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Calcutta page 2

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After the 20th the Sepoys took less care to conceal their feelings. They held nightly meetings; the character of those meetings was known from spies. The 2nd Cavalry, especially, displayed hostility; and when Sir Hugh sought to remove the treasure, the Sepoys would not part with it, and it had to be left under the joint care of them and Nana Sahib. On the 21st all the European residents, except one, Sir George Parker, cantonment magistrate, entered the entrenchment. "Of the scene in the barrack that night, descriptions have appeared from the pens of some of the actors in it. One of them, a gentle lady, wrote, ' There was an immense number of ladies and gentlemen assembled there; and oh! what an anxious night it was! The children added much to our distress and anxiety; it was some hours before I could get them to sleep. I did not lie down the whole night.' Another, a high-spirited and promising young officer, says, ' Nearly all the ladies in the station were, however, turned out of their houses, and hurried off to the barracks. The scene in the morning you can imagine. They were all huddled together in a small building, just as they had left their houses; on each side of this the guns were drawn up.' It seems strange now to read what follows: 'I still put all trust in our Sepoys, and shall do so until I see they are unworthy of it.' Such was the confidence engendered by long association and constant intercourse with their men, that even these sad events could not shake it."

The next day a company of the 32nd, under Captain Moore, arrived from Lucknow, lent by Sir Henry Lawrence. For a week there was dreadful suspense; then 160 men of the 84th Foot and Madras Fusiliers arrived, with the cheering news that more troops were on their way. On the 26th Sir Hugh thought he should soon be able to dispense with the 32nd men, and hold his own until troops came from Calcutta. But the mutinies at Benares and Allahabad put an end to the fulfilment of that hope. There is every reason to believe that at this time Nana Sahib was playing a double game, and that he found willing agents in the 2nd Cavalry. But up to the last moment the Sepoys affected loyalty, and actually gave up one man on a charge of spreading sedition. But the poison of mutiny had worked deeply into their hearts, and the day of disaster duly arrived.

Up to the 4th of June the officers had slept in the native lines. After that day Sir Hugh would not allow them to do so any more, and they found corners in the entrenchment. The signs of approaching mutiny were now plain. There were 210 soldiers of the artillery, the 32nd, the 84th, and the Madras Fusiliers, about a hundred officers, the same number of merchants and clerks, and forty drummers; giving a total of 450 fighting men, and nine guns. It has been well said that these could have fought their way out in any direction; but encumbered with 330 women and children, they could do nothing but remain and wait for succour. On the night of the 6th of June the 2nd Cavalry rose. Captain Thomson, one of the few survivors of the Cawnpore tragedy, thus describes the mutiny: " The men of the 2nd first set fire to the riding-master's bungalow, and then fled, carrying off with them horses, arms, colours, and the regimental treasure-chest. The old soubahdar-major of the regiment defended the colours and treasure, which were in the quarter-guard, as long as he could, and the poor old fellow was found in the morning severely wounded, and lying in his blood at his post. This was the only instance of any native belonging to that regiment who retained his fidelity. The old man remained with us, and was killed by a shell in the entrenchment. An hour or two after the flight of the cavalry, the 1st Native Infantry also bolted, leaving their officers untouched upon the parade-ground. The 56th Native Infantry followed the next morning. The 53rd remained till, by some error of the general, they were fired into. I am at an utter loss to account for this proceeding. The men were peacefully occupied in their lines, cooking; no signs of mutiny had appeared amidst their ranks; they had refused all the solicitations of the deserters to accompany them, and seemed quite steadfast, when Ashe's battery opened upon them, by Sir Hugh Wheeler's command, and they were literally driven from us by 9-pounders. The only signal that had preceded this step was the calling into the entrenchments of the native officers of the regiment. The whole of them cast in their lot with us, besides 150 privates, most of them belonging to the Grenadier company. The detachment of the 53rd posted at the treasury held their ground against the rebels about four hours. We could hear their musketry in the distance, but were not allowed to attempt their relief. The faithful little band that had joined our desperate fortunes was ordered to occupy the military hospital, about 600 yards to the east of our position, and they held it for nine days, when, in consequence of its being set on fire, they were compelled to evacuate. They applied for admission to enter the entrenchments, but were told that we had not food sufficient to allow of an increase to our number. Major Hillersden gave them a few rupees each, together with a certificate of their fidelity. Had it been possible have received these men, they would have constituted a powerful addition to our force, just as the few gallant remnants of the native regiments at Lucknow did throughout the second edition of the Cawnpore siege, as it was enacted in the Oude capital."

