The Reign of George III. - (Continued.) page 6
The conjuncture was most critical, for the incompetent and short-sighted Addington had, by the peace of Amiens, restored the French possessions which had cost us so much to make ourselves masters of in India; and, had Buonaparte conceived the idea of supporting Perron there with strong reinforcements, the consequences might have been serious. Fortunately, he seemed too much engrossed with his plans nearer home, and, as fortunately, also, for us, we had now rising into prominence in India a military chief, destined not only to dissipate the hostile combination of the Mahrattas, but also to destroy the dominion of Buonaparte himself. Major-general Wellesley, the younger brother of the governor-general, and afterwards duke of Wellington, by a rapid march upon Poonah, surprised and drove out the Mahratta chief, Holkar, and saved the city from a conflagration which Scindiah's troops endeavoured to effect. Holkar fled to join Scindiah and the rajah of Berar, and the peishwa entered his own capital in the month of May. General Wellesley, being put into full command of all the troops serving under the peishwa and the nizam of the Deccan, and being also director of the civil affairs of the British in those provinces, made arrangements for their security, and then marched after Scindiah and the rajah of Berar. After various marchings and counter-marchings, in consequence of their movements to avoid him, he came up with them near the village of Assaye, on the banks of the Kaitna. General Stephenson, who had repulsed them from the territory of the nizam, was also encamped only eight miles off. On coming in sight of them, Wellesley found them fifty thousand strong, with a splendid body of Mahratta cavalry, whilst he had only four regiments of cavalry, three of them being native, and seven battalions of infantry, five of them sepoys. He determined, however, to attack them at once, and, sending word to Stephenson to come up, he crossed the river at a ford in face of the artillery of the enemy, and, after a sharp encounter, routed them before Stephenson could arrive. The Mahrattas had ninety pieces of artillery, and did terrible execution with them till the cavalry could come to close quarters with them, and the infantry reach them with their bayonets; then they fled headlong, leaving behind all their cannon. The Mahrattas rallied in the village of Assaye, and it required a desperate effort to expel them. It was dark before it was accomplished. Wellesley had twenty-two officers and three hundred and eighty-six men killed; fifty- seven officers and one thousand five hundred and twenty-six men wounded. He had himself two horses killed under him, and his orderly killed close at his side by a cannon shot. Lieutenant-colonel Maxwell was killed at the head of his cavalry. The Mahrattas had one thousand two hundred killed, and a proportionate number wounded. General Stephenson had been prevented crossing the river, and did not come up till the next day, when Wellesley sent him in pursuit of the enemy's infantry, which had been abandoned by the cavalry, and was thus exposed to attack.
In the meantime, general Lake had made a march on Delhi, continuing, as he went, his correspondence with M. Perron. As general Lake approached the fortress of Allighur, the stronghold of Perron, the Frenchman came out with fifteen thousand men, but again retreated into the fortress. This was on the 29th of August. Perron made a strong resistance, and held out till the 4th of September, when the place was stormed by a party headed by colonel Monson and major Macleod. Two thousand of the garrison were killed, and the rest made their escape out of the fort, or surrendered. The success was somewhat clouded by the surprise and surrender of five companies of General Lake's sepoys, who had been left behind to guard an important position, but with only one gun. They were surrounded by cavalry, commanded by M. Fleury, a French officer, and, before Lake could send a force to the rescue, the enemy had retired behind the Jumna with their prisoners. This accident, however, was far more than counterbalanced by the withdrawal of Perron from the service of the Mahrattas. He had found so much insubordination amongst his French officers, and saw so clearly that there was no chance of competing with the English, that he had at length closed with general Lake's offers, and, abandoning his command, had obtained a passport for himself, family, suite, and effects, and retired to Lucknow.
