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Chapter XLIII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 8 page 2


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The aide-de-camp referred to was his son, Henry Have- lock, who led the regiment by riding straight upon the 24-pounder. The troops lay down behind their piled muskets, about two miles from Cawnpore. They had to wait for the baggage and the dawn, and moreover, after such a day, they needed the rest they had earned. "We had neither tents, rations, nor grog," says Major North, "but we had the commendation of the general." Have lock slept on his mackintosh; and, writes Mr. Marshman, "to be ready for any emergency that might arise during the night, he slept with his bridle on his arm, his horse standing ready saddled behind him. The bugler, who had accompanied him on horseback through the perils of the day, lay near him. He belonged to the 78th Highlanders, and an anecdote regarding him is not undeserving of remembrance amidst the events of this day. As the enemy's first gun was fired, the general gave him his watch to mark the time. The bugler noted the moment before he put it into his pocket, and as the last shot was sent after the retreating enemy, took the watch out again, and coolly said, 'Two hours and forty-five minutes, sir!'"

The loss of the British in this battle was 105 men. Well might the general say to his men, in his stirring order of the day - " Soldiers! your general is satisfied and more than satisfied with you." They had, indeed, deserved this praise. In nine days they had marched 126 miles, and fought and won four actions. They now had Cawnpore at their feet.

The next morning spies brought in the dreadful news that Nana Sahib had retreated from Cawnpore after butchering all the prisoners. Havelock immediately sent forward an advanced guard to test the truth of this, and as they came up to the old cantonments, an explosion shook the earth. It was the old magazine which the troopers of the enemy's rear-guard had fired. The army now entered the place. It was a memorable day, the 17th of June, when Cawnpore was recovered, for the horrors it brought to light kindled to an intensity beyond conception the passions of the British soldiers.

For the first thing done was to visit the entrenchment, and the house in which the prisoners had been confined. At the sight thereof strong men wept, and a fierce thirst for vengeance seized them, and made them terrible in battle.

From subsequent inquiries, it appeared that Nana Sahib had preserved the lives of 47 of the women and children from Futtehghur, and 163 of the old Cawnpore garrison. These he kept prisoners. "The captives," writes Captain Thomson, "were fed with only one meal a-day of dhâl and chupatties, and these of the meanest sort; they had to eat out of earthen pans, and the food was served by menials of the lowest caste (mehter) which in itself was the greatest indignity that Easterns could cast upon them. They had no furniture, no beds, not even straw to lie down upon, but only coarse bamboo matting of the roughest make. The house in which they were incarcerated had formerly been occupied as the dwelling of a native clerk; it comprised two principal rooms, each about twenty feet long and ten broad, and besides these, a number of dark closets rather than rooms, which had been originally intended for the use of native servants; in addition to these, a courtyard, about fifteen yards square presented the only accommodation for these 200 most wretched victims of a brutality in comparison with which hereafter the Black Hole of Calcutta, and its sharp but short agonies, must sink into insignificance. It is said that during the former part of their captivity, several of them went to the Nana, imploring some commiseration with their wretched state, but in vain; and they desisted altogether from such applications, in consequence of one of their number having been cruelly ill-treated by the brutal soldiery. Closely guarded by armed Sepoys, many of them suffering from wounds, all of them emaciated with scanty food, and deprived of all means of cleanliness, the deep, dark horrors of the prisoners in that dungeon must remain to their full extent unknown, and even unimagined."

