I take up the history of the siege of Dehli from the 1st September. Nicholson’s great victory at Najafgarh, gained the 25th August, had not only forced the enemy within their defences, but had ensured the safety of the siege-train then in progress from Firuzpur. From that moment, then, preparations were set on foot for the carrying out of active operations for the capture of the place.
It was not, indeed, without much misgiving that the commander of the besieging army, Major-General Archdale Wilson, had given his consent to the adoption of a measure the success of which, he considered, would depend on accident2.
In an elaborate letter, addressed on the 20th of August to the chief engineer, Major Baird Smith, General Wilson, dwelling with considerable emphasis on the difficulties that had attended the progress of the siege – on the fact that and he and his army had in reality occupied the position of a besieged force – had announced his intention of commencing offensive operations against the city on the arrival
of the siege-train from Firuzpur, though with no “hope of being able to take the place until supported by the force from below.” He concluded his letter – the contents of which he intended to send to the Governor-General as a justification of his conduct – with a request that Major Baird Smith would favour him with such remarks and emendations as his experience as Chief Engineer might suggest3.
Who and what sort of a man was he to whom the commander of the besieging army, at this important conjuncture, made his earnest appeal? Major Baird Smith was an honour even to the Corps of Engineers. To a knowledge founded on extensive reading, to a mind which had thought out the several problems pertaining to Indian administration, he added a power of prompt and decisive action rarely bestowed -except upon the senior wranglers of the University of Nature. He had travelled much, had mastered the several methods in which, in the countries of continental Europe, science, and especially the engineering science, had been laid under contribution to develop the latent forces of nature; and in India, had, as the administrative agent to whom was entrusted the completion of the Ganges Canal, applied the experience thus acquired to the perfection of that great work. The genius which could grasp great schemes of administrative reform was equally at home in the performance of those duties with which the military side of his profession brought him into contact. Chief Engineer of the army before Dehli, he had brought to the performance of his duties the large mind, the profound knowledge, the prompt decision which had characterised him in his civil work. Neither the shock and pain caused by a wound, nor the weakness and emaciation produced by a severe attack of camp scurvy, aggravated by diarrhoea, depressed his spirit or lessened his energies. Refusing to be placed on the sick list, though assured that mortification would be the consequence of a continued use of his wounded leg, Baird Smith clung to the last to the performance of his duty. The advice which he gave to General Wilson proved that never was his courage higher,
never were the tone and temper of his mind more healthy, than when, bowed down by two diseases and suffering acutely from his wound, he seemed a livid wreck of the man he once had been.
It was to such a man that Wilson appealed. The answer was clear, emphatic, decisive. Baird Smith was for action, for prompt and immediate action. True it is, he reasoned, the besieged are more numerous than the besiegers; true it is their resources are greater, their position is formidable, their defences are strong. But in war something must be risked. In his opinion the risk of a repulse in a well-contrived and well-organised assault was infinitely less than the risk which would attend the waiting during a long and uncertain period for reinforcements from below. The waiting for reinforcements involved inaction – an inaction which might last for weeks. Such inaction, at a time when the Panjab, denuded of its last troops, was quivering in the balance, involved a risk greater even than the risk of a repulse before the walls of the city. Nor was this last danger so great, in Baird Smith’s estimation, as the General seemed to consider. He believed that it would be possible, by skilfully preparing and effectively delivering an assault, to reduce it to a small proportion. He gave the fullest expression, in his reply, to these convictions, and concluded by urging the General to prepare for and to deliver that assault without delay – before the enemy should have time to strengthen his position within and without the beleaguered city.
These arguments, forcible, clear, based on logic and reason, had their natural effect on General Wilson. Though he did not share to the full Baird Smith’s opinions as to the probable . result of an assault, he was brought to regard the risk which would thus be encountered as considerably less than the risk which would be involved by inaction. He yielded4 then, and directed the Chief Engineer to prepare a plan of attack.
The reluctant assent of General Wilson threw, practically, upon the shoulders of his Chief Engineer the responsibility for the assault. Far from shrinking from the burden, Baird Smith eagerly seized it.
In conjunction with his second in command, Captain Alexander Taylor, a most able and indefatigable member of the same corps, one of those men who, once tried in difficult circumstances, are found prepare a to be indispensable, he submitted a plan – previously prepared, but subject to alteration resulting from daily-gained experience – simple, bold, and effective – easily workable, on the solo condition of hearty and zealous co-operation and obedience on the part of his subordinates. The result showed how well placed was the confidence bestowed by the Chief Engineer in the officers serving under his orders.
Before adverting to that plan, I propose to lay before the reader a short description of the defences of, and the approaches to Dehli.
The characteristic features of the place were, at the time, thus officially described by Baird Smith: “The eastern face rests on the Jamnah, and during the season of the year when our operations were carried on the stream may be described as washing the base of the walls. All access to a besieger on the river front is therefore impracticable. The defences here consist of an irregular wall, with occasional bastions and towers, and about one half .of the length of the river face is occupied by the palace of the King of Dehli, and its out-work, the old Mughul fort of Selimgarh. The river may be described as the chord of a rough arc formed by the remaining defences at the place. These consist of a succession of bastioned fronts, the connection being very long, and the out-works limited to one crown-work at the Ajmir gate, and martello towers mounting a single gun at such points as require additional flanking fire to that given by the bastions themselves. The bastions are small, generally mounting three guns in each face, two in each flank, and one in the embrasure at the salient. They are provided with masonry parapets about twelve feet in thickness, and have a relief of about sixteen feet above the plane of site. The curt tin consists of a simple masonry wall or rampart sixteen feet in height, eleven feet thick at top, and fourteen or fifteen at bottom. This main wall carries a parapet loop-holed for musketry, eight feet in height and eight feet in thickness. The whole of the land front is
covered by a berm of variable width, ranging from sixteen to thirty feet, and having a scarp wall eight feet high. Exterior to this is a dry ditch, of about twenty-five feet in width, and from sixteen to twenty feet in depth. The counterscarp is simply an earthen slope easy to descend. The glacis is a very short one, extending only fifty or sixty yards from the counter-scarp. Using general terms, it covers from the besiegers’ view-from half to one third of the height of the walls of the place. The defences, in a word, are ‘modernised’ forms of ancient works that existed when the city fell before Lord Lake’s army in 1803. They extend about seven miles in circumference, and include an area of about three square miles. On the western side of Dehli there appear the last out-lying spurs of the Aravalli mountains, and represented here by a low ridge, which disappears at its intersection with the Jamnah, about two miles above the place. The drainage from the eastern slope of the ridge finds its way to the river along the northern and the north-western faces of the city, and has formed there a succession of parallel or connected ravines of considerable depth. By taking advantage of these hollow ways admirable cover was constantly obtained for the troops, and the labour of the siege was materially reduced. The whole of the exterior of the place presents an extraordinary mass of old buildings of all kinds, of thick brushwood, and occasional clumps of forest trees, giving great facilities for cover, which, during the siege operations at least, proved to be on the whole more favourable to us than to the enemy.”
Such being the place, the plan of assaulting it traced by Baird Smith and Taylor may thus be described.
It was inevitable that the attack should be made on the northern face of the fortress – the face represented by the Mori, Kashmir, and Water bastions, and the curtain walls connecting them. These connecting curtains were merely parapets, wide enough only for musketry fire. It had been in the power of the enemy greatly to strengthen these defences by pulling down the adjacent buildings, and on their ruins erecting a rampart, from which a continued fire of heavy guns should be concentrated on an attacking force. In neglecting, as a rule, to use the advantage thus open to them, the rebel leaders added another example to many preceding it, of the absence from their councils of a really capable commander. The neglect was likely to be fatal to.
the defence, for it enabled the besiegers to concentrate on the curtains a fire sufficient to crush the defenders’ fire and to effect breaches through which the infantry could be launched against the town.
The plan of the Chief Engineer, then, was to crush the fire of the Mori bastion at the north-west corner of the city. That fire silenced, the advance on the extreme left, which was covered by the river, would be secure, and there the assault would be delivered.
The simple wisdom of this plan will be at once recognised. In the first place the advance was effectually covered by the river on one flank, and partially so by trees and brushwood in front. The assault delivered, the assailants would not be at once involved in narrow streets, but there would be a space comparatively open in which they could act. .
On the 6th September all the reinforcements which could be expected, together with the siege-train, had arrived in camp. The effective rank and file, of all arms, amounted to eight thousand seven hundred and forty-eight men, of whom three thousand three hundred and seventeen were Europeans. In line with, and acting with them, were two thousand two hundred native levies from Kashmir, and some hundreds from Jhind.
The evening of the 7th was fixed upon for the commencement of the tracing of the batteries which were to assail the northern face of the city. On that day General Wilson issued to the troops an order, in which he announced to them that the time was drawing near when he trusted their labours would be over, and they would be rewarded for all their past exertions, and for the fatigue still before them, by the capture of the city. Much, he reminded the infantry, still remained to be accomplished.
They had to aid and assist the engineers alike in the erection of the batteries and in acting as covering parties; and when the way should be smoothed for them by the scientific branches of the service, they would have to dare death in the breach. When it should come to that point it would be necessary for them to keep well together, to push on in compact and unbroken masses.
As for the artillery, their work, General Wilson warned them, would be harder than any they had till then encountered. He expressed, at the same time, his confidence that the members of that branch of the service would bring to the performance of that harder work the same cheerfulness and the same pluck which had characterised their labours up to that time.
Reminding the troops of the cruel murders committed on their officers and their comrades, as well as on their wives and children, General Wilson declared that, whilst the troops should spare the women and children who might fall in their way, they should give no quarter to the mutineers.
Upon the regimental officers he impressed the necessity of keeping their men together, of preventing plunder, of carrying out the directions of the engineers. The Major-General concluded by asserting his confidence that a brilliant termination of their labours would follow a zealous enforcement by the troops of his directions.
Before detailing the work which, on the evening of the 7th, followed the issue of this order, it is necessary to inform the reader that at the suggestion of Major Charles Reid5, who commanded on the ridge, a light battery had been erected on the night of the 6th upon the plateau of the ridge close to the
Sami’ House. The object of this battery, known as Reid’s battery, was to keep the ground clear and to protect the contemplated new heavy battery, No, 1, during its construction. Reid’s battery contained eight light pieces, six 9-pounders, and two 24-pound howitzers, and was commanded by Captain Remmington.
To return. – On the evening of the day on which General Wilson’s order was issued the engineers commenced their work. In pursuance of the resolve to trace out a battery, the fire from which should crush the Mori bastion, Captain Alexander Taylor, assisted by Captain Medley, proceeded at sunset, accompanied by half-a-dozen sappers, to Hindu Rao’s house. A. site had previously been selected to the left of the Sami’ House, below the ridge on the open plain, and within seven hundred yards of the Mori bastion. Sand-bags had been taken down on the night of
the 6th and covered over with grass and brushwood. These were found untouched by the enemy. The two engineers at once set to work to trace a battery on this spot. The battery, styled No. 1 battery, was divided into two sections.
The right section, commanded by Major Brind6, intended to receive five 18-pounders and one 8-inch howitzer, was to silence the Mori bastion, and to prevent it from interfering with the real attack on the left.
The left section, armed with four 24-pounders, under the command of Major Kaye, was designed to keep down the fire from the Kashmir bastion until the order to assault it should be given. These two sections were to be connected by a trench which, carried on beyond the left section, would communicate with the deep nullah close to the rear, and form a sort of first parallel, giving good cover to the guard of the trenches.
The tracing of this battery had but just been completed when a strong covering party of Reid’s Gurkhas arrived. Camels with fascines and gabions followed, and the work progressed rapidly during the night. The working parties were but little disturbed by the enemy, three well-directed showers of grape from the Mori alone reaching them.
In order to draw off the enemy’s attention as much as possible, Major Reid, who was with Taylor and Medley, sent directions to Captain Remmington to keep up a constant fire on the Mori bastion. This had the desired effect, for the Mori at once opened on Reid’s battery and the Sami’ House, and did not again molest the working parties. Indeed the enemy did not discover till the day dawned this fresh work upon which the besiegers had been engaged. Much to their dismay they beheld Brind’s battery all but completed. Though great efforts had been
made, however, all was not ready in it, and but one gun was in position as the morning of the 8th dawned.
The rebels on the Mori bastion were not slow to notice the results of the work of that long night. Instantaneously they took measures to demolish it. With the daylight there poured on the barely armed battery showers of grape and round shot. So terrible and so incessant was the fire, that almost every man who ventured from the protection of the battery was knocked over.
To this storm the defenders of the battery had but one gun to reply. Major James Brind, one of the heroes of this long siege, who, as already stated, commanded the entire No. 1 battery, noting this, dragged, by great exertion, a howitzer to the rear, and fired over the parapet at the Mori. The fire of the enemy still poured in, however, fierce, incessant, relentless.
Emboldened by the weakness of the British reply, they even thought it might be possible to carry by assault the newly made battery. With this object they despatched a body of cavalry and infantry from the Lahor gate. This little force, emerging from the gate with resolution, took at once the direction of the battery. But they had not gone far when they encountered a hot fire from the 18-pounder and howitzer in the right section of No. 1 battery, from the guns on the ridge, and the light guns on the plateau. This threw them into confusion – a confusion changed into a rout by the opportune discharge of a volley of grape from Brind’s battery. The volley sent them back faster than they had come.
All this time the men in this battery had been working hard, and, though pelted incessantly from the Mori bastion, they soon succeeded in finishing a second platform, then a third, soon after a fourth and a fifth. On the completion of each platform the gun placed on it opened at once on the enemy.
The effect of the fire, thus gradually increasing, was soon felt on the Mori. In Major Brind the officers and men possessed a commander of great perseverance, rare energy, a strong will, and a thorough knowledge of his profession. Under his skilful direction the shot from the battery told with tremendous and unceasing effect on the masonry bastion. Gradually the fire from it diminished; by the afternoon it ceased altogether. The bastion was then
a heap of ruins, and although the enemy, displaying rare courage, managed to replace the heavy guns in succession to those knocked over, and to discharge them at the battery, the want of cover made it deadly work, and their fire soon languished. One part of the Engineer’s plan had thus been carried out. The Mori bastion had been made harmless. Heavy fire was, however, continued upon it from the right section and from the ridge until the night before the assault was delivered.
