Advance of the Siege Battery from “The Campaign in India” -Capt.G.F. Atkinson

Following the arrival of Nicholson, voices clamoured loudly that the time to attack Delhi had finally arrived. General Wilson however, was still dithering, using the same ploy of waiting for reinforcements – he felt the force was still lacking although, by the 7th of September, he had at his disposal, after the arrival of the last reinforcements an army of 9’998 men. To this could be added the Kashmir contingent of 2’200 men with four guns and the 400-strong cavalry of the Jind Raja. According to Hervey Greathed, Wilson also had enough shot and shell to “grind Delhi to powder.” Canning, from his lofty heights in Calcutta, was calling for an immediate attack on Delhi; Baird Smith had a plan but Wilson had ” a dozen fears…” including the September sun, which in the general’s estimation, was far too hot for a soldier work under. Wilson wanted to propose waiting again for more reinforcements and possibly until the weather cooled down. For his part, Nicholson was ready to mutiny against Wilson, proposing the general should be replaced by someone who could lead. Tired of Baird Smith’s badgering, Nicholson’s glowering and Canning’s remonstrations, Wilson finally agreed to the attack on Delhi.
On the 7th of September, Wilson addressed the troops:

“ The force assembled before Delhi has had much hardship to undergo since its arrival in this camp, all of which has been most cheerfully borne by officers and men. The time is now drawing near when the Major-General commanding the force trusts that its labours will be over, and it will be rewarded by the capture of the city for all its past exertions, and for a cheerful endurance of still greater fatigue and exposure. The troops will be required to aid and assist the Engineers in the erection of the batteries and trenches, and in daily exposure to the sun, as covering parties.
“The artillery will have even harder work than they yet have had, and which they have so well and cheerfully performed hitherto: this, however, will be for a short period only, and when ordered to the assault, the Major-General feels assured British pluck and determination will carry everything before them, and that the bloodthirsty and murderous mutineers against whom they are fighting will be driven headlong out of their stronghold, or be exterminated. But to enable them to do this, he warns the troops of the absolute necessity of their keeping together, and not straggling from their columns. By this can success only be secured.
“Major-General Wilson need hardly remind the troops of the cruel murders committed on their officers and comrades, as well as their wives and children, to move them in the deadly struggle. No quarter should be given to the mutineers; at the same time, for the sake of humanity and the honour of the country they belong to, he calls upon them to spare all women and children that may come in their way.
“ It is so imperative, not only for their safety, but for the success of the assault, that men should not straggle from their column that the Major-General feels it his duty to direct all commanding officers to impress this strictly upon their men, and he is confident that after this warning the men’s good sense and discipline will induce them to obey their officers and keep steady to their duty. It is to be explained to every regiment that indiscrimi¬ nate plunder will not be allowed; that prize agents have been appointed, by whom all captured property will be collected and sold, to be divided, according to the rules and regulations on this head, fairly among all men engaged; and that any man found guilty of having concealed captured property will be made to restore it, and -will forfeit all claims to the general prize; he will also be likely to be made over to the Provost-Marshal to be summarily dealt with.
“The Major-General calls upon the officers of the force to lend their zealous and efficient co-operation in the erection of the works of the siege now about to be commenced. He looks especially to the regimental officers of all grades to impress upon their men that to work in the trenches during a siege is as necessary and honourable as to fight in the ranks during a battle.
“He will hold all officers responsible for their utmost being done to carry out the directions of the Engineers, and he confidently trusts that all will exhibit a healthy and hearty spirit of emulation and zeal, from which he has no doubt that the happiest results will follow in the brilliant termination of all their labours.”

The attack on Delhi now lay in the hands of the Engineers and that very afternoon, the siege works commenced.

The Plan

The plan proposed by Baird Smith depended foremost on battering down the walls of Delhi to form a series of breaches through which the troops would then have access to the city through a frontal assault.
Without the breaches, however, any attack would have been fruitless and Baird Smith along with his engineers had started planning well before the final reinforcements arrived. All the deadly reconnoitring, the surveying and the picquet duties had all served one purpose – how best to beat down the formidable walls of Delhi.

There would be in all, four Siege Batteries, each placed at different points as close to the walls of Delhi as possible. Constructing the batteries would have to be done at night under cover of darkness; under the same vein, the guns would need to be placed, the batteries stocked practically under the noses of 30’000 mutineers. It was an audacious plan – if it succeeded, Delhi would be taken swiftly – if it failed, the British would be destroyed.

Before Nicholson and the final reinforcements arrived, the Engineers had been busy at work surveying the placement of the batteries; however, for the first to be built, they needed to construct one – called Reid’s Battery – with the sole purpose of providing covering fire during the construction of the 1st Siege Battery.
Located slightly to the east of Sammy House, it housed four 9-pounder guns and two 24-pounders. As soon as the battery was completed, they were put into action against the formidable Mori Bastion – not to destroy the bastion but to silence the guns mounted on it, once and for all. It was also tasked with destroying any sepoy sortie launched either from Lahore or Kabul Gate, thus providing covering fire while the other 3 breaching batteries were being built. Baird Smith also had another idea in this respect – as long as the mutineers were under the impression the British were planning a final assault from the right of the Ridge directly at Mori Bastion itself, they would be caught off guard when the rest of the plan was put into play.

