Charles Rathbone Low.

The life and correspondence of Field Marshall Sir George Pollock ...(constable of the Tower) online

. (page 10 of 40)
Online LibraryCharles Rathbone LowThe life and correspondence of Field Marshall Sir George Pollock ...(constable of the Tower) → online text (page 10 of 40)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

occasion an officer's charger became so completely
demoralized with terror on the approach of the flames,
that it was impossible to move him ; he stood as if
petrified, and perished in the devouring element.

On the 1 9th April, the Elizabeth came to a very ex-
tensive village called Kanoun, which Colonel Pollock-
went on shore to explore, and where he found a small
phial of " Turlington's balsam," with the date " 26th
January, 1754," cut on the glass. After much delay,
owing to the continued breaking of the track rope and
the captain's dilatoriness, which must have made it
rather warm work for the quondam ship's steward, the
patience of the gallant officer, the subject of \ this Me-
moir, was worn out, and on the 21st of April the gig
of the Mermaid, with Captain Yates on board, passing
the brig, Colonel Pollock asked and readily obtained
a passage in her. The diary continues : " Left the
Elizabeth about half-past eight a m., and reached the
steamboat about a quarter past one o'clock at night,
rather tired sitting in one position about fifteen hours.
However, I have now the satisfaction of knowing
I am not in the rear should operations commence
against Prome, which now appears doubtful, as ambas-
sadors have come from thence to propose terms."

Colonel Pollock refers to a letter received by Sir
Archibald Campbell on the 19th April, when he was

i 20 Life of Sir George Pollock.

encamped at Cuddadoon, after having left Menjie, and
written by the Burmese commandant at Prome,
professedly with the authority and sanction of the
Government. The bearer of it was a soldier of His
Majesty's 38th Eegiment, who had been taken
prisoner, and he was accompanied by some natives.
The latter expressed a strong desire to negociate a
treaty of peace, but one clause in it savoured so much
of a ruse de guerre, that implicit faith could not be
placed in the protestations of eternal amity which
preceded it. This was a request that Sir A. Campbell
should halt his army, and not approach nearer Prome.
The General, in his answer, stated he could not com-
ply with this demand, but that in every other respect
he was perfectly willing to enter into negociations.*
The army continued its march on the following
day. The scenery in the vicinity of the river was
much more diversified and pleasing than that in the
neighbourhood of Donabew. The Arracan mountains
presented a fine appearance in the western horizon,
whence a succession of lower ranges, covered with the
broad-leafed teak tree, gradually sloped down to the
' water's edge. Under the river's bank was a portion
of the flotilla, and the remainder, decorated with their
colours, formed a line across the stream from shore to
shore ; while in the foreground, soldiers, sailors, and all
the varied nationalities represented in an Indian army
on the march, gave a bustle and life to a scene that was

* " Two Years in Ava." By Captain Trant.

Life of Sir George Pollock. 121

naturally picturesque. Colonel Pollock had now joined
head-quarters, and on the 22nd April dined with
General Willoughby Cotton, to whose division he was
destined to be more immediately attached. " On
Saturday morning, the 23rd," he writes in his diary :
" A signal gun for sailing was fired from the steam-
boat about ten a.m. The boats of the fleet, with the
exception of the steamboat and the Powerful, were
soon all in motion : about twelve o'clock the two
latter moved, the last towed by the former. The
steamboat ran aground frequently. We were long
anxiously looking out for Prome, and at length, about
half-past five p.m., anchored abreast some of their
trenches, about 500 yards distant. "We saw a number
of the enemy on foot and on horseback, passing up
the shore to the works opposite us. Prome appears
to be about three miles up the river ; the works are
very extensive. They appear to be a continuation of
trenches from Prome to the trenches where we are.
All has been quiet, although we might have been
much annoyed with musketry if the enemy had been
so disposed. I consider our position to be very
injudiciously chosen ; we are either too far or not far
enough up the river, and were it not that the enemy
are alarmed, and wish to retreat, I think we. should
suffer for our folly."

