On October 1, 1838, Lord Auckland issued the Simla Manifesto, which stated that due to Dost Mohammed's dalliance with non-British interests, he was considered unfriendly, and would be removed from the throne of Afghanistan and replaced with Shah Shujah. Thus began a great misadventure, and one of the most humiliating defeats of the British. There was only one survivor of the Army of the Indus that had gone in to accomplish this action.

"When you're wounded and left,
On Afghanistan's plains,
And the women come out,
To cut up your remains,
Just roll on your rifle,
And blow out your brains,
And go to your Gawd,
Like a soldier."
Rudyard Kipling

Background: In June of 1838, Ranjit Singh, Shah Shujah and the British signed a secret agreement whereby Shah Shujah would relinquish his claim to Peshawar and in return be assisted in his desire to regain the throne of Afghanistan.
The Army of the Indus marched into Afghanistan in 1838, avoiding the Khyber Pass, as Ranjit Singh was unwilling to allow such a large force to pass through his domain.
On April 25th, 1839, the force arrived at Kandahar, Afghanistan's second largest city, where Shah Shujah was accepted, though somewhat grudgingly.
However, the Brits faced quite a different story at Ghazni, a hilltop fortress that had prepared for siege. Through the efforts of Henry Durand, Lieutenant of the Bengal Engineers (a British sapper), and intelligence given by Mohan Lal, a Kashmiri who had acquaintances on the inside, the British were able to take Ghazni with the loss of only 17 men.
The Brits left Ghazni on June 30, 1839 and arrived in Kabul in early July 1839. Kabul fell without a shot fired, but there was a cold reception for the invaders.
The Retreat from Kabul began on January 6th, 1842 and would in end an 'awful completeness' as the historian John Kaye said, barely a week later.
(more info to come, voters...this node's not quite finished)
May 1838: Negotiations between British envoys and Dost Mohammed are unraveling. The Afghan ruler is deeply suspicious of English intent, resents being used as a buffer against the Russians, and deeply resents the British relationship with his chief enemy, the Sikhs of the Lahore and their leader, Ranjit Singh. Despite constant official visitations and entreaties, trust is unforthcoming. Finally, deeply frustrated as evidence of Russian influence in the Uzbek region mounts in the north, Governor General Auckland opts to take matters in hand. A plan is formulated whereby British, Sikh and Indian forces will ally themselves with the exiled Shah Shujah, who will be provided with an army and then ‘accompanied’ back into Afghanistan, where Mohammed will be removed from power, and the governance of Kabul placed in the Shah’s hand.

June 1838:News arrives in India of a massive Russo-Persian army amassing near Herat. Though the force lays siege to the city, the Afghans hold the line, and by September the invaders withdraw. British officials, however, believe the case for a heavier commitment in Afghanistan is now all the more pressing, and rather reconfigure their strategy press on with the invasion preparations, despite widespread protest from both British press and politicians. Gov. Gen. Auckland insists the Company’s future and British commercial interests in India hinge on the security of Afghanistan against the Russian menace.

November 1838: Shah Shujah and Lord Auckland assemble the Army of the Indus, a ‘coalition’ army of Sikhs, Indians, British and Afghanis, just south of the Bolan Pass, in the mountainous region between Baluchistan and Afghanistan (just south of Quetta). Fully massed, the invasion force amounted to over 21,000 fighting men: the Bengal infantry in their bright crimson tunics, wide white leather holster belts and peaked gray shakoes; English horse artillery troopers in gleaming brass dragoon helmets, white buckskin breeches and black polished jackboots; the Queen’s 16th Lancers in sea-blue overcoats with shiny silver buttons and ceremonial sabers – all led by General Sir John Keane. Trailing behind the soldiery were the legion of support staff of 40,000 servants, artisans, bearers, cooks, grooms, smiths, tailors, fiddlers and prostitutes, in addition to some 8, 000 horses and 30, 000 camels. *

February 1839: The Army, which stretches for 31m., begins across the salt-encrusted Sind desert in a 16 day, 140 m. trek which proceeds disastrously slow pace, given the sheer size of the force. Water is exhausted in a week time due to poor rationing . At Dadur, Baluchi snipers begin picking off troops drooping under the blistering sun. Gen. Keane pushes his force onward out of desperation, without rest up into the 60 m. Bolan Pass, as talk of mutiny is whispered through the lower ranks.