The position of Reid’s Battery was surveyed during the first of Julius Medley’s reconnoitring expeditions in August; something which he remembered as exciting work:

“Captain T(Taylor) and myself started early in the morning with an escort of four Goorkhas, and getting into the long grass, we worked away in the proper direction I surveying, and T__ looking out for squalls.
The Goorkhas looked upon it as fine fun, and made capital videttes; at was 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.”

Situated on an isolated plateau barely 900 yards from the Moree bastion and when completed, the six guns were moved into place. The flanks of the battery were connected to the rear to a ravine which not only protected the trench guards but allowed for the relatively safe movement of litters bearing the sick and wounded. By the 6th of September, Reid’s Battery was ready for operations and under its covering fire, construction on Siege Battery No1 commenced.

Map showing the positions of the batteries: 1 – Brind’s Battery; 2 Kaye&Johnson’s Battery; 3 Scott’s Battery; 4 Tomb’s Mortar Battery;

To gain an understanding of how close the guns were to the walls of Delhi we can take a rough idea from the map above. No 1 Battery or Brind’s Battery directly to the front of the Ridge would consist of 10 heavy guns and mortars and was placed 700 yards from Mori Bastion. No 2, to the left front close to Ludlow Castle, was only 600 yards from the walls and when completed on the 10th of September, contained 19 artillery pieces. No. 4, placed close to No.2, was located at the Koodsia Bagh practically in front of the Kashmiri Bastion and finished on the same day while No. 3 on the extreme left with its six guns was just 160 yards from the Water Bastion. Each battery served a distinct purpose:
No 1 – the right portion with 6 guns to smash the Mori Bastion, with the left, 200 yards distant with four guns to keep down the fire from Kashmir Bastion. Both portions
No 2 – the right half constructed for 7 heavy howitzers and two 18-pounders, and the left for eighteen guns. The 18 guns were to silence the fire from Kashmir Bastion and destroy the parapets while opening the main breach which would then be used to access the city. The Kashmiri Gate however would still need to be destroyed by gunpowder before the city could be stormed.
No 3 and No 4 to silence the guns of the Water Bastion and make a serviceable breach.
The walls which the batteries were to batter and breach consisted of a succession of bastioned fronts connected by long curtains, with the outworks consisting of one crown work at the Ajmere Gate and Martello Towers. The bastions themselves were small but were provided with masonry parapets some 12 feet thick and their relief some 16 feet above the plane of site. The curtains too were made of ramparts or masonry walls 16 feet thick but 11 feet thick at the top, and 14 to 15 thick at the bottom. Baird Smith then described the rest as
“This main wall carries a parapet, loopholed for musketry, eight feet in height and three 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 in exterior to this 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 counterscarp; using general terms. it covers from the besieger’s view from one-half to one-third of the height of the walls of the place.”

The Kashmir Breach as sketched by Arthur Moffatt Lang at the time of the assault, from “Lucknow to Lahore”,

On the 27th of August in the Engineers Park other arrangements were underway – all along they had been experimenting with different ideas of how to build the batteries and so meticulous were their plans, they did not neglect to train the camels who would very soon be needed to carry the unwieldy fascines and gabions to the positions. By the 2nd of September, the engineers built an experimental battery at the rear of the Park from which they could ascertain the final design and by the 4th, troops were being given escalade practice in preparation for the final assault.

The Siege Batteries

Positions of the batteries

Surveying of all the positions had been completed in August and the trench work had already begun – all that remained was to build the batteries. The plan was Baird Smiths, however, it was his second-in-command, Alexander Taylor who not only prepared the batteries and fixed their sites which he paced and measured them himself; he had also designed their approaches with as much protection as possible, but had planned shelters for the off-duty gunners and covering parties. He then went about drawing sketch maps to be distributed to the troops to help them find their way around the unfamiliar ground, in the dark. His maps left nothing to chance – all obstacles, be it buildings, walls, copses underwood and ravines were meticulously drawn in. It was, as engineer Frank Maunsell wrote,
“an operation unprecedented in the annals of warfare – a battlefield previously surveyed; the position of every gun, and of the attacking Force, and the way to every post distinctly marked on the ground which was under very eyes and fire of a watchful enemy and -finally- the operation carried out as pre-designed.

However, due credit must still be given the Richard Baird Smith – laid up as he was with an injured ankle that had turned blue and black by degrees allowing him little movement and causing him much pain, he still managed, mostly from the confines of his tent to supervise the ongoing works. He was tireless in his efforts to ensure that when the attack finally came, nothing had been overlooked.