Nothing took place during the course of the night,
but on the 24th another letter from the Burmese
General was received in Sir A. Campbell's camp, in
answer to that sent to him by the first messenger,

122 Life of Sir George Pollock.

couched in very ambiguous and even insolent terms.
He demanded that the British army should halt out-
side the city, observing that there were armies on both
sides, and that the space between them was sufficiently
large to afford a place of meeting. The general tone
of the communication induced a strong suspicion that
the chiefs were acting with duplicity, and it was
determined the town should be immediately taken
possession of. An answer was accordingly returned
to the effect that the military occupation of Prome
must be carried out, but that the British General
would be happy to meet the Burmese deputies at any
place and hour on the following day they might
choose. Every preparation was now made for an
attack on the city; the flotilla was directed to
advance and co-operate with the land column, which
was to move forward by the bank of the river. Some
hours before daybreak on the 25th, the entire British
army commenced its march through a succession of
strongly entrenched ground, and at daylight found
itself under the ridge of hills which covers the city
to the south-east and east. The flotilla advanced up
the river, which was commanded for at least a mile by
a range of hills, each one of which was fortified to
the very summit, forming altogether a most formidable
position, and one that could have been defended with
success by a small force under able generalship. The
stockades, however, were unoccupied, the enemy
having evacuated every post. Columns of smoke
could be seen rising up to the sky from the direction

Life of Sir George Pollock. 123

of Prome, clearly portending the fate that had been
reserved for the city itself; whilst on each side of the
road the smoking remains of the houses indicated
that the Burmese had but lately retired, after de-
stroying the villages. Pushing on to the city, it was
found in flames, when every exertion was made to
rescue what yet remained from destruction. The fire
was at length got under, after destroying a consider-
able number of houses and a quantity of grain. The
treacherous intentions of the Burmese chiefs were
now made manifest. The town and position in
its front had been fortified with the greatest care ;
for after the dispersion of Bundoola's army at
Donabew, every attention was directed to Prome, as
the only point at which the invading army could be
stopped. The utmost energy of the military chiefs
was employed in organizing such a force as would
enable them successfully to oppose the British army,
in the event of its attacking the city. New generals
were appointed, fresh levies were called out, and a
numerous artillery, destined to arm the works on the
summit of the hills commanding the approach, was
on its way from the capital of Ava. Indeed, the
Burmese chiefs resolved that the whole disposable
force of the kingdom should be concentrated at the
provincial capital of Pegu, rendered memorable by
the many sanguinary battles that had formerly been
fought between their nation and that of the province
they had annexed to the crown of the " Grolden

124 Life of Sir George Pollock.

The rapid advance of the British force appears to
have been wholly unexpected, and to have defeated
all their plans. When Sir Archibald Campbell was
within three days' march of Prome, and not a man
of the expected reinforcements had yet reached that
place, though they were known, however, to be
within a few days' inarch of it, the Burmese chiefs
did not scruple to open negociations solely to gain
time, in the hope that their object would be secured
before their treachery became apparent. Fortunately,
the national character for duplicity and lying was
well known, and equivocal overtures, emanating from
such a quarter, acted only as incentives for greater
promptitude in the prosecution of the march. There
is no doubt that, had the two days' delay solicited
been granted, the capture of the place would have
involved a very large sacrifice of life. It was on
finding themselves foiled that the chiefs employed
the brief space left to them in burning and destroying
everything they supposed could be of use to their
invaders ; and then taking flight, headed by the
Prince of Sarawaddy, they laid waste the villages in
their track,* and drove the helpless people in thou-
sands from their houses into the woods, thus rivalling,
by their ruthless conduct, the desolation inflicted on
Eussian homesteads by their own soldiers during the
memorable advance of Napoleon on Moscow in the
winter of 1812. The British army had not been

* Snodgrass's " Narrative of the Burmese War."

Life of Sir George Pollock. 125

many hours in the town before a great number of
people flocked in, and requested passes and protection
for their families and property. These were imme-
diately granted by the Commander-in-Chief 's orders ;
guards were placed over the principal religious
edifices; and, in order to show the inhabitants that he
was animated with the most friendly intentions, steps
were at once taken to move the whole force, with the
exception of a single native regiment, outside the
walls of the town. The appearance of the city,
which had been described in glowing terms by those
who had visited it, was disappointing, but before
many days had passed, it presented a much more
pleasing and habitable aspect.

