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


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The general had already drawn up his plan of assault. The chief engineer advised that it should be delivered at daybreak the next morning. His advice was adopted, and accordingly the welcome order went through the camp, and roused the soldiers for an encounter they so sternly desired.

In order to capture the city, the general formed five columns. Of these, the first, under Nicholson, consisted of the 75th Foot, the 1st Fusiliers, and the 2nd Punjabees. It was to break in at the Cashmere Bastion, through the breach. The second, under Brigadier Jones, consisted of the 8th Foot, the 2nd Fusiliers, and the 4th Sikhs. This column was directed to enter the Water Bastion breach. The third column, under Colonel Campbell, of the 52nd, consisted of the 52nd Foot, the Kumaon Battalion, and the 1st Punjabees. To them was entrusted the duty of rushing in at the Cashmere Gate after it had been blown open. The fourth column, under Major Reid, the constant and gallant defender of Hindoo Rao's house, was formed of a detachment of British, his own Ghoorkas, and part of the Cashmere Contingent. They were to carry the suburb of Kishengunge, the enfilading battery under the Moree, and, if possible, the Lahore Gate. The fifth column, under Brigadier Longfield, formed the reserve. The whole force did not exceed 5,000 men.

Before daybreak the three first columns and the reserve moved down from the ridge towards Ludlow Castle and the Koodsia Bagh. Just before reaching the former, Nicholson marched to the left and Campbell to the right of Ludlow Castle, while Jones led his men into the jungles of the Koodsia Bagh. The whole then lay- down under coyer, while the 60th Rifles in advance took post in open order within musket-shot of the walls, their duty being to fire on the mutineers on the parapets of the curtain flanking the breaches. It was now seen that the enemy had improvised defences in the breaches during the night, and the batteries once more opened on them to clear away the obstructions, and to shake the courage of the Sepoys. The Rifles springing up with a cheer, and moving forward, was to be the signal for the batteries to cease firing, and for the columns to go in simultaneously.

Presently the dark forms of the 60th rose from their cover; their cheering shouts were followed by the crack of their rifles; a burst of musketry from the walls replied with a steady vigour; the columns emerged, and each went as straight at the object before them as the ground would permit. With throbbing pulses, but firm, quick tramp, they swept along. The British were inspired by a desire to avenge barbarous massacres, punish shameful mutiny, and restore the empire of their race. The Sikhs were animated by a belief that they were fulfilling the prophecies of their holy men. The Ghoorkas loved the combat, and hated the Poorbeahs - the men from the eastern plains. All loved plunder and prize. So the columns closed with the enemy who had kept them at bay four months.

Nicholson's column, headed by the ladder party, which was led by the engineers, Medley, Lang, and Bingham, rushed towards the breach. But the mutineers shot closely and fast, and the party were so smitten on the edge of the ditch, that minutes elapsed before the ladders could be got down: at length the thing was done. Then the leaders and the stormers slid down the slope, planted the ladders against the scarp below the breach, and began to ascend. The enemy fought furiously and yelled furiously, and rolled down stones and sustained a terrific fire, and dared our men to come on. They got a speedy answer. Up went Lieutenant Fitzgerald, of the 75th, the first to mount, but he was instantly shot dead. But others followed fast, and, seeing how resolute their assailants were, the enemy fled, and the breach was won. Swarming in, the column poured down the ramp into the main guard. They had assailed the proper right of the bastion. On the proper left was the famous Cashmere Gate, and here an exploit had been performed which, for daring, ranks among the choicest exploits recorded in the history of war.

That exploit was the blowing in of the gate in broad daylight. The men ordered to perform this feat were the engineer officers, Lieutenants Home and Salkeld; the sapper sergeants, Carmichael, Burgess, and Smith, and davildar Madhoo, with seven native sappers to carry powder-bags. With them went Robert Hawthorn, bugler of the 52nd, whose duty it was to sound the advance when the gate was blown in. Campbell's column. as we have seen, was lying down awaiting the signal. As soon as it was given, the explosion party started on their dreadful errand. Captain Medley has described the scene that ensued so well, that we again must quote from his pages. There was an outer barrier gate, which was found open. Through this went Home. Before him stretched a broken drawbridge spanning the ditch. Over its shattered timbers, accompanied by four natives, each carrying a bag of twenty-five pounds of powder, he went, and placed them at the foot of the great double gate. "So utterly paralysed were the enemy at the audacity of the proceeding, that they only fired a few straggling shots, and made haste to close the wicket, with every appearance of alarm, so that Lieutenant Home, after laying his bags, jumped into the ditch unhurt. It was now Salkeld's turn. He also advanced with four other bags of powder, and a lighted port-fire. But the enemy had now recovered from their consternation, and had seen the smallness of the party, and the object of their approach. A deadly fire was poured upon the little band from the top of the gateway from both flanks, and from the open wicket not ten feet distant. Salkeld laid his bags, but was shot through the arm and leg, and fell back on the bridge, handing the port-fire to Sergeant Burgess, bidding him light the fusee. Burgess was instantly shot dead in the attempt. Sergeant Carmichael then advanced, took up the port-fire, and succeeded in the attempt; but immediately fell mortally wounded. Sergeant Smith, seeing him fall, advanced at a run; but, finding that the fusee was already burning, threw himself down into the ditch, where the bugler had already conveyed poor Salkeld. In another moment a terrific explosion shattered the massive gate."

