The end of June had brought more reinforcements to the small force on the Ridge. At the same time, mutinied regiments from all over Northern India continued to march into Delhi to take up the cause. In the city, conditions were quickly deteriorating, and the king himself was slowly starting to realise his army, though strong and well-armed, was essentially leaderless. His own sons who had styled themselves generals and colonels were incapable of holding the men’s loyalty nor had the power to prevent the army from descending into lawlessness.
An army of such magnitude needs to be housed, fed and paid and there was neither enough shelter, provisions or money to go around – the royal coffers were being rapidly depleted and with no revenue from taxes coming in, the army for its part started to show a growing level of dissatisfaction. The promises of higher pay were mostly words – many of the regiments found they were financially not better off than they had been under the British.
On the Ridge, things had not improved and the singular lack of leadership was showing. Brigadier General Barnard would die on the 5th of July, while Reed, old, tired and sick would quickly retire to Simla, leaving the management of the siege to Archdale Wilson, who now carried on the same way as he had done in Meerut.
He did make a concerted effort to stop the senseless skirmishing that had cost so many lives in June but with the constant attacks on the different positions, the British were still forced to protect themselves. Wilson however would not go on the offensive, stating he would not as long as he did not have enough reinforcements.
These continued coming in from everywhere men could be spared – John Lawrence had practically emptied the Punjab leaving but a skeleton force in place to keep peace in one of the most contentious provinces in India. From Calcutta forces were being diverted to Delhi and to other parts of India – at Kanpur, Havelock continued to shout for reinforcements, in Lucknow the Residency would lose Henry Lawrence on the 4th of July and would be thrown on their own resources. At Agra, John Colvin had retreated to the force to wait for the Gwalior Contingent to sweep the station away while at Kanpur, the ladies, unbeknownst to them, in the Bibighar they waited for a saviour whose name would turn out to be Death.
Like at Lucknow or Kanpur, it is inconceivable that the British were not run off the Ridge in one fell swoop. However, just as at Lucknow, where a force of some 10’000 mutineers faced off against barely 1000 for nearly 3 months, the mutineers settled themselves at Delhi to a war of fighting without conquest. They attacked, the British repelled, they attacked again, and again were repulsed. They outmanned and outgunned the force on the Ridge but were still unable to dislodge the British who in July would not amount to more than 6000 men.
The British continued to hold on – however, a sense of futility had permeated the ranks. Men threw themselves recklessly into battle, some preferring the bullet to the endless cycle of hell they were tied to. Others, overwhelmed with bitterness and anger, took their fury out on the servants, the water carriers and the messengers, who had done them no wrong. Disgusted with the initial abuse his men had received from the British soldiers, Major Ried would remain entrenched at Hindu Rao’s House as his men continued to bare the brunt of the attacks on the Ridge.
Prisoners if any at all taken, were not kept for long – trials were summary, the verdict mostly inevitable. Hangings were deliberately slow and painful, the victims strangling to death while in the field, and no quarter was given. After battles, both the British forces and the mutineers scavenged each other’s dead for trinkets, munitions and money. Knowing the British would not show them any mercy, the mutineers likewise murdered the British wounded without remorse while the British wounded, if they could, preferred to shoot themselves rather than face being hacked to death. Few officers write in their journals of the true horror of the Siege of Delhi – how men can when given the circumstances, become monsters. There was a thin line between saviour and abuser – in July, neither side could claim to be the better of the other. Morality belonged to the past.
Nor was it any better in the city of Delhi. Fear and distrust continued to blanket the city. Anyone trying to leave was considered a traitor and could be killed; those who stayed had to face constant harassment as each new regiment arrived looking for pillage. Bahadur Shah’s sons were not proving themselves as capable leaders and he was unable to stop either the plundering or the constant claims on the royal purse. The war was not to his taste and throwing the infidels into the sea was proving harder than anyone thought. Instead of scurrying back to England, the British were holding on with the tenacity of a bulldog. While the British on the Ridge complained their leaders were fools, the rebel army quickly realized at Delhi, they had only an old king, his arrogant sons and the remains of their officers to look to, who were likewise without guidance.
July would, however, hold some surprises.
On the 1st of July, Bakht Khan would arrive with the Bareilly brigade, reinforced liberally by Rohilla men. He would take on the mammoth task of organising the rebel army and introducing some sense of calm to the city of Delhi. He was well known to the British and in turn, he knew them. 40 years of service in the Company army had not been lost and he was a formidable leader, just what the rebel army needed.
On the British side, officers of repute and standing started arriving. Richard Baird Smith, the highly respected man of the engineers with a plan to put the Ridge in order; and from the wilds of the Punjab, Coke and his redoubtable Rifles swept into Delhi. In their wake came men who were eager to secure their place in history – the young Lieutenant Frederick Roberts down from the Punjab and the eager Lieutenant Vibart who had only recently fled Delhi with nothing but the clothes on his back. Anger bristled in his 19-year-old mind – his parents and siblings lay dead in Kanpur and he joined the ranks of men seeking retribution. Nor was he alone. Wigram Cunliffe, haunted by the horrific tales of his sister’s death which occurred barely 12 hours after he had left her with the Jennings in Delhi, Lieutenant Thomason whose bride-to-be had died with Cunliffe’s sister, and skulking around the Ridge, like a demented pirate, was Sir Theophilus Metcalfe, simmering with fury at the dreadful loss of Metcalfe House, whose ruins he could see from the Ridge. The haunted men who had lost their wives and families who no longer cared if they lived or died, but as long as they got a few shots in before they died. William Hodson continued taking immense risks with his men, sending spy after spy into Delhi and if the rumour was true, he had walked the ruined city’s desolate streets in disguise. All along the only open road to Delhi were officers eagerly looking for transportation to the Ridge, independent officers bereft of their regiments, looking for a way to redeem their conscience at losing their men and dive into the thick of things. Delhi was the place to be.