March 1839: Quetta is reached, but the army’s food is badly depleted and morale is shaken.

May 1839: The army now turns north west and ventures further upland toward Kandahar, dragging massive field guns along treacherous mountain passes and leaving many baggage camels for dead in the Kojuk Pass. However, when they reach the city, the defenders flee without firing a shot.

June 1839: In the Punjab, the Sikh ally of the British force, Ranjit Singh dies of old age. News of the loss however, does not reach the Army until much later. After nearly a month’s rehabilitation and reconnaissance, the Army of the Indus presses onward and lays siege to the fortress of Ghazni, which guards the road north to Kabul. However, the march from Kandahar was treacherously steep in places, and General Keane unwisely opts to leave the force’s main field guns behind. The fortress of Ghazani is a towering sight, presenting the first real military obstacle to the British-led force. Without artillery the seizure of the citadel, held by Dost Mohammed’s loyalists, would be extremely difficult. However, several of the Queen’s 16th volunteer to engineer a night-time demolition raid on the fortresses poorly-guarded northern gate – the 300 pounds of exploded gunpowder tears the gate to ribbons as British cavalry charge through the brink into dust, smoke and gunfire. The crossfire is brutally chaotic as every tower and minaret bristle with rifles, but in the end most of Mohammed’s army flees, surrenders or defects to Shah Shujah’s troop.

August 1839: The British Expeditionary Force, nearly 12,000 strong, marches on and occupies the capital, Kabul, despite blatant evidence local Afghanis are extremely dubious about the leadership or motives of the returning Shah and his English ‘assistants’. Tensions begin to mount almost immediately as the British officers, hunkering down for a protracted ‘peacekeeping’ stay, form a cantonment on the edge of the city, and immediately disrupt local customs – especially in their ‘fraternization’ with the Afghani women. # Over time, however, conflict abroad (namely the Opium War troubles in the Far East) distract the British administrators from the level of resentment festering about them, and many even bring their wives and children from overseas to come live in Kabul. Dost Mohammed however, is still very much a force in local politics, for having fled the city he spends much time drumming up support for his counterattack against the ‘infidel’ invaders and their puppet Shah.

October 1841: After two years of negotiation, intelligence and intrigue, the position of British administrators and their armies in Kabul has grown increasingly perilous. Rebel Ghilzye tribesmen openly reject the legitimacy of the Shah and brazenly pillage nearly every supply caravan bound for the British encampments throughout Afghanistan. Meanwhile, home support for the occupation is also plummeting, as the bill for the cantonment force in Kabul is now pegged at 1.5 million pounds per year. Troop levels are scaled back by the new commander William Mcnaughten as a cost-cutting measure, despite the growing level of violent animosity and the need for a strong defensive position.

November 1841: British officer Alexander Burnes, one of the most visible agents and negotiators for the British, is widely accused by the men of Kabul of dalliances with local women – and one evening early in the month receives a warning from his servants that certain chieftains have called for his assassination. Burnes refuses to believe himself in peril, surrounded as the city is by 12, 000 of his fellow soldiers, but early the next morning a mob has gathered round his quarters and his stables are set ablaze. His translator and guide arrives to spirit him away in disguise, but they are betrayed as they run and cornered in one of Kabul’s narrow alleyways. Burnes is cut to ribbons in an instant by the mob. News of the insurgence ignites the city as widespread looting and rioting rips through the bazaars and streets. The troopers of the Shah move into the center of the city, but 200 are killed before the day is out, and soon the rebels control key parts of the city. The next day, Nov. 3rd, the daily reports from various British outposts outside the city do not arrive, signaling an ominous encirclement as tribal factions from the mountains descend out of the north. Storehouses, armories and stables throughout the city are looted, and English families scattered throughout the city make a desperate dash towards the Army encampment, fighting off enraged Afghanis. By Nov. 5th the entire camp is hemmed in, cut off even form their stores of medicine, food and ammunition. William Mcnaughten refused, however, to negotiate either a withdrawal or surrender, until the middle of the month when Afghan rebels use captured field guns to begin shelling the British position from the Behmaru Heights north of the city.

