Part 6 out of 6
both from the direction of Omdurman and from that in which
the Dervish army was flying.
At 3 A.M. on the 3rd Colonel Broadwood's force moved on again.
Men and horses seemed refreshed, and by the aid of a bright moon
the ground was covered at a good pace. By seven o'clock the squadrons
approached the point on the river which had been fixed for meeting the
steamer. She had already arrived, and the sight of the funnel in the
distance and the anticipation of a good meal cheered everyone, for they had
scarcely had anything to eat since the night before the battle. But as the
troopers drew nearer it became evident that 300 yards of shallow water and
deep swamp intervened between them and the vessel. Closer approach was
prevented. There was no means of landing the stores. In the hopes of
finding a suitable spot further up the stream the march was resumed.
The steamer kept pace along the river. The boggy ground delayed the columns,
but by two o'clock seven more miles had been covered. Only the flag at the
masthead was now visible; and an impassable morass separated the force from
the river bank. It was impossible to obtain supplies. Without food it was
out of the question to go on. Indeed, great privations must, as it was,
accompany the return march. The necessity was emphasised by the reports
of captured fugitives, who all told the same tale. The Khalifa had
pushed on swiftly, and was trying to reorganise his army. Colonel Broadwood
thereupon rested his horses till the heat of the day was over, and then
began the homeward march. It was not until eleven o'clock on the 4th of
September that the worn-out and famished cavalry reached their camp
Such was the pursuit as conducted by the regular troops. Abdel-Azim,
with 750 Arabs, persisted still further in the chase. Lightly equipped,
and acquainted with the country, they reached Shegeig, nearly a hundred
miles south of Khartoum, on the 7th. Here they obtained definite
information. The Khalifa had two days' start, plenty of food and water,
and many camels. He had organised a bodyguard of 500 Jehadia, and was,
besides, surrounded by a large force of Arabs of various tribes.
With this numerous and powerful following he was travelling day and night
towards El Obeid, which town was held by an unbeaten Dervish garrison of
nearly 3,000 men. On hearing these things the friendly Arabs determined
--not unwisely--to abandon the pursuit, and came boastfully back
In the battle and capture of Omdurman the losses of the Expeditionary
Force included the following British officers killed: Capt. G. Caldecott,
1st Royal Warwickshire Regiment; Lieut. R.G. Grenfell, 12th Royal Lancers,
attached 21st Lancers; Hon. H. Howard, correspondent of the TIMES.
In total, the British Division and Egyptian Army suffered 482 men killed
The Dervish losses were, from computations made on the field and corrected
at a later date, ascertained to be 9,700 killed, and wounded variously
estimated at from 10,000 to 16,000. There were, besides, 5,000 prisoners.
CHAPTER XVII: 'THE FASHODA INCIDENT'
The long succession of events, of which I have attempted
to give some account, has not hitherto affected to any great extent other
countries than those which are drained by the Nile. But this chapter
demands a wider view, since it must describe an incident which might easily
have convulsed Europe, and from which far-reaching consequences have arisen.
It is unlikely that the world will ever learn the details of the subtle
scheme of which the Marchand Mission was a famous part. We may say with
certainty that the French Government did not intend a small expedition,
at great peril to itself, to seize and hold an obscure swamp on the Upper
Nile. But it is not possible to define the other arrangements. What part
the Abyssinians were expected to play, what services had been rendered them
and what inducements they were offered, what attitude was to be adopted to
the Khalifa, what use was to be made of the local tribes: all this is
veiled in the mystery of intrigue. It is well known that for several years
France, at some cost to herself and at a greater cost to Italy, had courted
the friendship of Abyssinia, and that the weapons by which the Italians
were defeated at Adowa had been mainly supplied through French channels.
A small quick-firing gun of continental manufacture and of recent make
which was found in the possession of the Khalifa seems to point to
the existence or contemplation of similar relations with the Dervishes.
But how far these operations were designed to assist the Marchand Mission
is known only to those who initiated them, and to a few others who have so
far kept their own counsel.
The undisputed facts are few. Towards the end of 1896 a French expedition
was despatched from the Atlantic into the heart of Africa under the command
of Major Marchand. The re-occupation of Dongola was then practically
complete, and the British Government were earnestly considering the
desirability of a further advance. In the beginning of 1897 a British
expedition, under Colonel Macdonald, and comprising a dozen carefully
selected officers, set out from England to Uganda, landed at Mombassa,
and struck inland. The misfortunes which fell upon this enterprise are
beyond the scope of this account, and I shall not dwell upon the local
jealousies and disputes which marred it. It is sufficient to observe that
Colonel Macdonald was provided with Soudanese troops who were practically
in a state of mutiny and actually mutinied two days after he assumed
command. The officers were compelled to fight for their lives.
Several were killed. A year was consumed in suppressing the mutiny and the
revolt which arose out of it. If the object of the expedition was to reach
the Upper Nile, it was soon obviously unattainable, and the Government were
glad to employ the officers in making geographical surveys.
At the beginning of 1898 it was clear to those who, with the fullest
information, directed the foreign policy of Great Britain that no results
affecting the situation in the Soudan could be expected from the Macdonald
Expedition. The advance to Khartoum and the reconquest of the lost
provinces had been irrevocably undertaken. An Anglo-Egyptian force was
already concentrating at Berber. Lastly, the Marchand Mission was known
to be moving towards the Upper Nile, and it was a probable contingency
that it would arrive at its destination within a few months. It was
therefore evident that the line of advance of the powerful army moving
south from the Mediterranean and of the tiny expedition moving east from
the Atlantic must intersect before the end of the year, and that
intersection would involve a collision between the Powers of Great Britain
I do not pretend to any special information not hitherto given to
the public in this further matter, but the reader may consider for himself
whether the conciliatory policy which Lord Salisbury pursued towards Russia
in China at this time--a policy which excited hostile criticism in England
--was designed to influence the impending conflict on the Upper Nile and
make it certain, or at least likely, that when Great Britain and France
should be placed in direct opposition, France should find herself alone.
With these introductory reflections we may return to the theatre of
On the 7th of September, five days after the battle and capture
of Omdurman, the Tewfikia, a small Dervish steamer--one of those formerly
used by General Gordon--came drifting and paddling down the river.
Her Arab crew soon perceived by the Egyptian flags which were hoisted on
the principal buildings, and by the battered condition of the Mahdi's Tomb,
that all was not well in the city; and then, drifting a little further,
they found themselves surrounded by the white gunboats of the 'Turks,'
and so incontinently surrendered. The story they told their captors was a
strange one. They had left Omdurman a month earlier, in company with the
steamer Safia, carrying a force of 500 men, with the Khalifa's orders to
go up the White Nile and collect grain. For some time all had been well;
but on approaching the old Government station of Fashoda they had been
fired on by black troops commanded by white officers under a strange flag
--and fired on with such effect that they had lost some forty men killed
and wounded. Doubting who these formidable enemies might be, the foraging
expedition had turned back, and the Emir in command, having disembarked
and formed a camp at a place on the east bank called Reng, had sent the
Tewfikia back to ask the Khalifa for instructions and reinforcements.
The story was carried to the Sirdar and ran like wildfire through the camp.
Many officers made their way to the river, where the steamer lay, to test
for themselves the truth of the report. The woodwork of the hull was marked
with many newly made holes, and cutting into these with their penknives the
officers extracted bullets--not the roughly cast leaden balls, the bits of
telegraph wire, or old iron which savages use, but the conical
nickel-covered bullets of small-bore rifles such as are fired by civilised
forces alone. Here was positive proof. A European Power was on the Upper
Nile: which? Some said it was the Belgians from the Congo; some that an
Italian expedition had arrived; others thought that the strangers were
French; others, again, believed in the Foreign Office--it was a British
expedition, after all. The Arab crew were cross-examined as to the flag
they had seen. Their replies were inconclusive. It had bright colours,
they declared; but what those colours were and what their arrangement
might be they could not tell; they were poor men, and God was very great.
Curiosity found no comfort but in patience or speculation.
The camp for the most part received the news with a shrug. After their
easy victory the soldiers walked delicately. They knew that they belonged
to the most powerful force that had ever penetrated the heart of Africa.
If there was to be more war, the Government had but to give the word,
and the Grand Army of the Nile would do by these newcomers as they had
done by the Dervishes.
On the 8th the Sirdar started up the White Nile for Fashoda with
five steamers, the XIth and XIIIth Battalions of Soudanese, two companies
of the Cameron Highlanders, Peake's battery of artillery, and four Maxim
guns. Three days later he arrived at Reng, and there found, as the crew
of the Tewfikia had declared, some 500 Dervishes encamped on the bank,
and the Safia steamer moored to it. These stupid fellows had the temerity
to open fire on the vessels. Whereat the Sultan, steaming towards their dem,
replied with a fierce shell fire which soon put them to flight. The Safia,
being under steam, made some attempt to escape--whither, it is impossible
to say--and Commander Keppel by a well-directed shell in her boilers
blew her up, much to the disgust of the Sirdar, who wanted to add her
to his flotilla.
After this incident the expedition continued its progress up the White Nile.
The sudd which was met with two days' journey south of Khartoum did not in
this part of the Nile offer any obstacle to navigation, as the strong
current of the river clears the waterway; but on either side of the channel
a belt of the tangled weed, varying from twelve to twelve hundred yards in
breadth, very often prevented the steamers from approaching the bank to
tie up. The banks themselves depressed the explorers by their melancholy
inhospitality. At times the river flowed past miles of long grey grass and
swamp-land, inhabited and habitable only by hippopotami. At times a vast
expanse of dreary mud flats stretched as far as the eye could see.
At others the forest, dense with an impenetrable undergrowth of
thorn-bushes, approached the water, and the active forms of monkeys
and even of leopards darted among the trees. But the country
--whether forest, mud-flat, or prairie--was always damp and feverish:
a wet land steaming under a burning sun and humming with mosquitoes
and all kinds of insect life.
Onward and southward toiled the flotilla, splashing the brown water
into foam and startling the strange creatures on the banks, until on the
18th of September they approached Fashoda. The gunboats waited, moored to
the bank for some hours of the afternoon, to allow a message which had
been sent by the Sirdar to the mysterious Europeans, to precede his arrival,
and early in the morning of the 19th a small steel rowing-boat was observed
coming down stream to meet the expedition. It contained a Senegalese
sergeant and two men, with a letter from Major Marchand announcing the
arrival of the French troops and their formal occupation of the Soudan.
It, moreover, congratulated the Sirdar on his victory, and welcomed him
to Fashoda in the name of France.
A few miles' further progress brought the gunboats to their destination,
and they made fast to the bank near the old Government buildings of the
town. Major Marchand's party consisted of eight French officers or
non-commissioned officers, and 120 black soldiers drawn from the Niger
district. They possessed three steel boats fitted for sail or oars, and a
small steam launch, the Faidherbe, which latter had, however, been sent
south for reinforcements. They had six months' supplies of provisions for
the French officers, and about three months' rations for the men; but they
had no artillery, and were in great want of small-arm ammunition.
Their position was indeed precarious. The little force was stranded,
without communications of any sort, and with no means of either
withstanding an attack or of making a retreat. They had fired away most of
their cartridges at the Dervish foraging party, and were daily expecting
a renewed attack. Indeed, it was with consternation that they had heard of
the approach of the flotilla. The natives had carried the news swiftly up
the river that the Dervishes were coming back with five steamers, and for
three nights the French had been sleeplessly awaiting the assault of
a powerful enemy.
Their joy and relief at the arrival of a European force were undisguised.
The Sirdar and his officers on their part were thrilled with admiration at
the wonderful achievements of this small band of heroic men. Two years had
passed since they left the Atlantic coast. For four months they had been
absolutely lost from human ken. They had fought with savages; they had
struggled with fever; they had climbed mountains and pierced the most
gloomy forests. Five days and five nights they had stood up to their necks
in swamp and water. A fifth of their number had perished; yet at last
they had carried out their mission and, arriving at Fashoda on the 10th
of July, had planted the tricolour upon the Upper Nile.
Moved by such reflections the British officers disembarked.
Major Marchand, with a guard of honour, came to meet the General.
