The British were caught asleep and unprepared. They were a few thousands, swallowed up in an ocean of hostile populations. It would take months to inform England and get help, but they did not falter or stop to count the odds, but with English resolution and English devotion they took up their task, and went stubbornly on with it, through good fortune and bad, and fought the most unpromising fight that one may read of in fiction or out of it, and won it thoroughly.
The Mutiny broke out so suddenly, and spread with such rapidity that there was but little time for occupants of weak outlying stations to escape to places of safety. Attempts were made, of course, but they were attended by hardships as bitter as death in the few cases which were successful; for the heat ranged between 120 and 138 in the shade; the way led through hostile peoples, and food and water were hardly to be had. For ladies and children accustomed to ease and comfort and plenty, such a journey must have been a cruel experience. Sir G. O. Trevelyan quotes an example:
"This is what befell Mrs. M----, the wife of the surgeon at a certain station on the southern confines of the insurrection. 'I heard,' she says, 'a number of shots fired, and, looking out, I saw my husband driving furiously from the mess- house, waving his whip. I ran to him, and, seeing a bearer with my child in his arms, I caught her up, and got into the buggy. At the mess- house we found all the officers assembled, together with sixty sepoys, who had remained faithful. We went off in one large party, amidst a general conflagration of our late homes. We reached the caravanserai at Chattapore the next morning, and thence started for Callinger. At this point our sepoy escort deserted us. We were fired upon by match- lockmen, and one officer was shot dead. We heard, likewise, that the people had risen at Callinger, so we returned and walked back ten miles that day. M---- and I carried the child alternately. Presently Mrs. Smalley died of sunstroke. We had no food amongst us. An officer kindly lent us a horse. We were very faint. The Major died, and was buried; also the Sergeant- major and some women. The bandsmen left us on the nineteenth of June. We were fired at again by match- lockmen, and changed direction for Allahabad. Our party consisted of nine gentlemen, two children, the sergeant and his wife. On the morning of the twentieth, Captain Scott took Lottie on to his horse. I was riding behind my husband, and she was so crushed between us. She was two years old on the first of the month. We were both weak through want of food and the effect of the sun. Lottie and I had no head covering. M---- had a sepoy's cap I found on the ground. Soon after sunrise we were followed by villagers armed with clubs and spears. One of them struck Captain Scott's horse on the leg. He galloped off with Lottie, and my poor husband never saw his child again. We rode on several miles, keeping away from villages, and then crossed the river. Our thirst was extreme. M---- had dreadful cramps, so that I had to hold him on the horse. I was very uneasy about him. The day before I saw the drummer's wife eating chupatties, and asked her to give a piece to the child, which she did. I now saw water in a ravine. The descent was steep, and our only drinkingvessel was M----'s cap. Our horse got water, and I bathed my neck. I had no stockings, and my feet were torn and blistered. Two peasants came in sight, and we were frightened and rode off. The sergeant held our horse, and M---- put me up and mounted. I think he must have got suddenly faint, for I fell and he over me, on the road, when the horse started off. Some time before he said, and Barber, too, that he could not live many hours. I felt he was dying before we came to the ravine. He told me his wishes about his children and myself, and took leave. My brain seemed burnt up. No tears came. As soon as we fell, the sergeant let go the horse, and it went off; so that escape was cut off. We sat down on the ground waiting for death. Poor fellow! he was very weak; his thirst was frightful, and I went to get him water. Some villagers came, and took my rupees and watch. I took off my wedding- ring, and twisted it in my hair, and replaced the guard. I tore off the skirt of my dress to bring water in, but was no use, for when I returned my beloved's eyes were fixed, and, though I called and tried to restore him, and poured water into his mouth, it only rattled in his throat. He never spoke to me again. I held him in my arms till he sank gradually down. I felt frantic, but could not cry. I was alone. I bound his head and face in my dress, for there was no earth to buy him. The pain in my hands and feet was dreadful. I went down to the ravine, and sat in the water on a stone, hoping to get off at night and look for Lottie. When I came back from the water, I saw that they had not taken her little watch, chain, and seals, so I tied them under my petticoat. In an hour, about thirty villagers came, they dragged me out of the ravine, and took off my jacket, and found the little chain. They then dragged me to a village, mocking me all the way, and disputing as to whom I was to belong to. The whole population came to look at me. I asked for a bedstead, and lay down outside the door of a hut. They had a dozen of cows, and yet refused me milk. When night came, and the village was quiet, some old woman brought me a leafful of rice. I was too parched to eat, and they gave me water. The morning after a neighboring Rajah sent a palanquin and a horseman to fetch me, who told me that a little child and three Sahibs had come to his master's house. And so the poor mother found her lost one, 'greatly blistered,' poor little creature. It is not for Europeans in India to pray that their flight be not in the winter."