This being accomplished, general Lake continued his march on Delhi, in order to release Shah Alum, the mogul, and drew near it on the 11th of September. He there found that the army previously commanded by Perron, but now by Louis Bourquien, nineteen thousand strong, had crossed the Jumna, and were posted betwixt him and the city. Bourquien had posted his army on a rising ground, flanked on either hand by swamps, and defended in front by strong entrenchments, and about seventy pieces of cannon. As Lake had only four thousand five hundred men, to attack them in that position appeared madness. The English were briskly assailed before they could pitch their tents, and general Lake, feigning a retreat, succeeded in drawing the enemy down from their commanding situation, and out of their entrenchments; he then suddenly wheeled, fired a destructive volley into the incautious foe, and followed this rapidly by a charge with the bayonet. The enemy fled, and endeavoured to regain their guns and entrenchments; but Lake did not leave them time - another volley and another bayonet charge completely disorganised them, and they fled for the Jumna, and the way they had come. Three or four thousand of them were killed, wounded, and taken prisoners; but general Lake lost three or four hundred men, who had been swept down by the artillery. All their cannon, sixty-eight in number, he secured, with a large quantity of ammunition, and the military chest. On the 14th general Bourquien and four other French officers surrendered themselves prisoners of war. The troops of Scindiah, which had held the mogul prisoner, evacuated the city, and, on the 16th, general Lake made a visit of state to the aged Shah Alum, who expressed himself in terms of rapture at being delivered from his oppressors, and received under the protection of the British. The tale of his miseries in the hands of Scindiah was heartrending; and still more so his sufferings in the hands of Gliolaum Khadur previously, who had struck out one of his eyes with a dagger, and had struck off the hand of a servant who had refused to put out his other eye. The last of the French officers now surrendered, and thus French influence was extinguished in this part of India.
General Lake had no sooner seen Delhi clear of the enemy than he marched to Agra, which he reached on the 4th of October, and carried on the 17th. But Scindiah had availed himself of his absence, and made a sudden rush on Delhi, with seventeen well-disciplined battalions of infantry and between four thousand and five thousand cavalry. The Mahratta troops had been well trained by the French, who hoped, by their means, to crush the power of the English in India, and had shown throughout this war a wonderfully increased efficiency, yet general Lake did not hesitate, with his small force, to go in quest of them. He started on the 27th of October, and, after marching in heavy rains, and through dreadful roads - the country having been purposely inundated by Scindiah's officers cutting down the banks of reservoirs - he came upon the Mahrattas on the 31st, near the village of Laswarree, their left flanked by that village, their right by a stream, and their front protected by seventy-two pieces of cannon. A furious battle took place, in the course of which Lake's troops were repeatedly repulsed, but returned to the charge undauntedly, and the successive charges by the bayonet, and the gallant conduct of the cavalry, at length, in the face of terrible discharges of grape-shot and canister, drove the Mahrattas from all their positions. The enemy had fought desperately, and step by step only had given way, but, in the end, the rout was complete - all the cannon, the baggage, and almost everything, being left in the hands of the English. Nearly seven thousand of the enemy are said to have been left dead on the field, and, except about two thousand taken prisoners, all those seventeen battalions were destroyed or dispersed. The English had one hundred and seventy-two killed and six hundred and fifty-two wounded. General Lake had two horses shot under him; his son, acting as his aide-de-camp, was severely wounded at his side; major-general Ware was killed leading on the right wing of the infantry; and major Griffiths in a charge of cavalry. This division of Scindiah's army was thus annihilated, and all the territory watered by the Jumna left in the hands of the English.