They shook hands warmly. 'I congratulate you,' said the Sirdar, 'on all you
have accomplished.' 'No,' replied the Frenchman, pointing to his troops;
'it is not I, but these soldiers who have done it.' And Kitchener, telling
the story afterwards, remarked, 'Then I knew he was a gentleman.'
Into the diplomatic discussions that followed, it is not necessary
to plunge. The Sirdar politely ignored the French flag, and, without
interfering with the Marchand Expedition and the fort it occupied,
hoisted the British and Egyptian colours with all due ceremony,
amid musical honours and the salutes of the gunboats. A garrison was
established at Fashoda, consisting of the XIth Soudanese, four guns of
Peake's battery, and two Maxims, the whole under the command of Colonel
Jackson, who was appointed military and civil commandant of the
At three o'clock on the same afternoon the Sirdar and the gunboats resumed
their journey to the south, and the next day reached the mouth of the Sobat,
sixty-two miles from Fashoda. Here other flags were hoisted and another
post formed with a garrison of half the XIIIth Soudanese battalion and the
remaining two guns of Peake's battery. The expedition then turned
northwards, leaving two gunboats--the Sultan and the Abu Klea--at the
disposal of Colonel Jackson.
I do not attempt to describe the international negotiations and
discussions that followed the receipt of the news in Europe, but it is
pleasing to remember that a great crisis found England united.
The determination of the Government was approved by the loyalty of the
Opposition, supported by the calm resolve of the people, and armed with
the efficiency of the fleet. At first indeed, while the Sirdar was still
steaming southward, wonder and suspense filled all minds; but when suspense
ended in the certainty that eight French adventurers were in occupation of
Fashoda and claimed a territory twice as large as France, it gave place to
a deep and bitter anger. There is no Power in Europe which the average
Englishman regards with less animosity than France. Nevertheless, on this
matter all were agreed. They should go. They should evacuate Fashoda,
or else all the might, majesty, dominion, and power of everything that
could by any stretch of the imagination be called 'British' should be
employed to make them go.
Those who find it difficult to account for the hot, almost petulant,
flush of resolve that stirred the nation must look back over the long
history of the Soudan drama. It had always been a duty to reconquer the
abandoned territory. When it was found that this might be safely done,
the duty became a pleasure. The operations were watched with extravagant
attention, and while they progressed the earnestness of the nation
increased. As the tides of barbarism were gradually driven back, the old
sea-marks came one after another into view. Names of towns that were half
forgotten--or remembered only with sadness--re-appeared on the posters,
in the gazettes, and in the newspapers. We were going back. 'Dongola,'
'Berber,' 'Metemma'--who had not heard of them before? Now they were
associated with triumph. Considerable armies fought on the Indian Frontier.
There was war in the South and the East and the West of Africa. But England
looked steadfastly towards the Nile and the expedition that crawled forward
slowly, steadily, unchecked, apparently irresistible.
When the final triumph, long expected, came in all its completeness
it was hailed with a shout of exultation, and the people of Great Britain,
moved far beyond their wont, sat themselves down to give thanks to
their God, their Government, and their General. Suddenly, on the chorus of
their rejoicing there broke a discordant note. They were confronted with
the fact that a 'friendly Power' had, unprovoked, endeavoured to rob them
of the fruits of their victories. They now realised that while they had
been devoting themselves to great military operations, in broad daylight
and the eye of the world, and prosecuting an enterprise on which they had
set their hearts, other operations--covert and deceitful--had been in
progress in the heart of the Dark Continent, designed solely for the
mischievous and spiteful object of depriving them of the produce of their
labours. And they firmly set their faces against such behaviour.
First of all, Great Britain was determined to have Fashoda or fight;
and as soon as this was made clear, the French were willing to give way.
Fashoda was a miserable swamp, of no particular value to them. Marchand,
Lord Salisbury's 'explorer in difficulties upon the Upper Nile,'
was admitted by the French Minister to be merely an 'emissary of
civilisation.' It was not worth their while to embark on the hazards and
convulsions of a mighty war for either swamp or emissary. Besides, the plot
had failed. Guy Fawkes, true to his oath and his orders, had indeed reached
the vault; but the other conspirators were less devoted. The Abyssinians
had held aloof. The negro tribes gazed with wonder on the strangers,
but had no intention of fighting for them. The pride and barbarism of the
Khalifa rejected all overtures and disdained to discriminate between the
various breeds of the accursed 'Turks.' Finally, the victory of Omdurman
and its forerunner--the Desert Railway--had revolutionised the whole
situation in the Nile valley. After some weeks of tension, the French
Government consented to withdraw their expedition from the region
of the Upper Nile.
Meanwhile events were passing at Fashoda. The town, the site of which
had been carefully selected by the old Egyptian Government, is situated on
the left bank of the river, on a gentle slope of ground which rises about
four feet above the level of the Nile at full flood. During the rainy
season, which lasts from the end of June until the end of October,
the surrounding country is one vast swamp, and Fashoda itself becomes
an island. It is not, however, without its importance; for it is the only
spot on the west shore for very many miles where landing from the river is
possible. All the roads--mere camel-tracks--from Lower Kordofan meet at the
Government post, but are only passable in the dry season. The soil is
fertile, and, since there is a superabundance of sun and water, almost any
crop or plant can be grown. The French officers, with the adaptive thrift
of their nation, had already, in spite of the ravages of the water-rats,
created a good vegetable garden, from which they were able to supplement
their monotonous fare. The natives, however--aboriginal negroes of the
Dinka and Shillook tribes--are unwilling to work, except to provide
themselves with the necessaries of life; and since these are easily
obtained, there is very little cultivation, and the fertility of the soil
may be said to increase the poverty of the country. At all seasons of the
year the climate of Fashoda is pestilential, and the malarial fever attacks
every European or Egyptian, breaking down the strongest constitutions,
and in many cases causing death. [The place is most unhealthy, and in March
1899 (the driest season of the year) out of a garrison of 317 men only 37
were fit for duty.--Sir William Garstin's Report: EGYPT, No. 5, 1899.]
On this dismal island, far from civilisation, health, or comfort,
the Marchand Mission and the Egyptian garrison lived in polite antagonism
for nearly three months. The French fort stood at the northern end.
The Egyptian camp lay outside the ruins of the town. Civilities were
constantly exchanged between the forces, and the British officers repaid
the welcome gifts of fresh vegetables by newspapers and other conveniences.
The Senegalese riflemen were smart and well-conducted soldiers,
and the blacks of the Soudanese battalion soon imitated their officers in
reciprocating courtesies. A feeling of mutual respect sprang up between
Colonel Jackson and Major Marchand. The dashing commandant of the XIth
Soudanese, whose Egyptian medals bear no fewer than fourteen clasps,
was filled with a generous admiration for the French explorer. Realising
the difficulties, he appreciated the magnificence of the achievement;
and as he spoke excellent French a good and almost cordial understanding
was established, and no serious disagreement occurred. But, notwithstanding
the polite relations, the greatest vigilance was exercised by both sides,
and whatever civilities were exchanged were of a formal nature.
The Dinkas and Shillooks had on the first arrival of the French
made submission, and had supplied them with provisions. They knew that
white men were said to be coming, and they did not realise that there were
different races among the whites. Marchand was regarded as the advance
guard of the Sirdar's army. But when the negroes gradually perceived that
these bands of white men were at enmity with each other--were, in fact,
of rival tribes--they immediately transferred their allegiance to the
stronger force, and, although their dread of the Egyptian flag was at first
very marked, boycotted the French entirely.
In the middle of October despatches from France arrived for Marchand
by steamer; and that officer, after reading them, determined to proceed to
Cairo. Jackson, who was most anxious that no disagreement should arise,
begged him to give positive orders to his subordinate to maintain the
status quo, as had been agreed. Marchand gladly consented, and departed for
Omdurman, where he visited the battlefield, and found in the heaps of slain
a grim witness of the destruction from which he had been saved, and so on
to Cairo, where he was moved to tears and speeches. But in his absence
Captain Germain, who succeeded to the command, diverged from his orders,
No sooner had Marchand left than Germain, anxious to win distinction,
embarked upon a most aggressive policy. He occupied the Dinka country
on the right bank of the river, pushed reconnoitring parties into the
interior, prevented the Dinka Sheikhs from coming to make their submission
at Fashoda, and sent his boats and the Faidherbe steam launch, which had
returned from the south, beyond the northern limits which the Sirdar
had prescribed and Marchand had agreed to recognise.
Colonel Jackson protested again and again. Germain sent haughty replies,
and persisted in his provoking policy. At last the British officer was
compelled to declare that if any more patrols were sent into the Dinka
country, he would not allow them to return to the French post. Whereat
Germain rejoined that he would meet force with force. All tempers were worn
by fever, heat, discomfort, and monotony. The situation became very
difficult, and the tact and patience of Colonel Jackson alone averted a
conflict which would have resounded in all parts of the world. He confined
his troops strictly to their lines, and moved as far from the French camp
as was possible. But there was one dark day when the French officers worked
in their shirts with their faithful Senegalese to strengthen the
entrenchments, and busily prepared for a desperate struggle. On the other
side little activity was noticeable. The Egyptian garrison, although under
arms, kept out of sight, but a wisp of steam above the funnels of the
redoubtable gunboats showed that all was ready.
At length in a fortunate hour Marchand returned, reproved his subordinate,
and expressed his regrets to Colonel Jackson. Then it became known that the
French Government had ordered the evacuation of Fashoda. Some weeks were
spent in making preparations for the journey, but at length the day of
departure arrived. At 8.20 on the morning of the 11th of December the
French lowered their flag with salute and flourish of bugle. The British
officers, who remained in their own camp and did not obtrude themselves,
were distant but interested spectators. On the flag ceasing to fly,
a sous-officier rushed up to the flagstaff and hurled it to the ground,
shaking his fists and tearing his hair in a bitterness and vexation from
which it is impossible to withhold sympathy, in view of what these men had
suffered uselessly and what they had done. The French then embarked,
and at 9.30 steamed southward, the Faidherbe towing one oblong steel barge
and one old steel boat, the other three boats sailing, all full of men.
As the little flotilla passed the Egyptian camp a guard of honour of the
XIth Soudanese saluted them and the band struck up their national anthem.
The French acknowledged the compliment by dipping their flag, and in return
the British and Egyptian flags were also lowered. The boats then continued
their journey until they had rounded the bend of the river, when they came
to land, and, honour being duly satisfied, Marchand and his officers
returned to breakfast with Colonel Jackson. The meeting was very friendly.
Jackson and Germain exchanged most elaborate compliments, and the
commandant, in the name of the XIth Soudanese, presented the expedition
with the banner of the Emir who had attacked them, which had been captured
at Reng. Marchand shook hands all round, and the British officers bade
their gallant opponents a final farewell.
Once again the eight Frenchmen, who had come so far and accomplished
so much, set out upon their travels, to make a safe though tedious journey
through Abyssinia to the coast, and thence home to the country they had
served faithfully and well, and which was not unmindful of their services.
Let us settle the international aspect of the reconquest of the Soudan
while we are in the way with it. The disputes between France and England
about the valley of the Upper Nile were terminated, as far as material
cause was concerned, by an Agreement, signed in London on the 21st of March,
1899, by Lord Salisbury and M. Cambon. The Declaration limiting the
respective spheres of influence of the two Powers took the form of an
addition to the IVth Article of the Niger Convention, concluded in the
previous year. Its practical effect is to reserve the whole drainage system
of the Nile to England and Egypt, and to engage that France shall have a
free hand, so far as those Powers are concerned, in the rest of Northern
Africa west of the Nile Valley not yet occupied by Europeans.
This stupendous partition of half a continent by two European Powers could
scarcely be expected to excite the enthusiasm of the rest. Germany was,
however, soothed by the promise of the observance of the 'Open Door' policy
upon the Upper Nile. Italy, protesting meekly, followed Germany. Russia had
no interests in this quarter. France and England were agreed. The rest were
not consulted: and the Declaration may thus be said to have been recognised
by the world in general.
