Engineering the Ridge

Reinforcements had been pouring into Delhi – mutineers and Europeans alike – throughout the month of June and July:

8th of June:
3rd Bengal Light Cavalry; 4th Bengal Irregular Cavalry
5th, 9th, 11th,20th, 38th, 44th, 45th, 67th and 74th BNI
No.3 Company, 7th Battalion with No.5 Field Battery, Bengal Artillery

16th-17th of June:
Nuseerabad Brigade:
1st Bengal Light Cavalry (only some elements)
15th&30th BNI
No.2 Company, 7th Battalion, with No.6 Field Battery, Bengal Artillery

21st-22nd June, from Jalandhar and Phillour:
6th BNI
3rd, 36th and 61st BNI

1-2 July
Rohlikhand Brigade
8th BNI
18th, 28th, 29th and 68th BNI
No.6 Company, 8th Battalion, with no. 15 Field Battery, Bengal Artillery

During July from Jhansi and Nowgong: (800 in all)
14th BNI
12th BN, one wing only
No. 4 Company, 9th Battalion, with no. 18 Field Battery, Bengal Artillery, – 3guns

End of July
Neemuch Brigade
1st Bengal Light Cavalry; one wing only.
Malwa Contingent Cavalry (4xtroops)
72nd BNI
7th Infantry Gwalior Contingent
Kotah Contingent, (all arms, consisting of some 700 men)
4th (Native) Troop, 1st Brigade, Bengal Horse Artillery

The following units are believed to have been at Delhi:
6th Bengal Light Cavalry (some elements)
10th Bengal Light Cavalry (some elements)
15th, 23rd and 60th BNI
4 Companys of Bengal Sappers and Miners

On the Ridge, the Delhi Field Force had struggled through June with the force that had turned out at Badli-ki-Serai:

HM’s 9th Lancers, under Lt.Col. Robert Yule (450 men)
Raja of Jhind’s Cavalry under Lt. William Hodson (50 men)
Tomb’s Troop 2nd Troop, 1st Brigade, Bengal Horse Artillery, 4 6-pounders, under Major Harry Tombs
Turners Troop, 3rd Troop, 3rd Brigade, Bengal Horse Artillery 5 9-pounders, 1 12/24-pounder howitzer under Major Frank Turner
6th Dragoon Guards, 10 men under Lt.Col. William Custance
1st Brigade, 2nd Bengal Fusiliers under Brigadier St.George Daniel Showers
HM’s 75th Regiment of Foot, under Lt. Col. Charles Herbert, 800 men – 9 companies
1st Bengal Fusiliers, under Col. John Welchman, 800 men.
HM’s 60th Rifles, 6 companies – 500 men – under Lt.Col. John Jones
2n Bengal Fusiliers, 5 companies – 450 men – under Captain Alexander Boyd
One wing of the Sirmoor Gurkha Battalion under Major Charles Ried, 400 men.

Money’s Troop, 2nd Troop, 3rd Brigade, Bengal Horse Artillery under Major E.K. Money, 5 9-pounders, and 1 howitzer
Scott’s Battery – 3rd Company, 3 Battalion, faith no 14 Horse Field Battery, Bengal Artillery under Major E.W. Scott, with 1 9-pounder, 2 divisions with only 4 guns
Kaye’s Heavy Field Battery consisting of 2 18-pounders and 2 8-inch howitzers, manned by elements of No.4 company, 6th Battalion, Bengal Artillery and a detachment of artillery recruits.

They were nominally reinforced by:

The Corps of Guides consisting of 3 troops of Guides Cavalry under Lt. Quintin Battye, 6 companies of Guides Infantry, in all 6 British officers and 600 men.
Olphert’s Troop – 350 Europeans, 500 Sikhs and 6 guns
1st Troop, 1st Brigade, Bengal Horse Artillery, under Major Henry Olpherts, 4 6-pounders
1 division of the 5th (Native) Troop, 1st Brigade, Bengal Horse Artillery under Lt. George Renny, 2 6-pounders
1 company HM 75th Regiment of Foot
2nd Punjab Cavalry under Lt. Charles Nicholson
4th Sikh Local Infantry, “Rothney’s Sikhs” – under Capt. Octavius Rothney

