Last Stand of the 44th Regiment at Gandamak by W. B. Wollen
Final Configuration of the Kabul Garrison when concentrated on the Cantonment
on 13 December 1841
Maj-Gen. W. G. K. Elphinstone Commanding
2 x squadrons 5th Bengal Light Cavalry. (Col. Chambers). [Black facings].
2nd Irregular Cavalry, Shah Shoohah's Contingent, referred to as 'Anderson's Horse'. (Capt. Anderson). [Alkaluk unknown].
1 x composite squadron 1st & 4th BIC, referred to as 'Walker's Horse', (Lt. Walker), comprising:
1 x resalla (troop) 1st Bengal Irregular Cavalry (Skinner's Horse). [Yellow alkaluks].
1 x resalla 4th Bengal Irregular Cavalry. [Yellow alkaluks].
Envoy's Bodyguard (1 x lance-armed resalla). [Red alkaluks].
HM 44th (The East Essex) Regiment. (Lt-Col. Mackrell (WIA mortally 10 Nov 1841; then Maj. Scott). [Yellow facings].
5th Bengal Native Infantry. (Lt-Col. Oliver). [White facings].
37th Bengal Native Infantry. (Maj. Griffiths). (Brought in from Khoord-Cabul ion 3 Nov 1841). [Lemon yellow facings]. 54th Bengal Native Infantry. (Maj. Ewart). (Brought in from Bala Hissar on 14 Dec 1841). [Yellow facings]. 6th Infantry, Shah Shoojah's Contingent. (Capt. Hopkins). [Facings N/K].
Mackenzie's Jezailchis [95 local irregulars]. (Capt. Mackenzie).
No. 1 Troop/1st Bde., Bengal Horse Artillery. (Capt. Nicholl). [5 x 6-pdrs and a 12-pdr howitzer to begin with, but 1 x 6-pdr lost in action on 23 Nov 1841].
Half-battery, Mountain Train, (Shah's Contingent). (Lt. Green). [3 x mule-drawn 3-pdrs].
Warburton's Battery, Shah's Contingent. (Lt. Warburton) [5 x field guns, 1 x howitzer, and 80 Punjabi gunners. Guns surrendered prior to the retreat].
Additional ordnance in the cantonment: 6 x 9-pdrs, 3 x 24-pdr howitzers, 1 x 12-pdr howitzer, 3 x 5.5 inch mortars. This list [itemised by Lt. Vincent Eyre] might incorporate Warburton's guns.
Detachment, Bengal Sappers &Miners (20). [Blue facings].
3 x coys Shah's Sappers & Miners. (Capt. Broadfoot).
Dispositions at the time of the outbreak in Kabul (2 November 1841)
Maj-Gen. Elphinstone commanding.
2 x sqns 5th Bengal Light Cavalry. (Col. Chambers).
1 x squadron 'Walker's Horse'. (Lt. Walker).
1 x resalla (troop) 1st Bengal Irregular Cavalry (Skinner's Horse).
1 x resalla 4th Bengal Irregular Cavalry.
Envoy's Bodyguard. (1 x resalla).
5th Bengal Native Infantry. (Lt-Col. Oliver).
Left wing, 54th BNI.
Warburton's Battery, Shah's Artillery. (Lt. Warburton). [5 x field guns, 1 x howitzer, and 80 Punjabi gunners].
Detachment, Bengal Sappers &Miners. (20).
3 x coys Shah's Sappers & Miners. (Capt. Broadfoot).
Campbell's Hindoostanee's. (Capt. Campbell). Shah's service.
37th BNI (Maj. Griffiths) (c. 1,000) and 3 x guns Mountain Train (Lt. Green).
Sepoy Guard (30). Wiped out in the initial rising. Sir Alexander Burnes, his brother and Lt. Broadfoot were all killed.
Capt. Mackenzie commanding.
20 Shah's Infantry, 50 Shah's Sappers & Miners, 95 Mackenzie's Jezailchis. (Hasan Khan).
Capt. Trevor's Tower.
Capt. Trevor commanding. Escort of Hazirbash Horsemen, strength unknown.
Lt. Warren commanding. 80 sepoys 5th BNI.
Kabul at the time of the crisis.
Attempts to Relieve the Commissariat Fort
(4 November 1841)
Garrison: Lt. Warren and 80 sepoys 5th BNI.
First Sortie. Ensign Gordon and 1 x coy 37th BNI (80); 11 camels loaded with ammunition. 20 casualties.
Second Sortie. 2 x coys HM 44th Regt. (4 & 100). Both company commanders (Capts. Thomas Swayne and Thomas Robinson) killed. 2 other officers wounded. Heavy casualties, details unknown.
Third Sortie. 1 x resalla 5th BLC. 8 sowars KIA. Unknown number WIA.
Outcome: All sorties defeated. Disastrous abandonment of Commissariat Fort ensues. Afghan Victory.
First Failed Attempt on Mahomed Shereef's Fort
(5 November 1841)
Storming Party Maj. Swayne, 5th BNI, commanding.
