The Victory which put the seal on Britain's Supremacy in India
The torch of mutiny had been lit at Meerut on May 10th, 1857; the mutineers rushed hither and thither slaying whom they would. The conflagration spread all over the land with a rapidity that told its own story. The 3rd Cavalry rebels carried the torch to Delhi. On the morning of the 11th they were seen coming, and Commissioner Simon Fraser ordered the gates to be closed. Too late; the mutineers rushed across the bridge over the Jumna, and dashed into the palace courtyard, the royal guards immediately joining forces with them. Captain Douglas, commander of the guard, who was in attendance on the King of Delhi, immediately went to the Calcutta Gate to quell the disturbance. He went in vain, and on being joined by Fraser and Collector Hutchinson, found himself surrounded by a surging, threatening mob of infuriated mutineers.
There was nothing for it but to fly. Douglas threw himself into the moat, but was severely hurt by the fall, and Hutchinson was wounded by the mutineers. While they were trying to get away to the palace, Fraser, who was in his buggy, had a final shot at quietening the mob. The rebels refused to listen, and rushed at him with their swords. Fraser shot the foremost man, and then, flashing round, he whipped up his horse, and went to the palace, where he met Douglas and Hutchinson, who were being helped inside. Once more Fraser attempted conciliation, but the rebels, growing madder every moment, thrust him out of their way—and out of life, too.
No one barred their way, and they rushed pell-mell up the stairs into the upper rooms of the palace. Douglas and Hutchinson had been taken thither, and were being attended to by Mr. Jennings, the Chaplain, his daughter, and another young lady. Crash! the door burst open, and after venting part of their spite on the "white devils" by heaping indignities upon them, they hewed them to pieces.
The work had begun; the eyes of the mutineers saw red, and very soon the city was a shambles; men were shot down or hacked to pieces, women were mutilated, children were stuck on the ends of bayonets and tossed into the air. Away in his office the English telegraph operator heard the tumult, discovered its meaning, and at once set the wires working. "The sepoys have come in from Meerut," he wired to the military stations in the Punjab, "and are burning everything. Mr. Todd is dead, and, we hear, several Europeans. We must shut up."
It was his last message, and even as he sent it the mutineers, flushed with victory, dashed into the office, and cut down the brave clerk.
Meanwhile there was gallant work being done at the magazine, in which were stored thousands of arms, rounds of ammunition, three hundred pieces of cannon—all much coveted by the mutineers. Outside the city there was another magazine, in the cantonments, occupied by the 38th, 54th, and 74th Bengal Native Infantry.
As soon as the rebels entered the city Lieutenant Willoughby rushed off to the great magazine, and with eight fellow-countrymen (he could not rely upon his native troops) prepared to hold the rebels at bay. The outer gates were barricaded. He posted six-pounders, double charged with grape, and waited for the onrush of the mutineers. Some of the native soldiers were entrusted with arms which they accepted reluctantly, and a train was laid to the magazine, which it was decided to blow up rather than allow it to fall into the hands of the sepoys.
Very soon the mutineers appeared on the scene. The sight of the guns made them pause in their rush, but at last the King of Delhi sent to demand the surrender of the arsenal. Not a word was said in reply; the brave Britishers had nothing to say to such a request. Finding that words had no effect the sepoys tried what deeds would do, and in a few minutes they were hurling themselves headlong at the magazine, carrying scaling-ladders which they planted against the walls. With a roar the double-charged guns were fired, mowing down the men who so rashly braved them. Man after man fell, dropping their ladders, but the latter were quickly seized by fresh carriers, and thus the walls were reached. Immediately the ladders were in position the native contingent inside deserted and clambered down to their friends on the outside. Those on the walls opened a terrific close-ranged fire upon the devoted Englishmen; two of these fell, but Buckley and Forrest worked the guns like demons, until they were wounded. Seeing that there was no chance against the swarming hordes, Willoughby gave the signal at half-past three. Buckley passed on the order to Scully, who stood with the lighted match, and with a siss! siss! the train was fired, and moment later, with a roar that shook Delhi to its foundations, the magazine exploded. Many women and children, who had taken shelter in the magazine were killed, but so too were some hundreds of the mutineers. But the brave Scully had also fallen a victim to his own courage, and his mangled body was flung heavenward with the debris of the arsenal. Four of the brave defenders escaped, and reached Meerut, but Willoughby, less fortunate, was caught on the way and murdered.
