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Chapter XLIV, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 8 page 4


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Towards the middle of August the turbulent Moslem tribes living on the south of the road from Delhi to Kurnaul, incited and reinforced by troopers from Delhi, showed signs of mischievous intentions. Hodson was sent to look after them with 350 of his own Horse and Guides. He started on the 16th, fell in with a body of troopers on the same day, routed them, and himself slew a mutineer ressaldar, or captain, recently decorated with the Order of Merit. Hearing that Rhotuck was the head-quarters of the rebels, he moved thither the next day. He found the enemy in force, drove them into the town, but could not force it with horse alone. He therefore made his bivouac hard by. While here, he writes, "The representatives of the better-disposed part of the population came out to me, and amply provided us with supplies for both man and beast. The rest were to have made their ' amende ' in the morning; but a disaffected Rangur went off early, and brought up 300 irregular horsemen of the mutineers - 1st, 13th, 14th, and other rebels; and having collected about 1,000 armed rascals on foot, came out to attack my little party of barely 300 sabres and six officers. The Sowars dashed at a gallop up the road, and came boldly enough up to our camp. I had a few minutes before, fortunately, received notice of their intention, and as I had kept the horses ready saddled, we were out and at them in a few seconds. To drive them scattering back to the town was the work of only as many more; and I then, seeing their numbers, and the quantity of matchlocks brought against us from gardens and embrasures, determined to" draw them out into the open country; and the ' ruse ' was eminently successful." Drawing his men off troop by troop into the open plain, he had all the appearance of being engaged in a retreat. To use his own familiar language - " The enemy thought we were bolting, and came on in crowds, firing and yelling, and the Sowars brandishing their swords as if we were already in their hands, when suddenly I gave the order - 'Threes about and at them.' The men obeyed with a cheer; the effect was electrical; never was such a scatter. I launched five parties at them, each under an officer, and in they went, cutting and firing into the very thick of them. The ground was very wet, and a ditch favoured them, but we cut down upwards of fifty in as many seconds." Hodson could not complete his victory because he wanted ammunition. The enemy completed it for him. They fled in the night. The next day he was joined by a party of Jheend Horse, promptly and voluntarily supplied by the trusty rajah of that ilk. But the work was done; the rebels were terribly smitten; Rhotuck was relieved; and having struck this smart blow, Hodson was again in the camp before Delhi on the 24th.

In the meantime, alarmed by news of the coming siege-train, the mutineers sent out 6,000 men and 16 guns, under Bukt Klan, of Rohilcund, to capture the train. Hearing this, Nicholson girded himself up for a stroke at them. They moved out on the 24th; he started on the 25th, with 1,600 infantry, 500 horse, and 16 guns. In order to overtake the enemy, and bring them to action, General Nicholson had to leave the Trunk road, and go across country by such tracks as he could find. The enemy had marched to Nujuffghur by the Rhotuck road. They had reached the canal there, and had crossed it on the 24th; but had not marched further, fearing, perhaps, the very danger that hung over them. Nicholson was moving on a line which struck the Rhotuck road at Nujuffghur, and he thus came full upon their bivouac. Sir Theophilus Metcalfe had ridden out with the force as a volunteer, and he now proved a valuable guide. Riding ahead of the column, on the look-out for a deep watercourse, he came in sight of it, and of the enemy's camp on the other side at the same time, Sepoy vedettes were on our side of the watercourse, and they tried to catch the scouting party, but failed. Having actual knowledge of the position of the enemy, Nicholson deposited his baggage with a guard, pushed up to and over the watercourse under a heavy fire, and forming his plans on the instant - it was late in the afternoon, and time was precious - he proceeded at once to put them in execution.

The Sepoy position consisted of a serai in their left centre, where they had four guns; two villages in rear on either flank; a third village, and the town of Nujuffghur. In their rear ran a canal, crossed by a single bridge, over which they had come from Delhi. Nicholson determined to carry the serai, thus breaking the left centre of the line; then swinging round his right, to sweep the enemy's line of guns, and, if possible, cut him off from the bridge. This plan was energetically carried out. Detaching the 1st Punjab Infantry, under Lieutenant Lumsden, to drive the enemy out of Nujuffghur, and Blunt to watch the left, Nicholson arrayed the 1st Bengal Fusiliers, the 61st Foot, and the 2nd Punjabees against the serai. Its front was covered by a low ridge, and on this Tombs planted his guns. During the brief cannonade our men lay down, and Nicholson rode up and delivered a short speech to this effect: - " Men of the 61st, you remember what Sir Colin Campbell said at Chillianwallah, and you have heard, that he said the same to his gallant Highland Brigade at the Alma. I have the same request to make to you and to the men of the 1st Fusiliers. Hold your fire till within twenty or thirty yards; then fire and charge, and the serai is yours." The signal soon came; the line rose, topped the little ridge, and went steadily on through the swamp at its foot, disregarding the fire of grape and musketry. "Within a few yards came the order, " Fire a volley and charge! " There was a crash of musketry, down came the bayonets, and with a fierce cheer on dashed the line. Lieutenant Gabbett, of the 61st, sprang forward, but just as he reached the guns he slipped and fell, and a Sepoy killed him with the bayonet, but was instantly shot by Captain Trench. The Sepoys fought well, and some crossed bayonets with our men; yet they could not stand against the impetuous onset, and the serai and guns were won. Changing his front, Nicholson now turned the line of the remaining guns of the enemy, and advanced. The Sepoys, although strongly posted, seeing the bridge in danger, made for it at full speed, and crowded over, pursued by the fire of our artillery. They succeeded in getting away with three guns, leaving thirteen in our possession, captured on the field. We also took their camp and baggage, and horses and camels, and seventeen full wagons of ammunition. In the meantime Lumsden had cleared the rebels out of Nujuffghur, and was moving up to join the main body, when he was ordered to drive a band of Sepoys out of a village into which they had thrown themselves when cut off from the bridge. Having no retreat, these men fought desperately. Lumsden was shot dead, and his men recoiled with heavy loss. The 61st were sent up, "but these, too, suffered heavily before the village was taken. Halting near the bridge, the sappers blew it up - an important service - and the troops, who had been afoot all day, slept on the ground without food. This was very trying, but they bore it bravely, and the next day they marched back, entering the camp before Delhi in the evening. They had lost sixty killed and wounded; but they had killed 800 of the enemy, taken thirteen guns, and marched five and thirty miles, all within forty hours. By such an exploit did Nicholson signalise his arrival before Delhi.

The fate of Delhi was drawing nigh. The old king, after he learned the truth - a long time kept from him - about the battle of Nujuffghur, suffered alike from impotent anger and impotent despair. He felt that we must win; and he felt rightly. The last reinforcements came up in the first week of September, and with them the siege train. There was now no time to lose. Cholera and ague were rife in our camp. Not only the malaria from the swamps, but the fetid odours from dead cattle were more fatal than the shot of the enemy. Out of 11,000 men, more than a fourth were sick. Everything - the feverish state of the Punjab, the un- healthiness of the camp - made it imperative on General Wilson to take Delhi. He had powerful assistants. Baird Smith was there to direct the engineering operations; Nicholson to impel and guide; Hodson, and Chamberlain, and Norman to apply the spur, if it were needed. At the back of all, the commanding voice of Sir John Lawrence could be heard from the Punjab. Delhi must be taken out of hand.

Thus the month of August closed, and September began the fourth of the mutiny and the third of the siege. The crowning act is a little story by itself, and must have a separate chapter.

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