50 HM 44th Regt.
200 5th BNI.
2 x sub-divisions 1st Troop/1st Bde, BHA. (2 x 6-pdrs) (Lt. Eyre).
Outcome: No meaningful attempt to storm was made.
Second Successful Attempt.
(6 November 1841).
Outlying Picket. 1 x resalla Anderson's Horse.
Reconnoitering Party. Maj. Thain, ADC, commanding. 1 x troop 5th BLC, 1 x BHA 6-pdr, 2 x coys native infantry (unit unknown).
Storming Party. Maj Griffiths, 37th BNI, commanding. 1 x coy HM 44th Regt. (Ens. Raban - KIA), 1 x coy 5th BNI. (Lt. Deas), 1 x coy 37th BNI. (Lt. Steer).
Initial Fire Support. From cantonment. 3 x 9-pdrs. (Lt. Eyre), 2 x howitzers. (Lt. Warburton).
Cavalry Support. 2 x troops 5th BLC. (Capts. Bott & Collyer). 1 x resalla Anderson's Horse. (Capt. Anderson). 1 x resalla Walker's Horse. (Lt. Walker).
Sortie to King's Garden. Mackenzie's jezailchis. (Capt. Mackenzie) (95), 1 x BHA 6-pdr. (Lt. Eyre).
Final Support. 2 x coys infantry (unit unknown), 1 BHA 6-pdr.
Outcome: limited British victory. The fort was lost to the enemy again on 6 December, when a sub-division of the 44th (Ensign Gray & 40) and a detachment of the 37th BNI (60) were attacked and abandoned the position too lightly.
Order of Battle 1st General Action at Behmaru
(13 November 1841)
OIC: Brig. John Shelton.
2 x sqns 5th BLC (Col. Chambers).
1 x sqn 'Walker's Horse'; resallas of 1st BIC (Skinner's Horse) and 4th BIC. (Lt. Walker).
1 x sqn Shah's 2nd Irregular Cavalry, ('Anderson's Horse'). (Lt. Le Geyt).
1 x resalla Envoy's Bodyguard.
6 x coys HM 44th Regt. (Maj. Scott).
6 x coys 37th BNI. (Maj. Swayne).
4 x coys Shah's 6th Infantry. (Capt. Hopkins).
Artillery: 1 x 6-pdr, 1st Troop/1st Bde., BHA; 1 x 3-pdr Mountain Train. (Lt. Eyre).
Artillery Escort: 1 x coy Shah's 6th Infantry. (Capt. Marshall).
1. British casualties about 200.
2. Outcome: limited British victory
Order of Battle 2nd General Action at Behmaru
(23 November 1841)
OIC: Brig. John Shelton.
1 x sqn 5th BLC (Capt. Bott).
1 x sqn 'Walker's Horse'; one resalla apiece of 1st BIC (Skinner's Horse) and 4th BIC. (Lt. Walker).
100 x sowars Shah's 2nd Irregular Cavalry, ('Anderson's Horse'). (Lt. Le Geyt).
5 x coys HM 44th Regt. (Capt. Leighton).
6 x coys 5th BNI. (Lt-Col. Oliver).
6 x coys 37th BNI. (Maj. Kershaw, HM 13th Regt.).
100 x Shah's Sappers & Miners. (Lt. Laing, 27th BNI).
50 Mackenzie's Jezailchees (Capt. Trevor).
Artillery: 1 x 6-pdr, 1st Troop/1st Bde., BHA. (Sgt. Mulhall).
1. British casualties about 300.
2. Afghan Strength: 3-4,000 Horse and 10,000 Foot. Commanders: Abdoolah Khan, (WIA mortally), Osman Khan.
3. Outcome: severe British defeat.
British Attack on the Rikabashee Fort
(10 November 1841)
Brig. Shelton, commanding.
Lt-Col. Mackrell, 44th Regt., commanding.
2 x coys HM 44th Regt.
2 x coys 37th BNI.
2 x coys 6th Shah's Infantry.
Explosion party: Capt. Bellew
Balance of HM 44th Regt. (Maj. Scott).
Balance of 37th BNI. (Maj. Griffiths)
Balance of Shah's 6th Infantry. (Capt. Hopkins).
Fire Support: 2 x sub-divisions 1st/1st BHA, (2 x 6-pdrs), 1 x Mountain Train 3-pdr.
1. British casualties: about 200, including Lt-Col. Mackrell KIA.
2. Outcome: Rikabashee taken, but not without great difficulty.
The Retreat from Kabul
Commencing 6 January 1842
The Advanced Guard. (Brig. Anquetil)
1 x resalla 1st BIC (Skinner's Horse). (70).
1 x resalla 4th BIC. (70).
HM 44th Regt. (18 & 438, including 12 boys and 34 sick).
3 x coys Shah's Sappers & Miners. (240).
Half-battery, Mountain Train. (3 x mule-drawn 3 pdrs). (Lt. Green).
The Main Body. (Brig. Shelton).
Shah's 2nd Irregular Cavalry, ('Anderson's Horse'. (500).