The native regiments in the cantonments were quickly got on the move by their commander, but arriving at Delhi, they too revolted, and joined with the 3rd Cavalry in shooting down their officers.
So did the day of blood pass on, so also did other days, until by May 16th the mutineers had swept out all the Europeans. But few managed to escape, and those who did had a terrible journey before them through the jungle, where many of them were waylaid and murdered.
With the incidents that daily took place during the next few weeks we have not space to deal, but at last, on May 27th, the army of retribution set out from Umballah. Consisting of 3,000 Europeans, 1,000 natives, and twenty-two guns, under the command of General Sir Henry Barnard, the army marched by night and rested by day to escape the broiling sun, and on June 7th reached Alipur.
Meanwhile a column had left Meerut to reinforce Barnard. Brigadier Archdale Wilson led the little army consisting of 60th Rifles, 6th Dragoons, fifty 4th Irregulars, a couple of companies of native sappers, and a battery of six guns. On May 30th they encamped near Ghazi-ud-deen, a fortified village some miles from Delhi. Scarcely had they taken up position than the mutineers opened fire with some heavy guns which they had placed on a ridge, barring the way to the city. In a moment the men were up and two-eighteen pounders belched forth their reply, while at the same time a battery took the rebels in the flank, and the 60th Rifles charged at the bayonet point. Gradually the fire of the sepoys flagged, then ceased altogether, and the 6oth managed to capture several of the guns. The mutineers turned and fled, hotly pursued by the 6th Dragoons, who sent them off in great disorder, leaving their ordnance, ammunition, and stores in the hands of the victors.
But the little battle was not over, for next day the rebels returned to the scene, and determined to give a better account of themselves. The English were ready for them, and after a severe fight the sepoys were once more driven off, this time into Delhi, leaving a large number of their comrades on the field of battle. The English, too, lost fifty men and several officers.
Next day a battalion of Gurkhas reinforced the Meerut column, which soon after crossed the Jumna, and joined forces with Barnard at Alipur, having had to fight their way through the enemy, and having fought victoriously.
Barnard had forced the pace and left Alipur on June 8th, advancing in three columns and in order of battle. He found the rebels strongly entrenched at Badli-Ki-Serai, which lay between him and the rocky ridge running northward and westward of the city, on which he intended to take up his position. Finding that his light artillery was useless to silence the enemy's battery, the 60th Rifles and the 75th (Stirlingshire) Regiment were called up, and with bayonets fixed, charged down upon the rebels, fought them hand to hand round their guns and slowly but surely drove them back. The rout was complete when a couple more brigades and a battery appeared on the scene, and, leaving their guns, the rebels took to their heels and fled into Delhi, followed hard by the British troops, who quickly surmounted the Ridge and forced its defenders into the city.
Barnard was now in a strong position, but he was confronted by a herculean task. Before him lay Delhi, strongly walled and defended by nearly one hundred and eighty guns. The walls were seven miles in circumference, and were built of huge blocks of grey free-stone, "crowned by a good loopholed parapet. At intervals along the circumference they were provided with bastions, each armed with ten, twelve, or fourteen guns. . . . The city had ten gates, strong, and aptly named after the cities or provinces towards which they opened, Cashmere, Cabul, Lahore, etc. The walls were about twenty-four feet deep, while in front ran a dry ditch, twenty-five feet wide and about twenty deep."
Against this city which was a fortress, Barnard had a force of a few thousand men, and realising that it was impossible to invest the place all round, he chose to confront the northern extremity, the Ridge affording an admirable position for the heavy siege artillery which was following him. The Ridge ran for about two miles and was sixty feet above the city level, the nearest point being about a thousand yards from the Cabul gate.
