and at length, as he himself states, "desirous to remove the ladies and children from the further dangers of our camp, and hoping that, as from the very commencement of the negotiations the Sirdar had shown the greatest anxiety to have the married people as hostages, this mark of trust might elicit a corresponding feeling in him," he complied with the request, and so Lady Macnaghten, Lady Sale and the other widows and wives of the British officers, with their children, passed into the hands of the son of Dost Mohammed Khan, the sovereign whom the army had deposed. The married officers accompanied their wives, and on the following morning, 10th of January, the remnant of the doomed force resumed its march, in the same miserable confusion as on the preceding day. Soldiers and camp followers rushed promiscuously to the front. The native regiments were fast melting into nothing; throwing down their arms and crowding in among the camp followers, the Sepoys were rapidly swelling the disorganised rabble in front; their hands were frost-bitten; they could not pull a trigger; they were paralyzed, panic struck; whilst the Afghans watching their cruel opportunity, came down with their long knives among their unresisting victims, and slaughtered them like sheep. A narrow gorge between the precipitous spurs of two hills was the appointed shambles; there the dead and dying soon choked up the defile. There was not now a single Sepoy left.
About 50 horse artillerymen with one howitzer; some 250 men of H.M.'s 44th regiment, and 150 cavalry troopers now constituted the entire force. Of the 16,500 men - soldiers and camp followers - who had left Cabul on the 6th, not one fourth survived, and had it not been for the persevering energy and unflinching fortitude of Brigadier Shelton, who commanded the rear with a few Europeans, it is probable the whole would then have been sacrificed.
After another attempt at negotiation, in which the proposition that the remnant of the British army should lay down their arms had been promptly rejected by Elphinstone, the survivors pressed forward, hoping to reach Jugdulluck by a rapid night march, but day dawned upon them when they were still ten miles distant from it. After a short halt they pushed on, covered by Shelton, who, with a few brave men of the rear guard, faced the overwhelming crowd of Afghans with determined courage, gallantly held them in check, fighting their way to Jugdulluck, behind the ruined walls of which they were soon compelled to seek safety from the hot fire of the enemy's jezails. All night long and throughout the next day, 12th January, the force halted at Jugdulluck, while negotiations were resumed with the Sirdar, who having invited Elphinstone, Shelton, and Captain Johnson to a conference, basely retained them as hostages for the evacuation of Jellalabad. On the evening of the 12th the few remaining men, about 125 in all, resumed their perilous march, and after fighting their way bravely to the summit of the Jugdulluck pass, came upon a barrier which closed the defile. Here the Afghans lay in wait for them, and after a desperate fight, in which twelve officers fell and a greater part of the force was massacred, a few officers and men cleared the barrier, and about daybreak reached Gundamuck, a party of some 65 Europeans, with only two rounds of ammunition in the pouches of the men. The chief of the district made overtures for their surrender, but while the negotiations were pending, the enemy, who swarmed around, fell on the little party and cut them up almost to a man. One officer of the 44th, who had wrapped the regimental colour round his waist, and a few privates were taken prisoners, and a small party of six others reached Futtehabad, sixteen miles from Jellalabad, but were then attacked by the natives and one only escaped.
Very different was the fate of Sale's brigade, which had been detached from Cabul to tranquilize the country between it and Jellalabad, in which the Ghilzyes were in a state of open hostility. It consisted of Sale's own regiment, Her Majesty's 13th Light Infantry, the 35th Native Infantry, Captain Abbott's battery of European Artillery, two guns of European Horse Artillery under Lieut. Walker, with some mountain guns, 3-prs., under Lieut. Davis , a. squadron of the 5th Regiment of Bengal Light Cavalry, and another of Anderson's Irregular Horse, with 400 Sappers and Miners under Captain Broadfoot.
After some hard fighting, Sir Robert Sale had reached Gundamuck on the 30th October, where he received information of the outbreak at Cabul, with orders to retrace his steps. His losses in officers and men, however, by continuous hard fighting, forcing his way through the narrow and difficult passes which now separated him from Cabul, had been very severe; the whole of his camp equipage had been destroyed; he was encumbered with 300 sick and wounded, surrounded by enemies, and embarrassed by treacherous allies, having no secure depôt in which to place his sick, no depôt of provisions on the route, not sufficient transport to carry a single day's provisions, and "without sufficient ammunition two such contests as he would assuredly have had to sustain for six days at least." Under these circumstances he "could not force the passes of either Jugdulluck or Koord Cabul," and therefore he decided, and, on the 11th November marched, to seize Jellalabad, and "hold it, if possible, until the Cabul force should fall back upon him, or succour arrive from Peshawur or India."
On the 13th November, Sale took possession of the town, which, though surrounded by fortifications, was absolutely without any real defences, the troops within its dilapidated walls and filled up ditches being almost as much exposed as in the open country. The extent of the works was great, embracing a circuit of upwards of 2300 yards, and it was quite impossible to man them; but guards were posted at all the gates, and a strong piquet, in a central position, was held In readiness to send support to any point from which the sound of firing might proceed. The remainder of the troops were allowed to lie down to rest by companies, with their officers beside them, while the measures to be taken for the defence of the city of Jellalabad were being considered.
The dilapidated works were examined and found in the most wretched condition; 400 yards, continuously, were In such a state that none of the garrison could show themselves upon them except at one spot, but it was decided to defend the place, and Captain Broadfoot, having been appointed garrison engineer, set about the repair of the defences with all the energy and zeal for which he was distinguished. His little corps of sappers had brought their working tools with them from Cabul, in spite of great difficulties and some opposition, and were now ready to ply them with the heartiest goodwill. There was not a soldier in the force, European or native, who was not eager to join In the work, and did not recognise the hitherto despised tools as only second in importance to their arms for assuring their safety.
After dispersing the enemy, who had assembled in large numbers to molest them, by a well-led sortie on the 16th of November, the works proceeded apace; ammunition was prepared by Abbott and his artillerymen; provisions were collected, and although the soldiers were on half rations and deprived of their accustomed drams, there being no ardent liquors in the .town, there was no grumbling, no dissatisfaction, and it was never said that a man was unequal to his accustomed duties; it is recorded on the contrary that "the gallant men who composed the garrison of Jellalabad took their half rations cheerfully, and cheerfully did double work."
Again, on the 1st December, the enemy, who had collected in force under the walls, were routed In a sortie, after which the labours of the garrison, who were in fine health, in good working condition, and in an admirable state of discipline, proceeded without molestation, and the works began to assume an appearance of effective defence, but disastrous rumours were coming in from Cabul, gradually increasing in intensity, until at length, on the 2nd January, authentic information was received that the Cabul force was falling hack on Jellalabad, followed, on the 8th, by an order from General Elphinstone to evacuate the place, and hand it over to an Afghan chief, who was to have brought the order, in which he was designated Governor of Jellalabad, and return forthwith to India.
Happily Sir Robert Sale and Major Macgregor the political agent attached to his force, adopted a worthier' resolution, and declined to deliver up the city and the works raised around it by the garrison for their, defence. It would, moreover, have been useless to have done so; the Cabul force would not have been aided thereby; the only secure point between it and India would have been lost, and the garrison in their retreat upon India, through the fastnesses of the Khyber, then covered with snow, would almost inevitably have been destroyed.
It is recorded that four days later, on the 13th January, when the garrison were still busy on the works, toiling with axe and shovel, with their arms piled and accoutrements laid out close at hand, a sentry looking towards the Cabul road saw a solitary white‑faced horseman struggling towards the fort. The tidings spread, the ramparts were lined with straining eyes. Slowly and painfully the solitary mounted man came reeling, tottering on. They saw he was an Englishman, on a wretched, weary pony, clinging as one sick or wounded to its neck. A shudder ran through the garrison. Their worst forebodings were confirmed. There was the one man who was to tell the story of the massacre of an army. A party of cavalry, sent to succour him, brought him in wounded, exhausted, half dead. The messenger was Dr. Brydon, who reported his belief that he was the sole survivor of a force of 4,500 fighting men and about 12,000 camp followers, who with him had left Cabul only seven short days before.
How it happened that such an army as that commanded by General Elphinstone had been brought to such a condition as to he compelled to evacuate Cabul, and had then been so disastrously beaten and at length destroyed, by an enemy of such calibre as these undisciplined Afghans, was a terrible mystery to the brave men of the garrison of Jellalabad, who had been scattering their opponents like sheep. No difference in the troops can account for it; the mystery is alone to be solved by considering the character of the political and military chiefs, who by the will of God were entrusted with the supreme direction of the two forces. The sad news of these terrible disasters caused the greatest despondency throughout India in all minds, from the Governor‑General and Commander-in-chief downwards. A great crisis had suddenly arisen and the Governor-General, Lord Auckland, who had been created an Earl only two years before, for conquering and tranquilizing Afghanistan, was not equal to it. He began to doubt the justice and expediency of his policy, and in the bewilderment and perplexity which followed the blow that had descended upon him, he seems to have forgotten the paramount necessity of demonstrating to all the nations of the East the invincibility of British arms, upon the prestige of which our Indian Empire so much depends, and with a great army at his call, to have thought only of extrication and retreat. of abandoning instead of regaining our position.
The Commander-in-chief, Sir Jasper Nicolls, who had been consistently opposed to the entire scheme of Afghan invasion, and had with rare prescience and sagacity foretold the disastrous downfall of a policy based upon a foundation of complicated error, was equally averse to sending strong reinforcements to the support of the troops in Afghanistan, forgetting that the restoration of the military supremacy of Great Britain in Central Asia was to be achieved; in such a crisis, whatever might be the scruples of the statesman, the soldier ought not to have hesitated for a moment, supineness being more likely than activity to provoke aggression.
Happily, there were other functionaries nearer to the scene of action at the time, whose judgment dictated a more energetic course of procedure.
Mr. Robertson, the lieutenant governor of the north-west provinces, and. Mr. George Clerk, the Governor-General's agent on the north-western frontier, both recognised the paramount necessity of pushing on troops to Peshawur, and already, on the 26th of November, four regiments of native infantry, the 30th, 53rd. 60th and 64th, with a few artillerymen to reinforce a company in Afghanistan, under Brigadier Wild,. had by their instructions crossed the Sutlej, and preparations were begun for the despatch of another brigade with artillery and cavalry; but these were stopped by the Commander-in-chief, who wrote to Brigadier Wild, to borrow guns, of which he had none of his own, from the Sikhs, and to man them with the few gunner's who accompanied his force. Meanwhile, Mr Clerk continued to get additional reinforcements in readiness, and although the Commander-in-chief was "not prepared," and the Governor-General thought it "undesirable" to send more troops in advance, permission was at length given, and on the 4th of June, 1842, a second brigade, under Brigadier M'Caskill, consisting of H.M.'s 9th regiment, the 26th native infantry and the 10th light (native) cavalry, and half a battery of artillery with three guns, altogether, 3,034 fighting men, crossed the Sutlej, also on its way to Peshawur.