1 x resalla Envoy's Bodyguard. Guard to the European women & children.
5th BNI. Baggage Guard. (700).
37th BNI. Treasury Guard. (600).
2 x sub-divisions 1st Troop/1st. Bde., BHA. (2 x 6-pdrs). (30).
Sick and wounded.
Camp followers (theoretically, although many moved off with the advance guard). (c. 12,000).
Shah's 6th Infantry. (600).
The Rearguard. (Col. Chambers).
54th BNI. (650).
2 x sqns 5th BLC. (260).
4 x sub-divisions 1st Troop/1st. Bde., BHA. (4 x 6-pdrs). (60).
1. Total Fighting Manpower: was said by Lt. Vincent Eyre to be 690 Europeans, split between HM 44th and 1st/1st BHA (90), 970 Native Cavalry, 2,840 Native Infantry & Sappers. He allows for 600 of the 44th, however, which seems improbable, given the preceding fighting. His estimate is also contradicted by the regimental history, which gives the figures cited above. About 550 Europeans, not including staff officers, commissaries and the officers serving with the Indian units, is probably much nearer the mark.
2. Hundreds of camp followers died of cold on the first night. The army's order of march reversed for the second day.
3. By the end of the second day a heavy rate of desertion, by means of abject surrender, or simply turning about and returning to Kabul, accepting that enslavement would ensue, had reduced the Bodyguard troop, the Shah's 6th Infantry and the Shah's Sappers & Miners to mere handfuls. All three mountain guns were abandoned on 7 December.
4. On 8 January HM 44th, the 37th BNI and two guns BHA did rearguard duty under Colonel Chambers. Two guns were lost in transiting the Khoord-Kabul Pass, which was only effected with heavy loss. At the subsequent halt Maj. Griffiths ordered Sergeant-Major Lissant to call the roll for 37th BNI. He reported back that the regiment now consisted of 23 havildars, 17 naiks and 207 sepoys. He thought that only about 100 of these were still fit for duty the next morning.
5. An attempt was made to move off on 9 January, but then Elphinstone, having enraged with Akbar Khan, ordered that a halt be made. During the course of the day what was left of the irregular horse deserted to the enemy in a single body. Elphinstone arranged for a party of European women and children to be handed over to Akbar Khan's protection.
6. By the 10th the only effective units remaining were the 44th Regiment, with about 200 officers and men, about 50 men of 1st/1st BHA with 1 x gun and some small remnant, no more than 50, of the 5th BLC. These units operated as a rearguard under Brigadier Shelton's command, although in reality they now constituted the main body of troops. There were still some remnants of the BNI battalions left, but these disintegrated during the march to Tezin, until at length the only sepoys left were moving anonymously amongst the camp followers, having in most cases thrown their weapons away. They were too disabled by cold to fight anyway. The last gun was abandoned that evening. Elphinstone resolved upon a night march to try and get through the Jugdulluck Pass by first light. Progress was pitifully slow so that the scheme fell well short of what had been intended.
7. The column did not reach Jugdulluck until 3:00 p.m. on 11 Jan, where General Elphinstone and Brigadier Shelton were invited to join Mohamed Akbar Khan at his camp for negotiations. They agreed to go.
8. On 12 January Elphinstone and Shelton were tied up in fruitless negotiations all day, until at length it became clear that Akbar Khan intended detaining them. The general would later die in custody, while Shelton came through his detention and survived to return to India. Having heard nothing from the general, Brigadier Anquetil decided that a night march should be made. Between 70 and 80 men of the 44th, a few artillerymen, 5 sowars of 5th BLC and just over 30 officers were all that now remained.
9. On the night 12/13 Jan the British transited the Jugdulluck Pass, a two-mile defile, which the enemy had obstructed with a formidable holly bush barrier. There was heavy loss of life, amidst scenes of chaos. Brigadier Anquetil and 11 other officers were amongst those who fell in the pass.
10. On 13 Jan the famous last stand was made at Gandamak, under the senior surviving officer, Major Griffiths, 37th BNI. There were about 20 officers and 45 men present, but they had very little ammunition. Lt. Thomas Soutar, Lance-Sergeant Fair and six privates of the 44th, three privates of the BHA and Major Griffiths were taken prisoner during the final struggle. Famously Lt. Soutar had the Regimental Colour wrapped around his waist under his poshteen (sheepskin coat). Colour-Sergeant Patrick Carey of the grenadier company had similarly put the Queen's Colour under his poshteen, but had been killed during the night. Although the Regimental Colour was taken from Soutar, he later persuaded his captor to return it to him and brought it to safety when at length he was released. It returned to England in due course. The Queen's Colour was never seen again.
11. A few officers rode on from Gandamak, but several of them were killed and others captured, until at length Dr Brydon was the only man still on the loose. Of course he made it to Jellalabad, to become renowned as the 'sole survivor' of an army. In fact hundreds survived, albeit not without undergoing a period of captivity first. Subsequently Brydon was present at Lucknow during the siege of 1857.