Tuesday, April 17, 2012

First Anglo-Burmese War (1824-1826) – Part 6

(Chapter VI of Narrative of The Burmese War by Major John Snodgrass, British Army, the Military Secretary to the Commander of the British expeditionary force and the Assistant Political Agent in Ava.)

The events of the month of July were followed by several important results, opening, for a time, wider field to our foraging parties, enabling a few of the inhabitants to return to their homes, and obliging the enemy to draw their reinforcements from the more distant parts of the country.

For some time after the expedition landed at Rangoon, the warlike character and natural courage of the people, with their habits of implicit obedience to their chiefs, enabled the government to raise sufficient levies from the provinces immediately contiguous to the seat of power: but the case was now different; a serious impression had already been made upon the men of that part of the kingdom, who were no longer forward or desirous of serving, but downcast and dejected, with the remembrance of their recent losses, and requiring the utmost vigilance and authority of their chiefs to keep them together.

Desertion to a considerable extent had already taken place, and could only be kept in check by most cruel measures, to which the Burmhan chiefs in such cases never fail to resort.

Arrival of Princes of Tonghoo and Sarrawuddy with Astrologers

To inspire confidence among the people, and to keep the generals and chiefs strictly to their duty, the Princes of Tonghoo and Sarrawuddy, brothers to the king, were ordered down from Ava, to superintend the operations of the war.

The first established his head-quarters near Pegue, and the latter at Danoobew, upon the great river, about sixty miles from Rangoon, which had been fortified as a post of reserve and depot for the army, and no trouble was spared to render it in every respect a place of strength.

On the arrival of the Princes at their posts, rigorous conscription-laws were put in force, without producing much effect; orders were issued, threatening the most exemplary punishment to deserters, and such as were convicted of misconduct in the field, and promising liberal rewards and honours to all who might distinguish themselves in action with the enemy.

They loudly proclaimed their intention of surrounding the British force, ordered the river in our rear to be blocked up; and, to insure success, these doughty warriors came accompanied by numerous astrologers, who were to fix upon the most favourable periods for carrying their plans into effect.

Blindly superstitious in some points, Burmese of all ranks implicitly believe in the predictions of these imposters. The influence of the moon upon the affairs of men is never doubted, and the calculations of the astrologers upon certain signs and indications of that planet obtain universal credit; from the fixing of a propitious time for attacking a position, to the most ordinary affair of life, nothing can prosper without consulting an astrologer; these men are consequently found in every corner of the kingdom, and are held in the highest esteem and veneration by the people.

By persons of rank especially, these oracles are much favoured and respected, consulting them in all military operations, and abiding rigidly by their decisions.

Their predictions on some occasions, however, were productive of more evil than good to the cause they wished to serve; for although they seldom failed to inspire the troops with a degree of confidence, the publicity that attended their decisions not unfrequently found its way into our lines, and prepared us for the attack.

A Corps of Invulnerables Joined the Army

Another novel and formidable reinforcement about this time joined the enemy from Ava, styled the King’s Invulnerables. This corps consists of several thousand men, divided, however, into many classes of warriors, of whom a select band only are specially entitled to the above-mentioned appellation.

They are distinguished by the short cut of their hair, and the peculiar manner in which they are tattooed, having the figures of elephants, tigers, and a great variety of ferocious animals incredibly, and even beautifully, marked upon their arms and legs; but to the soldiers they were best known by having bits of gold, silver, and sometimes precious stones in their arms, probably introduced under the skin at early age.

These men are considered by their countrymen as invulnerable; and from their foolish and absurd exposure of their persons to the fire of an enemy, they are either impressed with the same opinion, or find it necessary to show a marked contempt for danger in support of their pretensions.

In all the stockades and defences of the enemy, one or two of these heroes were generally found, whose duty it was to exhibit the war-dance of defiance upon the most exposed part of their defences, infusing courage and enthusiasm into the minds of their comrades, and affording much amusement to their enemies.

The infatuated wretches, under the excitement of opium, too frequently continued the ludicrous exhibition, till they afforded convincing proof of the value of their claims to the title they assume.

Great expectations were formed from the presence of the princes with the army, aided by astrology; and the united skill and valour of the sages and warriors, who had sworn to rid their country of its hostile intruders.

As, however, a considerable period had to elapse from their arrival to the first predicted lucky moon, (of which due information was received at Rangoon,) when a nocturnal attack upon our lines was meditated, the interval was not allowed to pass unprofitably on our part.

Assault on the Burmese Fort at Syriam

At the mouth of the Pegu River, a little above its junction with that of Rangoon, and a few miles distant from the town, are the remains of the old Portuguese fort and factory of Syriam (Than-hlyin), built upon an eligible and commanding height, but, at the time we visited it, so completely overgrown with trees and brushwood, as to be scarcely perceptible from the river.

