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


Crisis in the Siege of Delhi - Defect of the Fortifications - Surveying under Fire - Sites for Batteries selected - Trenches opened - Exciting Night Scenes - Bombardment began - Ludlow Castle, Siege Batteries there - Effect of Fire - The Engineers - Inspecting the Breaches - Medley's Adventure - Breaches found to be practicable - Assault ordered - Plan of Attack - The Stormers - Nicholson at the Cashmere Bastion - Blowing in of the Cashmere Gate - Splendid Exploit - Hawthorn's Bugle- Rush of the 52nd Foot - The whole Line carried by Assault - Brigadier Campbell's daring March to the Great Street - Nicholson's Movement on the Moree - Nicholson mortally wounded: but the Army is firmly established in Delhi - Reid's Attack on Kishengunge fails - The Cavalry under Fire - Hodson of Hodson's Horse - Wilson's hesitation happily overruled - Capture of the Magazine, and of the Palace - Hodson captures the King, and slays his Sons - The Sikhs - Death of John Nicholson - Complete Occupation of Delhi - Who did it - Greathed's March down the Doab - Agra in Danger - Battle of Agra, and Route of the Mutineers - Part of the Army of the Punjab in Cawnpore.
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The crisis in the siege of Delhi had now arrived. The last soldier Sir John Lawrence could spare from the Punjab had reached the camp with the siege train. Nicholson's victory had filled the chiefs of the mutineers with alarm, and Nicholson's presence with still greater dread, for his military renown was strong in the rebel army. But they were far from anticipating the kind of tempest which was about to burst over their stronghold.

Although, the Sepoys had shown some skill and some enterprise in defence of Delhi, our engineers, scanning the place, had long seen that they had committed a capital fault. We were forced to assail the north front of the city, because we were tied to the plateau and the ridge, by the fact that our line of communications lay in rear of the ridge, and because we could not establish any base of supplies in any other quarter. Now, the fortifications on this side consisted, starting from the Jumna, on our left, of the Water Bastion, the Cashmere bastion, and the Moree Bastion. A curtain wall, loop- holed for musketry, but not pierced or prepared for guns, connected each bastion with the other. The consequence was that guns were mounted only on the bastions, and not on the curtains; and the effect of this was that we were enabled to erect a line of batteries strong enough to silence the guns on the bastions and breach the curtain walls. Had the mutineers possessed an engineer of ordinary faculty, he would have seen the use to which the curtains could have been put. He would have caused a thick rampart of earth to be piled up behind the curtains. On these he would have mounted guns drawn from the magazine - there were 200 new pieces in store - and thus the whole of the north front, from the Moree to the Water Bastion, would have been one bristling line of batteries. Fortunately for us the enemy did not find this out until it was too late. It was not likely that an engineer so accomplished as Colonel Baird Smith would overlook the capital defect of the enemy. He did not; and his plan of attack, executed by Captain Taylor, took ample advantage of the opportunity afforded by the negligence of the foe.