The 1st of July
From the Ridge, the British could see the arrival of Bakht Khan and the Bareilly brigade. He had with him upwards of 3000 men – amongst them the mutinous regiments of Moradabad and Shajehanpore -and treasure valued at over 4000 rupees. No one had stopped their advance to Delhi – General Hewitt in Meerut, the only man who could have had placidly stood by and watched as Bakht Khan had ransacked the company stud at Babooghar, stealing the horses and killing the syces. After this little sojourn which had lasted several days, Bakht Khan casually made his way to Delhi.
He set up camp at first on the other side of the Jamuna river, his men housed in tents taken from the Company stores and over 2 consecutive nights, organised for his men to be ferried over. The British could only watch – their artillery was out of range and besides, they did not have the means for an outright attack on Bakht Khan’s force; he could have crossed the river in the middle of the day and the British would have been unable to stop him.
Bakht Khan was a man of some repute. Of his personal history, he had social standing as the nephew of Najib-ud-Daulah – a renowned Rohilla military chief (who had won the third battle of Panipat) and commander-in-chief to the Mughal army. Military life coursed freely in Bakht Khan’s veins. For forty years he served with distinction in the Bengal Army in the artillery gaining accolades for actions during the First Afghan War under Sale and notably in Jalalabad for which his battery’s guns were given an honorary decoration of a mural crown. Following the war, Bakht Khan rose to the rank of Subadar. In 1857, he and his regiment were in Bareilly where we met him during that ill-fated mutiny https://mutinyreflections.wordpress.com/2022/01/08/in-rohilkhand/
Having been declared supreme leader of Rohilkhand by the rebels in the district of Bareilly and having a reputation as a strong leader, Bakht Khan was able to assemble, organise and march his force of 3000 men to Delhi at the behest of the rebel leader Khan Bahadur Khan, the Rohilla chieftain of Bareilly. Leaving Bareilly on the 11th of June, Bakht Khan took a rather circuitous route to the city, passing through Badaun and Farrukhabad, collecting troops, plunder and revenue along the way.
His arrival in Delhi was greeted with delight by the old emperor who was facing not just the stubborn British on the Ridge, but very real anarchy in his ranks as two different groups of sepoys vied for favour with his ambitious sons, both of whom were looking for the opportunity to overthrow their ailing father and take the throne. Bahadur Shah had tried different tactics to calm the city but he had failed – his sons would not listen to him and the sepoys in and around Delhi were belligerent at best and at worse showing signs of mutiny. Bakht Khan, felt Bahadur Shah, would not just save the city, but himself. On the 2nd of July, Bahadur Shah sent a delegation to welcome the subadar and invite him to the palace.
Bakht Khan listened gravely to the emperor’s grievances. He had given orders, the emperor said, the city was not to be plundered, but he had no one to enforce his will, and as for getting rid of the British, Bakht Khan could see for himself how successful the venture had been until now. With little hesitation, Bakht Khan offered his services to Bahadur Shah as Commander-in-Chief of the forces – an offer the emperor could not refuse.
Gratified by this first interview, Bakht Khan returned to his own men and acquainted the subadars with the emperor’s acceptance of his services and asked them whom they, in turn, would obey. The men swore their allegiance, not to the emperor but to Bakht Khan, their only leader. Satisfied his men would follow him, Bakht Khan returned to the palace. He was granted a private audience with the emperor, following which, Bahadur Shah proclaimed Bakht Khan Commander-in-Chief and the title of General, and, in an official proclamation, “ordering the attendance of all officers in command of regiments to receive orders from Mahommed Bakht Khan.”
Bahadur Shah gave the following orders to General Bakht Khan
a. Defeat the British and destroy them
b. The Sepoys and troopers intruding the fort was to be provided with alternate accommodation outside the city to remove them from the temptation for indiscriminate plunder
c. Steps were to be taken to distribute salaries to old and new servants to the emperor
d. Collection of revenue was to be started immediately throughout the area in and around Delhi
e. Ruffians and badmashes posing as sepoys and invading the houses of peaceful citizens were to be dealt with
The tallness of the orders would have daunted an ordinary man, but as we shall see, Bakht Khan was anything but an ordinary man. Barely 24 hours after arriving in Delhi, he sent out his first proclamation to the Kotwal of Delhi giving him full responsibility for law and order in the city, failing to do so would result in the kotwal’s hanging. The news was further supported by messengers beating drums, who, marching through the city, announced to the terrified inhabitants that all shopkeepers, bankers and tradesmen were to arm themselves – should they not possess any, they could pick them up for free from the headquarters of Bakht Khan. Any sepoy caught plundering would have his arm chopped off and anyone with ammunition in their possession was to hand it over without fail to the Magazine.
He then ordered the men of the Nawab Abdul Rahman Khan of Jajjr to vacate the Kala Mahal in favour of the sepoys. He had taken the first steps to restore order to the city. Throughout the 2nd of July, the general continued to issue orders, all sanctioned by Bahadur Shah, even where the emperor’s own sons were concerned.
He visited Prince Mirza Moghul who had but lately been appointed Adjutant-General and it would appear his interview with the prince was not the resounded success Bakht Khan had hoped for. Returning to the emperor after meeting the prince, he informed his liege “if any of the Princes attempted to plunder the city, he would cut off their noses and ears.” Bahadur Shah acquiesced and gave the general permission to do what he felt was necessary. The next day, the princes were relieved of any further duties connected with the army.
