Reinforcements begin to arrive--An assault again proposed --The attack on Alipur--Death of General Barnard --General Reed assumes command--Two V.C.'s--Treachery in camp --Fighting close up to the city walls --Sufferings of the sick and wounded--General Reed's health fails
That my readers may better understand our position at the time I joined the Delhi Field Force, I might, I think, quote with advantage from a letter written the very day of my arrival by General Barnard to Sir John Lawrence, in which he describes the difficulties of the situation, hitherto met by the troops with the most determined courage and endurance, but to which no end could be seen. When he took over the command, he wrote, he was expected to be able to silence at once the fire from the Mori and Kashmir bastions, and then to bring his heavy guns into play on the walls and open a way into the city, after which, it was supposed, all would be plain sailing. But this programme, so plausible in theory, was absolutely impossible to put into practice. In spite of every effort on our part, not a single one of the enemy's guns was silenced; they had four to our one, while the distance from the Ridge to the city walls was too great to allow of our comparatively light guns making any impression on them. Under these circumstances the only thing to be done was to construct batteries nearer to the city, but before these could be begun, entrenching tools, sandbags, and other necessary materials, of which the Engineers were almost entirely destitute, had to be collected. The troops were being worn out by constant sanguinary combats, and the attacks to which they were exposed required every soul in camp to repel them. It was never certain where the enemy intended to strike, and it was only by the most constant vigilance that their intentions could be ascertained, and the men were being incessantly withdrawn during the scorching heat of the day from one place to another. General Barnard concluded as follows: 'You may ask why we engage in these constant combats. The reason simply is that when attacked we must defend ourselves, and that to secure our camp, our hospitals, our stores, etc., every living being has to be employed. The whole thing is too gigantic for the force brought against it.'
Soon after Barnard wrote these lines reinforcements began to arrive, and our position was gradually improved. By the 3rd July the following troops had reached Delhi: four Horse Artillery guns (two British and two Native), a detachment of European Foot Artillery, the Head-Quarters of Her Majesty's 8th and 61st Foot, one squadron of the 5th Punjab Cavalry, the 1st Punjab Infantry, and some newly-raised Sikh Sappers and Artillery. The strength of the force was thus increased to nearly 6,600 men of all arms. The enemy's reinforcements, however, were out of all proportion to ours--mutineers from Jullundur, Nasirabad, Nimach, Kotah, Gwalior, Jhansi, and Rohilkand arrived about this time. Those from Rohilkand crossed by the bridge of boats and entered the city by the Calcutta gate; we could distinctly see them from the Ridge, marching in perfect formation, with their bands playing and colours flying. Indeed, throughout the siege the enemy's numbers were constantly being increased, while they had a practically unlimited number of guns, and the well-stocked magazine furnished them with an inexhaustible supply of ammunition.
I found myself under fire for the first time on the 30th June, when an attack was made on the Sabzi Mandi piquet and Hindu Rao's house. Eight of our men were killed and thirty wounded; amongst the latter were Yorke and Packe, both attached to the 4th Sikhs. It appeared certain that these two officers were wounded by the Hindustanis of their own regiment; Packe, who was shot through the ankle, being so close up to the breastwork that it was scarcely possible for the bullet which hit him to have come from the front. Consequently all the Hindustanis in the 4th Sikhs were disarmed and turned out of camp, as it was manifestly undesirable to have any but the most loyal soldiers in our ranks.
In the afternoon of the same day I was ordered to accompany a column under Brigadier Showers, sent on reconnoitring duty towards the Idgah, where we heard that the enemy were again constructing a battery. It had not been commenced, but the intention to build one was evident, for we found a number of entrenching tools, and a quantity of sandbags.
The question of attempting to take the city by a coup de main was now again discussed. It was urged that our numbers, already small, were being daily reduced by casualties and sickness; that the want of proper equipment rendered it impossible to undertake regular siege operations; and that a rising in the Punjab was imminent. The chances of success were certainly more favourable than they were on the 13th June. The force to be employed was stronger; all concerned--the staff, commanders, and troops--were fully apprised of what was intended, and of the part they would have to play; above all, the details of the scheme, which was drawn up on much the same lines as the former one, were carefully worked out by Lieutenant Alex. Taylor, who had recently come into camp, and was acting temporarily as Commanding Engineer.
