The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database

published - Chapter II, 'Detailed Report on the Naga Hills Expedition of 1879-80', Capt. P.J. Maitland

caption: attack on the Kohima garrison after Damant's death
medium: reports
person: Chitonoma khelReid/ Capt.DamantCawley/ Mr.Hinde/ Mr.Johnstone/ Lt. Col.
ethnicgroup: AngamiKatcha
location: Khonoma (Konoma) Jotsoma Kohima Merema (Merama) Nerhema (Nerama)
date: 10.1879
person: Maitland/ Capt. P.J.
date: 1880
person: India Office Library, London
refnum: IOR L/MIL/17/18/24
text: The Nagas of Konoma had now irretrievably committed themselves. They had already induced Jotsoma and one Khel of Kohima to join in acts of overt hostility against the sovereign power; and so great was their prestige, and the effect of this first success, that in a few days the whole Angami country was in a blaze of insurrection.
text: Nor were the Nagas long in following up their advantage. On the very morning after the destruction of Mr. Damant's party, the Chitonoma Khel of Kohima attacked a detachment of four men at Merama; two were killed and all the arms and accoutrements captured. Of a party of six men sent with a head constable to collect coolies in the Katcha Naga country, three, and the head constable, were killed. Two scouts were killed between Kohima and Samaguting; also a coolie who tried to get through with a letter.
text: On the 16th October Kohima itself was attacked. Fortunately, the garrison had had thirty-six hours for preparation, and had used them well. The post is described as consisting of two large unfinished stockades: the gateway had no doors, and the enclosures were crowded with thatched buildings; The pallisading was weak and rotten, and no earthwork had been thrown up, so that there was virtually no protection against fire. Ample cover, afforded by jungle or uneven ground, existed all round, except on the north side. The interior of the military stockade could be raked on two sides should the other be abandoned. But the greatest danger of all lay in the number of thatched buildings with which the stockades were literally crammed. One spark of fire might destroy the whole place and drive the defenders from the pallisades. The strength of the garrison being quite unequal to holding both stockades, the military, or (24) eastern stockade was selected, and the night of the 14th passed in energetic endeavours to put it into a state of defence. Earthwork was thrown up, the gateway barricaded, and the western stockade, as far as possible, destroyed: all stores, ammunition, and easily removeable property being first taken over to the other.
text: The garrison in Kohima consisted of-
text: 43rd Assam Light Infantry ... ... 78 of all ranks.
text: Frontier Police ..... ... ... 40 of all ranks.
text: Total ... 118 of all ranks.
text: These were under the command of Captain Reid, 43rd Assam Light Infantry, and Mr. Cawley of the Police, one of Mr. Damant's assistants. There were also two ladies in the post, Mrs. Damant and Mrs. Cawley. The soldiers had rations for a month, but the police and non-combatants, women and children, a total of four hundred and fourteen souls, had but three maunds of rice, and absolutely nothing else. The long aqueduct furnishing the main water supply was so constructed that a kick or the stroke of a hoe would render it useless. The two springs near the stockade could only be approached as long as the garrison was strong enough to drive away the besiegers from their vicinity. The proposed roads of communication had never been completed, and were now in a bad state; besides which the Nagas were cunning enough to destroy the " political path." Communication with the plains was quickly cut off by the enemy. Immediately on receipt of news of the disaster, letters and telegrams ( the latter for Golaghat) were despatched by runners to Samaguting, but they were all intercepted and destroyed. A party who volunteered to convey the intelligence to Woka just got through in time; half an hour later they would have been cut up, as the Konoma men occupied Nerama just after they had past.
text: The eastern stockade having been made to some extent defensible, the garrison awaited the expected attack with tolerable confidence. On the morning of the 16th October the first parties of the enemy made their appearance, and, favoured by the ground, began firing into the stockade. They were, however, driven off by a small sortie. The aqueduct having been rendered useless, advantage was taken of the respite to send out a party for water. In the course of the day some Nagas of the Chitonoma Khel succeeded in throwing up a "sangar," or stone breastwork, about 550 yards north-west of the stockade. The work was, however, considerably delayed by the efforts of a marksman of the 43rd. At night the enemy set fire to some of the half dismantled buildings in the abandoned stockade, and so endangered the garrison in the other, that advantage was taken of favourable winds to destroy the buildings still standing dangerously near. Repeated attempts to fire the houses in the military stockade were made during the 17th, fortunately without success. On the 18th the enemy were pretty quiet, and the garrison took the opportunity to get a little cover by making shelter trenches round the inside of the stockade. On the 19th efforts were made to clear away the jungle near the spring east of the stockade, on which the garrison were now dependent for their supply of water. Into this spring the Nagas afterwards threw the head of a slain sepoy with results which may be imagined.
text: At noon on the 19th October, Mr.Hinde arrived from Woka with a welcome reinforcement of 40 rifles, 43rd Assam Light Infantry, and 22 Frontier Police. Mr. Cawley's message, despatched on the evening of the 14th, had reached Mr. Hinde on the evening of the 16th. The next morning at daybreak he started with all available men, and succeeded in accomplishing his difficult and dangerous journey in safety. The Nagas were aware of his approach, and had made preparations to resist it, but by the exercise of great skill and caution, by avoiding the villages, and by marching at night, he escaped all the dangers which threatened him, and, finally, with some little assistance from the friendly Khels of Kohima, he marched into the stockade without the loss of a man. ( Mr. Hinde's official account of his march to Kohima is attached as Appendix E.)
