Forty-One Years in India
From Subaltern to Commander-In-Chief
FIELD MARSHAL LORD ROBERTS
When the Commander-in-Chief left Calcutta the previous autumn, all was apparently quiet in the Native army. He visited the principal military stations, amongst others Meerut and Delhi, and although reports of an uneasy feeling amongst the Native troops in the Presidency division had reached him from time to time, it was not until he arrived at Umballa, about the middle of March, that these reports were confirmed by personal communication with the sepoys attending the School of Musketry which had been formed at that station.
On the occasion of the Commander-in-Chief's inspection of the School,[Page 51] he learnt from the men of the various regiments under instruction how strongly opposed they were to using a cartridge which they believed to be injurious to their caste. Anson listened attentively to all the sepoys had to say, and then explained to them in a manly, sensible speech, that the old cartridge was not suited to the rifle about to be introduced. A new cartridge had, therefore, to be made; but they must not listen to any foolish rumour as to its being designed to destroy their caste. He assured them, 'on the honour of a soldier like themselves,' that it had never been, and never could be, the policy of the British Government to coerce the religious feeling of either the military or the civil population of India, or to interfere in any way with their caste or customs. He told the Native officers to do all in their power to allay the men's unfounded fears, and called upon them to prove themselves worthy of the high character they had hitherto maintained; he concluded by warning all ranks that the Government were determined not to yield to insubordination, which would be visited with the severest punishment.
The demeanour of the sepoys was most respectful, and when the parade was over they expressed their high sense of the Commander-in-Chief's goodness. They declared that he had removed their own objections, but that the story was universally believed by their countrymen and relations, and if they were to use the cartridge they must become social outcasts.
General Anson, feeling that the doubts and anxieties of the men with regard to the use of the new cartridges were by no means imaginary, suspended their issue until a special report had been prepared as to the composition of the paper in which they were wrapped.1
Having thus done all that he could at the time to allay any feeling[Page 52] of uneasiness, and hoping that the news of the disbandment of the 19th Native Infantry would check the spirit of insubordination, General Anson continued his journey to Simla, that beautiful place in the Himalayas, 7,000 feet above the sea, which has since become the seat of the Government of India and Army Head-Quarters during the hot weather months.
The News Reaches Simla The Commander-in-Chief had been at Simla rather more than a month, when, on the afternoon of Tuesday, the 12th May, an Aide-de-camp galloped in from Umballa (the Head-Quarters station of the Sirhind division), distant eighty miles, bringing with him a copy of the telegraphic message which had been despatched from Delhi the previous day to 'all stations in the Punjab,' and which had caused such consternation at Peshawar on the evening of the 11th May.
Sir Henry Barnard, commanding the Sirhind division, desired the Aide-de-camp (his own son) to inform the Commander-in-Chief that the temper of the three Native regiments at Umballa was more than doubtful, and that it seemed advisable that the three regiments of British Infantry stationed in the hills near Simla should be ordered at once to Umballa. So urgent did this seem to Barnard, that, in anticipation of sanction from the Commander-in-Chief, he told his son to warn the 75th Foot as he passed through Kasauli to be prepared for an immediate move.
Anson Loses No Time General Anson at once saw the necessity for taking prompt action. That same afternoon he despatched an Aide-de-camp to Kasauli to order the 75th to proceed without delay to Umballa, and the 1st Bengal Fusiliers at Dagshai to follow the 75th as soon as carriage could be collected; also to warn the 2nd Bengal Fusiliers at Subathu to be ready to move. Expresses were sent at the same [time] to Ferozepore and Jullundur directing that a European guard should be placed in charge of the magazine at the former place, and a detachment of European Infantry thrown into the fort of Philour from the latter. The confidence reposed in the Native army before the Mutiny was so great that these two important magazines, like almost all the arsenals and magazines in India, were guarded by Native soldiers, and subsequent events proved that, but for General Anson's timely precautions, the mutineers must have obtained possession of the magazines at Ferozepore and Philour.2
Anson had not long to wait before he received confirmation of the[Page 53] alarming news brought by General Barnard's son. The very next afternoon a letter arrived from Meerut giving an account of the outbreak on the 10th, and a few particulars of what had occurred at Delhi. The Commander-in-Chief immediately decided on proceeding to Umballa, to superintend personally the organization of the force which, as he rightly judged, would have to be sent to Delhi. There was no hesitation on General Anson's part, or delay in issuing the necessary orders.3 The 2nd Bengal Fusiliers were directed to march to Umballa, and an Artillery officer was sent express to Philour with instructions for a third-class siege-train to be got ready, and for reserve Artillery and Infantry ammunition to be despatched to Umballa. Orders were also issued for the Nasiri battalion, stationed at Jutog, near Simla, and for the company of Native Artillery at Kangra and Nurpur4 to march with all expedition to Philour, for the purpose of accompanying the siege-train; and for the Sirmur battalion of Gurkhas at Dehra Dun, and the Sappers and Miners at Rurki, to proceed to Meerut.