In the first days of June the aged general, Sir Hugh Wheeler commanding the forces at Cawnpore, was deserted by his native troops; then he moved out of the fort and into an exposed patch of open flat ground and built a four- foot mud wall around it. He had with him a few hundred white soldiers and officers, and apparently more women and children than soldiers. He was short of provisions, short of arms, short of ammunition, short of military wisdom, short of everything but courage and devotion to duty. The defense of that open lot through twenty- one days and nights of hunger, thirst, Indian heat, and a never- ceasing storm of bullets, bombs, and cannon- balls--a defense conducted, not by the aged and infirm general, but by a young officer named Moore- is one of the most heroic episodes in history. When at last the Nana found it impossible to conquer these starving men and women with powder and ball, he resorted to treachery, and that succeeded. He agreed to supply them with food and send them to Allahabad in boats. Their mud wall and their barracks were in ruins, their provisions were at the point of exhaustion, they had done all that the brave could do, they had conquered an honorable compromise,--their forces had been fearfully reduced by casualties and by disease, they were not able to continue the contest longer. They came forth helpless but suspecting no treachery, the Nana's host closed around them, and at a signal from a trumpet the massacre began. About two hundred women and children were spared- for the present- but all the men except three or four were killed. Among the incidents of the massacre quoted by Sir G. O. Trevelyan, is this:
"When, after the lapse of some twenty minutes, the dead began to outnumber the living;--when the fire slackened, as the marks grew few and far between; then the troopers who had been drawn up to the right of the temple plunged into the river, sabre between teeth, and pistol in hand. Thereupon two half- caste Christian women, the wives of musicians in the band of the Fifty- sixth, witnessed a scene which should not be related at second- hand. 'In the boat where I was to have gone,' says Mrs. Bradshaw, confirmed throughout by Mrs. Betts, 'was the school- mistress and twenty- two misses. General Wheeler came last in a palkee. They carried him into the water near the boat. I stood close by. He said, 'Carry me a little further towards the boat.' But a trooper said, 'No, get out here.' As the General got out of the palkee, head- foremost, the trooper gave him a cut with his sword into the neck, and he fell into the water. My son was killed near him. I saw it; alas! alas! Some were stabbed with bayonets; others cut down. Little infants were torn in pieces. We saw it; we did; and tell you only what we saw. Other children were stabbed and thrown into the river. The schoolgirls were burnt to death. I saw their clothes and hair catch fire. In the water, a few paces off, by the next boat, we saw the youngest daughter of Colonel Williams. A sepoy was going to kill her with his bayonet. She said, 'My father was always kind to sepoys.' He turned away, and just then a villager struck her on the head with a club, and she fell into the water. These people likewise saw good Mr. Moncrieff, the clergyman, take a book from his pocket that he never had leisure to open, and heard him commence a prayer for mercy which he was not permitted to conclude. Another deponent observed an European making for a drain like a scared water- rat, when some boatmen, armed with cudgels, cut off his retreat, and beat him down dead into the mud."
