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Chapter XLIV, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 8 page 3


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The next morning, the 12th, certain information came that the mutineers had crossed the Ravee at Trimmoo Ghat, a ferry on the river. Nicholson moved out at once, and by noon sighted the rebel vedettes, men of the 9th Cavalry, "dancing about in their grey jackets." The whole had not got over, and some were still crossing. Covering his front with mounted Punjabee levies, mere recruits for Hodson's Horse, Nicholson moved up his guns and infantry. The Sepoys were behind a strip of deep water, passable only by a bridge. In their rear was the Ravee, growing wider and deeper every hour, for the snows were melting in the hills, and swelling all the streams. As Bourchier's guns went over the bridge, down came the men of the 9th at the charge; the levies fled; the Sepoy skirmishers ran up and opened a steady fire; matters, says Bourchier, looked "ugly." But the ugly symptoms soon vanished. The Sepoys had no guns. They were not soldiers who could stand against the 52nd. In twenty minutes grapeshot, shrapnel, and rifle-balls silenced the fire of the rebel line. In half an hour the mutineers were in retreat, leaving three or four hundred killed and wounded on the field. Nicholson had no dragoons, or there the business would have ended. He caused his few Sikhs to pursue, and these captured all the baggage and stores which the enemy had brought to the left bank. In the river there was an island. Suddenly from this island a gun opened. It was the old signal gun of the Sealkote Station, which the rebels had dragged so far. To cross the river that night was impossible. A watch was set, and the troops lay down to rest.

In the night the river rose and caught the rebels m a trap. On the 11th they had been able to ford the stream; on the 13th it had risen several feet. The dawn found the enemy prisoners, with the swift flood of the Ravee rolling around them, and a relentless foe preparing the means of destroying them. Three days passed before boats could be procured. On the 16th all was ready. Guns were planted ostentatiously opposite the ford, in order to distract attention, while the 52nd were sent across in boats a mile and a quarter lower down the stream. The plan succeeded. Half our soldiers were over before the scheme of attack was discovered. The Sepoys were now thoroughly alarmed, and tried to turn their old Sikh gun in the new direction, and endeavoured in vain to depress the muzzle. Covered by the fire of seven guns on the other bank, and headed by Nicholson, the 52nd swept on in line, and in a few minutes the mutineers went in a crowd to the rear. A few resolute men. died around the gun; others were overtaken in flight and slain; a mob ran to the end of the island, and those who escaped the bayonet, and swam over the river, were captured by the villagers. Not more than a hundred got away into Cashmere, and these we compelled the Maharajah to surrender. Thus did John Nicholson break in pieces this horde of mutineers, and save the Punjab between the Jhelum and the Sutlej. On the 22nd the column was again at Umritsir. Three days afterwards it was again on the march, en route for Delhi, in earnest this time, for now the Punjab had been made secure by the disarming of nearly every Hindostanee regiment, and the raising of new levies among the Punjabees.

But there were still days of peril between the Sutlej and the Indus, and over the Indus; and before carrying the reader with us to Delhi, to witness the final strife there, it will be as well to note in passing the tragic incidents at Lahore, Ujnalla, Ferozepore, and Peshawur.