Having thus pressed forward the measures for the suppression of the revolt which to him seemed most urgent, General Anson left Simla early on the 14th May, within forty-eight hours of the receipt of the first news of the outbreak, and reached Umballa the following morning. His last act at Simla was to draft a circular which he hoped would have the effect of allaying excitement in the Native army.
The report which Sir Henry Barnard had to make to the Chief on his arrival at Umballa was not reassuring. The troops at that station consisted of Her Majesty's 9th Lancers, two troops of Horse Artillery, the 4th Bengal Light Cavalry, and two regiments of Native Infantry. The 75th Foot and 1st Bengal Fusiliers had just marched in with only thirty and seventy rounds of ammunition per man, respectively, and (from want of carriage) without tents or baggage. The Commissariat and Medical Departments were totally unprepared to meet the requirements of a force suddenly ordered to take the field; there were no doolies for the sick; supplies were difficult to collect, for the bazaars were partially deserted; there was a scarcity of contractors, and no[Page 54] ammunition was available nearer than Philour, eighty miles off.
At Delhi all the Europeans who had not escaped had been massacred, and the city had been taken possession of by the Native garrison and the mutinous troops from Meerut in the name of the old King.
At Meerut the European troops were entrenching themselves; the surrounding district was in the most complete disorder, and the civil courts powerless.
At Umballa and Jullundur, although the presence of European troops had hitherto kept the Native regiments from open mutiny, it was evident that they were not in the least to be depended upon.
At Ferozepore an aggravated revolt had occurred, and at Lahore it had been found necessary to disarm all the Native troops.
From below Meerut there was no intelligence whatever, but it seemed more than probable that the spirit of rebellion had broken out in many stations, and later this was known to be the case.
To add to the Commander-in-Chief's anxieties, it was reported that the Nasiri battalion at Jutog had got out of hand for a time and refused to march to Philour, while a detachment of the same corps at Kasauli plundered the treasury, rendering it necessary to send back 100 men of the 75th Foot to reinforce the depot at that place, where a large number of European soldiers' families were collected.
The behaviour of the Gurkhas gave rise to a panic at Simla, which, however, did not last long. Lord William Hay,5 who was Deputy-Commissioner at the time, induced most of the ladies, with their children, to seek a temporary asylum with the Raja of Kiunthal.6 Hay himself managed to keep Simla quiet, and the men of the Nasiri battalion coming to their senses, order was restored throughout the hills. The money taken from the Kasauli treasury was nearly all voluntarily given up, and before the year was out the battalion did us good service.
A Long List of Troubles It was a long list of troubles that was placed before the Commander-in-Chief. Disturbing as they all were, each requiring prompt and special action, there was one amongst them which stood out in bold relief—the situation at Delhi; and to wrest that stronghold from the hands of the mutineers was, General Anson conceived, his most pressing obligation. But could it be done with the means at his disposal? He thought not; and in this opinion he was supported by the senior officers at Umballa, with whom the question was anxiously discussed at a conference held at Sir Henry Barnard's house on the 16th May.7 It was nevertheless determined to push on to Delhi, and General Hewitt[Page 55] was asked what force he could spare from Meerut to co-operate with the Umballa column. He was warned that time was an object, and that the 23rd May was the date on which his troops would probably be required to start. All details were carefully considered. The first difficulty to be overcome was the want of carriage. No organized system of transport—one of the most essential requirements of an efficient army—existed, and, owing to the restlessness and uncertainty which prevailed throughout the country, the civil authorities were unable to collect carts and camels with the usual rapidity.8
John Lawrence That afternoon General Anson received a letter from Sir John Lawrence urging the importance of an immediate advance on Delhi, and giving an outline of the measures he proposed to adopt in the Punjab. He asked the Commander-in-Chief to give a general sanction to the arrangements, and concluded with these words: "I consider this to be the greatest crisis which has ever occurred in India. Our European force is so small that, unless effectively handled in the outset, and brought to bear, it will prove unequal to the emergency. But with vigour and promptitude, under the blessing of God, it will prove irresistible."