While the preparations were proceeding for the despatch of these troops, a discussion had arisen as to the appointment of an officer to command them. It was necessary to select a man of good military repute and of unquestionable energy and activity, combined with a cool judgement and sound discretion; but here again there was diversity of opinion; the Commander-in-chief wished to appoint a royal officer, while the Governor-General desired to see an experienced officer of the Company's service, at the head of affairs, and at length after much hesitation, the choice fell upon Major General George Pollock, then commanding the garrison at Agra, whose merit was even at that time so thoroughly established that his appointment gave universal satisfaction. His nomination was believed to be free from the corruption of undue influence, and the taint of personal favouritism, and it was felt that the selection had been made on the ground of individual merit. Sir J. W. Kaye, from whose " History of the war in Afghanistan " a great part of this Memoir has been borrowed, writes:
"The merit thus rewarded was of the most modest and unostentatious character. There was not perhaps in the whole Indian army a man of more unassuming there manners and a more retiring disposition ;was not one less likely to have sought notoriety for its own sake, or to have put himself forward in an attempt to obtain it. Pollock's merits did not lie upon the surface. He was not what is called a dashing officer; he shrunk from anything like personal display, and never appealed to the vulgar weaknesses of an unreflecting community. But beneath an unassuming exterior, there lay a fund of good sense, of innate sagacity, of quiet firmness and collectedness. He was equable and temperate. He was thoroughly conscientious. If he was looked upon by the Indian Government as a safe man, it was not merely because he always exercised a calm and dispassionate judgement, but because he was actuated in all that he did by the purest motives, and sustained by the highest principles. He was essentially an honest man. There was a directness of purpose about him which won the confidence of all with whom he associated. They saw that his one paramount desire was to do his duty to his country, by consulting in every way the welfare and honour of the troops under his command, and they knew that they would never be sacrificed, either on the one hand by the rash ambition, or on the other by the feebleness and indecision of their leader. The force to be despatched to Afghanistan required the superintendence and control of all officer equally cool and firm, temperate and decided and perhaps, in the whole range of the Indian army, the Government could not have found one in whom these qualities were more eminently combined than in the character' of General Pollock."
Pollock received orders at Agra on the 1st of January, 1842, to proceed forthwith to Peshawur, where he arrived on the 6th of February, and assumed command of the troops assembling there. While on this journey he received full intelligence of the disasters that had befallen the Cabul army, the extent and details of which became known in India towards the end of January. While these caused many to sigh over the tarnished reputation of the country, and to burn with desire to avenge the murder of their countrymen and the insults that had been heaped upon the nation, the Governor-General and Commander-in-chief seem to have been paralyzed, and to have thought only of the expediency of a retrogade movement on the part of all the remaining troops beyond the Indus, as soon as the safety of Sale's brigade had been secured, leaving the unfortunate captives, Including officers, soldiers, ladies and children, to the tender mercies of the treacherous Afghans, and to the chance of procuring their release by money. Not so, however, Mr. Clerk and some other brave spirits, who insisted that the safety and honour of the British power in India required that the garrison at Jellalabad should hold its own, until, reinforced by fresh troops, it could march in conjunction with the Candahar force upon Cabul, chastise the enemy on the theatre of their recent successes, and then the whole could withdraw altogether from Afghanistan with dignity and undiminished honour. The urgency of Mr. Clerk could not be withstood, and a third brigade, consisting of the 6th and 55th regiments of native infantry, the 1st regiment of native cavalry, two squadrons of European dragoons and a battery of horse artillery, was held in readiness to join the force at Peshawur.
While such was the state of indecision and panic in India, let us consider the position of affairs at Peshawur when Pollock arrived and assumed command. The fortress of Ali Musjid, lying some five miles within the Khyber Pass, of which it had always been regarded as the key, and about twenty-five miles from Peshawur, had been held by a few faithful natives under. the command of an English gentleman, Mr. Mackeson, who had nobly resisted the attacks of the Afreedies but, there being every chance of their being unable to sustain the defence much longer, Brigadier Wild detached one half of his brigade, the 53rd and 64th regiments of native infantry, on the 15th January, to garrison it. They reached their destination in safety, but by some unaccountable mismanagement left the cattle behind which were destined to feed them, and were thus shut up in an isolated fortress without provisions. The only hope of extrication from this dilemma lay in the advance of the two other regiments of the brigade, with their four borrowed Sikh guns, and the Sikh auxiliaries. The latter however mutinied and marched back to Peshawur. Wild, therefore, advanced on the 19th January, without them, but was disgracefully beaten back with the loss of his guns, notwithstanding the efforts of himself and officers, several of whom were wounded and one killed in endeavouring to rally the Sepoys, who had lost all heart, and were huddled together In confusion and dismay. The loss of the Sepoys was severe and the column fell back on Jumrood. This disaster brought about the abandonment of the fortress, the garrison retiring with some loss on the 24th January, when the four regiments were once more together at Jumrood, the officers, in spite of the disasters of the week, congratulating one another, and thankful "it was no worse."
After this, the brigade remained inactive in the vicinity of Peshawur, when the usual consequences of inactivity were soon painfully apparent. The Sepoys fell sick, crowded into hospital, and, without the audacity of open mutiny, gave utterance to language but little removed from it. Exposed to the alarming hints and alluring imputations of the mutinous Sikh soldiery, some began to desert their colours, while others openly declared that nothing should induce them again to face the horrors of the Khyber Pass. As Pollock hurried through the Punjaub the worst reports continued to meet him; not only was he informed that the troops of Wild's brigade were enfeebled by disease and paralyzed by terror, but that even the officers of the force were using, in an unguarded and unworthy manner, the language of disheartenment and alarm.
On the 6th February he reached Peshawur, and found that the stories he had heard on the road by no means exaggerated the condition of the troops under Brigadier Wild. There were then 1000 men in hospital, and the number was increasing alarmingly. In a few days it had increased to 1800; the morale of the troops was in the lowest possible state. Disaffection broke out openly among the Sepoys, and a few days after, when M'Caskill's brigade had arrived, four out of the five Sepoy regiments present refused to advance; this disaffection manifested itself by frequent desertions, calculated to cause the greatest uneasiness, and the more so, because this small force was 363 miles from the British frontier, and a Sikh army was encamped close at hand, spreading alarm, encouraging and screening desertions, who, although their ruler, the astute Runjeet Singh, had allowed the British forces to traverse his territory, and their chiefs were courteous and nominally friendly, could only be regarded as very doubtful allies. To quote from one of Pollock's dispatches "The Sikh soldiery, one and all, are Insolent, and do not scruple to express their wish that we may meet with reverses; they are a disorganised rabble, but dangerous as neighbours."
The taint which had affected the Sepoys had also reached some of the officers, who did not hesitate openly to express at the mess table the strongest opinions against a second attempt to force the Khyber, and to declare their belief that, if it were made, very few would return to Peshawur. One officer publicly asserted that it would be better to sacrifice Sale's brigade than to risk the loss of 12,000 men on the march to Jellalabad, and another said that, if an advance were ordered, he would do his best to dissuade every Sepoy of his corps from again entering the pass.
To instil new courage and confidence into the waverers was no easy task ; but coolly and sagaciously, as one who understood the cause of their disheartenment and could make some allowances for their misconduct, Pollock addressed himself to the work of reanimating and reassuring them. He visited the hospitals frequently, and by adding to the comforts of the men, shewed that he felt an interest In them. He saw every officer; he determined not to act with harshness towards the men, not calling them to courts-martial, he depended upon the influence of reason with them, and in the course of a very short time he succeeded in completely re-establishing the confidence which had been so deeply shaken. He made the Sepoys feel that they had been placed under the care of one who was mindful of their welfare and jealous of their honour; one who overlooked nothing that could contribute to the health and comfort of his men, and who would never call upon them to make sacrifices to which he would not cheerfully submit himself. There was in all he did such an union of firmness and kindness; he was so mild, so considerate, and yet so decided, that the Sepoys came in time to regard him with child-like faith, and when the hour of trial came, they were not found wanting.
All through the months of February and March Pollock remained inactive, but, mortifying as the delay was, no other course was open to him. His position was painful, but his duty plain. The safety of the gallant garrison of Jellalabad was to be secured by his advance.
On the 26th of January, in doubt whether. the government of Calcutta had any intention to make a genuine effort on a sufficient scale to relieve the garrison, and concluding from what had been heard of the views and measures of Lord Auckland, that they would be left to their fate, Sale summoned a council of War to consider a demand made to him by the Afghan Government, that he should leave the country. At this council, composed of men who had proved their valour and resource on many a battle field, the terms of a proposed capitulation were carried with but ONE dissentient voice, (that of Captain George Broadfoot, of the Bengal Engineers) who, to his honour it is recorded, took his stand boldly, and withstood every argument adduced in favour of the capitulation, and when, on the 12th of February, a reply came demanding further concessions from the beleaguered garrison, his arguments had such weight that the re-assembled council, after long debate and much opposition, did not renew the negotiation. Sir Robert Sale was thus happily left free to act as he should think fit; on the following day tidings arrived that reinforcements were moving up through the Punjaub; all doubt ceased and there was no more talk of withdrawal, but Sale and Macgregor nevertheless continued to write urgent letters to Pollock to push on without delay; it was still Pollock's hard duty to halt. The Sepoys were gradually recovering their health and spirits; reinforcements with British dragoons and horse artillery were on their way to join him, and He well knew that nothing could do more to reassure those who had been discouraged by previous failure than the knowledge that they would be supported in their advance by fresh troops, numbering among them a good proportion of Europeans. Had the advance been precipitated, it is probable that some of the native regiments would have refused to march, and by open mutiny have raised difficulties which it would have been impossible to overcome.
Still it required much firmness to resist the pressing appeals made to Pollock by his comrades at the other end of the Khyber, who having with enormous efforts and by frequent sorties, collected provisions which had enabled them to hold out so long, now found that their supplies would soon come to an end. Their rations, which were not of the best, had been reduced to such an extent that they were barely sufficient to keep the men in health and strength, fit for the exertions they were daily required to make, and which it was necessary to sustain if ever they w ere to be released from their present position.*
A great calamity w as now again about to befall the garrison of Jellalabad. On the morning of the 19th February the men were toiling with pick and shovel with their wonted cheerfulness and activity, their arms piled within reach, flushed with joy at the thought of the near completion of the defences and the security they afforded against the hordes of Afghans now again assembling in their vicinity, when a fearful visitation of Providence suddenly and astoundingly turned all their labour into nothingness. There was an awful and mysterious sound as of thunder beneath their feet; then the earth shook; the houses of the town trembled and fell; the ramparts seemed to reel and totter, and then came down with a crash. On the first sound the men instinctively rushed to their arms, which were a short distance from the walls, and so the greater number escaped injury.
Although this earthquake* had wrought in a minute more ruin than a bombarding army could have done in a month, the garrison were in no wise disheartened. " No time," says Captain Broadfoot, "was lost. The shocks had scarcely ceased when the whole garrison was told off into working parties, and before night the breaches were scarped, the rubbish below them cleared away, whilst the great one was surrounded by a good gabion parapet."
The Afghans, however, dared not to attack; they lost their opportunity, but hoping to subdue the garrison by starvation, drew closer round the fortress, establishing sungahs (screens for riflemen, built up with dry stones), from behind which they fired briskly on the defenders, until at length they were driven away by a sortie on the 11th March.
