Churchill: “The River War” (on The Soudan, 1896-1898)

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    26th July, 2008

    [NOTE: The Soudan as referred to is not the present day country of Sudan
    but a region of northern Africa south of the Sahara and north of the equator.
    It extends across the continent from the Atlantic coast to the mountains
    of Ethiopia.]

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    Title: The River War

    Author: Winston S. Churchill

    Release Date: January, 2004 [EBook #4943]
    [Yes, we are more than one year ahead of schedule]
    [This file was first posted on April 2, 2002]

    Edition: 10

    Language: English

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    This etext was produced by Ronald J. Goodden <>


    An Account of the Reconquest of the Sudan

    (1902 edition)

    By Winston S. Churchill


    I. The Rebellion of the Mahdi
    II. The Fate of the Envoy
    III. The Dervish Empire
    IV. The Years of Preparation
    V. The Beginning of War
    VI. Firket
    VII. The Recovery of the Dongola Province
    VIII. The Desert Railway
    IX. Abu Hamed
    X. Berber
    XI. Reconnaissance
    XII. The Battle of the Atbara
    XIII. The Grand Advance
    XIV. The Operations of the First of September
    XV. The Battle of Omdurman
    XVI. The Fall of the City
    XVII. ‘The Fashoda Incident’
    XVIII On the Blue Nile
    XIX. The End of the Khalifa


    >>> to illustrate the military operations <<<



    The north-eastern quarter of the continent of Africa is drained
    and watered by the Nile. Among and about the headstreams and
    tributaries of this mighty river lie the wide and fertile provinces of
    the Egyptian Soudan. Situated in the very centre of the land, these
    remote regions are on every side divided from the seas by five hundred
    miles of mountain, swamp, or desert. The great river is their only
    means of growth, their only channel of progress. It is by the Nile
    alone that their commerce can reach the outer markets, or European
    civilisation can penetrate the inner darkness. The Soudan is joined to
    Egypt by the Nile, as a diver is connected with the surface by his
    air-pipe. Without it there is only suffocation. Aut Nilus, aut nihil!

    The town of Khartoum, at the confluence of the Blue and White Niles,
    is the point on which the trade of the south must inevitably converge.
    It is the great spout through which the merchandise collected from a
    wide area streams northwards to the Mediterranean shore. It marks the
    extreme northern limit of the fertile Soudan. Between Khartoum and Assuan
    the river flows for twelve hundred miles through deserts of surpassing
    desolation. At last the wilderness recedes and the living world broadens
    out again into Egypt and the Delta. It is with events that have occurred
    in the intervening waste that these pages are concerned.

    The real Soudan, known to the statesman and the explorer, lies far
    to the south–moist, undulating, and exuberant. But there is another
    Soudan, which some mistake for the true, whose solitudes oppress the
    Nile from the Egyptian frontier to Omdurman. This is the Soudan of the
    soldier. Destitute of wealth or future, it is rich in history. The
    names of its squalid villages are familiar to distant and enlightened
    peoples. The barrenness of its scenery has been drawn by skilful pen
    and pencil. Its ample deserts have tasted the blood of brave men.
    Its hot, black rocks have witnessed famous tragedies. It is the scene
    of the war.

    This great tract, which may conveniently be called ‘The Military Soudan,’
    stretches with apparent indefiniteness over the face of the continent.
    Level plains of smooth sand–a little rosier than buff, a little paler
    than salmon–are interrupted only by occasional peaks of rock–black,
    stark, and shapeless. Rainless storms dance tirelessly over the hot,
    crisp surface of the ground. The fine sand, driven by the wind, gathers
    into deep drifts, and silts among the dark rocks of the hills, exactly
    as snow hangs about an Alpine summit; only it is a fiery snow, such as
    might fall in hell. The earth burns with the quenchless thirst of ages,
    and in the steel-blue sky scarcely a cloud obstructs the unrelenting
    triumph of the sun.

    Through the desert flows the river–a thread of blue silk drawn across
    an enormous brown drugget; and even this thread is brown for half the
    year. Where the water laps the sand and soaks into the banks there grows
    an avenue of vegetation which seems very beautiful and luxuriant by
    contrast with what lies beyond. The Nile, through all the three thousand
    miles of its course vital to everything that lives beside it, is never
    so precious as here. The traveller clings to the strong river as to an
    old friend, staunch in the hour of need. All the world blazes, but here
    is shade. The deserts are hot, but the Nile is cool. The land is parched,
    but here is abundant water. The picture painted in burnt sienna is
    relieved by a grateful flash of green.

    Yet he who had not seen the desert or felt the sun heavily on his
    shoulders would hardly admire the fertility of the riparian scrub.
    Unnourishing reeds and grasses grow rank and coarse from the water’s
    edge. The dark, rotten soil between the tussocks is cracked and
    granulated by the drying up of the annual flood. The character of the
    vegetation is inhospitable. Thorn-bushes, bristling like hedgehogs and
    thriving arrogantly, everywhere predominate and with their prickly
    tangles obstruct or forbid the path. Only the palms by the brink are
    kindly, and men journeying along the Nile must look often towards their
    bushy tops, where among the spreading foliage the red and yellow glint
    of date clusters proclaims the ripening of a generous crop, and protests
    that Nature is not always mischievous and cruel.

    The banks of the Nile, except by contrast with the desert, display an
    abundance of barrenness. Their characteristic is monotony. Their
    attraction is their sadness. Yet there is one hour when all is changed.
    Just before the sun sets towards the western cliffs a delicious flush
    brightens and enlivens the landscape. It is as though some Titanic
    artist in an hour of inspiration were retouching the picture, painting
    in dark purple shadows among the rocks, strengthening the lights on the
    sands, gilding and beautifying everything, and making the whole scene
    live. The river, whose windings make it look like a lake, turns from
    muddy brown to silver-grey. The sky from a dull blue deepens into violet
    in the west. Everything under that magic touch becomes vivid and alive.
    And then the sun sinks altogether behind the rocks, the colors fade out
    of the sky, the flush off the sands, and gradually everything darkens
    and grows grey–like a man’s cheek when he is bleeding to death. We are
    left sad and sorrowful in the dark, until the stars light up and remind
    us that there is always something beyond.

    In a land whose beauty is the beauty of a moment, whose face is
    desolate, and whose character is strangely stern, the curse of war was
    hardly needed to produce a melancholy effect. Why should there be
    caustic plants where everything is hot and burning? In deserts where
    thirst is enthroned, and where the rocks and sand appeal to a pitiless
    sky for moisture, it was a savage trick to add the mockery of mirage.

    The area multiplies the desolation. There is life only by the Nile.
    If a man were to leave the river, he might journey westward and find no
    human habitation, nor the smoke of a cooking fire, except the lonely tent
    of a Kabbabish Arab or the encampment of a trader’s caravan, till he
    reached the coast-line of America. Or he might go east and find nothing
    but sand and sea and sun until Bombay rose above the horizon. The thread
    of fresh water is itself solitary in regions where all living things
    lack company.

    In the account of the River War the Nile is naturally supreme. It is
    the great melody that recurs throughout the whole opera. The general
    purposing military operations, the statesman who would decide upon grave
    policies, and the reader desirous of studying the course and results of
    either, must think of the Nile. It is the life of the lands through
    which it flows. It is the cause of the war: the means by which we fight;
    the end at which we aim. Imagination should paint the river through every
    page in the story. It glitters between the palm-trees during the actions.
    It is the explanation of nearly every military movement. By its banks
    the armies camp at night. Backed or flanked on its unfordable stream they
    offer or accept battle by day. To its brink, morning and evening, long
    lines of camels, horses, mules, and slaughter cattle hurry eagerly. Emir
    and Dervish, officer and soldier, friend and foe, kneel alike to this god
    of ancient Egypt and draw each day their daily water in goatskin or
    canteen. Without the river none would have started. Without it none might
    have continued. Without it none could ever have returned.

    All who journey on the Nile, whether in commerce or war, will pay their
    tribute of respect and gratitude; for the great river has befriended all
    races and every age. Through all the centuries it has performed the annual
    miracle of its flood. Every year when the rains fall and the mountain
    snows of Central Africa begin to melt, the head-streams become torrents
    and the great lakes are filled to the brim. A vast expanse of low, swampy
    lands, crossed by secondary channels and flooded for many miles, regulates
    the flow, and by a sponge-like action prevents the excess of one year
    from causing the deficiency of the next. Far away in Egypt, prince,
    priest, and peasant look southwards with anxious attention for the
    fluctuating yet certain rise. Gradually the flood begins. The
    Bahr-el-Ghazal from a channel of stagnant pools and marshes becomes a
    broad and navigable stream. The Sobat and the Atbara from dry
    watercourses with occasional pools, in which the fish and crocodiles are
    crowded, turn to rushing rivers. But all this is remote from Egypt.
    After its confluence with the Atbara no drop of water reaches the Nile,
    and it flows for seven hundred miles through the sands or rushes in
    cataracts among the rocks of the Nubian desert. Nevertheless, in spite of
    the tremendous diminution in volume caused by the dryness of the earth
    and air and the heat of the sun–all of which drink greedily–the river
    below Assuan is sufficiently great to supply nine millions of people with
    as much water as their utmost science and energies can draw, and yet to
    pour into the Mediterranean a low-water surplus current of 61,500 cubic
    feet per second. Nor is its water its only gift. As the Nile rises its
    complexion is changed. The clear blue river becomes thick and red, laden
    with the magic mud that can raise cities from the desert sand and make
    the wilderness a garden. The geographer may still in the arrogance of
    science describe the Nile as ‘a great, steady-flowing river, fed by the
    rains of the tropics, controlled by the existence of a vast head reservoir
    and several areas of repose, and annually flooded by the accession of a
    great body of water with which its eastern tributaries are flushed’
    [ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA]; but all who have drunk deeply of its soft yet
    fateful waters–fateful, since they give both life and death–will
    understand why the old Egyptians worshipped the river, nor will they even
    in modern days easily dissociate from their minds a feeling of mystic

    South of Khartoum and of ‘The Military Soudan’ the land becomes more
    fruitful. The tributaries of the Nile multiply the areas of riparian
    fertility. A considerable rainfall, increasing as the Equator is
    approached, enables the intervening spaces to support vegetation and
    consequently human life. The greater part of the country is feverish
    and unhealthy, nor can Europeans long sustain the attacks of its climate.
    Nevertheless it is by no means valueless. On the east the province of
    Sennar used to produce abundant grain, and might easily produce no less
    abundant cotton. Westward the vast territories of Kordofan and Darfur
    afford grazing-grounds to a multitude of cattle, and give means of
    livelihood to great numbers of Baggara or cow-herd Arabs, who may also
    pursue with activity and stratagem the fleet giraffe and the still
    fleeter ostrich. To the south-east lies Bahr-el-Ghazal, a great tract
    of country occupied by dense woods and plentifully watered. Further
    south and nearer the Equator the forests and marshes become exuberant
    with tropical growths, and the whole face of the land is moist and green.
    Amid groves of gigantic trees and through plains of high waving grass
    the stately elephant roams in herds which occasionally number four
    hundred, hardly ever disturbed by a well-armed hunter. The ivory of
    their tusks constitutes the wealth of the Equatorial Province. So
    greatly they abound that Emin Pasha is provoked to complain of a pest of
    these valuable pachyderms [LIFE OF EMIN PASHA, vol.i chapter ix.]: and
    although they are only assailed by the natives with spear and gun,
    no less than twelve thousand hundredweight of ivory has been exported
    in a single year [Ibid.] All other kinds of large beasts known to man
    inhabit these obscure retreats. The fierce rhinoceros crashes through
    the undergrowth. Among the reeds of melancholy swamps huge hippopotami,
    crocodiles, and buffaloes prosper and increase. Antelope of every known
    and many unclassified species; serpents of peculiar venom; countless
    millions of birds, butterflies, and beetles are among the offspring of
    prolific Nature. And the daring sportsman who should survive his
    expedition would not fail to add to the achievements of science and the
    extent of natural history as well as to his own reputation.

    The human inhabitants of the Soudan would not, but for their vices
    and misfortunes, be disproportioned in numbers to the fauna or less
    happy. War, slavery, and oppression have, however, afflicted them until
    the total population of the whole country does not exceed at the most
    liberal estimate three million souls. The huge area contains many
    differences of climate and conditions, and these have produced
    peculiar and diverse breeds of men. The Soudanese are of many tribes,
    but two main races can be clearly distinguished: the aboriginal natives,
    and the Arab settlers. The indigenous inhabitants of the country were
    negroes as black as coal. Strong, virile, and simple-minded savages,
    they lived as we may imagine prehistoric men–hunting, fighting,
    marrying, and dying, with no ideas beyond the gratification of their
    physical desires, and no fears save those engendered by ghosts,
    witchcraft, the worship of ancestors, and other forms of superstition
    common among peoples of low development. They displayed the virtues of
    barbarism. They were brave and honest. The smallness of their
    intelligence excused the degradation of their habits. Their ignorance
    secured their innocence. Yet their eulogy must be short, for though
    their customs, language, and appearance vary with the districts they
    inhabit and the subdivisions to which they belong, the history of all
    is a confused legend of strife and misery, their natures are uniformly
    cruel and thriftless, and their condition is one of equal squalor
    and want.

    Although the negroes are the more numerous, the Arabs exceed in power.
    The bravery of the aboriginals is outweighed by the intelligence of the
    invaders and their superior force of character. During the second
    century of the Mohammedan era, when the inhabitants of Arabia went forth
    to conquer the world, one adventurous army struck south. The first
    pioneers were followed at intervals by continual immigrations of Arabs
    not only from Arabia but also across the deserts from Egypt and Marocco.
    The element thus introduced has spread and is spreading throughout the
    Soudan, as water soaks into a dry sponge. The aboriginals absorbed the
    invaders they could not repel. The stronger race imposed its customs and
    language on the negroes. The vigour of their blood sensibly altered the
    facial appearance of the Soudanese. For more than a thousand years the
    influence of Mohammedanism, which appears to possess a strange
    fascination for negroid races, has been permeating the Soudan, and,
    although ignorance and natural obstacles impede the progress of new
    ideas, the whole of the black race is gradually adopting the new
    religion and developing Arab characteristics. In the districts of the
    north, where the original invaders settled, the evolution is complete,
    and the Arabs of the Soudan are a race formed by the interbreeding of
    negro and Arab, and yet distinct from both. In the more remote and
    inaccessible regions which lie to the south and west the negro race
    remains as yet unchanged by the Arab influence. And between these
    extremes every degree of mixture is to be found. In some tribes pure
    Arabic is spoken, and prior to the rise of the Mahdi the orthodox Moslem
    faith was practised. In others Arabic has merely modified the ancient
    dialects, and the Mohammedan religion has been adapted to the older
    superstitions; but although the gap between the Arab-negro and the
    negro-pure is thus filled by every intermediate blend, the two races
    were at an early date quite distinct.

    The qualities of mongrels are rarely admirable, and the mixture
    of the Arab and negro types has produced a debased and cruel breed,
    more shocking because they are more intelligent than the primitive
    savages. The stronger race soon began to prey upon the simple
    aboriginals; some of the Arab tribes were camel-breeders; some were
    goat-herds; some were Baggaras or cow-herds. But all, without exception,
    were hunters of men. To the great slave-market at Jedda a continual
    stream of negro captives has flowed for hundreds of years. The
    invention of gunpowder and the adoption by the Arabs of firearms
    facilitated the traffic by placing the ignorant negroes at a further
    disadvantage. Thus the situation in the Soudan for several centuries
    may be summed up as follows: The dominant race of Arab invaders was
    unceasingly spreading its blood, religion, customs, and language among
    the black aboriginal population, and at the same time it harried and
    enslaved them.

    The state of society that arose out of this may be easily imagined.
    The warlike Arab tribes fought and brawled among themselves in ceaseless
    feud and strife. The negroes trembled in apprehension of capture, or rose
    locally against their oppressors. Occasionally an important Sheikh would
    effect the combination of many tribes, and a kingdom came into existence
    –a community consisting of a military class armed with guns and of
    multitudes of slaves, at once their servants and their merchandise,
    and sometimes trained as soldiers. The dominion might prosper viciously
    till it was overthrown by some more powerful league.

    All this was unheeded by the outer world, from which the Soudan is
    separated by the deserts, and it seemed that the slow, painful course of
    development would be unaided and uninterrupted. But at last the
    populations of Europe changed. Another civilisation reared itself above
    the ruins of Roman triumph and Mohammedan aspiration–a civilisation
    more powerful, more glorious, but no less aggressive. The impulse of
    conquest which hurried the French and English to Canada and the Indies,
    which sent the Dutch to the Cape and the Spaniards to Peru, spread to
    Africa and led the Egyptians to the Soudan. In the year 1819 Mohammed
    Ali, availing himself of the disorders alike as an excuse and an
    opportunity, sent his son Ismail up the Nile with a great army. The Arab
    tribes, torn by dissension, exhausted by thirty years of general war,
    and no longer inspired by their neglected religion, offered a weak
    resistance. Their slaves, having known the worst of life, were apathetic.
    The black aboriginals were silent and afraid. The whole vast territory
    was conquered with very little fighting, and the victorious army,
    leaving garrisons, returned in triumph to the Delta.

    What enterprise that an enlightened community may attempt is more
    noble and more profitable than the reclamation from barbarism of
    fertile regions and large populations? To give peace to warring tribes,
    to administer justice where all was violence, to strike the chains off
    the slave, to draw the richness from the soil, to plant the earliest
    seeds of commerce and learning, to increase in whole peoples their
    capacities for pleasure and diminish their chances of pain–what more
    beautiful ideal or more valuable reward can inspire human effort? The
    act is virtuous, the exercise invigorating, and the result often
    extremely profitable. Yet as the mind turns from the wonderful cloudland
    of aspiration to the ugly scaffolding of attempt and achievement,
    a succession of opposite ideas arises. Industrious races are displayed
    stinted and starved for the sake of an expensive Imperialism which they
    can only enjoy if they are well fed. Wild peoples, ignorant of their
    barbarism, callous of suffering, careless of life but tenacious of
    liberty, are seen to resist with fury the philanthropic invaders, and to
    perish in thousands before they are convinced of their mistake. The
    inevitable gap between conquest and dominion becomes filled with the
    figures of the greedy trader, the inopportune missionary, the ambitious
    soldier, and the lying speculator, who disquiet the minds of the
    conquered and excite the sordid appetites of the conquerors. And as the
    eye of thought rests on these sinister features, it hardly seems possible
    for us to believe that any fair prospect is approached by so foul a path.

    From 1819 to 1883 Egypt ruled the Soudan. Her rule was not kindly, wise,
    or profitable. Its aim was to exploit, not to improve the local
    population. The miseries of the people were aggravated rather than
    lessened: but they were concealed. For the rough injustice of the sword
    there were substituted the intricacies of corruption and bribery.
    Violence and plunder were more hideous, since they were cloaked with
    legality and armed with authority. The land was undeveloped and poor.
    It barely sustained its inhabitants. The additional burden of a
    considerable foreign garrison and a crowd of rapacious officials
    increased the severity of the economic conditions. Scarcity was frequent.
    Famines were periodical. Corrupt and incapable Governors-General
    succeeded each other at Khartoum with bewildering rapidity. The constant
    changes, while they prevented the continuity of any wise policy, did not
    interrupt the misrule. With hardly any exceptions, the Pashas were
    consistent in oppression. The success of their administration was
    measured by the Ministries in Egypt by the amount of money they could
    extort from the natives; among the officials in the Soudan, by the
    number of useless offices they could create. There were a few bright
    examples of honest men, but these, by providing a contrast, only
    increased the discontents.

    The rule of Egypt was iniquitous: yet it preserved the magnificent
    appearance of Imperial dominion. The Egyptian Pro-consul lived in state
    at the confluence of the Niles. The representatives of foreign Powers
    established themselves in the city. The trade of the south converged
    upon Khartoum. Thither the subordinate governors, Beys and Mudirs,
    repaired at intervals to report the state of their provinces and to
    receive instructions. Thither were sent the ivory of Equatoria, the
    ostrich feathers of Kordofan, gum from Darfur, grain from Sennar, and
    taxes collected from all the regions. Strange beasts, entrapped in the
    swamps and forests, passed through the capital on their journey to Cairo
    and Europe. Complex and imposing reports of revenue and expenditure
    were annually compiled. An elaborate and dignified correspondence was
    maintained between Egypt and its great dependency. The casual observer,
    astonished at the unusual capacity for government displayed by an
    Oriental people, was tempted to accept the famous assertion which Nubar
    Pasha put into the mouth of the Khedive Ismail: ‘We are no longer in
    Africa, but in Europe.’ Yet all was a hateful sham [‘The government of
    the Egyptians in these far-off countries is nothing else but one of
    brigandage of the very worst description.’–COLONEL GORDON IN CENTRAL
    AFRICA, April 11, 1879.] The arbitrary and excessive taxes were
    collected only at the point of the bayonet. If a petty chief fell into
    arrears, his neighbours were raised against him. If an Arab tribe were
    recalcitrant, a military expedition was despatched. Moreover, the
    ability of the Arabs to pay depended on their success as slave-hunters.
    When there had been a good catch, the revenue profited. The Egyptian
    Government had joined the International League against the slave trade.
    They combined, however, indirectly but deliberately, to make money out
    of it. [EGYPT, No.11, 1883.]

    In the miserable, harassing warfare that accompanied the collection of
    taxes the Viceregal commanders gained more from fraud than force. No
    subterfuge, no treachery, was too mean for them to adopt: no oath or
    treaty was too sacred for them to break. Their methods were cruel, and
    if honour did not impede the achievement, mercy did not restrict the
    effects of their inglorious successes; and the effete administrators
    delighted to order their timid soldiery to carry out the most savage
    executions. The political methods and social style of the
    Governors-General were imitated more or less exactly by the subordinate
    officials according to their degree in the provinces. Since they were
    completely hidden from the eye of civilisation, they enjoyed a greater
    licence in their administration. As their education was inferior, so
    their habits became more gross. Meanwhile the volcano on which they
    disported themselves was ominously silent. The Arab tribes obeyed, and
    the black population cowered.

    The authority of a tyrannical Government was supported by the presence
    of a worthless army. Nearly forty thousand men were distributed among
    eight main and numerous minor garrisons. Isolated in a roadless country
    by enormous distances and natural obstacles, and living in the midst of
    large savage populations of fanatical character and warlike habits,
    whose exasperation was yearly growing with their miseries, the Viceregal
    forces might depend for their safety only on the skill of their officers,
    the excellence of their discipline, and the superiority of their weapons.
    But the Egyptian officers were at that time distinguished for nothing
    but their public incapacity and private misbehaviour. The evil reputation
    of the Soudan and its climate deterred the more educated or more wealthy
    from serving in such distant regions, and none went south who could
    avoid it. The army which the Khedives maintained in the Delta was, judged
    by European standards, only a rabble. It was badly trained, rarely paid,
    and very cowardly; and the scum of the army of the Delta was the cream of
    the army of the Soudan. The officers remained for long periods, many all
    their lives, in the obscurity of the remote provinces. Some had been sent
    there in disgrace, others in disfavour. Some had been forced to serve out
    of Egypt by extreme poverty, others were drawn to the Soudan by the hopes
    of gratifying peculiar tastes. The majority had harems of the women of
    the country, which were limited only by the amount of money they could
    lay their hands on by any method. Many were hopeless and habitual
    drunkards. Nearly all were dishonest. All were indolent and incapable.

    Under such leadership the finest soldiery would have soon degenerated.
    The Egyptians in the Soudan were not fine soldiers. Like their officers,
    they were the worst part of the Khedivial army. Like them, they had been
    driven to the south. Like them, they were slothful and effete. Their
    training was imperfect; their discipline was lax; their courage was low.
    Nor was even this all the weakness and peril of their position; for
    while the regular troops were thus demoralised, there existed a powerful
    local irregular force of Bazingers (Soudanese riflemen), as well armed
    as the soldiers, more numerous, more courageous, and who regarded the
    alien garrisons with fear that continually diminished and hate that
    continually grew. And behind regulars and irregulars alike the wild Arab
    tribes of the desert and the hardy blacks of the forests, goaded by
    suffering and injustice, thought the foreigners the cause of all their
    woes, and were delayed only by their inability to combine from sweeping
    them off the face of the earth. Never was there such a house of cards as
    the Egyptian dominion in the Soudan. The marvel is that it stood so long,
    not that it fell so soon.

    The names of two men of character and fame are forever connected
    with the actual outburst. One was an English general, the other an Arab
    priest; yet, in spite of the great gulf and vivid contrast between their
    conditions, they resembled each other in many respects. Both were earnest
    and enthusiastic men of keen sympathies and passionate emotions. Both
    were powerfully swayed by religious fervour. Both exerted great personal
    influence on all who came in contact with them. Both were reformers.
    The Arab was an African reproduction of the Englishman; the Englishman
    a superior and civilised development of the Arab. In the end they fought
    to the death, but for an important part of their lives their influence on
    the fortunes of the Soudan was exerted in the same direction. Mohammed
    Ahmed, ‘The Mahdi,’ will be discussed in his own place. Charles Gordon
    needs little introduction. Long before this tale begins his reputation
    was European, and the fame of the ‘Ever-victorious Army’ had spread far
    beyond the Great Wall of China.

    The misgovernment of the Egyptians and the misery of the Soudanese
    reached their greatest extreme in the seventh decade of the present
    century. From such a situation there seemed to be no issue other than
    by force of arms. The Arab tribes lacked no provocation. Yet they were
    destitute of two moral forces essential to all rebellions. The first
    was the knowledge that better things existed. The second was a spirit
    of combination. General Gordon showed them the first. The Mahdi
    provided the second.

    It is impossible to study any part of Charles Gordon’s career
    without being drawn to all the rest. As his wild and varied fortunes
    lead him from Sebastopol to Pekin, from Gravesend to South Africa,
    from Mauritius to the Soudan, the reader follows fascinated. Every
    scene is strange, terrible, or dramatic. Yet, remarkable as are the
    scenes, the actor is the more extraordinary; a type without comparison
    in modern times and with few likenesses in history. Rare and precious
    is the truly disinterested man. Potentates of many lands and different
    degree–the Emperor of China, the King of the Belgians, the Premier of
    Cape Colony, the Khedive of Egypt–competed to secure his services.
    The importance of his offices varied no less than their nature. One day
    he was a subaltern of sappers; on another he commanded the Chinese army;
    the next he directed an orphanage; or was Governor-General of the Soudan,
    with supreme powers of life and death and peace and war; or served as
    private secretary to Lord Ripon. But in whatever capacity he laboured
    he was true to his reputation. Whether he is portrayed bitterly
    criticising to Graham the tactics of the assault on the Redan; or
    pulling the head of Lar Wang from under his bedstead and waving it in
    paroxysms of indignation before the astonished eyes of Sir Halliday
    Macartney; or riding alone into the camp of the rebel Suliman and
    receiving the respectful salutes of those who had meant to kill him;
    or telling the Khedive Ismail that he ‘must have the whole Soudan to
    govern’; or reducing his salary to half the regulation amount because
    ‘he thought it was too much’; or ruling a country as large as Europe;
    or collecting facts for Lord Ripon’s rhetorical efforts–we perceive a
    man careless alike of the frowns of men or the smiles of women, of life
    or comfort, wealth or fame.

    It was a pity that one, thus gloriously free from the ordinary
    restraining influences of human society, should have found in his own
    character so little mental ballast. His moods were capricious and
    uncertain, his passions violent, his impulses sudden and inconsistent.
    The mortal enemy of the morning had become a trusted ally before the
    night. The friend he loved to-day he loathed to-morrow. Scheme after
    scheme formed in his fertile brain, and jostled confusingly together.
    All in succession were pressed with enthusiasm. All at times were
    rejected with disdain. A temperament naturally neurotic had been
    aggravated by an acquired habit of smoking; and the General carried this
    to so great an extreme that he was rarely seen without a cigarette. His
    virtues are famous among men; his daring and resource might turn the
    tide or war; his energy would have animated a whole people; his
    achievements are upon record; but it must also be set down that few more
    uncertain and impracticable forces than Gordon have ever been introduced
    into administration and diplomacy.

    Although the Egyptian Government might loudly proclaim their detestation
    of slavery, their behaviour in the Soudan was viewed with suspicion by
    the European Powers, and particularly by Great Britain. To vindicate his
    sincerity the Khedive Ismail in 1874 appointed Gordon to be Governor of
    the Equatorial Province in succession to Sir Samuel Baker. The name of
    the General was a sufficient guarantee that the slave trade was being
    earnestly attacked. The Khedive would gladly have stopped at the
    guarantee, and satisfied the world without disturbing ‘vested interests.’
    But the mission, which may have been originally instituted as a pretence,
    soon became in Gordon’s energetic hands very real. Circumstances,
    moreover, soon enlisted the sympathies of the Egyptian Government on the
    side of their zealous agent. The slave dealers had committed every
    variety of atrocity for which the most odious traffic in the world
    afforded occasion; but when, under the leadership of Zubehr Rahamna,
    they refused to pay their annual tribute, it was felt in Cairo that
    their crimes had cried aloud for chastisement.

    Zubehr is sufficiently described when it has been said that he was
    the most notorious slave dealer Africa has ever produced. His infamy had
    spread beyond the limits of the continent which was the scene of his
    exploits to the distant nations of the north and west. In reality, his
    rule was a distinct advance on the anarchy which had preceded it, and
    certainly he was no worse than others of his vile trade. His scale of
    business was, however, more extended. What William Whiteley was in
    respect of goods and chattels, that was Zubehr in respect of slaves–
    a universal provider. Magnitude lends a certain grandeur to crime; and
    Zubehr in the height of his power, at the head of the slave merchants’
    confederacy, might boast the retinue of a king and exercise authority
    over wide regions and a powerful army.

    As early as 1869 he was practically the independent ruler of the
    Bahr-el-Ghazal. The Khedive resolved to assert his rights. A small
    Egyptian force was sent to subdue the rebel slaver who not only
    disgraced humanity but refused to pay tribute. Like most of the Khedivial
    expeditions the troops under Bellal Bey met with ill-fortune. They came,
    they saw, they ran away. Some, less speedy than the rest, fell on the
    field of dishonour. The rebellion was open. Nevertheless it was the
    Khedive who sought peace. Zubehr apologised for defeating the Viceregal
    soldiers and remained supreme in the Bahr-el-Ghazal. Thence he planned
    the conquest of Darfur, at that time an independent kingdom. The Egyptian
    Government were glad to join with him in the enterprise. The man they had
    been unable to conquer, they found it expedient to assist. The operations
    were successful. The King of Darfur, who was distinguished no less for
    his valour than for his folly, was killed. The whole country was subdued.
    The whole population available after the battles became slaves. Zubehr
    thus wielded a formidable power. The Khedivial Government, thinking to
    ensure his loyalty, created him a Pasha–a rank which he could scarcely
    disgrace; and the authority of the rebel was thus unwillingly recognised
    by the ruler. Such was the situation when Gordon first came to the Soudan.

    It was beyond the power of the new Governor of the Equatorial Province
    at once to destroy the slave-hunting confederacy. Yet he struck heavy
    blows at the slave trade, and when in 1877, after a short visit to
    England, he returned to the Soudan as Governor-General and with absolute
    power, he assailed it with redoubled energy. Fortune assisted his efforts,
    for the able Zubehr was enticed to Cairo, and, once there, the Government
    refused to allow their faithful ally and distinguished guest to go back
    to his happy-hunting grounds. Although the slave dealers were thus robbed
    of their great leader, they were still strong, and Zubehr’s son, the brave
    Suliman, found a considerable following. Furious at his father’s captivity,
    and alarmed lest his own should follow, he meditated revolt. But the
    Governor-General, mounted on a swift camel and attired in full uniform,
    rode alone into the rebel camp and compelled the submission of its chiefs
    before they could recover from their amazement. The confederacy was
    severely shaken, and when, in the following year, Suliman again revolted,
    the Egyptian troops under Gessi Pasha were able to disperse his forces and
    induce him to surrender on terms. The terms were broken, and Suliman and
    ten of his companions suffered death by shooting [von Slatin, Baron
    Rudolf Karl. FIRE AND SWORD IN THE SOUDAN, p.28.] The league of the slave
    dealers was thus destroyed.

    Towards the end of 1879 Gordon left the Soudan. With short intervals
    he had spent five busy years in its provinces. His energy had stirred the
    country. He had struck at the root of the slave trade, he had attacked the
    system of slavery, and, as slavery was the greatest institution in
    the land, he had undermined the whole social system. Indignation had
    stimulated his activity to an extraordinary degree. In a climate usually
    fatal to Europeans he discharged the work of five officers. Careless of
    his methods, he bought slaves himself, drilled them, and with the soldiers
    thus formed pounced on the caravans of the hunters. Traversing the country
    on a fleet dromedary–on which in a single year he is said to have covered
    3,840 miles–he scattered justice and freedom among the astonished natives.
    He fed the infirm, protected the weak, executed the wicked. To some he gave
    actual help, to many freedom, to all new hopes and aspirations. Nor were
    the tribes ungrateful. The fiercest savages and cannibals respected the
    life of the strange white man. The women blessed him. He could ride unarmed
    and alone where a brigade of soldiers dared not venture. But he was, as he
    knew himself, the herald of the storm. Oppressed yet ferocious races had
    learned that they had rights; the misery of the Soudanese was lessened, but
    their knowledge had increased. The whole population was unsettled, and the
    wheels of change began slowly to revolve; nor did they stop until they
    had accomplished an enormous revolution.

    The part played by the second force is more obscure. Few facts are so
    encouraging to the student of human development as the desire, which most
    men and all communities manifest at all times, to associate with their
    actions at least the appearance of moral right. However distorted may be
    their conceptions of virtue, however feeble their efforts to attain even
    to their own ideals, it is a pleasing feature and a hopeful augury that
    they should wish to be justified. No community embarks on a great
    enterprise without fortifying itself with the belief that from some
    points of view its motives are lofty and disinterested. It is an
    involuntary tribute, the humble tribute of imperfect beings, to the
    eternal temples of Truth and Beauty. The sufferings of a people or a
    class may be intolerable, but before they will take up arms and risk
    their lives some unselfish and impersonal spirit must animate them.
    In countries where there is education and mental activity or refinement,
    this high motive is found in the pride of glorious traditions or in
    a keen sympathy with surrounding misery. Ignorance deprives savage
    nations of such incentives. Yet in the marvellous economy of nature this
    very ignorance is a source of greater strength. It affords them the
    mighty stimulus of fanaticism. The French Communists might plead that
    they upheld the rights of man. The desert tribes proclaimed that they
    fought for the glory of God. But although the force of fanatical passion
    is far greater than that exerted by any philosophical belief, its
    sanction is just the same. It gives men something which they think is
    sublime to fight for, and this serves them as an excuse for wars which
    it is desirable to begin for totally different reasons. Fanaticism is
    not a cause of war. It is the means which helps savage peoples to fight.
    It is the spirit which enables them to combine–the great common object
    before which all personal or tribal disputes become insignificant.
    What the horn is to the rhinoceros, what the sting is to the wasp,
    the Mohammedan faith was to the Arabs of the Soudan–a faculty
    of offence or defence.

    It was all this and no more. It was not the reason of the revolt.
    It strengthened, it characterised, but it did not cause. [‘I do not
    believe that fanaticism exists as it used to do in the world, judging
    from what I have seen in this so-called fanatic land. It is far more
    a question of property, and is more like Communism under the flag
    of religion.’–GENERAL GORDON’S JOURNALS AT KHARTOUM, bk.i. p.13.]
    Those whose practice it is to regard their own nation as possessing a
    monopoly of virtue and common-sense, are wont to ascribe every military
    enterprise of savage peoples to fanaticism. They calmly ignore obvious
    and legitimate motives. The most rational conduct is considered mad.
    It has therefore been freely stated, and is to some extent believed,
    that the revolt in the Soudan was entirely religious. If the worst
    untruths are those that have some appearance of veracity, this impression
    must be very false indeed. It is, perhaps, an historical fact that the
    revolt of a large population has never been caused solely or even mainly
    by religious enthusiasm.

    The reasons which forced the peoples of the Soudan to revolt were
    as strong as the defence which their oppressors could offer was feeble.
    Looking at the question from a purely political standpoint, we may say
    that upon the whole there exists no record of a better case for rebellion
    than presented itself to the Soudanese. Their country was being ruined;
    their property was plundered; their women were ravished; their liberties
    were curtailed; even their lives were threatened. Aliens ruled the
    inhabitants; the few oppressed the many; brave men were harried by cowards;
    the weak compelled the strong. Here were sufficient reasons. Since any
    armed movement against an established Government can be justified only by
    success, strength is an important revolutionary virtue. It was a virtue
    that the Arabs might boast. They were indeed far stronger than they,
    their persecutors, or the outside world had yet learned. All were soon
    to be enlightened.

    The storm gathered and the waters rose. Three great waves impelled
    the living tide against the tottering house founded on the desert sand.
    The Arab suffered acutely from poverty, misgovernment, and oppression.
    Infuriated, he looked up and perceived that the cause of all his miseries
    was a weak and cowardly foreigner, a despicable ‘Turk.’ The antagonism
    of races increased the hatred sprung from social evils. The moment was
    at hand. Then, and not till then, the third wave came–the wave of
    fanaticism, which, catching up and surmounting the other waves, covered
    all the flood with its white foam, and, bearing on with the momentum of
    the waters, beat in thunder against the weak house so that it fell;
    and great was the fall thereof.

    Down to the year 1881 there was no fanatical movement in the Soudan.
    In their utter misery the hopeless inhabitants had neglected even the
    practices of religion. They were nevertheless prepared for any enterprise,
    however desperate, which might free them from the Egyptian yoke. All that
    delayed them was the want of some leader who could combine the tribes
    and restore their broken spirits, and in the summer of 1881 the leader
    appeared. His subsequent career is within the limits of this account,
    and since his life throws a strong light on the thoughts and habits
    of the Arabs of the Soudan it may be worth while to trace it from
    the beginning.

    The man who was the proximate cause of the River War was born
    by the banks of the Nile, not very far from Dongola. His family were
    poor and of no account in the province. But as the Prophet had claimed
    a royal descent, and as a Sacred Example was sprung from David’s line,
    Mohammed Ahmed asserted that he was of the ‘Ashraf,'(descendants of
    the Prophet) and the assertion, since it cannot be disproved, may be
    accepted. His father was a humble priest; yet he contrived to give his
    son some education in the practices of religion, the principles of
    the Koran, and the art of writing. Then he died at Kerreri while on
    a journey to Khartoum, and left the future Mahdi, still a child,
    to the mercies of the world. Solitary trees, if they grow at all,
    grow strong; and a boy deprived of a father’s care often develops,
    if he escape the perils of youth, an independence and vigour of thought
    which may restore in after life the heavy loss of early days. It was so
    with Mohammed Ahmed. He looked around for an occupation and subsistence.
    A large proportion of the population of religious countries pass their
    lives at leisure, supported by the patient labour of the devout. The
    young man determined to follow the profession for which he felt
    his talents suited, and which would afford him the widest scope.
    He became a priest. Many of the religious teachers of heathen and other
    countries are devoid of enthusiasm and turn their attention to the
    next world because doing so affords them an easy living in this.
    Happily this is not true of all. It was not true of Mohammed. Even at
    an early age he manifested a zeal for God’s service, and displayed a
    peculiar aptitude for learning the tenets and dogmas of the Mohammedan
    belief. So promising a pupil did not long lack a master in a country
    where intelligence and enthusiasm were scarce. His aspirations growing
    with his years and knowledge, he journeyed to Khartoum as soon as his
    religious education was completed, and became a disciple of the renowned
    and holy Sheikh, Mohammed Sherif.

    His devotion to his superior, to his studies and to the practice
    of austerities, and a strange personal influence he was already
    beginning to show, won him by degrees a few disciples of his own:
    and with them he retired to the island of Abba. Here by the waters of
    the White Nile Mohammed Ahmed lived for several years. His two brothers,
    who were boat-builders in the neighbourhood, supported him by their
    industry. But it must have been an easy burden, for we read that he
    ‘hollowed out for himself a cave in the mud bank, and lived in almost
    entire seclusion, fasting often for days, and occasionally paying a visit
    to the head of the order to assure him of his devotion and obedience.’
    [I take this passage from FIRE AND SWORD IN THE SOUDAN, by Slatin. His
    account is the most graphic and trustworthy of all known records of
    the Mahdi. He had terrible opportunities of collecting information.
    I have followed his version (chapter iv.) very closely on this subject.]
    Meanwhile his sanctity increased, and the labour and charity of the
    brothers were assisted by the alms of godly travellers on the river.

    This virtuous and frugal existence was disturbed and terminated
    by an untoward event. The renowned and holy Sheikh made a feast to
    celebrate the circumcision of his sons. That the merriment of the
    auspicious occasion and the entertainment of the guests might be
    increased, Sherif, according to the lax practice of the time,
    granted a dispensation from any sins committed during the festivities,
    and proclaimed in God’s name the suspension of the rules against singing
    and dancing by which the religious orders were bound. The ascetic
    of Abba island did not join in these seemingly innocent dissipations.
    With the recklessness of the reformer he protested against the
    demoralisation of the age, and loudly affirmed the doctrine
    that God alone could forgive sins. These things were speedily brought
    to the ears of the renowned Sheikh, and in all the righteous indignation
    that accompanies detected wrong-doing, he summoned Mohammed Ahmed
    before him. The latter obeyed. He respected his superior. He was under
    obligations to him. His ire had disappeared as soon as it had
    been expressed. He submissively entreated forgiveness; but in vain.
    Sherif felt that some sort of discipline must be maintained among
    his flock. He had connived at disobedience to the divine law.
    All the more must he uphold his own authority. Rising in anger,
    he drove the presumptuous disciple from his presence with bitter words,
    and expunged his name from the order of the elect.

    Mohammed went home. He was greatly distressed. Yet his fortunes were
    not ruined. His sanctity was still a valuable and, unless he chose
    otherwise, an inalienable asset. The renowned Sheikh had a rival–nearly
    as holy and more enterprising than himself. From him the young priest
    might expect a warm welcome. Nevertheless he did not yet abandon his
    former superior. Placing a heavy wooden collar on his neck, clad in
    sackcloth and sprinkled with ashes, he again returned to his
    spiritual leader, and in this penitential guise implored pardon. He was
    ignominiously ejected. Nor did he venture to revisit the unforgiving
    Sheikh. But it happened that in a few weeks Sherif had occasion to
    journey to the island of Abba. His former disciple appeared suddenly
    before him, still clad in sackcloth and defiled by ashes. Careless of
    his plain misery, and unmoved by his loyalty, which was the more
    remarkable since it was disinterested, the implacable Sheikh poured forth
    a stream of invective. Among many insults, one went home: ‘Be off,
    you wretched Dongolawi.’

    Although the natives of the Dongola province were despised and disliked
    in the Southern Soudan, it is not at first apparent why Mohammed should
    have resented so bitterly the allusion to his birthplace. But abuse by
    class is a dangerous though effective practice. A man will perhaps
    tolerate an offensive word applied to himself, but will be infuriated if
    his nation, his rank, or his profession is insulted.

    Mohammed Ahmed rose. All that man could do to make amends he had done.
    Now he had been publicly called ‘a wretched Dongolawi.’ Henceforth he
    would afflict Sherif with his repentance no longer. Reaching his house,
    he informed his disciples–for they had not abandoned him in all his
    trouble–that the Sheikh had finally cast him off, and that he would now
    take his discarded allegiance elsewhere. The rival, the Sheikh
    el Koreishi, lived near Mesalamia. He was jealous of Sherif and envied
    him his sanctimonious disciples. He was therefore delighted to receive
    a letter from Mohammed Ahmed announcing his breach with his former
    superior and offering his most devoted services. He returned a cordial
    invitation, and the priest of Abba island made all preparation
    for the journey.

    This new development seems to have startled the unforgiving Sherif.
    It was no part of his policy to alienate his followers, still less to
    add to those of his rival. After all, the quality of mercy was high
    and noble. He would at last graciously forgive the impulsive but
    repentant disciple. He wrote him a letter to this effect. But it was now
    too late. Mohammed replied with grave dignity that he had committed no
    crime, that he sought no forgiveness, and that ‘a wretched Dongolawi’
    would not offend by his presence the renowned Sheikh el Sherif.
    After this indulgence he departed to Mesalamia.

    But the fame of his doings spread far and wide throughout the land.
    ‘Even in distant Darfur it was the principal topic of conversation’
    [Slatin, FIRE AND SWORD]. Rarely had a Fiki been known to offend
    his superior; never to refuse his forgiveness. Mohammed did not
    hesitate to declare that he had done what he had done as a protest
    against the decay of religious fervour and the torpor of the times.
    Since his conduct had actually caused his dismissal, it appears that he
    was quite justified in making a virtue of necessity. At any rate he was
    believed, and the people groaning under oppression looked from all
    the regions to the figure that began to grow on the political horizon.
    His fame grew. Rumour, loud-tongued, carried it about the land that a
    great Reformer was come to purify the faith and break the stony apathy
    which paralysed the hearts of Islam. Whisperings added that a man
    was found who should break from off the necks of the tribes the hateful
    yoke of Egypt. Mohammed now deliberately entered upon the
    path of ambition.

    Throughout Nubia the Shukri belief prevails: some day, in a time
    of shame and trouble, a second great Prophet will arise–a Mahdi who
    shall lead the faithful nearer God and sustain the religion. The people
    of the Soudan always look inquiringly to any ascetic who rises to fame,
    and the question is often repeated, ‘Art thou he that should come,
    or do we look for another?’ Of this powerful element of disturbance
    Mohammed Ahmed resolved to avail himself. He requested and obtained
    the permission of the Sheikh Koreishi to return to Abba, where he was
    well known, and with which island village his name was connected,
    and so came back in triumph to the scene of his disgrace. Thither many
    pilgrims began to resort. He received valuable presents, which he
    distributed to the poor, who acclaimed him as ‘Zahed’–a renouncer of
    earthly pleasures. He journeyed preaching through Kordofan, and received
    the respect of the priesthood and the homage of the people. And while
    he spoke of the purification of the religion, they thought that the
    burning words might be applied to the freedom of the soil. He supported
    his sermons by writings, which were widely read. When a few months later
    the Sheikh Koreishi died, the priest of Abba proceeded forthwith to erect
    a tomb to his memory, directing and controlling the voluntary labours
    of the reverent Arabs who carried the stones.

    While Mohammed was thus occupied he received the support of a man,
    less virtuous than but nearly as famous as himself. Abdullah was one of
    four brothers, the sons of an obscure priest; but he inherited
    no great love of religion or devotion to its observances. He was a man
    of determination and capacity. He set before himself two distinct
    ambitions, both of which he accomplished: to free the Soudan of
    foreigners, and to rule it himself. He seems to have had a queer
    presentiment of his career. This much he knew: there would be a great
    religious leader, and he would be his lieutenant and his successor.
    When Zubehr conquered Darfur, Abdullah presented himself before him
    and hailed him as ‘the expected Mahdi.’ Zubehr, however, protested with
    superfluous energy that he was no saint, and the impulsive patriot was
    compelled to accept his assurances. So soon as he saw Mohammed Ahmed
    rising to fame and displaying qualities of courage and energy,
    he hastened to throw himself at his feet and assure him of his devotion.

    No part of Slatin Pasha’s fascinating account of his perils and sufferings
    is so entertaining as that in which Abdullah, then become Khalifa of the
    whole Soudan, describes his early struggles and adversity:

    ‘Indeed it was a very troublesome journey. At that time my entire
    property consisted of one donkey, and he had a gall on his back,
    so that I could not ride him. But I made him carry my water-skin and
    bag of corn, over which I spread my rough cotton garment, and drove him
    along in front of me. At that time I wore the white cotton shirt,
    like the rest of my tribe. My clothes and my dialect at once marked
    me out as a stranger wherever I went; and when I crossed the Nile I was
    frequently greeted with “What do you want? Go back to your own country.
    There is nothing to steal here.”‘

    What a life of ups and downs! It was a long stride from the ownership
    of one saddle-galled donkey to the undisputed rule of an empire.
    The weary wayfarer may have dreamed of this, for ambition stirs
    imagination nearly as much as imagination excites ambition. But further
    he could not expect or wish to see. Nor could he anticipate as, in the
    complacency of a man who had done with evil days, he told the story of
    his rise to the submissive Slatin, that the day would come when he would
    lead an army of more than fifty thousand men to destruction, and that
    the night would follow when, almost alone, his empire shrunk again to
    the saddle-galled donkey, he would seek his home in distant Kordofan,
    while this same Slatin who knelt so humbly before him would lay
    the fierce pursuing squadrons on the trail.

    Mohammed Ahmed received his new adherent kindly, but without enthusiasm.
    For some months Abdullah carried stones to build the tomb of the Sheikh
    el Koreishi. Gradually they got to know each other. ‘But long before he
    entrusted me with his secret,’ said Abdullah to Slatin, ‘I knew that he
    was “the expected Guide.”‘ [Slatin, FIRE AND SWORD, p.131.] And though
    the world might think that the ‘Messenger of God’ was sent to lead men
    to happiness in heaven, Abdullah attached to the phrase a significance
    of his own, and knew that he should lead him to power on earth. The two
    formed a strong combination. The Mahdi–for such Mohammed Ahmed had
    already in secret announced himself–brought the wild enthusiasm of
    religion, the glamour of a stainless life, and the influence of
    superstition into the movement. But if he were the soul of the plot,
    Abdullah was the brain. He was the man of the world, the practical
    politician, the general.

    There now commenced a great conspiracy against the Egyptian Government.
    It was fostered by the discontents and justified by the miseries of
    the people of the Soudan. The Mahdi began to collect adherents and to
    extend his influence in all parts of the country. He made a second
    journey through Kordofan, and received everywhere promises of support
    from all classes. The most distant tribes sent assurances of devotion
    and reverence, and, what was of more importance, of armed assistance.
    The secret could not be long confined to those who welcomed the movement.
    As the ramifications of the plot spread they were perceived by
    the renowned Sheikh Sherif, who still nursed his chagrin and thirsted
    for revenge. He warned the Egyptian Government. They, knowing his envy
    and hatred of his former disciple, discounted his evidence and for some
    time paid no attention to the gathering of the storm. But presently
    more trustworthy witnesses confirmed his statements, and Raouf Pasha,
    then Governor-General, finding himself confronted with a growing
    agitation, determined to act. He accordingly sent a messenger to the
    island of Abba, to summon Mohammed Ahmed to Khartoum to justify his
    behaviour and explain his intentions. The news of the despatch of the
    messenger was swiftly carried to the Mahdi! He consulted with his trusty
    lieutenant. They decided to risk everything, and without further delay
    to defy the Government. When it is remembered how easily an organised
    army, even though it be in a bad condition, can stamp out the beginnings
    of revolt among a population, the courage of their resolve
    must be admired.

    The messenger arrived. He was received with courtesy by Abdullah,
    and forthwith conducted before the Mahdi. He delivered his message,
    and urged Mohammed Ahmed to comply with the orders of the
    Governor-General. The Mahdi listened for some time in silence,
    but with increasing emotion; and when the messenger advised him,
    as he valued his own safety, to journey to Khartoum, if only to
    justify himself, his passion overcame him. ‘What!’ he shouted,
    rising suddenly and striking his breast with his hand. ‘By the grace
    of God and his Prophet I am master of this country, and never shall
    I go to Khartoum to justify myself.’ [Slatin, FIRE AND SWORD, p.135.]
    The terrified messenger withdrew. The rebellion of the Mahdi had begun.

    Both the priest and the Governor-General prepared for military
    enterprise. The Mahdi proclaimed a holy war against the foreigners,
    alike the enemies of God and the scourge of men. He collected his
    followers. He roused the local tribes. He wrote letters to all parts
    of the Soudan, calling upon the people to fight for a purified religion,
    the freedom of the soil, and God’s holy prophet ‘the expected Mahdi.’
    He promised the honour of men to those who lived, the favour of God
    to those who fell, and lastly that the land should be cleared of the
    miserable ‘Turk.’ ‘Better,’ he said, and it became the watchword of
    the revolt, ‘thousands of graves than a dollar tax.’ [Ohrwalder, TEN

    Nor was Raouf Pasha idle. He sent two companies of infantry
    with one gun by steamer to Abba to arrest the fanatic who disturbed
    the public peace. What followed is characteristically Egyptian.
    Each company was commanded by a captain. To encourage their efforts,
    whichever officer captured the Mahdi was promised promotion. At sunset
    on an August evening in 1881 the steamer arrived at Abba. The promise
    of the Governor-General had provoked the strife, not the emulation of
    the officers. Both landed with their companies and proceeded by
    different routes under the cover of darkness to the village where
    the Mahdi dwelt. Arriving simultaneously from opposite directions,
    they fired into each other, and, in the midst of this mistaken combat,
    the Mahdi rushed upon them with his scanty following and destroyed them
    impartially. A few soldiers succeeded in reaching the bank of the river.
    But the captain of the steamer would run no risks, and those who
    could not swim out to the vessel were left to their fate. With such
    tidings the expedition returned to Khartoum.

    Mohammed Ahmed had been himself wounded in the attack, but the faithful
    Abdullah bound up the injury, so that none might know that God’s Prophet
    had been pierced by carnal weapons. The effect of the success was
    electrical. The news spread throughout the Soudan. Men with sticks
    had slain men with rifles. A priest had destroyed the soldiers of the
    Government. Surely this was the Expected One. The Mahdi, however,
    profited by his victory only to accomplish a retreat without loss of
    prestige. Abdullah had no illusions. More troops would be sent.
    They were too near to Khartoum. Prudence counselled flight to regions
    more remote. But before this new Hegira the Mahdi appointed his four
    Khalifas, in accordance with prophecy and precedent. The first was
    Abdullah. Of the others it is only necessary at this moment to notice
    Ali-Wad-Helu, the chief of one of the local tribes, and among the first
    to rally to the standard of revolt.

    Then the retreat began; but it was more like a triumphal progress.
    Attended by a considerable following, and preceded by tales of the most
    wonderful miracles and prodigies, the Mahdi retired to a mountain in
    Kordofan to which he gave the name of Jebel Masa, that being the
    mountain whence ‘the expected Guide’ is declared in the Koran sooner or
    later to appear. He was now out of reach of Khartoum, but within reach
    of Fashoda. The Egyptian Governor of that town, Rashid Bey, a man of
    more enterprise and even less military knowledge than is usual in his
    race, determined to make all attempt to seize the rebel and disperse his
    following. Taking no precautions, he fell on the 9th of December into
    an ambush, was attacked unprepared, and was himself, with fourteen
    hundred men, slaughtered by the ill-armed but valiant Arabs.

    The whole country stirred. The Government, thoroughly alarmed by
    the serious aspect the revolt had assumed, organised a great expedition.
    Four thousand troops under Yusef, a Pasha of distinguished reputation,
    were sent against the rebels. Meanwhile the Mahdi and his followers
    suffered the extremes of want. Their cause was as yet too perilous for
    the rich to join. Only the poor flocked to the holy standard. All that
    Mohammed possessed he gave away, keeping nothing for himself, excepting
    only a horse to lead his followers in battle. Abdullah walked.
    Nevertheless the rebels were half-famished, and armed with scarcely
    any more deadly weapons than sticks and stones. The army of the
    Government approached slowly. Their leaders anticipated an easy victory.
    Their contempt for the enemy was supreme. They did not even trouble
    themselves to post sentries by night, but slept calmly inside a slender
    thorn fence, unwatched save by their tireless foes. And so it came to
    pass that in the half-light of the early morning of the 7th of June
    the Mahdi, his ragged Khalifas, and his almost naked army rushed
    upon them, and slew them to a man.

    The victory was decisive. Southern Kordofan was at the feet of
    the priest of Abba. Stores of arms and ammunition had fallen into
    his hands. Thousands of every class hastened to join his standard.
    No one doubted that he was the divine messenger sent to free them from
    their oppressors. The whole of the Arab tribes all over the Soudan
    rose at once. The revolt broke out simultaneously in Sennar and Darfur,
    and spread to provinces still more remote. The smaller Egyptian posts,
    the tax-gatherers and local administrators, were massacred in every
    district. Only the larger garrisons maintained themselves in the
    principal towns. They were at once blockaded. All communications were
    interrupted. All legal authority was defied. Only the Mahdi was obeyed.

    It is now necessary to look for a moment to Egypt. The misgovernment
    which in the Soudan had caused the rebellion of the Mahdi, in Egypt
    produced the revolt of Arabi Pasha. As the people of the Soudan longed
    to be rid of the foreign oppressors–the so-called ‘Turks’–so those
    of the Delta were eager to free themselves from the foreign regulators
    and the real Turkish influence. While men who lived by the sources of
    the Nile asserted that tribes did not exist for officials to harry,
    others who dwelt at its mouth protested that nations were not made to
    be exploited by creditors or aliens. The ignorant south found their
    leader in a priest: the more educated north looked to a soldier.
    Mohammed Ahmed broke the Egyptian yoke; Arabi gave expression to the
    hatred of the Egyptians for the Turks. But although the hardy Arabs
    might scatter the effete Egyptians, the effete Egyptians were not likely
    to disturb the solid battalions of Europe. After much hesitation and
    many attempts at compromise, the Liberal Administration of Mr. Gladstone
    sent a fleet which reduced the forts of Alexandria to silence and the
    city to anarchy. The bombardment of the fleet was followed by the
    invasion of a powerful army. Twenty-five thousand men were landed in
    Egypt. The campaign was conducted with celerity and skill. The Egyptian
    armies were slaughtered or captured. Their patriotic but commonplace
    leader was sentenced to death and condemned to exile, and Great Britain
    assumed the direction of Egyptian affairs.

    The British soon restored law and order in Egypt, and the question
    of the revolt in the Soudan came before the English advisers of
    the Khedive. Notwithstanding the poverty and military misfortunes which
    depressed the people of the Delta, the desire to hold their southern
    provinces was evident. The British Government, which at that time was
    determined to pursue a policy of non-interference in the Soudan, gave a
    tacit consent, and another great expedition was prepared to suppress the
    False Prophet, as the English and Egyptians deemed him–‘the expected
    Mahdi,’ as the people of the Soudan believed.

    A retired officer of the Indian Staff Corps and a few European officers
    of various nationalities were sent to Khartoum to organise the new
    field force. Meanwhile the Mahdi, having failed to take by storm, laid
    siege to El Obeid, the chief town of Kordofan. During the summer of 1883
    the Egyptian troops gradually concentrated at Khartoum until a
    considerable army was formed. It was perhaps the worst army that has ever
    marched to war. One extract from General Hicks’s letters will suffice.
    Writing on the 8th of June, 1883, to Sir E. Wood, he says incidentally:
    ‘Fifty-one men of the Krupp battery deserted on the way here, although
    in chains.’ The officers and men who had been defeated fighting for their
    own liberties at Tel-el-Kebir were sent to be destroyed, fighting to
    take away the liberties of others in the Soudan. They had no spirit,
    no discipline, hardly any training, and in a force of over eight thousand
    men there were scarcely a dozen capable officers. The two who were the
    most notable of these few–General Hicks, who commanded, and Colonel
    Farquhar, the Chief of the Staff–must be remarked.

    El Obeid had fallen before the ill-fated expedition left Khartoum;
    but the fact that Slatin Bey, an Austrian officer in the Egyptian service,
    was still maintaining himself in Darfur provided it with an object. On the
    9th of September Hicks and his army (the actual strength of which was
    7,000 infantry, 400 mounted Bashi Bazuks, 500 cavalry, 100 Circassians,
    10 mounted guns, 4 Krupps, and 6 Nordenfeldt machine guns) left Omdurman
    and marched to Duem. Although the actual command of the expedition was
    vested in the English officer, Ala-ed-Din Pasha, the Governor-General who
    had succeeded Raouf Pasha, exercised an uncertain authority. Differences
    of opinion were frequent, though all the officers were agreed in taking
    the darkest views of their chances. The miserable host toiled slowly
    onward towards its destruction, marching in a south-westerly direction
    through Shat and Rahad. Here the condition of the force was so obviously
    demoralised that a German servant (Gustav Klootz, the servant of Baron
    Seckendorf) actually deserted to the Mahdi’s camp. He was paraded
    in triumph as an English officer.

    On the approach of the Government troops the Mahdi had marched
    out of El Obeid and established himself in the open country, where he
    made his followers live under military conditions and continually
    practised them in warlike evolutions. More than forty thousand men
    collected round his standard, and the Arabs were now armed with several
    thousand rifles and a few cannon, as well as a great number of swords
    and spears. To these proportions had the little band of followers who
    fought at Abba grown! The disparity of the forces was apparent before
    the battle. The Mahdi thereupon wrote to Hicks, calling on him to
    surrender and offering terms. His proposals were treated with disdain,
    although the probable result of an engagement was clear.

    Until the expedition reached Rahad only a few cavalry patrols had watched
    its slow advance. But on the 1st of November the Mahdi left El Obeid and
    marched with his whole power to meet his adversary. The collision took
    place on the 3rd of November. All through that day the Egyptians
    struggled slowly forward, in great want of water, losing continually from
    the fire of the Soudanese riflemen, and leaving several guns behind them.
    On the next morning they were confronted by the main body of the Arab
    army, and their attempts to advance further were defeated with heavy loss.
    The force began to break up. Yet another day was consumed before it was
    completely destroyed. Scarcely five hundred Egyptians escaped death;
    hardly as many of the Arabs fell. The European officers perished fighting
    to the end; and the general met his fate sword in hand, at the head of
    the last formed body of his troops, his personal valour and physical
    strength exciting the admiration even of the fearless enemy, so that in
    chivalrous respect they buried his body with barbaric honours. Mohammed
    Ahmed celebrated his victory with a salute of one hundred guns; and well
    he might, for the Soudan was now his, and his boast that, by God’s grace
    and the favour of the Prophet, he was the master of all the land had been
    made good by force of arms.

    No further attempt was made to subdue the country. The people of
    the Soudan had won their freedom by their valour and by the skill and
    courage of their saintly leader. It only remained to evacuate the towns
    and withdraw the garrisons safely. But what looked like the winding-up
    of one story was really the beginning of another, much longer, just as
    bloody, commencing in shame and disaster, but ending in triumph and,
    let us hope, in peace.

    I desire for a moment to take a more general view of the
    Mahdi’s movement than the narrative has allowed. The original causes
    were social and racial. But, great as was the misery of the people,
    their spirit was low, and they would not have taken up arms merely on
    material grounds. Then came the Mahdi. He gave the tribes the enthusiasm
    they lacked. The war broke out. It is customary to lay to the charge of
    Mohammed Ahmed all the blood that was spilled. To my mind it seems that
    he may divide the responsibility with the unjust rulers who oppressed
    the land, with the incapable commanders who muddled away the lives of
    their men, with the vacillating Ministers who aggravated the misfortunes.
    But, whatever is set to the Mahdi’s account, it should not be forgotten
    that he put life and soul into the hearts of his countrymen, and freed
    his native land of foreigners. The poor miserable natives, eating only
    a handful of grain, toiling half-naked and without hope, found a new,
    if terrible magnificence added to life. Within their humble breasts the
    spirit of the Mahdi roused the fires of patriotism and religion. Life
    became filled with thrilling, exhilarating terrors. They existed in
    a new and wonderful world of imagination. While they lived there were
    great things to be done; and when they died, whether it were slaying the
    Egyptians or charging the British squares, a Paradise which they could
    understand awaited them. There are many Christians who reverence
    the faith of Islam and yet regard the Mahdi merely as a commonplace
    religious impostor whom force of circumstances elevated to notoriety.
    In a certain sense, this may be true. But I know not how a genuine
    may be distinguished from a spurious Prophet, except by the measure of
    his success. The triumphs of the Mahdi were in his lifetime far greater
    than those of the founder of the Mohammedan faith; and the chief
    difference between orthodox Mohammedanism and Mahdism was that the
    original impulse was opposed only by decaying systems of government and
    society and the recent movement came in contact with civilisation and
    the machinery of science. Recognising this, I do not share the popular
    opinion, and I believe that if in future years prosperity should come
    to the peoples of the Upper Nile, and learning and happiness follow in
    its train, then the first Arab historian who shall investigate the
    early annals of that new nation will not forget, foremost among
    the heroes of his race, to write the name of Mohammed Ahmed.


    All great movements, every vigorous impulse that a community
    may feel, become perverted and distorted as time passes, and the
    atmosphere of the earth seems fatal to the noble aspirations of
    its peoples. A wide humanitarian sympathy in a nation easily
    degenerates into hysteria. A military spirit tends towards brutality.
    Liberty leads to licence, restraint to tyranny. The pride of race is
    distended to blustering arrogance. The fear of God produces bigotry
    and superstition. There appears no exception to the mournful rule,
    and the best efforts of men, however glorious their early results,
    have dismal endings, like plants which shoot and bud and put forth
    beautiful flowers, and then grow rank and coarse and are withered by
    the winter. It is only when we reflect that the decay gives birth to
    fresh life, and that new enthusiasms spring up to take the places of
    those that die, as the acorn is nourished by the dead leaves of the oak,
    the hope strengthens that the rise and fall of men and their movements
    are only the changing foliage of the ever-growing tree of life, while
    underneath a greater evolution goes on continually.

    The movement which Mohammed Ahmed created did not escape the common
    fate of human enterprise; nor was it long before the warm generous blood
    of a patriotic and religious revolt congealed into the dark clot of
    a military empire. With the expulsion or destruction of the foreign
    officials, soldiers, and traders, the racial element began to subside.
    The reason for its existence was removed. With the increasing disorders
    the social agitation dwindled; for communism pre-supposes wealth, and the
    wealth of the Soudan was greatly diminished. There remained only the
    fanatical fury which the belief in the divine mission of the Mahdi
    had excited; and as the necessity for a leader passed away, the belief
    in his sanctity grew weaker. But meanwhile a new force was making itself
    felt on the character of the revolt. The triumph no less than the plunder
    which had rewarded the Mahdi’s victories had called into existence a
    military spirit distinct from the warlike passions of the
    tribesmen–the spirit of the professional soldier.

    The siege of Khartoum was carried on while this new influence
    was taking the place of the original forces of revolt. There was
    a period when a neutral point was obtained and the Mahdist power
    languished. But the invasion of the Eastern Soudan by the British troops
    in the spring and the necessary advance of the relieving columns in the
    winter of 1884 revived the patriotic element. The tribes who had made
    a great effort to free themselves from foreign domination saw in the
    operations of Sir Gerald Graham and Lord Wolseley an attempt to bring
    them again under the yoke. The impulse which was given to the Mahdi’s
    cause was sufficient to raise a fierce opposition to the invading forces.
    The delay in the despatch of the relief expedition had sealed the fate
    of Khartoum, and the fall of the town established the supremacy of
    the military spirit on which the Dervish Empire was afterwards founded.

    All the warlike operations of Mohammedan peoples are characterised
    by fanaticism, but with this general reservation it may be said–that the
    Arabs who destroyed Yusef, who assaulted El Obeid, who annihilated Hicks
    fought in the glory of religious zeal; that the Arabs who opposed Graham,
    Earle, and Stewart fought in defence of the soil; and that the Arabs who
    were conquered by Kitchener fought in the pride of an army. Fanatics
    charged at Shekan; patriots at Abu Klea; warriors at Omdurman.

    In order to describe conveniently the changing character of the revolt,
    I have anticipated the story and must revert to a period when the social
    and racial influences were already weakening and the military spirit
    was not yet grown strong. If the defeat of Yusef Pasha decided the whole
    people of the Soudan to rise in arms and strike for their liberties,
    the defeat of Hicks satisfied the British Government that those liberties
    were won. The powerful influence of the desire to rule prompted
    the Khedive’s Ministers to make still further efforts to preserve their
    country’s possessions. Had Egypt been left to herself, other desperate
    efforts would have been made. But the British Government had finally
    abandoned the policy of non-interference with Egyptian action in the
    Soudan. They ‘advised’ its abandonment. The protests of Sherif Pasha
    provoked Lord Granville to explain the meaning of the word ‘advice.’
    The Khedive bowed to superior authority. The Minister resigned.
    The policy of evacuation was firmly adopted. ‘Let us,’ said the
    Ministers, ‘collect the garrisons and come away.’ It was simple to decide
    on the course to be pursued, but almost impossible to follow it. Several
    of the Egyptian garrisons, as in Darfur and El Obeid, had already fallen.
    The others were either besieged, like Sennar, Tokar, and Sinkat,
    or cut off from the north, as in the case of the Equatorial Province,
    by the area of rebellion. The capital of the Soudan was, however, as yet
    unmolested; and as its Egyptian population exceeded the aggregate of the
    provincial towns, the first task of the Egyptian Government was obvious.

