First Anglo-Afghan War

First Anglo-Afghan War

Infobox Military Conflict

conflict=First Anglo-Afghan War
result=Afghan Victory
combatant2=flagicon|United Kingdom British Empire
commander1=Dost Mohammad,
Akbar Khan
commander2=John Keane,
William Elphinstone
casualties1=7,000+ killed & wounded
casualties2=5,062 killed
casualties3=Afghan civilians = Unknown
British civilians = 12,000 killed
The First Anglo–Afghan War lasted from 1839 to 1842. It was one of the first major conflicts during The Great Game, the 19th century competition for power and influence in Central Asia between Great Britain and Russia, and also marked one of the major losses of the British after the consolidation of India by the British East India Company. From the British point of view, the First Anglo-Afghan War (1838–42) (often called "Auckland's Folly") was an unmitigated disaster.


To justify his plan, Lord Auckland issued the Simla Manifesto in October 1838, setting forth the necessary reasons for British intervention in Afghanistan. The manifesto stated that in order to ensure the welfare of India, the British must have a trustworthy ally on India's western frontier. The British pretence that their troops were merely supporting Shah Shuja's small army in retaking what was once his throne fooled no one. Although the Simla Manifesto stated that British troops would be withdrawn as soon as Shuja was installed in Kabul, Shuja's rule depended entirely on British arms to suppress rebellion and on British funds to buy the support of tribal chiefs. The British denied that they were invading Afghanistan, instead claiming they were merely supporting its legitimate Shuja government "against foreign interference and factious opposition".


An army of British and Indian troops under the command of Sir John Keane (subsequently replaced by Sir Willoughby Cotten and then by the spectacularly incompetent Elphinstone) set out from the Punjab in December 1838. With them was William Hay Macnaghten, the former chief secretary of the Calcutta government who had been selected as Britain's chief representative to Kabul. They reached Quetta by late March 1839 and a month later took Kandahar without a battle. In July, after a two-month delay in Kandahar, the British attacked the fortress of Ghazni, overlooking a plain leading to eastward into the North West Frontier Province, and achieved a decisive victory over Dost Mohammad's troops led by one of his sons. Dost Mohammad fled with his loyal followers across the passes to Bamian, and ultimately to Bukhara. In August 1839, after almost thirty years, Shuja was again enthroned in Kabul.


Some British troops returned to India, but it soon became clear that Shuja's rule could only be maintained with the presence of British forces. The Afghans resented the British presence and Shah Shuja. As the occupation dragged on, MacNaghten allowed his soldiers to bring in their families to improve morale; this further infuriated the Afghans, as it appeared the British were settling into a permanent occupation. After he unsuccessfully attacked the British and their Afghan protégé, Dost Mohammad surrendered to them and was exiled in India in late 1840.

By October 1841, however, disaffected Afghan tribes were flocking to support Dost Mohammad's son, Mohammad Akbar Khan, in Bamian. In November 1841 a senior British officer, Sir Alexander 'Sekundar' Burnes, and his aides were killed by a mob in Kabul. The substantial remaining British forces in their cantonment just outside Kabul did nothing immediately. In the following weeks the British commanders tried to negotiate with Mohammad Akbar. In a secret meeting, MacNaghten offered to make Akbar Afghanistan's vizier in exchange for allowing the British to stay. Rather than betray his countrymen, Akbar ordered MacNaghten thrown in prison. Along the way to prison, an angry mob killed MacNaghten and his dismembered corpse was paraded through Kabul.

Retreat and massacre

On 1 January 1842 following some unusual thinking by Elphinstone an agreement was reached that provided for the safe exodus of the British garrison and its dependents from Afghanistan. Five days later, the retreat began, The departing British contingent numbered around 14–16,000, of about 4,500 military personnel, and over 10,000 civilian camp followers; the military force consisted mostly of Indian units and one British battalion, the 44th.

As they struggled through the snowbound passes, the British were attacked by Ghilzai warriors. The evacuees were harassed down the convert|30|mi|km of treacherous gorges and passes lying along the Kabul River between Kabul and Gandamak, and massacred at the Gandamak pass before reaching the besieged garrison at Jalalabad. The force had been reduced to fewer than forty men by a retreat from Kabul that had become, towards the end, a running battle through two feet of snow. The ground was frozen, the men had no shelter and had little food for weeks. Only a dozen of the men had working muskets, the officers their pistols and a few unbroken swords. The only Briton known to have escaped was Dr. William Brydon, though a few others were captured.