Scarcity of ammunition prevented the gallant defenders from following up this success , which, however, caused the rest of the month to pass quietly away. Provisions had become very scarce; their camels had long ago been killed; fodder for their horses was not to be obtained; the blockade was strict, and it is therefore easy to understand the eagerness with which Sale and Macgregor continued to urge Pollock to advance to their succour. They knew that if reduced to much greater straits they would cease to have the power to help themselves or to make a move to meet their deliverers. Pollock, however, remained firm. He knew the dangers before him; he had calculated the means at his disposal to overcome them, and he waited until the dragoons and horse artillery reached his camp, on the 30th March; on the following day he began to move forward.
Pollock had difficulties to encounter, besides those arising from his own command, from the Sikh army, who, although nominal allies, cordially detested the British nation, and regarded its disasters with secret delight, but ably seconded by the efforts of Mr. Clark, at the court of Lahore, and by Henry Lawrence, who was with him, Pollock gradually, by the influence of his character, overcame this feeling of aversion, and when the European reinforcements arrived, the Sikhs had resolved to face the dangers of, and to assist in forcing, the pass.
On the 31st March Pollock was at Jumrood, intending to advance on the following morning, but new elements of delay arose; the camel drivers were deserting in such numbers that there was not sufficient carriage for the ammunition. The Sikh General, Gholab Singh, had not moved up his camp, and the rain was descending in floods.
Pollock had already clone his best to reduce the baggage, but now issued a fine soldierly appeal to the army, which made men of all ranks feel that he was not less ready to make sacrifices himself than to call upon others to make them. One regiment of native infantry could not come up for want of cattle; Sepoys were deserting from Wild's brigade: "The pluck of the Sepoys," Pollock wrote, "was doubtful. I still much regret that I have not the 31st Queen's Regiment,* but after Sir Robert Sale's letter, I consider he has put it out of my power to wait longer, although I am quite sure the addition of 900 Europeans would operate very favourably for the prisoners."
The interval of delay was well employed in completing the arrangements for the final advance, which was made on the 5th of April, in three columns, a centre one with the baggage, treasure, ammunition, and guns, and two flanking columns composed entirely of infantry. H.M.'s 9th regiment, the only European infantry with the force, were distributed between the three, to give confidence to the native soldiers, who now, however, behaved nobly; vieing with their European comrades, they carried the precipitous heights on either side, and driving the defenders from ridge to ridge, opened the door of the Khyber Pass, the enemy retreating to the fort of Ali Musjid, which they evacuated on the following morning.
A military writer in a work entitled: "Mountain Warfare," says, that Pollock's arrangements were so perfect in conception, and so complete in detail, "that it would be superfluous to attempt to elaborate or improve upon them;" and it may be added, that no better example can be given to the student of military history in search of knowledge of mountain warfare, than that of the forcing of the Khyber Pass, and of the subsequent operations of Pollock's army in the intricate defiles of Afghanistan.
By this defeat of an enemy, 10,000 strong, in an almost impregnable position, in spite of his barricades, in which he placed the greatest confidence, with the singularly small casualty roll of 135 killed and wounded (41 from H.M.'s 9th regiment), the Sepoys found they were not sacrificed, and, as Pollock wrote on the following day, "they are in the highest spirits and have a thorough contempt for the enemy. This is a great point gained. The Sikhs are encamped near us and are much more respectful since our operations of yesterday."
A small body of native troops took charge of the surrendered fortress, the Sikhs were left to guard the communications, and Pollock pressed on towards Jellalabad.
At the other end of the pass a glorious action was fought, on the following day, the 6th of April; the garrison, under Sale, moved out of the fortress and attacked Akbar Khan, who with 6000 men was drawn up in front of his camp, with his right resting on a fort and his left on the Cabul river, ready to receive them. The impetuosity of the British onslaught was not to be resisted by Afghan soldiers; they fought well and made repeated efforts to check, the advance, but "in a short time were dislodged from every point of their position, their cannon taken and their camp involved in a general conflagration. In short," as Sale wrote: "The defeat of Mahommed Akbar in open field, by the troops whom he had boasted of blockading, was complete and signal."
On the 16th of April Pollock reached Jellalabad, when Sale and his "illustrious" followers were relieved, after having been shut up for five long months in the fortifications, reared for the most part by their own energy.
As Pollock and his troops passed to their encamping ground the walls were manned by the garrison, a salute was fired and returned, and a loud and thrilling cheer burst forth to welcome them, a most exciting scene, in which so many hearts beat happily together in the ranks of the relieving and relieved, and grateful thoughts were lifted up to the Almighty in gratitude for a deliverance which, two months before, had appeared almost hopeless to all except Pollock and a few others inspired with like energy and devotion. Pollock, in the simplicity of his heart, wrote to a friend: "It was a sight worth seeing, all appeared happy."
The following reflection from "Sale's brigade," by the Rev. G. R. Gleig, the Chaplain General to the forces, who in his youth shared in the dangers of many a hard fought battle field in the Peninsula, under the Duke of Wellington, as a combatant officer of a light infantry regiment, and bears, in his old age, the scars of several wounds which attest his share in the dangers of war, is well worthy of consideration. It comes from a man of mature years, of large experience In wars and armies, and whose knowledge of historical events, with their causes and effects, is worthy of the deepest respect.
here let me not forget to record to the honour of the illustrious garrison, that
regularly as the Lord's Day came round, brigade orders called
Throughout the anxious period of Pollock's detention at Peshawur, he had felt deeply the chilling influence of the knowledge that his advocacy of a spirited policy met with hut a lukewarm response from the authorities in India. The avowed purpose for which Pollock's force was mainly formed, was "the withdrawal of the Jellalabad garrison in safety to Peshawur;" but Pollock urged a holder course, pointing out that the timid nature of his instructions which he was ordered "carefully and implicitly to obey," would, if followed, be attended with considerable risk, and have a very bad effect far and near, while by advancing beyond Jellalabad and thus seeking an opportunity of inflicting a signal punishment on the enemy, he might hope to effect the liberation of the prisoners In the enemy's hands and establish his superiority in such a manner as to secure his force from molestation during their subsequent withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, an important change had taken place in the Government of India. Lord Auckland had been relieved as Governor-General by Lord Ellenborough, whose arrival was hailed with satisfaction, great things being expected from his energy and spirit.
On the 15th of March, a few days after his arrival at Calcutta, Lord Ellenborough wrote to the Commander-in-chief:- "Whatever course we may hereafter take must rest solely on military considerations, and have in the first instance regard to the safety of the detached bodies of our troops at Jellalabad, at Ghuznee, at Khelat-i-Ghilzye and Candahar; to the security of our troops in the field from all unnecessary risk, and finally, to the establishment of our military reputation by the infliction of some signal and decisive blow upon the Afghans, which may make it appear to them and to our own subjects and to our allies, that we have the power of inflicting punishment upon those who commit atrocities, and violate their faith."
"The relief of these garrisons," he wrote, "is a point deeply affecting the military character of the army; to effect the release of the prisoners taken at Cabul, is an object likewise deeply interesting In point of feeling and honour ; and with reference to it and the relief of Ghuznee, it may possibly become a question, in the event of Major-General Pollock's effecting a junction with Sir Robert Sale, whether the united force shall return to the country below the Khyber Pass, or take a forward position near Jellalabad, or even advance to Cabul."
This spirited letter struck a responsive chord in Indian society, which, keenly alive to the overwhelming danger incurred by British rule in the East, in consequence of late events, was desirous that the prestige of our military power, which had been so rudely shaken, should be firmly re-established, and with it the government of our Indian possessions. About this time, however, information was received of General England's unfortunate check, on the 28th March, when advancing from Quettah with a brigade conveying money and provisions for the garrison of Candahar. Having made an unsuccessful attack on a small native force at Hykulzye, that General decided, in opposition to the strongly expressed opinion of the political and other officers who accompanied him, to fall back and await further reinforcements at Quettah, before again attempting to open communications with General Nott at Candahar.
unfortunate disaster, which was less the fault of the troops than of the
General, seems to have discouraged the Governor-General, who on the 15th March
had written, "In war reputation is strength," and over whom an entire
change had come. Alluding to Pollock's and Sale's first successes, of which he
had just received information, he wrote on the 22nd April:- "Although these
events improve our prospects to some extent, they have in no respect altered my
deliberate opinion that it is expedient to withdraw the troops under
Major-General Pollock and those under Major-General Nott at the earliest
practicable period, into positions wherein they may have certain and easy
communication with India. That opinion is founded upon a general view of our
military, political, and financial situation, and is not liable to be lightly
changed." He looked upon Pollock's position as so hopeless that on the 4th
May he wrote to him: "The most recent accounts which have been received of
the difficulty experienced by you in obtaining supplies from Jellalabad, and in
The safety of the army thus became the chief object of the Governor-General, for the accomplishment of which he decided to leave to their unhappy fate the English prisoners in the hands of the Afghans, among whom were two of the generals who commanded our army at Cabul, the widow of a murdered British envoy, the brave-hearted wife and the widowed daughter of the commander of the "illustrious garrison" of Jellalabad, with many other brave officers and tender women, captives in the fortresses of the Afghan Sirdars.
All attempt at rescue was abandoned, and any effort to re-establish our military reputation entirely repudiated, although upon that reputation, in his own opinion, only a short time before, the tenure of India depended. On the 29th April, the Commander-in- chief with the entire approval of the Governor-General, sent the following order to General Pollock:
"You will be pleased to conform to the following instructions."
1. Shah Soojah being dead, Ghuznee lost, and Major General Nott directed by his Lordship's command (also of the 19th instant) to withdraw the garrison of Khelat-i-Ghilzye, to evacuate Candahar, and to retire first upon Quettah, and, when the season admits, upon Sukkur; you are required to make a similar movement in Upper Afghanistan, and to withdraw every British soldier from Jellalabad to Peshawur.
2. You are to destroy the fort, and any useless guns; but as there need be no haste in the retreat when commenced, you are requested not to leave any trophies.
3. The only circumstances which can authorise delay in obeying this order are,-
1st. That you have brought a negotiation for the release of the prisoners Iately confined at Budeeabad to such a point that you might risk its happy accomplishment by withdrawing.
2nd. That you have detached a lightly-equipped force to endeavour to rescue them.
3rd. That the enemy at Cabul may be moving a force to attack you. In this improbable case, should any respectable number of troops have descended into the plain below Jugdulluck with that intent, it would be most advisable to inflict, such a blow upon them as to make them long remember your parting effort. If you should have such a glorious opportunity,
I advise you to send your weak and inefficient men previously to Lalpoora.
4. I do not recommend delay in the first case, unless the prisoner's are actually on their way to your camp, as no faith can be placed in Afghan promises or oaths. The second would of course require that you should await the return of your detachment.
5. I allude entirely to the officers and ladies now or lately at Budeeabad, or its vicinity. Those at Cabul cannot, I think, be saved by any treaty or agreement made under existing circumstances at Jellalabad.
