The first victory--Enthusiasm amongst the troops --Barnard's success at Badli-ki-Serai--The Flagstaff Tower --Position on the Ridge--Quintin Battye--The gallant little Gurkhas --Proposed assault--The besiegers besieged--Hard fighting --The centenary of Plassy
Before entering on the narrative of what came under my own observation during the three months I was at Delhi, I will relate what took place after Sir Henry Barnard succeeded General Anson in command on the 26th May, and how the little British force maintained itself against almost overwhelming odds during the first three weeks of that memorable siege.
Barnard had served as Chief of the Staff in the Crimea, and had held various staff appointments in England; but he was an utter stranger to India, having only arrived in the country a few weeks before. He fully realized the difficulties of the position to which he had so unexpectedly succeeded, for he was aware how unjustly Anson was being judged by those who, knowing nothing of war, imagined he could have started to attack Delhi with scarcely more preparation than would have been necessary for a morning's parade. The officers of the column were complete strangers to him, and he to them, and he was ignorant of the characteristics and capabilities of the Native portion of his troops. It must, therefore, have been with an anxious heart that he took over the command.
One of Barnard's first acts was to get rid of the unreliable element which Anson had brought away from Umballa. The Infantry he sent to Rohtuk, where it shortly afterwards mutinied, and the Cavalry to Meerut. That these troops should have been allowed to retain their weapons is one of the mysteries of the Mutiny. For more than two months their insubordination had been apparent, incendiarism had occurred which had been clearly traced to them, and they had even gone so far as to fire at their officers; both John Lawrence and Robert Montgomery had pressed upon the Commander-in-Chief the advisability of disarming them; but General Anson, influenced by the regimental officers, who could not believe in the disaffection of their men, had not grasped the necessity for this precautionary measure. The European soldiers with the column, however, did not conceal their mistrust of these sepoys, and Barnard acted wisely in sending them away; but it was extraordinary that they should have been allowed to keep their arms.
On the 5th June Barnard reached Alipur, within ten miles of Delhi, where he decided to await the arrival of the siege-train and the troops from Meerut.
The Meerut brigade, under Brigadier Wilson, had started on the 27th May. It consisted of two squadrons of the Carabineers, Tombs's troop of Horse Artillery, Scott's Field Battery and two 18-pounder guns, a wing of the 1st Battalion 60th Rifles, a few Native Sappers and Miners, and a detachment of Irregular Horse.
Early on the 30th the village of Ghazi-u-din-nagar (now known as Ghaziabad) close to the Hindun river, and about eleven miles from Delhi, was reached. Thence it was intended to make a reconnaissance towards Delhi, but about four o'clock in the afternoon a vedette reported that the enemy were approaching in strength. A very careless look-out had been kept, for almost simultaneously with the report a round shot came tumbling into camp. The troops fell in as quickly as possible, and the Artillery came into action. The Rifles crossed the Hindun suspension bridge, and, under cover of our guns, attacked the enemy, who were strongly posted in a village. From this position they were speedily dislodged, and the victory was complete. Seven hundred British soldiers defeated seven times their number, capturing five guns and a large quantity of ammunition and stores. Our loss was one officer and ten men killed, and one officer and eighteen men wounded.
The following day (Sunday) the enemy reappeared about noon, but after two hours' fighting they were again routed, and on our troops occupying their position, they could be seen in full retreat towards Delhi. The rebels succeeded in taking their guns with them, for our men, prostrated by the intense heat and parched with thirst, were quite unable to pursue. We had one officer and eleven men killed, and two officers and ten men wounded. Among the latter was an ensign of the 60th Rifles, a boy named Napier, a most gallant young fellow, full of life and spirit, who had won the love as well as the admiration of his men. He was hit in the leg, and the moment he was brought into camp it had to be amputated. When the operation was over, Napier was heard to murmur, 'I shall never lead the Rifles again! I shall never lead the Rifles again!' His wound he thought little of. What grieved him was the idea of having to give up his career as a soldier, and to leave the regiment he was so proud of. Napier was taken to Meerut, where he died a few days afterwards.
