Second British-Ashanti War Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The second in a series of nineteenth century wars between the British and the Ashanti Kingdom, the 1873-1874 conflict temporarily weakened the Ashanti kingdom and strengthened the British position on the Gold Coast but did not provide a lasting solution to strained relations between the British and the Ashanti.

Summary of Event

The Ashanti War of 1873-1874, sometimes called the Second Ashanti War, was one of a series of conflicts during the nineteenth century between the British and the West African people known as the Ashanti, or Asante. The British and the Dutch had established posts along what was then called the Gold Coast in territory controlled by the Fante Fante people. The Ashanti controlled territory inland from the coast and frequently came into conflict with the Fante. Throughout the century, the British tended to align themselves with the Fante and clashed with the Ashanti, who were friendlier with the Dutch. Ashanti War, Second (1873-1874) West Africa;British colonization of West Africa;and European imperialism[European imperialism] West Africa;Ashanti Wars Wolseley, Sir Garnet Joseph [p]Wolseley, Sir Garnet Joseph[Wolseley, Garnet Joseph];in West Africa[West Africa] Gold Coast British Empire;and West Africa[West Africa] [kw]Second British-Ashanti War (Jan. 22, 1873-Feb. 13, 1874) [kw]British-Ashanti War, Second (Jan. 22, 1873-Feb. 13, 1874) [kw]Ashanti War, Second British- (Jan. 22, 1873-Feb. 13, 1874) [kw]War, Second British-Ashanti (Jan. 22, 1873-Feb. 13, 1874) Ashanti War, Second (1873-1874) West Africa;British colonization of West Africa;and European imperialism[European imperialism] West Africa;Ashanti Wars Wolseley, Sir Garnet Joseph [p]Wolseley, Sir Garnet Joseph[Wolseley, Garnet Joseph];in West Africa[West Africa] Gold Coast British Empire;and West Africa[West Africa] [g]Africa;Jan. 22, 1873-Feb. 13, 1874: Second British-Ashanti War[4660] [g]Ghana;Jan. 22, 1873-Feb. 13, 1874: Second British-Ashanti War[4660] [g]British Empire;Jan. 22, 1873-Feb. 13, 1874: Second British-Ashanti War[4660] [g]Great Britain;Jan. 22, 1873-Feb. 13, 1874: Second British-Ashanti War[4660] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Jan. 22, 1873-Feb. 13, 1874: Second British-Ashanti War[4660] Kofi Karikari Amankwatia Glover, Sir John Hawley

During the late 1860’s and early 1870’s, the British and the Dutch arranged to exchange several of their forts, including the Dutch fort at Elmina. The transfer of Elmina to the British took place on April 6, 1872, over the protests of the Ashanti king Kofi Karikari Kofi Karikari , who said that Elmina belonged to his kingdom. At the same time, Karikari asserted Ashanti sovereignty over the border states between Ashanti and Fante territory, even though the Ashanti had recognized the independence of those states by a treaty in 1831.

On December 9, 1872, the Ashanti assembled an army estimated to have had as many as forty thousand men and marched it out of their capital, Kumasi, Led by General Amankwatia, Amankwatia the Ashanti army reached the recognized boundary of Ashanti territory at the River Pra on December 22. Exactly one month later, it crossed over into the border state of Assin. On February 9, 1873, the Ashanti defeated an Assin army at Assin Nyankumasi. One month later, the Ashanti defeated a combined Assin and Fante force at Fante Nyankumasi. Two inconclusive battles ensued on April 8 and 14 at Dunkwa. Finally, on June 5, 1873, the Ashanti routed the Fante at Jukwa. Thousands of panicked Fante Fante then fled to the British fort at Cape Coast Castle.

The British at first reacted to the crisis slowly. Governor John Pope Hennessy even said he did not think an Ashanti invasion was under way. Eventually, however, the British began to take the situation more seriously and a sent out a small marine detachment under Lieutenant Colonel Francis Festing. It arrived in time to thwart an Ashanti attack on Elmina on June 13, 1873. In August, the British government took additional steps, sending Captain John Glover Glover, Sir John Hawley to raise African forces to attack the Ashanti from the east. Garnet Joseph Wolseley was placed in control of all British and allied forces on the Gold Coast, with orders to raise African levies to fight the Ashanti.

Wolseley arrived on the Gold Coast on October 2, 1873. Eleven days later, he led a successful raid on Ashanti forces at Elmina. Shortly afterward, the Ashanti decided to withdraw to their own territory, in part because of their reverses in battle but also because of losses they suffered from smallpox Smallpox and dysentery. As they withdrew from Fante Fante territory and the border states, the Ashanti stopped to fight a battle at Abrakrampa on November 5, and were soundly defeated. However, Wolseley was able to recruit few African troops and could do little more than harry the Ashanti from the rear as they retreated. In order to carry the war to Ashanti territory, he wrote home asking for more British troops and was sent three regiments, which arrived in December.

The original British plan of attack was based on the idea of transporting the troops by railroad into the bush, and tracks were even sent out to build a railroad line for this purpose. However, the terrain was found to be too hilly to make the plan practical, so the plan was abandoned. Any idea of invading by water was also abandoned after a disastrous reconnaissance mission up the River Pra led by Commodore John Commerell in August. Instead, the Royal Engineers constructed roads, bridges, and staging areas. In January, 1874, Wolseley began marching his troops north from Cape Coast, crossing the Pra River into Ashanti territory on January 20. During the march, King Karikari sent messages asking Wolseley to slow down and negotiate. However, Wolseley continued marching until his forces met the Ashanti army at Amoafo on January 31 for the major battle of the war.