Of the supreme importance of regaining possession of Delhi there can be no doubt whatever. But nevertheless the undertaking would, at that time, have been a most desperate one, and only to be justified by the critical position in which we were placed. In spite of the late reinforcements, we were a mere handful compared with the thousands within the walls. Success, therefore, depended on the completeness of the surprise; and, as we could make no movement without its being perceived by the enemy, surprise was impossible. Another strong reason against assaulting at that time was the doubtful attitude of some of the Hindustani Cavalry still with us; the whole of the effective troops, too, would have to be employed, and the sick and wounded--a large number--left to the mercy of the Native followers.
General Barnard carefully weighed all the arguments for and against the proposal, and at last reluctantly consented to the attack being made, but the discovery of a conspiracy amongst the Natives in camp caused it to be countermanded--a great disappointment to many, and there was much cavilling and discontent on the part of some, who could not have sufficiently appreciated the difficulties and risks of the undertaking, or the disastrous consequences of a repulse.
On the morning of the day on which it had been arranged that the assault should be made, the staff at Delhi received a most valuable addition in the person of Lieutenant-Colonel Baird-Smith, of the Bengal Engineers. Summoned from Rurki to take the place of the Chief Engineer, whose health had broken down, Baird-Smith was within sixty miles of Delhi on the 2nd July, when news of the intended movement reached him. He started at once, and arrived in camp early on the 3rd, but only to find that the assault had been postponed.
On the afternoon of the 3rd July the enemy came out in force (5,000 or 6,000 strong with several guns), and occupied the suburbs to our right. The troops were turned out, but instead of attacking us and returning to the city as usual when it became dark, the rebels moved off in the direction of Alipur, where we had an outpost, which was held by Younghusband's squadron of the 5th Punjab Cavalry. They reached Alipur about midnight, and had they attacked the serai at once with Infantry, Younghusband and his men could hardly have escaped, but fortunately they opened upon it with Artillery. This gave the sowars time to mount and fall back on Rhai, the next post, ten miles to the rear, which was garrisoned by the friendly troops of the Jhind Raja. The sound of the guns being heard in camp, a column under the command of Major Coke was got ready to pursue should the insurgents push up the Trunk Road, or to cut them off should they try to make their way back to the city. Besides his own corps (the 1st Punjab Infantry), Coke was given a wing of the 61st Foot, six Horse and six Field Artillery guns, one squadron of the Carabineers, one squadron of the 9th Lancers, and the Guides Cavalry; in all about 800 Infantry, 300 Cavalry, and 12 guns, and I was sent with him as staff officer.
It was generally believed that the enemy were on the look-out for treasure coming from the Punjab, which was known to be under the charge of a Native guard, and we quite expected to have a long chase after them; we were, therefore, surprised to see them, as day broke, crossing our front on their way back to Delhi.
The rebels were moving on fairly high ground, but between us and them was a swamp rendered almost impassable by recent heavy rain. It extended a considerable distance on either side, and as there was no other way of getting at the rapidly retreating foe, it had to be crossed. Our Artillery opened fire, and Coke advanced with the Cavalry and Infantry. The swamp proved to be very difficult; in it men and horses floundered hopelessly, and before we were clear the enemy had got away with their guns; they were obliged, however, to leave behind all the plunder taken from Alipur, and a considerable quantity of ammunition. My share of the loot was a nice-looking, white, country-bred pony, which I found tied to a tree. I promptly annexed it, glad to save my own horse, and I congratulated myself on having made a most useful addition to my small stud. It did not, however, remain long in my possession, for a few days afterwards it was claimed by its rightful owner, Lieutenant Younghusband.
The heat was great, and as the soldiers were much distressed, having been under arms for ten hours, Coke halted the Infantry portion on the banks of the Western Jumna Canal instead of returning direct to camp. While we were enjoying a much-needed rest we were unexpectedly attacked by some fresh troops (including about 800 Cavalry) which had hurried out from the city. I was startled from a sound sleep by heavy firing, and saw the enemy advancing within a few hundred yards of our halting-place. Coke formed his Infantry along the bank of the canal, and sent a mounted officer to recall the Cavalry and Artillery. The enemy came on very boldly at first, but the steady fire of our Infantry kept them at bay, and when the guns arrived we had no difficulty in driving them off. They left 80 dead on the field; we had on our side 3 killed and 23 wounded, besides losing several British soldiers from sunstroke.