General Bakht Khan wasn’t quite finished yet. In the following days, he inspected the Magazine and ordered the stores and materials to be properly arranged; he then looked into several local grievances from the much-beleaguered population, ordering anyone who had been a victim of the sepoys’ plundering, would receive compensation. He then turned his attention to the civil administration, the police and the revenue departments putting together plans and strategies to form a working government in Delhi, and then, as if his days were not busy enough, he held a parade to inspect all the regiments collected at Delhi. However, we cannot forget the main objective of Bakht Khan was not to pander in politics – it was to drive the British from the Ridge, and into the sea.
For the British, July would be the darkest month of the siege. They still could only number no more than 5800 fighting men with nearly 1000 either sick or wounded, and while the rebels sat safely behind walls with roofs over their heads, the Ridge remained a rocky outcrop, battered now by monsoon rain. As for ammunition, the rebels had a seemingly inexhaustible stock while the British had long since resorted to collecting whatever shell the rebels fired at them, and provided it was the same size as their ordnance, sending it back to the city. Every regiment that marched into Delhi brought with them their arms and munitions as soon as the British had faced them in one skirmish there always seemed to be more men, more guns. Some officers believed there was no way to win against those odds and a few believed it would be best to abandon the Ridge altogether. Having got wind of this, Sir John Lawrence wasted no time in sending missive after missive to Delhi, reminding the commander that abandoning Delhi would lead to the destruction of the British in India. General Barnard, tired and weary now found himself in a position he had never wanted in the first place. On one hand, he had Lawrence howling from the Punjab for him to hang no matter what the odds, on the other, he had a camp drowning in mud, sickness and facing an insurmountable enemy. To make things worse, Mr Greathed, the commissioner, was taking his orders from Agra as his position belonged rightly to the North-West Province and refused to listen to Sir John. Greathed was all for abandoning Delhi on the grounds it was more important to establish authority over the Doab and reopen communications between Meerut and Agra. In the midst of this, bolder and more spirited officers continued harassing Barnard to put together an all-out assault on Delhi.
A plan was put together, once again with such secrecy that even some of Barnard’s staff were “sleeping soundly in blissful ignorance” but it was not so much a secret in Delhi. The rebels knew every movement of the plan and were on alert. A large body was moved down by circuitous route into a walled garden in the rear of the Ridge and if the storming party the British had intended to send to blow in the Kashmiri Gate had been allowed to set off, they would not have met with the mere guard they were expecting but a very awake army.
Someone on the Ridge had the gumption to inform Barnard of the plan – and at the last minute, the whole idea to carry the city of Delhi by coup-de-main was once again called off.
The question was not so much that the plan, had it been executed, would have undoubtedly failed, it was more who had betrayed it to the rebels. There were very few native troops on the Ridge – the Sirmoor Gurkhas under Ried were beyond reproach, Rothney’s Sikhs and the Guides likewise, while Coke’s Rifles had only just arrived on the Ridge. Yet someone was telling the enemy what the British were doing even before they had done it.
In the Corps of Guides, the loss of European officers had been severe – Quentin Battye killed, Daly, Kennedy, Hawes, Shebbeare, De Brett (of the 57th NI doing duty with the Guides), Chalmers (3rd B.N.I) Murray (42nd BNI) had all been wounded, some more than once, while in the 4th Sikhs who had but lately arrived, Yorke (of the 3rd BNI) had been killed and Packe (4th BNI) and Pullan had been wounded. Although “gallantry and rash daring of young blood” could account for some of these casualties, it did not explain why some of the officers had fallen when the enemy was not firing and Packe’s injuries for sure had not occurred from the front, but from the back, in other words, some of the officers had been shot by their own men.
It transpired three of the purabiya (literally, “easterners” or men from the region of Bihar and Agra) sepoys – had been attempting to sow discontent among the Sikhs of Coke’s Regiment. They had served long and hard in the service of the company, but now before the walls of Delhi, the sepoys lost heart.
“Addressing themselves to a Sikh officer and bewailing the inevitable downfall of the English rule, they added, “what is the use of us staying here? Let us kill as many Feringhee as we can and make our way to Delhi. See how few they are! They will be shot in the end. From the King of Delhi, our reward will be magnificent, and our name will be great.”
The Sikh officer listened and after apparently assenting to everything they said, promptly reported them to his commanding officer. Of the three men who were arrested, one was shot by the Sikh officer himself while the other two were court-martialed and within half an hour of being found guilty, hung. The remaining purabiyas of the company, some 150 in number, were dismissed from service and sent off the Ridge. This did not stop the flow of information reaching the city of Delhi, but for a moment it gave any mutinous minds left in the British ranks a moment’s pause.
What it did do, however, is ferment a stronger mistrust towards Indians, soldiers or otherwise. Some officers saw foes everywhere – in their own servants, in harmless villagers, in camp followers. If fighting against an enemy they could see was not enough, some officers now imagined an enemy no one could see and used the mere idea of “suspicious behaviour” as sufficient reason to shoot harmless individuals – seven villagers fell to the wrath of one particularly bloody minded man on grounds of “spying” which he did not have to prove and they had no means to defend against. The war had taken on a cruelty of its own.
Alipore, 4th of July
On the 3rd of July, Bakht Khan turned out some 5000 men with several guns – however, contrary to expectations there was no grand attack. Instead, he moved his men off to the right of the Ridge. Shortly after dark, he assembled his force and marched them off in the direction of Alipore, where the British were holding a small outpost, manned by Younghusband’s squadron of the 5th Punjab Cavalry.
Reaching Alipore around midnight they opened fire on the serai with artillery – giving the sowars just enough time to mount their horses and fall back on Rhai the next post some ten miles to the rear of the Ridge and garrisoned by the friendly troops of the Jhind Raja.