December 1841: Moral among the British force plummets as food runs low, the nights grow increasingly cold and ammunition is all but gone. Rebel leader Vizier Osman Khan offers the British safe passage from the city provided they immediately surrender their camp, and quit Afghanistan completely, however the month drags on as both sides quarrel over conditions and supplies. On Dec. 23rd, the crisis ignites when Macnaughten and several other officers are taken captive, then executed, then negotiations break off with Akbar Khan. The 16, 000 remaining troops now realize only a running battle out of the city offers them an escape from starvation, even though the mountain passes out of the region are now clogged with snow.

January 1842: The retreat from Kabul begins, a chaotic mass of soldiers, horses, families and servants – nearly 40, 000 souls, all dashing madly from the city. Once into the mountain pass, even on the first night out of the city gates, many begin to die from snipers or exposure. Mountain tribes, firing long-barreled rifles with ranges far greater than English muskets, begin picking off the stragglers. All of Shah Shujah’s men quit the retreat and return to Kabul to surrender, preferring imprisonment to death. On Jan. 8th, as the British ascend the Khoord Kabul Pass, more tribesman appear on the cliffs above, and the exodus scrambles madly forward. 3000 men, women and children are killed or wounded before the shadow of the gorge is cleared, leading hundreds more to desertion – Akbar Khan, who has been following the retreat on horseback now implores that the British wounded, women and children be given over to his ‘safekeeping’ and those terms are accepted. Only 4,000 troops remain, and they push on by moonlight to Jagdalak Pass, where they make their last stand. One British surgeon, William Brydon, survives to reach Jalalabad.+
Shah Shujah, having been provided an army of British-trained Indian sepoys, would govern under an English protectorate. This would allow the East India Company to closely monitor the level of influence of Russian elements north of the Hindu Kush mountain range, as far Tashkent and Samarkand, where Czarist armies were rumored to be massing. At least this was the theory hatched from behind the mahogany desks of the British commanders in Bombay. To any Englishmen who’d actually set foot in Afghanistan, notably the spies, the invasion plan was considered unadulterated lunacy, regardless of the size of the force. Alexander Burnes, a British intelligence officer and a seasoned traveler in the region who frequently shuttled between Lahore and Kabul, desperately petitioned his superiors to abandon the idea, to no avail. See John H. Waller Beyond the Khyber Pass: the Road to British Disaster in the First Afghan War (NY, Random, 1990), p. 123.
* According to the Memoirs of Sita Ram Pande (Norgate, 1873), one of the frontline infantry men who kept a journal during the entire campaign, officers always traveled with damask table linen, sterling silver flatware and fine wines. One regiment had two camels just to carry all their cigars.
# This element of the British occupation force was so scandalous, it reached the society pages of London in less than a month, when Vanity Fair’s cartoonists characterized military service on the sub-continent as ‘Duty, Red Tapes, Picnics & Adultery’. See Waller, p. 159.
+ Gov. General Auckland was apoplectic when news of the retreat and following carnage reached Delphi. Particularly galling was the size of the British force defeated, as it was taken as gospel that any British army could hold its own against a native force ten times its size, especially with artillery in the field and trained cavalry. However, clearly in vales of Afghanistan, neither of these elements were of much use, particularly under winter conditions, with little ammunition and accompanying nearly 26, 000 civilian support personnel and families.

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