The Bozdar Expedition was a fairly typical North-West frontier campaign pitting the recently formed Punjab Irregular Force against the Bozdars. The reason that this expedition has all but disappeared from various accounts is due to the fact that it was about to be overshadowed by the Indian Mutiny. The Mutiny broke out within days of the Expedition completing its mission. By the time any details of this action had reached Britain, they had been overtaken by the unfolding horror of the Mutiny.

The Bozdars were based in the Yusufzai district of the Himalayas. They were a Belochi tribe - Bozdar meaning 'goatherder' but referring here to a grouping of clans who identified strong clan loyalties. Technically they were on the Afghanistan side of the border - but lines drawn by politicians and diplomats meant little to these hill people. They had begun probing the newly acquired British run territory ever since its acquisition in 1849. They seemed to gain in confidence and audacity and sent 11 forays in 1856 alone. These were becoming increasingly aggressive with bands of anywhere between 20 and 200 men entering the British run areas. December 1856 saw the 4th Punjab Cavalry have to engage the tribesmen and lost one sowar and saw a further two injured.

The following month saw an even greater challenge when 150 Bozdars surrounded a nine-man reconnoitering party of the 2nd Punjab Cavalry. Two sowars were cut down as the cavalrymen tried to cut their way to freedom. It was this incident that prompted the Chief Commissioner for the Punjab, Sir John Lawrence, to order a reprisal expedition. The idea was to intimidate the Bozdars to such an extent that they would not repeat the incursions. Brigadier Chamberlain gathered a force of his newly created Punjab Irregular Force and marched towards the Bozdar held territories.

Course of the Campaign
The first thing that Brigadier Chamberlain did was to undertake the safety of the province of Dera Ghazi Khan, his starting piont. He ensured that all the frontier forts had freshly strengthened garrisons as his main column set off from the fort at Taunsa on the evening of March 6th.

Bozdars were observed on the heights as the column advanced but no attempt was made to hinder the 2,500 Punjab Frontier Force. Shots were heard but these were presumed by Chamberlain to be warning shots from those observers letting the tribes know that the British had started out. The column advanced to Sangarh pass and reached it by daybreak. On advancing through the pass, they soon came into contact with more determined resistance as British picquets were fired upon one one sepoy was killed. Soon, Bozdars were seen on every ridge and pinnacle overlooking the defile that the British were using as a route of march. They had also created some light sangars (fortifications) within the gorge to further improve their defences. This exact spot had been used by the Bozdars to halt a Sikh attack some year earlier and so they felt confident of their position.

A frontal assault of what was called the Khan Bund seemed hopeless given the defensive position of the Bozdars, so Chamberlain ordered his forces to coordinate some complicated manoeuvres before striking home. They were to fall back and find easier routes to the heights on which the Bozdars had located themselves. The 4th Punjab Infantry under Captain A. T. Wilde was to find a route up the northern side of the valley and attack from the West whilst the 1st Punjab Infantry under Major J. Coke was to find a route up the southern route. Artillery was used to try to pin the Bozdars in place. The Bozdars had expected a frontal assault (just as the Sikhs had done many years before) and had not anticipated a flanking attack and certainly not a double one.

Coke's 1st Punjab Infantry started to receive a terrible amount of fire whilst trying to advance towards the Bozdar's left flank. Major Coke himself was shot in the shoulder. The Bozdars were alert to the danger of being exposed on their left flank ans so rushed to reinforce it. They were concerned that their sangars and defensive positions would be too vulnerable if Coke's attack succeeded. The British appeared to be persevering with this as the main attack and rushed more guns and the 2nd Punjab Infantry to support Coke. However, whilst this was happening, the 4th had ascended their heights unseen and unopposed. They started advancing along the heights and soon were upon the Bozdars. By the time the 4th Punjab started rolling up the Bozdar flank, the Bozdars had started to retreat. At this point, Chamberlain released the 2nd Punjab Cavalry to finish off those Bozdars on the valley floor by use of their sabres.

The double flank attack was too much for the Bozdars and they fell back in disarray.

The British advanced yet further into the tribal lands burning crops, ruining water sources and destroying houses until the Bozdars sued for peace. This was achieved by March 16th and the British could leave the Bozdar tribal lands after guarantees were given that no further incursions or attacks of British held territory would be undertaken. The British were fortunate to have completed this campaign as quickly and painlessly as they did for less than two months later, the Indian Mutiny would burst into life. The British found that they needed troops to rush to the rescue and the Punjab Frontier Force was identified to be one of the most likely to remain loyal. Forts and positions along the Afghan frontier would be drawn down as the Frontier Force was rushed to Delhi to try to stamp out the mutiny. Fortunately for the British, the frontier remained remarkably quiet and peaceful during this terrible time for the British. Had the Afghan tribes attacked during the mutiny, there was precious little available to stop them.
map of campaign
Bozdar Campaign Maps
Commanding Officer
Bozdar Expedition
Brigadier Neville Chamberlain
Imperial Forces Involved
Punjab Field Force
2nd Punjab Cavalry
3rd Punjab Cavalry
1st Punjab Infantry
2nd Punjab Infantry
4th Punjab Infantry
1st Sikh Infantry
3rd Sikh Infantry
113 Sabres
2,317 Officers and Men
4 Field Guns
8 Mountain Guns
British Casualties
5 Soldiers dead
49 soldiers wounded
Bozdar Casualties
20 - 30 dead
50 - 70 wounded
Suggested Reading
Afghan Wars: And the North-West Frontier 1839-1947
by Michael Barthorp
Year’s Campaigning In India From March 1857 To March 1858
by Captain Julius George Medley, Bengal Engineers
A Record of the expedition against the North-West Frontier Tribes Since the Annexation of the Punjab
by Lt Colonel Paget and Lt Mason
Through the Indian Mutiny
by William Wright
Frontier and Overseas Expeditions from India: North and North-Eastern Frontier Tribes volume 4
by Intelligence Branch Army Headquarters India
The Devonshire Regiment And The bozdar Campaign
bozdar: photographic journalism A photograph album from the Black and White War Album: No. 3 The bozdar Campaign published 1899.
The bozdar Campaign: Recollections of Surgeon Captain A.E. Masters

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