On the 1st June Wilson's force was strengthened by the Sirmur battalion of Gurkhas, a regiment which later covered itself with glory, and gained an undying name by its gallantry during the siege of Delhi.
On the 7th June Wilson's brigade crossed the Jumna at Baghput, and at Alipur it joined Barnard's force, the men of which loudly cheered their Meerut comrades as they marched into camp with the captured guns. The siege-train had arrived the previous day, and Barnard was now ready for an advance. His force consisted of about 600 Cavalry and 2,400 Infantry, with 22 field-guns. There were besides 150 European Artillerymen, chiefly recruits, with the siege-train, which comprised eight 18-pounders, four 8-inch and twelve 5-1/2-inch mortars. The guns, if not exactly obsolete, were quite unsuited for the work that had to be done, but they were the best procurable. George Campbell, in his 'Memoirs of my Indian Career,' thus describes the siege-train as he saw it passing through Kurnal: 'I could not help thinking that it looked a very trumpery affair with which to bombard and take a great fortified city;' and he expressed his 'strong belief that Delhi would never be taken by that battery.'
Barnard heard that the enemy intended to oppose his march to Delhi, and in order to ascertain their exact position he sent Lieutenant Hodson (who had previously done good service for the Commander-in-Chief by opening communication with Meerut) to reconnoitre the road. Hodson reported that the rebels were in force at Badli-ki-Serai a little more than halfway between Alipur and Delhi. Orders were accordingly issued for an advance at midnight on the 7th June.
When it became known that a battle was imminent, there was great enthusiasm amongst the troops, who were burning to avenge the massacres of Meerut and Delhi. The sick in hospital declared they would remain there no longer, and many, quite unfit to walk, insisted on accompanying the attacking column, imploring their comrades not to mention that they were ill, for fear they should not be allowed to take part in the fight.
From a photograph by Messrs. Grillet and Co.]
The mutineers had selected an admirable position on both sides of the main road. To their right was a serai and a walled village capable of holding large numbers of Infantry, and protected by an impassable swamp. To their left, on some rising ground, a sand-bag battery for four heavy guns and an 8-inch mortar had been constructed. On both sides the ground was swampy and intersected by water-cuts, and about a mile to the enemy's left, and nearly parallel to the road, ran the Western Jumna Canal.
At the hour named, Brigadier Hope Grant, commanding the Cavalry, started with ten Horse Artillery guns, three squadrons of the 9th Lancers, and fifty Jhind horsemen under Lieutenant Hodson, with the object of turning the enemy's left flank. Shortly afterwards the main body marched along the road until the lights in the enemy's camp became visible. Colonel Showers, who had succeeded Hallifax in the command of the 1st Brigade, moved off to the right of the road, and Colonel Graves, who had taken Jones's place with the 2nd Brigade, to the left. The heavy guns remained on the road with a battery of Field Artillery on either flank. Just as day broke our guns advanced, but before they were in position the fight began by a cannonade from the rebel Artillery, which caused us severe loss. To this destructive fire no adequate reply could be made; our guns were too few and of too small calibre. To add to our difficulties, the Native bullock-drivers of our heavy guns went off with their cattle, and one of the waggons blew up. At this critical moment Barnard ordered Showers to charge the enemy's guns, a service which was performed with heroic gallantry by Her Majesty's 75th Foot, who carried the position at the point of the bayonet, with a loss of 19 officers and men killed and 43 wounded. Then, supported by the 1st Fusiliers, the same regiment dashed across the road and burst open the gates of the serai. A desperate fight ensued, but the sepoys were no match for British bayonets, and they now learnt that their misdeeds were not to be allowed to go unpunished. Graves's brigade, having passed round the jhil, appeared on the enemy's right rear, while Grant with his Cavalry and Horse Artillery threatened their left. The defeat was complete, and the rebels retreated hastily towards Delhi, leaving their guns on the ground.
Although the men were much exhausted, Barnard determined to push on, for he feared that if he delayed the rebels might rally, and occupy another strong position.