text: On the 20th October the enemy remained pretty quiet; they were evidently doubtful of the exact strength of the reinforcement. On this day some of the (25) friendly, or rather neutral Khels of Kohima, brought in a constable who had escaped, wounded, from the Konoma disaster.
text: All this time the enemy continued to fire on the stockade, sometimes crawling in the jungle close up to the defences. Several men were killed and wounded by these desultory attacks; when more than usually annoying they were driven off by a sortie. In one of these the stone sangar previously mentioned was carried and destroyed, with a loss of two killed and four wounded.
text: Letters and telegrams were again despatched to Samaguting and the plains, and one of these, conveyed by a Naga woman in her hair, reached its destination. It was addressed to Samaguting, and requested that not less than 100 men should be sent to the relief of Kohima, as the Nagas were out in force and had built stockades on all the roads approaching the village.
text: During the 22nd large reinforcements were observed pouring into the Chitonoma Khel of Kohima. The defences were strengthened; a supply of water collected in waterproof sheets sunk in the ground; and the store shed unthatched, so as to give a chance of saving the food in case of fire.
text: At daybreak on the 23rd October, the collected Nagas attacked in earnest, the din of their war cries around the stockade showing how large were the numbers engaged in the assault. It has since been told by the Nagas themselves that 6,000 men, comprising contingents from almost every Angami village, were present. Of these, about 500 had firearms. The little garrison had now been at their stations since the evening of the 14th. They had lived on quarter rations with a short supply of filthy water, and had been exposed to the weather night and day. The Woka reinforcement, having come by forced marches without baggage or even great coats, were the worst off. Many men were also suffering from sickness or wounds, but all who could hold a rifle stood to the defences. The enemy began by firing heavily from the debris of the abandoned stockade. They then trenched into the pit constructed for the police magazine, and from its shelter kept up a very smart and well directed fire. But the danger from bullets was as nothing compared to that arising from their incessant attempts to fire the houses inside the stockade. Masses of burning rag at the end of javelins, or fixed in the hinges and bolts obtained from the ruins of the western stockade, fell constantly on the thatched roofs, but were as quickly swept off with long bamboos. It was only by the exercise of the greatest activity and vigilance that the garrison averted a conflagration which would have destroyed the stockade and all within it. While numbers of the enemy were thus endeavouring to fire the houses, the remainder continued to advance under cover of logs, rocks,&c., which they rolled before them. Their fire never slackened, and their picked shots were posted to mark down any man who might expose himself even for an instant.
text: During the night, after the moon had set, the garrison succeeded in unroofing some of the houses, and burning the thatch; but this was not effected without the loss of two men, as the enemy continued to fire whenever they could get a chance. Earthworks and barricades were also constructed to oppose those the enemy were rapidly throwing up on all sides. In these works the garrison made use of meatsafes, chests of drawers, tables, and anything they could lay their hands on. Daylight, however, showed strong lines of entrenchment within 40 yards of the pallisading. The fire of the enemy from behind these almost quelled that of the garrison, and rendered a large portion of the defences next door to untenable. The sick and wounded were now laid out in the open behind some rising ground which protected them from bullets. The women and children also sought refuge in the same place. The European ladies and children were stowed in the oven shed, the only shot proof building in the stockade. Captain Reid reports that at this time only 45 of the 43rd Assam Light Infantry were really fit for duty, and that the police were somewhat demoralised. Altogether, the position of the garrison appeared almost hopeless, but to their great relief the attack slackened after about three hours on the 24th, and vague rumours began to fly about regarding the advance of a force from Manipur. Up to this time the garrison were in entire ignorance of the efforts being made for their relief, and had only heard of the arrival of a very small detachment from Golaghat at Samaguting. The Nagas now showed a disposition to treat; and as the defenders were not in a position to reject advances, negotiations were opened, (26) every effort being made to gain as much time as possible. Advantage was taken of the respite to strengthen the defences, and destroy the works thrown up by the enemy. The ladies' airtight packing cases were utilised as water tanks, and some quantity was thus stored up, but it was horribly foul.
text: On the 25th October a messenger arrived from Lieutenant Colonel Johnstone, Political Agent, Manipur, with a letter for Captain Reid, conveying the welcome intelligence that a force was advancing from the south to the relief of Kohima. On the same day the Nagas discontinued hostilities, having no doubt been informed of the proximity of the Manipuris.
text: On the 26th October Lieutenant Colonel Johnstone, at the head of 2,000 Manipuri levies, some Cachar Police, and his personal escort of thirty four rifles of the 34th Native Infantry, marched into Kohima; the Nagas disappearing into the jungles as he advanced. Colonel Johnstone had got together and brought this force through a hundred miles of difficult country in eight days from the time he received news of the outbreak. To his energy and promptitude the saving of Kohima and 550 souls must be ascribed; for it would have been hardly possibly for the enfeebled garrison to have held out twenty-four hours longer had the attacks of the 23rd and 24th of October been continued. ( Lieutenant Colonel Johnstone's official account of his march to the relief of Kohima, with a note on the Manipur troops, is attached as Appendix F.)
text: The defence was a gallant one, and reflects credit on the detachment 43rd Assam Light Infantry who formed the backbone of the garrison, and among whom all the casualties occurred. For fourteen days they lived on a ration of a quarter of seer of flour and a little bad water; and during the time the Nagas were round the stockade they obtained little or no rest either by day or night, and were never safe from the bullets of the enemy. The ladies behaved nobly, tending the sick and wounded, looking after the women and children, doing their utmost to promote the comfort of all: they set an example of courage and cheerfulness that is beyond all praise. ( The above account is chiefly taken from Mr. Hinde's official report.)