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Afghanistan 1839-42

Storming of Ghazni July 1839

Dispositions at the time of the outbreak in Kabul (2 November 1841)


Maj-Gen. Wm. Elphinstone CB, commanding.

2 x squadrons 5th Bengal Light Cavalry. (Col. Chambers).

1 x squadron 'Walker's Horse'. (Lt. Walker).

1 x risallah (troop) 1st Bengal Irregular Cavalry (Skinner's Horse).

1 x risallah 4th Bengal Irregular Cavalry.  

Envoy's Bodyguard. The bodyguard consisted of a risallah of handpicked men from Skinners's Horse and a composite infantry company drawn from half a dozen BNI regiments.

5th Bengal Native Infantry. (Lt-Col. Oliver).

Left wing, 54th Bengal Native Infantry.

Warburton's Battery, Shah's Artillery. (Lt. Warburton). 5 x 9-pdr field guns, 1 x howitzer, and 80 Punjabi gunners.

Detachment, Bengal Sappers &Miners. (20).

3 x coys Shah's Sappers & Miners. (Capt. Broadfoot). (240). Possibly the 60 sappers encamped near Mackenzie's Fort (see below) formed part of this contingent. The strength of the whole unit, some significant part of which was at Jellalabad, was 600, a figure made up of 300 'Hindoostanees', 200 Ghurkhas and 100 Afghans.

Bala Hissar.

Campbell's Hindoostanees. Shah's Force. (Capt. Campbell). 

Khoord-Kabul. (At some remove from Kabul).

37th Bengal Native Infantry (Maj. Griffiths) (c. 1,000) and 3 x mule-drawn 3-pdr guns of the Mountain Train (Lt. Green).

Burnes' Residence

Sepoy Guard (30). Wiped out in the initial rising. Sir Alexander Burnes was the British resident and was due to assume the duties of envoy, when, within a few days, Sir William Mcnaghten and General Elphinstone returned to India. Of course the uprising forced the cancellation of their imminent departure. Burnes, his brother Charles and Lt. Wm. Broadfoot were all killed in the attack on the residency. 

'Mackenzie's Fort'. (Properly 'Nishan Khan's Fort', the facility housed the commissariat of the Shah's force and the quarters of its commandant, Brigadier Thomas Anquetil. At the time of the outbreak Anquetil was out riding with his staff officer Captain Troup and was able to take sanctuary at the main cantonment. 

Capt. Colin Mackenzie, 48th MNI, commanding. [Mackenzie had charge of the commissariat facility, although his primary employment was as a political officer on the staff of Sir William Macnaghten, the envoy.  

Mr Fallon (see Troup's house below).

Detachment 6th Regiment Infantry, Shah Shooja's Force (one havildar and 20 sepoys).  

Detachment Shah's Sappers & Miners (60). 

Detachment 'Ferris's Jezailchis', consisting of Jemadar Hasan Khan and 95 men. Captain Ferris, who was not present at Kabul, was the commandant of the 1st Irregular Infantry, one of three such regiments in Shah Shooja's force. Locally recruited, it was said to comprise mostly Euzufzais [sic]. The main body of the regiment was stationed much further afield at Pesh Boluk, from whence it eventually retired on Peshawar. The unit was armed with jezails and was (probably) not uniformed. The detachment at Kabul, which had come in to the city to collect ammunition for the rest of the regiment, is often alluded to as 'Mackenzie's jezailchis', although prior to the defence of the fort Colin Mackenzie had not been associated with Hasan Khan and his men in any way, (notwithstanding some secondary sources erroneously assert that he had recruited them). The Sappers and Jezailchis were encamped at the 'Yabu Khana', a nearby grove of mulberry trees, and were pulled in to the fort by Mackenzie when the trouble broke out. The sappers were accompanied by a not insignificant number of dependent women and children]. 