Strong as his position was, Barnard knew that he could do but little in the way of assaulting the city until his siege train arrived, and as a matter of fact the days of waiting were spent in repelling attacks by the rebels, who realised that the fall of Delhi and the probable consequent capture of its king would be a crushing blow to the mutiny.
They lost little time in opening their attacks, for the day after Barnard had taken up his position on the Ridge they issued forth from the city. Opposed to them were a corps of Guides who had but just arrived from the Punjab, having by forced marches covered five hundred and eighty miles in twenty-two days. March-worn and weary, they were nevertheless ready for the fray, and the sepoys found them a ticklish foe to tamper with. The Guides were camped at Hindo Rao's house on the right of the Ridge, near Cabul gate, and it was here that the rebels made their first attack. In swarming hordes they clambered up the slopes of the Ridge, but the Guides met them. As fast as a black face showed itself, a shot found a billet in it, and man after man was tumbled down. Then, with a rousing cheer, the Guides issued forth to take the offensive. Down among the rebels they charged, scattered them, charged again, and sent them flying into Delhi. Not content with having driven back the foe, the Guides pursued them almost to the very walls. A galling fire met them, made great gaps in their ranks, and compelled them to retire. But they had shown the enemy of what stuff the men who were come out against them were made.
Of the many heroic incidents of which the siege of Delhi was full, we can only stay to tell of one or two. Almost every day the rebels sallied out against the besiegers, and it was during one of these that Lieutenant Hills of the Artillery distinguished himself.
"He was on picket," wrote an officer who was present "with his two horse-artillery guns, when the alarm was sounded, and an order sent him to advance, given under the impression that the enemy were at some distance. He was supported by a body of Carabineers—eighty I believe, in number. He advanced about one hundred yards, while his guns were being limbered up to follow, and suddenly came on about one hundred and twenty of the enemy's cavalry close upon them. Disgraceful to say, the Carabineers turned and bolted. His guns being limbered up, he could do nothing, but, rather than fly, he charged them by himself. He fired four barrels of his revolver, and killed two men, hurling the empty pistol in the face of another, and knocking him off his horse. Two horsemen then charged full tilt at him, and rolled him and his horse over. He got up with no weapons, and, seeing a man on foot coming at him to cut him down, rushed at him, got inside his sword, and hit him full in the face with his fist. At that moment he was cut down from behind, and a second blow would have done for him had not Tombs, his captain, the finest fellow in the service, who had been in his tent when the row began, arrived at the critical moment, and shot his assailant—by a splendid shot, fired at thirty paces. Hills was able to walk home, though his wound was severe; and on the road Tombs saved his life once more by sticking another who attacked him. If they don't both get the Victoria Cross, it won't be worth having!"
They got it.
One more account by an officer.
"I was out in one of our principal batteries with a party of my Guides, placed there to protect the guns; and I shall never forget the scene at two o'clock in the morning. The sight was a most magnificent one—all our batteries and all the city ones were playing as hard as they could, the shells bursting, round shot tearing with a whooshing sound through our embrasures, the carcasses (or large balls of fire) flying over our heads, the musketry rolling and flashing, made the place as light as day. The noise was terrific, though the roar of the cannon was frequently drowned in the roar of human voices, for when the whole city turned out, there could not have been less than twenty thousand voices all screaming at once. The mutineers' yell of "Allah! Allah! Allah Akbar! Allah Akbar!" was answered by our jolly English hurrahs, and the din was most frightful. I never remember seeing such a beautiful sight or hearing such a noise. The mutineers, though they tried very hard to take our batteries, could not succeed, though some of them got up near enough to throw hand-grenades into them. The grand attack lasted about two hours, when the enemy gave in a little, though they did not retire. The fighting went on all the rest of the night, and up to two o'clock next day, when both sides retired."
On June 23rd, the anniversary of the day when Clive won his glorious victory at Plassey, and the day on which the soothsayers had said that English rule in India was to end, the rebels sallied forth in great strength to bring about the fulfilment of the prophecy. Maddened with bhang and opium, urged on by their priests and astrologers, they surged out of the city against the British outposts, who met them with cool courage and a raking fire that sent the mutineers back post haste into Delhi.
