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Art Appreciation: Remnants of an Army

The remnants of an army, Jellalabad (sic), January 13, 1842, better known as Remnants of an Army, is an 1879 oil-on-canvas painting by Elizabeth Thompson, Lady Butler. It depicts William Brydon, assistant surgeon in the Bengal Army, arriving at the gates of Jalalabad in January 1842. The walls of Jalalabad loom over a desolate plain and riders from the garrison gallop from the gate to reach the solitary figure bringing the first word of the fate of the “Army of Afghanistan”.

Supposedly Brydon was the last survivor of the approximately 16,000 soldiers and camp followers from the 1842 retreat from Kabul in the First Anglo-Afghan War and is shown toiling the last few miles to safety on an exhausted and dying horse. — La Wik


The 1842 retreat from Kabul (or Massacre of Elphinstone’s army) took place during the First Anglo-Afghan War. At the beginning of the conflict, British and East India Company forces had defeated the forces of Afghan Emir Dost Mohammad Barakzai and in 1839 occupied Kabul, restoring the former ruler, Shah Shujah Durrani, as emir. However a deteriorating situation made their position more and more precarious, until an uprising in Kabul forced the then commander, Major General Sir William Elphinstone, to withdraw the garrison.

To this end he negotiated an agreement with Wazir Akbar Khan, one of the sons of Dost Mohammad Barakzai, by which his army was to fall back to the British garrison at Jalalabad, more than 90 miles (140 km) away. As the army and its numerous dependents and camp followers began its march, it came under attack from Afghan tribesmen. Many of the column died of exposure, frostbite or starvation or were killed during the fighting.

The Afghans launched numerous attacks against the column as it made slow progress through the winter snows of the Hindu Kush. In total the British army lost 4,500 troops, along with about 12,000 civilians: the latter comprising both the families of Indian and British soldiers, plus workmen, servants and other Indian camp-followers. The final stand was made just outside a village called Gandamak on 13 January. — La Wik

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  • John the River August 19, 2021, 11:42 AM

    And now, after already abandoning our fortified air base and redoubt, Xiden is sending about the same number of soldiers that the British lost. And all air support is coming from much farther away, with Paki observers providing timely warning to their ‘friends’.
    If we (and by we I mean the soldiers and their families) get out of this without a major bloodletting I’ll ascribe it to God’s Grace.
    I wanna be sick.

  • John Venlet August 19, 2021, 12:16 PM

    The painting, it’s style, bleakness, emptiness, reflects that event quite well. Afghanistan is a wasteland, both then, and now.

  • Bill August 19, 2021, 1:53 PM

    Flashman is historical fiction and goes into this event in great detail, along with the general state of Afghanistan at that time. GMF has many footnotes for additional factual information. I have read it several times.

  • Mike Austin August 19, 2021, 2:33 PM

    The British returned in 1878 and kicked the Afghanis’ ass during the Second Anglo-Afghan War. The Brits were simply following in the foot steps of a dozen nations, conquerors and states that had also kicked Afghani ass.

    The Afghans then and now are ruled by “men” who have sex with goats, sodomize little boys, marry pre-pubescent girls, and have yet to master the difficult technique of washing their hands after defecation.

    And should feel sorry for these creatures?

    • Klaus August 19, 2021, 3:17 PM

      Amen to that!

  • Mike Austin August 19, 2021, 2:34 PM

    The British returned in 1878 and kicked the Afghanis’ ass during the Second Anglo-Afghan War. The Brits were simply following in the foot steps of a dozen nations, conquerors and states that had also kicked Afghani ass.

    The Afghans then and now are ruled by “men” who have sex with goats, sodomize little boys, marry pre-pubescent girls, and have yet to master the difficult technique of washing their hands after defecation.

    And should feel sorry for these creatures?

  • PA Cat August 19, 2021, 2:50 PM

    There was a series of military history documentaries titled Great Military Blunders made around 2001. Episode 6 is titled “Unfit to Lead?” The first 16 minutes deals with the mistakes that Elphinstone made that led to the massacre of his army; the narrator attributes the disaster to the lack of an effective selection process for officers in the British Army in the period between Waterloo and the Crimean War. Elphinstone rose to the rank of major general through aristocratic social connections rather than competence. By 1841, he was physically sick (gout) as well as aging (he was 59), and utterly incompetent to handle either the political or military situation that confronted him in Afghanistan. The narrator of the documentary summarizes Elphinstone’s fate as that of a “foolish, fond old man.”
    The segment of the documentary dealing with Elphinstone ends at 15:30; the remainder includes profiles of Redvers Buller, a British commander during the Boer War, and Hermann Goering. In light of recent events, I found the first few minutes of the documentary depressing: it’s a clip of West Point cadets on parade intended to contrast the U.S. Army’s selection and training of officers with the 19th-century British process that produced Elphinstone. Now that USMA and the other military academies have gone Woke, we can now see just how much we have thrown away.

