John William Fortescue.

Military history; lectures delivered at Trinity college, Cambridge online

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Seringapatam in thirty-two days without mishap,
and after a month's siege stormed the city for the
last time. Tippoo was killed ; Tan j ore and the
Carnatic were annexed to the British dominions ;
and Mysore was restored to the Hindu dynasty which
had formerly ruled it. Arthur Wellesley was mean-
while left in civil and military command of the
province, and during the next two years did
excellent service in restoring order in southern
India. In particular he took note of the superiority,
for purpose of transport, of the Mysore bullocks,
which can trot six miles an hour.


Momington's next step was to endeavour to
restore the authority of the Peshwa, so as to keep
the Maratha chiefs from fighting with their neigh-
bours ; but two of those chiefs, Scindia and Holkar,
evaded all British overtures ; and accordingly an
army under General Gerard Lake was sent against
Scindia's dominions in the north, and another under
General Arthur Wellesley against those in the south.
Scindia had a vast number of guns cast under Euro-
pean direction, and twenty thousand infantry trained
by European officers ; but WeUesley had thought
out the means of beating him whether he should
adopt European tactics or the old guerilla warfare —
always worrying and never fighting — which was
traditional with the Marathas. He would make
his campaign in the rainy season, and always attack
the enemy when on the march and not when in
position, for the Maratha chiefs had the gift of
choosing very strong positions. This he could
ensure by organising his transport, his supply-
service and his pontoon-train to perfection. The
rivers being in flood he could always cross them
with his pontoons, whereas the Marathas would
be stopped by them, so that he could catch his
enemy wherever he liked. Moreover, since the
Marathas lived on the country, whereas he carried
his food with him, he could alwavs wait until
hunger drove them from any position they might


have occupied, and then follow them up. This plan
seems very simple when you know it, but it needs a
great general to think out the details of a campaign
in this way. Matters did not turn out exactly as
Wellesley had arranged ; but he beat the Marathas
in a first desperate action at Assay e, where only his
own skill and coolness in the presence of tremendous
odds saved the day ; and in a second action at
Argaum, which victory being crowned by the storm
of the almost inaccessible fortress of Gawilghur
crushed the Maratha power in the south. In the
north Lake Hkewise stormed Aligarh, captured Agra,
won one victory at Delhi, and then by a second
most desperate action at Laswari broke the might
of Scindia in the north. With Holkar however, who
pursued guerilla tactics, Lake was less successful.
Holkar almost annihilated one of his detachments
under Colonel Monson, though this same Monson
shortly afterwards beat him handsomely at Deig.
Lake himself stormed Deig a little later, but failed
with heavy loss in four several assaults upon Bhurt-
pore, and was obliged to abandon the attempt and
take up the chase of Holkar, whom he hunted almost
to the Indus before he brought him to terms after
three years of hard warfare. Peace left the British
in possession of Delhi and Agra with the contiguous
tracts on both sides of the Jumna, the whole of the
country between the Jumna and the Ganges, and


the province of Cuttack, or in other words with a
continuous length of territory from Bengal north
and westward to the Upper Jumna, and southward
to the Presidency of Madras. Mornington further
instituted the principle that native states under
British influence should keep no regular troops but
those hired from the Anglo-Indian Government,
should refer all disputes with their neighbours to
British arbitration, and should enter into no negotia-
tions with foreign powers.

Hereby Mornington made himself the re-founder,
if the phrase may be used, of our British Empire in
the East ; but his wars had been costly, and his
temper was too imperious to commend itself either
to the Directors of the East India Company or to the
Board of Control which represented the Imperial
Government's authority in India. He was there-
fore recalled, and was succeeded first by Lord
Cornwall is — who died almost immediately — and then
for a time by Sir George Barlow, the senior member
of the Council. •