From the Field Force Order Book:

“Advancing party of the following strength to be provided at 7 P.M. with the proper complement of officers, commissioned and non-commissioned:
1st Brigade of Infantry to furnish 200 men; 2nd Brigade of Infantry to furnish 100 Rifles; 3rd Brigade of Infantry to furnish 100 Sikhs; 4th Brigade to furnish 150 N. I.; Belooch Battalion to furnish 100, making a total of 650. The party to the take one day’s provisions.
“A working party composed as follows will parade in fatigue dress at 7 p.m. at the Engineer Park, where they will be provided with tools, and conducted by an engineer officer to the proper place.
“1st Brigade to furnish 160 Europeans ; 2nd Brigade to furnish 220 Europeans; 3rd Brigade to furnish 200 Europeans; 4th Brigade to furnish 100 Europeans; 1st Brigade to furnish 70 Natives; 3rd Brigade to furnish 100 Sikhs.

“The 4th Infantry Brigade to furnish a working party of 200 ‘ men, paraded in fatigue dress at
Hindoo Rao’s house at 10 p.m.. and to await the arrival of an engineer officer from No. 1 Battery,
to conduct them to their work.
” Working parties in fatigue dress from the following brigade to be sent to Sudder Bazaar on the Telegraph
Road. The above to assemble at half-past 1 A.M. -One party of 50 men and one officer from 4th Brigade; one party of 200 men and four officers from 4th Brigade; one party of 100 men and two officers from Belooch Battalion.”

On the 7th of September, after Wilson’s rousing speech, every available officer and soldier was told off to assist in the construction of the batteries, a task which would in all take 4 days and nights. Impressively, Siege Battery No. 1 was completed shortly before daybreak on the 8th of September.
As soon as the sappers and engineers had completed tracing the ground for the batteries, work commenced. It was not easy – the ground was rocky and had very little earth, and the engineers had to invent a new method of construction:

“The solid portion up to the level of the embrasures was constructed completely of fascines, the merlons above of sandbags previously filled; the embrasures and interior face of the merlons being reveted in the usual manner with gabions and fascines…”

An example of gabions – the Mound Picquet
Sappers at work in the Batteries

The Sappers Corps at Delhi were under the charge of Lieutenant Maunsell, and their work was carried out in somewhat abnormal circumstances. Many of the skilled Roorkee Sappers had mutinied, not by want but by circumstance in Meerut and their numbers at Delhi were thus reduced; they also lacked much of the equipment they would normally have had. It was the lack of trained sappers the camp missed most. They were supplemented by a sapper detachment that arrived with the moveable column, by eight hundred Mazabi Sikhs who had served on Taylor’s road project in the Punjab but they had been “sent in the rough” having only received marginally training in sapper’s work before being sent to Delhi, Henry Brownlow also provided 6 hundred Pioneers from Roorkee. For the heavy work however, the Engineers relied solely on the thousands of untrained road coolies assigned to digging trenches and chopping trees amongst other tasks, work which they were expected to do mostly under fire. It must be mentioned that these men were completely unused to warfare and were also unarmed. They relied on whatever protection the Ridge could give them.

Throughout the occupation of the Ridge, trees had been cut down in large quantities for the making of fascines, and also in order to clear away the cover in the neighbourhood of “posts” and batteries. ” For about a fortnight prior to the commencement of the Siege- Batteries large working parties were sent out to cut down the trees and bushes near the sites proposed…the supervision of these parties was considered most arduous. The men were at work from dusk to dawn, groping and stumbling about in the long rank jungle, wet through
with rain and dew, and frequently attacked by the enemy.”
—(Thackeray, Two Indian Campaigns, p. 73.)

The amount of material needed at Delhi was enormous – gabions needed to be made in the camp itself from the brushwood cut and collected day and night by bands of Pioneers sent out for this purpose. Then under the direction of a non-commissioned Sapper officer, the gabions were prepared into the necessary forms. The Ridge had thousands of these until August while a further ten thousand were stored in the Engineer Park for use for the construction of the batteries. Large areas of the camp had been given over to what looked like basket-making, a truly strange scene amid battle. The 1500 camels too were not without employ – they were out nightly collecting material needed for fascines. Of the 16000 sandbags required for the batteries, these were filled with dirt obtained from the surrounding areas of the Ridge with much of it taken from the gardens and open spaces between the Ridge and Delhi. On the night of the 7th, the covering parties under Colonel Greathed of the 8th Foot with his brother and Murray of the engineers advanced along the road to the Kashmiri Gate and “occupied a line from the Kudsia Bagh on the left to a point below the Ridge on the right, about 550 yards from the Mori Bastion; this line and all in rear occupied.” Behind them came the working parties – 3000 men both Europeans and Indians and under the supervision of twelve Engineering officers, with long lines of camels carrying empty sandbags. In the dark, it would have looked to the mutineers like two or three regiments on the march and thus they kept their peace. The sandbags were not only filled but sent off to their future position – Battery No. 2 situated at Ludlow Castle.