From the cross-roads just beyond Badli-ki-Serai could be seen the Ridge on which the British force was to hold its own for more than three months during the heat of an Indian summer, and under the rain of an Indian monsoon. At this point two columns were formed, Barnard taking command of the one, which proceeded to the left towards the cantonment, and Wilson of the other, which moved along the city road. Wilson's column fought its way through gardens and enclosures until it reached the western extremity of the Ridge. Barnard, as he came under the fire of the enemy's guns, made a flank movement to the left, and then, wheeling to his right, swept along the Ridge from the Flagstaff Tower to Hindu Rao's house, where the two columns united, the rebels flying before them.
Barnard had achieved a great success and with comparatively small loss, considering the formidable position occupied by the enemy, their great strength in Artillery, and their superiority in numbers.
Our casualties were 51 killed and 131 wounded. Among the former was Colonel Chester, the Adjutant-General of the Army. Of the troops opposed to us it was reckoned that 1,000 never returned to Delhi; thirteen guns were captured, two of them being 24-pounders.
I have frequently wandered over the Ridge since 1857, and thought how wonderfully we were aided by finding a ready-made position--not only a coign of vantage for attack, but a rampart of defence, as Forrest describes it. This Ridge, rising sixty feet above the city, covered the main line of communication to the Punjab, upon the retention of which our very existence as a force depended. Its left rested on the Jumna, unfordable from the time the snow on the higher ranges begins to melt until the rainy season is over, and of sufficient width to prevent our being enfiladed by field-guns; although, on the immediate right, bazaars, buildings, and garden-walls afforded cover to the enemy, the enclosed nature of the ground was so far advantageous that it embarrassed and impeded them in their attempts to organize an attack in force upon our flank or rear; and a further protection was afforded by the Najafgarh jhil, which during the rains submerges a vast area of land.
The distance of the Ridge from the city walls varied considerably. On our right, where the memorial monument now stands, it was about 1,200 yards, at the Flagstaff Tower about a mile and a half, and at the end near the river nearly two miles and a half. This rendered our left comparatively safe, and it was behind the Ridge in this direction that the main part of our camp was pitched. The Flagstaff Tower in the centre was the general rendezvous for the non-combatants, and for those of the sick and wounded who were able to move about, as they could assemble there and hear the news from the front without much risk of injury from the enemy's fire.
The Flagstaff Tower is interesting from the fact that it was here the residents from the cantonment of Delhi assembled to make a stand, on hearing that the rebels from Meerut were murdering the British officers on duty within the city, that the three Native regiments and battery of Field Artillery had joined the mutineers, and that at any moment they themselves might expect to be attacked. The tower was 150 feet high, with a low parapet running round the top, approached by a narrow winding staircase. Here the men of the party proposed to await the attack. The ladies, who behaved with the utmost coolness and presence of mind, were, with the wives and children of the few European non-commissioned officers, placed for their greater safety on the stairs, where they were all but suffocated by the stifling heat in such a confined space. The little party on the roof consisted of some twenty British officers, the same number of half-caste buglers and drummers, and half a dozen European soldiers. Not a drop of water, not a particle of food, was to be had. No help appeared to be coming from Meerut, in the direction of which place many a longing and expectant glance had been cast during the anxious hours of that miserable 11th May. Constant and heavy firing was heard from the city and suburbs, and the Cavalry were reported to be advancing on the cantonment.
Before evening the weary watchers realized that their position was untenable, and that their only possible chance of escaping the fate which had befallen the officers within the city (whose dead bodies had been inhumanly sent in a cart to the Tower) lay in flight. Shortly before dark the move was made, the women and children were crowded into the few vehicles available, and accompanied by the men, some on foot and some on horseback, they got away by the road leading towards Umballa. They were only just in time, for before the last of the party were out of sight of the cantonment, crowds of Natives poured into it, burning, plundering, and destroying everything they could find.
