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Battle of Gallabat (1889 AD)

By Chris Jones

The date shown above is not a typo or an error. The battle of Gallabat fought on the Abyssinian border (the border of modern Ethiopia and the Sudan) between the forces of the Khalifa Abdullah of the Dervish Empire and King John of Abyssinia was the last major battle to be fought between forces using almost exclusively edged weapons. It is therefore the last battle that can be reasonably simulated using the DBA rules.

The rise of the Mahdi or the Expected one in the Sudan during the early 1880šs had resulted in a threat to Egypt then under British control and influence. General Charles Gordon was sent to deal with affairs at Khartoum the capital of the Sudan in 1884. He was besieged there and a British relief column failed to reach him by two days. Gordon died in Khartoum. Within a matter of months so did the Mahdi who was succeeded by the Khalifa Abdullah.

In early 1887, a border incident led to a major war between the Dervish forces and those of King John of Abyssinia to the south. Initially, the Dervish forces were successful, their cavalry and riflemen defeating the mainly spear and sword armed Abyssinians. It should be noted though that the vast majority of the Dervish forces were charging foot armed with spears, swords and shields who fought impetuously in loose formation. The riflemen in the Dervish ranks were employed more as snipers than in volley firing.

In March 1889, a large Dervish force commanded by the general, Zaki Tamal, stood on the defensive at the border town of Gallabat to face a huge Abyssinian army under the command of King John himself.

Details of the actual battle are sketchy but it appears that the Abyssinian attack was fiercely launched and had penetrated the Dervish defences. However, as he stood on the brink of victory, King John was shot dead by rifle fire. His army broke at his death and was slaughtered in the pursuit. The body of King John was found after the battle and was displayed without its head from the public gallows in the Khalifašs capital, Omdurman. The result of the battle appears to have been inconclusive with neither side losing or gaining any territory. In fact, it is hard to fathom just why these two powers were at war for nearly three years. The Abyssinians were to inflict a severe defeat on the Italian forces at Adowa in 1896, while the Khalifa lost his kingdom and his life after the Battle of Omdurman against Kitcheneršs British forces in 1898.

Simulating Gallabat in DBA

This battle reflects my other main wargames interest - the Colonial Wars especially the Sudan. It is also a fine out-and-out scrap between two largely Warband armies. Warband, warband everywhere!! Should be fun and short!

Order of Battle

Dervish -- 1xCv, 1xCm, 2xBw (Dervish rifles), 8xWb

Abyssinian -- 2xCv, 10xWb

Terrain and Deployment

Normal DBA.

Special Rules


Victory conditions

Normal DBA.

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Last Update: April 13, 2000

My thanks to Chris Jones for this scenario. Comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome. Send them to Chris Brantley at IamFanaticus@gmail.com.