Advantage of being a good horseman--News from Lucknow --Cawnpore--Heart-rending scenes--Start for Lucknow --An exciting Adventure--Arrival of Sir Colin Campbell --Plans for the advance
On the 14th October we moved camp to the left bank of the Jumna, where we were joined by a small party of Artillerymen with two 18-pounder guns, and some convalescents belonging to the regiments with us, who had been left behind at Delhi--300 in all. Our camp was pitched in a pretty garden called the Rambagh, only a short distance from Agra, where we gave a picnic to the ladies who had been so kind to our wounded men--a rough sort of entertainment, as may be imagined, but much enjoyed by the easily-pleased people who had been prisoners for so long, to whom the mere getting away from the fort for a few hours was a relief.
On the morning of the 15th we commenced our march towards Mainpuri, a small station seventy miles from Agra, which we reached on the 18th. While on our way there, Hope Grant, Colonel of the 9th Lancers, arrived in camp to take over the command of the column. He had remained at Delhi when superseded by Greathed, and being naturally indignant at the treatment he had received, he protested against it, and succeeded in getting the order appointing Greathed to the command cancelled.
Had an officer been specially selected on account of his possessing a more intimate acquaintance with Native soldiers and a longer experience of India, Hope Grant would no doubt have accepted the inevitable. But Greathed did not know as much of the country and Native troops as Hope Grant did; he had seen no service before he came to Delhi, and while there had no opportunity of showing that he possessed any particular qualification for command; he certainly did not exhibit any while in charge of the column, and everyone in the force was pleased to welcome Hope Grant as its leader.
The Raja of Mainpuri, who had openly joined the rebels, fled the day before we marched in, leaving behind him several guns and a quantity of powder. We halted on the 20th, blew up his fort and destroyed the powder. The European part of the station was in ruins, but a relation of the Raja had been able to prevent the Government treasury from being plundered, and he made over to us two and a half lakhs of rupees.
The civilians of the Mainpuri district were amongst the refugees at Agra, and took advantage of our escort to return to their station. We had also been joined by some officers whom the mutiny of their regiments had left without employment; they were a welcome addition to our Punjab regiments, as the limited number of British officers attached to these corps had been considerably reduced by the constantly recurring casualties. One of these officers was a Captain Carey, whose story, as he told it to me, of his escape from the massacre at Cawnpore and his subsequent experiences is, I think, worth repeating.
In the month of May Carey went into Wheeler's entrenchment with the rest of the garrison; a few days before the investment, however, Sir Henry Lawrence sent his Military Secretary, Captain Fletcher Hayes, to Cawnpore, to report on what course events were taking at that place, and, if possible, to communicate with Delhi. His escort was the 2nd Oudh Irregular Cavalry. Hayes had already made Carey's acquaintance, and, on finding him at Cawnpore, asked him to accompany him to Delhi, which invitation Carey gladly accepted. When they got close to Bewar, where the road to Mainpuri branched off, Hayes, wishing to gain information from the civil authorities as to the state of the country through which their route to Delhi lay, rode off to the latter place with Carey, having first ordered the escort to proceed towards Delhi, and having arranged with the British officers to catch them up at the end of the next day's march. The following day, as the two friends approached the encamping ground where they were to overtake the escort, they beheld the regiment marching steadily along the road in regular formation; there was nothing to warn them that it had revolted, for as there were only three British officers with the corps, whose dress was almost the same as the men's, their absence was not noticed.
Suddenly, when they had got within two or three hundred yards of the regiment, the troopers with one accord broke into shouts and yells, and, brandishing their swords, galloped towards Hayes and Carey, who, turning their horses, made with all possible speed back towards Mainpuri. Hayes, who was an indifferent rider, was soon overtaken and cut to pieces, while Carey, one of the best horsemen in the army, and beautifully mounted, escaped; the sowars followed him for some distance, but a wide irrigation cut, which he alone was able to clear, put an end to the pursuit. Carey reached his destination in safety, and, with the other Europeans from Mainpuri, sought refuge in the Agra fort, where he spent the following five months. It was afterwards ascertained that the three British officers with the escort had been murdered by the sowars shortly before Hayes and Carey came in sight.
On the 21st October we reached Bewar, the junction of the roads from Meerut, Agra, Fatehgarh, and Cawnpore, at which point the Brigadier received a communication from Sir James Outram, written in Greek character, from the Lucknow Residency, begging that aid might be sent as soon as possible, as provisions were running short. The note was rolled up inside a quill, which the Native messenger had cunningly concealed in the heart of his thick walking-stick. Outram's urgent summons determined the Brigadier to push on. So the next day we made a march of twenty-eight miles to Goorsahaigunj, and on the 23rd we reached Miran-ki-Serai, close to the ruined Hindu city of Kanoj.