One more episode, and we must away to the assault that was to carry Delhi and bring the siege to a successful close.
Sir Henry Barnard died in July, and on the 11th Brigadier Archdale Wilson took over the command. By some means or another the rebels had received information that the siege train was coming, and the that it was under a feeble escort. Five thousand of them, with eight guns, accordingly issued forth to stay its progress farther than Nujufgurh, twelve miles out of Delhi.
But there was a man named Nicholson, a gallant Irish officer, whose name was to live in the annals of British India. He had done good work in the Punjab, which he left to go to Delhi in command of the movable column. Delhi was reached on August 14th, and on the 24th Nicholson led his men, consisting of two thousand Europeans and a thousand natives, out towards Nujufgurh. Through pouring rain and water-soaked roads and paddy fields, the column moved on at the rate of ten miles in seven hours, and then had to call a halt. Three officers were sent to reconnoitre, and returned with the news that the enemy were encamped at Nujufgurh. "The rebels fronted the nullah, their right rested on a village where nine guns were placed, their left was on rising ground, and in the centre was the old serai, the key of the position, armed with four guns."
They were in great numbers and their position was strong, but the siege train must be saved. Nicholson determined to save it. Turning to his Europeans he said:
"Now, 61st, I have but a few words to say. You all know what Sir Colin Campbell said to you at Chilianwallah, and you must also have heard that he used a similar expression at the Alma—that is, 'Hold your fire till within twenty or thirty yards of the battery, and then, boys, we will make short work of it.'"
The men responded with gusto. The nullah was forded, and says an officer:
"Our guns went away to the flank. We got 'Fix bayonets, and trail arms; quick—march.' On we went, and we got within some fifty yards of them, when the men gave a howl, and on we dashed, and were slap into them before they had time to depress the guns. It was bayonet to bayonet in a few moments, but we cut them up and spiked the guns. . . . On we went after the brutes, and cut up a heap at the serai and behind it. We then drew up in line, rallied, and went at the camp, took it, sent a party to take the village, and then we went and took the guns at the bridge, over which the enemy was bolting in thousands. Here we took six guns more. Up came our guns and blazed away at the enemy, and off they went, leaving a host of stores, etc., all along the road."
The fight was continued next day, and it was not until about two o'clock that the victors could think about returning to camp, which they did with a good supply of stores and after having routed utterly the rebels, killing and wounding some eight hundred, and blowing up the bridge, so that the enemy could not adopt the same tactics against the siege train, which lumbered into headquarters on September 3rd, each of the one hundred and sixteen guns drawn by twenty pairs of bullocks.
The Engineers immediately began raising the batteries on the Ridge, and that night they worked like very demons, exposed to a terrific shower of grapeshot from the rebel guns. Coolly and steadily the work went on, and by the morning of the 5th, Battery No. 1 was in going order at Hindo Rao's house. It consisted of six nine-pounders and two twenty-four pounders, which belched forth their shells with such rapidity and directness that the Engineers were able, under their cover, to erect Battery No. 2, ten guns, at a distance of about five hundred yards from the Cashmere gate.
The third and fourth batteries were also quickly placed, and later two others were erected, one of them, under Major Tombs, being near the river bank, and consisting of ten mortars.
Then on September 11th the siege began in earnest; the great siege guns hurtled their shot and shell at the city, tumbling great masses of stone to the ground, smashing bastions, crumbling walls as if they had been made of cardboard and doing great execution amongst the defenders. The Moree bastion was very soon nothing but a heap of ruins, the Shah bastion near the Cabul gate was little more. Ten minutes of this tremendous firing had the effect of silencing the enemy's guns, which had been fought with great bravery. But even then the rebels did not give up. Their bastions useless, they actually ran several big guns out into the open, placing batteries at Kissengunge and on the opposite bank of the Jumna, from which they poured in a terrific fire at the batteries, at the same time sending in a hail of musket shots, which did great damage to the besiegers.