The first impulse of the mutineers was to march on Delhi. There, they rightly judged, the struggle would be fought out. They had laden elephants with treasure, and carts with ammunition and plunder. They had marched forward on the road, when Nana Sahib beset them with offers of service, and incitements to destroy their white masters. For some time they resisted; but the temptations offered proved to be too seductive, and they enlisted, as it were, under the flag of one who dreamed of restoring the Mahratta empire. So the whole force turned back towards Cawnpore, and sat down before the entrenchment. To please his new followers, Nana Sahib hoisted two standards - the Moslem and the Hindoo flag. To gratify his troops, he directed the sack of the European houses, and even those of wealthy natives, in Cawnpore. He took possession of the store of shot and shell; he mounted heavy guns. To give a colour of fairness to his conduct, he notified to Sir Hugh Wheeler by letter that he intended to attack him, and ho followed up the threat by opening fire on the 8th. There were now two candidates for empire in India; there were soon to be three. The King of Delhi and the pretended Peishwa were in arms. We shall see a King of Oude spring up, and later, another aspirant for royal honours.

The little garrison of Cawnpore, thus beleaguered, held out for twenty days, and even then yielded honourably to famine, not arms. The sufferings of the garrison during this time can neither be imagined nor described. The mind cannot conceive, the pen cannot express the horrors of that interval. The entrenchment was about 250 yards square. The mud wall had been made by digging a trench and throwing the earth outwards. Thus, about five feet cover was obtained; but where the spaces were left for the guns, there was no cover at all. From the eastern side a little redan was made and armed, and at three other points there were small batteries. As muskets and ammunition" abounded, five or six loaded muskets, with bayonets fixed, were placed near each man in the trenches, so as to ensure a rapid fire. In the centre of the entrenchment was a well. Near it were two buildings, each having only a single story, and one only a stone roof. They were intended to accommodate a company of a hundred men. Within them were stowed more than three hundred women and children, and the sick. The heat was so fierce that it was often impossible to hold a musket barrel, and once or twice muskets exploded from heat alone. Think, then, what those women and children must have suffered, crowded together in those barracks. As soon as the place was beleaguered, men drew water at the risk of their lives, and from the beginning of the siege not a drop could be spared for purposes of cleanliness. With scanty clothing, with meagre diet, flour and split peas; with water, often bought for its weight in silver from men who drew it, and measured out in drops; with cannon thundering all day and night, with shot and shell tearing through the buildings, with the sickness of hope deferred upon them, who can imagine the agonies of those weary hours P The men, all save one officer, went forth to fight, but the women could only watch and wait, and listen to the piteous cries of children, whose throats were parched, whose lips were baked with thirst. For the men there was the chance of a death-struggle, or death from shot or shell. Nothing but patience and long-suffering for the women. Some went mad; some sought death; but others behaved as angels may, with a courage, a fortitude, a forgetfulness of self, men may imitate but not excel.