Whilst the right section of the battery had thus been blazing away at the Mori, the 24-pounders in the left section under Major Kaye had been doing their work well, their fire directed on the Kashmir bastion. This fire was continued day and night until noon on the 10th, when the battery caught fire from the constant discharge of our own guns.
The sand-bags first caught the flame, then the fascines, made of dry brushwood, and at length the whole battery was in a blaze, which it was feared might extend to the right section and expense magazine.
Lieutenant Lockhart7, attached to Reid’s Gurkhas, was at the time on duty with two companies of the regiment in the connecting trench between the two sections. The necessity to extinguish the fire was so apparent to him, that he at once suggested to Major Kaye whether it might not be possible to save the battery by working from the outside and top of the parapet. Kaye replied that he thought something might be done if a party were to take sandbags to the top, cut them, and smother the fire with the sand. Lockhart instantly jumped on to the parapet, followed by six or seven Gurkhas, and began the work in the manner suggested. The enemy were not slow to discover what had happened, and, determined that the flames should not be extinguished, they at once brought every gun to bear on the blazing battery, pouring in a deadly fire of grape and musketry. Two of the Gurkhas fell dead, and Lockhart rolled over the parapet with a shot through his jaw. The shot, penetrating through the right cheek, passed under his tongue, and went out through the left cheek, smashing the right jaw to pieces8. The men, however,
persevered, and eventually succeeded, by means of the sand from the sand-bags, in extinguishing the fire, but the section was destroyed.
To return to the 7th. At the same time that the batteries just referred to were traced on the right, preliminary arrangements for the real attack had been made on the left. On the evening of the 7th, Kudsiabagh and Ludlow Castle were occupied by strong pickets. No opposition was offered to this occupation, the mutineers being impressed with the idea that the real attack would be made on the Mori.
With these two posts strongly occupied as supports, the engineers were able, on the evening of the 8th, to trace out battery No. 2. This trace was made in front of Ludlow Castle, and five hundred yards from the Kashmir gate. Like battery No. 1 – called, after the commandant, Brind’s battery – it was divided into two portions, the right half being intended for seven heavy howitzers and two 18-pounders; the left, about two hundred yards distant, for nine 24-pounders. The fire from these two portions was intended to silence the fire from the Kashmir bastion, to knock away the parapet right and left that gave cover to the defenders,
and to open the main breach by which the place was to be stormed9.
Warned by the experience of Brind’s battery, no attempt was made to complete battery No. 2 in one night. On the 8th the tracing alone was completed.
The wisdom of this cautious mode of proceeding was made clear the following day, when a sharp fire of shot, of shell, and of musketry was opened from the Kashmir and Water bastions, and the Selimgarh, on the positions newly occupied.
Little damage, however, was effected, and the work was pushed forward during the nights of the 9th and 10th. Before dawn of the 11th the battery had been completed and armed, and it was then unmasked. Major Campbell commanded the left section of it, and Major Kaye – transferred from the ignited left section of battery No. 1 – the right, but the former officer having been wounded on the evening of the 11th, Captain Edwin Johnson10, Assistant Adjutant-General of Artillery, then serving in the battery, succeeded to the command, and held it to the moment of assault, when he resumed his place on General Wilson’s staff.
The third battery was not completed before that night. This battery was traced by Captain Medley the evening of the 9th. With a boldness which was not rare, but the display of which, in this instance, testified to remarkable negligence on the part of the enemy, the engineers, supported by volunteers, both officers and men, from the Artillery and 9th Lancers, traced this battery within one hundred and sixty yards of the Water bastion. Seeking for a fit site for the battery, the director of the attack, Captain Medley, discovered a small ruined building, an out-office of the Custom House – a large edifice within one hundred and sixty yards of the Water bastion, and totally unoccupied by the enemy. Captain Medley took possession of the Custom House, and determined to trace
the battery inside the small ruined building referred to, the outer wall of which would conceal the work and give cover to the workmen. This daring measure completely succeeded. Though the enemy, suspecting something, though not the actual truth, peppered our workmen incessantly, these never flinched. When one man fell another would take his place11. Working in this way, the battery was finished and armed by the night of the 11th.
Another battery, No. 4, for four heavy mortars, commanded by Major Tombs, was traced and armed on the night of the 10th in a safe spot in the Kudsiabagh itself, ready to open fire when required.
The mutineers had by this time become alive to the fact that it was not from the right, but from the left, that the real attack was to issue. With an alacrity worthy from of the highest praise they at once decided upon which the measures which, if commenced but forty-eight hours earlier, would have effectually baffled the attack. Seeing the effect which the fire from the still masked batteries must produce, they set to work to mount heavy guns along the long curtain. In other convenient nooks, out of reach of the fire of the attack, they mounted light guns.
Taking advantage, too, of the broken ground before them, they made in one night an advanced trench parallel to the left attack, and three hundred and fifty yards from it, covering the whole of their front. This trench they lined with infantry.
The heavy guns could not be mounted behind the long curtain in time to anticipate the attack; but at daybreak, on the morning of the 11th, the light guns above alluded to opened an enfilading attack from the right, whilst the muskets from the infantry
in the new trench began a hot and unceasing fire. For a time there was no answer.
But at 8 o’clock the two sections of No. 2 battery, unmasked, replied. They began with a salvo from the nine 24-pounders – a salvo greeted by cheers from the men in the battery.
The effect was marked and decisive. As the site of the breach was struck huge fragments of stone fell, and the curtain wall disappeared in the ditch. The defenders on the Kashmir bastion attempted to reply, but in ten minutes their fire was silenced.
For the rest of the day the guns of No. 2 battery continued to pound away at the walls. It was an exhilarating sight to watch the stone-work crumbling under the storm of shot and shell, the breach getting larger and larger, and the 8-inch shells, made to burst just as they touched the parapet, bringing down whole yards of it at a time12.
During the night the mortars from No. 3 battery kept the enemy on the alert with incessant fire. But the rebels were by no means idle. The light pieces already alluded to, reinforced by a heavy gun, playing from martello towers and from holes in curtain walls, maintained destruction in a constant and most effective front and enfilading fire on Nos. 1 and 2 batteries. This fire constantly raked our batteries from end to end. So terrible and so effective was it, that, at last, one of the guns of No. 1 battery was withdrawn from playing on the breach and placed in the epaulment to keep down, if possible, the enfilading fire. But even this did not prove very effectual. At one time General Wilson was inclined to make a rush at these guns from the right13 and spike or capture them. But their position, within grape-shot of the curtain wall, rendered an attack on them difficult, and certain to be attended with loss. On the other hand, No. 3 battery would be completed on the morrow, and it was hoped that the effect of the full power of the artillery would be decisive.
At 11 o’clock on the morning of the 12th, Greathed, of the Engineers, aided by some native sappers, unmasked the embrasures. The battery was commanded by Major Scott, with the gallant Fagan as his second in command.
In another minute the six guns of the battery opened fire. The effect was tremendous.
The enemy’s guns were dismounted or smashed; the Water bastion was beaten into a shapeless mass, and in a few hours the breach seemed almost practicable. But the rebels showed no faint heart. Though their guns were silenced, they continued to pour in so heavy and continuous a musketry fire that the air seemed alive with bullets. The loss of life was consequently severe. Fagan, who, in his over-anxiety to see the effect of the first salvo, had raised his head above the parapet, was shot dead. Still further to embarrass the attack, the enemy opened from the other side of the river an enfilading fire, which, though not so effective or so destructive as that carried on from martello towers, was still sufficiently annoying.
But our gallant artillerymen never flinched. Throughout the day all the batteries poured in a fire from fifty guns and mortars on the devoted city. The heat was intense, the labour was severe, the danger was enormous.
But during the long hours of the day, and of the night which slowly followed, those daring officers and men, sustained by the conviction that to their unflagging energies was entrusted a task necessary for the triumph of the British cause, stood firmly to their guns, resisting every weakness of the flesh, their hearts joined in one firm resolve, rejoicing in the sight of the destruction made by their guns, their mortars, and their howitzers on the walls which had so long bidden them defiance14. The fire continued that day, that night, and the day following, the
enemy still responding, and with considerable effect. On the afternoon of the 13th, General Wilson, in consultation with Baird Smith, thought that two sufficient breaches had been made. He accordingly directed that they should be examined.
For this dangerous duty four young engineer officers were selected, Medley and Lang for the Kashmir bastion, Greathed and Home for the Water. The two first-named officers made their first attempt as soon as it was dusk, but they were discovered and fired at. They determined, therefore, to postpone the examination till 10 o’clock.
To facilitate the accomplishment of his task, Medley requested the officers commanding the batteries to fire heavily on the breach till 10 o’clock, and then to cease firing. He then arranged that six picked riflemen of the 60th Rifles should accompany himself and his companion, and that an officer and twenty men of the same regiment should follow in support, halting at the edge of the jungle while they went on to the breach. Should the officer see that the two engineer officers and party were being cut off, he was to bring his men to their support, sounding his whistle for them to fall back. Should, on the other hand, one of the examining party be wounded, or should the party require support, they were to whistle for him to advance.
It was a bright starlight night, and there was no moon. Just before the two officers and their party started, an 8-inch shell from the enemy buried itself deep in the ground close to them, burst and covered them with earth. A minute later and the gongs sounded 10. The firing suddenly ceased. The explorers were at once on their feet, and, drawing swords, and feeling that their revolvers were ready to hand, began to advance stealthily into the enemy’s country.
Safely, and without discovery, the two officers and their six followers reached the edge of the ditch. Not a soul was to be seen.
The counter-scarp was sixteen feet deep, and steep. Lang slid down it; Medley then passed down by the ladder, and with two of the men descended after Lang, leaving the other four to cover the retreat. In two minutes more they would have reached the top of the breach. But careful and descend into stealthy as had been their movements, they had not
been quite noiseless.
Just at that moment they heard several men running from the left towards the breach. They, therefore, re-ascended, though with some difficulty, and, throwing themselves on the grass, waited for events. Prone in the deep shade, they could see, without being seen, against the clear sky, not twenty yards distant, a number of dusky forms.
They watched them as they loaded their muskets. The moments were exciting, but the excitement did not prevent Medley and his comrade from carefully examining, from the ground where they lay, the longed for breach.
They saw that it was large, that the slope was easy of ascent, and that there were no guns in the flanks. They had had experience that the descent was an easy one. It would be desirable, they felt, to reach the top, but the dusky figures would not move, and any attempt to surprise them would be uncertain, and would involve possibly the loss of some, if not all, of their party. Besides, they had really gained the knowledge they had come to acquire. Medley, therefore, determined to be satisfied and to fall back. But how to fall back? There was but one way. Medley suddenly gave a preconcerted signal.
At once they all started up and ran back. A volley followed them, but ineffectively. Untouched, they gained their own batteries in safety.
Greathed and Home had not been less successful in their expedition. They had examined the Water bastion; and, although they had found that the musketry parapets had not been so destroyed as they would be if the cannonade were to be continued a day or two longer, they reported the breach practicable.
With these two reports before him, Baird Smith did not hesitate. The dangers of delay, the worn-out state of the men in the batteries, far outweighed any consideration which the condition of the musketry parapets in the Water bastion might suggest. He once. at, then, advised General Wilson to deliver the assault at daybreak the following morning. In such a matter the General commanding could not but act on the advice thus tendered him. General Wilson immediately issued the necessary orders. To Brigadier
General Nicholson, of the Bengal Army, whose triumphant march through the Punjab and subsequent victory at Najafgarh had made him the hero of the -campaign, was assigned the command of the first the column, destined to storm the breach near the Kashmir bastion, and escalade the face of the bastion. This column was composed of three hundred men of H.M.’s. 75th Regiment under Lieutenant-Colonel Herbert; of two hundred and fifty men of the 1st Fusiliers15 under Major Jacob; and of four hundred and fifty men of the 2nd Punjab Infantry, under Captain Green; in all, one thousand men. The engineer officers attached to this column were Lieutenants Medley, Lang, and Bingham.
The second column was commanded by Brigadier William Jones, C.B., of H.M.’s 61st Regiment. It was formed of two hundred and fifty men of H.M.’s 8th Regiment, under Lieutenant-Colonel Greathed; of two hundred and fifty men of the 2nd Fusiliers16, under Captain Boyd; of three hundred and fifty men of the 4th Sikh Infantry, under Captain Rothney; in all, eight hundred and fifty men. This column was to storm the breach in the Water bastion. The engineer officers attached to it were Lieutenants Greathed, Hovenden, and Pemberton.
The command of the third column was confided to Colonel Campbell, H.M.’s 52nd Foot. It was composed of two hundred men of the 52nd, under Major Vigors; of two hundred and fifty men of the Kumaun Battalion, under Captain Ramsay; of five hundred men of the first Punjab Infantry, under Lieutenant Nicholson: in all, nine hundred and fifty men. The duty assigned to it was to assault by the Kashmir gate after it should have been blown open. The engineer officers attached to it were Lieutenants Home, Salkeld, and Tandy.
The fourth column was commanded by Major Reid of the Bengal Army. It consisted of the Sirmur Battalion17, the Guide Corps, and such of the pickets, European and native, as could be spared from Hindu Rao ‘s major house; in all (of these) eight hundred and sixty
men. But, in addition, there was a portion of the contingent of the Maharajah of Kashmir, commanded by Captain Richard Lawrence, and consisting of twelve hundred men. The task assigned to this column was to attack the suburb Kishanganj, and to enter the Lahor gate18. The engineer officers attached to this column were Lieutenants Maunsell and Tennant.