Amongst the fugitives from Delhi was Captain Tytler, of the 38th Native Infantry, who, after a variety of vicissitudes, reached Umballa safely with his wife and children. When Anson's force was being formed for the advance on Delhi, Tytler was placed in charge of the military treasure chest, and through some unaccountable negligence Mrs. Tytler was allowed to accompany him. I believe that, when Mrs. Tytler's presence became known to the authorities, she would have been sent out of camp to some safe place, but at that time she was not in a fit state to travel, and on the 21st June, a few days after the force took up its position under a heavy cannonade, she gave birth to a son in the waggon in which she was accommodated. The infant, who was christened Stanley Delhi Force, seems to have been looked upon by the soldiery with quite a superstitious feeling, for the father tells us that soon after its birth he overheard a soldier say; 'Now we shall get our reinforcements; this camp was formed to avenge the blood of innocents, and the first reinforcement sent to us is a new-born infant.' Reinforcements did actually arrive the next day.
It was on the afternoon of the 8th June that the British force was placed in position on the Ridge. The main piquet was established at Hindu Rao's house, a large stone building, in former days the country residence of some Mahratta Chief. About one hundred and eighty yards further to the left was the observatory, near which our heavy gun battery was erected. Beyond the observatory was an old Pathan mosque, in which was placed an Infantry piquet with two field-guns. Still further to the left came the Flagstaff Tower, held by a party of Infantry with two more field-guns. At the extreme right of the Ridge, overlooking the trunk road, there was a strong piquet with a heavy battery.
This was the weak point of our defence. To the right, and somewhat to the rear, was the suburb of Sabzi Mandi (vegetable market), a succession of houses and walled gardens, from which the rebels constantly threatened our flank. To protect this part of the position as much as possible, a battery of three 18-pounders and an Infantry piquet was placed on what was known as the General's Mound, with a Cavalry piquet and two Horse Artillery guns immediately below. In front of the Ridge the ground was covered with old buildings, enclosures, and clumps of trees, which afforded only too perfect shelter to the enemy when making their sorties.
As described by the Commanding Engineer, 'the eastern face of Delhi rests on the Jumna, and at the season of the year during which our operations were carried on, the stream may be described as washing the face of the walls. The river front was therefore inaccessible to the besieging force, while at the same time the mutineers and the inhabitants of the city could communicate freely across the river by means of the bridge of boats and ferries. This rendered it impossible for us to invest Delhi, even if there had been a sufficient number of troops for the purpose. We were only able, indeed, to direct our attack against a small portion of the city wall, while throughout the siege the enemy could freely communicate with, and procure supplies from, the surrounding country.
'On the river front the defences consisted of an irregular wall with occasional bastions and towers, and about one half of the length of this face was occupied by the palace of the King of Delhi and its outwork, the old Moghul fort of Selimgarh.
'The remaining defences consisted of a succession of bastioned fronts, the connecting curtains being very long, and the outworks limited to one crown-work at the Ajmir gate, and Martello towers mounting a single gun, at the points where additional flanking fire to that given by the bastions themselves was required.'
The above description will give some idea of the strength of the great city which the British force had come to capture. For more than two months, however, our energies were devoted not to capturing the city, but to defending ourselves, having to be ever on the watch to guard our communication with the Punjab, and to repel the enemy's almost daily sorties.
The defences of Delhi, which remain almost unaltered up to the present day, were modernized forms of the ancient works that existed when the city fell before Lord Lake's army in 1803. These works had been strengthened and improved some years before the Mutiny by Lieutenant Robert Napier. How thoroughly and effectually that talented and distinguished Engineer performed the duty entrusted to him, we who had to attack Delhi could testify to our cost.
Barnard was not left long in doubt as to the intentions of the rebels, who, the very afternoon on which he occupied the Ridge, attacked Hindu Rao's house, where the Sirmur battalion, two companies of the 60th Rifles, and two of Scott's guns had been placed. The enemy were driven off before dark. The following day they began to cannonade from the city walls, and in the afternoon repeated their attack.
That same morning a welcome reinforcement reached camp, the famous Corps of Guides having arrived as fresh as if they had returned from an ordinary field day, instead of having come off a march of nearly 600 miles, accomplished in the incredibly short time of twenty-two days, at the most trying season of the year. The General, having inspected them, said a few words of encouragement to the men, who begged their gallant Commandant to say how proud they were to belong to the Delhi Force. Their usefulness was proved that same afternoon, when, in support of the piquets, they engaged the enemy in a hand-to-hand contest, and drove them back to the city.
