7 MARCH 1885, Page 5


FATE has been hard upon England in the Egyptian campaign. The original idea of the Expedition was excellent, and it was within a hair's-breadth of complete success. It is now clearly shown that the Suakim-Berber route, which depended upon the railway being constructed, would have been too slow ; and Lord Wolseley was, therefore, justified in adopting the only alternative—an ascent of the River Nile in open boats. The ascent proved unexpectedly tedious, not only from the number of cataracts and the shallowness of the river, both of which had been provided for, but from the tremendous rush of the stream, which, as in every tropical river of the first class, makes the hardest pulling seem like work thrown away. In places the boats only made six miles a day. The arrival at Korti was, therefore, late, so late, that when Lord Wolseley received General Gordon's secret message, reporting the straits to which Khartoum was reduced, it was necessary, for the sake of speed, to run all the risks of dividing the force into three, and of making with the smallest third what was virtually a forced march to Gubat. Nothing more audacious, or indeed desperate, was ever done in war. Sir H. Stewart's fifteen hundred men had barely transport enough, had to cross one hundred and eighty miles of stony and hilly desert with water only at two places, and had to face every chance of being attacked at the end by an overwhelming force. It is now clear, from the detailed narratives which are arriving, that we were within an ace of defeat at Abou Klea, and that the subsequent march to Gubat was a running fight, which could only have been kept-up by men who knew that the alternatives before them were steady advance or destruction. Still, the risks had to be run, or Gordon to be abandoned ; and they were run, and but for the treachery of the liberated slave, Perez Pasha, they would have been justified by complete success. Had Mr. Tenniel been right in his pictorial prediction—as for three days it seemed certain that he would be right—the relief of Khartoum would have lived as a grandly picturesque incident in the annals of British war, and Lord Wolseley would have been hailed as a General in whom the union of cold judgment and supreme audacity almost ensured success. The fall of Khartoum, however, with the consequent reinvigoration of the Mandi's influence, changed the whole aspect of affairs. Three divisions, all advancing on Khartoum, which they could hold indefinitely, were changed into three divisions objectlessly holding or seizing points along the Nile, and liable to be attacked at any moment in detail. It was, as the correspondents on the spot assure us, at first intended to concentrate on Berber ; but there was danger that the Mandi and Osman Digna might converge upon the place, and lock us up there till autumn ; the troops had suffered much,—the Gubat Division, in particular, having lost in killed, wounded, and invalided one clear fourth of its strength,—the mortality among the camels, which, when overworked, die like flies, almost crippled the means of transport, and Lord Wolseley determined to retreat. The Division at Gubat was recalled ; and though loaded with wounded and insufficiently supplied with camels, Sir Redvers Boller executed his orders successfully, chiefly by using General Gordon's sturdy Nubians as carriers for the sick. General Brackenbury, with the division marching and rowing to Abou Hamad, turned rapidly on his tracks; and by the latest advices the whole expedition is now gathered once more at Korti and Merawi. It is not, according to the last accounts, intended to stop even there. Korti is too far south for a long stay, except in force ; and to guard his communications, to make supply easier, and perhaps to overawe doubtful tribes in his rear, Lord Wolseley withdraws his head-quarters to Old Dongola, distributing the remainder of his force along the river at the points where, during their period of forced inactivity, his men will suffer least from the heat, which already begins to exceed 104° Fahr. in the shade. That is a very terrible degree of heat to Europeans, who, though they can bear heat up to 90° for a limited period with less suffering than is supposed, suffer from every degree above that point to an extent as yet scarcely explained, strong men when exposed to it often dropping in the ranks as if they had been poisoned or struck by lightning. The sleeplessness, too, produced by the heat of East Africa—which is scarcely assuaged by darkness —wears men out, and produces a kind of fever often fatal, even when all medical appliances are easily procurable.

The decision to wait and so allow time for the Suakim Expedition to act, for reliefs to arrive from Cairo, for the Nile to rise, and the heat to abate, is, we are convinced, wise ; but it is none the less disappointing. The European world has abandoned the custom of going into winter-quarters, and now expects that wars shall be waged with startling quickness of result, either in victory or defeat. A long period of waiting, therefore, takes some heart out of a nation, while it enormously increases expenditure, and, in some cases, the waste of life. In the present instance, too, it allows the enemy to gather-up his strength from the South, to create a strong entrenched camp—at Shandy it is now said—and to intrigue through his emissaries far to the northward of his own position. He may communicate even with the Syrian Desert ; and there are Arabs and Nubians enough in the cities of Egypt Proper to create the restlessness of which symptoms have already manifested themselves in Cairo. Nevertheless, it is not only wise to wait, it is necessary to wait, for there is nothing else to be done. We may be quite sure that neither General Wolseley nor the British Government are pausing because they approve delay, and that they will resume action at the earliest moment at which they believe it feasible to strike. Reinforcements for Lord Wolseley are already on their way to Cairo, the force at Suakim grows large, the Indian troops have arrived, and the blow at Osman Digna, essential to the speedy making of the railway, will not be delayed an unnecessary hour. The nation must show its nerve for some months by a calm patience, which certainly exists in the national character, while the Departments realise that a serious war is on hand, and gradually make those complete preparations without which we English cannot win. We elect to fight everywhere with small bodies of picked men, instead of large bodies of conscripts ; and the conditions of our success are an audacity which is seldom wanting, and a perfection of supply which is not always present, though it is less often absent than in any Continental Army except the German, which again, as Marshal von Moltke curtly said, has " never been tested by defeat."