After the defeat of his troops on the Pandoo Nuddy - that is. on the 15th of July - Nana Sahib ordered all the prisoners to be slain. It is said that Azimoolah, his chief adviser, the pet of Belgravia when he visited London, persuaded Nana Sahib that Havelock was only moving on Cawnpore in the hope of rescuing the women and children, and that, if they were slain, the British would leave India. But this is not a credible story. Nana Sahib and Azimoolah knew the English too well to believe that they would cease their exertions while Agra and Lucknow were beleaguered. It must have been anger and hate and a love of cruelty which prompted this dastardly act. When our troops arrived, Mr. Sherer, the newly appointed magistrate, began an investigation, from which we learn the facts as nearly as they can be known. " When Mr. Sherer," writes Captain Thomson, " entered the house of horrors, in which the slaughter of the women had been perpetrated, the rooms were covered with human gore; articles of clothing that had belonged to women and children - collars, combs, shoes, caps, and little round hats - were found steeped in blood; the walls were spattered with blood, the mats on the floor saturated; the plaster sides of the place were scored with sword cuts, and pieces of long hair were all about the room. No writing was upon the walls, and it is supposed that the inscriptions, which soon became numerous, were put there by the troops, to infuriate each other in the work of revenging the atrocities that had been perpetrated there. There is no doubt that the death of the unhappy victims was accomplished by the sword, and that their bodies, stripped of all clothing, were thrown into an adjacent well. A Bible was found that had belonged to Miss Blair, in which she had written; ' 27th June. - Went to the boats. 29th. - Taken out of boats. 30th. - Taken to Sevadah Kothi; fatal day.' " One officer who was present wrote: " I picked up a mutilated prayer- book; it had lost the cover, but on the fly-leaf is written, 'For dearest mamma, from her affectionate Louis, June, 1845.' It appears to me to have been opened on page 36 in the Litany, where, I have but little doubt, these poor dear creatures sought and found consolation in that beautiful supplication. It is here sprinkled with blood. The book has lost some pages at the end, and terminates with the 47th Psalm, in which David thanks the Almighty for his signal victories over his enemies."

Such was the scene which tore the hearts of our valiant soldiers, and the recital of which made all England shudder. It is related that the Highlanders, on coming to a body which had been barbarously exposed, and which was supposed to be that of Sir Hugh Wheeler's daughter, cut off the tresses, and counting the hairs, swore that for every hair a rebel should die. " Christian men" says one writer, "who had hitherto spared a flying foe, came out of that house bearing a portion of a dress or some relic in their hands, and declaring that whenever they might feel disposed for mercy, they would look upon that and steel their hearts."

The reaction which followed his great successes, combined with the critical position in which he found himself, for a moment depressed the spirit of the undaunted Havelock. Here was this fearful massacre; here was news from Lucknow of the death of Henry Lawrence; from Delhi, of the death of General Barnard; from Agra, of a kind of defeat of the troops there; and from Bithoor, news that Nana Sahib had garrisoned that stronghold with 5,000 men. "If the worst comes to the worst," exclaimed Havelock to his son, "we can but die with our swords in our hands." But one night's brief repose restored to the general his wonted calmness. He took up a position west of Cawnpore, that no native army could have stormed. He bought up all the wine, beer, and spirits in the place, to save his soldiers from the effects of drunkenness, cholera, and dysentery. Getting news of the march of a reinforcement, under Neill, from Allahabad, he, on the 19th, selected a situation for a fort, commanding the passage of the Ganges; set several thousand natives to work upon it; directed a steamer to collect as many boats and boatmen as possible; picked out forty-one men from his infantry, and mounted them to act as irregular cavalry; and prepared all things for an attempt to cut his way to Lucknow. In the midst of these labours news reached him, from a sure source, that Nana Sahib, feeling insecure at Bithoor, had crossed into Oude. To test the truth of this, Major Stephenson was sent with a force to Bithoor. It was abandoned, and strewn with wrecks of the plunder of Cawnpore. Stephenson blew up the magazine, burnt the palace, and brought off twenty guns.

Neill came up on the 20th with 227 men. The small fort on the river's bank was in a good state of forwardness. A sufficient number of boats had been collected by Captain Spurgin, of the little Berhampooter. Have- lock now determined on executing the daring task of invading Oude. The rain fell in torrents on the night of the 20th of July. Out into the midst of this Havelock rode with the first detachment, and saw them over the river. He had 1,500 men and ten guns for his enterprise. He left the sick and wounded, and 300 men under Neill to hold the Cawnpore fort, and reduce the place to order. On the 25th Havelock crossed, and sent a detachment to occupy Mungulwar, six miles from the river. Here on the 28th the whole force was assembled. It was a strong position, but Havelock's business was to fight, not to act on the defensive. He had received a plan of Lucknow from the place itself, and he had carefully considered the road. The moment was critical; for, learning the defeat of Nana Sahib, who himself was in Oude, the rebel attack on Lucknow had become more close and sustained.