They were joined at the end of June to the 3rd of July by:

Right-wing of HM’s 8th Regiment of Foot under Col. Henry Hartley
HM’s 61st Regiment of Foot, under Col. William Jones C.B. Grenadier, Light and Nos. 2,3, and 7 Companies, plus the band – 450 men
1 squadron of the 5th Punjab Cavalry, under Lt. George Younghusband, 13th BNI
1st Punjab Infantry “Coke’s Rifles” under Major John Cokes, 800 men
1 division with 2 guns, 1st Troop, 1st Brigade Horse Artillery
1 division, 2 guns, 5th (Native) Troop, 1st Brigade, Bengal Horse Artillery
Detachment of the 4th Battalion Bengal Artillery without any guns
New raised levies of Sikhs Companies and Punjab Artillery, with no guns

From the 25th of July, the Ridge added to its numbers:

1 squadron 1st Punjab Cavalry, under Captain John Watson
and newly raised Sikh Irregular Cavalry known as Hodson’s Horse, under Lt. William Hodson.

The British had another equally hard-pressed corps working on the Ridge – the men of the Bengal Engineers.

Chief Engineer, Richard Baird Smith
The Bengal Sappers and Miners

Called today the Indian Army Corps of Engineers and one of the oldest branches of the Indian Army, their history began in 1780 when two regular pioneer companies of the Madras Sappers were raised as a part of the EICo’s s army. Of the three corps in the presidencies of Madras, Bombay and Bengal the one which shall interest us for this purpose are the Bengal Sappers and Miners.

Originally the Corps of Bengal Pioneers, they were raised from 2 pioneer companies in 1803 by Captain T. Wood in Kanpur, called colloquially the Roorkee Safar Maina. They are one of the few remaining regiments to have survived 1857 and are today called the Bengal Engineering Group and Roorkee Cantonment remains to this day their headquarters. In their 200-year history, they have won, amongst other honours, 11 Victoria Crosses, 116 Indian Orders of Merit, 17 Shaurya Chakra, 93 Sena Medals and 11 Arjun Awards – the highest number of awards for any organisation in India. Of the 6 VCs awarded to the Engineers in 1857, 5 would be for actions before Delhi.

The corps saw active service in all major campaigns of the EICo, starting with Bhurtpore in 1825, through the 1st Afghan War at the Battle of Gazni in 1842, the Firs Sikh War – Ferozeshah, Sobraon, Multan and Gujrat; the Second Sikh War and then the 1857 Mutiny. They would continue after 1857, serving in the army of the Raj all the way through WWII.

