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Chapter XLIV, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 8

Delhi and the Punjab in July - New Proposal to assault Delhi abandoned - On the Defensive - Interior of Delhi - The Mutineers try to surprise a Convoy, and fail - Death of General Barnard - Bridges blown up - The Rohilcund Mutineers - Traitors in our Camp - Action of the 9th July - Gallant Conduct of Hills and Tombs - Action of the 14th - Chamberlain wounded - Hodson's Single Combat - The Jhansi Mutineers arrive - Showers and Seaton at Ludlow Castle - Wilson improves the state of the Camp - Sir John Lawrence - Proceedings of the Moveable Column - Nicholson disarms the 33rd and 35th Native Infantry - Lawrence disarms the 58th Native Infantry - Mutiny and Fight at Jhelum - Mutiny and Massacre at Sealkote - Nicholson at Umritsir; Disarms the 59th Native Infantry - Forced March on Gordaspore - Defeats and destroys the Sealkote Men at Trimmoo Ghat - Fresh Perils - Mutiny of the Disarmed 26th Native Infantry at Lahore - Mr. Cooper destroys them at Ujnalla - Mutiny of the 10th Cavalry at Ferozepore - Tragedy at Peshawur - Destruction of the 51st Native Infantry - These Operations set free the Moveable Column, which, with Siege Train, marches for Delhi - Progress of the Siege - Four Rebel Guns captured - The Moveable Column arrives - Hodson in the Saddle - Nicholson's Victory at Nujuffghur - End of August.
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While Havelock had been striving so heroically to push on to Lucknow, the garrison in that city had been closely beset, and had valiantly defended itself; and up in the Punjab and around Delhi, whither we must now return, the mighty contest had raged without cessation, verging onward towards a climax, and characterised still by moments when the whole of the shaken fabric of British power tottered and seemed about to fall: for not only did the force within Delhi resist day by day, but the men of the Punjab had not yet finally settled accounts with armed and disarmed mutineers.

The reader may remember that at the beginning of July reinforcements from the Punjab had raised the British army before Delhi to 6,600 men. At the same time, however, five native regiments and a battery of artillery arrived on the left bank of the Jumna opposite Delhi from Rohilcund. This added upwards of 4,000 fresh men to the rebel army. With them came Mohamed Bukt Khan from Bareilly, formerly a subahdar of artillery, now a general of brigade, and, soon after his arrival, Commander-in-Chief of the Sepoy army. When they came up, the swollen river had broken the bridge of boats, and it was not re-established for two days. Our forces were so few that we were compelled to look on while the enemy performed this operation at leisure. During this time, also, it was found that we had traitors in our camp, and several Hindostanees in the Sikh regiments were disarmed; some were hanged, and one was shot by a Sikh whom he had endeavoured to corrupt. The arrival of our own reinforcements had also once more raised the hopes of the daring and impatient. Another project of assault was framed. " One column was to effect an entrance by blowing in the iron grating of the canal, near the Cabul Gate; another column to enter the Cashmere Gate after it had been blown in; a third column to escalade the Cashmere bastion; and a detachment, creeping round by the river side, was to effect an entrance in that direction." But, on reflection, it appeared to the cooler heads that success would depend on the completeness of the surprise; that a surprise was doubtful; and that, even on the assumption that the Sepoys could be taken unawares, the force we could employ would be inadequate to the work in hand; so the plan fell through.

In the mutineer camp, however, want of men could be no excuse for inactivity. It is true there was great dissension in the rebel city; that the generals bearded the old king in the council chamber, and rode their horses up the steps of his palace, and filled his zenana with intrigue; that the princes of his house were cruel, and profligate, and corrupt, and insubordinate; that the Mussulman quarrelled with the Hindoo; that there were frequent conflicts in the city; that the bazaars were plundered; that the native merchants were compelled to place themselves at the mercy of extortioners; and that the Sepoys lived at free quarters. All these things were duly reported by our spies; but there was still sufficient unity, the effect of dread of the British, to stimulate the Sepoys to fight. The old king, however, was even at this time thinking of surrender, on the basis of a guarantee of his personal safety, so doubtful had he become of success, or so disgusted with the mockery of rule with which he had been endued. Fond of composing couplets in Persian, he wrote about this time -

" The army surrounds me; I have no peace nor quiet;
My life alone remains, and that they will soon destroy. "

He made a formal offer to betray the mutineers, provided he were restored to his former rank and emoluments. "Treat, but beware of treachery," was the answer of Lawrence; and we may say that it was one of his very few acts of weakness. The general did not treat; and the governor-general, when he heard of the proposal, objected to it altogether; but that was weeks after the affair had passed over without result. If the king was depressed, the Sepoys were not, for in the beginning of July the new arrivals so raised the spirits of the mutineers that they engaged in several desperate actions.

