The Adwa Campaign
The Adwa campaign was one of the great military campaigns of modern times. The effort that ended in victory on 1 March 1896 had begun five months earlier and nearly 600 miles away at Addis Ababa. From October 1895 until March 1896, Menelik and Taytu had to guide and feed an army that would eventually number at least 80,000 and perhaps as many as 120,000.
Above: the approximate route of the Adwa campaign, from Addis Ababa to Adwa.
To put this in perspective, consider another great nineteenth century campaign - the "March to the Sea" led by William Tecumseh Sherman during the American Civil War. Sherman led a force of just over 60,000 on a five week campaign that covered some 300 miles from Atlanta to Savannah. Or consider Napoleon’s doomed Russian campaign. It spanned three months and 490 miles from Vilnius to Moscow. When placed side-by-side with these legendary campaigns, the Adwa campaign stands out as a triumph of leadership and logistics.
Want to follow in the footsteps of Menelik and Taytu? Ethiopian Route 2 largely follows the route of their historic campaign. Start in Addis Ababa and head north. You’ll need at least three days to make the journey, allowing for stops at Lake Ashenge, Amba Alage, and Mekele. (Pages 111-147 of The Battle of Adwa address this part of the campaign.)
Above: The route of the Ethiopian army, near Hawzen.
At Mekele, you have a choice. You can follow the route of the Ethiopian army to Hawzen and from there to the area around Yeha. Stay on Route 2 until Wukro, then head west to Hawzen and Adwa. The road on this route is mostly unpaved at present. Travel in the area should improve; major road work is underway.
Above: The route from Mekele to Adwa by way of Adigrat.
Or you can continue northward from Mekele to Adigrat, where Italian forces waited for an Ethiopian attack before learning that Menelik had bypassed their position to the west. The road west from Adigrat winds through the mountains before descending to the high plains at Enticho, the location of the Italian encampment until the conflict at Adwa.
Above: The high plains west of Enticho.
From Enticho the road moves over the terrain followed by Italian troops on the night of 29 March. Their objective was to arrive at the mountain passes (visible on the horizon, above, left) east of Adwa by early morning. (Pages 148-182 of The Battle of Adwa address this part of the campaign.)
Once you get to Adwa, if time allows, make your way to the area around the monastery of Abba Garima. This will give you a perspective very much like that of Menelik and Taytu on the day of battle.