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

Another War of Aggression - Invasion of Gwalior by the Governor- General in person - Sir Hugh Gough Commander-in-Chief - Resistance of the Mahrattas - Battle of Maharajpore - Defeat of the Enemy - Heavy loss of the British - Battle of Mangore - Submission of the Mahrattas - British Occupation of Gwalior - The Government abolished and the Army disbanded - The Administration placed under the control of the British Resident - Warlike Policy of Lord Ellenborough - His Recall- Succeeded by Sir Henry Hardinge - He is instructed to maintain a Pacific policy - The Sikh War - Character of the People - Runjeet Singh - The Sikhs cross the Sutlej - The Battles of Moodkee, Ferozeshab, and Aliwal - The Battle of Sobraon - Defeat and Submission of the Sikhs - The Treaty of Peace - Military occupation of Lahore - Honours and Rewards of the Victors - Sir Henry Hardinge succeeded by Lord Dalhousie - Fresh insurrection of the Sikhs in the Punjaub - Battle of Chillianwallah - Sir Charles Napier sent out to supersede Lord Gough - The Battle of Goojerat - Surrender of Mooltan - End of the Sikh War- Annexation of the Punjaub.
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No sooner was the conquest of Scinde completed, than the Governor-General began to discern another cloud looming in the distance. In the Punjaub, Runjeet Singh had organised a regular and well-disciplined army of 73,000 men. He died in 1839. His heir died the next year, it was supposed of poison. The next heir was killed a few days after by accident. The third, who succeeded, was an effeminate prince, who left the government entirely in the hands of his Minister, a wicked man, who, conspiring with others, caused to be murdered several members of the Royal family. They were, in their turn, punished by having their heads cut off, and the only surviving son of Runjeet Singh, a boy only ten years of age, was proclaimed Maharajah. This was the work of the Sikh army, now virtually masters of the country. Lord Ellenborough and his council suspected that this army, still 40,000 strong, and very brave, was unfriendly to the British, and might some day give trouble to the Indian Government - possibly invade its territories and cut off its communications In order to guard against such contingencies, it was necessary, they thought, to take possession of Gwalior, a powerful Mahratta state in Central India. This country lay on the flank of our line of communications with Allahabad, Benares, and Calcutta. In this country also there were, fortunately for the British, a disputed succession, royal murders, civil dissensions, and military disorganisation. A boy, adopted by the Queen, was proclaimed Sovereign by the chiefs, with a regency, over which the British Government extended its protecting wing. The young Sovereign died in 1843, having no child; but his widow, then thirteen years of age, adopted a boy of eight, who became King under another regency. The regent Nama Sahib was deposed, notwithstanding the support of the British Government. This was an offence which Lord Ellenborough would not allow to go unpunished; and besides, the disorganised army of Gwalior were said to be committing depredations along the British frontier. Here, then, in the estimation of the Governor- General, was a clear case for military intervention, to put down disorder, and secure a good position for future defence against the possible aggressions of the warlike Sikhs of the Punjaub. Lord Ellenborough explained his policy to the Company, stating that the Indian Government could not descend from its high position as the paramount authority in India. The withdrawal of its restraining hand would let loose all the elements of confusion. Redress for the daily occurring grievances of the several states against each other would again be sought not from the superintending justice of the British Government, but from the armed reprisals of the injured; and bad ambition, availing itself of the love of plunder and of war, which pervades so large a portion of the population of India, would again expose to devastation countries which, under our protection, have enjoyed many of the advantages of peace. To maintain, therefore, unimpaired the position we now hold, is a duty not to ourselves alone but to humanity.

