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THE CAMP-ITS REAL DIFFICULTIES-ITS PosTTION, AND NUMBERS
A MERE spectator of the momentous drama which was being enacted before Delhi, might have been tempted to regard the scene on which the curtain rose with the month of July as one of improvement everywhere, or
at least of increased hopefulness, as compared with that which had been presented a month before. The army, then struggling onwards for Delhi, was now not only planted on the ridge commanding the city, but apparently strengthened at every point. Not an inch of ground, once gained, had been lost; not a single position once taken had been abandoned; every attack, from whatever quarter, or however formidable, had been repulsed, and that with some advantage gained. Before the retreating rebels one point after another had fallen into our hands, to be thenceforth held by strong picquets or advanced batteries; while the loss of the enemy was reported to be almost fabulously severe. Moreover, reinforcements had come in during the end of June, and more were reported to be on the way. Thus the little handful of English were boldly holding their own, and seeming to gain ground. Ever and anon would float up whispered rumours of a coming assault. All this tended to raise hope in the camp itself, as well as in the Punjab. But men the while forgot, or perhaps willingly kept out of mind, at how great sacrifice this position was being held; they would not reflect that every advance made, every sortie repulsed, had cost the little band men they could ill spare, and perhaps never replace; that one hundred lost on our side were not to be compensated for the loss of a thousand on theirs. Little was said of the pyrrhic character of the triumphs we were gaining, or of the fact—for such it was—that all the reinforcements sojoyously hailed in camp, and so loudly
THE CAMP-ITS REAL DIFFICULTIES. 3
proclaimed back to the Punjab, did little more than fill up the gaps which fatal disease, sunstroke, and fatigue, even more than the bullets and round-shot of the enemy, had made in our ranks. Occasionally, indeed, a complaint would be heard of want of order in the camp; no system of relief to save and husband the men's strength; the advice of youthful members of the staff listened to, and the counsels of older war-trained officers disregarded ; attacks planned and abandoned; orders and counter-orders following each other with bewildering rapidity. But when the wish was father to the thought that all was steady progress; where men hoped all was well, they would not believe it could be otherwise; they would seize the daily bulletins (so wisely issued by the Judicial Commissionerfrom Lahore to give confidence), and seeing there no mention of these desagremens, would at once set down the authors of such complaints as croakers or disappointed men, and condemn them as lacking proper esprit de corps, and every sort of spirit that became a soldier. So the best was caught at, and believed. Yet under this surface, so smooth and bright and hopeful, there would flow an under-current of doubt and misgiving, even among men who did not know the whole truth. What then thought they who were behind the scenes, who did know all? They found it, if truth be told, far easier to impart to others, who were in hopeful ignorance, a confidence which they hoped might after all be justified by the result, than to quiet their own fears and doubts as to the possible issue.
4 TIIE POSITION ON THE RIDGE.
July was, with all its little glimpses of breaking light, the darkest month during the whole siege.
Let the reader transplant himself in imagination to the camp, and take a brief survey of our position. We hold the old cantonment as our camping-ground, with the ridge, about two miles in length, the only high ground for miles around, along our front. On the left flows the Jumna, which, with picquets run out at Metcalfe House and stables to the very edge of the sands, effectually secures that flank; along the rear runs a deep canal, only to be crossed by one bridge, which is strongly held by picquets of horse and foot and a couple of guns; while to the right-rear of the camp, commanding the open ground between the canal and the ridge, is a small mound, held by picquets of all arms, with two batteries of heavy and light guns; but on the right flank itself, where the ridge is abruptly broken, stand three batteries and a massive breastwork, held by strong picquets of Rifles and Goorkhas ; and in the Subzee Mundee suburb the Sammy House and Serai, held in force, to protect this our weakest and most exposed point.
Such was the position of the camp, with a force of all arms, native and European, under 5800 effective,”
to hold it. Now, this force, distributed as it was to
the best advantage, could scarcely cover a sixth part of the city walls. Our guns could only command two of the seven gates on the land side—the Cashmere and
* Of non-effectives there were already in camp nearly 1000, including sick and wounded.
A HANDFUL AGAINST A HOST. 5
Cabul gates—leaving the other five, and among them the Lahoree Durwaza, the main entrance of the city, wholly undisputed; while on the river side all was their own, the Jumna flowing up to the walls, and the bridge of boats, about 2500 yards from our nearest guns, giving them undisturbed command of the whole Doab for supplies and reinforcements. Then as for ammunition, the magazine, with its inexhaustible store, was in their hands, while every rebel detachment that joined them brought in more. Their resources in this branch were constantly shown; a gun silenced and perhaps knocked over at night, would be always replaced by a new one before daylight. In short, it was a struggle between a mere handful of men along the open ridge, and a host behind massive and well-fortified walls. To settle down for a systematic siege, according to the prescribed rules of warfare, was out of the question: instead of the besiegers being three to one of the besieged, we could scarce have brought into the field one armed man to their ten. So the abandonment of the siege was gravely spoken of, and but for the firm resolve of Sir John Lawrence it would have been carried out. General Barnard, in command of the force, found himself in a position he would never willingly have taken up. Mr Greathed,” the Commissioner, as belonging to the North-west Province, was not very cordial in acknowledging the authority of the Punjab government, and was ever looking to Agra for his instructions, and ready to second the withdrawal from
* GREATHED's Letters, passim.