The work on the batteries was completed in much the same fashion for each one however, the most important, Siege Battery No. 1 deserves some detail.

Siege Battery No. 1- Brind’s Battery

As soon as the tracing was complete, strong covering parties were sent out to support the sentries posted further away. While these companies made their way to their assigned positions, camels began to arrive carrying the fascines and gabions, accompanied by the working parties. These were told off in silence to assigned work.

“The moon rose on a busy scene; hundreds of camels arriving, dropping their loads and returning; and hundreds of men, busy as bees, raising up a formidable work, which was to be finished and ready to open fire in the morning…The work was progressing merrily, when suddenly a bright flash from the Mori, a loud report, and a heavy shower of grape literally ploughed up the ground on which we were working, knocking over several men. After a short interval, another equally well-aimed shower came down and upset some more men. Singular to relate, however, Pandy, who, of course, couldn’t tell how well he was shooting, seemed quite
content, and only fired one more shot during the whole night, being, in fact, in perfect ignorance of what we were about. If he heard a noise, he probably thought it was one of our ordinary working parties cutting brushwood. So, with a deep sigh of relief, the work went on rapidly.
The night was very hot, but we had taken care to bring plenty of drink with us, and the excitement prevented anyone feeling fatigued until the work was over. I went up to Hindu Rao’s, got some tea, and met the Artillery officer who wanted to know when we should be ready for his guns. On returning, 1 found we had at length got rid of our camels, but now long strings of artillery carts laden with shot, shell, etc., began to arrive, and, as bullocks and bullock drivers are particularly stupid creatures, I am afraid there was a considerable amount of cursing and swearing in getting these stores over the rough ground into the Battery.
Then came the huge guns, drawn by twenty pairs of bullocks each, and the sort of smothered row that ensued
beggars’ description. At three o’clock the place presented a scene of awful confusion: Sappers, Pioneers, Artillerymen, and Infantry, all mixed up together with an inert mass of carts, guns, and bullocks, struggling together in a heap.
Scarcely another hour remained before daylight, and then we knew what we might expect from the irate enemy when he saw what our amusement had been during the night. The confusion, however, was apparent, but not real; everybody knew what his work was, and everybody did it. Men and officers worked like horses, and the chaotic mass of carts and animals cleared off to camp; the Artillery stowed their ammunition in the magazines, and, as fast as our platforms were ready, the guns were dragged into position.”
(Medley, p 75)

By dawn however, although the battery had been built, only one gun was in its place and the platforms for the others were still to be placed; Alexander Taylor decided to let the bulk of the exhausted working part go as it was too dangerous to let them cross the open ground between the battery and the Ridge in daylight and he sent them off not a moment too early. At the first break of day, the mutineers were finally apprised of what the camp had been up to and they opened fire from the Mori Bastion, sending across round after round of shot and grape while attempting to take the battery in flank. For the workmen who had been kept it was too much and quite terrified by this sudden onslaught, Taylor quickly called for reinforcements from the Ridge. The work, supervised by Lieutenant Maunsell continued – but for the efforts of Major James Brind of the artillery who dragged one of his howitzers well to the rear and opened fire over the parapet to answer the Mori Bastion, it is likely the battery would have been destroyed. However, while keeping the mutineers thus occupied, gun after gun could be mounted on each successive platform – before long they were all in place and successively opened fire on the Mori Bastion. By evening, nothing remained of the bastion but a heap of ruins. Brind’s Battery had come into its own.
With the covering fire from this battery, work on the succeeding batteries could commence.

Mori Bastion

Siege Battery No. 2 – kaye’s and campbell’s battery

Constructed slightly east of Ludlow Castle, it would be commanded by Major Kaye and Major Campbell. On the evening of the 8th of September, strong working parties were sent out to start the work but it was decided, due to the experience gained by building No 1, it was too much of a stretch to anticipate completing it by daybreak. The same evening work on Siege Battery No 3 was to have begun, but the engineers, upon examining the site found it faulty and work was postponed until a better site could be found.
During the construction, some 80 men of the Wilde’s Punjabis and 100 Beluchis were also put to the task. Unused to being under fire from heavy guns and somewhat disgruntled at being employed, as one of the Sikhs put it to his officer, “…we don’t mind being killed or wounded as soldiers but we don’t like it when working as coolies…” However, they were fortunate enough to be working during the night.
They were relieved by Alfred Moffat Lang who found motivating his men turned out to be something of a chore. Alfred Lang notes the Beluchis “funked so that they would rush into a hedge a lie-down and drop their pickaxes and shovels; he resorted to standing the middle of the road, pelting them with stones, shouting and physically dragging a few from their shelter. Within an hour of leaving them with the young Sapper sergeant, Lang found the Beluchis had once again thrown down their tools and were steadfastly refusing not only to work but to come out from under the hedges. Infuriated, Lang “rushed like a shell amongst them, knocked a dozen down, kicked as many more and swore I would hang the first who hesitated to obey me…” The effect was instant, the work party took up their tools under the gaze of Lang who walked up and down the lines of men, likening them to trembling women. By 7 pm he marched his men back to camp. During the night the following night, three platforms were constructed and two magazines were completed and the battery was made, as far as possible, shot-proof. Before daybreak, the five 8-inch howitzers and two 18-pounders were moved into position and on the 11th of September, Battery No. 2 opened fire. By evening, the Kashmir Bastion was in ruins.

