Karl Marx in the New-York Tribune 1857

The Revolt in India

Source: New-York Daily Tribune, September 15, 1857;
Transcribed: by Tony Brown.

The mail of the Baltic reports no new events in India, but has a mass of highly interesting details, which we proceed to condense for the instruction of our readers. The first point to be noticed is that so late as the 15th of July the English had not got into Delhi. At the same time, the cholera had made its appearance in their camp, the heavy rains were setting in, and the raising of the siege and the withdrawal of the besiegers appeared to be a question of time only. The British press would fain make its believe that the pest, while carrying off Gen. Sir H. Barnard, had spared his worse fed and harder worked men. It is, therefore, riot from explicit statements, communicated to the public, but only by way of inference from avowed facts, that we can arrive at some idea of the ravages of this terrible disease in the ranks of the besieging army. An officer in the camp before Delhi, writes, July 14:

“We are doing nothing toward taking Delhi, and are merely defending ourselves against sorties of the enemy. We have parts of five European regiments, but (an muster only, 2,000 Europeans, for any effective attack; large detachments from each regiment having been left to protect Jullindur, Loodhiana, Subathoo, Dugshale, Kussowlie, Uniballah, Meerut and Phillour. In fact, small detachments only of each regiment have joined us. The enemy are far superior to us in artillery.”

Now this proves that. the forces arriving from the Punjaub found the great northern line of communication from Jullindur down to Meerut in a state of rebellion, and were consequently obliged to diminish their numbers by leaving detachments at the main posts. This accounts for the arrivals from the Punjab not mustering their anticipated strength. but it does not explain the reduction of the European force to 2,000 men. The Bombay correspondent of The London Times, writing on July 30, attempts to explain in another way the passive attitude of the besiegers. He says:

“The re-enforcements, indeed, have reached our camp – one wing of the 8th (King’s), one of the 61st, a company of foot artillery, and two guns of a native troop, the 17th Irregular Cavalry regiment (escorting a large ammunition train), the 2d Punjaub Cavalry, the 1st Punjaub Infantry and the 4th Sikh Infantry; but the native portion of the troops thus added to the besieging force are not entirely and uniformly trustworthy, brigaded though they are with Europeans. The cavalry regiments of the Punjaub force contain many Mussulmans and high-caste Hindoos, from Hindostan proper, and Rohilcund, while the Bengal Irregular Cavalry are mainly composed of such elements. These men are, as a class, utterly disloyal, and their presence with the force in any numbers must be embarrassing – and so it has proved. In the 2d Punjaub Cavalry, it has been found necessary to disarm some 70 Hindostan men and to hang three, one a superior native officer. Of the 9th Irregulars, which have been some time with the force, several troopers have deserted, and the 4th Irregulars have, I believe, murdered their adjutant, while on detachment duty.”

Here another secret is revealed. The camp before Delhi, it seems, bears some likeness to the camp of Agramante and the English have to struggle not only with the enemy in their front, but also with the ally in their lines. Still, this fact affords no sufficient cause for there being only 2,000 Europeans to be spared for offensive operations. A third writer, the Bombay correspondent of The Daily News, gives an explicit enumeration of the forces assembled under Gen. Read, Barnard’s successor, which seems trustworthy, as he reckons up singly the different elements of which they are composed. According to his statement, about 1,200 Europeans and 1,600 Sikhs, irregular horse, etc., say altogether about 3,000 men, headed by Brigadier-Gen. Chamberlain, reached the camp before Delhi from the Punjaub between June 23 and July 3. On the other hand, he estimates the whole of the forces now assembled under Gen. Read at 7,000 men, artillery and siege-train included, so that the army of Delhi, before the arrival of the Punjaub re-enforcements, could not have exceeded 4,000 men. The London Times of August 13 stated that Sir H. Barnard had collected an army of 7,000 British and 5,000 natives. Although this was a flagrant exaggeration, there is every reason to believe that the European forces then amounted to about 4,000 men, backed by a somewhat smaller number of natives. The original force, then., under Gen. Barnard, was as strong as the force now collected under Gen. Read. Consequently, the Punjaub re-enforcements have only made up for the wear and tear which have reduced the strength of the besiegers almost one-half, an enormous loss, proceeding partly from the incessant sorties of the rebels, partly from the ravages of the cholera. Thus we understand why the British can muster only 2,000 Europeans for “any effective attack.”

