Karl Marx in the New-York Tribune 1857

State of the Indian Insurrection

Source: New-York Daily Tribune, August 18, 1857;
Transcribed: by Tony Brown.

London, August 4, 1857

On the arrival at London of the voluminous reports conveyed by the last Indian mail, the meagre outlines of which had been anticipated by the electric telegraph, the rumor of the capture of Delhi was rapidly spreading and winning so much consistency as to influence the transactions of the Stock Exchange. It was another edition of the capture of Sevastopol hoax, on a reduced scale. The slightest examination of the dates and contents of the Madras papers, from which the favorable news was avowedly derived, would have sufficed to dispel the delusion. The Madras information professed to rest upon private letters from Agra dated June 17, but an official notification, issued at Lahore, on the 17th of June, announces that up to 4 o’clock in the afternoon of the 16th, all was quiet before Delhi, while The Bombay Times, dated July 1, states that

“General Barnard was waiting for re-enforcements on the morning of the 17th, after having repelled several sorties.”

This much, as to the date of the Madras information. As to its contents, these are evidently made up of General Barnard’s bulletin, dated June 8, on his forcible occupation of the bights of Delhi, and of some private reports relating to the sallies of the besieged on the 12th and 14th June.

A military plan of Delhi and its cantonments has at last been compiled by Captain Lawrence, from the unpublished plans of the East India Company. Hence we see that Delhi is not quite so weakly fortified as was at first asserted, nor quite so strongly as is now pretended. It possesses a citadel, to be taken by escalade or by regular approaches. The walls, being more than seven miles in extent, are built of solid masonry, but of no great bight. The ditch is narrow and not very deep, and the flanking works do not properly enfilade the curtain. Martello towers exist at intervals. They are semi-circular in form, and loopholed for musketry. Spiral staircases lead from the top of the walls down through the towers to chambers, on a level with the ditch, and those are loopholed for infantry fire, which may prove very annoying to an escalading party crossing the ditch. The bastion’s defending the curtains are also furnished with banquettes for riflemen, but these may be kept down by shelling. When the insurrection broke out, the arsenal in the interior of the city contained 900,000 cartridges, two complete siege trains, a large number of field guns and 10,000 muskets. The powder-magazine had been long since removed, at the desire of the inhabitants, from the city to the cantonments outside Delhi, and contained not less than 10,000 barrels. The commanding bights occupied by, Gen. Barnard on the 8th of June are situated in a north-westerly direction from Delhi, where the cantonments outside the walls were also established.

From the description, resting on authentic plans, It will be understood that the stronghold of the revolt must have succumbed before a single coup de main, if the British force now before Delhi bad been there on the 26th of May, and they could have been there if supplied with sufficient carriage. A review of the list published in The Bombay Times, and republished in the London papers, of the number of regiments that had revolted, to the end of June, and of the dates on which they revolted, proves conclusively that, on the 26th of May, Delhi was yet occupied by 4,000 to 5,000 men only; a force which could riot one moment have thought of defending a wall seven miles in extent. Meerut being only forts, miles distant from Delhi, and having, since the commencement of 1853, always served as the headquarters of the Bengal artillery, possessed the principal laboratory for military scientific purposes, and afforded the parade ground for exercise in the use of field and siege ordnance; it becomes the more incomprehensible that the British commander was in want of the means necessary for the execution of one of those coups de main by which the British forces in India always know how to secure their supremacy over the natives. First we were informed that the siege train was waited for; then that re-enforcements were wanted; and now The Press, one of the best informed London papers, tells us,

“It is known by our Government for a fact that General Barnard is deficient in stores and ammunition, and that his supply of the latter is limited to 24 rounds a man.”

From General Barnard’s own bulletin on the occupation of the bights of Delhi, which is dated the 8th of June, we see that he originally intended assailing Delhi on the following day. Instead of being able to follow up this plan, he was, by one accident or the other, confined to taking up the defensive against the besieged.

At this very moment it is extremely difficult to compute the forces on either part. The statements of the Indian press are altogether self-contradictory; but we think some reliance may be put upon an Indian correspondence of the Bonapartist Pays, which seems to emanate from the French Consul at Calcutta. According to his statement, the army of Gen. Barnard was, on the 14th of June, composed of about 5,700 men, which was expected to be doubled (?) by the re-enforcements expected on the 20th of the same month. His train was composed of 30 heavy siege guns, while the forces of the insurgents were estimated at 40,000 men, badly organized, but richly furnished with all the means of attack and defense.

We remark en passant, that the, 3,000 insurgents encamped without the Ajmer gate, probably in the Gazee Khan’s tombs, are not, as some London papers imagine, fronting the English force, but, on the contrary, separated from them by the whole breadth of Delhi; the Ajmer gate being situated on one extremity of the south-western part of modern Delhi to the north of the ruins of ancient Delhi. On that side the town nothing can prevent the insurgents from establishing some more such camps. On the north-eastern, or river side of the city, they command the ship bridge, and remain in continued connection with their countrymen, able to receive uninterrupted supplies of men and stores. On a smaller scale Delhi offers the image of a fortress, keeping (like Sevastopol) open its lines of communication with the interior of its own country.

The delay in the British operations has not only allowed the besieged to concentrate large numbers for the defense, but the sentiment of having held Delhi during many weeks, harassed the European forces through repeated sallies, together with the news daily pouring in of fresh revolts of the entire army, has, of course, strengthened the morale of the Sepoys. The English, with their small forces, can, of course, not think of investing the town, but must storm it. However, if the next regular mail bring not the news of the capture of Delhi, we may almost be sure that, for some months, all serious operations on the part of the British will have to be suspended. The rainy season will have set in in real earnest, and protect the north-eastern face of the city by filling the ditch with “the deep and rapid current of the Jumna,” while a thermometer ranging from 75 to 102, combined with an average fall of nine inches of rain, would scourge the Europeans – with the genuine Asiatic cholera. Then would be verified the words of Lord Ellenborough,

“I am of opinion that Sir H. Barnard cannot remain where he is – the climate forbids it. When the heavy rains set in he will be cut off from Meerut, from Umballah and from the Punjaub; he will be imprisoned in a very narrow strip of land, and he will be in a situation, I will not say of peril, but in a situation which can only end in ruin and destruction. I trust that he will retire in time.”

Everything, then, as far as Delhi is concerned, depends on the question whether or not Gen. Barnard found himself sufficiently provided with men and ammunition to undertake the assault of Delhi during the last weeks of June. On the other hand, a retreat on. his part would immensely strengthen the moral force of the insurrection, and perhaps decide the Bombay and Madras armies upon openly joining it.