The Sortie From Jellalabad 1st April 1842

A brigade commanded by Sir Robert Sale, which included his own regiment, the 13th, reached Jellalabad on 13th Nov 1841 during the course of its withdrawal from Kabul. It had been relieved by Shelton's brigade which was destined to be wiped out at Gandamuk on 13th Jan 1842. On arrival at Jellalabad, Sale's force was besieged by Afghans but held out until 16th April 1842, when it was relieved by General Pollock's force from Peshawar. The defences were in poor shape when Sale reached the town and his repair work received a further setback on 19th Feb when a severe earthquake caused considerable damage. Nevertheless the garrison maintained a spirited defence and mounted a total of six sorties, the last of which was successful in dispersing the Afghans.

One of these sorties was made on the 1st April 1842 and it is this action which is depicted in this painting by David Cunliffe, painted in 1851. By the end of March Sir Robert was getting short of fodder and his grass-cutters were being harrassed by the tribemen who were grazing their flocks of sheep and goats on the plain south of the town, coming as close as 600 yards from the walls. As the main Afghan army was some two miles away to the west, Sale seized the opportunity to clear the plain and at the same time supplement his supplies of fresh meat. The force sent out on this sortie consisted of 200 men of the 13th, 200 of the 35th Bengal NI, 150 sappers of Shah Sujah's army and a troop of cavalry. The 35th were posted as supports near the town while the 13th moved out in skirmishing order to a distance of 2 miles from the south gate.

While they drove off the Afghan guards and shepherds, the flocks were herded back to the town by camp-followers. The 13th then withdrew until they were about three-quarters of a mile from the gate when they were suddenly attacked by a body of Afghan horsemen from the west. Supported by their own cavalry, the 13th skirmishers took cover behind some rocks and opened fire with such effect that not a single Afghan reached their position. The sortie force suffered 20 casualties but captured 500 sheep and cattle. For artistic purposes the Afghan horsemen appear to be closer to the troops than they actually were.

First Afghan War | Siege of Jellalabad | Images of Siege of Jellalabad

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by Stephen Luscombe