Karl Marx in the New-York Tribune 1857

The Revolt in India

Source: New-York Daily Tribune, October 23, 1857;
Transcribed: by Tony Brown.

We yesterday received files of London journals up the 7th inst. In discussing the State of the Indian revolt they are full of the same optimism which they have cultivated from the beginning. We are not only told that a successful attack upon Delhi was to take place, but that it was to take place on the 20th of August. The first thing to ascertain is, of course, the present strength of the besieging force. An artillery officer, writing from the camp before Delhi on the 13th of August, gives the following detailed statement of the effective British forces on the 10th of that month:


Her Majesty’s 75th Regt16502.........
Hon. Co.’s 1st Fusileers17487.........
Kumaon Battalion4...13435...
Her Majesty’s 60th Rifles15251.........
Hon. Co.’s 2d Fusileers20493.........
Sirmoor Battalion4...9319...
Her Majesty’s 8th Regt15153.........
Her Majesty’s 61st Regt12249.........
4th Sikhs4...4365...
Guide Corps4...4196...
Coke’s Corps5... 16709...
Total ...2293,342462,024520

The total effective British force in the camp before Delhi amounted, therefore, on the 10th of August to exactly 5,641 men. From these we must deduct 120 men (112 soldiers and 8 officers), who, according to the English reports, fell on the 12th of August during the attack upon a new battery which the rebels had opened outside the walls, in front of the English left. There remained, then, the number of 5,521 fighting men when Brigadier Nicholson joined the besieging army with the following forces from Ferozepore, escorting a second-class siege train: the 52d light infantry (say 900 men), a wing of the 61st (say 4 companies, 360 men), Bourchier’s field battery, a wing of the 6th Punjaub regiment (say 540 men), and some Moultan horse and foot; altogether a force of about 2,000 men, of whom somewhat more than 1,200 were Europeans. Now, If we add this force to the 5,521 fighting men who were in the camp on the junction of Nicholson’s forces, we obtain a total of 7,521 men. Further re-enforcements are said to have been dispatched by Sir John Lawrence, the Governor of the Punjaub, consisting of the remaining wing of the 8th foot, three companies of the 24th, with three horse-artillery guns of Captain Paton’s troops from Peshawur, the 2d Punjaub infantry, the 4th Punjaub infantry, and the other wing of the 6th Punjaub. This force, however, which we may estimate at 3,000 men, at the utmost, and the bulk of which consists altogether of Sikhs, had not yet arrived. If the reader can recall the arrival of the Punjaub re-enforcements under Chamberlain about a month earlier, he will understand that, as the latter were only sufficient to bring Gen. Reed’s army up to the original number of Sir H. Barnard’s forces, so the new re-enforcements are only sufficient to bring Brigadier Wilson’s army up to the original strength of Gen. Reed; the only real fact in favor of the English being the arrival, at last, of a siege train. But suppose even the expected 3,000 men to have joined the camp, and the total English force to have reached the number of 10,000, the loyalty of one-third of which is more than doubtful, what are they to do? They will invest Delhi, we are told. But leaving aside the ludicrous idea of investing with 10,000 men a strongly-fortified city, more than seven miles in extent, the English must first turn the Jumna from its regular course before they can think of investing Delhi. If the English entered Delhi in the morning, the rebels might leave it in the evening, either by crossing the Jumna and making for Rohilcund and Oude, or by marching down the Jumna in the direction of Mattra and Agra. At all events, the investment of a square, one of whose sides is inaccessible to the besieging forces, while affording a line of communication and retreat to the besieged, is a problem not yet solved.

“All agree,” says the officer from whom we have borrowed the above table, “that taking Delhi by assault is out of the question.”

He informs us, at the same time, what is really expected in the camp, viz:

“to shell the town for several days and make a decent breach.”

Now, this officer himself adds that,

“at a moderate calculation, the enemy must muster now nearly forty thousand men beside guns unlimited and well worked; their infantry also fighting well.”

If the desperate obstinacy with which Mussulmans are accustomed to fight behind walls be considered, it becomes a great question indeed whether the small British army, having rushed in through “a decent breach,” would be allowed to rush out again.

In fact, there remains only one chance for a successful attack upon Delhi by the present British forces — that of internal dissensions breaking out among the rebels, their ammunition being spent, their forces being demoralized, and their spirit of self-reliance giving way. But we must confess that their uninterrupted fighting from the 31st of July to the 12th of August seems hardly to warrant such a supposition. At the same time, a Calcutta letter gives us a broad hint why the English generals had resolved, in the teeth of all military rules, upon keeping their ground before Delhi.

