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Ten Years' Captivity in the Mahdi's Camp 1882-1892

Joseph Cuzzi had attempted to escape


The

Ababdeh, Barabra, and Jaalin, under the supreme command of Mohammed el Kheir, now besieged Berber. Eight days later the town was taken by storm, and most of the garrison and a number of inhabitants were massacred. Joseph Cuzzi had attempted to escape, but he was caught and sent to Khartum to endeavour to induce Gordon to surrender. He was subsequently sent on to the Mahdi at Rahad.

Gordon's communications with the north were now cut. After Saleh Pasha's surrender, the number of besieging Dervishes increased greatly, and Abu Girgeh growing bolder, seized the village of Buri, where he built a fort and began to shell the town. Gordon therefore, on the 2nd of May, sent out a considerable force, which attacked Abu Girgeh, drove him out of his position, and all but succeeded in capturing him. Thus did Gordon, although hemmed in on all sides, maintain a bold front, and employed every art of war to keep the Dervishes from investing the town more closely.

To return now to the Mahdi at Rahad. He was at this time in full preparation for departure to the siege of Khartum, and, as usual, he despatched Abu Anga, Wad Nejumi, Wad En Nur, and Wad Gubara, with all his best troops in advance. As I have previously related, Cuzzi, who arrived at Rahad at the end of June, had been previously sent by the Dervishes to Khartum to try and induce Gordon to surrender, and Gordon had given strict orders that he should not be permitted within

the walls. When, therefore, he arrived at Rahad, the Mahdi received him very well, loaded him with presents, and then sent him back with George Clementino to Khartum as bearer of letters to Gordon. He arrived at the Dervish camp at the same time as Nejumi. Clementino was permitted to converse with the Greek consul, Leontides, but Cuzzi returned to Berber.

The Mahdi passed the month of Ramadan in Rahad, and it was not until the 8th of August that he set out for Khartum. The whole population, like a swarm of bees, accompanied him on the same road which Hicks had taken. The people joyfully undertook this long journey through pathless districts, and at a time when the rainfall was heaviest. Camels, too, were expensive and difficult to procure; but, in spite of all these obstacles, fanaticism was more pronounced than ever. There were in all upwards of 200,000 people, and at Shirkeleh the cavalry numbered 4,000. To defeat such an enormous force as this, a European expedition was necessary, not the weak force at Gordon's disposal.

Throughout the entire route fresh cavalry joined, whilst the herds of cattle which the Arabs drove along served as food, and meat was then cheap enough. Numbers of animals died during the march, and the road was plainly marked by an unbroken line of dead camels, donkeys, horses, and oxen. The route lay from Shirkeleh to Shatt, and thence to Duem. Here a halt was called for a few days to collect stragglers. All notion of working in the fields was abandoned, and agricultural pursuits were entirely dispensed with. Thus it happened that on the Mahdi's arrival at Omdurman the Dervishes were in great want of grain.

The Mahdi arrived at Omdurman on the 23rd of October, 1884, but the whole of the stragglers did not reach it till early in November. Everything had been prepared. Gordon was surrounded by numerous enemies, still he did not despair.

In August both Niles had risen considerably; the Blue Nile had arrived almost at its full height, while the White Nile had overflowed its low bank, and now swept past Fort Mukran and the houses in Khartum. So high was it, that a dam had to be constructed to keep the water within bounds. At high Nile the White river is very broad; and at a later date, when I crossed over from Omdurman to the roughly built fort which has long since been destroyed, I was sea-sick. But as the river fell it left the ditch full of mud, and this proved a source of great danger. When the river was high, Gordon made several successful counter-attacks. Mohammed Ali Pasha went up the Blue Nile to a place near Gereif, and on the 30th of August fell upon the Arabs, utterly defeating them. This brave leader also attacked the old Sheikh El Obeid at Halfaya, and captured a quantity of dhurra and cattle. Khartum breathed once more, and it seemed as if all would be well; the bands played in the evening, and the town was full of joy, which, alas, was soon to be turned to sadness.


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