Main Breach in the Kashmir Bastion

Siege Battery No. 3 – scott’s battery and no. 4 – tomb’s battery

Taylor located a new site for Battery No. 3 – to his surprise, he found an outbuilding of the old Customs House would serve the purpose. By some oversight, the Customs House too had been overlooked by both the British and the mutineers. It stood only 160 yards from the Water Bastion and seeing the mutineers had thus far neglected to occupy it, the British quickly took advantage. On the night of the 11th of September, construction on Battery No 3 commenced.

Custom’s House Battery

It was by far, wrote Julius Medley
“a task that required no ordinary nerve and skill to resolve on and carry out. Pandy (the mutineers) did not know where we were at, but at any rate, he knew that 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. They were..the unarmed Native Pioneers..and not meant to be fighting men.”

No. 4 Battery, which would be armed with ten heavy mortars under Major Tombs was also placed under the shelter of an old building in the Kudsia Bagh. It was completed quicker than the others and the mortars opened fire on the 10th of September, shredding the curtain connecting the Water and Kashimir Bastions. No. 3 would begin operations on the 12th of September.

In the four days and nights it had taken to construct and arm the batteries over 300 men lost their lives.

Life in the Batteries from “Lahore to Lucknow” – Arthur Moffat Lang

“At 8 o’clock in the morning of the 11th, the great breaching battery opened fire. A salvo from the nine 24-pounders was followed by three tremendous cheers from the Artillery in the battery. As the site of the breach was struck with the iron hail, great blocks of stone fell, and the curtain wall fell clattering into the ditch. The howitzers soon after followed suit. In ten minutes the Cashmere Bastion was silenced…the stonework 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 at a time. The guns fired all day long on the 11th…”

The engineers meanwhile were far from finished. Their work continued unabated, and Medley, on the morning of the 12th made his way down to No. 2 Battery as Engineer on duty.

“..a more unpleasant 24 hours I never spent in my life. The enemy, now thoroughly alive to his danger, lined his advanced trenches with men and threw crowds of skirmishers over the broken ground and jungle in front, who maintained one incessant storm of musketry into the batteries all day long, rendering it most dangerous to venture, even for a minute, beyond the protection of the parapets. Every now and then they were so annoying, and became so bold, that the Artillery officers substituted grape for round shot in the guns, and ploughed up the ground in front with the iron shower. The ground, however, was so favourable to the enemy, that this only checked their approach, and scarcely diminished the severity of their fire…The enemy had constructed a battery beyond our extreme right, and so well placed, that our old ridge guns could not see it, and from this, he enfilated No.1 and No.2 Batteries with fearful effect. The fire in front could be seen and replied to, but it was very trying to the nerves to see the battery raked from end to end, almost every half hour, by an 18-pounder’s round shot, which came tearing through, upsetting everything in its course, and smashing many a brave fellow. I lengthened the right epaulement, and constructed an additional traverse, which somewhat protected us; but the fire was still so severe, that at length we had to withdraw a gun from play on the breach, and put it in the epaulement, to keep down the enfilading fire…”

Breach in the Curtain – from Turnbull’s Sketches of Delhi. Depicting the breach in the Water Bastion

On the morning of the 12th, No. 3 Battery was finally ready, the unmasking of the embrasures was done in broad daylight under sustained fire from the walls. The engineer and the Indian sappers however managed to complete the task without sustaining any losses and the 6 guns opened fire. At such a short distance from the Water Bastion (160 yards), the effect was tremendous. The mutineers’ guns were either dismounted or smashed almost immediately, the parapet disappeared in a cloud of splinters and fragments, while the opposing face of the bastion was pulverised. Despite the damage the British did in the first few minutes of the barrage, the mutineers, even though they did not have a gun to answer them with, poured a violent fire of musketry into the post, and this at such a short distance, quickly told on the men in the battery.