Major Coke was much grieved by the loss in this engagement of a Native friend of his, a Chief of the Kohat border, by name Mir Mubarak Shah. He was a grand specimen of a frontier Khan, and on hearing that the 1st Punjab Infantry was ordered to Delhi expressed his determination to accompany it. He got together a troop of eighty of his own followers, and leaving Kohat on the 1st June, overtook Coke at Kurnal on the 27th, a distance of nearly 600 miles. A day or two afterwards Coke's men were approached by the Hindustanis of the 2nd Punjab Cavalry, and some Native officers of the 9th Irregulars, who tried to induce them to join in the rebellion. Advances were made in the first instance to Mir Mubarak Shah and Mir Jaffir, the Subadar-Major of the 1st Punjab Infantry, who at once informed Coke of what was going on. As soon as the regiment reached Delhi the matter was investigated, and the Native officers who had endeavoured to tamper with the men were identified, tried, and executed.
About noon on the 5th July we heard the woeful tidings that General Barnard was seized with cholera. The army had never been free from that terrible scourge since the Commander-in-Chief fell a victim to it on the 26th May, and now it had attacked his successor, who was carried off after a few hours' illness. The feeling of sadness amongst the troops at the loss of their General was universal. Throughout the six trying weeks he had been in command of the force he had never spared himself. At work from morning till night in and about the trenches, he personally attended to every detail, and had won the respect and regard of all in camp.
Few Commanders were ever placed in a more difficult position than Barnard. He arrived at Umballa when the Native troops, to whose characteristics and peculiarities (as I have already remarked) he was a complete stranger, were thoroughly disaffected, and within a week of his taking over the command of the Sirhind division the Mutiny broke out. Without any previous knowledge of Indian warfare, he found himself in front of Delhi with a force altogether too weak to effect the object for which it was intended and without any of the appliances to ensure success; while those who did not realize the extreme risk involved never ceased clamouring at a delay which was unavoidable, and urging the General to undertake a task which was impossible.
Barnard has been blamed, and not unjustly, for mistrusting his own judgment and for depending upon others for advice about matters on which an experienced Commander ought to have been the best able to decide. But every allowance must be made for the position he was so unexpectedly called upon to fill and the peculiar nature of his surroundings. Failing health, too, probably weakened the self-reliance which a man who had satisfactorily performed the duties of Chief of the Staff in the Crimea must at one time have possessed.
On the death of Sir Henry Barnard, General Reed assumed command. He had joined the force on the morning of the action of Badli-ki-Serai, but though senior to Barnard, he was too much knocked up by the intense heat of the long journey from Peshawar to take part in the action, and he had allowed Barnard to continue in command.
For the next few days we had a comparatively quiet time, of which advantage was taken to render our position more secure towards the rear. The secrecy and rapidity with which the enemy had made their way to Alipur warned the authorities how easily our communication with the Punjab might be cut off. Baird-Smith saw the necessity for remedying this, and, acting on his advice, Reed had all the bridges over the Western Jumna Canal destroyed for several miles, except one required for our own use. The Phulchudder aqueduct, which carried the canal water into the city, and along which horsemen could pass to the rear of our camp, was blown up, as was also the Bussye bridge over the drain from the Najafgarh jhil, about eight miles from camp.
We were not left long in peace, for on the morning of the 9th July the enemy moved out of the city in great force, and for several hours kept up an incessant cannonade on our front and right flank.
The piquet below the General's Mound happened to be held this day by two guns of Tombs's troop, commanded by Second Lieutenant James Hills, and by thirty men of the Carabineers under Lieutenant Stillman. A little beyond, and to the right of this piquet, a Native officer's party of the 9th Irregular Cavalry had been placed to watch the Trunk Road. These men were still supposed to be loyal; the regiment to which they belonged had a good reputation, and as Christie's Horse had done excellent service in Afghanistan, where Neville and Crawford Chamberlain had served with it as subalterns. It was, therefore, believed at the Mound piquet that ample warning would be given of any enemy coming from the direction of the Trunk Road, so that the approach of some horsemen dressed like the men of the 9th Irregulars attracted little notice.