Anson naturally hesitated to advance with an inefficient and only partially equipped force against a strongly-fortified city with an immense armed population, defended by many thousand desperate mutineers, and in his reply (dated the 17th May) he put the case plainly before Sir John Lawrence. He pointed out that the Europeans were without tents; that there were no guns at Umballa or Meerut heavier than six or nine pounders with which to batter down the walls of Delhi; that the required amount of carriage could not be provided in less than sixteen or twenty days; and that the three Native corps at Umballa could not be depended upon. He asked Sir John whether he considered 'it would be prudent to risk the small European force we have here in an enterprise against Delhi,' and he wrote: 'My own view of the state of things now is, by carefully collecting our resources, having got rid of the bad materials which we cannot trust, and having supplied their places with others of a better sort, it would not be very long before we could proceed, without a chance of failure, in whatever direction we might please.' Adding, 'this is now the opinion of all here whom I have consulted—the Major-General and Brigadier, the Adjutant-General, Quartermaster-General and Commissary-General.' Anson concluded his letter with the following words: 'It would give me great satisfaction to have your views upon the present crisis, for I would[Page 56] trust to them more than to my experience.'
John Lawrence, who was straining every nerve to check the Mutiny and prevent a general rising of the population, was impatient at the idea of delay, and lost no time in giving Anson his opinion. He telegraphed it briefly on the 20th, and the following day he wrote to the effect that he knew Delhi well, having been stationed there for nearly thirteen years, and it seemed incredible to him that mutineers could hold and defend it; his belief was 'that, with good management on the part of the civil officers, it would open its gates on the approach of our troops.' He admitted that 'on military principles, in the present state of affairs, it may not be expedient to advance on Delhi until the Meerut force is prepared to act.' But he protested against European soldiers being 'cooped up in their cantonments, tamely awaiting the progress of events.' He went on to say: 'Pray only reflect on the whole history of India. Where have we failed when we acted vigorously? Where have we succeeded when guided by timid counsels? Clive with 1,200 men fought at Plassy, in opposition to the advice of his leading officers, beat 40,000 men, and conquered Bengal.'
That Sir John Lawrence greatly under-estimated the difficulties which Anson had to overcome we now know. Delhi did not open its gates on our approach, but for more than three months defied all our efforts to capture it. And in his eagerness to get the Commander-in-Chief to think as he did, the resolute Chief Commissioner forgot that Clive—not with 1,200 men, but with 3,000 disciplined troops—had to deal in the open field with an enemy little better than a rabble; whereas Anson had to attack a strong fortress, amply supplied with stores and ammunition, possessing a powerful armament, and held by soldiers who were not only well trained and equipped, but were fighting for their lives, and animated by religious fanaticism.
Still, there can be no doubt that John Lawrence's views as to the necessity for Delhi being taken at all hazards were correct. The Governor-General held the same opinion, and strongly urged it upon Anson, who loyally responded, and during the short time he remained at Umballa strenuously exerted himself to equip the troops destined for the arduous task.
While preparing for his advance on the Moghul capital, Anson did not neglect to provide, as far as lay in his power, for the safety of Umballa. The soldiers' wives and children were sent to Kasauli; a place of refuge was made for the non-combatants at the church, round which an entrenchment was thrown; a garrison, about 500 strong, was formed of the sick and weakly men of the several European regiments, assisted by some of the Patiala troops; and as an additional security half the Native corps were sent into the district, and the other half with the column to Delhi.
The Phulkian Family John Lawrence had strongly advocated the policy of trusting the[Page 57] Maharaja of Patiala and the Rajas of Jhind and Nabha. The attitude of these Chiefs was of extreme importance, for if they had not been well disposed towards us, our communication with the Punjab would have been imperilled. There was therefore much anxiety at Umballa as to the course Patiala, Jhind, and Nabha (the three principal members of the great Phulkian family) would elect to take. Douglas Forsyth,9 Deputy-Commissioner of Umballa, who was a personal friend of the Maharaja of Patiala, at once sought an interview with him. He was beginning to explain to the Maharaja the difficulties of the situation, when he was interrupted by His Highness, who said he was aware of all that had happened; on which Forsyth asked if it was true that emissaries from the King of Delhi had come to Patiala. The Maharaja pointed to some men seated at a little distance, saying, 'There they are.' Forsyth then asked for a word in private. As soon as they were alone, he addressed the Maharaja thus: 'Maharaja sahib, answer me one question: Are you for us, or against us?' The Maharaja's reply was very hearty: 'As long as I live I am yours, but you know I have enemies in my own country; some of my relations are against me—my brother for one. What do you want done?' Forsyth then asked the Maharaja to send some of his troops towards Kurnal to keep open the Grand Trunk Road. The Maharaja agreed on the understanding that Europeans should soon be sent to support them—a very necessary condition, for he knew that his men could only be trusted so long as there was no doubt of our ultimate success.
Patiala was true to his word, and throughout the Mutiny the Phulkian Chiefs remained perfectly loyal, and performed the important service of keeping open communication between Delhi and the Punjab.10
On the 19th May General Anson was cheered by hearing from John Lawrence that the Corps of Guides and four trusty Punjab regiments were proceeding by forced marches to join him. On the 21st he received a message from the Governor-General informing him that European troops were coming from Madras, Bombay, and Ceylon. He also heard of the arrival of the siege-train at Umballa, and he had the satisfaction of telegraphing to the Chief Commissioner that the first detachment of the column destined for Delhi had started.