Despite having lost half their army in their 1873 invasion, the Ashanti still outnumbered the British at Amoafo. However, the British had superior weapons, including breech-loading rifles and artillery. The Ashanti had antique muzzle-loading muskets and poor gunpowder. Lacking lead bullets, they used shells and stones instead. The Ashanti held out for hours, but when the British brought their artillery into play and launched a bayonet charge, the Ashanti fell back.

The Ashanti did not give up immediately, however. After falling back, they pursued their usual tactic of encircling their enemy from the rear, in the process disrupting British supply lines. Deprived of supplies, Wolseley decided that his best course of action would be to make a quick dash to capture the Ashanti capital and not stay there long. There then followed battles at Bekwai on February 1 and Odasu on February 4, after which the British were able to enter Kumasi without opposition.

Once in the capital, Wolseley sent messages to King Karikari asking him to present himself to agree to terms, but the king remained in the bush with the bulk of his forces. Lacking the supplies his force needed for a long stay and fearing the onset of the rainy season, Wolseley withdrew his troops from Kumasi and began returning south. The British feared that the Ashanti might attack them as they retreated, but King Karikari sent a message on February 9 begging Wolseley to call off the attacks by Captain Glover and agreeing to make peace. With a small force of Hausa troops, Glover Glover, Sir John Hawley had reached Kumasi, causing the Ashanti to think that a second major British army was in the field. The Ashanti agreed to surrender and agreed to a treaty on February 13 that they signed at Fomena on March 14. Under the terms of this treaty, the Ashanti agreed to renounce their claims to Elmina and the border states and to pay the British an indemnity of fifty thousand ounces of gold.

Significance

In the short term, the war weakened the Ashanti and strengthened the position of the British. Afterward, civil war broke out in the Ashanti kingdom, and Karikari was deposed. Meanwhile, Wolseley was celebrated as a hero in Great Britain, where the Ashanti War was seen as a great victory. The result of the war also led to the British to declare the Gold Coast to be a colony, thus solidifying their control over the area. The war also showed that superior technology could triumph over superior numbers, and it ended Ashanti claims to the border states.

The British did not, however, pursue their advantage after the war. They were uncertain if it was in their interest to encourage divisions among the Ashanti or to seek a more peaceful and stable situation. In the end, they pursued a noninterventionist course, and the Ashanti eventually rebuilt and reunited. Twenty years later more fighting between the Ashanti and the British broke out, and the British wars with the Ashanti did not end until the British annexed the Ashanti territory in 1901.

On a more technical level, the war was significant for introducing innovations in warfare. Wolseley got the British troops to switch from tight-fitting scarlet uniforms to loose-fitting gray clothes and sun helmets that were more practical in tropical climates. Wolseley also broke with custom by breaking his military companies into small sections and by introducing a healthier and more substantial diet for his troops. He paid a great deal of attention to the health of his troops in an attempt to ward off attacks of malaria. Malaria;in Africa[Africa] In this, however, he was not very successful, as 71 percent of his troops fell ill—in part because it was not then known that malaria was transmitted by mosquito bites.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Claridge, W. Walton. A History of the Gold Coast and Ashanti from the Earliest Times to the Commencement of the Twentieth Century. 2d ed. 2 vols. London: Frank Cass, 1964. Reprint of the massively detailed 1915 edition, focusing on British activity. Includes maps.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Edgerton, Robert B. The Fall of the Asante Empire: The Hundred-Year War for Africa’s Gold Coast. New York: Free Press, 1995. Offers considerable detail about the Ashanti and the war from their point of view but has a poor index. Includes maps.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Keegan, John. “The Ashanti Campaign, 1873-4.” In Victorian Military Campaigns, edited by Brian Bond. London: Hutchinson, 1967. Provides details on British strategy and tactics, background material, and numbers.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kochanski, Halik. Sir Garnet Wolseley: Victorian Hero. London: Hambledon Press, 1999. Biography of Wolseley that also includes short biographical sketches of his fellow officers. Also includes illustrations and statistics.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lloyd, Alan. The Drums of Kumasi: The Story of the Ashanti Wars. London: Longmans, Green, 1964. Lots of detail on the fighting, especially from the British side. Much material on Captain Glover.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Maxwell, Leigh. The Ashanti Ring: Sir Garnet Wolseley’s Campaigns, 1870-1882. London: Secker & Warburg, 1985. Detailed description of the military campaigns, focusing on the British side. Includes maps.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ward, W. E. F. A History of Ghana. 3d ed. London: Allen & Unwin, 1966. Standard history of Ghana that offers precise dates and considerable information on the Ashanti wars and other events.

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Sir Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell. Ashanti War, Second (1873-1874) West Africa;British colonization of West Africa;and European imperialism[European imperialism] West Africa;Ashanti Wars Wolseley, Sir Garnet Joseph [p]Wolseley, Sir Garnet Joseph[Wolseley, Garnet Joseph];in West Africa[West Africa] Gold Coast British Empire;and West Africa[West Africa]

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