On the 29th Havelock marched upon Onao. Here the rebels had occupied the ground with considerable skill. A deep swamp covered their right. Onao itself protected their left. In front was a village, and a garden entrenched like a bastion. In front of the village were enclosures. Thus the general found that he could not turn the position on either hand. He was forced to assail it in front. The order was given. With ready valour the Highlanders and Fusiliers drove the enemy out of the garden. They fell back on the village; their fire was hot; the 64th had to be brought up; and, all charging together, the village was stormed and the guns captured. This enabled Havelock to interpose his force between the enemy and Onao, towards which town they were hurrying. Firmly lodged on a piece of dry ground in the midst of swamps, and assailable only on a narrow front, Havelock saw his advantage, and allowing the enemy to come near, he shot them to pieces as they were crowded on the road. The Oude native artillery, which had been carefully drilled, behaved with great gallantry; many gunners served their pieces to the last, and fell beside them under the rifles of the Fusiliers and the bayonets of the British Linesmen. Havelock stood victor, and master of fifteen of the enemy's guns.

The troops, after a halt of three hours to rest and eat, once more marched. The rebels had rallied at Busserutgunge. This was a walled town. The gate facing our troops was entrenched, and mounted four guns, and was flanked by towers. The road to Lucknow, running through the place, emerged at the opposite gate, and then was carried on a causeway through one of those large pieces of water called heels. Concentrating a fire of artillery on the gate, Havelock held the Fusiliers and Highlanders ready to storm it, while he detached the 64th to the left to turn the town and cut off the retreat of the enemy. While the guns were in action, the storming column lay down; but when the fire of the defence slackened, and the Sepoys, frightened at the flank movement, began to run, the Highlanders and Fusiliers, with stern shouts, sprang up and carried the gate at a bound. The enemy fled over the causeway - for the 64th had not come up - and the battle was won. Four more guns were captured. Havelock rode to the front to select his outposts. "As he returned to the causeway, the weary soldiers, who were grouped on it, leaning on their arms, suddenly caught a glimpse of him, and in an instant there was an enthusiastic shout through their ranks - 'Clear the way for the general!' A bright smile stole over the stern features of the old chief, as he exclaimed - 'You have done that well already, men.' This unexpected compliment electrified the troops, and as his form gradually disappeared, they cried, 'God bless the general!'"

In his order of the day, the general thanked the troops, but not all; for some, he said, fought as if the cholera had seized their minds as well as their bodies. But he praised Patrick Cavanagh, of the 64th, who " died gloriously, hacked to pieces by the enemy when setting a brilliant example to his comrades. Had he survived, he should have worn the Victoria Cross." He praised Lieutenant Bogle, who, in leading the way into a loop- holed house at Onao, was severely wounded; he applauded Major Stephenson, of the Fusiliers, "that regiment the rebels know and fear us the Blue Caps;" and he said of Lieutenant Dangerfield, first to mount the barricade in the second action, he "has merited the cross reserved for the brave." By such means Havelock stimulated his men.

But he and they were destined to disappointment. A mutiny at Dinapore had prevented the arrival of the 5th and 90th regiments. He had lost nearly 100 men on the 29th; a third of his ammunition was expended; cholera, smiting down scores, was in his camp; he had little or no spare transport; so, with a bitter feeling, he fell back to Mungulwar. Here h.e received five more guns and 257 men, but was obliged to disarm his native gun Lascars. The enemy - mutineers from Oude and Saugor, in Central India - was now gathering in force at Bithoor, and Neill was apprehensive of an attack; but Havelock, determined to try once more, told Neill to hold his communications, and on the 4th marched to Onao, and on the 5th once more to Busserutgunge. Here the enemy were again. Knowing the ground better this time, the general, while he prepared to cannonade the front of the village, sent a force round their left flank. When this force emerged, he began the cannonade. The effect was almost instantaneous. Smitten by a point-blank fire of shot and shell, the rebels fled. The 64th and 84th dashed into the gate, while the Highlanders and Fusiliers and four of Meade's guns caught them as they streamed out on to the causeway. But, with great courage, the enemy rallied again in a village on both flanks. These were taken in brilliant style. The Sepoys carried off their cannon, but left 250 men on the field. Havelock could not improve his victories, because he had no cavalry. This was a fatal defect, as it gave the enemy time to rally. Our loss - so swift and able had been our movements - was only two killed and twenty-three wounded.

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Pictures for Chapter XLIII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 8 page 2

General Havelock
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Environs of Delhi
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