Before the siege train arrived the engineers had set to work training the Muzbee Sikhs, sent down by Sir John Lawrence, to act as sappers and pioneers. There were in the camp a few trained sappers belonging to the old army. They had been disarmed at Roorkee when their brethren mutinied; had been re-armed and marched to Delhi; and faithful fellows they proved to be. By these and the Muzbees, under the direction of Lieutenant Brownlow, siege materials were prepared. Working parties of sappers were practised at making field powder magazines and platforms for siege guns, and in rehearsing the operations of loading and unloading, and the art of throwing up batteries. Besides these men, Colonel Smith hired many hundreds of labourers, who, for a little pay, worked steadily and cheerfully under fire. When the siege train was known to be near, it was resolved to begin the first battery. The site for this was selected by two engineers, who went out, accompanied by a few Ghoorkas, to survey and reconnoitre the front. "It was on an isolated plateau," says Captain Medley, who has written a spirited account of the last days of the siege, " 900 yards from the Moree Bastion," the left of the north front of Delhi. "It was made for six light guns, and was connected by a trench with the Samnoy House," a Hindoo temple, overlooking the Subzee Mundee, and held as an outpost. This was a preliminary step. Next, Medley and another officer, with eixty Ghoorkas, descended from the ridge to survey a "nullah," or ravine, which had attracted the notice of our engineers, who thought, and justly, that it would serve the purpose of a first parallel. " We crept down into the nullah," writes Medley, "and, dividing the work amongst us, commenced surveying and plotting away at a great pace, our movements being considerably accelerated by the knowledge that we were 700 yards from our own line of pickets, and that the ground was not very favourable for running. We had very nearly completed our work, and would very likely have got off unobserved, when some pandy grass-cutters spied us out, and ran off to the Cashmere Gate. The enemy sallied out in great force, and commenced to fire from a long distance, until they had thoroughly ascertained how small our party was, when they got more bold, and, sneaking through the long grass in swarms, tried to got round and cut us off, keeping up a teasing fire. The Ghoorkas were ordered not to fire, and fell back very steadily, while we went on surveying, resolved to finish our work in spite of all the pandies in creation. I was comfortably seated under a small tree, which formed a sort of protection, and was busy taking angles, when a puff of smoke rose from the Cashmere Bastion, and a shower of grape came just over us, tearing the tree to pieces all around. This was rather too close to be pleasant, and a second shot immediately afterwards, which threw the dust and stones right over us as it ploughed up the ground, made us execute a rapid 'flank' movement, which took us out of range of the gun. We had done our work, and walked quietly towards Hindoo Rao's; but pandy knew he should get a chance as we went up the slope of the hill, and let drive with a round shot by way of a parting hint. Their skirmishers followed up pretty close, when the Ghoorkas prayed to be allowed to have just one shot before the fun was over; and, on receiving permission from Captain T----, threw themselves into the grass, and commenced a file firing, which caused pandy to beat a precipitate retreat, and it was with some difficulty we prevented the Ghoorkas from following them up. As we were nearly home, I asked the little native officer, who was with us, if any of his men were hit. 'Oh, yes,' he said, 'one was hit.' 'Where was he?' 'Oh, he was coming along all right.' And so he was, too, with a little help, yet the man was shot through the groin, and died the same night; another man was hit in the thigh, but not badly; these were our only two casualties. On arriving at Hindoo Rao's, we found General Wilson and some of his staff, who had been watching our proceedings rather anxiously."

The active operations of the siege began on the 7th of September. That night it was resolved that the right battery, No. 1, should be completed and armed. It was an immense undertaking. The engineers, with a few sappers, had to trace the outline in the dark; the battery was constructed and the guns and ammunition brought in. Let the reader imagine the scene. There were the engineers busy with tape, and the pickets only 700 yards from the Moree. It was their business to define the battery, or rather batteries; for one, the right, looked straight at the left half of the Moree; this was for six guns, and was intended to smash the guns and beat the embrasures of that bastion into ruin; the other, the left, for four guns, was directed against the Cashmere Bastion, in order that its fire might be kept down and prevented from hindering the construction of the batteries in its front. Down into the ravine, or nullah, in rear of the batteries, marched the covering party, and quickly ascending its southern bank, spread themselves out in silence along the front. Then came long strings of camels laden with gabions and fascines. These - viz., baskets and faggots - were needed to furnish cover, as the rocky ground yielded no earth. The camels roared and moaned as they were relieved of their burdens, and many a listener to the uncouth sounds prayed that the Sepoys might not hear. The moon rose in a cloudless sky. The Sepoys, for some time, neither heard nor saw. The ravine was alive with men and beasts; the ridge above was crowned by a busy multitude, planting gabions and piling fascines, and finishing the whole with a crest of sandbags to form the sides of the embrasures. Some were thus engaged, others were building the magazines, others connecting the two batteries by a trench, or covered way. Suddenly the men in the Moree grew suspicious. There was a flash, a roar of exploding powder, a crash of grape in the work, and several men were hurt. Then came another. Had the Sepoys really divined what was going on? No; for their well-aimed fire ceased as suddenly as it had begun. The work went on, and approached completion. Morning also was approaching, and with daylight would come destruction. With a steady rush, without hurry, the labour continued. Down came the carts with ammunition; down came the guns, each drawn by twenty bullocks. The ammunition was hastily stored in the magazines, the guns were dragged into the batteries. By dint of unceasing exertions the bullocks and carts were got back to the ridge, and just before day broke the bulk of the working party followed, for to have crossed in daylight the space between the camp and the battery would have been destruction to them. With all this exertion only one gun was ready to open fire.