Ere the roar of the powder had died away, the bugle of the steadfast Hawthorn rang out the well-known notes, which told his comrades to come on. Campbell gave the word, and the column, headed by the noble old 52nd, started forward. First went Captain Bayley and a company of the 52nd. These, rushing over the drawbridge and through the gate, were quickly followed by fifty men from each battalion, and these by the whole force of the column. There was no resistance. The exploding powder had killed all the defenders of the gate but one, and he was soon dispatched. As the men were forming afresh for work, down came Nicholson's column from the other side. So far the work had been well and quickly done. The second column, in its advance on the Water Bastion breach, had suffered great losses, three-fourths of the ladder-party falling, together with Greathed and Hovenden, the engineers. Part of the column, however, got in at the breach; but a large number straggled off to the right, and followed the track of Nicholson.

Once inside, Campbell and Nicholson got their men into order. The work of the first was to clear the buildings near the Cashmere gate, and then march straight forward upon the Chandnee Chowk, having for object the possession of that High Street of Delhi, and the strong and lofty Jumma Musjid, which rose up just beyond it. The second undertook to sweep along the ramparts, capturing in succession the Moree, Cabul, Burun, and Lahore Bastions, giving admission to Reid's column, if it carried the suburbs, and, connecting with Campbell in the Chandnee Chowk, press on to the Ajmere Gate. We must follow each column in turn.

Colonel Campbell's column, before it started inwards, cleared the cutchery, the church, and several houses, and sent a company into the Water Bastion, where the enemy still lingered. Then gathering up his men, and guided by Sir Theophilus Metcalfe, who knew every inch of the city, he made his way through the streets and gardens towards the Chandnee Chowk. On the road the detached company, which had cleared the Water Bastion, rejoined the main body, having worked its way through the narrow, streets from the water-side. The column met with little opposition, except on one spot. A gun was seen looking down a street. The colonel, with Metcalfe at his elbow, sent a body of men to turn the position of the gun; but before they could arrive, Lieutenant Bradshaw, carried away by ardour, led some of the 52nd straight at the gun. It was taken, but Bradshaw was killed - the only man who fell under its fire. Working through the Begum Bagh, the column found the gate closed; but an adventurous native policeman, and half a dozen 52nd men, speedily broke open the gate, and the force emerged into the Chandnee Chowk, and at once occupied the Kotwallee, or police- station. Then they tried the Jumma Musjid; but the enemy had closed the gate and bricked up the side arches. He had swarmed into the houses on each side, and his cavalry, even, were galloping about the streets. As Colonel Campbell had neither powder-bags nor guns, he could do nothing; so he fell back into the Begum Bagh under a smart fire. Here he waited some time, in the hope of seeing Reid's and Nicholson's men sweep up the Chandnee Chowk from the Lahore Gate. They did not come; and he therefore relinquished the ground won, and fell back upon the church.

In the meantime, Nicholson had led his men along the Rampart Road, which runs the whole circuit of the city within the wall. He rapidly seized the Moree Bastion and the Cabul Gate, and was pressing on for the Lahore Gate, when the column met with a check. They had gone some distance, the 75th Foot in front, writes Mr. Cave Browne, when, "at a curve in the road, a gun in the Burun Bastion opened fire upon them. In the lane, too, was a slight breastwork with a brass gun to dispute the road; but this was soon withdrawn before the brisk fire of the 75th. Unhappily, no rush was made to capture it. The men in advance hesitated, and fell back to the Cabul Gate, with three officers - Captain Freer (of the 27th), Wadeson, and Darrell - wounded. Here Nicholson, who had mounted the Moree Bastion to reconnoitre the movements of the enemy outside, joined them, and found the aspect of affairs suddenly changed. In the lane, which had before been comparatively clear, one of the guns (originally placed at the Lahore Gate to sweep the Chandnee Chowk) had now been run some distance down the lane, and another placed at the entrance to support it. The windows and roofs of the low houses on the left were also now swarming with riflemen; and where a short time before a vigorous rush might have cleared the almost empty lane, and taken the gun and carried the Lahore Gate in flank, with probably but little loss, now every inch of ground had to be fought, and the advance made in the face of a deadly fire from the field-piece, through the lane alive with a concealed foe. Nicholson saw the emergency, and resolved on recovering, if possible - the lost ground. He pushed on the 1st Fusiliers, who answered to his call right gallantly. One gun was taken and spiked; twice they rushed at the second. The grape ploughed through the lane, bullets poured down like hail from the walls and houses. Major Jobson fell mortally wounded at the head of his men; Captain Speke, and Captain Greville, were disabled; the men were falling fast - there was hesitation. Nicholson, sprang forward, and while in the act of waving his sword to urge the men on once more - alas for the column, alas for the army, for India! - he fell back mortally wounded, shot through the chest by a rebel from a house window close by, and was carried off by two of the 1st Fusiliers. The command of the column devolved on Major Brookes, of the 75th Regiment, who, on Colonel Herbert's retiring wounded at the glacis, had taken command of that regiment. They now fell back on the Cabul Gate, which was for some time to be our advanced position.' The delay had lost us the Lahore Gate and Nicholson."