The sound of the artillery barrage could clearly be heard in Delhi – with some haste, a column under Major Coke was prepared to pursue the insurgents should they decide to push up the Trunk Road or at the very least cut them off should they try to return to Delhi. Besides his men of the 1st Punjab Infantry, Coke took with him 1 wing of the 61st Foot, six Horse and six Field Artillery guns, one squadron of Carbineers, one squadron of the 9th Lancers, and the Guides Cavalry – in all 800 infantry, 300 cavalry and 12 guns. As his staff officer, Coke was given the young Lieutenant Frederick Roberts.
It was generally supposed the enemy was attempting to cut off a supply train coming from the Punjab which was known to be under Native guard. Coke was expecting a long hard chase – but at daybreak, the mutineers were in plain sight, crossing in front of Coke’s column. They had plundered Alipore in the night and were, returning to Delhi, laden with plunder.
“The rebels were moving on fairly high ground, but between us and them was a swamp rendered almost impassable by recent heavy rain. It extended a considerable distance on either side and as there was no other way of getting at the rapidly retreating foe, it had to be crossed. Our Artillery opened fire, and Coke advanced with the Cavalry and Infantry. The swamp proved to be very difficult; in it, men and horses floundered hopelessly, and before we were clear the enemy had got away with their guns; they were obliged, however, to leave behind all the plunder taken from Alipur, and a considerable quantity of ammunition…”
The Carabineers and Guides set off in pursuit to cut up any stragglers but the insurgents, proceeding with as much haste as they could muster, still managed to carry off all their guns.
With the fierce sun burning overhead and the soldiers already “much distressed” for having been under arms for more than 10 hours, Coke halted the infantry on the banks of the Western Jamuna Canal instead of marching straight back to Delhi allowing the cavalry and artillery to proceed without them. They piled arms and watched as the guns and cavalry crossed the canal – a troop of elephants had been brought out to bring in the wounded adding to the sight.
All of a sudden, from the left, and with no warning, shots came flying out of the jungle, hitting some men lying on the ground. The regiment quickly fell in and moved in the direction from which the shots were coming.
Terrified by the sound of the firing, the elephants panicked and dashed off across the canal. With loud trumpeting, and their trunks held up well over their heads, they plunged into the water, their mahouts vainly trying to stop them. The elephants refused to pay any heed at all, their flight ending when they were safely back in their own camp.
In the mean time, the shots were “thick and fast,” while the regiment advanced in line until they came to an open space and could see the enemy, which to their horror, outnumber them four to one. An all out attack would have been suicidal and prudently, Major Coke “deemed it prudent to retire.” Retreating firing, the regiment retraced its steps back to the canal, and, crossing the bridge, lined the bank on each side. A young officer, named Griffiths, left the following account:
“The enemy followed, their men forming opposite us and keeping up a steady fire at a distance of from 100 to 150 yards. I was on the right of the line with the Grenadiers, when, half an hour later, I was directed by the Adjutant to march my men to the left of the bridge to reinforce the Light Company, who were being hard pressed by the insurgents, some of whom were wading through the canal, with the evident intention of turning our left flank. We crept along the bank and were received with joy by our comrades, one of them, I well remember, welcoming us in most forcible language, and intimating that they would soon have been sent to – – – if we had not come.
The file-firing here was continuous, a perfect hail of bullets, and it was dangerous to show one’s head over the bank. Shouting and taunting us, the rebels came up close to the opposite side, and were struck down in numbers by our me, who rested their muskets on the bank and took sure aim. Still, the contest was most unequal; the enemy wading in force through the water on our left and the day would have gone hard for us from their overwhelming numerical superiority…”
Suddenly, from the rear, the men heard the sound of galloping horses and the noise of wheels – Major Tombs and six-horse artillery guns “came thundering along the road…They passed with a cheer, crossed the bridge at full speed, wheeled to their left, unlimbered as quick as lightning and opened fire on the rebels.” Taken completely by surprise, the rebels fled in disorder back to Delhi, leaving their dead and wounded behind.
The engagement cost the life of one of Coke’s dearest friends from the Frontier, a man who had followed him purely from personal attachment from his wild home on the Kohat border “Chief Mir Mubarak Shah. He was a grand specimen of a frontier Khan, and on hearing that the 1st Punjab Infantry was ordered to Delhi expressed his determination to accompany it. He got together a troop of eighty of his followers, and leaving Kohat on the 1st of June, overtook Coke at Kurnal on the 27th, a distance of nearly 600 miles..” A ride which was barely outmatched by the Guides.
Shortly before sunset, the force completed the four-mile march back to the Ridge – many men died on the way from heat apoplexy and sunstroke, while the wounded and the dead were piled onto the backs of a fresh batch of elephants. Waiting to greet them was General Sir Henry Barnard with kind words of encouragement – it was almost the last thing the poor man would do; within hours he was lying on his death bed caught in the agonising throes of cholera. He would be dead before noon the next day.
Command was now left to General Reed, the old, nearly senile general sent down from the Punjab. He had scarcely stirred from his bed from the day he arrived on the Ridge and although senior to Barnard, had left everything up to him. With Barnard gone, Reed left his duties to Archdale Wilson. He would officially retire from the Ridge on the 17th of July, leaving Wilson commander in chief of the Delhi Field Force, superseding three senior officers. In absolute disgust at being passed over for the position, Brigadier Graves, who had been Brigadier at Delhi before the mutiny, left the Ridge, the other two, Congreve took over as Acting-Adjutant-General and Longfield filled in the place of Brigadier.
Raja Swarup Singh of Jind
It is a misconception to the think the British fought on the Ridge alone. From the very beginning of the mutiny in May, standing by their side was Raja Swarup Singh of Jind.