Their first operation was daring, and a dangerous one for us. The road to the Punjab, so vital to our safety, was entirely guarded by native troops, perfectly trustworthy, but in weak detachments, placed here and there to keep the road clear of marauders. It was along this road that our sick and wounded were sent to Umballa, and that our convoys of treasure and ammunition passed to the camp. The Sepoys, of course, knew this, and were moderately well-informed of the goings and comings of convoys. They had heard that a quantity of treasure was coming down, and that a number of sick were going up; they resolved to capture the first, and to murder the second. So on the 3rd about 6,000 men of all arms, with several guns, moved out of the Lahore Gate, and went round our right. They were not unseen. All night they marched, making for Alipore, one march in the rear of our camp. Here they drove off the Sikh guard, but found neither sick nor treasure; the former had passed on the 2nd, the latter, delayed on the road, had not come up. The Sepoys, instead of pushing for Kurnaul, as they might have done, counter-marched on Delhi. Major Coke, with 1,100 men and 12 guns, had been sent out to intercept them. Hodson and his horse had been on the look-out, and gave Coke ample information. But although our troops got within cannon shot, and engaged the enemy, they did little except capture an ammunition wagon and a store cart, and recover the plunder of Alipore.

In order to check these attacks on our line of communications, it was resolved to blow up all the bridges over the canal except one, and also to destroy part of an aqueduct, one of the mighty works of the former Mahomedan rulers of Delhi. These enterprises were effected during the next week, and thus greater safety was secured for the rear, and the country folk were able to bring provisions into our markets without danger from the Sepoys.

On the day after the attack on Alipore, General Barnard sickened of cholera, and by night he was dead. Himself a distinguished soldier, and the son of a more distinguished soldier, Sir Andrew Barnard, he had found himself in a situation unsuited to his abilities; for having served in the Crimea as chief of the staff, he had only arrived in India a few months before the mutiny broke out. He was greatly respected and beloved in camp, but even his admirers lament his unfitness for the work in hand. He was succeeded by a seniority general of no mark, who in turn fell ill, and, going off on sick leave, left Brigadier Archdale Wilson in command of the troops before Delhi. The Sepoys said we had poisoned two generals and dismissed a third, because they had not been able to capture the city!

The work of blowing up the bridges - very arduous tasks, because, the waters being out, the marching through the flooded lands was most trying to the men and cattle - had just been effected, when, on the 9th of July, the newly-arrived Sepoys again sought to distinguish themselves by an assault upon our lines. Among the troops from Bareilly which had just entered Delhi were the troopers of the 8th Irregulars. A wing of the 9fch was in our camp, and many men in it had friends in the mutinous 8th. The incidents of the day showed that these two regiments were in communication. " About ten o'clock" on the morning, writes Captain Norman, "the insurgents appeared to be increasing in numbers in the suburbs on our right, when suddenly a body of cavalry emerged from cover on the extreme right of our right flank, and charged into camp. There was a mound on our right on which was placed a battery of three 18- pounders, with an infantry picquet, all facing the Subzee Mundee suburb. To the right of the mound, on the low ground, was a picquet of two horse-artillery guns and a troop of dragoons, the guns being this day furnished by Major Tombs' troop, and commanded by Lieutenant Hills; the cavalry from the Carabineers, and commanded by Lieutenant Stillman. Still further to the right, at a faqueer's inclosure, was a native officer's picquet of the 9fch Irregulars, from which two videttes were thrown forward some 200 yards on the trunk-road. These videttes could see down the road towards Delhi as far as our picquet at the serai - perhaps 700 or 800 yards, and up the road to the canal-cut, about 200 yards. Across the road were rather dense gardens. The place at which the videttes were posted was not visible from camp; and some horsemen in white advancing, attracted but little notice, their dress being the same as that of the 9th Irregulars, from which corps the faqueer's picquet was taken. Some alarm, however, arose, and the two horse - artillery guns at the picquet were got ready; but the leading cavalry insurgents, beckoning men in their rear, dashed on at a speed; and the troop of Carabineers, all very young, most of them untrained soldiers, and only thirty-two in number of all ranks, turned and broke, save the officer and two or three men, who nobly stood. Lieutenant Hills, commanding the guns, seeing the cavalry come on unopposed, alone charged the head of the horsemen, to give his guns time to unlimber, and cut down one or two of the sowars, while the main body of horsemen riding over and past the guns, followed up the Carabineers, and a confused mass of horsemen came streaming in at the right of camp. Major Tombs, whose tent was on the right, had heard the first alarm, and, calling for his horse to be brought after him, walked towards the picquet just as the cavalry came on. He was just in time to see his gallant subaltern down on the ground, with one of the enemy's sowars ready to kill him. From a distance of thirty yards he fired with his revolver, and dropped Hills's opponent. Hills got up and engaged a man on foot, who was cut down by Tombs, after Hills had received a severe sabre-cut on the head. Meanwhile great confusion had been caused by the inroad of the sowars, most of whom made for the guns of the native troop of horse artillery, which was on the right of camp, calling on the men to join them. The native horse artillerymen, however, behaved admirably, and called to Major Olpherts' European troop, which was then unlimbered close by, to fire through them at the mutineers. The latter, however, managed to secure and carry off some horses, and several followers were cu' down in camp. Captain Fagan, of the artillery, rushing out of his tent, got together a few men, and followed up some of the sowars, who were then endeavouring to get away, and killed fifteen of them. More were killed by some men of the 1st Brigade, and all were driven out of the camp, some escaping by a bridge over the canal-cut in our rear. It is estimated that not more than 100 sowars were engaged in this enterprise, and about thirty- five were killed, including a native officer. All this time the cannonade from the city, and from many field-guns outside, raged fast and furious, and a heavy fire of musketry was kept up upon our batteries, and on the Subzee Mundee picquets from the enclosures and gardens of the suburbs. A column was therefore formed to dislodge them, consisting of Major Scott's horse battery, the available men of the 8th and 61st Foot and 4th Sikh Infantry - in all about 700 infantry, and six guns, reinforced en route by the head-quarters and two companies of the 60th Rifles, under Lieutenant Colonel J. Jones; the infantry brigade being commanded by Brigadier W. Jones, C.B., and Brigadier-General Chamberlain directing the whole. As this column swept up through the Subzee Mundee, Major Reid was instructed to move down and co-operate with such infantry as could be spared from the main picquet. The insurgents were cleared out of the gardens without difficulty, though the denseness of the vegetation rendered the mere operation of passing through them a work of time. At some of the serais, however, a very obstinate resistance was made, and the insurgents were not dislodged without considerable loss. Eventually everything was effected that was desired, our success being greatly aided by the admirable and steady practice of Major Scott's battery under a heavy fire, eleven men being put hors de combat out of its small complement. By sunset the engagement was over, and the troops returned to camp, drenched through with rain, which, for several hours, had fallen at intervals with great violence. Our loss this day was one officer and 40 men killed, 8 officers and 163 men wounded, 11 men missing."