In 1847, the Bengal Sappers and Miners were renamed the Bengal Sappers and Pioneers, and in 1851 it became the Corps of Bengal Sappers and Miners. In 1853 they moved from Allahabad to Roorkee.
Roorkee was home to the Thomason College of Civil Engineering (now IIT Roorkee) or College of Civil Engineering (founded in 1847to train officers and surveyors to be employed in the building of the Ganges Canal), and the centre of the Irrigation Department. In May 1857 it was “a great thriving bee-hive; and that month of May found the workers in all their wonted peaceful activity, with plans and projects suited to the atmosphere of quiet times…” However, things would soon change.
An express message, received from General Hewitt ordered Major Fraser, commander of the Sappers and Miners to proceed by forced marches to Meerut – the sepoys were in full rebellion, Hewitt added. Wasting no time Fraser mustered as many men as he could. It was on Colonel Baird Smith’s suggestion, instead of subjecting the men to a relentless march, they should take advantage of the Ganges Canal instead. Within 6 hours boats enough for 1000 men were organised and Fraser was ready to proceed. Hewitt had other plans.
He sent another message to Fraser, ordering 2 companies to remain in Roorkee to protect that station, so finally, Fraser took with him but 500 men. When they left the station, Baird Smith received news of the Delhi massacre.
Officially, Colonel Baird Smith was Superintendent General of Irrigation for the North-Western Provinces, a position which did not lend itself much to the art of war but fortunately, Baird Smith was not an ordinary man.
Realising he could place little faith in the men who Fraser had left behind, he set about fortifying the various workshops provided by the college as a citadel for a siege, laying in provisions and providing shelter for the civilians. He had over 200 people to look after, of these 10 were women and children. His combatants, if indeed he could call them that, were mostly members of the civil service, many of them clerks who had never handled firearms. Undaunted, Baird Smith continued – he told the superintendent of the sappers to quietly equip three guns and then with all haste, planned the various defensive works that would be needed. He organised an Intelligence and Commissariat Department, so by then the time the 16th of May dawned, all the women and children were moved into the workshops.
Besides the untrained civilians, Baird Smith had 50 soldiers and 10 officers; with their help, he organised the force, such as it was, into guards, placed under Commandants and formed them as best he could, into a manageable body of fighting men. As for the remaining 200 sappers, Baird Smith let two officers who were both well known to the men take command and they subsequently guarded the Thomason College buildings.
The men were in a state of excitement from the start and suspicious to boot. On the 18th of May Baird Smith was informed sepoys from Meerut had arrived in Roorkee – they proceeded to tell the sappers that Major Fraser was dead and the compatriots who had been sent with him had been set upon by the British and destroyed to a man. Baird Smith however ignored the reports – he had heard from Meerut on the 16th and no one had mentioned Fraser’s death. As such, he sent 1 company of sappers to join the Delhi Field Force, keeping just 200 men in Roorkee. On the evening of the 18th, he received a report that the company that had marched out the previous day had been overtaken by the Meerut mutineers and had mutined on the spot, refusing to march forward and were insisting on returning to Roorkee. Furthermore, the report said, the sappers and miners intended to burn Roorkee to the ground and murder anyone they found. At this last notion, Baird Smith had “comforting doubts” as the company was returning with their British officers and they were all very much alive.
At midnight, the officers of the sapper detachment reported to Baird Smith their men would no longer obey their orders and had “sent them away, not only without injury but with courtesy and kindly personal feelings..” had escorted them out of cantonments and even protected them from the few rascals lurking on the road. An hour later, the officers of the returned company arrived, unharmed.
It turned out however, the Sappers and Miners were terrified of Baird Smith. At 3 a.m., convinced the colonel was going to attack them at daybreak with the 3 guns, they bolted. By dawn, when Baird Smith sent a strong body of men under Lieutenant Maclagan to clear the lines, Maclagan found the lines empty – only 40 sappers remained, while some 300 in number had disappeared, some had crossed the Ganges to Delhi, the rest had simply gone away. The remaining men clamoured around Maclagan, declaring they had no other wish than to serve the government. Thus ended the mutiny at Roorkee.
It was perhaps the quick thinking of Baird Smith that had saved Roorkee after all. Realising in what a state the men were, convinced the Europeans would destroy them, he had thwarted, at the possible expense of his station, the march of Major Charles Ried and his Gurkhas from Dehra Dun, ordering Ried to bypass Roorkee and proceed directly to the Ganges Canal from whence he could transport his men by boat. To his credit, Reid had acquiesced and Baird Smith was able to avoid unnecessary panic among the sappers.
Major Fraser was not so lucky.
On the 15th of May, as he proceeded to Meerut, he had promised his men they would be able to retain their ammunition. However, he neglected to explain to them, that “for great security, it be stored in a bomb-proof building…” On the day after their arrival in Meerut, the ammunition was moved to the building but no one had told Fraser’s men. Suspecting blank treachery, they openly resented the removal of the ammunition from their care, stopped the carts and mutinied. It was later ascertained an Afghan sepoy, positioned behind Fraser, shot him in the back. Adjutant Mansell was shot at but he managed to escape – the Indian NCO attending Fraser was murdered. Without remorse or understanding, a troop of Carbineers and Horse Artillery guns were let loose on the panicked men; although many escaped, some 50 were overtaken outside the Meerut cantonment and put to death.
As for Baird Smith, he wiled away in Roorkee, receiving practically no intimation from anyone besides the news of Fraser’s death, when on the 25th of June, he suddenly received a summons to proceed at once to Delhi to take over the engineering operations on the Ridge.
Gathering as many men as he could muster – 700 pioneers in all and a large park of stores, he set off on the 27th of June. Whereas before he had received no news, now he received too much. On the night of the 1st of July, having just completed 25 miles through miserable monsoon rains Baird Smith had finally reached a dak bungalow. But rest was not forthcoming – he found waiting for him an express from the Brigade-Major of Engineers that Barnard had ordered an assault on the city at dawn on the 3rd of July and he wished Baird Smith’s presence. There was nothing for it. Having already spent 7 hours on horseback, he allowed himself but little sleep before scrambling on towards Delhi, sometimes on a horse, once on the back of an elephant and for a brief moment, in a carriage lent to him by the Raja of Jhind. By three in the morning on the 3rd of July, Baird Smith had completed the remaining 54 miles and arrived in front of Barnard’s tent, expecting to go straight into battle.
Instead, he was simply told the whole thing had been called off and would he instead, take over forthwith as Chief Engineer with Captain Alexander Taylor as his second in command.
Undaunted, Baird Smith set to work.