The women and children who had been reserved from the massacre were imprisoned during a fortnight in a small building, one story high- a cramped place, a slightly modified Black Hole of Calcutta. They were waiting in suspense; there was none who could foretaste their fate. Meantime the news of the massacre had traveled far and an army of rescuers with Havelock at its head was on its way- at least an army which hoped to be rescuers. It was crossing the country by forced marches, and strewing its way with its own dead men struck down by cholera, and by a heat which reached 135 deg. It was in a vengeful fury, and it stopped for nothing neither heat, nor fatigue, nor disease, nor human opposition. It tore its impetuous way through hostile forces, winning victory after victory, but still striding on and on, not halting to count results. And at last, after this extraordinary march, it arrived before the walls of Cawnpore, met the Nana's massed strength, delivered a crushing defeat, and entered.
But too late- only a few hours too late. For at the last moment the Nana had decided upon the massacre of the captive women and children, and had commissioned three Mohammedans and two Hindoos to do the work. Sir G. O. Trevelyan says:
"Thereupon the five men entered. It was the short gloaming of Hindostan- the hour when ladies take their evening drive. She who had accosted the officer was standing in the doorway. With her were the native doctor and two Hindoo menials. That much of the business might be seen from the veranda, but all else was concealed amidst the interior gloom. Shrieks and scuffing acquainted those without that the journeymen were earning their hire. Survur Khan soon emerged with his sword broken off at the hilt. He procured another from the Nana's house, and a few minutes after appeared again on the same errand. The third blade was of better temper; or perhaps the thick of the work was already over. By the time darkness had closed in, the men came forth and locked up the house for the night. Then the screams ceased, but the groans lasted till morning.
"The sun rose as usual. When he had been up nearly three hours the five repaired to the scene of their labors over night. They were attended by a few sweepers, who proceeded to transfer the contents of the house to a dry well situated behind some trees which grew hard by. 'The bodies,' says one who was present throughout, 'were dragged out, most of them by the hair of the head. Those who had clothing worth taking were stripped. Some of the women were alive. I cannot say how many; but three could speak. They prayed for the sake of God that an end might be put to their sufferings. I remarked one very stout woman, a half- caste, who was severely wounded in both arms, who entreated to be killed. She and two or three others were placed against the bank of the cut by which bullocks go down in drawing water. The dead were first thrown in. Yes: there was a great crowd looking on; they were standing along the walls of the compound. They were principally city people and villagers. Yes: there were also sepoys. Three boys were alive. They were fair children. The eldest, I think, must have been six or seven, and the youngest five years. They were running around the well (where else could they go to?), and there was none to save them. No one said a word or tried to save them.'
"At length the smallest of them made an infantile attempt to get away. The little thing had been frightened past bearing by the murder of one of the surviving ladies. He thus attracted the observation of a native who flung him and his companions down the well."
The soldiers had made a march of eighteen days, almost without rest, to save the women and the children, and now they were too late- all were dead and the assassin had flown. What happened then, Trevelyan hesitated to put into words. "Of what took place, the less said is the better."
Then he continues:
"But there was a spectacle to witness which might excuse much. Those who, straight from the contested field, wandered sobbing through the rooms of the ladies' house, saw what it were well could the outraged earth have straightway hidden. The inner apartment was ankle- deep in blood. The plaster was scored with sword- cuts; not high up as where men have fought, but low down, and about the corners, as if a creature had crouched to avoid the blow. Strips of dresses, vainly tied around the handles of the doors, signified the contrivance to which feminine despair had resorted as a means of keeping out the murderers. Broken combs were there, and the frills of children's trousers, and torn cuffs and pinafores, and little round hats, and one or two shoes with burst latchets, and one or two daguerreotype cases with cracked glasses. An officer picked up a few curls, preserved in a bit of cardboard, and marked 'Ned's hair, with love'; but around were strewn locks, some near a yard in length, dissevered, not as a keepsake, by quite other scissors."