Meanwhile there suddenly burst upon British
India an unsuspected and appalling danger. Owing
to injudicious interference by officers of the King's
service who held high command in the Madras Army,
regulations were introduced which ignored the caste
marks of the Sepoys. Silently but effectually cor-
respondence was established between the Company's


battalions all over the Presidency ; and a general
insurrection was concerted for the autumn of 1806.
Favourable circumstances caused the garrison at
Vellore to rise prematurely ; when eighteen hundred
Sepoys made a general attack upon all the Europeans
in the fort, murdered several, and were within an
ace of complete success. The situation was saved
by Colonel Gillespie of the Nineteenth Light Dra-
goons, who galloped to the spot with his regiment
and two guns, forced an entrance into the fort,
rallied the Europeans and destroyed the mutineers
almost to a man. They had already succeeded
in killing and wounding over two hundred British
soldiers, so no mercy was shown to them. The
service rendered by Gillespie upon this occasion
was beyond estimation great ; and it was a matter
of extreme good fortune that such a man — ready,
energetic and of almost incredible courage — should
have been within reach at such a crisis. But for
his bravery and promptitude the entire native army
of Madras might have mutinied, and the evil might
have spread until it threatened the actual existence
of the British in India. With her resources strained
to the utmost by the struggle with Napoleon England
would have found reconquest a difficult matter ;
and in short, but for Gillespie, the mutiny of VeUore
might have altered the whole course of European as
well as Indian history.

F. M. H. 12


Hardly was this peril passed away, when a
trouble, almost incredibly strange and formidable,
followed upon it. As the Directors had complained
of extravagance and expensive wars. Sir George
Barlow thought fit, in a true English spirit, to cut
down above all things military expenditure ; and
this he did mainly hy reducing certain allowances
to the officers of the Company's army. Now the
discipline of the British officers of that army was
in a very bad state. For the King's army the King
himself was the fountain of honour, and rewards for
good service took the form of the Royal approbation
publicly signified, of titles of honour, or of the thanks
of both Houses of Parliament. The Company's
army (except in rare instances) received only the
thanks of the Directors — a parcel of merchants in
Leadenhall Street — which were naturally little valued ;
except so far as they were supplemented b}^ grants
of money, of which the officers, condemned to long
exile in an unhealthy climate, were very justly
tenacious. Hence they had instituted the practice
of passing votes of appreciation and approbation of
each other, which was most pernicious to discipline.
This might rightly have been put down with a strong
hand ; but the reduction of pecuniary allowances
was a real grievance ; and the officers met it with
a number of absurd and insubordinate resolutions.
Barlow was a strong and determined man, but he


hated soldiers ; and, instead of appealing to the
better feelings of the officers and using tact as weU
as firmness, he sent spies among them, suspended
them arbitrarily right and left without trial, and
employed emissaries to wean the devotion of the
Sepoys from their regimental officers — this last an
inconceivably dangerous measure. To be brief,
in 1809 he succeeded in driving the officers into
open mutiny, which was not suppressed without
bloodshed ; and in fact the trouble was only ended
by the advent of his successor, Lord Minto ; the
officers yielding readily to him but declining alto-
gether to submit to Sir George Barlow. The ill-
feeling bred by this mutiny lasted for thirty years,
and was not without its effect upon the greater
Mutiny of 1857.

To return to more general matters, the policy
of the Directors in holding aloof from affairs outside
their own territory produced the worst consequences.

Lord Minto, equally with Barlow, shrank from
any imitation of Lord Wellesley's masterful keeping
of the peace. The result was that Central India
became the resort of large bands of free-booters,
who ultimately rallied themselves, thirty thousand
strong, under the name of Pindaris, with a single
leader Amir Khan, and bade fair to destroy the
Rajputs, who were our friends, altogether. The
danger was the greater, inasmuch as the beaten

12 2


Maratha leaders were chafing under their defeat, and
were likely to use the Pindaris as allies. Central
India in fact was in a most deplorable condition,
when Minto was succeeded in 1814 by Lord Moira,
better known as Marquess Hastings, a very able
soldier and a resolute man, who realised at once
that anarchy must be stopped in Hindostan, other-
wise something worse than anarchy might result
from it. His first trouble was with the Nepalis or
Gurkhas, who were encroaching upon British lands
in Bengal and in 1814 actually seized two districts.
Hastings at once resolved upon war, and sent an
army to penetrate the passes into the mountains.
The expedition is noteworthy, for it was the first
of our many invasions into the great hill ranges
which surround the north of India. The operations
were not easy ; and it was necessary to invade the
frontier in four different columns, varying in strength
from four to eight thousand men. One of these
was thrice repulsed in attacks upon a hill-fort ; and
Gillespie, its commander, was killed. There were
slight reverses in other parts also, for some of the
British officers showed anything but ability ; but
all was redeemed by the brilliant conduct of General
David Ochterlony, commanding the most westerly
of the four divisions, who broke through the whole
of the Gurkha defences before him, and forced
them in the summer of 1815 to sue for peace.


