Early Encounters between British and Ashantee

For all discussions relating to the Second, Third, Fourth & Fifth Ashantee Wars fought between 1863 and 1900.

Early Encounters between British and Ashantee

Postby DavidB » 06 May 2008 13:39

Mark
I hope you'll allow me a brief excursion away from Victorian times to the first ever armed encounter between the British and the Ashanti.
It is after all just another part of the same story.

Attack on Cape Coast Castle 1807
In 1806, 2 chieftains in Assin country (a satellite people conquered by the Ashanti) rebelled against King Osei Bonsu in Kumasi. On the approach of an Ashanti army, the Assin chiefs fled south to safety among the Fante people near the coast. The Ashanti first tried diplomacy to achieve the return of the two rebels, but the royal messengers were killed and decapitated in what was effectively a declaration of war by the Fante.

Perhaps sniffing what was in the wind (the Fante collapsed against an Ashanti advance), the 2 fugitives fled to Cape Coast Castle and asked the British governor, Colonel Torrane, for sanctuary. Initially Torrane promised them asylum, but on the approach of a large Ashanti army he became rather less confident and sent a flag of truce to the Ashanti king.

Torrane had only a handful of Europeans in the garrison and no confidence whatsoever in his nominal allies the Fante. However on the plus side, the castle was strongly built (in 1652 by the Swedes) with 12 cannon mounted on its walls.

The flag of truce was prevented from reaching the Ashanti king by the Fante, but when the Ashanti then attacked the Fante scattered. 2000 refugees made the British fort, but many others were killed on the beach or under the walls of the fort, despite the British cannon opening fire on the Ashanti with great effect.

The king then ordered the Ashanti to attack the fort itself. Twice they charged the main gate but couldn’t force it open. Despite many casualties from British cannon and muskets, the Ashanti attacked again intending to blow the gates with gunpowder and flaming torches. However the torch carriers were killed and the attack again stalled.

Six hours after the attack began, the Ashanti finally withdrew, leaving hundreds of dead in their wake. King Osei Bonsu estimated their losses at 3000. Grapeshot from the cannon had accounted for most, but also musket fire at such close range that the British defenders couldn’t miss. Colonel Torrane described the Ashanti as fighting “with a bravery not to be exceeded”.

A truce followed in which Torrane met the Ashanti king face to face. Despite Torrane’s earlier promise of asylum to the two fugitive Assin chieftains, he now went back on his word and promised to deliver them to the Ashanti (one was handed over, the other escaped). The 2000 Fante refugees were also handed over.

Many of the British thought Torrane’s conduct dishonourable, but in many respects he was bowing to the inevitable. The Ashanti had another attack planned with several thousand men and enough gunpowder to blow up the fort. The British couldn’t hold out indefinitely; the Ashanti knew it and Torrane knew it.

So the first encounter between the British and the Ashanti ended with a successful British defence but something of a psychological victory for the Ashanti.
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Re: Ashantee campaigns

Postby Mark » 06 May 2008 13:45

Mark
I hope you'll allow me a brief excursion away from Victorian times to the first ever armed encounter between the British and the Ashanti.
It is after all just another part of the same story.


Absolutely, many pre-Victorian factors/events had a major impact or have direct releveance on the wars and campaigns of Victoria's reign. These cannot be ignored and are perfectly acceptible when considering the 'story' during the 1837-1901 period.

Please carry on!

Mark :)
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Re: Ashantee campaigns

Postby Garen » 06 May 2008 14:17

That's really fascinating. And I agree, these are the events that often forged the actions of the Victorian period, and even today it's more than an echo we feel from the past.

Great Ashanti posts, and nicely-told too.
The Second Anglo-Afghan War 1878-80 www.angloafghanwar.info
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Nsamankow 1824

Postby DavidB » 12 May 2008 16:48

Sir Charles MacCarthy and the Battle of Nsamankow – 22 Jan 1824

Sir Charles MacCarthy was appointed governor of the Cape Coast in 1822 during a period of increasing efforts at diplomacy and good relations between the British and the Ashanti kingdom. However, once at Cape Coast MacCarthy very quickly came to the view, probably persuaded by the Fante and other coastal people, that the Ashanti were untrustworthy, warlike and a threat to trade.

Relations soon turned sour as MacCarthy prepared for war with a troop build-up, new fortification to Cape Coast Castle and a policy of persuading other European traders from selling powder and arms to the Ashanti. 3 companies of British troops were available to him, plus 3 companies of the 2nd West India Regt and local militia.

The first clash was precipitated by an incident in May 1822. An African soldier quarrelled with an Ashanti trader and hurled abuse at the Ashanti king. Reacting to this insult, a small party of Ashanti captured the man and took him inland. Without the knowledge of Osei Bonsu, the Ashanti king, who was still hopeful of peace, the Ashanti council ordered the soldier’s execution. MacCarthy then lead a force of British regulars and militia against the party of Ashanti involved in the capture, but their guide led them into a prepared ambush. MacCarthy was forced to retreat with the loss of 10 dead and 39 wounded.

