« AnteriorContinuar »
This fresh failure taught Macnaghten the gravity of the situation. He abandoned the mission-compound and withdrew into cantonments. He sent pressing messages to Sale at Jellalabad, urging him to return to Cabul. He despatched a message to Candahar to recall a body of troops which was marching back to India. No help was forthcoming from either Candahar or Jellalabad, where other work was in progress. Fresh humiliations were, however, in store for the British. On the 4th the commissariat stores outside the cantonments were evacuated by Elphinstone's orders, and Shah Sooja's stores nearer the city were taken by
On the 5th Elphinstone was already writing to Macnaghten, and suggesting that he should make terms. 2
A record of military events forms a small part of an historian's duty, and the author who resists the temptation of describing the tactics by which a nation's victories are won may spare himself the humiliation of describing the story of its disasters. It is enough to say that, with the capture of the stores, the fate of the army was virtually sealed. The commissariat officers soon exhausted the supplies of the surrounding neighbourhood, and the troops showed an increasing indisposition to take part in distant expeditions for forage. The infirmity of a general infected an army; and, for the first time in the history of the British in India, a British army allowed itself to be bearded by an enemy which, under other guidance, it would have scattered to the four winds of heaven; to talk of retreat instead of attack; and to waste away from inaction, when its own right hand should have gotten it the victory.
One man, indeed, in authority, suggested from first to last a worthier course. Macnaghten had a heavy responsibility on his shoulders. As Auckland's secretary he had
Macnaghten devised the Afghan policy; as envoy to Shah Sooja and Elphinhe had given it form and shape. Unwilling to recognise his own failure, he had persuaded himself that the country was at last pacified. The engineer who closes the i Lady Sale's Journal, p. 51.
2 Kaye, vol. ii. p. 36.
valve of his boiler might as well conclude that he had condensed the steam. But it is bare justice to Macnaghten's memory to add that, amidst the crash of a policy, he understood the military situation better than the military men. If the good genius of the British nation could have changed Elphinstone with Macnaghten, Afghanistan would occupy a different place in English history. If Elphinstone had been in Macnaghten's place in 1838, the first Afghan war would never have occurred. If Macnaghten had been in Elphinstone's place in 1841, the British army would, in all probability, have extricated itself from its difficulties.
Ten days passed away. On the 13th of November the troops won some advantage over their assailants.
Two days Pottinger in afterwards a strange foretaste of their own fate was
given to them. Pottinger, in the beginning of November, was stationed near Chareekar, in Kohistan, with a single Ghoorka regiment. His position was assailed by a swarm of Afghans. Water failed, and, tortured by thirst, the troops had no alternative but to abandon the defence and retire on Cabul. In the retreat they broke their slender ranks to cool their parched lips at every pool, and were shot down one at a time by their enemies. Two officers alone, Pottinger and Haughton, wounded and faint, made their way on horseback to the cantonments on the plain, the solitary survivors of the force by which Kohistan had been held. 1
Even such a story brought no wisdom to those in command. Every day made the necessity for action more apparent, and yet day after day was suffered to pass without anything being done. Elphinstone could not make up his mind to fight, and Macnaghten could not make up his mind to retire. And so, while the days became shorter, while the nights grew colder, while the forage failed and the fainting beasts died for want of food, the doomed army of 4500 fighting-men and 10,000 camp-followers lingered in an indefensible position and did nothing. At last, at the end of November, Macnaghten reluctantly
1 Lady Sale's Journal, p. 103.
The treaty of
consented to negotiate with the enemy. He was met with a demand to surrender at discretion, and at once broke off the negotiation by saying that he preferred death to dishonour. But, though Macnaghten's words were worthy of an English gentleman, the conduct of the army showed that it preferred dishonour to death. The demand of the enemy had proved the necessity for action; and Elphinstone insisted on the necessity of resuming negotiations. The highest officers of the army concurred in his opinion. Abdoolla Khan, who, during the first three or four weeks of the rising, had led the enemy, fell, towards the end of November, in an ill-contested battle. His place was filled by the arrival at Cabul of Akbar Khan, the favourite son of Dost Mahommed. This change in the Afghan counsels suggested the possibility of easier terms, and on the 11th of December Mac- the nth of naghten resumed the negotiations. A treaty was concluded for the complete evacuation of Afghanistan by the British. The Afghans were to aid the retreat by furnishing carriage and provisions.1
If, even then, Macnaghten and Elphinstone had known their own minds, if they had occupied the succeeding day in procuring supplies, and, after a twenty-four hours' interval, had started on their journey, they might have warded off disaster. But the one negotiation was followed by another. The Afghans would not send in supplies till the British evacuated the few forts they held. The British hesitated to evacuate the forts till the supplies were brought in. Thus day after day passed, and the army still lingered on in cantonments. But a new difficulty was superadded to the many difficulties inseparable from the retreat. The elements declared war against Macnaghten. On the 18th of December it began to snow.2
Even the fall of snow did not quicken Macnaghten's action. The Afghans, regarding the British with distrust, withheld the
1 The treaty is reprinted in Kaye, vol. ii. p. 123, and for the previous statements in the paragraph, see Lady Sale's Journal, pp. 142, 168,