Prome is built on the left bank of the Irrawaddy,
and was surrounded at the time of its occupation by
the remains of a brick wall, outside of which the
enemy had erected a strong teak-wood stockade,
defended by a wide ditch, or rather swamp, crossed
by substantial wooden bridges. Near the town, to
the southward, runs a range of small but steep hills,
surmounted by pagodas, carefully fortified, and
mounted with artillery. On one of these hills is the
principal temple of Prome, which, rearing its golden
minaret from amidst numerous minor pagodas, is
embosomed in the brilliant foliage of the tamarind,
and other trees indigenous to the country. The city is
surrounded by gardens, rice-fields, and verdure, attest-
ing the fertility of the soil. On the 26th April, the
troops marched out of Prome, and were encamped in

126 Life of Sir George Pollock.

the suburbs until houses could be erected for them,
and this move was the signal for the return of the
inhabitants, who now, with their cattle and worldly
goods, came in daily, and soon repeopling the de-
serted city, resumed their ordinary avocations. The
Burmese army, in the hurry of its retreat, left 100
pieces of cannon mounted on the walls and outworks,
and a considerable quantity of powder and military
stores in the arsenal. A fire had been kindled in the
latter, which, on being quickly extinguished, was
found to have been close to 200 barrels of powder,
which must have ignited in a few minutes, when the
destruction of a great part of the troops would have
ensued. In the granaries sufficient rice was found to
last the army for a year.

The British Commander-in-Chief was not idle after
gaining one of the chief objects of the campaign ;
a squadron of men-of-war's boats was despatched
up the river on the 27th April, as far as Meeayday,
whither the Prince of Sarawaddy had retired ; and
though the latter was joined by a reinforcement of
6,000 men, he suffered the British sailors to bear
back to Prome eight war-boats laden with ammuni-
tion, thirteen guns, and thousands of people, whom
his soldiers were driving before them. A force was
also sent, under Colonel Godwin, to Tonghoo, a large
fortified city, situated inland due east from Prome,
and forming the frontier town of Pegu ; but the
state of the roads rendering intercommunication
impossible, the column returned. By the middle of

Life of Sir George Pollock. 117

June the whole army was comfortably hutted in
commodious airy buildings, constructed in the native
style, while the officers had severally built themselves
suitable houses, constructed on piles some eight feet
in height. Colonel Pollock's dwelling-place, which
was of this construction, communicated by means
of a causeway with the house of Sir Archibald
Campbell, to whom he made his official reports. The
position of the army at Prome was infinitely pre-
ferable to what it had been at Rangoon the preceding
year. Then the force was half starved, decimated
with sickness, and virtually blockaded in its lines.
The officers now used to prolong their evening rides
to a distance of six miles from Prome, passing
through numerous villages, whose inhabitants, grate-
ful for the kind treatment they received, hailed them
with every demonstration of affection and respect.
The only hostile visitor the British encountered was
the Irrawaddy, which made occasional raids upon the
cantonments, overflowing the embankments, inundat-
ing the town, and surrounding plains, and driving
several corps, whose quarters were not sufficiently
elevated, to the heights above the town. It was the
time of the south-west monsoon, which continues
from June till October, rendering all field operations
on an extended scale out of the question. Though
the rains were not so heavy as at Eangoon, the
Irrawaddy rose from a level of forty feet below the
summit of the bank, and inundated the country to
the extent already described. The inhabitants appear

128 Life of Sir George Pollock.

to be a half- amphibious race, and, accustomed to the
annual visit of the rushing torrents, view its desola-
tion with indifference, and go about their ordinary
avocations in little canoes constructed for the

May, June, and July passed away without any
occurrence of an important nature taking place ; but
gradually the enemy concentrated his forces round
the city, until the cantonments almost wore the
appearance of a position in a state of siege. H. M.
13th Light Infantry, commanded by an officer of
whom we shall hear again in this Memoir, Lieutenant-
Colonel Sale, together with the 13th and 38th
Madras Native Infantry, arrived at Prome, raising
the army to a strength of about 6,000 men, with a
suitable amount of artillery. The Burmese had, by
great efforts, collected a force of, it was said, 66,000
men, of whom 1 5,000, called Shaans, were considered
picked troops. The Shaans occupy the country
between Siam, China, and Ava, and were at this
time partly under the domination of the former
kingdom ; but those chieftains who owed allegiance
and paid tribute to the Burmese monarch were
obliged, in this instance, to obey the summons to
assemble their followers, and do battle for the
"Golden Foot/' Not yet having crossed swords
with the British, these Shaans were confident of
success a confidence still further increased by the
presence in their ranks of three Shaan ladies of high
birth, whose magic power was believed to be such,

Life of Sir George Pollock. 129

that they offered to render the British shot innocuous
by throwing water on the balls. We will pass over
the details of the desultory fighting before Prome
during the continuance of the monsoon, in which our
troops were not uniformly successful, and also of the
negotiations that led to an armistice, concluded at
Neoun-ben-Zeik, half-way between Meeayday and
Prome, and which was signed by Sir A. Campbell
and the chief ambassador the Kee Won ghee, but
which the Burmese commissioner only concluded in
order to gain time.