Hostilities were renewed, however, the next year,
when Ochterlony, now in supreme command, by
further operations drove the Gurkhas to submission.
They ceded to us a long tract of the Lower Hima-
layas, and thus our frontier was brought up to that
of the Chinese Empire. Since then there has been
unbroken friendship between England and Nepal ;
and there are no more loyal, efficient and gallant
troops in the Imperial service than the Gurkhas.
Meanwhile the situation in Central India had
grown worse and worse ; and the Pindaris, secretly
abetted by the Maratha chiefs, made inroads upon
British territory within Bengal and Madras. The
Rajputs implored the help of Hastings, who in 1817
set over one hundred thousand men in motion,
more than forty thousand from the Dekhan, and
more, than sixty thousand from Hindostan. The
occasion was worthy of so large a force, for three
of the Maratha chiefs, Peshwa, Holkar and Bonsla,
had thrown in their lot with the Pindaris. The
Marathas were speedily weakened by three defeats
at Kirki, Sitabaldi and Mahidpur ; and part of the
armies were then turned upon the Pindaris in con-
verging columns, so as to break them up completely.
Defeat after defeat of these free-booters followed,
for every man's hand was against them. For years,
owing to the timidity of Minto, they had ridden
roughshod over the unhappy villagers with murder.


torture and rapine, but now their time was come.
This campaign is the second instance of the employ-
ment of the British cavalry in marches of astonishing
length and swiftness to exterminate bands of
brigands. Arthur Wellesley had set the example in
1800, and it was worthily foUowed now. Very
soon but one formidable band of Pindaris was left
under a leader named Chitu, who was hunted for
days and weeks until he was driven at last into the
jungle and killed by a tiger. The remnant of the
Peshwa's Marathas was again defeated at Korigaon ;
his strongholds fell one after another ; and at length
in March, 1819, the war was brought to an end.
The boundaries of the Maratha states were care-
fully defined ; their predatory system was utterly
abolished ; and their territories were made subject
to WeUesley's principle with regard to troops,
disputes with neighbours and relations with foreign
powers. Then for the first time for nearly two
centuries there was peace in Central India.

There were now but two points of disturbance
on the British frontier : in the north-west, where the
genius of Ran jit Singh had united the Sikhs into
a single powerful and essentially military nation by
conquest ; and in the north-east, where the Burmese
armies had carried aggression so far as to invade
border-states under British protection. The ill-
deeds of these last caused Lord Amherst, the


Governor-General, to send in 1 824 a formidable force
of eleven thousand men against them. Few expedi-
tions have been undertaken with more fatuous
contempt of information and enquiry than this one.
The army was sent by sea to Rangoon with orders
to ascend the Irrawadi by water, capturing all the
principal cities which lie upon its banks, and so
penetrating to Ava. As the province of Pegu, in
which Rangoon stands, was a comparatively recent
conquest of the Burmese, it was assumed that the
inhabitants would be friendly and native supplies
plentiful. On the contrary the troops found Ran-
goon deserted, no boats, no native pilots, no supplies,
and were obliged to remain in and about the city,
eating such salted and preserved provisions as they
had brought with them, until a fresh supply could
be brought from India. This accordingly they
did, only making occasional sorties to prevent the
Burmese from hemming them in altogether. These
were costly little operations, for the Burmese threw
up stockades with astonishing skill and swiftness,
and these required to be stormed. On several occa-
sions attacks upon them were repulsed with loss.
Having arrived at the beginning of the rainy season
in order to have plenty of water to ascend the river,
the British had to endure all the misery and un-
healthiness of the rains, aggravated by bad food, with
the result that sickness made havoc of the troops and


reduced their effective numbers at one moment to
three thousand men. The Burmese closed in upon
them in force; but in December, 1824, were driven
back by a general attack upon their whole line.