The battle of Waterloo was fought on the 18th of June, 1815. I do not state this fact as a reminder to the reader, but as news to him. For a forgotten fact is news when it comes again. Writers of books have the fashion of whizzing by vast and renowned historical events with the remark, "The details of this tremendous episode are too familiar to the reader to need repeating here." They know that that is not true. It is a low kind of flattery. They know that the reader has forgotten every detail of it, and that nothing of the tremendous event is left in his mind but a vague and formless luminous smudge. Aside from the desire to flatter the reader, they have another reason for making the remark- two reasons, indeed. They do not remember the details themselves, and do not want the trouble of hunting them up and copying them out; also, they are afraid that if they search them out and print them they will be scoffed at by the book- reviewers for retelling those worn old things which are familiar to everybody. They should not mind the reviewer's jeer; he doesn't remember any of the worn old things until the book which he is reviewing has retold them to him.
I have made the quoted remark myself, at one time and another, but I was not doing it to flatter the reader; I was merely doing it to save work. If I had known the details without brushing up, I would have put them in; but I didn't, and I did not want the labor of posting myself; so I said, "The details of this tremendous episode are too familiar to the reader to need repeating here." I do not like that kind of a lie; still, it does save work.
I am not trying to get out of repeating the details of the Siege of Lucknow in fear of the reviewer; I am not leaving them out in fear that they would not interest the reader; I am leaving them out partly to save work; mainly for lack of room. It is a pity, too; for there is not a dull place anywhere in the great story.
Ten days before the outbreak (May 10th) of the Mutiny, all was serene at Lucknow, the huge capital of Oudh, the kingdom which had recently been seized by the India Company. There was a great garrison, composed of about 7,000 native troops and between 700 and 800 whites. These white soldiers and their families were probably the only people of their race there; at their elbow was that swarming population of warlike natives, a race of born soldiers, brave, daring, and fond of fighting. On high ground just outside the city stood the palace of that great personage, the Resident, the representative of British power and authority. It stood in the midst of spacious grounds, with its due complement of outbuildings, and the grounds were enclosed by a wall- a wall not for defense, but for privacy. The mutinous spirit was in the air, but the whites were not afraid, and did not feel much troubled.
Then came the outbreak at Meerut, then the capture of Delhi by the mutineers; in June came the three- weeks leaguer of Sir Hugh Wheeler in his open lot at Cawnpore--40 miles distant from Lucknow- then the treacherous massacre of that gallant little garrison; and now the great revolt was in full flower, and the comfortable condition of things at Lucknow was instantly changed.
There was an outbreak there, and Sir Henry Lawrence marched out of the Residency on the 30th of June to put it down, but was defeated with heavy loss, and had difficulty in getting back again. That night the memorable siege of the Residency- called the siege of Lucknow- began. Sir Henry was killed three days later, and Brigadier Inglis succeeded him in command.
Outside of the Residency fence was an immense host of hostile and confident native besiegers; inside it were 480 loyal native soldiers, 730 white ones, and 500 women and children.
In those days the English garrisons always managed to hamper themselves sufficiently with women and children.
The natives established themselves in houses close at hand and began to rain bullets and cannon- balls into the Residency; and this they kept up, night and day, during four months and a half, the little garrison industriously replying all the time. The women and children soon became so used to the roar of the guns that it ceased to disturb their sleep. The children imitated siege and defense in their play. The women- with any pretext, or with none- would sally out into the storm- swept grounds. The defense was kept up week after week, with stubborn fortitude, in the midst of death, which came in many forms- by bullet, small- pox, cholera, and by various diseases induced by unpalatable and insufficient food, by the long hours of wearying and exhausting overwork in the daily and nightly battle in the oppressive Indian heat, and by the broken rest caused by the intolerable pest of mosquitoes, flies, mice, rats, and fleas.
Six weeks after the beginning of the siege more than one- half of the original force of white soldiers was dead, and close upon three- fifths of the original native force.
But the fighting went on just the same. The enemy mined, the English counter- mined, and, turn about, they blew up each other's posts. The Residency grounds were honey- combed with the enemy's tunnels. Deadly courtesies were constantly exchanged- sorties by the English in the night; rushes by the enemy in the night- rushes whose purpose was to breach the walls or scale them; rushes which cost heavily, and always failed.
