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Winston S. Churchill:

The Battle of Omdurman, 1898

[There is a map of the Battle of Omdurman, associated with this file.]

The Reconnaissance of Kerreri.

September 1, 1898.

I DO not doubt that the reader is as anxious to see the walls of Omdurman and to come to the end of the affair, as were the army on the morning of the 1st of September. Whether this is because I have interested him in the impending battle, or wearied him with the monotonies of the march, I shall not presume to inquire. But he shall at any rate start at once with the cavalry, nor will I palter with tales of how the chilled soldiers warmed themselves before the fires that lighted the camp and cooked the breakfasts of a hurried meal; of carbines, rusted by the rain, swabbed with oil to make their bolts slide; of weary horses once more saddled---lame, girth-galled, or sore-backed notwithstanding; of great masses of brown-clad, armed men forming silently under the stars, while the light grew gently in the east. These are impressions he must some day gather for himself or forgo for ever.

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 Khedival squadrons curved backwards in a wide half-moon to protect the right flank. While we were moving off, 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. Our orders were to reconnoiter Omdurman; their task to bombard it.

We had not accomplished more than a mile, when about a hundred enormous vultures joined us, and henceforth they accompanied the 21st Lancers, flying or waddling lazily from bush to bush, and always looking back at the horsemen. Throughout the Sudan it is believed that this portends ill-fortune, and that the troops over which vultures circle will suffer heavy losses. Although the ominous nature of the event was not known to us, officers and men alike were struck by the strange and unusual occurrence; and it was freely asserted that these birds of prey knew that two armies were approaching each other, and that this meant a battle, and hence a feast. It would be difficult to assign limitations to the possibilities of instinct. The sceptic must at least admit that the vultures guessed aright, even if they did not know. Yet we thought them wrong, when we found the steep Kerreri Hills abandoned and the little Dervish camp, which had been shelled the day before, deserted and solitary. The regiment halted at the foot of the Kerreri Hills as soon as it was known these were deserted. The scouts, Colonel Martin and a few other officers, ascended, taking signalers with them. We waited, eating some breakfast. Then presently a message was sent down which filled us all with curiosity to look over the crest. The signal-flag wagged tirelessly, and we spelt out the following words: "Khartoum in sight." More than thirteen years had passed since an Englishman could have said that with truth.

After a short halt the advance was resumed, and, turning the shoulder of the hill, I 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. Then we knew that 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. The river---the inevitable river---framed the picture on the left, and by its banks a straggling mud village stood. This, though we did not know it, was to be the field of Omdurman [See map].

It was deserted. Not a living soul 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 our four squadrons looking very tiny on the broad expanse of ground, we moved steadily forward. 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 hill and ridge of which I have written, 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, I perceived 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. There would in any case be a skirmish.

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 it, and halted in the plain about three miles away---three great serpents of men---the light-colored 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 was, perhaps, the impression of a lifetime; nor do I expect ever again to see such an awe-inspiring or formidable sight.

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 north-east, stretched for more than four miles from flank to flank. A strong detachment of the mulazemin or guard was extended in front of the center. 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 center 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 center. 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-westward 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 south-ward, 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 defenses 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 valor, 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.

While the attack was in progress, a party of five Baggara horsemen issued from the village and charged gallantly. Major Wortley and Lieutenant Wood were watching the fight, protected by an escort of fifty Arabs. On the approach of the Baggaras the escort fled. The two British officers defended themselves desperately with their revolvers. A horseman galloped at Lieutenant Wood, who awaited his charge pistol in hand. The Dervish leveled his broad spear, and scarcely missed the subaltern's throat by all inch. His outstretched arm shot over the officer's left shoulder, and the latter, meeting him in violent collision, thrust his revolver in the wild face and pulled the trigger.