2 Ibid., p. 183. There had previously been snow in November. Ibid., pp. 141, 143.
supplies. It is painful to add that the distrust was deserved. It may, indeed, be hoped that the offers of gold made by English gentlemen for the heads of their principal enemies were unknown to Macnaghten. But it is at least certain that the last days of his life were spent in plots to evade the treaty which he had signed.. Catching like a drowning man at any straw, he consented on the 22nd of December to meet Akbar
Khan and conclude a fresh arrangement. But in naghten's plots he was no match for an Afghan. Whether
Akbar Khan intended to assassinate Macnaghten, or whether he enticed him to an interview for the purpose of detaining him, are questions which cannot now be settled. Sufficient to say that, on the 23rd of December, Macnaghten kept his appointment, and, while resisting an effort to pinion him, was shot dead by Akbar Khan.
Within a few hundred yards of the spot where Macnaghten fell, 4500 British soldiers were in position. The shot by which the envoy was slain was heard in the lines; 2 the rumour of his death circulated among the troops. But Elphinstone, ever loth to pluck the flower safety out of the nettle danger, did nothing. He suffered the day to pass, and waited for the explanations of the morrow. And, when with the morrow arrived news confirmatory of the murder, he had nothing to propose but fresh negotiations. Pottinger, sorely against his will, was thrust into Macnaghten's place, and persuaded to arrange terms with the enemy. For the first time in history
a British army consented not only to surrender January
arms, ammunition, guns, and hostages, for the sake 1842.
of procuring food and transport for its retreat, but to stipulate that the other British garrisons in the country should also abandon their trust and participate in their dishonour. 3
The treaty was signed on the first day of 1842, and the dispirited army recommenced its preparations for its departure. Snow was lying thick on the ground, and still falling. Mules
The treaty of the ist
i Durand's Afghan War, p. 365. 2 Lady Sale's Journal, p. 194.
3 This treaty is in Kaye, vol. ii. p. 182.
and camels, exhausted by a long continuance of insufficient food, were in poor condition for labours which were made tenfold heavier by the snow. Authority had been destroyed by the British; and the new men with whom the treaty was signed had not the power, if they had the will, to restrain the crowds of fanatics who were daily spoiling the British camp, or the bands of Ghilzies who held the hills between Jellalabad and Cabul.
On the 6th of January 1842 the retreat began. The road on leaving the cantonments crossed the Indus, and a temporary bridge had been constructed to facilitate the passage of the army. The bridge was to have been finished by eight-it was not ready till noon; the troops, to whom time was safety, were delayed at the outset of their march in the snow. When, at last, later on in the day, they moved mencement forward, their advance was hindered by the crowd of retreat. camp-followers, who, without order themselves, infected everything with disorder. So slow, in these circumstances, was the march, that the rearguard did not reach the farther bank of the river till the early hours of the following day. It had to fight its way through a crowd of fanatics with whom treaties had no weight, and who paid no heed to anything but plunder. Huddled together, the men passed the first night of their retreat on the snow. The morning rose on an army which was already little better than a mob. The march was resumed, and new indignities were in store for it. The Ghilzies, ever renewing their attacks, seized guns and baggage; and Elphinstone, instead of pushing forward, reconi menced negotiations, and surrendered three more hostages, Pottinger among them, as security for the evacuation of Jellalabad.
The morning of the third day rose on an exhausted army. It had only accomplished, in two days of suffering, ten miles of its journey. It had lost many men during the attacks of the Ghilzies; it had lost more men who fell asleep in the snow and never woke. Surging around it were bands of fanatics already emboldened by success. Before it the road ran for five miles through a narrow defile enclosed by precipitous