Afghan's American Prince, Part 3
The British occupied Kabul in August 1839. They did not trust the American who had commanded King Dost Mohammed's army. Harlan says he decided to leave, but British sources say he was expelled from Afghanistan and India. In October Harlan left for home after two decades in the Far East. He built a palatial mansion and bought a clothing mill. He married and fathered a daughter but he and his wife drifted apart.
He also wrote a book blasting the British invasion and predicting that the Afghans would revolt. The book was published in May 1842. It poured salt into an open wound. The one invincible British Indian Army was reeling from a humiliating defeat. The book sealed his fate. He could never transit India to return to Afghanistan.
As Harlan had predicted, King Shujah was unpopular, vindictive and had to be propped up by British bayonets. The son of Dost Mohammed raised an army and besieged Kabul. When British diplomats met with him, he demanded they abandon King Shujah and recognize his father as King of Afgnahistan. They agreed. Soon after, Shujah was assassinated.
King Dost Mohammed made another demand: "Get out of my country!" On Jan. 1, 1842, the last 15,000 British subjects in Kabul, about half military and the remainder civilian dependants, marched away from Kabul. What followed was a 13-day bloodbath. Only one of 15,000 survived. On Jan. 13, Dr. William Brydon staggered back into India. Over 15,000 naked and bloated corpses marked the gruesome trail back to the Afghan capital.
Harlan had told the British to pay homage to the Ghilzai tribes who controlled the passes back to India. They ignored his warning. The Ghilzai remembered the snub and plotted their revenge. From the rocky hillsides, Ghilzai snipers poured a hail of bullets into the helpless column. The fleeing refugees dared not stop to bury the dead or carry their wounded. Ghilzai women rushed out of the hills to kill the wounded and strip the bodies of clothing, jewelry and money. The naked bodies were left to fester. It was the greatest defeat the British Indian Army had ever suffered.
Back in the United States, Josiah Harlan tried desperately to return to Afghanistan. His friend, Dost Mohammed, would welcome him. None of his plans succeeded.
Yet, when our Civil War erupted, he was given a Colonel's commission as a regimental commander but ill health forced him to resign. Dost Mohammed died in 1863, severing his most important contact in his second homeland. He could never reclaim his crown as Prince of Ghor.
Harlan left his family in Pennsylvania and moved to San Francisco. On Oct. 21, l871, Dr. Josiah Harlan collapsed and died on the street, probably from tuberculosis. He was buried the following day. There were no mourners. The man who had once commanded an army died in obscurity.
The police packed his few possessions to send to his widow. They found a gold embossed sword, an elaborate scroll written in Persian naming him Prince of Ghor, and a yellowed page of poetry, his love poem to his fiance, Elizabeth Swaim.
An interesting footnote is that his great, great, great grandson, Scott Reiniger, was one of the actors in the 1978 movie based on his life.
Instead of a recipe, here is Kipling's bitter poem about the tragic retreat.
"When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,
And the women come out to cut up your remains,
Just roll on your rifle and blow out your brains,
And go to your God like a soldier."
This is part three of a three part series.