Encouraged by the resistance of the white officers, a dozen of the escort rallied, and, returning to the fight, destroyed the Baggara horsemen, who were impeded by the heavy ground and mud. The capture of the village by the Jaalin was accompanied by many horrid acts of vengeance. As the Dervishes were dragged out of the houses, they were brought still struggling towards the water's edge and there despatched. The spectacle disgusted the British officers; but no efforts could restrain the fury of the Jaalin; nor was it possible to distinguish the prisoners from the captors until the flash of steel and a confused scrimmage marked the bloody settlement of the tribal feud. The Emir was, however, brought to the river, close to where a gunboat was waiting, mortally wounded, but still alive. As he lay on the bank an Egyptian soldier walked along the gang-plank to the shore, and, approaching the old chief, kicked him with deliberation. Fortunately Major Gordon witnessed the perpetration of this brutal act, and the Egyptian, who had probably expected to be complimented on his courage, was, to his intense amazement, forthwith strapped across the breech of the gunboat's howitzer and soundly flogged.

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 my 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, until I marveled alike at the admirable precision and the wasteful folly of the practice [Editor: There is plenty of evidence to show that the bombardment of the tomb produced a discouraging effect upon the Dervishes, who had believed it indestructible. This result could, no doubt, have been obtained without the long and continued shelling to which it was subjected, but it must be also remembered that the Arsenal, the Khalifa's house, and other important buildings, which it was necessary to bombard, were known to be near the Mahdi's Tomb.].

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 of first. Five companies of the Camel Corps, a Maxim gun section, and the ninth squadron of cavalry followed as a rearguard 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, Colonel Martin withdrew the 21st Lancers 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 favorable, 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 under Lieutenant Taylor [Lieut. A. H. M. Taylor, 21st Lancers] to drive them away. The score of Lancers galloped back towards the inquisitive patrols in a most earnest fashion. The Dervishes, although more numerous, were scattered about in small parties and unable to collect. They declined the combat, and we saw them scurrying away towards their own ranks, exactly like startled rabbits running back into the bracken. The great army, however, still advanced majestically, pressing the cavalry back before it; and it was evident that if the Khalifa's movement continued, and in spite of it being nearly one o'clock, there would be a collision between the main forces before the night. I was sent back to describe the state of affairs to the Sirdar [Sir Herbert Kitchener].

To make certain of the position of the Expeditionary Force before starting in search of it, I climbed the black hill of Surgham and looked around. From the summit 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. I looked alternately at each array. That 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 urgency of my message allowed only a momentary view. But the impression produced by the sight of two armies thus approaching each other with hostile intent---for the Arab advance was very rapid---was so tremendous that I found it necessary, lest my excitement should he apparent, to walk for a quarter of a mile before delivering my account.

The Sirdar, followed by a dozen Staff officers, was riding a few hundred yards from the zeriba. He had not yet seen the Dervish army, and was at the moment going to the hill of Surgham to take a general view. Nevertheless, he invited me to describe the situation as seen from the advanced squadrons. This I did, though neither at such length nor perhaps with such facility as in these pages. The swift advance of the enemy brought the moment very near. They were now but four miles away. In an hour, if they continued their movement, the action must begin. All the results of many years of preparation and three years of war must stand upon the issue of the event. If there had been a miscalculation, if the expedition was not strong enough, or if any accident or misfortune such as are common in battles were to occur, then utter ruin would descend upon the enterprise. The Sirdar was very calm. His confidence had been communicated to his Staff: 'We want nothing better," they said. 'Here is a good field of fire. They may as well come today as tomorrow.'

It occurred to me that if the action was to begin in an hour, it would be prudent to have some lunch before returning to the regiment, so I left the Staff and rode into the zeriba. 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. As I passed the Intelligence mess, Major Friend [Major L. B. Friend, R.E.] kindly offered me some luncheon---an invitation which, since food was the quest on which I had come to the camp, I had much pleasure in accepting. Standing at a table spread in the wilderness, we ate a substantial meal. It was like a race lunch before the big event. Colonel Wingate, Slatin Pasha, Colonel Rhodes, and the Foreign Attachés were of the party. Next to me, on my left, was Baron von Tiedemann, the officer of the German General Staff selected to watch the operations. We talked. He was enthusiastic. 'This is the 1st of September,' he said. 'Our great day, and now your great day; Sedan and Sudan.' I laughed at his ponderous wit; nor have I since been able to decide whether or not it cloaked a rather bitter sarcasm.