So much for the strength of the British forces before Delhi. Now for their operations. That they were not of a very brilliant character may be fairly inferred from the simple fact that, since June 8, when Gen. Barnard made his report on the capture of the hight opposite Delhi, no bulletin whatever has been issued from headquarters. The operations, with a single exception, consist of sallies made by the besieged and repulsed by the besiegers. The besiegers were attacked now in front and then in the flanks, but mostly in the right rear. The sorties took place on the 27th and 30th of June, on the 3d, 4th, 9th and 14th of July. On the 27th of June, fighting was confined to outpost skirmishes, lasting, some hours, but toward the afternoon was interrupted by a heavy fall of rain, the first of the season. On the 30th of June, the insurgents showed themselves in force among the inclosures on the right of the besiegers, harassing their pickets and supports. On the 3d of July, the besieged made early in the morning a feint attack on the right rear of the English position, then advanced several miles to that rear along the Kurnaul road as far as Alipore, in order to intercept a train of supplies and treasure under convoy to the camp. On their way, they encountered an outpost of the 2d Punjaub irregular horse, which gave way at once. On their return to the city, on the 4th, the rebels were attacked by a body of 1,000 infantry and two squadrons of cavalry dispatched from the English camp to intercept them. They contrived, however, to effect their retreat with little or no loss and saving all their guns. On the 8th of July, a party was sent from the British camp to destroy a canal bridge at the village of Bussy, some six miles from Delhi, which in the former sallies had afforded the insurgents facilities for attacking the extreme British rear, and interfering with the British communications with Kurnaul and Meerut. The bridge was destroyed. On the 9th of July, the insurgents came out again in force and attacked the right rear of the British position. In the official accounts telegraphed to Lahore on the same day, the loss of the assailants is estimated at about one thousand killed; but this account seems much exaggerated, since we read in a letter of July 13 from the camp:

“Our men buried and burnt two hundred and fifty of the enemy’s dead, and large numbers were removed by themselves into the city.”

The same letter, published in The Daily News, does not pretend that the British forced back the Sepoys, but, on the contrary, that “the Sepoys forced back all our working parties and then retired.” The loss of the besiegers was considerable, amounting, as it did, to two hundred and twelve, killed and wounded. On the 14th of July, in consequence of another sortie, another fierce fight took place, the details of which have not yet arrived.

The besieged had, meanwhile, received strong re-enforcements. On the 1st of July, the Rohilcund mutineers from Bareily, Muradabat and Shahjehanpore, consisting of four regiments of infantry, one of irregular cavalry, and one battery of artillery, had contrived to effect their junction with their comrades at Delhi.

“It had been hoped,” says the Bombay, correspondent of The London Times, “that they would find the Ganges impassable; but the anticipated rise of the river not taking place, it was crossed at Gurmukteser, the Doab was traversed and Delhi was attained. For two days, our troops had the mortification of watching the long train of men, guns. horses and beasts of burden of all kinds (for there was a treasure with the rebels, say 50,000) streaming across the bridge of boats into the city, without a possibility of preventing or in any way annoying them.”

This successful march of the insurgents through the whole breadth of Rohilcund proves all the country cast of the Jumna tip to the bills of Rohilcund to be closed against the English forces, while the untroubled march of the insurgents from Neemuch to Agra, if connected with the revolts at Indore and Mhow, proves the same fact for all the country south-west of the Jumna and up to the Vindhya Mountains. The only, successful – in fact, the only – operation of the English in regard to Delhi is the pacification of the country to its north and its north-west by Gen. Van Cortlandt’s Punjaub Sikh forces. Throughout the district between Loodhiana and Sirsah, he had mainly to encounter the robber-tribes inhabiting villages sparsely scattered over a wild and sandy desert. On the 11th of July, lie is said to have left Sirsah for Futtehabad, thence to march on Hissar, thus opening up the country in the rear of the besieging force.

