General William Nott


General William Nott had been responsible for maintaining peace and security in Western Afghanistan and had been left at Kandahar to pacify the region. There were a number of small scale skirmishes but the Indian Office had thought that the new regime under Shah Shujah was successful enough and so ordered a partial evacuation of the area. A large proportion of Nott's forces were heading back to India when news reached them of the death of Captain Woodburn and 128 out of 130 Sepoys between Kandahar and Kabul. Alarm bells began ringing and Nott immediately recalled the departing troops. Woodburn's death was a sign that trouble was brewing and soon requests were being made to reinforce Kabul due to the uprising there. Nott despatched a force but it could not get further than Ghazni due to the weather and constant harassment. The troops withdrew back to Kandahar and Nott called in as many of the smaller garrisons and contingents as possible.

Late December 1841, elements of Shah Shujah's forces defected along with the son of Shah Shujah, Prince Sufder Jung. They united with surrounding Afghan soldiers. Nott moved out of Kandahar and attacked their position on the right bank of the Arghandab and dispersed them on January 12th.

On 31 January 1842 Nott heard of the murder of Macnaghten at Kabul. In February he was concerned for the safety of Kalat-i-Ghilzai and the citadel of Ghazni. The enemy had captured the city of Ghazni in December 1841 and driven the garrison there into the citadel.

On 21 February 1842 orders came to Kandahar from Elphinstone at Kabul that the troops at Kandahar and Kalat-i-Ghilzai were to return to India. Nott decided that, Elphinstone having written under coercion, he would remain where he was, pending orders from Calcutta. Sale, at Jalalabad, replied similarly. News of the fate of Elphinstone's army retreating from Kabul reached Nott soon after, and he wrote to the government of India, urging the need to hold Jalalabad and Kandahar in order to advance later on Kabul and punish the murderers. He stated that he would not himself move unless so ordered. Nott then expelled all Afghans from Kandahar.

In March, Nott was concerned of a force of 12,000 Afghans approaching Kandahar. He set off to disperse them, which he duly accomplished, but had not realised that more Afghans were heading towards the city and it was only saved thanks to the heroic defence of Major Lane, on 11 March 1842.

On 15 March 1842 Colonel Palmer felt compelled to surrender at Ghazni. Treachery followed: many of his force were killed and many sepoys enslaved, and he and some of the officers were carried off as prisoners to Bamian. On 22 March Major-General Richard England arrived with reinforcements at Quetta. He moved from Quetta on the 28th, then, being repulsed at Haikalzai, returned to Quetta. Nott was deeply concerned for the loss of Ghazni and the repulse of General England. But, as he was without money to pay his troops, and lacked sufficient medicine and ammunition, he could not move. He ordered England to bring his force to Kandahar by the Khojak Pass, and he sent a force to the northern end of the pass to safeguard it. England joined him in Kandahar early in May.

While a large force had been dispatched by Nott to withdraw the garrison of Kalat-i-Ghilzai, Aktur Khan, the Durrani chief, assembled 3000 men and joined the force under Safter Jang and Atta Muhammad on the right bank of the Arghandab. Nott moved out with a part of his force, leaving General England to protect Kandahar. On 29 May he attacked and defeated the enemy, and drove them in confusion and with great loss across the Arghandab River.

On 22 July Nott received from Ellenborough orders to withdraw from Afghanistan, either by the Quetta route or round by Ghazni, Kabul, and Jalalabad. Nott decided to march with a small, compact, and well-tried force upon Ghazni and Kabul, and to send General England back to India by Quetta and Sukkur. General Pollock at once communicated with Nott, and it was arranged that they should meet at Kabul. On learning Nott's decision, Ellenborough supported the forward movement. He directed Nott to bring away from Ghazni the club and mace of Mahmud of Ghazni and the gates of the temple of Somnath.

By the end of July Nott had completed his preparations. Nott set off for Kabul whilst England was sent southwards towards Quetta. On 30 August, Nott approached to within 40 miles of Ghazni, Shams al-Din, the Afghan governor, met him at Karabagh with 12,000 men. After a short action Nott defeated and dispersed the enemy, darkness alone preventing the complete destruction of the enemy's infantry. Shams al-Din fled to Ghazni.

By 5th September Nott had reached Ghazni, which the Afghans evacuated. Its walls, gates, and citadel were destroyed so far as the means and time available permitted. More than 300 sepoys, sold into slavery when Palmer capitulated in March, were recovered.

Nott continued his march towards Kabul, and as he approached Beni Badam and Maidan he found Shams al-Din, Sultan Jan, and other Afghan chiefs, with an army of 12,000 men, occupying a succession of strong mountain positions directly on his road. On 14 and 15 September Nott's troops dislodged them, and they dispersed. Pollock reached Kabul first, and Nott arrived on 17 September, camping a few miles from the city. The combined army remained at Kabul until 12 October, when it marched for India by way of Jalalabad. At Gandamak, Nott received a letter from Ellenborough acknowledging the splendid services of the army, praising Nott, and notifying his appointment from 30 November as resident at the court of Lucknow, with the title of envoy to the king of Oudh. On 23 December the army reached the Sutlej, over which a bridge of boats had been thrown, and Ellenborough and the commander-in-chief, accompanied by several Indian princes, received the troops with much ceremony and display. Before leaving Ferozepore, Ellenborough presented Nott with an engraved sword in the name of the British government.


First Afghan War | Significant Individuals





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