    Mr. Gladstone’s Administration had repressed the revolt of Arabi Pasha.
    Through their policy the British were in armed occupation of Egypt.
    British officers were reorganising the army. A British official supervised
    the finances. A British plenipotentiary ‘advised’ the re-established
    Tewfik. A British fleet lay attentive before the ruins of Alexandria,
    and it was evident that Great Britain could annex the country in name
    as well as in fact. But Imperialism was not the object of the Radical
    Cabinet. Their aim was philanthropic and disinterested. As they were now
    determined that the Egyptians should evacuate the Soudan, so they
    had always been resolved that the British should evacuate Egypt.

    Throughout this chapter it will be seen that the desire to get out
    of the country at once is the keynote of the British policy. Every act,
    whether of war or administration, is intended to be final. Every despatch
    is directed to breaking the connection between the two countries
    and winding up the severed strings. But responsibilities which had been
    lightly assumed clung like the shirt of Nessus. The ordinary practice
    of civilised nations demanded that some attempt should be made to justify
    interference by reorganisation. The British Government watched therefore
    with anxious solicitude the efforts of Egypt to evacuate the Soudan
    and bring the garrisons safely home. They utterly declined to assist
    with military force, but they were generous with their advice. Everybody
    at that time distrusted the capacities of the Egyptians, and it was
    thought the evacuation might be accomplished if it were entrusted to
    stronger and more honest men than were bred by the banks of the Nile.
    The Ministers looked about them, wondering how they could assist the
    Egyptian Government without risk or expense to themselves, and in an
    evil hour for their fame and fortunes someone whispered the word ‘Gordon.’
    Forthwith they proceeded to telegraph to Cairo: ‘Would General Charles
    Gordon be of any use to you or to the Egyptian Government; and, if so,
    in what capacity’? The Egyptian Government replied through Sir Evelyn
    Baring that as the movement in the Soudan was partly religious they were
    ‘very much averse’ from the appointment of a Christian in high command.
    The eyes of all those who possessed local knowledge were turned to
    a different person. There was one man who might stem the tide of Mahdism,
    who might perhaps restore the falling dominion of Egypt, who might at
    least save the garrisons of the Soudan. In their necessity and distress
    the Khedivial advisers and the British plenipotentiary looked
    as a desperate remedy to the man whose liberty they had curtailed,
    whose property they had confiscated, and whose son they
    had executed–Zubehr Pasha.

    This was the agent for whom the Government of Egypt hankered.
    The idea was supported by all who were acquainted with the local
    conditions. A week after Sir Evelyn Baring had declined General Gordon’s
    services he wrote: ‘Whatever may be Zubehr’s faults, he is said to be
    a man of great energy and resolution. The Egyptian Government considers
    that his services may be very useful. . . . Baker Pasha is anxious to
    avail himself of Zubehr Pasha’s services.'[Sir Evelyn Baring, letter of
    December 9, 1883.] It is certain that had the Egyptian Government been
    a free agent, Zubehr would have been sent to the Soudan as its Sultan,
    and assisted by arms, money, and perhaps by men, to make head against
    the Mahdi. It is probable that at this particular period the Mahdi would
    have collapsed before a man whose fame was nearly equal to, and whose
    resources would have been much greater than, his own. But the British
    Ministry would countenance no dealings with such a man. They scouted the
    idea of Zubehr, and by so doing increased their obligation to suggest
    an alternative. Zubehr being rejected, Gordon remained. It is scarcely
    possible to conceive a greater contrast than that which these two men
    presented. It was a leap from the Equator to the North Pole.

    When difficulties and dangers perplex all minds, it has often
    happened in history that many men by different lines of thought arrive
    at the same conclusion. No complete record has yet been published
    of the telegrams which passed between the Government and their agent
    at this juncture. The Blue-books preserve a disingenuous discretion.
    But it is known that from the very first Sir Evelyn Baring was bitterly
    opposed to General Gordon’s appointment. No personal friendship existed
    between them, and the Administrator dreaded the return to the feverish
    complications of Egyptian politics of the man who had always been
    identified with unrest, improvisation, and disturbance. The pressure was,
    however, too strong for him to withstand. Nubar Pasha, the Foreign Office,
    the British public, everyone clamoured for the appointment. Had Baring
    refused to give way, it is probable that he would have been overruled.
    At length he yielded, and, as soon as his consent had been obtained,
    the government turned with delight to Gordon. On the 17th of January
    Lord Wolseley requested him to come to England. On the 18th he met
    the Cabinet. That same night he started on the long journey
    from which he was never to return.

    Gordon embarked on his mission in high spirits, sustained by
    that belief in personality which too often misleads great men and
    beautiful women. It was, he said, the greatest honour ever conferred
    upon him. Everything smiled. The nation was delighted. The Ministers
    were intensely relieved. The most unbounded confidence was reposed
    in the envoy. His interview with the Khedive was ‘very satisfactory.’
    His complete authority was proclaimed to all the notables and natives
    of the Soudan [Proclamation of the Khedive, January 26, 1884.] He was
    assured of the support of the Egyptian Government [Sir E. Baring to
    Major-General Gordon, January 25, 1884.] The London Foreign Office,
    having with becoming modesty admitted that they had not ‘sufficient
    local knowledge,’ [Earl Granville to Sir E. Baring, January 22, 1884.]
    accorded him ‘widest discretionary power.’ [Sir E. Baring to Earl
    Granville, February 1, 1884.] One hundred thousand pounds was placed
    to his credit, and he was informed that further sums would be supplied
    when this was exhausted. He was assured that no effort would be wanting
    on the part of the Cairene authorities, whether English or Egyptian,
    to afford him all the support and co-operation in their power
    [Sir E. Baring to Major-General Gordon, January 25, 1884.] ‘There is
    no sort of difference,’ wrote Sir Evelyn Baring, ‘between General
    Gordon’s views and those entertained by Nubar Pasha and myself.’
    [Sir E. Baring to Earl Granville, February 1,1884.] Under these
    propitious auguries the dismal and disastrous enterprise began.

    His task, though difficult and, as it ultimately proved, impossible,
    was clearly defined. ‘You will bear in mind,’ wrote Sir Evelyn Baring,
    ‘that the main end to be pursued is the evacuation of the Soudan.’
    ‘The object. . . of your mission to the Soudan,’ declared the Khedive,
    ‘is to carry into execution the evacuation of those territories and to
    withdraw our troops, civil officials, and such of the inhabitants . . .
    as may wish to leave for Egypt. . . and after the evacuation to take the
    necessary steps for establishing an organised Government in the different
    provinces.’ Nor was he himself under any misconception. He drew up a
    memorandum when on board the Tanjore in which he fully acquiesced in
    the evacuation of the Soudan. In a sentence which breathes the same
    spirit as Mr. Gladstone’s famous expression, ‘a people rightly struggling
    to be free,’ he wrote: ‘I must say that it would be an iniquity to
    conquer these peoples and then hand them back to the Egyptians without
    guarantees of future good government.’ Finally, he unhesitatingly
    asserted: ‘No one who has ever lived in the Soudan can escape the
    reflection “What a useless possession is this land!”‘ And Colonel Stewart,
    who accompanied him and endorsed the memorandum, added: ‘And what a huge
    encumbrance to Egypt!’ Thus far there was complete agreement
    between the British envoy and the Liberal Cabinet.

    It is beyond the scope of these pages to describe his long ride
    across the desert from Korosko to Abu Hamed, his interview with the
    notables at Berber, or his proclamation of the abandonment of the Soudan,
    which some affirm to have been an important cause of his ruin.
    On the 22nd of February he arrived at Khartoum. He was received with
    rejoicing by the whole population. They recognised again their just
    Governor-General and their present deliverer. Those who had been about
    to fly for the north took fresh heart. They believed that behind the
    figure of the envoy stood the resources of an Empire. The Mahdi and the
    gathering Dervishes were perplexed and alarmed. Confusion and hesitancy
    disturbed their councils and delayed their movements. Gordon had come.
    The armies would follow. Both friends and foes were deceived. The great
    man was at Khartoum, but there he would remain–alone.

    Whatever confidence the General had felt in the power of his personal
    influence had been dispelled on the journey to Khartoum. He had no more
    illusions. His experienced eye reviewed the whole situation. He saw
    himself confronted with a tremendous racial movement. The people of
    the Soudan had risen against foreigners. His only troops were Soudanese.
    He was himself a foreigner. Foremost among the leaders of the revolt
    were the Arab slave dealers, furious at the attempted suppression of
    their trade. No one, not even Sir Samuel Baker, had tried harder to
    suppress it than Gordon. Lastly, the whole movement had assumed a
    fanatical character. Islam marched against the infidel. Gordon was a
    Christian. His own soldiers were under the spell they were to try to
    destroy. To them their commander was accursed. Every influence was
    hostile, and in particular hostile to his person. The combined forces
    of race, class, and religion were against him. He bowed before their
    irresistible strength. On the very day of his arrival at Khartoum,
    while the townsfolk were cheering his name in the streets and the
    batteries were firing joyful salutes, while the people of England thought
    his mission already accomplished and the Government congratulated
    themselves on the wisdom of their action, General Gordon sat himself
    down and telegraphed a formal request to Cairo for Zubehr Pasha.

    The whole story of his relations with Zubehr is extremely characteristic.
    Zubehr’s son, Suliman, had been executed, if not by Gordon’s orders,
    at least during his administration of the Soudan and with his complete
    approval. ‘Thus,’ he had said, ‘does God make gaps in the ranks of His
    enemies.’ He had hardly started from London on his new mission, when he
    telegraphed to Sir Evelyn Baring, telling him that Zubehr was a most
    dangerous man and requesting that he might be at once deported to Cyprus.
    This was, of course, quite beyond the powers or intention of the British
    Agent. The General arrived in Cairo like a whirlwind close behind his
    telegram, and was very angry to hear that Zubehr was still in Egypt.
    Before starting up the river he went to see Sherif Pasha. In the
    ex-Minister’s ante-room he met the very man he had determined to avoid
    –Zubehr. He greeted him with effusion. They had a long talk about
    the Soudan, after which Gordon hurried to the Agency and informed
    Sir Evelyn Baring that Zubehr must accompany him to Khartoum at once.
    Baring was amazed. He did not himself disapprove of the plan. He had,
    in fact, already recommended it. But he thought the change in Gordon’s
    attitude too sudden to be relied on. To-morrow he might change again.
    He begged the General to think more seriously of the matter. Gordon with
    his usual frankness admitted that his change of mind had been very sudden.
    He had been conscious, he said, of a ‘mystic feeling’ that Zubehr was
    necessary to save the situation in the Soudan.

    Gordon left Cairo still considering the matter. So soon as he made
    his formal demand from Khartoum for the assistance of Zubehr it was
    evident that his belief in the old slave dealer’s usefulness was a sound
    conviction and not a mere passing caprice. Besides, he had now become
    ‘the man on the spot,’ and as such his words carried double force.
    Sir Evelyn Baring determined to support the recommendation with his whole
    influence. Never was so good a case made out for the appointment of
    so bad a man. The Envoy Extraordinary asked for him; Colonel Stewart,
    his colleague, concurred; the British Agent strongly urged the request;
    the Egyptian Government were unanimous; and behind all these were ranged
    every single person who had the slightest acquaintance with the Soudan.
    nothing could exceed the vigour with which the demand was made.
    On the 1st of March General Gordon telegraphed: ‘I tell you plainly,
    it is impossible to get Cairo employees out of Khartoum unless the
    Government helps in the way I told you. They refuse Zubehr . . . .
    but it was the only chance.’ And again on the 8th: ‘If you do not
    send Zubehr, you have no chance of getting the garrisons away.’
    ‘I believe,’ said Sir Evelyn Baring in support of these telegrams,
    ‘that General Gordon is quite right when he says that Zubehr Pasha is
    the only possible man. Nubar is strongly in favour of him. Dr. Bohndorf,
    the African traveller, fully confirms what General Gordon says of the
    influence of Zubehr.’ The Pasha was vile, but indispensable.

    Her Majesty’s Government refused absolutely to have anything to do
    with Zubehr. They declined to allow the Egyptian Government to employ him.
    They would not entertain the proposal, and scarcely consented to
    discuss it. The historians of the future may occupy their leisure and
    exercise their wits in deciding whether the Ministers and the people were
    right or wrong; whether they had a right to indulge their sensitiveness
    at so terrible a cost; whether they were not more nice than wise; whether
    their dignity was more offended by what was incurred or by what
    was avoided.

    General Gordon has explained his views very clearly and concisely:
    ‘Had Zubehr Pasha been sent up when I asked for him, Berber would in all
    probability never have fallen, and one might have made a Soudan Government
    in opposition to the Mahdi. We choose to refuse his coming up because of
    his antecedents in re slave trade; granted that we had reason, yet, as we
    take no precautions as to the future of these lands with respect to the
    slave trade, the above opposition seems absurd. I will not send up ‘A’
    because he will do this, but I will leave the country to ‘B’, who will do
    exactly the same [Major-General Gordon, JOURNALS AT KHARTOUM.]

    But if the justice of the decision is doubtful, its consequences were
    obvious. Either the British Government were concerned with the Soudan,
    or they were not. If they were not, then they had no reason or right to
    prohibit the appointment of Zubehr. If they were, they were bound to see
    that the garrisons were rescued. It was an open question whether Great
    Britain was originally responsible for the safety of the garrisons.
    General Gordon contended that we were bound to save them at all costs,
    and he backed his belief with his life. Others may hold that Governments
    have no right to lay, or at any rate must be very judicious in the laying
    of burdens on the backs of their own countrymen in order that they may
    indulge a refined sense of chivalry towards foreigners. England had not
    misgoverned the Soudan, had not raised the revolt or planted the
    garrisons. All that Egypt had a right to expect was commiseration.
    But the moment Zubehr was prohibited the situation was changed.
    The refusal to permit his employment was tantamount to an admission that
    affairs in the Soudan involved the honour of England as well as the honour
    of Egypt. When the British people–for this was not merely the act of the
    Government–adopted a high moral attitude with regard to Zubehr, they
    bound themselves to rescue the garrisons, peaceably if possible,
    forcibly if necessary.

    With their refusal to allow Zubehr to go to the Soudan
    began the long and miserable disagreement between the Government
    and their envoy. Puzzled and disturbed at the reception accorded to his
    first request, Gordon cast about for other expedients. He had already
    stated that Zubehr was ‘the only chance.’ But it is the duty of
    subordinates to suggest other courses when those they recommend are
    rejected; and with a whole-hearted enthusiasm and unreserved loyalty
    the General threw himself into the affair and proposed plan after plan
    with apparent hope.

    Gordon considered that he was personally pledged to effect the evacuation
    of Khartoum by the garrison and civil servants. He had appointed some
    of the inhabitants to positions of trust, thus compromising them with
    the Mahdi. Others had undoubtedly been encouraged to delay their departure
    by his arrival. He therefore considered that his honour was involved in
    their safety. Henceforward he was inflexible. Neither rewards nor threats
    could move him. Nothing that men could offer would induce him to leave
    Khartoum till its inhabitants were rescued. The Government on their side
    were equally stubborn. Nothing, however sacred, should induce them to send
    troops to Khartoum, or in any way involve themselves in the middle
    of Africa. The town might fall; the garrison might be slaughtered;
    their envoy–But what possibilities they were prepared to face as
    regards him will not be known until all of this and the next generation
    are buried and forgotten.

    The deadlock was complete. To some men the Foreign Office might
    have suggested lines of retreat, covered by the highest official praise,
    and leading to preferment and reward. Others would have welcomed an order
    to leave so perilous a post. But the man they had sent was the one man
    of all others who was beyond their control, who cared nothing for what
    they could give or take away. So events dragged on their wretched course.
    Gordon’s proposals became more and more impracticable as the best courses
    he could devise were successively vetoed by the Government, and as his
    irritation and disappointment increased. The editor of his Journals has
    enumerated them with indignant care. He had asked for Zubehr. Zubehr was
    refused. He had requested Turkish troops. Turkish troops were refused.
    He had asked for Mohammedan regiments from India. The Government regretted
    their inability to comply. He asked for a Firman from the Sultan to
    strengthen his position. It was ‘peremptorily refused.’ He proposed to go
    south in his steamers to Equatoria. The Government forbade him to proceed
    beyond Khartoum. He asked that 200 British troops might be sent to Berber.
    They were refused. He begged that a few might be sent to Assuan. None were
    sent. He proposed to visit the Mahdi himself and try to arrange matters
    with him personally. Perhaps he recognised a kindred spirit.
    The Government in this case very naturally forbade him.

    At last the quarrel is open. He makes no effort to conceal his disgust.
    ‘I leave you,’ he says, the ‘indelible disgrace of abandoning the
    garrisons.’ [Major-General Gordon to Sir E. Baring (telegraphic), received
    at Cairo April 16.] Such abandonment is, he declares, ‘the climax of
    meanness.’ [Ibid, despatched April 8.] He reiterates his determination
    to abide with the garrison of Khartoum. ‘I will not leave these people
    after all they have gone through.’ [Major-General Gordon to Sir E. Baring,
    Khartoum, July 30; received at Cairo October 15.] He tosses his commission
    contemptuously from him: ‘I would also ask her Majesty’s Government to
    accept the resignation of my commission.’ [Major-General Gordon to Sir E.
    Baring (telegraphic), Khartoum, March 9.] The Government ‘trust that he
    will not resign,’ [Earl Granville to Sir E. Baring, Foreign Office,
    March 13.] and his offer remains in abeyance. Finally, in bitterness and
    vexation, thinking himself abandoned and disavowed, he appeals to Sir
    Evelyn Baring personally: ‘I feel sure, whatever you may feel
    diplomatically, I have your support–and that of every man professing
    himself a gentleman–in private’; [Major-General Gordon to Sir E. Baring
    (telegraphic), received at Cairo April 16.] and as a last hope he begs
    Sir Samuel Baker to appeal to ‘British and American millionaires’
    to subscribe two hundred thousand pounds to enable him to carry out the
    evacuation without, and even in spite of, the Governments of Cairo and
    London; and Sir Samuel Baker writes a long letter to the Times in
    passionate protest and entreaty.

    Such are the chief features in the wretched business. Even the Blue-books
    in their dry recital arouse in the reader painful and indignant emotions.
    But meanwhile other and still more stirring events were passing outside
    the world of paper and ink.

    The arrival of Gordon at Khartoum had seriously perplexed and alarmed
    Mohammed Ahmed and his Khalifas. Their following was discouraged,
    and they themselves feared lest the General should be the herald
    of armies. His Berber proclamation reassured them, and as the weeks
    passed without reinforcements arriving, the Mahdi and Abdullah,
    with that courage which in several great emergencies drew them to the
    boldest courses, determined to put a brave face on the matter and blockade
    Khartoum itself. They were assisted in this enterprise by a revival of
    the patriotic impulse throughout the country and a consequent stimulus
    to the revolt. To discover the cause it is necessary to look to the
    Eastern Soudan, where the next tragedy, after the defeat of Hicks,
    is laid.

    The Hadendoa tribe, infuriated by oppression and misgovernment,
    had joined the rebellion under the leadership of the celebrated,
    and perhaps immortal, Osman Digna. The Egyptian garrisons of Tokar and
    Sinkat were beleaguered and hard pressed. Her Majesty’s Government
    disclaimed all responsibility. Yet, since these towns were not far from
    the coast, they did not prohibit an attempt on the part of the Egyptian
    Government to rescue the besieged soldiers. Accordingly an Egyptian
    force 3,500 strong marched from Suakin in February 1884 to relieve Tokar,
    under the command of General Baker, once the gallant colonel of the
    1Oth Hussars. Hard by the wells of Teb they were, on the 5th of February,
    attacked by about a thousand Arabs.

    ‘On the square being only threatened by a small force of
    the enemy. . . the Egyptian troops threw down their arms and ran,
    carrying away the black troops with them, and allowing themselves
    to be killed without the slightest resistance.’ [General Baker to Sir
    E. Baring, February 6 (official despatch), telegraphic.] The British and
    European officers in vain endeavoured to rally them. The single Soudanese
    battalion fired impartially on friend and foe. The general, with that
    unshaken courage and high military skill which had already on the Danube
    gained him a continental reputation, collected some fifteen hundred men,
    mostly unarmed, and so returned to Suakin. Ninety-six officers and
    2,250 men were killed. Krupp guns, machine guns, rifles, and a large
    supply of ammunition fell to the victorious Arabs. Success inflamed their
    ardour to the point of madness. The attack of the towns was pressed with
    redoubled vigour. The garrison of Sinkat, 800 strong, sallied out and
    attempted to fight their way to Suakin. The garrison of Tokar surrendered.
    Both were destroyed.

    The evil was done. The slaughter was complete. Yet the British Government
    resolved to add to it. The garrisons they had refused to rescue they now
    determined to avenge. In spite of their philanthropic professions,
    and in spite of the advice of General Gordon, who felt that his position
    at Khartoum would be still further compromised by operations on his only
    line of retreat [Sir E. Baring to Earl Granville, Cairo, February 23.],
    a considerable military expedition consisting of one cavalry and two
    infantry brigades, was sent to Suakin. The command was entrusted to
    General Graham. Troops were hurriedly concentrated. The 10th Hussars,
    returning from India, were stopped and mounted on the horses of the
    gendarmerie. With admirable celerity the force took the field. Within
    a month of the defeat at Teb they engaged the enemy almost on the very
    scene of the disaster. On the 4th of March they slew 3,000 Hadendoa
    and drove the rest in disorder from the ground. Four weeks later a second
    action was fought at Tamai. Again the success of the British troops was
    complete; again the slaughter of the Arabs was enormous. But neither
    victory was bloodless. El Teb cost 24 officers and 168 men; Tamai,
    13 officers and 208 men. The effect of these operations was the dispersal
    of Osman Digna’s gathering. That astute man, not for the first
    or last time, made a good retreat.

    Ten thousand men had thus been killed in the space of three months
    in the Eastern Soudan. By the discipline of their armies the Government
    were triumphant. The tribes of the Red Sea shore cowered before them.
    But as they fought without reason, so they conquered without profit.

    As soon as Gordon had been finally refused the assistance of
    Zubehr Pasha, it was evident that the rescue of the garrisons
    was impossible. The General had been sent as the last hope. Rightly or
    wrongly, his recommendations were ignored. His mission was an admitted
    failure. After that the only question was how to bring him away as quickly
    as possible. It was certain that he would not come willingly. Force was
    necessary. Yet it was difficult to know how to apply it. After the
    victories in the Eastern Soudan the opportunity presented itself.
    The road was open. The local tribes were crushed. Berber had not then
    fallen. The Mahdi was himself still on the road from El Obeid to Khartoum.
    Sir Evelyn Baring saw the chance. He did not then occupy the formidable
    and imposing position in Egyptian politics that he has since attained.
    But with all his influence he urged the despatch of a small flying column
    to Khartoum. His idea was simple. One thousand or twelve hundred men
    were to mount on camels and ride thither via Berber. Those who fell ill or
    whose camels broke down would have to take their chance by the roadside.
    The plan, however, broke down in the military detail. Only one honourable
    course remained–a regular expedition. This the British Agent at once
    began to urge. This the Government obstinately refused to admit;
    and meanwhile time was passing.

    The situation at Khartoum became grave even before the breach between
    General Gordon and Mr. Gladstone’s Cabinet was complete. While the British
    Government was indulging in vengeful operations in the Eastern Soudan,
    the Mahdi advanced slowly but steadily upon the town with a following
    variously estimated at from fifteen to twenty thousand men. On the 7th
    of March Colonel Stewart telegraphed from Khartoum: ‘The Mahdi has
    attempted to raise the people of Shendi by an emissary. . . . We may be
    cut off;’ [Lieut.-Colonel Stewart to Sir E. Baring, March 7, 1884.]
    and on the 11th Gordon himself reported: ‘The rebels are four hours
    distant on the Blue Nile.’ [Major-General Gordon to Sir E. Baring,
    March 11, 1884.] Thereafter no more telegrams came, for on the 15th
    the wire was cut between Shendi and Berber, and the blockade
    had commenced.

    The long and glorious defence of the town of Khartoum will always
    fascinate attention. That one man, a European among Africans, a Christian
    among Mohammedans, should by his genius have inspired the efforts of 7,000
    soldiers of inferior race, and by his courage have sustained the hearts
    of 30,000 inhabitants of notorious timidity, and with such materials and
    encumbrances have offered a vigorous resistance to the increasing attacks
    of an enemy who, though cruel, would yet accept surrender, during a period
    of 317 days, is an event perhaps without parallel in history. But it may
    safely be predicted that no one will ever write an account which will
    compare in interest or in detail with that set forth by the man himself
    in the famous. ‘Journals at Khartoum.’

    The brief account has delighted thousands of readers in Europe and
    America. Perhaps it is because he is careless of the sympathy of men
    that Charles Gordon so readily wins it. Before the first of the six parts
    into which the Journals were divided is finished, the reader has been won.
    Henceforth he sees the world through Gordon’s eyes. With him he scoffs
    at the diplomatists; despises the Government; becomes impatient–
    unreasonably, perhaps–with a certain Major Kitchener in the Intelligence
    Branch, whose information miscarried or was not despatched; is wearied by
    the impracticable Shaiggia Irregulars; takes interest in the turkey-cock
    and his harem of four wives; laughs at the ‘black sluts’ seeing their
    faces for the first time in the mirror. With him he trembles for the fate
    of the ‘poor little beast,’ the Husseinyeh, when she drifts stern foremost
    on the shoal, ‘a penny steamer under cannon fire’; day after day he gazes
    through the General’s powerful telescope from the palace roof down the
    long brown reaches of the river towards the rocks of the Shabluka Gorge,
    and longs for some sign of the relieving steamers; and when the end of
    the account is reached, no man of British birth can read the last words,
    ‘Now mark this, if the Expeditionary Force–and I ask for no more than
    two hundred men–does not come within ten days, the town may fall;
    and I have done my best for the honour of our country. Good-bye,’ without
    being thrilled with vain regrets and futile resolutions. And then the
    account stops short. Nor will the silence ever be broken. The sixth
    instalment of the Journals was despatched on the 14th of December;
    and when it is finished the reader, separated suddenly from the pleasant
    companionship, experiences a feeling of loss and annoyance. Imagination,
    long supported, is brushed aside by stern reality. Henceforward Gordon’s
    perils were unrecorded.

    I would select one episode only from the Journals as an example of the
    peculiarity and the sternness of Charles Gordon’s character–his
    behaviour towards Slatin. This Austrian officer had been Governor of
    Darfur with the rank in the Egyptian service of Bey. For four years he
    had struggled vainly against the rebellion. He had fought numerous
    engagements with varied success. He had been several times wounded.
    Throughout his province and even beyond its limits he bore the reputation
    of a brave and capable soldier. The story of his life of suffering and
    adventure, written by himself, is widely known, and he is thought by
    those who have read it to be a man of feeling and of honour. By those
    who enjoy his personal acquaintance this belief is unhesitatingly
    confirmed. He had, however, committed an act which deprived him of
    Gordon’s sympathy and respect. During the fighting in Darfur, after
    several defeats, his Mohammedan soldiers were discouraged and attributed
    their evil fortune to the fact that their commander was an infidel under
    the curse of the Almighty. Slatin therefore proclaimed himself a follower
    of the Prophet, and outwardly at least adopted the faith of Islam.
    The troops, delighted at his conversion and cheered by the hope of
    success, renewed their efforts, and the resistance of the Governor of
    Darfur was prolonged. The end, however, was deferred, not averted.
    After the destruction of General Hicks’s army Slatin was compelled to
    surrender to the Dervishes. The religion he had assumed to secure victory
    he observed to escape death. The Arab leaders, who admired his courage,
    treated him at first with respect and kindness, and he was conducted to
    the Mahdi in his encampment before Khartoum. There during the siege he
    remained, closely watched but not imprisoned. Thence he wrote letters
    to Gordon explaining his surrender, excusing his apostacy, and begging
    that he might be allowed–not even assisted–to escape to Khartoum.
    The letters are extant, and scarcely anyone who reads them, reflecting
    on the twelve years of danger and degradation that lay before this man,
    will refuse their compassion.

    Gordon was inflexible. Before the arrival of the letters his allusions
    to Slatin are contemptuous: ‘One cannot help being amused at the Mahdi
    carrying all the Europeans about with him–nuns, priests, Greeks,
    Austrian officers–what a medley, a regular Etat-Major!’ [JOURNALS AT
    KHARTOUM.] He is suspicious of the circumstances of his surrender.
    ‘The Greek. . . says Slatin had 4,000 ardebs of dura, 1,500 cows, and
    plenty of ammunition: he has been given eight horses by the Mahdi.’
    He will not vouch for such a man; but he adds, with characteristic
    justice, ‘all this information must be taken with reserve.’

    At length the letters came. At the peril of his life, when ordered to
    write and demand the surrender of the town, Slatin substituted an appeal
    to Gordon to countenance his escape. This is the uncompromising minute
    in the Journals: ‘Oct. 16. The letters of Slatin have arrived. I have
    no remarks to make on them, and cannot make out why he wrote them.’
    In the afternoon, indeed, he betrays some pity; but it is the pity of
    a man for a mouse. ‘He is evidently not a Spartan. . . he will want some
    quarantine . . . one feels sorry for him.’ The next day he is again
    inexorable, and gives his reasons clearly. ‘I shall have nothing to do
    with Slatin’s coming here to stay, unless he has the Mahdi’s positive
    leave, which he is not likely to get; his doing so would be the breaking
    of his parole which should be as sacred when given to the Mahdi as to any
    other power, and it would jeopardise the safety of all these Europeans,
    prisoners with Mahdi.’

    Slatin’s position, it should be observed, was not that of an officer
    released on parole, but of a prisoner of war in durance in the enemy’s
    camp. In such circumstances he was clearly entitled to escape at his own
    proper risk. If his captors gave him the chance, they had only themselves
    to blame. His position was not dissimilar from that of the black soldiers
    who had been captured by the Dervishes and were now made to serve against
    the Government. These deserted to Khartoum daily, and the General fully
    acquiesced in their doing so. As to Slatin’s escape affecting the
    treatment of the other European prisoners, it must be observed that when
    at various times escapes were effected from Omdurman, and ultimately when
    Slatin himself escaped, no ill-treatment was inflicted on the rest of the
    prisoners; and even had such ill-treatment been the certain consequence
    of an escape, that need not have debarred a man, according to the customs
    of war, from attempting to regain his liberty. Nothing but his free and
    formal promise, obtained in return for favours received, can alienate
    that right. If the Mahdi chose to slaughter the remaining prisoners,
    the responsibility rested with the Mahdi.

    Slatin was, however, in no position to argue his case. His correspondence
    with Gordon was discovered. For some days his life hung on a thread.
    For several months he was heavily chained and fed on a daily handful of
    uncooked doura, such as is given to horses and mules. Tidings of these
    things were carried to Gordon. ‘Slatin,’ he observes icily, ‘is still in
    chains.’ He never doubted the righteousness of the course he had adopted,
    never for an instant. But few will deny that there were strong arguments
    on both sides. Many will assert that they were nicely balanced. Gordon
    must have weighed them carefully. He never wavered. Yet he needed Slatin.
    He was alone. He had no one in whose military capacity he could put the
    slightest confidence. Again and again in the Journals he expresses his
    want of trustworthy subordinates. He could not be everywhere, he said.
    ‘Nearly every order has to be repeated two or three times. I am weary
    of my life.’ ‘What one has felt so much here is the want of men
    like Gessi, or Messadaglia, or Slatin, but I have no one to whom
    I could entrust expeditions. . . . .’

    This was the man who would have employed Zubehr and bowed to expediency.
    But Zubehr had never ‘denied his Lord.’

    The actual defence of Khartoum is within the province of the Journals,
    nor shall I attempt a chronological account. After the 1Oth of September,
    when General Gordon sent Colonel Stewart and Messrs. Power and Herbin
    down the river in the ill-fated Abbas steamer, he was altogether alone.
    Many men have bowed to the weight of responsibility. Gordon’s
    responsibility was undivided. There was no one to whom he could talk
    as an equal. There was no one to whom he could–as to a trusty
    subordinate–reveal his doubts. To some minds the exercise of power
    is pleasant, but few sensations are more painful than responsibility
    without control. The General could not supervise the defence. The officers
    robbed the soldiers of their rations. The sentries slumbered at their
    posts. The townspeople bewailed their misfortunes, and all ranks and
    classes intrigued with the enemy in the hope of securing safety when the
    town should fall. Frequent efforts were made to stir up the inhabitants
    or sap their confidence. Spies of all kinds pervaded the town.
    The Egyptian Pashas, despairing, meditated treason. Once an attempt was
    made to fire the magazine. Once no less than eighty thousand ardebs of
    grain was stolen from the arsenal. From time to time the restless and
    ceaseless activity of the commander might discover some plot and arrest
    the conspirators; or, checking some account, might detect some robbery;
    but he was fully aware that what he found out was scarcely a tithe of
    what he could not hope to know. The Egyptian officers were untrustworthy.
    Yet he had to trust them. The inhabitants were thoroughly broken by war,
    and many were disloyal. He had to feed and inspirit them. The town itself
    was scarcely defensible. It must be defended to the end. From the flat
    roof of his palace his telescope commanded a view of the forts and lines.
    Here he would spend the greater part of each day, scrutinising the
    defences and the surrounding country with his powerful glass. When he
    observed that the sentries on the forts had left their posts, he would
    send over to have them flogged and their superiors punished. When his
    ‘penny steamers’ engaged the Dervish batteries he would watch, ‘on
    tenter-hooks,’ a combat which might be fatal to the defence, but which,
    since he could not direct it, must be left to officers by turns timid and
    reckless: and in the dark hours of the night he could not even watch.
    The Journals, the only receptacle of his confidences, display the
    bitterness of his sufferings no less than the greatness of his character.
    ‘There is no contagion,’ he writes, ‘equal to that of fear. I have been
    rendered furious when from anxiety I could not eat, I would find those at
    the same table were in like manner affected.’

    To the military anxieties was added every kind of worry which may weary
    a man’s soul. The women clamoured for bread. The townsfolk heaped
    reproaches upon him. The quarrel with the British Government had cut him
    very deeply. The belief that he was abandoned and discredited, that
    history would make light of his efforts, would perhaps never know of them,
    filled his mind with a sense of wrong and injustice which preyed upon his
    spirits. The miseries of the townsfolk wrung his noble, generous heart.
    The utter loneliness depressed him. And over all lay the shadow of
    uncertainty. To the very end the possibility that ‘all might be well’
    mocked him with false hopes. The first light of any morning might reveal
    the longed-for steamers of relief and the uniforms of British soldiers.
    He was denied even the numbing anaesthetic of despair.

    Yet he was sustained by two great moral and mental stimulants:
    his honour as a man, his faith as a Christian. The first had put all
    courses which he did not think right once and for all out of the question,
    and so allayed many doubts and prevented many vain regrets. But the
    second was the real source of his strength. He was sure that beyond this
    hazardous existence, with all its wrongs and inequalities, another life
    awaited him–a life which, if he had been faithful and true here
    upon earth, would afford him greater faculties for good and wider
    opportunities for their use. ‘Look at me now,’ he once said to a
    fellow-traveller, ‘with small armies to command and no cities to govern.
    I hope that death will set me free from pain, and that great armies will
    be given me, and that I shall have vast cities under my command.’
    [Lieut.-Colonel N. Newham Davis, ‘Some Gordon Reminiscences,’ published
    in THE MAN OF THE WORLD newspaper, December 14, 1898.] Such was
    his bright hope of immortality.

    As the severity of military operations increases, so also must the
    sternness of discipline. The zeal of the soldiers, their warlike
    instincts, and the interests and excitements of war may ensure obedience
    of orders and the cheerful endurance of perils and hardships during a
    short and prosperous campaign. But when fortune is dubious or adverse;
    when retreats as well as advances are necessary; when supplies fail,
    arrangements miscarry, and disasters impend, and when the struggle is
    protracted, men can only be persuaded to accept evil things by the lively
    realisation of the fact that greater terrors await their refusal. The ugly
    truth is revealed that fear is the foundation of obedience. It is certain
    that the influence of General Gordon upon the garrison and townspeople
    of Khartoum owed its greatest strength to that sinister element. ‘It is
    quite painful,’ he writes in his Journals in September, ‘to see men
    tremble so, when they come and see me, that they cannot hold the match to
    their cigarette.’ Yet he employed all other methods of inspiring
    their efforts. As the winter drew on, the sufferings of the besieged
    increased and their faith in their commander and his promises of relief
    diminished. To preserve their hopes–and, by their hopes, their courage
    and loyalty–was beyond the power of man. But what a great man in the
    utmost exercise of his faculties and authority might do, Gordon did.

    His extraordinary spirit never burned more brightly than in these last,
    gloomy days. The money to pay the troops was exhausted. He issued notes,
    signing them with his own name. The citizens groaned under the triple
    scourge of scarcity, disease, and war. He ordered the bands to play
    merrily and discharged rockets. It was said that they were abandoned,
    that help would never come, that the expedition was a myth–the lie of
    a General who was disavowed by his Government. Forthwith he placarded the
    walls with the news of victories and of the advance of a triumphant
    British army; or hired all the best houses by the river’s bank for the
    accommodation of the officers of the relieving force. A Dervish shell
    crashed through his palace. He ordered the date of its arrival to be
    inscribed above the hole. For those who served him faithfully he struck
    medals and presented them with pomp and circumstance. Others less
    laudable he shot. And by all these means and expedients the defence of
    the city was prolonged through the summer, autumn, and winter of 1884
    and on into the year 1885.

    All this time the public anxiety in England had been steadily growing.
    If Gordon was abandoned, he was by no means forgotten. As his mission had
    been followed with intense interest throughout the whole country, so its
    failure had caused general despondency. Disappointment soon gave place
    to alarm. The subject of the personal safety of the distinguished envoy
    was first raised in the House of Commons on the 16th of March by Lord
    Randolph Churchill. Availing himself of the opportunities provided by
    Supply, he criticised the vacillating policy of the Government, their
    purposeless slaughter in the Eastern Soudan, and their failure
    to establish the Suakin-Berber route. He proceeded to draw attention to
    the perilous position of General Gordon at Khartoum.

    ‘Colonel Coetlogon has stated that Khartoum may be easily captured;
    we know that General Gordon is surrounded by hostile tribes and cut off
    from communications with Cairo and London; and under these circumstances
    the House has a right to ask her Majesty’s Government whether they are
    going to do anything to relieve him. Are they going to remain indifferent
    to the fate of the one man on whom they have counted to extricate them
    from their dilemmas, to leave him to shift for himself, and not make a
    single effort on his behalf?’ [HANSARD’S PARLIAMENTARY DEBATES,
    March 16, 1884.]

    The Government remained impassive. Lord E. Fitzmaurice made some sort
    of reply, and there were Ministerial cheers. But the subject, Once raised,
    was not allowed to drop. Inspired and animated by the earnest energy of
    a young man, the Opposition were continually growing stronger. The conduct
    of Egyptian affairs afforded ample opportunity for criticism and attack.
    All through the summer months and almost every night Ministers were
    invited to declare whether they would rescue their envoy or leave him to
    his fate. Mr. Gladstone returned evasive answers. The Conservative Press
    took the cue. The agitation became intense. Even among the supporters of
    the Government there was dissatisfaction. But the Prime Minister was
    obdurate and unflinching. At length, at the end of the Session, the whole
    matter was brought forward in the gravest and most formal way by the
    moving of a vote of censure. The debate that followed Sir Michael Hicks
    Beach’s motion was long and acrimonious. Mr. Gladstone’s speech only
    increased the disquietude of his followers and the fury of the Opposition.
    Mr. Forster openly declared his disagreement with his leader; and although
    Lord Hartington in winding up the debate threw out some hopes of an
    expedition in the autumn, the Government majority fell on the division to
    twenty-eight. And after the prorogation the controversy was carried on
    with undiminished vigour outside the walls of Parliament, and the clamour
    in the country grew louder and louder.

    It is usual to look upon Mr. Gladstone’s conduct in the matter of the
    relief of Gordon as dictated by benevolent weakness. History may take
    another view. Strong and stubborn as was the character of the General,
    that of the Minister was its equal. If Gordon was the better man,
    Gladstone was incomparably the greater. It was easy for the First
    Minister of the Crown to despatch an expedition against savages. He was
    accustomed to the exercise of power. Compared with the resources of the
    Empire, the enterprise was insignificant. Few men have feared
    responsibility less than Gladstone. On the other hand, the expressed
    desire of the nation was a force to which he had always bowed–to which,
    indeed, he owed his political existence. Yet, in spite of the growing
    agitation throughout the land, he remained stern and silent. Most men do
    what is right, or what they persuade themselves is right; nor is it
    difficult to believe that Mr. Gladstone did not feel justified in
    involving the nation in operations in the heart of the Soudan for the
    purpose, not of saving the life of the envoy–for Gordon had but to embark
    on his steamers and come home–but simply in order to vindicate the
    personal honour of a man. And it is possible that a feeling of resentment
    against the officer whose intractable nature was bringing such odium upon
    the Government may have coloured his resolution with a darker tinge.

    But for all his power and influence he was forced to give way.
    The Government which had long ignored the call of honour abroad,
    was driven to the Soudan by the cries of shame at home. Lord Hartington,
    at that time Secretary of State for War, must be dissociated from the
    general censure which his principal colleagues have incurred. He was the
    first to recognise the obligation which lay upon the Cabinet, and through
    the Cabinet upon the nation, and it was to his influence that the despatch
    of the relieving expedition was mainly due. The Commander-in-Chief and the
    Adjutant-General, who were fully alive to the critical position at
    Khartoum, added their recommendations. But even at the last moment
    Mr. Gladstone was induced to sanction the advance only by the belief that
    the scale of the operations would be small, and that only a single brigade
    would be necessary. The decision was taken forthwith by the Ministry and
    announced to the nation. The Adjutant-General, however, asked for a very
    different force from what the Government had anticipated, and the single
    brigade was expanded into an expedition of ten thousand men, selected from
    the whole army.

    To reverse the decision was now, however, impossible, and the ‘Gordon
    Relief Expedition’ began. The commander to whom the conduct of the
    operations had been entrusted reviewed the situation. He saw himself
    confronted with a task which was easy and safe if it were undertaken at
    leisure, and which was doubtful and perilous if begun in haste. All the
    fruits of a long and successful career were staked on the result, and it
    is scarcely wonderful that he declined to be swift and reckless. Shrewdly
    estimating the military difficulties, he made his plans for a methodical
    and deliberate advance which would leave nothing to luck, and which
    resembles in character that afterwards carried out by Sir H. Kitchener.
    He excluded the idea of a wild glorious rush which might result
    in astonishing success or terrible disaster.

    Troops and stores were steadily collected at Wady Halfa and along the Nile.
    The new Camel Corps, consisting of four regiments, practised their drills
    and evolutions. To pilot the boats up the Cataracts voyageurs were brought
    from Canada. At length, when all preparations were complete, the expedition
    started. The plan was simple. A strong column of infantry in boats was to
    work up the river. In case that should not arrive in time, the Camel Corps
    was to strike across the Bayuda Desert from Korti to Metemma. Having
    arrived there, a small detachment was to be thrown into Khartoum by
    Gordon’s steamers to sustain the defence until the arrival of the main body
    in March or even April of 1885, when the town could be regularly relieved.

    The dramatic character of the enterprise and its picturesque and original
    features fascinated the nation, and the advance was watched with
    breathless interest. The fortunes of the River Column have been
    graphically described by one who played no small part in their attempt.
    ‘The Campaign of the Cataracts’ [By Sir William Butler] is a record of
    hard and unceasing toil. Day after day the long lines of soldiers hauled
    on the tow-ropes or pulled at the oars of the broad-bottomed boats.
    Night after night they camped on the banks amid the grim desolation of
    the Monassir Desert. Yet their monotonous labours were encouraged by the
    knowledge that as soon as the bend of the river at Abu Hamed was reached
    the strong north wind would carry them swiftly to Khartoum. And it seemed
    a strange and bitter irony that the order to turn back and the news that
    all had been in vain was announced to the troops on the very day when
    they had cleared the cataracts and were moving forward at five times
    their former speed.

    The Desert Column started from Korti on the 30th of December.
    Their strength did not exceed 1,100 officers and men, but they were
    the flower of the army. Dropping their communications, they set forth
    along the caravan route towards Metemma. The knowledge which we have
    since gained of the resources of the Mahdists enables the peril of
    their desperate venture to be fully appreciated. Although the Dervishes
    were neither so well armed nor trained as at a later date, they were
    nearly as numerous and equally devoid of fear. Their tactics were more
    in accordance with modern conditions: their fanaticism was at its height.
    The British force, on the other hand, was equipped with weapons scarcely
    comparable with those employed in the concluding campaigns. Instead of
    the powerful Lee-Metford rifle, with its smokeless powder, its magazine
    action, and its absence of recoil, they were armed with the Martini-Henry,
    which possessed none of these advantages. In place of the deadly Maxim
    there was the Gardner gun–the very gun that jammed at Tamai, and that
    jammed again at Abu Klea. The artillery was also in every respect inferior
    to that now in general use. Besides all this, the principles of
    fire-discipline and of scientific musketry were new, little understood,
    and hardly admitted. Nevertheless, the Camel Corps went boldly forward,
    and engaged an enemy whose destruction ultimately required the strength
    of a better-armed and better-instructed army twelve times as strong.

    On the 3rd of January they reached Gakdul Wells. A hundred miles
    of their march was accomplished. But they were now delayed by the
    necessity of escorting a second column of supplies to Gakdul, and after
    that until the arrival of reinforcements which raised their strength to
    1,800 of all ranks. The interval was employed in building two small forts
    and establishing an advanced depot; nor was it until the 13th that the
    march was resumed. The number of camels was not sufficient for the
    necessities of the transport. The food of the camels was too poor for the
    work they had to perform. By the 16th, however, they had made fifty miles,
    and approached the wells of Abu Klea. Here their further advance was
    disputed by the enemy.

    The news of the advance of the Desert Column had been duly reported
    to the Mahdi and his Arab generals. A small party of English, it was said,
    with camels and some cavalry, were coming swiftly to the rescue of the
    accursed city. Their numbers were few, scarce 2,000 men. How should they
    hope to prevail against ‘the expected Mahdi’ and the conquering Ansar
    who had destroyed Hicks? They were mad; yet they should die; not one
    should escape. The delay in the advance offered ample opportunity. A great
    force of Arabs was concentrated. Slatin relates how several thousand men
    under important Emirs were detached from the army before Khartoum
    and marched northward eager for the slaughter of ‘the enemies of God.’
    At Metemma the main strength of the Jaalin tribe was collected.
    With the reinforcements from Omdurman the total force of the Arabs
    actually at hand was not less than 10,000, and behind were many thousands
    more. They permitted the little column to advance until their retreat,
    if defeated, was impossible, and then, confident of victory, offered
    battle near the wells of Abu Klea.

    The Camel Corps remained halted during the morning of the 16th,
    and built a small fort, in which they placed their reserve of stores,
    and made some arrangement for the reception of wounded. At one o’clock
    they moved leisurely forward, passed through the rocky defile which led
    into the valley of Abu Klea and bivouacked. Early the next morning
    the force moved out in square formation and advanced upon the enemy.
    The most savage and bloody action ever fought in the Soudan by British
    troops followed. Notwithstanding the numbers and the valour of the Arabs,
    that they penetrated the square, and that they inflicted on the troops
    a loss of nine officers and sixty-five men killed and nine officers
    and eighty-five men wounded–10 percent of the entire force–they were
    driven from the field with great slaughter, and the Desert Column
    camped at the wells.

    On the morning of the 18th they rested, placed their wounded in the
    small fort they had built, and buried their dead. In the afternoon they
    continued their advance, marched all through the night, and, having
    covered twenty-three miles, halted exhausted, almost within sight of
    the river, at daylight on the 19th. Meanwhile the enemy had again
    collected in great strength, and an effective rifle fire was opened on
    the column. Sir Herbert Stewart received the wound of which a few weeks
    later he died. The command devolved upon Sir Charles Wilson. The position
    was desperate. Water was running short. The Nile was only four miles away;
    but the column were impeded by their wounded and stores, and between the
    river and the thirsty men lay the Dervish army, infuriated by their losses
    and fully aware of the sore straits to which their astonishing enemy
    was now reduced.

    It now became necessary to divide the small force. Some must remain
    to guard the baggage and the wounded; the others must fight their way to
    the water. At three o’clock in the afternoon of the 19th, 900 men left the
    hastily made zeriba and marched towards the river. Without their camels
    or those of the transport they appeared insignificant, a mere speck on
    the broad plain of Metemma. The Dervishes hastened to clinch the matter.

    The square advances slowly and painfully over the stony ground,
    with frequent jerky halts to preserve order and to pick up the wounded.
    Little puffs of white smoke dot the distant sandhills. Here and there
    a gaudy flag waves defiantly. In front the green tops of the palm-trees
    by the Nile tantalise but stimulate the soldiers. On the left the great
    mud labyrinth of Metemma stretches indefinitely. Suddenly the firing
    stops. The low scrub in front is alive with the swarming figures of
    the enemy. All the flags dance forward together. Ragged white figures
    spring up in hundreds. Emirs on horses appear as if by magic. Everywhere
    are men running swiftly forward, waving their spears and calling upon the
    Prophet of God to speed their enterprise. The square halts. The weary men
    begin to fire with thoughtful care, The Dervishes drop thickly. On then,
    children of the desert! you are so many, they are so few. They are worn
    with fatigue and their throats are parched. You have drunk deeply of
    the Nile. One rush will trample the accursed under the feet of the
    faithful. The charge continues. A bugle sounds in the waiting square.
    The firing stops. What is this? They lose heart. Their ammunition is
    exhausted. On, then, and make an end. Again the smoke ripples along the
    line of bayonets and fire is re-opened, this time at closer range and
    with far greater effect. The stubborn grandeur of the British soldier
    is displayed by desperate circumstances. The men shoot to hit. The attack
    crumples. The Emirs–horse and man–collapse. The others turn and walk–
    for they will not run–sullenly back towards the town. The square starts
    forward. The road to the river is open. With dusk the water is reached,
    and never have victors gained a more longed-for prize. The Nile is won.
    Gordon remains.

    Sir Charles Wilson, having collected his force, remained three days
    by the bank of the Nile before attempting any further advance on Khartoum.
    He has explained why this delay was necessary, to the satisfaction of most
    military critics. Nor is it easy to believe that men who had made such
    splendid efforts would have willingly lost a single moment. On the fourth
    day he embarked on two of Gordon’s steamers, which awaited the relieving
    column, and taking with him twenty British soldiers and a few blue-jackets
    set forth towards the Shabluka Gorge and the town that lay beyond. On the
    27th of January the rescuers came in sight of Khartoum and under the fire
    of the enemy. Many of their perilous adventures seem to belong to romance
    rather than to reality: the tiny gimcrack boats struggling with the strong
    stream of the cataract, running the gauntlet of the Arab guns, dropping
    disconsolately down the river with their terrible news, or wrecked and
    stranded on the sandbank; Stuart-Wortley rowing to the camp before Metemma
    for help; Beresford starting in the remaining steamer; the bursting of the
    boiler by a Dervish shell; Benbow mending it in a single day; Wilson’s
    rescue and the return to the entrenchment at Gubat. But the scene that
    appeals to the imagination above all the others is that where with both
    banks ablaze with musketry and artillery, the black smoke pouring through
    the shot-holes in the funnels, the water rising in spurts from the bullets,
    the men who had come so far and braved so much stared at the palace roof
    and, seeing no flag flying, knew that all was over and that they had come
    too late.

    The news of the Dervish defeats at Abu Klea and Abu Kru impelled the Mahdi
    to a desperate venture. The English were but 120 miles away. They were few,
    but victorious. It was difficult to say what force could stop such men.
    In spite of the wrath of the true God and the valour of Islam they might
    prevail. The Mahdi depended on success for existence. The tremendous forces
    of fanaticism are exerted only in a forward direction. Retreat meant ruin.
    All must be staked on an immediate assault. And, besides, the moment
    was ripe. Thus the Arab chiefs reasoned, and wisely resolved to be reckless.
    Thus the night of the 25th of January arrived.

    The band played as usual in the evening. Gradually the shadows fell
    and it became dark. The hungry inhabitants betook themselves to bed. The
    anxious but indomitable commander knew that the crisis impended, and knew
    also that he was powerless to avert it. Perhaps he slept, satisfied that
    he had done his duty; and in the silence of the night the savage enemy
    crawled stealthily towards the town. The weary and disheartened sentinels,
    weakened by famine and tired of war, maintained a doubtful vigilance along
    the ramparts. The subsiding waters of the river had left a bare gap
    between the White Nile and the wall. Perhaps there was treachery besides.
    On a sudden the loud explosion of musketry broke the stillness of the
    night and the slumbers of the people; and with a continual shouting
    thousands of Dervishes swarmed through the unprotected space
    and entered Khartoum.

    One mob of assailants made their way to the palace. Gordon came out
    to meet them. The whole courtyard was filled with wild, harlequin figures
    and sharp, glittering blades. He attempted a parley. ‘Where is your
    master, the Mahdi?’ He knew his influence over native races. Perhaps he
    hoped to save the lives of some of the inhabitants. Perhaps in that
    supreme moment imagination flashed another picture before his eyes;
    and he saw himself confronted with the false prophet of a false religion,
    confronted with the European prisoners who had ‘denied their Lord,’
    offered the choice of death or the Koran; saw himself facing that savage
    circle with a fanaticism equal to, and a courage greater than, their own;
    marching in all the pride of faith ‘and with retorted scorn’
    to a martyr’s death.

    It was not to be. Mad with the joy of victory and religious frenzy,
    they rushed upon him and, while he disdained even to fire his revolver,
    stabbed him in many places. The body fell down the steps and lay–
    a twisted heap–at the foot. There it was decapitated. The head was
    carried to the Mahdi. The trunk was stabbed again and again by the
    infuriated creatures, till nothing but a shapeless bundle of torn flesh
    and bloody rags remained of what had been a great and famous man and the
    envoy of her Britannic Majesty. The blood soaked into the ground,
    and left a dark stain which was not immediately effaced. Slatin mentions
    that the Arabs used often to visit the place. Ohrwalder went himself,
    and more than six weeks after the capture of the town, saw ‘black spots’
    upon the steps. But they have all since been obliterated.

    Such, briefly, is the story of the fall of Khartoum and of the death
    of Gordon. The fact that the two steamers arrived only two days after the
    capture of the town has given colour to the belief that, but for the three
    days’ delay at Metemma, the catastrophe might have been averted. This view
    appears incorrect. The Arabs had long held Khartoum at their mercy. They
    hoped, indeed, to compel its surrender by famine and to avoid an assault,
    which after their experience at El Obeid they knew must cost them dear.
    Gordon has stated in his Journals that the town became defenceless by the
    middle of December. The arrival of twenty British soldiers and a few
    officers could not have materially affected the situation–could only,
    in fact, have increased the loss. Yet nearly everyone who reads the tale
    will wish–in spite of reason–that some help, however little,
    had reached the lonely man; that before the darkness fell he had grasped
    an English hand, and learned that his countrymen had not abandoned him,
    had not forgotten–would never forget.

    It may not be possible as yet to fix the exact place which Charles Gordon
    will occupy in English history. It is certainly a high one. Whether he
    will rank as a commander with Peterborough, Wolfe, and Clive, those who
    come after us must decide. We may, however, assert that he was a man of
    stainless honour and enduring courage, who in varied capacities displayed
    a fertile and abundant genius. He was careless alike of the honours
    and comforts of the world, and looked forward with firm faith to the
    rewards of a future state. The severity of his religion did not impair
    the amiability of his character. The uncertainty of his moods may have
    frequently affected the soundness of his opinions, but not often the
    justice of his actions. Gordon’s statue, set up in the indignant grief
    of the nation in the space which is appropriated to the monuments of
    Great Captains by sea and land, claims the attention of the passer-by,
    not only because it is comparatively new. The figure, its pose, and its
    story are familiar even to the poorest citizens of London and to people
    from all parts of the United Kingdom. Serene amid the noise of
    the traffic, as formerly in that of the battle, the famous General
    seems still, with bowed head and thoughtful countenance, to revolve
    the problems of the dark Soudan and, inattentive to the clamour of men,
    inquires what is acceptable to God.

    With the capture of the city and the death of the envoy
    the reason for the expedition disappeared. It remained only to withdraw
    the troops. The stores which had been brought across the desert at a
    terrible cost were thrown hastily into the Nile. The battered steamers
    which had waited so long at Metemma were hurriedly dismantled. The Camel
    Corps, their extraordinary efforts futile and their camels killed,
    marched back on foot to Korti. Their retreat was pressed by the exultant
    enemy. The River Column, whose boats after months of labour had just
    cleared the Cataracts, and who had gained a success at Kirbekan, were
    carried back swiftly by the strong current against which they had
    hopefully struggled. The whole Expeditionary Force–Guards, Highlanders,
    sailors, Hussars, Indian soldiers, Canadian voyageurs, mules, camels, and
    artillery–trooped back forlornly over the desert sands, and behind them
    the rising tide of barbarism followed swiftly, until the whole vast region
    was submerged. For several months the garrison of Kassala under a gallant
    Egyptian maintained a desperate resistance, but at last famine forced them
    to surrender, and they shared the fate of the garrisons of El Obeid,
    Darfur, Sobat, Tokar, Sinkat, Sennar, and Khartoum. The evacuation
    of the Soudan was thus completed.


    It might seem at first a great advantage that the peoples of the Soudan,
    instead of being a multitude of wild, discordant tribes, should unite of
    their own accord into one strong community, actuated by a common spirit,
    living under fixed laws, and ruled by a single sovereign. But there is one
    form of centralised government which is almost entirely unprogressive
    and beyond all other forms costly and tyrannical–the rule of an army.
    Such a combination depends, not on the good faith and good will of its
    constituents, but on their discipline and almost mechanical obedience.
    Mutual fear, not mutual trust, promotes the co-operation of its individual
    members. History records many such dominations, ancient and modern,
    civilised or barbaric; and though education and culture may modify,
    they cannot change their predominant characteristics–a continual
    subordination of justice to expediency, an indifference to suffering,
    a disdain of ethical principles, a laxity of morals, and a complete
    ignorance of economics. The evil qualities of military hierarchies are
    always the same. The results of their rule are universally unfortunate.
    The degree may vary with time and place, but the political supremacy of
    an army always leads to the formation of a great centralised capital,
    to the consequent impoverishment of the provinces, to the degradation
    of the peaceful inhabitants through oppression and want, to the ruin of
    commerce, the decay of learning, and the ultimate demoralisation even of
    the military order through overbearing pride and sensual indulgence.

    Of the military dominations which history records, the Dervish Empire
    was probably the worst. All others have displayed compensating virtues.
    A high sense of personal honour has counterbalanced a low standard of
    public justice. An ennobling patriotism may partly repair economic
    follies. The miseries of the people are often concealed by the
    magnificence of the army. The laxity of morals is in some degree excused
    by the elegance of manners. But the Dervish Empire developed no virtue
    except courage, a quality more admirable than rare. The poverty of the
    land prevented magnificence. The ignorance of its inhabitants excluded
    refinement. The Dervish dominion was born of war, existed by war, and
    fell by war. It began on the night of the sack of Khartoum. It ended
    abruptly thirteen years later in the battle of Omdurman. Like a subsidiary
    volcano, it was flung up by one convulsion, blazed during the period of
    disturbance, and was destroyed by the still more violent shock that ended
    the eruption.

    After the fall of Khartoum and the retreat of the British armies
    the Mahdi became the absolute master of the Soudan. Whatever pleasures he
    desired he could command, and, following the example of the founder of the
    Mohammedan faith, he indulged in what would seem to Western minds gross
    excesses. He established an extensive harem for his own peculiar use,
    and immured therein the fairest captives of the war. The conduct of the
    ruler was imitated by his subjects. The presence of women increased the
    vanity of the warriors: and it was not very long before the patched smock
    which had vaunted the holy poverty of the rebels developed into the gaudy
    jibba of the conquerors. Since the unhealthy situation of Khartoum amid
    swamps and marshes did not commend itself to the now luxurious Arabs,
    the Mahdi began to build on the western bank of the White Nile a new
    capital, which, from the detached fort which had stood there in Egyptian
    days, was called Omdurman. Among the first buildings which he set his
    subjects to construct were a mosque for the services of religion,
    an arsenal for the storage of military material, and a house for himself.
    But while he was thus entering at once upon the enjoyments of supreme
    power and unbridled lust, the God whom he had served, not unfaithfully,
    and who had given him whatever he had asked, required of Mohammed Ahmed
    his soul; and so all that he had won by his brains and bravery became of
    no more account to him.

    In the middle of the month of June, scarcely five months after the
    completion of his victorious campaigns, the Mahdi fell sick. For a few
    days he did not appear at the mosque. The people were filled with alarm.
    They were reassured by remembering the prophecy that their liberator
    should not perish till he had conquered the earth. Mohammed, however, grew
    worse. Presently those who attended him could doubt no longer that he was
    attacked by typhus fever. The Khalifa Abdullah watched by his couch
    continually. On the sixth day the inhabitants and the soldiers were
    informed of the serious nature of their ruler’s illness, and public
    prayers were offered by all classes for his recovery. On the seventh day
    it was evident that he was dying. All those who had shared his fortunes–
    the Khalifas he had appointed, the chief priests of the religion he had
    reformed, the leaders of the armies who had followed him to victory,
    and his own family whom he had hallowed–crowded the small room. For some
    hours he lay unconscious or in delirium, but as the end approached he
    rallied a little, and, collecting his faculties by a great effort,
    declared his faithful follower and friend the Khalifa Abdullah his
    successor, and adjured the rest to show him honour. ‘He is of me,
    and I am of him; as you have obeyed me, so you should deal with him.
    May God have mercy upon me!’ [Slatin, FIRE AND SWORD.]
    Then he immediately expired.

    Grief and dismay filled the city. In spite of the emphatic prohibition
    by law of all loud lamentations, the sound of ‘weeping and wailing arose
    from almost every house.’ The whole people, deprived at once of their
    acknowledged sovereign and spiritual guide, were shocked and affrighted.
    Only the Mahdi’s wives, if we may credit Slatin, ‘rejoiced secretly in
    their hearts at the death of their husband and master,’ and, since they
    were henceforth to be doomed to an enforced and inviolable chastity,
    the cause of their satisfaction is as obscure as its manifestation was
    unnatural. The body of the Mahdi, wrapped in linen, was reverently
    interred in a deep grave dug in the floor of the room in which he had died,
    nor was it disturbed until after the capture of Omdurman by the British
    forces in 1898, when by the orders of Sir H. Kitchener the sepulchre was
    opened and the corpse exhumed.

    The Khalifa Abdullah had been declared by the Mahdi’s latest breath
    his successor. He determined to have the choice ratified once for all
    by the popular vote. Hurrying to the pulpit in the courtyard of the mosque,
    he addressed the assembled multitude in a voice which trembled with
    intense excitement and emotion. His oratory, his reputation as a warrior,
    and the Mahdi’s expressed desire aroused the enthusiasm of his hearers,
    and the oath of allegiance was at once sworn by thousands. The ceremony
    continued long after it was dark. With an amazing endurance he harangued
    till past midnight, and when the exhausted Slatin, who hard attended him
    throughout the crisis, lay down upon the ground to sleep, he knew that his
    master’s succession was assured; for, says he, ‘I heard the passers-by
    loud in their praises of the late Mahdi, and assuring each other of their
    firm resolve to support his successor.’

    The sovereignty that Abdullah had obtained must be held, as it had
    been won, by the sword. The passionate agitation which the Mahdi had
    excited survived him. The whole of the Soudan was in a ferment. The
    success which had crowned rebellion encouraged rebels. All the turbulent
    and fanatical elements were aroused. As the various provinces had been
    cleared of the Egyptians, the new Executive had appointed military
    governors by whom the country was ruled and taxed, subject to the pleasure
    of Mohammed Ahmed. His death was the signal for a long series of revolts
    of all kinds–military, political, and religious. Garrisons mutinied;
    Emirs plotted; prophets preached. Nor was the land torn only by internal
    struggles. Its frontiers were threatened. On the east the tremendous power
    of Abyssinia loomed terrible and menacing. There was war in the north
    with Egypt and around Suakin with England. The Italians must be confronted
    from the direction of Massowa. Far to the south Emin Pasha still
    maintained a troublesome resistance. Yet the Khalifa triumphed over nearly
    all his enemies; and the greatest spectacle which the Soudan presented
    from 1885 to 1898 was of this strong, capable ruler bearing up against
    all reverses, meeting each danger, overcoming each difficulty, and
    offering a firm front to every foe.

    It is unlikely that any complete history of these events will ever be
    written in a form and style which will interest a later generation.
    The complications of extraordinary names and the imperfection of the
    records might alone deter the chronicler. The universal squalor of the
    scenes and the ignorance of the actors add discouragements. Nor, upon
    the other hand, are there great incentives. The tale is one of war of
    the cruellest, bloodiest, and most confused type. One savage army
    slaughters another. One fierce general cuts his rival’s throat. The same
    features are repeated with wearying monotony. When one battle is
    understood, all may be imagined. Above the tumult the figure of the
    Khalifa rises stern and solitary, the only object which may attract the
    interest of a happier world. Yet even the Khalifa’s methods were
    oppressively monotonous. For although the nature or courage of the
    revolts might differ with the occasion, the results were invariable;
    and the heads of all his chief enemies, of many of his generals,
    of most of his councillors, met in the capacious pit which yawned
    in Omdurman.

    During the thirteen years of his reign Abdullah tried nearly every device
    by which Oriental rulers have sought to fortify their perilous sovereignty.
    He shrank from nothing. Self-preservation was the guiding principle of his
    policy, his first object and his only excuse. Among many wicked and
    ingenious expedients three main methods are remarkable. First, he removed
    or rendered innocuous all real or potential rivals. Secondly, he pursued
    what Sir Alfred Milner has called ‘a well-considered policy of military
    concentration.’ Thirdly, he maintained among the desert and riverain
    people a balance of power on the side of his own tribe. All these three
    methods merit some attention or illustration.

    The general massacre of all possible claimants usually follows the
    accession of a usurper to an Oriental throne. The Khalifa was able to
    avoid this extreme measure. Nevertheless he took precautions. Availing
    himself of the grief and terror that had followed Mohammed Ahmed’s death,
    he had extorted the oath of allegiance from the two other Khalifas
    and from the ‘Ashraf’ or relations of the Prophet. [The Madhi had
    superseded the original Mohammed as ‘the Prophet.’ His relations
    consequently became ‘Ashraf.’] But these complaisant men soon repented
    of their submission. Each Khalifa boasted his independence. Each marched
    attended by a numerous retinue. Each asserted his right to beat his own
    great copper drum. Both the unsuccessful Khalifas combined against
    Abdullah. But while they had been busy with the beating of war-drums and
    the preparation of pageants, that sagacious ruler had secured the loyalty
    of the Baggara tribe, to a section of which he belonged, and of a
    considerable force of black riflemen. At length matters reached climax.
    Both parties prepared for war. Abdullah drew up his array without the city,
    and challenged his rivals to the utmost proof. The combined forces of the
    ousted Khalifas were the more numerous. But the fierce Baggara waved their
    swords, and the Soudanese riflemen were famous for their valour. For some
    hours a bloody struggle appeared imminent. Then the confederacy broke up.
    The Khalifa Ali-Wad-Helu, a prudent man, talked of compromise and amity.
    The Khalif Sherif, thus seriously weakened, hastened to make peace while
    time remained. Eventually both bowed to the superior force of the ruler
    and the superior courage of his followers. Once they had submitted,
    their power was gone. Abdullah reduced their forces to a personal escort
    of fifty men each, deprived them of their flags and their war-drums–
    the emblems of royalty–and they became for the future the useful
    supporters of a Government they were unable to subvert.