Shot and shell apart, all the batteries faced another danger. The material used to construct them and their very forms made them highly flammable and several times burst into flames from the discharge of the guns. It was then the job of the engineer on duty to “jump on the parapet, or stand in the embrasures, and put it out..” Each battery was equipped with chatties of water kept ready to pour on the blaze. No. 2 Battery caught fire on the 10th of September with disastrous results – the sandbags first caught fire, then the fascines which were made of dry brushwood, followed quickly by the whole battery and threatened to reach the right section which housed the magazine. With the fire spreading quickly, Major Kaye suggested to Lieutenant Lockhart, (then doing duty with Reid’s Gurkhas of which 2 companies were doing duty in the connecting trench between the two sections), he might try to control the blaze from outside and on top of the parapet. Lockhart immediately jumped up on the parapet and, followed by seven Gurkhas, started opening the sandbags to use the sand to smother the flames. The enemy artillery decided that Lockhart should not succeed and they brought out every gun to bear on the blazing battery, pouring a horrendous storm of grape and musketry on the men. Two of the Gurkhas fell dead and Lockhart rolled over the parapet, his jaw smashed by a musket ball. The shot penetrated through his right cheek, passing then under his tongue and exiting through the left jaw – wounded and in pain, Lockhart and his remaining men persevered and put out the fire.
It is unfortunate to note that because Major Reid, who witnessed the incident and subsequently recommended Lockhart for a VC, wrote his report in pencil – something which General Wilson found so loathsome, he destroyed not only Reid’s report but many more of his dispatches for not being in regulated form and thus, in his estimation, unofficial. That Reid was writing under fire did not interest Wilson in the slightest. As a consequence of Wilson’s stubbornness on this part, many of Reid’s subsequent reports were left unattended and even his mentions of appreciation for the services of the Engineers and Artillery officers remained unpublished. In February 1859 Lord Clyde, when he received Major Reid’s supplementary dispatch, simply replied, “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.” Lockhart would eventually command the 107th as a colonel, but Reid’s second in command, John Fisher who commanded the Sirmoor Battalion during the assault and would be the only officer out of nine to escape unhurt, would not even receive a brevet following the Siege of Delhi.

In the batteries

The sepoys had suddenly been made very aware that they were now the besieged. Between the 8th and the 13th of September, they made every effort to counterattack the British artillery with their attempt to enfilade and bombard the siege batteries. They managed, in just as much time, to construct and bring into action two batteries of their own, one at Kisanganj to try and take out Siege Battery 2, while the second battery was located across the Jamuna River to take on No.3 and No. 4 Siege Batteries. They further set to work mounting heavy guns along the long curtains (which they should have done weeks ago) and some light guns in more covered places. In one night, they dug an advanced trench parallel to the left side of the attack running along the entire front at some 350 yards from the British positions, from which they sent an unceasing rain of bullets against the British positions, subsequently causing terrible casualties. It was not enough. The British were determined now to take Delhi – with the fire from their 56 guns and mortars plying ceaselessly on the defences, by the 13th of September, they had managed to make two breaches in the formidable walls of the city.

before the storm

There was one task left before the final assault on Delhi – to ascertain whether the breaches were sufficient to allow the force to advance into the city. There was only one way to find out if the guns had done the damage intended and that was by sending 4 engineers to take a look.

Chosen for the task were Arthur Moffat Lang and Julius George Medley to inspect the Kashmir Bastion breach, while William Wilberforce Greathed and Duncan Holme were told off for the Water Gate Bastion.

Lang preferred to reconnoitre the position while there was still light, he wrote in his diary, “As I cannot see in the dark – some fellows can – I asked the favour to be allowed to do the work at once. Taylor exchanged a few words with Nicholson, said, ‘All right,’ with a nod, and gave me a note for the officer commanding at Kudsia Bagh, and told me to make my own arrangements.”
To allow Lang to proceed, the guns at No. 2 Battery fell silent; Lang hurried to the Kudsia Bagh, requested the officer in charge to cease his firing and order the covering parties to do likewise for a moment and borrowed four riflemen. The five men passed the No. 3 Battery, slipped through the dense gardens south of the Custom House and thus made their way to the Kashmir Bastion.
Leaving the riflemen in the shelter of some bushes, Lang ran quickly up the glacis, for about 60 yards. he then lay down on the crest to present as small a target as possible to musketry fire which was now whizzing around him. Calmly, he examined the breach, noted its height, width and characteristics, then he “leapt smartly to his feet, rose to his full height, and ” legged it down the slope for all he was worth.” The firing was bad, as was also the powder used; Lang ran well, and, though a driving hail of bullets swept the slope, he reached the orange trees and his supports, untouched.”

They were not as safe as they thought. On falling back to the Kudsia Bagh, they suddenly found themselves fired upon by their own men. The sentries who knew Lang was out on reconnaissance had, in the meantime, been relieved and the new guard, hearing movement among the trees, sent a volley of musketry in the party’s direction. It was only luck they were terrible shots and no one was hit.

The action should have granted Lang a VC but before he could make his report, he met Julius Medley who had just been ordered by Baird Smith to examine the same breach and Lang chose instead to accompany Medley.

Medley left a detailed account of how he proceeded and it seems he left nothing to chance.