The personal encounters in which Hills and Tombs were engaged deserve a more particular narration, as both officers received the Cross of Valour for their daring on this day. In his account of the fight, Tombs omitted all reference to himself, and his Colonel, Mackenzie, therefore tore it up. Fortunately, a letter from Hills to a friend found its way into the Times, and from this we can see what a sharp affair this combat was. "The alarm went," he says, " and off I started with my two guns to a position laid down for them, when, to my astonishment, through an opening on my right, only fifty yards off, dashed a body of cavalry. Now I tried to get my guns into action, but only got one unlimbered when [his own men running away, unhappily] they [the enemy] were upon me. I thought that by charging them [alone] I might make a commotion, and give the gun time to load; so in I went at the front rank, cut down the first fellow, slashed the next across the face as hard as I could, when two sowars charged me. Both their horses crashed into mine at the same moment, and, of course, both horse and my self were sent flying. We went down at such a pace that I escaped the cuts made at me, one of them giving my jacket an awful slice just below the left arm; it only, however, cut the jacket. Well, I lay quite snug until all had passed over me, and then got up and looked about for my sword. I found it full ten yards off. 1 had hardly got hold of it, when three fellows returned, two on horseback. The first I wounded, and dropt him from his horse; the second charged me with a lance; I put it aside, and caught him an awful gash on the head and face. I thought I had killed him; apparently he must have clung to his horse, for he disappeared. The wounded man then came up, but got his skull split. Then came on the third man, a young active fellow. I found myself getting very weak from want of breath, the fall from my horse having pumped me considerably; and my cloak somehow or other had got tightly fixed round my throat, and was kindly choking me. I went, however, at the fellow, and cut him on the shoulder; but some 'kupra' (cloth) on it apparently turned the blow. He managed to seize the hilt of my sword, and twisted it out of my hand; and then we had a hand-to-hand fight, I punching his head with my fists, and he trying to cut me; but I was too close to him. Somehow or other I fell, and then was the time, fortunately for me, that Tombs came up and shot the fellow. I was so choked by my cloak that move I could not until I got it loosened. By-the-by, I forgot to say that I fired at this chap twice; but the pistol snapped, and I was so enraged I drove it at the fellow's head, missing him, however. Then, when I got up, Tombs was so eager to get up to a mound near us, that I only picked up my sword and followed him. After being there some time, we came down again to look after the unlimbered gun which was left behind. When we got down, I saw the very man Tombs had saved me from moving off with my pistol (he had only been wounded, and shammed dead). I told Tombs, and he went at him. After a little slashing and guarding at both sides, I rushed in 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 when down. Tombs, following him up, made him a pass, and up I jumped and had a slash at him, cutting him on the left wrist, nearly severing it. This made him turn round, and then Tombs ran him through. He very nearly knocked over Tombs, for he cut through his cap and pagrie, but, fortunately, did not cut the skin. I fancy I am indebted again to Tombs for my life; for although I might have got up and fought, still I was bleeding like a pig, and, of course, would have had a bad chance."

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Pictures for Chapter XLIV, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 8

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