It was not the first time the Jind State had shown its support for the EICo – during the First Anglo-Sikh War (1845-46), Raja Swarup Singh had provided them with men, supplies and carriage, for which he had been rewarded with territory. Although his help was not taken up for the second act of that war, the mutiny gave him every opportunity to show where his allegiance lay.
Receiving word of the outbreak in Meerut and Delhi, the raja mustered his men and marched at the head of his troops on the 12th of May from his capital Sangrur to Thansesar – halting at Ghadban, he ordered his commander, Kahan Singh to join him with every man and gun he could procure. Thus ready, he then sent his greetings to the Commissioner of Ambala and placed himself at his command. His first orders were to march to Karnal, protect and station and keep the road open. He further collected supplies for the army advancing from Ambala with the ample help of the Tehsildar of Safidon, who assisted in collecting carriages and stores to Karnal for use of the force. Then, by forced marches, Raja Swarup Singh reached Thanesar on the 15th of May.
He left Thanesar on the 18th of May and reached Karnal the same day, a distance of some 35 miles. Here he met with Captains Hodson, McAndrew and Lake who gave him orders to protect the city and cantonment – no easy feat, considering there was no one in the surrounding area who he could trust – but Karnal was saved from plunder and destruction, not by the British but the Raja of Jind.
It was with an escort of the Jind Raja’s men that Hodson made his daredevil ride from Karnal to Meerut and back while the Raja himself undertook to secure the Jamuna crossing at Bhagpat and then marched with Captain McAndrew to Panipat, engaging with the rebels and relieving them of a copious quantity of arms and ammunition.
It was with his help that the Delhi Field Force could move at all. All along the road from Karnal to Delhi, his men repeatedly cleared the way, fighting the rebels at Panipat, Samalkha and Rai. It was with the help of the Jind Raja that the Karnal road remained in British hands throughout the mutiny, his men continuing to provide support to the various convoys heading towards Delhi and in reverse, escorting the sick and wounded on their way to Karnal.
Raja Swarup Singh joined the British camp on the 7th of June at Alipur. Although he did not participate in the battle of Badli-ki-Serai, his cousin, Resaldar Punjab Singh under the command of Captain Becher and Hodson, would display outstanding bravery. Together with the British, Raja Swarup Singh pitched his tents before Delhi on the 8th of June, sending his men to settle the remaining rebels who were still in Badli-ki-Serai.
During his stay on the Ridge, the Raja of Jind was rarely off his horse or out of his armour, consisting of helmet and chainmail, and appeared to care little for his own comfort. Like a true warrior, he led his men from the front and fought with them, taking on the rebels, side by side with the British, where ever and whenever called to duty. He fed, paid for and clothed his force from his own coffers and provided horses for Captain Hodson’s use for that gallant troop, Hodson’s Horse.
Until the 18th of June Raja Swarup Singh remained on the Ridge – then hearing of disturbances in his own territory, he rushed back to Jind to punish the rebels. Problem solved but deeming it prudent to remain in his territory, for the time being, he then continued enlisting recruits for the British cause. He would send his men out suppress the Hansi and Hissar rebellion, while 360 of them would accompany Hodson to Rohtak, an event we shall look at more closely. He rejoined the British on the Ridge on the 9th of September, just in time for the final assault on the city.
The undaunting courage shown by Raja Swarup Singh and his men who kept their ranks and never waivered in loyalty to their leader, are not mentioned in the returns or given their fitting place in the annals of the mutiny of 1857 – so as we read these accounts it is worth to remember that behind every battle on the Ridge, fought the men of Jind.
Reinforcing the Ridge
The arrival of Richard Baird Smith on the 3rd of July finally put the engineers in brisk working order. Although they had been managing all along to build batteries, reinforce posts and generally see that the camp Ridge had a line of communication, a servicable road and the basics of what a defensive position needed, it took the energy of Baird Smith to put it all in order. He was quick to understand the danger the British were really in – an official return supplied to Smith on the 4th of July showed that the entire ordnance supplies were dangerously low – for some guns they were entirely reliant on what the camp followers could pick up while the whole supply of powder for the seventeen siege pieces was no more than 11’600 pounds, scarcely enough for a full day of active firing (reckoning if all guns were in constant use) and only 12,900 pounds of powder for the muskets was available. With an all-out attack out of the question, Baird Smith recommended “systematic provision for reducing the waste of life on the Ridge…and though the means were both small in men and material..they should be used and multiplied if the positions were to be maintained for even a day…” So he undertook the vast undertaking of equipping the Ridge not as a siege fort but as a refuge for the besieged – a change of tactic that saved countless lives by making the existing positions easier to defend.
Ample cover was provided for the troops while jungle, brushwood and trees were cleared to reduce the cover for the enemy.
One of the problems facing the Ridge was its close proximity to the river. Although it did ensure that they had an abundant supply of water and were not wholly reliant on wells, it was nearly impossible to guard each bridge which crossed it – cutting a bridge of boats was one thing, but the canal running nearly parallel with the Ridge was crossed at different points by stone bridges and these required sentries the British could ill-afford.
The engineers undertook the task of destroying all the bridges by which the enemy could cross the Western Jamuna Canal or the Nujuggghur Jheel Drainage Cut – although some were battered down with artillery, others, whose superstructure consisted of wood on masonry abutments and piers were demolished using small charges to destroy the stonework, while the remaining wooden beams would be carted away and put to use on the Ridge.
From the 10th to the 14th of July active work was started to strengthen the right flank of the position or what was commonly known as The General’s Mound, so named after Barnard’s penchant for standing here to observe the battles – it was not much more than a disused brick kiln, its crest “roughly formed into a battery for three heavy guns.” Settled as it was quite far into the Ridge, it was with some surprise when on the 9th of July, the rebels broke through it.