It was close up to the walls that Quintin Battye, the dashing Commander of the Guides Cavalry, received his mortal wound. He was the brightest and cheeriest of companions, and although only a subaltern of eight years' service, he was a great loss. I spent a few hours with him on my way to Delhi, and I remember how his handsome face glowed when he talked of the opportunities for distinguishing themselves in store for the Guides. Proud of his regiment, and beloved by his men, who, grand fellows themselves, were captivated by his many soldierly qualities, he had every prospect before him of a splendid career, but he was destined to fall in his first fight. He was curiously fond of quotations, and the last words he uttered were 'Dulce et decorum est pro patriâ mori.'
While our Infantry and Field Artillery were busily engaged with the enemy, the few heavy guns we had were put in position on the Ridge. Great things were hoped from them, but it was soon found that they were not powerful enough to silence the enemy's fire, and that our small supply of ammunition was being rapidly expended. The rebels' guns were superior in number and some in calibre to ours, and were well served by the Native Artillerymen whom we had been at such pains to teach. Barnard discovered, too, that his deficiencies in men and matériel prevented regular approaches being made. There were only 150 Native Sappers and Miners with our force, and Infantry could not be spared for working parties.
On the 10th June another determined attack was made on Hindu Rao's house, which was repulsed by the Sirmur battalion of Gurkhas under its distinguished Commandant, Major Reid. The mutineers quite hoped that the Gurkhas would join them, and as they were advancing they called out: 'We are not firing; we want to speak to you; we want you to join us.' The little Gurkhas replied, 'Oh yes; we are coming,' on which they advanced to within twenty paces of the rebels, and, firing a well-directed volley, killed nearly thirty of them.
The next day the insurgents made a third attack, and were again repulsed with considerable loss. They knew that Hindu Rao's house was the key of our position, and throughout the siege they made the most desperate attempts to capture it. But Barnard had entrusted this post of danger to the Gurkhas, and all efforts to dislodge them were unavailing. At first Reid had at his command only his own battalion and two companies of the 60th Rifles; but on the arrival of the Guides their Infantry were also placed at his disposal, and whenever he sounded the alarm he was reinforced by two more companies of the 60th. Hindu Rao's house was within easy range of nearly all the enemy's heavy guns, and was riddled through and through with shot and shell. Reid never quitted the Ridge save to attack the enemy, and never once visited the camp until carried into it severely wounded on the day of the final assault. Hindu Rao's house was the little Gurkhas' hospital as well as their barrack, for their sick and wounded begged to be left with their comrades instead of being taken to camp.
Failing in their attempts on the centre of the position, the mutineers soon after daylight on the 12th, having concealed themselves in the ravines adjoining Metcalfe House, attacked the Flagstaff Tower, the piquet of which was composed of two Horse Artillery guns and two companies of the 75th Foot, under the command of Captains Dunbar and Knox. A heavy fog and thick mist rolling up from the low ground near the Jumna completely enveloped the Ridge and the left front of our position, hiding everything in the immediate vicinity. The piquet was on the point of being relieved by a detachment of the 2nd Bengal Fusiliers, when a large body of the enemy, who had crept up unobserved, made a rush at the Flagstaff Tower, and as nearly as possible captured the guns. The piquet was hardly pressed, Knox and several men were killed, and but for the timely arrival of two companies of the 60th, the rebels would have gained the day.
This engagement was scarcely over, when masses of insurgents advanced from the Sabzi Mandi upon Hindu Rao's house, and into the gardens on the right flank of the camp, threatening the Mound piquet. Reserves were called up, these attacks, in their turn, were repulsed and the rebels were pursued for some distance. It was most fortunate that both attacks did not take place simultaneously, as was the obvious intention of the enemy, for our strength would not have been sufficient to repel them both at the same moment.
In order to prevent the mutineers from coming to such close quarters again, a piquet was placed in Metcalfe's House, and the Mound to the rear of the ridge facing the Sabzi Mandi was strengthened. These precautions ought to, and would, have been taken before, but for the want of men. Our soldiers were scarcely ever off duty, and this fresh demand made it impossible at times to provide a daily relief for the several piquets.