As soon as it was light, the mutineers in the Moree and along the curtain beheld with indignant astonishment the newly-built battery, and opened upon it with a destructive fire, under which it had to be finished, gun after gun opening as it was got into its place. The effect of their fire was soon manifest, for by the afternoon of the 8th the Moree was a silent heap of ruins. Nevertheless, at intervals throughout the bombardment, the enemy sticking to the Moree, now and then opened fire from a gun until it was knocked over.

On the same day, the 7th, a strong force had surprised and occupied Ludlow Castle, and the Koodsia Bagh, a garden to the left of it, and under the Water Bastion. It was in this quarter that the real siege batteries were to be constructed, and the work had been commenced on the right with the double object of crushing the Moree, and drawing off the attention of the enemy from the Cashmere Gate and Bastion. On this side four batteries were speedily made, all under a heavy fire, for they were within musketry range, and the broken ground between the batteries and the place afforded excellent cover. There were two batteries in front of Ludlow Castle, an array of eighteen guns; a mortar battery in line with them, but further to the left; and a fourth battery near the custom-house, within 150 yards of the Water Bastion. Until all was ready the embrasures were masked with gabions, and when the time came to open fire, these were removed by volunteers, who for the time were exposed to the enemy's shot. These were great and successful operations, and without native labour could not have been accomplished. But the natives worked well for pay, and readily plied the spade and pick under a searching fire. The losses were heavy, but the work was urgent.

The mortars had been in steady play from sunset on the 10th, and on the 11th the breaching battery of eighteen guns opened with such effect on the Cashmere Bastion, and the curtain between it and the Water Bastion, that the guns on the former ceased to reply, and the latter came clattering down in huge cantles. The shot shook down the wall, the shells tore open the parapets. Hour by hour the breach grew wider. The right of the Cashmere Bastion and the left of the Water Bastion were crumbling away under the ceaseless blows. But these were not given without a sharp return of fire. The mutineers covered their whole front with a trench, and lined it with infantry. They brought light guns on to the ramparts. They skilfully planted a battery to the left of the Moree in such a position that it took the right and centre batteries in flank, and could not itself be seen by any gun of ours; while across the Jumna there was a second battery, which enfiladed the left, though with less effect. In spite of all this, our troops worked their guns with unfaltering steadiness. Here is a sketch from the pen of Captain Medley: - " The heat was very great, but the excitement of the scene almost prevented its being felt. The men's dinner and beer came into the batteries, and were heartily enjoyed; and in the evening, sundry scared figures in white came running into the place, one by one, and proved to be our khidmatgars, bringing the officers' dinners. And it is only fair to this much abused class of servants to record how bravely they behaved in this respect. There were very few who, even when their masters' posts were the most dangerous, ever hesitated to bring them their dinners as regularly as clockwork. The beestees were another class of servants that behaved equally well. In the many conflicts that took place outside the walls of Delhi, these men, with their water-bags, always kept up with the European troops, and were ready with their cooling draught in the heat of battle, and many of them lost their lives or their limbs on these occasions. The European soldiers duly appreciated this pluck. When it was war to the knife with every other pandy, the rebel beestees were spared, out of compliment to their fraternity; and many a windfall of loot from the bodies of the slain did our regimental beestees get hold of by the favour of the Europeans. After discussing our dinners, pipes were lighted, and the officer commanding in the battery made arrangements for a mild sort of firing to be kept up through the night; while the artillery, in general, lay down to sleep away their day's fatigue. So thoroughly did one get accustomed to the row, and so great was the fatigue, that the regular discharge of guns fired through the night, within ten feet of the sleeper, could not disturb his repose."

