On January 6, 1842, after Elphinstone accepted Mohammed Akbar's offer of safe passage to India, the British forces prepared to flee. The nearest British garrison and therefore the only place where safety could be guaranteed was in the city of Jalalabad, and it lay over ninety miles away, through the Afghani mountains, threatened at every turn by Afghanis whose hatred for the British had been honed by the excesses of the British occupation of Kabul.
The British had little confidence in their leaders and even less in the trustworthiness of Mohammed Akbar's promises of safe conduct through the passes. It was therefore a very cold, dispirited throng, there was such confusion it could not be called an army, that left their home of the last three years and headed for the mountains. Almost 17,000 people left the cantonment that dark day. About 700 were Europeans, both soldiers and civilians, another 3,800 were Indian soldiers and more than 12,000 camp followers. There were bullock carts, mules, camels, horses, and ponies. The European women and children were carried on the carts or in great baskets slung over the sides of the camels but the Indian camp followers and their families had to struggle along on foot as best they could. Four hundred men of the 44th Foot and a hundred cavalrymen made up the vanguard. Then came the British women and children, then the main body of the army and finally the scrambling mass of camp followers.
The group came under immediate attack by snipers as soon as they left the cantonmentand many were hit in the first hour of the attack. Afghan horsemen rushed the column again and again, driving off baggage animals and killing both soldiers and unarmed camp followers. By the end of the first day only five miles had been covered and much of the baggage had been lost. As the army tried to make camp, stragglers continued to stagger in asking where their units were. Nobody seemed to know. Only one tent had survived the Afghan attacks and it was used by some women and children and senior officers that night. Everyone else had to lay down in the snow and the following morning many woke up with frostbitten limbs. Many didn't wake up at all. When the army moved off, those with frostbitten feet had to be left behind.
On the second day, the sniping and mounted attacks continued and in one the Afghans captured two mule guns, leaving only one other mule gun and two heavier pieces as the total ordnance available to the British. Then Mohammed Akbar appeared, scolding the British for leaving before his escort had been made ready. This was nonsense, as the time and place for the escort to meet the British had been very precisely set; Akbar's men just hadn't shown up. Akbar suggested the British halt for the day while he negotiated safe passage through the upcoming Khoord-Cabool Pass with the local chieftains who controlled it.

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.