  • PA Cat August 19, 2021, 2:52 PM

    Gerard, you may have to rest the link; it should have started at the beginning of the episode, not at the end of the Elphinstone section. Thanks!

  • Vanderleun August 19, 2021, 3:19 PM

    My pleasure

  • PA Cat August 19, 2021, 3:23 PM

    Gerard, thanks so much!

  • Casey Klahn August 19, 2021, 8:13 PM

    PA Cat, I look forward to viewing that episode, and probably the series. American officers in the US Civil War were also chosen by various non-professional methods, such as militia elections. It didn’t cause the war to be fought poorly in general terms, and in fact the American Civil War is a study in strategy and tactics. But, I won’t drive the point until I watch the series.
    The Rooskies entered WW II with a severely crippled officer’s corps because of Leninist and Stalinist fuckery.
    The standing up of a professional officer corps is a critical part of military power, but I’ll look into this battle (never have done before). All the causations need to be proven.

  • PA Cat August 20, 2021, 7:06 AM

    Hi, Casey– I hope you will indeed look at that video and the series it came from. In regard to your comment about officer selection in the Civil War, that jogged my memory about another good series on military history titled Soldiers: A History of Men in Battle, released in 1985. There were 12 or 13 episodes in the series, half of them written by John Keegan and the other half by Richard Holmes, two outstanding military historians who are sadly no longer with us. The presenter is Frederick Forsyth. The videos are not in HD, but if that doesn’t bother you, they’re still good to watch.
    The episodes are divided by topic (“Infantry,” “Cavalry,” “Gunner,” “Fighting Spirit,” etc.) rather than by historical period, but this arrangement allowed both Keegan and Holmes to cover a wide range of conflicts, individual battles and leaders, weapons, and tactics, from Xenophon up through the Roman legions, the Middle Ages, and everything that happened during the gunpowder era. The episodes include interviews with veterans of both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, the Six Days’ War, and the Falklands.
    To get back to your comment about the selection of officers during the Civil War, the episode on “Cavalry” includes a section on cavalry battles during the Civil War, with the note that Americans never had the hereditary aristocracy that dominated European cavalry units; we regarded horses as necessary for farming and transportation, but we didn’t attach social status to riding them. As a result, European observers of the Civil War mocked Union/Confederate cavalry battles as wretched affairs without the flourishes that they considered necessary to a proper cavalry charge. I expect that the same lack of a rigid class divide may explain why informal officer selection in the Civil War worked out rather better than it did in mid-Victorian England.
    Well, anyway, here is a link to a YouTube playlist for the Soldiers series– you can pick and choose the episodes that interest you most.

  • Skorpion August 20, 2021, 9:04 AM

    @Mike Austin:

    Rudyard Kipling offered this advice to the soldiers who returned to Afghanistan. ‘Twas a different world:

    The Young British Soldier

    WHEN the ‘arf-made recruity goes out to the East
    ‘E acts like a babe an’ ‘e drinks like a beast,
    An’ ‘e wonders because ‘e is frequent deceased
    Ere ‘e’s fit for to serve as a soldier.
    Serve, serve, serve as a soldier,
    Serve, serve, serve as a soldier,
    Serve, serve, serve as a soldier,
    So-oldier of the Queen!

    Now all you recruities what’s drafted to-day,
    You shut up your rag-box an’ ‘ark to my lay,
    An’ I’ll sing you a soldier as far as I may:
    A soldier what’s fit for a soldier.
    Fit, fit, fit for a soldier . . .

    First mind you steer clear o’ the grog-sellers’ huts,
    For they sell you Fixed Bay’nets that rots out your guts –
    Ay, drink that ‘ud eat the live steel from your butts –
    An’ it’s bad for the young British soldier.
    Bad, bad, bad for the soldier . . .

    When the cholera comes – as it will past a doubt –
    Keep out of the wet and don’t go on the shout,
    For the sickness gets in as the liquor dies out,
    An’ it crumples the young British soldier.
    Crum-, crum-, crumples the soldier . . .

    But the worst o’ your foes is the sun over’ead:
    You must wear your ‘elmet for all that is said:
    If ‘e finds you uncovered ‘e’ll knock you down dead,
    An’ you’ll die like a fool of a soldier.
    Fool, fool, fool of a soldier . . .

    If you’re cast for fatigue by a sergeant unkind,
    Don’t grouse like a woman nor crack on nor blind;
    Be handy and civil, and then you will find
    That it’s beer for the young British soldier.
    Beer, beer, beer for the soldier . . .

    Now, if you must marry, take care she is old –
    A troop-sergeant’s widow’s the nicest I’m told,
    For beauty won’t help if your rations is cold,
    Nor love ain’t enough for a soldier.
    ‘Nough, ‘nough, ‘nough for a soldier . . .

