Marx-Engels Correspondence 1857

Engels To Marx
In London

Source: MECW Volume 40, p. 182;
First published: slightly abridged in Der Briefwechsel zwischen F. Engels und K. Marx, Stuttgart, 1913 and in full in Marx and Engels, Works, Moscow, 1929.

Ryde, 24 September 1857

sketch of cambrook castle by engels

Dear Marx,

Depicted above is the castle where Cromwell incarcerated Charles I for a while. I shall inspect it more closely on Sunday.

Your wishes concerning India coincided with an idea I had that you might perhaps like to have my views on the business. At the same time I took the opportunity of going over the contents of the latest mail map in hand and voici ce qui en resulte.

The situation of the English in the middle and upper reaches of the Ganges is so incongruous that militarily speaking the only right course would be to effect a junction between Havelock’s column and the one from Delhi, if possible at Agra, after each had done everything possible to evacuate the detached or invested garrisons in the area; to man, besides Agra, only the neighbouring stations south of the Ganges, especially Gwalior (on account of the Central Indian princes) and to hold the stations lower down the Ganges — Allahabad, Benares, Dinapur — with the existing garrisons and reinforcements from Calcutta; meanwhile to escort women and non-combatants down river, so that the troops again become mobile; and to employ mobile columns to instill respect in the region and to obtain supplies. If Agra cannot be held, there must be a withdrawal to Cawnpore or Allahabad; the latter to be held at all costs since it is the key to the territory between the Ganges and the Jumna.

If Agra can be held and the Bombay army remains available, the armies of Bombay and Madras must hold the peninsula proper up to the latitude of Ahmedabad and Calcutta and send out columns to establish communications with the north — the Bombay army via Indor and Gwalior to Agra, the Madras army via Saugor and Gwalior to Agra, and via Jubbulpore to Allahabad. The other lines of communication would then run to Agra from the Punjab, assuming it is held, and from Calcutta via Dinapur and Allahabad, so that there would be 4 lines of communication and, excluding the Punjab, 3 lines of withdrawal, to Calcutta, Bombay and Madras. Concentrating the troops arriving from the south at Agra would, therefore, serve the dual purpose of keeping the Central Indian princes in check and subduing the insurgent districts astride the line of march.

If Agra cannot he held, the Madras army must first establish communications with Allahabad and then make for Agra with the Allahabad troops, while the Bombay army makes for Gwalior.

The Madras army would seem to have been recruited exclusively from the rag-tag and bobtail and to that extent is reliable. In Bombay they have 150 or more Hindus to a battalion and these are dangerous in that they may disaffect the rest. If the Bombay army revolts, all military calculations will temporarily cease to apply, and then nothing is more certain than that there'll be one colossal massacre from Kashmir to Cape Comorin. If the situation in Bombay is such that in future also the army cannot be used against the insurgents, then at least the Madras columns, which will by now have pushed on beyond Nagpur, will have to be reinforced and communications established as speedily as possible with Allahabad or Benares.

The absurdity of the position in which the English have now been placed by the total absence of any real supreme command is demonstrated mainly by 2 complementary circumstances, namely, 1. that they permit themselves to be invested when dispersed over a host of small, far flung stations while 2. they tie down their one and only mobile column in front of Delhi where not only can it do nothing but is actually going to pot. The English general who ordered the march on Delhi deserves to be cashiered and hanged, for he must have known what we have only just learned, viz. that the British had strengthened the old fortifications to the point where the place could only be taken by a systematic siege, for which a minimum of 15-20,000 men would be required, and far more if it was well defended. Now that they are there they will have to stick it out for political reasons; a withdrawal would be a defeat and will nevertheless be difficult to avoid.

Havelock’s troops have worked wonders. 126 miles in 8 days including 6 to 8 engagements in that climate and at this time of year is truly superhuman. But they're also quite played out; he, too, will probably have to let himself be invested after exhausting himself still further by excursions over a narrow radius round Cawnpore. Or he will have to return to Allahabad.

The actual route of reconquest will run up the valley of the Ganges. Bengal proper will be easier to hold since the population has so greatly degenerated; the really dangerous region begins at Dinapur. Hence the positions at Dinapur, Benares, Mirzapur and particularly Allahabad are of the utmost importance; from Allahabad, it would first be necessary to take the Doab (between the Ganges. and the Jumna) and the cities on these two rivers, then Oudh, then the rest. The lines from Madras and Bombay to Agra and Allahabad can only be secondary lines of operations.

The main thing, as always, is concentration. The reinforcements sent up the Ganges are scattered all over the place and so far not one man has reached Allahabad. Unavoidable, perhaps, if these stations were to be made secure and then again, perhaps not. At all events, the number of stations to be held must he reduced to a minimum and forces must be concentrated for the field. If C. Campbell, about whom we know nothing save that he is a brave man, wants to distinguish himself as a general, he must create a mobile army, coûte que coûte [cost what it may], whether or not Delhi is abandoned.

And where, summa summarum, there are 25-30,000 European soldiers, no situation is so desperate that 5,000 at least cannot be mustered for a campaign, their losses being made good by the garrisons withdrawn from the stations. Only then will Campbell be able to see how he stands and what kind of enemy is actually confronting him. The odds are, however, that like a fool he will se blottir devant [squat down before] Delhi and watch his men go to pot at the rate of 100 a day, in which case it will be all the more ‘brave’ simply to stay there until everyone has cheerfully met his doom. Now as in the past brave stupidity is the order of the day.

Concentration of forces for the fighting in the north, vigorous support from Madras and, if possible, from Bombay, that’s all. Even if the Mahratta princes on the Nerbudda defect it can do little harm save by way of an example, for their troops are already with the insurgents. Certainly the very most that can be done is to hold out until the first reinforcements arrive from Europe at the end of October. But if a few more Bombay regiments revolt, that will be the end of strategy and tactics; it’s there that the decision lies.

I leave for Brighton on Tuesday at the latest and set out from there for Jersey at 10 o'clock on Wednesday night, but will let you have further details, and hope that you will come. Tomorrow shall start on ‘Battery’, etc. Today I drove round the island and, as I again slogged away until 3 o'clock yesterday, now propose to have a good long sleep.

F. E.