This little enclosure was defended solely by the courage of the garrison. The Sepoys had seen how white men fight, how they dare danger in every shape, almost in sport, above all, how, in battle they stand by each other with never-failing confidence. The prestige of the British soldier never stood him in better stead than in this Indian mutiny. Driven to bay here with such slender defences as we have described, it is a fact that the surrounding multitudes never once charged home. In a very few days the original force of mutineers was tripled. There came up men of the 6th from Allahabad, and men of various regiments from Oude, and hordes of scoundrels from all the country side, until there were 10,000 armed men raging round the little force. They had three mortars and ten guns firing night and day, in addition to the musketry of the sepoys. The entrenchments were entirely commanded from two buildings, and all around there was plenty of cover; yet with all these numbers and advantages the cowards did not venture on a hand to hand fight. On the west of the fort was a series of unfinished barracks. They were connected with the entrenchment by a sort of covered way, made of carts; two or three of these were held by small detachments of fifteen or twenty men, one composed of railway engineers and platelayers. With nothing but musketry and this cover, these gallant fellows kept the enemy at bay, and inflicted on them great losses. On one occasion a host of Sepoys charged up with the seeming intention of getting in. The garrison of seventeen men killed eighteen assailants at pistol shot range, and drove them away. On another, Captain Moore, the soul of the defence, resolved to try a new trick; he and Lieutenant Delafosse, suddenly leaped out, calling in a loud voice, "Number 1 to the front!" The skulking mutineers thinking a company was about to charge, rose from their cover like a flock of sparrows, and gave the defenders an opportunity of pouring in a deadly volley. In the defence of these barracks, Captain Thomson, Lieutenant Delafosse, and Captain Jenkins, and Mr. Heberden, with his railway lads, were conspicuous for bravery where all were brave.

All this time the thermometer ranged from 128 to 138. Tortured by this dreadful heat, grimed with dirt, devoured by myriads of flies, suffering agonies from thirst, enduring the severest pangs of hunger, exposed to death in every shape, our beleaguered countrymen and countrywomen still bore up against fate, with grim and steadfast determination. The Sepoys took every advantage; not a little child could stray out from the scanty shelter of shattered walls or holes in the trenches, without drawing upon itself the fire of 100 muskets. If any one went to the well, he was a mark for big guns and bullets; and, even at night, the sound of the creaking wheels revealing the fact that men were drawing water, called forth a hail of shot. Yet men went out and endured this fate by day and night, to draw water for the women and the wounded. "My friend, John M'Killop, of the Civil Service," writes Captain Thomson, "greatly distinguished himself here; he became, self-constituted, Captain of the Well. He jocosely said that he was no fighting man, but would make himself useful where he could, and accordingly he took this post; drawing for the supply of the women and the children as often as he could. It was less than a week after he had undertaken this self-denying service, when his numerous escapes were followed by a grape shot wound in the groin, and speedy death. Disinterested even in death, his last words were an earnest entreaty that somebody would go and draw water for a lady to whom he had promised it."

Besides this well there was another near one of the unfinished barracks. " We drew no water there; it was our cemetery." Stealthily at night, the bodies of the dead were carried out, and thrown into this well; and in three weeks it was choked up with the remains of 250 persons!

In the meantime the rebel lines had been the scenes of tragedies, which, had they been known to Sir Hugh Wheeler, he would never have trusted to the oath of Nana Sahib. " On the 10th of June," says the author of the "Mutiny of the Bengal Army," "a lady with four children, travelling by post from the north-west to Calcutta, arrived, unsuspicious of evil, at Cawnpore. She was taken before the Nana, who at once ordered that she and her babes should be slaughtered. The innocent children, exposed to the sun, and unable to comprehend the scene, were crying to their mamma to take them into the bungalow, and give them food; but no one listened, and in a few minutes, tied hand to hand, and made to stand up in the plain, they were shot down by pistol bullets. On the following day another lady fell into the hands of these fiends, and experienced a like fate, her head being subsequently offered as a 'nuzzer,' or royal gift, to the Nana Sahib. On the 12th intelligence reached them that a large party of Europeans were coming from the north-west. Some cavalry and infantry were at once despatched to reconnoitre; and it was found that the advancing party were fugitives from Futtehghur, about 136 in number, most of them females. They had left Futtehghur with the intention of proceeding to Allahabad, thence to Calcutta by water, when, on passing Cawnpore, they were pounced upon by these rebels. Being brought before the Nana, and sentenced to death, one of them disdaining to sue for life, reproached him with his cruelty and the insensate folly of his proceedings; showing how futile it was to imagine that, by the slaughter of a few hundred women, he could exterminate the English. She also warned him of the fate which, sooner or later, must inevitably overtake him. In reply to this spirited remonstrance, the ruffian ordered that her two hands should be filled with powder, and the powder exploded; the rest were ruthlessly shot down."

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