Stillman and Hills were breakfasting together, when a sowar from the Native officers' party rode up and reported that a body of the enemy's Cavalry were in sight. Hills told the man to gallop to Head-Quarters with the report, and to warn Tombs as he passed his tent. Hills and Stillman then mounted their men, neither of them having the remotest idea that the news of the enemy's advance had been purposely delayed until there was not time to turn out the troops. They imagined that the sowar was acting in good faith and had given them sufficient notice, and while Hills moved his guns towards the position from which he could command the Trunk Road, Stillman proceeded to the top of the Mound in order to get a better view of the ground over which the enemy were said to be advancing. The troop of the Carabineers was thus left by itself to receive the first rush of the rebel Cavalry; it was composed of young soldiers, some of them quite untrained, who turned and broke.
The moment Hills saw the enemy he shouted, 'Action front!' and, in the hope of giving his men time to load and fire a round of grape, he gallantly charged the head of the column single-handed, cut down the leading man, struck the second, and then was then ridden down himself. It had been raining heavily, so Hills wore his cloak; which probably saved his life, for it was cut through in many places, as were his jacket and even his shirt.
As soon as the body of the enemy had passed on, Hills, extricating himself from his horse, got up and searched for his sword, which he had lost in the mêlée. He had just found it when he was attacked by three men, two of whom were mounted; he fired at and wounded the first man; then caught the lance of the second in his left hand, and ran him through the body with his sword. The first assailant coming on again, Hills cut him down, upon which he was attacked by the third man on foot, who succeeded in wrenching his sword from him. Hills fell in the struggle, and must have been killed, if Tombs, who had been duly warned by the sowar, and had hurried out to the piquet, had not come to the rescue and saved his plucky subaltern's life.
Notwithstanding Hills's gallant attempt to stop the sowars, his men had not time to fire a single round before they were upon them. Their object, however, was not to capture these two guns, but to induce the Native Horse Artillery to join them, and galloping past the piquet, they made straight for the troop, and called upon the men to bring away their guns. The Native Artillerymen behaved admirably: they not only refused to respond to the call, but they begged the men of the European troop, which was unlimbered close by, to fire through them on the mutineers.
Knowing nothing of what was happening, I was standing by my tent, watching my horses, which had just arrived from Philour, as they crossed the bridge over the canal cut which ran at the rear of our camp, when the enemy's Cavalry galloped over the bridge, and for a few moments my animals seemed in considerable danger; the sowars, however, having lost more than one-third of their number, and having failed in their attempt to get hold of the Native Horse Artillery guns, were bent upon securing their retreat rather than upon plunder. My servants gave a wonderful account of the many perils they had encountered--somewhat exaggerated, I dare say--but they had done me a real good service, having marched 200 miles through a very disturbed country, and arriving with animals and baggage in good order. Indeed, throughout the Mutiny my servants behaved admirably. The khidmatgar (table attendant) never failed to bring me my food under the hottest fire, and the saices (grooms) were always present with the horses whenever they were required, apparently quite indifferent to the risks they often ran. Moreover, they became imbued with such a warlike spirit that, when I was invalided in April, 1858, four of them enlisted in a regiment of Bengal Cavalry. The khidmatgar died soon after the Mutiny, but two of his brothers were afterwards in my service; one, who was with me during the Lushai expedition and the whole of the Afghan war, never left me for more than twenty years, and we parted with mutual regret at Bombay on board the P. and O. steamer in which I took my final departure from India in April, 1893.
Mine was not a solitary instance; not only the officers' servants, but the followers belonging to European regiments, such as cook-boys, saices and bhisties (water-carriers), as a rule, behaved in the most praiseworthy manner, faithful and brave to a degree. So much was this the case, that when the troopers of the 9th Lancers were called upon to name the man they considered most worthy of the Victoria Cross, an honour which Sir Colin Campbell purposed to confer upon the regiment to mark his appreciation of the gallantry displayed by all ranks during the campaign, they unanimously chose the head bhistie! Considering the peculiar position we were in at the time, it is somewhat remarkable that the conduct of the Native servants should have been so generally satisfactory. It speaks as well, I think, for the masters as the servants, and proves (what I have sometimes heard denied) that Native servants are, as a rule, kindly and considerately treated by their European masters.