It is perhaps early to attempt to pronounce with which of the contracting
Powers the advantage lies. France has acquired at a single stroke, without
any serious military operations, the recognition of rights which may enable
her ultimately to annex a vast African territory. At present what she has
gained may be described as a recognised 'sphere of aspiration.' The future
may convert this into a sphere of influence, and the distant future may
witness the entire subjugation of the whole region. There are many
difficulties to be overcome. The powerful influence of the Senussi has yet
to be overthrown. The independent kingdom of Wadai must be conquered.
Many smaller potentates will resist desperately. Altogether France has
enough to occupy her in Central Africa for some time to come: and even
when the long task is finished, the conquered regions are not likely to be
of great value. They include the desert of the Great Sahara and wide
expanses of equally profitless scrub or marsh. Only one important river,
the Shari, flows through them, and never reaches the sea: and even Lake
Chad, into which the Shari flows, appears to be leaking through some
subterranean exit, and is rapidly changing from a lake into an
Great Britain and Egypt, upon the other hand, have secured a territory
which, though smaller, is nevertheless of enormous extent, more fertile,
comparatively easy of access, practically conquered, and containing the
waterway of the Nile. France will be able to paint a great deal of the map
of Africa blue, and the aspect of the continent upon paper may please the
patriotic eye; but it is already possible to predict that before she can
develop her property--can convert aspiration into influence, and influence
into occupation--she will have to work harder, pay more, and wait longer
for a return than will the more modest owners of the Nile Valley. And even
when that return is obtained, it is unlikely that it will be
of so much value.
It only remains to discuss the settlement made between the conquerors
of the Soudan. Great Britain and Egypt had moved hand in hand up the great
river, sharing, though unequally, the cost of the war in men and money.
The prize belonged to both. The direct annexation of the Soudan by Great
Britain would have been an injustice to Egypt. Moreover, the claim of the
conquerors to Fashoda and other territories rested solely on the former
rights of Egypt. On the other hand, if the Soudan became Egyptian again,
it must wear the fetters of that imprisoned country. The Capitulations
would apply to the Upper Nile regions, as to the Delta. Mixed Tribunals,
Ottoman Suzerainty, and other vexatious burdens would be added to the
difficulties of Soudan administration. To free the new country from the
curse of internationalism was a paramount object. The Soudan Agreement
by Great Britain and Egypt, published on the 7th of March, 1899,
achieves this. Like most of the best work done in Egypt by the British
Agency, the Agreement was slipped through without attracting much notice.
Under its authority a State has been created in the Nile Valley which is
neither British nor Ottoman, nor anything else so far known to the law
of Europe. International jurists are confronted with an entirely new
political status. A diplomatic 'Fourth Dimension' has been discovered.
Great Britain and Egypt rule the country together. The allied conquerors
have become the joint-possessors. 'What does this Soudan Agreement mean?'
the Austrian Consul-General asked Lord Cromer; and the British Agent,
whom twenty-two years' acquaintance with Egyptian affairs bad accustomed
to anomalies, replied, 'It means simply this'; and handed him the
inexplicable document, under which the conquered country may some day
march to Peace and Plenty.
CHAPTER XVIII: ON THE BLUE NILE
The authority of the Khalifa and the strength of his army were
for ever broken on the 2nd of September, and the battle of Omdurman is the
natural climax of this tale of war. To those who fought, and still more to
those who fell, in the subsequent actions the climax came somewhat later.
After the victory the public interest was no longer centred in the Soudan.
The last British battalion had been carried north of Assuan; the last Press
correspondent had hurried back to Cairo or London. But the military
operations were by no means over.
The enemy had been defeated. It remained to reconquer the territory.
The Dervishes of the provincial garrisons still preserved their allegiance
to the Khalifa. Several strong Arab forces kept the field. Distant Kordofan
and even more distant Darfur were as yet quite unaffected by the great
battle at the confluence of the Niles. There were rumours of Europeans
in the Far South.
The unquestioned command of the waterways which the Sirdar enjoyed
enabled the greater part of the Egyptian Soudan to be at once formally
re-occupied. All towns or stations on the main rivers and their tributaries
were at the mercy of the gunboats. It was only necessary to send troops to
occupy them and to hoist the British and Egyptian flags. Two expeditions
were forthwith sent up the White and Blue Niles to establish garrisons,
and as far as possible to subdue the country. The first, under the personal
command of the Sirdar, left Omdurman on the 8th of September, and steamed
up the White Nile towards Fashoda. The events which followed that momentous
journey have already been related. The second expedition consisted of the
gunboats Sheikh and Hafir, together with two companies and the brass band
of the Xth Soudanese and a Maxim battery, all under the command of General
Hunter. Leaving Omdurman on the 19th of September, they started up the
Blue Nile to Abu Haraz. The rest of the Xth Battalion followed as soon as
other steamers were set free from the business of taking the British
division to the Atbara and bringing supplies to Omdurman. The progress of
the expedition up the river resembled a triumphal procession. The people
of the riparian villages assembled on the banks, and, partly from
satisfaction at being relieved from the oppression of the Khalifa and the
scourge of war, partly from fear, and partly from wonder, gave vent to loud
and long-continued cheers. As the gunboats advanced the inhabitants
escorted them along the bank, the men dancing and waving their swords,
and the women uttering shrill cries of welcome. The reception of the
expedition when places of importance were passed, and the crowd amounted to
several thousands, is described as very stirring, and, we are told,
such was the enthusiasm of the natives that they even broke up their
houses to supply the gunboats with wood for fuel. Whether this be true
or not I cannot tell, but it is in any case certain that the vessels were
duly supplied, and that the expedition in its progress was well received
by the negroid tribes, who had long resented the tyranny of the Arabs.
On the 22nd of September a considerable part of the army of Osman Digna,
which had not been present at the battle of Omdurman, was found encamped on
the Ghezira, a few miles north of Rufaa. The Sheikhs and Emirs, on being
summoned by General Hunter, surrendered, and a force of about 2,000 men
laid down their arms. Musa Digna, a nephew of Osman and the commander of
his forces, was put in irons and held prisoner. The rest, who were mostly
from the Suakin district, were given a safe-conduct, and told to return
to their homes--an order they lost no time in obeying.
The next day the general arrived at Wad Medina, where the Dervish
garrison--1,000 strong--had already surrendered to the gunboat Sheikh.
These men, who were regular Dervishes, were transported in sailing-boats
to Omdurman; and augmented the number of prisoners of war already
collected. On the 29th of September General Hunter reached Rosaires,
400 miles south of Khartoum, and the extreme limit of steam navigation on
the Blue Nile. By the 3rd of October he had established garrisons of the
Xth Soudanese in Rosaires, at Karkoj, at Sennar (the old seat of the
Government of the province), and at Wad Medina. Having also arranged for
gunboat patrolling, he returned to Omdurman.
But there was one Dervisb force which had no intention of surrendering
to the invaders, and whose dispersal was not accomplished until three
fierce and critical actions had been fought. Ahmed Fedil, a zealous and
devoted adherent of the Khalifa, had been sent, after the defeat on the
Atbara, to collect all the Dervishes who could be spared from the Gedaref
and Gallabat provinces, and bring them to join the growing army at Omdurman.
The Emir had faithfully discharged his duty, and he was hurrying to his
master's assistance with a strong and well disciplined force of no fewer
than 8,000 men when, while yet sixty miles from the city, he received the
news of 'the stricken field.' He immediately halted, and sought to hide the
disaster from his soldiers by announcing that the Khalifa had been
victorious and no longer needed their assistance. He even explained the
appearance of gunboats upon the river by saying that these had run past the
batteries at Omdurman and that the others were destroyed. The truth was not,
however, long concealed; for a few days later two emissaries despatched by
Slatin arrived at the Dervish camp and announced the destruction of the
Omdurman army, the flight of the Khalifa, and the fall of the city.
The messengers were authorised to offer Ahmed terms; but that implacable
Dervish flew into a rage, and, having shot one, sent the other,
covered with insults and stripes, to tell the 'Turks' that he would fight
to the bitter end. He then struck his camp, and marched back along the east
bank of the Blue Nile, with the intention of crossing the river near its
confluence with the Rahad, and so joining the Khalifa in Kordofan.
His Dervishes, however, did not view this project with satisfaction.
Their families and women had been left with large stores of grain and
ammunition in Gedaref, under a strong garrison of 3,000 men. They urged
their commander to return and collect these possessions. Ahmed at first
refused, but when on arriving at the place of passage he found himself
confronted with a gunboat, he resolved to make a virtue of necessity
and set out leisurely for Gedaref.
On the 5th of September Colonel Parsons, in command of the forces
at Kassala, heard through the Italian Governor of Eritrea of the victory
at Omdurman. The next day official news arrived from England, and in
conformity with previous instructions he set out on the 7th for Gedaref.
It was known that Ahmed Fedil had marched towards Omdurman. It was believed
that Gedaref was only weakly held, and the opportunity of cutting the most
powerful remaining Dervish army from its base was too precious to be
neglected. But the venture was desperate. The whole available strength of
the Kassala garrison was mustered. With these 1,350 motley soldiers,
untried, little disciplined, worn with waiting and wasted by disease,
without cavalry, artillery, or machine guns, and with only seven British
officers, including the doctor, Gedaref was taken, and, having been taken,
After two long marches Colonel Parsons and his force arrived at El Fasher,
on the right bank of the Atbara. Their advance, which had hitherto led them
through a waterless desert, was now checked by a raging torrent. The river
was in full flood, and a channel of deep water, broader than the Thames
below London Bridge and racing along at seven miles an hour, formed a
serious obstacle. Since there were no boats the soldiers began forthwith
to construct rafts from barrels that had been brought for the purpose.
As soon as the first of these was completed, it was sent on a trial trip.
The result was not encouraging. The raft supported ten men, occupied five
hours in the passage, was carried ten miles down stream, and came back for
its second journey on the afternoon of the next day. It was evident that
this means of transport was out of the question. The only chance of
success--indeed, of safety--lay in the force reaching and taking Gedaref
before the return of Ahmed Fedil. All depended upon speed; yet here was a
hopeless delay. After prolonged discussion it was resolved to act on the
suggestion of an Egyptian officer and endeavour to build boats. The work
proved easier than was anticipated. The elastic wood of the mimosa scrub
supplied the frames; some tarpaulins--fortunately available--formed the
outer covering. The Egyptian soldiers, who delighted in the work,
succeeded in making daily from such materials one boat capable of carrying
two tons; and in these ingenious contrivances the whole force crossed to
the further bank. The camels, mules, and horses of the transport--
their heads supported with inflated water-skins tied under their jowls--
were made to swim across the river by the local Shukrieh Arabs. Such was
the skill of these tribesmen that only one camel and one mule were drowned
during the operation. The passage was completed on the 16th, and the next
day the advance was resumed along the west bank of the Atbara. At midday
on the 18th Mugatta was reached, and at dawn on the 20th the little force
--having filled their water-skins, tightened their belts, and invoked the
assistance of the various gods they worshipped--started off, and marched
all day in single file through the thick bush which lies between the Atbara
and Gedaref. The column retired to rest peacefully during the night of the
21st, although within twelve miles of Gedaref. But at midnight startling
news arrived. A deserter from the Dervishes made his way into the camp and
informed Colonel Parsons that the Emir Saadalla awaited him with 3,500 men
two miles before the town. The situation was grave. A retreat through the
broken country and thick bush in the face of a powerful and triumphant
enemy seemed impossible. There was no alternative but to attack.
Very early on the morning of the 22nd--the same day on which General Hunter
on the Blue Nile was compelling Musa Digna and his followers to surrender--
Colonel Parsons and the Kassala column set forth to march into Gedaref and
to fight whatever force it might contain. For the first two hours the road
lay through doura plantations and high grass which rose above the heads
even of men mounted on camels; but as the town was approached, the doura
ceased, and the troops emerged from the jungle on to an undulating moorland
with occasional patches of rushes and withered grass. At half-past seven,
and about three miles from Gedaref, the enemy's scouts were encountered.
A few shots were fired. The soldiers pressed their march, and at eight
o'clock had reached a small knoll, from the top of which an extensive view
was obtainable. The column halted, and Colonel Parsons and his officers
ascended the eminence to reconnoitre.