The fifth, or reserve column was commanded by Brigadier Longfield of H.M.’s 8th Regiment. It was composed, as follows: two hundred and fifty men, H.M.’s 61st Regiment, under Lieutenant-Colonel Deacon; four hundred and fifty men, 4th Panjab Infantry, under Captain Wilde; three hundred men, Biluch Battalion, under Lieutenant-Colonel Farquhar; three hundred men of the Rajah. of Jhind’s auxiliary force, under Lieutenant-Colonel Dunsford; in all, one thousand three hundred men. To these were subsequently added two hundred men of the 60th rifles, under Lieutenant-Colonel John Jones of that regiment, detailed in the first instance to cover the advance. This column, acting as a reserve, was to follow the first column. The engineer officers attached to it were Lieutenants Ward and Thackeray.
The officers appointed to the command of the five assaulting columns were, then, Nicholson, Jones, Campbell, Reid, and Longfield. They were all picked men, fitted alike by nature and by training for the task about to devolve upon them.
Of Nicholson it is unnecessary to say much. His exploits in the Panjab, and but a few days before at Najafgarh, had made him the paladin of the army.
The commander of the second column, Brigadier William Jones, had served at Chilianwala and at Gujrat; had co-operated in the destruction of the enemy after that crowning victory by pursuing
them, at the head of his regiment and a troop of artillery, to the Khaibar pass; and, during the siege of Dehli, had distinguished himself as brigadier of the 3rd Infantry Brigade.
Colonel Campbell, commanding the third column, was the colonel of the 52nd. He had commanded his regiment with distinguished gallantry at Sialkot, where it formed part of Nicholson’s force.
Major Reid, of the fourth column, belonged to the Bengal Army. Major Charles Reid had served in Sindh under Sir Charles Napier, throughout the Satlaj and Burmese wars, and had ever distinguished himself not less by energy and daring, than by readiness of resource and presence of mind. During the siege, whilst the remainder of the attacking force had occupied the old parade ground, covered by the ridge, Reid alone had held the ridge. All the pickets detached from the main force to various points on the ridge had been under his orders, and his only. The posts thus under his command had included the main picket at Hindu Rao’s house, the Observatory, the Sami’ House, the Crow’s Nest, and the Sabzimandi. On the positions so indicated he had, between the 8th June19 and the 14th September, repulsed no less than twenty-six attacks, displaying a daring, a coolness, and a presence of mind not to be surpassed. On the 17th June, with a small force of four companies of the 60th Rifles, his own regiment, the Sirmur Battalion, and twenty-five sappers, he had stormed the strong position of Kishanganj, destroying the enemy’s batteries stationed there, and returning the same evening to his position on the ridge.
Brigadier Longfield, commanding the reserve column, was brigadier of the second brigade during the siege. His conspicuous services fully entitled him to the post which was assigned him on this memorable occasion.
It was 3 o’clock in the morning. The columns of assault were in the leash. In a few moments they would be slipped. What would be the result? Would the skill and daring of
the soldiers of England triumph against superior numbers defending, and defended by, stone walls; or would
rebellion, triumphing over the assailants, turn that triumph to a still greater account by inciting by its means to its aid the Panjab and the other parts of India still quivering in the balance? That indeed, was the question. The fate of Dehli was in itself the smallest of the results to be gained by a successful assault. The fate of India was in the balance. The repulse of the British would entail the rising of the Panjab!
It had been decided that, whilst the first and second columns should direct their attack against the breaches near the Kashmir and Water bastions, an explosion party should steal ahead and blow up the Kashmir gate, through which the third column should then effect an entrance into the city. The explosion party consisted of Lieutenants Home and Salkeld of the Engineers; of Sergeants Smith, Carmichael, and Corporal Burgess, alias Grierson, of the Sappers and Miners; of Bugler Hawthorne, H.M.’s 52nd Light Infantry; and of eight native sappers. It was covered by two hundred men of the 60th Rifles, under Lieutenant-Colonel Jones of that regiment. The duty devolving on the Sappers. and Miners and their officers, was, it is almost needless to state, to blow up the Kashmir gate; that of Bugler Hawthorne was to announce, by means of his bugle, to the storming party, that the explosion had done its work completely.
Though preparations had been made to advance to the assault a little after 3 in the morning, some slight delay occurred, and the day was dawning ere the columns were in motion. All this time the besiegers’ batteries were pouring in a heavy and continuous fire – a fire which the enemy, always on the alert, answered with rockets, shells, and round shot. It was amid the din and tumult caused by this artillery duel that, just after dawn, the first, second, and third columns started on their tremendous errand. General Nicholson had the general management of the attack. He looked quiet but anxious. General Wilson rode up just as the columns were advancing, evidently full of anxiety20. No wonder that he was anxious, knowing, as he did
know, the enormous issues at stake on the result of the dawning clay’s work.
The columns advanced as far as the ground opposite Ludlow Castle. There they halted. The first column then moved sharply to the left to take up its position in Kudsiabagh, there to wait for the signal; the second went further to the left, and formed up behind No. 3 battery; the third remained on the high road, to await there the bugle-sound which was to summon them to the Kashmir gate. The signal for the assault of the first and second columns was to be the sudden advance of the skirmishers of the 60th Rifles.
The columns having taken up their positions, Nicholson gave the signal. The Rifles at once dashed to the front with a cheer, extending along and skirmishing through the low jungle – which at this point extends to within fifty yards of the ditch – and opening at the same time a fire on the enemy on the walls. At the sound of their advance, the engineer officers attached to the first column, previously posted on the edge of the jungle whence the column was to advance towards the breach, waved their swords to show the way to the stormers. The fire from our batteries had ceased, whilst that of the enemy, now thoroughly alive to the nature of the contest, continued incessant. Through this fire Medley and Lang and the ladder-men advanced at a quick walk till they reached the edge of the cover.
Then, forming their ladder-men into a sort of line, they rushed to the breach, closely followed by the storming party, and in a minute gained the crest of the glacis. They were here in the open exposed to a terrific and unceasing fire from the breach and the open parapet walls, which told with fatal effect.
So continuous was it that for ten minutes it was impossible to let down the ladders. “Man after man was struck down, and the enemy, with yells and curses, kept up a terrific fire, even catching up stones from
the breach in their fury, and, dashing them down, dared the assailants to come on21.” But, undaunted by these cries and by the fire by which they were accompanied, the British soldiers did push on. They succeeded at length in getting two of the ladders into the ditch, and instantly the officers led their men down them22.
Once in the ditch, to mount the escarp and scramble up the breach was the work of an instant. But the enemy did not wait for them. The insulting yells and curses ceased as the whilom utterers hurriedly vacated their position. “The breach was won, and the supporting troops pouring in fast, went down the ramp into the main-guard below23.”
Whilst the first column was thus carrying out, with daring and success, the work assigned to it, the second, under Brigadier William Jones, C.B., had not been less occupied. Led by its engineers, Greathed and Hovenden, the column advanced towards the breach in the Water bastion.
By some mistake the supporting of the stormers pressed forward on the right of the party, and, rushing to the counterscarp of the curtain, slid into its ditch, climbed its breach, and won the rampart. The stormers of the 8th24, however, most of them carrying ladders, followed the engineers to the Water bastion.
They had to make a slight detour to the right to avoid some water in the ditch, and, being in the open, they were exposed to the full fury of the enemy’s fire, which, at this point, was incessant and well directed. The two engineer officers fell, severely wounded, and of the thirty-nine ladder-men, twenty-nine were struck down in a few minutes.
But here, as at the Kashmir gate, British valour was not to be daunted. The ladders were at length placed and the breach was carried by the survivors, twenty-five
in number, headed by Captain Baynes, next to whom in seniority was Sergeant Walker.
Meanwhile the remainder of the column, which had entered by the curtain breach, had done wonders. Their entrance into a vital point of the defences, where an attack had not been expected, for the moment paralysed the enemy.
Brigadier Jones, who, in command of the column, had displayed great gallantry, took advantage of the disorder into which his sudden attack had thrown the defenders, to clear the ramparts as far as the Kabul gate, on the top of which he planted the column flag25, carried by a private of the 61st, Andrew Laughnan.
Before recording the proceedings of the third column, I propose to follow the explosion party, on whose action the movements of that column were to depend.
The composition of this party has already been given. Posted in front of the third column, it advanced straight on the Kashmir gate, in the face of a very hot fire.
Undeterred by this fire, Lieutenant Home and four men, each carrying a bag of twenty-five pounds of powder, pushed on through a barrier gate, which was found open, across the ditch, to the foot of the great double gate. So great was the audacity of this proceeding, that, for a few seconds, it completely paralysed the enemy. Firing only a few straggling shots, they closed the wicket with every appearance of alarm, and Home, after laying his bags, had time to jump into the ditch unhurt. Salkeld was not so fortunate. Before he could reach the gate the enemy had recovered from their panic, and, divining his object, had taken prompt measures to thwart it. From either side of the top of the gateway, and from the open wicket close by, they began to pour upon him and his party a deadly fire.
Salkeld, nevertheless, laid his bags, but was almost immediately after shot through the arm and leg, and fell back disabled on the bridge.
He handed the portfire to Sergeant Burgess, bidding him light the fusee. Burgess, trying to obey, was shot dead. Sergeant Carmichael then seized the portfire,
lighted the fusee, but immediately fell, mortally wounded. The other sergeant, Smith, thinking that Carmichael had failed, rushed forward to seize the portfire, but noticing the fusee burning, threw himself into the ditch.
The next moment the massive gate was shattered with a tremendous explosion.
Home at once ordered Hawthorne to sound the bugle-call26. Fearing that in the noise of the assault the sound might not be heard, he had it repeated three times.
The 52nd, anxiously awaiting the signal, did not hear it; but their colonel, the gallant Campbell, who also commanded the column, in front of which he had posted himself, noticing the explosion, and expecting the call, asked, not hearing it himself, whether it had reached the ears of any of those about him. Though no one had heard it, Campbell felt that at so critical a moment action was better than standing still. He at once ordered the advance.
The column responded eagerly. The 52nd gallantly led the way, and in less than a minute after the bugle had sounded they dashed on over the bridge, and entered the city just as the other columns had won the breaches27.
Colonel Campbell, on gaining the main-guard inside the gate, at once re-formed his column, and pushed on with the intention of occupying the Kotwali, and, if possible, the Jami Masjid. He cleared the Water bastion, within which some of the enemy were still lurking, the church, and the enclosure known as the “Dehli Gazette compound,” and forced his way through the
Kashmir gate bazaar. A gun which commanded the line of advance was carried by a rush of a party of the 52nd, under Lieutenant Bradshaw, who, however, paid with his life on the spot the penalty of his daring. Still pressing forward, Campbell reached the gate opening on the Chaudni Chauk. Forcing this, he advanced without much opposition, except from a musketry fire from a few houses. A sudden turn of the road brought him within sight of the Jami Masjid, its arches and gates bricked up, impossible to be forced without powder-bags or guns, rendered safe against assault from mere infantry.
Unwilling to forego the chance of storming this formidable position, Campbell remained in front of it for half an hour, under a fire of musketry from the houses, in the expectation of the successful advance of the other columns. But as time went on, and there were no visible signs of the approach of the one or the other, Campbell deemed it advisable to retire on the Begam Bagh, a large enclosure. He held this place for an hour and a half, exposed to a heavy fire of musketry, grape and canister. Here I must leave him whilst I trace the progress of the fourth column.
Much depended on the success of its attack. Commanded by Major Reid, it was designed to move from Hindu Rao’s house, on the right, against the suburbs of Kishanganj and Paharipur, with a view of driving the enemy thence and effecting an entrance at the Kabul gate after it should be taken by General Nicholson. The successful advance of the first, second, and third columns depended, then, very much on the result of this flank attack.
Major Reid’s column, composed of detachments from eight different regiments, eight hundred and sixty men in all, with a reserve of twelve hundred infantry of the Jammu contingent, formed up at 4.30 A.M. on the Grand Trunk Road, opposite the Sabzimandi picket. Before 5 A.M. the column was ready, but the four horse artillery guns which were ordered to accompany the column had not arrived. Presently the guns came up, but the officer reported that there were only sufficient gunners to man one gun. Reid had no intention of taking one gun into action contrary to the rules of the service, so he directed the officer to obtain the full complement of gunners as soon as possible. It was now broad daylight, and Reid was anxiously listening for
the explosion (the blowing in of the Kashmir gate), which was to have been the signal to advance, when he heard musketry fire on his right, and soon discovered that the party of the Jammu troops, four hundred infantry and four guns, which he had ordered to proceed direct from the camp at 3.45 A.M., for the purpose of making a diversion by occupying the Idgar, had become engaged with the enemy. No time under these circumstances was to be lost, so he at once pushed on with the column without the horse artillery guns, and more than half an hour before the attack of the other columns.
The detachment of the 60th Rifles, under Captain Muter, was thrown out in skirmishing order to the right of the road, while a feeling party of the Guides was sent a short distance ahead of the column. When within sixty yards of the canal bridge, Reid discovered that the enemy had manned their breast-works across the road, as also one work running parallel to the road, and that both of them had been considerably strengthened during the night. The head of the column approached the first line of breast-works, within fifty yards, when the enemy poured in a tremendous volley. The 60th Rifles meanwhile closed to the left, and with the Sirmur Gurkhas, made a dash, and instantly drove the enemy from his first line of defence. They at once retreated on their second line. Meanwhile a steady fire was kept up by the enemy from the loop-holed wall of Kishanganj, eighteen feet high, which completely commanded the position now gained by the head of Reid’s column, and many of his men fell. Reid, who was standing on the parapet of the canal bridge, now observed that the enemy had been reinforced from the city. They came in thousands down the dry bed of the canal over which Reid was standing, and a large body appeared on the road, hesitating apparently whether they should drive our men from the breast-work already gained, or attack the detachment of the Jammu troops on the right, which had never approached the Idgar – a result of their starting from the camp nearly an hour after the time laid down.
Guns at this time, whilst the enemy stood in a mass on the road, would have been invaluable, and would have proved of the greatest service to Reid, but, though the guns had been sent, no gunners, through some unaccountable mistake, were available to man them.