    To other less powerful and more stubborn enemies he showed a greater
    severity. The Mahdi’s two uncles, named respectively Abdel Kerim and
    Abdel Kader, were thrown chained into prison, their houses were destroyed,
    and their wives and other property confiscated. The numerous persons who
    claimed to be of the ‘Ashraf’ found the saintly honour a burden upon earth;
    for, in order to keep them out of mischief, the Khalifa enjoined them
    to attend five times every day at the prayers in the mosque. Eighteen
    months of these devotions, declares the Christian chronicler, were
    considered ‘the highest punishment.’ [Ohrwalder, TEN YEARS’ CAPTIVITY.]
    Still more barbarous was the treatment meted out to the unfortunate Emir
    who had charge of the Treasury. Ahmed Wad Suliman had been accustomed under
    the Mahdi’s mild rule to keep no public accounts, and consequently he had
    amassed a large fortune. He was actively hostile to Abdullah, and
    proclaimed his sympathy with the Ashraf. Whereupon the Khalifa invited him
    to give an account of his stewardship. This he was, of course, unable
    to do. He was then dismissed from his appointment. His private property was
    taken to fill the deficiencies of the State, and the brutal population of
    Omdurman applauded his punishment as ‘an act of justice.’ [Slatin, FIRE

    Although the Khalifa might establish his authority by such atrocities,
    its maintenance depended on the military policy which he consistently
    pursued. The terrible power of a standing army may usually be exerted by
    whoever can control its leaders, as a mighty engine is set in motion by
    the turning of a handle. Yet to turn the handle some muscular force is
    necessary. Abdullah knew that to rule the Soudan he must have a great army.
    To make the great army obedient he must have another separate force;
    for the influences which keep European armies in subjection were not
    present among the Dervishes. For some years, indeed, he was compelled to
    leave much to chance or the loyalty of his officers. But latterly,
    when he had perfected his organisation, he became quite independent and
    had no need to trust anyone. By degrees and with astonishing ability
    he carried out his schemes.

    He invited his own tribe, the Taaisha section of the Baggara Arabs,
    to come and live in Omdurman. ‘Come,’ he wrote in numerous letters to them,
    ‘and take possession of the lands which the Lord your God has given you.’
    Allured by the hopes of wealth and wives and the promise of power, the
    savage herdsmen came to the number of 7,000 warriors. Their path was made
    smooth and easy. Granaries were erected along the route. Steamers and
    sailing-vessels waited on the Nile. Arrived at the capital, all were newly
    clothed at the expense of the State. An entire district of the city was
    forcibly cleared of its inhabitants for the accommodation of the strangers.
    What the generosity of the Khalifa forgot or refused, the predatory habits
    of his clansmen procured; and they robbed, plundered, and swindled with all
    the arrogance and impunity of royal favourites. The populace of the city
    returned a bitter hatred for these injuries; and the Khalifa’s object was
    attained. He had created a class in Omdurman who were indissolubly attached
    to him. Like him, they were detested by the local tribes. Like him, they
    were foreigners in the land. But, like him, they were fierce and brave and
    strong. His dangers, his enemies, his interests were their own. Their lives
    depended on their loyalty.

    Here was the motor muscle which animated the rest. The Taaisha Baggara
    controlled the black Jehadia, once the irregular troops of the Egyptians,
    now become the regulars of the Khalifa. The black Jehadia overawed the Arab
    army in the capital. The army in the capital dominated the forces in the
    provinces. The forces in the provinces subdued the inhabitants. The
    centralisation of power was assured by the concentration of military
    material. Cannon, rifles, stores of ammunition, all the necessities of war
    were accumulated in the arsenal. Only the armies on the frontiers,
    the Taaisha tribe, and the khalifa’s personal bodyguard habitually carried
    firearms and cartridges. The enormous population of Omdurman was forced
    to be content with spears and swords. Rifles were issued to the Soudanese
    whenever safe and necessary; cartridges only when they were about to be
    used. Thus several millions of warlike and savage people, owning scarcely
    any law but that of might, and scattered about a vast roadless territory,
    were brought into the firm grip of a single man.

    The third principle of government which the Khalifa was compelled,
    or inclined, to adopt was to keep the relative power of the various tribes
    and classes conveniently proportioned. If an Emir rose to great influence
    and wealth, he became a possible rival, and suffered forthwith death,
    imprisonment, or spoliation. If a tribe threatened the supremacy of the
    Taaisha it was struck down while its menace was yet a menace. The
    regulation of classes and tribes was a far more complicated affair than
    the adjustment of individuals. Yet for thirteen years the Khalifa held
    the balance, and held it exact until the very end. Such was the
    statecraft of a savage from Kordofan.

    His greatest triumph was the Abyssinian war. It is not likely that
    two great barbaric kingdoms living side by side, but differing in race
    and religion, will long continue at peace; nor was it difficult to
    discover a cause of the quarrel between the Dervishes and the Abyssinians.
    For some time a harassing and desultory warfare disturbed the border.
    At length in 1885 a Dervish–half-trader, half brigand–sacked an
    Abyssinian church. Bas Adal, the Governor of the Amhara province, demanded
    that this sacrilegious robber should be surrendered to justice. The Arabs
    haughtily refused. The response was swift. Collecting an army which may
    have amounted to 30,000 men, the Abyssinians invaded the district of
    Gallabat and marched on the town. Against this host the Emir Wad Arbab
    could muster no more than 6,000 soldiers. But, encouraged by the victories
    of the previous four years, the Dervishes accepted battle, in spite of the
    disparity of numbers. Neither valour nor discipline could withstand such
    odds. The Moslems, broken by the fierce onset and surrounded by the
    overwhelming numbers of their enemies, were destroyed, together with their
    intrepid leader. Scarcely any escaped. The Abyssinians indulged in all the
    triumphs of savagery. The wounded were massacred: the slain were mutilated:
    the town of Gallabat was sacked and burnt. The Women were carried into
    captivity. All these tidings came to Omdurman. Under this heavy and
    unexpected blow the Khalifa acted with prudence. He opened negotiations
    with King John of Abyssinia, for the ransom of the captured wives and
    children, and at the same time he sent the Emir Yunes with a large force
    to Gallabat. The immediate necessities having thus been dealt with,
    Abdullah prepared for revenge.

    Of all the Arab leaders which fifteen years of continual war and tumult
    throughout the Soudan produced, none displayed higher ability, none
    obtained greater successes, and none were more honourable, though several
    were more famous, than the man whom the Khalifa selected to avenge the
    destruction of the Gallabat army. Abu Anga had been a slave in Abdullah’s
    family long before the Mahdi had preached at Abba island and while Egypt
    yet oppressed the country. After the revolt had broken out, his
    adventurous master summoned him from the distant Kordofan home to attend
    him in the war, and Abu Anga came with that ready obedience and strange
    devotion for which he was always distinguished. Nominally as a slave,
    really as a comrade, he fought by Abdullah’s side in all the earlier
    battles of the rebellion. Nor was it until after the capture of El Obeid
    that he rose suddenly to power and place. The Khalifa was a judge of men.
    He saw very clearly that the black Soudanese troops, who had surrendered
    and were surrendering as town after town was taken, might be welded into
    a powerful weapon. And in Abu Anga he knew a man who could not only
    fashion the blade, but would hold it ever loyally at his master’s disposal.
    The former slave threw himself into the duties of his command with
    extraordinary energy. His humble origin pleased the hardy blacks,
    who recognised in their leader their equal in birth, their superior in
    prowess. More than any other Emir, Abu Anga contributed to the destruction
    of Hicks’s army. The Jehadia, as his soldiers were called–because they had
    joined in the Jehad, or Holy War–were armed with Remington rifles,
    and their harassing fire inflicted heavy losses on the struggling column
    until it was finally brought to a standstill, and the moment for the
    spearmen to charge arrived. Henceforward the troops of Abu Anga became
    famous throughout the land for their weapons, their courage, and their
    cruelty. Their numbers at first did not exceed 5,000; but as more towns
    were taken and more slaves were turned into soldiers they increased,
    until at one time they reached the formidable total of 15,000 men.
    During the siege of Khartoum the black riflemen distinguished themselves
    by the capture of Omdurman fort, but their violent natures and predatory
    instincts made them an undesirable garrison even for the Dervish capital,
    and they were despatched under their general to Kordofan, where they
    increased their reputation by a series of bloody fights with the Nubas,
    an aboriginal mountain people who cared for nothing but their independence.

    At the end of June Abu Anga reached Omdurman with an army variously
    estimated at from 22,000 to 31,000 men, of whom at least 10,000 were armed
    with Remington rifles. The Khalifa received him with the utmost honour.
    After a private interview, which lasted for several hours, a formal entry
    into the town was arranged. At daybreak on the following morning the whole
    force marched into the city and camped along the northern suburbs,
    applauded and welcomed alike by the population and their ruler. A few days
    after this a great review was held under the Kerreri hills, on the very
    ground where the Dervish Empire was doomed to be shattered. But the fateful
    place oppressed the Khalifa with no forebodings. He exulted in his power:
    and well he might, for after the cannon had thundered indefinite salutes,
    no fewer than 100,000 armed men defiled to the music of the war-drums
    and the ombyas before the famous Black Flag. The spectacle of the enormous
    numbers provoked their enthusiasm. The triumphant Khalifa was cheered by
    his mighty host, who pressed upon him in their exuberant loyalty until he
    was almost crushed. It was indeed a stirring scene. The whole plain was
    filled with the throng. Banners of every hue and shape waved gaily in the
    breeze, and the sunlight glinted from innumerable spear-points. The
    swarming Dervishes displayed their bright parti-coloured jibbas. The wild
    Baggara cavalry circled on the flanks of the array. The brown dome of the
    Mahdi’s tomb, rising above the city, seemed to assure the warriors of
    supernatural aid. Abdullah was at the summit of his power. The movement
    initiated by the priest of Abba island had attained its climax. Behind,
    in the plain, the frowning rocks of Surgham Hill rose ragged and gloomy,
    as if their silence guarded the secrets of the future.

    After the feast of Bairam had been celebrated on a gigantic scale,
    Abu Anga was despatched to Gallabat with his army and considerable
    reinforcements from the troops in Omdurman, and it became evident that war
    with Abyssinia was imminent. The great leader relieved the Emir Yunes,
    much to the latter’s disgust, of the chief command, and, since the strong
    Gallabat garrison was added to his own force, Abu Anga was able to take
    the field at the head of 15,000 riflemen and 45,000 spearmen. The Khalifa
    had embarked on a great venture in planning the invasion of Abyssinia.
    The vast strength of the Negus was known to the Dervishes, and has since
    been proved to the world. The Mahdi had forbidden such a war.
    An ill-omened prophecy further declared that the King of Abyssinia
    would tether his horse to a solitary tree by Khartoum, while his cavalry
    should ride through the city fetlock deep in blood. But Abdullah feared
    neither God nor man. He reviewed the political situation, and determined
    at all risks to maintain his frontiers inviolate. His Emir Wad Arbab
    had been killed. Blood must settle the matter.

    The Abyssinians had not watched the extensive hostile preparations
    apathetically. Ras Adal had collected an army which in numbers actually
    exceeded that of the Dervishes. But the latter were far superior in rifles,
    and the black infantry were of invincible valour. Nevertheless, confident
    in his strength and relying on his powerful cavalry, the Abyssinian general
    allowed the Arabs to toil through all the mountainous country, to traverse
    the Mintik Pass, and to debouch unmolested on to the plain of Debra Sin.
    Abu Anga neglected no precaution. He knew that since he must fight in the
    heart of Abyssinia, with the mountains behind him, a defeat would involve
    annihilation. He drew up his army swiftly and with skill. Then the
    Abyssinians attacked. The rifle fire of the Soudanese repulsed them.
    The onset was renewed with desperate gallantry. It was resisted with
    equal valour and superior weapons. After frightful losses the Abyssinians
    wavered, and the wise Arab seized the moment for a counterstroke.
    In spite of the devotion of his cavalry Ras Adal was driven from the
    field. Great numbers of his army were drowned in the river in front of
    which he had recklessly elected to fight. His camp was captured, and
    a valuable spoil rewarded the victors, who also gratified their passions
    with a wholesale slaughter of the wounded–a practice commonly followed
    by savages. The effect of the victory was great. The whole of the Amhara
    province submitted to the invaders, and in the spring of 1887 Abu Anga
    was able to advance without further fighting to the capture and sack
    of Gondar, the ancient capital of Abyssinia.

    Meanwhile the Khalifa had been anxiously expecting tidings of his army.
    The long silence of thirty days which followed their plunge into the
    mountains filled him with fear, and Ohrwalder relates that he ‘aged
    visibly’ during that period. But his judgment was proved by the event,
    and the arrival of a selected assortment of heads turned doubt to triumph.
    The Dervishes did not long remain in Abyssinia, as they suffered from the
    climate. In December the army returned to Gallabat, which they commenced
    to fortify, and their victorious general followed his grisly but
    convincing despatch to Omdurman, where he received the usual welcome
    accorded by warlike peoples to military heroes. But the famous and faithful
    slave may have been more gratified by the tears of joy which his master and
    sovereign shed on beholding him again safe and successful.

    The greater struggle was still to come. The whole of Abyssinia was
    convulsed with fury, and King John in person prepared to take the field
    and settle the quarrel for ever. He assembled a mighty host, which is said
    to have amounted to 130,000 foot and 20,000 horsemen. The rumours of this
    formidable concentration reached Gallabat and Omdurman, and in spite of
    the recent victory caused deep alarm. The Khalifa saw his frontiers–even
    his existence–menaced, for King John had declared that he would sweep the
    Dervishes from off the face of the earth: and in the hour of need the
    general on whom so much depended died of some poisonous medicine with
    which he had endeavoured to cure himself of indigestion. Abu Anga was
    buried in his red-brick house at Gallabat amid the lamentations of his
    brave black soldiers, and gloom pervaded the whole army. But, since the
    enemy were approaching, the danger had to be faced. The Khalifa appointed
    Zeki Tummal, one of Anga’s lieutenants, to the command of the forces at
    Gallabat, which by strenuous exertions he brought up to a total of 85,000
    men. King John sent word that he was coming, lest any should say that he
    had come secretly as a thief. The Dervishes resolved to remain on the
    defensive, and, fortifying themselves in an enormous zeriba around
    the town, awaited the onslaught.

    At dawn on the 9th of March, 1889, the Abyssinians came within sight
    of their enemies, and early the next morning the battle began.
    Great clouds of dust obscured the scene, and all intelligible sounds
    were lost in the appalling din. The Abyssinians, undaunted by the rifle
    fire of the Soudanese, succeeded in setting the zeriba alight. Then,
    concentrating all their force on one part of the defence, they burst
    into the enclosure and town. The division of Wad Ali, a fourth part of
    the entire Dervish army, which bore the brunt of this attack, was almost
    completely destroyed. The interior of the zeriba was crowded with women
    and children, who were ruthlessly butchered by the exultant Abyssinians.
    The assailants scattered in all directions in search of plunder,
    and they even had time to begin to disinter the body of Abu Anga,
    which they were eager to insult in revenge for Gondar. The Dervishes
    already wavered; their ammunition began to fail, when suddenly a rumour
    spread about among the Abyssinians that the King was killed. Seizing what
    booty they could snatch, the victorious army began a general retreat,
    and the zeriba was soon cleared. The Arabs were too exhausted to pursue,
    but when on the following day the attack was not renewed they learned,
    to their surprise, that they were the victors and that their enemy was
    falling back towards the Atbara river. Zeki Tummal resolved to pursue,
    and his army were further incited to the chase by the fact that the
    Abyssinians had carried off with them a large number of Dervish women,
    including the harem of the late beloved Abu Anga. Two days after the
    battle the Dervishes overtook the enemy’s rearguard and, surprising their
    camp, inflicted severe loss and captured much booty. The temporary Negus
    who had been appointed to fill the vacancy caused by the death of King
    John was among the killed. The body of that courageous monarch fell into
    the hands of the Dervishes, who struck off the head and sent it–
    a tangible proof of victory–to Omdurman. The Abyssinians, still
    formidable, made good their retreat; nor did Zeki Tummal venture to follow
    into the mountains. Internal difficulties within his dominions prevented
    the new Negus from resuming the offensive, and thus the Dervish-Abyssinian
    war dwindled down to, as it had arisen out of, frontier raids.

    The arrival in Omdurman of King John’s head intoxicated the Khalifa
    with joy. Abyssinia was regarded throughout the Soudan as a far greater
    power than Egypt, and here was its mighty ruler slain and decapitated.
    But the victory had been dearly purchased. The two great battles had been
    fought with indescribable ferocity by both sides, and the slaughter was
    appalling. No reliable statistics are avaliable, but it may be reasonably
    asserted that neither side sustained a loss in killed during the war of
    fewer than 15,000 fighting men. The flower of the Dervish army, the heroic
    blacks of Abu Anga, were almost destroyed. The Khalifa had won a Pyrrhic
    triumph. Never again was he able to put so great a force in the field,
    and, although the army which was shattered at Omdurman was better armed
    and better drilled, it was less formidable than that which broke the might
    of Abyssinia.

    During the progress of the struggle with Abyssinia the war against Egypt
    languished. The Mahdi, counting upon the support of the population, had
    always declared that he would free the Delta from ‘the Turks,’ and was
    already planning its invasion when he and his schemes were interrupted
    by death. His successor inherited all the quarrel, but not all the power.
    Much of Mohammed Ahmed’s influence died with him. Alive, he might conquer
    the Moslem world; dead, he was only a saint. All fanatical feeling in
    Egypt soon subsided. Nevertheless the Khalifa persisted in the enterprise.
    The success of the Abyssinian war encouraged and enabled him to resume the
    offensive on his northern frontier, and he immediately ordered
    Wad-el-Nejumi, who commanded in Dongola, to march with his scanty force to
    the invasion of Egypt. The mad enterprise ended, as might have been
    foreseen, in the destruction of both Emir and army at Toski. The Khalifa
    received the news with apparent grief, but it is difficult to avoid
    suspecting him of dark schemes. He was far too clever to believe that
    Egypt could be conquered by five thousand men. He knew that besides the
    Egyptians there was a strange white tribe of men, the same that had so
    nearly saved Khartoum. ‘But for the English,’ he exclaimed on several
    occasions, ‘I would have conquered Egypt.’ Yet, knowing of the British
    occupation, he deliberately sent an army to its inevitable ruin. It is
    difficult to reconcile such conduct with the character for sagacity and
    intelligence which Abdullah has deserved. There is no doubt that he wanted
    to conquer Egypt. Possibly by some extraordinary chance Wad-el-Nejumi
    might succeed, even with his small force. If so, then the glory of God
    and the power of the Khalifa would advance together. If not–and herein
    lies the true reason for the venture–the riverain tribes would have
    received a crippling blow.

    The terrible slaughter of the Abyssinian war had fallen mainly on
    the Jehadia and the eastern Arabs. The jealous tribes in the north had
    not suffered. The balance of power was in need of re-adjustment.
    The Jaalin and Barabra were fast becoming dangerous. Nejumi’s army was
    recruited almost entirely from these sources. The reinforcements sent from
    Omdurman consisted of men selected from the flag of the Khalifa Sherif,
    who was growing too powerful, and of the Batahin tribe, who had shown a
    mutinous spirit [Ohrwalder, TEN YEARS’ CAPTIVITY.] The success of such
    an army in Egypt would be glorious. Its destruction anywhere would be
    convenient. Whatever Abdullah’s motives may have been, his advantage was
    certain. But the life of the empire thus compelled to prey upon itself
    must necessarily be short.

    Other forces were soon added to the work of exhaustion. The year
    following the end of the Abyssinian war was marked by a fearful famine.
    Slatin and Ohrwalder vie with each other in relating its horrors–men
    eating the raw entrails of donkeys; mothers devouring their babies;
    scores dying in the streets, all the more ghastly in the bright sunlight;
    hundreds of corpses floating down the Nile–these are among the hideous
    features, The depopulation caused by the scarcity was even greater than
    that produced by the fighting. The famine area extended over the whole
    Soudan and ran along the banks of the river as far as Lower Egypt.
    The effects of the famine were everywhere appalling. Entire districts
    between Omdurman and Berber became wholly depopulated. In the salt regions
    near Shendi almost all the inhabitants died of hunger. The camel-breeding
    tribes ate their she-camels. The riverain peoples devoured their seed-corn.
    The population of Gallabat, Gedaref, and Kassala was reduced by
    nine-tenths, and these once considerable towns shrank to the size
    of hamlets. Everywhere the deserted mud houses crumbled back into the
    plain. The frightful mortality, general throughout the whole country,
    may be gauged by the fact that Zeki Tummal’s army, which before the
    famine numbered not fewer than 87,000, could scarcely muster 10,000 men
    in the spring of 1890.

    The new harvest came only in time to save the inhabitants of the Soudan
    from becoming extinct. The remnant were preserved for further misfortunes.
    War, scarcity, and oppression there had always been. But strange and
    mysterious troubles began to afflict the tortured tribes. The face of
    heaven was pitiless or averted. In 1890 innumerable swarms of locusts
    descended on the impoverished soil. The multitude of their red or yellow
    bodies veiled the sun and darkened the air, and although their flesh,
    tasting when roasted like fried shrimps, might afford a delicate meal to
    the natives, they took so heavy a toll of the crops that the famine was
    prolonged and scarcity became constant. Since their first appearance the
    locusts are said to have returned annually [Ohrwalder, TEN YEARS’
    CAPTIVITY.] Their destructive efforts were aided by millions of little
    red mice, who destroyed the seeds before they could grow. So vast and
    immeasurable was the number of these tiny pests that after a heavy rain
    the whole country was strewn with, and almost tinted by, the
    squirrel-coloured corpses of the drowned.

    Yet, in spite of all the strokes of fate, the Khalifa maintained his
    authority unshaken. The centralisation which always occurs in military
    States was accelerated by the famine. The provincial towns dwindled;
    thousands and tens of thousands perished; but Omdurman continually grew,
    and its ruler still directed the energies of a powerful army. Thus for
    the present we might leave the Dervish Empire. Yet the gloomy city of
    blood, mud, and filth that arose by the confluence of the Niles deserves
    a final glance while still in the pride of independent barbarism.

    It is early morning, and the sun, lifting above the horizon, throws the
    shadows of the Khartoum ruins on the brimful waters of the Nile. The old
    capital is solitary and deserted. No sound of man breaks the silence of
    its streets. Only memory broods in the garden where the Pashas used
    to walk, and the courtyard where the Imperial envoy fell. Across the river
    miles of mud houses, lining the banks as far as Khor Shambat, and
    stretching back into the desert and towards the dark hills, display the
    extent of the Arab metropolis. As the sun rises, the city begins to live.
    Along the road from Kerreri a score of camels pad to market with village
    produce. The north wind is driving a dozen sailing-boats, laden to the
    water’s edge with merchandise, to the wharves. One of Gordon’s old
    steamers lies moored by the bank. Another, worked by the crew that manned
    it in Egyptian days, is threshing up the Blue Nile, sent by the Khalifa to
    Sennar on some errand of State. Far away to the southward the dust of a
    Darfur caravan breaks the clear-cut skyline with a misty blur.

    The prolonged beating of war-drums and loud booming notes of horns
    chase away the silence of the night. It is Friday, and after the hour of
    prayer all grown men must attend the review on the plain without the city.
    Already the streets are crowded with devout and obedient warriors.
    soon the great square of the mosque–for no roof could shelter so many
    thousand worshippers–is filled with armed men, kneeling in humble
    supplication to the stern God of Islam and his most holy Mahdi.
    It is finished. They rise and hurry to the parade. The Emirs plant their
    flags, and all form in the ranks. Woe to the laggard; and let the speedy
    see that he wear his newest jibba, and carry a sharp sword and at least
    three spears. Presently the array is complete.

    A salute of seven guns is fired. Mounted on a fine camel, which is led
    by a gigantic Nubian, and attended by perhaps two hundred horsemen in
    chain armour, the Khalifa rides on to the ground and along the ranks.
    It is a good muster. Few have dared absent themselves. Yet his brow is
    clouded. What has happened? Is there another revolt in the west? Do the
    Abyssinians threaten Gallabat? Have the black troops mutinied; or is it
    only some harem quarrel?

    The parade is over. The troops march back to the arsenal. The rifles
    are collected, and the warriors disperse to their homes. Many hurry to
    the market-place to make purchases, to hear the latest rumour, or to
    watch the executions–for there are usually executions. Others stroll to
    the Suk-er-Rekik and criticise the points of the slave girls as the
    dealers offer them for sale. But the Khalifa has returned to his house,
    and his council have been summoned. The room is small, and the ruler sits
    cross-legged upon his couch. Before him squat the Emirs and Kadis. Yakub
    is there, with Ali-Wad-Helu and the Khalifa Sherif. Only the Sheikh-ed-Din
    is absent, for he is a dissolute youth and much given to drinking.

    Abdullah is grave and anxious. A messenger has come from the north.
    The Turks are on the move. Advancing beyond their frontier, they have
    established themselves at Akasha. Wad Bishara fears lest they may attack
    the faithful who hold Firket. In itself this is but a small matter,
    for all these years there has been frontier fighting. But what follows
    is full of menacing significance. The ‘enemies of God’ have begun to
    repair the railway–have repaired it, so that the train already runs
    beyond Sarras. Even now they push their iron road out into the desert
    towards their position at Akasha and to the south. What is the object of
    their toil? Are they coming again? Will they bring those terrible white
    soldiers who broke the hearts of the Hadendoa and almost destroyed the
    Degheim and Kenana? What should draw them up the Nile? Is it for plunder,
    or in sheer love of war; or is it a blood feud that brings them?
    True, they are now far off. Perchance they will return, as they returned
    before. Yet the iron road is not built in a day, nor for a day, and of a
    surety there are war-clouds in the north.


    In the summer of 1886, when all the troops had retreated to Wady Halfa
    and all the Soudan garrisons had been massacred, the British people
    averted their eyes in shame and vexation from the valley of the Nile.
    A long succession of disasters had reached their disgraceful culmination.
    The dramatic features added much to the bitterness and nothing to the
    grandeur of the tragedy. The cost was heavy. Besides the pain produced by
    the death of General Gordon, the heavy losses in officers and men, and the
    serious expenditure of public money, the nation smarted under failure and
    disappointment, and were, moreover, deeply sensible that they had been
    humiliated before the whole world. The situation in Egypt was scarcely
    more pleasing. The reforms initiated by the British Administrators had as
    yet only caused unpopularity. Baring’s interference galled the Khedive
    and his Ministers. Vincent’s parsimony excited contempt. Moncrieff’s
    energy had convulsed the Irrigation Department. Wood’s army was the
    laughing-stock of Europe. Among and beneath the rotten weeds and garbage
    of old systems and abuses the new seed was being sown. But England saw
    no signs of the crop; saw only the stubborn husbandmen begrimed with the
    dust and dirt, and herself hopelessly involved in the Egyptian muddle:
    and so in utter weariness and disgust, stopping her ears to the gibes
    and cat-calls of the Powers, she turned towards other lands
    and other matters.

    When the attention of the nation was again directed to Egypt
    the scene was transformed. It was as though at the touch of an angel
    the dark morasses of the Slough of Despond had been changed to the breezy
    slopes of the Delectable Mountains. The Khedive and his Ministers lay
    quiet and docile in the firm grasp of the Consul-General. The bankrupt
    State was spending surpluses upon internal improvement. The disturbed
    Irrigation Department was vivifying the land. The derided army held the
    frontier against all comers. Astonishment gave place to satisfaction,
    and satisfaction grew into delight. The haunting nightmare of Egyptian
    politics ended. Another dream began–a bright if vague vision of Imperial
    power, of trans-continental railways, of African Viceroys, of conquest
    and commerce. The interest of the British people in the work of
    regeneration grew continually. Each new reform was hailed with applause.
    Each annual Budget was scrutinised with pride. England exulted in the
    triumph of failure turned into success. There was a general wish to know
    more about Egypt and the men who had done these great things. In 1893 this
    desire was satisfied, and yet stimulated by the publication of Sir Alfred
    Milner’s ‘England in Egypt.’ His skilful pen displayed what had been
    overcome, no less than what was accomplished. By explaining the
    difficulties he enhanced the achievement. He showed how, while Great
    Britain was occupied elsewhere, her brilliant, persevering sons had
    repeated on a lesser scale in Egypt the marvellous evolution which is
    working out in India. Smaller systems circulate more rapidly. The
    administrators were guided by experience. The movement had been far
    swifter, and the results were more surprising. Such was the wonderful
    story, and it was told in a happy moment. The audience were eager and
    sympathetic. The subject was enthralling. The story-teller had a wit and
    a style that might have brightened the dullest theme. In these propitious
    circumstances the book was more than a book. The words rang like the
    trumpet-call which rallies the soldiers after the parapets are stormed,
    and summons them to complete the victory.

    The regeneration of Egypt is not a theme which would fall within the
    limits of this account, even if it had not been fully dealt with by Sir
    Alfred Milner. But the reorganisation of the Egyptian army, the forging of
    the weapon of reconquest, is an essential feature. On the 20th of December,
    1882, the old Egyptian army–or, rather, such parts as had escaped
    destruction–was disbanded by a single sentence of a British decree,
    and it was evident that some military body must replace that which had
    been swept away. All sorts of schemes for the employment of foreign legions
    or Turkish janissaries were devised. But Lord Dufferin adhered firmly to
    the principle of entrusting the defence of a country to its inhabitants,
    and it was determined to form a new Egyptian army. The poverty of the
    government, no less than the apparent folly of the experiment, demanded
    that the new army should be small. The force was intended only for the
    preservation of internal order and the defence of the southern and western
    frontiers of Egypt against the Bedouin Arabs. The Soudan still slumbered
    out its long nightmare. Six thousand men was the number originally drawn
    by conscription–for there are no volunteers in Egypt–from a population
    of more than 6,000,000. Twenty-six British officers–either poor men
    attracted by the high rates of pay, or ambitious allured by the increased
    authority–and a score of excellent drill-sergeants undertook the duty of
    teaching the recruits to fight. Sir Evelyn Wood directed the enterprise,
    and became the first British Sirdar of the Egyptian army. The work began
    and immediately prospered. Within three months of its formation the army
    had its first review. The whole 6,000 paraded in their battalions and
    marched past the Khedive and their country’s flag. Their bearing and their
    drill extorted the half-contemptuous praise of the indifferent spectators.
    Experienced soldiers noticed other points. Indeed, the new army differed
    greatly from the old. In the first place, it was paid. The recruits were
    treated with justice. Their rations were not stolen by the officers.
    The men were given leave to go to their villages from time to time. When
    they fell sick, they were sent to hospital instead of being flogged.
    In short, the European system was substituted for the Oriental.

    It was hardly possible that the fertile soil and enervating climate of
    the Delta would have evolved a warrior race. Ages of oppression and
    poverty rarely produce proud and warlike spirits. Patriotism does not grow
    under the ‘Kourbash.’ The fellah soldier lacks the desire to kill. Even the
    Mohammedan religion has failed to excite his ferocity. He may be cruel.
    He is never fierce. Yet he is not without courage–a courage which bears
    pain and hardship in patience, which confronts ill-fortune with
    indifference, and which looks on death with apathetic composure. It is the
    courage of down-trodden peoples, and one which stronger breeds may often
    envy, though they can scarcely be expected to admire. He has other military
    virtues. He is obedient, honest, sober, well-behaved, quick to learn, and,
    above all, physically strong. Generations of toiling ancestors, though they
    could not brace his nerves, have braced his muscles. Under the pressure of
    local circumstances there has been developed a creature who can work with
    little food, with little incentive, very hard for long hours under a
    merciless sun. Throughout the river campaigns, if the intellect of the
    army, if the spirit of the troops, have come from without, Egypt herself
    has provided the sinews of war.

    Such was the material out of which the British officers have formed
    the new Egyptian army. At first, indeed, their task was embittered by the
    ridicule of their comrades in the British and Indian Services; but as the
    drill and bearing of the force improved, the thoughtless scorn would have
    been diverted from the Englishmen to fall only upon the Egyptian soldiers.
    But this was not allowed. The British officers identified themselves with
    their men. Those who abused the fellah soldier were reminded that they
    insulted English gentlemen. Thus a strange bond of union was established
    between the officers and soldiers of the Egyptian Service; and although
    material forces may have accomplished much, without this moral factor the
    extraordinary results would never have been achieved.

    It was not long before the new military organisation was exposed to
    the stern test of war. The army that was raised to preserve internal order
    was soon called upon to guard the frontier. The revolt in the Soudan,
    which in its earlier stages seemed the least of the Egyptian difficulties,
    speedily dwarfed all the rest. The value of the new force was soon
    recognised. In June 1883 we find General Hicks, then preparing for his
    fatal march, writing to Sir Evelyn Wood: ‘Send me four battalions of your
    new army, and I shall be content.’ But fortune protected the infant
    organisation from such a disastrous beginning. The ‘new army’ remained
    for a space in Cairo; and although during the Nile expedition of 1884-85
    the Egyptians were employed guarding the lines of communication, it was
    not until the British troops had been withdrawn from Dongola that they
    received at Ginniss their baptism of fire. Henceforth their place was on
    the frontier, and from 1886 onward the Egyptian troops proved equal to the
    task of resisting the northward pressure of the Dervishes.

    The numbers of the army grew with its responsibilities. Up to the end
    of 1883 the infantry still consisted of eight fellahin battalions. In 1884
    the first Soudanese battalion was raised. The black soldier was of a very
    different type from the fellahin. The Egyptian was strong, patient,
    healthy, and docile. The negro was in all these respects his inferior.
    His delicate lungs, slim legs, and loosely knit figure contrasted
    unfavourably with the massive frame and iron constitution of the peasant
    of the Delta. Always excitable and often insubordinate, he required the
    strictest discipline. At once slovenly and uxorious, he detested his
    drills and loved his wives with equal earnestness; and altogether
    ‘Sambo’–for such is the Soudanese equivalent of ‘Tommy’–was a lazy,
    fierce, disreputable child. But he possessed two tremendous military
    virtues. To the faithful loyalty of a dog he added the heart of a lion.
    He loved his officer, and feared nothing in the world. With the
    introduction of this element the Egyptian army became a formidable
    military machine. Chance or design has placed the blacks ever in the
    forefront of the battle, and in Lord Kitchener’s campaigns on the Nile the
    losses in the six Soudanese battalions have exceeded the aggregate of the
    whole of the rest of the army.

    It was well that the Egyptian troops were strengthened by these valiant
    auxiliaries, for years of weary war lay before them. Sir Reginald Wingate,
    in his exhaustive account of the struggle of Egypt with the Mahdist power,
    [MAHDISM AND THE EGYPTIAN SOUDAN, Sir Reginald Wingate] has described the
    successive actions which accompanied the defence of the Wady Halfa
    frontier and of Suakin.

    The ten years that elapsed between Ginniss and the first movements of
    the expedition of re-conquest were the dreary years of the Egyptian army.
    The service was hard and continual. Though the operations were petty, an
    untiring vigilance was imperative. The public eye was averted. A pitiless
    economy was everywhere enforced. The British officer was deprived of his
    leave and the Egyptian private of his rations, that a few pounds might be
    saved to the Egyptian Treasury. The clothing of the battalions wore thin
    and threadbare, and sometimes their boots were so bad that the soldiers’
    feet bled from the cutting edges of the rocks, and the convoy escorts left
    their trails behind them. But preparation was ever going forward. The army
    improved in efficiency, and the constant warfare began to produce,
    even among the fellahin infantry, experienced soldiers. The officers,
    sweltering at weary Wady Halfa and Suakin, looked at the gathering
    resources of Egypt and out into the deserts of the declining Dervish
    Empire and knew that some day their turn would come. The sword of
    re-conquest which Evelyn Wood had forged, and Grenfell had tested,
    was gradually sharpened; and when the process was almost complete,
    the man who was to wield it presented himself.

    Horatio Herbert Kitchener, the eldest son of a lieutenant-colonel,
    was born in 1850, and, after being privately educated, entered in 1869
    the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich as a cadet of the Royal Engineers.
    In the spring of 1871 he obtained his commission, and for the first ten
    years of his military service remained an obscure officer, performing
    his duties with regularity, but giving no promise of the talents and
    character which he was afterwards to display. One powerful weapon, however,
    he acquired in this time of waiting. In 1874 accident or instinct led him
    to seek employment in the surveys that were being made of Cyprus and
    Palestine, and in the latter country he learned Arabic. For six years the
    advantage of knowing a language with which few British officers were
    familiar brought him no profit. For procuring military preferment Arabic
    was in 1874 as valueless as Patagonian. All this was swiftly changed by
    the unexpected course of events. The year 1882 brought the British fleet
    to Alexandria, and the connection between England and Egypt began to be
    apparent. Kitchener did not neglect his opportunity. Securing leave of
    absence, he hurried to the scene of crisis. Alexandria was bombarded.
    Detachments from the fleet were landed to restore order. The British
    Government decided to send an army to Egypt. British officers and soldiers
    were badly wanted at the seat of war; an officer who could speak Arabic
    was indispensable.

    Thus Kitchener came to Egypt and set his feet firmly on the high road
    to fortune. He came to Egypt when she was plunged in misery and shame,
    when hopeless ruin seemed already the only outcome of the public disasters,
    and when even greater misfortunes impended. He remained to see her
    prosperous and powerful; to restore empire to her people, peace to her
    empire, honour to her army; and among those clear-minded men of action by
    whom the marvellous work of regeneration has been accomplished, Herbert
    Kitchener will certainly occupy the second place. Lord Wolseley on his
    arrival soon found employment for the active officer who could speak
    Arabic. He served through the campaign of 1882 as a major. He joined the
    new army which was formed at the conclusion of the war, as one of the
    original twenty-six officers. In the Nile expedition of 1885 Arabic again
    led him to the front, and in the service of the Intelligence Department
    he found ample opportunity for his daring and energy. His efforts to
    communicate with Gordon in Khartoum did not, however, meet with much
    success, and the Journals bristle with so many sarcastic comments that
    their editor has been at pains to explain in his preface that there was
    really no cause for complaint. Major Kitchener, however, gave satisfaction
    to his superiors in Cairo, if not to the exacting General at Khartoum,
    and in 1886 he was appointed Governor of Suakin. This post, always one of
    responsibility and danger, did not satisfy Kitchener, whose ambition was
    now taking definite form. Eager for more responsibility and more danger,
    he harried and raided the surrounding tribes; he restricted and almost
    destroyed the slender trade which was again springing up, and in
    consequence of his measures the neighbourhood of Suakin was soon in even
    greater ferment than usual. This culminated at the end of 1887 in the
    re-appearance and advance of Osman Digna. The movements of the Dervishes
    were, however, uncertain. The defences of the town had been greatly
    strengthened and improved by the skill and activity of its new Governor.
    [See dispatch from Major-General Dormer to War Office, Cairo, April 22,
    1888: ‘With regard to the military works and defenses of the town, I was
    much struck with the great improvement that has been effected by Colonel
    Kitchener since my last visit to Suakin in the autumn of 1884.] Osman
    Digna retreated. The ‘friendlies’ were incited to follow, and Kitchener,
    although he had been instructed not to employ British officers or Egyptian
    regulars in offensive operations, went out in support. At Handub on the
    morning of the 17th of January, 1888, the friendlies attacked the camp of
    Osman Digna. They were at first successful; but while they dispersed to
    plunder the enemy rallied and, returning, drove them back with loss.
    Kitchener arrived on the field with the support, to find a defeat instead
    of a victory awaiting him. He bravely endeavoured to cover the retreat of
    the friendlies, and in so doing was severely–as it first seemed
    dangerously–wounded in the jaw. The loss among the friendlies and the
    support amounted to twenty men killed and two British officers and
    twenty-eight men wounded. The Governor returned in great pain and some
    discomfiture to Suakin. In spite of his wound and his reverse he was
    impatient to renew the conflict, but this was definitely forbidden by the
    British Government. Colonel Kitchener’s military conduct was praised,
    but his policy was prevented. ‘The policy which it is desirable to follow
    . . . in the Eastern Soudan,’ wrote Sir Evelyn Baring on the 17th of March,
    in measured rebuke, ‘should consist in standing purely on the defensive
    against any hostile movement or combination of the Arab tribes, in avoiding
    any course of action which might involve the ultimate necessity of
    offensive action, and in encouraging legitimate trade by every means
    in our power.’ [Sir E. Baring to Consul Cameron, March 14, 1888.]

    The Governor could scarcely be expected to carry out a policy so much
    at variance with his views and inclinations, and in the summer of 1888 he
    was transferred to a purely military appointment and became
    Adjutant-General of the Egyptian army. For the next four years he worked
    busily in the War Office at Cairo, effecting many useful reforms and hard
    economies, and revealing powers of organisation which, although not yet
    appreciated by his comrades in the Egyptian service, were noticed by one
    vigilant eye. In 1892 Sir F. Grenfell resigned the post of Sirdar, and the
    chief command of the Egyptian army was vacant. Two men stood out
    prominently as candidates–Colonel Wodehouse, who held the command of the
    Halfa Field Force, and the Adjutant-General. Colonel Wodehouse had
    undoubtedly the greater claims. He had been for several years in command
    of a large force in continual contact with the enemy. He had won the
    action of Argin, and was known throughout the Soudan as ‘the conqueror of
    Wad-el-Nejumi.’ He had conducted the civil administration of the frontier
    province with conspicuous success, and he was popular with all ranks of
    the Egyptian army. Kitchener had little to set against this. He had shown
    himself a brave and active soldier. He was known to be a good official.
    But he had not been in accord with the Government in his civil
    administration, and was, moreover, little known to his brother officers.
    Sir Evelyn Baring’s influence, however, turned the scale. Somewhat,
    therefore, to the astonishment of the Egyptian army, Kitchener was
    promoted Sirdar. Lord Cromer had found the military officer whom he
    considered capable of re-conquering the Soudan when the opportunity
    should come.

    The years of preparation, wasted by no one in Egypt, were employed
    by no department better than by the Intelligence Branch. The greatest
    disadvantage from which Lord Wolseley had suffered was the general
    ignorance of the Soudan and its peoples. The British soldiers had
    had to learn the details of Dervish fighting by bitter experience.
    But the experience, once gained, was carefully preserved. The Intelligence
    Branch of the Egyptian army rose under the direction of Colonel (now Sir
    Reginald) Wingate to an extraordinary efficiency. For ten years the
    history, climate, geography, and inhabitants of the Soudan were the
    objects of a ceaseless scrutiny. The sharp line between civilisation
    and savagery was drawn at Wady Halfa; but beyond that line, up the great
    river, within the great wall of Omdurman, into the arsenal, into the
    treasury, into the mosque, into the Khalifa’s house itself, the spies and
    secret agents of the Government–disguised as traders, as warriors,
    or as women–worked their stealthy way. Sometimes the road by the
    Nile was blocked, and the messengers must toil across the deserts to
    Darfur, and so by a tremendous journey creep into Omdurman. At others a
    trader might work his way from Suakin or from the Italian settlements.
    But by whatever route it came, information–whispered at Halfa, catalogued
    at Cairo–steadily accumulated, and the diaries of the Intelligence
    Department grew in weight and number, until at last every important Emir
    was watched and located, every garrison estimated, and even the endless
    intrigues and brawls in Omdurman were carefully recorded.

    The reports of the spies were at length confirmed and amplified
    by two most important witnesses. At the end of 1891 Father Ohrwalder made
    his escape from Omdurman and reached the Egyptian territory. Besides giving
    the Intelligence Department much valuable information, he published a
    thrilling account of his captivity [TEN YEARS’ CAPTIVITY, Father
    Ohrwalder], which created a wide and profound impression in England.
    In 1895 a still more welcome fugitive reached Assuan. Early on the 16th
    of March a weary, travel-stained Arab, in a tattered jibba and mounted on
    a lame and emaciated camel, presented himself to the Commandant. He was
    received with delighted wonder, and forthwith conducted to the best
    bath-room available. Two hours later a little Austrian gentleman stepped
    forth, and the telegraph hastened to tell the news that Slatin, sometime
    Governor of Darfur, had escaped from the Khalifa’s clutches. Here at last
    was a man who knew everything that concerned the Dervish Empire–Slatin,
    the Khalifa’s trusted and confidential servant, almost his friend,
    who had lived with him, who was even permitted to dine with him alone,
    who had heard all his counsels, who knew all his Emirs, and moreover
    Slatin, the soldier and administrator, who could appreciate all he had
    learned, was added with the rank of Pasha to the Staff of the Intelligence
    Department. While his accurate knowledge confirmed the belief of the
    Egyptian authorities that the Dervish power was declining, his tale of
    ‘Fire and Sword in the Soudan’ increased the horror and anger of thoughtful
    people in England at the cruelties of the Khalifa. Public opinion began to
    veer towards the policy of re-conquest.

    The year 1895 brought in a Conservative and Unionist Administration.
    A Government came into office supported by a majority which was so strong
    that there seemed little reason to expect a transference of power for five
    or six years. Ministers were likely to be able to carry to a definite
    conclusion any projects they might devise. They belonged chiefly to that
    party in the State which had consistently assailed Mr. Gladstone’s Egyptian
    policy. Here was an opportunity of repairing the damage done by their
    opponents. The comparisons that would follow such an accomplishment were
    self-evident and agreeable even to anticipate. The idea of re-conquering
    the Soudan presented itself indefinitely, but not unpleasingly, alike to
    the Government and the people of Great Britain. The unforeseen course
    of events crystallised the idea into a policy.

    On the 1st of March, 1896, the battle of Adowa was fought, and Italy
    at the hands of Abyssinia sustained a crushing defeat. Two results
    followed which affected other nations. First, a great blow had been struck
    at European prestige in North Africa. It seemed probable that the
    Abyssinian success would encourage the Dervishes to attack the Italians at
    Kassala. It was possible that they might also attack the Egyptians at
    Suakin or on the Wady Halfa frontier. Secondly, the value of Italy as a
    factor in European politics was depreciated. The fact that her defeat had
    been assisted by the arms and munitions of war which had been supplied to
    the Abyssinians from French and Russian sources complicated the situation.
    The Triple Alliance was concerned. The third partner had been weakened.
    The balance might be restored if Great Britain would make some open
    sign of sympathy.

    Moreover, the expectations of the Egyptian military authorities were
    soon fulfilled. The Dervishes threatened Kassala as soon as the news of
    Adowa reached them, and indeed there were signs of increased activity in
    Omdurman itself. In these circumstances the British Government determined
    to assist Italy by making a demonstration on the Wady Halfa frontier.
    They turned to Egypt. It had always been recognised that the recovery of
    the lost provinces was a natural and legitimate aspiration. ‘The doubtful
    point was to decide the time when the military and financial resources of
    the country were sufficiently developed to justify an assumption of the
    offensive.’ [LORD CROMER’S REPORTS: EGYPT, No. 2, 1896.] From a purely
    Egyptian point of view the best possible moment had not yet arrived.
    A few more years of recuperation were needed. The country would fight the
    Soudan campaigns more easily if first refreshed by the great reservoirs
    which were projected. For more than two years both projects had been
    pressed upon the Government of his Highness the Khedive–or, to write
    definitely, upon Lord Cromer. At regular intervals Sir Herbert Kitchener
    and Sir William Garstin would successively visit the British Agency
    (it would be treason to call it ‘Government House’)–the one to urge
    the case for a war, the other to plead for a reservoir. The reservoir
    had won. Only a few weeks before the advance to Dongola was ordered
    Garstin met Kitchener returning from the Agency. The engineer inquired
    the result of the General’s interview. ‘I’m beaten,’ said Kitchener
    abruptly; ‘you’ve got your dam’–and Garstin went on his way rejoicing.

    The decision of the British Government came therefore as a complete
    surprise to the Cairene authorities. The season of the year was
    unfavourable to military operations. The hot weather was at hand. The Nile
    was low. Lord Cromer’s report, which had been published in the early days
    of March, had in no way foreshadowed the event. The frontier was tranquil.
    With the exception of a small raid on a village in the Wady Halfa district
    and an insignificant incursion into the Tokar Delta the Dervish forces had
    during the year maintained ‘a strictly defensive attitude.’ [EGYPT, No. 1,
    1896.] Lord Cromer, however, realised that while the case for the
    reservoirs would always claim attention, the re-conquest of the Soudan
    might not receive the support of a Liberal Government. The increasing
    possibility of French intrigues upon the Upper Nile had also to be
    considered. All politics are series of compromises and bargains, and while
    the historian may easily mark what would have been the best possible
    moment for any great undertaking, a good moment must content the
    administrator. Those who guarded the interests of Egypt could hardly
    consent to an empty demonstration on the Wady Halfa frontier at her
    expense, and the original intention of the British Government was at once
    extended to the re-conquest of the Dongola province–a definite and
    justifiable enterprise which must in any case be the first step towards
    the recovery of the Soudan.

    * * * * * *

    It will be convenient, before embarking upon the actual chronicle
    of the military operations, to explain how the money was obtained to pay
    for the war. I desire to avoid the intricate though fascinating tangles
    of Egyptian finance. Yet even when the subject is treated in the most
    general way the difficulties which harass and impede the British
    administrators and insult the sovereign power of Egypt–the mischievous
    interference of a vindictive nation, the galling and almost intolerable
    financial fetters in which a prosperous country is bound–may arouse in
    the sympathetic reader a flush of annoyance, or at any rate a smile
    of pitying wonder.

    About half the revenue of Egypt is devoted to the development and
    government of the country, and the other half to the payment of the
    interest on the debt and other external charges; and, with a view
    to preventing in the future the extravagance of the past, the London
    Convention in 1885 prescribed that the annual expenditure of Egypt
    shall not exceed a certain sum. When the expenditure exceeds this amount,
    for every pound that is spent on the government or development of Egypt
    another pound must be paid to the Commissioners of the Debt; so that,
    after the limit is reached, for every pound that is required to promote
    Egyptian interests two pounds must be raised by taxation from an already
    heavily taxed community. But the working of this law was found to be so
    severe that, like all laws which exceed the human conception of justice,
    it has been somewhat modified. By an arrangement which was effected
    in 1888, the Caisse de la Dette are empowered, instead of devoting their
    surplus pound to the sinking fund, to pay it into a general reserve fund,
    from which the Commissioners may make grants to meet ‘extraordinary
    expenses’; those expenses, that is to say, which may be considered
    ‘once for all'(capital) expenditure and not ordinary annual charges.

    The Dongola expedition was begun, as has been said, without reference
    to the immediate internal condition of Egypt. The moment was a good one,
    but not the best. It was obviously impossible for Egypt to provide for the
    extraordinary expenses of the military operations out of revenue. The
    Ministry of Finance therefore appealed to the Caisse de la Dette for a
    grant from the general reserve fund. Here was an obvious case of
    ‘extraordinary expenses.’ The Egyptian Government asked for
    500,000 Egyptian pounds (EP500,000).

    The Caisse met in council. Six Commissioners–representing England,
    France, Russia, Germany, Austria, and Italy–duly discussed the
    application. Four Commissioners considered that the grant should be made.
    Two Commissioners, those representing France and Russia, voted against it.
    The majority decided. The grant was made. The money was handed to the
    Egyptian Government and devoted to the prosecution of the war.

    Egypt as a sovereign power had already humbly begged to be allowed
    to devote part of the surplus of her own revenues to her own objects.
    A greater humiliation remained. The Commissioners of France and Russia,
    who had been out-voted, brought an action against their colleagues on the
    grounds that the grant was ultra vires; and against the Egyptian
    Government for the return of the money thus wrongly obtained.
    Other actions were brought at French instigation by various people
    purporting to represent the bondholders, who declared that their interests
    were threatened. The case was tried before the Mixed Tribunals, an
    institution which exists in Egypt superior to and independent of the
    sovereign rights of that country.

    On the part of the Egyptian Government and the four Commissioners it
    was contended that the Mixed Tribunals had no competency to try the case;
    that the attacking parties had no right of action; that the Egyptian
    Government had, in applying, done all that the law of liquidation required;
    and that the act of sovereignty was complete as soon as the Caisse,
    which was the legal representative of the bondholding interest,
    had pronounced its decision.

    The argument was a strong one; but had it been ten times as strong,
    the result would have been the same. The Mixed Tribunals, an international
    institution, delivered its judgment on strictly political grounds,
    the judges taking their orders from the different countries they
    represented. It was solemnly pronounced that war expenses were not
    ‘extraordinary expenses.’ The proximate destruction of the Khalifa’s power
    was treated quite as a matter of everyday occurrence. A state of war was
    apparently regarded as usual in Egypt. On this wise and sensible ground
    the Egyptian Government were condemned to pay back EP500,000, together
    with interest and costs. After a momentary hesitation as to whether the
    hour had not come to join issue on the whole subject of the financial
    restrictions of Egypt, it was decided to bow to this iniquitous decision.
    The money had now to be refunded. It had already been spent. More than
    that, other sums were needed for the carrying on of the war. The army was
    by then occupying Dongola, and was in actual expectation of a Dervish
    counter-attack, and it was evident that the military operations could not
    be suspended or arrested. It was impossible to stop; yet without money
    it seemed impossible to go on; and, besides, it appeared that Egypt
    would be unable to repay the EP500,000 which she had been granted,
    and of which she was now deprived.

    Such was the painful and difficult situation which a friendly nation,
    in the utmost exercise of her wit and the extreme compass of her legal
    rights, had succeeded in producing in a country for whose welfare she had
    always professed an exaggerated regard. Such was the effect of French
    diplomacy. But there is a Nemesis that waits on international malpractices,
    however cunning. Now, as before and since, the very astuteness of the
    French Ministers and agents was to strike a terrible blow at French
    interests and French influence in Egypt. At this period France still
    exercised a considerable force on Egyptian politics. One Egyptian party,
    the weaker, but still by no means insignificant, looked towards her for
    support. The news of the French success cheered their hearts and raised
    their spirits. Orientals appreciate results. The result was a distinct
    reverse to the British. The conclusion to the native mind was obvious.
    Great Britain had been weighed in the European balances and found wanting.
    In all Eastern countries a large proportion of the population fluctuates
    uncertainly, eager only to be on the winning side. All this volume of
    agitation and opinion began to glide and flow towards the stronger Power,
    and when the Egyptian Government found their appeal from the decision of
    the Court of First Instance of the Mixed Tribunals to the International
    Court of Appeal at Alexandria quashed, and the original decision confirmed,
    the defeat of the British was no less complete than the triumph
    of the French.

    But meanwhile the Consul-General acted. On the 2nd of December
    he telegraphed to Lord Salisbury, reporting the judgment of the Court of
    Appeal and asking that he might be ‘authorised to state directly that her
    Majesty’s Government will be prepared to advance the money on conditions
    to be hereafter arranged.’ The reply was prompt, though guarded. ‘You are
    authorised,’ said Lord Salisbury, ‘by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to
    state that though of course the primary liability for the payment of the
    EP500,000 rests with the Egyptian Government, her Majesty’s Government will
    hold themselves prepared to advance, on conditions to be decided hereafter,
    such a sum as they feel satisfied that the Egyptian Treasury is powerless
    to provide.’ [The original EP500,000 was afterwards increased to EP800,000;
    which sum was paid by the British Exchequer to the Egyptian Government,
    at first as a loan, and later as a gift.] This obvious development does not
    seem to have been foreseen by the French diplomatists, and when, on the 3rd
    of December, it was rumoured in Cairo that Great Britain was prepared to
    pay the money, a great feeling of astonishment and of uncertainty was
    created. But the chances of the French interference proving effective
    still seemed good. It was believed that the English Government would not
    be in a position to make an advance to the Egyptian Government until funds
    had been voted by Parliament for the purpose. It was also thought that
    Egypt would be utterly unable to find the money immediately. In the
    meantime the position was humiliating. France conceived herself mistress
    of the situation. A complete disillusionment, however, awaited the French
    Government. The taxes in Egypt, as in other countries, are not collected
    evenly over the whole year. During some months there is a large cash
    balance in the Exchequer. In others the money drains in slowly. It happened
    at this period of the year, after the cotton crop had been gathered, that a
    considerable balance had accumulated in the Treasury, and on the guarantee
    of the English Government being received, to the effect that they would
    ultimately assist Egypt with regard to the expenses of the expedition,
    Lord Cromer determined to repay the money at once.

    The event was foreshadowed. On the 5th of December the Egyptian Council
    of Ministers, presided over by the Khedive in person, decided on their own
    initiative to despatch an official letter expressing in warm terms their
    gratitude for the financial help offered them by her Majesty’s Government.
    ‘I am desired,’ said Boutros Pasha, ‘to beg your lordship to be good enough
    to convey to his lordship the Marquess of Salisbury the expression of the
    lively gratitude of the Khedive and the Egyptian Government for the great
    kindness which her Majesty’s Government has shown to them
    on this occasion.’ [EGYPT, No. 1, 1897.]

    On the 6th of December EP500,000, together with EP15,600 interest
    and costs, in gold, was conveyed in boxes in a cart from the Egyptian
    Treasury to the offices of the Caisse de la Dette. The effect was
    tremendous. All Cairo knew of the difficulty. All Cairo witnessed the
    manner in which it had been overcome. The lesson was too plain to be lost
    on the native mind. The reverse of the French diplomacy was far greater
    even than its success had appeared. For many years French influence in
    Egypt had not received so heavy a blow; yet even in the short space of
    time which this story covers it was to receive a still more
    terrible wound.


    Shortly before midnight on the 12th of March, 1896, the Sirdar received
    instructions from Lord Cromer authorising an expedition into the Dongola
    province and directing him to occupy Akasha. The next morning the news
    was published in the Times, ostensibly as coming from its correspondent
    in Cairo: and the Egyptian Cabinet was convened to give a formal assent
    by voting the decree. On the 14th the reserves were called out. On the
    15th the Khedive reviewed the Cairo garrison; and at the termination of
    the parade Sir H. Kitchener informed him that the earliest battalions
    would start for the front that night.

    The Egyptian frontier force had always been kept in a condition of
    immediate readiness by the restless activity of the enemy. The beginning
    of the long-expected advance was hailed with delight by the British
    officers sweltering at Wady Halfa and Sarras. On Sunday, the 15th
    of March, three days after the Sirdar had received his orders, and before
    the first reinforcements had started from Cairo, Colonel Hunter, who
    commanded on the frontier, formed a small column of all arms to seize and
    hold Akasha. At dawn on the 18th the column started, and the actual
    invasion of the territory which for ten years had been abandoned to the
    Dervishes began. The route lay through a wild and rocky country–the
    debatable ground, desolated by years of war–and the troops straggled into
    a long procession, and had several times for more than an hour to move in
    single file over passes and through narrow defiles strewn with the
    innumerable boulders from which the ‘Belly of Stones’ has derived its name.
    The right of their line of march was protected by the Nile, and although
    it was occasionally necessary to leave the bank, to avoid difficult ground,
    the column camped each night by the river. The cavalry and the Camel Corps
    searched the country to the south and east; for it was expected that the
    Dervishes would resist the advance. Creeping along the bank, and prepared
    at a moment’s notice to stand at bay at the water’s edge, the small force
    proceeded on its way. Wady Atira was reached on the 18th, Tanjore on the
    19th, and on the 20th the column marched into Akasha.

    The huts of the mud village were crumbling back into the desert sand.
    The old British fort and a number of storehouses–relics of the Gordon
    Relief Expedition–were in ruins. The railway from Sarras had been pulled
    to pieces. Most of the sleepers had disappeared, but the rails lay
    scattered along the track. All was deserted: yet one grim object
    proclaimed the Dervish occupation. Beyond the old station and near the
    river a single rail had been fixed nearly upright in the ground. From one
    of the holes for the fishplate bolts there dangled a rotten cord, and on
    the sand beneath this improvised yet apparently effective gallows lay a
    human skull and bones, quite white and beautifully polished by the action
    of sun and wind. Half-a-dozen friendly Arabs, who had taken refuge on the
    island below the cataract, were the only inhabitants of the district.

    The troops began to place themselves in a defensive position without delay.
    On the 22nd the cavalry and Camel Corps returned with the empty convoy to
    Sarras to escort to the front a second and larger column, under the command
    of Major MacDonald, and consisting of the XIth and XIIth Soudanese, one
    company of the 3rd Egyptians (dropped as a garrison at Ambigole Wells),
    and a heavy convoy of stores numbering six hundred camels. Starting from
    Sarras on the 24th, the column, after four days’ marching, arrived
    without accident or attack, and MacDonald assumed command of
    the whole advanced force.

    Akasha was now converted into a strong entrenched camp, in which
    an advanced base was formed. Its garrison of three battalions, a battery,
    and the mounted troops, drew their supplies by camel transport from Sarras.
    The country to the south and east was continually patrolled, to guard
    against a turning movement, and the communications were further
    strengthened by the establishment of fortified posts at Semna, Wady Atira,
    and Tanjore. The friendly Arab tribes–Bedouin, Kabbabish, and
    Foggara–ranged still more widely in the deserts and occupied the scattered
    wells. All this time the Dervishes watched supinely from their position
    at Fuket, and although they were within a single march of Akasha they
    remained inactive and made no attempt to disturb the operations.

    Meanwhile the concentration of the Egyptian army on the frontier
    was proceeding. The reservists obeyed the summons to the colours of their
    own free will and with gratifying promptness, instead of being tardily
    dragged from their homes in chains as in the days of Ismail. All the
    battalions of the army were brought up to war strength. Two new battalions
    of reservists were formed, the 15th and 16th. The 15th was placed at Assuan
    and Korosko on the line of communications. The 16th was despatched to
    Suakin to release the two battalions in garrison there for service on
    the Nile. The 1st Battalion of the North Staffordshire Regiment was moved
    up the river from Cairo to take the place of the Wady Halfa garrison of six
    battalions, which had moved on to Sarras and Akasha. A Maxim battery of
    four guns was formed from the machine-gun sections of the Staffordshires
    and Connaught Rangers and hurried south. The 2nd, 4th, 5th, and
    6th Egyptian Battalions from Cairo were passed in a continual succession
    along the railway and river to the front. In all this busy and complicated
    movement of troops the Egyptian War Office worked smoothly, and clearly
    showed the ability with which it was organised.

    The line of communications from Cairo, the permanent base, to the advanced
    post at Akasha was 825 miles in length. But of this distance only the
    section lying south of Assuan could be considered as within the theatre
    of war. The ordinary broad-gauge railway ran from Cairo to Balliana, where
    a river base was established. From Balliana to Assuan reinforcements and
    supplies were forwarded by Messrs. Cook’s fleet of steamers, by barges
    towed by small tugs, and by a number of native sailing craft. A stretch of
    seven miles of railway avoids the First Cataract, and joins Assuan and
    Shellal. Above Shellal a second flotilla of gunboats, steamers, barges,
    and Nile boats was collected to ply between Shellal and Halfa. The military
    railway ran from Halfa to Sarras. South of Sarras supplies were forwarded
    by camels. To meet the increased demands of transport, 4,500 camels were
    purchased in Egypt and forwarded in boats to Assuan, whence they marched
    via Korosko to the front. The British Government had authorised the
    construction of the military railway to Akasha, and a special railway
    battalion was collected at Assuan, through which place sleepers and other
    material at once began to pass to Sarras. The strategic railway
    construction will, however, form the subject of a later chapter,
    which I shall not anticipate.

    By the 1st of April, less than three weeks from the commencement
    of the advance, the whole line of communications had been organised
    and was working efficiently, although still crowded with the
    concentrating troops.

    As soon as the 16th Battalion of reservists arrived at Suakin,
    the IXth Soudanese were conveyed by transports to Kossier, and marched
    thence across the desert to Kena. The distance was 120 miles, and the fact
    that in spite of two heavy thunderstorms–rare phenomena in Egypt–it was
    covered in four days is a notable example of the marching powers of the
    black soldiers. It had been determined that the Xth Soudanese should follow
    at once, but circumstances occurred which detained them on the Red Sea
    littoral and must draw the attention of the reader thither.

    The aspect and history of the town and port of Suakin might afford
    a useful instance to a cynical politician. Most of the houses stand on a
    small barren island which is connected with the mainland by a narrow
    causeway. At a distance the tall buildings of white coral, often five
    storeys high, present an imposing appearance, and the prominent
    chimneys of the condensing machinery–for there is scarcely any fresh
    water–seem to suggest manufacturing activity. But a nearer view reveals
    the melancholy squalor of the scene. A large part of the town is deserted.
    The narrow streets wind among tumbled-down and neglected houses.
    The quaintly carved projecting windows of the facades are boarded up.
    The soil exhales an odour of stagnation and decay. The atmosphere is rank
    with memories of waste and failure. The scenes that meet the eye intensify
    these impressions. The traveller who lands on Quarantine Island is first
    confronted with the debris of the projected Suakin-Berber Railway. Two or
    three locomotives that have neither felt the pressure of steam nor tasted
    oil for a decade lie rusting in the ruined workshops. Huge piles of
    railway material rot, unguarded and neglected, on the shore. Rolling stock
    of all kinds–carriages, trucks, vans, and ballast waggons–are strewn or
    heaped near the sheds. The Christian cemetery alone shows a decided
    progress, and the long lines of white crosses which mark the graves of
    British soldiers and sailors who lost their lives in action or by disease
    during the various campaigns, no less than the large and newly enclosed
    areas to meet future demands, increase the depression of the visitor.
    The numerous graves of Greek traders–a study of whose epitaphs may
    conveniently refresh a classical education–protest that the climate of
    the island is pestilential. The high loopholed walls declare that the
    desolate scrub of the mainland is inhabited only by fierce and valiant
    savages who love their liberty.

    For eleven years all trade had been practically stopped, and the only
    merchants remaining were those who carried on an illicit traffic with the
    Arabs or, with Eastern apathy, were content to wait for better days.
    Being utterly unproductive, Suakin had been wisely starved by the Egyptian
    Government, and the gloom of the situation was matched by the poverty
    of its inhabitants.

    The island on which the town stands is joined to the mainland by
    a causeway, at the further end of which is an arched gateway of curious
    design called ‘the Gate of the Soudan.’ Upon the mainland stands the
    crescent-shaped suburb of El Kaff. It comprises a few mean coral-built
    houses, a large area covered with mud huts inhabited by Arabs and
    fishermen, and all the barracks and military buildings. The whole is
    surrounded by a strong wall a mile and a half long, fifteen feet high,
    six feet thick, with a parapet pierced for musketry and strengthened at
    intervals by bastions armed with Krupp guns.

    Three strong detached posts complete the defences of Suakin.
    Ten miles to the northward, on the scene of Sir H. Kitchener’s
    unfortunate enterprise, is the fort of Handub. Tambuk is twenty-five
    miles inland and among the hills. Situate upon a high rock, and
    consisting only of a store, a formidable blockhouse, and a lookout tower,
    this place is safe from any enemy unprovided with artillery. Both Handub
    and Tambuk were at the outset of the campaign provisioned for four months.
    The third post, Tokar Fort, lies fifty miles along the coast to the south.
    Its function is to deprive the Arabs of a base in the fertile delta of the
    Tokar river. The fort is strong, defended by artillery, and requires for
    its garrison an entire battalion of infantry.

    No description of Suakin would be complete without some allusion
    to the man to whom it owes its fame. Osman Digna had been for many years
    a most successful and enterprising Arab slave dealer. The attempted
    suppression of his trade by the Egyptian Government drove him naturally
    into opposition. He joined in the revolt of the Mahdi, and by his influence
    roused the whole of the Hadendoa and other powerful tribes of the Red Sea
    shore. The rest is upon record. Year after year, at a horrid sacrifice
    of men and money, the Imperial Government and the old slaver fought like
    wolves over the dry bone of Suakin. Baker’s Teb, El Teb, Tamai, Tofrek,
    Hashin, Handub, Gemaiza, Afafit–such were the fights of Osman Digna,
    and through all he passed unscathed. Often defeated, but never crushed,
    the wily Arab might justly boast to have run further and fought more
    than any Emir in the Dervish armies.