When the news of the situation reached Calcutta
the Government sent out two additional expeditions
to invade the province of Ava overland, one from
Manipur, the other from Chittagong. The first
route was found impracticable, owing to the density
of the forest ; the second force, eleven thousand
strong, advanced upon Aracan and captured it, but
failed, from neglect of sound geographical infor-
mation, to find a way to the army on the Irrawadi,
which it had been intended to join, and remained
helpless and stationary. One fourth of the men died
during the rainy season of 1825, and half of the
survivors were in hospital. The main army mean-
while advanced up the Irrawadi into the interior,
captured Prome, and after several smart actions
arrived within sixty miles of Ava, when the Burmese
at the beginning of 1826 met them and made
submission. Assam, Aracan and Tennasserim were
ceded to the British, and thus some compensation
was gained for a very costly and destructive
campaign. The casual fashion in which war had
been begun in a region of continuous marsh and
forest at the beginning of the rainy season, when
the whole country was inundated, was thoroughly


English and most condemnable. Thousands of
lives were sacrificed which might have been saved,
and it was fortunate that matters feU out no worse
than they did. Meanwhile the eternal assault of
stockades was very trying to the troops, and gave
opportunities, which were abundantly taken, for
brilliant displays of valour.

While this was going on, the throne of Bhurtpore
became vacant through the death of the Rajah,
and was usurped by a pretender. This was a direct
menace to the peace of India ; and Sir David
Ochterlony, who was the Resident at Delhi, at once
assembled a force to drive out the usurper. So little,
however, did the Governor-General know his duty,
that he countermanded the project and publicly cen-
sured Ochterlony in terms of extravagant harshness.
The veteran General resigned, but was so much
affected by Amherst's foolish policy and by the slight
put upon himself that he died soon afterwards. Then
of course Amherst was obliged to do at last what he
should have done at first, and Sir Stapleton Cotton
was sent with twenty thousand men to besiege the
famous fortress which had foiled the eager impetu-
osity of Lake. Its strength may be imagined by
the statistics that its circuit is five miles in extent,
that the ditch of the citadel was fifty yards wide
and fifty feet deep, and that the ramparts generally,
besides being of great height and thickness, were


built of clay which refused to crumble away under
the battering of round shot. A bastion was there-
fore undermined and blown up, and the place was
stormed out of hand.

Lord Amherst was succeeded in 1828 by Lord
William Bentinck, a man who. having had Macaulay
to write his epitaph, enjoys a reputation far above
his deserts. He was mediocre alike as soldier and
statesman, and had an extraordinary knack of doing
foolish things. While Governor-General his only
idea was to save money for the Directors — he even
tried to sell the Taj Mahal, the gem of Mohammedan
architecture in India ; — but he neglected to keep the
peace ; he reduced the allowances of the European
officers, in direct breach of agreement ; and finally,
to curry favour with the humanitarians, he, in the
face of all advice from British and native soldiers,
abolished the punishment of the lash in the native
regiments. The mischief which he thus did was
incalculable ; for he lowered the officers in the eyes
of the natives, and so ruined the discipline of the
Sepoys that beyond doubt he was the greatest of
aU contributors to the Mutiny of 1857. The Duke
of Wellington, and all who knew India, were furious
with him ; but being a sentimental Whig, which is
synonymous with a man of good intentions and bad
judgement, he found and still finds many admirers
at home. Let me beg you not to be carried away by


their admiration. Bentinck certainly did some good
work, but an Indian administrator who ruins the
discipline of the army — and Bentinck undoubtedly
did so — is not only no statesman, but a foolish and
mischievous person.