A small but unknown number of Hazirbash sowars. Drawn from the Shah's bodyguard these men may have been providing the guard at Brigadier Anquetil's quarters,, which were in some way detached from the main part of the fort on the other side of a wicket gate.

Captain Troup's House. Located 40 yards east of Mackenzie's Fort. Left behind at the house while Troup was out riding were Mr Fallon, Troup's 'writer' or clerk, and a guard of one naik and 10 sepoys, probably from the Shah's 6th Infantry. Mackenzie ordered the upper storey to be loopholed On the second day of the fighting Fallon led the guard away from the house, to seek sanctuary inside Mackenzie's Fort proper. 

Capt. Trevor's Tower. Located 700 yards from Mackenzie's Fort. Captain Trevor was the commandant of the Shah's cavalry bodyguard. He lived with his wife and several children in a (defensible) tower, where a small detachment of his Hazirbash horsemen found the guard. Mackenzie's stores NCO, Sergeant Smith, also lived at the tower with his wife, who was employed by Mrs Trevor as a domestic servant. 

Commissariat Fort

80 Sepoys 5th Bengal Native Infantry. (Lt. Warren)

Encamped on the Seeah Sung Heights until 2 November 1841.

Brig. John Shelton commanding.

2nd Regiment Shah Shooja's [sic] Cavalry, (aka 'Anderson's Horse'). (Capt. Anderson). A unit of uniformed irregular cavalry, armed, equipped and dressed after the fashion of the equivalent regiments in the EIC service. It was armed with tulwars and matchlocks. Alkaluks in irregular cavalry regiments were usually either red, yellow, green or blue. The most likely colour for Anderson's Horse was red

HM 44th (The East Essex) Regiment. (Lt-Col. Mackrell).

Right Wing, 54th Bengal Native Infantry. (Maj. Ewart).

6th Regiment Shah Shooja's Infantry. (Capt. Hopkins). This was a regular, uniformed and conventionally trained infantry regiment, armed with muskets and bayonets and pretty much cloned after the fashion of its EIC equivalents. 

1st Tp/1st Bde Bengal Horse Artillery. (Capt. Nicholls). (6 x guns).


1. On 2 November Shelton was ordered by Elphinstone to move into the Bala Hissar with 100 men HM 44th under Lt. Soutar, the right wing 54th BNI, 6th Infantry Regiment Shah Shooja's Force and 2 sub-divisions of Nicholl's Battery (4 x guns). Lt-Col. Mackrell proceeded to the cantonment with the balance of HM 44th, Anderson's Horse and the third sub-division of Nicholl's Battery. (2 guns).

2. On 3 November Maj. Griffiths, 37th BNI, brought his regiment in to the cantonment from Khoord-Kabul, following a running fight with 3,000 Gilzais. Later in the day a reinforcement consisting of the left wing 54th BNI and Lt. Green's 3 x 3-pdr mountain guns was sent from the cantonment to Brig. Shelton at the Bala Hissar, along with 1 x 9-pdr, 1 x 24-pdr howitzer and 2 x 5.5 inch mortars.

3. Capt. Mackenzie defended his fort against heavy attack until nightfall on the 3rd when he was prevailed upon by Hasan Khan to abandon the fort and move to the cantonment. Notwithstanding the presence of the dependent women and children, the breakout was successful, although Mackenzie was separated from his men at one point, had a brush with the enemy and was lucky to find Hasan Khan and his people some little distance further on.

4. Capt. Trevor defended his tower until midday on 3 November, when his Hazirbash horsemen escorted him and his family into the cantonment.  Having done so they disbanded themselves. Sergeant Smith was killed in the course of the breakout.   

5. On 4 November 400 Afghan marksmen occupied Mahomed Shereef's Fort and the King's Garden and in so doing cut off the logistically vital Commissariat Fort.

6. The Commissariat Fort fell in the early hours of 5 November when Lt. Warren abandoned his position, following a pitiful failure on the part of the general to organize an attempt to support him by not later than 2.00 a.m. as originally promised. Warren claimed not to have received an order from Elphinstone to the effect that he should hold on at all costs.