Meanwhile, the 21st Lancers remained among the sand hills to the west of the Surgham Hill, and watched the hostile advance. I had hardly rejoined them, when it ceased. 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 sand hills 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 80,000 faithful warriors rested in their companies near the flags of their Emirs. The Khalifa slept in rear of the center of his host, surrounded by his generals. Suddenly the whole scene was lit by a pale glare. Abdullahi 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 wheat.

The soldiers of scientific war were assailed by no such terrors; yet the consciousness of the limitless possibilities of the morrow delayed the sleep that physical weariness invited, and a desire to inspect the precautions for defense led me around the perimeter of the zeriba. The 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 accoutered, but sprawled into every conceivable attitude which utter weariness could suggest or dictate. The full moon, rising early, displayed the whole scene.

Imagination was stimulated; and I would set down some of my impressions and reflections, did I not fear that the cynical reader would observe that others had thought the same on similar occasions before.

A few military comments may, however, be permitted. The enemy, twice as strong as the Expeditionary Force, were within five miles. They had advanced that day with confidence and determination. When they halted, I gave them credit for more wit than they possessed. 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 rearguard 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, demoralized 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. He did nothing of the sort. 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 fervor that he would not be compelled to gamble by night.

It was only necessary to walk round the zeriba to realize the position. It was neck or nothing. There were many anxious faces. Yet those who had seen a night attack before, trusted the musketry; and those who had warred long in the Sudan had confidence in the luck of the General and the conceit of the enemy. As for the Lancers, they were too tired to distrust anyone; and having eaten their dinners, shaved themselves carefully in anticipation of the morning, and counted the horses who died of exhaustion---there were about a dozen---they lay down to sleep and thanked Heaven they were not generals and had nothing but their lives to lose.

The soldier may slum but the chronicler must persist in the inquiry. Sir H. Kitchener's dispositions for the night remained unproven. They were neither condemned by disaster nor sustained by success. The Khalifa, as the world knows, did not make a night attack. It is said that the messengers which the General sent from time to time to his camp with news of an impending attack by the British and Egyptian forces deterred him. This may have been the reason; but many will prefer to think, judging from past experience, that the Arabs detested the darkness and avoided a night attack on general principles. The question, nevertheless, remains: What would the result of such an attack have been? I feel myself compelled by the course of the narrative to pronounce. The opinion gains no weight from its author and must stand simply as an arrangement of words. The search-lights of the gunboats gave at least 1,000 yards' notice; the full moon allowed 400 yards of clear fire-space. The infantry were trained men, mostly experienced in war, and all confident in the weapons they held. Their weapons were of amazing power. The fire of musketry may produce great results at long range, but it increases in intensity as the distance shortens, and it is the last hundred yards that destroys the attack. If the Dervishes had assaulted during the night, they would have been met with such a storm of bullets at short ranges that their slaughter would only have been the greater.

It is rather a poor compliment to the manhood of disciplined troops to say, as one distinguished military writer has said, that if the enemy had penetrated the zeriba the army would have been destroyed. Indeed, the struggle would then only have begun. Disciplined Europeans are difficult to kill. The Sudanese would have enjoyed the confused combat. The Egyptians would certainly have defended themselves with steadiness. It took nearly 14,000 Zulus more than three hours to exterminate 900 soldiers at Isandlwhana. Here were more than 20,000 bayonets, 7,000 of which were British. The brigades would have fallen back to the river-bank. There would have been very heavy losses---perhaps 3,000 men. But the morning light would have revealed the greater part of the force vengeful and undefeated. Hand-to-hand fighting cuts both ways. The Arab loss in the assault and afterwards would have been enormous. With the dawn the troops might assume the offensive, and, picking their way among the heaps of slain, would drive the surviving enemy from the field.