Reid was just about to feign an attack in front of the Kishanganj heavy batteries, whilst he should direct a real one in their flank and rear, when he was. knocked over the parapet of the bridge with a musket-shot wound in the head, his engineer officer, Lieutenant Maunsell, who was standing near him, being struck in the same place. Up to this time, Reid states in his despatch, “all was going on admirably, the troops were steady, and well in hand, and I made sure of success.” How long he lay on the ground insensible is not known – all thought he was dead – but when he came to his senses he found himself on the back of one of his Gurkhas. He then saw the party of the Jammu contingent on his right hard pressed.
He sent for Captain Lawrence, who was his second in command, and, presently meeting him, directed him to take command to support the right. The reserve, under Captain Lawrence, consisting of twelve hundred infantry of the Jammu contingent, was in rear of the column. The detached party of four hundred infantry destined for the Idgar had, meanwhile, become perfectly disorganised. They rushed into the main column, and caused the greatest confusion, making it difficult to distinguish friend from foe.
The interval which had elapsed between the fall of Major Reid and his handing over the command to his successor had been very disastrous to the attack. Whether Major Reid, had he not been struck, would have succeeded, most ever remain a matter for conjecture. The officer to whom he resigned the command was a very capable man. He was one of “the Lawrences,” and in the many positions of trust he had occupied under the Government had always served with credit and success. On this occasion he was not wanting to the reputation of the family. Succeeding to the command at a moment when, to use the emphatic language of the late Sir Herbert Edwardes28, “the day was lost,” he did all that it was
possible for a brave and capable commander to do. Before the command was made over to him, before even he was aware that Reid had been wounded, many of the officers who had been carrying out Reid’s instructions, receiving no orders, and recognising that the attack had failed, had resolved to fall back. Falling back, they came upon Captain Lawrence, to whom they reported themselves, and who, finding matters had proceeded so far, directed all his efforts to ensure that the retreat should be orderly. Meanwhile a fresh complication had arisen.
Captain Muter of the 60th Rifles, who was with the attacking column, seeing Major Reid fall, and apparently regarding Captain Lawrence in the light only of a political officer attached to the Kashmir force, assumed the command of the portion , of the column with which he was serving. This caused considerable confusion; Captain Lawrence however, succeeded in asserting his authority, and, finding that there was no hope of obtaining the artillerymen who had been applied for, and that the enemy, pressing forward on the right flank of the column, threatened his rear, he retired leisurely and in good order on the batteries behind Hindu Rao’s house.
The attack on the Idgar, conducted by a portion of the Kashmir troops under Captain Dwyer, was still more unfortunate. The Kashmirics, greatly outnumbered, were not only repulsed, but lost four guns.
The repulse of the fourth column greatly increased the difficulties of the assault. I left the first and second columns, to which I must now return, victorious inside the breach. Nicholson at once collected the great body of his column on the square of the mainguard, then, turning to the right, pushed forward along the foot of the walls towards the Lahor gate. The second column, under Brigadier Jones, had previously cleared the ramparts, and, passing the Mori bastion, had planted their flag, in the manner already indicated, on the summit of the Kabul gate. Nicholson advanced beyond this in the hope of feeling the support of the fourth column. But we have seen that the attack of this column had failed, and it was this failure which now rendered the position of the advanced assailants difficult and dangerous in the extreme.
In pushing along the foot of the walls towards the Lahor gate our troops had been assailed by musketry fire from the houses in the place, and by grape and round shot from the Selimgarh and the palace. This, however, had not impeded the advance. But when the column had reached the western extremity of the town, and ascertained that, by the failure of the fourth column, the defences there were still in the hands of the enemy, they saw that their entire position was altered, and that they had before them another struggle at least as serious as that which they had but just then overcome.
The Lahor gate of the city was the gate which led to the Chandni Chauk or principal street of the city. This gate was commanded by a bastion about two-thirds of the way between it and the Kabul gate.
But to reach this bastion not only had narrow streets, the houses in which were strongly manned, to be forced, but the left of the attacking party would be exposed to a very heavy fire from the enemy now concentrating there. It was a prospect such as to make the boldest leader pause. Nicholson was a man of great daring, but there were men with him at the time, not less brave, who pointed out to him that under the circumstances in which he found himself it would be wise to be content with establishing himself in the houses which dominated the position, and await intelligence before advancing further. Seymour Blane of the 52nd, who acted as his brigade-major, strongly pressed this advice upon him. Major Jacob of the 1st Fusiliers, a most able and gallant officer, and who commanded the regiment on the occasion, supported this view.
But Nicholson was impatient to press on. He believed that delays were dangerous, that the fullest advantage should be taken, at the moment, of the successful storm. More than two hours had already elapsed since his men had stood triumphant on the breach. A firm footing in the city had been gained. But this was not in itself sufficient. The repulse of the fourth column had renewed the hopes of the enemy. To destroy these it was necessary, in the opinion of Nicholson, to penetrate into the city.
In front of the column was a lane, tolerably straight, about ten feet wide, but narrowed in places by projecting buttresses or towers with parapets. Where these buildings existed the
roadway was narrowed to about three feet29.
The city side of the lane was bounded by houses with flat roofs and parapets. Not only were all these buildings strongly occupied by the enemy, but the lane was further defended by two brass guns; one, about a hundred and sixty yards from its opening, pointed in the direction of the advance; the second, about a hundred yards in rear of the other, commanding it. Behind both was a bullet-proof screen, whilst, projecting as it were, from the wall, was the bastion commanding the Lahor gate, armed with heavy pieces, and capable of holding a thousand men.
It was this formidable position that Nicholson decided to attack whilst yet the enemy might still be under the influence of their defeat at three out of the four points attacked. On receiving the order, his men dashed gallantly up the lane, took the first gun with a rush, and then pushed on to the second. But within ten yards of this they were assailed by a fire of grape and musketry, and volleys of stones and round shot, thrown by hand, so severe that they recoiled under the terrible and ceaseless shower.
There was no shelter for them, and they were forced to retire. It would be difficult to paint in colours too bright the exertions of their officers. Conspicuous amongst these was Lieutenant Butler of the 1st Fusiliers. This officer penetrated up to the bullet-proof screen already mentioned. How he escaped with his life was a marvel. At the screen two bayonets were thrust at him which pinned him between them as if he were between the prongs of a fork. There he stood, unable to advance or to retire, until, firing his revolver down the loop-holes, he forced the men who were thrusting at him to withdraw their weapons30.
The assailants were, I have said, forced to retire. Only, however, for a few moments. Re-formed, they again advanced.
Again they captured the first gun, which was spiked by Captain Greville, 1st Fusiliers; again they dashed at the second. As they rushed on, their leader, Major Jacob of the 1st Fusiliers, a cool, daring, and accomplished officer, was mortally
Lying there on the ground, knowing his hour had come, the gallant Jacob called to his men to press onward. But the fire was tremendous. Wemyss, Greville, Caulfield, Speke, Woodcock, Butler, all officers belonging or attached to the 1st Fusiliers, were in turn struck down. The men, greatly discouraged, were falling back a second time, when Nicholson rushed to the front.
His voice never rang more nobly, his presence was never more inspiring, than when, waving his sword, he summoned the men to follow where their general led.
But the broken order could not be restored in a moment, and, before a sufficient number of men could respond to the call, John Nicholson was struck down by a bullet which pierced his body.
The wound was mortal, and Nicholson knew it to be so. But neither the agony of the pain, nor the certain approach of death, could quench the ardour of that gallant spirit.
He still called upon the men to go on. He insisted on lying there till the lane should be carried. But he was asking dying, as he had asked living, that which was all but impossible. Without artillery, the enemy’s position was too strong to be carried. Soldiers not accustomed to be baffled, the same men who that morning had carried the walls by escalade, had recoiled twice before it. In that lane alone eight officers and fifty men had fallen.
There was nothing for it but to retire. The fallen hero was then carefully removed to his tent, and the men forced fell back on to the Kabul gate. Nicholson still lived, and, the lungs being uninjured by the ball, the doctors had some hope of his life. He alone had the certain conviction that the triumph for which he had prepared would escape his grasp.
By the fall of Nicholson the command of the first and second columns, now established at or near the Kabul gate, devolved on Brigadier Jones, Jones, C.B.
Whilst the infantry were thus contending with alternate success and mishap to establish themselves in the imperial city, the cavalry were not less actively employed outside the walls. It had never been absolutely certain that all the four columns would succeed in
their attack, whilst it was tolerably clear that the failure of any one of them would entail a counter assault from the victorious enemy. It was necessary likewise that the flanks of the assaulting columns should he efficiently covered. With wise prevision, then, General Wilson had directed Brigadier Hope Grant to move with the greater part of his cavalry and a troop and a half of Horse Artillery at the time of the assault to the vicinity of No. 1 battery, to check any attempt to take our storming columns in flank by sortie from the Lahor and Ajmir gates, and to hold himself in readiness to act as circumstances might require.
Hope Grant, taking with him two hundred men of the 9th Lancers, four hundred of the Sikh horsemen, and a troop and a half of Horse Artillery, under Major Tombs, moved to the point indicated. Handling his men skilfully, he effectually covered the assaulting columns. Moving onwards as the columns advanced, he then took up a position under the walls of the city, covering the batteries. Here he remained, ready for further action, till the moment when the movement of the enemy on his right showed him that the fourth column had been repulsed. In fact, the enemy following up that column had thrown themselves into the houses and gardens near Kishanganj, and now opened a heavy musketry fire on the cavalry. Hope Grant at once ordered the Horse Artillery to the front. Tombs galloped up, unlimbered, opened fire, and compelled the enemy to fall back. As they did so, the guns on the Burn bastion opened out on the cavalry.
At a distance of five hundred yards, drawn up for action, though compelled to remain inactive, their presence on the spot constituted a material aid to on the infantry then endeavouring to make good their position within the city. For two hours they stood to receive. General Wilson, alive to their danger, promptly despatched Captain Bourchier’s battery to aid them. But the round shot from the Burn bastion continued to empty saddle after saddle, or to dismount officer after officer. Nine officers of the Lancers had their horses shot under them.
Conspicuous on either side of this gallant regiment were the scarlet-clad horse of Dighton Probyn, and the Panjabis of John Watson in their slate-coloured garments. Gallantly they stood, conscious that thus exposing their lives without the power of
retaliating they were serving the common cause. At the end of about two hours the cavalry were further reinforced by about two hundred of the Guides and Gurkhas. Shortly afterwards came the intelligence that the infantry had established their positions within the town. Then, and then only, did Hope Grant withdraw leisurely to Ludlow Castle, satisfied that he had not only prevented the enemy from following up their victory over the fourth column, but had occupied their attention with a very considerable result on the main operations.
We have now to consider the operations of the reserve column. The commander of this column, Brigadier Longfield, having previously detached the wing of the Biluch battalion, three hundred strong, to the right of No. 2 battery, followed No. 3 column through the Kashmir gate, and cleared the College gardens. One portion of the column, consisting of the 4th Panjab Rifles and some of the 61st Regiment, occupied these gardens; whilst another, composed of the Jhind Auxiliary Force and some of the 60th Rifles, held the Water bastion, the Kashmir gate, Colonel Skinner’s house, and the house of Ahmad Ali Khan, a large, commanding building.
The position of four out of the five columns of the attacking force as the evening set in may thus briefly be described. The entire space inside the city from the Water bastion to the Kabul gate was held by the first, second, and fifth columns. The fourth column, repulsed in its attack on Kishanganj, was holding the batteries behind Hindu Rao’s house. We have still to account for the third column. I left that column, gallantly led by Colonel Campbell, holding a large enclosure parallel with the Chandni Chauk, called the Begam Bagh, anxiously expecting assistance from the other columns, and exposed to a heavy fire of musketry, grape, and canister.
The failure of the first column in its attempt to master the lane leading to the Chandni Chauk, and the repulse of the fourth column, account for the leaving in an unsupported position of Colonel Campbell. In advance of, and without communication with, the other columns; in the vicinity of a position strongly occupied by the enemy; liable to be cut off from the main body; the position was eminently dangerous. But Colonel Campbell knew himself, and he knew the men he commanded.
They were eager to dare, anxious to press on. But the Jami Masjid had been made impregnable to an attack from infantry, and the Brigadier had neither artillery to beat down, nor powder-bags to blow up, the obstacles in the way of his men. Under these circumstances, taking a soldierly view of the situation, he had occupied the Begam Bagh, resolved to hold it till he could communicate with head-quarters. Whilst occupying this position he was rejoined by the Kumaun Battalion, belonging to his column, but which had in the advance diverged to the right, and had occupied the Kotwali. An hour and a half elapsed, however, before he was able to communicate with head-quarters. Then, for the first time, he learned that the first and second columns had not been able to advance beyond the Kabul gate, and that he could not be supported.
A glance at the plan of Dehli will make it evident, even to non-military readers, that with the main body unable to penetrate beyond the Kabul gate, it would be injudicious for the third column to attempt to hold the Begam Bagh during the night. Colonel Campbell, then, leisurely fell back on the church, the nearest point at which he touched the reserve column. Placing the 52nd in the church, he occupied Skinner’s house with the Kumaun Battalion, and posted the 1st Panjab Infantry in the houses at the end of the two streets that lead from the interior of the city into the open space around the church31. At the head of these streets guns had previously been posted.
I cannot leave the record of the achievements of what was accomplished on this terrible day without making some more particular reference to the special duties which devolved on the artillery.
When the third column entered the city through the Kashmir gate, it was followed by Major Scott’s light field battery (No. 14). Heavy fighting was going on in the streets. Two guns, under Lieutenant M. M. FitzGerald, were at once sent to Ahmad Ali Khan’s house on the right of the College gardens, to support the 60th regiment, which was soon after joined by the 52nd. Two guns, under Lieutenant Minto Elliot, joined the Biluchis and 61st regiment in the College gardens, where Lieutenant Elliot was soon dangerously wounded. The,
remaining two guns, under Lieutenant Aislabie, joined Nicholson’s column just as it had been compelled to retire to the Kabul gate, and assisted in all the subsequent fighting of that column until the capture of the Lahor gate. FitzGerald and Elliot’s guns were more or less actively engaged in all the street-fighting that took place on the left and in the centre, including the capture of the magazine and bank. The losses of the battery in men and horses were considerable, but not greater than were to be expected when manoeuvring in narrow streets under constant musketry fire from the houses32.