” I went to the officers commanding the Batteries and requested them to fire heavily on the breach until ten o’clock, and then to cease firing, as the attempt would be made at that hour. We then returned to the Kudsia Bagh, and arranged with the officer commanding that six picked riflemen belonging to H.M.’s 60th Rifles
should accompany us and that an officer and twenty men of the same regiment should follow in support, and should be left at the edge of the jungle while we went on to the breach; if he saw we were being cut off, he was to come to our support, and to sound his whistle to us to fall back; if we had a man wounded, or wanted his support, we would in like manner whistle for him. These preliminaries being arranged, and the ladder having arrived from the Park, we sat down quietly at the picquet and ate our dinners.
It was a bright starlit night, with no moon; the roar of the Batteries and clear abrupt reports of the shells from the mortars alone broke the stillness of the night; and the flashes of the rockets, carcases, and fireballs lighting up the air made a really beautiful spectacle. Presently an 8-inch shell from the enemy buried itself in the ground close to where we were sitting, and, bursting well below the surface —luckily for us—covered the whole party with a shower of earth, and made us scramble away in the most admired confusion.
The gharis struck ten, and the fire of the Batteries suddenly ceased. Our party was in readiness; we drew our
swords, felt that our revolvers were ready to hand, and, leaving the shelter of the picquet—such as it was—advanced stealthily into the enemy’s country. Creeping quietly through the garden mentioned above, we quickly found ourselves under a large tree on the edge of the cover, and here we halted for a moment, conversing only in whispers. The enemy’s skirmishers were firing away on our right, some thirty yards from us, and the flashes from their muskets gleamed like fireflies. The shells and rockets of the enemy illumined the space around for a moment as they sailed over our heads, and then left us in total darkness . . . Lang and
I, with the six men who were to accompany us, emerged into the open—leaving the Rifle officer and his eighteen men in support—and pushed straight for the breach.
In five minutes we found ourselves on the edge of the ditch, the dark mass of the Kashmir Bastion, immediately on the other side, and the breach being distinctly discernible. Not a soul was in sight! The counterscarp was sixteen feet deep and steep; Lang slid down first. I passed the ladder down, and, taking two men out of the six, descended after him, leaving the other four above to cover our retreat. Two minutes more, and we should have been at the top of the breach, but, quiet as we had been, the enemy was on the watch, and we heard several men running from the left towards the breach. We reascended, therefore, though with some difficulty, and, throwing ourselves down on the grass, waited in silence for what was to happen. A number of figures immediately appeared on the top of the breach, their forms clearly discernible against the bright sky, and not twenty yards distant. We were in the deep shade, however, and apparently, they could not see us. They conversed in a low tone, and presently we heard the ring of their steel ramrods as they loaded. We waited quietly, hoping they would go away when another attempt might be made. Meanwhile, we could see that the breach was a good one, the slope easy of ascent and that there were no guns in the flank. We knew by experience, too, that the ditch was easy of descent.
After waiting some minutes longer, I gave a signal; we all jumped up at once and ran back towards our own ground. We were discovered directly; a volley came whistling about our ears, but no one was touched. We reached our supports in safety and retreated quietly to the Kudsia Bagh by the same road by which we had come. Lang went off to the Batteries to tell them they might open fire again, and I got on to my horse and galloped back to camp as hard as I could, to make my report to the Chief Engineer.”

In the meantime, Greathed and Home too had returned from the Water Bastion. They had found the breach was practicable but had not been as destroyed as they had hoped – they asked Baird Smith for another 24 hours to improve it. Taking the reports of his engineers into consideration and the fact that the artillerymen in the batteries were exhausted Baird Smith decided against any further delays. The same night a note was sent to General Wilson that a general assault could be ordered for the next morning.

Medley rode back to the batteries to inform all the officers on duty to be ready at their posts with the different columns – the arrangements for the assault had already been made; all Wilson had to do now was issue the order. The four main columns and one reserve, were told off to fall in at 3 o’clock in the morning of the 14th of September.

The columns consisted of:

No. 1 Column, commanded by General Nicholson, to storm the Kashmir Bastion
– 1st Bengal Fusiliers – 250 men under Major Jacob
-H.M. 75th Regiment – 300 men under Lieutenant Colonel Herbert
2nd Punjab Infantry – 450 men under Captain Green
Engineer officers attached – Captain Taylor, Lieutenants Medley, Lang and Bingham

No.2 Column, commanded by Brigadier-General Jones, (61st Regiment), to storm the breach in the Water Gate Bastion
– 2nd Bengal Fusiliers – 250 men under Captain Boyd
-H.M. 8th Regiment – 250 men under Lieutenant Colonel Edward Greathed
– 4th Sikh Infantry – 350 men under Captain Rothney
Engineer officers attached – Lieutenant Greathed, Hovenden and Pemberton