    It had scarcely seemed possible that the advance on Dongola could
    influence the situation around Kassala, yet the course of events encouraged
    the belief that the British diversion in favour of Italy had been
    effective; for at the end of March–as soon, that is to say, as the news
    of the occupation of Akasha reached him–Osman Digna separated himself
    from the army threatening Kassala, and marched with 300 cavalry,
    70 camelry, and 2,500 foot towards his old base in the Tokar Delta.
    On the first rumour of his advance the orders of the Xth Soudanese to move
    via Kossier and Kena to the Nile were cancelled, and they remained in
    garrison at Tokar. At home the War Office, touched in a tender spot,
    quivered apprehensively, and began forthwith to make plans to strengthen
    the Suakin garrison with powerful forces.

    The state of affairs in the Eastern Soudan has always been turbulent.
    The authority of the Governor of the Red Sea Littoral was not at this time
    respected beyond the extreme range of the guns of Suakin. The Hadendoa and
    other tribes who lived under the walls of the town professed loyalty
    to the Egyptian Government, not from any conviction that their rule was
    preferable to that of Osman Digna, but simply for the sake of a quiet life.
    As their distance from Suakin increased, the loyalty of the tribesmen
    became even less pronounced, and at a radius of twenty miles all the
    Sheikhs oscillated alternately between Osman Digna and the Egyptian
    Government, and tried to avoid open hostilities with either. Omar Tita,
    Sheikh of the district round about Erkowit, found himself situated on this
    fringe of intriguing neutrality. Although he was known to have dealings
    with Osman, it was believed that if he had the power to choose he would
    side with the Egyptian Government. Early in April Omar Tita reported that
    Osman Digna was in the neighbourhood of Erkowit with a small force,
    and that he, the faithful ally of the Government, had on the 3rd of the
    month defeated him with a loss of four camels. He also said that if the
    Egyptian Government would send up a force to fight Osman, he,
    the aforesaid ally, would keep him in play until it arrived.

    After a few days of hesitation and telegraphic communication with
    the Sirdar, Colonel Lloyd, the Governor of Suakin, who was then in very
    bad health, decided that he had not enough troops to justify him in taking
    the risk of going up to Erkowit to fight Osman. Around Suakin, as along
    the Indian frontier, a battle was always procurable on the shortest notice.
    When a raid has taken place, the Government may choose the scale of their
    reprisals. If they are poor, they will arrange a counter-raid by means of
    ‘friendlies,’ and nothing more will be heard of the affair. If they are
    rich, they will mobilise two or three brigades, and make an expedition or
    fight a pitched battle, so that another glory may be added to the annals
    of the British army. In the present instance the Egyptian Government were
    poor, and as the British Government did not desire to profit by the
    opportunity it was determined to have only a small-scale operation.
    The Governor therefore arranged a plan for a demonstration at the foot of
    the hills near Khor Wintri by means of combined movements from Suakin
    and Tokar. The garrison of Suakin consisted of the 1st and half the 5th
    Egyptian Battalions; the 16th Egyptian reservists, who had just replaced
    the IXth Soudanese, and were as yet hardly formed into a military body;
    one squadron of cavalry, one company of Camel Corps, and some detachments
    of artillery. The garrison of Tokar consisted of the Xth Soudanese and a
    few gunners. From these troops there was organised in the second week
    in April, with all due ceremony, a ‘Suakin Field Force.’

    The plan of campaign was simple. Colonel Lloyd was to march out
    from Suakin and effect a junction with the ‘Tokar Column’ at Khor Wintri,
    where the Erkowit road enters the hills. It was then hoped that Osman Digna
    would descend and fight a battle of the required dimensions in the open;
    after which, if victorious, the force would return to Suakin and Tokar.

    In order to make the Suakin Column as mobile as possible, the whole force
    was mounted on camels, of which more than 1,000 were requisitioned, as well
    as 60 mules and 120 donkeys. Two hundred Arabs accompanied the column to
    hold these beasts when necessary. Six days’ forage and rations, one day’s
    reserve of water, 200 rounds per man, and 100 shell per gun were carried.
    At five o’clock on the afternoon of Tuesday, the 14th of April, the troops
    paraded outside the walls of Suakin, and bivouacked in the open ready
    to march at daylight.

    The next morning the column, which numbered about 1,200 men of all arms,
    started. After marching for four or five hours in the direction of Khor
    Wintri the cavalry, who covered the advance, came in contact with the
    Dervish scouts. The force thereupon assumed an oblong formation: the mixed
    Soudanese company and the two guns in front, three Egyptian companies on
    each flank, the Camel Corps company in the rear, and the transport in the
    centre. The pace was slow, and, since few of the camels had ever been
    saddled or ridden, progress was often interrupted by their behaviour and
    by the broken and difficult nature of the country. Nevertheless at about
    four o’clock in the afternoon, Teroi Wells, eight miles from Khor Wintri,
    were reached; and here, having marched nineteen miles, Colonel Lloyd
    determined to halt. While the infantry were making the zeriba, the cavalry
    were sent on under Captain Fenwick (an infantry officer employed on
    the Staff) to gain touch with the Tokar force, who were expected to have
    already reached the rendezvous. Apparently under the belief that Omar Tita
    and his Arabs would give timely notice of an attack, the cavalry seem to
    have neglected many of the usual precautions, and in consequence at about
    five o’clock, when approaching Khor Wintri, they found themselves suddenly
    confronted with a force of about 200 Dervish horsemen supported by a large
    body of infantry. The squadron wheeled about with promptitude, and began
    to retire at a trot. The Dervish horsemen immediately pursued. The result
    was that the Egyptians began a disorderly flight at a gallop through the
    thick and treacherous scrub and over broken, dangerous ground. Sixteen
    horses fell; their riders were instantly speared by the pursuers. Rallying
    thirty-eight troopers, Captain Fenwick seized a rocky hillock, and
    dismounting with the natural instinct of an infantry soldier, prepared to
    defend himself to the last. The remainder of the squadron continued their
    flight, and thirty-two troopers, under an Egyptian officer (whose horse
    is said to have bolted), arrived at the Teroi zeriba with the news that
    their comrades had been destroyed, or had perhaps ‘returned to Suakin,’
    and that they themselves had been closely followed by the enemy. The news
    caused the gravest anxiety, which was not diminished when it was found
    that the bush around the zeriba was being strongly occupied by Dervish
    spearmen. Two mounted men, who volunteered for the perilous duty, were sent
    to make their way through this savage cordon, and try to find either the
    remainder of the cavalry or the Tokar Column. Both were hunted down and
    killed. The rest of the force continued in hourly expectation of an attack.

    Their suspense was aggravated towards midnight, when the Dervishes began
    to approach the zeriba. In the darkness what was thought to be a body of
    horsemen was seen moving along a shallow khor opposite the right face of
    the defence. At the same moment a loud yell was raised by the enemy on the
    other side. An uncontrolled musketry fire immediately broke out. The guns
    fired blindly up the valley; the infantry wildly on all sides.
    The fusillade continued furiously for some time, and when by the efforts
    of the British officers the troops were restrained, it was found that the
    Dervishes had retired, leaving behind them a single wounded man.
    Occasional shots were fired from the scrub until the morning, but no fresh
    attack was attempted by the Dervishes.

    Meanwhile Captain Fenwick maintained his solitary and perilous position
    on the hillock. He was soon surrounded by considerable bodies of the enemy,
    and as soon as it became dark he was sharply attacked. But the Dervishes
    fortunately possessed few rifles, and the officers and troopers, by firing
    steady volleys, succeeded in holding their ground and repulsing them.
    The sound of the guns at Teroi encouraged the Egyptians and revealed the
    direction of their friends. With the daylight the Dervishes, who seem
    throughout the affair to have been poor-spirited fellows, drew off, and the
    detachment, remounting, made haste to rejoin the main body.

    The force, again united, pursued their way to Khor Wintri, where they
    found the column from Tokar already arrived. Marching early on the 15th,
    Major Sidney with 250 men of the Xth Soudanese, the only really trustworthy
    troops in the force, had reached Khor Wintri the same afternoon. He drove
    out the small Dervish post occupying the khor, and was about to bivouac,
    when he was sharply attacked by a force of Arabs said to have numbered
    80 horsemen and 500 foot. The Soudanese fought with their usual courage,
    and the Dervishes were repulsed, leaving thirty dead upon the ground.
    The regulars had three men wounded.

    Up to this point Colonel Lloyd’s plan had been successfully carried out.
    The columns from Suakin and Tokar had effected a junction at Khor Wintri
    on the Erkowit road. It now remained to await the attack of Osman Digna,
    and inflict a heavy blow upon him. It was decided, however, in view of
    what had occurred, to omit this part of the scheme, and both forces
    returned together without delay to Suakin, which they reached on the 18th,
    having lost in the operations eighteen Egyptian soldiers killed
    and three wounded.

    Their arrival terminated a period of anxious doubt as to their fate.
    The town, which had been almost entirely denuded of troops, was left
    in charge of Captain Ford-Hutchinson. At about two o’clock in the
    afternoon of the 16th a few stragglers from the Egyptian cavalry with
    half-a-dozen riderless horses knocked at the gates, and vague but sinister
    rumours spread on all sides. The belief that a disaster had overtaken the
    Egyptian force greatly excited the Arabs living within the walls, and it
    appeared that they were about to rise, plunder the town, and massacre the
    Christians. Her Majesty’s ship Scout was, however, by good fortune in the
    harbour. Strong parties of bluejackets were landed to patrol the streets.
    The guns of the warship were laid on the Arab quarter. These measures had
    a tranquillising effect, and order reigned in Suakin until the return of
    the Field Force, when their victory was celebrated with appropriate

    It was announced that as a result of the successful operations the
    Dervish enterprise against the Tokai Delta had collapsed, and that Osman
    Digna’s power was for ever broken. In order, however, that no unfortunate
    incident should mar the triumph, the Xth Soudanese were sent back to Tokar
    by sea via Trinkitat, instead of marching direct and the garrison of Suakin
    confined themselves henceforward strictly to their defences. Osman Digna
    remained in the neighbourhood and raided the friendly villages. On the
    arrival of the Indian contingent he was supposed to be within twelve miles
    of the town, but thereafter he retired to Adarama on the Atbara river,
    where he remained during the Dongola campaign. The fact that no further
    offensive operations were undertaken in the Eastern Soudan prevented all
    fighting, for the Dervishes were, of course, unable to assail the strong
    permanent fortifications behind which the Egyptians took shelter. They
    nevertheless remained in actual possession of the surrounding country,
    until the whole situation was altered by the successful advance of powerful
    forces behind them along the Nile and by the occupation of Berber.

    After the affair of Khor Wintri it was evident that it would not
    be possible to leave Suakin to the defence only of the 16th Battalion of
    reservists. On the other hand, Sir H. Kitchener required every soldier the
    Egyptian army could muster to carry out the operations on the Nile. It was
    therefore determined to send Indian troops to Suakin to garrison the town
    and forts, and thus release the Xth Soudanese and the Egyptian battalions
    for the Dongola Expedition. Accordingly early in the month of May the
    Indian Army authorities were ordered to prepare a brigade of all arms
    for service in Egypt.

    The troops selected were as follow: 26th Bengal Infantry, 35th Sikhs,
    1st Bombay Lancers, 5th Bombay Mountain Battery, two Maxim guns, one
    section Queen’s Own (Madras) Sappers and Miners–in all about 4,000 men.
    The command was entrusted to Colonel Egerton, of the Corps of Guides.

    On the 30th of May the dreary town of Suakin was enlivened by the arrival
    of the first detachments, and during the following week the whole force
    disembarked at the rotten piers and assumed the duties of the defence.
    It is mournful to tell how this gallant brigade, which landed so full of
    high hope and warlike enthusiasm, and which was certainly during the
    summer the most efficient force in the Soudan, was reduced in seven months
    to the sullen band who returned to India wasted by disease, embittered by
    disappointment, and inflamed by feelings of resentment and envy.

    The Indian contingent landed in the full expectation of being immediately
    employed against the enemy. After a week, when all the stores had been
    landed, officers and men spent their time speculating when the order to
    march would come. It was true that there was no transport in Suakin, but
    that difficulty was easily overcome by rumours that 5,000 camels were on
    their way from the Somali coast to enable the force to move on Kassala
    or Berber. As these did not arrive, General Egerton sent in a proposed
    scheme to the Sirdar, in which he undertook to hold all the advanced posts
    up to the Kokreb range, if he were supplied with 1,000 camels for
    transport. A characteristic answer was returned, to the effect that it was
    not intended to use the Indian contingent as a mobile force. They had come
    as a garrison for Suakin, and a garrison for Suakin they should remain.
    This information was not, however, communicated to the troops, who
    continued to hope for orders to advance until the fall of Dongola.

    The heat when the contingent arrived was not great, but as the months
    wore on the temperature rose steadily, until in August and September the
    thermometer rarely fell below 103 degrees during the night, and often rose to 115 degrees
    by day. Dust storms were frequent. A veritable plague of flies tormented
    the unhappy soldiers. The unhealthy climate, the depressing inactivity,
    and the scantiness of fresh meat or the use of condensed water, provoked
    an outbreak of scurvy. At one time nearly all the followers and 50 per cent
    of the troops were affected. Several large drafts were invalided to India.
    The symptoms were painful and disgusting–open wounds, loosening of the
    teeth, curious fungoid growths on the gums and legs. The cavalry horses
    and transport animals suffered from bursati, and even a pinprick expanded
    into a large open sore. It is doubtful whether the brigade could have been
    considered fit for active service after September. All the Europeans
    suffered acutely from prickly heat. Malarial fever was common. There were
    numerous cases of abscess on the liver. Twenty-five per cent of the British
    officers were invalided to England or India, and only six escaped a stay in
    hospital. The experiences of the battalion holding Tokar Fort were even
    worse than those of the troops in Suakin. At length the longed-for time of
    departure arrived. With feelings of relief and delight the Indian
    contingent shook the dust of Suakin off their feet and returned to India.
    It is a satisfaction to pass from the dismal narrative of events in the
    Eastern Soudan to the successful campaign on the Nile.

    By the middle of April the concentration on the frontier was completed.
    The communications were cleared of their human freight, and occupied only
    by supplies and railway material, which continued to pour south at the
    utmost capacity of the transport. Eleven thousand troops had been massed
    at and beyond Wady Halfa. But no serious operations could take place until
    a strong reserve of stores had been accumulated at the front. Meanwhile the
    army waited, and the railway grew steadily. The battalions were distributed
    in three principal fortified camps–Halfa, Sarras, and Akasha–and
    detachments held the chain of small posts which linked them together.

    Including the North Staffordshire Regiment, the garrison of Wady Halfa
    numbered about 3,000 men. The town and cantonment, nowhere more than 400
    yards in width, straggle along the river-bank, squeezed in between
    the water and the desert, for nearly three miles. The houses, offices,
    and barracks are all built of mud, and the aspect of the place is brown
    and squalid. A few buildings, however, attain to the dignity of two
    storeys. At the northern end of the town a group of fairly well-built
    houses occupy the river-front, and a distant view of the clusters of
    palm-trees, of the white walls, and the minaret of the mosque refreshes
    the weary traveller from Korosko or Shellal with the hopes of civilised
    entertainment. The whole town is protected towards the deserts by a ditch
    and mud wall; and heavy Krupp field-pieces are mounted on little bastions
    where the ends of the rampart rest upon the river. Five small detached
    forts strengthen the land front, and the futility of an Arab attack at
    this time was evident. Halfa had now become the terminus of a railway,
    which was rapidly extending; and the continual arrival and despatch of
    tons of material, the building of sheds, workshops, and storehouses lent
    the African slum the bustle and activity of a civilised city.

    Sarras Fort is an extensive building, perched on a crag of black rock
    rising on the banks of the Nile about thirty miles south of Halfa. During
    the long years of preparation it had been Egypt’s most advanced outpost
    and the southern terminus of the military railway. The beginning of the
    expedition swelled it into an entrenched camp, holding nearly 6,000 men.
    From each end of the black rock on which the fort stood a strong stone wall
    and wire entanglement ran back to the river. The space thus enclosed was
    crowded with rows of tents and lines of animals and horses; and in the fort
    Colonel Hunter, commanding the district known as ‘Sarras and the South,’
    had his headquarters.

    From Sarras the army seemed to have chosen a double line of advance.
    The railway reconstruction followed the old track which had been prepared
    through the desert in 1885. The convoy route wound along by the river.
    Both were protected from attack. The 7th Egyptians guarded Railhead,
    while the chain of small posts secured the road by the Nile to Akasha.
    The advanced base grew during the months of April and May into a strong
    position. Only once did the Arabs venture to approach within artillery
    range. A small body of horse and camel men made a sort of haphazard
    reconnaissance, and, being seen from the outpost line, were fired on at a
    great distance by a field-gun. They fell back immediately, but it was
    believed that the range was too great for the projectile to have harmed
    them; and it was not until two days later that the discovery on the spot
    of a swollen, blistering corpse, clad in bright jibba, apprised the
    delighted gunners of the effect of their fire. Warned by this lucky shot
    the Dervishes came no more, or came unseen.

    The Sirdar, accompanied by Colonel Bundle, his Chief of Staff, had left
    Cairo on the 22nd of March, and after a short stay at Assuan reached Wady
    Halfa on the 29th. Here he remained during the month of April,
    superintending and pressing the extension of the railroad and the
    accumulation of supplies. On the 1st of May he arrived at Akasha, with a
    squadron of cavalry, under Major Burn-Murdoch, as his escort. It happened
    that a convoy had come in the previous day, so that there were two extra
    cavalry squadrons at the advanced post. Almost at the same moment that
    Sir H. Kitchener entered the camp, a party of friendly Arabs came in with
    the news that they had been surprised some four miles to the eastward by
    a score of Dervish camel-men, and had only succeeded in escaping with the
    loss of two of their number. In the belief that the enemy in the immediate
    vicinity were not in force, the Sirdar ordered the three squadrons of
    Egyptian cavalry, supported by the XIth Soudanese, to go out and
    reconnoitre towards Firket and endeavour to cut off any hostile patrols
    that might be found.

    At ten o’clock Major Burn-Murdoch started with four British officers
    and 240 lances. After moving for seven or eight miles among the hills which
    surround Akasha, the cavalry passed through a long, sandy defile, flanked
    on either side by rocky peaks and impracticable ravines. As the head of the
    column was about to debouch from this, the advanced scouts reported that
    there was a body of Dervishes in the open ground in front of the defile.
    The cavalry commander rode forward to look at them, and found himself
    confronted, not, as he had expected, by a score of camel-men, but by a
    strong force of Dervishes, numbering at least 1,500 foot and 250 horse.
    The cavalry, by trotting, had left the supporting infantry some distance
    behind them. The appearance of the enemy was threatening. The horsemen,
    who were drawn up scarcely 300 yards away, were already advancing to the
    attack, their right flank protected by a small force of camelry;
    and behind was the solid array of the spearmen.

    Major Burn-Murdoch determined to fall back on his infantry support
    and escape from the bad ground. He gave the order, and the squadrons
    wheeled about by troops and began to retire. Forthwith the Dervish horse
    charged, and, galloping furiously into the defile, attacked the cavalry
    in rear. Both sides were crowded in the narrow space. The wildest
    confusion followed, and the dust raised by the horses’ hoofs hung over all
    like a yellow London fog, amid which the bewildered combatants discharged
    their pistols and thrust at random. The Egyptian cavalry, thus highly
    tried, showed at first no disposition to turn to meet the attack.
    The tumult drowned all words of command. A disaster appeared imminent.
    But the British officers, who had naturally been at the head of the column
    during its advance, were now at the rear and nearest the enemy. Collecting
    a score of troopers, they made such resistance with their swords and
    revolvers that they actually held the defile and beat back the Dervish
    horse, who retired on their infantry, leaving a dozen dead upon the ground.
    Two of the Egyptian squadrons continued to retreat until clear of the
    defile, a distance of 700 yards; but the third and rearmost was compelled
    by the British officers to face about, and, galloping with this force down
    the ravine, Major Burn-Murdoch drove the Arabs pell-mell out of it.
    The other two squadrons had now returned, and the whole force dismounted,
    and, taking up a position among the sandhills near the mouth of the defile,
    opened fire with their carbines. The repulse of their cavalry seemed to
    have disheartened the Dervishes, for they made no attempt to attack the
    dismounted troopers, and contented themselves with maintaining a desultory
    fire, which was so ill-aimed that but little loss was caused. The heat of
    the weather was terrific, and both men and horses suffered acutely from
    thirst. The squadron which had escorted the Sirdar had performed a long
    march before the reconnaissance and was exhausted. The cavalry, however,
    held their position among the sandhills and easily defeated a feeble
    attempt to turn their right. At a quarter past twelve the Dervishes began
    to retire slowly and deliberately, and by one o’clock, when the XIth
    Soudanese arrived, eager and agog, the last Arab had disappeared. The force
    then returned to camp, bearing many spears and leading six captured horses
    as trophies of victory. The intensity of the heat may be gauged by the fact
    that one of the Soudanese soldiers–that is to say, an African negro–
    died of sunstroke. Such was the affair of the 1st of May, and it is
    pleasing to relate that in this fierce fight the loss was not severe.
    One British officer, Captain Fitton, was slightly wounded. One native
    soldier was killed; one was mortally and eight severely wounded.

    During May the preparations for the advance on the Dervish position
    at Firket continued, and towards the end of the month it became evident
    that they were nearly complete. The steady accumulation of stores at Akasha
    had turned that post into a convenient base from which the force might
    operate for a month without drawing supplies of any kind from the north.
    The railway, which had progressed at the rate of about half a mile a day,
    had reached and was working to Ambigole Wells, where a four-gun fort and
    entrenchment had been built. The distance over which convoys must plod
    was reduced by half, and the business of supply was doubly accelerated.
    By degrees the battalions and squadrons began to move forward towards
    Akasha. Sarras, deprived of its short-lived glory, became again the
    solitary fort on a crag. Wady Halfa was also deserted, and, except for the
    British battalion in garrison, could scarcely boast a soldier. Both the
    Egyptian battalions from Suakin had arrived on the Nile. The Xth Soudanese
    were on their way. The country beyond Akasha had been thoroughly
    reconnoitred and mapped to within three miles of the Dervish position.
    Everything was ready.

    The actual concentration may be said to have begun on the 1st of June,
    when the Sirdar started for the front from Halfa, whither he had returned
    after the cavalry skirmish. Construction work on the railway came to a
    full stop. The railway battalions, dropping their picks and shovels,
    shouldered their Remington rifles and became the garrisons of the posts
    on the line of communications. On the 2nd of June the correspondents
    were permitted to proceed to Akasha. On the 3rd the Xth Soudanese passed
    through Ambigole and marched south. The Horse battery from Halfa followed.
    The Egyptian battalions and squadrons which had been camped along the river
    at convenient spots from Ambigole to Akasha marched to a point opposite
    Okma. Between this place and the advanced post an extensive camp,
    stretching three miles along the Nile bank, arose with magic swiftness.
    On the 4th the 7th Egyptians moved from Railhead, and with these the last
    battalion reached the front. Nine thousand men, with ample supplies, were
    collected within striking distance of the enemy.

    All this time the Dervishes at Firket watched in senseless apathy
    the deliberate, machine-like preparations for their destruction.
    They should have had good information, for although the Egyptian cavalry
    patrolled ceaselessly, and the outpost line was impassable to scouts, their
    spies, as camel-drivers, water-carriers, and the like, were in the camp.
    They may not, perhaps, have known the exact moment of the intended blow,
    for the utmost secrecy was observed. But though they must have realised
    that it was imminent, they did nothing. There was, indeed, no course open
    to them but retreat. Once the army was concentrated with sufficient
    supplies at Akasha, their position was utterly untenable.
    The Emir-in-Chief, Hammuda, then had scarcely 3,000 men around his flag.
    Their rifles and ammunition were bad; their supplies scanty. Nor could the
    valour of fifty-seven notable Emirs sustain the odds against them.
    There was still time to fall back on Kosheh, or even on Suarda–anywhere
    outside the sweep of their terrible enemy’s sword. They would not budge.
    Obstinate and fatuous to the last, they dallied and paltered on the fatal
    ground, until sudden, blinding, inevitable catastrophe fell upon them from
    all sides at once, and swept them out of existence as a military force.


    June 7, 1896

    Since the end of 1895 the Dervish force in Firket had been
    under the command of the Emir Hammuda, and it was through the indolence
    and neglect of this dissipated Arab that the Egyptian army had been able
    to make good its position at Akasha without any fighting. Week after week
    the convoys had straggled unmolested through the difficult country between
    Sarras and the advanced base. No attack had been made upon the brigade at
    Akasha. No enterprise was directed against its communications. This fatal
    inactivity did not pass unnoticed by Wad Bishara, the Governor of Dongola;
    but although he was nominally in supreme command of all the Dervish forces
    in the province he had hardly any means of enforcing his authority.
    His rebukes and exhortations, however, gradually roused Hammuda, and during
    May two or three minor raids were planned and executed, and the Egyptian
    position at Akasha was several times reconnoitred.

    Bishara remained unsatisfied, and at length, despairing of infusing energy
    into Hammuda, he ordered his subordinate Osman Azrak to supersede him.
    Osman was a Dervish of very different type. He was a fanatical and devoted
    believer in the Mahdi and a loyal follower of the Khalifa. For many years
    he had served on the northern frontier of the Dervish Empire, and his name
    was well known to the Egyptian Government as the contriver of the most
    daring and the most brutal raids. His cruelty to the wretched inhabitants
    of the border villages had excluded him from all hope of mercy should he
    ever fall into the hands of the enemy. His crafty skill, however,
    protected him, and among the Emirs gathered at Firket there was none whose
    death would have given greater satisfaction to the military authorities
    than the man who was now to replace Hammuda.

    Whether Osman Azrak had actually assumed command on the 6th of June
    is uncertain. It seems more likely that Hammuda declined to admit his
    right, and that the matter still stood in dispute. But in any case Osman
    was determined to justify his appointment by his activity, and about
    midday he started from the camp at Firket, and, accompanied by a strong
    patrol of camel-men, set out to reconnoitre Akasha. Moving cautiously,
    he arrived unperceived within sight of the position at about three o’clock
    in the afternoon. The columns which were to storm Firket at dawn were then
    actually parading. But the clouds of dust which the high wind drove across
    or whirled about the camp obscured the view, and the Dervish could
    distinguish nothing unusual. He therefore made the customary pentagonal
    mark on the sand to ensure good luck, and so returned to Firket to renew
    his dispute with Hammuda, bearing the reassuring news that ‘the Turks
    lay quiet.’

    The force which the Sirdar had concentrated for the capture of Firket
    amounted to about nine thousand men, and was organised as follows:–

    Commander-in-Chief: THE SIRDAR

    The Infantry Division: COLONEL HUNTER Commanding

    1st Brigade 2nd Brigade 3rd Brigade
    3rd Egyptians IXth Soudanese 2nd Egyptians
    4th ” XIth ” 7th ”
    Xth Soudanese XIIth ” 8th ”
    XIIIth ”

    Mounted Forces: MAJOR BURN-MURDOCH

    Egyptian Cavalry . . . . 7 squadrons
    Camel Corps . . . . . 8 companies


    Horse Artillery . . . . 1 battery
    Field Artillery . . . . 2 batteries
    Maxim Guns . . . . . 1 battery

    Two roads led from Akasha to Firket–one by the bank of the river,
    the other inland and along the projected railway line. The Sirdar
    determined to avail himself of both. The force was therefore divided into
    two columns. The main column, under command of the Sirdar, was to move by
    the river road, and consisted of the infantry division, the Field
    Artillery, and the Maxim guns. The Desert Column, under command of Major
    Burn-Murdoch, consisted of the mounted forces, the Horse Artillery, and
    one battalion of infantry (the XIIth Soudanese) drawn from MacDonald’s
    brigade and mounted upon camels: in all about two thousand men.
    Very precise orders were given to the smaller column, and Burn-Murdoch
    was instructed to occupy the hills to the south-east of the centre of
    Firket village by 4.30 A.M.; to dispose his force facing west, with the
    cavalry on the left, the Camel Corps in the centre, and the XIIth
    Soudanese on the right. The only point left to his discretion was the
    position to be occupied by the Horse battery. He was especially warned
    not to come under the fire of the main infantry force. As soon as the
    enemy should be routed, the XIIth Soudanese were to return to the Sirdar.
    The cavalry, camelry, and Horse Artillery were to pursue–the objective
    being, firstly, Koyeka, and, secondly, Suarda.

    The infantry column began to march out of Akasha at 3.30 in the afternoon
    of the 6th, and trailed southwards along the track by the river in the
    following order: Lewis’s brigade, with the Xth Soudanese leading;
    two Maxim guns and the artillery; MacDonald’s brigade; Maxwell’s brigade;
    and, lastly, the field hospitals and a half-battalion forming rearguard.
    The Sirdar marched behind the artillery. The rear of the long column was
    clear of the camp by 4.30, and about two hours later the mounted force
    started by the desert road. The River Column made good progress till dark,
    but thereafter the advance was slow and tedious. The track led through
    broken rocky ground, and was so narrow that it nowhere allowed a larger
    front to be formed than of four men abreast. In some places the sharp rocks
    and crumbling heaps of stone almost stopped the gun-mules altogether,
    while the infantry tripped and stumbled painfully. The moon had not risen,
    and the darkness was intense. Still the long procession of men, winding
    like a whiplash between the jagged hills, toiled onward through the night,
    with no sound except the tramping of feet and the rattle of accoutrements.
    At half-past ten the head of Lewis’s brigade debouched into a smooth sandy
    plain about a mile to the north of Sarkamatto village. This was the spot–
    scarcely three miles from the enemy’s position–where the Sirdar had
    decided to halt and bivouac. The bank and foreshore of the river were
    convenient for watering; all bottles and skins were filled, and soldiers
    and animals drank. A little food was eaten, and then, battalion by
    battalion, as the force arrived at the halting-place, they lay down
    to rest. The tail of Maxwell’s brigade reached the bivouac about midnight,
    and the whole column was then concentrated.

    Meanwhile the mounted force were also on their way.
    Like the River Column, they were disordered by the broken ground,
    and the XIIth Soudanese, who were unused to camel riding and mounted only
    on transport saddles, were soon wearied. After one o’clock many men,
    both in the Camel Corps and in the battalion, fell asleep on their camels,
    and the officers had great difficulty in keeping them awake. However, the
    force reached their point of concentration–about three miles to the
    south-east of Firket–at a quarter to three. Here the XIIth Soudanese
    dismounted from their camels and became again a fighting unit. Leaving the
    extra camels under a guard, Major Burn-Murdoch then advanced towards his
    appointed position on the hills overlooking Firket.

    The Sirdar moved on again with the infantry at 2.30. The moon had risen
    over the rocks to the left of the line of march, but it was only a thin
    crescent and did not give much light. The very worst part of the whole
    track was encountered immediately the bivouac was left, and the column of
    nearly six thousand men had to trickle through one narrow place in single
    file. There were already signs of the approach of dawn; the Dervish camp
    was near; the Sirdar and his Staff began to look anxious. He sent many
    messages to the leading battalions to hurry; and the soldiers, although
    now very weary, ran and scrambled through the difficult passage like sheep
    crowding through a gate. By four o’clock the leading brigade had cleared
    the obstacle, and the most critical moment seemed to have passed.

    Suddenly, a mile to the southward, rose the sound of the beating of drums.
    Everyone held his breath. The Dervishes were prepared. Perhaps they would
    attack the column before it could deploy. Then the sound died away, and
    but for the clatter of the marching columns all was again silent. It was
    no alarm, but only the call to the morning prayer; and the Dervishes, still
    ignorant that their enemies approached and that swift destruction was upon
    them, trooped from their huts to obey the pious summons.

    The great mass of Firket mountain, still dark in the half-light,
    now rose up on the left of the line of march. Between it and the river
    stretched a narrow strip of scrub-covered ground; and here, though
    obstructed by the long grass, bushes, palm-trees, and holes, the leading
    brigade was ordered to deploy. There was, however, as yet only room for the
    Xth Soudanese to form line, and the 3rd and 4th Egyptians contented
    themselves with widening to column of companies–the 3rd in rear of the
    right of the Xth, the 4th in rear of the centre. The force now began to
    emerge from the narrow space between the hills and the river, and debouch
    into open country. As the space widened No. 1 field battery came into line
    on the left, and No. 2 On the right of the Xth Soudanese. A swell of ground
    hid Firket village, though it was known to be within a mile, and it was now
    daylight. Still there was no sign that the Dervishes were prepared.
    It seemed scarcely possible to believe that the advance had not yet been
    discovered. The silence seemed to forbode some unexpected attack.
    The leading brigade and guns halted for a few minutes to allow MacDonald
    to form his battalions from ‘fours’ into column of companies. Then at five
    o’clock the advance was resumed, and at this moment from the shoulder of
    Firket mountain there rang out a solitary shot. The Dervish outposts
    had at last learned their danger. Several other shots followed in quick
    succession, and were answered by a volley from the Xth, and then from far
    away to the south-east came the report of a field-gun. The Horse Artillery
    battery had come into action. The operation of the two columns
    was simultaneous: the surpise of the enemy was complete.

    The great object was now to push on and deploy as fast as possible.
    The popping of musketry broke out from many points, and the repeated
    explosions of the Horse battery added to the eager excitement of
    the troops. For what is more thrilling than the sudden and swift
    development of an attack at dawn? The Xth Soudanese had now reached
    the top of the rise which had hidden Firket, and the whole scene came
    into view. To the right front the village of Firket stretched by the side
    of the river–a confusion of mud houses nearly a mile in length and
    perhaps 300 yards broad. On the landward side the tents and straw shelters
    of the Dervish force showed white and yellow. A system of mud walls and
    loop-holed houses strengthened the northern end of the village. Behind it
    as a background stood lines and clusters of palm-trees, through which the
    broad river and the masts of the Arab boats might be seen. In front of the
    troops, but a little to their left, rose a low rocky ridge surmounted
    with flags and defended by a stone breastwork running along its base.
    Across the open space between the village and the hill hundreds of
    Dervishes on horse and on foot were hurrying to man their defences,
    and others scrambled up the rocks to see for themselves the numbers of
    the enemy. Scores of little puffs of smoke already speckled the black
    rocks of the ridge and the brown houses of the village.

    The attack developed very rapidly. The narrow passage between the mountain
    and the river poured forth its brigades and battalions, and the
    firing-line stretched away to the right and left with extraordinary speed.
    The Xth Soudanese opened fire on the village as soon as they topped
    the rise. The 3rd and 4th Egyptians deployed on the right and left of the
    leading regiment, two companies of the 4th extending down on to the
    foreshore below the steep river-bank. Peake’s battery (No. 1) and the Maxim
    guns, coming into action from a spur of Firket mountain, began to fire over
    the heads of the advancing infantry.

    The whole of Lewis’s brigade now swung to the right and attacked
    the village; MacDonald’s, coming up at the double in line of battalion
    columns, deployed to the left, inland, round the shoulder of the mountain,
    and, bearing away still more to the left, advanced swiftly upon the rocky
    ridge. The ground in MacDonald’s front was much broken by boulders and
    scrub, and a deep khor delayed the advance. The enemy, though taken at
    obvious disadvantage, maintained an irregular fire; but the Soudanese,
    greatly excited, pressed on eagerly towards the breastworks. When the
    brigade was still 200 yards from the ridge, about fifty Dervish horsemen
    dashed out from among the rocks and charged the left flank. All were
    immediately shot down by a wild but heavy independent fire. With joyful
    yells the blacks broke into a run and carried the breastworks at the
    bayonet. The Dervishes did not await the shock. As soon as they saw their
    horsemen–among whom was the Emir Hammuda himself and Yusef Angar, Emir of
    the Jehadia–swept away, they abandoned the first ridge and fell back on
    another which lay behind. The Soudanese followed closely, and pursued the
    outnumbered enemy up one and down the other side of the rocky hills,
    up again and down again, continually shouldering and bringing round the
    left of the brigade; until at last the hills were cleared of all except
    the dead, and the fugitives were running towards the river-bank. Then the
    scattered battalions re-formed facing west, and the panting soldiers
    looked about them.

    While MacDonald’s brigade was storming the hills, Lewis’s had advanced
    on the village and the Dervish camp. The Arabs from their loopholed houses
    made a stubborn resistance, and the 4th battalion by the river-bank were
    sharply engaged, their commanding officer, Captain Sparkes, having his
    horse shot in four places. Encouraged by their enormous superiority in
    number and weapons, the Egyptians showed considerable zeal in the attack,
    and their conduct on this occasion was regarded as a very happy augury
    for the war, of which this was the first general engagement.

    As Lewis’s brigade had swung to its right, and MacDonald’s had borne away
    to the left, a wide gap had opened in the centre of the attack. This was
    immediately filled by Maxwell’s brigade, so that the whole force was now
    formed in one line, which curved and wheeled continually to the right
    until, by the time the rocky hills had been taken, all three brigades
    practically faced west and were advancing together towards the Nile.
    The Dervishes–penned between the river and the enemy, and unable to
    prevent the remorseless advance, which every moment restricted them to
    narrower limits–now thought only of flight, and they could be seen
    galloping hither and thither seeking for some means of escape.
    The position of the Desert Column would have enabled the XIIth Soudanese,
    by moving down to the river, to cut off this line of retreat; but the
    foreshore of the river at the southern end of Firket is concealed from
    a landward view by the steep bank, and by this sandy path the greater
    number of the fugitives found safety.

    The cavalry and the Camel Corps, instead of cutting at the flank,
    contented themselves with making a direct pursuit after the enemy had
    crossed their front, and in consequence several hundred Arabs made good
    their escape to the south. Others swam the river and fled by the west bank.
    The wicked Osman Azrak, his authority now no longer disputed, for his rival
    was a corpse, galloped from the field and reached Suarda. The rest of the
    Dervish force held to the houses, and variously prepared to fight to
    the death or surrender to their conquerors.

    The three brigades now closed upon the village and, clearing it
    step by step, advanced to the water’s edge. MacDonald’s brigade did not
    indeed stop until they had crossed the swampy isthmus and occupied
    the island. The Arabs, many of whom refused quarter, resisted desperately,
    though without much effect, and more than eighty corpses were afterwards
    found in one group of buildings. By 7.20 o’clock all firing had ceased;
    the entire Dervish camp was in the hands of the Egyptian troops,
    and the engagement of Firket was over.

    The Sirdar now busied himself with the pursuit, and proceeded with
    the mounted troops as far as Mograka, five miles south of Firket.
    The whole cavalry force, with the Camel Corps and Horse Artillery,
    pressed the retreat vigorously to Suarda. Osman Azrak, however, succeeded
    in transporting the women and children and some stores, with a sufficient
    escort, to the west bank before the arrival of the troops. On the approach
    of the cavalry he retired along the east bank, with a small mounted force,
    without fighting. The Emir in charge of the escort on the other side
    delayed, and was in consequence shelled at long range by the Horse battery.
    The local inhabitants, tired of the ceaseless war which had desolated the
    frontier province for so long, welcomed their new masters with an
    appearance of enthusiasm. The main pursuit stopped at Suarda, but a week
    later two squadrons and sixteen men of the Camel Corps, under Captain
    Mahon, were pushed out twenty miles further south, and an Arab store
    of grain was captured.

    The Dervish loss in the action was severe. More than 800 dead were
    left on the field, and there were besides 500 wounded and 600 prisoners.
    The casualties in the Egyptian army were 1 British officer–Captain
    Legge–wounded, 20 native soldiers killed and 83 wounded.

    Firket is officially classed as a general action: special despatches
    were written, and a special clasp struck. The reader will have formed
    his own estimate of the magnitude and severity of the fight. The whole
    operation was well and carefully planned, and its success in execution
    was complete. The long and difficult night march, the accurate arrival
    and combination of the two columns, the swift deployment, the enveloping
    movement, proved alike the discipline and training of the troops and the
    skill of their officers. The only point on which criticism may be made
    is the failure of the Desert Column to intercept the flying Dervishes.
    But it should be remembered they had marched far, and it was not at that
    time certain what the powers of the mounted troops were. The brilliant
    aspect of the affair caused great satisfaction in England, and the
    further prosecution of the campaign was looked for with
    increasing interest.


    Countless and inestimable are the chances of war. Those who read
    the story, and still more those who share the dangers, of a campaign
    feel that every incident is surrounded with a host of possibilities,
    any one of which, had it become real, would have changed the whole course
    of events. The influence of Fortune is powerfully and continually exerted.
    In the flickering light of conflict the outlines of solid fact throw
    on every side the vague shadows of possibility. We live in a world
    of ‘ifs.’ ‘What happened,’ is singular; ‘what might have happened,’ legion.
    But to try to gauge the influence of this uncertain force were utterly
    futile, and it is perhaps wise, and indisputably convenient, to assume that
    the favourable and adverse chances equate, and then eliminate them both
    from the calculation.

    The ‘Sirdar’s luck’ became almost proverbial in the Soudan. As the account
    progresses numerous instances will suggest themselves. It was lucky that
    the Dervishes did not harass the communications, or assail Akasha before it
    was fortified. It was lucky that they fought at Firket; that they retired
    from Berber; that Mahmud did not advance in January; that he advanced
    in March; that he did not retire before the battle of the Atbara; that the
    Khalifa did not hold the Shabluka; that he did not attack on the night
    before Omdurman, and that he did attack at dawn.

    But after Firket all things were contrary. One unexpected misfortune
    succeeded another. Difficulties were replaced by others as soon as they had
    been overcome. The autumn of 1896 was marked by delay and disappointment.
    The state of the Nile, the storms, the floods, the cholera, and many minor
    obstacles, vexed but did not weary the commander. The victory at Firket was
    succeeded by a long pause in the operations. The army had made one spring
    forward; it must now gather energy for another. The preparations, however,
    proceeded rapidly. A strong camp was formed at Firket. MacDonald’s brigade
    occupied Suarda two days after the fight, and this place now became the
    advanced post, just as Akasha had been in the first phase of the campaign.
    The accumluation of stores at Firket and Suarda began forthwith. Owing to
    the arrangements which had been made before the engagement it was possible
    to collect within one week of the action two months’ supplies at Suarda
    for the garrison of 2,000 men, and one month’s at Firket for the 7,000
    troops encamped there. Thereafter, however, the necessity of hurrying the
    railway construction and the considerable daily demands of 9,000 men only
    allowed this margin to be increased very gradually.

    The army had now passed beyond the scope of a camel, or other pack-animal,
    system of supply, except for very short distances, and it was obvious that
    they could only advance in future along either the railway or a navigable
    reach of the river, and preferably along both. From the Dal Cataract
    near Kosheh there is a clear waterway at high Nile to Merawi. To Kosheh,
    therefore, the railway must be extended before active operations could
    recommence. A third condition had also to be observed. For the expulsion
    of the Dervishes from Kerma and Dongola it was desirable that a flotilla
    of gunboats should co-operate with the land forces. Four of these vessels
    –the Tamai, El Teb, the Metemma, and the Abu Klea; and three steamers–
    the Kaibar, Dal, and Akasha, which it was proposed to arm–had, since 1885,
    patrolled the river from Assuan to Wady Halfa, and assisted in protecting
    the frontier from Dervish raids. All seven were now collected at the foot
    of the Second Cataract, and awaited the rise of the river to attempt the
    passage. To strengthen the flotilla three new and very powerful gunboats
    had been ordered in England. These were to be brought in sections over the
    railway to a point above the Second Cataract, and be fitted together there.
    It was thus necessary to wait, firstly, for the railway to reach Kosheh;
    secondly, for the Nile to rise; thirdly, for the old gunboats to ascend
    the Cataract; fourthly, for the new gunboats to be launched on the clear
    waterway; and, fifthly, for the accumulation of supplies. With all of these
    matters the Sirdar now busied himself.

    The reconstruction of the railway to Akasha and its extension beyond
    this place towards Kosheh was pressed forward. By the 26th of June Akasha
    was reached. Thenceforward the engineers no longer followed an existing
    track, but were obliged to survey, and to make the formation for
    themselves. Strong fatigue parties from the Egyptian and Soudanese
    battalions were, however, employed on the embankments, and the line grew
    daily longer. On the 24th of July the first train ran across the
    battlefield of Firket; and on the 4th of August the railway was working
    to Kosheh.

    Kosheh is six miles south of Firket, and consists, like most places in the
    ‘Military Soudan,’ of little more than a name and a few ruined mud-huts
    which were once a village. On the 5th of July the whole camp was moved
    thither from the scene of the action. The reasons were clear and apparent.
    Kosheh is a point on the river above the Dal Cataract whence a clear
    waterway runs at high Nile to beyond Dongola. The camp at Firket had become
    foul and insanitary. The bodies of the dead, swelling and decaying in their
    shallow graves, assailed, as if in revenge, the bodies of the living.
    The dysentery which had broken out was probably due to the ‘green’ water of
    the Nile; for during the early period of the flood what is known as
    ‘the false rise’ washes the filth and sewage off the foreshore all along
    the river, and brings down the green and rotting vegetation from the spongy
    swamps of Equatoria. The water is then dangerous and impure. There was
    nothing else for the army to drink; but it was undesirable to aggravate
    the evil by keeping the troops in a dirty camp.

    The earliest freight which the railway carried to Kosheh was the first of
    the new stern-wheel gunboats. Train after train arrived with its load of
    steel and iron, or with the cumbrous sections of the hull, and a warship
    in pieces–engines, armaments, fittings and stores–soon lay stacked by
    the side of the river. An improvised dockyard, equipped with powerful
    twenty-ton shears and other appliances, was established, and the work–
    complicated as a Chinese puzzle–of fitting and riveting together the
    hundreds of various parts proceeded swiftly. Gradually the strange heaps
    of parts began to evolve a mighty engine of war. The new gunboats were in
    every way remarkable. The old vessels had been 90 feet long. These were
    140 feet. Their breadth was 24 feet. They steamed twelve miles an hour.
    They had a command of 30 feet. Their decks were all protected by steel
    plates, and prepared by loopholed shields for musketry. Their armament was
    formidable. Each carried one twelve-pounder quick-firing gun forward,
    two six-pounder quick-firing guns in the central battery, and four Maxim
    guns. Every modern improvement–such as ammunition hoists, telegraphs,
    search-lights, and steam-winches–was added. Yet with all this they drew
    only thirty-nine inches of water.

    The contract specified that these vessels should be delivered at Alexandria
    by the 5th of September, but, by exertions, the first boat, the Zafir,
    reached Egypt on the 23rd of July, having been made in eight weeks, and in
    time to have assisted in the advance on Dongola. The vessels and machinery
    had been constructed and erected in the works in London; they were then
    marked, numbered, and taken to pieces, and after being shipped to
    Alexandria and transported to the front were finally put together at
    Kosheh. Although in a journey of 4,000 miles they were seven times
    transhipped, not a single important piece was lost.

    The convenience of Kosheh on the clear waterway, and the dirty condition
    of Firket, were in themselves sufficient reasons for the change of camp;
    but another and graver cause lay behind. During the month of June an
    epidemic of cholera began to creep up the Nile from Cairo. On the 29th
    there were some cases at Assuan. On the 30th it reached Wady Halfa.
    In consequence of this the North Staffordshire Regiment marched into camp
    at Gemai. Their three months’ occupation of the town had not improved
    their health or their spirits. During the sixteen-mile march along the
    railway track to Gemai the first fatal case occurred, and thereafter the
    sickness clung to the regiment until the middle of August, causing
    continual deaths.

    The cholera spread steadily southward up the river, claiming successive
    victims in each camp. In the second week of July it reached the new camp
    at Kosheh, whence all possible precautions to exclude it had proved vain.
    The epidemic was at first of a virulent form. As is usual, when it had
    expended its destructive energy, the recoveries became more frequent.
    But of the first thousand cases between Assuan and Suarda nearly eight
    hundred proved fatal. Nor were the lives thus lost to be altogether
    measured by the number. [The attacks and deaths from cholera in the
    Dongola Expeditionary Force were as follow: British troops – 24 attacks,
    19 deaths; Native troops – 406 attacks, 260 deaths; Followers – 788
    attacks, 640 deaths.] To all, the time was one of trial, almost of terror.
    The violence of the battle may be cheaply braved, but the insidious attacks
    of disease appal the boldest. Death moved continually about the ranks of
    the army–not the death they had been trained to meet unflinchingly,
    the death in high enthusiasm and the pride of life, with all the world to
    weep or cheer; but a silent, unnoticed, almost ignominious summons,
    scarcely less sudden and far more painful than the bullet or the sword-cut.
    The Egyptians, in spite of their fatalistic creed, manifested profound
    depression. The English soldiers were moody and ill-tempered. Even the
    light-hearted Soudanese lost their spirits; their merry grins were seen no
    longer; their laughter and their drums were stilled. Only the British
    officers preserved a stony cheerfulness, and ceaselessly endeavoured by
    energy and example to sustain the courage of their men. Yet they suffered
    most of all. Their education had developed their imaginations; and
    imagination, elsewhere a priceless gift, is amid such circumstances a
    dangerous burden.

    It was, indeed, a time of sore trouble. To find the servant dead in
    the camp kitchen; to catch a hurried glimpse of blanketed shapes hustled
    quickly to the desert on a stretcher; to hold the lantern over the grave
    into which a friend or comrade–alive and well six hours before–was
    hastily lowered, even though it was still night; and through it all
    to work incessantly at pressure in the solid, roaring heat, with a mind
    ever on the watch for the earliest of the fatal symptoms and a thirst that
    could only be quenched by drinking of the deadly and contaminated Nile:
    all these things combined to produce an experience which those who endured
    are unwilling to remember, but unlikely to forget. One by one some of the
    best of the field army and the communication Staff were stricken down.
    Gallant Fenwick, of whom they used to say that he was ‘twice a V.C. without
    a gazette’; Polwhele, the railway subaltern, whose strange knowledge of the
    Egyptian soldiers had won their stranger love; Trask, an heroic doctor,
    indifferent alike to pestilence or bullets; Mr. Vallom, the chief
    superintendent of engines at Halfa; Farmer, a young officer already on his
    fourth campaign; Mr. Nicholson, the London engineer; long, quaint,
    kind-hearted ‘Roddy’ Owen–all filled graves in Halfa cemetery or at the
    foot of Firket mountain. At length the epidemic was stamped out, and by
    the middle of August it had practically ceased to be a serious danger.
    But the necessity of enforcing quarantine and other precautions had
    hampered movement up and down the line of communications, and so delayed
    the progress of the preparations for an advance.

    Other unexpected hindrances arose. Sir H. Kitchener had clearly recognised
    that the railway, equipped as it then was, would be at the best a doubtful
    means for the continual supply of a large force many miles ahead of it.
    He therefore organised an auxiliary boat service and passed gyassas and
    nuggurs [native sailing craft] freely up the Second Cataract. During the
    summer months, in the Soudan, a strong north wind prevails, which not only
    drives the sailing-boats up against the stream–sometimes at the rate of
    twenty miles a day–but also gratefully cools the air. This year,
    for forty consecutive days, at the critical period of the campaign,
    the wind blew hot and adverse from the south. The whole auxiliary boat
    service was thus practically arrested. But in spite of these aggravating
    obstacles the preparations for the advance were forced onwards, and it
    soon became necessary for the gunboats and steamers to be brought on to
    the upper reach of the river.

    The Second Cataract has a total descent of sixty feet, and is about
    nine miles long. For this distance the Nile flows down a rugged stairway
    formed by successive ledges of black granite. The flood river deeply
    submerges these steps, and rushes along above them with tremendous force,
    but with a smooth though swirling surface. As the Nile subsides, the steps
    begin to show, until the river tumbles violently from ledge to ledge,
    its whole surface for miles churned to the white foam of broken water,
    and thickly studded with black rocks. At the Second Cataract, moreover,
    the only deep channel of the Nile is choked between narrow limits,
    and the stream struggles furiously between stern walls of rock. These dark
    gorges present many perils to the navigator. The most formidable, the
    Bab-el-Kebir, is only thirty-five feet wide. The river here takes a plunge
    of ten feet in seventy yards, and drops five feet at a single bound.
    An extensive pool above, formed by the junction of two arms of the river,
    increases the volume of the water and the force of the stream, so that the
    ‘Gate’ constitutes an obstacle of difficulty and danger which might well
    have been considered insurmountable.

    It had been expected that in the beginning of July enough water would
    be passing down the Second Cataract to enable the gunboats and steamers
    waiting below to make the passage. Everything depended upon the rise of the
    river, and in the perversity of circumstances the river this year rose much
    later and slower than usual. By the middle of August, however, the attempt
    appeared possible. On the 14th the first gunboat, the Metemma, approached
    the Cataract. The North Staffordshire Regiment from Gemai, and the 6th and
    7th Egyptian Battalions from Kosheh, marched to the ‘Gate’ to draw the
    vessel bodily up in spite of the current. The best native pilots had been
    procured. Colonel Hunter and the naval officers under Commander Colville
    directed the work. The boat had been carefully prepared for the ordeal.
    To reduce, by raising the free-board, the risk of swamping, the bows were
    heightened and strengthened, and stout wooden bulwarks were built running
    from bow to stern. Guns and ammunition were then removed, and the vessel
    lightened by every possible means. A strop of wire rope was passed
    completely round the hull, and to this strong belt the five cables were
    fastened–two on each side and one at the bow. So steep was the slope of
    the water that it was found necessary to draw all the fires, and the
    steamer was thus dependent entirely upon external force. It was luckily
    possible to obtain a direct pull, for a crag of black rock rose above the
    surface of the pool opposite the ‘Gate.’ On this a steel block was fixed,
    and the hawser was led away at right angles until it reached the east bank,
    where a smooth stretch of sand afforded a convenient place for the hauling
    parties. Two thousand men were then set to pull at the cables, yet such was
    the extraordinary force of the current that, although the actual distance
    in which these great efforts were necessary was scarcely one hundred yards,
    the passage of each steamer occupied an hour and a half, and required the
    most strenuous exertions of the soldiers. No accident, however, occurred,
    and the six other vessels accomplished the ascent on successive days.
    In a week the whole flotilla steamed safely in the open water
    of the upper reach.

    And now for a moment it seemed that the luck of the expedition
    had returned. The cholera was practically extinct. The new gunboat Zafir
    was nearly ready at Kosheh, and her imposing appearance delighted and
    impressed the army. On the 23rd of August all the seven steamers which had
    passed the Cataract arrived in a stately procession opposite the camp.
    Almost at the same time the wind changed to the north, and a cool and
    delicious breeze refreshed the weary men and bore southward to Suarda
    a whole fleet of sailing boats laden with supplies, which had been lying
    weather-bound during the previous six weeks at the head of the rapids.
    The preparatory orders for the advance tinkled along the telegraph.
    The North Staffordshire Regiment were, to the intense relief of officers
    and men, warned to hold themselves in readiness for an immediate move.
    The mounted troops had already returned to the front from the camps
    in which they had been distributed. At last the miserable delay was over.

    From Kosheh to Kerma, the first Dervish position, the distance by river
    is 127 miles. A study of the map shows that by land marches this can be
    shortened by nearly forty-one miles; thirty miles being saved by cutting
    across the great loop of the Nile from Kosheh to Sadin Fanti, and eleven
    miles by avoiding the angle from Fereig to Abu Fatmeh. From Kerma to
    Dongola, which latter town was the objective of the expedition, a further
    distance of thirty-five miles must be traversed, making a total of 120
    miles by land or 161 by river. The long desert march from Kosheh to Sadin
    Fanti was the only natural difficulty by land. Although the river from
    Kosheh to Kerma is broken by continual rapids, it is, with one interval,
    freely navigable at half Nile. The Amara Cataract, ten miles beyond Kosheh,
    is easily ascended by sailing boats with a fair wind, and by steamers
    without assistance. From Amara to the Kaibar Cataract stretches a reach
    of sixty-five miles of open water. The Kaibar Cataract is, during the
    flood, scarcely any hindrance to navigation; but at Hannek, about thirty
    miles further on, the three miles of islands, rocks, rapids, and
    broken water which are called the Third Cataract are, except at high Nile,
    a formidable barrier, Once this is passed, there is open water for more
    than 200 miles at all seasons to Merawi. The banks of the river, except
    near Sadin Fanti, where the hills close in, are flat and low. The Eastern
    bank is lined with a fringe of palm-trees and a thin strip of cultivation,
    which constitutes what is called ‘the fertile province of Dongola.’
    On the other side the desert reaches the water’s edge. Along the right bank
    of this part of the river the army was now to move.

    The first act of the advance was the occupation of Absarat,
    and on the 23rd of August MacDonald’s brigade marched thither from Suarda,
    cutting across the desert to Sadin Fanti, and then following the bank of
    the Nile. The occupation of Absarat covered the next movement. On the 26th
    Lewis’s brigade was ordered to march across the loop from Kosheh to Sadin
    Fanti, and reinforce the brigade at Absarat. The distance of thirty-seven
    miles was far too great to be accomplished without a system of
    watering-places. This the Sirdar rapidly organised. Water-depots were
    formed by carrying tanks and water-skins on camels to two points in the
    desert, and replenishing them by daily convoys. But now a heavy calamity
    descended on the arrangements of the General and the hopes of the troops.

    During the afternoon of the 25th the wind veered suddenly to the south,
    and thereupon a terrific storm of sand and rain, accompanied by thunder
    and lightning, burst over the whole of the Nubian desert, and swept along
    the line of communications from Suarda to Halfa. On the next day a second
    deluge delayed the march of Lewis’s brigade. But late on the 27th they
    started, with disastrous results. Before they had reached the first
    watering-place a third tempest, preceded by its choking sandstorm, overtook
    them. Nearly 300 men fell out during the early part of the night, and
    crawled and staggered back to Kosheh. Before the column reached Sadin Fanti
    1,700 more sank exhausted to the ground. Out of one battalion 700 strong,
    only sixty men marched in. Nine deaths and eighty serious cases of
    prostration occurred, and the movement of the brigade from Kosheh to
    Absarat was grimly called ‘The Death March.’

    The ‘Death March’ was the least of the misfortunes caused by the storms.
    The violent rains produced floods such as had not been seen in the Soudan
    for fifty years. The water, pouring down the broad valleys, formed furious
    torrents in the narrower gorges. More than twelve miles of the railway was
    washed away. The rails were twisted and bent; the formation entirely
    destroyed. The telegraph wires were broken. The work of weeks was lost in
    a few hours. The advance was stopped as soon as it had been begun.
    At the moment when every military reason demanded speed and suddenness,
    a hideous delay became inevitable.

    In this time of crisis the success of the whole campaign hung
    in the balance. Sir Herbert Kitchener did not then possess that measure of
    the confidence and affection of his officers which his military successes
    have since compelled. Public opinion was still undecided on the general
    question of the war. The initial bad luck had frightened many. All the
    croakers were ready. ‘A Jingo Government’–‘An incapable general’–
    ‘Another disaster in the Soudan’–such were the whispers. A check would be
    the signal for an outcry. The accounts of ‘The Death March’ had not yet
    reached England; but the correspondents, irritated at being ‘chained to
    headquarters,’ were going to see about that. And, besides all this, there
    were the army to feed and the Dervishes to fight. In this serious
    emergency, which threatened to wreck his schemes, the Sirdar’s organising
    talents shone more brilliantly than at any other moment in this account.
    Travelling swiftly to Moghrat, he possessed himself of the telephone,
    which luckily still worked. He knew the exact position or every soldier,
    coolie, camel, or donkey at his disposal. In a few hours, in spite of his
    crippled transport, he concentrated 5,000 men on the damaged sections of
    the line, and thereafter fed them until the work was finished. In seven
    days traffic was resumed. The advance had been delayed, but it was
    not prevented.

    On the 5th of September the 1st (Lewis) and 2nd (MacDonald) Brigades
    moved to Dulgo, and at the same time the remainder of the army began
    to march across the loop from Kosheh by Sadin Fanti to Absarat.
    Every available soldier had been collected for the final operation
    of the campaign.

    The Expeditionary Force was organised as follows:

    Commander-in-Chief: The SIRDAR

    The Infantry Division: COLONEL HUNTER Commanding

    1st Brigade 2nd Brigade 3rd Brigade 4th Brigade
    3rd Egyptians XIth Soudanese 2nd Egyptians 1st Egyptians
    4th ” XIIth ” 7th ” 5th ”
    IXth Soudanese XIIIth ” 8th ” 15th ”
    Xth ”

    Cavalry Brigade and Mounted Forces: MAJOR BURN-MURDOCH

    Cavalry . . . . . 8 squadrons
    Camel Corps . . . . 6 companies
    Horse Artillery . . . 1 battery

    Artillery: MAJOR PARSONS

    Field Artillery . . . 2 batteries
    Maxims . . . . 1 battery (British)

    Divisional Troops: MAJOR CURRIE

    North Staffordshire Regiment . . . . 1st Battalion


    Gunboats . . . Zafir, Tamai, Abu Klea, Metemma, El Teb
    Armed Steamers . . . Kaibar, Dal, Akasha

    Total: 15,000 men, 8 war-vessels, and 36 guns

    Thus thirteen of the sixteen battalions of the Egyptian Army were
    employed at the front. Two others, the 6th and XIVth, were disposed along
    the line of communication, holding the various fortified posts. The 16th
    Battalion of reservists remained at Suakin. The whole native army was
    engaged in the war, and the preservation of domestic order in the capital
    and throughout the Khedive’s dominions was left entirely to the police and
    to the British Army of Occupation. By the 9th all four brigades had reached
    the rendezvous at Dulgo; on the 10th the British regiment, which it was
    determined to send up in the steamers, was moved to Kosheh by rail from
    Sarras and Gemai. The Sirdar prepared to start with the flotilla
    on the 12th.

    But a culminating disappointment remained. By tremendous exertions
    the Zafir had been finished in time to take part in the operations.
    Throughout the army it was expected that the Zafir would be the feature
    of the campaign. At length the work was finished, and the Zafir floated,
    powerful and majestic, on the waters of the Nile. On the afternoon of
    the 11th of September many officers and men came to witness her trial trip.
    The bank was lined with spectators. Colville took command. The Sirdar and
    his Staff embarked. Flags were hoisted and amid general cheering the
    moorings were cast off. But the stern paddle had hardly revolved twice when
    there was a loud report, like that of a heavy gun, clouds of steam rushed
    up from the boilers, and the engines stopped. Sir H. Kitchener and
    Commander Colville were on the upper deck. The latter rushed below to learn
    what had happened, and found that she had burst her low-pressure cylinder,
    a misfortune impossible to repair until a new one could be obtained from
    Halfa and fitted.

    In spite of this, however, the advance was not delayed. On the 13th
    the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Brigades occupied Kaderma. Here the flotilla
    overtook them, and henceforward the boats on the river kept pace with
    the army on the bank. Fareig was reached on the 14th, and as the numerous
    palms by the water afforded a pleasant shade a halt of two days was
    ordered. On the 16th the 4th Brigade arrived, and the concentration of
    the force was then complete.

    After the annihilation of his strong advanced post at Firket,
    the Dervish Emir, Wad Bishara, concentrated his remaining forces
    in Dongola. Here during the summer he had awaited, and in the middle of
    August some small reinforcements under one Emir of low rank reached him
    from Omdurman. The Khalifa, indeed, promised that many more should follow,
    but his promises long remained unfulfilled, and the greatest strength that
    Bishara could muster was 900 Jehadia, 800 Baggara Arabs, 2,800 spearmen,
    450 camelmen, 650 cavalry–in all 5,600 men, with six small brass cannon
    and one mitrailleuse gun. To augment in numbers, if not in strength,
    this small force of regular soldiers, he impressed a large number of the
    local tribesmen; but as these were, for the most part, anxious to join the
    Government troops at the first opportunity, their effect in the conflict
    was inconsiderable.

    The first sign that the forces were drawing closer was the cutting of the
    telegraph-wire by a Dervish patrol on the 6th of September. On the 10th
    the Sirdar heard that Kerma was strongly held. On the 15th of September
    the Egyptian cavalry first established contact with the Dervish scouts,
    and a slight skirmish took place. On the 18th the whole force advanced to
    Sardek, and as Bishara still held his position at Kerma it looked as if an
    action was imminent. It was resolved to attack the Dervish position at
    Kerma at dawn. Although it seemed that only four miles separated the
    combatants, the night passed quietly. With the first light the army began
    to move, and when the sun rose the spectacle of the moving masses of men
    and artillery, with the gunboats on the right, was inspiring. The soldiers
    braced themselves for the expected action. But no sooner were the village
    and fort of Kerma visible than the report passed along the ranks that they
    were deserted. Rumour was soon merged in certainty, for on reaching Kerma
    it was found that the Dervishes had evacuated the place, and only the
    strong, well-built mud fort attested the recent presence of Bishara.
    Whither had he gone? The question was not left unanswered.

    Half a mile to the southward, on the opposite bank of the river,
    among the groves of palm-trees ran a long and continuous line of shelter
    trenches and loopholed walls. The flanks of this new position rested on the
    deep morasses which extend from the river both on the north and south sides
    of Hafir. A small steamer, a fleet of large gyassas and other sailing
    vessels moored to the further shore explained what had happened. Conscious
    of his weakness, the prudent Emir had adroitly transported himself across
    the river, and had thus placed that broad flood between his troops and
    their destruction.

    Meanwhile the three gunboats–all that now remained of the armed flotilla,
    for the Teb had run on a rock in the Hannek Cataract–were steaming
    gradually nearer the enemy, and the army swung to the right, and, forming
    along the river bank, became spectators of a scene of fascinating interest.
    At half-past six the Horse battery unlimbered at the water’s edge,
    and began to fire obliquely up and across the river. As soon as the first
    few shells had reached the Arab entrenchment the whole line of shelter
    trenches was edged with smoke, and the Dervishes replied with a heavy
    rifle fire. The distance was, however, too great for their bad rifles and
    inferior ammunition, and their bullets, although they occasionally struck
    the ground on which the infantry were drawn up, did not during the day
    cause any loss to the watching army.

    The Dervish position was about half a mile in length. As the gunboats
    approached the northern end they opened fire with their guns, striking the
    mud entrenchments at every shot, and driving clouds of dust and splinters
    into the air. The Maxim guns began to search the parapets, and two
    companies of the Staffordshire Regiment on board the unarmoured steamers
    Dal and Akasha fired long-range volleys. Now, as on other occasions
    throughout the war, the Dervishes by their military behaviour excited the
    admiration of their enemies. Encouraged by the arrival in the morning of a
    reinforcement from Omdurman of 1,000 Black Jehadia and 500 spearmen under
    Abdel Baki, the Dervish gunners stood to their guns and the riflemen to
    their trenches, and, although suffering severely, maintained
    a formidable fire.

    The gunboats continued to advance, beating up slowly against the strong
    current. As they came opposite Hafir, where the channel narrows to about
    600 yards, they were received by a very heavy fire from guns placed in
    cleverly screened batteries, and from the riflemen sheltered in deep pits
    by the water’s edge or concealed amid the foliage of the tops of the
    palm-trees. These aerial skirmishers commanded the decks of the vessels,
    and the shields of the guns were thus rendered of little protection.
    All the water round the gunboats was torn into foam by the projectiles.
    The bullets pattered against their sides, and, except where they were
    protected by steel plates, penetrated. One shell struck the Abu Klea on
    the water-line, and entered the magazine. Luckily it did not explode,
    the Dervishes having forgotten to set the fuse. Three shells struck the
    Metemma. On board the Tamai, which was leading, Commander Colville was
    severely wounded in the wrist; Armourer-Sergeant Richardson was killed at
    his Maxim gun, and on each boat some casualties occurred. So hot was the
    fire that it was thought doubtful whether to proceed with the bombardment,
    and the Tamai swung round, and hurried down the river with the current and
    at full steam to report to the Sirdar. The other gunboats remained
    in action, and continued to shell the Dervish defences. The Tamai soon
    returned to the fight, and, steaming again up the river, was immediately
    hotly re-engaged.