In the beginning of August, this naturally strong post was occupied by a considerable force, with strict orders from the arrogant and ignorant Prince of Sarrawuddy, to block up the channel of the river in our rear, that not one of the “captive strangers” might escape the punishment that was about to overtake them.
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(Followings are Burmese General Orders found in the Governor’s house at Syriam.)

To Senmeboon, Mayoon, and Attawoon’ (Governor and Collector.)

In order that not one of wild foreigners may escape from being destroyed and slain, they must be apprehended, by covering the face of the earth with an innumerable host, to accomplish which, effectual measures are now in progress.

Should you from observation judge the place and preparations going forward at Syriam to to be ineligible or inadequate, you may take such alterations as you may consider necessary, that the strength and stability of the post may be fully established.

Having the district of Syriam under your personal inspection, should any deficiency exist, you will petition for whatever may be required, without delay.

On the people of Syriam, strict authority must be enforced, for there are some among them who slight your orders. You will place guards at the entrances of all the creeks connected with the river, where they must constantly watch.

(Signed) Shwemandogee Mandaoun.

To Chuka, Nortak, &c, &c.

Although it is a business of great difficulty to shut up the course and channel of the river, yet by labour and constant exertion, night and day, it must be done; and as the men of the war-boats have been detached from you, others from the grand army are sent to replace them.

(Signed) Kengee Awenger Bomin.

To Oo-Nin, Pe-Nin, and the principal Men of the Yamhugangee Gold Boat.

On the grounds subject to the Myowoon’s war-boat, (beyond Kemmendine), whoever is an inhabitant must not say he is free, or belonging to such or such a prince, but they must act unitedly in blocking up the ships’ passage through the rivers and channels of Silva (Thi-la-war) by throwing in logs of wood and roots of trees, that the captive strangers may not escape; and if they attempt to do so, they must be apprehended, and put to death.

In pursuance of the orders we had given, you were to collect your men, and be stationed at the mouth of the Moroon Pagoda river in the Syriam country, where there is a fort and an army; but you, Penin, and ye principal men of the war-boat, do not consider this as king’s service; and, regardless of the dreadful punishment that awaits you, you do not attend to the orders sent, not a man having as yet arrive from your quarter.

I have therefore despatched the Chief Keezee Koiznah to conduct you, together with your men, to Moroon, in order that the instructions above alluded to may be carried into effect. On arriving there, let no man say he is at liberty, or in the service of such or such a chief; he that can wield a sword, let him take a sword; and he that can use a spear, let him take one.

(Signed) Kengee Awenger Bomin.
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The success which had attended the predatory excursions of this corps, in carrying off the boats of the fleet, and in preventing the fishermen from prosecuting their trade, at a time when our crowded hospitals, scantily provided with fresh meat, made a regular supply of fish an object of the great importance.

These and other considerations rendered it expedient to drive the enemy to a more convenient distance from our lines; and on the morning of the 4th August, a detachment, consisting of part of the forty-first regiment, the Company’s Madras European regiment, and twelfth Madras native infantry, under Brigadier Smelt, was embarked in a flotilla for that purpose, proceeding to Syriam with first of the tide.

On landing, and penetrating a short distance through brushwood, the old fort became visible, scarped, cleared, and prepared for our reception; the old wall, wherever it had given way, either renewed or covered by stockading; and huge beams of wood were suspended from the parapet, intended to be cut away, for the purpose of both the scaling-ladders those who might have the hardihood to attempt to place them.

Other obstacles had, however, to be overcome before the troops could come in contact with the enemy; a deep and impassable creek arresting their progress, when within musket-shot of the place.

A party of sailors from his majesty’s ship Larne, under Captain Marryat, who accompanied the column, with the characteristic coolness and activity of British seamen, soon remedied the defect, and in a very short space of time a bridge was prepared, which enabled the column to push on to the point of attack; but neither the enemy’s numerical superiority, nor their formidable preparations, had confirmed them in their purpose of steady resistance.

A Burmese Astrology Chart.
While the troops were marching forward, a constant fire of artillery and musketry was indeed kept up; but no sooner had they gained the ramparts, than all resistance ceased, and the place, with eight guns, and considerable quantity of ammunitions, was quietly taken possession of.

Upon quitting the fort, the enemy retired upon the Pagoda of Syriam, pursued by a part of detachment, along the narrow winding footpath of the forest.

On reaching the Pagoda, it was also found strongly occupied, with cannon pointing down every approach towards it from the jungle; and, like most buildings of the same description, standing on a hill, surrounded by a wall, and accessible only by the regular flights of stairs,  which lead to the interior: these also were strongly barricaded and otherwise defended.