As soon as he arrived, Baird Smith quickly set to work. After assessing the situation and acquainting himself with the position itself, he analysed the resources and capabilities he had available and what would be needed for the future. By the 4th of July, he had ascertained correctly that while it was the first intention of the rebels to drive the British off the Ridge, their second was to cut off all communication with the Punjab. Fortunately, for the British until now, the rebels had not been able to put the second plan into action with any vigour, but on the side of the British, occupied as they were with daily skirmishes and clinging onto the Ridge, they did not appreciate the real possibility of the rebels taking the roads. It was an interesting conclusion Baird Smith drew at:
“The besieged force numbered of all arms under five thousand five hundred: fighting men, European and Natives. An enterprising enemy might, therefore, with perfect ease, have maintained one or more strong moveable columns operating constantly on the communications, stopping convoys, harassing small detachments, disturbing the whole tract of country whence supplies were obtained and finally…compelling the General to raise a siege from the impossibility of procuring subsistence for his mary in a position so utterly insecure.
Instead, however…the enemy was satisfied to make feeble efforts never sustained for any considerable time. and easily warded off by corresponding movements of columns detached from the Force. It was necessary, however, at the time now under notice, to take precautions against both forms of attack. The vast numerical superiority of the enemy (up to 18000 in Baird Smith’s estimation) converted the position of Sir Henry Barnard’s force from the very first into that of a besieged, instead of a besieging army.”
From the 8th of June, Baird Smith surmised the losses on the Ridge had averaged 30 to 40 men a day, with as many 150 following vigorous attacks. The army, he said, was being “used up by the ordinary process of the Siege..” In other words, if the situation continued, there would simply be no army left on the Ridge.

Besides running out of men, they would run out of munitions. The returns of the Chief Engineer on the 4th of July showed Baird Smith the artillery park was woefully lacking. The entire ordnance amounted to:

If it had not been for the camp followers “sedulously” picking up whatever the enemy shot from Delhi, there would have been less. The musketry powder had sunk to 12’900 pounds and the ordnance powder for the seventeen siege pieces in position was as low as 11’600 pounds, which Baird Smith contended would not last for a whole day of active firing. As the Engineering Park was insufficiently supplied for even a short formal operation, Baird Smith further questioned if their very positions were practicable. He further surmised the time for an all-out attack had come and gone – such an attack could only be warranted out of desperation and a “critical emergency of political circumstances…” Unable to level the city with any effect by means of artillery and with the possibility of taking it by force at least for now, out of the question, Baird Smith concluded the only avenue open was to reduce the waste of life and “though the means were both small in men and material, it was absolutely necessary that they should be used and multiplied if the positions were to be maintained for even a day. “
On the morning of the 5th of July, Baird Smith laid out his plans to General Barnard. After three hours, Barnard concluded the meeting, saying he would think it over and let Baird Smith know his decision by noon.
Two hours after the conclusion of the first meeting Barnard was stuck with cholera and within a few hours was dead. All responsibility devolved to General Reed. Unable to take a decision due to his own wearisome illness, shortly after Brigadier Wilson assumed command of the Ridge.

