What brave men can do.
--The mutiny of the Bengal Sepoys
furnished the occasion of some of the most memorable exhibitions of human heroism which the world has over seen.
At the time this mutiny began, the British
armed force in the country was only sixteen thousand men, scattered over a vast alien territory, and encompassed by a hundred and twenty thousand disciplined soldiers, fighting desperately for supremacy.
So entire was the confidence reposed by the British Government
in the Sepoys, that it had guarded the capital city of India
with native troops only, and kept in one of the provinces, containing eight millions of people, a garrison of only six hundred English soldiers.
Nor were the Sepoys the only enemies whom the English
heroes were forced, at that critical juncture, to confront.
The season seemed to conspire with the Sepoys for the overthrow of British rule.
The mutineers had shrewdly chosen for the period of their outbreak that terribly hot culmination of the torrid summer, when the rays of the sun are almost as fatal to exposed Europeans as Minnie bullets.
Yet, in the face of these appalling combinations, separated far from the mother country and from each other, assailed not only by the vast Sepoy army, but in the midst of an enormous hostile population, sixteen thousand Englishmen bore down, by the momentum of their moral superiority and amazing courage, the whole vast odds of this gigantic mutiny, and placed the ruling throne of British dominion in India
upon a foundation scarcely less stable than that of Victoria
's own dominion in England
The capture of Delhi
alone will stand to the end of time one of the most extraordinary achievements of British valor.
A wondrous feat of arms indeed, as an English historian has pronounced it, effected by less than four thousand Englishmen against an army of thirty thousand men, strongly entrenched, in possession of an inexhaustible arsenal, and well provided with everything necessary to defy assault.
Yet, even this was surpassed by the siege and relief of Luck now. This famous spot was not strong either by nature or art; it was no walled city like Saragossa
, manned by its own inhabitants.
It is described as a mere range of fragile buildings, encircled by such entrenchments as could be hastily thrown up in a few days, surrounded at all points by an armed enemy and a hostile population.
The garrison is said to have consisted of only a portion of one British regiment, with seven hundred and fifty loyal natives, and a motley gathering of civilians, against whom was arrayed a vast armed host of not less than sixty thousand men, mostly trained in the British
school of arms.
Yet, for three long and fearful months — we quote the language of a narrator of the siege--"did our devoted countrymen maintain their hold, in hourly peril of death, exposed night and day to incessant assaults, with twenty-five guns of large calibre playing on their frail defences, some actually within fifty yards of their position — under a constant shower of bullets from ten thousand loop-holes, with mines exploding every day beneath their feet, with privation and disease within, and no certain hope of relief from any quarter." Here is a description of one of the most desperate assaults sustained by the garrison, from the pen of an eye-witness, Capt. Anderson
"After these had been knocked over the leaders tried to urge on their men. Again and again they made the attempt, but back they had to go by a steady fire.
Their chiefs came to the front and shouted out: 'Come on, come on — the place is ours — it is taken.
' And the Sepoys would then rush forward, then hesitate, and finally get under cover of the stockades, and keep up a fearful fire.--Some hundreds of them got under the Cawnpors battery, but found the hand-grenades rather disagreeable, and had to bolt rather sharp.
Poor Major Banks
came up and cheered us during the hottest fire, and we were glad to see him. Our shells now began to fall amongst the enemy, and this still further roused their indignation; you could hear additional yells
and horrid imprecations on the heads of all Christian
No less than three times were we assaulted by enormous odds against us and each attack was, thank God, successfully repulsed.
There we were, a little body, probably not more than eighty men in all, (that is, Cawnpore battery, our post, and Captain German
's,) opposed to several thousand of merciless, blood-thirsty fanatics.
We well knew what we had to expect if we were defeated; and therefore each individual fought, as it were for his very life; each loop-hols displayed a steady flash of mu , as defeat would have been certain death to every soul in the garrison.
Had the fallen, they were in such immense that we could never have turned the and then
not a man, woman, or child would have been spared.
It was, indeed, time, and the more so as we did were progressing at that the others might have been even further pressed than we were.
At intervals I heard the cry of 'more men this way,' and off would rush two or three (all we could possibly spare) here and there; and then the same cry was repeated in an opposite direction, and then the men had to rush to support their comrades who were more hotly pressed, and soon as the pressure became greater at particular places men rushed to those spots to give assistance.
During this trying time even the poor wounded men ran out of the hospitals, and those who had wounds in the legs threw away their crutches, knelt down, and fired as fast as they could out of the loop-holes, others, who could do little else, loaded the muskets whilst the able-bodied soldiers fired, and in this odd manner these brave men of her Majesty's thirty-second upheld the honor of their nation, and strained every nerve to repel the furious attacks of the enemy."
The minor episodes of the war, in a hundred isolated stations, bore equal testimony to the heroic spirit and endurance of Englishmen.
Whether successful, as at Lucknow
, or crushed down by forty times their numbers, as at Cawnpore
, they fought to the last ditch, and defied every adverse conjunction of numbers, position, or season. "Of numbers, indeed, there was no account, for the prayer of King Henry at Agincourt
seemed to have been granted to them in this time of mortal peril, and a sense of reckoning was taken from them."
We are not advocating the cause in which these miracles of heroism were displayed, but holding up the heroism itself as an example and incentive to the people of the Southern States
Admitting the cause to have been bad, what ought not Southern soldiers to accomplish in a good cause?
The same blood warms their veins that has illustrated the glory and valor of the British
race in every clime, and they have proved in a hundred battle-fields that they are not degenerate sons of heroic sires.
Let them continue steadfast to the end, and be incited by the examples we have quoted to surpass themselves, and make British laurels in India
pale by the side of Southern chivalry.
Let it never be said that our British kinsmen have displayed as much prowess in making other people slaves as we have in defending our own liberties.