Fortified by such reflections, I slept. Others thought differently. Yet none were anxious to have the question decided, and all had doubts. 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---was waiting impatiently for the morning and the final settlement of the long quarrel.


The Battle of Omdurman

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. The infantry, who had slept armed and accoutered in their ranks, had but to stand up. The cavalry indulged in a more elaborate toilette, and we dressed ourselves---many with especial care. Those who were callous, who had seen much war, or who were practical set themselves to eat enough to last till night. 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 rigor 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 2lst Lancers trotted out of the zeriba and threw out a spray of officers' patrols. With one of these it was my fortune to be sent to reconnoiter Surgham Hill. We galloped forward, and as we did not know that the Egyptian squadron and its officer had already looked over the ridge, we enjoyed all the excitement without any of the danger, and were also elated by the thought that we were the first to see what lay beyond. As there had been no night attack, I had expected that the Dervish army would have retired to their original position or entered the town. I rejected the idea that they would advance across the open ground to attack the zeriba by daylight, as it seemed absurd. Indeed, it appeared more probable that their hearts had failed them in the night, and that they had melted away into the deserts. 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 to the flanks were large reserves. From where I stood they looked dark blurs and streaks, relieved and diversified with an odd-looking shimmer of light from the spear-points.

After making the necessary reports I continued to watch the strange and impressive spectacle. As it became broad daylight---that is to say, about ten minutes to six---I suddenly realized that all 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 us, 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. In spite of the confidence which I felt in the weapons of civilization---for all doubts had dispersed with the darkness---the formidable aspect of this great host of implacable savages, hurrying eagerly to the attack of the zeriba, provoked a feeling of loneliness, which was shared, I think, by the rest of the little patrol. Partly to clear the mind of such unnecessary emotions, and also with the design of thereafter writing this account, I moved to a point on the ridge which afforded a view of both armies.

The British and Egyptian force was arranged in line with its back to the river. Its flanks were secured by the gunboats lying moored in the stream. Before it 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 amphitheater 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 sand hills 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 sand hills. 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 center 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 center, 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 was 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 center, under the Black Flag, moved directly towards Surgham. The right pursued a line of advance south of that hill, and would, I saw, pass over the ground on which I stood. This mass of men was the most striking of all. They could not have mustered less 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. I called them at the moment the "White Flags," to distinguish them from the other masses, and that name will do as well as any other.

The attack developed. The left, nearly 20,000 strong, toiled across the plain and approached the Egyptian squadrons. The leading masses of the center deployed facing the zeriba and marched forthwith to the direct assault. One small brigade of their great force---perhaps about 2,000 strong---halted 600 yards from my patrol. A few horsemen---dark-brown figures who moved about in their front---approached us so nearly that it was necessary to fire on them. This apparently annoyed the others, for they immediately paid us the compliment of detaching a score of riflemen to drive us from our point of observation. Meanwhile the Khalifa and his flag, surrounded by at least 10,000 men, were also drawing near. The tide was rising fast. One rock, one mound of sand after another was submerged by that human flood. It was time to go. Besides, the riflemen had now begun to find the range, and their bullets hummed overhead or knocked up the dust on the sand hills. It had long been desirable, it was now expedient, to move round the hill out of their fire. We did so at a gallop, amid quite a splutter of musketry, and it was very fortunate that no one was hurt, for it would have been difficult to carry him off amid such circumstances.

We regained in safety our former position on the ridge. The Lancers, delighted at having been under fire---a new experience for all of them---were in high spirits. The enemy's center was no longer visible; a spur of the hill now obstructed our view; but the "White Flags" were of sufficient interest and importance to occupy the attention. As the whole Dervish army continued to advance, this division, 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. They, too, saluted us with musketry; but as the hill was within good artillery range of the zeriba, I knew that they would have something else to occupy their attention when they and their bawlers appeared over the shoulder and crest of the ridge, and we therefore remained spectators, sheltering among the rocks about 300 yards to their right flank. Meanwhile yet another body of the enemy, comparatively insignificant in numbers, who had been drawn up behind the "White Flags," was 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. My attention was distracted from their movements by the loud explosion of artillery.

