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The Central Indian Campaign


The Central Indian Campaign - Its Objects - Means employed - Lines of Operation - Rose marches upon Saugor - Siege and Capture of Ratghur - Relief of Saugor - Capture of Gurrakota - Preparations for a March on Jhansi - Battle of Mudanpore - Sir Hugh forces the Pass, and crosses the Betwa - Stuart captures Chandaree - Joins Sir Hugh, and both march on Jhansi - Siege and Battle of Jhansi - Tantia Topee - Jhansi taken by Storm - Sufferings from Heat - Battle of Koonch - March upon Calpee - Battle of Gowlowlee - Capture of Calpee - Tantia Topee marches on Gwalior - Dethrones Scindia - Rose follows - Brigadier Smith moves up from Goona - A Brigade starts from Agra- Action before Gwalior - Defeat of the Rebels - Scindia restored - Rose goes to Bombay - Other Operations in Central India.
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Sir Hugh Rose, it will be remembered, arrived at Indore on the 16th of December, and assumed command of the Central India field force, mustering 6,000 men, of whom nearly one-half were Europeans. He had a severe task to accomplish with these means. The whole country north of the Vindaya range of mountains was in the hands of the enemy. Bands of mutinous Sepoys were established at various points between the Chumbul and the Saone. They held forts and passes, or went hither and thither preying on the villagers. The only British post was Saugor, where several hundred Europeans were shut up in the fort, and where, strange to state, the 31st Native Infantry and part of the 42nd were faithful. Deeper in the country, towards the Jumna, the bold Ranee of Jhansi held the town and district of that name, and kept up communication with the disaffected subjects of Scindia, the remains of the Gwalior Contingent, reorganising itself at Calpee, and the rebel bands who wandered up and down the Jumna, and made dashes into the Doab, from Allahabad to Agra. Sir Hugh Rose was entrusted with the duty, first, of relieving Saugor, then, of capturing Jhansi, and finally, of making his way to Calpee. He was to be supported on his left by another column from Bombay, under General Roberts, which was collected at Nusseerabad, in Rajpootana; and, on his right, by a Madras column, under General Whitlock, whose starting point was Jubbulpore, on the higher waters of the Nerbudda. Thus, while Rose swept the country between the Sinde and the Beas, and Whitlock marched on his right between the Beas and the Soane, his object being Banda, Roberts was to march eastward by Kotah, then in the hands of the rebels and mutineers, into the Gwalior country.

Sir Hugh Rose divided his force into two columns or brigades. The first, under Brigadier Stuart, was formed at Indore; the second was collected at Sehore, about ninety miles to the north-east, on the road to Bhopal. The first was ordered to march on Chandaree, a very strong place on the left bank of the Betwa. The second, or right brigade, with which Rose himself marched, was directed from Sehore upon Ratghur and Saugor. Stuart's brigade was not to leave Indore until Rose had started for Bhopal, so that the two columns, although separated by a wide interval, might march in parallel lines, and then converge to a point north of Chandaree. Stuart's course lay down the left bank of the Betwa, and he had no serious hostility to apprehend until he approached Chandaree.

Rose's column was joined on the 15th of January, 1858, by the siege-train from Sehore. After executing 149 mutineers of the Bhopal Contingent - part of which, obeying the Begum, had remained loyal - Rose started on the 16th, and marched to the beautiful town of Bhopal, the capital of a " pattern principality," fertile, well cultivated, wisely governed. There was even a small steamer on the lake near the town, commanded by a native. On the 21st the column entered Scindia's territory, and encamped at Bilsah, famous for tobacco. Three more marches brought the brigade in front of Ratghur, the first obstacle to be overcome on the road to Saugor; for the enemy had occupied the fort, and showed a readiness to bar the road. On the 24th Rose drove in the outposts of the enemy, and invested the place. Ratghur had been a strong fort. It stood on the spur of a hill, and overlooked the country around. The river Biena, running east and west, covered the east and south faces, the rock being scarped above the river. The west face, where the gate was, overlooked the town and Saugor road. The north face was on the hill side; the approach to it was through dense jungle, and it was strengthened by a deep ditch and an outwork. Thus, only one side - that on the north - afforded any facilities for attack. Against this side Sir Hugh directed his efforts.

