Tuesday, November 6, 2012

First Anglo-Burmese War (1824-1826) – Part 12

(Chapter XII 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.)

British March from Rangoon to Danubyu (February 1825).
The retreat of Maha Bandoola left the field completely open in our front. Not a man in arms remained in the neighbourhood of Rangoon; and numbers of the people, at length released from military restraint, and convinced of the superiority of the British troops over their countrymen, and of their clemency and kindness to the vanquished, poured daily into Rangoon: even those who had borne arms gave up the cause as hopeless, and returned with their families from a life of suffering and oppression, to the blessings of quiet and undisturbed domestic happiness.

The appearance of the unfortunate people who had passed so many months in the unwholesome jungles, exposed to the inclemencies of an unusually severe monsoon, was truly miserable: they had been kept, even to the women, at constant hard labour in constructing stockades and defences, which were successively taken from them as soon as finished; subjected to the cruelties and ill-treatment of innumerable petty chiefs, using, with despotic severity, their arbitrary and brief authority; destitute of the usual accessories of life, and forced to subsist, in a great measure, upon roots and herbs.

Many had perished under the accumulation of misery, or been cut off, for the most trivial offences, by the orders of their merciless depots – most of those who returned to their former dwellings having to lament the loss of a parent, son, or brother.

Familiarized from infancy, however, to occurrences of this nature, our Burmese friends did not long lament such every-day misfortunes, but set zealously to work in building and repairing their houses, and soon began to resume their former trades and avocations.

In the course of a very few days a bazar made its appearance; at first upon a small scale, but subsequently venison, fish, fruit and country vegetables could be procured in great abundance.

Beef, their religion did not allow them to traffic in; but there was no scarcity of buffalos for the ample supply of all the troops.

But by far the most important result attending the return of the inhabitants to their houses, was the means which they afforded of equipping canoes for the transport of provisions, and of obtaining servants and drivers for the commissariat, with which the force was very scantily provided, owing to the impossibility of inducing that class of people in Bengal , to volunteer their services in Ava.

At first the number of Burmese boats and boatmen was small, and quite inadequate for the conveyance of the requisite supplies, even when the army was only a few marches from Rangoon; but by kind treatment and liberal payment, they subsequently increased so much in numbers, as for some time to meet all the exigencies of the service, until our gradually-increasing distance from the depot compelled us to seek for aid from other quarters.

Plan of Operations

The constant arrival of transports from both presidencies, and the bustle of preparations, produced a happy change in the appearance of Rangoon. Before the end of January, his Majesty’s forty-seventh regiment; two squadrons of cavalry, horse artillery, and rocket troop; also seventeen hundred cattle, with corresponding equipments, were landed at Rangoon; and his Majesty’s Royal regiment, with several battalions of Madras native infantry, were under orders for the same service.

But even so late in the season as January, had every arrangement been complete, the low delta, through which we had to march to reach the Irrawaddy, was not sufficiently dry for the passage of artillery, or to insure the troops against disease, from the still wet and unwholesome state of the country.

The 10th day of February was, however, fixed for the commencement of the advance; and although, from the shortness of the season for active operations, we could not hope to reach higher than Prome, the reduction of that important place, with the consequent liberation of Pegu, might lead to pacific negotiations.

Even the defence of Donoobew (Da-nuu-byu), which had been fortified with all the skill of Burmese art, was considered by many as the last struggle of the court of Ava; and when the formidable preparations of the Indian government, in other quarters, are considered, there was certainly strong reason for anticipating an early termination of the contest.

On the south-east frontier of Bengal, for the invasion of Arracan, a large and well-appointed force under Brigadier-general Morrison, only awaited the proper season for advancing through the insalubrious jungles of Arracan; and after the reduction of the capital of that province, it was thought not improbable that the Brigadier-general might be enabled to cross the lofty range of mountains (Aoupectoumiew – Ah-nout-phet-yo-ma) which separate Arracan from Ava, by one of the little-known and difficult passes, and join Sir Archibald Campbell on the Irrawaddy. On the Sylhet frontier, another large force, under Brigadier-general Shouldham, threatened to advance through Cassay upon the enemy’s capital; and in Assam, Lieutenant-colonel Richards, with a small field corps, was prepared to drive the enemy from his conquests in that quarter.

The means of the British commander at Rangoon did not enable to equip a large land column, nor under any circumstances would it probably have been practicable to attempt an exclusive land movement,  upon a point at the distance of six hundred miles from his depots; an unlimited command of carriage could alone have enabled him to do so – in which case he might, probably, have advanced by the shortest and best road upon the capital, via Pegu and Tonghoo (Taung-ngoo) , turning all the enemy’s positions on the Irrawaddy, and taking him unprepared on a new line of operations, with his troops posted at a distance.

