Wednesday, August 31, 2011

September 2, 1898 --- Revenge at Omdurman

A dozen years after Gordon's death (see 26 January), an outraged Empire gets revenge. The Mahdi is
long dead but the Dervishes, now led by the Khalifa, still control the Sudan, their presence a continuing obstacle to realization of the dream of a British controlled north-south road through Africa, from Cairo to the Cape.

The Sirdar - commander of the Anglo-Egyptian Army - Major-General Kitchener (right) moved south with an army of 20,000. The Dervish outnumber them threefold. After some days of feinting in the desert, the two armies chose to fight near the village of Omdurman, north of Khartoum. At sunrise, the Africans charge. A young officer, Lt. Winston Churchill recalled the moment: "A tremedous roar came up in waves of intense sound, like the tumult of the rising wind and sea before a storm...this great host of implacable savages, hurrying eagerly to the attack."

The attackers, most armed with spears, are no match for Kitchener's well-placed machine-guns. The Daily Mail correspondent wrote, "No white troops would have faced that torrent of death ... It was not a
battle but an execution." Surveying the littered sands, Kitchener calls it "a thorough dusting." When the surviving Dervishes try to escape to Khartoum, the 21st Lancers mount one of the last successful cavalry charges in history. Lt. Churchill termed it "the most dangerous two minutes I shall live to see."

Kitchener's army then sacks Khartoum; the Mandi's tomb is opened, his bones tossed into the Nile save for the skull presented in triumph to the Sirdar. A hostile Press (he dismissed them as "drunken swabs") reported Kitchener used it for an inkstand. Planning to ship it to the Royal College of Surgeons, Kitchener instead had it reburied. The Queen, while shocked at the ghoulish looting (It "savoured too much of the Middle Ages"), is much pleased, "Surely [Gordon] is avenged."

Kitchener returned to London to receive the highest military honors since Wellington, including a peerage, Baron Kitchener of Khartoum.

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