While the chief of operations was uncertain, Baird Smith was not.
On the 7th of July, he started securing the Ridge, first strengthening the positions, then clearing the jungle and brushwood that had until then provided cover to the mutineers, and finally, he turned his attention to guarding the communication routes. Firstly he ordered all bridges, save one, to be destroyed, to prevent the mutineers from moving artillery to their rear. The remaining bridge was kept ready and mined – with an Engineer officer on constant duty to blow it up if necessary. He then moved further afield, ordering the remaining bridges between the Ridge and Alipore likewise dismantled on the 9th of July. The same day, he was gratified with reinforcements – 300 hundred Punjab Sappers under Lieutenant Gulliver and 600 unarmed pioneers under Lieutenant H.A. Brownlow marched into the camp. The pioneers had been formed by Baird Smith at Roorkee before he left and consisted of men previously employed on the Ganges Canal. Brownlow brought with him a large supply of stores of various kinds for the Engineering Park taken from the workshops of the Canal Department at Roorkee. By August, the Ridge, under the directions of Baird Smith was in a completely defensible position and his engineers were now working on a strict duty roster to ensure it stayed that way.

Baird Smith organised his engineers with precision. A field engineer went on duty every evening at 5 pm and would be relieved every 24 hours. His headquarters were in the Sabzi Mandi at the Serai picquet, and his responsibility was to ensure all new work ordered was carried out during the following night. An assistant field engineer was stationed at Hindu Rao’s House with the sole duty of carrying out the various repairs needed at the different batteries. Commencing at dusk, the different working parties, supervised by their officers, worked through the night and by dawn were marched back to the camp. By working at night, the engineers ensured their plans were kept secret from the enemy while providing some safety to their hundreds of workers. The work was anything but monotonous. When the order book was sent around by 1 pm, everyone knew what they would be doing for the next 24 hours. After an early dinner at 4 pm, the officers on duty went off to their respective posts with their working parties some “to make new breastworks; some to lay and construct fresh batteries, or clear away the cover near the posts; to strengthen the posts themselves, or to cut brushwood, for making those useful auxiliaries to the Engineer – gabions and fascines.”

Nor was the Engineering Park idle. Lieutenant Brownlow commanding, the night hours were used to collect, store and make Siege materials, while “…the Sappers were practised at making field powder magazines, and laying platforms for future siege batteries; experiments were carefully tried in the construction of different sorts of batteries, the loading and unloading of stores, the best methods of arranging workmen, of carrying materials..” all with the intention that everyone knew “what men and what time were required to execute certain work, and that no labour or time might be uselessly expended.”

What Baird Smith lacked, however, was trained Sappers. Of those that had eventually come to Delhi from Roorkee, injury and disease had sorely reduced the numbers so by August he had barely 120 men left. Sir John Lawrence sent in consequence 800 as reinforcements and although armed, it was Baird Smith’s job to turn them into Pioneers which with much labour was finally managed. As such, he was heavily reliant on the 1000 or so common labourers, who enticed by the high pay, were sent off night after night to relieve the fighting men from the tasks of digging and trenching. Unarmed and exposed to the worst of the weather and firing from the enemy, these nameless men worked tirelessly to ensure the Ridge remained in Wilson’s hands.

To get some idea of what was expected of an engineer, we can turn to the account left us by Julius George Medley. Describing his first tour as Field Engineer for 24 hours ten days after arriving on the Ridge, he writes,

At 5 p.m. I went down to the Subzee-Mundee Serai and relieved the officer who had been on duty the previous twenty-four hours. The Directing Engineer then went with me to the Sammy House to show me the work he wanted to be executed during the night; and at dusk, the working party ordered for this purpose came down, under a junior officer. A new breast-work had to be made, and, having traced it out before dark, the work was carried on through the night, and was pretty well completed before the morning. Having started this work, I went up to see after some repairs wanted in the right battery, where a small party of Sappers were employed. Then I paid a visit to a new mortar battery which had just been completed, and which was firing regularly every quarter of an hour throughout the night. The unfortunate officer and two men were alone awake from necessity, and the rest were comfortably snoring on the ground, perfectly undisturbed by the noise of the mortars. Every fifteen minutes the officer gave the word to ^’ Light portfires!” and the men awoke, discharged the shell, proceeded to load again, and then laid down and went off to sleep, their turn being over till it came round again.
The usual amount of desultory firing was going on from the enemy — an occasional shot, or badly aimed shell, and a liberal sprinkling of musketry from the skirmishers in front. One soon got used to the ping-ing-ing of the bullets, though an occasional thud, as one struck the ground close to the feet, would make one start for a moment, and then walk on as before.”