6. You will be pleased, on reaching Peshawur, to despatch to Ferozepore without delay the troops of all arms which so gallantly upheld our country's name at Jellalabad; and further instructions will be sent to you regarding the disposal of the other brigades. Sir Robert Sale may be permitted to remain at your head-quarters, should he desire to do so, and you will transfer him accordingly to another command, placing Brigadier Monteith in charge of the returning column."
Similar orders had been sent on the 19th April to Nott to withdraw the garrison of Khelat-i-Ghilzye, evacuate Candahar, and take up a position at Quetta until the season would permit of his retiring altogether from Afghanistan.
It has been necessary to enter into this detail in order properly to appreciate the difficulty of Pollock's position, by a thorough knowledge of which alone a true estimate can be formed of his character.
We find him, then, in command of a small victorious army, but ill-found with means of transport and provisions, encamped near Jellalabad, with the Khyber Pass in his rear; and beyond it the Sikh empire, separating him by 350 miles from the British frontier. In his front a haughty insolent enemy in a mountainous country of the most intricate and difficult nature for military operations, the whole population hostile to him and confident of their strength and of their power to defend their fastnesses, while General Nott was in a very critical position at Candahar, near the other extremity of Afghanistan, in command of a small force with detachments closely invested in Ghuznee and Khelat-i-Ghilzye, there being no direct means of communication between the two generals except by hired natives who carried concealed despatches written in colourless ink.
This was Pollock's position when he received these positive orders to retire, which, as a soldier, he was bound to obey, unless some important event or events known to himself, but unknown to and unforeseen by the Commander-in-chief had occurred in the meanwhile, which had so changed the aspect of affairs as to warrant him in taking the very grave responsibility of acting otherwise than in accordance with the explicit instructions he had received. The only military event of this nature that had occurred was the surrender of Ghuznee, of which Pollock received intelligence on the 22nd April. By this surrender Colonel Palmer, who commanded, and the surviving officers and men of the garrison, were added to the roll of prisoners already in the hands of the Afghans.
Fortunately for Great Britain the command of the army had been confided to a man of enlarged views, capable, of appreciating the mature of the crisis in which he was called upon to play so important a part, possessed of sound judgment and with a large share of moral courage. If Pollock had acted according to the letter and spirit of his instructions and brought his army safe back to India, he would have been relieved of all responsibility as to the abandonment of the captives and as to any other effects, political or otherwise, induced by his retreat, and the Government could not have refused him the honours always granted to a successful general, and which would have been at least equal to those awarded to him after a much more noble career.
Pollock, however, foresaw the danger to the political power of Great Britain in the East, which could inevitably have been incurred, if he had retired without striking a decisive blow and inflicting a signal punishment on the faithless murderers of our army, and his nature abhorred an act which by the cowardly abandonment of helpless women and children, would attach to the Government and name of Great Britain a stigma that could never have been removed.
simply sat down to his desk and wrote to General Nott, requesting him on
no account to retire until he should hear again from him. Nott, meanwhile,
had been reinforced, on the 10th May,
Nott, upon whom the peremptory order to retire had come like a thunderclap, and who conceived such a measure impossible until Cabul should be retaken, gladly agreed to remain at Candahar until he should hear again from Pollock.
In a letter written many years afterwards to Mr. C. R. Lowe , the author of his life and correspondence, which has been freely used in making this compilation, Sir George Pollock looking back on the past says:
I think you are quite right when you assert my letter to Nott was perhaps one of the most important documents of all my Afghan correspondence. I am sorry to say I have not even a memo. of the letter.
I felt at the time that to retire would be our ruin - the whole country would have risen to endeavour to destroy us. I therefore determined on remaining at Jellalabad until an opportunity offered for our advance, if practicable. I knew that Nott had been ordered to retire, and I knew that if he did go his opponent would pay me a visit, accompanied by the army which eventually did oppose me. W e had some tough work with that army, but if the army opposed to Nott had joined them, the odds against us would have been very great. I had quite enough to do with those who did oppose me at Jugdulluck and Tezeen. Stopping Nott for a few days, after his receipt of orders to retire, was perhaps a very bold step, but I looked upon it as the only safe course to pursue, and it succeeded. If it had not succeeded I knew that I might lose my commission, but I felt pretty certain that if we worked together in earnest the game would be ours. And I accordingly wrote to Nott to halt wherever he might be until he should hear from me again. He had made, I think, two retrogade movements, and replied that he would wait until he heard from me again.
I am sorry that I have no copy of my letter or his reply; but of this I feel certain, that if I had not stopped him, our campaign would have ended much in the same way that occurred to the first party that returned from Cabul - one individual reached Jellalabad."
The pusillanimity of the Government and the importance of the crisis may be judged of by the proceedings of Sir James Outram, then politically employed in Sindh. So dangerous did he consider the orders given to General Pollock that he at once wrote that "our bitterest foe could not have devised a more injurious measure, whether viewed politically or in a military light;" and upon receiving intelligence of Pollock's decision, "I honour the general, and should he be allowed to carry out his views, we shall have mainly to thank him, not only for retrieving our honour in Afghanistan but for saving India to us, the loss of which would ultimately result from disgracefully succumbing to the Afghans now. . . . . . Nothing is easier than to retrieve our honour in Afghanistan, previously to finally withdrawing, should the Government so determine; and I pray God, Lord Ellenborough may at once see the damnable consequences of shirking the undertaking, and order accordingly, otherwise the disaster of Cabul will be but the commencement of our misfortunes."
Pollock was still detained at Jellalabad when he received a despatch, dated the 28th of April, from the Chief Secretary, in which the Governor-General, contemplating the possibility that he may have been led, by the absence of serious opposition and by the natural desire of a true soldier, to advance upon Cabul, reasserted his "opinion that the only safe course is that of withdrawing the army at the earliest practicable period into positions within the Khyber Pass, where it may possess easy and certain communications with India." And within a week another despatch, in which he declared that he expected that Pollock had already decided to withdraw his troops, "if considerations, having regard to the health of the army, should not have induced you to defer that movement."
The idea of the advance seems to have been a temporary apprehension arising out of a not erroneous estimate of the military aspirations of General Pollock; but it very soon passed away. It had, however, one important result. It called forth from the General the following soldierlike letter:
To T. H. MADDOCK, ESQ., Secretary to Government, &c.
Jellalabad, May 13, 1842.
SIR, - I had the honour to forward with my letter, No. 32, dated 12th instant, a copy of a letter from his Excellency the Commander-in-Chief. I have now the honour to acknowledge the receipt of your letter, dated 28th ultimo, which adverts to the present aspect of affairs in Afghanistan, and the probability of my having advanced towards Cabul; stating also, that in such an event, the views of the Governor-General as to the withdrawal of the troops will not be altered ; and further, that whatever measures I may adopt I must have especial regard to the health of the troops. I trust that I am not wrong in considering this letter as leaving to me discretionary powers, and, coming as it does from the supreme power in India, I venture to delay, for some days, acting up to the instructions communicated in his Excellency the Commander-in-chief's letter, dated 29th ult.
I regret much that a want of carriage-cattle has detained me here; if it had not been so, I should now be several marches in advance, and I am quite certain that such a move would have, been highly beneficial. Affairs at Cabul are, at the present moment, in a very unsettled state; but a few days must decide in favour of one of the parties. Mahomed Akbar is at Cabul, exerting all his influence to overpower the Prince. He is without means; and if he cannot, within a very short period, obtain the ascendancy, he must give up the contest, in which case I have no doubt I shall hear from him again. With regard to our withdrawal at the present moment, I fear it would have the very worst effect - it would be construed into a defeat, and our character as a powerful nation would be entirely lost in this part of the world.
It is true that the garrison of Jellalabad has been saved, which it would not have been had a force not been sent to its relief. But the relief of that garrison is only one object; there still remain others which we cannot disregard - I allude to the release of the prisoners. I expect about nineteen Europeans from Budeeabad in a few days. The letters which have passed about other prisoners have already been forwarded for the information of his Lordship. If, while these communications were in progress, I were to retire, it would be supposed that a panic had siezed us. I therefore think that our remaining in this vicinity (or perhaps a few marches in advance) is essential to uphold the character of the British nation; and in like manner General Nott might hold his post; at all events till a more favourable season.
I have no reason, yet, to complain that the troops are more unhealthy than they were at Agra. If I am to march to Peshawur, the climate is certainly not preferable; and here I can in one or two marches find a better climate, and I should be able to dictate better terms than I could at Peshawur.
I cannot imagine any force being sent from Cabul which I could not succesfully oppose. But the advance on Cabul would require that General Nott should act in concert and advance also. I therefore cannot help regretting that he should be directed to retire, which, without some demonstration of our power, he will find some difficulty in doing. I have less hesitation in thus expressing my opinion, because I could not under any circumstances, move in less than eighteen or twenty days; and your reply might reach me by express in about twenty-two days. The difference in point of time is not very material, but the importance of the subject is sufficient to justify the delay of a few days. In the mean time, I shall endeavour to procure carriage-cattle as fast as I can, to move either forward or backward, as I may be directed; or, if left to my discretion, as I may think judicious. Under any circumstances, I should not advocate the delay of the troops either at Candahar or on this side beyond the month of November; and in this arrangement advertence must be had to the safety of the Khyber, which I consider the Sikhs would gladly hold if they were allowed to take possession of Jellalabad.
I have the honour to be, &c.,
GEORGE POLLOCK, Major-Gen.
Pollock thus grasped eagerly at the faintest indication of willingness on the part of the Governor-General to place any discretionary power in his hands, and expressed his eagerness to traverse the scene of our recent humiliation. If he had had the carriage he would have advanced at once, but the want of it had kept him inactive in the neighbourhood of Jellalabad, and he adroitly turned it to good account to gain time, asserting he had not the means of retiring to Peshawur. Meanwhile, he exerted himself to obtain, by negotiation, the release of the prisoners.
The announcement of the Governor-General's determination to withdraw the troops from their advanced troops having reached Candahar, Nott wrote to the chief secretary, on the 17th of May:
"These measures shall be carried into effect, and the directions of his Lordship accomplished in the best manner circumstances will admit of;"
and again, on the 21st:
"I shall not lose a moment in making all necessary arrangements for carrying into effect the orders I have received, without turning to the right or the left, by the idle propositions and wild speculations daily and hourly heaped upon me from all parts of Afghanistan and Sindh, by persons who are, or fancy themselves to be, representatives of Government west of the Indus. I know that it is my duty and their duty implicitly and zealously to carry into effect every order received, without enquiring into the reasons for the measures adopted, whatever our own opinion or wishes may be, and without troubling government with unnecessary references."
It was plain that he read the orders of the supreme government not without acute mortification, but he yielded a prompt though grudging assent, and on the 19th May, despatched a brigade under Colonel Wymer, to bring off the garrison and destroy the works of Khelat-i-Ghilzye.
A gallant attempt was made by the enemy to anticipate the relief of this fortress by a desperate assault, on the 21st May, which was nobly repulsed by Craigie and his men, who inflicted a loss of near five hundred men upon the enemy.
During Wymer's absence the Afghans determined to make another attempt against Candahar, but were signally beaten, on the 29th May, by Nott, who sallied out with 1500 men of all arms, and attacked a force of 8000 men in position and 2000 in reserve, breaking them up and inflicting heavy losses upon them. Nott now remained undisturbed at Candahar, collecting transport and preparing for his retirement from Afghanistan.
