Editor ChoiceKPK History / Pakistan

Ambela Campaign (Buner), 1863, Part 5

Sir William Denison reached Calcutta on the 2nd December. The careful study of the correspondence in connection with the Umbeyla expedition satisfied him that the Commander-in-Chief’s views were correct, and that a retirement would be unwise…On my return I marched up the pass with the Rev. W. G. Cowie and Probyn, who, with 400 Cavalry, had been ordered to the front to be in readiness for a move into the Chamla valley. James, the Commissioner, had been working to detach the Bunerwals from the combination against us, and on the afternoon of our arrival a deputation of their headmen arrived in camp, and before their departure the next morning they promised to accompany a force proceeding to destroy Malka, and to expel the Hindustani fanatics from the Buner country. Later, however, a messenger came in to say they could not fulfil their promise, being unable to resist the pressure brought to bear upon them by their co-religionists. The man further reported that large numbers of fresh tribesmen had appeared on the wane, and that it was intended to attack us on the 16th. He advised the Commissioner to take the initiative, and gave him to understand that if we advanced the Bunerwals would stand aloof.

Sir Hugh Rose had been accorded permission to take command of the troops in the field, and had sent word to General Garvock not ‘to attempt any operations until further orders.’ James, however, thinking that the situation demanded immediate action, as disturbances had broken out in other parts of the Peshawar valley, deprecated delay, and pressed Garvock to advance, telling him that a successful fight would put matters straight. Garvock consented to follow the Commissioner’s advice, and arranged to move on the following day.

The force was divided into three columns. The first and second-consisting of about 4,800 men, and commanded respectively by Colonel W. Turner, C.B.,’ and Lieutenant Colonel Wilde, C.B. were to form the attacking party, while the third, about 3,000 strong, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Vaughan was to be left for the protection of the camp.

At daybreak, on the 15th, the troops for the advance, unencumbered by tents or baggage, and each man carrying two days’ rations, assembled at the base of the ‘Crag piquet.’ Turner, an excellent officer, who during the short time he had been at Umbeyla had inspired great confidence by his soldierly qualities, had on the previous afternoon reconnoitred to the right of the camp, and had discovered that about 4,000 men were holding the village of Lalu, from which it was necessary to dislodge them before Umbeyla could be attacked. On being told to advance, therefore, Turner moved off in the direction of Lalu, and, driving the enemy’s piquets before him, occupied the heights overlooking the valley, out of which rose, immediately in front about 200 yards off, a conical hill which hid Lalu from view. This hill, which was crowded with Hindustani fanatics and their Pathan allies, was a most formidable position; the sides were precipitous, and the summit was strengthened by sangars. No further move could be made until the enemy were dislodged, so Turner lined the heights all round with his Infantry, and opened fire with his Mountain guns. Meanwhile, Wilde’s column had cleared off the enemy from the front of the camp, and formed up on Turner’s left. On the advance being sounded, Turner’s Infantry rushed down the slopes, and in ten minutes could be seen driving the enemy from the heights on his right; at the same time the 101st Fusiliers, the leading regiment of Wilde’s column, made straight for the top of the conical hill, and, under cover of the fire from the Mountain guns of both columns, and supported by the Guides and 23rd Pioneers, they climbed the almost perpendicular aides. When near the top a short halt was made to give the men time to get their breath; the signal being then given, amidst a shower of bullets and huge atones, the position was stormed, and carried at the point of the bayonet. It was a grand sight as Adye and I watched it from Hughes’s battery ; but we were considerably relieved when we perceived the enemy flying down the sides of the hill, and heard the cheers of the gallant Fusiliers as they stood victorious on the highest peak.

Source of Information/Reference:

Fredrick Roberts, 1st Earl Roberts, Forty One Years In India: From Subalturn to Commander-In-Chief, Volume II, London, Richard Bentley and Sons, 1897,12-15.

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