THE DISASTER IN BOOTAN.
THE Government of India has relied for the first time since the mutinies upon the native army alone, and the weapon has broken in its hands. When the Government of Bengal at the beginning of last cold weather carried its point of declaring war upon Bootan, the Viceroy insisted upon the despatch of an adequate force to the frontier, but declined to send any Europeans. If the sepoys were good for anything they were good enough to fight the Bootees, and European lives were too valuable to be squandered in jungle service. Accordingly a strong corps d'arnde numbering some 8,000 men was collected, but left without European support save such as might be obtained from some twenty artillerymen selected to manage two light Armstrong guns. This force entered the country at four points widely separated from each other, passed through the Dooars or low country, in which they met no resistance, and seized the stockades commanding the four main entrances into the Bootan plateau. Garrisons were placed in each, the low country was declared annexed, and the Government of Bengal, which had from the first been annoyed at the precautions insisted on by the Viceroy, announced with some exultation that it could govern the district by the aid of the police alone. A flourishing report was prepared showing the resources of the country in cotton, tea, and grain, and the eagerness of the people to be delivered from their Mongol oppressors, the war was declared at an end, and the army, greatly enfeebled by disease, was distributed among the nearest military stations. Negotiations were at the same time commenced with the Durbar, or conclave of chiefs and officers supposed to govern Bootan, to induce them in con- sideration of an annuity to abstain from marauding into the annexed territory. It was believed that they would accept this offer, and the Government of Bengal reviewing all the facts, the success of the inroad, the increase of territory, and the submission of the people, was rather proud of its successful exploit. The Secretary, Mr. Ashley Eden, in particular felt that the stain upon his robe had been washed white, that the insult offered through him to the Imperial Government had been speedily and most amply avenged. The public considered the affair at an end, and with that imperial pride which marks the Anglo-Indians, which induces them now to make head against a nation in arms, and then to court destruction by careless contempt for their foes, declared the Bootees savages, and in a week forgot them.
They forgot also a man named Tongsoo Penlow, chief of the war party of Bootee. This man, who was the main author of the outrages upon Mr. Eden, refused, it may be from ignorance, but it may also be from patriotism, to hear of submission, and spent two months in raising his clansmen and, as we strongly suspect, in obtaining arms from Bengal. There are Mahommedans in the Eastern districts who do not love us, and who have command of great stores of arms, which, again, might be slowly supplied from within the Nepalese frontier. Wherever they came from they were obtained, and by the middle of January Tong,soo Penlow was at the head of a small body of musketeers and a large force armed with bows, arrows, and billhooks, the latter, we may remark, very formidable weapons indeed if their owners can but close. His object was of course to regain the command of the passes, and for this purpose it was essential to carry the stockades, Dalingkote, Buxa, Bala, and Dewangiri, by which they are commanded. The first-named post was neglected, probably as being furthest off from the seat of the chieftain's local power, and the main attack was directed on Dewangiri, at the north-eastern extremity of the Dooars, and close to the Penlow's property. This was assailed by the chieftain him- self with a force represented by prisoners at 6,000 men, who had taken possession of all the surrounding eminences. One detachment, as far as we can judge from the hurried descriptions forwarded to Indian papers, gained a position directly commanding the stockade, another cut off the bamboo aqueduct through which it was supplied with water. The garrison, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Campbell, of the 43rd Native Infantry, consisted of about 600 men, all natives, and fourteen or fifteen Europeans in charge of two " Arm- strong " guns, light pieces they must have been; as they were dragged by men. That force should have been amply suf- ficient to defeat any attack, and was declared to be so by the Brigadier commanding at Gowhatty, who peremptorily refused to send the reinforcements applied for by Colonel Campbell until it was too late. It is probable that the officer in com- mand, in addition to all other sources of anxiety, perceived signs of depression among his men, who never like frontier service, who were getting_ weak with dysentery, and who were accustomed always to see Europeans by their side. With a
dispirited garrison, many sick, an open stockade, water failing, ammunition falling short, and a resolute enemy swarming all around, he appears to have considered his post untenable, and to have decided on retreating, or if necessary cutting his way to Gowhatty. The Indian journals blame him severely, but Anglo-Indians are very intolerant of failure, and there is neither courage nor capacity in a fight against thirst. Colonel Campbell for all that appears may have been perfectly right, at all events he gave the order for a secret retreat, and during the night of the 4th February the evacu- ation began. It speedily became a rout. The night was dark, the guides missed the route, the different parties, advanced guard, main guard, sick guard, and artillery got separated, officers could not be found when wanted to issue orders, and finally the sepoys were seized with one of those panics of con- fusion which are so apt to arise in an expedition by night. They grew, it is asserted, almost mutinous with alarm, quitted the sick, and declined to pull at the guns, all stores were pitched down the hill sides rifles were thrown away, and at last the artillerymen, utterly worn out, were compelled to abandon the two guns. The retreat had become a rush, and the force when it gained Koomrehatta, the nearest halting-point, no longer consisted of soldiers. A British garrison had been driven out in confusion from a British possession by men whom they held to be little better than savages. In the meanwhile, on dates still uncertain Bala and Buxa, two other stockades, one fifty and the other a hundred miles away, had also been abandoned, the first after two un- successful attacks, the latter after several days of determined fighting, in which we lost two officers and several men. Dalingkote alone remained in our hands, and the "Doom's" but just annexed with such a flourish of trumpets had been torn from our hands. The " savages " had beaten the sepoys.