Pollock's letter to the Chief Secretary, of the 13th May, elicited no answer, but a letter written a week afterwards was more successful, in which, after pointing out the evils and difficulties of an immediate withdrawal to Peshawur, he asked for authority to remain till October or November. On the 1st June the Governor General, being in a more chivalrous mood, replied through the Chief Secretary, "It would be more desirable, undoubtedly, that before finally quitting Afghanistan, you should have an opportunity of striking a blow at the enemy, and since circumstances seem to compel you to remain there till October, the Governor-General earnestly hopes that you may be enabled to draw the enemy into a position in which you may strike a blow effectually," and "it will be for your consideration whether your large army, one half of which would beat, in open field, everything that could be brought against it in Afghanistan, should remain entirely inactive during the period which must now apparently elapse before it can finally return. Although you may not have, or soon be able to procure, the means of moving your whole army, you may possibly be able to move a part of it rapidly against some portion of the enemy's force incautiously exposed, and of giving it a severe blow."
This letter was most welcome, and every effort was made to collect carriage-cattle, ostensibly for the purpose of withdrawal, but Pollock looked forward to their employment for a far different purpose, and meanwhile continued his negotiations for the release of the captives, but he carefully avoided making any condition with the Afghan Sirdars which might fetter the advance on Cabul, which he kept steadily in view.
Towards the end of June he had a sufficiency of cattle to enable him to do something, and he reported to government that his means were such as to enable him to make a demonstration in the neighbourhood of Jellalabad. The Governor-General expressed his joy at this intelligence in a letter dated the 4th July, but added that the General must, on no account, think that any change had come over the opinions of the Government, which still inclined resolutely towards the withdrawal of the army at the earliest moment consistent with the health and efficiency of the troops.
On this same 4th July, the Governor-General wrote to General Nott, sending a copy of the instructions he had given to Pollock, impressing upon him (Nott) that all his views were in favour of a prompt withdrawal from Afghanistan, but told him at the same time that the line of withdrawal was to be left to his own choice. He might retire by going backward, by Quettah and Sukhur, or he might retire* by going forward, by Ghuznee, Cabul, and Jellalabad. But whichever line he might take, he was never for a moment to forget that Lord Ellenborough had decreed that he should retire, and that retire he must.
Fortunately for Lord Ellenborough and for the country, he had to deal with men who though more of the honour of Great Britain than of their own safety. Pollock and Nott cheerfully accepted the responsibility, believing they had a reasonable hope of conferring great and lasting benefits upon the government they served, and upon the nation they represented. They had now obtained all they wanted, and they had no doubt of the ability of their troops to carry everything before them; cattle had been supplied sufficient for all their movements. It was only necessary that they should act in concert, and so combine their operations as to reach the capital at the same time, and strike the last blow together. It was, however, no easy matter to carry on a correspondence between Jellalabad and Candahar, and although five messengers were sent in succession to Nott, it was not until the middle of August that Pollock was assured of Nott's intentions to advance upon Cabul.
Meanwhile Pollock had not been inactive. In the middle of June he sent General Monteith with a brigade into the Shinwarree Valley, to read a lesson to the tribes, who had possessed themselves of the property plundered from our army, and who held in their hands one of our captured guns. So effectually was the lesson read that "at one time the interiors of five-and-thirty forts were in a blaze along the valley;" the brigade returned on the 3rd of August, both men and cattle having been entirely subsisted on the resources of the country during the whole time the expedition had lasted.
At length, in the middle of August, a long-expected and most welcome messenger brought a short letter from Nott to Pollock.
Candahar, July 27th, 1842
My dear General,
You will have received a copy of a letter from the Governor-General under date 4th inst., to my address, giving me the option of retiring a part of my force to India, via Cabul and Jellalabad. I have determined to take this route and will write to you as soon as I have arranged for carriage and supplies.
Yours truly, W. NOTT
This cheering intelligence caused unbounded satisfaction; officers and men were eager to push on. The veteran Sale, wild with excitement, wrote to the General: "Hurrah; this is good news. All here are prepared to meet your wishes to march as light as possible. I take no carriage from the commissariat; and our officers are doubling up four in a small hill tent, and are sending all to the rear that they can dispense with . . . . . I am so excited I can scarce write."
On the 29th of August Pollock began to move; the advanced guard reached Sultanpore on its way to Gundamuck, where he intended to assemble the whole of the troops he had selected to accompany him to the capital - in all about 8,000 men. On the 23rd, he with the advance, reached Gundamuck, about two miles from which lies the village of Mammoo Khail, where two hostile chiefs, having sent away all their women and children, had mustered a large body of Ooloos and occupied a position of some strength. Pollock at once determined to dislodge them, and on the following morning advanced in two columns, each led by a wing of H.M.'s 9th regiment. The enemy abandoned their positions, but rallying, occupied a range of heights within musket range of another village called Koochle Khail. Colonel Taylor attacked them on one side, Broadfoot, with his sappers, on the other. The heights were carried, the enemy dispersed and the forts and villages taken, the chiefs flying with a few followers to Cabul. Having burnt the villages Pollock returned to Gundamuck, to which now, full of hope and courage, the troops* moved up by brigades, and where, waiting further intelligence from Nott, he completed his arrangements for the march.
Nott's messengers arrived at midnight of the 6th of September, and on the morning of the 7th Pollock moved from Gundamuck with the first division of his army under General Sir Robert Sale. The second division, under General M'Caskill, marched on the following day, a small force being left for the defence of Gundamuck and because of the insufficiency of the means of transport.
“The hills they occupied formed an amphitheatre inclining towards the left of the road, on which the troops were halted whilst the guns opened, and the enemy were thus enabled on this point to fire into the column, a deep ravine preventing any contact with them.” The practice of the guns was excellent; but the Ghilzye warriors stood their ground. The shells from our howitzers burst among them; but they still held their posts and poured in a hot fire from their jezails; Pollock, therefore, sent his infantry to attack; and gallantly they ascended the heights. On one side, Broadfoot, ever in advance, led up his little band of sappers. On the other, Taylor with the 9th Foot, ascended the hills, where the enemy, horse and foot, were posted behind a ruined fort. In the centre, Wilkinson, with the 13th, pushed up the ascent towards the key of the enemy’s position. All went forward with impetuous gallantry; and as they climbed the hill-sides and seized the Ghilzye standards, up went an animated and enthusiastic cheer from the British stormers. It was plain that their heart was in their work, and that nothing could turn them back. The flower of the Ghilzye tribes were there, under many of their most renowned chieftains, and they looked down upon the scene of their recent sanguinary triumphs; but they had now to deal with other men, under other leaders. The loud clear cry of the British infantry struck a panic into their souls. They turned and fled before our bayonets. Then galloped Lockwood with his dragoons after the enemy’s horse; but the nature of the ground was against him, and they escaped the annihilation which otherwise would have been their fate.
The battle was not yet over. A considerable body of the enemy had betaken themselves for safety to an apparently inaccessible height. On the summit of the mountain they planted their standards, and seemed to look down with defiance upon our troops. But Pollock was resolute not to leave, on that day, his work incomplete. He believed that where the enemy could post themselves his infantry could attack them. So, under cover of Abbot’s and Backhouse’s guns, Broadfoot and Wilkinson again led up their men and stormed that precipitous height. “Seldom have soldiers had a more arduous task to perform, and never was an undertaking of the kind surpassed in execution.” The Ghilzyes looked down upon them with astonishment and dismay. They saw at once the temper of our men, and they shrank from the encounter. Our stormers pushed on, and the Ghilzye standards were lowered. The enemy fled in confusion and left the stronghold, form which they had looked down in the insolence of mistaken security, to be occupied by British troops.
On the 6th of September, he had moved his camp to Begramee, distant some six miles from the Balla Hissar, and on the 11th was encamped at Boodkhak.
the 13th the two forces met. Great were the advantages of the ground to the
Afghan levies. The valley of Tezeen is commanded on all sides by lofty hills;
and the chiefs had posted their Jezailchees on every available height. Indeed
on that morning of the 13th of September, Pollock’s camp was encircled by
the enemy; and it was plain that every effort had been made to turn the
natural defences of the country to the best possible account. There was a hard
day’s work before Pollock’s army; but never were a finer body of troops in
finer condition, o more eager for the work before them. All arms had now a
chance of distinguishing themselves – the cavalry on the plain, the infantry
on the hills, and the artillery everywhere. Fortunately the enemy’s horse
entered the valley, attracted by the hope of plundering our baggage. The
opportunity so eagerly desired by the dragoons was now at hand. A British
squadron, gallantly led by Ynett, was let loose upon the Afghan horsemen. The
cavalry followed. There was a brilliant and successful charge. The enemy
turned and fled; but the sabres of the dragoons fell heavily upon them; and
many were cut up in the flight.
cavalry followed. There was a brilliant and successful charge. The enemy turned and fled; but the sabres of the dragoons fell heavily upon them; and many were cut up in the flight.
infantry was not less successful. Gallantly they ascended the heights on
either side of the pass, and gallantly the Afghans advanced to meet them. The
stormers of the 13th Light Infantry climbed the hills on the right; and the
19th and 31st on the left; and as they went, hotly and thickly upon them
poured the iron rain from the Afghan jezails. But never, beneath the terrible
fire that greeted them, as they pushed up the hill-side, did these intrepid
soldiers waver for a moment. They knew that their muskets were no match for
the Afghan jezails. The enemy indeed, seemed to deride them. So having reached
the hill-top. Our men fixed their bayonets, and charged with a loud hurrah.
The cold steel took no denial. Down went the Afghan marksmen before the
English bayonets; the foremost men stood to be pierced, and the rest, awed by
the fall of their comrades and the desperate resolution of the British troops,
fled down the hill in confusion. The strength of the Afghan force was broken;
but the work of our fighting men was not done. All through the day a desultory
warfare was kept up along the ridges of the tremendous hills. The Afghans
occupying the highest ground, fired down upon our infantry, hiding themselves
when they could behind the rocks, and shrinking now from a
closer contest- never did British troops display a higher courage in action,
or a more resolute perseverance. Nobly did the Native Sepoy vie with the
European soldier; and nowhere was there a finer sight than where Broadfoot
with his sappers clambering up the steepest ascents under the hottest fire,
drove before them the stalwart Afghans – giants beside the little Goorkhas
who pressed so bravely upon them. Many gallant feats were done that day; and
many an Afghan warrior died the hero’s death on his native hills, cheered by
the though that he was winning Paradise by such martyrdom. Desperate was the
effort to keep back the invaders from clearing the heights of the Huft-Kotul;
but the British troops, on that day, would have borne down even stouter
opposition. The Huft-Kotul was mounted; and three cheers burst from the
victors as they reached the summit of that stupendous ascent.
closer contest- never did British troops display a higher courage in action, or a more resolute perseverance. Nobly did the Native Sepoy vie with the European soldier; and nowhere was there a finer sight than where Broadfoot with his sappers clambering up the steepest ascents under the hottest fire, drove before them the stalwart Afghans – giants beside the little Goorkhas who pressed so bravely upon them. Many gallant feats were done that day; and many an Afghan warrior died the hero’s death on his native hills, cheered by the though that he was winning Paradise by such martyrdom. Desperate was the effort to keep back the invaders from clearing the heights of the Huft-Kotul; but the British troops, on that day, would have borne down even stouter opposition. The Huft-Kotul was mounted; and three cheers burst from the victors as they reached the summit of that stupendous ascent.