The disarmed Hindostanees at Meean Meer, near Lahore, writhed under the degradation which it had been so necessary to inflict upon them. Frequent reports reached the brigadier that one or more of the regiments intended to break out and run away, but day after day passed, and there were no signs, and only the usual precautions were taken. At length, however, the 26th Native Infantry tried the experiment, and their fate proved an example to discourage the other regiments. On the 30th of July, at mid-day, they broke out. They caught up any weapon that came to hand, and rushed together, making the lines resound with yells. Major Spencer, unarmed, hurried up and tried to calm them. A Sepoy stole behind him, and cut him down with a hatchet; and others joining, he and the sergeant-major were hewn in pieces. Then the mutineers made for the officers' quarters, but these had fled; and finding no other victims, they rushed out of the station, screened from view amid the favouring clouds of a dust-storm. They fled up the left bank of the Ravee. After a march of six and twenty miles, they tried to cross; a Sikh official, with his villagers, stopped them, slaying many, and they plodded on. Fortunately, the deputy-commissioner at Umritsir was Mr. Frederick Cooper. As soon as he heard of the flight of the 26th, he got together some Punjabee horse and foot, and after a severe march struck the trail of the mutineers. He found them in sorry plight. They had swam the river, or floated over on pieces of wood, and were lodged on an island about a mile from the shore, " where they might be descried, crouching like a brood of wild fowl." Mr. Cooper at once took his measures. By stratagem he got them all from the island, and had them secured with cords. Then they were escorted to the police-station at Ujnalla, six miles distant, and before they arrived the Sikh infantry came up. There were 282 prisoners. Sending his Hindostanee troopers back to Umritsir, Mr. Cooper prepared to execute the whole. On the 1st of August they were led out in batches of ten; their names were taken down; they were marched to the place of execution. It was a dreadful spectacle. As each batch was brought up, the Sikh firing party shot them down. Two hundred and thirty-seven were so executed, and forty-five were found dead in the gaol. All the bodies were thrown into a dry well by men of the lowest caste, and the well goes by the name of the "Rebels' Hole " to this day. "Within eight-and-forty hours of the period of the mutiny and murders of Meean Meer, nearly the whole of the 26th Native Infantry had ceased to exist. To read of this execution in cold blood makes one shudder; but those who have studied the state of the Punjab at that moment, will agree with Mr. Montgomery, that the punishment so sternly inflicted by Mr. Cooper was "just and necessary." Sir John Lawrence congratulated him on his success. Mr. Montgomery wrote at the time - "All honour to you for what you have done; and right well you did it;" and in 1859 solemnly reviewed and justified the execution. Lord Canning approved. At that moment the Lahore Government was literally in extremity. It had parted with every available European bayonet. It was " in the air, with no support either above or below, or on any side. The alternative was the execution of the 26th, or the mutiny of every disarmed regiment, and even of the people. The mutineers were taken red-handed in murder and mutiny. Mr. Cooper had no means of guarding them as prisoners, much less of trying them. Had it been possible, they would have been tried; but had they been tried their sentence would have been death. Those who were captured separately suffered the same punishment." Such is the opinion of Mr. Montgomery, a just and righteous man as well as a statesman.

On the 19th of August the 10th Cavalry mutinied because their horses were to be taken away. Rising, they seized the guns, but from these they were quickly driven away; yet they managed to secure a good number of horses and ride off, unpursued, by way of Hansi, to Delhi.

The drama at Peshawur was more serious and bloody. In the middle of August there came a holy man, who sat himself down at the mouth of the Kyber Pass, hoisted the green flag, and preached what Colonel Edwardes calls a " crescentade." It so happened that the Affreedees, among whom he settled, had just made their peace with the British, and they told him to depart. He cursed them; but they were firm, and gave him five days of grace. During this period he sent his agents to every regiment in Peshawur, inviting them to join him. At the end of the five days the chief of the tribe "pulled up the pickets of his horses and camels, and even, reverently, shut up his flag; and he left the pass in a storm of Arabic." He found shelter in the homes of another tribe, "under blockade," that is, forbidden all access to the valley. But he found means to send letters to the native troops. " The most evident restlessness," writes Colonel Edwardes, in his report, "pervaded the disarmed regiments; arms were said to be finding their way into the lines in spite of all precautions, and symptoms of an organised rise began to appear; General Cotton, as usual, took the initiative. On the morning of the 28th of August he caused the lines of every native regiment to be simultaneously searched, the Sepoys being moved out into tents for that purpose; swords, hatchets, muskets, pistols, bayonets, powder, ball, and caps, were found stowed away in roofs, and floors, and bedding, and even drains; and, exasperated by the discovery of their plans, and by the taunts of the newly-raised Afreedee regiments, who were carrying out the search, the 51st Native Infantry rushed upon the piled arms of the 18th Punjab Infantry, and sent messengers to all the other Hindostanee regiments, to tell them of the rise. For a few minutes a desperate struggle ensued; the 51st Native Infantry had been one of the finest corps in the service, and they took the new irregulars altogether by surprise. They got possession of several stands of arms, and used them well. Captain Bartlett and the other officers were overpowered by numbers, and driven into a tank. But soon the Afreedee soldiers seized their arms, and then began that memorable fusilade which commenced on the parade ground at Peshawur and ended at Jumrood. General Cotton's military arrangements in the cantonment were perfect for meeting such emergencies - troops, horse and foot, were rapidly under arms and in pursuit of the mutineers. Every civil officer turned out with his jposse comitatus of levies or police, and in a quarter of an hour the whole country was covered with the chase." By these means the regiment was in thirty-six hours " accounted for." It was 871 strong. Of these 216 were killed by the European, Punjabee, and Mooltanee troops, the villagers, and the police; 439 were tried by drum-head court-martial, and shot on the 28th and 29th; 5 were killed up in the pass; no were imprisoned; 60 are supposed to have reached the hills; 33 were on duty; and only 8 could not be accounted for. The example sufficed. The disarmed regiments were paralysed by the sudden retribution. Peshawur was stronger than ever.

