In January 1842, British Maj. Gen. Sir William Elphinstone began a retreat from Kabul, Afghanistan. Not considered the brightest bulb in the British military chandelier, Elphinstone traded much of his gunpowder and weaponry in return for a safe conduct promise from the Afghan ruler.

Instead, the Afghans slaughtered almost the entire expedition as it struggled toward Jalabad. Some 16,000 people...

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