For three days this went on incessantly; the big guns firing by day, the mortars shelling the breaches and parapets all night. On the 13th there were two great breaches in the walls. If these were practicable, it was determined that the place should be assaulted forthwith, as the Sepoys were at length engaged in piling up earth behind the curtain connecting the Moree and Cashmere Bastions, in order that they might line the wall with heavy guns. The engineers - no officers were called upon to do more, or answered the call better, than the officers of this corps - were ordered to examine the breaches. That the reader may form some idea of the nature of this service, we again quote Captain Medley's account of his adventure.

He decided to do it at night. Leaving the batteries with six riflemen, and a stronger supporting party, he advanced through a garden and jungle to within sixty yards of the breach near the Cashmere Bastion. " Creeping quietly through the garden mentioned above, we quickly found ourselves under a large tree on the edge of the cover, and here we halted for a moment, conversing only in whispers. The enemy's skirmishers were firing away on our right, some thirty yards from us, and the flashes of their muskets lit up the air as if they had been fire-flies. The shells and rockets of the enemy at one moment illumined the space around, as they sailed over our heads, and then left us in total darkness. We now left the rifle officer, Lieutenant H----, and his twenty men in support, and, with the six men who were to accompany us, L---- and I emerged into the open, and pushed straight for the breach. In five minutes we found ourselves on the edge of the ditch, the dark mass of the Cashmere Bastion immediately on the other side, and the breach distinctly discernible. Not a soul was in sight. The counterscarp was sixteen feet deep, and steep. L---- slid down first; I passed down the ladder, and, taking two men out of the six, descended after him, leaving the other four on the top to cover our retreat. Two minutes more and we should have been at the top of the breach; but, quiet as we had been, the enemy was on the watch, and we heard several men running from the left towards the breach. We therefore re-ascended, though with some difficulty, and throwing ourselves down on the grass, waited in silence for what was to happen. A number of figures immediately appeared on the top of the breach, their forms clearly discernible against the bright sky, and not twenty yards distant. We, however, were in the deep shade, and they could not, apparently, see us. They conversed in a low tone, and presently we heard the ring of their steel ramrods as they loaded. We waited quietly, hoping they would go away, when another attempt might be made. Meanwhile we could see that the breach was a good one," the slope easy of ascent, and that there were no guns in the flank. We knew by experience, too, that the ditch was easy of descent. It was, however, desirable, if possible, to get to the top, but the sentries would not move. At one time the thought occurred to me of attempting the ascent by force. We might have shot two or three of them from where we lay, and in the surprise the rest might have run; and we could have been to the top and back before they had seen how small our party was. But the extreme hazard of the attempt, and the utter impossibility of rescuing any one that might be wounded in the ditch, made me abandon the idea, when I further reflected that we had in reality gained all the needful information. After waiting, therefore, some minutes longer, I gave a signal; the whole of us jumped up at once, and ran back towards our own ground. Directly we were discovered a volley was sent after us. The balls came whizzing about our ears, but no one was touched. We reached our support in safety, and all quietly retreated to the Koodsia Bagh by the same road we had come. L---- went off to the batteries, to tell them they might open fire again, and I got on to my horse and galloped back to camp as hard as I could, to make my report to the chief engineer; the roar of the batteries, as I rode off, showing that they had once more opened fire on the breach. I found the chief engineer in his office; drew out my report on paper, with a sketch of the breach, which I reported practicable for immediate assault."

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

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