To return to my story. The cannonade from within and without the city continued unceasing, and the enemy had again to be driven out of the near suburbs. This duty was entrusted to General Chamberlain, whom I accompanied as one of his staff officers. His column consisted of about 800 Infantry and six guns, a few more men joining us as we passed the Ridge. This was the first occasion on which I had witnessed fighting in gardens and walled enclosures, and I realized how difficult it was to dislodge men who knew how to take advantage of the cover thus afforded. Our soldiers, as usual, fought well against very heavy odds, and before we were able to force the enemy back into the city we had lost 1 officer and 40 men killed, and 8 officers and 163 men wounded, besides 11 poor fellows missing: every one of whom must have been murdered. The enemy had nearly 500 men killed, and considerably more than that number wounded.
The result of the day's experience was so far satisfactory that it determined General Reed to get rid of all the Hindustani soldiers still remaining in camp. It was clear that the Native officers' party near the Mound piquet had been treacherous; none of them were ever seen again, and it was generally believed that they had joined the enemy in their dash through the camp. The other Native soldiers did not hesitate to denounce their Hindustani comrades as traitors; the latter were consequently all sent away, except a few men of the 4th Irregular Cavalry who were deprived of their horses and employed solely as orderlies. It was also thought advisable to take the guns from the Native troop of Horse Artillery. A few of the younger men belonging to it deserted, but the older soldiers continued faithful, and did good work in the breaching batteries.
There was a short lull after our fight on the 9th--a sure sign that the enemy's loss was heavier than they had calculated upon. When the mutineers received reinforcements we were certain to be attacked within a few hours, but if no fresh troops arrived on the scene we could generally depend upon a day or two's respite.
Our next fight was on the 14th July. The rebels came out on that morning in great numbers, attacking Hindu Rao's house and the Sabzi Mandi piquets, and supported by a continuous fire of Artillery from the walls. For some hours we remained on the defensive, but as the enemy's numbers increased, and we were greatly harassed by their fire, a column was formed to dislodge them. It was of about the usual strength, viz., 800 Infantry and six Horse Artillery guns, with the addition of a few of the Guides Cavalry and of Hodson's newly-raised Horse. The command was given to Brigadier Showers, and I was sent as his staff officer; Reid joined in at the foot of the Ridge with all the men that could be spared, and Brigadier-General Chamberlain also accompanied the column.
We moved on under a very heavy fire until we reached an enclosure the wall of which was lined with the enemy. The troops stopped short, when Chamberlain, seeing that they hesitated, called upon them to follow him, and gave them a splendid example by jumping his horse over the wall. The men did follow him, and Chamberlain got a ball in his shoulder.
We had great difficulty in driving the enemy back; they contested every inch of the ground, the many serais and walled gardens affording them admirable cover; but our troops were not to be withstood; position after position was carried until we found ourselves in sight of the Lahore gate and close up to the walls of the city. In our eagerness to drive the enemy back we had, however, come too far. It was impossible to remain where we were. Musketry from the walls and grape from the heavy guns mounted on the Mori and other bastions committed terrible havoc. Men were falling on all sides, but the getting back was hazardous to the last degree. Numerous as the enemy were, they had not the courage to stand against us as long as we advanced, but the first sign of retreat was the signal for them to leave their shelter and press us the whole way to camp.
When the retirement commenced I was with the two advanced guns in action on the Grand Trunk Road. The subaltern in charge was severely wounded, and almost at the same moment one of his sergeants, a smart, handsome fellow, fell, shot through the leg. Seeing some men carrying him into a hut at the side of the road, I shouted: 'Don't put him there; he will be left behind; get a doolie for him, or put him on the limber.' But what with the incessant fire from the enemy's guns, the bursting of shells, the crashing of shot through the branches of the trees, and all the din and hubbub of battle, I could not have been heard, for the poor fellow with another wounded man was left in the hut, and both were murdered by the mutineers. So many of the men with the two guns were hors de combat, and the horses were so unsteady (several of them being wounded), that there was great difficulty in limbering up, and I was helping the drivers to keep the horses quiet, when I suddenly felt a tremendous blow on my back which made me faint and sick, and I was afraid I should not be able to remain on my horse. The powerless feeling, however, passed off, and I managed to stick on until I got back to camp. I had been hit close to the spine by a bullet, and the wound would probably have been fatal but for the fact that a leather pouch for caps, which I usually wore in front near my pistol, had somehow slipped round to the back; the bullet passed through this before entering my body, and was thus prevented from penetrating very deep.