Tension increased through the next 12 months until Osei Bonsu was unable to restrain the Ashanti war party any longer. In the latter part of 1823 the Ashanti advanced towards the coast until threatening Cape Coast in Jan 1824.

MacCarthy divided his forces into 2 columns in response to this advance and marched them to meet the enemy. However, he made the mistake of ordering the 2 columns to march so far apart from each other that any sort of co-ordinated action became impossible. Then, even more unwisely, he detached a force of 500 men from his larger column and marched them directly at the main Ashanti army of perhaps 20,000 men led by general Amanquatia.

MacCarthy’s small force made camp on the banks of the River Prah after a march in atrocious conditions. His chief of staff, Major Ricketts, was concerned about exhaustion and their small numbers but nothing appeared to shake MacCarthy’s confidence.

The next day, the 22nd, the drums and horns of the Ashanti were heard moving through the forest. As they approached the British position, MacCarthy ordered his own brass band (which amazingly was part of the make-up of his small force) to play “God Save the King”. Quite what MacCarthy thought would happen next, or what his plan was, is unclear. But as the Ashanti draw closer, and the British officers stood there in their scarlet uniforms, the musical prelude drew to a close and the Ashanti opened fire.

Initially, luck favoured MacCarthy’s force as the Ashanti had to cross a river in full flood to reach the British position. This they tried to do several times, but the attempts left them exposed to British fire and they were halted. The tables turned however when the British started running out of ammunition and an expected ammunition supply column never materialised (the Fante bearers had dropped their loads and fled). As the Ashanti finally succeeded in crossing the river, MacCarthy’s men defended themselves with bayonets, knives and muskets used as clubs, but were soon overwhelmed. Major Ricketts was one of the few to escape using the cover of the dense bush. MacCarthy himself was badly wounded and shot himself rather than be captured. All other officers were killed apart from Williams, the Colonial Secretary, who was captured.

British losses were 9 officers and 178 men killed, 3 officers and 89 men wounded plus an unknown number taken prisoner. Some of those captured by the Ashanti (including Williams) were later released.
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Re: Early Encounters between British and Ashantee

Postby DavidB » 21 May 2008 20:09

Battle of Dodowa (or Katamanso) – 7 Aug 1826

King Osei Bonsu had died at about the same time that Sir Charles MacCarthy died at Nsamankow. Two years later then the cast of characters had changed: Osei Yaw was the new Asantehene and Sir Neil Campbell the new British governor.

The Ashanti army had been devastating the countryside around Accra to punish the coastal peoples for siding with the British previously. Early in August they were encamped at Katamanso near the village of Dodowa, only a few miles north of Accra. A British-officered native army was occupying a defensive position on the plains south of Dodowa, led by a Lieut-Colonel Purdon.

Purdon’s force of 11-12,000 men was made up of African militias from several coastal peoples. He also had with him 60 British officers and NCOs plus a contingent of 60 Royal Marines. Most importantly, he had several artillery pieces and Congreve rockets at his disposal and excellent intelligence as to Ashanti intentions. The position chosen on the open plains was also intended to give the British a decisive advantage, as their full superiority in firepower could be brought to bear and the superior Ashanti skills in the dense bush were neutralised. The British authorities had learnt lessons since Nsamankow!

Osei Yaw dismissed his general’s advice to mount a night attack, insisting that his honour demanded a daytime frontal assault on the strong British centre without any of the usual Ashanti flanking manoeuvres. The battle started at 9.30am as the Ashanti army advanced in disciplined ranks through British cannon fire, taking heavy casualties before they were near enough to answer with their own volleys. Soon however, the two armies came together in a hand-to-hand fight that lasted over two hours. The militias on the British side were gradually forced to yield ground to the Ashanti assault, but the story was different on both flanks as the Ashanti were slowly driven back.

Back in the centre the Ashanti assault had almost won the field, and many of the British officers and African leaders were preparing to blow up their supplies to stop them falling into Ashanti hands. At this critical juncture, Lieut-Col Purdon brought his secret weapon the Congreve rockets into action. The Ashanti had never seen such weapons before, and the physical and psychological effect turned the battle. They fell back slowly and in reasonably good order.

The African militias pursued until it became obvious the rockets had turned the battle decisively. Several Ashanti commanders blew themselves up with barrels of gunpowder rather than face capture, but the king Osei Yaw survived despite being wounded seven times. The Ashanti army as a whole managed to disengage and escape in relatively good order covered by their rearguard, helped by the fact that the British-led troops were far more interested in booty and plunder than in pursuit of the enemy.

A combination of factors decided the outcome of the battle:
- The Ashanti were outnumbered and outgunned
- King Osei Yaw was fatally overconfident in his decision to attack where the British were strongest
- some of their allies fled the battle early
- the Congreve rockets were a new and terrifying experience for the Ashanti soldiers.

As a result of the battle, the Ashanti were forced to renounce sovereignty over several southern districts.
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