A most menacing spectacle confronted them. Scarcely a mile away
a strong force of Dervishes was rapidly advancing to meet the invaders.
Four lines of white figures rising out of the grass showed by their length
the number, and by their regularity the discipline, of the enemy.
The officers computed the strength of their antagonists at not fewer than
4,000. Subsequent investigation has shown that the Emir Saadalla marched
out of Gedaref with 1,700 riflemen, 1,600 spearmen, and 300 horse.
The swiftness of the Dervish advance and the short space that intervened
between the forces made it evident that a collision would take place within
half an hour. The valley was rocky, and overgrown with grass and reeds;
but to the right of the track there rose a high saddleback hill,
the surface of which looked more open, and which appeared to command
the approaches from Gedaref. The troops knew nothing of the country;
the Dervishes understood it thoroughly. The high ground gave at least
advantage of view. Colonel Parsons resolved to occupy it.
Time was however, very scanty.
The order was given, and the column began to double across the valley
towards the saddleback. The Dervishes, perceiving the nature of the
movement, hurried their advance in the hope of catching the troops on the
move and perhaps of even seizing the hill itself. But they were too late.
Colonel Parsons and his force reached the saddleback safely, and with a few
minutes to spare climbed up and advanced along it in column in the
direction of Gedaref--the Arab battalion leading, the 16th Egyptians next,
and last of all the irregulars.
The Dervishes, seeing that the troops had already reached the hill
and were moving along it towards the town, swung to their left and advanced
to the attack. Thereupon at half-past eight the column wheeled into line
to meet them, and standing in the long grass, which even on the summit of
the hill was nearly breast-high, opened a heavy and destructive fire.
The enemy, although suffering severe loss, continued to struggle bravely
onward, replying vigorously to the musketry of the soldiers. At nine
o'clock, while the frontal attack was still undecided, Colonel Parsons
became aware that a strong force of Dervishes had moved round the left rear
and were about to attack the hospital and transport. He at once sent to
warn Captain Fleming, R.A.M.C., who combined the duties of medical officer
and commander of the baggage column, of the impending assault, and directed
him to close up the camels and meet it. The Arab Sheikhs, who in the
absence of officers were acting as orderlies, had scarcely brought the news
to Fleming, when the Dervish attack developed. The enemy, some 300 strong,
rushed with great determination upon the baggage, and the escort of 120
Arab irregulars at once broke and fled. The situation became desperate;
but Ruthven with thirty-four Supply Department camel-men hastened to meet
the exultant enemy and protect the baggage column, and the transport was
stubbornly defended. In spite of all their efforts the rear of the baggage
column was broken and cut up. The survivors escaped along the saddleback.
The British officers, with their small following, fell back towards their
main body, hotly pressed by the enemy.
At this moment Captain Ruthven observed one of his native officers,
lying wounded on the ground, about to fall into the hands of the Dervishes
and perish miserably. He immediately went back and, being a man of great
physical strength, carried the body off in his arms. The enemy were,
however, so close that he was three times compelled to set his burden down
and defend himself with his revolver. Meanwhile the retirement towards
the main body continued and accelerated.
Colonel Parsons and his force were now between two fires.
The frontal attack was within 200 yards. The rear attack, flushed with
success, were hurrying impetuously forward. The defeat and consequent total
destruction of the Kassala column appeared certain. But in the nick of time
the Dervish frontal attack, which had been suffering heavily from the fire
of the troops, wavered; and when the Arab battalion and the 16th Egyptians
advanced upon them to complete their discomfiture, they broke and fled.
Colonel Parsons at once endeavoured to meet the rear attack. The Arab
battalion, whose valour was more admirable than their discipline,
continued to pursue the beaten enemy down the hill; but the 16th Egyptians,
on being called upon by their commanding officer, Captain McKerrell,
faced steadily about and turned to encounter the fresh attack.
The heavy fire of the regular battalion checked the Dervish advance,
and Captain Fleming, the rest of the dismounted camel-men, and Ruthven
still carrying his native officer, found safety in their ranks.
[For his gallantry on this occasion Captain Ruthven has since received
the Victoria Cross.] A short fierce musketry combat followed at a range
of less than a hundred yards, at the end of which the assailants of the
baggage convoy were completely repulsed. The action was now practically
over and success was won. The Arab battalion, and those of the irregulars
that had rallied, advanced and drove the enemy before them towards Gedaref,
until at ten o'clock, both their front and rear attacks having failed,
the Dervishes abandoned all resistance and a general rout ensued.
No cavalry or artillery being available, further pursuit was impossible.
The town of Gedaref surrendered at noon. The Dervish Emir, Nur Angara,
who with 200 black riflemen and two brass guns had been left in command
of the garrison, made haste to submit. The remainder of the Dervishes,
continuing their flight under the Emir Saadalla, hurried to tell
the tale of defeat to Ahmed Fedil.
The casualties suffered by the Kassala column in the action were severe
in proportion to their numbers and the duration of the fight. The seven
British officers escaped untouched; but of the 1,400 soldiers and
irregulars engaged, 51 were killed and 80 wounded--a total of 131.
The Dervishes left 500 dead on the field, including four Emirs of rank.
The victory had been won, the enemy were routed, and the town was taken:
it had now to be defended. Colonel Parsons took possession of the principal
buildings, and began immediately to put them in a state of defence.
This was fortunately an easy matter. The position was good and adaptable.
It consisted of three large enclosures, capable of holding the entire force,
situated in echelon, so as to protect each other by their fire, and with
strong brick walls six feet high. All were at once set to work to clear the
approaches, to level the mud houses without, and to build ramparts or
banquettes within the walls. The three enclosures thus became three forts,
and in the principal work the two captured brass guns were mounted,
in small bastions thrown out from the north and west corners. While the
infantry were thus engaged, Ruthven and his camel-men made daily
reconnaissances of the surrounding country, and eagerly looked for
the first appearance of Ahmed Fedil.
By great good fortune a convoy of ammunition from Mugatta reached Gedaref
on the afternoon of the 27th. At dawn the next day Ruthven reported that
the advance guard of Ahmed Fedil was approaching the town. The attack began
at half-past eight. The Dervishes, who fought with their customary
gallantry, simultaneously assaulted the north, south, and west faces of the
defences. Creeping forward through the high doura, they were able to get
within 300 yards of the enclosures. But the intervening space had been
carefully cleared of cover, and was swept by the musketry of the defenders.
All attempts to cross this ground--even the most determined rushes--
proved vain. While some made hopeless charges towards the walls, others
crowded into a few straw shelters and mud huts which the troops had not
found opportunity to remove, and thence maintained a ragged fire.
After an hour's heavy fusillade the attack weakened, and presently ceased
altogether. At ten o'clock, however, strong reinforcements having come up,
the Dervishes made a second attempt. They were again repulsed, and at a
quarter to eleven, after losing more than 500 men in killed and wounded,
Ahmed Fedil admitted his defeat and retired to a clump of palm-trees two
miles to the west of the town. The casualties among the defenders were five
men killed, one British officer (Captain Dwyer) and thirteen men wounded.
The Dervishes remained for two days in the palm grove, and their leader
repeatedly endeavoured to induce them to renew the attack. But although
they closely surrounded the enclosures, and maintained a dropping fire,
they refused to knock their heads against brick walls a third time;
and on the 1st of October Ahmed Fedil was forced to retire to a more
convenient camp eight miles to the southward. Here for the next three weeks
he remained, savage and sulky; and the Kassala column were content to keep
to their defences. A few convoys from Mugatta made their way into the forts
under the cover of darkness, but for all practical purposes the blockade of
the garrison was complete. Their losses in action had reduced their
strength. They were not abundantly supplied with ammunition. The smell of
the putrefying corpses which lay around the walls and in the doura crop,
together with the unhealthy climate and the filth of the town, was a
fertile source of disease. A painful and racking fever afflicted all ranks,
and at one time as many as 270 of the 400 regular soldiers were prostrated.
The recurring night alarms added to the fatigues of the troops and the
anxieties of the seven officers. The situation was indeed so unsatisfactory
that Colonel Parsons was compelled to ask for assistance.
Major-General Rundle, who in the Sirdar's absence held the chief command,
immediately organised a relief expedition. The IXth, XIIth, and half of the
XIIIth Soudanese, with three companies of the Camel Corps, under Colonel
Collinson, were at once sent from Omdurman to the mouth of the Rahad river.
The infantry were conveyed in steamers; the Camel Corps marched along
the bank, completing the whole distance of 130 miles in fifty-six hours.
The Blue Nile garrisons, with the exception of the post at Rosaires,
were also concentrated. By the 8th of October the whole force was collected
at Abu Haraz. Five hundred camels, which had marched from Omdurman,
and every available local beast of burden joined the transport of the
column. On the 9th the XIIth Soudanese started up the Rahad river for
Ain el Owega. From this point the road leaves the river and strikes across
the desert to Gedaref, a distance of 100 miles; and in the whole distance
water is only found at the wells of El Kau. Owing to this scarcity of water
it was necessary to carry a supply with the troops. The transport being
insufficient to provide for the whole force, the march had to be made in
two columns. The Camel Corps and the XIIth Soudanese, about 1,200 strong,
set forth under Colonel Collinson from Ain el Owega on the 17th,
and reached Gedaref safely on the 22nd. Warned of their arrival,
Ahmed Fedil, having made a feeble night attack which was repulsed by the
garrison with a loss to themselves of two Soudanese wounded, realised that
he had now no chance of recapturing the town. Preparations were indeed made
to attack him; but on the 23rd of October, when a reconnaissance was made
in the direction of his camp, the Dervish force was seen moving off in a
southerly direction, their retreat covered by a strong rearguard, which was
intended to perform the double duty of protecting the retirement
and preventing desertion.
The operations conducted by Colonel Parsons thus ended in complete success.
Great difficulties were overcome, great perils were encountered,
great results were obtained. But while we applaud the skill of the
commander and the devotion of his subordinates, it is impossible not to
criticise the rash and over-confident policy which sent such a weak and
ill-equipped force on so hazardous an enterprise. The action of Gedaref,
as has been shown, was, through no fault of the officers or men of the
expedition, within an ace of being a disaster. But there were other
critical occasions when only the extraordinary good fortune which attended
the force saved it from destruction. First, the column was not discovered
until it reached Mugatta; secondly, it was not attacked in the thick bush;
thirdly, the Dervishes gave battle in the open instead of remaining within
their walls, whence the troops could not have driven them without artillery;
and, fourthly, the reserve ammunition arrived before the attack
of Ahmed Fedil.
After his defeat before Gedaref, Ahmed Fedil reverted to his intention
of joining the Khalifa in Kordofan, and he withdrew southwards towards the
Dinder river with a following that still numbered more than 5,000.
To pass the Nile in the face of the gunboats appeared impossible. He did
not, however, believe that steamers could navigate the higher reaches of
the rivers, and in the hopes of finding a safe crossing-place he directed
his march so as to strike the Blue Nile south of Karkoj. Moving leisurely,
and with frequent delays to pillage the inhabitants, he arrived on the
Dinder, twenty-five miles to the east of Karkoj, on the 7th of November.
Here he halted to reconnoitre. He had trusted in the Karkoj-Rosaires reach
being too shallow for the gunboats; but he found two powerful vessels
already patrolling it. Again frustrated, he turned southwards, meaning to
cross above the Rosaires Cataract, which was without doubt impassable
On the 22nd of October Colonel Lewis, with two companies of the Camel Corps
and three squadrons of cavalry, started from Omdurman with the object of
marching through the centre of the Ghezira and of re-establishing the
Egyptian authority. His progress was in every way successful.
The inhabitants were submissive, and resigned themselves with scarcely
a regret to orderly government. Very little lawlessness had followed the
defeat of the Khalifa, and whatever plundering there had been was chiefly
the work of the disbanded irregulars who had fought at Omdurman under Major
Wortley's command on the east bank of the Nile. In every village Sheikhs
were appointed in the name of the Khedive, and the officers of the cavalry
column concerned themselves with many difficult disputes about land, crops,
and women--all of which they settled to their satisfaction.
Marching through Awamra, Haloosen, and Mesalamia, Colonel Lewis reached
Karkoj on the 7th of November, almost at the same time that Ahmed Fedil
arrived on the Dinder.
