Today In History: February 5, 1874: The “Sagrenti War” And The “Sacking Of Kumasi”

The Battle of Amoaful was fought on 31 January 1874. A road was cut to the village and the Black Watch led the way, forming a square in the clearing with the Rifle Brigade while flanking columns moved around the village. With the pipes playing “The Campbells Are Coming” the Black Watch charged with bayonets and the shocked Ashantis fled. The flank columns were slow-moving in the jungle and the Ashantis moved around them in their normal horseshoe formation and attacked the camp 2 miles (3.2 km) to the rear. The Royal Engineers defended themselves until relieved by the Rifle Brigade. Although there was another small battle two days later, the Battle of Ordashu, the action had been decisive and the route to Kumasi was open. There were three killed and 165 wounded Europeans, one killed and 29 African troops wounded.

Amankwatia (the Bantamahene) designed, planned and executed the last great stand of the Asante at the village of Amoaful against the advancing British Army of Major-General Garnet Wolseley in the Third Anglo-Ashanti War. The Battle of Amoaful itself did not last much more than 24 hours on 31 January 1874.

The British won (and the Asante lost) the Battle of Amoaful. Some (perhaps questionable) British accounts have it that the biggest havoc in the British ranks was caused by bad air (malaria) and yellow fever, but in the Battle of Amoaful, every fourth British soldier was hit by the heavy Asante fusillade. 

The Asante chose forest cover and ridges overlooking bogs (through which the British had to wade) as their battle stands. Amankwatia is credited with such clever calculation. What advantage the British had in heavy armament and superior rifles the Asante countered with far superior numbers (no wonder between 2000 and 3000 of them were either injured or killed). The British soldiers for a long time came under heavy gunfire from people they could not see.

The capital, Kumasi, was abandoned by the Ashanti when the British arrived on 4 February and was briefly occupied by the British. They demolished the royal palace with explosives, leaving Kumasi a heap of smouldering ruins. The British were impressed by the size of the palace and the scope of its contents, including “rows of books in many languages.

The Asantahene, the ruler of the Ashanti, signed the harsh Treaty of Fomena in July 1874 to end the war. Among articles of the treaty between H.M. Queen Victoria, Queen of Great Britain and Ireland and H.M. Kofi Karikari, King of Ashanti were that “The King of Ashanti promises to pay the sum of 50,000 ounces of approved gold as indemnity for the expenses he has occasioned to Her Majesty the Queen of England by the late war…” The treaty also required an end to human sacrifice and stated that “There shall be freedom of trade between Ashanti and Her Majesty’s forts on the [Gold] Coast, all persons being at liberty to carry their merchandise from the Coast to Kumasi, or from that place to any of Her Majesty’s possessions on the Coast.” Furthermore, the treaty stated that “The King of Ashanti guarantees that the road from Kumasi to the River Pra shall always be kept open…” Wolseley completed the campaign in two months and re-embarked for home before the unhealthy season began.

Wolseley was promoted and showered with honours. British casualties were 18 dead from combat and 55 from disease (70%), with 185 wounded.

Some British accounts pay tribute to the hard fighting of the Ashanti at Amoaful, particularly the tactical insight of their commander, Amankwatia: “The great Chief Amankwatia was among the killed. The admirable skill was shown in the position selected by Amankwatia, and the determination and generalship he displayed in the defence fully bore out his great reputation as an able tactician and gallant soldier”.

The campaign is also notable for the first recorded instance of a traction engine being employed on active service. Steam sapper number 8 (made by Aveling and Porter) was shipped out and assembled at Cape Coast Castle. As a traction engine, it had limited success hauling heavy loads up the beach but gave good service when employed as a stationary engine driving a large circular saw.


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