Our resources in siege guns and ammunition were so limited, daily sorties, disease, and heat were making such ravages amongst our small force, there was so little hope of receiving any considerable reinforcements, and it appeared to be of such paramount importance to capture Delhi without further delay, that Barnard agreed to a proposal for taking it by a coup de main.
The particular details of the project and disposition of the troops were worked out by three young officers of Engineers, under the direct orders of the General, and were kept a profound secret; even the Commanding Engineer was not made acquainted with them. Secrecy was, of course, of vital importance, but that the officers who ought to have been chiefly concerned were kept in ignorance of the scheme, shows there was little of that confidence so essential to success existing between the Commander and those who were in the position of his principal advisers. Practically the whole force was to be engaged, divided into three columns--one to enter by the Kashmir gate, the second by the Lahore gate, and the third was to attempt an escalade. The three columns, if they succeeded in effecting an entrance, were to work their way to the centre of the city, and there unite.
It was intended that these columns should move off from camp so as to arrive at the walls just before daybreak; accordingly, at one o'clock on the morning of the 13th June the troops were suddenly paraded and ammunition served out, and then for the first time the Commanders of the three columns and the staff were made acquainted with the General's intentions. It so happened that the 75th Foot, which had followed the enemy into the grounds of Metcalfe House after the repulse on the Flagstaff Tower the previous morning, had through some oversight never been recalled; their absence was only discovered when the order was given for the regiment to turn out, and a considerable time was wasted in sending for it and bringing it back to camp. Day was breaking when this regiment received its ammunition, and all hope of an unperceived advance to the walls had to be given up. The troops were therefore dismissed, and allowed to turn in, having been uselessly disturbed from their much-needed rest.
The failure to give effect to the young Engineer officers' plan may be looked upon as a merciful dispensation of Providence, which saved us from what would almost certainly have been an irreparable disaster. When we think of the hard fighting encountered when the assault did take place under much more favourable circumstances, and how the columns at the end of that day were only just able to get inside the city, those who had practical knowledge of the siege can judge what chance there would have been of these smaller columns accomplishing their object, even if they had been able to take the enemy by surprise.
The 13th and 14th passed in comparative quiet; but early on the 15th a strong force advanced from Delhi against the Metcalfe House piquet, with the object of turning our left flank, but it was driven back with considerable loss.
On the 17th we were attacked from almost every direction--a manoeuvre intended to prevent our observing a battery which was being constructed close to an Idgah, situated on a hill to our right, from which to enfilade our position on the Ridge. As it was very important to prevent the completion of this battery, Barnard ordered it to be attacked by two small columns, one commanded by Tombs, of the Bengal Horse Artillery, the other by Reid. Tombs, with 400 of the 60th Rifles and 1st Bengal Fusiliers, 30 of the Guides Cavalry, 20 Sappers and Miners, and his own troop of Horse Artillery, moved towards the enemy's left, while Reid, with four companies of the 60th and some of his own Gurkhas, advanced through Kishenganj against their right. Tombs drove the rebels through a succession of gardens till they reached the Idgah, where they made an obstinate but unavailing resistance. The gates of the mosque were blown open, and thirty-nine of its defenders were killed. Tombs himself was slightly wounded, and had two horses killed, making five which had been shot under this gallant soldier since the commencement of the campaign. Reid's attack was equally successful. He completely destroyed the battery, and inflicted heavy loss on the enemy.
The next day but one the rebels issued from the city in great force, and threatened nearly every part of our position. The fighting was severe throughout the afternoon, the piquets having again and again to be reinforced. Towards evening, while nearly all the Infantry were thus engaged, a large party of the insurgents, passing unperceived through the suburbs and gardens on our right, reappeared about a mile and a half to our rear. Very few troops were left in camp, and all Hope Grant, who was in command at the time, could collect was four or five squadrons of Cavalry and twelve guns. He found the enemy in a strong position, against which his light guns could make but little impression, while their Artillery and well-placed Infantry did us considerable damage. Tombs's troop especially suffered, and at one time his guns were in imminent danger of being captured. Just at this moment some of the Guides Cavalry rode up. 'Daly, if you do not charge,' called out Tombs, 'my guns are taken.' Daly spurred into the bushes, followed by about a dozen of his gallant Guides. He returned with a bullet through his shoulder, but the momentary diversion saved the guns.