For the next six weeks the movements of the two forces resembled a game
of hide-and-seek. Ahmed Fedil, concealed in the dense forest and jungle
of the east bank, raided the surrounding villages and worked his way
gradually towards the Rosaires Cataract. Colonel Lewis, perplexed by false
and vague information, remained halted at Karkoj, despatched vain
reconnaissances in the hopes of obtaining reliable news, revolved deep
schemes to cut off the raiding parties, or patrolled the river in the
gunboats. And meanwhile sickness fell upon his force. The malarial fever,
which is everywhere prevalent on the Blue Nile in the autumn, was now
at its height. More than 30 per cent of every garrison and every post
were affected. The company holding Rosaires were stricken to a man,
and only the two British officers remained fit for duty. The cavalry force
which had marched through the Ghezira suffered the most severely.
One after another every British officer was stricken down and lay burning
but helpless beneath the palm-leaf shelters or tottered on to the friendly
steamers that bore the worst cases north. Of the 460 men who composed the
force, ten had died and 420 were reported unfit for duty within a month
of their arrival at Karkoj.
During the end of November the Sheikh Bakr, who had deserted the Dervishes
after their retreat from Gedaref, arrived at Karkoj with 350 irregulars.
He claimed to have defeated his former chief many times, and produced a
sack of heads as evidence of his success. His loyalty being thus placed
beyond doubt, he was sent to keep contact with the Dervishes and encouraged
to the greatest efforts by the permission to appropriate whatever
spoils of war he could capture.
Meanwhile Ahmed Fedil was working his way slowly southward along a deep
khor which runs almost parallel to the Blue Nile and is perhaps twenty
miles from it. As soon as the position of the Dervish Emir was definitely
known, Colonel Lewis moved his force, which had been strengthened by
detachments of the Xth Soudanese, from Karkoj to Rosaires. Here he remained
for several days, with but little hope of obstructing the enemy's passage
of the river. On the 20th of December, however, full--though, as was
afterwards found, not very accurate--information was received. It was
reported that on the 18th Ahmed Fedil had reached the village of Dakhila,
about twenty miles south of the Rosaires post; that he himself had
immediately crossed with his advanced guard, and was busily passing the
women and children across the river on rafts.
On the 22nd, therefore, Colonel Lewis hurried the Sheikh Bakr up the west
bank to cut off their flocks and harass the Dervishes who had already
crossed the river. The irregulars accordingly departed; and the next day
news was brought that the Dervish force was almost equally divided by the
Blue Nile, half being on one bank and half on the other. At midday on
the 24th the gunboats Melik and Dal arrived from Omdurman with a detachment
of 200 more men of the Xth Soudanese under Major Fergusson, and thirty men
of the IXth Soudanese under Captain Sir Henry Hill. With this addition the
force at Colonel Lewis's disposal consisted of half the Xth Soudanese,
a small detachment of the IXth Soudanese, two Maxim guns, and a doctor.
Besides the regular troops, there were also the band of irregulars under
the Sheikh Bakr, numbering 380 men, 100 men under the Sheikh of Rosaires,
and a few other unclassified scallywags.
Colonel Lewis determined to attack what part of Ahmed Fedil's force still
remained on the east bank of the river, and on Christmas Day, at five
o'clock in the afternoon, he marched with every man he could muster in the
direction of Dakhila.
Moving in single file along a track which led through a dense forest of
thorny trees, the column reached Adu Zogholi, a village thought to be half,
but really not one-third, of the way to Dakhila, at eleven o'clock on
Christmas night. Here they bivouacked until 3 A.M. on the 26th, when the
march was resumed in the same straggling order through the same tangled
scrub. Daylight found them still several miles from the Dervish position,
and it was not until eight o'clock that the enemy's outposts were
discovered. After a few shots the Arab picket fell back, and the advance
guard, hurrying after them, emerged from the forest upon the open ground of
the river bank, broken only by palms and patches of high grass. Into this
space the whole column gradually debouched. Before them the Blue Nile,
shining in the early sunlight like a silver band, flowed swiftly;
and beyond its nearest waters rose a long, bare, gravel island crowned
with clumps of sandhills, to the shelter of which several hundred Dervishes,
surprised by the sudden arrival of the troops, were scampering. Beyond the
island, on the tall tree-clad cliff of the further bank, other minute
figures moved and bustled. The discordant sound of horns and drums floating
across the waters, and the unfurling of many bright flags, proclaimed the
presence and the intention of the hostile force.
The Dervish position was well chosen and of great defensive strength.
A little to the north of Dakhila the Blue Nile bifurcates--one rapid but
shallow stream flowing fairly straight under the east bank; another very
deep stream running in a wide curve under the west bank, cutting into it so
that it is precipitous. These two branches of the river enclose an island
a mile and a quarter long by 1,400 yards wide, and on this island,
surrounded by a natural moat of swiftly flowing water, was the Dervish dem.
The western side of the island rose into a line of low sandhills covered
with scrub and grass, with a steep reverse slope towards the foreshore of
the river-bank; and here, in this excellent cover, what eventually proved
to be three-quarters of the force of Ahmed Fedil were drawn up.
Backed against the deep arm of the river they had no choice, nor indeed
any other wish, but to fight. Before them stretched a bare slope of heavy
shingle, 1,000 yards wide, over which their enemies must advance to
the attack, Behind them the high precipitous west bank of the river,
which rose in some places to a height of fifty feet, was lined with the
300 riflemen who had already crossed; and from this secure position
Ahmed Fedil and four of his Emirs were able to watch, assist, and direct
the defence of the island. The force on the island was under the sole
command of the Emir Saadalla, of Gedaref repute; but, besides his own
followers, most of the men of the four other Emirs were concentrated there.
The prospect was uninviting. Colonel Lewis discovered that he had absurdly
under-rated the strength and discipline of the Dervish force. It had been
continually reported that the defeats at Gedaref had demoralised them,
and that their numbers did not exceed 2,000 men. Moreover, he had marched
to the attack in the belief that they were equally divided on both sides of
the river. Retreat was, however, impossible. Strong as was the position
of the enemy, formidable as was their strength, the direct assault was
actually safer than a retirement through the nineteen miles of gloomy
forest which lay between the adventurous column and Rosaires. The British
officer immediately determined to engage. At nine o'clock the two Maxims,
which represented the artillery of the little force, came into action in
good positions, while the Xth Soudanese and most of the irregulars lined
the east bank. Musketry and Maxim fire was now opened at long range.
The Dervishes replied, and as the smoke of their rifles gradually revealed
their position and their numbers, it soon became evident that no long-range
fire could dislodge them; and Colonel Lewis resolved, in spite of the great
disparity of force and disadvantage of ground, to attack them with
the bayonet. Some time was spent in finding fords across the interposing
arm of the river, and it was not until past ten o'clock that Bakr's men
crossed on to the island, and, supported by a company of the Xth Soudanese,
advanced towards the enemy's right and took up a position at about
800 yards from their line, to cover the rest of the passage.
Colonel Lewis now determined to turn the enemy's left from the north,
attack them in flank, and roll them into the deep part of the river.
With the Xth Soudanese, under Colonel Nason and Major Fergusson, he marched
northwards along the river's edge, sheltering as far as possible under the
curve of the bank from the fire, which now began to cause casualties.
Having reached the position from which it was determined to deliver
the attack, the battalion deployed into line, and, changing front half left,
advanced obliquely by alternate companies across the bare shingle towards
the sandhills. As they advanced, a galling fire was opened upon the left
flank by two hundred Dervishes admirably placed on a knoll. Major Fergusson
was detached with one company to dislodge them. The remaining four
companies continued the attack.
The Dervish musketry now became intense. The whole front
of the island position was lined with smoke, and behind it, from the high
cliff of the west bank, a long half-circle of riflemen directed a
second tier of converging bullets upon the 400 charging men. The shingle
jumped and stirred in all directions as it was struck. A hideous whistling
filled the air. The Soudanese began to drop on all sides, 'just like the
Dervishes at Omdurman,' and the ground was soon dotted with the bodies
of the killed and wounded. 'We did not,' said an officer, 'dare to
look back.' But undaunted by fire and cross-fire, the heroic
black soldiers--demons who would not be denied--pressed forward without
the slightest check or hesitation, and, increasing their pace to a
swift run in their eagerness to close with the enemy, reached the first
sandhills and found cover beneath them. A quarter of the battalion
had already fallen, and lay strewn on the shingle.
The rapidity of their advance had exhausted the Soudanese, and Lewis
ordered Nason to halt under cover of the sandhills for a few minutes,
so that the soldiers might get their breath before the final effort.
Thereupon the Dervishes, seeing that the troops were no longer advancing,
and believing that the attack was repulsed, resolved to clinch the matter.
Ahmed Fedil from the west bank sounded the charge on drum and bugle,
and with loud shouts of triumph and enthusiasm the whole force on the
island rose from among the upper sandhills, and, waving their banners,
advanced impetuously in counter-attack. But the Xth Soudanese,
panting yet unconquerable, responded to the call of their two white
officers, and, crowning the little dunes behind which they had sheltered,
met the exultant enemy with a withering fire and a responding shout.
The range was short and the fire effective. The astonished Arabs
wavered and broke; and then the soldiers, nobly led, swept forward
in a long scattered line and drove the enemy from one sandy ridge
to another--drove them across the rolling and uneven ground, every fold
of which contained Dervishes--drove them steadily back over the sandhills,
until all who were not killed or wounded were penned at the extreme
southern end of the island, with the deep unfordable arm of the river
behind them and the fierce black soldiers, roused to fury by their losses,
The Sheikh Bakr, with his men and the rest of the irregulars,
joined the victorious Soudanese, and from the cover of the sandhills,
now in the hands of the troops, a terrible fire was opened upon the
Dervishes crowded together on the bare and narrow promontory and on
the foreshore. Some tried to swim across the rushing river to their friends
on the west bank. Many were drowned--among them Saadalla, who sank horse
and man beneath the flood. Others took refuge from the fire by standing
up to their necks in the stream. The greater part, however, escaped to a
smaller island a little further up the river. But the cover was bad,
the deep water prevented further flight, and, after being exposed
for an hour and a half to the musketry of two companies,
the survivors--300 strong--surrendered.
By 11.30 the whole island was in the possession of the troops.
It was, however, still swept and commanded by the fire from the west bank.
The company which had been detached to subdue the Dervish riflemen
were themselves pinned behind their scanty cover. Major Fergusson
was severely wounded and a third of his men were hit. To withdraw this
company and the wounded was a matter of great difficulty; and it was
necessary to carry the Maxims across the river and bring them into action
at 400 yards. Firing ceased at last at three o'clock, and the victors
were left to measure their losses and their achievement.
There was neither time nor opportunity to count the enemy's dead,
but it is certain that at least 500 Arabs were killed on the island.
Two thousand one hundred and twenty-seven fighting men and several hundred
women and children surrendered. Five hundred and seventy-six rifles,
large quantities of ammunition, and a huge pile of spears and swords
were captured. Ahmed Fedil, indeed, escaped with a numerous following
across the Ghezira, but so disheartened were the Dervishes by this crushing
defeat that the whole force surrendered to the gunboat Metemma at Reng,
on the White Nile, on the 22nd of January, and their leader was content
to fly with scarcely a dozen followers to join the Khalifa.
The casualties among the troops in the action amounted to 41 killed
and 145 wounded, including Major Fergusson; and the Xth Soudanese, on whom
the brunt of the fighting fell, suffered a loss of 25 non-commissioned
officers and men killed, 1 British officer, 6 native officers, and 117
non-commissioned officers and men wounded, out of a total strength of 511.
The rest of the loss was among the irregulars, 495 of whom took part
in the engagement.