Notwithstanding the armistice, the Burmese forces,
in obedience to orders from Ava, advanced upon
Prome in three divisions : the right, under the com-
mand of Sudda Woon, consisting of 15,000 men,
having crossed the Irrawaddy, moved forward upon
its west bank, detaching a corps to its front, for the
purpose of intercepting the British communication
with the rear; the centre, about 25,000 strong,
commanded by the Kee Wonghee, whom the king,
confident in his ability, had, early in the war,
entrusted with the command of a corps d'armee, and
upon whom he had conferred, with his own royal
hand, a fan, which was to ward off all hostile bullets,
moved along the east or left bank of the river,
accompanied by a considerable fleet of war-boats,
escorting the commissariat and other stores of the
army; the left division, 15,000 strong, was led by
IVtaha Nemiou, an old and experienced general, lately
arrived from court, with authority for conducting the


Life of Sir George Pollock.

general operations of the army, and moved on a route
about ten miles distant from the river; with this
corps was incorporated the Shaans, of whom I have
already spoken. Finally, there was a reserve of
10,000 men commanded by the king's half-brother,
Prince Memiaboo, who occupied a strongly- fortified
post at Mellown, considerably higher up the river.

The effective British force, destined to overcome
these formidable preparations, consisted of eight weak
British regiments, six battalions of Madras Sepoys,
one troop of cavalry, and a considerable train of horse
and foot artillery,* leaving for service in the field,
after garrisoning Prome, a force of about 4,500 men,
of whom less than 3,000 were Europeans. The first
operations were not successful, and were of a nature
to .confirm the veteran Maha Nemiou in his estimate
of his own generalship. Two brigades of Native
Infantry, under Colonel McDowell, were routed, the
brigadier was himself killed, and the total loss of the
force mounted up to 200 men and 10 officers. The
three Burmese divisions, elated at this success, now
closed upon Prome, entrenching themselves as they
advanced, until Sir Archibald Campbell resolved to
strike a blow at the enemy within his reach. On the
30th November, preparations were made for attacking
the Burmese army on the following day, beginning

* Twenty-eight pieces of ord- zers, three 6-pounders; Madras

nance, viz., Bengal Horse Artil- Artillery, seven 5^ -inch mortars,

lery, two 12-pounders, two 5-inch two 8-inch mortars, and two

mortars, two 6-pounders ; Bengal 6 pounders, besides rockets.
Foot Artillery, four 8-inch ho wit-

Life of Sir George Pollock. 131

with the left, and taking the three corps d'armee in
rapid detail. A writer on the events of the war thus
details the arrangements : " Commodore Sir James
Brisbane, with the flotilla, was to commence a
cannonade upon the enemy's post, upon both banks
of the Irrawaddy, at daylight, and a body of Native
Infantry was, at the same time, to advance along the
margin of the river, upon the Kee Wonghee's position
at Napadee, and to drive in his advanced posts upon the
main body, drawing the enemy's whole attention to
his right and centre, while the columns were marching
out for the real attack on Simbike. Leaving four
regiments of Native Infantry in garrison, at daylight
on the morning of the 1st December, the rest of the
force was assembled, and formed in two columns of
attack at a short distance in front of Prome." The
united force of these two divisions numbered 2,500
king's troops and artillery, and 1,500 Native Infantry.
With Sir A. Campbell went Colonel Hopkinson, as
senior officer ; while Greorge Pollock, with his Bengal
Artillerymen, was attached to General Cotton's divi-
sion, which was composed of H.MVs 41st and 89th
Eegiments, and the 18th and 28th Native Infantry.
At half- past three on the morning of the 1st, the
subject of this memoir marched with four 8 -inch
mortars, four 5 J-inch howitzers, and three 6-pounders,
but the difficulties he had to encounter, and which he
successfully overcame in effecting a start, were of no
ordinary character. To enable him to move his guns,
the drivers of the commissariat were put in requisi-