The 9th of July
Shortly before sunrise on the 9th of July, the camp was startled to attention by a terrific cannonade to the front and right of the Ridge. The piquet below the General’s Mound was held that day by two guns of Tomb’s troop, under the command of Second Lieutenant James Hills and thirty men of the Carabineers under Lieutenant Stillman. Further along, to the right of the piquet, a party of the 9th Irregular Cavalry had been set to keep an eye on the Trunk Road. Although apprehensions about native troops were running high on the Ridge, the 9th had escaped suspicion. After all as Christie’s Horse, they had done sterling duty in Afghanistan where the Chamberlain brothers, Neville and Crawford had served them as subalterns and the regiment had an excellent reputation for bravery and loyalty. There was no reason to doubt them – if the enemy was seen advancing on the Trunk Road, the men of the 9th would send word to the mound piquet.
Stillman and Hills were at breakfast when an officer of the 9th rode up and reported a body of the enemy’s cavalry was in sight. Hills ordered the man to ride with haste to the headquarters to report and on his way, warn Tombs. He and Stillman then made ready their men neither officer realising the report they had received had been purposely delayed – so far so, there was no time to turn out the troops. Hills moved his guns to command the Trunk Road while Stillman proceeded to the top of the Mound to get a better view of the advancing enemy, thus leaving the Carabineers on their own to receive the first wave of rebel cavalry which was suddenly upon them. Young, unseasoned in battle and some of them barely trained, the Carabineers turned and broke leaving their officers behind.
Hills only managed to get one gun unlimbered before the enemy was on him and his battery. Shouting, “Action, front!” in the hope of giving his men time to load and fire a round of grape, Hills single-handedly, on his horse, charged the oncoming cavalry. Cutting down the first man and slashing at the second as hard as he could, two sowars now charged him. With their horses crashing into his at full pace, Hills and his horse were sent flying, Hills propelled at such speed he managed to evade the cuts the sowars made at him, with only one slitting open his jacket just below the left arm, leaving the jacket in tatters but Hills unhurt.
He waited, laying the ground until the enemy had passed over him before he got up to look for his sword. He found it ten yards away and scarcely after picking it up, the rebels returned, 2 on horseback.
The first, Hills shot and wounded with his pistol dropping him from his horse while the other charged at Hills with his lance which Hills thrust aside catching the man with a severe cut across the head and face. He managed to hold onto his horse and ride off.
The first man, dismounted and wounded, now rushed at Hills, but Hills slashed his head clean open. Without a moment to catch his breath, a third man was now on him, Hills cutting him across the shoulder but his blow was turned by the man’s armour. He grabbed Hill’s sword by the hilt and twisted it out of the officer’s hand leaving them to settle the score in a fist fight, Hills punching him in the head while the man tried to cut him, but Hills was too close for the sword to be of any use. Hills tried to shoot him but his pistol snapped twice and infuriated by the weapon’s lack of cooperation Hills drove the handle into the man’s face. Hills however did not have much fight left and as he fell to the ground, half choked by the cloak he was wearing against the rain, wounded and close to exhaustion, Harry Tombs burst on the scene and shot Hills’ assailant. Helped to his feet by Tombs, Hills freed himself from the wretched cloak and ran after Tombs, back to the Mound only going back for a moment to look at the unlimbered gun they were forced to leave behind.
As he and Tombs discussed what to do with the gun, Hills noticed the very man Tombs had shot shambling off, Hills’ pistol in hand. The heat of battle on them, the two men set off after him.
“After a little slashing and guarding on both sides, I rushed at him and thrust; he cleverly jumped aside and cut me on the head; knocking me down, not, however, stunning me, for I warded his next cut down. Tombs, following him up, made him pass, and up I jumped and had him turn around and then Tombs ran him through. He very nearly knocked over Tombs, for he cut through his cap and puggrie…
Notwithstanding Hills’ gallant attempt to stop the sowars, the men had not had enough time to fire off a single round before the cavalry overran their battery leaving the artillery to retreat. All the while the 9th Irregulars sat passively on their horses as the cavalry galloped past the piquet, to the tents of Renny’s Indian artillerymen, calling on them to bring away the guns and join them in Delhi. The native artillerymen not only refused but called on Major Olpherts European troops, with the gun unlimbered nearby, to fire at the mutineers.
Realising the Indian artillery would not join them and with the rest of the Ridge coming to life around them the cavalry began an untidy retreat. The guns on the Mound were turned on them, while Renny, standing by his artillerymen, shot a few of the rebels with his revolver. The 1st Fusiliers were now formed up and were taking steady aim at the rebels, while Captain Fagan of the Foot artillery rushed out of his tent, grabbed his horse and, mustering the Carabineers, managed to kill several. In the midst of this, the camp followers were fly in all directions, screaming the Diliwallahs were out to kill them, while servants ran to the officer’s tents with their arms and horses while bullets hissed about ” from foes and bewildered friends.”. From the right rear side of the Ridge, where until now they were unaware what was happened, the assembly sounded and they too made ready to march on the rebels.
In the meantime, finding the Ridge really was getting too hot for them, some of the rebel sowars abandoned their horses and escaped across the canal, while the others turned back the way they came. Thirty dashed along the road by the back of the graveyard and crossed the bridge, killing a European and a some campfollowers on their way, and then rode off across the plain. On their flight they passed Hodson with a body of cavalry on the Alipore road, telling him, when he confronted them, they belonged to the 9th Irregulars. Unaware what had happened, he let them pass.
The day was far from over.
Under cover of the relentless cannonade from the city batteries to the right of the Ridge, the rebels, in great force streamed out of the city gates, making for the Kishenganj suburb, their intent it seemed was to turn the right flank of the British and make straight for the Ridge.
