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Battle of Tamai March 13, 1884

Battle of Tamai March 13, 1884

In 1881, Mohammed Ahmed, a Sudanese Islamic prophet, had declared himself the "Mahdi" or "Guided One" and launched a desert revolt with the intent of removing all foreigners from the Sudan. By 1884 the Mahdi and his forces had laid siege to the largest foreign outpost in the Sudan, Khartoum. British Major General Charles "Chinese" Gordon had been given the task of evacuating the city but delayed too long and was trapped in the city.

Initially, the British Government was reluctant to send troops to Gordon's aid, but under intense public pressure relented with the dispatch of British troops under the command of Wolseley. The Gordon Relief Expedition progressed very slowly and eventually Wolesley split his forces into separate "River" and "Desert" Columns in hopes that the land force might arrive at Khartoum sooner. Unfortunately the Relief Expedition did not reach Khartoum until January 28, 1885, two days after a Mahdist attack and massacre that resulted in the death of Gordon.

This new series by W. Britain will initially focus on two of the key battles, Tamai and Abu Klea, and will grow to include the various units involved in the campaign from both the river and desert columns.

The Battle of Tamai was among the early battles between British and Mahdist forces. The British were under the command of Major General Gerald Graham who in February had defeated a Mahdist army at El Teb. Once again he was dispatched from Egypt to the Sudan to confront a large enemy force this time under Osman Digna, one of Mohammed Ahmed’s most trusted lieutenants, at Tamai in the Nubian Desert along the Red Sea. The British contingent of 4500 men met fierce resistance from the 12,000 warriors under Digna. The British formed into 2 defensive squares but the main portion of the Mahdi army was hidden in a ravine and nearby bushes. When the Black Watch and Yorks and Lancasters charged forward, a gap was left in one square into which the Mahdists rushed leading to intense hand-tohand fighting and the capture of 2 Gatling guns. The British were able to reform, however, and the second square supported by the fire power of dismounted infantry inflicted numerous casualties among the enemy which fled in retreat. What might have been a disaster turned into a British victory.

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