CHAPTER I: THE FIRST CAMPAIGN
The march on Candahar of the two divisions under the command of General Stewart had the character, for the most part, of a military promenade. The tramp across the deserts of Northern Beloochistan was arduous; the Bolan, the Gwaga, and the Kojuk passes had to be surmounted, and the distances which both Biddulph and Stewart had to traverse were immensely in excess of those covered by either of the forces operating from the north-western frontier line. But uneventful marches, however long and toilsome, do not call for detailed description. Stewart rode into Candahar on January 8th, 1879, and the troops as they arrived encamped on the adjacent plain. The Governor and most of his officials, together with the Afghan cavalry, had fled toward Herat; the Deputy-Governor remained to hand over the city to General Stewart. For commissariat reasons one division under Stewart presently moved by the Cabul road on Khelat-i-Ghilzai, which was found empty, the Afghan garrison having evacuated it. Simultaneously with Stewart's departure from Candahar Biddulph marched out a column westward toward the Helmund, remaining in that region until the third week in February. On its return march to Candahar the rear-guard had a sharp skirmish at Khushk-i-Nakhud with Alizai tribesmen, of whom 163 were left dead on the field. Soon after the return of Stewart and Biddulph to Candahar, orders arrived that the former should retain in Candahar, Quetta, and Pishin a strong division of all arms, sending back to India the remainder of his command under Biddulph - the march to be made by the previously unexplored Thal-Chotiali route to the eastward of the Pisheen valley.
Before Sir Sam Browne moved forward from Jellalabad to Gundamuk he had been able to report to the Viceroy the death of Shere Ali. That unfortunate man had seen with despair the departure on December 10th of the last Russian from Cabul - sure token that he need hope for nothing from Kaufmann or the Tzar. His chiefs unanimous that further resistance by him was hopeless, he released his son Yakoub Khan from his long harsh imprisonment, constituted him Regent, and then followed the Russian mission in the direction of Tashkend. Kaufmann would not so much as allow him to cross the frontier, and after a painful illness Shere Ali died on February 21st, 1879, near Balkh in northern Afghanistan. He was a man who deserved a better fate than that which befell him. His aspiration was to maintain the independence of the kingdom which he ruled with justice if also with masterfulness, and he could not brook the degradation of subjection. But, unfortunately for him, he was the 'earthen pipkin' which the 'iron pot' found inconvenient. There had been plenty of manhood originally in his son and successor Yakoub Khan, but much of that attribute had withered in him during the long cruel imprisonment to which he had been subjected by his father. Shere Ali's death made him nominal master of Afghanistan, but the vigour of his youth-time no longer characterised him. He reigned but did not rule, and how precarious was his position was evidenced by the defection of many leading chiefs who came into the English camps and were ready to make terms.
After the flight of Shere Ali some correspondence had passed between Yakoub Khan and Major Cavagnari, but the former had not expressed any willingness for the re-establishment of friendly relations. In February of his own accord he made overtures for a reconciliation, and soon after intimated the death of his father and his own accession to the Afghan throne. Major Cavagnari, acting on the Viceroy's authorisation, wrote to the new sovereign stating the terms on which the Anglo-Indian Government was prepared to engage in negotiations for peace. Yakoub temporised for some time, but influenced by the growing defection of the Sirdars from his cause, as well as by the forward movements of the forces commanded by Browne and Roberts, he intimated his intention of visiting Gundamuk in order to discuss matters in personal conference with Major Cavagnari. A fortnight later he was on his way down the passes.