    If the wife should go wrong with a comrade, be loath
    To shoot when you catch ’em – you’ll swing, on my oath! –
    Make ‘im take ‘er and keep ‘er: that’s Hell for them both,
    An’ you’re shut o’ the curse of a soldier.
    Curse, curse, curse of a soldier . . .

    When first under fire an’ you’re wishful to duck,
    Don’t look nor take ‘eed at the man that is struck,
    Be thankful you’re livin’, and trust to your luck
    And march to your front like a soldier.
    Front, front, front like a soldier . . .

    When ‘arf of your bullets fly wide in the ditch,
    Don’t call your Martini a cross-eyed old bitch;
    She’s human as you are – you treat her as sich,
    An’ she’ll fight for the young British soldier.
    Fight, fight, fight for the soldier . . .

    When shakin’ their bustles like ladies so fine,
    The guns o’ the enemy wheel into line,
    Shoot low at the limbers an’ don’t mind the shine,
    For noise never startles the soldier.
    Start-, start-, startles the soldier . . .

    If your officer’s dead and the sergeants look white,
    Remember it’s ruin to run from a fight:
    So take open order, lie down, and sit tight,
    And wait for supports like a soldier.
    Wait, wait, wait like a soldier . . .

    When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains,
    And the women come out to cut up what remains,
    Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
    An’ go to your Gawd like a soldier.
    Go, go, go like a soldier,
    Go, go, go like a soldier,
    Go, go, go like a soldier,
    So-oldier of the Queen!

  • Casey Klahn August 20, 2021, 6:40 PM

    PA Cat! to the rescue! I just finished a binge series and now I have some excellent binge fodder. Thank you.
    I sense that Americans going into the Civil War were a hardy, no BS lot, and I concur with the assessment that we out shined the Euros in cavalry ability. In probably most things, it’s true. However, It’s not lost on me that the maneuver warfare developed by Napoleon was the revolution in military affairs that animated the Civil War, Maybe we just did it more manlike. Not sure.
    The one on Gen. Elphinstone: he sounds like a slovenly character. Our military is mentally broken, at the top, and probably deep down the ranks.
    It gives me heart to read that the USMC commandant (if the report is true) told Gen Austin to suk balls when ordered to mandate the jab.
    The mental is to the physical as 2 is to 1. But, I’m afraid that physical weakness also leads to cowardice. We need mental and physical spartans, with high moral character.
    Thanks, again.

  • PA Cat August 20, 2021, 10:23 PM

    Casey, you’re more than welcome. As for the USMC– there are a number of Soldiers episodes that highlight the Corps, including an interview with William Manchester about his WWII experience in the Marine Corps in the Pacific, and a visit to Parris Island boot camp to see how the USMC turns ordinary American kids into Marines. I also found the segments on the French Foreign Legion interesting, as they don’t mess around either when it comes to forming men into soldiers– making all recruits learn French is probably the least difficult part of the program. Anyway, enjoy!

  • Casey Klahn August 21, 2021, 6:36 AM

    I have had a policy of not believing reports that this guy said this or that. Everybody’s fave general, Gen Milley, seems to have a string of “shit he said” articles a mile long. Not very seemly when you’re all about being non=political. Oh, that was only for the crossing of the street to the church event. Then, he went politico like a whore goes downtown. You never saw such a political general, and it doesn’t escape me that his “non-political” profiling was credulously anti-Trump, and then he swung so far left that he embraces all the cocksuckers who hate America. Is he naive? A naive American 4 star?

    All that to say that yesterday’s “he said” was that he wishes we had Trump back in charge. Do you know that you’re embarrassing all uniformed members, general? Let’s talk about Gen. Austin, the SecDef. He seems determined to take the military down overnight. I can’t wait to see what kind of shit he’s got up his sleeve next.

    Biden will be gone soon. Then some shit will go down. The next Lefty will step up to the plate. You cannot write drama this good.

  • Snakepit Kansas August 21, 2021, 7:26 AM

    I have a hard time believing that the Taliban is going to let ALL foreigners leave without taking a gob of them hostage. They know that as soon as all the civilians are out, they become targets again. President Sugar Cone clearly is not up to this and if/when he goes, you have Kamala. That isn’t even a consolation prize, and as Casey says, the drama would be good. With Kamala in charge, she can send in an all female & queer SEAL Team to rescue hostages to show how effective Woke is. Miley wants to understand “White rage”? Idiot. What happened to him? He really thought Trump was going to attempt a coup? FFS. Only the military can do that. Maybe Miley’s end game is an eye on the White House for himself. Fat chance.

  • Snakepit Kansas August 21, 2021, 7:30 AM

    Milley/Fauci 2024

  • Vanderleun August 21, 2021, 8:32 AM

    You are an evil evil prophet, Snakepit.

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