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To Herat and Cabul

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A Story of The First Afghan War


(1901)



PREFACE:

In the military history of this country there is no darker page than
the destruction of a considerable British force in the terrible defiles
between Cabul and Jellalabad in January, 1842. Of all the wars in which
our troops have taken part never was one entered upon so recklessly
or so unjustifiably. The ruler of Afghanistan, Dost Mahomed, was
sincerely anxious for our friendship. He was alarmed at the menacing
attitude of Russia, which, in conjunction with Persia, was threatening
his dominions and intriguing with the princes at Candahar. Our
commissioner at Cabul, Mr. Burnes, was convinced of the Ameer's honesty
of intention, and protested most strongly against the course taken by
the Indian government, who determined upon setting up a discredited
prince, who had for many years been a fugitive in India, in place of
Dost Mahomed.
In spite of his remonstrances, the war was undertaken. Nothing could
have been worse than the arrangements for it, and the troops suffered
terribly from thirst and want of transport. However, they reached
Cabul with comparatively little fighting. Dost Mahomed fled, and the
puppet Shah Soojah was set up in his place; but he was only kept
there by British bayonets, and for two years he was so protected.
Gradually, however, the British force was withdrawn, until only some
five thousand troops remained to support him. Well led, they would
have been amply sufficient for the purpose, for though the Afghan
tribesmen were dangerous among their mountains, they could not for
a moment have stood against them in the open field. Unhappily the
general was old and infirm, incapable of decision of any kind, and in
his imbecile hands the troops, who in October could have met the whole
forces of Afghanistan in fight, were kept inactive, while the Afghans
pillaged the stores with the provisions for the winter, and insulted
and bearded them in every way. Thus a fine body of fighting men were
reduced to such depths of discontent and shame that when the unworthy
order for retreat before their exulting enemy was given they had lost
all confidence in themselves or their officers, and, weakened by hunger
and hampered by an enormous train of camp followers, they went as sheep
to the slaughter in the trap the Afghans had prepared for them. It
would almost seem that their fate was a punishment for the injustice
of the war. Misfortunes have befallen our arms, but never one so dark
and disgraceful as this. The shame of the disaster was redeemed only by
the heroic garrison of Jellalabad, which, although but one-fourth of
the strength of that at Cabul, sallied out after a noble defence and
routed the army which Dost Mahomed's son Akbar had assembled for their
destruction.

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