The Revolt in India (1858) (1)
|Written||15 June 1858|
In spite of the great military operations of the English in the capture first of Delhi and then of Lucknow, the successive headquarters of the Sepoy rebellion, the pacification of India is yet very far from being accomplished. Indeed, it may be almost said that the real difficulty of the case is but just beginning to show itself. So long as the rebellious Sepoys kept together in large masses, so long as it was a question of sieges and pitched battles on a great scale, the vast superiority of the English troops for such operations gave them every advantage. But with the new character which the war is now taking on, this advantage is likely to be in a great measure lost. The capture of Lucknow does not carry with it the submission of Oude; nor would even the submission of Oude carry with it the pacification of India. The whole Kingdom of Oude bristles with fortresses of greater or less pretensions; and though perhaps none would long resist a regular attack, yet the capture of these forts one by one will not only be a very tedious process, but it will be attended with much greater proportional loss than operations against such great cities as Delhi and Lucknow.
But it is not alone the Kingdom of Oude that requires to be conquered and pacified. The discomfited Sepoys dislodged from Lucknow have scattered and fled in all directions. A great body of them have taken refuge in the hill districts of Rohilcund to the north, which still remains entirely in possession of the rebels. Others fled into Goruckpore on the east – which district, though it had been traversed by the British troops on their march to Lucknow, it has now become necessary to recover a second time. Many others have succeeded in penetrating southward into Bundelcund.
Indeed, a controversy seems to have arisen as to the best method of proceeding, and whether it would not have been better to have first subdued all the outlying districts which might have afforded the rebels a shelter, before directing operations against their main body collected at Lucknow. Such is said to have been the scheme of operations preferred by the military; but it is difficult to see how, with the limited number of troops at the disposal of the English, those surrounding districts could have been so occupied as to exclude the fugitive Sepoys, when finally dislodged from Lucknow, from entering into them, and, as in the case of Goruckpore, making their reconquest necessary.
Since the capture of Lucknow, the main body of the rebels appear to have retired upon Bareilly. It is stated that Nena Sahib was there. Against this city and district, upward of a hundred miles north-west from Lucknow, it has been judged necessary to undertake a Summer campaign, and at the latest accounts Sir Colin Campbell was himself marching thither.
Meanwhile, however, a guerrilla warfare seems to be spreading in various directions. While the troops are drawn off to the North, scattered parties of rebel soldiery are crossing the Ganges into the Doab, interrupting the communication with Calcutta, and by their ravages disabling the cultivators to pay their land tax, or at least affording them an excuse for not doing so.
Even the capture of Bareilly, so far from operating to remedy those evils, will be likely, perhaps, to increase them. It is in this desultory warfare that the advantage of the Sepoys lies. They can beat the English troops at marching to much the same extent that the English can beat them at fighting. An English column cannot move twenty miles a day; a Sepoy force can move forty, and, if hard pushed, even sixty. It is this rapidity of movement which gives to the Sepoy troops their chief value, and this, with their power of standing the climate and the comparative facility of feeding them, makes them indispensable in Indian warfare. The consumption of English troops in service, and especially in a Summer campaign, is enormous. Already, the lack of men is severely felt. It may become necessary to chase the flying rebels from one end of India to the other. For that purpose, European troops would hardly answer, while the contact of the wandering rebels with the native regiments of Bombay and Madras, which have hitherto remained faithful, might lead to new revolts.
Even without any accession of new mutineers, there are still in the field not less than a hundred and fifty thousand armed men, while the unarmed population fail to afford the English either assistance or information.
Meanwhile, the deficiency of rain in Bengal threatens a famine — calamity unknown within this century, though in former times, and even since the English occupation, the source of terrible sufferings.