Having disposed his troops around the place, keeping a good look-out towards Saugor, whence interruption might come, he pushed his siege guns, under a sufficient escort, up the hill and through the jungle, making a road for the heavy pieces as he advanced. All this time the troops around the town were engaged in constant skirmishes against irregular forces on the outside. By dint of perseverance these were driven off, and the town was occupied. Then the heavy guns were mounted in a battery, made by the Madras Sappers, most efficient soldiers, on the north hill, within 300 yards of the north wall, and opened fire, while other guns shelled the fort from the plain, and the Enfields were busy duelling with the matchlock-men. On the 28th a body of Sepoys, in red coats, some wearing medals, made a show of attacking the rear by advancing through the jungles on the hill. But they had not the heart to attack; and driven off by shell, were cut up by the horse. This was an attempt to relieve the place, and the enemy within knew it. The breach had been examined, and declared to be practicable. It was supposed that it would be stormed on the 29th; but when that day dawned, two enterprising officers, suspecting the quiet, climbed up the breach, and found that the enemy had fled. The garrison had scrambled down a precipice, women and all, and had got away through the lines of the Bhopal Contingent, who were supposed to be guarding that side. The cavalry went in pursuit, but were not able to catch the fugitives: indeed, the latter halted eight miles distant. Sir Hugh went out to attack them, and defeated them, yet could not take their guns. But the effect of these actions was that the roads to Saugor and Indore were freed from the enemy; and, on the 3rd of February, the Europeans shut up so long in Saugor were liberated by the arrival of Sir Hugh. They drove out to meet him, "looking pale and careworn," as it was natural they should look after eight months' imprisonment.

The next obstacle to be removed was a body of mutineers, men of several regiments, who had thrown themselves into the fort of Gurrakota, which fifty years before had defied an European army. This fort lies over the Beas, east of Saugor, and until it was taken Rose could not move on Jhansi, nor Whitlock on Banda. The Sepoys entrenched the road into the fort from the south. But the troops advanced from the west. The horse artillery ranged up and opened fire in this unexpected quarter. Whereupon the Sepoys, greatly to their credit, sounded the advance, and moving boldly out, seemed disposed to charge the guns. Upon this, the 3rd Europeans came into play, and drove them back. Not satisfied yet, the enemy reformed, and came up with great steadiness and obstinacy, and were not broken and routed until they were close upon the guns. When they fled, the Hyderabad horsemen were soon among them, and their charge split them in two, one body hurrying into the fort, the other rushing off to the south, and suffering loss at every step.

Batteries were at once erected to breach the west face. The enemy worked their guns with vigour and coolness, but they were soon silenced, all but one, and this one was finally knocked over by Lieutenant Smith, of the Bombay Artillery. On the 13th of February the enemy were seen escaping from the fort, and the infantry, hastening in upon them, found that nearly all had gone. The fugitives were pursued five-and-twenty miles by the Hyderabad Horse. In the fort were found great stores of provisions, and quantities of plunder taken from Europeans in the mutiny. Provided for a long siege, the Sepoys had been ousted in three days, and such of the provisions as could not be carried away were given to the starving villagers whom they had so long oppressed. Gurrakota was blown up by the sappers. The troops returned to Saugor on the 17th, and halted until they could be adequately furnished for a long march through Central India.

Sir Hugh obtained vast supplies; beer in great quantities; boots, as many as could be got; sheep and goats, over, and elephants, grain and flour, tea and soda-water for the wounded; full supplies of ammunition, and several additional guns and mortars from the arsenal of Saugor. The Europeans got lighter clothing, and were thus better prepared to endure the severities of the Indian hot season. A military train, established in Bombay, was to follow the force, and complete its means and appliances. Practically, Sir Hugh was about to enter an enemy's country, and he had to go forth fitted like a conqueror.

The troops rested ten days, Sir Hugh Rose marching for Jhansi at two a.m. on the 27th, the time when Sir Colin crossed the Ganges into Oude. The road lay nearly north through the slopes of the Vindaya range. No sooner had they quitted Saugor than a shower of rockets shot up out of that town, and burst in a sparkle of evanescent stars in the dark sky. Here was brilliant evidence that the enemy had friends in the city. The column defiled through a pass, and halted at Raneepore. The next morning, when the column started, rockets again were seen, but this time in front; and as the troops proceeded, beacon after beacon blazed out upon the hills on both flanks, and in front. By these means, the enemy, who had assembled in the passes leading into the plains, were apprised of every movement of the force. There were two - the Pass of Malthon, and the Pass of Mudanpore. Malthon was the northern outlet, and stood directly in front of the line of march followed by the column. Here the enemy were supposed to be encamped, and, indeed, it was soon found that they held the fort of Barodia as an outpost. From this they were rapidly expelled by a few shells. A heavy storm came on, and the force detached against Barodia had much difficulty in making their way back to the camp. A body of Khoonds and a few Sappers were placed in the fort, which was to be held as a post station. This also helped the purpose of Sir Hugh, which was to deceive the enemy, and make them believe that he intended to storm the Malthon Pass, while he really turned it by Mudanpore.