The Dervish center 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. The eye traveled swiftly to the direction of the noise. In the middle of the Dervish line now marching in frontal assault were two puffs of smoke. I looked to the zeriba. 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 Sudanese 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 reechoed 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 they were nearly two miles away, and the distance rendered me unsympathetic. I had a nearer tragedy to witness.

I looked back to the "White Flags"; they were nearly over the crest. In another minute they would become visible to the batteries. Did they realize 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 impending horror. I could see it coming. 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, and I was alarmed to see a solitary British officer, Lieutenant Conolly, attached to the 21st, galloping across their front fifty feet below them, but at only a hundred yards' distance. He had been sent out to take a final look behind the hill. Fortunately he returned in safety, and with the necessary information.

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. I was but 400 yards away, and with excellent glasses could almost see the faces of the Dervishes who met the fearful fire. 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 defense of the successor of the True Prophet of the Only God. 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. Nevertheless, I watched the effect of the fire most carefully from a close and convenient position. About five men on the average fell to every shell: and there were many shells. Under their influence 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 swelled by the roar of musketry.

Taking advantage of the shelter of the river-bank, we dismounted, 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 the fire. Once a galloper passed along the line with some message. But that and the left-flank companies of the Rifle Brigade---a brown double row of men monotonously firing volleys----was the extent of our vision; and we remained huddled up in the low ground, consumed with curiosity. I had, indeed, one glimpse. With another officer I built a pile of biscuit-boxes on the edge of the slope, and, climbing thereupon, obtained some view of the plain. Eight hundred yards away a ragged line of men was 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 picture lasted only a moment, but the memory remains for ever. Then a few bullets passed over our heads and we were ordered to rejoin our troops, though the sight was worth running many risks to see. Thereafter we were again compelled to wait.

But the chronicler lies under no such liabilities as oppress the subaltern of horse. He may---indeed, he must---make the campaign with every arm. Now it was the turn of the infantry. The long line of bayonets had been drawn up even before the sun had completely risen. The officers and men had watched the light grow in the plain, and had scanned the distant hills and nearer ridge with eager, anxious eyes. It made a great difference to them whether they were attacked in their impregnable position or had to clear the streets and houses of Omdurman---the difference probably between 200 killed and wounded and 2,000. They watched the squadrons push out towards the hills, and might see the tiny patrols vanish on the further side; and then suddenly horsemen began to come back. Orderlies, bearing important news, returned---spurring their weary horses to a full gallop. A rumor ran along the line. The enemy were advancing. The squadrons in the plain turned and retired towards the zeriba. Patrols drew in from all sides, leaving the dark outlines of Surgham Hill again deserted, catching up their squadrons, and disappearing in the ranks. Presently the whole expanse of ground was bare and deserted; but not for long. One by one rows of flags appeared jerkily over a blur of dirty-white, which the field-glass developed into thousands of men. They approached, continually gaining ground to the left, and stretching out towards Kerreri. Then a forest of white banners appeared over the shoulder of Surgham ridge, and about the same time the guns began to fire on both sides. For a little while the infantry watched the shells exploding in the air in front of the attack. Nor, until a few strange balls of smoke flashing into existence high above their own heads admonished them, did they realize that all this was not only magnificent but also war. Battalion by battalion---the Guards first at 2,700 yards, then the Seaforths at 2,000 yards, and the others following according to the taste and fancy of their commanding officers---the British division began to fire. As the range shortened Maxwell's Sudanese brigade, and a moment later MacDonald's, joined in the fusillade, until by 6.45 more than 12,000 infantry were engaged in that mechanical scattering of death which the polite nations of the earth have brought to such monstrous perfection.

They 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 back-sight 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 small but growing heaps 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 criticize 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 16,000 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 down-stream 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 center.