A review of the work of the 14th September, 1857, will show that though the British loss had been heavy, though all had not been accomplished which it had been hoped to accomplish, yet not only had great obstacles been overcome, but a solid base had been obtained whence to continue and complete the work. In less than six hours the army had lost sixty-six officers, and eleven hundred and four men in killed and wounded. Four out of five of the assaulting columns were within the walls, but the position which they held was extended, and, owing to the failure of the fourth column, their right flank was threatened. The enemy were still strong in numbers, strong in guns, strong in position. They, too, had had success as well as reverses, and they had not yet abandoned all hope of ultimate victory.
The first care of the assailants was to secure as best they could the posts that they had so dearly gained. That night the engineers who were still fit for duty – they were but few, for out of seventeen ten had secured been struck down during the assault – were sent to fortify the advanced positions. Here they threw up barricades, and loop-holed and fortified the houses commanding the approaches. To maintain the flank communications between the heads of the several columns strong pickets, throwing out vedettes, were established33.
Such was the result of the assault of the 14th September. At the cost of a very heavy loss of life a firm lodgment had been gained. The five assaulting columns numbered, exclusive of the Kashmir Contingent, five thousand one hundred and sixty men. Of these, eleven hundred and four men and sixty-six officers, or about two men in every nine, had been killed or wounded. Amongst the brave men who were killed or died of their wounds, were Nicholson, of whom I shall write further on; Jacob of the 1st Fusiliers; Speke, 65th Regiment Native Infantry; Salkeld, Engineers; Roper, 34th Foot; Tandy, Engineers; Fitzgerald, 75th Foot; Bradshaw, 52nd Light Infantry; Webb, 8th Foot; Renfray, 4th Panjab Infantry; Pogson 8th Regiment; MacBarnett, Davidson, and Murray, doing duty respectively with the 1st Fusiliers, the 2nd Panjab Infantry and the Guides. The number of wounded officers amounted to fifty-two, of whom eight were Engineers. All these officers were but a type of the unreformed British army. They were men in whom their soldiers had confidence, whose physical energies had not been neutralised by a premature exercise of the powers of the brain, who had learned their duties in the practical life of camps, who were ever to the fore in manly exercises in cantonment, as eager as able to lead their men on the battle-field. Honour to their memory! However limited their acquirements might have been regarded by examiners, they at least knew how to lead their men to victory!
The determination not only to hold the ground already won, but to continue further operations, was not arrived at by General Wilson without considerable hesitation. The success achieved, important as it was, had not corresponded – I will not say to his anticipations, for he had never been very confident – but to his hopes. The repulse of the first and fourth columns, the mortal wound of Nicholson, the tremendous loss in killed and wounded, the conviction he personally acquired that evening that the city had yet to be taken, – all these considerations combined to work on a nature never very sanguine or self-reliant, and now enfeebled by anxiety and ill-health. The General’s first thought had been to withdraw the assaulting columns to the positions they had so long held on the ridge34.
From this fatal determination General Wilson was saved by the splendid obstinacy of Baird Smith, aided by the soldier-like instincts of Neville Chamberlain. What sort of a man Baird Smith was, I have recorded in a previous page. Neville Chamberlain had been cast in a mould not less noble. A soldier almost from the hour of his birth, Neville Chamberlain united to the most complete forgetfulness of self a courage, a resolution, a coolness equal to all occasions. The only fault that the most critical could find with his action was that he was too eager to press forward. If a fault, it was a noble fault – a fault which the critics carefully avoided. But, warring against Asiatics, to go forward is never a fault, and I have been assured, not by one but by many, that Chamberlain’s personal daring had contributed greatly to inspire with confidence the soldiers he commanded.
Chamberlain was Adjutant-General of the Army. He had been a consistent counsellor of bold and daring measures, and he had more than once, after repulsing a sally of the enemy, led the counter-attack which had driven him headlong within the city. In one of these daring pursuits he had been severely wounded, and it was this severe wound which had prevented him from taking an active part in the actual assault. But from the summit of Hindu Rao’s house he had witnessed all the events of that memorable day. The repulse of the fourth column, and the demonstration made by the enemy to pursue that column, seemed for a moment indeed to imperil his position, and he had summoned the native guard to the roof to defend the threatened magazine. This danger was averted by the action, already recorded, of Hope Grant and the cavalry. But this episode in no degree diverted the attention of the Adjutant-General from the other events. He noticed the first successes of the other columns; then the check – the apparently insurmountable check – evidently a bar to further progress on that day. To Chamberlain its significance was clear and unmistakable. There was but one course to pursue. To hold at
any cost, the positions taken, to fortify them, and to make them the base of a fresh attack at the earliest moment. Unable to move himself, he sent to the General a record of his convictions, accompanied by an earnest request that he would hold the ground for the night.
Would the written request of the Adjutant-General, not actually on the spot, have alone sufficed to turn the General from the course which a personal inspection had at once suggested to him? It is doubtful. The General undoubtedly believed that the safety of the army would be compromised by the retention of the positions they had gained. Fortunately, Baird Smith was at his elbow.
Appealed to by General Wilson as to whether he thought it possible for the army to retain the ground they had won, his answer was short and decisive, “We must do so.” That was all. But the uncompromising tone, the resolute manner, the authority of the speaker, combined to make it a decision against which there was no appeal. General Wilson accepted it35.
The following day, the 15th, was devoted to the securing of the positions gained, to the establishing and making use of mortar batteries to shell the city, the palace, and the Selim garh, to the restoring of order, and to the arranging of means for putting a stop to indiscriminate plundering.
That our troops were permitted to carry out this programme with but slight disturbance from the enemy, shows how truly Baird Smith and Chamberlain had judged the position. It is not too much to affirm that a retrograde movement on the 15th would, for the time, have lost India. As it was, whilst a mortar battery, established by our engineers in the College gardens, effected considerable damage in the enemy’s defences, and our men, under the cover of that fire, were able to occupy and fortify some houses in front of the position taken the previous
evening, the enemy’s fire from Selimgarh and the magazine was comparatively ineffective. Already the depression of failure, which our retirement would have changed into the joy of triumph, was beginning to weight their efforts very heavily.
I have said that measures were taken on the 15th to restore order and to put a stop to indiscriminate plundering. The fact is, that the part of Dehli which our troops had occupied was the part which abounded in stores way of the containing intoxicating liquors. What a temptation this would be to men faint from work of the severest character, and subjected for months to deprivations on the ridge, may easily be conceived. The indulgence in half an hour’s unchecked impulse might paralyse the force. The danger was imminent, for the advanced guards fell victims to the snare. But it was met promptly and with energy. The General ordered that the whole of the liquor should be destroyed, and the order was, to a very great extent, carried out.
The morning of the 16th dawned hopefully. During the night and in the early morning the enemy evacuated the suburb of Kishanganj, whence they had, on the 14th, repulsed the fourth column. The besiegers at once occupied the position, and captured five heavy guns which had been left there by the enemy. The great strength of the place made a deep impression on them, and they could only wonder why it had been evacuated. The fire from the English batteries also had, by this time, effected a breach in the magazine, and a party, consisting of H.M.’s 61st Regiment, three companies of the 4th Panjab Rifles, and the wing of the Biluch Battalion, was detached, personally directed by the General, to storm it.
They did storm it with but little loss to themselves – three men only being wounded – another proof of the growing depression of the enemy. The capture was of the highest importance, the magazine containing a hundred and seventy-one guns and howitzers, most of them of the largest calibre, besides ammunition of every kind.
On the afternoon of the same day, the enemy made an attempt to recapture the magazine, as well as the workshops adjoining it. They advanced under cover of the fire of some guns in front of the palace gate, carried the workshops, but were driven back from the magazine, and ultimately from the workshops
On this occasion, Lieutenant Renny of the Artillery displayed great coolness and contempt of death. For, mounting on the roof of the magazine, he pelted the enemy with shells which were handed to him with their fuses burning36!
It would be natural to imagine that the fact that the army could not only hold its own, but make an impression upon the rebels so formidable as that implied by their abandonment of Kishanganj, and their feeble defence of the magazine, would have inspired the General with a confident hope as to the ultimate issue. But he was still desponding, and, with Nicholson dying and Chamberlain unable to take an active part in his operations, it needed all the exertions of the engineers, than whom it would have been impossible to have collected a more daring and energetic set of men37, to induce him to sanction the necessary forward movement.
On the 17th and 18th the advance was pushed still further. The brain-task fell to the engineers, it having been decided to avoid the line of the streets and to sap through the houses. In this way the bank, Major Abbott’s house, and the house of Khan Muhammad Khan were taken, and the besiegers’ posts were brought close up to the palace and the Chandni Chauk. During these days, too, the positions on the right and left, indicated by the Kabul gate and the magazine, were brought into direct communication by a line of posts.
Nor were the artillery silent. Whilst the steady progress of sapping was going on, the heavy mortars and guns in the magazine, and the recovered and re-armed batteries of the enceinte bastions and gates were at work, pouring a continuous flight of shells into the city and palace. Of the enemy’s resistance it may be said that, though continuous, it was not characterised by the determination which had marked their conduct on the 14th. They had read their doom, and, though they still fought, their hearts were inspired neither by the hope of victory nor by the energy of despair. Many had abandoned the city.
The courage of those who remained was still undaunted, but hopelessness of success had weakened their mental energies. Partly to this cause, partly likewise to the skill of the attack, it was due that the British losses on those days were small.
The position of the attacking force on the evening of the 18th has thus been described: “The line of the canal may be said to have been our front; on its bank some light mortars were posted, to clear the neighbourhood of the Lahor gate; while light guns were posted at the main junction of the streets, and sand-bag batteries erected to prevent the possibility of a surprise38.” The establishment of communications between the extreme right and left has been already mentioned. In the rear everything was our own.
Still all was not couleur de rose. On the morning of that day an attack on the Lahor gate had been directed, and failed. Greathed, who directed that attack at the head of a column composed of detachments from the 8th, the 75th, and a Sikh Regiment, and supported by fifty men of the 1st Fusiliers, had to advance up a narrow lane leading into the Chandni Chauk through a gate at the end of it. This gate had been closed, and behind it dwelt the unknown. Greathed had led his men up the narrow lane, but as he approached the end leading into the Chandni Chauk the gate was suddenly thrown open and displayed to his astonished gaze a 24-pounder pointing at the assailants. This gun opened suddenly with grape on the column, whilst simultaneously from the houses on either flank poured a smart and continuous fire of musketry. No wonder that the men recoiled. They were enormously outnumbered, and occupied a cramped position, which gave no play for manoeuvring. Greathed drew them back, and, bringing a 6-pounder to the front, ordered a charge under cover of smoke. But all was in vain. For a moment indeed the hostile gun appeared to be in the possession of his men39; but the odds were too great, the position too confined; and the enemy were thoroughly on the alert. Recognising, after a fresh repulse, that the attack had failed, Greathed gave the order to retire. He effected his retreat in good order and without loss, the enemy not venturing to enter the lane.
The repulse of Greathed’s column filled the mind of General Wilson with despair. “We are still,” he wrote, that same day, “in the same position in which we were yesterday. An attempt was made this morning to take the Lahor gate, but failed from the refusal of the European soldiers to follow their officers. One rush, and it would have been done easily; but they would not make it. The fact is, our men have a great dislike to street-fighting; they do not see their enemy, and find their comrades falling from shots of the enemy who are on the tops of houses and behind cover, and get a panic, and will not advance. This is very sad, and, to me, very disheartening. We can, I think, hold our present position, but I cannot see my way out at all. I have now only three thousand one hundred men (infantry) in
the city, with no chance or possibility of any reinforcements. If I were to attempt to push on into the city, they would be lost in such innumerable streets and masses of houses, and would be annihilated or driven back.” The reader will remark that, desponding as are these words, they mark a step in advance of those uttered on the evening of the 14th. Then, General Wilson was inclined to retire to the ridge to save his army. On the 18th, though he still doubted of ultimate success, he felt he could hold his own.
On the 19th action of a different character was taken. A glance at the plan will show the position, previously described, attained on the evening of the 18th. Immediately in front of our right was the Burn bastion, no longer supported by the presence of a strong hostile force in Kishanganj and Taliwari. Nov the Burn bastion commanded the Lahor gate, and with it the Chandni Chauk; and, though from the British advanced post in the Bank that important street could be occupied, it would be difficult to maintain it and to push on operations against the palace and the Jami Masjid until the remaining strongholds on the enemy’s left should be occupied.
To the clear minds of the Chief Engineer and of his principal coadjutor, Captain Alexander Taylor, the requirements of the position were apparent, With the concurrence, then, of the former, Captain Taylor obtained from the General an order to the Brigadier commanding at the Kabul gate to place at his disposal, for operations on the following morning, a body of men to work through the intermediate houses, and thus to gain the Burn bastion. Whilst this gradual and necessarily somewhat slow process was being adopted, a column of about five hundred men, taken from the 8th, and 75th, and the Sikh regiment, proceeded, under Brigadier William Jones, to attack the Lahor gate.
The sapping party, directed by Captain Taylor, gradually made their way through the detached houses situated between the Kabul gate and the Burn bastion, annoyed only by a constant musketry fire maintained by the enemy upon such of their number as were forced to show themselves. Progressing, as it were, step by step, they succeeded, as night fell, in occupying a house which completely overlooked the Burn bastion. From this
place they were able to pour a commanding fire upon the occupants of the latter, and they did this with so much effect that the enemy, convinced of the impossibility of holding it, evacuated it during the night. Brigadier Jones then pushed forward his men, and found it deserted. But his men were in a very unruly condition. Much brandy had fallen into their hands, and it was difficult to keep them steady40.
The news brought to the General that night (19th) by Lieutenant Turnbull of the 75th, attached to his staff, of the capture of the Burn bastion, could not fail to revive his spirits. It was an immense gain; for the possession of that bastion was the certain key to the capture of the Lahor gate. So impressed was General Wilson with the importance of the conquest that he sent some officers of his staff to spend the night in the bastion, and to take measures for its retention. The precaution, wise though it was, was not needed. The enemy by this time were thoroughly cowed, and, far from thinking of recovering the place, were hurrying out of the city as fast as their legs could carry them.
