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Anglo-Ashanti War of 1873-1874

Henry Brackenbury wrote "The known history of the Ashanti nation shows us a powerful, warlike, disciplined though barbarous race, ever marching seaward in pursuit of conquests and of trade, thrusting out and driving before it its rebellious tributaries and the weaker tribes who vainly strive to oppose its progress, and at last, when the ocean barrier closes their path, reconquering them and subjecting them to its sway. Not till the white man intervened was this career of victory rudely checked, nor till the present war had sufficient force been put forth to teach this warlike savage people that they must once and for ever bow to that mysterious strength which the arts and sciences of civilisation confer upon the nations of the Western world."

After the British government resumed responsibility for the administration of the coastal forts in 1843, relations with the Asante gradually deteriorated. In addition to assaults on Asante traders, the asantehene believed that the British and their Fante allies no longer treated him with respect. When British Governor Richard Pine refused to return an Asante chief and a runaway slave to the asantehene, the Asante prepared for war.

In April 1863, they invaded the coast and burned thirty villages. Pine responded by deploying six companies along the Pra River, the border between states allied with the British and the Asante. The deployed force built a network of stockades and a bridge, but it returned home without engaging the enemy after inexplicably having lost its guns, ammunition, and supplies.

The Second Asante War (1873-74) began as a result of the asantehene's attempt to preserve his empire's last trade outlet to the sea at the old coastal fort of Elmina, which had come into British possession in 1872. The Ashanti, who for years had been friendly with the people of the former Dutch settlement at Elmina, thus lost their Fast foothold on the coast as well as their influence over its inhabitants. British influence over the Gold Coast increased further when Britain purchased Elmina Castle, the last of the Dutch forts along the coast. The Asante, who for years had considered the Dutch at Elmina as their allies, thereby lost their last trade outlet to the sea. To prevent this loss and to ensure that revenue received from that post continued, the Asante staged their last invasion of the coast in 1873.

In 1872 the Ashantis, who had gradually overcome all their neighbors and had established a very powerful empire behind the British seaboard, invaded the protectorate and ravaged the whole of the Fanti country. In early 1873, a 12,000-member Asante army crossed the Pra River and invaded the coastal area but suffered a defeat at Elmina.

The British government then appointed Major General Garnet Wolseley administrator and commander in chief and ordered him to drive the Asante from the coastal region. Sir Garnet Wolseley made his famous expedition to Ashanti in West Africa in 1873. To Butler he entrusted the task of intercepting the Ashanti Army while retreating across the River Prah. This proved impossible, for though he induced 1400 Akims to move forward with him to within 20 miles of Coomassie they took alarm at the last moment and went home. The full story of his share in the Ashanti War is given in "Akim-foo, the History of a Failure" (London, 1875). Wolseley reported of him: "He has effected a most important diversion in favour of the main body and has detained before him all the forces of one of the most powerful Ashanti chiefs." He was now promoted major and made a Companion of the Bath.

In December 1873, Wolseley's African levies were reinforced by the arrival of several British units. After early successes in their attack; the Ashanti finally came up against well-trained British forces, which forced them to retreat and evacuate the area. They retired northward across the Pra River and never again returned to the coast in force.

Later attempts to negotiate a settlement of the conflict with the British were rejected by the commander of their forces, Major General Sir Garnet Wolseley. The expedition under Sir Garnet (later Lord) Wolseley in 1873-74 completely broke up the Ashanti power, and the king at Kumassi was reduced to the level of other native rulers.

In an effort to settle the Ashanti problem permanently, the British decided to invade the country with a sizable military force. The attack was launched in January 1874 with a carefully trained army of 2,500 British soldiers and large numbers of African auxiliaries.

Wolseley sent an advance party across the Pra, warning the asantehene that he intended to begin hostilities. Wolseley, however, also offered an armistice. When negotiations failed, both sides prepared for war.

The most significant battle of the Second Asante War occurred at Amoafo, near the village of Bekwai. Although the Asante performed admirably, superior weapons allowed the British to carry the day. Asante losses were unknown; the British lost four men and had 194 wounded. In the following days, Wolseley captured Bekwai and then Kumasi. Although the Ashanti fought well, they were unable to stand up to the superior weapons of the British; their capital, Kumasi, was occupied and burned, and their forces were scattered.

On March 14, 1874, the two sides signed the Treaty of Fomena, which required the Asante to pay an indemnity of 50,000 ounces of gold (which was never paid), to renounce claims to Elmina and many southern territories, and to all payments from the British for the use of forts, and to terminate their alliances with several other states, including Denkyira and Akyem.

Additionally, the asantehene agreed to withdraw his troops from the coast, to keep the trade routes open, and to halt the practice of human sacrifice. The peace treaty required the Asante to renounce any claim to many southern territories. The Asante also had to keep the road to Kumasi open to trade. From this point on, Asante power steadily declined. The confederation slowly disintegrated as subject territories broke away and as protected regions defected to British rule. The warrior spirit of the nation was not entirely subdued, however, and enforcement of the treaty led to recurring difficulties and outbreaks of fighting.

The British victory and the Treaty of Fomena ended the Asante dream of bringing the coastal states under their power. The northern states of Brong, Gonja, and Dagomba also took advantage of the Asante defeat by asserting their independence. The Asante empire was near collapse. In 1896 the British declared a protectorate over Asante and exiled the asantehene, Prempeh, his immediate family, and several close advisers to the Seychelles Islands.



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