Campaign of 1896 Sudan
The Egyptian army moved swiftly to the border at Wadi Halfa and began moving south on 18 March to take Akasha, a village which was to be the base for the expedition. Akasha was deserted when they entered on 20 March and Kitchener devoted the next two months to building up his forces and supplies ready for the next advance.
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Apart from occasional skirmishing, the first serious contact with Mahdist forces took place in early June at the village of Farka . The village was a Mahdist strongpoint some way upriver from Akasha; its commanders, Hammuda and Osman Azraq, led around 3,000 soldiers and had evidently decided to hold his ground rather than withdraw as the Egyptian army advanced. At dawn on 7 June, two Egyptian columns attacked the village from north and south, killing 800 Mahdist soldiers, with others plunging naked into the Nile to make their escape. This left the road to Dongola clear, but despite advice to move rapidly and take it, Kitchener adhered to his usual cautious and carefully prepared approach.
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Kitchener took time to build up supplies at Kosheh, and brought his gunboats south through the Second Cataract of the Nile ready for an assault on Dongola.] The Egyptian river navy consisted of the gunboats Tamai, El Teb, Metemma and Abu Klea as well as the steamers Kaibar, Dal and Akasha. They had been used to patrol the river between Wadi Halfa and Aswan, and were now pressed into service as part of the invasion force. They had to wait however for the Nile to flood before they could navigate over the second cataract, and in 1896 the flood was unusually late, meaning that the first boat could not pass until 14 August. Each of the seven boats had to be physically hauled up over the cataract by two thousand men, at the rate of one boat per day. To this force were added the three new gunboats brought round the cataract by rail and assembled on the river at Kosheh.
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Dongola was defended by a substantial Mahdist force under the command of Wad Bishara, consisting of 900 jihadiyya, 800 Baqqara Arabs, 2,800 spearmen, 450 camel and 650 horse cavalry. Kitchener was unable to advance on Dongola immediately after the battle of Farka because not long afterwards, cholera broke out in the Egyptian camp, and killed over 900 men in July and early August 1896. With the summer of 1896 marked by disease and severe weather, Kitchener's columns, supported by gunboats on the Nile, finally began to advance up the Nile towards Kerma, at the Third Cataract, where Wad Bishara had established a forward position. Instead of defending it however he moved his forces across the river so that as the Egyptian gunboats came upstream he was able to concentrate heavy fire on them. On 19 September the gunboats made several runs at the Mahdist positions, firing at their trenches, but the fire returned was too intense for them to maintain their position safely. Kitchener therefore ordered them to simply steam on, past the Mahdist position,
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towards Dongola. Seeing them proceed, Wad Bishara withdrew his forces to Dongola. On 20 September the gunboats exchanged fire with the town's defenders and on 23 Kitchener's main force reached the town. Wad Bishara, seeing the overwhelming size of the Egyptian force, and unnerved by several days of bombardment by the gunboats, withdrew. The town was occupied, as were Merowe and Korti. Total Egyptian losses for the taking of Dongola were one killed and 25 wounded. Kitchener was promoted to Major-General.
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