The alarm sounded and detachments of most of the regiments with Horse Artillery and a few cavalry under Neville Chamberlain marched to the rear of the camp making for the Kishenganj road. Crossing the canal, they met the enemy formed mostly of infantry with cavalry and field artillery on each flank on a patch of open ground.
The officers ordered their men to form a line and sent out skirmishers as the guns opened fire, driving the rebels back, who retreated in perfect order, turning at intervals to discharge their muskets while their field guns faced about, unlimbered and sent round shot and grape into the British ranks. Soon however the pursuit was broken as the ground gave way to impenetrable hedges of prickly pear and cactus, forcing the British to reroute while the rebels lined the hedges and fired at them through loopholes and openings. The pursuit continued towards Kishenganj where the rebels had the advantage of ample cover provided by the ruined buildings, the dense vegetation and the stone walls and could lay a devastating fire on the advancing troops.
The Horse Artillery could not act, the ground was too broken bringing the guns to a standstill, while from the Ridge, the batteries sent shot and shell at will over the heads of their own men and into bodies of the mutineers who had, inadvisably grouped together. It was not long, under the sustained fire from the Ridge, the mutineers turned and fled.
Reaching the suburb, the Britsh officers again formed their men into a line with skirmishers in advance and drove the rebels before them, while the Horse Artillery, taking advantage of the open ground, plyed into them with shell. Crossing a canal by a bridge, the troops now entered a wide lane, the one side of which was the bank of the canal and on the other the outer walls of a large caravanserai.
“The insurgents were posted at the far end of the lane…and received us as we advanced at the double, with a rattling fire of musketry. Some climbed to the top of the bank, while others fired down at us from the walls. It was a perfect feu d’enfer, and the loss on our side was so heavy that a temporary check was the result, and it was only with great trouble that the men could be urged on.
Seeing the disposition to waiver, Colonel W. Jones, the Brigadier under Chamberlain, with great bravery, placed himself in front on foot and called on the soldiers, now a confused mass of Sikhs, Goorkhas and Europeans, to charge and dislodge the enemy from the end of the lane. He was answered with a ringing cheer, the men broke into a run, and with firing a shot, charged the sepoys, who waiting until we were within fifty yards and then turned and fled.”
By evening, the British had forced their way to within 700 yards of the city walls when the rebel infantry seemingly having had enough of fighting for one day, retreated into Delhi and let the batteries on the walls rain down shot and shell. At this point, seeing pursuit was useless and staying was pointless, the British force returned to the Ridge. In all they lost 223 men, killed and wounded. The very next day, on the 10th of July, Richard Baird Smith ordered the destruction of the last bridges over the canal and started the reinforcement of the Ridge.
Baird Smith’s plans did not come a moment too soon. Strong parapets were built and deep ditches dug while thick “abattis trees and brushwood were carried over all the open spaces, provision was made for placing field guns in the battery behind the bank on the right of the mound. Part of the ground in front of Sammy House being wholly unflanked…it was determined a small battery for two field guns should be constructed to the right of Perkin’s mortar battery, a position commanding the ground in question..the battery was built of sandbags for sake of expedition (and) covered with a screen of gabions..” The work was not completed a moment too soon – at sunrise on the 14th of July as the pioneers were completing the final screens, the insurgents launched an attack on Sammy House.
The work however proved to be a success. While the troops remained quietly behind the parapets, the artillery made short work of the insurgents, opening fire from all the batteries on the right of the position. It was finally decided that although the artillery had made some mark on the insurgents, they had not succeeded in driving them off. Stronger measures would be needed to drive the insurgents back from Hindu Rao’s House and away from the Sabzi Mandi piquet.
The 14th of July
A column of 800 Infantry, six Horse Artillery guns accompanied by the Guides Cavalry and the newly raised corps known as Hodson’s Horse were formed up under Brigadier General Showers, with Frederick Roberts as staff officer; while Brigadier-General Chamberlain joining. Major Charles Ried formed as many men as he could spare at the foot of the Ridge. Under heavy fire, they moved advanced until they reached the wall of an enclosure within Sabzi Mandi, which was lined with the enemy. Seeing the men hesitate, Chamberlain rushed forward and putting spurs to his horse, called on them to follow him and then jumped his horse over the wall. The men followed and Chamberlain was shot in the shoulder.
Only with great difficulty they managed to drive the insurgents back, fighting was close and the walled gardens provided the enemy with excellent cover, but undaunted, position after position fell until the British found themselves, precariously, in sight of the Lahore Gate and in their zeal, just yards away from the city walls.
Musketry from the walls and grape from the heavy guns mounted on the Mori and other bastions committed terrible havoc. Men were falling on all sides..” Getting back to the Ridge was iimperativebut not without being “hazardous to the last degree.” As long as the British advanced, the insurgents would not come out and meet them – however as soon as they retreated they would come out again in numbers. As soon as the British turned, the enemy rebels again poured out of the gates and pursued the force aack to the Ridge, until they were forced to beat a hasty retreat by the steady fire from the piquets. Most of those killed and wounded met their fate on the retreat which cost the British in all 15 killed, 16 officers and 177 men wounded and 2 missing.
The missing men were last seen by Lieutenant Frederick Roberts.
“When the retirement commenced I was with the two advanced guns in action on the Grand Trunk Road. The subaltern in charge was severely wounded, and almost at the same moment one of his sergeants, a smart, handsome fellow, fell, and was shot through the leg. Seeing some men carrying him into a hut at the side of the road, I shouted: ‘Don’t put him there; he will be left behind; get a doolie for him, or put him on the limber.’ But what with the incessant fire from the enemy’s guns, the bursting of shells, the crashing of shot through the branches of the trees, and all the din and hubbub of battle, I could not have been heard, for the poor fellow with another wounded man was left in the hut, and both were murdered by the mutineers.”