“When,” it says, “a few weeks ago it became a question whether our force should retreat from before Delhi, because it was too much harassed by daily fighting to support overwhelming fatigues much longer, that intention was strenuously resisted by Sir John Lawrence, who plainly informed the Generals that their retreat would be the signal for the rising of the populations around them, by which they must be placed in imminent danger. This counsel prevailed, and Sir John Lawrence promised to send them all the re-enforcements he could muster.”

Denuded as it has been by Sir John Lawrence, the Punjaub itself may now rise in rebellion, while the troops in the cantonments before Delhi are likely to be laid on their backs and decimated by the pestilential effluvia rising from the soil at the close of the rainy season. Of Gen. Van Cortlandt’s forces, reported four weeks ago to have reached Hissar, and to be pushing forward to Delhi, no more is heard. They must, then, have encountered serious obstacles, or have been disbanded on their route.

The position of the English on the Upper Ganges is, in fact, desperate. Gen. Havelock is threatened by the operations of the Oude rebels, moving from Lucknow via Bithoor and trying at Futteypore, to the south of Cawnpore, to cut off his retreat; while simultaneously the Gwalior contingent is marching on Cawnpore from Calpee, a town situated on the right bank of the Jumna. This concentric movement, perhaps directed by Nena Sahib, who is said to wield the supreme command at Lucknow, betrays for the first time some notion of strategy on the part of the rebels, while the English seem anxious only to exaggerate their own foolish method of centrifugal warfare. Thus we are told that the 90th foot and the 5th fusileers dispatched from Calcutta to re-enforce Gen. Havelock have been intercepted at Dinapore by Sir James Outram, who has taken it into his head to lead them via Fyrzabad to Lucknow. This plan of operation is hailed by The Morning Advertiser of London as the stroke of a master mind, because, it says, Lucknow will thus have been placed between two fires, being threatened on its right from Cawnpore and on its left from Fyrzabad. According to the ordinary rules of war, the immensely weaker army, which, instead of trying to concentrate its scattered members, cuts itself up into two portions, separated by the whole breadth of the hostile army, has spared the enemy the pains of annihilating it. For Gen. Havelock, the question, in fact, is no longer to save Lucknow, but to save the remainder of his own and Gen. Neill’s little corps. He will very likely have to fall back upon Allahabad. Allahabad is indeed a position of decisive importance, forming, as it does, the point of junction between the Ganges and the Jumna, and the key to the Doab, situated between the two rivers.

On the first glance at the map, it will be seen that the main line of operations for an English army attempting the reconquest of the North-Western provinces runs along the valley of the lower Ganges. The positions of Dinapore, Benares, Mirzapore, and, above all, of Allahabad, from which the real operations must commence, will therefore have to be strengthened by the withdrawal to them of the garrisons of all the smaller and strategically indifferent stations in the province of Bengal Proper. That this main line of operations itself is seriously threatened at this moment may be seen from the following extract from a Bombay letter addressed to The London Daily News:

The late mutiny of three regiments at Dinapore has cut off communications (except by steamers on the river) between Allahabad and Calcutta. The mutiny at Dinapore is the most serious affair that has happened lately, inasmuch as the whole of the Bihar district, within 200 miles of Calcutta, is now in a blaze. Today a report has arrived that the Santhals have again risen, and the state of Bengal, overrun with 150,000 savages, who delight in blood, plunder and rapine, would be truly terrible.”

The minor lines of operation, as long as Agra holds out, are those for the Bombay army, via Indore and Gwalior to Agra, and for the Madras army, via Saugor and Gwalior to Agra, with which latter place the Punjaub army, as well as the corps holding Allahabad, require to have their lines of communication restored. If, however, the wavering princes of Central India should openly declare against the English, and the mutiny among the Bombay army assume a serious aspect, all military calculation is at an end for the present, and nothing will remain certain but an immense butchery from Cashmere to Cape Comorin. In the best case, all that can be done is to delay decisive events until the arrival in November of the. European forces. Whether even this be effected will depend upon the brains of Sir Colin Campbell of whom, till now, nothing is known but his personal bravery. If he is the man for his place, he will, at any expense, whether Delhi fall or not, create a disposable force, however small, with which to take the field. Yet, the ultimate decision, we must repeat, lies with the Bombay army.