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 center 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 almost 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 the Arabs rapidly diminished the distance between themselves and their enemies. Under 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 downstream 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 realized that what they had deemed their prey was 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, off 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 their 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. He had distinctly diverged from the Sirdar's orders, but his action, perilous as it was, had an important effect on the course of the whole engagement. For by the time Osman had recovered control of his angry men, had reformed them, and had returned to the battlefield, his chance of useful action was forever gone. The Egyptian brigade had also been completely shielded from attack. The good understanding which existed between the Sirdar and his trusted cavalry leader alone rendered this beneficial disobedience possible. The paramount advantage of mutual confidence and intimate knowledge between the superior officers of an army is again strikingly displayed. Few generals have the good fortune to know their subordinates. Of all the advantages enjoyed by Sir Herbert Kitchener in the campaigns on the Nile, this was the greatest.

While these things were passing on the northern flank, the frontal attack was in progress. The debris of the "White Flags" joined the center, and the whole 14,000 pressed forward against the zeriba, gradually spreading out 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 Sudanese, 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 l50 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 colors, rode on steadfastly towards the inexorable firing-line, until, pierced by several bullets, he fell lifeless. Such was the end of the 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 combats 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 rides, 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.

Compared with the Dervish slaughter, the loss was insignificant; without such a comparison it would have been more appreciable. In any case, it was sufficient. I cannot sympathize with those who seem to regret that it was no greater. The reserve companies, who shared the danger without the absorbing occupation of shooting, declare that they heard plenty of bullets. Yet only a few hundred men were firing at the zeriba. The question arises irresistibly: What must the Dervishes have heard? Only those who were with the Prussian Guard on the glacis of St. Privat, or with Skobeleff in front of the Grivica Redoubt, can know; and they will never be able to make others realize what they suffered. For my part, I shall be content to live with my curiosity unsatisfied.

The attack had 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 world 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 of 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 deserts. 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 reconnoitered, 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, 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 an 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. We found it 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 signaling officer, Lieutenant Clerk [Lieut. C. J. Clerk, 21st Lancers], 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, I perceived, where the first attack had been stopped, 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 reconnoiter. 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, under Lieutenant Pirie, the Adjutant of the regiment, 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 [Lieut. R. G. Grenfell, 12th Lancers], was 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 this nearer object. The five brown figures cantered over the rough ground, presenting difficult targets, but under continual fire, and disappeared round the spur. I expected casualties. However, in two or three minutes they reappeared, 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, who looked, I remember thinking at the time, as he picked his way composedly among the broken ground and tasted his first experience of war, the beau-idéal of the cavalry subaltern. 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 southwest, 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. Abdullahi thereupon determined to strengthen his extreme right; and he immediately ordered four regiments, each 600 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, concealed by a spur of Surgham Hill. The lancer patrol reconnoitered 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 rejoined 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 600 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. I marveled at their temerity. The regiment formed into line of squadron columns, and continued at a walks until within 300 yards of this small body of Dervishes. I wondered what possessed them. Perhaps they wanted to surrender. 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 rides. 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 remount.

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 practiced 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. The enemy's behavior gave small ground for complaint.

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 realization 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, 66 men, and 119 horses out of less 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 this brave enemy was 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. I have described the event in detail, and at a length perhaps scarcely warranted by its importance. Yet, although the engagement is still in progress, the reader may perhaps care to hear a few incidents of valor and adventure. 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 [Major W. G. Crole Wyndham, p.s.c., 21st Lancers] had his horse shot under him by a Dervish who pressed its muzzle 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 Wormald, of the 7th Hussars, thrust at a man with his sword, and that weapon, by a well-known London maker, bent double and remained thus. I myself saw Sergeant Freeman trying to collect his troop after the charge. His face was cut to pieces, and as he called on his men to rally, the whole of his nose, cheeks, and lips flapped amid red bubbles. Surely some place might have been found in any roll of honor for such a man!

Lieutenant Molyneux [Lieut. Hon. R. F. Molyneux, Royal Horse Guards] 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 recovered 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 paralyzed 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.