It was this check which, as we have seen, compelled the retreat of Campbell from the Begum Bagh, and of Ramsay, with his Ghoorkas, from the Kotwallee, in the Chandnee Chowk, a post he had held for five hours. By this time the reserve had entered the city, and Bourchier was bringing in his guns, when the aspect of affairs outside directed attention to that quarter.

The attempt to reach the Lahore Gate, by carrying the suburb in front of it, had failed. The Sepoys, who, as we have remarked, were not wanting in some military qualities, had prepared for an attack on Kishengunge. Indeed, one reason for hurrying on the assault of Delhi was that they were known to be making a battery for seventeen guns in this quarter, with which to take in flank our whole line of batteries. So that when Major Reid, starting from the ridge, led his weak column from the Subzee Mundee towards the Kishengunge suburb, he found the gardens and houses full of troops, two or three breastworks in his path, plenty of guns, and several squadrons of horsemen hovering about on the watch for a chance. His troops were under the fire of the western bastions of the city, and artillerymen were so scarce that the three guns with him were under-manned. The column moved on, and came in contact with the enemy. The Cashmere Contingent, forming the right of the line, rushed prematurely into action, and ran as prematurely out of it. Their conduct obliged the handful of Rifles and Ghoorkas to precipitate their attack, and in the first onset they stormed the first line of the enemy's defences. But at this crisis, Major Reid, who had escaped scot free in twenty-five actions, fell severely wounded in this his twenty-sixth; and the enemy, developing an immense force of all arms, Captain Muter, of the Rifles, who succeeded to the command, withdrew the whole column, covered by the fire of the ridge batteries.

This was a moment of real peril. If the victorious foe wheeled to his right, he might have swept along the line of the siege batteries, and fallen on the flank and rear of the assaulting columns. Or he might have tried to capture the ridge and camp. To prevent this the cavalry performed a rare exploit in war. Brigadier Hope Grant, whose horsemen had been in the saddle since three in the morning, descended from the ridge with 600 sabres and lances and a few guns, led by the gallant Tombs, and rode under the city walls, so as to interpose between the assaulting troops and the enemy. Let Hodson, who was there, describe the scene; we have already explained why the horse were required. "In an instant," writes Hodson, " horse artillery and cavalry were ordered to the front, and we went there at the gallop, bang through our own batteries, the gunners cheering us as we leapt over the sand-bags, &c., and halted under the Moree Bastion, under as heavy a fire of round-shot, grape, and canister, as I have ever been under in my life. Our artillery dashed to the front, unlimbered, and opened upon the enemy; and at it they both went, 'hammer and tongs.' Now, you must understand we had no infantry with us. All the infantry were fighting in the city. They sent out large bodies of infantry and cavalry against us, and then began the fire of musketry. It was tremendous. There we were - 9th Lancers, 1st, 2nd, 4th Sikhs, Guide Cavalry, and Hod- son's Horse - protecting the artillery, who were threatened by their infantry and cavalry. And fancy what a pleasant position we were in, under this infernal fire, and never returning a shot. Our artillery blazed away, of course, but we had to sit in our saddles and be knocked over. However, I am happy to say we saved the guns. The front we kept was so steady as to keep them back until some of the Guide Infantry came down and went at them. I have been in a good many fights now, but always, under such a heavy fire as this, with my own regiment, and then there is always excitement, cheering on your men who are replying to the enemy's fire; but here we were in front of a lot of gardens, perfectly impracticable for cavalry, under a fire of musketry, which I have seldom seen equalled, the enemy quite concealed, and here we had to sit for three hours. Had we retired, they would at once have taken our guns. Had the guns retired with us, we should have lost the position. No infantry could be spared to assist us, so we had to sit there. Men and horses were knocked over every minute. We suffered terribly. With my usual good luck I was never touched. Well, all things must have an end. Some infantry came down and cleared the gardens in our front; and, as their cavalry never showed, and we had no opportunity of charging, we fell back, and (the fire being over in that quarter) halted and dismounted."

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

Assault of the Cashmere Gate
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The King of Delhi
The King of Delhi >>>>

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