Beside Delhi, three other points in the North-Western Provinces — Agra, Cawnpore and Lucknow — had become centers of the struggle between the natives and the English. The affair of Agra bears this peculiar aspect, that it shows for the first time the mutineers setting out on a deliberate expedition over about 300 miles of ground with the intention of attacking a distant English military station. According to The Mofussilite, a journal printed at Agra, the Sepoy regiments of Nusserabad and Neemuch, about 10,000 strong, (say 7,000 infantry, 1,500 cavalry and 8 guns), approached Agra at the end of June, encamped in the beginning of July on a plain in the rear of the village of Sussia, about 20 miles from Agra, and on the 4th of July seemed preparing an attack on the city. On this news, the European residents in the cantonments before Agra took refuge in the fort. The Commander at Agra dispatched at first the Kotah contingent of horse, foot and artillery to serve as an advanced post against the enemy, but, having reached their place of destination, one and all bolted to join the ranks of the rebels. On July 5, the Agra garrison, consisting of the 3d Bengal Europeans, a battery of artillery and a corps of European volunteers, marched out to attack the mutineers, and are said to have driven them out of the village into the plain behind it, but were evidently themselves in their turn forced back, and, after a loss of 49 killed and 92 wounded, of a total force of 500 men engaged, had to retire, being harassed and threatened by the cavalry of the enemy with such activity as to prevent their “getting a shot at them,” as The Mofussilite says. In other words, the English took to downright flight and shut themselves up in their fort, while the Sepoys, advancing to Agra, destroyed nearly all the houses in the cantonment. On the following day, July 6, they proceeded to Bhurtpore, on the way to Delhi. The important result of this affair is the interruption by the mutineers of the English line of communication between Agra and Delhi, and their probable appearance before the old city of the Moguls.

At Cawnpore, as was known from the last mail, a force of about 200 Europeans, under the command of Gen. Wheeler, having with them the wives and children of the 32d foot, was shut up in a fortified work and surrounded by an overwhelming mass of rebels, headed by Nena Sahib of Bithoor. Different assaults on the fort took place on the 17th and between the 24th and 28th of June, in the last of which, Gen. Wheeler was shot through the leg and died of his wounds. On June 28, Nena Sahib invited the English to surrender on the condition of being allowed to depart on boats down the Ganges to Allahabad. These terms were accepted, but the British had hardly put out into the middle of the stream when guns opened upon them from the right bank of the Ganges. The people in the boats that tried to escape to the opposite bank were caught and cut down by a body of cavalry. The women and children were made captives. Messengers having been dispatched several times from Cawnpore to Allahabad with pressing demands for relief, on July 1 a column of Madras fusiliers and Sikhs started, under Major Renaud, on the way to Cawnpore. Within four miles of Futteypore it was joined, on July 13 at daybreak, by Brig.-Gen. Havelock, who, at the head of about 1,300 Europeans of the 84th and 64th, the 13th irregular horse, and the remnant of Oude Irregulars, reached Allahabad from Benares, July 3, and then followed up Major Renaud by forced marches. On the very day of his junction with Renaud, he was forced to accept battle before Futteypore, whither Nena Sahib had led his native forces. After an obstinate engagement, Gen. Havelock, by a move in the flank of the enemy, succeeded in driving him out of Futteypore in the direction of Cawnpore, where twice he had to encounter him again on the 15th and 16th of July. At the latter date, Cawnpore was recaptured by the English, Nena Sahib retreating to Bithoor, situated on the Ganges, twelve miles distant from Cawnpore, and said to be strongly fortified. Before undertaking his expedition to Futteypore, Nena Sahib had murdered all the captive English women and children. The recapture of Cawnpore was of the highest importance to the English, as it secured their Ganges line of communication.

At Lucknow, the capital of Oude, the British garrison found themselves nearly in the same plight which had proved fatal to their comrades at Cawnpore — shut up in a fort, surrounded by overwhelming forces, straitened for provisions, and deprived of their leader. The latter, Sir H. Lawrence, died July 4, of tetanus, from a wound in the leg, received on the 2d, during a sortie. On the 18th and 19th of July, Lucknow was still holding out. Its only hope of relief rested on Gen. Havelock’s pushing forward his forces from Cawnpore. The question is whether he would dare to do so with Nena Sahib in his rear. Any delay, however, must prove fatal to Lucknow, since the periodical rains would soon render field operations impossible.

The examination of these events forces the conclusion upon us that., in the north-west provinces of Bengal, the British forces were gradually drifting into the position of small posts planted on insulated rocks amid a sea of revolution. In lower Bengal, there had occurred only partial acts of insubordination at Mirzapore, Dinapore and Patna, beside an unsuccessful attempt made by the roving Brahmins of the neighborhood to recapture the holy city of Benares. In the Punjaub, the spirit of rebellion was forcibly kept down, a mutiny being suppressed at Sealkote, another at Jelum, and the disaffection of Peshawur successfully checked. Emeutes had already been attempted in Gujerat, at Punderpoor in Sattara, at Nagpore and Saugor in the Nagpore territory, at Hyderabad in the Nizam’s territory, and, lastly, as far south as Mysore, so that the calm of the Bombay and Madras Presidencies must be understood as by no means perfectly secure.