CHAPTER VIII: MAIWAND AND THE GREAT MARCH
When in the early spring of 1880 Sir Donald Stewart quitted Candahar with the Bengal division of his force, he left there the Bombay division, to the command of which General Primrose acceded, General Phayre assuming charge of the communications. The province during the early summer was fairly quiet, but it was known that Ayoub Khan was making hostile preparations at Herat, although the reports as to his intentions and movements were long uncertain and conflicting. Shere Ali Khan, who had been Governor of Candahar during Stewart's residence there, had been nominated hereditary ruler of the province with the title of 'Wali,' when it was determined to separate Candahar from North-Eastern Afghanistan. On June 21st the Wali, who had some days earlier crossed the Helmund and occupied Girishk with his troops, reported that Ayoub was actually on the march toward the Candahar frontier, and asked for the support of a British brigade to enable him to cope with the hostile advance. There was reason to believe that the Wali's troops were disaffected, and that he was in no condition to meet Ayoub's army with any likelihood of success. After Stewart's departure the strength of the British forces at Candahar was dangerously low - only 4700 of all ranks; but it was important to thwart Ayoub's offensive movement, and a brigade consisting of a troop of horse-artillery, six companies of the 66th, two Bombay native infantry regiments, and 500 native troopers, in all about 2300 strong, under the command of Brigadier-General Burrows, reached the left bank of the Helmund on July 11th. On the 13th the Wali's infantry, 2000 strong, mutinied en masse and marched away up the right bank of the river, taking with them a battery of smooth bore guns, a present to Shere Ali Khan from the British Government. His cavalry did not behave quite so badly, but, not to go into detail, his army no longer existed, and Burrows' brigade was the only force in the field to resist the advance of Ayoub Khan, whose regular troops were reported to number 4000 cavalry, and from 4000 to 5000 infantry exclusive of the 2000 deserters from the Wali, with thirty guns and an irregular force of uncertain strength.
Burrows promptly recaptured from the Wali's infantry the battery they were carrying off, and punished them severely. The mutineers had removed or destroyed the supplies which the Wali had accumulated for the use of the brigade, and General Burrows therefore could no longer remain in the vicinity of Girishk. The Helmund owing to the dry season was passable everywhere, so that nothing was to be gained by watching the fords. It was determined to fall back to Khushk-i-Nakhud, a point distant thirty miles from Girishk and forty-five from Candahar, where several roads from the Helmund converged and where supplies were plentiful. At and near Khushk-i-Nakhud the brigade remained from the 16th until the morning of the 27th July. While waiting and watching there a despatch from army headquarters at Simla was communicated to General Burrows from Candahar, authorising him to attack Ayoub if he thought himself strong enough to beat him, and informing him that it was considered of the greatest political importance that the force from Herat should be dispersed and prevented from moving on toward Ghuznee. Spies brought in news that Ayoub had reached Girishk, and was distributing his force along the right bank between that place and Hydrabad. Cavalry patrols failed to find the enemy until the 21st, when a detachment was encountered in the village of Sangbur on the northern road about midway between the Helmund and Khushk-i-Nakhud. Next day that village was found more strongly occupied, and on the 23d a reconnaissance in force came upon a body of Ayoub's horsemen in the plain below the Garmao hills, about midway between Sangbur and Maiwand.
Those discoveries were tolerably clear indications of Ayoub's intention to turn Burrows' position by moving along the northern road to Maiwand and thence pressing on through the Maiwand pass, until at Singiri Ayoub's army should have interposed itself between the brigade and Candahar. There was certainly nothing impossible in such an endeavour, since Maiwand is nearer Candahar than is Khushk-i-Nakhud. Why, in the face of the information at his disposal and of the precautions enjoined on him to hinder Ayoub from slipping by him toward Ghuznee through Maiwand and up the Khakrez valley, General Burrows should have remained so long at Khushk-i-Nakhud, is not intelligible. He was stirred at length on the afternoon of the 26th, by the report that 2000 of Yakoub's cavalry and a large body of his ghazees were in possession of Garmao and Maiwand, and were to be promptly followed by Ayoub himself with the main body of his army, his reported intention being to push on through the Maiwand pass and reach the Urgundab valley in rear of the British brigade. Later in the day Colonel St John, the political officer, reported to General Burrows the intelligence which had reached him that the whole of Ayoub's army was at Sangbur; but credence was not given to the information.