A more decisive victory was never gained. The Afghan chiefs had brought out their best fighting men against us. They had done their best to turn the difficulties of the country to good account against the strangers. Their people were at home in the tremendous defiles; whilst few of our troops had ever seen them – few were accustomed to the kind of warfare which now alone could avail. There was everything to stir into intense action all the energies of the Barukzye chief and his followers. They were fighting in defence of their hearths and altars; the very existence of the nation was at stake. It was the last hope of saving the capital from the grasp of an avenging army. But with everything to stimulate and everything to aid him Akbar Khan could offer no effectual resistance to the advance of Pollock’s retributory force. The Afghans were fairly beaten on their own ground, and in their own peculiar style of warfare. It has often been said that our troops were maddened by the sight of the skeletons of their fallen comrades, and that they were carried on by the irrepressible energy of revenge. It is true that, all along the line of country from Gundamuck to Koord-Cabul, there rose up before the eyes of our advancing countrymen hideous evidences of the great January massacre – enough to kindle the fiercest passions in the heart in the hearts of the meekest men. But if no such ghastly spectacles had lain in the path of the advancing army, the forward feeling would have glowed as strongly in the breast of every soldier of Pollock’s force.
The struggle was now at an end. Akbar Khan saw that the game was up, and that it was useless to attempt to bring together the remnants of his routed army. Taking Captain Bygrave, one of the prisoners, with him as the companion of his flight, he fled to the Ghorebund valley. The fighting men who had opposed us at Tezeen were now in dissolved masses, hurrying homeward along their mountain paths, and seeking safety in places remote from the track of the avenging army, whilst Pollock marched onwards with his regiments in orderly array, and on the 15th of September encamped on the Cabul race-course.
Nothing could have been better than the conduct of the troops throughout the whole of these operations. “I think no officer, “ wrote Pollock in a private letter, on the 23rd of September, “could possibly have had finer regiments under his command than I have had, and to them I owe all my success, which as far as I am able to judge, has been so far complete. I hope the Governor-General may think so, and I shall be satisfied.” In this letter, the difficulties with which Pollock had to contend, from the scarcity of cattle, are thus detailed. “I have had,” he wrote, “great difficulties to contend against even to the last, from the great want of carriage cattle. At Gundamuck, after my first engagement with the enemy, I found myself so reduced in cattle, that, to enable me to take on only fourteen days’ supplies, I was obliged to leave at that place two horse-artillery guns, two squadrons of cavalry, and two wings of native Infantry; and yet with all this, all the camp-followers, public and private, were compelled to carry eight days’ supplies. The fighting men carried three. The 1st cavalry carried eight days’ supplies on their horses. The rest of the cavalry carried three or four days’. In this way we were enabled to move. . . . . The night before I left Gundumuck I received an official letter and a survey report, setting forth that the whole of the camels of one regiment were unserviceable, and that they could not get up even without their loads. This was rather provoking, for I have only three Native regiments with me. My answer was short. “Tell the commanding officer that if his regiments can’t march he will relieve the two wings ordered to remain behind, and who are willing to go forward on any terms.” The regiment marched and I heard no more about their camels. After our last engagement with the enemy (it was a severe struggle) we had 160 killed and wounded; and again carriage was in requisition. The spare horses of the cavalry were had recourse to: and I lent my own riding horse to one poor fellow.”
While the force under General Pollock was thus fighting its way from Jellalabad to Cabul, and carrying everything before it, the Candahar division, under General Nott, was making a victorious march upon the same point from the opposite direction. During the first three weeks of July, Nott was preparing for his retirement from Afghanistan; the supply of carriages and provisions had reached their necessary amounts, and everything was in train for withdrawal, when the Governor-General’s letter of the 4th of July reached him. He saw at once the weight of responsibility it threw upon him, but he did not shrink from it. Cheerfully and ironically he wrote to the Governor-General on the 20th ofJuly: “Having well considered the subject of your lordship’s letter of the 4th instant, having looked at the difficulties in every point of view, and reflected on the advantages which would attend a successful accomplishment of such a move, and the moral influence it would have throughout Asia: I have come to a determination to retire a portion of the army under my command, viâ Ghuznee and Cabul."
"On the 7th of August, the British force evacuated Candahar and encamped under the city walls. It divided into two portions; one destined to “retire” by Quettah and Sukhur, under General England, whilst the other under Nott, was to “retire” by Ghuznee, Cabul and Jellalabad. The former was composed of the Bombay Infantry: three regiments of the late Shah’s force, two companies of Bengal Artillery, and some irregular horse, while Nott took with him, the Bengal Sepoy regiments with H.M.’s 40th and 41st regiments.
Scarcely, however, had the troops entered their camp, when the great Ghuznee gun, the “Zubber-Jung” began to open upon it; this compelled them to strike their tents and move their camp to the vicinity of the village of Roza, about two miles from the fortress.
The engineers then set hastily to work constructing their batteries, but the stillness of the town aroused their suspicions; so, at early dawn, an Engineer officer with some twenty men went down to reconnoitre, and finding the water-gate open and the city apparently abandoned, sent intelligence to the 16th regiment, which was out for the protection of the working-parties, and immediately marched down to occupy the place. They found it almost deserted. A few Hindoos and some Sepoys of the 27th regiment – the remnants of the unfortunate garrison – were the only occupants. Colonel Palmer and the other British officers had been carried off to Cabul.
Now began the work of destruction. When the artillery had burst the enemy’s guns and the engineers blown up the works, the town and the citadel were fired. On the 8th September, the sacred gates of Mahmoud’s tomb at Roza were removed in accordance with Lord Ellenborough’s commands, who had desired Nott, if he “retired” by Ghuznee to despoil this shrine by the removal of the Sultan’s club, which hung over the tomb, and its gates “which are the gates of the Temple of Somnauth.”
On the 12th, Nott was before Sydeabad, where Woodburn and his men had been decoyed and massacred. This fort was at once destroyed. On the 14th, the enemy had determined to make a last stand for the defence of the capital; but having hitherto gained so little advantage by fighting in the open, he resolved to try the effect of opposing us at the gorge of the hills stretching towards Mydan, where some breastworks had been thrown up. Nott attacked and carried the contest to the heights; all arms were engaged; the day was a busy one. It was one of doubtful victory on either side; the heights were carried, but not held, and when night fell it seemed that work was yet to be done. A busy night was looked for as a sequel to a busy day; but suddenly the exertions of the enemy slackened. News of the defeat of Akbar Khan by Pollock, at Tezeen, had reached the camp of the chiefs. They changed their tactics and moved off to Urghundeh, a few miles nearer the capital. The position the chiefs had intended to take up at the gorge of the Mydan Pass was found, when Nott advanced on the following day, to have been abandoned. But the day was a busy one; the tribes were up along the line of march and harassed us severely with their jezails. All arms distinguished themselves; the practice of the guns was excellent; the infantry scaled the heights with their wonted gallantry; and the cavalry did good service. The result was all that could be wished, and to the Afghans the day was a disastrous one. The Sepoys and camp followers fired the forts, and at sunset, six-and-twenty of them might have been counted lighting up the evening sky.
The march was now nearly at an end. Passing Urghundeh on the 16th September – the place where, in 1939, Dost Mahomed had planted his guns and determined to make his last stand – Nott’s division encamped some four or five miles from Cabul, on the opposite side of the city to that on which Pollock’s forces lay.
Pollock, who it will be remembered had encamped on the Cabul race-course on the 15th, entered Cabul on the following day, the 16th; a portion of the town was traversed, but although the hideous sights of the last few days were still fresh in the memory of the troops, discipline prevailed; they resisted all temptation to violence and outrage; not a man was hurt, nor a house injured. In orderly procession they streamed into the citadel and took formal possession of the Balla Hissar. The British flag was hoisted on the highest conspicuous point of this far-famed citadel under a royal salute from the guns and three hearty cheers from the troops, which proclaimed that the vindication of our national honour was complete.
Immediately after the British colours had been planted on the Balla Hissar, so well had their plans been combined, communication was established with Nott by Major (now Sir Henry) Rawlinson, who rode into Pollock’s camp in Afghan dress.
Meanwhile Pollock’s mind was heavy with thoughts of the probable fate of the British prisoners who had been carried off towards the regions of the Hindoo Koosh, and were perhaps on their way to hopeless slavery in Toorkistan. Immediately on his arrival at Cabul, he despatched his military secretary, Sir Richmond Shakespeare, with a party of 600 Kuzzilbash horse to overtake them and their escort, intending to support him by a brigade from the Candahar division; but to this Nott respectfully objected, on account of the losses he was experiencing among his transport animals, the necessity of a few days’ rest for his men after their long and difficult march of upwards of 300 miles, and the risks attending such a detachment, which “will and must be followed by deep disaster.” Nott also considered that the government “had thrown the prisoners overboard.” Why then should he rescue them? He would obey the orders of his superior officer but only under protest. So Pollock delegated to Sir Robert Sale the honourable service which had been emphatically declined by Nott.
This episode in the history of this war exhibits clearly the effect which the opposition he had encountered from the enemy on his march, the condition of the country, the prospects of the march before him, and the instructions he had received from the Governor-General, had on the mind of so gallant and distinguished an officer as Nott. All the more honour to him who, with an army that had overcome greater obstacles, and had had much harder fighting against far superior forces than were opposed to the Candahar division, assumed the responsibility of going beyond the instructions of the Government in the cause of humanity, the neglect of which would have placed an ineffaceable blot on the name and honour of Great Britain.
Sale pushed on his brigade in support of Shakespeare and his Kuzzilbashes. The captives had been removed from Cabul to one of the forts in Bameean, where, by promised rewards to their guards, they raised the standard of revolt, seized the fort, and were preparing for its defence against a probable siege, when on the 15th September they heard of Pollock’s defeat of the Afghans at Tezeen, and that Akbar Khan, for whom they were held captive, was a fugitive. The following day they decide to quit the fort and to push on for Cabul. On the 17th they were greeted by Shakespeare, who on the 20th escorted them into Sale’s camp. In a little time the happy veteran had embraced his wife and daughter, and the men of the 13th had offered their delighted congratulations to the loved ones of their old commander. A royal salute was fired. The prisoners were safe. Their anxieties were at an end. God, who had so long watched over the prisoners and the captives, now crowned His mercies by delivering them into the hands of their friends.
On the 21st September, 1842, the prisoners entered Pollock’s camp. Great was the joy which their recovery diffused throughout the army, the Provinces of India, and the whole of the Queen’s dominions. Pollock judged rightly that if he returned without the brave men and tender women who had endured for so many months the pains and perils of captivity in a barbarous country, and if he abandoned them to hopeless endurance of those ills for life, his countrymen would have regarded his victory as incomplete. Pollock knew his countrymen had not “thrown the prisoners overboard.” He had rescued then; that object of war was obtained, and it only remained for the army, in accordance with the declared wish of the Government, to leave behind it some decisive proof of its power, which, without impeaching its humanity, might be a lasting memorial of the punishment which invariably follows treachery and cruelty.