The enemy followed us closely right up to our piquets, and but for the steadiness of the retirement our casualties must have been even more numerous than they were. As it was, they amounted to 15 men killed, 16 officers and 177 men wounded, and 2 men missing.
The enemy's loss was estimated at 1,000. For hours they were seen carrying the dead in carts back to the city.
My wound, though comparatively slight, kept me on the sick-list for a fortnight, and for more than a month I could not mount a horse or put on a sword-belt. I was lucky in that my tent was pitched close to that of John Campbell Brown, one of the medical officers attached to the Artillery. He had served during the first Afghan war, with Sale's force, at Jalalabad, and throughout both the campaigns in the Punjab, and had made a great reputation for himself as an army surgeon. He looked after me while I was laid up, and I could not have been in better hands.
The Delhi Force was fortunate in its medical officers. Some of the best in the army were attached to it, and all that was possible to be done for the sick and wounded under the circumstances was done. But the poor fellows had a bad time of it. A few of the worst cases were accommodated in the two or three houses in the cantonment that had escaped destruction, but the great majority had to put up with such shelter from the burning heat and drenching rain as an ordinary soldiers' tent could provide. Those who could bear the journey and were not likely to be fit for duty for some time were sent away to Meerut and Umballa; but even with the relief thus afforded, the hospitals throughout the siege were terribly overcrowded. Anæsthetics were freely used, but antiseptics were practically unknown, consequently many of the severely wounded died, and few amputation cases survived.
A great aggravation to the misery and discomfort in hospital was the plague of flies. Delhi is at all times noted for having more than its share of these drawbacks to life in the East, but during the siege they were a perfect pest, and for the short time I was laid up I fully realized the suffering which our sick and wounded soldiers had to endure. At night the inside of my tent was black with flies. At the first ray of light or the smallest shake to the ropes, they were all astir, and for the rest of the day there was no peace; it was even difficult to eat without swallowing one or more of the loathsome insects. I had to brush them away with one hand while I put the food into my mouth with the other, and more than once I had to rush from the table, a fly having eluded all my efforts to prevent his going down my throat.
As soon as I could get about a little, but before I was able to perform my legitimate work, I was employed in helping to look after the conservancy of the camp and its surroundings--an extremely disagreeable but most important duty, for an Indian army must always have a large following, for which sanitary arrangements are a difficulty. Then, large convoys of camels and bullock-carts arrived daily with supplies and stores, and a considerable number of transport animals had to be kept in readiness to follow up the enemy with a suitably sized force, whenever we could drive them out of the city. Without any shelter, and often with insufficient food, deaths amongst the animals were of constant occurrence, and, unless their carcases could at once be removed, the stench became intolerable. Every expedient was resorted to to get rid of this nuisance. Some of the carcases were dragged to a distance from camp, some were buried, and some were burnt, but, notwithstanding all our efforts, many remained to be gradually devoured by the jackals which prowled about the camp, and by the innumerable birds of prey which instinct had brought to Delhi from the remotest parts of India.
At a time when the powers of each individual were taxed to the uttermost, the strain on the Commander of the force was terribly severe. Mind and body were incessantly at work. Twice in the short space of six weeks had the officer holding this responsible position succumbed, and now a third was on the point of breaking down. Major-General Reed's health, never very strong, completely failed, and on the 17th July, only twelve days after succeeding Sir Henry Barnard, he had to give up the command and leave the camp on sick certificate.
[Footnote 1: See Kaye's 'History of the Indian Mutiny.']
[Footnote 2: Now General Sir Alexander Taylor, G.C.B.]
[Footnote 3: Mahomedans of good family are so styled in northern India.]
[Footnote 4: Tombs and Hills both received the Victoria Cross for their gallantry.]
[Footnote 5: 'Adjutants,' never seen in ordinary times further north than Bengal, appeared in hundreds, and were really useful scavengers.]