During the day, having no work to do Medley slept and then took a walk around the batteries to see if there was anything that needed doing; at 5 pm he was relieved by the next officer.

Those engineers who had a stomach for the work, took part in reconnoitring, surveying the area to the front of the Ridge. The first party Medley accompanied was tasked with determining the site of a new battery to the left and in advance of the Sammy House picquet, to prevent further sorties of the mutineers from Lahore Gate. Taking along an escort of four Gurkhas, who “looked upon it as fine fun” Medley and Captain Taylor set off early in the morning, working away “in the proper direction..” with Medley surveying and Taylor keeping an eye for attackers.

“…at last we found ourselves on the road leading to the Lahore Gate, our old friend the Moree Bastion, with which we had so often exchanged civilities, looking us straight in the face. Several of the enemy’s Sepoys were coming jauntily down the road, when suddenly they saw us, not 200 yards off, and were brought up all standing with surprise. T then levelled his telescope at them, on which they took to their heels, and sang out to their friends in the Moree, and the next moment a bright flash and the whish-sh of a round shot over our heads warned us to beat a retreat, which we did very composedly.”

The battery for which they were surveying would shortly after be constructed. Made for 6 light guns, it was barely 900 yards from the Mori Bastion and connected to the Sammy House by a trench. It would serve its purpose when the Siege Train finally arrived in August and the bombardment of the walls of Delhi commenced. Building it cost several men their lives and deprived the engineers of an officer who lost his arm through a well-aimed shot from the Mori Bastion.

Plan of the Siege Operations and Defence of the City of Delhi as the existed, August 15, 1857

The work that commenced in August served a bigger purpose. Baird Smith had laid plans to take Delhi and it could not be done without the Engineers. A heavily armed Siege train was approaching from Ferozepore with enough firepower to do what Wilson and the men on the Ridge could not – take Delhi. In anticipation of its arrival, elaborate plans were put into action and the planning of siege batteries commenced before the actual train came into camp. It was therefore necessary to send out parties on survey missions each one getting closer to the walls of Delhi as they could.
On his second mission, Medley set out with 60 Gurkhas to survey and plot a ditch which would form the first parallel in the attack on Delhi.

We crept down into the nullah, and, dividing the work amongst us, commenced surveying and plotting away at a great pace, our movements being considerably accelerated by the knowledge that we were 700 yards from our own line of pickets. and that the ground was not very favourable for running. We had very nearly completed our work, and would very likely have got off unobserved, when some Pandy grass-cutters spied us out, and ran off to the Cashmere Gate. The enemy sallied out in great force and commenced to fire from a long distance, until they had thoroughly ascertained how small our party was, when they got more bold, and, sneaking through the long grass in swarms, tried to get round and cut us off, keeping up a teasing fire. The Goorkhas were ordered not to fire, and fell back very steadily, while we went on surveying, resolved to finish our work, in spite of all the Pandies in creation.
I was comfortably seated under a small tree which formed a sort of protection and was busy taking angles when a puff of smoke rose from the Cashmere Bastion, and a shower of grape came just over us, tearing the tree to pieces all around. This was rather too close to be pleasant, and a second shot immediately afterwards, which threw the dust and stones right over us as it ploughed up the ground, made us execute a rapid “flank” movement, which took us out of range of the gun. We had done our work and walked quietly towards Hindoo Bao’s, but Pandy knew he should get a chance as we went up the slope of the hill, and let drive with a round shot by way of a parting hint.
Their skirmishers followed us up pretty close when the Goorkhas prayed to be allowed to have just one shot before the fun was over, and, on receiving permission from Captain T, threw themselves into the grass, and commenced a file firing, which caused Pandy to beat a precipitate retreat, and it was with some difficulty we prevented the Goorkhas from following them up. As we were nearly home, I asked the little native officer who was with us, if any of his men were hit. ” Oh, yes,” he said, “one was hit.” ” Where was he? ” “Oh, he was coming along all right.” And so he was, too, with a little help, yet the man was shot through the groin and died the same night; another man was hit in the thigh, but not badly; these were our only two casualties. On arriving at Hindoo Rao’s, we found General Wilson and some of his staff, who had been watching our proceedings rather anxiously.”