This blow induced Scindiah to sue for peace from general Wellesley in November; and a truce was accordingly entered into with him; but, as the rajah of Berar still kept the field, Wellesley marched against him, and encountering him on the plains of Argaum, about one hundred and twenty miles north of the Poorna river. He was surprised to find the treacherous Scindiah, notwithstanding the truce, also encamped with him. Wellesley attacked the allies on the 29th of October, though it was evening when he was ready for action, and there remained only twenty minutes of daylight. But it proved a brilliant moonlight night, and he routed the whole army, and his cavalry pursued the fugitives for many miles, taking many elephants, camels, and much baggage. He captured all their cannon, thirty-eight pieces, and all their ammunition. This done, he hastened to reduce the formidable fortress of Gawil-Ghur, situated on a lofty rock, accessible only by three roads winding up the hill, and those on the west and south greatly exposed to the fire from the batteries. The third road, which led to the northern gate, approached the fortress over more level ground, but could only be gained by a detour of thirty miles, through a wild mountain district, lying between the sources of the Poorna and Taptee rivers. But Wellesley sent general Hepburn, with a strong detachment, on this arduous enterprise of reaching the northern gate, by dragging their cannon over the mountains. Hepburn accomplished the task with great exertion, and, in five days, reached the village of Labada, where the level road commenced. On the 12th of December Hepburn was ready to begin the attack on the northern gate, and Wellesley, on the same day, opened fire on the southern gate, from a battery which he had succeeded in erecting on the mountain. On the 15th the outer walls were carried, and the 94th regiment, led on by captain Campbell, scaled the inner one, opened the gate, and the whole place was soon in possession of the British. The garrison was strong and well armed with English muskets and bayonets; many of them were rajpoots, and others were infantry who had escaped from the battle of Argaum. The chiefs had some of them killed their wives and daughters before the surrender, according to their custom, and they fought desperately. Many of them, as well as the commander of the fortress, Beny Sing, were found buried under heaps of slain inside the gate that was stormed, and the carnage altogether was very great. This closed the opposition of the rajah of Berar. On the 17th of December he came to terms, and surrendered to Wellesley the important province of Cuttack and the district of Balasore. Balasore had been evacuated in September, by a division of the army of Bengal, which had marched forward to assist general Harcourt and an army from Madras to reduce Cuttack, which surrendered on the 14th of October. By this means Harcourt was enabled to co-operate with Wellesley, and to keep the enemy in check whilst he was engaged against the fortress of Gawil-Ghur.
By these well-planned co-operative movements, not only the rajah of Berar, but, immediately after, Scindiah was compelled to treat in earnest. He consented to surrender all the country between the Jumna and the Ganges, with numerous forts and other territories, and agreed to recognise the right of the peishwa to the domains the English had conferred upon him. Both he and the rajah of Berar stipulated to send away all Frenchmen or other Europeans and Americans, and not to employ them again, nor even to employ English subjects, native or European, without the consent of the British government.
These signal successes were in no small degree due to the admirable management of general Wellesley. He had introduced a new life into all the movements and regulations of the Indian army. The commissariat department had undergone a thorough reform, and the whole system of gaining and sending out intelligence was suck as it had never been in the English army since the days of Marlborough. All the general's plans were well laid and well executed; there were no blunders and no failures. He says himself, that he enabled his troops to perform marches such as had never been effected in India before; that in the eight days previous to the battle of Argaum he had marched one hundred and twenty miles, passing through two ghauts, with heavy guns; and that on the very day on which he fought at Argaum, his troops had marched six-and-twenty miles. It was here that he developed those qualities that afterwards drove the French from Portugal and Spain, and terminated the career of Napoleon at Waterloo.
Wellesley, brilliantly seconded by general Lake, Stephen- son, and others, had thus worked out the plans of the governor-general, lord Wellesley. With comparatively small forces, and those principally native ones, but admirably disciplined, they had beaten two hundred and fifty thousand men, in four pitched battles and eight sieges. They had taken from them upwards of one thousand pieces of cannon, besides an enormous amount of ammunition, baggage, and other spoil. They had made themselves masters of all the Mahratta territory betwixt the Jumna and the Ganges; of Delhi, Agra, Calpee, the greater part of the province of Bundelcund, the whole of Cuttack, and a territory in Gujerat, which secured us all the ports by which France could have entered, so that we enjoyed the whole navigation of the coast from the mouth of the Ganges to the mouth of the Indus. They had added most important acquisitions to the territories of our allies, the peishwa and the nizam of the Deccan, and to the company itself a stronger frontier in the latter region; and all this had been achieved in the short space of four months. The French influence was completely annihilated, and every part of India placed in greater strength and security than it had ever known before.
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