The Ridge under Archdale Wilson; the 18th and 23rd of July
Considered the best of the senior officers present on the Ridge, though the men who had lived through Meerut for the most part, disagreed, Wilson decided to do what he knew best – preserve life and hold out until reinforcements came.
However, not everything he did was met with scorn. He organised the various duties with order and efficiency – a system of reliefs; only those who were on duty or wanted for support were to turn out in case of an alarm. They were to sleep in the accoutrements, to be ready at a moment’s notice. With this came more attention to order – in consequence, to prevent sentries from sleeping at their posts, officers were ordered to visit their posts more regularly. Wilson also insisted men, as far as possible, turn out in the uniforms – fighting in their shirt sleeves was bad for discipline. As such, morale improved in the camp, better rested and fed, and soldiers were less inclined to blow their brains out in desperation.
He also turned his attention to the sanitary arrangements as cholera and dysentery continued to wreak havoc in the ranks. He took full advantage of the recently arrived reinforcements to strengthen the position and as far as possible tried to put a stop to the reckless practice of driving the enemy right up to the city walls which had cost the force so many lives. Instead, Wilson “contented himself with preventing the rebels from remaining near the advanced posts” something he put into practice the day after General Reed left the Ridge.
On the 18th of July, the insurgents once again concentrated their attack on the Ridge batteries and Sabzi Mandi piquets – so sharp was the firing that Wilson, in the afternoon, saw it was necessary to send out a column to beat them back. Four Horse Artillery guns, 750 Infantry and the Guides Cavalry, all under Lieutenant-Colonel Jones of the 60th Rifles, quickly cleared the Sabzi Mandi. Then, instead of giving chase, he took up a good position and simply waited to see what the mutineers would do next. Disconcerted by this change in tactics, most of the mutineers melted back into the city while those who stayed to fight ensured they remained well away from Jones and his guns. This was the last time the mutineers ventured this far into Sabzi Mandi, for by this time, the engineers had also done their part andcleared the area of many of the old serais and walled gardens leaving the grounds around the picquets open with no place for the rebels to hide.
Of course, nothing the British did on the Ridge was secret for long and most of it was in plain sight. Realising the Ridge was not substantially reinforced to the right, the rebels decided to take their chances and attack the left instead.
On the 23rd of July they sallied out in force out of the Kashmir Gate and in one advance took up their position at Ludlow Castle and the immediate neighbourhood, opening a relentless barrage of shelling on Metcalfe House, the stable piquet and the mosque piquet on the Ridge. There was nothing for it, the force on the Ridge would have to meet the insurgents in the field.
Forming a column under Brigadier Showers and consisting of HM’s 8th and 81st, Coke’s Rifles, the 4th Sikhs and Horse Artillery, “the advance was made in splendid style in one grand skirmishing line, with the guns in the centre; they swept all before them..” The rebels, undaunted worked their guns so effectively that the loss from grapeshot was inordinately heavy and they managed to carry their guns off safely. Unfortunately, the men, intent now on capturing the guns, once again laid chase to the rebels and ended up once again, under the city walls. The result was the deplorable loss of fifty officers and men killed and wounded. However, it proved to the rebels that setting up a piquet at Ludlow Castle was better not attempted again and as for the ridge force, they gained another post.
The engineers, under Baird Smith, continued reinforcing their positions – by now they had built a nearly unbroken line of breastwork which ran up from the Flagstaff Tower on the left to the most exposed batteries on the right. It was built of stones – abundant on the Ridge – and these, piled up breast high and the intervals filled in with sandbags and fascines, provided a covered way through which men could pass in relative safety. It was a boon to the poor servants who until now had had to run the gauntlet, as they chased after their officers around the Ridge trying to bring them their dinner, supplies and accoutrements. Not everyone was impressed.
One rifleman complained to his officer Sir E Campbell of the Rifles, that “he didn’t like the new breastworks, as men now only got hit in the head!”
All around Delhi there still seemed to be no end to the mutiny. Day after day, recently mutinied regiments marched into the city, in parade order, their bands playing, to the great irritation of the Delhi Field Force, that well-known tune, “Cheer Boys, Cheer” with banners flying. The Delhi Field Force still had to settle with whatever regiment could be spared.
However any lull in the fighting was greeted with as much merry-making as the field force could muster, the engineers amusing themselves with fishing in the canal, while some officers got together for a horse race. Still, others preferred to try their luck at a little game of tennis on the ruined court of Metcalfe House, the insurgents adding to their enjoyment by occasionally shooting at the players.
While some men continued to grumble at Wilson’s lack of enthusiastic leadership it was becoming increasingly clear, that no matter what John Lawrence or indeed anyone in Calcutta thought, the siege of Delhi would not be won in weeks. They had reached an uncomfortable stalemate with neither side able to gain anything more than counting the dead.
The final attack on the month came on the 31st. The insurgents may not have been able to run the British force of the Ridge but it was not for lack of trying. On the 31st of July, they decided to build a temporary bridge over the river, covering a patch of swampy ground to the rear of the Ridge. A moveable column was quickly assembled to secure the convoy while a column under Coke was sent to intercept the enemy should they succeed in getting across. Coke was joined at Alipore by the Kumaon battalion (composed of Gurkhas and hillmen, some 500 in number) who had just arrived from the Punjab with a large store of ammunition. However there turned out to be no enemy to engage – the bridge the insurgents had tried to build was swept away by a torrent of water brought on by the incessant rain and as they retired back to the city, all they managed was an attack on the right of the Ridge, keeping up a roar of musketry and artillery which lasted the whole night.
It was now August and over the vast plains of the Punjab, John Nicholson was on the march and he had one goal in mind, to capture Delhi.
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