As long as it was light the steady fire of the Artillery and the dashing charges of the Cavalry kept the rebels in check; but in the dusk of the evening their superior numbers told: they very nearly succeeded in turning our flank, and for some time the guns were again in great jeopardy; the 9th Lancers and Guides, bent on saving them at all hazards, charged the enemy; but, with a ditch and houses on each side, their action was paralyzed, and their loss severe. All was now in confusion, the disorder increasing as night advanced, when a small body of Infantry (about 300 of the 60th Rifles) came up, dashed forward, and, cutting a lane through the rebels, rescued the guns.
Our loss in this affair amounted to 3 officers and 17 men killed, and 7 officers and 70 men wounded. Among the latter was Hope Grant, who had his horse shot under him in a charge, and was saved by the devotion of two men of his own regiment (the 9th Lancers) and a Mahomedan sowar of the 4th Irregular Cavalry.
It was nearly midnight before the troops returned to camp. The enemy had been frustrated in their attempt to force our rear, but they had not been driven back; we had, indeed, been only just able to hold our own. The result of the day added considerably to the anxiety of the Commander. He saw that the rebels had discovered our weak point, and that if they managed to establish themselves in our rear, our communication with the Punjab would be cut off, our small force would be invested, and without supplies and reinforcements it would be impossible to maintain our position against the daily increasing strength of the insurgents. Great was the despondency in camp when the result of the day's fighting was known; but the fine spirit which animated the force throughout the siege soon asserted itself, and our men cheerfully looked forward to the next encounter with the enemy.
At daybreak Grant was again upon the ground, but found it abandoned. Many dead men and horses were lying about, and a 9-pounder gun, left by the enemy, was brought into camp.
The troops had scarcely got back, hoping for a little rest, when the enemy again resumed their attack on the rear, and opened fire at so short a distance that their shot came right through the camp. But on this occasion they made no stand, and retreated as soon as our troops showed themselves.
In order to strengthen our position in rear a battery of two 18-pounders was constructed, supported by Cavalry and Infantry piquets, and most of the bridges over the drain from the Najafgarh jhil were destroyed.
For two days after the events I have just described the hard-worked little body of troops had comparative rest, but our spies informed us that the enemy were being largely reinforced, and that we might expect to be hotly attacked on the 23rd.
For some time an idea had been prevalent amongst the Natives that the English raj was not destined to survive its hundredth year, and that the centenary of Clive's victory on the field of Plassy on the 23rd June, 1757, would see its downfall. This idea was strengthened in the Native mind by the fact that the 23rd June, 1857, was a date propitious alike for Hindus and Mahomedans; the Jattsa, a Hindu religious festival, was to take place on that day, and there was also to be a new moon, which the Mahomedans looked upon as a lucky omen; the astrologers, therefore, declared that the stars in their courses would fight for the mutineers. If, however, prophecies and omens alike appeared to favour the rebels, fortune was not altogether unkind to us, for on the 22nd a reinforcement reached Rhai, twenty-two miles from Delhi, consisting of six Horse Artillery guns, a small party of British Infantry, a squadron of the 2nd Punjab Cavalry, and the Head-Quarters of the 4th Sikhs, numbering in all about 850 men.
A staff officer was sent at once to Rhai to hurry on the force and tell them how urgently their assistance was required in camp; this appeal was responded to with the utmost alacrity, and early the next evening the welcome reinforcement made its appearance.
It had scarcely arrived before the Artillery on the city walls opened fire, while guns, which had been brought into the suburbs, enfiladed our right and concentrated a heavy fire on Hindu Rao's house which the few guns we had in position were quite unable to silence. The rebel Infantry occupied Kishenganj and Sabzi Mandi in force, and threatened to advance on the Mound battery, while a constant musketry fire was maintained upon the Ridge. Reid reported that the mutineers made a desperate attack at about twelve o'clock, and that no men could have fought better; they charged the Rifles, the Guides, and the Gurkhas again and again. The cannonade raged fast and furious, and at one time it seemed as though the day must be lost. Thousands were brought against a mere handful of men; but Reid knew the importance of his position, and was determined at all hazards to hold it until reinforcements arrived.