    The sight which the army witnessed was thrilling.
    Beyond the flood waters of the river, backed against a sky of staring blue
    and in the blazing sunlight, the whole of the enemy’s position was plainly
    visible. The long row of shelter trenches was outlined by the white smoke
    of musketry and dotted with the bright-coloured flags waving defiantly
    in the wind and with the still brighter flashes of the guns. Behind the
    entrenchments and among the mud houses and enclosures strong bodies of the
    jibba-clad Arabs were arrayed. Still further back in the plain a large
    force of cavalry–conspicuous by the gleams of light reflected from their
    broad-bladed spears–wheeled and manoeuvred. By the Nile all the tops of
    the palm-trees were crowded with daring riflemen, whose positions were
    indicated by the smoke-puffs of their rifles, or when some tiny black
    figure fell, like a shot rook, to the ground. In the foreground the
    gunboats, panting and puffing up the river, were surrounded on all sides
    by spouts and spurts of water, thrown up by the shells and bullets.
    Again the flotilla drew near the narrow channel; again the watching army
    held their breath; and again they saw the leading boat, the Metemma,
    turn and run down stream towards safety, pursued by the wild cheers
    of the Arabs. It was evident that the gunboats were not strong enough to
    silence the Dervish fire. The want of the terrible Zafir was acutely felt.

    The firing had lasted two hours and a half, and the enemy’s resistance
    was no less vigorous than at the beginning of the action. The Sirdar now
    altered his plans. He saw that his flotilla could not hope to silence the
    Dervishes. He therefore ordered De Rougemont–who had assumed the command
    after Colville was wounded–to run past the entrenchments without trying to
    crush their fire, and steam on to Dongola. To support and cover the
    movement, the three batteries of artillery under Major Parsons were brought
    into action from the swampy island of Artagasha, which was connected
    at this season with the right bank by a shoal. At the same time three
    battalions of infantry were moved along the river until opposite the Arab
    position. At 9 A.M. the eighteen guns on the island opened a tremendous
    bombardment at 1,200 yards range on the entrenchments, and at the same time
    the infantry and a rocket detachment concentrated their fire on the tops
    of the palm-trees. The artillery now succeeded in silencing three of the
    five Dervish guns and in sinking the little Dervish steamer Tahra, while
    the infantry by a tremendous long-range fire drove the riflemen out of the
    palms. Profiting by this, the gunboats at ten o’clock moved up the river in
    line, and, disregarding the fusillade which the Arabs still stubbornly
    maintained, passed by the entrenchment and steamed on towards Dongola.
    After this the firing on both sides became intermittent, and the fight
    may be said to have ended.

    Both forces remained during the day facing each other on opposite sides of
    the river, and the Dervishes, who evidently did not admit a defeat,
    brandished their rifles and waved their flags, and their shouts of loud
    defiance floated across the water to the troops. But they had suffered very
    heavily. Their brave and skilful leader was severely wounded by the
    splinters of a shell. The wicked Osman Azrak had been struck by a bullet,
    and more than 200 Ansar had fallen, including several Emirs. Moreover,
    a long train of wounded was seen to start during the afternoon for the
    south. It is doubtful, however, whether Bishara would have retreated,
    if he had not feared being cut off. He seems to have believed that the
    Sirdar would march along the right bank at once to Dongola, and cross there
    under cover of his gunboats. Like all Moslem soldiers, he was nervous about
    his line of retreat. Nor, considering the overwhelming force against him,
    can we wonder. There was, besides this strategic reason for retiring,
    a more concrete cause. All his supplies of grain were accumulated in the
    gyassas which lay moored to the west bank. These vessels were under the
    close and accurate fire of the artillery and Maxim guns on Artagasha
    island. Several times during the night the hungry Dervishes attempted to
    reach their store; but the moon was bright and the gunners watchful.
    Each time the enemy exposed themselves, a vigorous fire was opened
    and they were driven back. When morning dawned, it was found that Hafir
    was evacuated, and that the enemy had retreated on Dongola.

    Wad Bishara’s anxiety about his line of retreat was unnecessary,
    for the Sirdar could not advance on Dongola with a strong Dervish force
    on his line of communications: and it was not desirable to divide the army
    and mask Hafir with a covering force. But as soon as the Dervishes had
    left their entrenchments the situation was simplified. At daybreak all the
    Arab boats were brought over to the right bank by the villagers, who
    reported that Bishara and his soldiers had abandoned the defence and were
    retreating to Dongola. Thereupon the Sirdar, relieved of the necessity
    of forcing the passage, transported his army peacefully to the other bank.
    The operation afforded scope to his powers of organisation, and the whole
    force–complete with cavalry, camels, and guns–was moved across the broad,
    rushing river in less than thirty-six hours and without any
    apparent difficulty.

    The casualties on the 19th were not numerous, and in a force of nearly
    15,000 men they appear insignificant. Commander Colville was wounded.
    One British sergeant and one Egyptian officer were killed. Eleven native
    soldiers were wounded. The total–fourteen–amounted to less than one per
    thousand of the troops engaged. Nevertheless this picturesque and bloodless
    affair has been solemnly called the ‘Battle of Hafir.’ Special despatches
    were written for it. It is officially counted in records of service as
    a ‘general action.’ Telegrams of congratulation were received from her
    Majesty and the Khedive. A special clasp was struck. Of all the instances
    of cheaply bought glory which the military history of recent years affords,
    Hafir is the most remarkable.

    The 20th and part of the 21st were occupied by the passage of the army
    across the Nile. The troops were still crossing when the gunboats returned
    from Dongola. The distance of this place by water from Hafir is about
    thirty-six miles, and the flotilla had arrived opposite the town during
    the afternoon of the 19th. A few shells expelled the small Dervish
    garrison, and a large number of sailing vessels were captured. The results
    of the movement of the gunboats to Dongola must, however, be looked for
    at Hafir. In consequence of the Sirdar’s manoeuvre that place was
    evacuated and the unopposed passage of the river secured.

    Bishara continued his retreat during the 20th, and, marching all day,
    reached Dongola in the evening. Wounded as he was, he re-occupied the town
    and began forthwith to make preparations for the defence of its
    considerable fortifications. The knowledge of his employment was not hidden
    from his enemy, and during the 21st the gunboat Abu Klea, under Lieutenant
    Beatty, R.N., arrived with the design of keeping him occupied. Throughout
    the day a desultory duel was maintained between the entrenchments and the
    steamer. At daylight on the 22nd, Beatty was reinforced by another gunboat,
    and an unceasing bombardment was made on the town and its defences.

    Notwithstanding that the army did not finish crossing the river until
    the afternoon of the 21st, the Sirdar determined to continue his advance
    without delay, and the force accordingly marched twelve miles further south
    and camped opposite the middle of the large island of Argo. At daybreak the
    troops started again, and before the sun had attained its greatest power
    reached Zowarat. This place was scarcely six miles from Dongola, and, as it
    was expected that an action would be fought the next day, the rest of
    eighteen hours was welcomed by the weary soldiers. All day long the army
    remained halted by the palms of the Nile bank. Looking through their
    glasses up the river, the officers might watch the gunboats methodically
    bombarding Dongola, and the sound of the guns was clearly heard.
    At intervals during the day odd parties of Dervishes, both horse and foot,
    approached the outpost line and shots were exchanged.

    All these things, together with the consciousness that the culmination
    of the campaign was now at hand, raised the excitement of the army to a
    high pitch, and everyone lay down that night warmed by keen anticipations.
    An atmosphere of unrest hung over the bivouac, and few slept soundly.
    At three o’clock the troops were aroused, and at half-past four
    the final advance on Dongola had begun.

    It was still night. The full moon, shining with tropical brilliancy
    in a cloudless sky, vaguely revealed the rolling plains of sand and the
    huge moving mass of the army. As long as it was dark the battalions were
    closely formed in quarter columns. But presently the warmer, yellower
    light of dawn began to grow across the river and through the palms,
    and gradually, as the sun rose and it became daylight, the dense
    formation of the army was extended to an array more than two miles long.
    On the left, nearest the river, marched Lewis’s brigade–three battalions
    in line and the fourth in column as a reserve. Next in order Maxwell’s
    three battalions prolonged the line. The artillery were in the centre,
    supported by the North Staffordshire Regiment. The gunners of the Maxim
    battery had donned their tunics, so that the lines and columns of yellow
    and brown were relieved by a vivid flash of British red. MacDonald’s
    brigade was on the right. David’s brigade followed in rear of the centre
    as a reserve. The cavalry, the Camel Corps, and the Horse Artillery
    watched the right flank; and on the left the gunboats
    steamed along the river.

    For two hours the army were the only living things visible
    on the smooth sand, but at seven o’clock a large body of Dervish horse
    appeared on the right flank. The further advance of half a mile discovered
    the Arab forces. Their numbers were less than those of the Egyptians,
    but their white uniforms, conspicuous on the sand, and the rows of flags
    of many colours lent an imposing appearance to their array. Their
    determined aspect, no less than the reputation of Bishara, encouraged
    the belief that they were about to charge.

    The disparity of the forces was, however, too great; and as the Egyptian
    army steadily advanced, the Dervishes slowly retired. Their retreat was
    cleverly covered by the Baggara horse, who, by continually threatening
    the desert flank, delayed the progress of the troops. Bishara did not
    attempt to re-enter the town, on which the gunboats were now concentrating
    their fire, but continued to retire in excellent order towards the south
    and Debba.

    The Egyptian infantry halted in Dongola, which when they arrived
    they found already in the hands of detachments from the flotilla.
    The red flag with the Crescent and star waved once again from the roof
    of the Mudiria. The garrison of 400 black Jehadia had capitulated, and were
    already fraternising with their Soudanese captors, whose comrades in arms
    they were soon to be. While the infantry occupied the town the cavalry
    and Camel Corps were despatched in pursuit. The Baggara horse, however,
    maintained a firm attitude, and attempted several charges to cover the
    retreat of their infantry. In one of these an actual collision occurred,
    and Captain Adams’s squadron of Egyptian cavalry inflicted a loss of six
    killed on the enemy at a cost to themselves of eight men wounded.
    The cavalry and Camel corps had about twenty casualties in the pursuit.
    But although the Dervishes thus withdrew in an orderly manner from the
    field, the demoralising influence of retreat soon impaired their discipline
    and order, and many small parties, becoming detached from the main body,
    were captured by the pursuers. The line of retreat was strewn with weapons
    and other effects, and so many babies were abandoned by their parents that
    an artillery waggon had to be employed to collect and carry them.
    Wad Bishara, Osman Azrak, and the Baggara horse, however, made good their
    flight across the desert to Metemma, and, in spite of terrible sufferings
    from thirst, retained sufficient discipline to detach a force to hold
    Abu Klea Wells in case the retreat was followed. The Dervish infantry made
    their way along the river to Abu Hamed, and were much harassed by the
    gunboats until they reached the Fourth Cataract, when the pursuit
    was brought to an end.

    The Egyptian losses in the capture of Dongola and in the subsequent pursuit
    were: British, nil. Native ranks: killed, 1; wounded, 25. Total, 26.

    The occupation of Dongola terminated the campaign of 1896.
    About 900 prisoners, mostly the Black Jehadia, all the six brass cannon,
    large stores of grain, and a great quantity of flags, spears, and swords
    fell to the victors, and the whole of the province, said to be the most
    fertile in the Soudan, was restored to the Egyptian authority.
    The existence of a perpetual clear waterway from the head of the Third
    Cataract to Merawi enabled the gunboats at once to steam up the river
    for more than 200 miles, and in the course of the following month the
    greater part of the army was established in Merawi below the Fourth
    Cataract, at Debba, or at Korti, drawing supplies along the railway,
    and from Railhead by a boat service on the long reach of open water.
    The position of a strong force at Merawi–only 120 miles along the river
    bank from Abu Hamed, the northern Dervish post–was, as will be seen,
    convenient to the continuance of the campaign whenever the time should
    arrive. But a long delay in the advance was now inevitable, and nearly
    a year was destined to pass without any collision between the forces
    of the Khedive and those of the Khalifa.

    The success of the operations caused great public satisfaction in England.
    The first step had been taken. The Soudan was re-entered. After ten years
    of defensive war the Dervishes had been attacked, and it was clear that
    when they were attacked with adequate forces they were not so very terrible
    after all. The croakers were silent. A general desire was manifested in the
    country that the operations should continue, and although the Government
    did not yet abandon their tentative policy, or resolve utterly to destroy
    the Khalifa’s power, it was decided that, as the road had so far been safe
    and pleasant, there was at present no need to stop or turn back.

    A generous gazette of honours was published. With a single exception,
    which it would be invidious to specify, all the officers of the Egyptian
    army were mentioned in despatches. Sir H. Kitchener, Colonel Hunter,
    and Colonel Rundle were promoted Major-Generals for distinguished service
    in the field; a special medal–on whose ribbon the Blue Nile is shown
    flowing through the yellow desert–was struck; and both the engagement at
    Firket and the affair at Hafir were commemorated by clasps. The casualties
    during the campaign, including the fighting round Suakin, were 43 killed
    and 139 wounded; 130 officers and men died from cholera; and there were
    126 deaths from other causes. A large number of British officers
    were also invalided.


    It often happens that in prosperous public enterprises the applause
    of the nation and the rewards of the sovereign are bestowed on those whose
    offices are splendid and whose duties have been dramatic. Others whose
    labours were no less difficult, responsible, and vital to success are
    unnoticed. If this be true of men, it is also true of things. In a tale of
    war the reader’s mind is filled with the fighting. The battle–with its
    vivid scenes, its moving incidents, its plain and tremendous results–
    excites imagination and commands attention. The eye is fixed on the
    fighting brigades as they move amid the smoke; on the swarming figures of
    the enemy; on the General, serene and determined, mounted in the middle of
    his Staff. The long trailing line of communications is unnoticed.
    The fierce glory that plays on red, triumphant bayonets dazzles the
    observer; nor does he care to look behind to where, along a thousand miles
    of rail, road, and river, the convoys are crawling to the front in
    uninterrupted succession. Victory is the beautiful, bright-coloured flower.
    Transport is the stem without which it could never have blossomed.
    Yet even the military student, in his zeal to master the fascinating
    combinations of the actual conflict, often forgets the far more intricate
    complications of supply.

    It cannot be denied that a battle, the climax to which all military
    operations tend, is an event which is not controlled by strategy or
    organisation. The scheme may be well planned, the troops well fed, the
    ammunition plentiful, and the enemy entangled, famished, or numerically
    inferior. The glorious uncertainties of the field can yet reverse
    everything. The human element–in defiance of experience and probability–
    may produce a wholly irrational result, and a starving, out-manoeuvred army
    win food, safety, and honour by their bravery. But such considerations
    apply with greater force to wars where both sides are equal in equipment
    and discipline. In savage warfare in a flat country the power of modern
    machinery is such that flesh and blood can scarcely prevail, and the
    chances of battle are reduced to a minimum. Fighting the Dervishes was
    primarily a matter of transport. The Khalifa was conquered on the railway.

    Hitherto, as the operations have progressed, it has been convenient
    to speak of the railway in a general manner as having been laid or
    extended to various points, and merely to indicate the direction of the
    lines of communication. The reader is now invited to take a closer view.
    This chapter is concerned with boats, railways, and pack animals,
    but particularly with railways.

    Throughout the Dongola campaign in 1896 the Nile was the main channel
    of communication between the Expeditionary Force and its base in Egypt.
    All supplies were brought to the front as far as possible by water
    transport. Wherever the Nile was navigable, it was used. Other means of
    conveyance–by railways and pack animals–though essential, were merely
    supplementary. Boats carry more and cost less than any other form of
    transport. The service is not so liable to interruption; the plant needs
    only simple repair; the waterway is ready-made. But the Nile is not always
    available. Frequent cataracts obstruct its course for many miles.
    Other long reaches are only navigable when the river is in flood.
    To join the navigable reaches, and thus preserve the continuity of the
    communications, a complex system of railways and caravans was necessary.

    In the expedition to Dongola a line of railway was required to connect
    the two navigable reaches of the Nile which extend from Assuan to Wady
    Halfa, and from Kerma to Merawi. Before the capture of Dongola, however,
    this distance was shortened by the fact that the river at high Nile is
    navigable between the Third Cataract and Kerma. In consequence it was
    at first only necessary to construct the stretch of 108 miles between
    Wady Halfa and Kosheh. During the years when Wady Halfa was the
    southernmost garrison of the Egyptian forces a strong post had been
    maintained at Sarras. In the Nile expeditions of 1885 the railway from
    Halfa had been completed through Sarras and as far as Akasha, a distance
    of eighty-six miles. After the abandonment of the Soudan the Dervishes
    destroyed the line as far north as Sarras. The old embankments were still
    standing, but the sleepers had been burnt and the rails torn up, and in
    many cases bent or twisted. The position in 1896 may, in fact, be summed
    up as follows: The section of thirty-three miles from Wady Halfa to Sarras
    was immediately available and in working order. The section of fifty-three
    miles from Sarras to Akasha required partial reconstruction. The section of
    thirty-two miles from Akasha to Kosheh must, with the exception of ten
    miles of embankment completed in 1885, at once be newly made. And, finally,
    the section from Kosheh to Kerma must be completed before the Nile flood

    The first duty, therefore, which the Engineer officers had to perform
    was the reconstruction of the line from Sarras to Akasha. No trained staff
    or skilled workmen were available. The lack of men with technical knowledge
    was doubtfully supplied by the enlistment of a ‘Railway Battalion’ 800
    strong. These men were drawn from many tribes and classes. Their only
    qualification was capacity and willingness for work. They presented a
    motley appearance. Dervish prisoners, released but still wearing their
    jibbas, assisted stalwart Egyptians in unloading rails and sleepers.
    Dinkas, Shillooks, Jaalin, and Barabras shovelled contentedly together
    at the embankments. One hundred civilian Soudanese–chiefly time-expired
    soldiers–were also employed; and these, since they were trustworthy
    and took an especial pride in their work, soon learned the arts of
    spiking rails and sleepers, fishing rails together, and straightening.
    To direct and control the labours of these men of varied race and language,
    but of equal inexperience, some civilian foremen platelayers were obtained
    at high rates of pay from Lower Egypt. These, however, with very few
    exceptions were not satisfactory, and they were gradually replaced by
    intelligent men of the ‘Railway Battalion,’ who had learned their trade
    as the line progressed. The projection, direction, and execution of the
    whole work were entrusted to a few subalterns of Engineers,
    of whom the best-known was Edouard Girouard.

    Work was begun south of Sarras at the latter end of March. At first
    the efforts of so many unskilled workmen, instructed by few experienced
    officers, were productive of results ridiculous rather than important.
    Gradually, however, the knowledge and energy of the young director and
    the intelligence and devotion of his still more youthful subordinates
    began to take effect. The pace of construction increased, and the labour
    was lightened by the contrivances of experience and skill.

    As the line grew longer, native officers and non-commissioned officers
    from the active and reserve lists of the Egyptian Army were appointed
    station-masters. Intelligent non-commissioned officers and men were
    converted into shunters, guards, and pointsmen. Traffic was controlled
    by telephone. To work the telephone, men were discovered who could read
    and write–very often who could read and write only their own names,
    and even that with such difficulty that they usually preferred a seal.
    They developed into clerks by a simple process of selection. To improve
    their education, and to train a staff in the office work of a railway,
    two schools were instituted at Halfa. In these establishments, which were
    formed by the shade of two palm-trees, twenty pupils received the
    beginnings of knowledge. The simplicity of the instruction was aided by
    the zeal of the students, and learning grew beneath the palm-trees more
    quickly perhaps than in the magnificent schools of civilisation.

    The rolling stock of the Halfa-Sarras line was in good order and
    sufficient quantity, but the eight locomotives were out of all repair,
    and had to be patched up again and again with painful repetition.
    The regularity of their break-downs prevented the regularity of the road,
    and the Soudan military railway gained a doubtful reputation during the
    Dongola expedition and in its early days. Nor were there wanting those
    who employed their wits in scoffing at the undertaking and in pouring
    thoughtless indignation on the engineers. Nevertheless the work
    went on continually.

    The initial difficulties of the task were aggravated by an unexpected
    calamity. On the 26th of August the violent cyclonic rain-storm of which
    some account has been given in the last chapter broke over
    the Dongola province.

    A writer on the earlier phases of the war [A. Hilliard Atteridge,
    TOWARDS FREEDOM.] has forcibly explained why the consequences were
    so serious:

    ‘In a country where rain is an ordinary event the engineer lays his
    railway line, not in the bottom of a valley, but at a higher level on
    one slope or the other. Where he passes across branching side valleys,
    he takes care to leave in all his embankments large culverts to carry off
    flood-water. But here, in what was thought to be the rainless Soudan,
    the line south of Sarras followed for mile after mile the bottom of the
    long valley of Khor Ahrusa, and no provision had been made, or had been
    thought necessary, for culverts in the embankments where minor hollows
    were crossed. Thus, when the flood came, it was not merely that the railway
    was cut through here and there by the rushing deluge. It was covered deep
    in water, the ballast was swept away, and some of the banks so destroyed
    that in places rails and sleepers were left hanging in the air
    across a wide gap.’

    Nearly fourteen miles of track were destroyed. The camp of the construction
    gangs was wrecked and flooded. Some of the rifles of the escort–for the
    conditions of war were never absent–were afterwards recovered from a depth
    of three feet of sand. In one place, where the embankment had partly
    withstood the deluge, a great lake several miles square appeared.
    By extraordinary exertions the damage was repaired in a week.

    As soon as the line as far as Kosheh was completed, the advance
    towards Dongola began. After the army had been victorious at Hafir
    the whole province was cleared of Dervishes, and the Egyptian forces
    pushed on to Merawi. Here they were dependent on river transport.
    But the Nile was falling rapidly, and the army were soon in danger of
    being stranded by the interruption of river traffic between the Third
    Cataract and Kenna. The extension of the line from Kosheh to Kerma was
    therefore of vital importance. The survey was at once undertaken,
    and a suitable route was chosen through the newly acquired and unmapped
    territory. Of the ninety-five miles of extended track, fifty-six were
    through the desert, and the constructors here gained the experience which
    was afterwards of value on the great Desert Railway from Wady Halfa to
    the Atbara. Battalions of troops were distributed along the line and
    ordered to begin to make the embankments. Track-laying commenced south
    of Kosheh on the 9th of October, and the whole work was carried forward
    with feverish energy. As it progressed, and before it was completed,
    the reach of the river from the Third Cataract to Kenna ceased to be
    navigable. The army were now dependent for their existence on the
    partly finished railway, from the head of which supplies were conveyed
    by an elaborate system of camel transport. Every week the line grew,
    Railhead moved forward, and the strain upon the pack animals diminished.
    But the problem of feeding the field army without interfering with the
    railway construction was one of extraordinary intricacy and difficulty.
    The carrying capacity of the line was strictly limited. The worn-out
    engines frequently broke down. On many occasions only three were in
    working order, and the other five undergoing ‘heavy repairs’ which might
    secure them another short span of usefulness. Three times the construction
    had to be suspended to allow the army to be revictualled. Every difficulty
    was, however, overcome. By the beginning of May the line to Kenna was
    finished, and the whole of the Railway Battalion, its subalterns and its
    director, turned their attention to a greater enterprise.

    In the first week in December the Sirdar returned from England with
    instructions or permission to continue the advance towards Khartoum,
    and the momentous question of the route to be followed arose. It may at
    first seem that the plain course was to continue to work along the Nile,
    connecting its navigable reaches by sections of railway. But from Merawi
    to Abu Hamed the river is broken by continual cataracts, and the broken
    ground of both banks made a railway nearly an impossibility. The movements
    of the French expeditions towards the Upper Nile counselled speed.
    The poverty of Egypt compelled economy. The Nile route, though sure,
    would be slow and very expensive. A short cut must be found. Three daring
    and ambitious schemes presented themselves: (1) the line followed by the
    Desert Column in 1884 from Korti to Metemma; (2) the celebrated, if not
    notorious, route from Suakin to Berber; (3) across the Nubian desert
    from Korosko or Wady Halfa to Abu Hamed.

    The question involved the whole strategy of the war. No more important
    decision was ever taken by Sir Herbert Kitchener, whether in office or in
    action. The request for a British division, the attack On Mahmud’s zeriba,
    the great left wheel towards Omdurman during that battle, the treatment
    of the Marchand expedition, were matters of lesser resolve than the
    selection of the line of advance. The known strength of the Khalifa made
    it evident that a powerful force would be required for the destruction
    of his army and the capture of his capital. The use of railway transport
    to some point on the Nile whence there was a clear waterway was therefore
    imperative. Berber and Metemma were known, and Abu Hamed was believed,
    to fulfil this condition. But both Berber and Metemma were important
    strategic points. It was improbable that the Dervishes would abandon
    these keys to Khartoum and the Soudan without severe resistance.
    It seemed likely, indeed, that the Khalifa would strongly reinforce both
    towns, and desperately contest their possession. The deserts between
    Korti and Metemma, and between Suakin and Berber, contained scattered
    wells, and small raiding parties might have cut the railway and perhaps
    have starved the army at its head. It was therefore too dangerous to
    project the railway towards either Berber or Metemma until they were
    actually in our hands. The argument is circular. The towns could not be
    taken without a strong force; so strong a force could not advance until
    the railway was made; and the railway could not be made till
    the towns were taken.

    Both the Korti-Metemma and the Suakin-Berber routes were therefore
    rejected. The resolution to exclude the latter was further strengthened
    by the fact that the labour of building a railway over the hills behind
    Suakin would have been very great.

    The route via Abu Hamed was selected by the exclusion of the alternatives.
    But it had distinct and apparent advantages. Abu Hamed was within striking
    distance of the army at Merawi. It was not a point essential to the
    Dervish defences, and not, therefore, likely to be so strongly garrisoned
    as Berber or Metemma. It might, therefore, be captured by a column marching
    along the river, and sufficiently small to be equipped with only camel
    transport. The deserts through which the railway to Abu Hamed would pass
    contain few wells, and therefore it would be difficult for small raiding
    parties to cut the line or attack the construction gangs; and before the
    line got within reach of the Dervish garrison at Abu Hamed, that garrison
    would be dislodged and the place seized.

    The plan was perfect, and the argument in its favour conclusive.
    It turned, however, on one point: Was the Desert Railway a possibility?
    With this question the General was now confronted. He appealed to expert
    opinion. Eminent railway engineers in England were consulted. They replied
    with unanimity that, having due regard to the circumstances, and
    remembering the conditions of war under which the work must be executed,
    it was impossible to construct such a line. Distinguished soldiers were
    approached on the subject. They replied that the scheme was not only
    impossible, but absurd. Many other persons who were not consulted
    volunteered the opinion that the whole idea was that of a lunatic,
    and predicted ruin and disaster to the expedition. Having received this
    advice, and reflected on it duly, the Sirdar ordered the railway to be
    constructed without more delay.

    A further question immediately arose: Should the railway to Abu Hamed
    start from Korosko or from Wady Halfa? There were arguments on both sides.
    The adoption of the Korosko line would reduce the river stage from Assuan
    by forty-eight hours up stream. The old caravan route, by which General
    Gordon had travelled to Khartoum on his last journey, had been from Korosko
    via Murat Wells to Abu Hamed. On the other hand, many workshops and
    appliances for construction were already existing at Wady Halfa. It was the
    northern terminus of the Dongola railway. This was an enormous advantage.
    Both routes were reconnoitred: that from Wady Halfa was selected.
    The decision having been taken, the enterprise was at once begun.

    Lieutenant Girouard, to whom everything was entrusted, was told to make
    the necessary estimates. Sitting in his hut at Wady Halfa, he drew up a
    comprehensive list. Nothing was forgotten. Every want was provided for;
    every difficulty was foreseen; every requisite was noted. The questions
    to be decided were numerous and involved. How much carrying capacity was
    required? How much rolling stock? How many engines? What spare parts?
    How much oil? How many lathes? How many cutters? How many punching and
    shearing machines? What arrangements of signals would be necessary?
    How many lamps? How many points? How many trolleys? What amount of coal
    should be ordered? How much water would be wanted? How should it be
    carried? To what extent would its carriage affect the hauling power and
    influence all previous calculations? How much railway plant was needed?
    How many miles of rail? How many thousand sleepers? Where could they be
    procured at such short notice? How many fishplates were necessary?
    What tools would be required? What appliances? What machinery? How much
    skilled labour was wanted? How much of the class of labour available?
    How were the workmen to be fed and watered? How much food would they want?
    How many trains a day must be run to feed them and their escort? How many
    must be run to carry plant? How did these requirements affect the estimate
    for rolling stock? The answers to all these questions, and to many others
    with which I will not inflict the reader, were set forth by Lieutenant
    Girouard in a ponderous volume several inches thick; and such was the
    comprehensive accuracy of the estimate that the working parties were
    never delayed by the want even of a piece of brass wire.

    In any circumstances the task would have been enormous. It was, however,
    complicated by five important considerations: It had to be executed with
    military precautions. There was apparently no water along the line.
    The feeding of 2,000 platelayers in a barren desert was a problem in
    itself. The work had to be completed before the winter. And, finally,
    the money voted was not to be outrun. The Sirdar attended to
    the last condition.

    Girouard was sent to England to buy the plant and rolling stock.
    Fifteen new engines and two hundred trucks were ordered. The necessary new
    workshops were commenced at Halfa. Experienced mechanics were procured to
    direct them. Fifteen hundred additional men were enlisted in the Railway
    Battalion and trained. Then the water question was dealt with.
    The reconnoitring surveys had reported that though the line was certainly
    ‘good and easy’ for 110 miles–and, according to Arab accounts, for the
    remaining 120 miles–no drop of water was to be found, and only two likely
    spots for wells were noted. Camel transport was, of course, out of the
    question. Each engine must first of all haul enough water to carry it to
    Railhead and back, besides a reserve against accidents. It was evident that
    the quantity of water required by any locomotive would continually increase
    as the work progressed and the distance grew greater, until finally the
    material trains would have one-third of their carrying power absorbed in
    transporting the water for their own consumption. The amount of water
    necessary is largely dependent on the grades of the line. The ‘flat desert’
    proved to be a steady slope up to a height of 1,600 feet above Halfa,
    and the calculations were further complicated. The difficulty had,
    however, to be faced, and a hundred 1,500-gallon tanks were procured.
    These were mounted on trucks and connected by hose; and the most striking
    characteristic of the trains of the Soudan military railway was the long
    succession of enormous boxes on wheels, on which the motive power of the
    engine and the lives of the passengers depended.

    The first spadeful of sand of the Desert Railway was turned
    on the first day of 1897; but until May, when the line to Kerma was
    finished, no great efforts were made, and only forty miles of track had
    been laid. In the meanwhile the men of the new Railway Battalion were
    being trained; the plant was steadily accumulating; engines, rolling stock,
    and material of all sorts had arrived from England. From the growing
    workshops at Wady Halfa the continual clatter and clang of hammers and the
    black smoke of manufacture rose to the African sky. The malodorous incense
    of civilisation was offered to the startled gods of Egypt. All this was
    preparation; nor was it until the 8th of May that track-laying into the
    desert was begun in earnest. The whole of the construction gangs and
    railroad staff were brought from Kerma to Wady Halfa, and the daring
    pioneers of modern war started on their long march through the wilderness,
    dragging their railway behind them–safe and sure road which infantry,
    cavalry, guns, and gunboats might follow with speed and convenience.

    It is scarcely within the power of words to describe the savage
    desolation of the regions into which the line and its constructors plunged.
    A smooth ocean of bright-coloured sand spread far and wide to distant
    horizons. The tropical sun beat with senseless perseverance upon the level
    surface until it could scarcely be touched with a naked hand, and the filmy
    air glittered and shimmered as over a furnace. Here and there huge masses
    of crumbling rock rose from the plain, like islands of cinders in a sea
    of fire. Alone in this vast expanse stood Railhead–a canvas town of 2,500
    inhabitants, complete with station, stores, post-office, telegraph-office,
    and canteen, and only connected with the living world of men and ideas
    by two parallel iron streaks, three feet six inches apart, growing dim and
    narrower in a long perspective until they were twisted and blurred by the
    mirage and vanished in the indefinite distance.

    Every morning in the remote nothingness there appeared a black speck
    growing larger and clearer, until with a whistle and a welcome clatter,
    amid the aching silence of ages, the ‘material’ train arrived, carrying
    its own water and 2,500 yards of rails, sleepers, and accessories. At noon
    came another speck, developing in a similar manner into a supply train,
    also carrying its own water, food and water for the half-battalion of the
    escort and the 2,000 artificers and platelayers, and the letters,
    newspapers, sausages, jam, whisky, soda-water, and cigarettes which enable
    the Briton to conquer the world without discomfort. And presently the empty
    trains would depart, reversing the process of their arrival, and vanishing
    gradually along a line which appeared at last to turn up into the air
    and run at a tangent into an unreal world.

    The life of the strange and lonely town was characterised by a
    machine-like regularity, born perhaps of the iron road from which it
    derived its nourishment. Daily at three o’clock in the morning the
    ‘camp-engine’ started with the ‘bank parties.’ With the dawn the ‘material’
    train arrived, the platelaying gangs swarmed over it like clusters of
    flies, and were carried to the extreme limit of the track. Every man knew
    his task, and knew, too, that he would return to camp when it was finished,
    and not before. Forthwith they set busily to work without the necessity of
    an order. A hundred yards of material was unloaded. The sleepers were
    arranged in a long succession. The rails were spiked to every alternate
    sleeper, and then the great 80-ton engine moved cautiously forward along
    the unballasted track, like an elephant trying a doubtful bridge.
    The operation was repeated continually through the hours of the burning
    day. Behind the train there followed other gangs of platelayers, who
    completed the spiking and ballasting process; and when the sun sank
    beneath the sands of the western horizon, and the engine pushed the empty
    trucks and the weary men home to the Railhead camp, it came back over a
    finished and permanent line. There was a brief interval while the
    camp-fires twinkled in the waste, like the lights of a liner in mid-ocean,
    while the officers and men chatted over their evening meal, and then the
    darkness and silence of the desert was unbroken till morning brought
    the glare and toil of another long day.

    So, week in, week out, the work went on. Every few days saw a further
    advance into the wilderness. The scene changed and remained unaltered–
    ‘another, yet the same.’ As Wady Halfa became more remote and Abu Hamed
    grew near, an element of danger, the more appalling since it was peculiar,
    was added to the strange conditions under which the inhabitants of
    Railhead lived. What if the Dervishes should cut the line behind them?
    They had three days’ reserve of water. After that, unless the obstruction
    were removed and traffic restored, all must wither and die in the sand,
    and only their bones and their cooking-pots would attest the folly
    of their undertaking.

    By the 20th of July a hundred and thirty miles of line had been finished,
    and it became too dangerous to advance further until Abu Hamed had been
    cleared of the Dervish force. They were still a hundred miles away, but
    camels travel fast and far, and the resources of the enemy were uncertain.
    It appeared that progress would be checked, but on the 7th of August
    General Hunter, marching from Merawi along the river bank, attacked and
    took Abu Hamed–an operation which will be described hereafter. Work was
    at once resumed with renewed energy. The pace of construction now became
    remarkable. As much as 5,300 yards of track was surveyed, embanked,
    and laid in a single day. On the 1st of November Abu Hamed was reached,
    and by the banks of the Nile the men who had fought their way across the
    desert joined hands with those who had fought their way along the river.

    The strain and hardship had not, however, been without effect on the
    constructors. Two of the Engineer subalterns–Polwhele and Cator–out of
    the eight concerned in the laying of the Dongola and the Desert railways
    had died. Their places were eagerly filled by others.

    The completion of the line was accelerated by nearly a month through the
    fortunate discovery of water. At the beginning of July a well was sunk in
    what was thought to be a likely place at ‘No. 4 Station,’ seventy-seven
    miles from Halfa. After five weeks’ work water was found in abundance at a
    depth of 90 feet. A steam-pump was erected, and the well yielded a
    continual supply. In October a second well was sunk at ‘No. 6 Station,’
    fifty-five miles further on, whence water was obtained in still greater
    quantity. These discoveries modified, though they did not solve, the water
    question. They substantially increased the carrying capacity of the line,
    and reduced the danger to which the construction gangs were exposed.
    The sinking of the wells, an enterprise at which the friendly Arabs
    scoffed, was begun on the Sirdar’s personal initiative; but the chronicler
    must impartially observe that the success was won by luck as much as by
    calculation, for, since the first two wells were made, eight others of
    greater depth have been bored and in no case has water been obtained.

    As the railway had been made, the telegraph-wire had, of course,
    followed it. Every consignment of rails and sleepers had been accompanied
    by its proportion of telegraph-poles, insulators, and wire. Another
    subaltern of Engineers, Lieutenant Manifold, who managed this part of the
    military operations against the Arabs, had also laid a line from Merawi
    to Abu Hamed, so that immediate correspondence was effected round the
    entire circle of rail and river.

    The labours of the Railway Battalion and its officers did not end with
    the completion of the line to Abu Hamed. The Desert Railway was made.
    It had now to be maintained, worked, and rapidly extended. The terminus at
    Halfa had become a busy town. A mud village was transformed into a
    miniature Crewe. The great workshops that had grown with the line were
    equipped with diverse and elaborate machines. Plant of all kinds purchased
    in Cairo or requisitioned from England, with odds and ends collected from
    Ishmail’s scrap heaps, filled the depots with an extraordinary variety of
    stores. Foundries, lathes, dynamos, steam-hammers, hydraulic presses,
    cupola furnaces, screw-cutting machines, and drills had been set up and
    were in continual work. They needed constant attention. Every appliance
    for repairing each must be provided. To haul the tonnage necessary to
    supply the army and extend the line nearly forty engines were eventually
    required. Purchased at different times and from different countries,
    they included ten distinct patterns; each pattern needed a special reserve
    of spare parts. The permutations and combinations of the stores were
    multiplied. Some of the engines were old and already worn out. These broke
    down periodically. The frictional parts of all were affected by the desert
    sand, and needed ceaseless attention and repair. The workshops were busy
    night and day for seven days a week.

    To the complication of machinery was added the confusion of tongues.
    Natives of various races were employed as operatives. Foremen had been
    obtained from Europe. No fewer than seven separate languages were spoken
    in the shops. Wady Halfa became a second Babel. Yet the undertaking
    prospered. The Engineer officers displayed qualities of tact and temper:
    their director was cool and indefatigable. Over all the Sirdar exercised
    a regular control. Usually ungracious, rarely impatient, never
    unreasonable, he moved among the workshops and about the line, satisfying
    himself that all was proceeding with economy and despatch. The sympathy of
    common labour won him the affection of the subalterns. Nowhere in the
    Soudan was he better known than on the railroad. Nowhere was he
    so ardently believed in.

    It is now necessary to anticipate the course of events. As soon as the
    railway reached Abu Hamed, General Hunter’s force, which was holding that
    place, dropped its slender camel communications with Merawi and drew its
    supplies along the new line direct from Wady Halfa. After the completion of
    the desert line there was still left seventeen miles of material for
    construction, and the railway was consequently at once extended to Dakhesh,
    sixteen miles south of Abu Hamed. Meanwhile Berber was seized, and military
    considerations compelled the concentration of a larger force to maintain
    that town. The four battalions which had remained at Merawi were floated
    down stream to Kerma, and, there entraining, were carried by Halfa and
    Abu Hamed to Dakhesh–a journey of 450 miles.

    When the railway had been begun across the desert, it was believed that
    the Nile was always navigable above Abu Hamed. In former campaigns it had
    been reconnoitred and the waterway declared clear. But as the river fell
    it became evident that this was untrue. With the subsidence of the waters
    cataracts began to appear, and to avoid these it became necessary first of
    all to extend the railway to Bashtinab, later on to Abadia, and finally to
    the Atbara. To do this more money had to be obtained, and the usual
    financial difficulties presented themselves. Finally, however, the matter
    was settled, and the extension began at the rate of about a mile a day.
    The character of the country varies considerably between Abu Hamed and the
    Atbara River. For the first sixty miles the line ran beside the Nile,
    at the edge of the riparian belt. On the right was the cultivable though
    mostly uncultivated strip, long neglected and silted up with fine sand
    drifted into dunes, from which scattered, scraggy dom palms and prickly
    mimosa bushes grew. Between the branches of these sombre trees the river
    gleamed, a cool and attractive flood. On the left was the desert, here
    broken by frequent rocks and dry watercourses. From Bashtinab to Abadia
    another desert section of fifty miles was necessary to avoid some very
    difficult ground by the Nile bank. From Abadia to the Atbara the last
    stretch of the line runs across a broad alluvial expanse from whose surface
    plane-trees of mean appearance, but affording welcome shade, rise, watered
    by the autumn rains. The fact that the railway was approaching regions
    where rain is not an almost unknown phenomenon increased the labour of
    construction. To prevent the embankments from being washed away in the
    watercourses, ten bridges and sixty culverts had to be made; and this
    involved the transport over the railway of more than 1,000 tons of material
    in addition to the ordinary plant.

    By the arrival of the reinforcements at Berber the fighting force at the
    front was doubled: doubled also was the business of supply. The task of
    providing the food of an army in a desert, a thousand miles from their
    base, and with no apparent means of subsistence at the end of the day’s
    march, is less picturesque, though not less important, than the building
    of railways along which that nourishment is drawn to the front. Supply and
    transport stand or fall together; history depends on both; and in order to
    explain the commissariat aspect of the River War, I must again both repeat
    and anticipate the account. The Sirdar exercised a direct and personal
    supervision over the whole department of supply, but his action was
    restricted almost entirely to the distribution of the rations. Their
    accumulation and regular supply were the task of Colonel Rogers, and this
    officer, by three years of exact calculation and unfailing allowance for
    the unforeseen, has well deserved his high reputation as
    a feeder of armies.

    The first military necessity of the war was, as has been described,
    to place the bulk of the Egyptian army at Akasha. In ordinary circumstances
    this would not have been a serious commissariat problem. The frontier
    reserves of food were calculated to meet such an emergency. But in 1895
    the crops in Egypt had been much below the average. At the beginning of
    1896 there was a great scarcity of grain. When the order for the advance
    was issued, the frontier grain stores were nearly exhausted. The new crops
    could not be garnered until the end of April. Thus while the world regarded
    Egypt as a vast granary, her soldiers were obliged to purchase 4,000 tons
    of doura and 1,000 tons of barley from India and Russia on which to begin
    the campaign.

    The chief item of a soldier’s diet in most armies is bread. In several of
    our wars the health, and consequently the efficiency, of the troops has
    been impaired by bad bread or by the too frequent substitution of hard
    biscuit. For more than a year the army up the river ate 20 tons of flour
    daily, and it is easy to imagine how bitter amid ordinary circumstances
    would have been the battle between the commissariat officers, whose duty
    it was to insist on proper quality, and the contractors–often, I fear,
    meriting the epithet ‘rascally’–intent only upon profit. But in the
    well-managed Egyptian Service no such difficulties arose. The War
    Department had in 1892 converted one of Ismail Pasha’s gun factories near
    Cairo into a victualling-yard. Here were set up their own mills for
    grinding flour, machinery for manufacturing biscuit to the extent of 60,000
    rations daily, and even for making soap. Three great advantages sprang from
    this wise arrangement. Firstly, the good quality of the supply was assured.
    Complaints about bread and biscuit were practically unknown, and the soap–
    since the soldier, in contrast to the mixture of rubble and grease with
    which the contractors had formerly furnished him, could actually wash
    himself and his clothes with it–was greatly prized. Secondly, all risk of
    contractors failing to deliver in time was avoided. Lastly, the funds
    resulting from the economy had been utilised to form a useful corps of 150
    bakers. And thus, although the purchase of foreign grain added to the
    expense, the beginning of the war found the commissariat of the Egyptian
    Army in a thoroughly efficient state.

    Vast reserves of stores were quickly accumulated at Assuan. From these
    not an ounce of food was issued without the Sirdar’s direct sanction.
    At the subsidiary depot, formed at Wady Halfa, the same rule prevailed.
    The man who was responsible to no one took all the responsibility;
    and the system whereby a Chief of the Staff is subjected to the continual
    bombardment of heads of departments was happily avoided. Sufficient
    supplies having been accumulated at Akasha to allow of a forward movement,
    Firket was fought. After Firket the situation became difficult, and the
    problem of the supply officers was to keep the troops alive without
    delaying the progress of the railway with the carriage of their food.
    A small quantity of provisions was painfully dragged, with an average
    loss of 50 per cent from theft and water damage, up the succession of
    cataracts which obstruct the river-way from Halfa to Kosheh. Camel convoys
    from Railhead carried the rest. But until the line reached Kosheh the
    resources of the transport were terribly strained, and at one time it was
    even necessary to send the mounted troops north to avoid actual famine.
    The apparent inadequacy of the means to the end reached a climax when
    the army moved southward from Dulgo. The marches and halts to Dongola were
    estimated to take ten days, which was the utmost capacity of camel and
    steam transport, A few boat-loads of grain might be captured; a few
    handfuls of dates might be plucked; but scarcely any local supplies would
    be available. The sailing-boats, which were the only regular means of
    transport, were all delayed by the adverse winds. Fortune returned at the
    critical moment. By good luck on the first day of the march the north wind
    began to blow, and twelve days’ supplies, over and above those moved by
    camel and steamer, reached Dongola with the troops. With this reserve in
    hand, the occupation of the province was completed, and although the army
    only existed from hand to mouth until the railway reached Kerma, no further
    serious difficulty was experienced in supplying them.

    The account of the commissariat is now complete to the end of the Dongola
    Expedition; but it may conveniently be carried forward with the railway
    construction. In the Abu Hamed phase the supplies were so regulated that a
    convoy travelling from Murat Wells along the caravan route arrived the day
    after the fight; and thereafter communications were opened with Merawi.
    The unexpected occupation of Berber, following Abu Hamed, created the most
    difficult situation of the war. Until the railway was forced on to Berber
    a peculiarly inconvenient line of supply had to be used; and strings
    of camels, scattering never less than 30 per cent of their loads,
    meandered through the rough and thorny country between Merawi and
    Abu Hamed. This line was strengthened by other convoys from Murat and
    the approaching Railhead, and a system of boats and camel portages
    filtered the supplies to their destination.

    Even when the railway had reached Dakhesh the tension was only slightly
    relaxed. The necessity of supplying the large force at Berber, 108 miles
    from Railhead, still required the maintenance of a huge and complicated
    system of boat and camel transport. Of course, as the railway advanced,
    it absorbed stage after stage of river and portage, and the difficulties
    decreased. But the reader may gain some idea of their magnitude by
    following the progress of a box of biscuits from Cairo to Berber in the
    month of December 1897. The route was as follows: From Cairo to Nagh
    Hamadi (340 miles) by rail; from Nagh Hamadi to Assuan (205 miles)
    by boat; from Assuan to Shellal (6 miles} by rail; from Shellal to Halfa
    (226 miles) by boat; from Halfa to Dakhesh (Railhead)–248 miles–
    by military railway; from Dakhesh to Shereik (45 miles) by boat; from
    Shereik by camel (13 miles) round a cataract to Bashtinab; from Bashtinab
    by boat (25 miles) to Omsheyo; from Omsheyo round another impracticable
    reach (11 miles) by camel to Geneinetti, and thence (22 miles) to Berber
    by boat. The road taken by this box of biscuits was followed by every ton
    of supplies required by 10,000 men in the field. The uninterrupted working
    of the long and varied chain was vital to the welfare of the army and the
    success of the war. It could only be maintained if every section was
    adequately supplied and none were either choked or starved. This problem
    had to be solved correctly every day by the transport officers, in spite
    of uncertain winds that retarded the boats, of camels that grew sick or
    died, and of engines that repeatedly broke down. In the face of every
    difficulty a regular supply was maintained. The construction of the railway
    was not delayed, nor the food of the troops reduced.

    The line continued to grow rapidly, and as it grew the difficulties of
    supply decreased. The weight was shifted from the backs of the camels and
    the bottoms of the sailing-boats to the trucks of the iron road. The strong
    hands of steam were directed to the prosecution of the war, and the
    swiftness of the train replaced the toilsome plodding of the caravan.
    The advance of the Dervishes towards Berber checked the progress of the
    railway. Military precautions were imperative. Construction was delayed by
    the passage of the 1st British Brigade from Cairo to the front, and by the
    consequently increased volume of daily supplies. By the 10th of March,
    however, the line was completed to Bashtinab. On the 5th of May it had
    reached Abadia. On the 3rd of July the whole railway from Wady Halfa
    to the Atbara was finished, and the southern terminus was established in
    the great entrenched camp at the confluence of the rivers. The question
    of supply was then settled once and for all. In less than a week stores
    sufficient for three months were poured along the line, and the exhausting
    labours of the commissariat officers ended. Their relief and achievement
    were merged in the greater triumph of the Railway Staff. The director and
    his subalterns had laboured long, and their efforts were crowned with
    complete success. On the day that the first troop train steamed into the
    fortified camp at the confluence of the Nile and the Atbara rivers the doom
    of the Dervishes was sealed. It had now become possible with convenience
    and speed to send into the heart of the Soudan great armies independent of
    the season of the year and of the resources of the country; to supply them
    not only with abundant food and ammunition, but with all the varied
    paraphernalia of scientific war; and to support their action on land by a
    powerful flotilla of gunboats, which could dominate the river and command
    the banks, and could at any moment make their way past Khartoum even to
    Sennar, Fashoda, or Sobat. Though the battle was not yet fought,
    the victory was won. The Khalifa, his capital, and his army were now within
    the Sirdar’s reach. It remained only to pluck the fruit in the most
    convenient hour, with the least trouble and at the smallest cost.


    The last chapter carried the account of the war forward at express speed.
    The reader, who had already on the railway reached the Atbara encampment
    and was prepared for the final advance on Khartoum, must allow his mind to
    revert to a period when the Egyptian forces are distributed along the river
    in garrisons at Dongola, Debba, Korti, and Merawi; when the reorganisation
    of the conquered province has been begun; and when the Desert Railway is
    still stretching steadily forward towards Abu Hamed.

    The news of the fall of Dongola created a panic in Omdurman.
    Great numbers of Arabs, believing that the Khalifa’s power was about to
    collapse, fled from the city. All business was at a standstill. For several
    days there were no executions. Abdullah himself kept his house, and thus
    doubtfully concealed his vexation and alarm from his subjects. On the fifth
    day, however, having recovered his own confidence, he proceeded to the
    mosque, and after the morning prayer ascended his small wooden pulpit and
    addressed the assembled worshippers. After admitting the retreat of the
    Dervishes under Wad Bishara, he enlarged on the losses the ‘Turks’ had
    sustained and described their miserable condition. He deplored the fact
    that certain of the Jehadia had surrendered, and reminded his listeners
    with a grim satisfaction of the horrible tortures which it was the practice
    of the English and Egyptians to inflict upon their captives. He bewailed
    the lack of faith in God which had allowed even the meanest of the Ansar
    to abandon the Jehad against the infidel, and he condemned the lack of
    piety which disgraced the age. But he proclaimed his confidence in the
    loyalty of his subjects and his enjoyment of the favour of God and the
    counsels of the late Mahdi; and having by his oratory raised the fanatical
    multitude to a high pitch of excitement, he thus concluded his long
    harangue: ‘It is true that our chiefs have retired from Dongola. Yet they
    are not defeated. Only they that disobeyed me have perished. I instructed
    the faithful to refrain from fighting and return to Metemma. It was by my
    command that they have done what they have done. For the angel of the Lord
    and the spirit of the Mahdi have warned me in a vision that the souls of
    the accursed Egyptians and of the miserable English shall leave their
    bodies between Dongola and Omdurman, at some spot which their bones shall
    whiten. Thus shall the infidels be conquered.’ Then, drawing his sword,
    he cried with a loud voice: ‘Ed din mansur! The religion is victorious!
    Islam shall triumph!’ Whereupon the worshippers, who to the number of
    20,000 filled the great quadrangle–although they could not all hear his
    voice–saw his sword flashing in the sunlight, and with one accord
    imitated him, waving their swords and spears, and raising a mighty shout
    of fury and defiance. When the tumult had subsided, the Khalifa announced
    that those who did not wish to remain faithful might go where they liked,
    but that he for his part would remain, knowing that God would vindicate
    the faith. Public confidence was thus restored.

    In order that the divine favour might be assisted by human effort,
    Abdullah adopted every measure or precaution that energy or prudence could
    suggest. At first he seems to have apprehended that the Sirdar’s army
    would advance at once upon Omdurman, following the route of the Desert
    Column in 1885 from Korti to Metemma. He therefore ordered Osman Azrak–
    in spite of his severe wound–to hold Abu Klea Wells with the survivors of
    his flag. Bishara, who had rallied and reorganised the remains of the
    Dongola army, was instructed to occupy Metemma, the headquarters of the
    Jaalin. Messengers were despatched to the most distant garrisons to arrange
    for a general concentration upon Omdurman. The Emir Ibrahim Khalil was
    recalled from the Ghezira, or the land between the Blue and White Niles,
    and with his force of about 4,000 Jehadia and Baggara soon reached
    the city. Another chief, Ahmed Fedil, who was actually on his way to
    Gedaref, was ordered to return to the capital. Thither also Osman Digna
    repaired from Adarama. But it appears that the Khalifa only required the
    advice of that wily councillor, for he did not reduce the number of
    Dervishes in the small forts along the line of the Atbara–Ed Darner,
    Adarama, Asubri, El Fasher–and after a short visit and a long consultation
    Osman Digna returned to his post at Adarama. Last of all, but not least in
    importance, Mahmud, who commanded the ‘Army of the West,’ was ordered to
    leave very reduced garrisons in Kordofan and Darfur, and march with his
    whole remaining force, which may have numbered 10,000 fighting men,
    to the Nile, and so to Omdurman. Mahmud, who was as daring and ambitious
    as he was conceited and incapable, received the summons with delight,
    and began forthwith to collect his troops.

    The Khalifa saw very clearly that he could not trust the riverain tribes.
    The Jaalin and Barabra were discontented. He knew that they were weary of
    his rule and of war. In proportion as the Egyptian army advanced, so their
    loyalty and the taxes they paid decreased. He therefore abandoned all idea
    of making a stand at Berber. The Emir Yunes–who, since he had been
    transferred from Dongola in 1895, had ruled the district–was directed to
    collect all the camels, boats, grain, and other things that might assist
    an invading army and send them to Metemma. The duty was most thoroughly
    performed. The inhabitants were soon relieved of all their property and of
    most of their means of livelihood, and their naturally bitter resentment at
    this merciless treatment explains to some extent the astonishing events
    which followed the capture of Abu Hamed. This last place Abdullah never
    regarded as more than an outpost. Its garrison was not large, and although
    it had now become the most northerly Dervish position, only a slender
    reinforcement was added to the force under the command of Mohammed-ez-Zein.

    The power of the gunboats and their effect in the Dongola campaign
    were fully appreciated by the Arabs; and the Khalifa, in the hopes of
    closing the Sixth Cataract, began to construct several forts at the
    northern end of the Shabluka gorge. The Bordein, one of Gordon’s old
    steamers, plied busily between Omdurman and Wad Hamed, transporting guns
    and stores; and Ahmed Fedil was sent with a sufficient force to hold the
    works when they were made. But the prophecy of the Mahdi exercised a
    powerful effect on the Khalifa’s mind, and while he neglected no detail
    he based his hopes on the issue of a great battle on the plains of Kerreri,
    when the invaders should come to the walls of the city. With this prospect
    continually before him he drilled and organised the increasing army at
    Omdurman with the utmost regularity, and every day the savage soldiery
    practised their evolutions upon the plain they were presently to strew
    with their bodies.

    But after a while it became apparent that the ‘Turks’ were not advancing.
    They tarried on the lands they had won. The steamers went no further than
    Merawi. The iron road stopped at Kerma. Why had they not followed up their
    success? Obviously because they feared the army that awaited them at
    Omdurman. At this the Khalifa took fresh courage, and in January 1897 he
    began to revolve schemes for taking the offensive and expelling the
    invaders from the Dongola province. The army drilled and manoeuvred
    continually on the plains of Kerreri; great numbers of camels were
    collected at Omdurman; large stores of dried kisru or ‘Soudan biscuit,’
    the food of Dervishes on expeditions, were prepared.

    The Sirdar did not remain in ignorance of these preparations.
    The tireless enterprise of the Intelligence Branch furnished the most
    complete information; and preparations were made to concentrate the troops
    in Dongola on any threatened point, should the enemy advance. Regular
    reconnaissances were made by the cavalry both into the desert towards
    Gakdul Wells and along the river. Towards the end of May it was reported
    that the Emir Yunes had crossed the Nile and was raiding the villages on
    the left bank below Abu Hamed. In consequence the Sirdar ordered a
    strong patrol under Captain Le Gallais, and consisting of three squadrons
    of cavalry under Captain Mahon, three companies of the Camel Corps, and 100
    men of the IXth Soudanese on camels, with one Maxim gun, to reconnoitre up
    the Nile through the Shukuk Pass and as far as Salamat.

    The outward journey was unbroken by incident; but as the patrol was
    returning it was attacked by an equal force of Dervishes, and a sharp
    little skirmish ensued in which one British officer–Captain Peyton–
    was severely wounded, nine Egyptian troopers were killed, and three
    others wounded. This proof that the Dervishes were on the move
    enforced the greatest vigilance in all the Dongola garrisons.

    At the end of May, Mahmud with his army arrived at Omdurman.
    The Khalifa received him with delight, and several imposing reviews were
    held outside the city. Mahmud himself was eager to march against
    the ‘Turks.’ He had no experience of modern rifles, and felt confident that
    he could easily destroy or at least roll back the invading forces. Partly
    persuaded by the zeal of his lieutenant, and partly by the wavering and
    doubtful attitude of the Jaalin, the Khalifa determined early in June to
    send the Kordofan army to occupy Metemma, and thereby either to awe the
    tribe into loyalty, or force them to revolt while the Egyptian troops
    were still too distant to assist them. He summoned the chief of the Jaalin,
    Abdalla-Wad-Saad, to Omdurman, and informed him that the Jaalin territories
    were threatened by the Turks. In the goodness of his heart, therefore, and
    because he knew that they loved the Mahdi and practised the true religion,
    he was resolved to protect them from their enemies. The chief bowed his
    head. The Khalifa continued that the trusty Mahmud with his army would be
    sent for that purpose; Abdalla might show his loyalty in furnishing them
    with all supplies and accommodation. He intimated that the interview was
    over. But the Jaalin chief had the temerity to protest. He assured the
    Khalifa of his loyalty, and of the ability of his tribe to repel the enemy.
    He implored him not to impose the burden of an army upon them.
    He exaggerated the poverty of Metemma; he lamented the misfortunes
    of the times. Finally he begged forgiveness for making his protest.

    The Khalifa was infuriated. Forgetting his usual self-control and the
    forms of public utterance, he broke out into a long and abusive harangue.
    He told the chief that he had long doubted his loyalty, that he despised
    his protestations, that he was worthy of a shameful death, that his tribe
    were a blot upon the face of the earth, and that he hoped Mahmud would
    improve their manners and those of their wives.

    Abdalla-Wad-Saad crept from the presence, and returned in fury and disgust
    to Metemma. Having collected the head men of his tribe, he informed them of
    his reception and the Khalifa’s intent. They did not need to be told that
    the quartering upon them of Mahmud’s army meant the plunder of their goods,
    the ruin of their homes, and the rape of their women. It was resolved to
    revolt and join the Egyptian forces. As a result of the council the Jaalin
    chief wrote two letters. The first was addressed to the Sirdar, and reached
    General Rundle at Merawi by messenger on the 24th of June. It declared the
    Jaalin submission to the Government, and begged for help, if possible in
    men, or, failing that, in arms; but ended by saying that, help or no help,
    the tribe were resolved to fight the Dervishes and hold Metemma to the
    death. The second letter–a mad and fatal letter–carried defiance
    to the Khalifa.

    Rundle, who was at Merawi when the Jaalin messenger found him,
    lost no time. A large amount of ammunition and 1,100 Remington rifles
    were speedily collected and hurried on camels across the desert by the
    Korti-Metemma route, escorted by a strong detachment of the Camel Corps.
    The Khalifa did not receive his letter until the 27th of June. But he
    acted with even greater promptitude. Part of Mahmud’s army had already
    started for the north. Mahmud and the rest followed on the 28th. On the
    30th the advanced guard arrived before Metemma. The Jaalin prepared to
    resist desperately. Nearly the whole tribe had responded to the summons
    of their chief, and more than 2,500 men were collected behind the walls
    of the town. But in all this force there were only eighty serviceable
    rifles, and only fifteen rounds of ammunition each. Abdalla expected that
    the Dervishes would make their heaviest attack on the south side of
    Metemma, and he therefore disposed his few riflemen along that front.
    The defence of the rest of the town had perforce to be entrusted to the
    valour of the spearmen.

    On the morning of the 1st of July, Mahmud, with a force variously
    estimated at 10,000 or 12,000 men, began his assault. The first attack
    fell, as the chief had anticipated, on the southern face. It was repulsed
    with severe loss by the Jaalin riflemen. A second attack followed
    immediately. The enemy had meanwhile surrounded the whole town, and just as
    the Jaalin ammunition was exhausted a strong force of the Dervishes
    penetrated the northern face of their defences, which was held only by
    spearmen. The whole of Mahmud’s army poured in through the gap, and the
    garrison, after a stubborn resistance, were methodically exterminated.
    An inhuman butchery of the children and some of the women followed.
    Abdalla-Wad-Saad was among the killed.

    A few of the Jaalin who had escaped from the general destruction
    fled towards Gakdul. Here they found the Camel Corps with their caravan of
    rifles and ammunition. Like another force that had advanced by this very
    road to carry succour to men in desperate distress, the relief had arrived
    too late. The remnants of the Jaalin were left in occupation of Gakdul
    Wells. The convoy and its escort returned to Korti.

    But while the attention of the Khalifa was directed to these matters,
    a far more serious menace offered from another quarter. Unnoticed by the
    Dervishes, or, if noticed, unappreciated, the railway was stretching
    farther and farther into the desert. By the middle of July it had reached
    the 130th mile, and, as is related in the last chapter, work had to be
    suspended until Abu Hamed was in the hands of the Egyptian forces.
    The Nile was rising fast. Very soon steamers would be able to pass the
    Fourth Cataract. It should have been evident that the next movement in the
    advance of the ‘Turks’ impended. The Khalifa seems, indeed, to have
    understood that the rise of the river increased his peril, for throughout
    July he continued to send orders to the Emir in Berber–Yunes–that he
    should advance into the Monassir district, harry such villages as existed,
    and obstruct the frequent reconnaissances from Merawi. Yunes, however,
    preferred to do otherwise, and remained on the left bank opposite Berber
    until, at length, his master recalled him to Omdurman to explain his
    conduct. Meanwhile, determined with mathematical exactness by the rise of
    the Nile and progress of the railway, the moment of the Egyptian advance

    At the end of July preparations were made, as secretly as possible,
    to despatch a flying column against Abu Hamed. The Dervish garrison,
    under Mohammed-ez-Zein, was not believed to exceed 600 men, but in order
    that there should be no doubt as to the result it was determined to employ
    a strong force.

    A brigade of all arms was formed as follows:-


    Cavalry . . . . . . . One troop
    Artillery . . . . . . No. 2 Field Battery
    [This battery consisted of six Krupp guns, two Maxims, one Gardner gun,
    and one Nordenfeldt–an effective medley.]

    Infantry . . . . . . . MACDONALD’S BRIGADE
    – 3rd Egyptian
    – IXth Soudanese
    – Xth ”
    – XIth ”

    Major-General Sir Archibald Hunter, the officer to whom the operation
    was entrusted, was from many points of view the most imposing figure in
    the Egyptian army. He had served through the Nile Expedition of 1884-85,
    with some distinction, in the Khedive’s service. Thenceforward his rise
    was rapid, even for an Egyptian officer, and in ten years he passed through
    all the grades from Captain to Major-General. His promotion was not,
    however, undeserved. Foremost in every action, twice wounded–once at the
    head of his brigade–always distinguished for valour and conduct, Hunter
    won the admiration of his comrades and superiors. During the River War
    he became, in spite of his hard severity, the darling of the Egyptian Army.
    All the personal popularity which great success might have brought to the
    Sirdar focussed itself on his daring, good-humoured subordinate, and it
    was to Hunter that the soldiers looked whenever there was fighting to be
    done. The force now placed under his command for the attack upon Abu Hamed
    amounted to about 3,600 men. Until that place was taken all other
    operations were delayed. The Sirdar awaited the issue at Merawi.
    The railway paused in mid-desert.

    The troops composing the ‘flying column’ concentrated at Kassingar,
    a small village a few miles above Merawi, on the right (or Abu Hamed) bank
    of the Nile. General Hunter began his march on the 29th of July. The total
    distance from Kassingar to Abu Hamed is 146 miles. The greatest secrecy
    had been observed in the preparation of the force, but it was known that
    as soon as the column actually started the news would be carried to the
    enemy. Speed was therefore essential; for if the Dervish garrison in
    Abu Hamed were reinforced from Berber, the flying column might not be
    strong enough to take the village. On the other hand, the great heat and
    the certainty that the troops would have to fight an action at the end of
    the march imposed opposite considerations on the commander. To avoid the
    sun, the greater part of the distance was covered at night. Yet the
    advantage thus gained was to some extent neutralised by the difficulty of
    marching over such broken ground in the darkness.

    Throughout the whole length of the course of the Nile there is no more
    miserable wilderness than the Monassir Desert. The stream of the river is
    broken and its channel obstructed by a great confusion of boulders, between
    and among which the water rushes in dangerous cataracts. The sandy waste
    approaches the very brim, and only a few palm-trees, or here and there a
    squalid mud hamlet, reveal the existence of life. The line of advance lay
    along the river; but no road relieved the labour of the march. Sometimes
    trailing across a broad stretch of white sand, in which the soldiers sank
    to their ankles, and which filled their boots with a rasping grit;
    sometimes winding over a pass or through a gorge of sharp-cut rocks, which,
    even in the moonlight, felt hot with the heat of the previous day–always
    in a long, jerky, and interrupted procession of men and camels, often in
    single file–the column toiled painfully like the serpent to whom it
    was said, ‘On thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat.’

    The column started at 5.30 in the evening, and by a march of sixteen and
    a half miles reached Mushra-el-Obiad at about midnight. Here a convenient
    watering-place, not commanded by the opposite bank, and the shade of eight
    or ten thorny bushes afforded the first suitable bivouac. At 3.30 P.M. on
    the 30th the march was continued eight and a half miles to a spot some
    little distance beyond Shebabit. The pace was slow, and the route stony
    and difficult. It was after dark when the halting-place was reached.
    Several of the men strayed from the column, wandered in the gloom, and
    reached the bivouac exhausted. General Hunter had proposed to push on the
    next day to Hosh-el-Geref, but the fatigues of his troops in the two night
    marches had already been severe, and as, after Abu Haraz, the track twisted
    away from the river so that there was no water for five miles, he resolved
    to halt for the day and rest. Hosh-el-Geref was therefore not reached until
    the 1st of August–a day later than had been expected; but the rest had
    proved of such benefit to the troops that the subsequent acceleration of
    progress fully compensated for the delay. The column moved on again at
    midnight and halted at daybreak at Salmi. In the small hours of the next
    morning the march was resumed. The road by the Nile was found too difficult
    for the Maxim guns, which were on wheels, and these had to make a detour
    of twenty-eight miles into the desert while the infantry moved ten miles
    along the river. In order that the Maxims should not arrive alone at
    Dakfilli, General Hunter had marched thither with the IXth Soudanese
    at 11 P.M. on the previous day. The rest of the column followed a few hours
    later. On the 4th, by an eighteen-mile march through deep sand, El Kab was
    reached. A single shot was fired from the opposite bank of the river as the
    cavalry patrol entered the village; and there was no longer any doubt that
    the Dervishes knew of the advance of the column. Both the troops and the
    transport were now moving admirably; nevertheless, their sufferings
    were severe.

