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The Central Indian Campaign page 3


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Defeated at Gowlowlee, driven out of Calpee, Tantia Topee and his shattered troops hurried off towards Gwalior. It was a bold stroke, worthy of the subtle brain of the ablest leader of the Hindoos. Scindia had not befriended the native cause: nay, he and his sagacious minister, Dinkur Rao, had helped the Europeans in every way; yet the Gwalior people were hostile to the British. Why not, then, dethrone Scindia, and seizing Gwalior, hoist the Mahratta flag in the capital of that great Mahratta state? Tantia Topee was equal to the emergency. Preceding the army by forced marches, he secretly entered Gwalior, and began to intrigue with the leaders of the disaffected. The fruits were soon seen. Hearing of the approach of the rebel force, Scindia marched out to attack them on the 30th of May. But when the combat began, half his army threw down their arms and fled. The Maharajah's body-guard of horse alone fought, charging the enemy repeatedly, and only retiring when two-thirds were slain. Then the faithful remnant hurried their chief out of the field. They took the direction of Agra, and falling in with a troop of British horse, Scindia entered Agra a fugitive on the 3rd of June. Tantia Topee entered Gwalior in triumph, and proclaimed Nana Sahib Peishwa of the Mahrattas. It was the news of this that brought Sir Hugh Rose from his sick bed, and set his weary brigades in motion. They marched at once, one from Calpee, the other from Jaloum, to unite at Indoorkee.

A great movement of concentration on Gwalior was in progress. A body of Europeans marched out of Agra. Orders were sent to Brigadier Smith, operating in the heart of Scindia's country, to hasten on to Gwalior from Goona. It was needful that a severe blow should be struck, and struck at once, lest Tantia Topee should succeed in raising the whole country south of the Jumna, and in spreading the contagion to the Deccan. where the Nizam's minister, Salar Jung, another able Hindoo, held down the disaffected with difficulty. Therefore the troops marched with rapidity under the scorching sun. Sir Hugh pushed up close to Gwalior, and then waited for Scindia, whose presence with the army gave it a moral weight, and it was hoped would save the city from plunder. On the 17th Brigadier Smith, issuing from the Pass of Antree, south of the town, found himself in front of the rebel army. It was led by the Ranee of Jhansi, who, it is said, was dressed like a man, and who fought like one. Brigadier Smith, after surveying the enemy's position, drove off their cavalry, by a charge of the 8th Hussars, who had to ford a ravine full of water before they could get at the enemy. Then the infantry went in, and, fighting and marching all day, expelled the enemy from his position, and drove him back upon Gwalior. Smith encamped within range of the enemy's guns, and they pounded him at intervals, although the troops were not allowed to light fires. The next day Sir Hugh Rose arrived, and the two columns, united, assailed the enemy with such fury, on the 19th, that, after a sharp combat of five hours, they drove him away. Tantia Topee fled to the west, pursued by the British cavalry. The Ranee of Jhansi, mortally wounded on the 17th, was carried from the field, and, it is said, made her bed on a funeral pyre, lighted by her own hand! All night the fort fired guns at intervals; but, in the morning, when the troops entered, it was found that this was the work of eleven fanatics, only two of whom knew how to load and fire a gun.

As soon as Gwalior fell, the Agra brigade came up, and Scindia was ceremoniously restored to his throne by Sir Hugh Rose. Thus, within the space of three weeks, the Mahratta prince had been worsted in battle, and driven from his capital by men of his own race and religion; and they in turn had been routed from the field, and he had been restored by the white men from the western world. A great danger had been met with energy, and overcome. The lesson was not lost on the native princes far and near. It made our hold on the neighbouring Doab more secure, and it relieved the mind of Sir Colin Campbell of any apprehension he might have felt touching an irruption on his flank and rear from the south of the Jumna. On the 28th Sir Hugh Rose, having done his work, and being really ill, resigned his command and started for Bombay. His campaign in Central India showed him as a competent commander, won him the confidence of the public, the approval of military men, and secured him the affection of the soldiers. Thenceforward he was a man of high mark, none the less because it was known that he was a statesman as well as a soldier. He obtained the dignity of G.C.B., and, in after years, the high post of Commander-in-Chief of the Indian army.

The reader will be naturally solicitous to know how Brigadier Smith came to be at Goona, and thus in a position to give aid to Rose in the vital operation of recovering Gwalior. The brigadier's column had come from the west. Lord Elphinstone's first care had been to recover Indore, and reassure Holkar; because thereby he not only gave a helping hand to a loyal native prince who deserved it, but he covered the fords of the Nerbudda and the Tap tee, and consequently the northern frontiers of the Deccan and Candeish, which it was all important to preserve from the contagion of insurrection. This was effected by the troops Rose had collected at Mhow and Indore, and by Stuart's campaign in Malwa. Lord Elphinstone's next care was to assemble troops in Western Rajpootana, in order to recover that country, keep the enemy out of Guzerat, and, by a forward movement to the east, defeat the mutineers and rebellious chieftains between the Sinde river and the Chumbul. As reinforcements arrived from England, they were sent into Rajpootana. Camps were formed in the winter of 1857-8; and when Rose moved from Saugor, General Roberts, who commanded in Rajpootana, marched upon Kotah. On the 30th of March, the day he attacked the place, he was joined by 1,500 horsemen, who had marched from Cutch. The town was carried by the infantry, but the enemy escaped; and by some mistake, the horse, eager for the fight, were kept waiting on the river, and not allowed to take any part in the pursuit. When the enemy had got a good start, a flying column was sent after them; and although they started so late, yet they managed to come up with them, and capture seven guns. Having dispersed these rebels, the division under Roberts broke up, and engaged in diverse harassing expeditions during the whole of the year. Part of the force (Smith's brigade) marched over the Chumbul into the Gwalior country; and those who desire to read a detail of the endless duties of British cavalry during 1858 will find a full but somewhat tedious record in Mrs. Duberly's " Campaigning Experiences." When Sir Hugh Rose had captured Jhansi, the rebels, pressed from the west by Roberts, assembled in detached bodies in Rose's rear, and Smith's brigade was occupied in marching and fighting, and dispersing the enemy. It was thus that, in June, he was at Goona, and was called up to drive Tantia Topee out of Gwalior city.

After that defeat the rebel chief hurried westward, struck and defeated again, with the loss of his remaining guns, and followed by Sir Robert Napier, who succeeded Rose in command of the Central India field force. But although the weaver-artilleryman attracted towards himself a host of enemies - Napier from Gwalior, Showers from Agra, Roberts from Nusseerabad - he managed to slip through their hands; to raise fresh armies as often as his soldiery were surprised and broken; to steal artillery from native rajahs; to fight and fly, and fly and fight, and to keep all the troops between the Jumna and Nerbudda constantly employed for six months. His great object was to reach the Deccan or Candeish; and to accomplish this he made incredible efforts. But the story of his wanderings and adventures belongs to a later stage in the history of this revolt.

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Captain Sir William Peel
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