The complete destruction of the garrison prompted brutal retaliation by the British against the Afghans and touched off yet another power struggle for dominance of Afghanistan. Shuja, his British protectors gone, remained in power only a few months before being assassinated in April 1842. In the autumn of 1842, British forces from Kandahar and Peshawar entered Kabul just long enough to rescue the few British prisoners and burn the citadel and Great Bazaar.

In the three decades after the First Anglo-Afghan War the Russians advanced steadily southward towards Afghanistan. In 1842 the Russian border was on the other side of the Aral Sea from Afghanistan, but five years later the Tsar's outposts had moved to the lower reaches of the Amu Darya. By 1865 Tashkent had been formally annexed, as was Samarkand three years later. A peace treaty in 1873 with Amir Muzaffar al-Din, the ruler of Bukhara, virtually stripped him of his independence. Russian control now extended as far as the northern bank of the Amu Darya.

In 1878, the British invaded again, beginning the Second Anglo-Afghan War.

Lady Butler's famous painting of Dr. William Brydon, initially thought to be the sole survivor, gasping his way to the British outpost in Jalalabad, helped make Afghanistan's reputation as a graveyard for foreign armies and became one of the great epics of Empire.

ee also

*Invasions of Afghanistan
*European influence in Afghanistan
*Second Anglo-Afghan War
*Third Anglo-Afghan War
*British military history
*Chapslee Estate

Fictional depictions

The First Anglo-Afghan war was depicted in a work of historical fiction, Flashman by George MacDonald Fraser. The ordeal of Dr. Brydon may have influenced the story of Dr. John Watson in Sherlock Holmes, although his wound was obtained in the Second war.


*Hopkirk, Peter, (1992) "The Great Game", Kodansha Globe, ISBN 1-56836-022-3
*Fowler, Corinne, (2007) "Chasing Tales: travel writing, journalism and the history of British ideas about Afghanistan", Rodopi: Amsterdam and New York

External links

* [ First Afghan War (Battle of Ghuznee)]
* [ First Afghan War (Battle of Kabul 1842)]
* [http://britishbattleshiirst-afghan-war/siege-jellalabad.htm First Afghan War (The Siege of Jellalabad)]
* [ First Afghan War (Battle of Kabul and retreat to Gandamak)]
* [ The Afghan Wars 1839-42 and 1878-80] by Archibald Forbes, from Project Gutenberg
* [ Pictures of the First Anglo-Afghan War]

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Anglo-Afghan War — may refer to:*First Anglo Afghan War *Second Anglo Afghan War *Third Anglo Afghan War …   Wikipedia

  • First Afghan War — Erster Anglo Afghanischer Krieg Last Stand at Gundamuck von William Barnes Wollen. Heroisierende Darstellung der Niederlage der britischen Tru …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Anglo-Persian War — Infobox Military Conflict conflict= Anglo Persian War partof= caption= British Indian forces attacking at the Battle of Kooshab date= 1856 1857 place= Persia (Iran) and Afghanistan result=British victory combatant1= combatant2= commander1=… …   Wikipedia

  • Anglo-Afghan Wars — ▪ British Afghani history also called  Afghan Wars   (1839–42; 1878–80; 1919), three conflicts in which Great Britain, from its base in India, sought to extend its control over neighbouring Afghanistan and to oppose Russian influence there. The… …   Universalium

  • Second Anglo-Sikh War — The Second Anglo Sikh War took place in 1848 and 1849, between the restive Sikh Kingdom and the British Empire. It resulted in the subjugation of the Sikh kingdom, and the annexation of the Punjab and what subsequently became the North West… …   Wikipedia

  • Third Anglo-Maratha War — Date November 1817 – February 1818 Location The modern state of Maharashtra and neighbouring areas Result Formal end of the Maratha empire and firm establishment of the British East India Company i …   Wikipedia

  • War in Afghanistan — The terms Afghan War or War in Afghanistan may refer to:*Islamic conquest of Afghanistan (637 709) *Anglo Afghan Wars: ** First Anglo Afghan War (1839 1842) **Second Anglo Afghan War (1878 1881) ** Third Anglo Afghan War (1919) * Panjdeh Incident …   Wikipedia

  • Afghan National Army — Emblem of the Afghan National Army. Active 1880 (current form: 2002) Country …   Wikipedia

  • First Battle of the Marne — Part of the Western Front of the First World War French soldiers waiting for …   Wikipedia

  • War photography — War photographer redirects here. For the 2001 documentary, see War Photographer. The field at Antietam, American Civil War by Alexander Gardner, 1862. War photography captures photographs of armed conflict and life in war torn areas. Although… …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”