These arguments seemed to satisfy the Home Government, and a large force was sent from Agra to Gwalior, under Sir Hugh Gough, then Commander-in-Chief of India, as successor of Sir Jasper Nicholls. So much interest did Lord Ellenborough feel in this invading expedition that it was accompanied by him in person. The Mahrattas of course prepared to defend themselves. They were met at Maharajpore. After a severe struggle, in which the enemy were bayoneted at their guns, and a series of bloody conflicts had taken place in the streets, the British were victorious, and got possession of twenty-eight guns, with the key of the enemy's position. The battle, however, was not over when this vantage ground was gained; for though the enemy had fallen back, they were prepared for a desperate resistance in other less favourable positions. A general attack was then ordered. Brigadier Scott, at the head of the 10th Light Horse, and Captain Grant, with his Horse Artillery, had scattered their cavalry which covered the extreme right. General Vaillant then led on the 40th Queen's, and successively gained three strong positions, which the enemy defended with the utmost firmness and courage, not quitting their guns till they were cut down by their fierce assailants. In this attack they lost six Regimental standards. The 2nd Native Infantry also acted bravely on this occasion. The 39th Queen's also made an impetuous attack, and the result was that the enemy were driven from all their intrenchments in utter confusion, with the loss of nine standards and sixty-four guns. The officers that distinguished themselves most in this battle were Major Hoppard, Captain Codrington, Colonel Hamilton, Captain Grant, Major Bray, Major Dick, Major Philips, and Captain Campbell. Seven of our officers were killed on the spot or wounded mortally. Our total loss was 106 killed, and 684 wounded. The Commander-in- Chief wrote in his despatch: - "I regret to say that our loss has been very severe - infinitely beyond what I calculated upon. Indeed, I did not do justice to the gallantry of my opponents." It was a loss certainly almost unprecedented in Indian warfare, and it is remarkable that this misfortune repeatedly occurred while Lord Gough was commander-in-chief. Lord Ellenborough, with his suite, was rash enough to be under fire during part of the engagement. The loss of the enemy was estimated at 3,000. Major-General Gray, with only 2,000 men, on the same day won a victory over 12,000 of the Mahrattas, in the fortified village of Mangore, about twelve miles from Gwalior. Here, too, the loss of the victors was very heavy, more than a tenth of the little army having fallen.

After these victories, an armistice was agreed upon, as a preliminary to negotiations. The result was submission on the part of the Mahrattas, and the occupation of Gwalior by our troops. The Governor-General then imposed the terms of peace, which did not include the seizure of any territory, but consisted solely in the usurpation of sovereignty. The Mahrattas were compelled to disband their army and abolish their Government. The supreme authority was lodged in a council of men devoted to the East India Company, whose President was to receive his instructions from the British resident. A new army was organised as a contingent, which was to be at the service of the Indian Government when required. Until the majority of the reigning prince, the administrators of the Government were to act on the British resident's advice, not only generally or in important points, but in all matters wherein such advice shall be offered. f This conquest, with its humiliating consequences, was terribly avenged in 1857.

The career of Lord Ellenborough as Governor-General of India was one of the most remarkable in its annals. He went out for the purpose of inaugurating a policy of peace, conciliation, and non-intervention. His course from that day was one of constant aggression and war. The conquests of Scinde and Gwalior were planned and prepared for deliberately and in good time; and when the Governments to be subdued were goaded into hostilities, he was ready to pounce upon them with overwhelming force. The consequence was brilliant success, and what the world calls glory, with splendid fortunes for a number of British officers and agents. His friends defended this policy, on the ground that, though it was aggressive it was self-defensive; to guard against a possible, but very remote contingency - an invasion of the Sikhs to drive the British out of India. The Governor-General, however, had become entirely too warlike; and since he had smelled powder and tasted blood at Gwalior, the Board of Control became so alarmed at his martial propensities, that they determined on his immediate recall, and sent out Sir Henry Hardinge to rule in his stead. That they were right about his propensities, appears from the language he used in a farewell speech at Calcutta, in which he said: - "The only regret I feel on leaving India is that of being separated from the army. The most agreeable, the most interesting period of my life has been that which I have passed here in cantonments and camps."

Sir Henry Hardinge, the new Governor-General of India, whom Sir Robert Peel recommended to the Board of Control, had been in the army since he was thirteen years of age. He had followed Wellington through all the battles of the Peninsular war, and had won all the military glory that could be desired, so that he was not likely to follow the example of Lord Ellenborough in opening fresh fields for the gathering of laurels in India. "The man who stood beside the dying Moore at Corunna, who had turned disaster into victory at Albuera, and lost an arm beside Blucher at Ligny, was not likely to be seduced by the phantom of Oriental glory into schemes of doubtful expediency, or hazardous result." The Chairman of the East India Company, giving him instructions on his departure, cautioned him against following the example of Lord Ellenborough, in appointing military officers as administrators, in preference to the civil servants of the Crown. He reminded him that the members of the Civil Service were educated with a special view to the important duties of civil administration, upon the upright and intelligent performance of which so much of the happiness of the people depended. He expressed a hope that he would appreciate justly the eminent qualities of the civil servants of India; and that he would act towards the Sepoys with every degree of consideration and indulgence, compatible with the maintenance of order and obedience. He urged that his policy should be essentially pacific, and should tend to the development of the internal resources of the country, while endeavouring to improve the condition of the finances!