CHAPTER XIX: THE END OF THE KHALIFA
By the operations described in the last chapter, the whole of the regions
bordering on the Niles were cleared of hostile forces, dotted with military
posts, and brought back to Egyptian authority. The Khalifa, however, still
remained in Kordofan. After he had made good his escape from the
battlefield of Omdurman, Abdullah had hurried in the direction of El Obeid,
moving by the wells of Shat and Zeregia, which at that season of the year
were full of water after the rains. At Abu Sherai, having shaken off the
pursuit of the friendlies, he halted, encamped, and busily set to work to
reorganise his shattered forces. How far he succeeded in this
will presently be apparent. In the beginning of November the general
drying-up of the country turned the wells at Abu Sherai into pools of mud,
and the Khalifa moved westward to Aigaila. Here he was joined by the Emir
El Khatem with the El Obeid garrison. This chief and his followers
had never been engaged with the 'Turks,' and were consequently fresh
and valiant. Their arrival greatly encouraged the force which the Khalifa
had rallied. A large dem was formed at Aigaila, and here, since the water
was plentiful during December, Abdullah abode quietly, sending his raiding
parties far afield to collect grain and other supplies.
As soon as the Sirdar, who had returned from England, received the news
of the success at Rosaires he determined to make an attempt to capture
the Khalifa; and on the 29th of December sent for Colonel Kitchener,
to whom as the senior available officer he had decided to entrust this
honourable enterprise. The colonel was directed to take a small mixed force
into Kordofan and to reconnoitre the enemy's position. If possible, he was
to attack and capture Abdullah, whose followers were believed not to exceed
1,000 ill-armed men. The 'Kordofan Field Force,' as its officers called it,
was formed as follows:
Commanding: COLONEL KITCHENER
Assistant Adjutant-General: LIEUT.-COLONEL MITFORD
Deputy-Assistant Adjutant-General: MAJOR WILLIAMS
Two squadrons Egyptian Cavalry
Two galloping Maxims
Two mule guns
One company Camel Corps.
Camel transport was drawn from the Atbara and from the Blue Nile.
The troops were conveyed by steamer to Duem, and concentrated there during
the first week in 1899. The camels were collected at Kawa, and, although
several of the convoys had to march as much as 400 miles, the whole number
had arrived by the 10th of January.
The prime difficulty of the operation was the want of water.
The Khalifa's position was nearly 125 miles from the river. The intervening
country is, in the wet season, dotted with shallow lakes, but by January
these are reduced to mud puddles and only occasional pools remain. All the
water needed by the men, horses, and mules of the column must therefore be
carried. The camels must go thirsty until one of the rare pools--the likely
places for which were known to the native guides--might be found.
Now, the capacity of a camel for endurance without drinking is famous;
but it has its limits. If he start having filled himself with water,
he can march for five days without refreshment. If he then have another
long drink, he can continue for five days more. But this strains his power
to the extreme; he suffers acutely during the journey, and probably dies
at its end. In war, however, the miseries of animals cannot be considered;
their capacity for work alone concerns the commander. It was thought that,
partly by the water carried in skins, partly by the drying-up pools,
and partly by the camel's power of endurance, it might be just possible
for a force of about 1,200 men to strike out 125 miles into the desert,
to have three days to do their business in, and to come back to the Nile.
This operation, which has been called the Shirkela Reconnaissance,
occupied the Kordofan Field Force.
The report of the route from Kohi was considered encouraging.
At Gedid the old wells promised sufficient water to refill the skins,
and within seven miles of the wells were two large pools at which the
camels could be watered. The column, therefore, prepared for the journey.
Nothing was neglected which could increase the water carried or diminish
the number of drinkers. Only twelve cavalry were taken. The horses of the
Maxim guns and the mules of the battery were reduced to the lowest
possible number. Every person, animal, or thing not vitally necessary
was remorselessly excluded. In order to lighten the loads and make room
for more water, even the ammunition was limited to 100 rounds per rifle.
The daily consumption of water was restricted to one pint for men,
six gallons for horses, and five for mules. To lessen the thirst caused
by the heat Colonel Kitchener decided to march by night. An advanced depot
was formed at Gedid and food for two days accumulated there. Besides this,
each unit carried ten, and the column transport seven, days' rations.
Thus the force were supplied with food up till the 9th of February,
and their radius of action, except as restricted by water,
was nineteen days. This was further extended five days by the arrangement
of a convoy which was to set out on the 30th of January to meet them
as they returned.
The column--numbering 1,604 officers and men and 1,624 camels and other
beasts of burden--started from Kohi at 3 P.M. on the 23rd of January,
having sent on a small advanced party to the wells of Gedid twelve hours
before. The country through which their route lay was of barren and
miserable aspect. They had embarked on a sandy ocean with waves of
thorny scrub and withered grass. From the occasional rocky ridges,
which allowed a more extended view, this sterile jungle could be seen
stretching indefinitely on all sides. Ten miles from the river all
vestiges of animal life disappeared. The land was a desert; not the open
desert of the Northern Soudan, but one vast unprofitable thicket,
whose interlacing thorn bushes, unable to yield the slightest nourishment
to living creatures, could yet obstruct their path.
Through this the straggling column, headed in the daylight by the red
Egyptian flag and at night by a lantern on a pole, wound its weary way,
the advanced guard cutting a path with axes and marking the track with
strips of calico, the rearguard driving on the laggard camels and
picking up the numerous loads which were cast. Three long marches brought
them on the 25th to Gedid. The first detachment had already arrived and had
opened up the wells. None gave much water; all emitted a foul stench,
and one was occupied by a poisonous serpent eight feet long--the sole
inhabitant. The camels were sent to drink at the pool seven miles away,
and it was hoped that some of the water-skins could be refilled;
but, after all, the green slime was thought unfit for human consumption,
and they had to come back empty.
The march was resumed on the 26th. The trees were now larger;
the scrub became a forest; the sandy soil changed to a dark red colour;
but otherwise the character of the country was unaltered. The column rested
at Abu Rokba. A few starving inhabitants who occupied the huts pointed out
the grave of the Khalifa's father and the little straw house in which
Abdullah was wont to pray during his visits. Lately, they said, he had
retired from Aigaila to Shirkela, but even from this latter place
he had made frequent pilgrimages.
At the end of the next march, which was made by day, the guides,
whose memories had been refreshed by flogging, discovered a large pool of
good water, and all drank deeply in thankful joy. A small but strong zeriba
was built near this precious pool, and the reserve food and a few sick men
were left with a small garrison under an Egyptian officer. The column
resumed their journey. On the 29th they reached Aigaila, and here, with
feelings of astonishment scarcely less than Robinson Crusoe experienced
at seeing the footprint in the sand, they came upon the Khalifa's abandoned
camp. A wide space had been cleared of bush, and the trees, stripped of
their smaller branches, presented an uncanny appearance. Beyond stood the
encampment--a great multitude of yellow spear-grass dwellings, perfectly
clean, neatly arranged in streets and squares, and stretching for miles.
The aspect of this strange deserted town, rising, silent as a cemetery,
out of the awful scrub, chilled everyone who saw it. Its size might indeed
concern their leader. At the very lowest computation it had contained
20,000 people. How many of these were fighting men? Certainly not fewer
than 8,000 or 9,000. Yet the expedition had been sent on the assumption
that there were scarcely 1,000 warriors with the Khalifa!
Observing every precaution of war, the column crawled forward,
and the cavalry and Camel Corps, who covered the advance, soon came
in contact with the enemy's scouts. Shots were exchanged and the Arabs
retreated. The column halted three miles to the east of this position,
and, forming a strong zeriba, passed the night in expectation of an attack.
Nothing, however, happened, and at dawn Mitford was sent out with some
mounted 'friendlies' to reconnoitre. At ten o'clock he returned, and his
report confirmed the conclusions which had been drawn from the size of the
Aigaila camp. Creeping forward to a good point of view, the officer had
seen the Dervish flags lining the crest of the hill. From their number,
the breadth of front covered, and the numerous figures of men moving
about them, he estimated not fewer than 2,000 Arab riflemen in the
front line. How many more were in reserve it was impossible to say.
The position was, moreover, of great strength, being surrounded
by deep ravines and pools of water.
The news was startling. The small force were 125 miles from their base;
behind them lay an almost waterless country, and in front was a powerful
enemy. An informal council of war was held. The Sirdar had distinctly
ordered that, whatever happened, there was to be no waiting; the troops
were either to attack or retire. Colonel Kitchener decided to retire.
The decision having been taken, the next step was to get beyond the enemy's
reach as quickly as possible, and the force began their retreat on the same
night. The homeward march was not less long and trying than the advance,
and neither hopes of distinction nor glamour of excitement cheered the
weary soldiers. As they toiled gloomily back towards the Nile, the horror
of the accursed land grew upon all. Hideous spectacles of human misery
were added to the desolation of the hot, thorny scrub and stinking pools
of mud. The starving inhabitants had been lured from their holes and
corners by the outward passage of the troops, and hoped to snatch some food
from the field of battle. Disappointed, they now approached the camps at
night in twos and threes, making piteous entreaties for any kind of
nourishment. Their appeals were perforce unregarded; not an ounce
of spare food remained.
Towards the end of the journey the camels, terribly strained by their
privation of water, began to die, and it was evident that the force would
have no time to spare. One young camel, though not apparently exhausted,
refused to proceed, and even when a fire was lighted round him remained
stubborn and motionless; so that, after being terribly scorched, he had
to be shot. Others fell and died all along the route. Their deaths brought
some relief to the starving inhabitants. For as each animal was left behind,
the officers, looking back, might see first one, then another furtive
figure emerge from the bush and pounce on the body like a vulture;
and in many cases before life was extinct the famished natives
were devouring the flesh.
On the 5th of February the column reached Kohi, and the Kordofan
Field Force, having overcome many difficulties and suffered many hardships,
was broken up, unsuccessful through no fault of its commander,
its officers, or its men.
For nearly a year no further operations were undertaken against
the Khalifa, and he remained all through the spring and summer of 1899
supreme in Kordofan, reorganising his adherents and plundering the country
--a chronic danger to the new Government, a curse to the local inhabitants,
and a most serious element of unrest. The barren and almost waterless
regions into which he had withdrawn presented very difficult obstacles to
any military expedition, and although powerful forces were still
concentrated at Khartoum, the dry season and the uncertain whereabouts
of the enemy prevented action. But towards the end of August trustworthy
information was received by the Intelligence Department, through the agency
of friendly tribesmen, that the Khalifa, with all his army, was encamped
at Jebel Gedir--that same mountain in Southern Kordofan to which nearly
twenty years before he and the Mahdi had retreated after the flight from
Abba Island. Here among old memories which his presence revived he became
at once a centre of fanaticism. Night after night he slept upon
the Mahdi's stone; and day after day tales of his dreams were carried
by secret emissaries not only throughout the Western Soudan, but into the
Ghezira and even to Khartoum. And now, his position being definite and his
action highly dangerous, it was decided to move against him.
On the 13th of October the first Soudanese battalion was despatched
in steamers from Khartoum, and by the 19th a force of some 7,000 men,
well equipped with camel transport, was concentrated at Kaka, a village on
the White Nile not far north of Fashoda. The distance from here to Jebel
Gedir was about eighty miles, and as for the first fifty no water existed;
the whole supply had to be carried in tanks. Sir Reginald Wingate, who was
in command of the infantry, reached Fungor, thirty miles from the enemy's
position, with the two leading battalions (IXth and Xth Soudanese) on
the 23rd of October, only to find news that the Khalifa had left his camp
at Jebel Gedir on the 18th and had receded indefinitely into the desert.
The cast having failed, and further progress involving a multiplication of
difficulties, Lord Kitchener, who was at Kaka, stopped the operations,
and the whole of the troops returned to Khartoum, which they reached
in much vexation and disappointment on the 1st of November.
It was at first universally believed that the Khalifa's intention
was to retire to an almost inaccessible distance--to El Obeid or Southern
Darfur--and the officers of the Egyptian army passed an unhappy fortnight
reading the Ladysmith telegrams and accusing their evil fortune which kept
them so far from the scene of action. But soon strange rumours began to
run about the bazaars of Omdurman of buried weapons and whispers of revolt.
For a few days a vague feeling of unrest pervaded the native city,
and then suddenly on the 12th of November came precise and surprising news.