Bentinck was succeeded by Lord Auckland,
whose name, unfortunately for him, is bound up
with the greatest of our military disasters in India.
Since the fall of Napoleon Russia had steadily
pursued her advance eastwards, and by 1828 had
not only appropriated some of the western territory
of Persia but had gained paramount influence in
that country. Thus we found ourselves confronted
with the probability that we should presently have
an European Power of colossal strength for our
neighbour ; and the question was how she should
be kept at arm's length. The Government resolved
that a barrier must be formed in Afghanistan. That
country had lately passed out of the line of the
creator of the Afghan kingdom into the hands of
a strong and competent usurper. Since Persia
threatened to indemnify herself for the territory lost
to Russia by encroachment upon Afghanistan, this
usurper, Dost Mohammed, was anxious for the
English alliance. Lord Auckland on the contrary
preferred to support the legitimate sovereign, Shah
Shuja, who was an exile in the Punjab, and decided
to replace him on the throne by an armed force, on


the assumption that such an ally would be surer than
Dost Mohammed. The operation was one of extreme
danger, for the British and Afghan boundaries were
hundreds of miles apart. Our base of operations was
Scinde, a foreign state under rulers unfriendly to
us ; and full upon our flank, able at any moment
to cut us off from India, lay the Sikhs, equally a
foreign state, nominally amicable but really very
jealous, and in possession of a powerful army.

A treaty was made with the Amirs of Scinde
whereby we obtained the right to use the navigation
of the Indus. With enormous difficulty transport
and supplies were brought up to feed the armies
during the march through the barren passes of
Afghanistan ; and, after frightful losses of animals
and no small peril of starvation, some fifteen thou-
sand men and twenty thousand followers marched
by the Bolan and Khojak passes to Kandahar,
opened the way from thence to the capital by the
storm of Ghazni ; and in August, 1839, escorted
Shah Shuja into Kabul. Then the difficulties began.
It was very soon evident that, without a British
force. Shah Shuja's reign would be short ; so one
division of infantry and a little cavalry and artillery
were left to occupy the country, and the rest of the
army marched for India. Honours were lavished
on the commanders, and everyone flattered himself
that the work was done. Signs of insurrection,


however, soon showed themselves ; and the British
troops scattered about between Kabul, Ghazni,
Kandahar and Jelalabad were incessantly employed
in putting down tribal risings. By the autumn of
1840 the commander of the army of occupation was
crying out for reinforcements. The winter of 1840-1
passed away fairly quietly, and not until the following
November did the final insurrection at Kabul occur.
The general in command there was weak and in-
competent ; and the Whole of his division was cut
to pieces. Ghazni and various small forts were
captured ; and, though Jelalabad and Kandahar were
stoutly held, all communication with India was hope-
lessly cut off. It was necessary to send practically
a fresh army to relieve the beleaguered garrisons ;
but the Indian Government was at first so panic-
stricken as to lose all thought of anything but the
immediate withdrawal of the army of occupation.
The Governor-General, Lord Ellenborough, who had
succeeded Auckland, later bethought him that such
a timid retreat would endanger our whole Empire in
India, but had not courage to order a new advance
upon Kabul. Happily the generals took the responsi-
bility which their superiors feared to incur. They
did not withdraw their armies until they had forced
their way triumphantly, the one by the Khyber
Pass and Jelalabad, the other from Kandahar, to
Kabul. Then and not till then did they evacuate


Afghanistan, having shown that the British were
stiQ unconquerable. Even so the principle upon
which the operations were conducted was open to
much criticism, though everything was redeemed
by the gallant behaviour of the troops.

While withdrawing from Afghanistan, however.
Lord Ellenborough was anxious to retain our hold
upon the lower Indus with the fort of Karachi,
which had been occupied temporarily as our base for
the late operations. Sir Charles Napier was therefore
sent out to Scinde with a small force to press upon
the Amirs a treaty to that effect. The Amirs very
naturally resented the demand ; whereupon Napier
instantly struck the first blow. His campaign is
one which every Englishman should know, and which
none has any excuse for not knowing ; for its history
was written by William Napier. Charles Napier
began by making a raid with five hundred and fifty
men mounted on camels across many miles of desert
to a stronghold of the Amirs, and blowing up the fort
with gunpowder. On this march he carried not only
provisions but water for the whole force, animals
and men. Then returning to the Indus he marched
south upon Hyderabad with twenty-eight hundred
men ; and on the 17th of March, 1843, attacked
between twenty and thirty thousand of the enemy

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Online LibraryJohn William FortescueMilitary history; lectures delivered at Trinity college, Cambridge → online text (page 11 of 13)