Pollock’s first duty now was to secure supplies for his troops, and while these were coming in he was informed that one of the most influential chiefs, Ameen-oollah Khan, was uniting the scattered fragments of the enemy’s forces at Istaliff, in the Kohistan, with the intention of attacking the British on their retirement from Cabul. He therefore despatched a force under General M’Caskill, who making a rapid march upon Istaliff, took the enemy by surprise, and, after a hard-fought action, on the 29th September, captured the town, which he burnt, and then, passing on towards the hills, destroyed Charekur, where a Goorkha regiment had been annihilated; after which, returning triumphantly he rejoined the British camp at Cabul on the 7th October. The advanced season now rendered it necessary that no time should be lost in withdrawing the troops to India; so Pollock, on the 9th October, ordered Captain (now Sir Frederick) Abbott, his chief engineer, to destroy the great Bazaar where the mutilated remains of the murdered Envoy had been exhibited to the insolent gaze of the Afghans, sparing the city and the Balla Hissar for the sake of the friendly Government that was now installed there.
So anxious was he not to extend the work of destruction that he strictly enjoined upon the engineer to abstain from applying fire to the buildings, or even using gunpowder, lest other parts of the city might be damaged; and he sent a strong guard to protect the town from injury and inhabitants from plunder and outrage.
The buildings, however, were so massive and well-built that Abbott was compelled to have recourse to powder, but the explosions damaged no other buildings than those authoritatively marked for destruction. The impetuosity of the soldiers and camp followers was so great that the efforts to restrain them were unavailing; they streamed into streets, fired the houses, and pillaged the shops. Guilty and innocent alike fell under the lawless retribution which descended upon the inhabitants in this hour of mad excitement. Such excesses as were committed during the last three days of our occupation of Cabul must ever be deplored; but when the amount of temptation and provocation is considered, when we reflect that the troops had marched through the passes of Afghanistan, where the bodies of their comrades, who had been murdered in cold blood, literally lay in heaps, recalling the treachery and cruelty of the enemy, it is only to be wondered that when the city lay at their feet, they restrained their passions at all, and should have given them so little head.
On the 12th October the army commenced its march, and so well were Pollock’s arrangements made that although there were many desultory attempts by the Afghans to break in upon his line of march and plunder his baggage as he traversed the formidable passes that had proved so Elphinstone, there was little loss. The entire force halted for a few days at Jellalabad, the defences of which were destroyed, and then pushed on for Peshawur.
The Khyber Pass had now to be traversed again. The Afreedies offered to sell a free passage, but the answer they received was that Pollock would take one. The first division under the General himself, who effectively crowned the heights as he advanced, passed through with only the loss of two or three men. The other divisions were not so equally successful; lulled, probably, into a sense of security by the slight resistance offered to the first division, their commanders did not take the same precautions; the Khyberees came down upon the rear-guard under their old enemy, Brigadier Wild, and, favoured by the darkness, threw them into confusion. Two officers were killed and many men, and two guns abandoned, although afterwards recovered. If the same precautions to crown the heights along the line of march, as were systematically taken by Pollock, had been taken, as they ought to have been, by the officers who followed him in command of the other divisions, it may be doubted whether the Afghans would ever have made their appearance. They are famous plunderers, and being habitually armed lost no opportunity of coming down upon the baggage columns; but their power was so broken that there was nothing like organised resistance. The fortress of Ali Musjid was destroyed and the troops pushed on to Peshawur, where their successes inspired great respect among the Sikhs, who had formerly shown much ill-feeling and contempt for them
The army now traversed the Punjaub, and on the 17th December Sale, at the head of the gallant troops who had formed the “illustrious garrison” of Jellalabad, crosses the Sutlej at Ferozepore, followed by Pollock on the 19th and Nott on the 23rd, the latter bringing with him the gates of Somnauth. Great were the rejoicings; the Governor-General was there with the army of reserve to greet them, and as the leading troops defiled across the temporary bridge thrown across the Sutlej for the occasion, and then passed through a street of two hundred and fifty elephants, and lines of regiments, who in succession saluted their long absent comrades, amidst the booming of guns fired in their honour, the heart must have been a dull one that did not acknowledge that there is a bright side to the picture of war.
The year which had opened in panic closed with a grand military display. Some forty thousand men with a hundred guns were manoeuvred on the great plain bordering the Sutlej, in the presence of the Governor-General, the Commander-in-chief, the Heir Apparent of Lahore, and other great personages of our Indian empire, thus proclaiming far and wide that the British rule in India was again firmly established, and British honour vindicated. Proclamations were issued by the supreme government of India recognising the services of the army. The thanks of both Houses of Parliament were voted to the Governor-General “for the ability and judgement with which the resources of the British Empire in India had been applied in the support of the military operations in Afghanistan; to Major-General Sir George Pollock, G.C.B.; to Major-General Sir Wm. Nott, G.C.B.; to Major-General Sir John M’Caskill, K.C.B.; to Major-General Sir Robert Sale, G.C.B.; to Major-General Richard England, and the officers of the army, for the intrepidity, skill, and perseverance displayed by them in the military operations in Afghanistan, and for their indefatigable zeal and exertions; and to the non-commissioned officers and private soldiers for their valour and patient perseverance.”
Lord Ellenborough was raised to an earldom, while Pollock, to whom, Lord Hardinge afterwards wrote, “is die the whole merit of the advance from Jellalabad to Cabul,” the liberation of the captives, the victories which re-established the shaken prestige of British power in India, was simply nominated a Grand Cross of the Bath, without pension or other reward , and was relegated to the command of a division at Dinapore.
Sir Robert Peel, as head of the Government, in moving the vote of thanks, summed up his services in the following words, which were ever a source of gratification to Sir George Pollock in after years:
“With respect to the claims of the gallant officers under whose directions these exploits have been performed, I am perfectly convinced that upon that head there can be no difference of opinion. It is impossible to read these details of service – it is impossible to read the accounts of General Pollock, of General Nott, and of General Sale – without being inspired by all those feelings which are connected with the honour and military glory of our country. I am sure the House will excuse me, if with respect to each of these officers, and their claims upon public gratitude, I make some remarks. I begin with General Pollock:- General Pollock took command of the force intended to rescue General Sale early in the month of February, 1842. He arrived at Peshawur on the 5th February 1842. He had then, of course, heard of the failure of Brigadier Wild. On the day that he arrived at Peshawur he found that in Brigadier Wild’s brigade there were not less than 1,000 sick. The day after he arrived he went to the camp at once. He found that the number of sick in the camp on the 12th February was 1,800 men. What was the course he pursued? On the day after his arrival, postponing every other concern, he visited all hospitals, and saw all the surgeons, with the view of ascertaining from then, if possible, the cause of this sickness. He says – and these things do him honour – this is the way to inspire confidence; this is the way to show you are not merely contemplating the means of obtaining the thanks of Parliament by brilliant exploits, but that you are attending to the comfort of your men; this, I say, is the way to inspire confidence; and I mention these things for the honour of the great man by whom they were performed – I would even rather dwell upon them than upon his military success, because they are, in truth, the elements of future success. This, I repeat, is the way to inspire confidence. General Pollock, writing on the 12th of February, says, “I shall visit their hospitals frequently, and by adding in any way to their comforts, show that I feel an interest in them.” General Pollock adds, “There has been some unpleasant feeling amongst them, which I hope has entirely subsided.” He had heard of the dejection which prevailed amongst some of the Sepoy regiments. What was the course he took? He saw every officer; he visited the regiments; he determined not to act with harshness towards the men. Not calling them to courts-martial, he depended upon the influence of reason with them, and in the course of a very short time he succeeded in completely re-establishing the confidence which had been so deeply shaken. The Sepoy regiments were for a time depressed by the expected difficulties of the Khyber Pass, - when they found some of their countrymen coming from Cabul with dreadful stories of the cruelties to which they had been exposed – when they declared their readiness to meet any enemy in the open field – when they said “We will advance to Jellalabad for the rescue of General Sale, but we tell you fairly that the idea of advancing to Cabul presses upon our spirits.” I hope the House will not think too harshly of these men when it considers the noble manner in which they retrieved their character. If we wanted anything else to add to the interest of these scenes it would be found in their association with the ancient history of the world. I was struck by the recollection that it was in the self-same region, and in the midst of similar scenes, that one of the greatest of ancient conquerors, 2,300 years ago, was displaying his power and encountering the same difficulties that for a time depressed the spirit and damped the courage of our Sepoys. And I was struck by the account given by the Roman historian of the dejection which prevailed even in the ranks of the Macedonian phalanx, when they had to encounter and overcome the difficulties of the same terrible region, to cross the very same rivers, to force the vary same passes.
“Amidst these very rivers of the Punjaub – amidst these very Afghan passes, Alexander pursued a course similar to that which at another period was adopted by another military commander – he attempted, not by severity, not by enforcing the rigid rules of war, but by reasoning with his men, to raise their drooping spirits; and he succeeded. If the Macedonian phalanx needed such an address from the mighty conqueror who led them, let us not judge too harshly of our Sepoys, if, in the midst of similar difficulties, they yielded for a moment to a sense of depression. Now, what were the military services of General Pollock? He forced the Khyber Pass by a series of operations carried on from the 7th to the 16th of April. He reached Jellalabad on the 16th of April, although in the pass 10,000 men had been opposed to him. He remained with General Sale for a time, then advanced towards Cabul, reached Gundamuck in August, and on the 8th September defeated the Ghilzies. On the 12th September he was met at Tezeen by Akbar Khan with a force of 16,000 men, on the very field of action where lay the bodies of those who had been massacred with ferocious cruelty and gross breach of faith. On that very spot, General Pollock, aided by General Sale, was completely successful in vindicating the honour and invincibility of the British arms; and on the 16th September General Pollock entered Cabul, the British flag was hoisted on the Balla Hissar, and the national anthem of “God save the Queen” resounded through the streets of the re-captured city. In whatever point of view his services are regarded – whether as related to his conduct in the field, his judgement, his discretion, or the happy skill with which he revived the drooping spirits of his soldiers – I think the House will unanimously award to General Pollock the highest distinction which a military man can receive, and record their public acknowledgement to him for his gallantry and perseverance in the face of such serious difficulties.”
After this high eulogium, the scantiness of the rewards bestowed upon Pollock is the more glaring. His subordinates were promoted to equal honour with himself, and among them Sir William Nott to a post of higher responsibility and greater emolument; but the noble-hearted soldier, who had stood firmly against the pusillanimity of the Government of India, remained true to his character of retiring modesty. He made no stir, sought no honours, but having nobly done his work when summoned to a position of the greatest difficulty and of the highest trust, resumed his duties in the post of relative retirement at Dinapore to which he was relegated, strong in the consciousness of right and of the well-merited respect he had gained from the army and from the whole European community in India.