It was, however, obvious, that these advantages must be sacrificed to the one great and important point of securing the river communication, for the conveyance of supplies to the army in the field, and for which purpose a combined land and water movement was determined on – the land column advancing in a direction parallel to, and at no great distance from the river, with a view to mutual co-operation and support; and this decision being made, the Siamese general, though not with any very sanguine hope of success, was requested to advance with his force upon Tonghoo.

No movement in advance had as yet been made by our cautious and wary allies; probably still impressed with the belief, that ultimately the British troops would have to retire, worn out and disgusted with the sanguinary and inconclusive struggle.

It was necessary, however, to keep up appearances; and in answer to the various messages that had been sent, urging them to act, the Siamese chiefs at length sent a complimentary embassy to Martaban, begging to be forwarded to the British head-quarters, for the ostensible object of congratulating the British general on his victories over the Burmese, on the part of the court of Bangkok, but probably with real view of observing the actual state of affairs in Ava.

The congratulatory epistle brought by these worthies from the Siamese chiefs, contained many high-flown compliments and professions of friendship, but nothing from which an expectation could be formed of any assistance being derived from that quarter; and the banks of Irrawaddy thus became the exclusive line of operations from the south.

Force Equipped for Field Service

The force equipped for this service fell much below the most moderate calculation of our means. The land column, under the immediate command of Sir Archibald Campbell, could not, for want of transport, be in any way increased beyond thirteen hundred European Infantry, a thousand sepoys, two squadrons of dragoons, a troop of horse artillery, and a rocket troop; and even for this small force our carriage only sufficed for the conveyance of from twelve to fifteen day’s provisions, and then only by the sacrifice of every comfort which men and officers usually enjoy, and to a certain extent, in such a climate, positively require.

This column was to move in a direction parallel to the Lain (Hlaing) river, driving the enemy from all his posts, upon that branch; and to join the Irrawaddy at the nearest accessible point, for the purpose of co-operating with the marine column proceeding up the Panlang (Pan Hlaing) channel, in driving the Bandoola from Donoobew (Da-nuu-byu), should its aid for that purpose be required; and to keep up their supplies, a fleet of commissariat canoes, under an officer of the navy, was to accompany the column as high up the Lain (Hlaing) river as the depth of water would permit.

The point upon which the column would join the Irrawaddy, in a country so little known, could not be fixed. The island formed by the Lain (Hlaing) and Panlang (Pan Hlaing) rivers, was represented as a wilderness of impassable jungle, but across which it was said the Carians (Karens), by Bandoola’s order, had cut a path, for the sake of communication from Meondaga (Myaung-da-gar) on the Hlaing river, to the Irrawaddy opposite to Donoobew, by which, should it prove correct, it was intended the column should advance; but by much the most certain route, and in many respects most eligible, led to Sarrawah (Thar-ra-waw), on the great river, about sixty miles above Donoobew.

The marine column, which was placed under the orders of Brigadier-general Cotton, consisted of eight hundred European Infantry, a small battalion of Sepoys, and a powerful train of artillery: these were embarked in the flotilla, consisting of sixty boats, some carrying two, and all of them one piece of artillery, twelve and twenty-four pounds carronades, and commanded by Captain Alexander of His Majesty’s navy, escorted by the boats of the men-of-war lying at Rangoon, containing upwards of one hundred British seamen.

This force was directed to pass up the Panlang (Pan Hlaing) river to the Irrawaddy, and driving the enemy from his stockades at Panlang, to push on with all possible expedition to Donoobew.

Pan Hlaing, Hlaing, and Rangoon Rivers (2011).
Another force (the naval part under Captain Marryat, R.N., in his Majesty’s sloop Larne,) and the troops consisting of the thirteenth British regiment and the twelfth Madras Native Infantry, commanded by Major Sale, was embarked in transports for Bassein (Pa Thein);  after reducing which, it was expected sufficient land carriage might be obtained in the district, to enable them to push on to Donoobew, and form a junction with the water column, or to Hewzadah (Hin-tha-da), where they would open a communication with the land division, and both places were believed to be within fifty miles of Bassein.

The impossibility, however, of procuring sufficient carriage prevented the second part of the instructions from being carried into effect, but the reduction of a place of such importance as Bassein, could not but operate materially in the general result of the campaign.

These arrangements completed, on the 11th of February the land column marched from Rangoon to Mienza eight miles, where they encamped, with the exception of His Majesty’s forty-first regiment, which moved by water as far as Meondaga (Myaung-da-gar), for the purpose of affording protection to the provision vessels proceeding up the Lain (Hlaing) river, and of clearing its banks from any parties of the enemy which might offer to impede its navigation.
(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 13