The Khalifa was not retreating to the south or to the west, but advancing
northward with Omdurman, not El Obeid, as his object. Emboldened by the
spectacle of two successive expeditions retreating abortive, and by,
who shall say what wild exaggerated tales of disasters to the Turks far
beyond the limits of the Soudan, Abdullah had resolved to stake all that
yet remained to him in one last desperate attempt to recapture his former
capital; and so, upon the 12th of November, his advanced guard, under the
Emir Ahmed Fedil, struck the Nile opposite Abba Island, and audaciously
fired volleys of musketry at the gunboat Sultan which was patrolling
The name of Abba Island may perhaps carry the reader back to the very
beginning of this story. Here, eighteen years before, the Mahdi had lived
and prayed after his quarrel with the haughty Sheikh; here Abdullah had
joined him; here the flag of the revolt had been set up, and the first
defeat had been inflicted upon the Egyptian troops; and here, too,
still dwelt--dwells, indeed, to this day--one of those same brothers who
had pursued through all the vicissitudes and convulsions which had shaken
the Soudan his humble industry of building wooden boats. It is surely a
curious instance of the occasional symmetry of history that final
destruction should have befallen the last remains of the Mahdist movement
so close to the scene of its origin!
The news which had reached Khartoum set all wheels in motion.
The IXth and XIIIth Soudanese Battalions were mobilised on the 13th of
November and despatched at once to Abba Island under Colonel Lewis.
Kitchener hurried south from Cairo, and arrived in Khartoum on the 18th.
A field force of some 2,300 troops--one troop of cavalry, the 2nd Field
Battery, the 1st Maxim Battery, the Camel Corps, IXth Soudanese, XIIIth
Soudanese, and one company 2nd Egyptians--was immediately formed, and the
command entrusted to Sir Reginald Wingate. There were besides some 900 Arab
riflemen and a few irregular mounted scouts. On the 20th these troops were
concentrated at Fashi Shoya, whence Colonel Lewis had obliged Ahmed Fedil
to withdraw, and at 3.30 on the afternoon of the 21st the expedition
started in a south-westerly direction upon the track of the enemy.
The troops bivouacked some ten miles south-west of Fashi Shoya,
and then marched in bright moonlight to Nefisa, encountering only a
Dervish patrol of about ten men. At Nefisa was found the evacuated camp
of Ahmed Fedil, containing a quantity of grain which he had collected
from the riverain district, and, what was of more value, a sick but
intelligent Dervish who stated that the Emir had just moved to Abu Aadel,
five miles further on. This information was soon confirmed by Mahmud
Hussein, an Egyptian officer, who with an irregular patrol advanced boldly
in reconnaissance. The infantry needed a short rest to eat a little food,
and Sir Reginald Wingate ordered Colonel Mahon to press on immediately
with the whole of the mounted troops and engage the enemy, so as to prevent
him retreating before an action could be forced.
Accordingly cavalry, Camel Corps, Maxims, and irregulars--whose fleetness
of foot enabled them, though not mounted, to keep pace with the rest--
set off at their best pace: and after them at 9.15 hurried the infantry,
refreshed by a drink at the water tanks and a hasty meal. As they advanced
the scrub became denser, and all were in broken and obstructed ground when,
at about ten o'clock, the sound of Maxim firing and the patter of musketry
proclaimed that Mahon had come into contact. The firing soon became more
rapid, and as the infantry approached it was evident that the mounted
troops were briskly engaged. The position which they occupied was a low
ridge which rose a little above the level of the plain and was
comparatively bare of scrub; from this it was possible at a distance of
800 yards to overlook the Dervish encampment huddled around the water pools.
It was immediately evident that the infantry and the battery were arriving
none too soon. The Dervishes, who had hitherto contented themselves with
maintaining a ragged and desultory fire from the scrub, now sallied forth
into the open and delivered a most bold and determined charge upon the guns.
The intervening space was little more than 200 yards, and for a moment
the attack looked as if it might succeed. But upon the instant the IXth and
XIIIth Soudanese, who had been doubled steadily for upwards of two miles,
came into line, filling the gap between Mahon's guns and dismounted Camel
Corps and the irregular riflemen; and so the converging fire of the whole
force was brought to bear upon the enemy--now completely beaten and
demoralised. Two Dervishes, brothers, bound together hand and foot,
perished in valiant comradeship ninety-five paces from the line of guns.
Many were slain, and the remainder fled. The whole Egyptian line now
advanced upon the encampment hard upon the tracks of the retreating enemy,
who were seen emerging from the scrub on to a grassy plain more than a
mile away, across which and further for a distance of five miles they were
pursued by the cavalry and the Camel Corps. Three hundred and twenty
corpses were counted, and at least an equal number must have been wounded.
Ahmed Fedil and one or two of his principal Emirs escaped to the southward
and to the Khalifa. The Egyptian loss amounted to five men wounded.
The troops bivouacked in square formation, at about four o'clock,
near the scene of action.
A question of considerable difficulty and some anxiety now arose.
It was learned from the prisoners that the Khalifa, with about 5,000
fighting men, was moving northwards towards the wells of Gedid, of which
we have already heard in the Shirkela reconnaissance, and which were some
twenty-five miles from the scene of the fight. The troops were already
fatigued by their severe exertions. The water pool was so foul that even
the thirsty camels refused to drink of it, and moreover scarcely any water
remained in the tanks. It was therefore of vital importance to reach the
wells of Gedid. But supposing exhausted troops famishing for water reached
them only to be confronted by a powerful Dervish force already
in possession! Sir Reginald Wingate decided, however, to face the risk,
and at a few minutes before midnight the column set out again on its road.
The ground was broken; the night was sultry: and as the hours passed by
the sufferings of the infantry began to be most acute. Many piteous appeals
were made for water. All had perforce to be refused by the commander,
who dared not diminish by a mouthful his slender store until he knew the
true situation at Gedid. In these circumstances the infantry, in spite of
their admirable patience, became very restive. Many men fell exhausted to
the ground; and it was with a feeling of immense relief that at nine
o'clock on the morning of the 24th news was received from the cavalry
that the wells had been occupied by them without opposition. All the water
in the tanks was at once distributed, and thus refreshed the infantry
struggled on and settled down at midday around a fine pool of
comparatively pure water.
At Gedid, as at Nefisa, a single Dervish, and this time a sullen fellow,
was captured, and from him it was learned that the Khalifa's army was
encamped seven miles to the south-east. It was now clear that his position
was strategically most unfavourable. His route to the north was barred;
his retreat to the south lay through waterless and densely wooded
districts; and as the seizure of the grain supplies which had resulted from
Fedil's foraging excursions rendered his advance or retirement a matter of
difficulty, it seemed probable he would stand. Wingate, therefore, decided
to attack him at dawn. Leaving the transport under guard by the water with
instructions to follow at four o'clock, the troops moved off at midnight,
screened in front at a distance of half a mile by the cavalry and their
flanks protected by the Camel Corps. The road was in places so thickly
wooded that a path had to be cut by the infantry pioneers and the artillery.
At three o'clock, when about three miles from the enemy's position,
the force was deployed into fighting formation. The irregular riflemen
covered the front; behind them the XIIIth and IXth Soudanese; and behind
these, again, the Maxims and the artillery were disposed. Cautiously and
silently the advance was resumed, and now in the distance the beating of
war drums and the long booming note of the Khalifa's horn broke on the
stillness, proclaiming that the enemy were not unprepared. At a few minutes
before four o'clock another low ridge, also comparatively bare of scrub,
was reached and occupied as a position. The cavalry were now withdrawn from
the front, a few infantry picquets were thrown out, and the rest of the
force lay down in the long grass of the little ridge and waited
After about an hour the sky to the eastward began to grow paler with the
promise of the morning and in the indistinct light the picquets could be
seen creeping gradually in; while behind them along the line of the trees
faint white figures, barely distinguishable, began to accumulate.
Sir Reginald Wingate, fearing lest a sudden rush should be made upon him,
now ordered the whole force to stand up and open fire; and forthwith,
in sudden contrast to the silence and obscurity, a loud crackling fusillade
began. It was immediately answered. The enemy's fire flickered along a wide
half-circle and developed continually with greater vigour opposite the
Egyptian left, which was consequently reinforced. As the light improved,
large bodies of shouting Dervishes were seen advancing; but the fire was
too hot, and their Emirs were unable to lead them far beyond the edge of
the wood. So soon as this was perceived Wingate ordered a general advance;
and the whole force, moving at a rapid pace down the gentle slope,
drove the enemy through the trees into the camp about a mile and a half
away. Here, huddled together under their straw shelters, 6,000 women and
children were collected, all of whom, with many unwounded combatants,
made signals of surrender and appeals for mercy. The 'cease fire' was
sounded at half-past six. Then, and not till then, was it discovered how
severe the loss of the Dervishes had been. It seemed to the officers that,
short as was the range, the effect of rifle fire under such unsatisfactory
conditions of light could not have been very great. But the bodies thickly
scattered in the scrub were convincing evidences. In one space not much
more than a score of yards square lay all the most famous Emirs of the once
far-reaching Dervish domination. The Khalifa Abdullah, pierced by several
balls, was stretched dead on his sheepskin; on his right lay Ali-Wad-Helu,
on his left Ahmed Fedil. Before them was a line of lifeless bodyguards;
behind them a score of less important chiefs; and behind these, again,
a litter of killed and wounded horses. Such was the grim spectacle which
in the first light of the morning met the eyes of the British officers,
to some of whom it meant the conclusion of a perilous task prolonged over
many years. And while they looked in astonishment not unmingled with awe,
there scrambled unhurt from under a heap of bodies the little Emir Yunes,
of Dongola, who added the few links necessary to complete the chain.
At Omdurman Abdullah had remained mounted behind the hill of Surgham,
but in this his last fight he had set himself in the forefront of the
battle. Almost at the first discharge, his son Osman, the Sheikh-ed-Din,
was wounded, and as he was carried away he urged the Khalifa to save
himself by flight; but the latter, with a dramatic dignity sometimes
denied to more civilised warriors, refused. Dismounting from his horse,
and ordering his Emirs to imitate him, he seated himself on his sheepskin
and there determined to await the worst of fortune. And so it came to pass
that in this last scene in the struggle with Mahdism the stage was cleared
of all its striking characters, and Osman Digna alone purchased by flight
a brief ignoble liberty, soon to be followed by a long ignoble servitude.
Twenty-nine Emirs, 3,000 fighting men, 6,000 women and children
surrendered themselves prisoners. The Egyptian losses were three killed
and twenty-three wounded.
. . . . . . . . . .
The long story now approaches its conclusion. The River War is over.
In its varied course, which extended over fourteen years and involved the
untimely destruction of perhaps 300,000 lives, many extremes and contrasts
have been displayed. There have been battles which were massacres,
and others that were mere parades. There have been occasions of shocking
cowardice and surprising heroism, of plans conceived in haste and emergency,
of schemes laid with slow deliberation, of wild extravagance and cruel
waste, of economies scarcely less barbarous, of wisdom and incompetence.
But the result is at length achieved, and the flags of England and Egypt
wave unchallenged over the valley of the Nile.
At what cost were such advantages obtained? The reader must judge
for himself of the loss in men; yet while he deplores the deaths of brave
officers and soldiers, and no less the appalling destruction of the valiant
Arabs, he should remember that such slaughter is inseparable from war,
and that, if the war be justified, the loss of life cannot be accused.
But I write of the cost in money, and the economy of the campaigns cannot
be better displayed than by the table below:
Railway: £E 1,181,372
Telegraph: £E 21,825
Gunboats: £E 154,934
Military Expenditure: £E 996,223
TOTAL EXPENDITURES: £E 2,354,354 (£E1 = £1 0s.6d.)
For something less than two and a half millions sterling active military
operations were carried on for nearly three years, involving the employment
--far from its base--of an army of 25,000 disciplined troops, including an
expensive British contingent of 8,000 men, and ending in the utter defeat
of an enemy whose armed forces numbered at the beginning of the war upwards
of 80,000 soldiers, and the reconquest and re-occupation of a territory
measuring sixteen hundred miles from north to south and twelve hundred
from east to west [Lieut.-Colonel Stewart's Report: Egypt, No.11, 1883],
which at one time supported at least twenty millions of inhabitants.