Battery at Delhi

In accordance with the plans proposed by Baird Smith for the capture of Delhi, it would be necessary to concentrate a vigorous attack on the front of the city, including the area between the Water and Kashmir Bastions, while simultaneously silencing all flanking fire, whether artillery or musketry to allow the attacking columns to advance. At his disposal, Baird Smith would have 54 siege guns.

On the evening of the 12th of August, while out at one of the batteries, Baird Smith was struck by a shell splinter on his instep and ankle joint. The wound itself was not fatal but the engineer was not allowed the rest he needed to recover – much of his worry was from General Wilson, who in his usual vacillating manner, was unable to commit himself to actually attacking the city.

Up in the Punjab a noticeably angry Sir John Lawrence was sending missive after missive at Wilson’s head, demanding immediate action while Wilson wished to explain to the irate official that “Delhi is seven miles in circumference, filled with an immense fanatical Mussulman population, garrisoned by a fully 40000 soldiers, armed and disciplined by ourselves, with 114 heavy pieces of artillery mounted on the walls, with the largest magazine of shell, shot and ammunition in the upper provinces at their disposal, besides some 60 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 flanking defences made by our own engineer, and a glacis which prevents out guns breaking the wall lower than 8 feet from the top without the labour of a regular siege and sap….” He further wished to point out that the Ridge had been finely reinforced by the sterling work of the engineers and as long as he did not have a force quantitatively as large as that of the mutineers, Wilson felt it prudent to stay where he was and wait for reinforcements, from where ever they could come, willing even to extend the siege of Delhi until Havelock was finished with Lucknow. In his estimation as an artillery officer, Wilson surmised that “the attack on Delhi garrisoned and armed as it is now is as arduous an undertaking as was the attack on Bhurtpore in 1825-26, for which 25’000 troops and 100 pieces of artillery were not considered too large a force...”

Wilson, before sending off his rebuttal to Lawrence, asked Baird Smith’s advice, hoping the Chief Engineer would help him convince Lawrence of the futility of an attack. Baird Smith, on the other hand, demonstrated in his usual scientific fashion that although an assault as demanded was fraught with hazards, it was not impossible. The mutineers, though numerically superior, were poorly organised, while the British force, even though they were by no means equal to their enemy, had on their side the advantage of “forethought and skill.” He intimated to Wilson that by establishing breaches after which the “assault should be delivered with the utmost possible dispatch”, they could take Delhi. As such, Wilson reluctantly agreed with Baird Smith but to eliminate any possibility of being held responsible if things went wrong he threw the entire weight of the operation on him, concluding, “I cannot, however, help being of the 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 judgement of the Chief Engineer.”

Despite his injury, Baird Smith continued visiting the trenches and drawing up the plans, the management of the attack itself devolved on his second in Command Captain Alexander Taylor who would direct the whole siege operations in the field. As we shall see, what the Engineers would achieve in September would change the course of the mutiny.


A Year’s Campaigning in India – Julius George Medley, Captain Bengal Engineers and Garrison Engineer of Lucknow (1858)
Richard Baird Smith – the Leader of the Delhi Heroes in 1857 – Colonel H.M. Vibart, R.E. (1897)
Biographical Notes of the Royal (Bengal) Engineers arranged and compiled by Col. Sir Edward T. Thackeray K.C.B., V.C. (1900)
Kaye’s and Malleson’s History of the Indian Mutiny of 1857-58, Vol II -edited by Col. Malleson – Sir John Kaye (1910)
General Sir Alex Taylor G.C.B.; R.E., His Times, His Friends and His Work Vol I – A. Cameron Taylor (1913)