TOPICS OF THE DAY.
THE MILITARY SITUATION.
THE plan of the campaign in the Soudan has been materially changed, and probably changed suddenly. It is on the surface of things that Sir Redvers Buller, with the Royal Irish, was not sent from Korti to Gubat on a long and exhausting Desert march of one hundred and eighty miles, without camels, in order that he and his soldiers might make the same march back again ; and the presumption is, therefore, that between his departure from Korti and his abandonment of Gubat something entirely new had occurred. What this something new was is not shown by any conclusive or detailed evidence ; but the correspondent of the Chronicle at Abu Kru, who has been remarkably energetic and accurate, and the correspondents of the Telegraph and the Morning Post, all tell the same story, which, in its essence, we see no reason to disbelieve. There may be exaggerations in it which have been made worse by the London newspapers, but the general statement is the only one that explains the facts. They all say that the Mandi, who had been writing to his Emirs, as shown by a captured letter, about the great importance of keeping Berber safe, as one of the " gates " through which troops could advance from the sea, instead of remaining at Khartoum, as he was expected to do, resolved to move his army down the river, destroy the English in Gubat, and hold Berber with his whole available strength. Whether he moved out of Khartoum " in great state " with 40,000 men, and had at the latest date reached Siloah—twenty miles from Metemmehor not, is uncertain ; for, while the statement is not impossible, it rests as yet on the authority of Arabs, who are hopelessly untrustworthy. Europeans have seen nothing but the fringe of one marching column. What is certain is that the Mandi has dispatched Northwards so large a force, that Sir Redvers Buller, a man of exceptional audacity, thought it possible his own force, scarcely two thousand strong, might be locked-up in Gubat, with his road to Korti cut off, and insufficient supplies. He resolved, therefore, to abandon his two steamers, and retreat to Gakdul, where the water is ample, and where he can await instructions from Lord Wolseley,—which will, in all probability, as Lord Hartington said on Thursday, be to march either to Korti or, better still, to Merawi, which is only a few miles higher-up the stream, whence he can yield immediate support to General Brackenbury's column, now slowly concentrating in boats at Abou Hamad. It is quite possible that the intention is to remain there, and open communica'ions, by General Gordon's route across the Koroshko Desert, with Wady Haifa, thus placing the Army once more in touch with Egypt Proper ; but there may be, and probably is, another design afoot.
The Government is sending out a strong corps d'arnaie of 10,000 picked men to Suakim, who will, it is hoped, all be concentrated and ready by the middle of March—a month hence. They have also made a contract for a railway from Suakim to Berber, a distance, on the line selected, of 270 miles ; and they announced on Thursday that Sir Gerald Graham's first duty would be " to clear the road from Suakim to Berber" by sweeping Osman Digna out of it. This was inevitable. No railway can be made while he lies across the path ; nor can Sir G. Graham's corps be of real use, either to help Lord Wolseley or to aid in a campaign against Khartoum, until some point upon the Nile has been seized, which, again, can only be Berber. No other faces Suakim, or could be reached from the Red Sea while Berber is in the enemy's hands. To possess Berber before the railway is constructed would be to remove some of the greatest difficulties in the way of the contractors, who, though independent of water, will want protection along their whole route. Moreover, the Mandi at Berber can send reinforcements to Osman Digna, and make the battle with that leader twice as formidable as it need otherwise be. We cannot help believing, therefore, that Lord Wolseley holds Berber to be the key of the whole position, and that he will, if possible, seize it before it can be reached either by the Mandi's army or the Mandi's lieutenants. The troops at Korti and Sir R. Buller's force can be concentrated at Merawi without difficulty ; and from thence the direct Desert route to Berber, across which the telegraph was erected before the troubles began, is not longer than the road from Korti to Gubat, and is not entirely waterless. That such a movement, if possible, would be of the highest advantage, is
clear to any one who only looks at a good map ; and its possibility depends upon a single question, which Lord Wolseley; and probably no one else, can precisely answer. Can the British get to Berber before the Mandi's troops can I There is no answer possible to that query in this country, for no one
knows the rate at which the Mandi's Army can march. There is no white man left on the river-bank, now that Gubat is abandoned, between Khartoum and Berber ; and the difficulties of Arab commissariat while marching along the Nile are not great. The Mandi, we know, has command of many boats, for there was a large stock at Khartoum ; and the correspondents mention that the first Arab reinforcement of 3,000 men thrown into Metemmeh descended the river in boats, an operation which the strong rush of the Nile makes easy. Provisions, therefore, can be carried ; and, moreover, an Arab army needs little provision. Each man carries his own supply, just as he did in the days of Kaled ; he eats only millet, drinks only water, and is content with a quantity which, to any European soldier except a Spaniard, would seem a starvation allowance. Nevertheless, the Mandi will desire to carry artillery, with which Baled was not embarrassed ; he must move his ammunition, and he has to traverse nearly three hundred miles of frightful road, often over passes which will tax all the energies of his artillerymen. He has as yet, moreover, shown no power of rapid marching, and is represented by the spies as moving very slowly, and with a pomp which speaks badly for his ability as a general. Still, if we are right, the race may be a very close one ; and Lord Wolseley, if he does not win it, may be compelled to content himself with the possession of Abou Hamad, satisfied that, with the Koroshko Desert in his hands and General Graham advancing in autumn along the railway from Suakim, he can strike down the Mandi at Berber, when the time arrives, more easily than at Khartoum.
But will the Mandi, if in possession of Berber, stop there ? We should say not. The Arabs are probably quite aware, as the Sepoys were aware in the Indian Mutiny, of the advantage they possess in their ability to bear their own climate, and to march in the hottest months ; and the Mandi may know that movement keeps his followers together. He has ample supplies of men, for, whatever the number of his dervishes, he now commands the help of every Arab between the Equatorial Provinces and Metemmeh ; and he may try a Desert march either to Debbeh or even to Wady Haifa, and thus, by getting North of Lord Wolseley, leave him in the air. We see, however, little evidence of this kind of resolution in him ; and it must not be forgotten that, as Mandi, his desire to reach the sea, and thereby communicate direct with Mecca, must be nearly irresistible. Till he is acknowledged in Mecca his authority has no secure base ; and he may be entirely unaware that in declaring war on the British he has made the Red Sea as impassable as the Atlantic. To reach Suakim he must destroy a British army ; and even if he reached it, nothing could sail from Suakim to Jeddah without British consent. There is no land-march to Mecca possible to him until he has conquered Egypt ; and if he has, as is reported, European advisers, they will strive to convince him that the British cannot be evaded at sea. Nevertheless, he is the Mandi, he probably believes in himself ; and we should not be surprised, if he reaches Berber, to find him making a desperate and fatal effort to reach the coast. Mecca draws a man of his kind like a magnet, or as Rome drew the barbarians ; and his authority has for its basis the belief of his followers that of all places in the world Mecca most rightfully belongs to him. All this, however, is in the future ; and for the present we have only to wait quietly to see whether Lord Wolseley will or will not " rush " Berber.