The Revolt in India (1857) (3)
|Written||3 October 1857|
The news from India, which reached us yesterday, wears a very disastrous and threatening aspect for the English, though, as may be seen in another column, our intelligent London correspondent regards it differently. From Delhi we have details to July 29, and a later report, to the effect that, in consequence of the ravages of the cholera, the besieging forces were compelled to retire from before Delhi and take up their quarters at Agra. It is true, this report is admitted by none of the London journals, but we can, at the very utmost, only regard it as somewhat premature. As we know from all the Indian correspondence, the besieging army had suffered severely in sorties made on the 14th, 18th and 23rd of July. On those occasions the rebels fought with more, reckless vehemence than ever, and with a great advantage from the superiority of their cannon.
“We are firing,” writes a British officer, “18 pounders and 8-inch howitzers, and the rebels are replying with twenty-fours and thirty-twos.” “In the eighteen sallies,” says another letter, “which we have had to stand, we have lost one-third of our numbers in killed and wounded.”
Of re-enforcements all that could be expected was a body of Sikhs under Gen. Van Cortlandt. Gen. Havelock, after fighting several successful battles, was forced to fall back on Cawnpore, abandoning, for the time, the relief of Lucknow. At the same time, the rains had set in heavily before Delhi, necessarily adding to the virulence of the cholera. The dispatch which announces the retreat to Agra and the abandonment, for the moment, at least, of the attempt to reduce the capital of the Great Mogul, must, then, soon prove true, if it is not so already.
On the line of the Ganges the main interest rests on the operations of Gen. Havelock, whose exploits at Futteypore, Cawnpore and Bithoor have naturally been rather extravagantly praised by our London contemporaries. As we have stated above, after having advanced twenty-five miles from Cawnpore, he found himself obliged to fall back upon that place in order not only to deposit his sick, but to wait for re-enforcements. This is a cause for deep regret, for it indicates that the attempt at a rescue of Lucknow has been baffled. The only hope for the British garrison of the place is now in the force of 3,000 Goorkas sent from Nepaul to their relief by Jung Bahadoor. Should they fail to raise the siege, then the Cawnpore butchery will be re-enacted at Lucknow. This will not be all. The capture by the rebels of the fortress of Lucknow, and the consequent consolidation of their power in Oude, would threaten in the flank all British operations against Delhi, and decide the balance of the contending forces at Benares, and the whole district of Bihar. Cawnpore would be stripped of half its importance and menaced in its communications with Delhi on the one side, and with Benares on the other, by the rebels holding the fortress of Lucknow. This contingency adds to the painful interest with which news from that locality must be looked for. On the 16th of June the garrison estimated their powers of endurance at six weeks on famine allowance. Up to the last date of the dispatches, five of these weeks had already elapsed. Everything there now depends on the reported, but not yet certain re-enforcements from Nepaul.
If we pass lower down the Ganges, from Cawnpore to Benares and the district of Bihar, the British prospect is still darker. A letter in The Bengal Gazette, dated Benares, August 3, states
“that the mutineers from Dinapore, having crossed the Sone, marched upon Arrah. The European inhabitants, justly alarmed for their safety, wrote to Dinapore for re-enforcements. Two steamers were accordingly dispatched with detachments of her Majesty’s 5th, 10th and 37th. In the middle of the night one of the steamers grounded in the mud and stuck fast. The men were hastily landed, and pushed forward on foot, but without taking due precautions. Suddenly they were assailed on both sides by a close and heavy fire, and 150 of their small force, including several officers, put hors de combat. It is supposed that all the Europeans at the station, about 47 in number, have been massacred.”
Arrah, in the British district of Shahabad, Presidency of Bengal, is a town on the road from Dinapore to Ghazepore, twenty-five miles west of the former, seventy-five cast of the latter. Benares itself was threatened. This place has a fort constructed upon European principles, and would become another Delhi if it fell into the hands of the rebels. At Mirzapore, situated to the south of Benares, and on the opposite bank of the Ganges, a Mussulman conspiracy has been detected; while at Berhampore, on the Ganges, some eighteen miles distant from Calcutta, the 63rd Native Infantry had been disarmed. In one word, disaffection on the one side and panic on the other were spreading throughout the whole Presidency of Bengal, even to the gates of Calcutta, where painful apprehensions prevailed of the great fast of the Mohurran, when the followers of Islam, wrought up into a fanatical frenzy, go about with swords ready to fight on the smallest provocation, being likely to result in a general attack upon the English, and where the Governor-General has felt himself compelled to disarm his own body-guard. The reader will, then, understand at once that the principal British line of communications, the Ganges line, is in danger of being interrupted, intersected and cut off. This would bear on the progress of the re-enforcements to arrive in November, and would isolate the British line of operations on the Jumna.
In the Bombay Presidency, also, affairs are assuming a very serious aspect. The mutiny at Kolapore of the 27th Bombay Native Infantry is a fact, but their defeat by the British troops is a rumor only. The Bombay native army has broken out into successive mutinies at Nagpore, Aurungabad, Hyderabad, and, finally, at Kolapore. The actual strength of the Bombay native army is 43,048 men, while there are, in fact, only two European regiments in that Presidency. The native army was relied upon not only to preserve order within the limits of the Bombay Presidency, but to send re-enforcements up to Scinde in the Punjaub, and to form the columns moved on Mhow and Indore, to recover and hold those places, to establish communications with Agra, and relieve the garrison at that place. The column of Brigadier Stuart, charged with this operation, was composed of 300 men of the 3d Bombay European Regiment, 250 men of the 5th Bombay Native Infantry, 1,000 of the 25th Bombay Native Infantry, 200 of the 19th Bombay Native Infantry, 800 of the 3d Cavalry Regiment of the Hyderabad Contingent. There are with this force, amounting to 2,250 native soldiers, about 700 Europeans, composed chiefly of the Queen’s 86th Foot and the 14th Queen’s Light Dragoons. The English had, moreover, assembled a column of the native army at Aurungabad to intimidate the disaffected territories of Khandeish and Nagpore, and at the same time form a support for the flying columns acting in Central India.
In that part of India we are told that “tranquillity is restored,” but on this result we cannot altogether rely. In fact it is not the occupation of Mhow which decides that question, but the course pursued by the Holkar and Scindiah, the two Mahratta princes. The same dispatch which informs us of Stuart’s arrival at Mhow adds that, although the Holkar still remained staunch, his troops had become unmanageable. As to the Scindiah’s policy, not a word is dropped. He is young, popular, full of fire, and would be regarded as the natural head and rallying point for the whole Mahratta nation. He has 10,000 well disciplined troops of his own. His defection from the British would pot only cost them Central India, but give immense strength and consistency to the revolutionary league. The retreat of the forces before Delhi, the menaces and solicitations of the malcontents may at length induce him to side with his countrymen. The main influence, however, on the Holkar as well as the Scindiah, will be exercised by the Mahrattas of the Deccan, where, as we have already stated the rebellion has at last decidedly raised its head. It is here, too, that the festival of the Mohurran is particularly dangerous. There is, then, some reason to anticipate a general revolt of the Bombay army. The Madras army, too, amounting to 60,555 native troops, and recruited from Hyderabad, Nagpore, Malwa, the most bigoted Mohammedan districts, would not be long in following the example. Thus, then, if it be considered that the rainy season during August and September will paralyze the movements of the British troops and interrupt their communications, the supposition seems rational that in spite of their apparent strength, the re-enforcements sent from Europe, arriving too late, and in driblets only, will prove inadequate to the task imposed upon them. We may almost expect, during the following campaign, a rehearsal of the Affghanistan disasters.