The mutineers were checked, but not driven off. The first attempt from the Mound battery failed to repulse them, and Colonel Welchman, who was in command, was dangerously wounded. Every available man in camp had been engaged, and as a last resource the 2nd Fusiliers and the 4th Sikhs, who had just arrived from Rhai, were sent to the front. Showers was placed in command, and shortly before the day closed he succeeded in forcing the enemy to retire. So the anniversary of Plassy saw us, though hardly pressed, undefeated, and the enemy's hopes unfulfilled. They lost over 1,000 men. Our casualties were 1 officer and 38 men killed, and 3 officers and 118 men wounded. The heat all the while was terrific, and several of our men were knocked over by the sun.
The lesson taught us by this severe fighting was the importance of occupying the Sabzi Mandi, and thus preventing the enemy from approaching too close to the camp and enfilading the Ridge. This entailed more constant duty upon our already overworked soldiers, but Barnard felt that it would not do to run the risk of another such struggle.
A piquet of 180 Europeans was accordingly placed in the Sabzi Mandi, part in a serai on one side of the Grand Trunk Road, and the rest in a Hindu temple on the opposite side. These posts were connected by a line of breastworks with the Hindu Rao piquets, and added considerably to the strength of our position.
After the 23rd there were real or threatened attacks daily; but we were left fairly undisturbed until the 27th June, when the Metcalfe and Sabzi Mandi piquets were assaulted, and also the batteries on the Ridge. These attempts were defeated without any very great loss, only 13 of our men being killed, and 1 officer and 48 men wounded.
[Footnote 1: The late Major-General Sir Harry Tombs, V.C., K.C.B.]
[Footnote 2: The Chaplain's Narrative of the siege of Delhi.]
[Footnote 3: Now the 1st Battalion, 2nd Gurkhas.]
[Footnote 4: 'Siege of Delhi; by an Officer who served there.']
[Footnote 5: The late General Sir Hope Grant, G.C.B.]
[Footnote 6: 75th and 1st Bengal Fusiliers.]
[Footnote 7: 1st Battalion 60th Rifles, 2nd Bengal Fusiliers, and Sirmur battalion.]
[Footnote 8: Swampy ground.]
[Footnote 9: 'The Indian Mutiny,' by George W. Forrest.]
[Footnote 10: The bastions were small, each mounting from ten to fourteen pieces of Artillery; they were provided with masonry parapets about 12 feet in thickness, and were about 16 feet high. The curtain consisted of a simple masonry wall or rampart 16 feet in height, 11 feet thick at top, and 14 or 15 feet at bottom. This main wall carried a parapet loopholed for musketry 8 feet in height and 3 feet in thickness. The whole of the land front was covered by a faussebraye of varying thickness, ranging from 16 to 30 feet, and having a vertical scarp wall 8 feet high; exterior to this was a dry ditch about 25 feet in width. The counterscarp was simply an earthen slope, easy to descend. The glacis was very narrow, extending only 50 or 60 yards from the counterscarp, and covering barely one-half of the walls from the besiegers' view. These walls were about seven miles in circumference, and included an area of about three square miles (see Colonel Baird-Smith's report, dated September 17, 1857).]
[Footnote 11: The late Field Marshal Lord Napier of Magdala, G.C.B., G.C.S.I.]
[Footnote 12: So badly off were we for ammunition for the heavy guns at this time, that it was found necessary to use the shot fired at us by the enemy, and a reward was offered for every 24-pounder shot brought into the Artillery Park.]
[Footnote 13: Now General Sir Charles Reid, G.C.B.]
[Footnote 14: Forrest's 'Indian Mutiny' and Norman's 'Narrative of the Siege of Delhi,' two interesting accounts from which I shall often quote.]
[Footnote 15: A Mahomedan place of worship and sacrifice.]
[Footnote 16: 'Siege of Delhi; by an Officer who served there.']
[Footnote 17: Forrest's 'The Indian Mutiny.']
[Footnote 18: Reid's own report.]