    The nights were consumed in movement. Without shade the soldiers could not
    sleep by day. All ranks wearied, and the men would frequently, during the
    night marches, sink down upon the ground in profound slumber, only to be
    sternly aroused and hurried on. But the pace of the advance continued to be
    swift. On the 5th, the force, by a fourteen-mile march, reached Khula.
    Here they were joined by Sheikh Abdel-Azim with 150 Ababda camel-men from
    Murat Wells. Up to this point three Egyptians had died and fifty-eight men
    had been left behind exhausted in depots. A double ration of meat was
    issued to the whole force. The column moved on during the night,
    and arrived at Ginnifab at 8 A.M. on the morning of the 6th. Here startling
    news of the enemy was received. It was known that Mohammed-ez-Zein was
    determined to fight, and a trustworthy report was now received that a large
    force was coming down from Berber to support the Abu Hamed garrison.
    In spite of the long marches and the fatigues of the troops, General Hunter
    resolved to hurry on. He had already made up the day spent at Abu Haraz.
    He now decided to improve on the prescribed itinerary, accelerate his own
    arrival and anticipate that of the Dervish reinforcements. Accordingly the
    troops marched all through the night of the 6-7th with only a short halt of
    an hour and a half, so as to attack Abu Hamed at dawn. After covering
    sixteen miles of bad ground, the ‘flying column’ reached Ginnifab,
    144 miles from Kassingar and only two from the Dervish post, at 3.30 on
    the morning of the 7th of August. A halt of two hours was allowed for the
    troops to prepare themselves. Half the 3rd Egyptian Battalion remained as
    escort to the transport and reserve ammunition, and then the force
    moved off in the darkness towards the enemy’s position.

    The village of Abu Hamed straggles along the bank of the Nile,
    and consists of a central mass of mud houses, intersected by a network of
    winding lanes and alleys, about 500 yards long by perhaps 100 yards wide.
    To the north and south are detached clusters of ruined huts, and to the
    south there rises a large, ragged pile of rocks. The ground slopes
    gradually up from the river, so that at a distance of 300 yards the village
    is surrounded on three sides by a low plateau. Upon this plateau stand
    three stone watch-towers, which were erected by General Gordon. The Dervish
    garrison were strongly posted in shelter trenches and loop-holed houses
    along the eastern face of the village. The towers were held
    by their outposts.

    Making a wide circuit to their left, and then swinging round to the right,
    so as to front facing the river, the brigade silently moved towards the
    enemy’s position, and at a quarter past six occupied the plateau in a
    crescent-shaped formation; the XIth Soudanese on the right, opposite the
    north-east corner of the village; the battery, escorted by the remaining
    half-battalion of the 3rd Egyptians, next; then the IXth in the centre,
    and the Xth Soudanese on the left flank. As the troops approached the
    watch-towers the Dervish outposts fell back and the force continued to
    advance until the edge of the plateau was reached. From here the whole
    scene was visible.

    The day was just breaking, and the mist hung low and white over the
    steel-grey surface of the river. The outlines of the mud houses were
    sharply defined on this pale background. The Dervish riflemen crouched in
    the shelter trench that ran round the village. Their cavalry, perhaps a
    hundred strong, were falling in hurriedly on the sandy ground to the south
    near the ragged rocks. The curve of the hills, crowned with the dark line
    of the troops, completed and framed the picture. Within this small
    amphitheatre one of the minor dramas of war was now to be enacted.

    At half past six the battery came into action, and after a few shells had
    been fired at the loopholed houses in the left centre of the position,
    a general advance was ordered. In excellent order the three Soudanese
    battalions, with General Hunter, Lieut.-Colonel MacDonald, and the other
    British officers on horseback in front of their line, advanced slowly
    down the hill, opening a destructive fire on the entrenchment. The distance
    was scarcely three hundred yards; but the crescent formation of the attack
    made the lines of advance converge, and before half the distance was
    covered the Xth were compelled to halt, lest the XIth Soudanese on the
    right flank should fire into them. The Dervishes remained silent until the
    troops were within a hundred yards, when they discharged two tremendous
    volleys, which were chiefly effective upon the halted battalion. Major
    Sidney, Lieutenant Fitzclarence, and a dozen men were shot dead. More than
    fifty men were wounded. All the Soudanese thereupon with a loud shout
    rushed upon the entrenchment, stormed it, and hunted the Dervishes into the
    houses. In the street-fighting which followed, the numbers of the troops
    prevailed. The advance scarcely paused until the river bank was reached,
    and by 7.30 Abu Hamed was in the possession of the Egyptian forces.

    The Dervish horsemen, who had remained spectators near the southern crag
    during the attack, fled towards Berber as soon as they saw the attack
    successful. Scarcely any of the infantry escaped.

    In this action, besides the two British officers, Major H. M. Sidney
    and Lieutenant E. Fitzclarence, 21 native soldiers were killed; 61 native
    soldiers were wounded.

    The news of the capture of Abu Hamed was carried swiftly by camel
    and wire to all whom it might concern. The Sirdar, anticipating the result,
    had already ordered the gunboats to commence the passage of the Fourth
    Cataract. The camp at Railhead sprang to life after an unaccustomed rest,
    and the line began again to grow rapidly. The Dervishes who were hurrying
    from Berber were only twenty miles from Abu Hamed when they met the
    fugitives. They immediately turned back, and retired to the foot of the
    Fifth Cataract, whence after a few days’ halt they continued their retreat.
    Their proximity to the captured village shows how little time the column
    had to spare, and that General Hunter was wise to press his marches.
    The Emir who commanded at Berber heard of the loss of the outpost on
    the 9th. He sent the messenger on to Metemma. Mahmud replied on the 11th
    that he was starting at once with his whole army to reinforce Berber.
    Apparently, however, he did not dare to move without the Khalifa’s
    permission; for his letters, as late as the 20th, show that he had not
    broken his camp, and was still asking the Emir for information as to the
    doings of the ‘Turks.’ Of a truth there was plenty to tell.

    On the 4th of August the gunboats El Teb and Tamai approached the Fourth
    Cataract to ascend to the Abu Hamed-Berber reach of the river. Major David
    was in charge of the operation. Lieutenants Hood and Beatty (Royal Navy)
    commanded the vessels. Two hundred men of the 7th Egyptians were towed in
    barges to assist in hauling the steamers in the difficult places.
    The current was, however, too strong, and it was found necessary to leave
    three barges, containing 160 soldiers, at the foot of the rapids.
    Nevertheless, as the cataract was not considered a very formidable barrier,
    Major David determined to make the attempt. Early on the 5th, therefore,
    the Tamai tried the ascent. About 300 local Shaiggia tribesmen had been
    collected, and their efforts were directed–or, as the result proved,
    mis-directed–by those few of the Egyptian soldiers who had not been left
    behind. The steamer, with her engines working at full speed, succeeded in
    mounting half the distance. But the rush of water was then so great that
    her bows were swept round, and, after a narrow escape of capsizing, she
    was carried swiftly down the stream.

    The officers thought that this failure was due to the accidental fouling
    of a rope at a critical moment, and to the fact that there were not enough
    local tribesmen pulling at the hawsers. Four hundred more Shaiggia were
    therefore collected from the neighbouring villages, and in the afternoon
    the Teb attempted the passage. Her fortunes were far worse than those of
    the Tamai. Owing to the lack of co-operation and discipline among the local
    tribesmen, their utter ignorance of what was required of them, and the want
    of proper supervision, the hauling power was again too weak. Again the bows
    of the steamer were swept round, and, as the hawsers held, a great rush of
    water poured over the bulwarks. In ten seconds the Teb heeled over and
    turned bottom upwards. The hawsers parted under this new strain, and she
    was swept down stream with only her keel showing. Lieutenant Beatty and
    most of the crew were thrown, or glad to jump, into the foaming water of
    the cataract, and, being carried down the river, were picked up below the
    rapids by the Tamai, which was luckily under steam. Their escape was
    extraordinary, for of the score who were flung into the water only one
    Egyptian was drowned. Two other men were, however, missing, and their fate
    seemed certain. The capsized steamer, swirled along by the current,
    was jammed about a mile below the cataract between two rocks, where she
    became a total wreck. Anxious to see if there was any chance of raising
    her, the officers proceeded in the Tamai to the scene. The bottom of the
    vessel was just visible above the surface. It was evident to all that her
    salvage would be a work of months. The officers were about to leave the
    wreck, when suddenly a knocking was heard within the hull. Tools were
    brought, a plate was removed, and there emerged, safe and sound from the
    hold in which they had been thus terribly imprisoned, the second engineer
    and a stoker. When the rapidity with which the steamer turned upside down,
    with the engines working, the fires burning, and the boilers full–
    the darkness, with all the floors become ceilings–the violent inrush
    of water–the wild career down the stream–are remembered, it will be
    conceded that the experience of these men was sufficiently remarkable.

    Search was now made for another passage. This was found on the 6th,
    nearer the right bank of the river. On the 8th the Metemma arrived with 300
    more men of the 7th Egyptians. Three days were spent in preparations and to
    allow the Nile to rise a little more. On the 13th, elaborate precautions
    being observed, the Metemma passed the cataract safely, and was tied up to
    the bank on the higher reach. The Tamai followed the next day. On the 19th
    and 20th the new gunboats Fateh, Naser, and Zafir, the most powerful
    vessels on the river, accomplished the passage. Meanwhile the Metemma and
    Tamai had already proceeded up stream. On the 23rd the unarmed steamer Dal
    made the ascent, and by the 29th the whole flotilla reached
    Abu Hamed safely.

    After the arrival of the gunboats events began to move at the double.
    The sudden dart upon Abu Hamed had caused the utmost consternation among
    the Dervishes. Finding that Mahmud was not going to reinforce him, and
    fearing the treachery of the local tribes, Zeki Osman, the Emir in Berber,
    decided to fall back, and on the 24th he evacuated Berber and marched
    south. On the 27th General Hunter at Abu Hamed heard that the Dervish
    garrison had left the town. The next day he despatched Abdel-Azim,
    the chief of Irregulars, and Ahmed Bey Khalifa, his brother, with forty
    Ababda tribesmen, to reconnoitre. These bold fellows pushed on recklessly,
    and found the inhabitants everywhere terrified or acquiescent. Spreading
    extraordinary tales of the strength of the army who were following them,
    they created a panic all along the river, and, in spite of a sharp fight
    with a Dervish patrol, reached Berber on the 31st. As there was no armed
    force in the town, the enterprising allies rode into the streets and
    occupied the grain store–the only public building–in the name of the
    Government. They then sent word back to Abu Hamed of what they had done,
    and sat down in the town, thus audaciously captured, to await developments.

    The astonishing news of the fall of Berber reached General Hunter
    on the 2nd of September. He immediately telegraphed to Merawi. Sir Herbert
    Kitchener was confronted with a momentous question: should Berber be
    occupied or not? It may at first seem that there could be little doubt
    about the matter. The objective of the expedition was Omdurman.
    The occupation of Berber by an Egyptian garrison would settle at once the
    difficulties near Suakin. The town was believed to be on the clear waterway
    to the Dervish capital. The moral effect of its capture upon the riverain
    tribes and throughout the Soudan would be enormous. Berber was, in fact,
    the most important strategic point on the whole line of advance. This great
    prize and advantage was now to be had for the asking.

    The opposite considerations were, however, tremendous. Abu Hamed marked
    a definite stage in the advance. As long as Merawi and the other posts in
    Dongola were strongly held, the line from Abu Hamed to Debba was capable of
    easy defence. Abu Hamed could soon be made impregnable to Dervish attack.
    The forces in Dongola could be quickly concentrated on any threatened
    point. At this moment in the campaign it was possible to stop and wait with
    perfect safety. In the meantime the Khalifa would steadily weaken and the
    railway might steadily grow. When the line reached the angle of the river,
    it would be time to continue the systematic and cautious advance.
    Until then prudence and reason counselled delay. To occupy Berber was to
    risk much. Mahmud, with a large and victorious army, lay at Metemma.
    Osman Digna, with 2,000 men, held Adarama almost within striking distance.
    The railway still lagged in the desert. The Dongola garrisons must be
    weakened to provide a force for Berber. The Dervishes had the advantage of
    occupying the interior of the angle which the Nile forms at Abu Hamed.
    The troops in Berber would have to draw their supplies by a long and
    slender line of camel communication, winding along all the way from Merawi,
    and exposed, as a glance at the map will show, throughout its whole length
    to attack. More than all this: to advance to Berber must inevitably force
    the development of the whole war. The force in the town would certainly
    have its communications threatened, would probably have to fight for its
    very existence. The occupation of Berber would involve sooner or later a
    general action; not a fight like Firket, Hafir, or Abu Hamed, with the
    advantage of numbers on the side of the Egyptian troops, but an even
    battle. For such a struggle British troops were necessary. At this time
    it seemed most unlikely that they would be granted. But if Berber was
    occupied, the war, until the arrival of British troops, would cease to be
    so largely a matter of calculation, and must pass almost entirely into the
    sphere of chance. The whole situation was premature and unforeseen.
    The Sirdar had already won success. To halt was to halt in safety; to go on
    was to go on at hazard. Most of the officers who had served long in the
    Egyptian army understood the question. They waited the decision
    in suspense.

    The Sirdar and the Consul-General unhesitatingly faced the responsibility
    together. On the 3rd of September General Hunter received orders to occupy
    Berber. He started at once with 350 men of the IXth Soudanese on board
    the gunboats Tamai, Zafir, Naser, and Fateh. Shortly after daybreak on the
    5th the Egyptian flag was hoisted over the town. Having disembarked the
    infantry detachment, the flotilla steamed south to try to harass the
    retreating Emir. They succeeded; for on the next day they caught him,
    moving along the bank in considerable disorder, and, opening a heavy fire,
    soon drove the mixed crowd of fugitives, horse and foot, away from the
    river into the desert. The gunboats then returned to Berber, towing a dozen
    captured grain-boats. Meanwhile the Sirdar had started for the front
    himself. Riding swiftly with a small escort across the desert from Merawi,
    he crossed the Nile at the Baggara Cataract and reached Berber on the 10th
    of September. Having inspected the immediate arrangements for defence,
    he withdrew to Abu Hamed, and there busily prepared to meet the
    developments which he well knew might follow at once, and must follow
    in the course of a few months.


    The town of Berber stands at a little distance from the Nile,
    on the right bank of a channel which is full only when the river is in
    flood. Between this occasional stream and the regular waterway there runs
    a long strip of rich alluvial soil, covered during the greater part of the
    year with the abundant crops which result from its annual submersion and
    the thick coating of Nile mud which it then receives. The situation of
    Berber is fixed by this fertile tract, and the houses stretch for more
    than seven miles along it and the channel by which it is caused. The town,
    as is usual on the Nile, is comparatively narrow, and in all its length
    it is only at one point broader than three-quarters of a mile. Two wide
    streets run longitudinally north and south from end to end, and from these
    many narrow twisting alleys lead to the desert or the river. The Berber of
    Egyptian days lies in ruins at the southern end of the main roads. The new
    town built by the Dervishes stands at the north. Both are foul and
    unhealthy; and if Old Berber is the more dilapidated, New Berber seemed to
    the British officers who visited it to be in a more active state of decay.
    The architectural style of both was similar. The houses were constructed
    by a simple method. A hole was dug in the ground. The excavated mud formed
    the walls of the building. The roof consisted of palm-leaves and thorn
    bushes. The hole became a convenient cesspool. Such was Berber, and this
    ’emporium of Soudan trade,’ as it has been called by enthusiasts, contained
    at the time of its recapture by the Egyptian forces a miserable population
    of 5,000 males and 7,000 females, as destitute of property as their
    dwellings were of elegance.

    The Egyptian garrison of Berber at first consisted only of the 350 men
    of the IXth Soudanese, and two companies of the Camel Corps, who arrived on
    the 16th of September, having marched across the desert from Merawi.
    But the proximity of Osman Digna at Adarama made it necessary speedily to
    strengthen the force.

    During the latter part of September MacDonald’s brigade, with the exception
    of half the 3rd Egyptians, was moved south from Abu Hamed, and by the end
    of the month the infantry in Berber were swollen to three and a half
    battalions. This was further increased on the 11th of October by the
    arrival of the XIIIth Soudanese and the remaining half of the 3rd
    Egyptians, and thereafter the place was held by five battalions (3rd, IXth,
    Xth, XIth, XIIIth), No. 2 Field Battery, and two companies of the Camel
    Corps. As all the Dervishes on the right bank of the Nile had fled to the
    south of the Atbara, it was found possible to establish a small advanced
    post of Camel Corps and friendly Arabs in the village of Dakhila, at the
    confluence of the rivers. From this humble beginning the Atbara fort with
    its great entrenchment was soon to develop.

    The effect of the occupation of Berber upon the tribes around Suakin
    was decisive, and the whole country between these towns became at once
    tranquil and loyal. Osman Digna’s influence was destroyed. The friendly
    villages were no longer raided. The Governor of the town became in reality,
    as well as in name, the Governor of the Red Sea Littoral. The route from
    Suakin to Berber was opened; and a Camel Corps patrol, several small
    caravans of traders, and a party of war correspondents–who might boast
    that they were the first Europeans to make the journey for thirteen
    years–passed safely along it.

    It is now necessary to look to the enemy. Had the Khalifa allowed the Emir
    Mahmud to march north immediately after the destruction of the Dervish
    outpost in Abu Hamed, the course of the operations would have been very
    different. Mahmud would certainly have defended Berber with his whole army.
    The advance of the Expeditionary Force must have been delayed until the
    Desert Railway reached the river, and probably for another year.
    But, as the last chapter has described, the sudden seizure of Abu Hamed,
    the defection of the riverain tribes, and the appearance of the gunboats
    above the Fourth Cataract persuaded Abdullah that the climax of the war
    approached, and that he was about to be attacked in his capital.
    He accordingly devoted himself to his preparations for defence, and forbade
    his lieutenant to advance north of Metemma or attempt any offensive
    operations. In consequence Berber fell, and its fall convinced the Khalifa
    that his belief was well founded. He worked with redoubled energy.
    An elaborate system of forts armed with artillery was constructed outside
    the great wall of Omdurman along the river-bank. The concentration of Arab
    and black soldiery from Gedaref, Kordofan, and Darfur continued. Large
    quantities of grain, of camels and other supplies, were requisitioned from
    the people of the Ghezira (the country lying between the Blue and White
    Niles) and stored or stabled in the city. The discontent to which this
    arbitrary taxation gave rise was cured by a more arbitrary remedy. As many
    of the doubtful and embittered tribesmen as could be caught were collected
    in Omdurman, where they were compelled to drill regularly, and found it
    prudent to protest their loyalty. The strength and tenacity of the ruler
    were surprisingly displayed. The Khalifa Sherif, who had been suspected of
    sympathising with the Jaalin, was made a prisoner at large. The direst
    penalties attended the appearance of sedition. A close cordon around the
    city, and especially towards the north, prevented much information from
    reaching the Egyptian troops; and though small revolts broke out in
    Kordofan in consequence of the withdrawal of Mahmud’s army, the Dervish
    Empire as a whole remained submissive, and the Khalifa was able to muster
    all its remaining force to meet the expected onslaught of his enemies.

    During the first week in October the Sirdar decided to send the
    gunboats–which now plied, though with some difficulty, up and down the
    Fifth Cataract–to reconnoitre Metemma and discover the actual strength
    and position of Mahmud’s army. On the 14th the Zafir, Fateh, and Naser
    steamed south from Berber, under Commander Keppel, each carrying, besides
    its ordinary native crew, fifty men of the IXth Soudanese and two British
    sergeants of Marine Artillery. Shortly after daybreak on the 16th the
    flotilla approached the enemy’s position. So silently had they moved that
    a small Dervish outpost a few miles to the north of Shendi was surprised
    still sleeping, and the negligent guards, aroused by a splutter of firing
    from the Maxim guns, awoke to find three terrible machines close upon them.
    The gunboats pursued their way, and, disdaining a few shots which were
    fired from the ruins of Shendi, arrived, at about seven o’clock, within
    range of Metemma. The town itself stood more than a thousand yards from the
    Nile, but six substantial mud forts, armed with artillery, lined and
    defended the riverside. Creeping leisurely forward along the east bank,
    remote from the Dervish works, the flotilla came into action at a range of
    4,000 yards. The fire was at first concentrated on the two northern forts,
    and the shells, striking the mud walls in rapid succession or bursting in
    the interior, soon enveloped them in dust and smoke. The Dervishes
    immediately replied, but the inferiority of their skill and weapons was
    marked, and, although their projectiles reached the flotilla, very few
    took effect. One shell, however, crashed through the deck of the Zafir,
    mortally wounding a Soudanese soldier, and two struck the Fateh. After the
    long-range bombardment had continued for about an hour the gunboats moved
    forward opposite to the enemy’s position, and poured a heavy and continuous
    fire of shrapnel and double shell into all the forts, gradually subduing
    their resistance. The fugitives from the batteries, and small parties of
    Baggara horse who galloped about on the open plain between the works and
    the town, afforded good targets to the Maxims, and many were licked up
    even at extreme ranges.

    No sooner had the gunboats passed the forts than the Dervish fire
    ceased entirely, and it was discovered that their embrasures only commanded
    the northern approach. As the guns could not be pointed to the southward,
    the flotilla need fear nothing from any fort that had been left behind. The
    officers were congratulating themselves on the folly of their foes, when
    danger threatened from another quarter. The boats had hugged the eastern
    bank as closely as possible during their duel with the forts. They were
    scarcely a hundred yards from the shore, when suddenly a sharp fire of
    musketry was opened from twenty or thirty Dervish rifle-men concealed in
    the mimosa scrub. The bullets pattered all over the decks, but while many
    recorded narrow escapes no one was actually hit, and the Maxim guns,
    revolving quickly on their pivots, took a bloody vengeance for the
    surprise. The flotilla then steamed slowly past the town, and, having
    thoroughly reconnoitred it, turned about and ran down stream, again
    exchanging shells with the Dervish artillery. All firing ceased at
    half-past two; but six sailing-boats containing grain were captured on
    the return voyage, and with these the gunboats retired in triumph to a
    small island six miles north of Metemma, where they remained for the night.

    It being now known that bombarding the Dervishes was no less enjoyable
    than exciting, it was determined to spend another day with them; and at
    four o’clock the next morning the flotilla again steamed southward, so as
    to be in position opposite Metemma before daylight. Fire was opened on
    both sides with the dawn, and it was at once evident that the Dervishes
    had not been idle during the night. It appeared that on the previous day
    Mahmud had expected a land attack from the direction of Gakdul, and had
    placed part of his artillery and nearly all his army in position to
    resist it. But as soon as he was convinced that the gunboats were
    unsupported he moved several of the landward guns into the river forts,
    and even built two new works, so that on the 17th the Dervishes brought
    into action eleven guns, firing from eight small round forts. The gunboats,
    however, contented themselves with keeping at a range at which their
    superior weapons enabled them to strike without being struck, and so,
    while inflicting heavy loss on their enemies, sustained no injury
    themselves. After four hours’ methodical and remorseless bombardment
    Commander Keppel considered the reconnaissance complete, and gave the
    order to retire down stream. The Dervish gunners, elated in spite of their
    losses by the spectacle of the retreating vessels, redoubled their fire,
    and continued hurling shell after shell in defiance down the river until
    their adversaries were far beyond their range. As the gunboats floated
    northward their officers, looking back towards Metemma, saw an even
    stranger scene than the impotent but exulting forts. During the morning
    a few flags and figures had been distinguished moving about the low range
    of sandhills near the town; and as soon as the retirement of the flotilla
    began, the whole of the Dervish army, at least 10,000 men, both horse and
    foot, and formed in an array more than a mile in length, marched
    triumphantly into view, singing, shouting, and waving their banners amid
    a great cloud of dust. It was their only victory.

    The loss on the gunboats was limited to the single Soudanese soldier,
    who died of his wounds, and a few trifling damages. The Arab slaughter
    is variously estimated, one account rating it at 1,000 men; but half that
    number would probably be no exaggeration. The gunboats fired in the two
    days’ bombardment 650 shells and several thousand rounds of Maxim-gun
    ammunition. They then returned to Berber, reporting fully on the enemy’s
    position and army.

    As soon as Berber had been strongly occupied by the Egyptian troops,
    Osman Digna realised that his position at Adarama was not only useless but
    very dangerous. Mahmud had long been imperiously summoning him to join the
    forces at Metemma; and although he hated the Kordofan general, and resented
    his superior authority, the wary and cunning Osman decided that in this
    case it would be convenient to obey and make a virtue of necessity.
    Accordingly about the same time that the gunboats were making their first
    reconnaissance and bombardment of Metemma, he withdrew with his two
    thousand Hadendoa from Adarama, moved along the left bank of the Atbara
    until the tongue of desert between the rivers became sufficiently narrow
    for it to be crossed in a day, and so made his way by easy stages
    to Shendi.

    When the Sirdar heard of the evacuation of Adarama he immediately
    determined to assure himself of the fact, to reconnoitre the unmapped
    country in that region, and to destroy any property that Osman might have
    left behind him. On the 23rd of October, therefore, a flying column started
    from Berber under the command of General Hunter, and formed as follows:
    XIth Soudanese (Major Jackson), two guns, one company of the Camel Corps,
    and Abdel-Azim and 150 irregulars. Lightly equipped, and carrying the
    supplies on a train of 500 camels, the small force moved rapidly along
    the Nile and reached the post at the confluence on the 24th, and arrived at
    Adarama on the 29th, after a journey of eighty-four miles. The report that
    Osman Digna had returned to the Nile proved to be correct. His former
    headquarters were deserted, and although a patrol of sixty of the Camel
    Corps and the Arab irregulars scouted for forty miles further up the river,
    not a single Dervish was to be seen. Having thus collected a great deal of
    negative information, and delaying only to burn Adarama to the ground,
    the column returned to Berber.

    It was now November. The Nile was falling fast, and an impassable rapid
    began to appear at Um Tiur, four miles north of the confluence. The Sirdar
    had a few days in which to make up his mind whether he would keep his
    gunboats on the upper or lower reach. As in the latter case their
    patrolling limits would have been restricted, and they would no longer have
    been able to watch the army at Metemma, he determined to leave them on the
    enemy’s side of the obstruction. This involved the formation of a depot at
    Dakhila [‘Atbara Fort’], where simple repairs could be executed and wood
    and other necessities stored. To guard this little dockyard half the 3rd
    Egyptian battalion was moved from Berber and posted in a small
    entrenchment. The other half-battalion followed in a few weeks.
    The post at the confluence was gradually growing into
    the great camp of a few months later.

    A regular system of gunboat patrolling was established on the upper reach,
    and on the 1st of November the Zafir, Naser, and Metemma, under Commander
    Keppel, again steamed south to reconnoitre Mahmud’s position. The next day
    they were joined by the Fateh, and on the 3rd the three larger boats ran
    the gauntlet of the forts. A brisk artillery duel ensued, but the Dervish
    aim was, as usual, erratic, and the vessels received no injury. It was
    observed that the position of the Dervish force was unchanged, but that
    three new forts had been constructed to the south of the town. The gunboats
    continued on their way and proceeded as far as Wad Habeshi. The Arab
    cavalry kept pace with them along the bank, ready to prevent any landing.
    Having seen all there was to be seen, the flotilla returned and again
    passed the batteries at Metemma. But this time they were not unscathed,
    and a shell struck the Fateh, slightly wounding three men.

    No other incident enlivened the monotony of November. The Khalifa
    continued his defensive preparations. Mahmud remained motionless at Metemma;
    and although he repeatedly begged to be allowed to advance against the
    force near Berber he was steadily refused, and had to content himself with
    sending raiding parties along the left bank of the Nile, and collecting
    large stores of grain from all the villages within his reach. Meanwhile the
    railway was stretching further and further to the south, and the great
    strain which the sudden occupation of Berber had thrown upon the transport
    was to some extent relieved. The tranquillity which had followed the
    advance to Berber was as opportune as it was unexpected. The Sirdar,
    delighted that no evil consequences had followed his daring move,
    and finding that he was neither attacked nor harassed in any way,
    journeyed to Kassala to arrange the details of its retrocession.

    The convenient situation of Kassala–almost equally distant from Omdurman,
    Berber, Suakin, Massowa, and Rosaires–and the fertility of the surrounding
    region raise it to the dignity of the most important place in the Eastern
    Soudan. The soil is rich; the climate, except in the rainy season,
    not unhealthy. A cool night breeze relieves the heat of the day, and the
    presence of abundant water at the depth of a few feet below the surface
    supplies the deficiency of a river. In the year 1883 the population is said
    to have numbered more than 60,000. The Egyptians considered the town of
    sufficient value to require a garrison of 3,900 soldiers. A cotton mill
    adequately fitted with machinery and a factory chimney gave promise of
    the future development of manufacture. A regular revenue attested the
    existence of trade. But disasters fell in heavy succession on the Eastern
    Soudan and blighted the prosperity of its mud metropolis. In 1885, after a
    long siege and a stubborn resistance, Kassala was taken by the Dervishes.
    The garrison were massacred, enslaved, or incorporated in the Mahdi’s army.
    The town was plundered and the trade destroyed. For nearly ten years an
    Arab force occupied the ruins and a camp outside them. Kassala became a
    frontier post of the Dervish Empire. Its population perished or fled to the
    Italian territory. This situation might have remained unaltered until after
    the battle of Omdurman if the Dervishes had been content with the
    possession of Kassala. But in 1893 the Emir in command of the garrison,
    being anxious to distinguish himself, disobeyed the Khalifa’s instructions
    to remain on the defensive and attacked the Europeans at Agordat. The Arab
    force of about 8,000 men were confronted by 2,300 Italian troops, protected
    by strong entrenchments, under Colonel Arimondi. After a fierce but
    hopeless attack the Dervishes were repulsed with a loss of 3,000 men,
    among whom was their rash leader. The engagement was, however,
    as disastrous to Italy as to the Khalifa. The fatal African policy of
    Signor Crispi received a decided impetus, and in the next year, agreeably
    to their aspirations in Abyssinia, the Italians under General Baratieri
    advanced from Agordat and captured Kassala. The occupation was
    provisionally recognised by Egypt without prejudice to her sovereign
    rights, and 900 Italian regulars and irregulars established themselves in a
    well-built fort. The severe defeat at Adowa in 1896, the disgrace of
    Baratieri, the destruction of his army, and the fall of the Crispi Cabinet
    rudely dispelled the African ambitions of Italy. Kassala became an
    encumbrance. Nor was that all. The Dervishes, encouraged by the victory of
    the Abyssinians, invested the fort, and the garrison were compelled to
    fight hard to hold what their countrymen were anxious to abandon. In these
    circumstances the Italian Government offered, at a convenient opportunity,
    to retrocede Kassala to Egypt. The offer was accepted, and an arrangement
    made. The advance of the Khedivial forces into the Dongola province
    relieved, as has been described, the pressure of the Dervish attacks.
    The Arabs occupied various small posts along the Atbara and in the
    neighbourhood of the town, and contented themselves with raiding.
    The Italians remained entirely on the defensive, waiting patiently for
    the moment when the fort could be handed over to the Egyptian troops.

    The Sirdar had no difficulty in coming to a satisfactory arrangement
    with General Caneva, the Italian commander. The fort was to be occupied by
    an Egyptian force, the stores and armament to be purchased at a valuation,
    and a force of Italian Arab irregulars to be transferred to the Egyptian
    service. Sir H. Kitchener then returned to the Nile, where the situation
    had suddenly become acute. During November Colonel Parsons, the 16th
    Egyptian Battalion, and a few native gunners marched from Suakin, and on
    the 20th of December arrived at Kassala. The Italian irregulars–
    henceforth to be known as the Arab battalion–were at once despatched to
    the attack of the small Dervish posts at El Fasher and Asubri, and on the
    next day these places were surprised and taken with scarcely any loss.
    The Italian officers, although a little disgusted at the turn of events,
    treated the Egyptian representatives with the most perfect courtesy,
    and the formal transference of Kassala fort was arranged to take place
    on Christmas Day.

    An imposing ceremonial was observed, and the scene itself was strange.
    The fort was oblong in plan, with mud ramparts and parapets pierced for
    musketry. Tents and stores filled the enclosure. In the middle stood the
    cotton factory. Its machinery had long since been destroyed, but the
    substantial building formed the central keep of the fort. The tall chimney
    had become a convenient look-out post. The lightning-conductor acted as a
    flagstaff. The ruins of the old town of Kassala lay brown and confused on
    the plain to the southward, and behind all rose the dark rugged spurs of
    the Abyssinian mountains. The flags of Egypt and of Italy were hoisted.
    The troops of both countries, drawn up in line, exchanged military
    compliments. Then the Egyptian guard marched across the drawbridge into
    the fort and relieved the Italian soldiers. The brass band of the 16th
    Battalion played appropriate airs. The Italian flag was lowered, and with
    a salute of twenty-one guns the retrocession of Kassala was complete.

    Here, then, for a year we leave Colonel Parsons and his small force
    to swelter in the mud fort, to carry on a partisan warfare with the Dervish
    raiders, to look longingly towards Gedaref, and to nurse the hope that when
    Omdurman has fallen their opportunity will come. The reader, like the
    Sirdar, must return in a hurry to the Upper Nile.

    Towards the end of November the Khalifa had begun to realise
    that the Turks did not mean to advance any further till the next flood
    of the river. He perceived that the troops remained near Berber, and that
    the railway was only a little way south of Abu Hamed. The blow still
    impended, but it was delayed. As soon as he had come to this conclusion,
    he no longer turned a deaf ear to Mahmud’s solicitations. He knew that the
    falling Nile would restrict the movements of the gunboats. He knew that
    there were only 2,000 men in Berber–a mere handful. He did not realise
    the tremendous power of rapid concentration which the railway had given
    his enemies; and he began to think of offensive operations. But Mahmud
    should not go alone. The whole strength of the Dervish army should be
    exerted to drive back the invaders. All the troops in Omdurman were ordered
    north. A great camp was again formed near Kerreri. Thousands of camels were
    collected, and once more every preparation was made for a general advance.
    At the beginning of December he sent his own secretary to Mahmud to explain
    the plan, and to assure him of early reinforcements and supplies. Lastly,
    Abdullah preached a new Jehad, and it is remarkable that, while all former
    exhortations had been directed against ‘the infidel’–i.e., those who did
    not believe in the Mahdi–his letters and sermons on this occasion summoned
    the tribes to destroy not the Egyptians but the Christians. The Khalifa had
    no doubts as to who inspired the movement which threatened him. There were
    at this time scarcely 150 Europeans in the Soudan; but they had made
    their presence felt.

    The Sirdar was returning from Kassala when the rumours of an intended
    Dervish advance began to grow. Every scrap of information was assiduously
    collected by the Intelligence Department, but it was not until the 18th of
    December, just as he reached Wady Halfa, that the General received
    apparently certain news that the Khalifa, Mahmud, all the Emirs, and the
    whole army were about to march north. There can be no doubt that even this
    tardy movement of the enemy seriously threatened the success of the
    operations. If the Dervishes moved swiftly, it looked as if a very critical
    engagement would have to be fought to avoid a damaging retreat. Sir H.
    Kitchener’s reply to the Khalifa’s open intent was to order a general
    concentration of the available Egyptian army towards Berber, to telegraph
    to Lord Cromer asking for a British brigade, and to close
    the Suakin-Berber route.

    The gunboat depot at the confluence, with only a half-battalion escort,
    was now in an extremely exposed position. The gunboats could not steam
    north, for the cataract four miles below the confluence was already
    impassable. Since they must remain on the enemy’s side, so must their
    depot; and the depot must be held by a much stronger force. Although the
    Sirdar felt too weak to maintain himself even on the defensive without
    reinforcements, he was now compelled to push still further south. On the
    22nd of December Lewis’s brigade of four battalions and a battery were
    hurried along the Nile to its junction with the Atbara, and began busily
    entrenching themselves in an angle formed by the rivers. The Atbara fort
    sprang into existence.

    Meanwhile the concentration was proceeding. All the troops in Dongola,
    with the exception of scanty garrisons in Merawi, Korti, and Debba, were
    massed at Berber. The infantry and guns, dropping down the river in boats,
    entrained at Kerma, were carried back to Halfa, then hustled across the
    invaluable Desert Railway, past Abu Hamed, and finally deposited at
    Railhead, which then (January 1) stood at Dakhesh. The whole journey by
    rail from Merawi to Dakhesh occupied four days, whereas General Hunter
    with his flying column had taken eight–a fact which proves that,
    in certain circumstances which Euclid could not have foreseen, two sides
    of a triangle are together shorter than the third side. The Egyptian
    cavalry at Merawi received their orders on the 25th of December, and the
    British officers hurried from their Christmas dinners to prepare for their
    long march across the bend of the Nile to Berber. Of the eight squadrons,
    three were pushed on to join Lewis’s force at the position which will
    hereinafter be called ‘the Atbara encampment,’ or more familiarly ‘the
    Atbara’; three swelled the gathering forces at Berber; and two remained
    for the present in the Dongola province, looking anxiously out
    towards Gakdul Wells and Metemma.

    The War Office, who had been nervous about the situation
    in the Soudan since the hasty occupation of Berber, and who had a very
    lively recollection of the events of 1884 and 1885, lost no time in the
    despatch of British troops; and the speed with which a force, so suddenly
    called for, was concentrated shows the capacity for energy which may on
    occasion be developed even by our disjointed military organisation.
    The 1st Battalions of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, of the Lincoln
    Regiment, and of the Cameron Highlanders were formed into a brigade
    and moved from Cairo into the Soudan. The 1st Battalion of the Seaforth
    Highlanders was brought from Malta to Egypt, and held in immediate
    readiness to reinforce the troops at the front. Other battalions were sent
    to take the places of those moved south, so that the Army of Occupation
    was not diminished.

    The officer selected for the command of the British brigade was a man
    of high character and ability. General Gatacre had already led a brigade
    in the Chitral expedition, and, serving under Sir Robert Low and Sir Bindon
    Blood had gained so good a reputation that after the storming of the
    Malakand Pass and the subsequent action in the plain of Khar it was thought
    desirable to transpose his brigade with that of General Kinloch, and send
    Gatacre forward to Chitral. From the mountains of the North-West Frontier
    the general was ordered to Bombay, and in a stubborn struggle with the
    bubonic plague, which was then at its height, he turned his attention from
    camps of war to camps of segregation. He left India, leaving behind him
    golden opinions, just before the outbreak of the great Frontier rising,
    and was appointed to a brigade at Aldershot. Thence we now find him hurried
    to the Soudan–a spare, middle-sized man, of great physical strength and
    energy, of marked capacity and unquestioned courage, but disturbed by a
    restless irritation, to which even the most inordinate activity afforded
    little relief, and which often left him the exhausted victim
    of his own vitality.

    By the end of January a powerful force lay encamped along the river
    from Abu Hamed to the Atbara. Meanwhile the Dervishes made no forward
    movement. Their army was collected at Kerreri; supplies were plentiful;
    all preparations had been made. Yet they tarried. The burning question of
    the command had arisen. A dispute that was never settled ensued. When the
    whole army was regularly assembled, the Khalifa announced publicly that he
    would lead the faithful in person; but at the same time he arranged
    privately that many Emirs and notables should beg him not to expose his
    sacred person. After proper solicitation, therefore, he yielded to their
    appeals. Then he looked round for a subordinate. The Khalifa Ali-Wad-Helu
    presented himself. In the Soudan every advantage and honour accrues to the
    possessor of an army, and the rival chief saw a chance of regaining his
    lost power. This consideration was not, however, lost upon Abdullah.
    He accepted the offer with apparent delight, but he professed himself
    unable to spare any rifles for the army which Ali-Wad-Helu aspired to lead.
    ‘Alas!’ he cried, ‘there are none. But that will make no difference to so
    famous a warrior.’ Ali-Wad-Helu, however, considered that it would make
    a great deal of difference, and declined the command. Osman Sheikh-ed-Din
    offered to lead the army, if he might arm the riverain tribes and use them
    as auxiliaries to swell his force. This roused the disapproval of Yakub.
    Such a policy, he declared, was fatal. The riverain tribes were traitors–
    dogs–worthy only of being destroyed; and he enlarged upon the more refined
    methods by which his policy might be carried out. The squabble continued,
    until at last the Khalifa, despairing of any agreement, decided merely to
    reinforce Mahmud, and accordingly ordered the Emir Yunes to march to
    Metemma with about 5,000 men. But it was then discovered that Mahmud hated
    Yunes, and would have none of him. At this the Khalifa broke up his camp,
    and the Dervish army marched back for a second time, in vexation
    and disgust, to the city.

    It seemed to those who were acquainted with the Dervish movements
    that all offensive operations on their part had been definitely abandoned.
    Even in the Intelligence Department it was believed that the break-up of
    the Kerreri camp was the end of the Khalifa’s determination to move north.
    There would be a hot and uneventful summer, and with the flood Nile the
    expedition would begin its final advance. The news which was received on
    the 15th of February came as a great and pleasant surprise. Mahmud was
    crossing the Nile and proposed to advance on Berber without reinforcements
    of any kind. The Sirdar, highly satisfied at this astounding piece of good
    fortune, immediately began to mass his force nearer the confluence. On the
    21st the British at Abu Dis were instructed to hold themselves in
    readiness. The Seaforths began their journey from Cairo, and the various
    battalions of the Egyptian army pressed forward towards Berber and
    Atbara fort. On the 25th, Mahmud being reported as having crossed
    to the right bank, the general concentration was ordered.


    Although the story of a campaign is made up of many details which
    cannot be omitted, since they are essential to the truth as well as the
    interest of the account, it is of paramount importance that the reader
    should preserve throughout a general idea. For otherwise the marches,
    forays, and reconnaissance will seem disconnected and purposeless affairs,
    and the battle simply a greater operation undertaken in the same haphazard
    fashion. To appreciate the tale it is less necessary to contemplate the
    wild scenes and stirring incidents, than thoroughly to understand the
    logical sequence of incidents which all tend to and ultimately culminate
    in a decisive trial of strength.

    The hazards which were courted by the daring occupation of Berber
    have been discussed in the last chapter. From October to December the
    situation was threatening. In December it suddenly became critical.
    Had the Emir Mahmud advanced with the Dervishes at Metemma even as late
    as the middle of January, he might possibly have re-captured Berber.
    If the great Omdurman army had taken the field, the possibility would have
    become a certainty. The young Kordofan general saw his opportunity, and
    begged to be allowed to seize it. But it was not until the Khalifa had sent
    his own army back into the city that, being very badly informed of the
    numbers and disposition of the Egyptian force, he allowed the Metemma
    Dervishes to move.

    Mahmud received permission to advance at the end of January.
    He eagerly obeyed the longed-for order. But the whole situation
    was now changed. The Egyptian army was concentrated; the British brigade
    had arrived; the railway had reached Geneinetti; the miserable hamlet of
    Dakhila, at the confluence, had grown from a small depot to a fort,
    and from a fort to an entrenched camp, against which neither Dervish
    science nor strength could by any possibility prevail. Perhaps Mahmud
    did not realise the amazing power of movement that the railway had given
    his foes; perhaps he still believed, with the Khalifa, that Berber was held
    only by 2,000 Egyptians; or else–and this is the most probable–he was
    reckless of danger and strong in his own conceit. At any rate, during the
    second week in February he began to transport himself across the Nile,
    with the plain design of an advance north. With all the procrastination of
    an Arab he crawled leisurely forward towards the confluence of the rivers.
    At El Aliab some idea of the strength of the Atbara entrenchment seems to
    have dawned upon him. He paused undecided. A council was held. Mahmud was
    for a continued advance and for making a direct attack on the enemy’s
    position. Osman Digna urged a more prudent course. Many years of hard
    fighting against disciplined troops had taught the wily Hadendoa slaver
    the power of modern rifles, and much sound tactics besides. He pressed his
    case with jealous enthusiasm upon the commander he detested and despised.
    An insurmountable obstacle confronted them. Yet what could not be overcome
    might be avoided. The hardy Dervishes could endure privations which would
    destroy the soldiers of civilisation. Barren and inhospitable as was
    the desert, they might move round the army at the Atbara fort and so
    capture Berber after all. Once they were behind the Egyptians,
    these accursed ones were lost. The railway–that mysterious source of
    strength–could be cut. The host that drew its life along it must fight
    at a fearful disadvantage or perish miserably. Besides, he reminded Mahmud
    –not without reason–that they could count on help in Berber itself.

    The agreement of the Emirs, called to the council,
    decided the Dervish leader. His confidence in himself was weakened,
    his hatred of Osman Digna increased. Nevertheless, following the older
    man’s advice, he left Aliab on the 18th of March, and struck north-east
    into the desert towards the village and ford of Hudi on the Atbara river.
    Thence by a long desert march he might reach the Nile and Berber. But while
    his information of the Sirdar’s force and movements was uncertain,
    the British General was better served. What Mahmud failed to derive from
    spies and ‘friendlies,’ his adversary obtained by gunboats and cavalry.
    As soon, therefore, as Sir H. Kitchener learned that the Dervishes had left
    the Nile and were making a detour around his left flank, he marched up the
    Atbara river to Hudi. This offered Mahmud the alternative of attacking him
    in a strong position or of making a still longer detour. Having determined
    upon caution he chose the latter, and, deflecting his march still more to
    the east, reached the Atbara at Nakheila. But from this point the distance
    to Berber was far too great for him to cover. He could not carry enough
    water in his skins. The wells were few, and held against him. Further
    advance was impossible. So he waited and entrenched himself, sorely
    troubled, but uncertain what to do. Supplies were running short.
    His magazines at Shendi had been destroyed as soon as he had left the Nile.
    The Dervishes might exist, but they did not thrive, on the nuts of the
    dom palms. Soldiers began to desert. Osman Digna, although his advice
    had been followed, was at open enmity. His army dwindled.

    And all this time his terrible antagonist watched him as a tiger gloats on
    a helpless and certain prey–silent, merciless, inexorable. Then the end
    came suddenly. As soon as the process of attrition was sufficiently far
    advanced to demoralise the Dervish host, without completely dissolving
    them, the Sirdar and his army moved. The victim, as if petrified,
    was powerless to fly. The tiger crept forward two measured strides–
    from Ras-el-Hudi to Abadar, from Abadar to Umdabia–crouched for a moment,
    and then bounded with irresistible fury upon its prey
    and tore it to pieces.

    Such is a brief strategic account of the Atbara campaign;
    but the tale must be told in full.

    On the 23rd of January the Khalifa, having learned of the arrival of
    British troops near Abu Hamed, and baffled by the disputes about the
    command of his army, ordered Kerreri camp to be broken up, and permitted
    his forces to return within the city, which he continued to fortify.
    A few days later he authorised Mahmud to advance against Berber. What he
    had not dared with 60,000 men he now attempted with 20,000. The course of
    action which had for three months offered a good hope of success he
    resolved to pursue only when it led to ruin. He forbade the advance while
    it was advisable. When it was already become mad and fatal he commanded it.
    And this was a man whose reputation for intelligence and military skill
    had been bloodily demonstrated!

    The gunboats ceaselessly patrolled the river, and exchanged shots with
    the Dervish forts. Throughout January nothing of note had happened.
    The reports of spies showed the Khalifa to be at Kerreri or in Omdurman.
    Ahmed Fedil held the Shabluka Gorge, Osman Digna was at Shendi, and his
    presence was proved by the construction of two new forts on that side of
    the river. But beyond this the Dervishes had remained passive. On the 12th
    of February, however, it was noticed that their small outpost at Khulli
    had been withdrawn. This event seemed to point to a renewal of activity.
    It was felt that some important movement impended. But it was not until
    the 15th that its nature was apparent, and the gunboats were able to report
    definitely that Mahmud was crossing to the east bank of the Nile.
    The flotilla exerted itself to harass the Dervishes and impede the
    transportation; but although several sailing-boats and other river craft
    were captured, Mahmud succeeded in moving his whole army to Shendi by the
    28th of February. His own headquarters were established at Hosh-ben-Naga,
    a little village about five miles further south. A delay of more than a
    fortnight followed, during which the gunboats exercised the utmost
    vigilance. The Suakin-Berber road was again closed for caravans, and the
    Sirdar himself proceeded to Berber. On the 11th of March the remnants of
    the Jaalin tribe, having collected at Gakdul, re-occupied the now abandoned
    Metemma, to find its streets and houses choked with the decaying bodies
    of their relations. On the 13th the Egyptian look-out station, which had
    been established on Shebaliya island, was attacked by the Dervishes,
    and in the skirmish that ensued Major Sitwell was wounded. On the same day
    the enemy were reported moving northwards to Aliab, and it became evident
    that Mahmud had begun his advance.

    He started from Shendi with a force which has been estimated
    at 19,000 souls, but which included many women and children, and may have
    actually numbered 12,000 fighting men, each and all supplied with a month’s
    rations and about ninety rounds of ammunition. The Sirdar immediately
    ordered the Anglo-Egyptian army, with the exception of the cavalry and
    Lewis’s Egyptian brigade–which, with three squadrons, held the fort at the
    confluence–to concentrate at Kunur. Broadwood, with the remaining five
    squadrons, marched thither on the 16th; and the whole cavalry force,
    with the Camel Corps in support, on the three subsequent days reconnoitred
    twenty miles up the Nile and the Atbara.

    Meanwhile the concentration was proceeding apace. The two Soudanese
    brigades, formed into a division under command of Major-General Hunter,
    with the artillery, reached Kunur on the night of the 15th. The British
    brigade–the Lincolns, the Warwicks, and the Camerons–marched thither
    from Dabeika. The Seaforth Highlanders, who on the 13th were still at Wady
    Halfa, were swiftly railed across the desert to Geneinetti. Thence the
    first half-battalion were brought to Kunur in steamers. The second wing–
    since the need was urgent and the steamers few–were jolted across the
    desert from Railhead on camels, an experience for which neither their
    training nor their clothes had prepared them. By the 16th the whole force
    was concentrated at Kunur, and on the following day they were reviewed by
    the Sirdar. The first three days at Kunur were days of eager expectation.
    Rumour was king. The Dervish army had crossed the Atbara at Hudi, and was
    within ten miles of the camp. Mahmud was already making a flank march
    through the desert to Berber. A battle was imminent. A collision must take
    place in a few hours. Officers with field-glasses scanned the sandy horizon
    for the first signs of the enemy. But the skyline remained unbroken, except
    by the wheeling dust devils, and gradually the excitement abated, and the
    British brigade began to regret all the useful articles they had
    scrupulously left behind them at Dabeika, when they marched in a hurry
    and the lightest possible order to Kunur.

    On the 19th of March the gunboats reported that the Dervishes were leaving
    the Nile, and Mahmud’s flanking movement became apparent. The next day the
    whole force at Kunur marched across the desert angle between the rivers to
    Hudi. The appearance of the army would have been formidable. The cavalry,
    the Camel Corps, and the Horse Artillery covered the front and right flank;
    the infantry, with the British on the right, moved in line of brigade
    masses; the transport followed. All was, however, shrouded in a fearful
    dust-storm. The distance, ten miles, was accomplished in five hours,
    and the army reached Hudi in time to construct a strong zeriba before
    the night. Here they were joined from Atbara fort by Lewis’s brigade of
    Egyptians–with the exception of the 15th Battalion, which was left as
    garrison–and the troops at the Sirdar’s disposal were thus raised to
    14,000 men of all arms. This force was organised as follows:

    Commander-in-Chief: THE SIRDAR

    British Brigade: MAJOR-GENERAL GATACRE

    1st Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment (6 companies)
    ” ” Lincolnshire Regiment
    ” ” Seaforth Highlanders
    ” ” Cameron Highlanders

    Egyptian Infantry Division: MAJOR-GENERAL HUNTER

    1st Brigade 2nd Brigade 3rd Brigade
    8th Egyptians 2nd Egyptians 3rd Egyptians
    XIIth Soudanese IXth Soudanese 4th ”
    XIIIth ” Xth ” 7th ”
    XIVth ” XIth ”


    8 squadrons
    2 Maxim guns

    Camel Corps: MAJOR TUDWAY

    6 companies

    Artillery: LIEUT.-COL. LONG

    Detachment, No. 16 Company, E Division R.A.,
    with 6 five-inch B.L. howitzers
    Egyptian Horse Battery (6 guns)
    Nos. 1, 2, and 3 Field Batteries Egyptian Army (18 guns)
    British Maxim Battery (4 guns)
    Rocket Detachment (2 sections)

    Mahmud had early intelligence of the movement of the Anglo-Egyptian army.
    His original intention had been to march to Hudi. But he now learned that
    at Hudi he would have to fight the Sirdar’s main force. Not feeling strong
    enough to attack them, he determined to march to Nakheila. The mobility of
    the Arabs was now as conspicuous as their dilatory nature had formerly
    been. The whole Dervish army–horse, foot, and artillery, men, women,
    children, and animals–actually traversed in a single day the forty miles
    of waterless desert which lie between Aliab and Nakheila, at which latter
    place they arrived on the night of the 20th. The Sirdar’s next object was
    to keep the enemy so far up the Atbara that they could not possibly strike
    at Berber or Railhead. Accordingly, at dawn on the 21st, the whole force
    was ordered to march to Ras-el-Hudi, five miles nearer the Dervishes’
    supposed halting-place. The detour which the Arabs would have to make to
    march round the troops was nearly doubled by this movement. The utter
    impossibility of their flank march with a stronger enemy on the radius
    of the circle was now apparent.

    The movement of the Anglo-Egyptian force was screened by seven squadrons
    of cavalry and the Horse Artillery, and Colonel Broadwood was further
    instructed to reconnoitre along the river and endeavour to locate the
    enemy. The country on either bank of the Atbara is covered with dense
    scrub, impassable for civilised troops. From these belts, which average a
    quarter of a mile in depth, the dom palms rise in great numbers. All the
    bush is leafy, and looks very pretty and green by contrast with the sombre
    vegetation of the Nile. Between the trees fly gay parrots and many other
    bright birds. The river itself above Ras-el-Hudi is, during March and
    April, only a dry bed of white sand about 400 yards broad, but dotted with
    deep and beautifully clear pools, in which peculiarly brilliant fish and
    crocodiles, deprived of their stream, are crowded together. The atmosphere
    is more damp than by the Nile, and produces, in the terrible heat of the
    summer, profuse and exhausting perspiration. The natives dislike the water
    of the Atbara, and declare that it does not quench the thirst like that of
    the great river. It has, indeed, a slightly bitter taste, which is a
    strong contrast with the sweet waters of the Nile. Nevertheless the British
    soldiers, with characteristic contrariness, declared their preference
    for it. Outside the bush the ground undulated gently, but the surface was
    either stony and uneven or else cracked and fissured by the annual
    overflow. Both these conditions made it hard for cavalry, and still more
    for artillery, to move freely; and the difficulties were complicated by
    frequent holes and small khors full of long grass.

    Amid such scenes the squadrons moved cautiously forward. Having made
    the ground good for fifteen miles from Hudi, Colonel Broadwood halted
    his force at Abadar, an old fort, and sent one squadron under Captain
    Le Gallais seven miles further. At two o’clock this squadron returned,
    having met a few of the enemy’s scouts, but no formed bodies. While the
    force watered by turns at the river Captain Baring’s squadron was extended
    in a line of outposts about a mile and a quarter to the south-east.
    But the reconnoitring squadron had been followed homeward by several
    hundred Dervish horsemen. Creeping along through the dense bush by the bank
    and evading the vedettes, these suddenly fell on the picket line and
    drove in all the outposts. In this affair eight troopers were killed and
    seven wounded. Thirteen horses were also lost, as, having rid themselves
    of their riders on the broken ground, they galloped off after the Arab
    mares on which the Dervishes were mostly mounted.

    The news of an attack on Adarama was received on this same afternoon.
    It appeared that the Arabs had been repulsed by the Abyssinian irregulars
    raised by Colonel Parsons. Glowing details were forthcoming, but I do not
    propose to recount the Homeric struggles of the ‘friendlies.’
    Little in them is worthy of remembrance; much seeks oblivion.

    For more than a week the Anglo-Egyptian force remained halted at
    Ras-el-Hudi, waiting for privation to demoralise Mahmud’s army or to
    exasperate him into making an attack. Every morning the cavalry rode out
    towards the enemy’s camp. All day long they skirmished with or watched
    the Baggara horse, and at night they returned wearily to camp. Each morning
    the army awoke full of the hopes of battle, waited during the long hours,
    and finally retired to sleep in deep disgust and profound peace. And while
    the army halted, the camp began to assume a more homely appearance.
    The zeriba grew stronger and thicker, the glacis wider, the field kitchens
    more elaborate, the pools of the Atbara more dirty. Over all the sun
    beat down in merciless persistence, till all white men quivered with weary
    suffering when in the open air, and even under the grass huts or improvised
    tents the temperature always registered 115 degrees during the hottest hours of
    the day. The nights were, however, cool and pleasant.

    But although the main part of the force found the days long and tedious,
    the time which the army spent at Ras-el-Hudi was by no means uneventful.
    The work of the squadrons was hard, and ceased only with the night.
    The continual patrolling told severely on men and horses; and the fact
    that the Dervishes were far stronger in the mounted arm than the Sirdar’s
    army necessitated the utmost vigilance of the cavalry commander.
    Employment was also found for the gunboats.

    When Mahmud had left the Nile he had established a sort of depot at Shendi,
    in which the wives of the Emirs and the surplus stores had been deposited.
    This treasure house was protected only by a slender garrison of 700
    riflemen and twenty-five horsemen. On ordinary military grounds, and also
    since the event might infuriate the Arabs, it was decided to capture this
    place and disperse its defenders. Accordingly, on the afternoon of the 24th
    the 3rd Egyptian Battalion from Lewis’s brigade marched from Ras-el-Hudi
    to Atbara fort and relieved the 15th Egyptians then in garrison, and a
    small force under Commander Keppel–consisting of the 15th Egyptians under
    Major Hickman, two field-guns of Peake’s battery, and 150 Jaalin
    irregulars–was embarked on, or in boats towed by, the three gunboats
    Zafir, Naser, and Fateh, and started the same night for Shendi.

    At dawn on the 27th the flotilla appeared off Shendi. The Dervishes
    had been apprised of its approach and prepared to offer resistance.
    But the force against them was overwhelming. Under cover of the gunboats
    the infantry and guns were landed. The artillery then came into action,
    but after they had discharged two shells, the Arabs fled, firing their
    rifles with little effect. Shendi was occupied by the Egyptians.
    The pursuit was left to the Jaalin, and in it they are said to have killed
    160 men–a revenge which must have been doubly sweet since it was
    consummated so near to the scene of the destruction of their tribe,
    and was also attended by scarcely any danger. Loot of all kinds fell to
    the victors, and the gunboats were soon laden with a miscellaneous spoil.
    The wives of the important Emirs made their escape to Omdurman,
    but upwards of 650 women and children of inferior rank were taken prisoners
    and transported to the Atbara, where in due course they contracted new
    family ties with the Soudanese soldiery and, as far as can be ascertained,
    lived happily ever afterwards. There were no casualties among the troops,
    but the Jaalin lost a few men in their pursuit. The force then returned
    to the Atbara.

    The 3rd of April was the last day the army spent at Ras-el-Hudi.
    The period of waiting was over. The enemy’s position had been duly
    reconnoitred. His strength was believed to be sufficiently impaired for
    a successful attack to be made. The camp at Hudi was becoming very
    insanitary. Moreover, the situation, satisfactory though it was, was not
    one which the commander could view without anxiety. All the time that
    the army was operating on the Atbara it drew its supplies from the fort
    at the confluence. Between this and the camp, convoys, protected only by
    a handful of Camel Corps, passed once in every four days. Only the idiotic
    apathy of the Dervishes allowed the communications to remain uninterrupted.
    Mahmud was strong in cavalry. It will be evident to anyone who looks at
    the map how easily a force might have moved along the left bank to attack
    the convoys. Such tactics would have occurred to most savage tribes.
    But in their last campaigns the Dervishes thought only of battles,
    and disregarded all smaller enterprises. Had they assailed the
    communications, the Sirdar might have been forced to build a chain of forts
    and to guard his convoys with strong infantry escorts. The fighting force
    would have been weakened, the troops have been wearied, and the result must
    have been delayed. The Dervishes had as yet attempted nothing. But there
    was no reason why they should not at any moment become enterprising.
    It was time to make an end. On the 4th of April the whole force moved to
    Abadar, and established themselves in a new camp five miles nearer
    the enemy. The tiger was tired of watching: he had taken his first stride
    towards his prey.

    Although the information as to the enemy’s strength and position was
    accurate and complete, the Sirdar decided to order a final reconnaissance
    on the 5th of April.

    Starting at four o’clock Broadwood cut off the sharp angle which the
    Atbara forms at Umdabia, and, avoiding the thick bush, soon approached the
    Dervish camp. Not a sign of the enemy was seen during the march. The bush
    by the Atbara appeared deserted. The camp gave no sign of life; an ominous
    silence prevailed. The squadrons moved forward at a walk, keeping about
    1,200 yards away from the enemy’s zeriba and almost parallel to it.
    Presently, as they did so, a large force of cavalry became visible
    in front. It was difficult to estimate their strength, but they appeared
    to be superior in numbers to the reconnaissance. The Dervish horsemen
    continued to retire towards the south-east, always reaching round the
    Egyptian left flank.

    And while the Egyptian force advanced, as soon as they were opposite the
    southern end of the zeriba, another considerable body of Dervish horse
    issued from the northern side and threatened the line of retreat.
    At the same time the camp began to swarm with men, and crowds of tiny
    figures were observed clambering on to the entrenchments and gun
    emplacements, eagerly watching the development of the fight.
    The cavalry had by this time approached to within 1,000 yards of
    the zeriba, and the Arab artillery began to fire occasional round shot
    and clumsily fused shells.

    At nine o’clock, the enemy’s position having been again sketched and
    the approaches reconnoitred, Colonel Broadwood ordered the retirement to
    begin. The Maxims and artillery were in the centre, supported by Colonel
    Broadwood and three squadrons. Captain Baring with three squadrons watched
    the left flank, now in retirement become the right. Captains Le Gallais
    and Persse guarded the river flank.

    The cavalry retired by alternate wings in measured fashion. But the enemy
    pressed on impetuously, and their horsemen, soon completely enveloping the
    desert flank of the Egyptians, began to threaten a charge. To meet this
    Colonel Broadwood sent one of his squadrons from the centre to join those
    under Captain Baring, so that at about a quarter to ten the reconnoitring
    force was formed with four squadrons towards the desert, two with the guns,
    and two towards the river. The weakness of the river flank of the troops
    encouraged the Dervish horse lurking in the scrub to make a bold attempt to
    capture the guns. The movement was shrewd and daring, but the cavalry
    commander met it with admirable skill. The springing-up of dust-clouds
    hardly 300 yards away was his only warning. He immediately took command of
    the two squadrons under Persse and Le Gallais, and ordered them to ‘right
    about wheel’ and charge. Thus headed by Broadwood himself, and with their
    British officers several horse-lengths in front, the Egyptians broke into
    a gallop and encountered the Baggara line, which numbered not fewer than
    400 men but was in loose order, with firmness. They struck them obliquely
    and perhaps a third of the way down their line, and, breaking through,
    routed them utterly.

    While this dashing operation was carried out on the river flank
    the Dervish cavalry, following up the retirement, also delivered an attack
    towards the guns. Thereupon Captain Baring with two squadrons galloped from
    the desert flank across the front of the artillery, and, riding through the
    advancing enemy, repulsed them with loss. The charge was good and
    effective, but the shock and confusion broke both squadrons, and, although
    successful, they came through the Dervishes and back on to the river flank
    in some disorder. Persse and Le Gallais, who had just rallied, at once
    dismounted their men and opened carbine fire on the retreating Dervishes.
    Their action not only checked the enemy, but prevented, by getting
    the troopers off their horses, any chance of their being involved in
    the disorder of the squadrons who had just charged.

    Although their horsemen were thus sharply checked, the Dervish infantry
    continued in spite of losses to advance rapidly, and for a few minutes
    a hot musketry fire was exchanged by the Arab riflemen and the two
    dismounted squadrons. Captain Persse was severely wounded, and several
    other casualties occurred. But the whole force was drawing away from the
    enemy, and by eleven o’clock it had passed through the gap to the
    north-east and had shaken off all pursuit. The casualties in the operation
    were fortunately small. One British officer was wounded; six Egyptian
    troopers were killed and ten wounded; and about thirty horses were lost
    or disabled.

    The details of the enemy’s defences were now known; his strength
    was estimated from trustworthy information. It was evident from the
    frequent desertions that his army was disheartened, and from his inactivity
    that he was scarcely hopeful of success. The moment for destroying him had
    arrived. At daybreak on the morning of the 6th the whole army broke camp at
    Abadar and marched to the deserted village of Umdabia, where they
    bivouacked close by a convenient pool of the Atbara and seven miles nearer
    the Dervish camp.


    April 8, 1898

    In the evening of Thursday, the 7th of April, the army at Umdabia
    paraded for the attack on Mahmud’s zeriba. The camp lay in the scrub which
    grows by the banks of the Atbara, as by those of the Nile, and in order to
    profit by the open, level ground the four infantry brigades moved by
    parallel routes into the desert, and then formed facing south-east
    in column of brigade squares, the British brigade leading. The mounted
    forces, with four batteries of artillery, waited in camp until two o’clock
    the next morning, and did not break their march. The distance from the
    river bank to the open plain was perhaps a mile and a half, and the whole
    infantry force had cleared the scrub by six o’clock. The sun was setting,
    and the red glow, brightening the sandy hillocks, made the western horizon
    indefinite, so that it was hard to tell where the desert ended and the sky
    began. A few gazelle, intercepted on their way to the water by the
    unexpected movement of troops, trotted slowly away in the distance–
    white spots on the rosy-brown of the sand–and on the great plain 12,000
    infantry, conscious of their strength and eager to encounter the enemy,
    were beautifully arranged in four solid masses. Then the march began.
    The actual distance from the camp to the Dervish position was scarcely
    seven miles, but the circle necessary to avoid the bushes and the gradual
    bends of the river added perhaps another five to the length of the road.
    The pace of the advance was slow, and the troops had not gone far when the
    sun sank and, with hardly an interval of twilight, darkness enveloped
    everything. In the stillness of the night the brigades moved steadily
    forward, and only the regular scrunching of the hard sand betrayed
    the advance of an overwhelming force upon their enemies.

    No operation of a war is more critical than a night-march.
    Over and over again in every country frightful disaster has overtaken
    the rash or daring force that has attempted it. In the gloom the shape
    and aspect of the ground are altered. Places well known by daylight appear
    strange and unrecognisable. The smallest obstacle impedes the column,
    which can only crawl sluggishly forward with continual checks and halts.
    The effect of the gloom upon the nerves of the soldiers is not less than
    on the features of the country. Each man tries to walk quietly, and hence
    all are listening for the slightest sound. Every eye seeks to pierce the
    darkness. Every sense in the body is raised to a pitch of expectancy.
    In such hours doubts and fears come unbidden to the brain, and the marching
    men wonder anxiously whether all will be well with the army, and whether
    they themselves will survive the event. And if suddenly out of the black
    silence there burst the jagged glare of rifles and the crash of a volley
    followed by the yell of an attacking foe, the steadiest troops may be
    thrown into confusion, and a panic, once afoot, stops only with the
    destruction or dispersal of the whole force. Nevertheless, so paramount
    is the necessity of attacking at dawn, with all the day to finish
    the fight, that in spite of the recorded disasters and the known dangers,
    the night-march is a frequent operation.

    For more than two hours the force advanced, moving across smooth swells
    of sand broken by rocks and with occasional small bushes. Several shallow
    khors traversed the road, and these rocky ditches, filled with a strange,
    sweet-scented grass, delayed the brigades until the pace was hardly
    two miles an hour. The smell of the grass was noticed by the alert senses
    of many, and will for ever refresh in their minds the strong impression of
    the night. The breeze which had sprung up at sundown gradually freshened
    and raised clouds of fine sand, which deepened the darkness with
    a whiter mist.

    At nine o’clock the army halted in a previously selected space,
    near the deserted village of Mutrus and about two miles from the river.
    Nearly half the distance to Mahmud’s zeriba was accomplished, and barely
    four miles in the direct line divided the combatants; but since it was not
    desirable to arrive before the dawn, the soldiers, still formed in their
    squares, lay down upon the ground. Meat and biscuits were served out to
    the men. The transport animals went by relays to the pools of the Atbara
    bed to drink and to replenish the tanks. All water-bottles were refilled,
    pickets being thrown out to cover the business. Then, after sufficient
    sentries had been posted, the army slept, still in array.