Sir Henry arrived at Calcutta in September, 1844. He found that tranquillity prevailed throughout the empire, and applied his energies to the formation of railways. But he had soon to encounter the exigencies of war. Notwithstanding the stringent injunctions he had received to cultivate the most amicable spirit with the Sikhs, he was obliged to tax the resources of the empire in maintaining with them one of the most desperate conflicts recorded in Indian history. The Sikhs were a warlike race, distinguished not less by fanaticism than bravery. They were bound together and inspired by the most powerful religious convictions - a tall, muscular, and athletic race of men, full of patriotic ardour, elevated by an ancient faith. They were confederated in various provinces, to the number of about 7,000,000. They were accustomed to ride upon fleet horses, and had organised an effective cavalry, while their infantry had been disciplined by French and Italian officers. They could, if necessary, bring into the field 260,000 fighting men; but their regular army now consisted of 73,000 men, with 200 pieces of artillery. Settled chiefly in the Punjaub, a country of extraordinary fertility, they also abounded in Mooltan, Afghanistan, and Cashmere, celebrated from the most ancient times as the favoured abode of manufacturing industry, social order, wealth, and happiness. This warlike race had been governed by Runjeet Singh, a chief of extraordinary ability, energy, and determination. He had but one eye; he was deeply marked with the small-pox; his aspect was repulsive, and his manner rude; yet was he looked up to by this great people with respectful homage, and obeyed with implicit trust. While he lived he maintained an alliance with the English Government; but after his death the Sikhs were divided into two factions - one headed by Gholab Singh, and professing to be favourable to the British; the other by the Ranee, who yielded to the clamours of the unpaid soldiers to be led against the English. Accordingly the military forces of the Sikhs were ordered to march down to the Sutlej. But their intended attack was prevented by the astrologers, who declared that the auspicious day for marching had not yet arrived. Sir Henry Hardinge, however, in common with the most experienced officers of the Indian Government, did not think the Sikh army would cross the Sutlej with its infantry and artillery, or that they would have recourse to offensive operations on a large scale. Up to this period it had committed no act of aggression. In 1843 and 1844 it had moved down the river from Lahore, and after remaining there encamped a few weeks, had returned to the capital. These reasons, and, above all, his extreme anxiety to avoid hostilities, induced him not to make any hasty movement with his army, which, when the two armies came into each other's presence, might bring about a collision. This moderation, however, was misconstrued by the Sikhs. They supposed that the British were afraid to encounter them. Accordingly, on the night of the 9th December, 1845, a portion of the Sikh army appeared within three miles of the Sutlej; and information was received by our garrison at Ferozepore, that preparations were making on a large scale for the movement of infantry, artillery, and stores, from the Sikh capital, Lahore. On the 12th of December, the Sikh army crossed the Sutlej, and concentrated in great force on the British side of tho river. The British reserves, meantime, were advancing to meet this formidable enemy; but they were still far off, and Ferozepore had but a garrison of 9,500 men, to withstand an army of 60,000, with 100 guns! Sir Charles Napier wrote in his " Memoirs" that he did not think history would let off Sir Henry Hardinge for allowing such an army to cross the river unmolested, and entrench itself on the other side. It is quite certain that Sir Charles would not have given them such an advantage. But their generals did not know how to use it. Sir Henry Hardinge had hastened in person to assist General Gough in conducting the operations against the enemy, and both putting themselves at the head of the advanced guard, they were followed by the reserves, marching at the rate of twenty- six miles a day, full of excitement at the prospect of more fighting.

At length the Sikhs moved on to meet the British, on the 17th December. When they came in sight, the British bugles sounded, and the wearied soldiers, who had been lying on the ground, instantly started up and stood to their arms. The Governor-General and the Commander-in-Chief rode from regiment to regiment, cheering the spirits of their men, and rousing them to the needful pitch of valour by encouraging exhortations. About two miles from Moodkee, Gough, at the head of the advanced guard, found the enemy encamped behind sandy hillocks and jungle, 20,000 strong, with forty guns, which immediately opened fire as he approached. The battle-field was a sandy plain, on which the view was obstructed by small hills, which prevented the belligerents from seeing one another till they were quite near. For some time the contest was maintained on either side by the artillery. Then General Gough ordered the advance of a column of cavalry - the 3rd Light Dragoons, the 5th Light Cavalry, and the 4th Lancers. The column was launched like an immense thunderbolt against a mass of Sikh cavalry, and proved so irresistible in its terrific onset that it broke them up into fragments, scattered them about, and swept along the whole line of the enemy, cutting down the gunners, and suspending for a time the roar of their artillery. Soon after this the infantry came into action, led on by Sir Harry Smith, General Gilbert, and Sir John M'Caskill. The Sikhs fought bravely and obstinately, at every point; but when the steady incessant fire of our artillery had done its work, a general charge was made, with loud, exultant cheers, and the enemy were driven from their ground with tremendous loss. The day had closed upon the battlefield, but the routed enemy were pursued for a mile and a half by the light of the stars.

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

Viscount Gough
Viscount Gough >>>>
Bridge of boats across the Sutlej
Bridge of boats across the Sutlej >>>>

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