The column marched directly forward to the stairs, and had even partly ascended them before a shot was fired, the Burmese standing at their guns, coolly awaiting the approach; but when at length the firing did commence, the soldiers, pushing briskly forward, soon closed upon the enemy, who, probably disheartened by the presence of their comrades, who had fled from the lower fort, show less anxiety to defend their post, than to save themselves from actual collision with a force, represented, no doubt, as resistible, by those whose ill success and shameful precipitation required an apology, and whose fears magnified the numbers of their enemy to an alarming degree.

Similar attacks were made with equal success upon different posts occupied by the enemy in the course of the month; one, in particular, upon a succession of stockades, situated on the Dalla river, cost us a considerable number of brave men; but, as scarcely a week elapsed in which detachments of the army were not employed upon this harassing and indispensable war of posts, varying little in circumstances from those already described, it would be tedious and superfluous to give a minute detail of each affair as they successively occurred.

Failed Attack on the Shwe Dagon Fort by the Invulnerables

Aerial view of Great Shwe Dagon Pagoda (2008).
Some weeks elapsed after the Prince of Sarrawuddy’s arrival in the lower provinces, before the astrologers in his train could fix upon a propitious day for attacking our position; but at length intimation was received from prisoners who were taken, that the first lucky moon, as they styled it, would occur on the 30th and 31st of August, and that a body of the King’s Invulnerables had promised to attack and carry the great Pagoda on one of these nights,  that the prince and pious men who accompanied him might celebrate the usual annual festival in that sacred place.

At midnight, on the 30th, the attempt was accordingly made, the Invulnerables, armed with swords and muskets, rushing in a compact body from the jungle under the Pagoda; a small piquet, thrown out in front, retiring in slow and steady order, skirmishing with the head of the advancing column, until it reached the northern stairs leading up to the Pagoda, at the summit of which the troops were drawn out, silently awaiting the approach of the Invulnerables, whose numbers in darkness of the night (the moon having set previous to the commencement of the attack) could only be guessed at, by the noise and clamour of their threats and imprecations upon the impious strangers, if they did not immediately evacuate the sacred temple, as, guided by a few glimmering lanterns in their front, they boldly and rapidly advanced in a dense multitude along the narrow pathway leading to the northern gateway.

At length vivid flashes, followed by the cannons’ thundering peals, broke from the silent ramparts of the British post, stilling the tumult of the advancing mass, with showers of grape and successive vollies of musketry fell with dreadful havoc among their crowded ranks, against which the imaginary shield of self-deceit and imposition was found of no avail, leaving the unfortunate Invulnerables scarcely a chance between destruction and inglorious flight.

Nor did they hesitate long upon the alternative; a few devoted enthusiasts may have despised to fly, but as they all belonged to the same high-favoured caste, and had brought none of their less-favoured countrymen to witness their disgrace, the great body of them soon sought for safety in the jungle, where, they, no doubt, invented a plausible account of their night’s adventure, which, however effectual it may have proved in saving their credit, had also the good effect to us of preventing them in future from volunteering upon such desperate services, and contributed, in some degree, to protect the troops from being so frequently deprived of their night’s rest.

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(The First Anglo-Burmese War (5 March 1824-24 February 1826) was the first of three wars fought between the British and Burmese Empires in the 19th century. The war, which began primarily over the control of north-eastern India, ended in a decisive British victory, giving the British total control of Assam, Manipur, Cachar and Jaintia as well as Arakan and Tenasserim. The Burmese were also forced to pay an indemnity of one million pounds sterling, and sign a commercial treaty. The war was the longest and most expensive war in British Indian history. Fifteen thousand European and Indian soldiers died, together with an unknown number of Burmese army and civilian casualties.

The campaign, the most poorly managed one in British military history, cost the British five million pounds sterling (roughly 18.5 billion in 2006 US dollars) to 13 million pounds sterling (roughly 48.1 billion in 2006 US dollars) that led to a severe economic crisis in British India in 1833. For the Burmese, it was the beginning of the end of their independence. The Third Burmese Empire, for a brief moment the terror of British India, was crippled and no longer a threat to the eastern frontier of British India. The Burmese would be crushed for years to come by repaying the large indemnity of one million pounds (then US$5 million), a large sum even in Europe of that time. The British would make two more wars against a much more weakened Burma, and swallow up the entire country by 1885.)

First Anglo-Burmese War (1824-1826) – Part 7

            (Following videos are of 2000 years old Burmese martial arts Thaing and Let-Whae.)

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(The Tokyo match where Burmese Letwhae Champion KO American MuayThai Champion.)

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