    During the halt the moon had risen, and when at one o’clock the advance
    was resumed, the white beams revealed a wider prospect and, glinting on
    the fixed bayonets, crowned the squares with a sinister glitter. For three
    hours the army toiled onwards at the same slow and interrupted crawl.
    Strict silence was now enforced, and all smoking was forbidden.
    The cavalry, the Camel Corps, and the five batteries had overtaken the
    infantry, so that the whole attacking force was concentrated.
    Meanwhile the Dervishes slept.

    At three o’clock the glare of fires became visible to the south,
    and, thus arrived before the Dervish position, the squares, with the
    exception of the reserve brigade, were unlocked, and the whole force,
    assuming formation of attack, now advanced in one long line through the
    scattered bush and scrub, presently to emerge upon a large plateau which
    overlooked Mahmud’s zeriba from a distance of about 900 yards.

    It was still dark, and the haze that shrouded the Dervish camp
    was broken only by the glare of the watch-fires. The silence was profound.
    It seemed impossible to believe that more than 25,000 men were ready to
    join battle at scarcely the distance of half a mile. Yet the advance had
    not been unperceived, and the Arabs knew that their terrible antagonists
    crouched on the ridge waiting for the morning; For a while the suspense
    was prolonged. At last, after what seemed to many an interminable period,
    the uniform blackness of the horizon was broken by the first glimmer of
    the dawn. Gradually the light grew stronger until, as a theatre curtain is
    pulled up, the darkness rolled away, the vague outlines in the haze
    became definite, and the whole scene was revealed.

    The British and Egyptian army lay along the low ridge in the form of
    a great bow–the British brigade on the left, MacDonald in the centre,
    Maxwell curving forward on the right. The whole crest of the swell of
    ground was crowned with a bristle of bayonets and the tiny figures of
    thousands of men sitting or lying down and gazing curiously before them.
    Behind them, in a solid square, was the transport, guarded by Lewis’s
    brigade. The leading squadrons of the cavalry were forming leisurely
    towards the left flank. The four batteries and a rocket detachment,
    moving between the infantry, ranged themselves on two convenient
    positions about a hundred yards in front of the line of battalions.
    All was ready. Yet everything was very quiet, and in the stillness
    of the dawn it almost seemed that Nature held her breath.

    Half a mile away, at the foot of the ridge, a long irregular black line
    of thorn bushes enclosed the Dervish defences. Behind this zeriba low
    palisades and entrenchments bent back to the scrub by the river.
    Odd shapeless mounds indicated the positions of the gun-emplacements,
    and various casemates could be seen in the middle of the enclosure.
    Without, the bushes had been cleared away, and the smooth sand stretched
    in a gentle slope to where the army waited. Within were crowds of little
    straw huts and scattered bushes, growing thicker to the southward.
    From among this rose the palm-trees, between whose stems the dry bed of
    the Atbara was exposed, and a single pool of water gleamed in the early
    sunlight. Such was Mahmud’s famous zeriba, which for more than a month had
    been the predominant thought in the minds of the troops. It was scarcely
    imposing, and at first the soldiers thought it deserted. Only a dozen stray
    horsemen sat silently on their horses outside the entrenchment, watching
    their enemies, and inside a few dirty-white figures appeared and
    disappeared behind the parapets. Yet, insignificant as the zeriba looked,
    the smoke of many fires cooking the morning meal–never to be eaten–showed
    that it was occupied by men; and gay banners of varied colour and device,
    flaunting along the entrenchments or within the enclosure, declared that
    some at least were prepared to die in its defence.

    The hush of the hour and the suspense of the army were broken by the bang
    of a gun. Everyone on the ridge jumped up and looked towards the sound.
    A battery of Krupps a little to the right of the Cameron Highlanders had
    opened fire. Another gun further to the right was fired. Another shell
    burst over the straw huts among the palm-trees. The two Maxim-Nordenfeldt
    batteries had come into action. The officers looked at their watches.
    It was a quarter-past six. The bombardment had begun.

    Explosion followed explosion in quick succession until all four batteries
    were busily engaged. The cannonade grew loud and continuous. The rocket
    detachment began to fire, and the strange projectiles hissed and screamed
    as they left the troughs and jerked erratically towards the zeriba.
    In the air above the enclosure shell after shell flashed into existence,
    smote the ground with its leaden shower, and dispersed–a mere film–
    into the haze and smoke which still hung over the Dervish encampment.
    At the very first shot all the dirty-white figures disappeared, bobbing
    down into their pits and shelters; but a few solitary horsemen remained
    motionless for a while in the middle of the enclosure, watching the effect
    of the fire, as if it had no concern with them. The British infantry stood
    up on tip-toe to look at the wonderful spectacle of actual war,
    and at first every shell was eagerly scrutinised and its probable effect
    discussed. But the busy gunners multiplied the projectiles until so many
    were alive in the air at once that all criticism was prevented. Gradually
    even the strange sight became monotonous. The officers shut up their
    glasses. The men began to sit down again. Many of them actually went
    to sleep. The rest were soon tired of the amazing scene, the like of which
    they had never looked on before, and awaited impatiently further
    developments and ‘some new thing.’

    After the bombardment had lasted about ten minutes a great cloud of dust
    sprang up in the zeriba, and hundreds of horsemen were seen scrambling into
    their saddles and galloping through a gap in the rear face out into the
    open sand to the right. To meet the possibility of an attempt to turn the
    left flank of the attack, the eight squadrons of cavalry and two Maxim guns
    jingled and clattered off in the direction of the danger. The dust,
    which the swift passage of so many horsemen raised, shut the scene from the
    eyes of the infantry, but continual dust-clouds above the scrub to the left
    and the noise of the Maxims seemed to indicate a cavalry fight. The Baggara
    horse, however, declined an unequal combat, and made no serious attempt to
    interfere with the attack. Twice they showed some sort of front, and the
    squadrons thought they might find opportunity to charge; but a few rounds
    from the Maxims effectually checked the enemy, inflicting on each occasion
    the loss of about twenty killed and wounded. With the exception of one
    squadron detached on the right, the Egyptian cavalry force, however,
    remained on the left flank, and shielded the operations of the
    assaulting infantry.

    Meanwhile the bombardment–no longer watched with curiosity–continued with
    accuracy and precision. The batteries searched the interior of the zeriba,
    threshing out one section after another, and working the whole ground
    regularly from front to rear. The zeriba and palisades were knocked about
    in many places, and at a quarter to seven a cluster of straw huts caught
    fire and began to burn briskly. At a quarter-past seven the infantry were
    ordered to form in column for assault.

    The plan of the attack for the army was simple. The long,
    deployed line were to advance steadily against the entrenchments,
    subduing by their continual fire that of the enemy. They were then to
    tear the zeriba to pieces. Covered by their musketry, the dense columns
    of assault which had followed the line were to enter the defences
    through the gaps, deploy to the right, and march through the enclosure,
    clearing it with the bayonet and by fire.

    At twenty minutes to eight the Sirdar ordered his bugles to sound the
    general advance. The call was repeated by all the brigades, and the clear
    notes rang out above the noise of the artillery. The superior officers–
    with the exception of Hunter, Maxwell, and MacDonald–dismounted and placed
    themselves at the head of their commands. The whole mass of the infantry,
    numbering nearly eleven thousand men, immediately began to move forward
    upon the zeriba. The scene as this great force crested the ridge and
    advanced down the slope was magnificent and tremendous. Large solid columns
    of men, preceded by a long double line, with the sunlight flashing on their
    bayonets and displaying their ensigns, marched to the assault in regular
    and precise array. The pipes of the Highlanders, the bands of the
    Soudanese, and the drums and fifes of the English regiments added a wild
    and thrilling accompaniment. As soon as the advance masked the batteries,
    the guns were run forward with the firing line, in order effectually to
    support the attack. The deployed battalions opened a ceaseless and
    crushing fire on the entrenchment, and as the necessity of firing delayed
    the advance of the attacking columns, the pace did not exceed a slow march.

    The Dervishes remained silent until the troops were within 300 yards.
    Then the smoke-puffs spurted out all along the stockades, and a sharp
    fusillade began, gradually and continually growing in intensity until the
    assaulting troops were exposed to a furious and effective fire.
    From 250 yards up to the position losses began to occur. The whole
    entrenchment was rimmed with flame and smoke, amid which the active figures
    of the Dervish riflemen were momentarily visible, and behind the filmy
    curtain solid masses of swordsmen and spearmen appeared. The fortunate
    interposition of a small knoll in some degree protected the advance of the
    Lincoln Regiment, but in both Highland battalions soldiers began to drop.
    The whole air was full of a strange chirping whistle. The hard pebbly sand
    was everywhere dashed up into dust-spurts. Numerous explosive bullets,
    fired by the Arabs, made queer startling reports. The roar of the rifles
    drowned even the noise of the artillery. All the deployed battalions began
    to suffer. But they and the assaulting columns, regardless of the fire,
    bore down on the zeriba in all the majesty of war–an avalanche of men,
    stern, unflinching, utterly irresistible.

    Two hundred yards from the entrenchment and one hundred and fifty from
    the thorn bushes independent firing broke out, running along the line from
    end to end. Shooting continually, but without any hurry or confusion,
    the British and Soudanese battalions continued their slow, remorseless
    advance; and it was evident that, in spite of the fierce fire of the
    defence, which was now causing many casualties, the assault would
    be successful.

    The loss during the passage of the zeriba and in the assault of
    the entrenchments was severe. Captain Findlay and Major Urquhart, of the
    Cameron Highlanders, were both mortally wounded in the fight at the
    stockades, and expired still cheering on their men. Major Napier,
    of the same regiment, and Captain Baillie, of the Seaforth Highlanders,
    received the wounds, of which they subsequently died, a few yards
    further on. At all points the troops broke into the enclosure. Behind the
    stockade there ran a treble trench. The whole interior was honeycombed
    with pits and holes. From these there now sprang thousands of Dervishes,
    desperately endeavouring to show a front to the attack. Second-Lieutenant
    Gore, a young officer fresh from Sandburst, was shot dead between the thorn
    fence and the stockade. Other officers in the Lincoln and the Warwickshire
    regiments sustained severe wounds. Many soldiers were killed and wounded
    in the narrow space. These losses were general throughout the assaulting
    brigades. In the five minutes which were occupied in the passage of the
    obstruction about four hundred casualties occurred. The attack continued.

    The British brigade had struck the extremity of the north front of
    the zeriba, and thus took the whole of the eastern face in enfilade,
    sweeping it with their terrible musketry from end to end, and strewing
    the ground with corpses. Although, owing to the lines of advance having
    converged, there was not room for more than half the force to deploy,
    the brigades pushed on. The conduct of the attack passed to the company
    commanders. All these officers kept their heads, and brought their
    companies up into the general line as the front gradually widened and
    gaps appeared. So the whole force–companies, battalions, even brigades–
    mixed up together and formed in one dense, ragged, but triumphant line,
    marched on unchecked towards the river bed, driving their enemies in
    hopeless confusion before them. Yet, although the Dervishes were unable to
    make head against the attack, they disdained to run. Many hundreds held
    their ground, firing their rifles valiantly till the end. Others charged
    with spear and sword. The greater part retired in skirmishing order,
    jumping over the numerous pits, walking across the open spaces,
    and repeatedly turning round to shoot. The XIth Soudanese encountered
    the most severe resistance after the defences were penetrated. As their
    three deployed companies pressed on through the enclosure, they were
    confronted by a small inner zeriba stubbornly defended by the Emir Mahmud’s
    personal bodyguard. These poured a sudden volley into the centre company at
    close range, and so deadly was the effect that nearly all the company were
    shot, falling to the ground still in their ranks, so that a British officer
    passing at a little distance was provoked to inquire ‘what they were doing
    lying down.’ Notwithstanding this severe check the regiment, gallantly led
    by their colonel and supported by the Xth Soudanese, rushed this last
    defence and slew its last defenders. Mahmud was himself captured.
    Having duly inspected his defences and made his dispositions, he had
    sheltered in a specially constructed casemate. Thence he was now
    ignominiously dragged, and, on his being recognised, the intervention of
    a British officer alone saved him from the fury of the excited Soudanese.

    Still the advance continued, and it seemed to those who took part in it
    more like a horrible nightmare than a waking reality. Captains and
    subalterns collected whatever men they could, heedless of corps or
    nationality, and strove to control and direct their fire. Jibba-clad
    figures sprang out of the ground, fired or charged, and were destroyed at
    every step. And onwards over their bodies–over pits choked with dead and
    dying, among heaps of mangled camels and donkeys, among decapitated or
    eviscerated trunks, the ghastly results of the shell fire; women and little
    children killed by the bombardment or praying in wild terror for mercy;
    blacks chained in their trenches, slaughtered in their chains–always
    onwards marched the conquerors, with bayonets running blood; clothes,
    hands, and faces all besmeared; the foul stench of a month’s accumulated
    filth in their nostrils, and the savage whistle of random bullets
    in their ears.

    But at about twenty minutes past eight the whole force, with the Seaforth
    Highlanders well forward on the left, arrived at the bank of the Atbara,
    having marched completely through the position, and shot or bayoneted all
    in their path. Hundreds of Dervishes were still visible retiring across the
    dry bed of the river, and making for the scrub on the opposite bank.
    The leading companies of the Seaforth Highlanders and Lincolns, with such
    odd parties of Camerons as had been carried on with the attack, opened a
    murderous fire on these fugitives. Since they would not run their loss was
    heavy, and it was a strange sight–the last vivid impression of the day–
    to watch them struggling through the deep sand, with the dust knocked up
    into clouds by the bullets which struck all round them. Very few escaped,
    and the bodies of the killed lay thickly dotting the river-bed with heaps
    of dirty-white. Then at 8.25 the ‘Cease fire’ sounded, and the battle
    of the Atbara ended.

    Forthwith the battalions began to re-form, and in every company the roll
    was called. The losses had been severe. In the assault–a period not
    exceeding half an hour–eighteen British, sixteen native officers and 525
    men had been killed or wounded, the greater part during the passage of
    the zeriba.

    The actual pursuit was abortive. Colonel Lewis, with his two battalions,
    followed a line of advance which led south of the zeriba, and just before
    reaching the river bank found and fired upon a few Dervishes retreating
    through the scrub. All the cavalry and the Camel Corps crossed the Atbara
    and plunged into the bush on the further side. But so dense and tangled
    was the country that after three miles of peril and perplexity they
    abandoned he attempt, and the routed Arabs fled unmolested. The Baggara
    horse had ridden off during the action, headed by the prudent Osman Digna
    –whose position in the zeriba was conveniently suited to such a
    manoeuvre–and under that careful leadership suffered little loss.
    The rest of the army was, however, destroyed or dispersed. The fugitives
    fled up the Atbara river, leaving many wounded to die in the scrub,
    all along their line of retreat. Of the powerful force of 12,000 fighting
    men which Mahmud had gathered at Metemma, scarcely 4,000 reached Gedaret
    in safety. These survivors were added to the army of Ahmed Fedil, and thus
    prevented from spreading their evil tidings among the populace at Omdurman.
    Osman Digna, Wad Bishara, and other important Emirs whose devotion and
    discretion were undoubted, alone returned to the capital.

    As soon as the troops were re-formed, the zeriba was evacuated and
    the army drew up in line along the neighbouring ridge. It was then only
    nine o’clock, and the air was still cool and fresh. The soldiers lit fires,
    made some tea, and ate their rations of biscuits and meat. Then they lay
    down and waited for evening. Gradually, as the hours passed, the sun became
    powerful. There was no shade, and only a few thin, leafless bushes rose
    from the sand. The hours of a day, peculiarly hot, even for the country
    and season, dragged wearily away. The sandy ridge beat back the rays till
    the air above was like the breath of a furnace and the pebbly ground
    burned. The water in the fantasses and bottles was hot and scarce. The pool
    of the Atbara was foul and tainted. In spite of the devoted efforts of the
    few medical officers who had been allowed to accompany the force,
    the wounded officers and soldiers endured the greatest miseries, and it is
    certain that several died of their wounds who might in happier
    circumstances have been saved.

    Several hundred prisoners were taken. They were mostly negroes–for the
    Arabs refused to surrender, and fought to the last or tried to escape.
    The captive blacks, who fight with equal willingness on either side,
    were content to be enlisted in the Soudanese regiments; so that many of
    those who served the Khalifa on the Atbara helped to destroy him
    at Omdurman. The most notable prisoner was the Emir Mahmud–a tall,
    strong Arab, about thirty years old. Immediately after his capture he was
    dragged before the Sirdar. ‘Why,’ inquired the General, ‘have you come into
    my country to burn and kill?’ ‘I have to obey my orders, and so have you,’
    retorted the captive sullenly, yet not without a certain dignity. To other
    questions he returned curt or evasive answers, and volunteered the opinion
    that all this slaughter would be avenged at Omdurman. He was removed in
    custody–a fine specimen of proud brutality, worthy perhaps of some better
    fate than to linger indefinitely in the gaol at Rosetta.

    With the cool of the evening the army left its bed of torment on the ridge
    and returned to Umdabia. The homeward march was a severe trial; the troops
    were exhausted; the ground was broken; the guides, less careful or less
    fortunate than on the previous night, lost their way. The columns were
    encumbered with wounded, most of whom were already in a high state
    of fever, and whose sufferings were painful to witness. It was not until
    after midnight that the camp was reached. The infantry had been
    continuously under arms–marching, fighting, or sweltering in the sun–
    for thirty hours, and most of them had hardly closed their eyes for two
    days. Officers and soldiers–British, Soudanese, and Egyptian–struggled
    into their bivouacs, and fell asleep, very weary but victorious.

    British and Egyptian casualties on the Atbara included 20 officers
    and 539 men killed or wounded. The Dervish loss was officially estimated
    at 40 Emirs and 3,000 dervishes killed. No statistics as to their wounded
    are forthcoming.

    . . . . . . . . . .

    As the battle of the Atbara had been decisive, the whole Expeditionary
    Force went into summer quarters. The Egyptian army was distributed into
    three principal garrisons–four battalions at Atbara camp, six battalions
    and the cavalry at Berber, three battalions at Abadia. The artillery and
    transport were proportionately divided. The British brigade encamped
    with two battalions at Darmali and two at the village of Selim,
    about a mile and a half distant.

    For the final phase of the campaign three new gunboats had been ordered
    from England. These were now sent in sections over the Desert Railway.
    Special arrangements were made to admit of the clumsy loads passing trains
    on the ordinary sidings. As usual, the contrivances of the railway
    subalterns were attended with success. Sir H. Kitchener himself proceeded
    to Abadia to accelerate by his personal activity and ingenuity the
    construction of the vessels on which so much depended. Here during the heat
    of the summer he remained, nursing his gunboats, maturing his plans,
    and waiting only for the rise of the river to complete the downfall
    of his foes.


    All through the early months of the summer the preparations for the final
    advance were steadily proceeding. A second British brigade was ordered to
    the Soudan. A new battery of Howitzer artillery–the 37th–firing enormous
    shells charged with lyddite, was despatched from England. Two large
    40-pounder guns were sent from Cairo. Another British Maxim battery of four
    guns was formed in Cairo from men of the Royal Irish Fusiliers. Three new
    screw gunboats of the largest size and most formidable pattern had been
    passed over the indefatigable railway in sections, and were now launched on
    the clear waterway south of the Atbara encampment; and last, but not least,
    the 21st Lancers [The author led a troop in this regiment during the final
    advance to Omdurman; and it is from this standpoint that the ensuing
    chapters are to some extent conceived] were ordered up the Nile. Events now
    began to move rapidly. Within three weeks of the arrival of the
    reinforcements the climax of the war was over; within five weeks the
    British troops were returning home. There was no delay at the Atbara
    encampment. Even before the whole of the second brigade had arrived,
    some of its battalions were being despatched to Wad Hamed, the new point of
    concentration. This place was a few miles north of Shabluka, and only
    fifty-eight miles from Omdurman. It was evident, therefore, that the
    decisive moment of the three years’ war approached. The Staff, the British
    infantry, one squadron, the guns, and the stores were carried south in
    steamers and barges. The Egyptian division marched to Wad Hamed by
    brigades. The horses of the batteries, the transport animals of the British
    division (about 1,400 in number), the chargers of the officers,
    some cattle, and most of the war correspondents were sent along the left
    bank of the river escorted by two squadrons of the 21st Lancers
    and two Maxim guns.

    All the thirteen squadrons of cavalry remained three days at Wad Hamed.
    After the fatigues of the march we were glad to have an opportunity of
    looking about, of visiting regiments known in other circumstances, and of
    writing a few letters. This last was the most important, for it was now
    known that after leaving Wad Hamed there would be no post or communication
    with Cairo and Europe until the action had been fought and all was over.
    The halt was welcome for another reason. The camp itself was well worth
    looking at. It lay lengthways along the river-bank, and was nearly two
    miles from end to end. The Nile secured it from attack towards the east.
    On the western and southern sides were strong lines of thorn bushes,
    staked down and forming a zeriba; and the north face was protected by a
    deep artificial watercourse which allowed the waters of the river to make
    a considerable inundation. From the bank of this work the whole camp could
    be seen. Far away to the southward the white tents of the British division;
    a little nearer rows and rows of grass huts and blanket shelters,
    the bivouacs of the Egyptian and Soudanese brigades; the Sirdar’s large
    white tent, with the red flag of Egypt flying from a high staff, on a small
    eminence; and to the right the grove of palm-trees in which the officers of
    the Egyptian cavalry had established themselves. The whole riverside was
    filled by a forest of masts. Crowds of gyassas, barges, and steamers were
    moored closely together; and while looking at the furled sails, the tangled
    riggings, and the tall funnels it was easy for the spectator to imagine
    that this was the docks of some populous city in a well-developed
    and civilised land.

    But the significance of the picture grew when the mind, outstripping the
    eye, passed beyond the long, low heights of the gorge and cataract of
    Shabluka and contemplated the ruins of Khartoum and the city of Omdurman.
    There were known to be at least 50,000 fighting men collected in their last
    stronghold. We might imagine the scene of excitement, rumour, and resolve
    in the threatened capital. The Khalifa declares that he will destroy the
    impudent invaders. The Mahdi has appeared to him in a dream. Countless
    angelic warriors will charge with those of Islam. The ‘enemies of God’
    will perish and their bones will whiten the broad plain. Loud is the
    boasting, and many are the oaths which are taken, as to what treatment
    the infidel dogs shall have when they are come to the city walls.
    The streets swarm with men and resound with their voices. Everywhere is
    preparation and defiance. And yet over all hangs the dark shadow of fear.
    Nearer and nearer comes this great serpent of an army, moving so slowly and
    with such terrible deliberation, but always moving. A week ago it was sixty
    miles away, now it is but fifty. Next week only twenty miles will
    intervene, and then the creep of the serpent will cease, and, without
    argument or parley, one way or the other the end will come.

    The road to the next camp was a long one; for though Royan island,
    opposite to which the site had been selected, was only seven miles in the
    direct line, it was necessary to march eight miles into the desert to avoid
    the Shabluka heights, and then to turn back to the Nile. The infantry were
    therefore provided with camel transport to carry sufficient water in small
    iron tanks for one night; and they were thus able to bivouac half-way,
    and to complete the journey on the next morning, thus making a two days’
    march. The mounted troops, who remained at Wad Hamed till all had gone
    south, were ordered to move on the 27th of August, and by a double march
    catch up the rest of the army.

    Wad Hamed then ceased for the time being to exist except in name.
    All the stores and transport were moved by land or water to the south of
    Shabluka, and an advanced base was formed upon Royan island. Communications
    with the Atbara encampment and with Cairo were dropped, and the army
    carried with them in their boats sufficient supplies to last until after
    the capture of Omdurman, when the British division would be immediately
    sent back. It was calculated that the scope of this operation would not
    be greater than three weeks, and on the 27th the army were equipped with
    twenty-one days’ supplies, of which two were carried by the troops, five by
    the regimental barges, and fourteen in the army transport sailing-vessels.
    All surplus stores were deposited at Royan island, where a field hospital
    was also formed.

    The Expeditionary Force which was thus concentrated, equipped, and supplied
    for the culminating moment of the River War, was organised as follows:

    Commander-in-Chief: THE SIRDAR

    The British Division: MAJOR-GENERAL GATACRE Commanding

    1st Brigade 2nd Brigade
    1st Btn. Royal Warwickshire Regt. 1st Btn. Grenadier Guards
    ” ” Lincoln Regiment ” ” Northumberland Fusiliers
    ” ” Seaforth Highlanders 2nd ” Lancashire Fusiliers
    ” ” Cameron Highlanders ” ” Rifle Brigade

    The Egyptian Division: MAJOR-GENERAL HUNTER Commanding

    1st Brigade 2nd Brigade 3rd Brigade 4th Brigade
    2nd Egyptians 8th Egyptians 3rd Egyptians 1st Egyptians
    IXth Soudanese XIIth Soudanese 4th ” 5th (half) ”
    Xth ” XIIIth ” 7th ” 17th ”
    XIth ” XIVth ” 15th ” 18th ”

    Mounted Forces

    21st Lancers Camel Corps Egyptian Cavalry
    4 squadrons 8 companies 9 squadrons

    Artillery: COLONEL LONG Commanding

    (British) 32nd Field Battery, R.A.(with two 40-pounder guns) 8 guns
    ” 37th ” ” ” (5-inch Howitzers) . 6 guns
    (Egyptian) The Horse Battery, E.A. (Krupp) . . . 6 guns
    ” No. 1 Field Battery, E.A. (Maxim-Nordenfeldt) 6 guns
    ” No. 2 ” ” ” . . . . 6 guns
    ” No. 3 ” ” ” . . . . 6 guns
    ” No. 4 ” ” ” . . . . 6 guns

    Machine Guns

    (British) Detachment 16th Co. Eastern Division R.A. . 6 Maxim
    ” ” Royal Irish Fusiliers . . 4 ”
    (Egyptian) 2 Maxim guns to each of the five
    Egyptian batteries . . . . 10 ”


    Detachment of Royal Engineers

    The Flotilla: COMMANDER KEPPEL

    1898 Class Armoured Screw Gunboats (3): the Sultan, the Melik, the Sheikh

    each carrying: 2 Nordenfeldt guns
    1 quick-firing 12-pounder gun
    1 Howitzer
    4 Maxims

    1896 Class Armoured Screw Gunboats (3): the Fateh, The Naser, the Zafir

    each carrying: 1 quick-firing 12-pounder gun
    2 6-pounder guns
    4 Maxims

    Old Class Armoured Stern-wheel Gunboats (4): the Tamai, the Hafir*,
    the Abu Klea, the Metemma

    each carrying: 1 12-pounder gun
    2 Maxim-Nordenfeldt guns

    Steam Transport

    5 Steamers: The Dal, The Akasha, the Tahra, The Okma, the Kaibar

    [*The steamer El Teb, wrecked at the Fourth Cataract in 1897, had been
    refloated, and to change the luck was renamed Hafir.]

    The total strength of the Expeditionary Force amounted to 8,200 British
    and 17,600 Egyptian soldiers, with 44 guns and 20 Maxims on land,
    with 36 guns and 24 Maxims on the river, and with 2,469 horses, 896 mules,
    3,524 camels, and 229 donkeys, besides followers and private animals.

    While the army were to move along the west bank of the river–the Omdurman
    side–a force of Arab irregulars, formed from the friendly tribes, would
    march along the east bank and clear it of any Dervishes. All the debris
    which the Egyptian advance had broken off the Dervish Empire was thus to be
    hurled against that falling State. Eager for plunder, anxious to be on the
    winning side, Sheikhs and Emirs from every tribe in the Military Soudan
    had hurried, with what following the years of war had left them, to Wad
    Hamed. On the 26th of August the force of irregulars numbered about 2,500
    men, principally Jaalin survivors, but also comprising bands and
    individuals of Bisharin; of Hadendoa from Suakin; of Shukria,
    the camel-breeders; of Batahin, who had suffered a bloody diminution at
    the Khalifa’s hands; of Shaiggia, Gordon’s vexatious allies; and lastly
    some Gellilab Arabs under a reputed son of Zubehr Pasha. The command of
    the whole motley force was given to Major Stuart-Wortley, Lieutenant Wood
    accompanying him as Staff Officer; and the position of these officers among
    the cowed and untrustworthy Arabs was one of considerable peril.

    While the infantry divisions were marching round the heights of Shabluka
    to the camp opposite Royan island, the steamers and gunboats ascended the
    stream and passed through the gorge, dragging up with them the whole fleet
    of barges and gyassas. The northern end of the narrow passage had been
    guarded by the five Dervish forts, which now stood deserted and dismantled.
    They were well built, and formed nearly a straight line–four on one bank
    and one on the other. Each fort had three embrasures, and might,
    when occupied, have been a formidable defence to the cataract.

    Threshing up against the current, the gunboats and stern-wheelers
    one after another entered the gorge. The Nile, which below is nearly a mile
    across, narrows to a bare 200 yards. The pace of the stream becomes more
    swift. Great swirls and eddies disturb its surface. High on either side
    rise black, broken, and precipitous cliffs, looking like piles of gigantic
    stones. Through and among them the flood-river pours with a loud roaring,
    breaking into foam and rapids wherever the submerged rocks are near the
    surface. Between the barren heights and the water is a strip of green
    bushes and grass. The bright verdant colour seems the more brilliant by
    contrast with the muddy water and the sombre rocks. It is a forbidding
    passage. A few hundred riflemen scattered Afridiwise among the tops of
    the hills, a few field-guns in the mud forts by the bank, and the door
    would be shut.

    The mounted forces marched from Wad Hamed at dawn on the 27th and,
    striking out into the desert, skirted the rocky hills. Besides the 21st
    Lancers and nine squadrons of Egyptian cavalry, the column included the
    Camel Corps, 800 strong, and a battery of Horse Artillery; and it was a
    fine sight to see all these horsemen and camel-men trotting swiftly across
    the sand by squadrons and companies, with a great cloud of dust rising
    from each and drifting away to the northward.

    The zeriba of the camp at Royan had been already made and much of the
    ground cleared by the energy of the Soudanese division, which had been the
    first to arrive. An advanced depot was established at Royan island which
    was covered with white hospital tents, near which there was a forest of
    masts and sails. The barges and boats containing the stores and kits
    awaited the troops, and they had only to bivouac along the river-bank and
    shelter themselves as quickly as possible from the fierce heat of the sun.
    The dark hills of Shabluka, among and beneath which the camp and army
    nestled, lay behind us now. To the south the country appeared a level plain
    covered with bush and only broken by occasional peaks of rock. The eternal
    Nile flowed swiftly by the tents and shelters, and disappeared mysteriously
    in the gloom of the gorge; and on the further bank there rose a great
    mountain–Jebel Royan–from the top of which it was said that men
    might see Khartoum.

    The whole army broke camp at Royan on the 28th of August at four o’clock
    in the afternoon, and marched to Wady el Abid six miles further south.
    We now moved on a broad front, which could immediately be converted into a
    fighting formation. This was the first time that it had been possible to
    see the whole force–infantry, cavalry, and guns–on the march at once.
    In the clear air the amazing detail of the picture was striking. There were
    six brigades of infantry, composed of twenty-four battalions; yet every
    battalion showed that it was made up of tiny figures, all perfectly defined
    on the plain. A Soudanese brigade had been sent on to hold the ground with
    pickets until the troops had constructed a zeriba. But a single Dervish
    horseman managed to evade these and, just as the light faded, rode up to
    the Warwickshire Regiment and flung his broad-bladed spear in token of
    defiance. So great was the astonishment which this unexpected apparition
    created that the bold man actually made good his escape uninjured.

    On the 29th the forces remained halted opposite Um Teref, and only the
    Egyptian cavalry went out to reconnoitre. They searched the country for
    eight or nine miles, and Colonel Broadwood returned in the afternoon,
    having found a convenient camping-ground, but nothing else. During the day
    the news of two river disasters arrived–the first to ourselves, the second
    to our foes. On the 28th the gunboat Zafir was steaming from the Atbara to
    Wad Hamed, intending thereafter to ascend the Shabluka Cataract.
    Suddenly–overtaken now, as on the eve of the advance on Dongola,
    by misfortune–she sprang a leak, and, in spite of every effort to run her
    ashore, foundered by the head in deep water near Metemma. The officers on
    board–among whom was Keppel, the commander of the whole flotilla–
    had scarcely time to leap from the wreck, and with difficulty made their
    way to the shore, where they were afterwards found very cold and hungry.
    The Sirdar received the news at Royan. His calculations were disturbed by
    the loss of a powerful vessel; but he had allowed for accidents, and in
    consequence accepted the misfortune very phlegmatically. The days of
    struggling warfare were over, and the General knew that he had
    a safe margin of strength.

    The other catastrophe afflicted the Khalifa, and its tale was brought to
    the advancing army by the Intelligence spies, who to the last–even when
    the forces were closing–tried to pass between them. Not content with
    building batteries along the banks, Abdullah, fearing the gunboats,
    had resolved to mine the river. An old officer of the old Egyptian army,
    long a prisoner in Omdurman, was brought from his chains and ordered to
    construct mines. Two iron boilers were filled with gunpowder, and it was
    arranged that these should be sunk in the Nile at convenient spots.
    Buried in the powder of each was a loaded pistol with a string attached to
    the trigger. On pulling the string the pistol, and consequently the mine,
    would be exploded. So the Khalifa argued; nor was he wrong. It was resolved
    to lay one mine first. On the 17th of August the Dervish steamer Ismailia
    moved out into the middle of the Nile, carrying one of the boilers fully
    charged and equipped with pistol detonator. Arrived at the selected spot,
    the great cylinder of powder was dropped over the side. Its efficiency as
    a destructive engine was immediately demonstrated, for, on the string being
    pulled by accident, the pistol discharged itself, the powder exploded,
    and the Ismailia and all on board were blown to pieces.

    Undeterred by the loss of life, and encouraged by the manifest power
    of the contrivance, the Khalifa immediately ordered the second of the two
    boilers to be sunk in the stream. As the old Egyptian officer had been
    killed by the explosion, the Emir in charge of the arsenal was entrusted
    with the perilous business. He rose, however, to the occasion, and, having
    first taken the precaution of letting the water into the boiler so as to
    damp the powder, he succeeded in laying the second mine in mid-stream,
    to the joy and delight of Abdullah, who, not understanding that it was
    now useless, overwhelmed him with praise and presents.

    Beguiled with such stories and diversions, the day of rest at
    Wady el Abid passed swiftly. Night brought beetles, bugs, and ants,
    and several men were stung by scorpions–a most painful though not
    dangerous affair. Towards morning it began to rain, and everyone was
    drenched and chilled when the sun rose across the river from behind a great
    conical hill and dispersed the clouds into wisps of creamy flame. Then we
    mounted and set out. This day the army moved prepared for immediate action,
    and all the cavalry were thrown out ten miles in front in a great screen
    which reached from the gunboats on the river to the Camel Corps
    far out in the desert.

    When we had advanced a little further, there arose above the scrub
    the dark outlines of a rocky peak, the hill of Merreh. The whole of
    the 21st Lancers now concentrated, and, trotting quickly forward, occupied
    this position, whence a considerable tract of country was visible. We were
    hardly twenty-five miles from Khartoum, and of that distance at least ten
    miles were displayed. Yet there were no enemy. Had they all fled?
    Would there be no opposition? Should we find Omdurman deserted
    or submissive? These were questions which occurred to everyone, and many
    answered them affirmatively. Colonel Martin had meanwhile heliographed
    back to the Sirdar that all the ground was up to this point clear,
    and that there were no Dervishes to be seen. After some delay orders were
    signalled back for one squadron to remain till sunset in observation on
    the hill and for the rest to return to camp.

    With two troops thrown out a mile in front we waited watching on the hill.
    Time passed slowly, for the sun was hot. Suddenly it became evident that
    one of the advanced troops was signalling energetically. The message was
    spelt out. The officer with the troop perceived Dervishes in his front.
    We looked through our glasses. It was true. There, on a white patch of sand
    among the bushes of the plain, were a lot of little brown spots, moving
    slowly across the front of the cavalry outposts towards an Egyptian
    squadron, which was watching far out to the westward. There may have been
    seventy horsemen altogether. We could not take our eyes off those distant
    specks we had travelled so far, if possible, to destroy. Presently the
    Dervish patrol approached our right troop, and apparently came nearer than
    they imagined, for the officer who commanded–Lieutenant Conolly–
    opened fire on them with carbines, and we saw them turn and ride back,
    but without hurrying.

    The camp to which we returned was a very different place from the one
    we had left in the morning. Instead of lying along the river-bank,
    it was pitched in the thinner scrub. The bushes had on all sides been cut
    down, the ground cleared, and an immense oblong zeriba was built,
    around which the six brigades were drawn up, and into which cavalry, guns,
    and transport were closely packed.

    Very early next morning the advance was continued. The army paraded
    by starlight, and with the first streak of the dawn the cavalry were again
    flung far out in advance. Secure behind the screen of horsemen and Camel
    Corps, the infantry advanced in regular array. Up to the 27th of August
    the force marched by divisions; but on and after the 30th of August the
    whole force commenced to march in fighting formation. The British division
    was on the left, the Egyptian army on the right. All the brigades marched
    in line, or in a slight echelon. The flank brigades kept their flank
    battalions in column or in fours. Other British battalions had six
    companies in the front line (in company column of fours) and two companies
    in support. The Egyptian brigades usually marched with three battalions in
    the front line and one in reserve, each of the three in the front line
    having four companies in front and two in support.

    The spectacle of the moving army–the grand army of the Nile–as it
    advanced towards its goal was especially wonderful in the clear air of the
    early morning; a long row of great brown masses of infantry and artillery,
    with a fringe of cavalry dotting the plain for miles in front, with the
    Camel Corps–chocolate-coloured men on cream-coloured camels–stretching
    into the desert on the right, and the white gunboats stealing silently up
    the river on the left, scrutinising the banks with their guns; while far
    in rear the transport trailed away into the mirage, and far in front the
    field-glass disclosed the enemy’s patrols. Day after day and hour after
    hour the advance was maintained. Arrived at the camping-ground, the zeriba
    had to be built; and this involved a long afternoon of fatigue. In the
    evening, when the dusty, tired-out squadrons returned, the troopers
    attended to their horses, and so went to sleep in peace. It was then that
    the dusty, tired-out infantry provided sentries and pickets, who in a
    ceaseless succession paced the zeriba and guarded its occupants.

    The position of the next camp was a strong one, on a high swell of
    open ground which afforded a clear field of fire in every direction.
    Everyone that night lay down to sleep with a feeling of keen expectancy.
    One way or the other all doubts would be settled the next day. The cavalry
    would ride over the Kerreri Hills, if they were not occupied by the enemy,
    and right up to the walls of Omdurman. If the Dervishes had any army–
    if there was to be any battle–we should know within a few hours.
    The telegrams which were despatched that evening were the last to reach
    England before the event. During the night heavy rain fell, and all the
    country was drenched. The telegraph-wire had been laid along the ground,
    as there had been no time to pole it. The sand when dry is a sufficient
    insulator, but when wet its non-conductivity is destroyed. Hence all
    communications ceased, and those at home who had husbands, sons, brothers,
    or friends in the Expeditionary Force were left in an uncertainty as great
    as that in which we slept–and far more painful.

    The long day had tired everyone. Indeed, the whole fortnight
    since the cavalry convoy had started from the Atbara had been a period
    of great exertion, and the Lancers, officers and men, were glad to eat a
    hasty meal, and forget the fatigues of the day, the hardness of the ground,
    and the anticipations of the morrow in deep sleep. The camp was watched by
    the infantry, whose labours did not end with the daylight. At two o’clock
    in the morning the clouds broke in rain and storm. Great blue flashes of
    lightning lit up the wide expanse of sleeping figures, of crowded animals,
    and of shelters fluttering in the wind; and from the centre of the camp it
    was even possible to see for an instant the continuous line of sentries who
    watched throughout the night with ceaseless vigilance. Nor was this all.
    Far away, near the Kerreri Hills, the yellow light of a burning village
    shot up, unquenched by the rain, and only invisible in the brightest
    flashes of the lightning. There was war to the southward.


    The British and Egyptian cavalry, supported by the Camel Corps
    and Horse Artillery, trotted out rapidly, and soon interposed a distance
    of eight miles between them and the army. As before, the 21st Lancers
    were on the left nearest the river, and the Khedivial squadrons curved
    backwards in a wide half-moon to protect the right flank. Meanwhile the
    gunboat flotilla was seen to be in motion. The white boats began to ascend
    the stream leisurely. Yet their array was significant. Hitherto they had
    moved at long and indefinite intervals–one following perhaps a mile,
    or even two miles, behind the other. Now a regular distance of about 300
    yards was observed. The orders of the cavalry were to reconnoitre Omdurman;
    of the gunboats to bombard it.

    As soon as the squadrons of the 21st Lancers had turned the shoulder of
    the steep Kerreri Hills, we saw in the distance a yellow-brown pointed
    dome rising above the blurred horizon. It was the Mahdi’s Tomb, standing
    in the very heart of Omdurman. From the high ground the field-glass
    disclosed rows and rows of mud houses, making a dark patch on the brown of
    the plain. To the left the river, steel-grey in the morning light, forked
    into two channels, and on the tongue of land between them the gleam of a
    white building showed among the trees. Before us were the ruins
    of Khartoum and the confluence of the Blue and White Niles.

    A black, solitary hill rose between the Kerreri position and Omdurman.
    A long, low ridge running from it concealed the ground beyond. For the rest
    there was a wide-rolling, sandy plain of great extent, surrounded on three
    sides by rocky hills and ridges, and patched with coarse, starveling grass
    or occasional bushes. By the banks of the river which framed the picture on
    the left stood a straggling mud village, and this, though we did not
    know it, was to be the field of Omdurman. It was deserted. Not a living
    creature could be seen. And now there were many who said once and for all
    that there would be no fight; for here we were arrived at the very walls
    of Omdurman, and never an enemy to bar our path. Then, with four squadrons
    looking very tiny on the broad expanse of ground, we moved steadily
    forward, and at the same time the Egyptian cavalry and the Camel Corps
    entered the plain several miles further to the west, and they too
    began to trot across it.

    It was about three miles to the last ridge which lay between us
    and the city. If there was a Dervish army, if there was to be a battle,
    if the Khalifa would maintain his boast and accept the arbitrament of war,
    much must be visible from that ridge. We looked over. At first nothing was
    apparent except the walls and houses of Omdurman and the sandy plain
    sloping up from the river to distant hills. Then four miles away on our
    right front emerged a long black line with white spots. It was the enemy.
    It seemed to us, as we looked, that there might be 3,000 men behind a
    high dense zeriba of thorn-bushes. That, said the officers, was better
    than nothing. It is scarcely necessary to describe our tortuous movements
    towards the Dervish position. Looking at it now from one point of view,
    now from another, but always edging nearer, the cavalry slowly approached,
    and halted in the plain about three miles away–three great serpents
    of men–the light-coloured one, the 21st Lancers; a much longer and a
    blacker one, the Egyptian squadrons; a mottled one, the Camel Corps and
    Horse Artillery. From this distance a clearer view was possible,
    and we distinguished many horsemen riding about the flanks and front of
    the broad dark line which crowned the crest of the slope. A few of these
    rode carelessly towards the squadrons to look at them. They were not
    apparently acquainted with the long range of the Lee-Metford carbine.
    Several troops were dismounted, and at 800 yards fire was made on them.
    Two were shot and fell to the ground. Their companions, dismounting,
    examined them, picked up one, let the other lie, and resumed their ride,
    without acknowledging the bullets by even an increase of pace.

    While this passed, so did the time. It was now nearly eleven o’clock.
    Suddenly the whole black line which seemed to be zeriba began to move.
    It was made of men, not bushes. Behind it other immense masses and lines
    of men appeared over the crest; and while we watched, amazed by the wonder
    of the sight, the whole face of the slope became black with swarming
    savages. Four miles from end to end, and, as it seemed, in five great
    divisions, this mighty army advanced–swiftly. The whole side of the hill
    seemed to move. Between the masses horsemen galloped continually;
    before them many patrols dotted the plain; above them waved hundreds of
    banners, and the sun, glinting on many thousand hostile spear-points,
    spread a sparkling cloud.

    It is now known that the Khalifa had succeeded in concentrating at
    Omdurman an army of more than 60,000 men. He remembered that all the former
    victories over the Egyptians had been won by the Dervishes attacking.
    He knew that in all the recent defeats they had stood on the defensive.
    He therefore determined not to oppose the advance at the Shabluka or on
    the march thence to Omdurman. All was to be staked on the issue of a great
    battle on the plains of Kerreri. The Mahdi’s prophecy was propitious.
    The strength of the Dervish army seemed overwhelming. When the ‘Turks’
    arrived, they should be driven into the river. Accordingly the Khalifa had
    only watched the advance of the Expeditionary Force from Wad Hamed with
    a patrol of cavalry about 200 strong. On the 30th he was informed that the
    enemy drew near, and on the 31st he assembled his bodyguard and regular
    army, with the exception of the men needed for the river batteries,
    on the Omdurman parade ground. He harangued the leaders; and remained
    encamped with his troops during the night. The next day all the male
    population of the city were compelled to join the army in the field,
    and only the gunners and garrisons on the river-face remained within.
    In spite, however, of his utmost vigilance, nearly 6,000 men deserted
    during the nights of the 31st of August and the 1st of September.
    This and the detachments in the forts reduced the force actually engaged
    in the battle to 52,000 men. The host that now advanced towards the British
    and Egyptian cavalry was perhaps 4,000 stronger.

    Their array was regular and precise, and, facing northeast, stretched for
    more than four miles from flank to flank. A strong detachment of the
    mulazemin or guard was extended in front of the centre. Ali-Wad-Helu,
    with his bright green flag, prolonged the line to the left; and his 5,000
    warriors, chiefly of the Degheim and Kenana tribes, soon began to reach out
    towards the Egyptian cavalry. The centre and main force of the army was
    composed of the regular troops, formed in squares under Osman Sheikh-ed-Din
    and Osman Azrak. This great body comprised 12,000 black riflemen and about
    13,000 black and Arab spearmen. In their midst rose the large, dark green
    flag which the Sheikh-ed-Din had adopted to annoy Ali-Wad-Helu, of whose
    distinctive emblem he was inordinately jealous. The Khalifa with his own
    bodyguard, about 2,000 strong, followed the centre. In rear of all marched
    Yakub with the Black Flag and 13,000 men–nearly all swordsmen and
    spearmen, who with those extended in front of the army constituted the
    guard. The right wing was formed by the brigade of the Khalifa Sherif,
    consisting of 2,000 Danagla tribesmen, whose principal ensign was a broad
    red flag. Osman Digna, with about 1,700 Hadendoa, guarded the extreme right
    and the flank nearest Omdurman, and his fame needed no flag. Such was the
    great army which now moved swiftly towards the watching squadrons;
    and these, pausing on the sandy ridge, pushed out a fringe of tentative
    patrols, as if to assure themselves that what they saw was real.

    The Egyptian cavalry had meanwhile a somewhat different view of
    the spectacle. Working on the right of the 21st Lancers, and keeping
    further from the river, the leading squadrons had reached the extreme
    western end of the Kerreri ridge at about seven o’clock. From here the
    Mahdi’s Tomb was visible, and, since the rocks of Surgham did not obstruct
    the view from this point, the British officers, looking through their
    field-glasses, saw what appeared to be a long column of brown spots moving
    south-westwards across the wide plain which stretches away to the west of
    Omdurman. The telescope, an invaluable aid to reconnaissance, developed
    the picture. The brown objects proved to be troops of horses grazing;
    and beyond, to the southward, camels and white flapping tents could be
    distinguished. There were no signs that a retreat was in progress;
    but from such a distance–nearly four miles–no certain information
    could be obtained, and Colonel Broadwood decided to advance closer.
    He accordingly led his whole command south-westward towards a round-topped
    hill which rose about four miles from the end of the Kerreri ridge and was
    one of the more distant hill features bounding the plain on the western
    side. The Egyptian cavalry moved slowly across the desert to this new
    point of observation. On their way they traversed the end of the Khor
    Shambat, a long depression which is the natural drainage channel of the
    plains of Kerreri and Omdurman, and joins the Nile about four miles from
    the city. The heavy rain of the previous night had made the low ground
    swampy, and pools of water stood in the soft, wet sand. The passage,
    however, presented no great difficulty, and at half-past eleven the
    Egyptian squadrons began to climb the lower slopes of the round-topped
    hill. Here the whole scene burst suddenly upon them. Scarcely three miles
    away the Dervish army was advancing with the regularity of parade.
    The south wind carried the martial sound of horns and drums and–far more
    menacing–the deep murmur of a multitude to the astonished officers.
    Like the 21st Lancers–three miles away to their left, at the end of the
    long sandy ridge which runs westward from Surgham–the soldiers remained
    for a space spell-bound. But all eyes were soon drawn from the thrilling
    spectacle of the Dervish advance by the sound of guns on the river.

    At about eleven o’clock the gunboats had ascended the Nile, and now
    engaged the enemy’s batteries on both banks. Throughout the day the loud
    reports of their guns could be heard, and, looking from our position on
    the ridge, we could see the white vessels steaming slowly forward against
    the current, under clouds of black smoke from their furnaces and amid
    other clouds of white smoke from the artillery. The forts, which mounted
    nearly fifty guns, replied vigorously; but the British aim was accurate
    and their fire crushing. The embrasures were smashed to bits and many of
    the Dervish guns dismounted. The rifle trenches which flanked the forts
    were swept by the Maxim guns. The heavier projectiles, striking the mud
    walls of the works and houses, dashed the red dust high into the air and
    scattered destruction around. Despite the tenacity and courage of the
    Dervish gunners, they were driven from their defences and took refuge
    among the streets of the city. The great wall of Omdurman was breached
    in many places, and a large number of unfortunate non-combatants
    were killed and wounded.

    Meanwhile the Arab irregulars, under Major Wortley, had been sharply
    engaged. That officer’s orders were to co-operate with the flotilla by
    taking in rear the forts and fortified villages on the east bank of the
    river. As soon as the gunboats had silenced the lower forts, Major Wortley
    ordered the irregulars to advance on them and on the houses. He placed the
    Jaalin, who were practically the only trustworthy men in his force,
    in reserve, and formed the tribes according to their capabilities and
    prejudices. On the order to attack being given, the whole force, some 3,000
    strong, advanced on the buildings, from which the Dervishes at once
    opened fire. Arrived within 500 yards they halted, and began to discharge
    their rifles in the air; they also indulged in frantic dances expressive of
    their fury and valour, but declined to advance any further.

    Major Wortley then ordered the Jaalin to attack. These–formed in a
    long column, animated by the desire for vengeance, and being besides brave
    men–moved upon the village at a slow pace, and, surrounding one house
    after another, captured it and slew all its defenders; including the
    Dervish Emir and 350 of his followers. The Jaalin themselves suffered a
    loss of about sixty killed and wounded.

    The village being captured, and the enemy on the east bank
    killed or dispersed, the gunboats proceeded to engage the batteries higher
    up the river. The howitzer battery was now landed, and at 1.30 began to
    bombard the Mahdi’s Tomb. This part of the proceedings was plainly visible
    to us, waiting and watching on the ridge, and its interest even distracted
    attention from the Dervish army. The dome of the tomb rose tall and
    prominent above the mud houses of the city. A lyddite shell burst over it
    –a great flash, a white ball of smoke, and, after a pause, the dull thud
    of the distant explosion. Another followed. At the third shot, instead of
    the white smoke, there was a prodigious cloud of red dust, in which the
    whole tomb disappeared. When this cleared away we saw that, instead of
    being pointed, it was now flat-topped. Other shells continued to strike it
    with like effect, some breaking holes in the dome, others smashing off
    the cupolas, all enveloping it in dust.

    All this time the Dervishes were coming nearer, and the steady and
    continuous advance of the great army compelled the Egyptian cavalry to
    mount their horses and trot off to some safer point of view.
    Colonel Broadwood conceived his direct line of retreat to camp threatened,
    and shortly after one o’clock he began a regular retirement.
    Eight squadrons of Egyptian cavalry and the Horse Artillery moved
    off first. Five companies of the Camel Corps, a Maxim gun section, and the
    ninth squadron of cavalry followed as a rear-guard under Major Tudway.
    The Dervish horsemen contented themselves with firing occasional shots,
    which were replied to by the Camel Corps with volleys whenever the ground
    was suited to dismounted action. From time to time one of the more daring
    Arabs would gallop after the retreating squadrons, but a shot from a
    carbine or a threatened advance always brought the adventurous horseman
    to a halt. The retirement was continued without serious interference,
    and the boggy ground of the Khor Shambat was recrossed in safety.

    As soon as the Egyptian squadrons–a darker mass under the dark hills
    to the westward–were seen to be in retirement, the 21st Lancers were
    withdrawn slowly along the sandy ridge towards the rocks of Surgham–
    the position whence we had first seen the Dervish army. The regiment
    wheeled about and fell back by alternate wings, dropping two detached
    troops to the rear and flanks to make the enemy’s patrols keep their
    distance. But when the Arab horsemen saw all the cavalry retiring they
    became very bold, and numerous small groups of fives and sixes began to
    draw nearer at a trot. Accordingly, whenever the ground was favourable,
    the squadrons halted in turn for a few minutes to fire on them. In this
    way perhaps half-a-dozen were killed or wounded. The others, however,
    paid little attention to the bullets, and continued to pry curiously,
    until at last it was thought necessary to send a troop to drive them away.
    The score of Lancers galloped back towards the inquisitive patrols in the
    most earnest fashion. The Dervishes, although more numerous, were
    scattered about in small parties, and, being unable to collect,
    they declined the combat. The great army, however, still advanced
    majestically, pressing the cavalry back before it; and it was evident
    that if the Khalifa’s movement continued, in spite of it being nearly
    one o’clock, there would be a collision between the main forces
    before the night.

    From the summit of the black hill of Surgham the scene was extraordinary.
    The great army of Dervishes was dwarfed by the size of the landscape to
    mere dark smears and smudges on the brown of the plain. Looking east,
    another army was now visible–the British and Egyptian army. All six
    brigades had passed the Kerreri Hills, and now stood drawn up
    in a crescent, with their backs to the Nile. The transport and the houses
    of the village of Egeiga filled the enclosed space. Neither force could see
    the other, though but five miles divided them. The array of the enemy was,
    without doubt, both longer and deeper. Yet there seemed a superior strength
    in the solid battalions, whose lines were so straight that they might
    have been drawn with a ruler.

    The camp presented an animated appearance. The troops had piled arms
    after the march, and had already built a slender hedge of thorn-bushes
    around them. Now they were eating their dinners, and in high expectation
    of a fight. The whole army had been ordered to stand to arms at two o’clock
    in formation to resist the attack which it seemed the Dervishes were about
    to deliver. But at a quarter to two the Dervish army halted. Their drill
    was excellent, and they all stopped as by a single command. Then suddenly
    their riflemen discharged their rifles in the air with a great roar–
    a barbaric feu de joie. The smoke sprang up along the whole front of their
    array, running from one end to the other. After this they lay down on the
    ground, and it became certain that the matter would not be settled
    that day. We remained in our position among the sandhills of the ridge
    until the approach of darkness, and during the afternoon various petty
    encounters took place between our patrols and those of the enemy, resulting
    in a loss to them of about a dozen killed and wounded, and to us of one
    corporal wounded and one horse killed. Then, as the light failed,
    we returned to the river to water and encamp, passing into the zeriba
    through the ranks of the British division, where officers and men,
    looking out steadfastly over the fading plain, asked us whether the enemy
    were coming–and, if so, when. And it was with confidence and satisfaction
    that we replied, and they heard, ‘Probably at daylight.’

    When the gunboats had completed their bombardment, had sunk a Dervish
    steamer, had silenced all the hostile batteries, and had sorely battered
    the Mahdi’s Tomb, they returned leisurely to the camp, and lay moored close
    to the bank to lend the assistance of their guns in case of attack. As the
    darkness became complete they threw their powerful searchlights over the
    front of the zeriba and on to the distant hills. The wheeling beams of
    dazzling light swept across the desolate, yet not deserted, plain.
    The Dervish army lay for the night along the eastern slope of the Shambat
    depression. All the 50,000 faithful warriors rested in their companies near
    the flags of their Emirs. The Khalifa slept in rear of the centre of
    his host, surrounded by his generals. Suddenly the whole scene was lit
    by a pale glare. Abdullah and the chiefs sprang up. Everything around them
    was bathed in an awful white illumination. Far away by the river there
    gleamed a brilliant circle of light–the cold, pitiless eye of a demon.
    The Khalifa put his hand on Osman Azrak’s shoulder–Osman, who was to lead
    the frontal attack at dawn–and whispered, ‘What is this strange thing?’
    ‘Sire,’ replied Osman, ‘they are looking at us.’ Thereat a great fear
    filled all their minds. The Khalifa had a small tent, which showed
    conspicuously in the searchlight. He had it hurriedly pulled down. Some of
    the Emirs covered their faces, lest the baleful rays should blind them.
    All feared that some terrible projectile would follow in the path of
    the light. And then suddenly it passed on–for the sapper who worked the
    lens could see nothing at that distance but the brown plain–and swept
    along the ranks of the sleeping army, rousing up the startled warriors,
    as a wind sweeps over a field of standing corn.

    The Anglo-Egyptian army had not formed a quadrilateral camp, as on
    other nights, but had lain down to rest in the formation for attack they
    had assumed in the afternoon. Every fifty yards behind the thorn-bushes
    were double sentries. Every hundred yards a patrol with an officer was
    to be met. Fifty yards in rear of this line lay the battalions, the men in
    all their ranks, armed and accoutred, but sprawled into every conceivable
    attitude which utter weariness could suggest or dictate. The enemy,
    twice as strong as the Expeditionary Force, were within five miles.
    They had advanced that day with confidence and determination. But it
    seemed impossible to believe that they would attack by daylight across the
    open ground. Two explanations of their advance and halt presented
    themselves. Either they had offered battle in a position where they could
    not themselves be attacked until four o’clock in the afternoon, and hoped
    that the Sirdar’s army, even though victorious, would have to fight a
    rear-guard action in the darkness to the river; or they intended to make
    a night attack. It was not likely that an experienced commander would
    accept battle at so late an hour in the day. If the Dervishes were anxious
    to attack, so much the worse for them. But the army would remain strictly
    on the defensive–at any rate, until there was plenty of daylight.
    The alternative remained–a night attack.

    Here lay the great peril which threatened the expedition.
    What was to be done with the troops during the hours of darkness? In the
    daytime they recked little of their enemy. But at night, when 400 yards
    was the extreme range at which their fire could be opened, it was a matter
    of grave doubt whether the front could be kept and the attack repelled.
    The consequences of the line being penetrated in the darkness were
    appalling to think of. The sudden appearance of crowds of figures swarming
    to the attack through the gloom; the wild outburst of musketry and
    artillery all along the zeriba; the crowds still coming on in spite of the
    bullets; the fire getting uncontrolled, and then a great bunching and
    crumpling of some part of the front, and mad confusion, in which a
    multitude of fierce swordsmen would surge through the gap, cutting and
    slashing at every living thing; in which transport animals would stampede
    and rush wildly in all directions, upsetting every formation and destroying
    all attempts to restore order; in which regiments and brigades would shift
    for themselves and fire savagely on all sides, slaying alike friend
    and foe; and out of which only a few thousand, perhaps only a few hundred,
    demoralised men would escape in barges and steamers to tell the tale
    of ruin and defeat.

    The picture–true or false–flamed before the eyes of all the leaders
    that night; but, whatever their thoughts may have been, their tactics were
    bold. Whatever advice was given, whatever opinions were expressed, the
    responsibility was Sir Herbert Kitchener’s. Upon his shoulders lay the
    burden, and the decision that was taken must be attributed solely to him.
    He might have formed the army into a solid mass of men and animals,
    arranged the infantry four deep all round the perimeter, and dug as big a
    ditch or built as high a zeriba as time allowed. He might have filled the
    numerous houses with the infantry, making them join the buildings with
    hasty entrenchments, and so enclose a little space in which to squeeze
    cavalry, transport, and guns. Instead he formed his army in a long thin
    curve, resting on the river and enclosing a wide area of ground, about
    which baggage and animals were scattered in open order and luxurious
    accommodation. His line was but two deep; and only two companies per
    battalion and one Egyptian brigade (Collinson’s) were in reserve. He thus
    obtained the greatest possible development of fire, and waited, prepared
    if necessary to stake everything on the arms of precision, but hoping
    with fervour that he would not be compelled to gamble by night.

    The night was, however, undisturbed; and the moonlit camp,
    with its anxious generals, its weary soldiers, its fearful machinery of
    destruction, all strewn along the bank of the great river, remained plunged
    in silence, as if brooding over the chances of the morrow and the failures
    of the past. And hardly four miles away another army–twice as numerous,
    equally confident, equally brave–were waiting impatiently for the morning
    and the final settlement of the long quarrel.


    SEPTEMBER 2, 1898

    The bugles all over the camp by the river began to sound at half-past four.
    The cavalry trumpets and the drums and fifes of the British division joined
    the chorus, and everyone awoke amid a confusion of merry or defiant notes.
    Then it grew gradually lighter, and the cavalry mounted their horses,
    the infantry stood to their arms, and the gunners went to their batteries;
    while the sun, rising over the Nile, revealed the wide plain, the dark
    rocky hills, and the waiting army. It was as if all the preliminaries were
    settled, the ground cleared, and nothing remained but the final act and
    ‘the rigour of the game.’

    Even before it became light several squadrons of British and Egyptian
    cavalry were pushed swiftly forward to gain contact with the enemy and
    learn his intentions. The first of these, under Captain Baring, occupied
    Surgham Hill, and waited in the gloom until the whereabouts of the
    Dervishes should be disclosed by the dawn. It was a perilous undertaking,
    for he might have found them unexpectedly near. As the sun rose, the 21st
    Lancers trotted out of the zeriba and threw out a spray of officers’
    patrols. As there had been no night attack, it was expected that the
    Dervish army would have retired to their original position or entered
    the town. It was hardly conceivable that they would advance across the open
    ground to attack the zeriba by daylight. Indeed, it appeared more probable
    that their hearts had failed them in the night, and that they had melted
    away into the desert. But these anticipations were immediately dispelled
    by the scene which was visible from the crest of the ridge.

    It was a quarter to six. The light was dim, but growing stronger
    every minute. There in the plain lay the enemy, their numbers unaltered,
    their confidence and intentions apparently unshaken. Their front was now
    nearly five miles long, and composed of great masses of men joined together
    by thinner lines. Behind and near to the flanks were large reserves.
    From the ridge they looked dark blurs and streaks, relieved and diversified
    with an odd-looking shimmer of light from the spear-points. At about
    ten minutes to six it was evident that the masses were in motion and
    advancing swiftly. Their Emirs galloped about and before their ranks.
    Scouts and patrols scattered themselves all over the front. Then they began
    to cheer. They were still a mile away from the hill, and were concealed
    from the Sirdar’s army by the folds of the ground. The noise of the
    shouting was heard, albeit faintly, by the troops down by the river.
    But to those watching on the hill a tremendous roar came up in waves
    of intense sound, like the tumult of the rising wind and sea
    before a storm.

    The British and Egyptian forces were arranged in line, with their
    back to the river. The flanks were secured by the gunboats lying moored
    in the stream. Before them was the rolling sandy plain, looking from the
    slight elevation of the ridge smooth and flat as a table. To the right rose
    the rocky hills of the Kerreri position, near which the Egyptian cavalry
    were drawn up–a dark solid mass of men and horses. On the left the
    21st Lancers, with a single squadron thrown out in advance, were halted
    watching their patrols, who climbed about Surgham Hill, stretched forward
    beyond it, or perched, as we did, on the ridge.

    The ground sloped gently up from the river; so that it seemed
    as if the landward ends of the Surgham and Kerreri ridges curved in towards
    each other, enclosing what lay between. Beyond the long swell of sand which
    formed the western wall of this spacious amphitheatre the black shapes of
    the distant hills rose in misty confusion. The challengers were already
    in the arena; their antagonists swiftly approached.

    Although the Dervishes were steadily advancing, a belief that
    their musketry was inferior encouraged a nearer view, and we trotted round
    the south-west slopes of Surgham Hill until we reached the sandhills on the
    enemy’s side, among which the regiment had waited the day before.
    Thence the whole array was visible in minute detail. It seemed that every
    single man of all the thousands could be examined separately. The pace of
    their march was fast and steady, and it was evident that it would not be
    safe to wait long among the sandhills. Yet the wonder of the scene
    exercised a dangerous fascination, and for a while we tarried.

    The emblems of the more famous Emirs were easily distinguishable.
    On the extreme left the chiefs and soldiers of the bright green flag
    gathered under Ali-Wad-Helu; between this and the centre the large
    dark green flag of Osman Sheikh-ed-Din rose above a dense mass of spearmen,
    preceded by long lines of warriors armed presumably with rifles; over the
    centre, commanded by Yakub, the sacred Black banner of the Khalifa floated
    high and remarkable; while on the right a great square of Dervishes was
    arrayed under an extraordinary number of white flags, amid which the red
    ensign of Sherif was almost hidden. All the pride and might of the Dervish
    Empire were massed on this last great day of its existence. Riflemen who
    had helped to destroy Hicks, spearmen who had charged at Abu Klea,
    Emirs who saw the sack of Gondar, Baggara fresh from raiding the Shillooks,
    warriors who had besieged Khartoum–all marched, inspired by the memories
    of former triumphs and embittered by the knowledge of late defeats,
    to chastise the impudent and accursed invaders.

    The advance continued. The Dervish left began to stretch out
    across the plain towards Kerreri–as I thought, to turn our right flank.
    Their centre, under the Black Flag, moved directly towards Surgham.
    The right pursued a line of advance south of that hill. This mass of men
    were the most striking of all. They could not have mustered fewer
    than 6,000. Their array was perfect. They displayed a great number
    of flags–perhaps 500–which looked at the distance white, though they
    were really covered with texts from the Koran, and which by their
    admirable alignment made this division of the Khalifa’s army look like
    the old representations of the Crusaders in the Bayeux tapestry.

    The attack developed. The left, nearly 20,000 strong, toiled across
    the plain and approached the Egyptian squadrons. The leading masses of
    the centre deployed facing the zeriba and marched forthwith to the direct
    assault. As the whole Dervish army continued to advance, the division
    with the white flags, which had until now been echeloned in rear of
    their right, moved up into the general line and began to climb the
    southern slopes of Surgham Hill. Meanwhile yet another body of the enemy,
    comparatively insignificant in numbers, who had been drawn up behind the
    ‘White Flags,’ were moving slowly towards the Nile, echeloned still further
    behind their right, and not far from the suburbs of Omdurman. These men
    had evidently been posted to prevent the Dervish army being cut off from
    the city and to secure their line of retreat; and with them
    the 21st Lancers were destined to have a much closer acquaintance
    about two hours later.