The ladies got used to all the horrors of war- the shrieks of mutilated men, the sight of blood and death. Lady Inglis makes this mention in her diary:
"Mrs. Bruere's nurse was carried past our door to- day, wounded in the eye. To extract the bullet it was found necessary to take out the eye- a fearful operation. Her mistress held her while it was performed."
The first relieving force failed to relieve. It was under Havelock and Outram; and arrived when the siege had been going on for three months. It fought its desperate way to Lucknow, then fought its way through the city against odds of a hundred to one, and entered the Residency; but there was not enough left of it, then, to do any good. It lost more men in its last fight than it found in the Residency when it got in. It became captive itself.
The fighting and starving and dying by bullets and disease went steadily on. Both sides fought with energy and industry. Captain Birch puts this striking incident in evidence. He is speaking of the third month of the siege:
"As an instance of the heavy firing brought to bear on our position this month may be mentioned the cutting down of the upper story of a brick building simply by musketry firring. This building was in a most exposed position. All the shots which just missed the top of the rampart cut into the dead wall pretty much in a straight line, and at length cut right through and brought the upper story tumbling down. The upper structure on the top of the brigade- mess also fell in. The Residency house was a wreck. Captain Anderson's post had long ago been knocked down, and Innes' post also fell in. These two were riddled with round shot. As many as 200 were picked up by Colonel Masters."
The exhausted garrison fought doggedly on all through the next month October. Then, November 2d, news came Sir Colin Campbell's relieving force would soon be on its way from Cawnpore.
On the 12th the boom of his guns was heard.
On the 13th the sounds came nearer- he was slowly, but steadily, cutting his way through, storming one stronghold after another.
On the 14th he captured the Martiniere College, and ran up the British flag there. It was seen from the Residency.
Next he took the Dilkoosha.
On the 17th he took the former mess- house of the 32d regiment- a fortified building, and very strong. "A most exciting, anxious day," writes Lady Inglis in her diary. "About 4 P.M., two strange officers walked through our yard, leading their horses"--and by that sign she knew that communication was established between the forces, that the relief was real, this time, and that the long siege of Lucknow was ended.
The last eight or ten miles of Sir Colin Campbell's march was through seas of, blood. The weapon mainly used was the bayonet, the fighting was desperate. The way was mile- stoned with detached strong buildings of stone, fortified, and heavily garrisoned, and these had to be taken by assault. Neither side asked for quarter, and neither gave it. At the Secundrabagh, where nearly two thousand of the enemy occupied a great stone house in a garden, the work of slaughter was continued until every man was killed. That is a sample of the character of that devastating march.
There were but few trees in the plain at that time, and from the Residency the progress of the march, step by step, victory by victory, could be noted; the ascending clouds of battle- smoke marked the way to the eye, and the thunder of the guns marked it to the ear.
Sir Colin Campbell had not come to Lucknow to hold it, but to save the occupants of the Residency, and bring them away. Four or five days after his arrival the secret evacuation by the troops took place, in the middle of a dark night, by the principal gate, (the Bailie Guard). The two hundred women and two hundred and fifty children had been previously removed. Captain Birch says:
"And now commenced a movement of the most perfect arrangement and successful generalship- the withdrawal of the whole of the various forces, a combined movement requiring the greatest care and skill. First, the garrison in immediate contact with the enemy at the furthest extremity of the Residency position was marched out. Every other garrison in turn fell in behind it, and so passed out through the Bailie Guard gate, till the whole of our position was evacuated. Then Havelock's force was similarly withdrawn, post by post, marching in rear of our garrison. After them in turn came the forces of the Commander- in-Chief, which joined on in the rear of Havelock's force. Regiment by regiment was withdrawn with- the utmost order and regularity. The whole operation resembled the movement of a telescope. Stern silence was kept, and the enemy took no alarm."
Lady Inglis, referring to her husband and to General Sir James Outram, sets down the closing detail of this impressive midnight retreat, in darkness and by stealth, of this shadowy host through the gate which it had defended so long and so well:
"At twelve precisely they marched out, John and Sir James Outram remaining till all had passed, and then they took off their hats to the Bailie Guard, the scene of as noble a defense as I think history will ever have to relate."