The capture of the Burn bastion was the beginning of the end. Early the following morning (the 20th) Brigadier Jones’s column, pursuing the advantage of the previous evening, carried the Lahor gate with a rush; the Garstin bastion fell also to their prowess. The Brigadier then received instructions to divide his force, and, whilst detaching one portion up the Chandni Chauk to occupy the Jami Masjid, to proceed with the remainder towards the Ajmir gate.
The opportune arrival of Major Brind and his artillery caused the Brigadier to confide to him the command of the first portion. Brind, having under his orders, in addition to his own men, the 8th Regiment and the 1st Fusiliers, marched at once to the Jami Masjid, and carried it without difficulty. He had no sooner occupied it than he perceived
that the one thing wanting to assure the complete capture of the city was to assault the palace, promptly and without delay.
He, therefore, on the spot, wrote a pencil note to the General reporting his success, and urging him to an immediate attack on the royal residence.
Meanwhile Jones had penetrated to the Ajmir gate. Almost simultaneously the main body of the cavalry, going round by the Idgar, found the camp of the mutineers outside Dehli evacuated, and secured the clothing, ammunition, and plunder left by the rebels in the hurry of their flight.
General Wilson responded to Brind’s note by ordering the advance of the column at the magazine to attack the palace. The decreasing fire from the battlements of the residence, famous in history, famous in romance, of the descendants of Babar, had made it abundantly clear that the last representative of the family which had for so long ruled in Hindustan had, with his family and attendants, sought refuge in flight. When the British troops (the 60th Rifles), pressing forward, reached the walls, a few fanatics alone remained behind, not to line them, for their numbers were too few, but careless, of life, to show to the very last their hatred of the foe they had so long defied.
Powder-bags were promptly brought up, and the General, anxious in the generosity of his heart, to do honour to the man who had helped to blow up the Kashmir gate, sent for Home to apply the match. The gates were then blown in, and the British troops entered and hoisted the British flag. The Selimgarh fort had been occupied even a little earlier. Its capture was effected in a manner which demands a separate notice.
Some short time before the assault on the palace gate, Lieutenant Aikman, with a small party of Wilde’s Sikhs, had been directed to feel his way to the left. Aikman, the most daring and intrepid of men, knew the ground thoroughly; and having received, as he imagined, permission to act on his own judgment, he resolved to effect an entrance into the Selimgarh from the rear, and hold the enemy as in a trap. Accordingly he doubled round to the Calcutta gate, forced it open, and pushed on to the Selimgarh. The few men in that fort fled on his appearance,
and escaped across the river. Aikman’s attention was then turned to the gateway at the narrow passage leading from the Selimgarh to the rear of the palace. This passage connected the rear gate of the palace with an arched gate over the fort, over which was a parapet. Were he able to gain possession of this he could stop the escape of multitudes till the storming party should reach them from the front. Thus thinking, he acted without hesitation, shot the sentry at the gate opening on to the drawbridge leading into the rear of the palace, and placed his men in the best position to defend it. He then, with the assistance of the Sergeant-Major of Renny’s troop or battery, set to work to spike the heavy guns directed against the Water bastion. He was in possession of the gate and drawbridge when the gates of the palace were blown in. The rush of the fugitives was not so great as had been anticipated, so extensive had been the flight on the two preceding days. But some at least were kept back. A more gallant or well-thought-out act was not performed even during that long siege41.
In the afternoon of the same day General Wilson, having given directions for the establishment of posts at the various gateways and bastions, took up his quarters in the imperial palace.
The appearance of Dehli after the capture of the palace, the Selimgarh, and the Jami Masjid had placed it in the hands of the British, has thus been graphically described by a gallant officer who took part in the assault and in the subsequent operations42.
“The demon of destruction,” wrote Colonel Bourchier, “seemed to have enjoyed a perfect revel. The houses in the neighbourhood of the Mori and Kashmir bastions were a mass of ruins, the walls near the breaches were cracked in every direction, while the church was completely riddled by shot and shell. ... In the Water bastion the destruction was still more striking. Huge siege-guns, with their carriages, lay about seemingly like playthings in a child’s nursery. The palace had evidently been hastily abandoned. The tents of Captain de Teissier’s battery, stationed at Dehli when the mutiny broke out, were left standing, and contained plunder of all
sorts. The apartments inhabited by the royal family combined a most incongruous array of tawdry splendour with the most abject poverty and filth. The apartments over the palace gate, formerly inhabited by Captain Douglas, who commanded the palace guards, and Mr. Jennings the clergyman, were denuded. of every trace of the unfortunate party which had inhabited its walls, and with whom, not many months before, I had spent a happy week. It was with a sad and heavy heart that I paced its now empty rooms, which could tell such terrible tales of the scenes there enacted.”
Dehli was now virtually won. But, though the strong places had been occupied by British troops, thousands of the mutineers were still in the vicinity, armed, and ready to take advantage of any slackness of discipline. The very relief of guards and batteries was still a matter of danger and difficulty, nor did the event of the following day, which deprived the rebels of their nominal leader, lessen in any material degree the magnitude of the risk.
The King of Dehli, his family, and his personal adherents had shown themselves as easily depressed by adversity as they had been cruel and remorseless when Fortune had seemed, in the early days of the revolt, to smile upon them. The result of the events of the 14th September had produced upon the mind of the King effects precisely similar to those which had, for the moment, mastered the cooler judgment of the British commander. We have seen that General Wilson, surveying his position on the evening of the 14th, declared that a prompt retreat to his original position could alone save the army. Baird Smith and Neville Chamberlain forced him, so to speak, to remain. On the other side, the King and his advisers, deeply impressed by the successful storm of the assailants, and not considering that success outweighed, or even balanced, by the repulse of the first and fourth columns, rapidly arrived at the conclusion that, unless the British should retire, the game was up.
There was no Baird Smith at the right hand of the King to point out to him how many chances yet remained in his favour if he would but profitably employ the small hours of the night; no Neville Chamberlain to urge him, above all things, to dare. When the morning of the 15th dawned, and the British were seen to have retained their positions, to be
making preparations for a further advance, the hearts of the King and his advisers fell, and they began even then to discount the future.
Still, as long as the Selimgarh, the palace, the Jami Masjid, and the Lahor gate were held, no active measures for retreat were taken. But when, on the night of the 19th, the Burn bastion, virtually commanding the Lahor gate and the Chandni Chauk, was captured, the thought that had been the uppermost in every heart found expression. That thought was flight.
The commander-in-chief of the rebel army, the Bakht Khan, whom we have seen exercising so strong an influence at Bareli43, evacuated the city that night, taking with him all the fighting men upon whom he could depend. Ways of egress, that by the bridge of boats and those by the Khairati and Dehli gates, were still open to them; and of these they availed themselves. Bakht Khan exerted all his eloquence to induce the King to accompany him. He represented to him that all was not lost, and though the English had gained their stronghold the open country was before them, and that, under the shadow of his name and presence, it would be still possible to continue the war, always with a chance of success.
Had Bahadur Shah possessed a spark of the persistent nature or the vigorous energy of his ancestors, of Babar, or Humayun, or of Akbar, that appeal had not been made in vain. But he was an old man – one of that class of old men who have exhausted youth in their teens, and who become, with increasing years, more and more nerveless and irresolute. It is probable that throughout the mutiny the King had been a mere puppet in the bands of the others. Whilst the siege lasted the chiefs of the army had sustained their power over him by promises of ultimate victory. But with impending defeat their influence vanished; and the old King, acted upon by events, was in the humour to fall under any spell which might seem to promise him immunity for his misdeeds.
Such a spell was at hand. Of all the nobles about him the wiliest was Ilahi Bakhsh Mirza, whose daughter was the widow of the eldest son
of the King. It is probable that in the early days of the mutiny the counsels of Ilahi Bakhsh had been strongly in favour of vigorous action. But he had a keen eye for probabilities. The events of the 14th and 15th September had read to him no doubtful lesson. He foresaw the triumph of the English – a triumph fraught with ruin to himself and his family unless he could turn to account the few days that must still intervene.
He did turn them to account. Having made all his plans, he listened, without speaking, to the eloquent pleading made to the King by the commander-in-chief, Bakht Khan. When all was over, and when Bakht Khan had departed with a promise from the King that he would meet him the following day at the tomb of Humayun, Ilahi Bakhsh persuaded the Mughul sovereign to accompany him to his house for the night. Having brought him there, he moulded him to his purpose. He pointed out to him the hardships which would follow his accompanying the army, assured him of its certain defeat, and then, showing the other side of the shield, indicated that a prompt severance of his cause from the cause of the sipahis would induce the victorious English to believe that, up to that moment, he had acted under compulsion, and that he had seized the first opportunity to sever himself from traitors.
These arguments, urged with great force upon one whose brain power, never very strong, was waning, had their effect. When, the next day, the King of Dehli, his zenana, his sons, and his nobles, met the rebel commander-in-chief at the tomb of Humayun, he and they declined to accompany him. Rather than undergo the fatigues, the perils, the uncertainties attendant on the prolongation of a contest which they had encouraged, they deliberately preferred to trust to the tender mercies of the conqueror. What those tender mercies were likely to be did not seem to trouble much the degenerate Mughuls. They promised, at all events, a quick decision – a decision preferable to the agony of suspense.
Bakht Khan and the rebel army then went their way, leaving behind the royal family and a numerous crowd of emasculated followers, the scum of the palace, men born never to rise above the calling of a flatterer or a scullion. So far had the plans of Ilahi Bakhsh Mirza, succeeded. The next step was more difficult. It involved the betrayal of his master.
Difficult, the task was not insurmountable. Chief of the native agents maintained by the English to obtain correct information regarding the movements of the enemy during the siege, was Munshi Rajab Ali, a man possessing wonderful tact, cleverness, assurance, courage – all the qualities which go to make up a spy of the highest order. He possessed to the full the confidence of the English administrators, and he was true to his employers. With this man Ilahi Bakhsh opened communications. Rajab Ali requested him simply to detain the royal family for twenty-four hours after the departure of the rebel army, at the tomb of Humayun, and to leave the rest to him.
Rajab Ali communicated the information he had received to Hodson of Hodson’s Horse; Hodson at once rode down to the General’s headquarters, communicated the news, and requested permission to take with him a party of his men to bring in the King. I have evidence before me which it is impossible to doubt that General Wilson was inclined to treat the King of Dehli as a man who had placed himself outside the law. His instincts were in favour of awarding to him condign punishment. It was, then, with the greatest difficulty that those about him persuaded him to add to the consent he gave to Hodson’s request the condition that the King, should he surrender, must be brought in alive. Hodson, taking fifty of his troopers with him, galloped down toward the tomb.
Who was Hodson? Some men are born in advance of their age, others too late for it. Of the latter class was Hodson. Daring, courting danger, reckless and unscrupulous, he was a condottiere of the hills, a free-lance of the Middle Ages. He joyed in the life of camps, and revelled in the clang of arms. His music was the call of the trumpet, the battle-field his ball-room. He would have been at home in the camp of Wallenstein, at the sack of Magdeburg. In him human suffering awoke no feeling, the shedding of blood caused him no pang, the taking of life brought him no remorse. The certaminis gaudia did not entirely satisfy his longings. Those joys were but preludes to the inevitable consequences – the slaughter of the fugitives, the spoils of the vanquished44.
Hodson rode off, full of excitement, towards the tomb of Humayun. As he approached that time-honoured structure he slackened his pace, and, making way cautiously to some ruined buildings near the gateway, posted his men under their shade. Having taken every precaution, he then sent to announce to the King his arrival, and to invite him to surrender.
Within the tomb despair was combating with resignation. The favourite wife of the last of the Mughuls, Anxious above all for the safety of her son, a lad not old enough to be implicated in the revolt, and yet not too young to escape massacre, was imploring the old man to yield on the condition of a promise of life; the mind of the old man, agitated by a dim recollection of the position he had inherited and forfeited, by despair of the present, by doubts of the future, was still wavering. Why had not he acted as Akbar would have acted, and accompanied the troops to die, if he must die, as a king? What to him were the few years of dishonour which the haughty conqueror might vouchsafe to him? Better life in the free plains of India, hunted though he might be, than life in durance for him, a king! But then rushed in the fatal conviction that it was too late. He had decided when he dismissed Bakht Khan! The Frank and his myrmidons were at his door!
Yet still the difficulty with him was to act on that decision. His mind was in the chaotic condition when everything was possible but action. For two hours, then, he hesitated, clutching at every vague idea only to reject it; his wife, his traitorous adviser, his surroundings, all urging upon him one and the same counsel. At last a consent was wrung from him to send a message to Hodson that he would surrender provided he should receive from that officer an assurance that his life should be spared.
On receiving this message Hodson gave the promise45. Then,
issuing from his cover, he took post in the open space in front of the gate of the tomb, standing there alone to receive the royal prisoner. Preceded by the Queen and her son in palanquins, the King issued from the portico carried in a similar conveyance. Hodson spurred his horse to the side of the palanquin and demanded of the King his arms. The King asked if his captor were Hodson Bahadur. Receiving an affirmative reply, the King asked for a promise from the Englishman’s own lips of his life and of the lives of his wife and her son. The promise given, the arms were surrendered, and the procession moved towards the city. The progress was slow, and for a great part of the journey the palanquins were followed by a considerable number of the King’s retinue – men never dangerous, and now thoroughly cowed. These gradually dropped off as the Lahor gate was approached.
By that gate Hodson entered, traversed the Chandni Chauk, and brought the King to the Palace, he having expressed a desire to see Sir Archdale Wilson. But Sir Archdale refused to see him, and deputed his Aide-de-camp, Lieutenant Turnbull, to see him placed under a European guard in the Begam’s palace. Turnbull executed this order.
