Sunday, 22 April 2012

abu clear

The Battle of Abu Klea by William Barnes WollenThIn 1884 Mohammed Ahmed, an apprentice boat builder, declared himself to be the Mahdi or Saviour of the people of Sudan and began a revolt against the Khedive of Egypt, the ruler of Sudan, and his Egyptian garrisons across the country. e revolt was a Jihad, or Muslim Holy War. The Khedive resolved to evacuate his garrisons from Sudan and leave it to the Mahdi. The problem was in finding someone who could carry out this difficult operation.
Steamers make for Khartoum
The steamers make for Khartoum after
the Battles of Abu Klea and Abu Kru.
In January 1884, on the urging of the British Government of William Gladstone, the Khedive appointed General Charles Gordon to conduct the withdrawal operations from Sudan. Gordon’s remit and appointment were not resolved. Gordon had successfully acted as governor of Sudan in the 1880s and left with a high reputation. It was the expectation of the British Government that Gordon would arrange the evacuation of the Egyptian forces and then leave Sudan without endangering himself.
Gordon reached Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, on the Nile on 18th February 1884 and immediately put the city into a state of readiness for siege, while at the same time beginning the evacuation of the foreign civilians.
General Graham conducted his successful campaign from Suakin in February to April 1884, winning the battles of El Teb and Tamai, and was then withdrawn to Egypt. Gordon was left to depend upon his own resources.
The evacuation of Sudan proved to be infinitely more difficult than had been envisaged in Cairo or London. The Nile was the sole route of escape. It was far from easily navigable, having a series of rapids, the main ones known as the 6 Cataracts. In April 1884 the Mahdi captured Berber, a town on the Nile, cutting Gordon’s sole communication route with Egypt.Desultory communications came out of Khartoum, taking some time to reach Egypt, making it clear that Khartoum only had the capacity to hold out for 40 days once under siege. It was apparent that Gordon had no intention of leaving the Sudanese capital.
Gordon sent his second in command, Colonel Stewart, with a message for Sir Evelyn Baring, the British Commissioner in Cairo. Stewart in one of Gordon’s 5 steamers sailed past Berber, but then went aground was captured and executed by one of the Mahdi’s lieutenants.
The British Liberal Prime Minister, William Gladstone, was determined that Britain would not intervene further in the Sudan. Public opinion was outraged. It was the view in the country that Gordon must be rescued. Queen Victoria expressed the same view. Finally the threatened resignation of Lord Hartington, the Secretary of State for War, forced Gladstone to agree to the sending of an expeditionary force to relieve Gordon.
General Lord Wolseley, Britain’s most eminent general, was given command of the Sudan expeditionary force. Wolseley had the choice of two routes to reach Gordon in Khartoum: the shorter from Suakin on the Red Sea and the longer up the Nile. Wolseley chose the Nile route. Landing at Suakin would have presented the problem of movement across a wide expanse of country held by the Mahdist Hadendoa tribe, which General Graham had fought at El Teb and Tamai the previous year, to reach Khartoum. The Nile was a route of sorts up which the British force could travel.
A force was sent to Suakin on the Red Sea, commanded, as in the previous year, by General Sir Gilbert Graham VC. An Indian Army cavalry regiment, Hodson’s Horse and an Indian Army infantry brigade formed part of the Suakin force.
The Nile presented significant difficulties for the British Army. There was no established department that could provide the transport for such a journey. Boats had to be built and crews recruited and transported from Canada and South Africa. Sir Thomas Cook’s travel company provided the steamers.
The force allocated to Lord Wolseley for the advance up the Nile comprised 6 battalions of infantry, 1 regiment of cavalry, with guns and engineers taken from the British forces already in Egypt. Sir Redvers Buller, promoted major general following the Suakin campaign, was appointed Lord Wolseley’s chief of staff.
The Desert Column at Abu Klea
The Desert column at the beginning of the Battle
of Abu Klea. Illustration by R Caton Woodville
for the Illustrated London News.

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