    The Dervish centre had come within range. But it was not
    the British and Egyptian army that began the battle. If there was one arm
    in which the Arabs were beyond all comparison inferior to their adversaries,
    it was in guns. Yet it was with this arm that they opened their attack.
    In the middle of the Dervish line now marching in frontal assault were
    two puffs of smoke. About fifty yards short of the thorn fence two
    red clouds of sand and dust sprang up, where the projectiles had struck.
    It looked like a challenge. It was immediately answered. Great clouds
    of smoke appeared all along the front of the British and Soudanese brigades.
    One after another four batteries opened on the enemy at a range of about
    3,000 yards. The sound of the cannonade rolled up to us on the ridge,
    and was re-echoed by the hills. Above the heads of the moving masses
    shells began to burst, dotting the air with smoke-balls and the ground
    with bodies. But a nearer tragedy impended. The ‘White Flags’ were nearly
    over the crest. In another minute they would become visible to the
    batteries. Did they realise what would come to meet them? They were in
    a dense mass, 2,800 yards from the 32nd Field Battery and the gunboats.
    The ranges were known. It was a matter of machinery. The more distant
    slaughter passed unnoticed, as the mind was fascinated by the approaching
    horror. In a few seconds swift destruction would rush on these brave men.
    They topped the crest and drew out into full view of the whole army.
    Their white banners made them conspicuous above all. As they saw the camp
    of their enemies, they discharged their rifles with a great roar of
    musketry and quickened their pace. For a moment the white flags advanced
    in regular order, and the whole division crossed the crest and were exposed.
    Forthwith the gunboats, the 32nd British Field Battery, and other guns
    from the zeriba opened on them. About twenty shells struck them
    in the first minute. Some burst high in the air, others exactly in their
    faces. Others, again, plunged into the sand and, exploding, dashed clouds
    of red dust, splinters, and bullets amid their ranks. The white banners
    toppled over in all directions. Yet they rose again immediately, as other
    men pressed forward to die for the Mahdi’s sacred cause and in the
    defence of the successor of the True Prophet. It was a terrible sight,
    for as yet they had not hurt us at all, and it seemed an unfair advantage
    to strike thus cruelly when they could not reply. Under the influence
    of the shells the mass of the ‘White Flags’ dissolved into thin lines of
    spearmen and skirmishers, and came on in altered formation and diminished
    numbers, but with unabated enthusiasm. And now, the whole attack being
    thoroughly exposed, it became the duty of the cavalry to clear the front
    as quickly as possible, and leave the further conduct of the debate
    to the infantry and the Maxim guns. All the patrols trotted or cantered
    back to their squadrons, and the regiment retired swiftly into the zeriba,
    while the shells from the gunboats screamed overhead and the whole length
    of the position began to burst into flame and smoke. Nor was it long
    before the tremendous banging of the artillery was swollen
    by the roar of musketry.

    Taking advantage of the shelter of the river-bank, the cavalry dismounted;
    we watered our horses, waited, and wondered what was happening. And every
    moment the tumult grew louder and more intense, until even the flickering
    stutter of the Maxims could scarcely be heard above the continuous din.
    Eighty yards away, and perhaps twenty feet above us, the 32nd Field Battery
    was in action. The nimble figures of the gunners darted about as they
    busied themselves in their complicated process of destruction. The officers,
    some standing on biscuit-boxes, peered through their glasses and studied
    the effect. Of this I had one glimpse. Eight hundred yards away a ragged
    line of men were coming on desperately, struggling forward in the face
    of the pitiless fire–white banners tossing and collapsing; white figures
    subsiding in dozens to the ground; little white puffs from their rifles,
    larger white puffs spreading in a row all along their front from the
    bursting shrapnel.

    The infantry fired steadily and stolidly, without hurry or excitement,
    for the enemy were far away and the officers careful. Besides, the soldiers
    were interested in the work and took great pains. But presently the mere
    physical act became tedious. The tiny figures seen over the slide of the
    backsight seemed a little larger, but also fewer at each successive volley.
    The rifles grew hot–so hot that they had to be changed for those of the
    reserve companies. The Maxim guns exhausted all the water in their jackets,
    and several had to be refreshed from the water-bottles of the Cameron
    Highlanders before they could go on with their deadly work. The empty
    cartridge-cases, tinkling to the ground, formed a small but growing heap
    beside each man. And all the time out on the plain on the other side
    bullets were shearing through flesh, smashing and splintering bone;
    blood spouted from terrible wounds; valiant men were struggling on through
    a hell of whistling metal, exploding shells, and spurting dust–suffering,
    despairing, dying. Such was the first phase of the battle of Omdurman.

    The Khalifa’s plan of attack appears to have been complex and ingenious.
    It was, however, based on an extraordinary miscalculation of the power of
    modern weapons; with the exception of this cardinal error, it is not
    necessary to criticise it. He first ordered about 15,000 men, drawn chiefly
    from the army of Osman Sheikh-ed-Din and placed under the command of Osman
    Azrak, to deliver a frontal attack. He himself waited with an equal force
    near Surgham Hill to watch the result. If it succeeded, he would move
    forward with his bodyguard, the flower of the Arab army, and complete the
    victory. If it failed, there was yet another chance. The Dervishes who were
    first launched against the zeriba, although very brave men, were not by any
    means his best or most reliable troops. Their destruction might be a
    heavy loss, but it would not end the struggle. While the attack was
    proceeding, the valiant left, consisting of the rest of the army of Osman
    Sheikh-ed-Din, might move unnoticed to the northern flank and curve round
    on to the front of the zeriba held by the Egyptian brigade. Ali-Wad-Helu
    was meanwhile to march to the Kerreri Hills, and remain out of range and,
    if possible, out of sight among them. Should the frontal and flank attacks
    be unhappily repulsed, the ‘enemies of God,’ exulting in their easy victory
    over the faithful, would leave their strong place and march to the capture
    and sack of the city. Then, while they were yet dispersed on the plain,
    with no zeriba to protect them, the chosen warriors of the True Religion
    would abandon all concealment, and hasten in their thousands to the utter
    destruction of the accursed–the Khalifa with 15,000 falling upon them from
    behind Surgham; Ali-Wad-Helu and all that remained of Osman’s army
    assailing them from Kerreri. Attacked at once from the north and south,
    and encompassed on every side, the infidels would abandon hope and order,
    and Kitchener might share the fate of Hicks and Gordon. Two circumstances,
    which will appear as the account proceeds, prevented the accomplishment of
    this plan. The second attack was not executed simultaneously by the two
    divisions of the Dervish army; and even had it been, the power of the
    musketry would have triumphed, and though the Expeditionary Force might
    have sustained heavier losses the main result could not have been affected.
    The last hopes of barbarism had passed with the shades of night.

    Colonel Broadwood, with nine squadrons of cavalry, the Camel Corps,
    and the Horse Artillery, had been ordered to check the Dervish left,
    and prevent it enveloping the downstream flank of the zeriba, as this was
    held by the Egyptian brigade, which it was not thought desirable to expose
    to the full weight of an attack. With this object, as the Dervishes
    approached, he had occupied the Kerreri ridge with the Horse battery and
    the Camel Corps, holding his cavalry in reserve in rear of the centre.

    The Kerreri ridge, to which reference has so frequently been made,
    consists of two main features, which rise to the height of about 300 feet
    above the plain, are each above a mile long, and run nearly east and west,
    with a dip or trough about 1,000 yards wide between them. The eastern ends
    of these main ridges are perhaps 1,000 yards from the river, and in this
    intervening space there are several rocky under-features and knolls.
    The Kerreri Hills, the spaces between them, and the smaller features
    are covered with rough boulders and angular stones of volcanic origin,
    which render the movements of horses and camels difficult and painful.

    The cavalry horses and camels were in the dip between the two ridges;
    and the dismounted men of the Camel Corps were deployed along the crest of
    the most southerly of the ridges, with their right at the desert end.
    Next in order to the Camel Corps, the centre of the ridge was occupied by
    the dismounted cavalry. The Horse Artillery were on the left.
    The remainder of the cavalry waited in the hollow behind the guns.

    The tempestuous advance of Osman soon brought him into contact with
    the mounted force. His real intentions are still a matter of conjecture.
    Whether he had been ordered to attack the Egyptian brigade, or to drive
    back the cavalry, or to disappear behind the Kerreri Hills in conformity
    with Ali-Wad-Helu, is impossible to pronounce. His action was, however,
    clear. He could not safely assail the Egyptians with a powerful cavalry
    force threatening his left rear. He therefore continued his move across the
    front of the zeriba. Keeping out of the range of infantry fire, bringing up
    his right, and marching along due north, he fell upon Broadwood.
    This officer, who had expected to have to deal with small bodies on the
    Dervish flank, found himself suddenly exposed to the attack of nearly
    15,000 men, many of whom were riflemen. The Sirdar, seeing the situation
    from the zeriba, sent him an order to withdraw within the lines of
    infantry. Colonel Broadwood, however, preferred to retire through
    the Kerreri Hills to the northward, drawing Osman after him.
    He replied to that effect.

    The first position had soon to be abandoned. The Dervishes,
    advancing in a north-easterly direction, attacked the Kerreri Hills
    obliquely. They immediately enveloped the right flank of the mounted troops
    holding them. It will be seen from the map that as soon as the Dervish
    riflemen gained a point west and in prolongation of the trough between the
    two ridges, they not only turned the right flank, but also threatened the
    retreat of the defenders of the southerly ridge; for they were able to
    sweep the trough from end to end with their fire. As soon as it became
    certain that the southerly ridge could not be held any longer, Colonel
    Broadwood retired the battery to the east end of the second or northern
    ridge. This was scarcely accomplished when the dip was enfiladed, and the
    cavalry and Camel Corps who followed lost about fifty men and many horses
    and camels killed and wounded. The Camel Corps were the most unfortunate.
    They were soon encumbered with wounded, and it was now painfully evident
    that in rocky ground the Dervishes could go faster on their feet than the
    soldiers on their camels. Pressing on impetuously at a pace of nearly seven
    miles an hour, and unchecked by a heavy artillery fire from the zeriba
    and a less effective fire from the Horse battery, which was only armed with
    7-pounder Krupps of an obsolete pattern, the Arabs rapidly diminished the
    distance between themselves and their enemies. In these circumstances
    Colonel Broadwood decided to send the Camel Corps back to the zeriba under
    cover of a gunboat, which, watchfully observing the progress of the fight,
    was coming down stream to assist. The distance which divided the combatants
    was scarcely 400 yards and decreasing every minute. The cavalry were
    drawn up across the eastern or river end of the trough. The guns of the
    Horse battery fired steadily from their new position on the northern ridge.
    But the Camel Corps were still struggling in the broken ground, and it was
    clear that their position was one of great peril. The Dervishes already
    carpeted the rocks of the southern ridge with dull yellow swarms, and,
    heedless of the shells which still assailed them in reverse from the zeriba,
    continued to push their attack home. On the very instant that they saw the
    Camel Corps make for the river they realised that those they had deemed
    their prey were trying, like a hunted animal, to run to ground within the
    lines of infantry. With that instinctive knowledge of war which is the
    heritage of savage peoples, the whole attack swung to the right, changed
    direction from north to east, and rushed down the trough and along the
    southern ridge towards the Nile, with the plain intention of cutting off
    the Camel Corps and driving them into the river.

    The moment was critical. It appeared to the cavalry commander that
    the Dervishes would actually succeed, and their success must involve the
    total destruction of the Camel Corps. That could not, of course,
    be tolerated. The whole nine squadrons of cavalry assumed a preparatory
    formation. The British officers believed that a terrible charge impended.
    They would meet in direct collision the swarms of men who were hurrying
    down the trough. The diversion might enable the Camel Corps to escape.
    But the ground was bad; the enemy’s force was overwhelming; the Egyptian
    troopers were prepared to obey–but that was all. There was no exalted
    enthusiasm such as at these moments carries sterner breeds to victory.
    Few would return. Nevertheless, the operation appeared inevitable.
    The Camel Corps were already close to the river. But thousands of
    Dervishes were running swiftly towards them at right angles to their line
    of retreat, and it was certain that if the camelry attempted to cross
    this new front of the enemy they would be annihilated. Their only hope
    lay in maintaining themselves by their fire near the river-bank until help
    could reach them, and, in order to delay and weaken the Dervish attack
    the cavalry would have to make a desperate charge.

    But at the critical moment the gunboat arrived on the scene and began
    suddenly to blaze and flame from Maxim guns, quick-firing guns, and rifles.
    The range was short; the effect tremendous. The terrible machine, floating
    gracefully on the waters–a beautiful white devil–wreathed itself in smoke.
    The river slopes of the Kerreri Hills, crowded with the advancing thousands,
    sprang up into clouds of dust and splinters of rock. The charging Dervishes
    sank down in tangled heaps. The masses in rear paused, irresolute. It was
    too hot even for them. The approach of another gunboat completed their
    discomfiture. The Camel Corps, hurrying along the shore, slipped past the
    fatal point of interception, and saw safety and the zeriba before them.

    Exasperated by their disappointment, the soldiers of Osman Sheikh-ed-Din
    turned again upon the cavalry, and, forgetting in their anger the mobile
    nature of their foe, pursued the elusive squadrons three long miles to the
    north. The cavalry, intensely relieved by the escape of the Camel Corps,
    played with their powerful antagonist, as the banderillo teases the bull.
    Colonel Broadwood thus succeeded in luring this division of the Dervish
    army far away from the field of battle, where they were sorely needed.
    The rough ground, however, delayed the Horse battery. They lagged, as the
    Camel Corps had done, and caused constant anxiety. At length two of their
    guns stuck fast in a marshy spot, and as several men and horses were shot
    in the attempt to extricate them Broadwood wisely ordered them to be
    abandoned, and they were soon engulfed in the Dervish masses. Encouraged
    by this capture, the horsemen of Osman’s command daringly attacked the
    retreating cavalry. But they were effectually checked by the charge
    of a squadron under Major Mahon.

    Both gunboats, having watched the Camel Corps safely into the zeriba,
    now returned with the current and renewed their attack upon the Arabs.
    Opening a heavy and accurate fire upon the river flank, they drove them
    westward and away from the Nile. Through the gap thus opened Broadwood and
    his squadrons trotted to rejoin the main body, picking up on the way
    the two guns which had been abandoned.

    While these things were passing on the northern flank, the frontal attack
    was in progress. The debris of the ‘White Flags’ joined the centre, and the
    whole 14,000 pressed forward against the zeriba, spreading out by degrees
    and abandoning their dense formations, and gradually slowing down. At about
    800 yards from the British division the advance ceased, and they could make
    no headway. Opposite the Soudanese, who were armed only with the
    Martini-Henry rifle, the assailants came within 300 yards; and one brave
    old man, carrying a flag, fell at 150 paces from the shelter trench.
    But the result was conclusive all along the line. The attack was shattered.
    The leader, clad in his new jibba of many colours, rode on steadfastly
    towards the inexorable firing line, until, pierced by several bullets,
    he fell lifeless. Such was the end of that stubborn warrior of many
    fights–wicked Osman Azrak, faithful unto death. The surviving Dervishes
    lay down on the ground. Unable to advance, they were unwilling to retire;
    and their riflemen, taking advantage of the folds of the plain, opened and
    maintained an unequal combat. By eight o’clock it was evident that the
    whole attack had failed. The loss of the enemy was more than 2,000 killed,
    and perhaps as many wounded. To the infantry, who were busy with their
    rifles, it had scarcely seemed a fight. Yet all along the front bullets had
    whizzed over and into the ranks, and in every battalion there were
    casualties. Captain Caldecott, of the Warwicks, was killed; the Camerons
    had two officers, Captain Clarke and Lieutenant Nicholson, severely wounded;
    the Grenadiers one, Captain Bagot. Colonel F. Rhodes, as he sat on his
    horse near the Maxim battery of the 1st British Brigade, was shot through
    the shoulder and carried from the field just as the attack reached
    its climax. There were, besides these officers, about 150 casualties
    among the soldiers.

    The attack languished. The enemy’s rifle fire continued, and as soon as
    the heavy firing ceased it began to be annoying. The ground, although it
    appeared flat and level to the eye, nevertheless contained depressions and
    swellings which afforded good cover to the sharpshooters, and the solid
    line behind the zeriba was an easy target. The artillery now began to
    clear out these depressions by their shells, and in this work they
    displayed a searching power very remarkable when their flat trajectory
    is remembered. As the shells burst accurately above the Dervish skirmishers
    and spearmen who were taking refuge in the folds of the plain, they rose by
    hundreds and by fifties to fly. Instantly the hungry and attentive Maxims
    and the watchful infantry opened on them, sweeping them all to the ground–
    some in death, others in terror. Again the shells followed them to their
    new concealment. Again they rose, fewer than before, and ran. Again the
    Maxims and the rifles spluttered. Again they fell. And so on until the
    front of the zeriba was clear of unwounded men for at least half a mile.
    A few escaped. Some, notwithstanding the vices of which they have been
    accused and the perils with which they were encompassed, gloriously
    carried off their injured comrades.

    After the attack had been broken, and while the front of the zeriba
    was being cleared of the Dervish riflemen, the 21st Lancers were again
    called upon to act. The Sirdar and his generals were all agreed on
    one point. They must occupy Omdurman before the Dervish army could get
    back there. They could fight as many Dervishes as cared to come in the
    plain; among the houses it was different. As the Khalifa had anticipated,
    the infidels, exulting in their victory, were eager, though for a different
    reason, to seize the city. And this they were now in a position to do.
    The Arabs were out in the desert. A great part of their army was even
    as far away as Kerreri. The troops could move on interior lines. They were
    bound to reach Omdurman first. The order was therefore given to march on
    the city at once. But first the Surgham ridge must be reconnoitred, and the
    ground between the zeriba and Omdurman cleared of the Dervishes–
    with infantry if necessary, but with cavalry if possible,
    because that would be quicker.

    As the fusillade slackened, the Lancers stood to their horses.
    Then General Gatacre, with Captain Brooke and the rest of his Staff,
    came galloping along the rear of the line of infantry and guns, and shouted
    for Colonel Martin. There was a brief conversation–an outstretched arm
    pointing at the ridge–an order, and we were all scrambling into our
    saddles and straightening the ranks in high expectation. We started at
    a trot, two or three patrols galloping out in front, towards the high
    ground, while the regiment followed in mass–a great square block of
    ungainly brown figures and little horses, hung all over with water-bottles,
    saddle-bags, picketing-gear, tins of bully-beef, all jolting and jangling
    together; the polish of peace gone; soldiers without glitter; horsemen
    without grace; but still a regiment of light cavalry in active operation
    against the enemy.

    The crest of the ridge was only half a mile away. It was found unoccupied.
    The rocky mass of Surgham obstructed the view and concealed the great
    reserve collected around the Black Flag. But southward, between us and
    Omdurman, the whole plain was exposed. It was infested with small parties
    of Dervishes, moving about, mounted and on foot, in tens and twenties.
    Three miles away a broad stream of fugitives, of wounded, and of deserters
    flowed from the Khalifa’s army to the city. The mirages blurred and
    distorted the picture, so that some of the routed Arabs walked in air
    and some through water, and all were misty and unreal. But the sight was
    sufficient to excite the fiercest instincts of cavalry. Only the scattered
    parties in the plain appeared to prevent a glorious pursuit. The signalling
    officer was set to heliograph back to the Sirdar that the ridge was
    unoccupied and that several thousand Dervishes could be seen flying into
    Omdurman. Pending the answer, we waited; and looking back northwards,
    across the front of the zeriba, where the first attack had been stopped,
    perceived a greyish-white smudge, perhaps a mile long. The glass disclosed
    details–hundreds of tiny white figures heaped or scattered; dozens hopping,
    crawling, staggering away; a few horses standing stolidly among the corpses;
    a few unwounded men dragging off their comrades. The skirmishers among the
    rocks of Surgham soon began to fire at the regiment, and we sheltered among
    the mounds of sand, while a couple of troops replied with their carbines.
    Then the heliograph in the zeriba began to talk in flashes of light that
    opened and shut capriciously. The actual order is important. ‘Advance,’
    said the helio, ‘and clear the left flank, and use every effort to prevent
    the enemy re-entering Omdurman.’ That was all, but it was sufficient.
    In the distance the enemy could be seen re-entering Omdurman in hundreds.
    There was no room for doubt. They must be stopped, and incidentally these
    small parties in the plain might be brushed away. We remounted; the ground
    looked smooth and unbroken; yet it was desirable to reconnoitre.
    Two patrols were sent out. The small parties of Dervishes who were
    scattered all over the plain and the slopes of the hill prevented anything
    less than a squadron moving, except at their peril. The first patrol
    struck out towards Omdurman, and began to push in between the scattered
    Dervishes, who fired their rifles and showed great excitement. The other
    patrol, under Lieutenant Grenfell, were sent to see what the ground looked
    like from further along the ridge and on the lower slopes of Surgham.
    The riflemen among the rocks turned their fire from the regiment to these
    nearer objects. The five brown figures cantered over the rough ground,
    presenting difficult targets, but under continual fire, and disappeared
    round the spur. However, in two or three minutes they re-appeared,
    the riflemen on the hill making a regular rattle of musketry, amid which
    the Lancers galloped safely back, followed last of all by their officer.
    He said that the plain looked as safe from the other side of the hill as
    from where we were. At this moment the other patrol returned. They, too,
    had had good fortune in their adventurous ride. Their information was exact.
    They reported that in a shallow and apparently practicable khor about
    three-quarters of a mile to the south-west, and between the regiment and
    the fugitives, there was drawn up a formed body of Dervishes about 1,000
    strong. Colonel Martin decided on this information to advance and attack
    this force, which alone interposed between him and the Arab line of retreat.
    Then we started.

    But all this time the enemy had been busy. At the beginning of the battle
    the Khalifa had posted a small force of 700 men on his extreme right,
    to prevent his line of retreat to Omdurman being harassed. This detachment
    was composed entirely of the Hadendoa tribesmen of Osman Digna’s flag,
    and was commanded by one of his subordinate Emirs, who selected a suitable
    position in the shallow khor. As soon as the 21st Lancers left the zeriba
    the Dervish scouts on the top of Surgham carried the news to the Khalifa.
    It was said that the English cavalry were coming to cut him off from
    Omdurman. Abdullah thereupon determined to strengthen his extreme right;
    and he immediately ordered four regiments, each 500 strong, drawn from
    the force around the Black Flag and under the Emir Ibrahim Khalil,
    to reinforce the Hadendoa in the khor. While we were waiting for orders on
    the ridge these men were hurrying southwards along the depression,
    and concealed by a spur of Surgham Hill. The Lancer patrol reconnoitred the
    khor, at the imminent risk of their lives, while it was only occupied by
    the original 700 Hadendoa. Galloping back, they reported that it was held
    by about 1,000 men. Before they reached the regiment this number was
    increased to 2,700. This, however, we had no means of knowing. The Khalifa,
    having despatched his reinforcement, rode on his donkey with a scanty
    escort nearly half a mile from the Black Flag towards the khor, in order to
    watch the event, and in consequence he was within 500 yards of the scene.

    As the 21st Lancers left the ridge, the fire of the Arab riflemen
    on the hill ceased. We advanced at a walk in mass for about 300 yards.
    The scattered parties of Dervishes fell back and melted away, and only one
    straggling line of men in dark blue waited motionless a quarter of a mile
    to the left front. They were scarcely a hundred strong. The regiment formed
    into line of squadron columns, and continued at a walk until within 300
    yards of this small body of Dervishes. The firing behind the ridges had
    stopped. There was complete silence, intensified by the recent tumult.
    Far beyond the thin blue row of Dervishes the fugitives were visible
    streaming into Omdurman. And should these few devoted men impede a regiment?
    Yet it were wiser to examine their position from the other flank before
    slipping a squadron at them. The heads of the squadrons wheeled slowly
    to the left, and the Lancers, breaking into a trot, began to cross the
    Dervish front in column of troops. Thereupon and with one accord the
    blue-clad men dropped on their knees, and there burst out a loud, crackling
    fire of musketry. It was hardly possible to miss such a target at such
    a range. Horses and men fell at once. The only course was plain and welcome
    to all. The Colonel, nearer than his regiment, already saw what lay behind
    the skirmishers. He ordered, ‘Right wheel into line’ to be sounded.
    The trumpet jerked out a shrill note, heard faintly above the trampling of
    the horses and the noise of the rifles. On the instant all the sixteen
    troops swung round and locked up into a long galloping line, and the
    21st Lancers were committed to their first charge in war.

    Two hundred and fifty yards away the dark-blue men were firing madly
    in a thin film of light-blue smoke. Their bullets struck the hard gravel
    into the air, and the troopers, to shield their faces from the stinging
    dust, bowed their helmets forward, like the Cuirassiers at Waterloo.
    The pace was fast and the distance short. Yet, before it was half covered,
    the whole aspect of the affair changed. A deep crease in the ground–a dry
    watercourse, a khor–appeared where all had seemed smooth, level plain;
    and from it there sprang, with the suddenness of a pantomime effect
    and a high-pitched yell, a dense white mass of men nearly as long as our
    front and about twelve deep. A score of horsemen and a dozen bright flags
    rose as if by magic from the earth. Eager warriors sprang forward
    to anticipate the shock. The rest stood firm to meet it. The Lancers
    acknowledged the apparition only by an increase of pace. Each man wanted
    sufficient momentum to drive through such a solid line. The flank troops,
    seeing that they overlapped, curved inwards like the horns of a moon.
    But the whole event was a matter of seconds. The riflemen, firing bravely
    to the last, were swept head over heels into the khor, and jumping down
    with them, at full gallop and in the closest order, the British squadrons
    struck the fierce brigade with one loud furious shout. The collision was
    prodigious. Nearly thirty Lancers, men and horses, and at least two hundred
    Arabs were overthrown. The shock was stunning to both sides, and for
    perhaps ten wonderful seconds no man heeded his enemy. Terrified horses
    wedged in the crowd, bruised and shaken men, sprawling in heaps, struggled,
    dazed and stupid, to their feet, panted, and looked about them. Several
    fallen Lancers had even time to re-mount. Meanwhile the impetus of the
    cavalry carried them on. As a rider tears through a bullfinch, the officers
    forced their way through the press; and as an iron rake might be drawn
    through a heap of shingle, so the regiment followed. They shattered the
    Dervish array, and, their pace reduced to a walk, scrambled out of the khor
    on the further side, leaving a score of troopers behind them, and dragging
    on with the charge more than a thousand Arabs. Then, and not till then, the
    killing began; and thereafter each man saw the world along his lance,
    under his guard, or through the back-sight of his pistol; and each had
    his own strange tale to tell.

    Stubborn and unshaken infantry hardly ever meet stubborn and unshaken
    cavalry. Either the infantry run away and are cut down in flight, or they
    keep their heads and destroy nearly all the horsemen by their musketry.
    On this occasion two living walls had actually crashed together.
    The Dervishes fought manfully. They tried to hamstring the horses,
    They fired their rifles, pressing the muzzles into the very bodies of
    their opponents. They cut reins and stirrup-leathers. They flung their
    throwing-spears with great dexterity. They tried every device of cool,
    determined men practised in war and familiar with cavalry; and, besides,
    they swung sharp, heavy swords which bit deep. The hand-to-hand fighting
    on the further side of the khor lasted for perhaps one minute. Then the
    horses got into their stride again, the pace increased, and the Lancers
    drew out from among their antagonists. Within two minutes of the collision
    every living man was clear of the Dervish mass. All who had fallen were
    cut at with swords till they stopped quivering, but no artistic mutilations
    were attempted.

    Two hundred yards away the regiment halted, rallied, faced about,
    and in less than five minutes were re-formed and ready for a second charge.
    The men were anxious to cut their way back through their enemies. We were
    alone together–the cavalry regiment and the Dervish brigade. The ridge
    hung like a curtain between us and the army. The general battle was
    forgotten, as it was unseen. This was a private quarrel. The other might
    have been a massacre; but here the fight was fair, for we too fought with
    sword and spear. Indeed the advantage of ground and numbers lay with them.
    All prepared to settle the debate at once and for ever. But some
    realisation of the cost of our wild ride began to come to those who were
    responsible. Riderless horses galloped across the plain. Men, clinging to
    their saddles, lurched helplessly about, covered with blood from perhaps
    a dozen wounds. Horses, streaming from tremendous gashes, limped and
    staggered with their riders. In 120 seconds five officers, 65 men, and 119
    horses out of fewer than 400 had been killed or wounded.

    The Dervish line, broken by the charge, began to re-form at once.
    They closed up, shook themselves together, and prepared with constancy and
    courage for another shock. But on military considerations it was desirable
    to turn them out of the khor first and thus deprive them of their vantage
    ground. The regiment again drawn up, three squadrons in line and the fourth
    in column, now wheeled to the right, and, galloping round the Dervish flank,
    dismounted and opened a heavy fire with their magazine carbines. Under the
    pressure of this fire the enemy changed front to meet the new attack,
    so that both sides were formed at right angles to their original lines.
    When the Dervish change of front was completed, they began to advance
    against the dismounted men. But the fire was accurate, and there can be
    little doubt that the moral effect of the charge had been very great,
    and that these brave enemies were no longer unshaken. Be this as it may,
    the fact remains that they retreated swiftly, though in good order,
    towards the ridge of Surgham Hill, where the Khalifa’s Black Flag still
    waved, and the 21st Lancers remained in possession of the ground–
    and of their dead.

    Such is the true and literal account of the charge; but the reader
    may care to consider a few incidents. Colonel Martin, busy with the
    direction of his regiment, drew neither sword nor revolver, and rode
    through the press unarmed and uninjured. Major Crole Wyndham had his horse
    shot under him by a Dervish who pressed the muzzle of his rifle into its
    hide before firing. From out of the middle of that savage crowd the
    officer fought his way on foot and escaped in safety. Lieutenant Molyneux
    fell in the khor into the midst of the enemy. In the confusion he
    disentangled himself from his horse, drew his revolver, and jumped out
    of the hollow before the Dervishes recoved from the impact of the charge.
    Then they attacked him. He fired at the nearest, and at the moment of
    firing was slashed across the right wrist by another. The pistol fell
    from his nerveless hand, and, being wounded, dismounted, and disarmed,
    he turned in the hopes of regaining, by following the line of the charge,
    his squadron, which was just getting clear. Hard upon his track came
    the enemy, eager to make an end. Beset on all sides, and thus hotly
    pursued, the wounded officer perceived a single Lancer riding across his
    path. He called on him for help. Whereupon the trooper, Private Byrne,
    although already severely wounded by a bullet which had penetrated his
    right arm, replied without a moment’s hesitation and in a cheery voice,
    ‘All right, sir!’ and turning, rode at four Dervishes who were about to
    kill his officer. His wound, which had partly paralysed his arm,
    prevented him from grasping his sword, and at the first ineffectual
    blow it fell from his hand, and he received another wound from a spear
    in the chest. But his solitary charge had checked the pursuing Dervishes.
    Lieutenant Molyneux regained his squadron alive, and the trooper, seeing
    that his object was attained, galloped away, reeling in his saddle.
    Arrived at his troop, his desperate condition was noticed and he was told
    to fall out. But this he refused to do, urging that he was entitled to
    remain on duty and have ‘another go at them.’ At length he was compelled
    to leave the field, fainting from loss of blood.

    Lieutenant Nesham had an even more extraordinary escape than Molyneux.
    He had scrambled out of the khor when, as his horse was nearly stopping,
    an Arab seized his bridle. He struck at the man with his sword, but did not
    prevent him cutting his off-rein. The officer’s bridle-hand, unexpectedly
    released, flew out, and, as it did so, a swordsman at a single stroke
    nearly severed it from his body. Then they cut at him from all sides.
    One blow sheared through his helmet and grazed his head. Another inflicted
    a deep wound in his right leg. A third, intercepted by his shoulder-chains,
    paralysed his right arm. Two more, missing him narrowly, cut right through
    the cantel of the saddle and into the horse’s back. The wounded subaltern
    –he was the youngest of all–reeled. A man on either side seized his legs
    to pull him to the ground; but the long spurs stuck into the horse’s flanks,
    and the maddened animal, throwing up its head and springing forward,
    broke away from the crowd of foes, and carried the rider–bleeding,
    fainting, but still alive–to safety among the rallying squadrons.
    Lieutenant Nesham’s experience was that of the men who were killed,
    only that he escaped to describe it.

    The wounded were sent with a small escort towards the river and hospitals.
    An officer was despatched with the news to the Sirdar, and on the instant
    both cannonade and fusillade broke out again behind the ridge, and grew in
    a crashing crescendo until the whole landscape seemed to vibrate with
    the sound of explosions. The second phase of the battle had begun.

    Even before the 21st Lancers had reconnoitred Surgham ridge, the Sirdar
    had set his brigades in motion towards Omdurman. He was determined, even at
    a very great risk, to occupy the city while it was empty and before the
    army in the plain could return to defend it. The advantage might be
    tremendous. Nevertheless the movement was premature. The Khalifa still
    remained undefeated west of Surgham Hill; Ali-Wad-Helu lurked behind
    Kerreri; Osman was rapidly re-forming. There were still at least 35,000 men
    on the field. Nor, as the event proved, was it possible to enter Omdurman
    until they had been beaten.

    As soon as the infantry had replenished their ammunition, they wheeled to
    the left in echelon of brigades, and began to march towards Surgham ridge.
    The movements of a great force are slow. It was not desirable that the
    British division, which led the echelon, should remain in the low ground
    north of Surgham–where they were commanded, had no field of fire,
    and could see nothing–and accordingly both these brigades moved forward
    almost together to occupy the crest of the ridge. Thus two steps of the
    ladder were run into one, and Maxwell’s brigade, which followed Wauchope’s,
    was 600 yards further south than it would have been had the regular echelon
    been observed. In the zeriba MacDonald had been next to Maxwell. But a very
    significant change in the order was now made. General Hunter evidently
    conceived the rear of the echelon threatened from the direction of Kerreri.
    Had the earth swallowed all the thousands who had moved across the plain
    towards the hills? At any rate, he would have his best brigade and his most
    experienced general in the post of possible danger. He therefore ordered
    Lewis’s brigade to follow Maxwell, and left MacDonald last of all,
    strengthening him with three batteries of artillery and eight Maxim guns.
    Collinson marched with the transport. MacDonald moved out westward into the
    desert to take his place in the echelon, and also to allow Lewis to pass
    him as ordered. Lewis hurried on after Maxwell, and, taking his distance
    from him, was thus also 600 yards further south than the regular echelon
    admitted. The step which had been absorbed when both British brigades moved
    off–advisedly–together, caused a double gap between MacDonald and the
    rest of the army. And this distance was further increased by the fact that
    while he was moving west, to assume his place in correct echelon, the other
    five brigades were drawing off to the southward. Hence MacDonald’s

    At 9.15 the whole army was marching south in echelon, with the rear brigade
    at rather more than double distance. Collinson had already started with the
    transport, but the field hospitals still remained in the deserted zeriba,
    busily packing up. The medical staff had about 150 wounded on their hands.
    The Sirdar’s orders had been that these were to be placed on the hospital
    barges, and that the field hospitals were to follow the transport. But the
    moving of wounded men is a painful and delicate affair, and by a stupid and
    grievous mistake the three regular hospital barges, duly prepared for the
    reception of the wounded, had been towed across to the right bank. It was
    necessary to use three ammunition barges, which, although in no way
    arranged for the reception of wounded, were luckily at hand. Meanwhile time
    was passing, and the doctors, who worked with devoted energy, became
    suddenly aware that, with the exception of a few detachments from the
    British division and three Egyptian companies, there were no troops within
    half a mile, and none between them and the dark Kerreri Hills. The two
    gunboats which could have guarded them from the river were down stream,
    helping the cavalry; MacDonald with the rear brigade was out in the plain;
    Collinson was hurrying along the bank with his transport. They were alone
    and unprotected. The army and the river together formed a huge “V” pointing
    south. The northern extremity–the gorge of the redan, as it were–
    gaped open towards Kerreri; and from Kerreri there now began to come, like
    the first warning drops before a storm of rain, small straggling parties
    of Dervish cavalry. The interior of the “V” was soon actually invaded
    by these predatory patrols, and one troop of perhaps a score of Baggara
    horse watered their ponies within 300 yards of the unprotected hospitals.
    Behind, in the distance, the banners of an army began to re-appear.
    The situation was alarming. The wounded were bundled on to the barges,
    although, since there was no steamer to tow them, they were scarcely any
    safer when embarked. While some of the medical officers were thus busied,
    Colonel Sloggett galloped off, and, running the gauntlet of the Baggara
    horsemen, hurried to claim protection for the hospitals and their helpless
    occupants. In the midst of this excitement and confusion the wounded from
    the cavalry charge began to trickle in.

    When the British division had moved out of the zeriba, a few skirmishers
    among the crags of Surgham Hill alone suggested the presence of an enemy.
    Each brigade, formed in four parallel columns of route, which closed in
    until they were scarcely forty paces apart, and both at deploying interval
    –the second brigade nearer the river, the first almost in line with it
    and on its right–hurried on, eager to see what lay beyond the ridge.
    All was quiet, except for a few ‘sniping’ shots from the top of Surgham.
    But gradually as Maxwell’s brigade–the third in the echelon–approached
    the hill, these shots became more numerous, until the summit of the peak
    was spotted with smoke-puffs. The British division moved on steadily, and,
    leaving these bold skirmishers to the Soudanese, soon reached the crest of
    the ridge. At once and for the first time the whole panorama of Omdurman–
    the brown and battered dome of the Mahdi’s Tomb, the multitude of mud
    houses, the glittering fork of water which marked the confluence of the
    rivers–burst on their vision. For a moment they stared entranced.
    Then their attention was distracted; for trotting, galloping, or halting
    and gazing stupidly about them, terrified and bewildered, a dozen riderless
    troop-horses appeared over the further crest–for the ridge was flat-topped
    –coming from the plain, as yet invisible, below. It was the first news of
    the Lancers’ charge. Details soon followed in the shape of the wounded,
    who in twos and threes began to make their way between the battalions,
    all covered with blood and many displaying most terrible injuries–
    faces cut to rags, bowels protruding, fishhook spears still stuck in their
    bodies–realistic pictures from the darker side of war. Thus absorbed,
    the soldiers hardly noticed the growing musketry fire from the peak.
    But suddenly the bang of a field-gun set all eyes looking backward.
    A battery had unlimbered in the plain between the zeriba and the ridge,
    and was beginning to shell the summit of the hill. The report of the guns
    seemed to be the signal for the whole battle to reopen. From far away to
    the right rear there came the sound of loud and continuous infantry firing,
    and immediately Gatacre halted his division.

    Almost before the British had topped the crest of the ridge, before the
    battery had opened from the plain, while Colonel Sloggett was still
    spurring across the dangerous ground between the river and the army,
    the Sirdar knew that his enemy was again upon him. Looking back from the
    slopes of Surgham, he saw that MacDonald, instead of continuing his march
    in echelon, had halted and deployed. The veteran brigadier had seen the
    Dervish formations on the ridge to the west of Surgham, realised that he
    was about to be attacked, and, resolving to anticipate the enemy,
    immediately brought his three batteries into action at 1,200 yards,
    Five minutes later the whole of the Khalifa’s reserve, 15,000 strong,
    led by Yakub with the Black Flag, the bodyguard and ‘all the glories’ of
    the Dervish Empire, surged into view from behind the hill and advanced on
    the solitary brigade with the vigour of the first attack and thrice its
    chances of success. Thereupon Sir Herbert Kitchener ordered Maxwell to
    change front to the right and storm Surgham Hill. He sent Major Sandbach
    to tell Lewis to conform and come into line on Maxwell’s right.
    He galloped himself to the British division–conveniently halted by General
    Gatacre on the northern crest of the ridge–and ordered Lyttelton with the
    2nd Brigade to form facing west on Maxwell’s left south of Surgham,
    and Wauchope with the 1st Brigade to hurry back to fill the wide gap
    between Lewis and MacDonald. Last of all he sent an officer to Collinson
    and the Camel Corps with orders that they should swing round to their right
    rear and close the open part of the “V”. By these movements the army,
    instead of facing south in echelon, with its left on the river and its
    right in the desert, was made to face west in line, with its left in the
    desert and its right reaching back to the river. It had turned nearly
    a complete somersault.

    In obedience to these orders Lyttelton’s brigade brought up their left
    shoulders, deployed into line, and advanced west; Maxwell’s Soudanese
    scrambled up the Surgham rocks, and, in spite of a sharp fire, cleared the
    peak with the bayonet and pressed on down the further side; Lewis began to
    come into action on Maxwell’s right; MacDonald, against whom the Khalifa’s
    attack was at first entirely directed, remained facing south-west, and was
    soon shrouded in the smoke of his own musketry and artillery fire.
    The three brigades which were now moving west and away from the Nile
    attacked the right flank of the Dervishes assailing MacDonald, and,
    compelling them to form front towards the river, undoubtedly took much of
    the weight of the attack off the isolated brigade. There remained the gap
    between Lewis and MacDonald. But Wauchope’s brigade–still in four parallel
    columns of route–had shouldered completely round to the north, and was now
    doubling swiftly across the plain to fill the unguarded space. With the
    exception of Wauchope’s brigade and of Collinson’s Egyptians, the whole
    infantry and artillery force were at once furiously engaged.

    The firing became again tremendous, and the sound was even louder than
    during the attack on the zeriba. As each fresh battalion was brought into
    line the tumult steadily increased. The three leading brigades continued to
    advance westward in one long line looped up over Surgham Hill, and with the
    right battalion held back in column. As the forces gradually drew nearer,
    the possibility of the Dervishes penetrating the gap between Lewis and
    MacDonald presented itself, and the flank battalion was wheeled into line
    so as to protect the right flank. The aspect of the Dervish attack was at
    this moment most formidable. Enormous masses of men were hurrying towards
    the smoke-clouds that almost hid MacDonald. Other masses turned to meet the
    attack which was developing on their right. Within the angle formed by the
    three brigades facing west and MacDonald facing nearly south a great army
    of not fewer than 15,000 men was enclosed, like a flock of sheep in a fold,
    by the thin brown lines of the British and Egyptian brigades. As the 7th
    Egyptians, the right battalion of Lewis’s brigade and nearest the gap
    between that unit and MacDonald, deployed to protect the flank, they became
    unsteady, began to bunch and waver, and actually made several retrograde
    movements. There was a moment of danger; but General Hunter, who was on the
    spot, himself ordered the two reserve companies of the 15th Egyptians under
    Major Hickman to march up behind them with fixed bayonets. Their morale was
    thus restored and the peril averted. The advance of the three brigades

    Yakub found himself utterly unable to withstand the attack from the river.
    His own attack on MacDonald languished. The musketry was producing terrible
    losses in his crowded ranks. The valiant Wad Bishara and many other less
    famous Emirs fell dead. Gradually he began to give ground. It was evident
    that the civilised troops were the stronger. But even before the attack was
    repulsed, the Khalifa, who watched from a close position, must have known
    that the day was lost; for when he launched Yakub at MacDonald, it was
    clear that the only chance of success depended on Ali-Wad-Helu and Osman
    Sheikh-ed-Din attacking at the same time from Kerreri. And with bitter rage
    and mortification he perceived that, although the banners were now
    gathering under the Kerreri Hills, Ali and Osman were too late, and the
    attacks which should have been simultaneous would only be consecutive.
    The effect of Broadwood’s cavalry action upon the extreme right was now
    becoming apparent.

    Regrets and fury were alike futile. The three brigades advancing drove the
    Khalifa’s Dervishes back into the desert. Along a mile of front an intense
    and destructive fire flared and crackled. The 32nd British Field Battery on
    the extreme left was drawn by its hardy mules at full gallop into action.
    The Maxim guns pulsated feverishly. Two were even dragged by the enterprise
    of a subaltern to the very summit of Surgham, and from this elevated
    position intervened with bloody effect. Thus the long line moved forward in
    irresistible strength. In the centre, under the red Egyptian flag, careless
    of the bullets which that conspicuous emblem drew, and which inflicted some
    loss among those around him, rode the Sirdar, stern and sullen, equally
    unmoved by fear or enthusiasm. A mile away to the rear the gunboats,
    irritated that the fight was passing beyond their reach, steamed restlessly
    up and down, like caged Polar bears seeking what they might devour. Before
    that terrible line the Khalifa’s division began to break up. The whole
    ground was strewn with dead and wounded, among whose bodies the soldiers
    picked their steps with the customary Soudan precautions. Surviving
    thousands struggled away towards Omdurman and swelled the broad stream of
    fugitives upon whose flank the 2lst Lancers already hung vengefully.
    Yakub and the defenders of the Black Flag disdained to fly, and perished
    where they stood, beneath the holy ensign, so that when their conquerors
    reached the spot the dark folds of the banner waved only over the dead.

    While all this was taking place–for events were moving at speed–
    the 1st British Brigade were still doubling across the rear of Maxwell and
    Lewis to fill the gap between the latter and MacDonald. As they had wheeled
    round, the regiments gained on each other according to their proximity to
    the pivot flank. The brigade assumed a formation which may be described as
    an echelon of columns of route, with the Lincolns, who were actually the
    pivot regiment, leading. By the time that the right of Lewis’s brigade was
    reached and the British had begun to deploy, it was evident that the
    Khalifa’s attack was broken and that his force was in full retreat. In the
    near foreground the Arab dead lay thick. Crowds of fugitives were trooping
    off in the distance. The Black Flag alone waved defiantly over the corpses
    of its defenders. In the front of the brigade the fight was over. But those
    who looked away to the right saw a different spectacle. What appeared to be
    an entirely new army was coming down from the Kerreri Hills. While the
    soldiers looked and wondered, fresh orders arrived. A mounted officer
    galloped up. There was a report that terrible events were happening in the
    dust and smoke to the northward. The spearmen had closed with MacDonald’s
    brigade; were crumpling his line from the flank; had already broken it.
    Such were the rumours. The orders were more precise. The nearest regiment–
    the Lincolnshire–was to hurry to MacDonald’s threatened flank to meet the
    attack. The rest of the brigade was to change front half right, and remain
    in support. The Lincolnshires, breathless but elated, forthwith started off
    again at the double. They began to traverse the rear of MacDonald’s brigade,
    dimly conscious of rapid movements by its battalions, and to the sound of
    tremendous independent firing, which did not, however, prevent them from
    hearing the venomous hiss of bullets.

    Had the Khalifa’s attack been simultaneous with that which was now
    developed, the position of MacDonald’s brigade must have been almost
    hopeless. In the actual event it was one of extreme peril. The attack in
    his front was weakening every minute, but the far more formidable attack
    on his right rear grew stronger and nearer in inverse ratio. Both attacks
    must be met. The moment was critical; the danger near. All depended on
    MacDonald, and that officer, who by valour and conduct in war had won his
    way from the rank of a private soldier to the command of a brigade,
    and will doubtless obtain still higher employment, was equal
    to the emergency.

    To meet the Khalifa’s attack he had arranged his force facing south-west,
    with three battalions in line and the fourth held back in column of
    companies in rear of the right flank–an inverted L-shaped formation.
    As the attack from the south-west gradually weakened and the attack from
    the north-west continually increased, he broke off his battalions and
    batteries from the longer side of the L and transferred them to the shorter.
    He timed these movements so accurately that each face of his brigade was
    able to exactly sustain the attacks of the enemy. As soon as the Khalifa’s
    force began to waver he ordered the XIth Soudanese and a battery on his left
    to move across the angle in which the brigade was formed, and deploy along
    the shorter face to meet the impending onslaught of Ali-Wad-Helu. Perceiving
    this, the IXth Soudanese, who were the regiment in column on the right of
    the original front, wheeled to the right from column into line without
    waiting for orders, so that two battalions faced towards the Khalifa and
    two towards the fresh attack. By this time it was clear that the Khalifa
    was practically repulsed, and MacDonald ordered the Xth Soudanese and
    another battery to change front and prolong the line of the IXth and XIth.
    He then moved the 2nd Egyptians diagonally to their right front, so as to
    close the gap at the angle between their line and that of the three other
    battalions. These difficult manoeuvres were carried out under a heavy fire,
    which in twenty minutes caused over 120 casualties in the four battalions–
    exclusive of the losses in the artillery batteries–and in the face of the
    determined attacks of an enemy who outnumbered the troops by seven to one
    and had only to close with them to be victorious. Amid the roar of the
    firing and the dust, smoke, and confusion of the change of front,
    the general found time to summon the officers of the IXth Soudanese
    around him, rebuked them for having wheeled into line in anticipation
    of his order, and requested them to drill more steadily in brigade.

    The three Soudanese battalions were now confronted with the whole fury
    of the Dervish attack from Kerreri. The bravery of the blacks was no less
    conspicuous than the wildness of their musketry. They evinced an
    extraordinary excitement–firing their rifles without any attempt to sight
    or aim, and only anxious to pull the trigger, re-load, and pull it again.
    In vain the British officers strove to calm their impulsive soldiers.
    In vain they called upon them by name, or, taking their rifles from them,
    adjusted the sights themselves. The independent firing was utterly beyond
    control. Soon the ammunition began to be exhausted, and the soldiers
    turned round clamouring for more cartridges, which their officers doled out
    to them by twos and threes in the hopes of steadying them. It was useless.
    They fired them all off and clamoured for more. Meanwhile, although
    suffering fearfully from the close and accurate fire of the three artillery
    batteries and eight Maxim guns, and to a less extent from the random firing
    of the Soudanese, the Dervishes drew nearer in thousands, and it seemed
    certain that there would be an actual collision. The valiant blacks
    prepared themselves with delight to meet the shock, notwithstanding the
    overwhelming numbers of the enemy. Scarcely three rounds per man remained
    throughout the brigade. The batteries opened a rapid fire of case-shot.
    Still the Dervishes advanced, and the survivors of their first wave of
    assault were scarcely 100 yards away. Behind them both green flags
    pressed forward over enormous masses of armed humanity, rolling on
    as they now believed to victory.

    At this moment the Lincoln Regiment began to come up. As soon as the
    leading company cleared the right of MacDonald’s brigade, they formed line,
    and opened an independent fire obliquely across the front of the Soudanese.
    Groups of Dervishes in twos and threes were then within 100 yards.
    The great masses were within 300 yards. The independent firing lasted two
    minutes, during which the whole regiment deployed. Its effect was to clear
    away the leading groups of Arabs. The deployment having been accomplished
    with the loss of a dozen men, including Colonel Sloggett, who fell shot
    through the breast while attending to the wounded, section volleys were
    ordered. With excellent discipline the independent firing was instantly
    stopped, and the battalion began with machine-like regularity to carry out
    the principles of modern musketry, for which their training had efficiently
    prepared them and their rifles were admirably suited. They fired on an
    average sixty rounds per man, and finally repulsed the attack.

    The Dervishes were weak in cavalry, and had scarcely 2,000 horsemen on
    the field. About 400 of these, mostly the personal retainers of the various
    Emirs, were formed into an irregular regiment and attached to the flag of
    Ali-Wad-Helu. Now when these horsemen perceived that there was no more hope
    of victory, they arranged themselves in a solid mass and charged the left
    of MacDonald’s brigade. The distance was about 500 yards, and, wild as was
    the firing of the Soudanese, it was evident that they could not possibly
    succeed. Nevertheless, many carrying no weapon in their hands, and all
    urging their horses to their utmost speed, they rode unflinchingly to
    certain death. All were killed and fell as they entered the zone of fire–
    three, twenty, fifty, two hundred, sixty, thirty, five and one out beyond
    them all–a brown smear across the sandy plain. A few riderless horses
    alone broke through the ranks of the infantry.

    After the failure of the attack from Kerreri the whole Anglo-Egyptian
    army advanced westward, in a line of bayonets and artillery nearly two
    miles long, and drove the Dervishes before them into the desert, so that
    they could by no means rally or reform. The Egyptian cavalry, who had
    returned along the river, formed line on the right of the infantry in
    readiness to pursue. At half-past eleven Sir H. Kitchener shut up his
    glasses, and, remarking that he thought the enemy had been given ‘a good
    dusting,’ gave the order for the brigades to resume their interrupted march
    on Omdurman–a movement which was possible, now that the forces in the
    plain were beaten. The brigadiers thereupon stopped the firing,
    massed their commands in convenient formations, and turned again towards
    the south and the city. The Lincolnshire Regiment remained detached
    as a rearguard.

    Meanwhile the great Dervish army, who had advanced at sunrise
    in hope and courage, fled in utter rout, pursued by the Egyptian cavalry,
    harried by the 21st Lancers, and leaving more than 9,000 warriors dead
    and even greater numbers wounded behind them.

    Thus ended the battle of Omdurman–the most signal triumph
    ever gained by the arms of science over barbarians. Within the space of
    five hours the strongest and best-armed savage army yet arrayed against a
    modern European Power had been destroyed and dispersed, with hardly any
    difficulty, comparatively small risk, and insignificant loss
    to the victors.


    Now, when the Khalifa Abdullah saw that the last army that remained to him
    was broken, that all his attacks had failed, and that thousands of his
    bravest warriors were slain, he rode from the field of battle in haste,
    and, regaining the city, proceeded like a brave and stubborn soldier to
    make preparations for its defence, and, like a prudent man, to arrange for
    his own flight should further resistance be impossible. He ordered his
    great war-drum to be beaten and the ombya to be blown, and for the last
    time those dismal notes boomed through the streets of Omdurman. They were
    not heeded. The Arabs had had enough fighting. They recognised that all was
    lost. Besides, to return to the city was difficult and dangerous.

    The charge of the 21st Lancers had been costly, but it was not ineffective.
    The consequent retirement of the Dervish brigade protecting the extreme
    right exposed their line of retreat. The cavalry were resolved to take full
    advantage of the position they had paid so much to gain, and while the
    second attack was at its height we were already trotting over the plain
    towards the long lines of fugitives who streamed across it. With the
    experience of the past hour in our minds, and with the great numbers of
    the enemy in our front, it seemed to many that a bloody day lay before us.
    But we had not gone far when individual Dervishes began to walk towards the
    advancing squadrons, throwing down their weapons, holding up their hands,
    and imploring mercy.

    As soon as it was apparent that the surrender of individuals was accepted,
    the Dervishes began to come in and lay down their arms–at first by twos
    and threes, then by dozens, and finally by scores. Meanwhile those who were
    still intent on flight made a wide detour to avoid the cavalry,
    and streamed past our front at a mile’s distance in uninterrupted
    succession. The disarming and escorting of the prisoners delayed our
    advance, and many thousands of Dervishes escaped from the field. But the
    position of the cavalry and the pressure they exerted shouldered the routed
    army out into the desert, so that retiring they missed the city of Omdurman
    altogether, and, disregarding the Khalifa’s summons to defend it and the
    orders of their Emirs; continued their flight to the south. To harry and
    annoy the fugitives a few troops were dismounted with carbines, and a
    constant fire was made on such as did not attempt to come in and surrender.
    Yet the crowds continued to run the gauntlet, and at least 20,000 men made
    good their escape. Many of these were still vicious, and replied to our
    fire with bullets, fortunately at very long range. It would have been
    madness for 300 Lancers to gallop in among such masses, and we had to
    be content with the results of the carbine fire.

    While all this had been going on, the advance of the army on Omdurman
    was continuing. Nor was it long before we saw the imposing array of
    infantry topping the sandhills near Surgham and flooding out into the
    plain which lay between them and the city. High over the centre brigade
    flew the Black Flag of the Khalifa, and underneath a smaller flash of red
    marked the position of the Headquarters Staff. The black masses of men
    continued to move slowly across the open ground while we fired at the
    flying Arabs, and at twelve o’clock we saw them halt near the river about
    three miles from the city. Orders now reached us to join them, and as the
    sun was hot, the day dragged, all were tired and hungry, and the horses
    needed water, we were not long in complying, and the remnants of the
    Dervish army made good their retreat unmolested.

    We marched back to the Nile. The whole force had halted to drink, to eat,
    and to rest at Khor Shambat. The scene was striking. Imagine a six hundred
    yards stretch of the Suez Canal. Both banks are crowded with brown- or
    chocolate-clad figures. The northern side is completely covered with the
    swarming infantry of the British division. Thousands of animals–the horses
    of the cavalry, the artillery mules, the transport camels–fill the spaces
    and the foreground. Multitudes of khaki-clad men are sitting in rows on the
    slopes. Hundreds are standing by the brim or actually in the red muddy
    water. All are drinking deeply. Two or three carcasses, lying in the
    shallows, show that the soldiers are thirsty rather than particular.
    On all sides water-bottles are being filled from the welcome Nile, which
    has come into the desert to refresh the weary animals and men.

    During the attack on MacDonald’s brigade the Egyptian cavalry had
    watched from their position on the southern slopes of the Kerreri Hills,
    ready to intervene, if necessary, and support the infantry by a charge.
    As soon as the Dervish onsets had ended and the whole mass had begun to
    retreat, Broadwood’s cavalry brigade formed in two lines, of four and of
    five squadrons respectively, and advanced in pursuit–first west for two
    miles, and then south-west for three miles more towards the Round-topped
    Hill. Like the 21st Lancers, they were delayed by many Dervishes who threw
    down their arms and surrendered, and whom it was necessary to escort to
    the river. But as they drew nearer the mass of the routed army, it became
    apparent that the spirit of the enemy was by no means broken. Stubborn men
    fired continually as they lay wounded, refusing to ask for quarter–
    doubting, perhaps, that it would be granted. Under every bush that gave
    protection from the lances of the horsemen little groups collected to make
    a desperate stand. Solitary spearmen awaited unflinching the charge of a
    whole squadron. Men who had feigned death sprang up to fire an unexpected
    shot. The cavalry began to suffer occasional casualties. In proportion as
    they advanced the resistance of the enemy increased. The direct pursuit had
    soon to be abandoned, but in the hope of intercepting some part of the
    retreating mob Major Le Gallais, who commanded the three leading squadrons,
    changed direction towards the river, and, galloping nearly parallel to
    Khor Shambat, charged and cut into the tail of the enemy’s disordered array.
    The Arabs, however, stood their ground, and, firing their rifles wildly in
    all directions, killed and wounded a good many horses and men, so that the
    squadrons were content to bring up their right still more, and finally to
    ride out of the hornet swarm, into which they had plunged, towards
    Surgham Hill. The pursuit was then suspended, and the Egyptian cavalry
    joined the rest of the army by the Nile.

    It was not until four o’clock that the cavalry received orders to ride
    round the outside of the city and harry such as should seek to escape.
    The Egyptian squadrons and the 21st Lancers started forthwith, and,
    keeping about a mile from the houses of the suburbs, proceeded to make the
    circle of the town. The infantry had already entered it, as was evident
    from a continual patter of shots and an occasional rattle of the Maxim guns.
    The leading Soudanese brigade–Maxwell’s–had moved from Khor Shambat at
    2.30, formed in line of company columns and in the following order:-

    ^ Direction of Advance ^
    XIVth XIIth Maxims 8th 32nd XIIIth
    Soudanese Soudanese Egyptians Field Battery Soudanese

    The Sirdar, attended by his whole Staff, with the Black Flag of the Khalifa
    carried behind him and accompanied by the band of the XIth Soudanese, rode
    in front of the XIVth battalion. The regiments were soon enveloped by the
    numberless houses of the suburbs and divided by the twisting streets;
    but the whole brigade pressed forward on a broad front. Behind followed the
    rest of the army–battalion after battalion, brigade after brigade–
    until all, swallowed up by the maze of mud houses, were filling the open
    spaces and blocking and choking the streets and alleys with solid masses of
    armed men, who marched or pushed their way up to the great wall.

    For two miles the progress through the suburbs continued, and the General,
    hurrying on with his Staff, soon found himself, with the band, the Maxims,
    and the artillery, at the foot of the great wall. Several hundred Dervishes
    had gathered for its defence; but the fact that no banquette had been made
    on which they could stand to fire prevented their resistance from being
    effective. A few ill-aimed shots were, however, fired, to which the Maxim
    guns replied with vigour. In a quarter of an hour the wall was cleared.
    The Sirdar then posted two guns of the 32nd Field Battery at its northern
    angle, and then, accompanied by the remaining four guns and the XIVth
    Soudanese, turned eastwards and rode along the foot of the wall towards
    the river, seeking some means of entry into the inner city. The breach made
    by the gunboats was found temporarily blocked by wooden doors, but the main
    gate was open, and through this the General passed into the heart of
    Omdurman. Within the wall the scenes were more terrible than in the suburbs.
    The effects of the bombardment were evident on every side. Women and
    children lay frightfully mangled in the roadway. At one place a whole
    family had been crushed by a projectile. Dead Dervishes, already in the
    fierce heat beginning to decompose, dotted the ground. The houses were
    crammed with wounded. Hundreds of decaying carcasses of animals filled the
    air with a sickening smell. Here, as without the wall, the anxious
    inhabitants renewed their protestations of loyalty and welcome;
    and interpreters, riding down the narrow alleys, proclaimed the merciful
    conditions of the conquerors and called on the people to lay down
    their arms. Great piles of surrendered weapons rose in the streets,
    guarded by Soudanese soldiers. Many Arabs sought clemency; but there were
    others who disdained it; and the whirring of the Maxims, the crashes of
    the volleys, and a continual dropping fire attested that there was fighting
    in all parts of the city into which the columns had penetrated.
    All Dervishes who did not immediately surrender were shot or bayoneted,
    and bullets whistled at random along or across the streets. But while women
    crowded round his horse, while sullen men fired carefully from houses,
    while beaten warriors cast their spears on the ground and others, still
    resisting, were despatched in corners, the Sirdar rode steadily onward
    through the confusion, the stench, and the danger, until he reached
    the Mahdi’s Tomb.

    At the mosque two fanatics charged the Soudanese escort,
    and each killed or badly wounded a soldier before he was shot.
    The day was now far spent, and it was dusk when the prison was reached.
    The General was the first to enter that foul and gloomy den. Charles
    Neufeld and some thirty heavily shackled prisoners were released. Neufeld,
    who was placed on a pony, seemed nearly mad with delight, and talked and
    gesticulated with queer animation. ‘Thirteen years,’ he said to his rescuer,
    ‘have I waited for this day.’ From the prison, as it was now dark,
    the Sirdar rode to the great square in front of the mosque, in which his
    headquarters were established, and where both British brigades were already
    bivouacking. The rest of the army settled down along the roadways through
    the suburbs, and only Maxwell’s brigade remained in the city to complete
    the establishment of law and order–a business which was fortunately hidden
    by the shades of night.

    While the Sirdar with the infantry of the army was taking possession
    of Omdurman, the British and Egyptian cavalry had moved round to the west
    of the city. There for nearly two hours we waited, listening to the
    dropping fusillade which could be heard within the great wall and wondering
    what was happening. Large numbers of Dervishes and Arabs, who, laying aside
    their jibbas, had ceased to be Dervishes, appeared among the houses at the
    edge of the suburbs. Several hundreds of these, with two or three Emirs,
    came out to make their submission; and we were presently so loaded with
    spears and swords that it was impossible to carry them, and many
    interesting trophies had to be destroyed. It was just getting dark when
    suddenly Colonel Slatin galloped up. The Khalifa had fled! The Egyptian
    cavalry were at once to pursue him. The 21st Lancers must await further
    orders. Slatin appeared very much in earnest. He talked with animated
    manner to Colonel Broadwood, questioned two of the surrendered Emirs
    closely, and hurried off into the dusk, while the Egyptian squadrons,
    mounting, also rode away at a trot.

    It was not for some hours after he had left the field of battle
    that Abdullah realised that his army had not obeyed his summons,
    but were continuing their retreat, and that only a few hundred Dervishes
    remained for the defence of the city. He seems, if we judge from the
    accounts of his personal servant, an Abyssinian boy, to have faced the
    disasters that had overtaken him with singular composure. He rested until
    two o’clock, when he ate some food. Thereafter he repaired to the Tomb,
    and in that ruined shrine, amid the wreckage of the shell-fire,
    the defeated sovereign appealed to the spirit of Mohammed Ahmed to help him
    in his sore distress. It was the last prayer ever offered over the Mahdi’s
    grave. The celestial counsels seem to have been in accord with the dictates
    of common-sense, and at four o’clock the Khalifa, hearing that the Sirdar
    was already entering the city, and that the English cavalry were on the
    parade ground to the west, mounted a small donkey, and, accompanied by his
    principal wife, a Greek nun as a hostage, and a few attendants, rode
    leisurely off towards the south. Eight miles from Omdurman a score of swift
    camels awaited him, and on these he soon reached the main body of his
    routed army. Here he found many disheartened friends; but the fact that,
    in this evil plight, he found any friends at all must be recorded in his
    favour and in that of his subjects. When he arrived he had no escort–
    was, indeed, unarmed. The fugitives had good reason to be savage.
    Their leaders had led them only to their ruin. To cut the throat of this
    one man who was the cause of all their sufferings was as easy as they would
    have thought it innocent. Yet none assailed him. The tyrant, the oppressor,
    the scourge of the Soudan, the hypocrite, the abominated Khalifa;
    the embodiment, as he has been depicted to European eyes, of all the vices;
    the object, as he was believed in England, of his people’s bitter hatred,
    found safety and welcome among his flying soldiers. The surviving Emirs
    hurried to his side. Many had gone down on the fatal plain. Osman Azrak,
    the valiant Bishara, Yakub, and scores whose strange names have not
    obscured these pages, but who were, nevertheless, great men of war,
    lay staring up at the stars. Yet those who remained never wavered in their
    allegiance. Ali-Wad-Helu, whose leg had been shattered by a shell splinter,
    was senseless with pain; but the Sheikh-ed-Din, the astute Osman Digna,
    lbrahim Khalil, who withstood the charge of the 21st Lancers, and others
    of less note rallied to the side of the appointed successor of Mohammed
    Ahmed, and did not, even in this extremity, abandon his cause. And so all
    hurried on through the gathering darkness, a confused and miserable
    multitude–dejected warriors still preserving their trashy rifles,
    and wounded men hobbling pitifully along; camels and donkeys laden with
    household goods; women crying, panting, dragging little children; all in
    thousands–nearly 30,000 altogether; with little food and less water to
    sustain them; the desert before them, the gunboats on the Nile,
    and behind the rumours of pursuit and a broad trail of dead and dying
    to mark the path of flight.

    Meanwhile the Egyptian cavalry had already started on their
    fruitless errand. The squadrons were greatly reduced in numbers.
    The men carried food to suffice till morning, the horses barely enough to
    last till noon. To supplement this slender provision a steamer had been
    ordered up the river to meet them the next day with fresh supplies.
    The road by the Nile was choked with armed Dervishes, and to avoid these
    dangerous fugitives the column struck inland and marched southward towards
    some hills whose dark outline showed against the sky. The unknown ground
    was difficult and swampy. At times the horses floundered to their girths
    in wet sand; at others rocky khors obstructed the march; horses and camels
    blundered and fell. The darkness complicated the confusion. At about ten
    o’clock Colonel Broadwood decided to go no further till there was more
    light. He therefore drew off the column towards the desert, and halted on
    a comparatively dry spot. Some muddy pools, which were luckily discovered,
    enabled the bottles to be filled and the horses to be watered. Then, having
    posted many sentries, the exhausted pursuers slept, waking from time to
    time to listen to the intermittent firing which was still audible,
    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
    near Omdurman.

    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
    to Omdurman.

    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
    or wounded.

    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.


    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
    and France.

    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
    the war.

    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
    Fashoda district.

    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
    immense swamp.

    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.


    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,
    was held.

    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
    to steamers.

    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,
    in front.

    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.


    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:


    Assistant Adjutant-General: LIEUT.-COLONEL MITFORD

    Deputy-Assistant Adjutant-General: MAJOR WILLIAMS


    Two squadrons Egyptian Cavalry
    2nd Egyptians
    XIVth Soudanese
    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 river.

    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
    for daylight.

    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: EP 1,181,372
    Telegraph: EP 21,825
    Gunboats: EP 154,934
    Military Expenditure: EP 996,223
    TOTAL EXPENDITURES: EP 2,354,354 (EP1 = British P1 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 EP2,354,354 only EP996,223 can be
    accounted as military expenditure. For the remaining EP1,358,131 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 EP2,354,354 had, however, to be paid during the campaigns.
    Towards this sum Great Britain advanced, as has been related, P800,000
    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 P800,000; 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 EP336,000, and there are
    outstanding charges on account of the expedition amounting to EP330,000,
    making a total deficit of EP666,000.’

    ‘On the other hand, the fund will be increased, when the accounts
    of the year are made up, by a sum of EP382,000, 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
    EP90,000, being part of the proceeds of the sale of the Khedivial postal
    steamers. The net deficit will, therefore, be EP194,000; 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.




    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:-

    ART. I.

    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
    in concert.

    ART. II.

    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.

    ART. III.

    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.

    ART. IV.

    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.

    ART. V.

    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.

    ART. VI.

    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.

    ART. VII.

    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
    by Proclamation.

    ART. VIII.

    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
    of Suakin.


    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.

    ART. X.

    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.

    ART. XI.

    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.

    ART. XII.

    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 at London, March 21st, 1899)

    THE Undersigned, duly authorised by their Governments, have signed the
    following declaration:-

    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 degrees 40′ east of Paris),
    or to the east beyond the 23rd degree of longitude east of Greenwich
    (20 degrees 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 degrees 40′ east of Paris),
    shall run thence to the south-east until it meets the 24th degree of
    longitude east of Greenwich (21 degrees 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 degrees 20′ parallel of north latitude, and to the north of
    the 5th parallel of north latitude, between the 14 degrees 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.



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