Returning to England in December, Buller bad a short period of rest. In the following year he married Lady Audrey, widow of the Hon. Greville Howard of Castle Rising; but from his wedding tour, hardly begun, he was called away to a new scene of action. Matters in Egypt had long been going from bad to worse, and England found herself at length compelled to intervene and protect the Khedive against his mutinous army, commanded by Arabi Pasha. After the naval bombardment of Alexandria in July, a British Army Corps, under command of Sir Garnet Wolseley, was dispatched to restore order. Wolseley, remembering Buller’s services as Head of the Intelligence Department in Ashanti, gave him the same appointment on the present occasion. Buller arrived on the scene only on the 5th September and took up his duties. Night after night he reconnoitred the enemy’s position at Tel-el-Kebir. On one occasion he got in rear of the Egyptian lines as far as El-Keraim. On another he sketched them at short range. Reconnoitring so far on the flank and rear, he seems to have had difficulty in observing well the ground in front of the earthworks. To his great annoyance he found, as the army was marching by night to the assault of the lines, that he had failed to see a lunette some few hundreds of yards in front of the entrenchments. Happily the garrison was surprised sleeping. He was present at Arabi’s crushing defeat on the 13th, and, having been mentioned in dispatches, received the K.C.M.G. from the Queen and Third Class of the Osmanieh from the Khedive.
Buller returned home. The Egyptian difficulty seemed to be over. It had in truth only just begun. In the following year—1883—an Egyptian force, commanded by Hicks Pasha, an Englishman, was literally annihilated at El-Obeid in Darfur by a force of Dervishes from Upper Egypt under the ‘ Mahdi/ who presently proceeded to threaten the Lower Provinces. In the first days of February 1884 Buller was dispatched to Egypt as second in command to General Graham, who commanded the British garrison at Cairo. Advancing from the port of Trinkitat on the Nubian Coast, Graham encountered the Dervishes at El-Teb, where Baker Pasha had been defeated a few months previously. During the action a gap was made in the firing line, but, under a heavy fire, Sir Redvers, in the quietest way possible, as if on a field day, filled up the gap with a wing of our 3rd Battalion from the reserve. After the action an alarm arose that the enemy was about to attack again, but, in the same quiet way, Buller took the necessary measures of precaution.
A second fight took place a few days later at Tamai. The troops were formed in two squares, one commanded by Graham in person, the other by Sir Redvers. Graham’s square became broken, and during the consequent confusion some of its men poured a volley into that of Buller, causing one face to run in. Sir Redvers at once rode outside the square, and with great coolness rallied his men. It was a dramatic incident. By restoring the formation he undoubtedly staved off a terrible disaster, for had his square been really broken, nothing could have saved the army. Then, with his immediate command in good order, well in hand and cleverly posted, his fire, brought to bear in aid of Graham, checked the enemy and saved the situation for that General also. The fight, however, continued to be keen. Noticing that some of his young soldiers were slightly flinching, Buller brought up a gun into line with them and restored their confidence. The conspicuous coolness and generalship of Sir Redvers inspired every officer and man under his command with confidence, and their admiration was increased when, on burning a village next day, they saw him sitting on his horse while bullets were bespattering the rocks all round, utterly ignoring the danger, though all around him were lying flat on the ground. For his ‘distinguished services’ in this brief campaign he was promoted to the rank of Major-General.
The interval of rest which followed was of short duration. The celebrated General Charles Gordon was by this time beleaguered in Khartoum. To the expedition under Lord Wolseley, sent in the summer of the same year to rescue him, Sir Redvers Buller was appointed Chief of the Staff. Progress up the Nile, even with the aid of Canadian voyageurs specially engaged for the occasion, was slow; Gordon was in extremis, and, as a last resource, Lord Wolseley, from Korti, dispatched a column under Sir Herbert Stewart straight across the desert to strike the Nile again at Metammeh, and throw at all events temporary relief into Khartoum. The column reached the Nile. Sir C. Wilson and Lord C. Beresford embarked on board the steamers sent down by Gordon, but on nearing Khartoum found the General dead and the town captured. They consequently rejoined the column. Sir H. Stewart, fatally wounded a few days earlier, shortly afterwards breathed his last; but on hearing of Stewart’s wound, Lord Wolseley had at once dispatched his Chief of Staff to take command of the column. Its initial organisation had been criticised by the latter. Its morale was now shaken, and matters were in a condition of chaos surpassing belief, but the arrival of Buller with the Royal Irish Regiment, on the 11th February 1885, restored the confidence of all ranks. Numerical weakness made retreat, however, inevitable. On the 14th the march was begun. The line of retreat ran under the walls of Metammeli. The moment was critical, for a sortie from its gates was imminent, and a large force of Dervishes was known to be approaching from Khartoum. Buller remained with the rearguard. A camel upset its load. Without showing the slightest anxiety or even annoyance, he gave the word to halt, pointed out a better mode of fastening the burden, waited quietly to see it done, and marched on.’Here is a man we can trust,* was the comment of the baggage guard. The wells of Abu Klea were reached at midday on the 15th. The column was for a short time harassed by’sniping * on the part of the Arabs, which produced no great effect, but Sir Redvers was struck by a spent bullet, and his A.D.C., Lord Frederick FitzGerald, remonstrated with him for exposing himself at such a crisis. His fall at that moment would probably have meant the destruction of the whole column. In the hope of procuring camels the retreat was not resumed till the 23rd, on which day the force from Khartoum, some 10,000 strong, though probably not entirely composed of fighting men, made its appearance. The British column retired at dusk through a defile where a few men posted on either side might have annihilated the force. But everything had been foreseen; nothing forgotten by the General who, during that anxious night march, was everywhere. Yet even to his A.D.C. he would not admit the peril, and it was only to the Bishop of Nottingham—better known as Father Brindle, a man loved and respected by the whole force—that at its close he exclaimed: ‘ Father, I thank God we have got safely out of that.’ By a clever ruse next day the enemy was thoroughly deceived and frightened, and though an occasional false alarm occurred, the march was not again molested and Korti was regained in safety. But no one appreciated the feat of arms more than Lord Wolseley, who had awaited the return of the column with the greatest anxiety. This retreat is considered one of Sir Redvers' finest achievements.
For seven years Sir Redvers had been, with little intermission, on active service. He had proved himself a skilful general in the field, though he had not, except for a short period, commanded any large body of men. As a second in command, whether in Zululand, at Tamai, or in the desert, Sir Redvers had shown himself unsurpassed, and although his opportunities of separate command had not been frequent, they had given him the chance of showing his mettle.