But the enemy were not wholly deceived, for they occupied both passes. Leaving a small party of all arms to attack Malthon, or rather keep the enemy occupied, Sir Hugh, with the bulk of the brigade, went south along the foot of the hills through the pathless jungle. He then turned towards the gorge, and at once came under lire. The Rajah of Shahghur, in whose territory the pass was situated, headed the enemy, and his general, late a Sepoy sergeant, had occupied the hills on both sides of the pass. Thence he opened such a storm of cannon shot and musketry, that he brought our men to a halt, and even obliged Sir Hugh, whose horse was shot under him, to withdraw the guns farther to the rear. The check was only momentary. Keeping up a hot fire, Sir Hugh directed his infar try upon the flanks of the pass, and Europeans and Hyderabad natives went with shouts into the jungle. This was more than the enemy could endure; and without waiting for the assailants, they ran down the hills into the pass and through it, carrying off their guns. Our troops followed towards the town. The enemy endeavoured to stand once more, but his heart soon failed him. Nevertheless, he got away with his guns, and the only capture of note made was the astrologer of the Rajah of Shahghur. Encamping near the fort of Soorai, the troops halted while this fort was destroyed. On the 6th, the brigade moved on Murowa, seized the fort, and declared the territory of the rebel Rajah to be annexed to the British possessions. While here, the detachment sent against Malthon came into camp. They had marched through with little opposition, as the men who were to hold it grew alarmed when they heard the cannon at Mudanpore, and alarm becoming panic, they ran away.

In order to protect the friendly ruler of Tehree, Sir Hugh sent thither the Hyderabad Contingent, and marched himself upon Baunpore, where he came within hearing of the cannonade directed by his 1st Brigade against Chandaree. This brigade had laid siege to the strong fort in due form, and was reducing it with heavy guns. Quitting Baunpore, Sir Hugh, having determined to clear his right effectually, marched upon Tal Behut, from which the Hyderabad Contingent, that most active force, had driven the enemy. He arrived on the 14th of March. The fort had been abandoned, luckily for him, as it was a place of very great strength, and might have been defended for weeks. Having opened communication with the 1st Brigade, and having learned that it was making good progress, Sir Hugh detached the Sappers and Contingent to secure the fords of the Betwa; then, turning westward, he marched the whole column to the river, and crossed it on the 17th of March. That day the 86th Poot and the 25th Bombay Infantry had carried Chandaree by storm; the 86th, an Irish regiment, fighting none the worse because it was St. Patrick's Day. Having heard of the fall of Chandaree, Sir Hugh Rose marched at once upon Jhansi. "By this time," says Mr. Thomas Lowe, one of the surgeons with the force, " the heat was becoming intense. Every day we found hotter than the preceding one, and the marches began to tell perceptibly upon the troops and cattle, while the whole face of nature appeared to put on the seared and barren garb of winter, The roads were dusty, the wells almost dry, the grass bleached and withered away; the dry, yellow leaves rustled beneath the jungle trees, and the branches above were naked and bleached, the cattle creeping in vain beneath these for shade. The winds began to blow as though they had just escaped from the hitherto closed doors of Pandemonium, and they swept over us, scorching up every pore of the body, and making the eyes feel as though they had been blistered. The thermometer stood in the shade of our tent at 110 degrees; in the open at 130 degrees! Nothing was cool. The chairs we sat on felt as though they had just been baked; the tables and tent poles were too hot to touch without necessity; cold water was a luxury, and the necessity of having one's beer cooled for the evening became one of the great and momentous objects of our existence. Each bottle was carefully enveloped in a wet cloth, and assiduously fanned by a servant until required; or, when a breeze blew, was hung up, and constant evaporation encouraged. By this means we generally had a cold drink at night after the heat of the day. The heat, indeed, was so great that even the hair of the head became a burden; and many of the officers placed themselves in the hands of the barber, and came out cropped to the scalp - a sort of stubble-field pate, deliciously cool, and favourable to the constant immersions we were now obliged to practice, and bad colds in the head, which were soon to come. This gave a very comic air to the personnel, but then brushing and combing were dispensed with - a great consideration on the march; while it became a very easy thing to water the pate, and allow evaporation to go on steadily. Indeed, anything and everything was done to counteract the heat and its effects upon the body, but to very little purpose; for as the month sped, so the thermometer gradually and alarmingly rose; and the hospitals began to fill with sick with abdominal complaints, affections of the liver, and derangements of the head."

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Pictures for The Central Indian Campaign

Captain Sir William Peel
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