9 *

Life of Sir George Pollock.

tion, Pollock's establishment for the 300 bullocks that
dragged the ordnance only consisting of 26 syces and
grass-cutters, lent from the body-guard by Captain
Dyke, and 20 Donabew drivers, who could not be
relied on, as 160 of the orginal number had previously
desertecl. As for the guns and men, he had a still
more arduous task before him. The former were
dispersed in all directions for defensive purposes, and
they now had to be collected on the shortest notice
to take the field. It occupied him and his men all
night to effect this, but by the time the column fell
in for the march, his guns, manned by the 3rd com-
pany, 5th battalion, were ready for service.

The Commander-in-Chief, in drawing up the plan
of operations, provided that his column should be in
advance, and carry the works at Simbike, while that
of General Cotton was to perform the subordinate
task of cutting up the retreating foe. However, this
programme was not carried out, and that the Madras
General was foremost in the hour of battle was due
to the advice and energetic action of his commandant
of artillery. As the troops marched out in the grey
dawn, the soldiers were gratified with the almost unique
and curious spectacle of the inhabitants lining the
roads, and hailing with admiration and every wish for
their success|the white strangers who had conquered
their country, but had given them also the unwonted
blessings of freedom, and the enjoyment of the fruits
of their labours. Sir A. Campbell's division crossed
the Nawine river at Zeoup, moving along its right

Life of Sir .George Pollock. 133

bank for the purpose of attacking the enemy in the
rear, and cutting off his retreat upon Kee Wonghee's
corps, while General Cotton marched by the straight
road leading to Simbike. The columns had scarcely
moved off, when a furious cannonade upon the left,
announced the commencement of operations upon the
river, and so completely deceived the enemy, that he
withdrew his pickets on the left, and thus exposed his
stockades at Simbike to a sudden and unexpected
attack. After a long and rapid march, General Cotton
proposed a halt to George Pollock, in order to rest
the cattle and troops before the impending conflict ;
but the latter, who had already a reputation in the
force for promptness, dissuaded him from adopting
this course, and the result was a complete surprise of
the enemy.* Major Snodgrass thus describes the
figfrt that ensued :

"Brigadier- General Cotton's force reached the enemy's line,
consisting of a succession of stockades erected across an open
space in the centre of the jungle, where the village of Simbike
and Kyalay had stood, having the Nawine river in the rear, a

*An anecdote illustrative of in the square of the town as

that readiness or " smartness," quickly as possible. Pollock did

which is characteristic of " gun- so at once, and returned to report

ners " not less than sailors, is told so speedily that Sir Archibald, who

of George Pollock. On one oc- thought he had not yet gone to

casion while fighting was going on carry out his instructions, burst

at Rangoon, the Command er-in- out with, "Did I not desire you

Chief observed that Artillery to go and bring up your guns and

would be useful, and turning to place them in the square." " They

Colonel Pollock, ordered him to are there, Sir," was Colonel

bring up his guns and place them Pollock's answer.

9 f

J34 Life of Sir George PoZlocfc.

thick wood on either flank, and assailable only by the open space
in front, defended by cross fires from the zigzagging formation
of the works.

" The Brigadier- General having quickly made his dispositions,
the troops, consisting of His Majesty's 41st in front, and the
flank companies of His Majesty's Royals and 89th Regiments,
with the 18th Madras Native Infantry in flank, moved forward
with their usual intrepidity; the Shaans, encouraged by the
presence of their veteran commander, who, unable to walk, was
carried from point to point in a handsomely-gilded litter, and
cheered by the example and earnest exhortations to fight bravely
of the fearless Amazons, offered a brave resistance to the assail-
ants ; but no sooner was a lodgment made in the interior of
their crowded works, than confusion ensued, and they were un-
able to contend with or check the progress of the rapidly in-
creasing line which formed upon their ramparts, and from whose
destructive volleys there was no escaping; the strongly-built
enclosures of their own construction everywhere preventing

Online LibraryCharles Rathbone LowThe life and correspondence of Field Marshall Sir George Pollock ...(constable of the Tower) → online text (page 10 of 40)