After two days of this heavy work, the Water gate and Water bastion and the Cashmere bastion were regarded as being sufficiently breached to warrant a direct assault, and at three in the morning everything was ready for the attack.
It was to be delivered at four points: against the Cashmere bastion Nicholson led the first column, a thousand men, with the 75th Foot in the van; against the Water bastion, Brigadier Jones, the second, with eight hundred and fifty, the 8th Foot leading; Colonel Campbell, the third, with nine hundred and fifty, the vanguard consisting of the 52nd Foot, went against the Cashmere gate; and Major Reid, the fourth, eight hundred and fifty, headed by the Sirmoor Ghurkas, was deputed to attack Kissengunge, and support the main attack by entering in at the Cabul gate after its capture. Brigadier Longfield was in reserve with thirteen hundred men.
Precautions had been taken to make sure that the breaches were large enough to allow of the assault, and the work of investigation was undertaken by Medley, Home, Lang, and Greathed. At ten o'clock on that moonless but starlit night the four adventurous men stole out of the camp, making their way to the breach near the Cashmere bastion. Medley and Lang dropped into the ditch without being discovered, but presently some sepoys appeared near at hand—not twenty yards away, and an anxious hour was spent by the spies waiting for the men to retire. The Britishers had found out what they came for, but dare not move away.
At last, tired of waiting, and knowing that the camp would be anxiously expecting them, the spies started to return, but had hardly moved ere they were discovered. Shots whizzed past them, but no one was hurt, and they returned to make their report, on the strength of which the attack was decided on.
It was a bold undertaking, for the attacking force consisted of only about six thousand men, and they knew that inside the city was an army of at least thirty thousand mutineers—not a mere rabble, but well-trained soldiers. But what they lacked in numbers they made up in courage and determination, and, spurred on by the words of their commander, "No quarter should given to the mutineers!" they issued forth from the positions, and each column moved towards the spot allocated to it.
At the moment the attackers started the great guns ceased their terrific fire. The Rifles led in skirmishing order, sending out a ringing cheer and a raking fire and behind them came the columns, making for the ditch. The mutineers were ready for them, and before the soldiers had gone far they were subjected to a galling fire from the walls, and many of them bit the dust. The Engineers and the men with the ladders reached the glacis, but so hot was the fire that for some time it was impossible to lower the ladders into the ditch. At last hurling the ladders over, the men clambered down after them, placed them in position on the other side, and swarmed up one after the other. Brave Nicholson reached the top first, and after him his men scrambled. They were up! With bayonets fixed they dashed into the breach, stumbling and falling over the debris which the big guns had cast down, but ever keeping on their cheering way. The rebels met them; steel clashed on steel, musket answered musket, sword crossed sword, men fell and were trampled on, but step by step the mutineers were forced back until at last they took to their heels and ran. The Cashmere bastion was won.
Meanwhile Brigadier Jones had led his men at the Water bastion. He was met by the same galling fire, the same difficulties, the same resistance, but was equally successful in driving the rebels off. And the Water bastion was won.
Losing no time, Jones led his men along the ramparts towards the Cashmere bastion, and, meeting some of Nicholson's men, they hurried off along the walls to the Moree bastion. With a rush they were on the gunners; red bayonets were worked with a vengeance, the gunners were killed or sent flying. So was the Moree bastion won.
So far we have forgotten Campbell at the Cashmere gate. But he had been busy. Under the cover of the 60th Rifles a company of miners and sappers had rushed towards the drawbridge leading to the gate, which they reached in safety. Lieutenant Home, Sergeants Smith and Carmichael, led the way, carrying bags of powder with which the gate was to be blown up. This gate was of great strength, and the wicket was guarded by a number of picked marksmen. Almost by a miracle the British reached the broken drawbridge alive, and clambered across it towards the gate. By a miracle, too, they managed to get up to the gate and deposit their bags, though shots sang past them and missed them by mere fractions of inches.