A soldier has nothing to do with the political motives from which wars originate. His duty is to carry into effect, to the best of his ability and without question, the operations committed to his charge, happy, if it may be so, in the conviction of their cause. It has been shown that the subject of this Memoir performed his part right nobly, but there can be no doubt that the terrible disasters by which our army, under General Elphinstone was annihilated, owed their origin to the unjust policy which induced the Indian Government in the first instance to impose Shah Soojah upon the Afghans as their sovereign. The reflections with which Sir John Kaye concludes his able and well-written History of the War, points a moral which was never more forcibly impressed upon the statesmen of any country than by the events which have been here briefly sketched. He says, “The calamity of 1842 was retribution sufficient to stamp in indelible characters upon the page of history the great truth that the policy which was pursued in Afghanistan was unjust, and that, therefore, it was signally disastrous. It was, in principle and in act, an unrighteous usurpation, and the curse of God was on it from the first. Our successes at the outset were a part of the curse. They lapped us in false security, and deluded us to our overthrow. This is the great lesson to be learnt from the contemplation of all the circumstances of the Afghan war – “The Lord God of recompences shall surely requite.””
In December, 1843, Pollock became political President at Lucknow, a post a that time of considerable difficulty, and in 1844 was transferred to Calcutta as military member of the Supreme Council of India.
On his arrival in the city of Palaces, the British inhabitants who had lived through the panic that prevailed in the disastrous days of the Cabul massacre, and were therefore well able to appreciate Pollock’s great merits, raised a subscription of 11,000 rupees to perpetuate the memory of his great services by instituting a medal, to be presented twice a year “to the most distinguished cadet at the East India Company’s Military Seminary, at Addiscombe, on passing the biennial examination for a commission,” and sent him an address, in which after recapitulating the achievements of the army he commanded, they say:
“We honour you for the reluctance you evinced to return to the provinces from Jellalabad, a return, with that (the march to Cabul) unattempted, which, by your perseverance, was at last accomplished, would have left a stain upon your country, that not time nor circumstances could ever have effaced. . . .
“Your short but glorious career of service in Afghanistan, now assumed a character of intense and painful interest, requiring the most cautious discretion, combined with an energy and decision that seemed scarcely compatible with its exercise. Too much or too little of either, in however slight a degree, and we still had to mourn – how many of our countrymen, women and children, held in hopeless captivity by an exasperated enemy, who had every motive to insult, and none to spare them . . . . The courage and ability demanded and displayed were in the cause of humanity, a cause which was hallowed and approved by heaven, and those who, abandoned, had pined and sunk to an untimely grave, live to bless the name of him who restored them to freedom and to life.”
Pollock, in replying to this address, on the 2nd of November, 1844, wrote with his accustomed modesty:
“I feel it impossible adequately to express my sense of the obligation you have conferred on me, by the desire you have shown to perpetuate in my native country your too flattering estimation of my military services, by the presentation of medals to students at Addiscombe. Though not educated at Addiscombe I concur most unreservedly in the very high respect and estimation justly bestowed on this institution by public opinion. You have thus conferred on me a lasting distinction, at once delicate and far beyond my deserts.”
Sir George Pollock held the office of military member of the Governor-General’s council until 1846, when he was compelled by illness to return to England. On his arrival a pension of £1000 a year was conferred upon him by the East India Company, at whose request also, his portrait was painted by Sir Francis Grant; this portrait now adorns the walls of the India Office. The Corporation of London presented him the freedom of the city, and several other public bodies conferred like honours upon him.
In 1851 Sir George Pollock was promoted Lieutenant-General and in 1854, without any solicitation on his part, was appointed by the President of the Board of Control, the senior of the three government directors of the East India Company, under the act just then passed “to provide for the government of India.” In offering the appointment to him, the President wrote, “The time has arrived when it becomes my duty to recommend to Her Majesty the persons whom I believe to be most capable of discharging the important duties of directors . . . . Among those duties, on of the most important is the superintendence of the large military force of the Company, and I am anxious to see a tried soldier amongst the directors, well acquainted with the requirements of the military service in India. No one has more triumphantly led that army, and under most trying circumstances, than yourself, and I shall have great pleasure in marking my sense of your services in that army, by recommending you to the Queen, as one of the directors to be named by Her Majesty.”
The appointment, which was for two years only, ended in 1856, when Sir George Pollock finally took leave of office, after fifty years’ service in the field and cabinet, and retired into private life.
Two years after this, the East India Company ceased to rule the vast country they had, by the genius of their soldiers and statesmen, brought into subjection to Great Britain, and the government of India passed into the hands of Her Majesty’s ministers. The old army of the Honourable East India Company became part of the Royal Army, and among other changes consequent thereon, the seminary at Addiscombe was abolished in 1861, and became fused in the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, which since then, as at the time of commencement of Sir George Pollock’s career, has been the only establishment for the education of cadets for service as officer of Artillery and Engineers.
Pollock was promoted General in 1859, and in 1861, on the institution of the most exalted Order of the Star of India, was nominated one of the first Knights Grand Cross of that order. In 1870, he was promoted Field Marshal, an in the following year, on the death of his old friend Field Marshal Sir John Burgoyne, of the Royal Engineers, as appointed to succeed him in the honorary office of Constable of the Tower of London.
In March, 1872, he was further honoured by being created a Baronet, his name being enrolled in the Herald’s College as “of the Khyber Pass”.
He died on the 6th of October, 1872, in his 87th year, and lies buried in the nave of Westminster Abbey.
It will thus be seen that by surviving his Afghan victories for thirty years, and living to the good old age of 86, the government of the day had an opportunity of removing in some measure the reproach which rested upon the country; that up to that time the General, who restored the tarnished glory of the British arms in Afghanistan, had received no hereditary honour, although such honours, accompanied even with a seat in the House of Lords, had been meanwhile freely granted to soldiers and civilians for exploits of far less historical or national interest, and for political services, the importance of which will vainly be sought in history, when the generation in which they were awarded shall have passed away.
The calm and well-regulated mind of this great and good soldier, the only British artillery officer, who previous to the Indian mutiny in 1859, had ever commanded an army in the field, and who had added vastly to the honour of his own branch of the service, as well as to the lustre of the British army, was not disturbed by the long neglect he experienced; he was sustained by the consciousness of arduous duties well performed; by the knowledge that, but for his sturdy resistance to Lord Ellenborough’s withdrawal orders, the disgrace of our ignominious expulsion from Afghanistan, would not have been wiped away and our English prisoners, men, women and children, would have remained in the hands of a victorious and insolent enemy, to pine away their days in hopeless misery; he looked for higher than human rewards, and so no murmur of discontent was ever heard to pass his lips, although those who knew him well, could not fail occasionally to perceive that he was aware that justice had not been done him.
The origin of the Pollock Medal has been stated, but it may be useful to place on record a few facts connected with it.
The Court of Directors of the Honourable East India Company, at the earnest solicitation of the founders, consented to become trustees to the “Pollock Prize Fund” and to add to its importance by affording it pecuniary aid and by presenting the Prize at Addiscombe. It was explained to the government in a letter from the committee, that “the Pollock testimonial, though doubtless exceedingly complimentary to Sir George Pollock, did not alone originate in that object; but arose out of an earnest desire on the part of the community, to perpetuate, by this means, in their own country an annually recurring cause for recollecting the very important and numerous victories, which in succession to the memorable forcing of the Khyber Pass, were successively and uninterruptedly obtained by the Bengal army, under Sir George Pollock’s command, until he again planted the British flag on the Balla Hissar, and re-occupied Cabul; thus restoring the long established prestige of the invincibility of our military strength, and visiting with signal retributive punishment the flagrant conduct of the Afghans. Another object the community had in view in voting this testimonial, was a desire to hold out to future young soldiers in the East India Company’s Military College, an inducement to acquire this reward, and by their future career, to emulate the deeds of their predecessors.”
The original medal designed by General Macleod, and executed by Mr. Wyon, bore the following inscription:
To commemorate eminent services
MAJOR-GENERAL SIR GEORGE POLLOCK, K.C.B.
Bengal Artillery, Cabul 1842
Treachery avenged – British honour vindicated – Disasters retrieved – British captives delivered – Khyber Pass forced – Jellalabad relieved – Victories of Mamoo Khail, Jugdulluck, Tezeen, Istaliff
And on the reverse:
MILITARY SEMINAR, ADDISCOMBE
Presented by the British Inhabitants of Calcutta, and Awarded by the Court of Directors of the East India Company, to the most distinguished Cadet of the Season.
The medal thus struck was first presented in December, 1847. Its value was sixteen guineas, but in 1861, the Secretary of State for India in council, who succeeded to the Court of Directors of the Honourable East India Company in the management of Indian affairs, declined to continue the very small annual grant necessary to supplement the interest derived from the prize fund, of which he had become the trustee, and to keep up the medal to its original value, and decided without any reference to Sir George Pollock to have a new die prepared by Mr. Wyon for a medal of a smaller size. The medal since presented has been accordingly reduced in value to twelve guineas, and part of the inscription recording the services of Sir George Pollock and his army omitted; a source of deep regret to the gallant old soldier each time he came to the Royal Military Academy, which he invariably did so long as his health permitted, to present the medal in person to the most distinguished cadet of the season. The recipient of the medal on that occasion, 26th June, 1872, was Gentleman cadet John Copsey Addison.
The present medal bears on its front the portrait of this great and good soldier with the words:
POLLOCK, CABUL, 1842;
And on its reverse:
POLLOCK PRIZE, ROYAL MILITARY ACADEMY
Founded by the British inhabitants of Calcutta
to commemorate the eminent services of Major-General Sir George Pollock, G.C.B., and awarded to the most distinguished Cadet of the season
The following is the roll of Pollock Medallists, whose names now stand recorded on tablets fixed on the walls of the great dining hall of the Royal Military Academy:
AWARDED AT ADDISCOMBE
Edward C.S. Williams
James J. Mc. L. Innes
Thomas G. Montgomerie
George A. Craster
Frederick S. Stanton
James P. Basevi
Arthur M. Lang
Salisbury M. Trevor
John M. Champain
Edward R. Holland
Aeneas R. R. Macdonald
Not posted permanently to either Presidency, having been drowned with three others in the Medway, when holding temporary rank at the Royal Engineer Establishment at Chatham.
Charles H. Luard
John M. McNeile
Keith A. Jopp
Lewis C. Gordon
William M. Campbell
William H. Pierson
Arthur W. Elliot
Not appointed – resigned the service
Allan J. C. Cunningham
Kellow C. Pye
William J. Williamson
General List, Royal Infantry
AWARDED AT WOOLWICH
Clayton S. Beauchamp
Valentine F. Rowe
Herbert P. Knocker
Henry R. G. Georges
William G. Nicholson
Sydney L. Jacob
Charles M. Watson
John E. Broadbent
Harry M. Chambers
Felician R. de Wolski
Francis J. Day
George S. Clarke
Henry H. S. Cunynghame
Henry J. Harman
Richard de Villamil
Herbert C. Chermside
Henry G. Kunhardt
Henry E. McCallum
John C. Addison
William C. Godsal
Henry D. Love
John C. Campbell
Matthew H. P. R. Sankey
Charles F. Hadden
Hugh M. Sinclair
Maurice A. Cameron