So far Hodson had acted as a chivalrous officer of the nineteenth century. But the spirit of the condottiere now came into play. The same active agents who had informed him of the whereabouts of the King now came to tell him that two of the King’s sons and a grandson, men who were reported to have taken part in the massacre of May, had not accompanied the rebel army, but were concealed in the tomb of Humayun or in its vicinity.
The information excited all the savage instincts of Hodson. These men could not stipulate for mercy. He might himself “rid the earth of those ruffians.” He rejoiced in the opportunity46. The following morning, then, having obtained permission from the General to hunt down the princes, he started, accompanied by his second in command,
Lieutenant McDowell, a hundred troopers, and his two spy-informers, Munshi Rajab Ali and Ilahi Bakhsh Mirza, and rode for Humayun’s tomb. The three princes, Mirza Khazar Sultan Mirza, Mughul Mirza, and Abu Bakht Mirza, were in the tomb, attended by a considerable number of the scum of the people – the same who, the previous day, had seen, without resistance, their King carried off, and who were not more prepared to resist now. It is true that the more daring among them, seeing the approach of Hodson, implored the princes to resist, offering to defend them to the last.
Better for the princes, ten thousand times better for Hodson’s reputation, if the offer had been accepted. At least, then, the Englishman would have been able to aver that he killed his enemies in fair fight. But, with the example of their father before them, the princes hoped to gain the promise of their lives by negotiation. For two hours they implored that promise. Hodson steadily refused it.
Their spirits weakened by the useless effort, the three princes then surrendered to the mercy and generosity of the conqueror.
They came out from their retreat in a covered cart. Similar carts conveyed the arms, of which Hudson, in the meanwhile, had deprived the crowd. Hodson placed troopers on either side of the cart which bore the princes, and directed it towards the Lahor gate. The people, the same miserable population who had previously followed the King, followed this procession also. Between them and the cart containing the princes were a hundred of Hodson’s far-famed horsemen. There was no real danger to be apprehended from them. They were too cowed to act. Hodson would have rejoiced had they displayed the smallest intention to resist. He wanted blood. His senses were blinded by his brutal instincts. Five-sixths of the journey from the place of capture to Dehli had been completed without the display of the smallest hostility on the part of the crowd. Despairing, then, of any other mode of gratifying his longings, he made the pressure of the mob upon his horsemen a pretext for riding up to the cart, stopping it, and ordering the princes to dismount and strip to their under garments.
Then, addressing the troopers, he told them in a loud voice, so as to be heard by the multitude, that the prisoners butchers who had murdered English women and English children, and that it was the will of
the Government that they should die. Then, taking a carbine from the hands of a trooper, he shot dead his three unresisting captives!
The question as to whether Hodson was justified in taking the lives of the princes has been much debated. To many of the foremost men in India it has appeared as a brutal and unnecessary murder. To them it has seemed that it would have been just as easy to convey the princes safely into camp as it had been to convey the King. Such too, has ever been my opinion, and, notwithstanding all that has been said on the other side, I am still inclined to that view. But there is no doubt that the general feeling in the camp of the army, excited with the capture of Dehli, justified Hodson. To this day men whose names cannot be mentioned without respect consider that the action he took was necessary for the safety of the British force. “No one,” argue the supporters of this view, “unless he had been at Dehli during the time, can form a true opinion on the question. Our small force was about 6,000 strong when we assaulted. In the assault we had about 1,400 killed and wounded. We had been opposed by a force of about 40,000. These had evacuated the city, and had gone no one knew whither. The General had been reluctantly induced to spare the King’s life, for his name and that of his son still served as a tower of strength to the badma’-ashis (scum) within the city. These, no doubt, would only have been too glad to turn upon us if they dared. The shooting of the princes at once deprived them of any one to look to. And, whether the deed were right or wrong, we feel assured that in their death the final blow was given to any kind of attempt at the reversal of our victory, either in the neighbourhood of Dehli or to the north of it.”
Whilst admitting the force of these remarks, and acknowledging the strength of the argument that those on the spot were best able to judge of the necessity of the case, and that these generally condoned the action of Hodson, I am bound to record my conviction that it still seems to me to have been unnecessary. The argument that the shooting of the two princes deprived the rebels of any one to look to will not hold water. The King was still alive. If Hodson had spared the lives of the princes, they would have been thrust into the same confinement as the King. One prince, too, had been spared. The rebels knew that the House of Taimur was still represented. In my judgment,
then, the shooting of the princes still remains one of the most painful episodes connected with the Mutiny.
It is now time to return to the city. I left it on the evening of the 20th, its outer defences fully occupied by the British troops. On the following morning began the work of securing the inner streets and gulleys. To Major James Brind – known in the camp for his gallantry, for his untiring energy, for the earnest and persistent manner in which he had pounded the enemy, as “Brind of the batteries “ – was allotted the task, in conjunction with the Chief Engineer, of ensuring the safety of the gateways and posts.
A more high-minded, a more gallant, or a more merciful officer than Major James Brind never lived. Every soldier knew, and every soldier loved him. He brought to his task all the characteristics which had gained for him respect and affection. But that task was no light one. The scum of the rebel army still lurked in the place, hiding in mosques or buried in underground receptacles. As Major Brind went about it he was again and again startled by reports of cold-blooded slaughter of his soldiers, of their being enticed by a promise of drink into the dark corners of the city and there basely murdered. He found that numerous gangs of men were hanging about, prepared to interfere with the reliefs of the batteries and posts, and that it was even possible they might attempt to surprise the garrison. The time was critical. It was necessary to show the rebels that we were prepared for them.
Major Brind, therefore, determined to make an example of the first gang of assassins who might be caught. Just at the moment a murder of an atrocious character was reported to him. Collecting a few artillerymen, Brind hastened to the spot, stormed the mosques and houses where the murderers and their associates were assembled, ordered the perpetrators to be executed, and made over the remainder to the authorities. This act of vigour, combined with acts of the same nature carried out by other commanding officers, had a wonderful effect. The remainder of the rowdy element quitted the city, and from that day forth there was neither murder nor disturbance. Major Brind was then able to continue, in comparative freedom from alarm, his task of making the gateways and other military posts as secure as possible from attack. Colonel Burn, an officer not attached to the force, but who, being on leave at
the time, had joined it, was, on the 21st, nominated military governor of the city.
One sad event remains yet to be chronicled – the death of the heroic man who, sweeping across the Panjab, had come down to reinforce the besieging army, to inflict a deadly blow on the enemy at Najafgarh, and to command the storming party on the 14th. After lingering for eight days, John. Nicholson died. As fortunate as Wolfe, he lived , long enough to see the full success of the attack he had led with so much daring. At the age of thirty-seven he had gained the highest rank alike as an administrator and as a soldier. There never lived a man who more thoroughly exemplified the truth of the maxim that great talents are capable of universal application. Whatever the work to which he had applied himself, he had succeeded. His mastery over men was wonderful. His penetrating glance never failed in effect. It was impossible to converse with him without admitting the spell. With all that, and though he must have been conscious of his power, he was essentially humble-minded. “You must not compare me with Herbert Edwardes,” he said to the writer in 1851. In appearance, especially in the eye and the contour of the face, he bore a striking resemblance to Lord Beaconsfield, as Lord Beaconsfield was when, as Mr. Disraeli, he first became leader of the Opposition. The resemblance had been remarked by many when he visited England in 1850. What he might have become it is difficult to guess. It is difficult because it would be hard to put a limit to his career. Looking at the point whence he started, at the reputation he had acquired at the age of thirty-seven – the reputation of being the most successful administrator, the greatest soldier, the most perfect master of men – in India, it is impossible to believe that he would have fallen short of the most famous illustrations of Anglo-Indian history, for to all the military talents of Clive he united a scrupulous conscience, and to the administrative capacity of Warren Hastings he joined a love of equal justice for the rights of all.
The stronghold had fallen, “the first great blow struck at the rebels’ cause47.” The total loss of the army, from the 30th Slay to the final capture on the 20th September, had amounted to nine hundred and
ninety-two killed, two thousand seven hundred and ninety-five wounded, and thirty missing, out of a force never numbering ten thousand effective men. But, in addition to these, many had died from disease and exposure.
“In the history of sieges,” wrote at the time an officer, in words the truth of which the lapse of thirty years has confirmed48, “that of Dehli will ever take a prominent place. Its strength, its resources, and the prestige attached to it in the native mind, combined to render formidable that citadel of Hindustan. Reasonably might the Northern Bee or the Invalide Russe question our ability to suppress this rebellion if they drew their conclusions from the numerical strength of the little band that first sat down before Dehli. But the spirit that animated that handful of soldiers was not simply the emulative bravery of the military proletarian. The cries of helpless women and children, ruthlessly butchered, had gone home to the heart of every individual soldier and made this cause his own. There was not an Englishman in those ranks, from first to last, who would have consented to turn his back on Dehli without having assisted in meting out to those bloody rebels the retributive justice awarded them by his own conscience, his country, and his God49. It was this spirit that buoyed them up through all the hardships of the siege, that enabled them, for four long months of dreary rain and deadly heat, to face disease, privation, and death, without a murmur.”
It was indeed an occasion to bring out the rare qualities of the British soldier, to show how, under the untoward circumstances of climate, of wet, of privation, he can be staunch, resolute, and patient whilst waiting for his opportunity, daring when that opportunity comes. With
him, too, can claim equal laurels the splendid Gurkha regiment of Charles Reid, the magnificent frontier warriors of the Guide Corps, the cavalry regiments of Probyn, Watson, and Hodson, the levies from the various parts of the Panjab. These men were worthy to vie with the British soldier. Their names, unfortunately, do not survive for the advantage of posterity; but their commanders live to speak for them. They, in their turn, will leave the stage of this world.
But, when the tale is told to our children’s children, the names of Barnard, of Nicholson, of Baird Smith, of Neville Chamberlain, of Charles Reid, of Hope Grant, of John Jones, of Roberts, of Edwin Johnson, of Alec Taylor, of Tait, of James Brind of Lockhart of Turnbull, of Seaton, of Hodson, of Daly, of Tombs, of Benny, of Jacob, of Probyn, of John Coke, of Watson, of Medley, of James Hills, of Quintin Batty e, of Speke, of Greville, of Aikman, of Salkeld, of Home, and of many others – for the list is too long – will be inquired after with sympathy, and will inspire an interest not inferior to that with which the present generation regard the achievements of their forefathers in Spain and in Flanders50.
2. His own words were: “It is evident to me that the results of the proposed operations will be thrown on the hazard of a die.”
3. The entire letter, a perusal of which will make clear the position before Dehli at the date on which it was written (20th August, 1857), runs as follows: “A letter has been received from the Governor-General urging our immediately taking Debit and he seems angry that it was not done long ago. I wish to explain to him the true state of affairs: that Dehli is seven miles in circumference, filled with an immense fanatical Musalman population, garrisoned by full 40,000 soldiers armed and disciplined by ourselves, with 114 pieces of heavy artillery mounted on the walls, with the largest magazine of shot, shell, and ammunition in the Upper Provinces at their disposal, besides some sixty pieces of field artillery, all of our own manufacture, and manned by artillerymen drilled and taught by ourselves; that the Fort itself has been made so strong by perfect flanking defences erected by our own engineers, and a glacis which prevents our guns breaking the walls lower than eight feet from the top, without the labour of a regular siege and sap – for which the force and artillery sent against it has been quite inadequate; that an attempt to blow in the gates and escalade the walls was twice contemplated, but that it was considered, from the state of -preparation against such attack on the part of the rebels, such an attempt would inevitably have failed, and have caused the most irreparable disaster to our cause; and that, even if we had succeeded in forcing our way into the place, the small force disposable for the attack would have been most certainly lost in the numerous streets of so large a city, and have been cut to pieces. It was, therefore, considered advisable to confine our efforts to holding the position we now occupy, which is naturally strong, and has been daily rendered more so by our engineers, until the force coming up from below could join to co-operate in the attack. That since the command of the force has devolved on use I have considered it imperatively necessary to adopt the same plan as the only chance of safety to the Empire, and that I strongly urge upon his Lordship the necessity of his ordering General Havelock’s, or some other force, marching upon Dehli as soon as possible. The force under my command is, and has been since the day we took our position, actually besieged by the mutineers, who, from the immense extent of suburbs and gardens extending nearly to the walls of the town, have such cover for their attacks that it has been very difficult to repel them, and at the same time to , inflict such a loss as would deter a repetition of them. They have frequently been driven back with loss, but they immediately take refuge under the grape fire of their heavy guns on the city walls, and, on our retirement, re-occupied their former positions; every such attack upon them has entailed a heavy loss upon our troops, which we can ill spare, and has done us little good. I shall be reinforced by a siege-train from Firuzpur by the end of this or the beginning of next month, when I intend to commence more offensive operations against the city; but I cannot hold out any hope of being able to take the place until supported by the force from below. As an artillery officer, I have no hesitation in giving my opinion that the attack on Dehli, garrisoned and armed as it now is, is as arduous an undertaking as was the attack on Bharatpur in 1825–26, for which 25,000 troops and 100 pieces of artillery were not considered too large a force. I enclose a return of the original force which was sent down to capture this strong place, and also a return of the present effective force, including sick and wounded, from which his Lordship will see how desperate would have been any attempt to take the city by assault, more especially as the mutineers keep a large portion of their force encamped outside the city walls, who, on our assaulting the city, could easily attack and capture our camp, with all our hospitals, stores, and ammunition, unless a strong provision was made against it. Something of this sort I intend forwarding to the Governor-General, and shall be glad if you will return this with such remarks and emendations as your experience as Chief Engineer suggests.”
4. General Wilson wrote thus on Baird Smith’s memorandum: “It is evident to me that the results of the proposed operations will be thrown on the hazard of a die; but, under the circumstances in which I am placed, I am willing to try this hazard – the more so as I cannot suggest any other plan to meet our difficulties. I cannot, however, help being of opinion that the chances of success, under such a heavy fire as the working parties will be exposed to, are anything but favourable. I yield, however, to the judgment of the Chief Engineer.”