When the whole facts of this case are dispassionately considered, there will be few who can recall an act of greater devotion or can imagine a braver man than Byrne. The spectacle of this soldier, crippled, practically helpless, riding---to save his officer---single-handed to the attack of four Dervishes, and back into the hell from which he had once escaped, will not pale before the finest stories of antiquity or romance. The war in the Sudan, where troops have been handled in large numbers and in formed bodies---unlike the war on the Indian frontier---has not afforded many opportunities for personal courage and conduct. But if the public were desirous of making one man the physical hero of the River War in its last three campaigns, they would not find an unworthy Paladin in this brave Irish soldier. He has since received the Victoria Cross, and his wearing it will rather enhance the value of that order.

Lieutenant Nesham [Lieut. C. S. Nesham, 21st Lancers] 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 shore 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. The long spurs struck 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.

I have written thus of others, and vanity encourages the belief that the reader may care to know something of my own fortunes. I would willingly gratify his desire and mine---were it not that in such circumstances my luck is of a negative character. As on another occasion, I came safely through, one of the very few officers whose saddlery, clothes, or horse were untouched, and without any incident that is worthwhile putting down here.

Two impressions I will, however, record. The whole scene flickered exactly like a cinematograph picture; and, besides, I remember no sound. The event seemed to pass in absolute silence. The yells of the enemy, the shouts of the soldiers, the firing of many shots, the clashing of sword and spear, were unnoticed by the senses, unregistered by the brain. Several others say the same. Perhaps it is possible for the whole of a man's faculties to be concentrated in the eye, bridle-hand, and trigger-finger, and withdrawn from all other parts of the body.

It was not until after the squadrons had re-formed that I heard of the death of Lieutenant Grenfell of the 12th Lancers. This young officer, who to great personal charm and high courage added talents and industry which gave promise of a successful and even a famous military career, and who had just before the charge reconnoitered the enemy under a hot fire in a manner that excited general admiration, had been cut down and killed. And at this shocking news the exhilaration of the gallop, the excitement of the moment, the joy and triumph of successful combat, faded from the mind; and the realisation came home with awful force that war, disguise it as you may, is but a dirty, shoddy business, which only a fool would undertake. Nor was it until the night that I again recognized that there are some things that have to be done, no matter what the cost may be. With this reflection, and with the knowledge that he felt, probably, little pain; certainly, no fear; Robert Grenfell's friends---among whom I am sorrowfully proud to count myself---may, indeed must, be content. Captain Kenna [Capt. P. A. Kenna, 21st Lancers] and Lieutenant de Montmorency, who made a courageous attempt to recover the body, have since received the Victoria Cross. Corporal Swarbrick, who assisted them, was awarded---I know not on what grounds of discrimination---the Distinguished Service Medal.

The Lancers remained in possession of the dearly bought ground. There was not much to show that there had been a desperate fight. A quarter of a mile away nothing would have been noticed. Close to, the scene looked like a place where rubbish is thrown, or where a fair has recently been held. White objects, like dirty bits of newspaper, lay scattered here and there---the bodies of the enemy. Brown objects, almost the color of the earth, like bundles of dead grass or heaps of manure, were also dotted about---the bodies of soldiers. Among these were goat-skin water-bottles, broken weapons, torn and draggled flags, cartridge cases. In the foreground lay a group of dead horses and several dead or dying donkeys. It was all litter.

We gathered reverently the poor remains of what had but a quarter of an hour before been the educated soldiers of a civilizing Empire, grieved at their frightful wounds. The wounded were sent with a small escort towards the river and hospitals. An officer, Second Lieutenant Brinton [2d Lieut. O. W. Brinton, 21st Lancers], was despatched with the news to the Sirdar. Then we remounted, and I observed, looking at my watch, that it was half-past nine; only breakfast-time, that is to say, in distant comfortable England. I daresay it occurred to others who were unhurt that there was still plenty of time. At any rate, I deferred my thanks until a later hour; and on the instant, as if to approve the prudence of the neglect, 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 reconnoitered 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 36,000 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 it was 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 Well'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. At any rate, the Egyptians should not be exposed. He therefore ordered Lewis' 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 of to the southward. I am not seeking to criticise, but only to explain MacDonald's isolation.