The instant the news reached Calcutta Sir John Lawrence felt the gravity of the situation. The road into Assam was open to the victorious Bootees, and the defeat of the British arms would be carried with endless exaggerations through all the Mussulman villages of Eastern Ber gal, giving new hope among others to the " Ferazees " the Wahabee community, whom it is even now so difficult to restrain. The disaster must be repaired at once, and the terrible blunder of trusting to natives alone for the success of a distasteful expedition must net again be repeated. The Viceroy at once declared the expedition a war, thus taking it into his own hands, ordered Her Majesty's 55th to the front and Her Majesty's 80th to the nearest point of support, despatched two more native regiments, a regiment of Funjabee Irregulars, a European battery of artil- lery, and a company of sappers and miners, and appointed Lieu- tenant Colonel Tytler, an officer already decorated for conspicu- ous efficiency, to the immediate command in Bootan. One of the most dashing officers in the Indian Army, Brigadier Tombs, has been summoned from Gwalior to take the command of the entire force.. It has been resolved to retake Dewangiri, and by April a small army completely appointed will be in readi- ness to thread once more the passes which command the ceded territory. -Unless the Nepalese, encouraged by reports from the victorious Bootees, should resolve to assist them, there is no chance of such a force as this being repulsed, but we shall nevertheless pay heavily for the blunder already committed. The original conquest cost half a million, and the outlay for the second campaign will amount to a sum the Treasury can ill spare. Transport in these regions so far from civilization is exceedingly -costly. We hear of carts being built on purpose in thousands and by contractors, of elephants sent from Patna hundreds of miles away, of steamers chartered for months, of depOts of ammunition, and tents, and spirits, and, all things necessary to keep Europeans in good heart. Nor is this the worst of the affair. The rains commence in Bootan before May, there are no barracks on this side of Bengal fit for Europeans, the hospitals even must be in tents, and the men will have not only to march across Bengal and to conquer Bootan, but to march bark again during the most dangerous of Indian seasons. The regiments will lose a third of their strength, perhaps a half, and this wretched little war will cost us six or seven hundred acclimatized soldiers, a million and a half sterling, and all the consequences which flow in India from any event which destro3s the impression of British invincibility. It is all of course unavoidable. If the wilder tribes of the frontier once fancy that they are beyond the Viceroy's aim the frontier counties will soon be unin- habitable, and we shall have to commence operations to which the war in Bootan is child's play. Our territories march with the hunting-grounds of tribes more or less savage and as brave as Maories for nearly three thousand miles, and steady defence is impossible except on the principle of never enduring defeat. Any other would cost the whole revenue of the frontier counties, perhaps bring on us a concerted invasion made from all points at once. The second expedition is un- avoidable, but we do trust the affair will teach Anglo-Indian statesmen two very much n eed ed lesson s, one that the Government of Bengal is not organized for war, does not understand it, and ought not to be entrusted with its prosecution ; the other, that to rely on native soldiers alone is the most costly of economies. Their business is to be auxiliaries to the legions. One hun- dred Europeans in each stockade would either have defended it successfully, or have inspired among the sepoys the con- fidence necessary to a dignified and well-planned retreat; would have either spared us a war which compels us to retain the income-tax, or enabled us to wait with dignified patience tilt the arrival of another cold weather made it safe for Europeans to move.