5. Now General Sir Charles Reid, G.C.B.
6. Afterwards General Sir James Brind, K.C.B. He died at a ripe age last year (1888). General Wilson’s orders in writing, and verbally given by the Assistant Adjutant-General of Artillery, Edwin Johnson, were to the effect that Major Brind, commanding the Foot Artillery of the Dehli Field Force, was to command the Key, or No. 1 battery; Majors Frank Turner and Edward Kaye being attached for the subordinate command of the right and left wings. Major Turner being struck down by serious illness, the left wing was placed under charge of Major Kaye, supervised throughout by Major Brind.
7. Lieutenant Lockhart afterwards commanded, as Colonel Lockhart, the 107th Foot.
8. The noble example set by Lockhart was witnessed by Major Reid, and mentioned as a case worthy, he considered, of the Victoria Cross. Unfortunately Reid’s pencil reports, like many more despatches of his written daily from the ridge in pencil and under fire, were destroyed by General Wilson, as, being written in pencil and not in the regulated form, he could not consider them as “official.” It thus happened that, when General Wilson penned his final despatch, he had none of Reid’s pencil notes and reports to refer to. Reid subsequently represented that his recommendations had not been attended to; that he had again and again brought to notice the gallant conduct of the officers of the 60th Rifles and others who had served under him; and at length he himself sent in a supplementary despatch, through Colonel Norman, then Acting Adjutant-General. The reply he received was that in -Lord Clyde’s opinion “the time had altogether passed for publishing any further despatches relative to services of officers at Dehli, which, however meritorious, are now of old date.” This was in February 1859. Prior to this, Reid had been urging General Wilson to take notice of his recommendations. But it was in vain. Neither his pencil notes written under fire, nor his reports after the siege, were ever properly attended to, and many deserving officers were consequently left unrewarded. Among these was Captain John Fisher, second in command of the Sirmur Battalion, who was on the ridge with the regiment throughout the siege, who commanded it during the assault, and who was the only officer out of nine who escaped being wounded. This officer did not even receive a brevet. For the same reason Major Reid’s appreciatory mention of the services of the Engineer and Artillery officers, expressed in the strongest language, remained unpublished.
9. These and the other details describing the plans of the engineers have been taken chiefly from a work entitled A Year’s Campaigning in India. This book – written by Captain, afterwards Lieutenant-Colonel, Julius George Medley, R.E., himself a distinguished actor in the scenes he describes – gives an account of the proceedings at this memorable epoch of the siege, which may be almost styled authoritative, confirmed as it has been by the testimony of distinguished officers who took part in the preliminaries to the assault. Colonel Medley died about five years ago.
10. Now Lieutenant-General Sir Edwin Johnson, G.C.B.
11. Pandi did not know what we were at, but at any rate he knew the people were working in that direction, and he served out such a liberal supply of musketry and shell that night that the working party lost thirty-nine men killed and wounded. It was wonderful indeed to see with what courage the men worked.
“They were merely the unarmed Pioneers I have described above, and not meant to be fighting men. With the passive courage so common to natives, RS man after man was knocked over, they would stop a moment, weep a little over their fallen friend, pop his body in a row along with the rest, and then work on as before.” – Medley.
13. In fact, Major Reid actually was instructed to make a night attack on the position, and four companies of Guides and Gurkhas were told off supplied with spikes for the purpose. At the same time the battery near the Sami’ House received orders from Major Reid to cover the attack and draw off the enemy’s fire. Just then orders arrived from General Wilson countermanding the attack.
14. “At different times between the 7th and 11th,” wrote Major Baird Smith in his despatch, “these batteries opened fire with an efficiency and a vigour which excited the unqualified admiration of all who had the good fortune to witness it. Every object contemplated in the attack was accomplished with a success even beyond my expectations; and I trust I may be permitted to say that, while there are many noble passages in the history of the Bengal Artillery, none will be nobler than that which will tell of its work on this occasion.”
15. Now 1st Battalion Royal Munster Fusiliers.
16. Now 2nd Battalion Royal Munster Fusiliers.
17. Now the Prince of Wales’s Own Gurkhas.
18. This was the plan laid down by General Wilson. Had Reid attempted to follow it literally, that is, to enter by the Lahor gate, his troops would have been exposed to the fire of the left face of the Lahor bastion, of the right fare of the Burn bastion, and to the musketry fire from the loop-holed curtain connecting both bastions, which had been untouched by our artillery. Reid wrote to General Wilson to say that his column would be destroyed if he attempted anything of the sort, and proposed that, after taking Kishanganj and the suburbs, he should leave the Jammu’ contingent in the fortified sarai, end follow the dry bed of the canal, where his troops would be under rover the whole way to the Kabul gate, which, he had arranged with Nicholson, should be opened for him from the inside.
19. Major Reid’s services in the mutiny commence from even a prior date. He marched with his regiment from Dehra on the 14th May, 1857, and by his vigorous action in the disturbed district of Balandshahr, opened communications with Mirath and Aligarh, and with the seat of Government in Calcutta, a service of vital importance, for which he received the thanks of the Governor-General in Council.
20. Medley. The General and staff remained at Ludlow Castle and the assault took place. “I well remember,” writes to me Colonel Turnbull who was then serving on his staff, “leaving our horses outside, on his asking whether any one knew the way up to the top of Ludlow Castle. I led the way – we were all on foot – up the grand drive to the house. The General, behind me, when a shell tore up the ground, across the road, between us – turned round; the General smiled, and merely said: ‘All right; go on.’ ”
21. Medley, who is my chief authority for all the details of the assault.
22. “The storming parties pushed on, two ladders were thrown into the ditch, and a brave officer, Fitzgerald, of H.M.’s 75th Regiment, who was killed directly afterwards, was the first to mount. As soon as I saw my first ladder down, I slid down into the ditch, mounted up the escarp, and scrambled up the breach, followed by the soldiers.” – Medley.
24. Captain Baynes, Lieutenants Pogson and Metge, and seventy-five rank and file.
25. This flag was presented by Sir William Jones to Her Majesty the Queen on the 1st January,1877, the day of the proclamation of Her Majesty’s title of Empress of India.
26. A more daring and gallant achievement than that of the officers and non-commissioned officers mentioned in the text has never been recorded. Their subsequent fate cannot but inspire interest. Burgess and Carmichael were killed on the spot; Salkeld, Home, Smith, and Hawthorne were recommended by General Wilson for the Victoria Cross. But Salkeld succumbed in a few days to the severe wounds he had received; Home met his death shortly afterwards at Malagarh; Smith and Hawthorne survived, to receive the honours that they had so nobly earned. When Salkeld was dying, Sir Archdale sent an officer on his staff, Lieutenant Turnbull, of the 75th, to give him a bit of red ribbon, representing the Victoria Cross, to see whether this might stimulate him, and, as was hoped, save his life. All he could say was:. It will be gratifying to send it home.”
27. Lieutenant Home’s Report; Bulger Hawthorne’s Statement; Medley; Bayley’s Assault of Dehli.
28. In consequence of a statement made in a pamphlet reflecting on Captain Lawrence, the matter connected with the command of the column after Major Reid’s fall, was referred to Sir Herbert Edwardes, whose opinion, therefore, may be accepted as final. Sir Herbert’s words are: “Major Lawrence would have appeared as having done the best with a command to which he succecdcd when the day was lost.”
29. “The 1st Bengal Fusiliers in the Delhi Campaign,” an article contributed to Blackwood’s Magazine fur January 1858.
30. “The 1st Bengal Fusiliers in the Dehli Campaign.”
31. Major Norman’s Narrative in the Blue Book, No. 0, 1858.
32. They remained in the city, horses in harness, without relief until late on the 17th of September, when they were sent back to Ludlow Castle very used up. A detachment of the gunners, under Lieutenant Aislabie, was retained in the College gardens until the 20th of September. They manned some heavy mortars and howitzers there, and shelled the palace and the bridge of boats.
34. Colonel Turnbull, then on Sir Archdale Wilson’s staff, writes me that the statement in the text had been disputed. He adds: “Even if the General had some idea of the kind, he had every excuse. The very plan which had been urgently pressed upon him had failed; the columns had been stopped and driven back; and, instead of taking the whole city, we merely held a short line of rampart in a city some seven miles round.” There can be no doubt as to the correctness of the statement in the text.
35. Many other officers gave the General the same advice. Amongst others, prominently, his Assistant Adjutant-General of Artillery, Captain Edwin Johnson, who shared his tent. This officer not only constantly urged General Wilson to see the matter through to its bitter end, but sustained him in his hours of depression, and by his tact, judgment, and practical ability, contributed to bring his mind into a state willing to accept the advice of Chamberlain and Baird Smith. All the foremost officers of the army, Nicholson, Jones, Hope-Grant, Reid, and others, had been all along in favour of decisive action.
36. The 5th troop 1st Brigade (Native) Bengal Horse Artillery was the only battery of native artillery which remained faithful to us when it had the chance of mutinying. It was quartered at Jaandhar when the mutiny occurred there. Lieutenant Benny then marched it to Dehli. On the 9th of July, after the fanatic attack by the rebel cavalry on the right of our camp, it was thought advisable to take away its guns and horses as a precautionary measure. The native officers and men begged to be allowed to prove their loyalty, and were placed in charge of the mortar battery on the ridge, which they manned and worked without relief until the end of the siege.
On the 14th of September Lieutenant Benny took some of these native gunners into the city with him. They carried by hand a couple of 12-pounder mortars, and were usefully employed in shelling the houses and streets in front of our attack. Lieutenant Renny himself earned the Victoria Cross for his gallant conduct recorded in the text, at the attack on the magazine, and the loyalty of his troop was a striking proof of his personal influence. When the city had fallen, guns and horses were restored to his men, and the 5th troop 1st brigade did gallant service in the Rohilkhand campaign.
37. Pre-eminent amongst these were Alexander Taylor, of whom Baird Smith thus wrote: “He was, throughout, my most able and trusted subordinate;” George Chesney, at a later period author of the Battle of Dorking; Fred Maunsell and Henry Brownlow, both shot down in the assault; Julius Medley, who to ability and daring added a genius for organization of no common order.
The tone of General Wilson’s mind, at this particular period, may be gathered from his correspondence. “We took possession,” he wrote at 2 o’clock on the afternoon of the 16th, “of the magazine this morning with the loss of only three men wounded. This advances us a little, but it is dreadfully slow work. Our force is too weak for this street-fighting, when we have to gain our way inch by inch; and, of the force we have, unfortunately there is a large portion, besides Jammu troops, in whom I place no confidence. ... I find myself getting weaker and weaker every day, mind and body quite worn out. The least exertion knocks me down. I walk with difficulty, and fully expect in a day or two to be laid altogether on my bed. ... We have a long and hard struggle still before us; I hope I may be able to see it out.”
38. Eight Months’ Campaign against the Bengal Sepoys, Bourchier.
39. Blackwood’s Magazine, January 1858. The writer of the article is known to the author: his statements may be relied upon.
40. The men were in a very unruly state. ... Much brandy, beer, and other intoxicating liquors were left so exposed by the enemy, that it would seem they had almost been left about purposely; and though the officers endeavoured to persuade their men that the liquor was poisoned they did not succeed. ... One old soldier, a thirsty soul, taking up a bottle of brandy, and looking at it, said: “Oh no, Sir, the capsule is all right – Exshaw and Co. – no poison that.” – Blackwood’s Magazine, January 1858.
41. Official report of Major Wilde, commanding 4th Sikh Infantry.
42. Eight Months’ Campaign against the Bengal Sepoys, by Colonel George Bourchier, C.B., R.A.
43. Vol. III. page 203, note.
44. “If I get into the palace,” he had written on the 30th of August, “the House of Taimur will not be worth five minutes’ purchase, I ween.”
45. Four days later Hodson wrote in his journal: “I would much rather have brought him (the King) into Dehli dead than living.” He in the same journal recorded his acquittal of the King of active participation in the revolt.
Hearing, some four months later, that his sparing of the King’s life had been construed into personal leniency on his part, he wrote: “I see that many people suppose that I had promised the old King his life after he was caught. Pray contradict this.”
46. “In twenty-four hours I disposed of the principal members of the House of Taimur the Tartar. I am not cruel, but I confess that I did rejoice in the opportunity of ridding the earth of these ruffians.” – Letter from Hodson, 23rd September, 1857.
48. The Red Pamphlet.
49. This was written in Calcutta, on the spot, in October, 1857, before the details of the siege had become known. Lieutenant, now Colonel Turnbull, then on the Staff of Sir Archdale Wilson, writes me that it is not quite accurate.. “I had once,” he writes, “to take a message from Colonel Wilson (as he then was) to Sir Henry Barnard, to say that the Artillery could do nothing more, and that all we could do was to sell our lives as dearly as we could.” Again with reference to the remark in the text that no one would have consented to turn his back on Dehli: “We were three times on the verge of a retreat; I do not think this tells against us, but on the contrary only shows what a desperate state we were in more than once; a state which has never been properly realised, nor, as far as the men wore concerned, ever-appreciated or rewarded.”
50. Colonel Turnbull points out that it is a very strange fact that, whilst officers were allowed two years’ service for being at the Alambagh, no similar boon was granted for the much harder service before, and in Dehli. Yet, he continues, “the siege of, and the assault of Dehli cost the lives of more officers and men than did the combined actions. (1) of Havelock, from his departure from Allahabad to the first relief of Lakhnao; (2) of Outram’s defence of Lakhnao; (3) of Sir Colin Campbell’s relief of Lakhnao in November, 1857; (4 ) of Outram’s defence of the Alambagh; (5) of Windham’s defence of Kanhpur; (6) of Sir Colin Campbell’s storming of Lakhnao; (7) of Sir Hugh Rose’s campaign of Central India; (8) of Whitlock’s campaign. The losses in these eight actions were less by two hundred than the loss sustained during the siege and assault of Dehli alone. That loss amounted to 3835 in killed and wounded, not including the native contingents. The Artillery lost 25 per cent. of their number. Yet how disproportionate were the rewards.” The real reason was that there was no Commander-in-Chief engaged before Dehli to insist upon the just claims of the gallant men who served before it. – Vide Appendix A.
This collection transcribed by Chris Gage