7. On 9 November Brig. Shelton was recalled to the cantonment from the Bala Hissar and came in with 1 x coy HM 44th, the Shah's 6th Infantry Regiment, 1 x mountain gun and 1 x BHA 6-pdr. Left behind at the Bala Hissar under Maj. Ewart were his own 54th BNI, 3 x guns BHA (Capt. Nicholl) and 2 x Mountain Train guns (Lt. Green).

8. On 13 December Maj. Ewart was ordered to bring his command in from the Bala Hissar. With his arrival the whole British force was concentrated on the cantonment.

9. On 1 October, which is to say a month before the outbreak, the strength of HM 44th Regiment had been 25 officers, 35 sergeants (including colour-sergeants), 14 drummers and 635 NCOs and men. 

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. They suffered 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 risallah 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.

Fire Support:

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 risallah 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 risallah Anderson's Horse. (Capt. Anderson). 1 x rissallah Walker's Horse. (Lt. Walker).

Sortie to King's Garden. Ferris'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'; risallahs of 1st BIC (Skinner's Horse) and 4th BIC. (Lt. Walker).

1 x sqn 2nd Regiment Shah Shooja's Cavalry, ('Anderson's Horse'). (Lt. Le Geyt).

1 x risallah 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 risallah apiece of 1st BIC (Skinner's Horse) and 4th BIC. (Lt. Walker).

100 x sowars 2nd Regiment Shah Shooja's 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 Ferris's Jezailchis (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.

Storming Party

Lt-Col. Mackrell, 44th Regt., commanding (WIA mortally).

2 x coys HM 44th Regt.

2 x coys 37th BNI.

2 x coys Shah's 6th Infantry.

Explosion party: Capt. Bellew 


Walker's Horse.

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. 

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 Regiment Shah Shooja's Cavalry, ('Anderson's Horse'). (Capt. Anderson).                                                            [Alkaluks most likely red].

1 x composite squadron of Bengal Irregular Cavalry, referred to as 'Walker's Horse', (Lt. Walker), comprising:

       1 x risallah (troop) 1st Bengal Irregular Cavalry (Skinner's Horse).                                                                        [Yellow alkaluks].

       1 x risallah 4th Bengal Irregular Cavalry.                                                                                                              [Yellow alkaluks].

Envoy's Bodyguard (1 x risallah Skinner's Horse, 1 x composite company BNI).                                                           [Ditto]                                                 


HM 44th (The East Essex) Regiment. (Maj. Scott).                                                                                                          [Yellow facings].

5th Bengal Native Infantry. (Lt-Col. Oliver).                                                                                                                   [White facings].

37th Bengal Native Infantry. (Maj. Griffiths).                                                                                                                  [Lemon yellow facings]. 

54th Bengal Native Infantry. (Maj. Ewart). (Brought in from the Bala Hissar on 14 Dec 1841).                                           [Yellow facings].                    

6th Infantry Regiment, Shah Shoojah's Contingent. (Capt. Hopkins).                                                                            [Facings N/K].

Ferris's Jezailchis [95]. (Capt. Mackenzie).                                                                                                                      [Not uniformed].


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 had been lost in action at the Battle of Behmaru].

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 9-pdr 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 and Miners (240).

Last Stand of the 44th Regiment at Gandamak by W. B. Wollen

Order of Battle for the Retreat from Kabul

Commencing 6 January 1842

The Advanced Guard. (Brig. Anquetil)

'Walker's Horse':

1 x risallah 1st BIC (Skinner's Horse). (70).

1 x risallah 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).

2nd Regiment Shah's Cavalry, ('Anderson's Horse') (500).

Envoy's Bodyguard. Detailed as a 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 an improbable figure, given the fighting that preceded the retreat. 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 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, in the acceptance 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, although they had very little ammunition left. 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 thrown over his shoulder beneath 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 famous siege of 1857. 

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