Quick as lightning they slipped off the drawbridge into the ditch, making way for the firing party, who followed hard upon their heels. Led by Lieutenant Salkeld and Corporal Burgess, they dashed across the splintered bridge. Down went Salkeld with a shot in his arm and leg just as he was in the act of firing the fuse; he immediately passed the match on to Burgess, who rushed to the powder bags, fired them, and fell mortally wounded. Sergeant Smith, fearing that the match, held in the limp hand of Burgess, had failed, rushed forward to complete the work. But the task was done, and with a terrific roar the masonry was split into a thousand pieces, and stones and bodies of rebels were hurled into the air. The gate was down, and Bugler Hawthorne sounded the advance three times, lest the noise of the explosion should drown it the first time. Then, dropping his bugle, Hawthorne calmly walked over to Salkeld and bound up his wounds under a sharp musketry fire from the walls.
At the sound of the bugle Campbell's column came on, led by the 52nd, with Captain Bayley at their head. Bayley fell, and many another, but at last the whole column rushed into the breach, and fought their way through the galling fire of the mutineers. Soon they were hand to hand, with Campbell at their head; and, reckless of danger, spurred on by their commander, the British forced their way through the teeming sepoys, cutting them down by scores. They were in the city! On, on they went, and then with a cheer the English bayonets dashed into the Chandnee Chouk (Silver Street). Here, however, they met with a stubborn resistance.
Outnumbered, they were slowly driven back the way they had come, for nearly a mile, until they were almost at the gate by which they had entered, and might, indeed, have been driven out altogether had it not been for the supports which came to their aid at the critical moment.
Meanwhile the fourth attacking column had not been so fortunate as the others. Read's objective was the Cabul gate, but in order to reach it he had to pass through the suburbs, which afforded admirable shelter to the sepoys, who poured in a fire which almost cut up the advancing party, and caused it to fall back, leaving the leader on the ground. So vast were the numbers of the sepoys and so determined were they, that it almost seemed as if they would manage to turn the English flank, but at that critical moment Hope Grant came on the scene with his cavalry brigade, and after a stiff fight the rebels were turned back.
It is time to return to Nicholson and Jones, who had raced through the city and taken the Cabul gate. A portion of the first column halted here and proceeded to occupy the houses round the Cabul gate, while the remainder continued the pursuit. These advanced somewhat into the city, but met with a stern resistance; after a while, however, they sent the foe flying, occupied the houses round about, while others pressed on against some guns arrayed before them. One gun was taken, but so terrible was the fire that the captors had to relinquish it and take shelter in houses. Once more they issued forth, captured the gun, and went on their way towards the others. Major Jacob fell, wounded to death, and refused to be carried behind, urging his men to advance; other officers were shot down, and the men began to waver. At the psychological moment Nicholson appeared, roared furiously at the men, and, placing himself at their head, urged them on. A step—and he fell, shot through the chest. Ordering them to take and place him beneath the shelter of a tree near by, Nicholson said he would wait there till the city was taken. He didn't, for his friends carried him back to camp, and though he lived to see the capture of Delhi, he died on September 23rd. Jones now took command, and finding that the enemy was in great strength, decided not to advance farther, but contented himself with keeping Cabul gate.
When the night came on the British had to enumerate a loss in killed and wounded of sixty-six officers and eleven hundred men, but they still held all the places which had been captured in the assault. Those who survived and held the posts for a while gave themselves up to drink, which the wily sepoys had left about in abundance. But drink though they did to their full, they fought with a will, and day after day the assault on the city was continued. The guns outside still roared, the magazine was stormed and captured on the 16th, and Kissengunge was evacuated by the rebels. Two days later the Burn bastion gate was captured, and on the next day two more gates fell, and that day, too, the palace gates were blown in and the victors rushed to the throne room—to find the King of Delhi gone.
So was Delhi won.
But the work was not yet done. The king was still at large, and Lieutenant Hodson set out for the tomb of the Emperor Humayoon, where he had taken refuge, brought him back through a hostile crowd of natives, returned the next day, and captured the princes who had been responsible for the outrages committed, and shot them.