At 9.16 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 160 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 who could have guarded them from the river were downstream, 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 reappear. 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 [Col. A. T. Sloggett, R.A.M.C.] 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 attested 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 nearest 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 Sudanese, 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 heads 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, realized 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 vigor of the first attack and thrice its chances of success. Thereupon Sir Herbert Kitchener began to throw his brigades about as if they were companies. I discern no wonderful skill in the maneuvers, but they were certainly those of a man entirely unmoved either by the emergency or the scale of the event.

He ordered Maxwell to change front to the right and storm Surgham Hill. He sent Major Sandbach [Maj. A. E. Sandbach, R.E.] 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 second brigade to form facing west on Maxwell's left south of Surgham, and Wauchope with the first 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 Sudanese 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 muskets 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 was 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 less 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' 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. This was the only battalion in the army not commanded by a British officer. There was a moment of danger; but General Hunter, who was on the spot, himself ordered the two reserve companies of the 16th 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 continued.

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 civilized 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 center, 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 Sudan precautions. Surviving thousands struggled away towards Omdurman and swelled the broad stream of fugitives upon whose flank the 21st 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 talking place---for events were moving at speed---the 1st British Brigade was 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' 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 thickly. 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 rumors. 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 valor 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 Sudanese 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 Sudanese, 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 Sudanese 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 maneuvers 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 Sudanese 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 Sudanese 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 clamoring 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 clamored 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 Sudanese, 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 a hundred 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 they doubled along the rear of the XIth Sudanese, the blacks looked round. In the days when British regiments were known by numbers, each of which had a glorious significance, the Lincolnshire was called the 10th Foot. Officers and men still cherish the famous number, although they are labeled with a shoddy, modern territorial title; and throughout the war they called the Xth Sudanese "our black battalion"---to the intense delight of those military savages. The Sudanese had for the most part ceased firing, having come to the end of their ammunition, and were waiting with fixed bayonets for the hand-to-hand conflict which now seemed inevitable. Suddenly they saw the English regiment---their own English regiment ---coming to their help. All along the line they turned a succession of grinning faces, and emitted wild cries of satisfaction and of welcome. But the English were intent on business. As soon as the leading company---Captain Maxwell's [Capt. R. P. Maxwell, Lincolnshire Regiment]---cleared the right of MacDonald's brigade, they formed line, and opened an independent fire obliquely across the front of the Sudanese. Groups of Dervishes in twos and threes were then within a hundred 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 Sudanese, 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.

The valor of their deed has been discounted by those who have told the tale. "Mad fanaticism" is the depreciating comment of their conquerors. I hold this to be a cruel injustice. Nor can he be a very brave man who will not credit them with a nobler motive, and believe that they died to clear their honor from the stain of defeat. Why should we regard as madness in the savage what would be sublime in civilized men? For I hope that if evil days should come upon our own country, and the last army which a collapsing Empire could interpose between London and the invader were dissolving in rout and ruin, that there would be some---even in these modern days---who would not care to accustom themselves to a new order of things and tamely survive the disaster.

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 deserts, so that they could by no means rally or re-form. 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, which 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.

[Original Editor's Note: The Dervish Army, approximately 52,000 strong, suffered losses of 20,000 dead, 22,000 wounded, and some 5,000 taken prisoner--an unbelievable 90% casualty rate! By contrast, the Anglo-Egyptian Army, some 23,000 strong, suffered losses of 48 dead, and 382 wounded--an equally unbelievable 2% casualty rate, thus showing the superiority of modern firepower!]


From: Winston Spencer Churchill, The River War: An Historical Account of The Reconquest of the Soudan, 2 Vols., ed. Col. F. Rhodes, illus. Angus McNeill (London: Longmans, Green, 1899), pp. 82-164.

Scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton.

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