These operations and adventures, although so distant from Delhi, had a most material effect on its fate, and hence it has been necessary to break the narrative of the siege proper, to give an account of them. The reader will have seen that, cut off from Calcutta, from Agra even, and only communicating with Bombay through Mooltan, it was for the men of the Punjab to take Delhi with their own resources, or not at all. Sir John Lawrence and his able lieutenants, therefore, were forced to perform the double operation of holding the Punjab and reinforcing the army before Delhi. They performed both duties; the first, by crushing mutineers without mercy; the second, by raising a host of levies from tribes heretofore hostile, and pouring down upon Delhi the regiments already trained, and every European soldier that could be spared. It is the just boast of the Punjab men that they did this without allowing any interruption of ordinary business, for the magistrate and the collector performed their functions with as much coolness and constancy as if there had been perfect tranquillity.

At the beginning of August it had been resolved to make a supreme effort to dispose of Delhi. Nicholson's column, growing stronger at every step, we have already started from Umritsir. A first-class siege train was prepared in the arsenals of Philour and Ferozepore. It consisted of four 10-inch mortars, six 24-pounders, eight 18-pounders, and four 8-inch howitzers, with ample supplies of ammunition. " The whole," says one writer, " rolled on its ponderous length of gun-carriages, tumbrils, ammunition-carts extending over thirteen miles of road. The leading cart had reached the new camping ground before the last of that long line had started on its march." Thus there were en route for Delhi a powerful column and a splendid siege train. It was felt that a victory at Delhi was needed to confirm the loyalty of the Sikhs, whose faith in our "good fortune "was shaken by the protracted defence of the mutineers.

General Wilson's plan was to act on the defensive. He therefore confined himself to repelling attacks on our position, and to protecting his communications with Kurnaul. Twice or thrice the enemy tried to bridge the waterways covering the flank of the great road, and so get to Alipore, and clutch at convoys. But they failed. Three or four times during the month of August they assailed the ridge, but their failures were costly to them. On the 7th one of their magazines blew up, and it is said that 500 men perished in the explosion. On the 8th they again tried to plant a battery at the house called Ludlow Castle, opposite our left front. General "Wilson resolved to have it. At four in the morning of the 12th, Brigadier Showers led a strong column of infantry down from the ridge, and so well did he manage, that he surprised the enemy, overpowered him, killed several hundred, and captured and brought off four guns. But Showers was again wounded; one officer was killed and six wounded, and we lost about a hundred men. " The return to camp," writes Hodson, who was there by accident, was " worth witnessing; the soldiers bringing home in triumph the guns they had captured, a soldier, with musket and bayonet fixed, riding each horse, and brave young Owen (wounded) astride one gun, and dozens clinging to and pushing it, or rather them, along with might and main, and cheering like mad things." On the 13th Nicholson's column marched into camp. It consisted of the 52nd Foot, half the 61st Foot, the 2nd Punjab Infantry, and Bourchier's battery. There were on the way the 4th Punjab Infantry, half the 1st Belooch Battalion from Scinde, three companies of the 8th Foot, and several score recruits. Beside these, the general had to wait for the siege train. Sir John Lawrence could do no more. These were the last batches of troops he could spare. They mustered about 4,200 men, of whom 1,300 were Europeans.

The Sepoys were losing heart. They held councils, made strong vows to win or perish, but did neither. Mr. Cave Browne, in his narrative, illustrates their condition by the following anecdote: - "Behind the little army which was frowning defiance upon them beyond the ridge, they felt that there was a ruling power which they dreaded almost more than our bayonets, and that was Sir John Lawrence. It was not many years since he himself had been a magistrate in that city; his name was still well remembered; the indomitable will which now held the Punjab had made itself felt in the bazaars of Delhi and the surrounding district; and the very name made them quail. It has been well said that it was worth a brigade. Many, it is believed, were the plots vainly concocted in Delhi for his assassination; but he still lived. So they resorted to the following device: - Some luckless Cashmeree, with almost European fairness, was caught in the city, dressed up in English clothes, handcuffed and shackled, and paraded through the streets as the veritable Sir John Lawrence, a prisoner, to give confidence to the rebels! "

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Pictures for Chapter XLIV, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 8 page 3

Colonel Herbert Edwardes
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