But this is not all. Of the total £E2,354,354 only £E996,223 can be
accounted as military expenditure. For the remaining £E1,358,131 Egypt
possesses 500 miles of railway, 900 miles of telegraph, and a flotilla of
steamers. The railway will not, indeed, pay a great return upon the capital
invested, but it will immediately pay something, and may ultimately
pay much. The telegraph is as necessary as the railway to the development
of the country; it costs far less, and, when the Egyptian system is
connected with the South African, it will be a sure source of revenue.
Lastly, there are the gunboats. The reader cannot have any doubts as to the
value of these vessels during the war. Never was money better spent on
military plant. Now that the river operations are over the gunboats
discharge the duties of ordinary steamers; and although they are,
of course, expensive machines for goods and passenger traffic, they are
by no means inefficient. The movement of the troops, their extra pay,
the supplies at the end of a long line of communications, the ammunition,
the loss by wear and tear of uniforms and accoutrements,
the correspondence, the rewards, all cost together less than a million
sterling; and for that million Egypt has recovered the Soudan.
The whole £E2,354,354 had, however, to be paid during the campaigns.
Towards this sum Great Britain advanced, as has been related, £800,000
as a loan; and this was subsequently converted into a gift. The cost to the
British taxpayer of the recovery and part acquisition of the Soudan,
of the military prestige, and of the indulgence of the sentiment known as
'the avenging of Gordon' has therefore been £800,000; and it may be stated
in all seriousness that English history does not record any instance of so
great a national satisfaction being more cheaply obtained. The rest of the
money has been provided by Egypt; and this strange country, seeming to
resemble the camel, on which so much of her wealth depends, has,
in default of the usual sources of supply, drawn upon some fifth stomach
for nourishment, and, to the perplexity even of those best acquainted with
her amazing financial constitution, has stood the strain.
'The extraordinary expenditure in connection with the Soudan campaign,'
wrote Mr. J.L. Gorst, the Financial Adviser to the Khedive in his Note of
December 20, 1898 [Note by the Financial Adviser on the Budget of 1899:
EGYPT, No. 3, 1899], 'has been charged to the Special Reserve Fund.
At the present moment this fund shows a deficit of £E336,000, and there are
outstanding charges on account of the expedition amounting to £E330,000,
making a total deficit of £E666,000.'
'On the other hand, the fund will be increased, when the accounts
of the year are made up, by a sum of £E382,000, being the balance of
the share of the Government in the surplus of 1898, after deduction of
the excess administrative expenditure in that year, and by a sum of
£E90,000, being part of the proceeds of the sale of the Khedivial postal
steamers. The net deficit will, therefore, be £E194,000; and if the year
1899 is as prosperous as the present year, it may be hoped that the deficit
will disappear when the accounts of 1899 are closed.'
A great, though perhaps academic, issue remains: Was the war justified
by wisdom and by right?
If the reader will look at a map of the Nile system, he cannot fail
to be struck by its resemblance to a palm-tree. At the top the green and
fertile area of the Delta spreads like the graceful leaves and foliage.
The stem is perhaps a little twisted, for the Nile makes a vast bend
in flowing through the desert. South of Khartoum the likeness is again
perfect, and the roots of the tree begin to stretch deeply into the Soudan.
I can imagine no better illustration of the intimate and sympathetic
connection between Egypt and the southern provinces. The water--the life
of the Delta--is drawn from the Soudan, and passes along the channel of
the Nile, as the sap passes up the stem of the tree, to produce a fine crop
of fruit above. The benefit to Egypt is obvious; but Egypt does not benefit
alone. The advantages of the connection are mutual; for if the Soudan
is thus naturally and geographically an integral part of Egypt,
Egypt is no less essential to the development of the Soudan. Of what use
would the roots and the rich soil be, if the stem were severed, by which
alone their vital essence may find expression in the upper air?
Here, then, is a plain and honest reason for the River War.
To unite territories that could not indefinitely have continued divided;
to combine peoples whose future welfare is inseparably intermingled;
to collect energies which, concentrated, may promote a common interest;
to join together what could not improve apart--these are the objects which,
history will pronounce, have justified the enterprise.
The advantage to Great Britain is no less clear to those who believe
that our connection with Egypt, as with India, is in itself a source of
strength. The grasp of England upon Egypt has been strengthened twofold by
the events of the war. The joint action and ownership of the two countries
in the basin of the Upper Nile form an additional bond between them.
The command of the vital river is an irresistible weapon. The influence of
France over the native mind in Egypt has been completely destroyed by the
result of the Fashoda negotiations; and although she still retains the
legal power to meddle in and obstruct all financial arrangements,
that power, unsupported by real influence, is like a body whence the soul
has fled, which may, indeed, be an offensive encumbrance,
but must ultimately decompose and crumble into dust.
But, apart from any connection with Egypt, Britain has gained
a vast territory which, although it would be easy to exaggerate its value,
is nevertheless coveted by every Great Power in Europe. The policy of
acquiring large waterways, which has been pursued deliberately or
unconsciously by British statesmen for three centuries, has been carried
one step further; and in the valley of the Nile England may develop
a trade which, passing up and down the river and its complement the railway,
shall exchange the manufactures of the Temperate Zone for the products of
the Tropic of Cancer, and may use the north wind to drive civilisation and
prosperity to the south and the stream of the Nile to bear wealth and
commerce to the sea.
TEXT OF THE SOUDAN AGREEMENT OF THE 19TH OF JANUARY, 1899,
AND OF THE DECLARATION OF THE 21ST OF MARCH, 1899
AGREEMENT BETWEEN HER BRITANNIC MAJESTY'S GOVERNMENT
AND THE GOVERNMENT OF HIS HIGHNESS THE KHEDIVE OF EGYPT,
RELATIVE TO THE FUTURE ADMINISTRATION OF THE SOUDAN
WHEREAS certain provinces in the Soudan which were in rebellion against
the authority of His Highness the Khedive have now been reconquered by the
joint military and financial efforts of Her Britannic Majesty's Government
and the Government of His Highness the Khedive; AND whereas it has become
necessary to decide upon a system for the administration of and for the
making of laws for the said reconquered provinces, under which due
allowance may be made for the backward and unsettled condition of large
portions thereof, and for the varying requirements of different localities;
AND whereas it is desired to give effect to the claims which have accrued
to Her Britannic Majesty's Government, by right of conquest, to share in
the present settlement and future working and development of the
said system of administration and legislation;
AND whereas it is conceived that for many purposes Wady Halfa and Suakin
may be most effectively administered in conjunction with the reconquered
provinces to which they are respectively adjacent:
NOW, it is hereby agreed and declared by and between the Undersigned,
duly authorised for that purpose, as follows:-
The word 'Soudan' in this Agreement means all the territories South of the
22nd parallel of latitude, which:
1. Have never been evacuated by Egyptian troops since the year 1882; or
2. Which having before the late rebellion in the Soudan been administered
by the Government of His Highness the Khedive, were temporarily lost
to Egypt, and have been reconquered by Her Majesty's Government and the
Egyptian Government, acting in concert; or
3. Which may hereafter be reconquered by the two Governments acting
The British and Egyptian flags shall be used together, both on land
and water, throughout the Soudan, except in the town of Suakin, in which
locality the Egyptian flag alone shall be used.
The supreme military and civil command in the Soudan shall be vested
in one officer, termed the 'Governor-General of the Soudan.' He shall be
appointed by Khedivial Decree on the recommendation of Her Britannic
Majesty's Government, and shall be removed only by Khedivial Decree,
with the consent of Her Britannic Majesty's Government.
Laws, as also Orders and Regulations with the full force of law,
for the good government of the Soudan, and for regulating the holding,
disposal, and devolution of property of every kind therein situate,
may from time to time be made, altered, or abrogated by Proclamation of the
Governor-General. Such Laws, Orders, and Regulations may apply to the whole
or any named part of the Soudan, and may, either explicitly or by necessary
implication, alter or abrogate any existing Law or Regulation. All such
Proclamations shall be forthwith notified to Her Britannic Majesty's Agent
and Consul-General in Cairo, and to the President of the Council of
Ministers of His Highness the Khedive.
No Egyptian Law, Decree, Ministerial Arrete, or other enactment
hereafter to be made or promulgated shall apply to the Soudan
or any part thereof, save in so far as the same shall be applied by
Proclamation of the Governor-General in manner hereinbefore provided.
In the definition by Proclamation of the conditions under which Europeans,
of whatever nationality, shall be at liberty to trade with or reside in
the Soudan, or to hold property within its limits, no special privileges
shall be accorded to the subjects of any one or more Power.
Import duties on entering the Soudan shall not be payable on goods coming
from Egyptian territory. Such duties may, however, be levied on goods
coming from elsewhere than Egyptian territory; but in the case of goods
entering the Soudan at Suakin, or any other port on the Red Sea Littoral,
they shall not exceed the corresponding duties for the time being leviable
on goods entering Egypt from abroad. Duties may be levied on goods leaving
the Soudan, at such rates as may from time to time be prescribed
The jurisdiction of the Mixed Tribunals shall not extend, nor be recognised
for any purpose whatsoever, in any part of the Soudan, except in the town
Until, and save so far as it shall be otherwise determined by Proclamation,
the Soudan, with the exception of the town of Suakin, shall be and remain
under martial law.
No Consuls, Vice-Consuls, or Consular Agents shall be accredited
in respect of nor allowed to reside in the Soudan, without the previous
consent of Her Britannic Majesty's Government.
The importation of slaves into the Soudan, as also their exportation,
is absolutely prohibited. Provision shall be made by Proclamation for the
enforcement of this Regulation.
It is agreed between the two Governments that special attention shall
be paid to the enforcement of the Brussels Act of the 2nd of July, 1890,
in respect to the import, sale, and manufacture of fire-arms and their
munitions, and distilled or spirituous liquors.
Done in Cairo, the 19th of January, 1899.
Signed: BOURTROS GHALI-CROMER.
DECLARATION RELATIVE TO THE BRITISH AND FRENCH SPHERES OF INFLUENCE
IN CENTRAL AFRICA
(Signed at London, March 21st, 1899)
THE Undersigned, duly authorised by their Governments, have signed the
The IVth Article of the Convention of the 14th of June, 1898, shall be
completed by the following provisions, which shall be considered as forming
an integral part of it:
1. Her Britannic Majesty's Government engages not to acquire either
territory or political influence to the west of the line of frontier
defined in the following paragraph, and the Government of the French
Republic engages not to acquire either territory or political influence
to the east of the same line.
2. The line of frontier shall start from the point where the boundary
between the Congo Free State and French territory meets the water-parting
between the watershed of the Nile and that of the Congo and its affluents.
It shall follow in principle that water-parting up to its intersection with
the 11th parallel of north latitude. From this point it shall be drawn
as far as the 15th parallel in such manner as to separate, in principle,
the Kingdom of Wadai from what constituted in 1882 the Province of Darfur;
but it shall in no case be so drawn as to pass to the west beyond the 21st
degree of longitude east of Greenwich (18° 40' east of Paris),
or to the east beyond the 23rd degree of longitude east of Greenwich
(20° 40' east of Paris).
3. It is understood, in principle, that to the north of the 15th parallel
the French zone shall be limited to the north-east and east by a line
which shall start from the point of intersection of the Tropic of Cancer
with the 16th degree of longitude east of Greenwich (18° 40' east of Paris),
shall run thence to the south-east until it meets the 24th degree of
longitude east of Greenwich (21° 40' east of Paris), and shall then follow
the 24th degree until it meets, to the north of the 15th parallel of
latitude, the frontier of Darfur as it shall eventually be fixed.
4. The two Governments engage to appoint Commissioners who shall be charged
to delimit on the spot a frontier-line in accordance with the indications
given in paragraph 2 of this Declaration. The result of their work shall be
submitted for the approbation of their respective Governments.
It is agreed that the provisions of Article IX of the Convention of the
14th of June, 1898, shall apply equally to the territories situated to the
south of the 14° 20' parallel of north latitude, and to the north of
the 5th parallel of north latitude, between the 14° 20' meridian of
longitude east of Greenwich (12th degree east of Paris) and the course
of the Upper Nile.
Done at London, the 21st of March, 1899.
(L.S.) PAUL CAMBON.