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The Battle of Ginnis (also known as the Battle of Gennis) was a minor battle of the Mahdist War that was fought on December 30, 1885, between soldiers of the Anglo-Egyptian Army and Mahdist Sudanese warriors of the Dervish Empire.

Background to battle

The situation

In 1884, a Sudanese religious fanatic, Muhammad Ahmed, also known as "The Mahdi", planned and executed a series of attacks that left a British general, William Hicks, and thousands of ill-trained Egyptian soldiers dead at the hands of angry Arab rebels called Dervishes or Mahdists. The Sudan was controlled by an Anglo-Egyptian administration, and it was decided that something must be done. General Charles Gordon was sent by the British government to be the Egyptian Army's Governor-General there. General Gordon and his aide, Colonel John Donald Hamill Stewart, carried orders from both governments to evacuate the town from the Mahdi. Instead, Gordon built up the town's defenses and hunkered down for a siege. The British government sent two relief columns, the slow River Column and the mobile Desert Column, to rescue Gordon, Stewart, and the Egyptian garrison. After both columns won hard-fought battles, Kirbekan and Abu Klea, respectively, it was found that Stewart had been murdered by wandering Arabs north of Khartoum after his steamboat ran aground and that, through the treachery of an Egyptian deputy commander, Khartoum had fallen and Gordon was killed, the columns retreated, leaving behind a series of forts.

One of these forts was near the towns of Kosha and Ginnis, in northern Sudan, where a detachment of Cameron Highlanders and Egyptian-Sudanese troops from the Ninth Sudanese Battalion, were stationed. Thousands of Dervish warriors, led by their provincial Amirs, began raiding in the vicinity of Ginnis. They besieged the fort, and at one time the garrison's Gardner gun was dismounted by a Dervish artillery barrage. General Evelyn Wood, the British commander in Egypt as well as the Sirdar (commander) of the Egyptian Army, became concerned about the siege and the raids and eventually ordered Major General Francis Grenfell and a force of two infantry brigades and a cavalry brigade were sent to rid the area of Dervishes.

Grenfell's Force

The First Brigade consisted of the 1st Berkshires, the West Kent Regiment, the 2nd Durham Light Infantry, an Egyptian artillery battery escorted by sixty Egyptian troops, and a Royal Engineer detachment. This brigade was commanded by Brigadier General Butler. Colonel Huyshe's Second Brigade was composed of the Yorkshire Regiment, six companies of the Cameron Highlanders, 152 Sudanesemarker soldiers, 278 men of the 1st Egyptian Battalion, a mule battery of the Royal Artillery, and detachments from both the British Camel Corps and its Egyptian counterpart. Three Gardner guns were also brought along by the 2nd Brigade. The cavalry brigade, led by Colonel Blake, was formed by another detachment of the Egyptian Camel Corps, a British Mounted Infantry company, and 57 Egyptian cavalrymen. All of the British troops were dressed in scarlet coats and the Egyptians were dressed in white or khaki. Some Egyptian officers preferred their traditional blue coat. British soldiers and officers wore white sun helmets while the Egyptians wore red fezzes.


The opening clashes

At 5:00 on the morning of December 30, 1885, General Grenfell and his troops marched out of their bivouack, which was located between the Ginnis-Kosha fort and a smaller fort further south on the Nile. The First Brigade led the way, all of the Camel Corps soldiers followed, the cavalry rode behind these men, and the Second Brigade got into positions overlooking the town of Kosha. The troops from the fort, seizing the opportunity, sortied and stormed the town. On the Nile, the steamer 'Lotus', which had a Gardner gun on board, reported a large group of Dervishes moving out of Ginnis in the direction of Grenfell's column. The Camerons and Sudanese began marching towards Ginnis in the palm groves along the Nile. Followed by the Second Brigade and covered by fire from the 'Lotus', the force slowly approached the next town.

The main battle

As the Second Brigade fought through the palm groves near Ginnis, some Dervish riflemen fired several volleys at the First Brigade. Although the volleys were inaccurate, the smoke allowed some Dervish spearmen to sneak up on and attack the Camel Corps. In the ensuing skirmish, the Camel Corps was forced to withdraw, but the Durham Light Infantry moved forward and repulsed the Dervish attack.

As the First Brigade got into position to attack the Dervish camp near Ginnis, the Second Brigade entered Ginnis. Fighting its way through the streets, the brigade seized the town. Meanwhile, the First Brigade attacked the camp. Surprised, the Dervishes pulled back into the Atab Defile after putting up a token resistance. Grenfell ordered Colonel Blake's cavalry brigade to dislodge the Arabs in the Defile. With the Mounted Infantry taking the Atab Defile with a bayonet charge, the rest of the brigade pursued the fleeing Dervishes. However, Blake halted his men and the Dervishes retreated, in good order, into the desert.

As the 1st Egyptian Battalion marched through Kosha, the men noticed that some Dervishes, probably seeking shelter during the retreat from the town, had holed up, with their weapons, in a house. With a screw gun from the Mule Battery covering them, the Egyptians stormed the house. The Battle of Ginnis had been won by the Anglo-Egyptian Army.



The Anglo-Egyptian victory at Ginnis effectively ended the First Sudan Campaign (and the first third of the Mahdist War) that had begun with the destruction of an Egyptian force near Fashodamarker in 1881. A few more campaigns, consisting mainly of defensive or relief operations, were fought until a large Anglo-Egyptian army, commanded by Sirdar (General) Sir Herbert Kitchener, a former intelligence officer, and General Sir Reginald Wingate, reconquered the Sudan in a massive campaign from 1896 until 1898. The main Dervish resistance ended in the large-scale Battle of Omdurman in 1898.

Myth from Fact

Ginnis is notable as the last time that British soldiers fought in scarlet tunics. This was due to orders by General Charles George Gordon that troops should dress in red to show the Sudanese that the British had 'really' arrived. For this battle only in the relief campaign scarlet replaced the khaki that had been adopted for African service in 1882.

However, the opinion that this was the last time that British soldiers, in the general sense, not of any one or two branches, fought in scarlet, has been proven to be incorrect. In fact, during the last Sudan Campaign (from 1896-1898), the Egyptian Army did not have any Maxim gun batteries of its own. The only ones in the campaign had been British. So, the British Army attached a Maxim battery to the Egyptian army. The gunners preferred to wear their scarlet home-service tunics instead of the almost-universally worn khaki uniforms.



External links

  • Savage and Soldier Online
  • Queen Victoria's Little Wars by Byron Farwell

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