On the 23rd the Commander-in-Chief communicated his plan of operations to General Hewitt. It was as follows: Two brigades were to advance from Umballa, commanded by Brigadier Hallifax of the 75th Foot, and Colonel Jones of the 60th Rifles; and one brigade from Meerut, under the command of Brigadier Archdale Wilson. The two former were to be concentrated at Kurnal by the 30th May, and were then to advance, under General Anson, so as to arrive opposite Baghput on the 5th June, at which place they were to be joined by the Meerut[Page 58] brigade, and the united force was then to proceed to Delhi.
Death of General Anson All his arrangements being now completed, Anson left Umballa on the 24th May, and reached Kurnal the following morning. On the 26th he was struck down by cholera, and in a few hours succumbed to that fatal disease. His last words expressed a hope that his country would do him justice, and it is grievous to feel that, in estimating his work and the difficulties he had to encounter, full justice has not been done him. Anson has been undeservedly blamed for vacillation and want of promptitude. He was told to 'make short work of Delhi,' but before Delhi could be taken more men had perished than his whole force at that time amounted to. The advice to march upon Delhi was sound, but had it been rashly followed disaster would have been the inevitable result. Had the Commander-in-Chief been goaded into advancing without spare ammunition and siege Artillery, or with an insufficient force, he must have been annihilated by the overwhelming masses of the mutineers—those mutineers, who, we shall see later, stoutly opposed Barnard's greatly augmented force at Badli-ki-Serai, would almost certainly have repulsed, if not destroyed, a smaller body of troops.
On the death of General Anson the command of the Field Force devolved on Major-General Sir Henry Barnard.
FOOTNOTES, CHAPTER VIII
[Footnote 1: 'I am not so much surprised,' wrote General Anson to Lord Canning on the 23rd March, 'at their objections to the cartridges, having seen them. I had no idea they contained, or, rather, are smeared with, such a quantity of grease, which looks exactly like fat. After ramming down the ball, the muzzle of the musket is covered with it. This, however, will, I imagine, not be the case with those prepared according to the late instructions. But there are now misgivings about the paper, and I think it so desirable that they should be assured that no animal grease is used in its manufacture, that I have ordered a special report to be made to me on that head from Meerut, and until I receive an answer, and am satisfied that no objectionable material is used, no firing at the depots by the sepoys will take place. It would be easy to dismiss the detachments to their regiments without any practice, on the ground that the hot weather is so advanced, and that very little progress could be made, but I do not think that would be admissible. The question, having been raised, must be settled. It would only be deferred till another year, and I trust that the measures taken by the Government when the objection was first made, and the example of the punishment of the 19th Native Infantry and of the other delinquents of the 70th, now being tried by a General Court-Martial, will have the effect we desire.'—KAYE, vol. i., p. 558.]
[Footnote 2: Surely those whom God has a mind to destroy, He first deprives of their senses; for not only were the magazines at Delhi and Cawnpore allowed to fall into the enemy's hands, but the great arsenal at Allahabad narrowly escaped the same fate. Up till May, 1857, this fort was garrisoned only by Native soldiers. Early in that month sixty worn-out European pensioners were brought to Allahabad from Chunar, with whose assistance, and that of a few hastily raised Volunteers, Lieutenants Russell and Tod Brown, of the Bengal Artillery, were able to overawe and disarm the Native guard on the very night on which the regiments to which they belonged mutinied in the adjoining cantonment. These two gallant officers had taken the precaution to fill the cellars below the armoury (which contained some 50,000 or 60,000 stands of arms) with barrels of powder, their intention being to blow up the whole place in the event of the sepoys getting the upper hand. This determination was known to all in the fort, and no doubt had something to say to the guard submitting to be disarmed.]
[Footnote 3: He has been accused of dilatoriness and want of decision after hearing the news.]
[Footnote 4: Places at the foot of the Himalayas.]
[Footnote 5: Now the Marquis of Tweeddale.]
[Footnote 6: A small hill state near Simla.]
[Footnote 7: It is a remarkable fact that the five senior officers at this conference were all dead in less than seven weeks. General Anson, Brigadier Hallifax, commanding the Umballa station, and Colonel Mowatt, commanding the Artillery, died within ten days; Colonel Chester, Adjutant-General of the Army, was killed at Badli-ki-Serai on the 8th June, and Sir Henry Barnard died at Delhi on the 5th July.]
[Footnote 8: See Kaye's 'History of the Indian Mutiny,' vol. ii., p. 120.]
[Footnote 9: The late Sir Douglas Forsyth, K.C.S.I.]
[Footnote 10: See 'The Life of Sir Douglas Forsyth.']