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The River War by Winston Churchill

Abu Anga contributed to the destruction of Hicks's army


saw very clearly that the black

Soudanese troops, who had surrendered and were surrendering as town after town was taken, might be welded into a powerful weapon. And in Abu Anga he knew a man who could not only fashion the blade, but would hold it ever loyally at his master's disposal. The former slave threw himself into the duties of his command with extraordinary energy. His humble origin pleased the hardy blacks, who recognised in their leader their equal in birth, their superior in prowess. More than any other Emir, Abu Anga contributed to the destruction of Hicks's army. The Jehadia, as his soldiers were called--because they had joined in the Jehad, or Holy War--were armed with Remington rifles, and their harassing fire inflicted heavy losses on the struggling column until it was finally brought to a standstill, and the moment for the spearmen to charge arrived. Henceforward the troops of Abu Anga became famous throughout the land for their weapons, their courage, and their cruelty. Their numbers at first did not exceed 5,000; but as more towns were taken and more slaves were turned into soldiers they increased, until at one time they reached the formidable total of 15,000 men. During the siege of Khartoum the black riflemen distinguished themselves by the capture of Omdurman fort, but their violent natures and predatory instincts made them an undesirable garrison even for the Dervish capital, and they were despatched under their general to Kordofan, where they increased their reputation by a series of
bloody fights with the Nubas, an aboriginal mountain people who cared for nothing but their independence.

At the end of June Abu Anga reached Omdurman with an army variously estimated at from 22,000 to 31,000 men, of whom at least 10,000 were armed with Remington rifles. The Khalifa received him with the utmost honour. After a private interview, which lasted for several hours, a formal entry into the town was arranged. At daybreak on the following morning the whole force marched into the city and camped along the northern suburbs, applauded and welcomed alike by the population and their ruler. A few days after this a great review was held under the Kerreri hills, on the very ground where the Dervish Empire was doomed to be shattered. But the fateful place oppressed the Khalifa with no forebodings. He exulted in his power: and well he might, for after the cannon had thundered indefinite salutes, no fewer than 100,000 armed men defiled to the music of the war-drums and the ombyas before the famous Black Flag. The spectacle of the enormous numbers provoked their enthusiasm. The triumphant Khalifa was cheered by his mighty host, who pressed upon him in their exuberant loyalty until he was almost crushed. It was indeed a stirring scene. The whole plain was filled with the throng. Banners of every hue and shape waved gaily in the breeze, and the sunlight glinted from innumerable spear-points. The swarming Dervishes displayed their bright parti-coloured jibbas. The wild Baggara cavalry circled on the flanks of the array. The brown dome of the Mahdi's tomb, rising above the city, seemed to assure the warriors of supernatural aid. Abdullah was at the summit of his power. The movement initiated by the priest of Abba island had attained its climax. Behind, in the plain, the frowning rocks of Surgham Hill rose ragged and gloomy, as if their silence guarded the secrets of the future.

After the feast of Bairam had been celebrated on a gigantic scale, Abu Anga was despatched to Gallabat with his army and considerable reinforcements from the troops in Omdurman, and it became evident that war with Abyssinia was imminent. The great leader relieved the Emir Yunes, much to the latter's disgust, of the chief command, and, since the strong Gallabat garrison was added to his own force, Abu Anga was able to take the field at the head of 15,000 riflemen and 45,000 spearmen. The Khalifa had embarked on a great venture in planning the invasion of Abyssinia. The vast strength of the Negus was known to the Dervishes, and has since been proved to the world. The Mahdi had forbidden such a war. An ill-omened prophecy further declared that the King of Abyssinia would tether his horse to a solitary tree by Khartoum, while his cavalry should ride through the city fetlock deep in blood. But Abdullah feared neither God nor man. He reviewed the political situation, and determined at all risks to maintain his frontiers inviolate. His Emir Wad Arbab had been killed. Blood must settle the matter.


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