No. 3 Column, commanded by Colonel Campbell, (52nd Light Infantry), to assault the Kashmir Gate after the explosion by the Engineers
– H.M. 52nd Regiment – 200 men under Major Vigors
– Kumaon Battalion of Gurkhas – 250 men under Captain Ramsay
– 1st Punjab Infantry – 500 men under Lieutenant Charles Nicholson
Engineer officers attached – Lieutenants Home, Salkeld and Tandy, Ensign Nuthall. This party was assigned to blowing up the Kashmir Gate, and also consisted of Sappers and Miners – Sergeants John Smith and Andrew Blair Carmicheal, Corporal F. Burgess (alias Joshua Burgess Grierson) and 14 native Sappers and Miners – and ten Punjabi Sappers and Miners – of these Havildar Madhoo, Subadar Toola, Jemadar Bisram, Havildars Tiluk Singh and Ramtaroy and Sepoy Sahib Singh would be mentioned in despatches. Bugler Robert Hawthorne of the 52nd Regiment was further detailed to the party.

No. 4 Column, commanded by Major Reid, (Sirmoor Battalion) which included the Sirmoor Battalion, a detachment of the 1st Bengal Fusiliers – 150 men – detachments of HM 60th and 61st, together with the Guides Infantry, and 800 men of the Kashmir Brigade. Their orders were to clear the gardens and buildings at Paharaunpore and Kishengunge before entering the city via the Lahore Gate.
Engineer officers attached – Lieutenants Maunsell and Tennant

No. 5 Column, Reserve -commanded by Brigadier-General Longfield, to follow column No. 3 and cover Nicholson’s advance, while forming the reserve.
– H.M. 60th Rifles – 200 men under Colonel Jones
– H.M. 61st Rifles – 250 men under Lieutenant-Colonel Deacon
– 4th Punjab Infantry – 450 men under Captain Wilde
– Beluchi Battalion – 300 men – under command of Lieutenant-Colonel Farquhar
– auxiliaries of the Jhind Raja – 300 men under Lieutenant-Colonel Dunsford
Engineer officers attached – Lieutenants Ward and Thackeray

The 60th Rifles were to cover the front of the three storming columns.

The Artillery Brigade
Arrangements were made on the 13th of September to relieve the officers and men of the horse artillery, with detachments of foot artillery, told off for duty, consisting of “sixty, twenty and twenty men, each under a subaltern to accompany the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Columns of Assault respectively, to take possession of the guns on the ramparts and turn them on the city.”
No. 14 Light Battery and Major Scott was attached on the 14th to the Reserve Column
No. 17 Light Field Battery with two guns were attached to the 1st Column

The Cavalry
9th Lancers
The Guides Cavalry commanded by Captain Sanford
William Hodson commanding Hodson’s Horse
1st Punjab Cavalry commanded by Lieutenant Probyn and second-in-command, Lieutenant Younghusband
5th Punjab Cavalry

General Wilson and his staff would remain at Ludlow Castle during the assault. Colonel Turnbull, who happened to be on Wilson’s staff, remembered, “leaving our horses outside, on his asking whether anyone 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.


A Year’s Campaigning in India – Julius George Medley (1858)
Extracts from Letters and Notes Written During the Siege of Delhi in 1857 – Sir Charles Reid (1858)
The Chaplain’s Narrative of the Siege of Delhi – John Edward Wharton Rotton, M.A. (1858)
The History of the Bengal European Regiment – Lieut.-Colonel P.R. Innes (1885)
Kaye’s and Malleson’s History of the Indian Mutiny of 1857-58 Vol IV- edited by Colonel Malleson C.S.I. (1889)
Selections from the Despatches and other State Papers Vol I – edited by George W. Forrest, B.A. (1893)
Two Indian Campaigns – Colonel E.T. Thackeray (1896)
Forty-One Years in India Vol I – Field Marshal Lord Roberts (1897)
Richar Baird Smith – Colonel H.M. Vibart, R.E. (1897)
The Sepoy Mutiny as Seen by a Subaltern, from Delhi to Lucknow – Colonel Edward Vibart (1898)
Delhi-1857 – edited by General Sir Henry Wylie Norman and Mrs Keith Young (1902)
Through the Mutiny – Colonel Thomas Nicholls Walker (1907)
A Narrative of the Siege of Delhi – Charles John Griffiths (1910)
The Punjab and Delhi in 1857 Vol II- Rev. J. Cave-Browne M.A. (1911)
General Sir Alexander Taylor – His Times, His Friends, His Work – A. Cameron Taylor (1913)
The Red Fort – James Leasor (1956)
The Siege of Delhi -Mutiny Memories of an Old Officer – Richard Barter, (London, the Folio Society, 1984)

3 thoughts on “Delhi, Besieged

  1. Another fascinating and detailed read! Thank you for sharing your work with us! The last name on your list of officers caught my eye – is he perhaps related to the Younghusband who wrote several books about the Himalayas?

    Liked by 1 person

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