The same day I went on as usual with a small escort to reconnoitre, and had passed through the town, when I was fired upon by a party of the rebels, consisting of some 300 Cavalry, 500 Infantry, and four guns, who, having heard of the approach of the column, were trying to get away before it arrived. Their Cavalry and Infantry were on the opposite bank of a fairly wide stream, called the Kali Naddi, through which were being dragged some heavy pieces of cannon. I retired a short distance, and sent back word to the advance guard, which hastened to my assistance. A few rounds from our Artillery caused the enemy to abandon their guns, the Infantry dispersed and disappeared, the Cavalry fled, and we, crossing the stream, had a smart gallop after them for about four miles over a fine grassy plain. On we flew, Probyn's and Watson's squadrons leading the way in parallel lines, about a mile apart. I was with the latter, and we had a running fight till we reached the Ganges, into which plunged those of the sowars whom we had not been able to overtake; we reined up, and saw the unlucky fugitives struggling in the water, men and horses rolling over each other; they were gradually carried down by the swiftly running stream, and but a very few reached the opposite bank.
Our casualties were trifling, only some half-dozen men wounded, while my horse got a gash on his quarter from a sabre. Watson had the forefinger of his right hand badly cut in an encounter with a young sowar; I chaffed him at allowing himself to be nearly cut down by a mere boy, upon which he laughingly retorted: 'Well, boy or not, he was bigger than you.'
It was on this occasion that I first recognized the advantage of having the carbine slung on the trooper's back while in action, instead of being carried in the bucket, as is the custom with our British Cavalry. Several of the enemy's loose horses were going about with carbines on their saddles, while their dismounted riders were at an enormous disadvantage in trying to defend themselves from their mounted adversaries with only their swords. I saw, too, one of Watson's men saved from a fierce cut across the spine by having his carbine on his back. More recent experience has quite satisfied me that this is the only way this weapon should be carried when actual fighting is going on.
Three more marches brought us to Cawnpore, where we arrived on the 26th October.
We now for the first time heard the miserable 'story of Cawnpore.' We were told how, owing to Sir Hugh Wheeler's misplaced belief in the loyalty of the sepoys, with whom he had served for upwards of half a century, and to the confiding old soldier's trust in the friendship of the miscreant Nana, and in the latter's ability to defend him until succour should arrive, he had neglected to take precautionary measures for laying in supplies or for fortifying the two exposed barracks which, for some unaccountable reason, had been chosen as a place of refuge, instead of the easily defensible and well-stored magazine. Our visit to this scene of suffering and disaster was more harrowing than it is in the power of words to express; the sights which met our eyes, and the reflections they gave rise to, were quite maddening, and could not but increase tenfold the feelings of animosity and desire for vengeance which the disloyalty and barbarity of the mutineers in other places had aroused in the hearts of our British soldiers. Tresses of hair, pieces of ladies' dresses, books crumpled and torn, bits of work and scraps of music, just as they had been left by the wretched owners on the fatal morning of the 27th June, when they started for that terrible walk to the boats provided by the Nana as the bait to induce them to capitulate. One could not but picture to one's self the awful suffering those thousand Christian souls of both sexes and of all ages must have endured during twenty-one days of misery and anxiety, their numbers hourly diminished by disease, privation, the terrific rays of a June sun, and the storm of shot, shell, and bullets which never ceased to be poured into them. When one looked on the ruined, roofless barracks, with their hastily constructed parapet and ditch (a mere apology for a defence), one marvelled how 465 men, not more than half of them soldiers by profession, could have held out for three long weeks against the thousands of disciplined troops and hordes of armed retainers whom the Nana was able to bring to the attack.
It is impossible to describe the feelings with which we looked on the Sati-Choura Ghat, where was perpetrated the basest of all the Nana's base acts of perfidy; or the intense sadness and indignation which overpowered us as we followed the road along which 121 women and children (many of them well born and delicately nurtured) wended their weary way, amidst jeers and insults, to meet the terrible fate awaiting them. After their husbands and protectors had been slain, the wretched company of widows and orphans were first taken to the Savada house, and then to the little Native hut, where they were doomed to live through two more weeks of intensest misery, until at length the end came, and the last scene in that long drama of foulest treachery and unequalled brutality was enacted. Our unfortunate countrywomen, with their little children, as my readers will remember, were murdered as the sound of Havelock's avenging guns was heard.
We found at Cawnpore some men who had fought their way from Allahabad with Havelock's force, from whom we heard of the difficulties they had encountered on their way, and the subsequent hardships the gallant little force had to endure in its attempts to reach Lucknow. They also told us that Havelock and Outram, with only 3,179 men of all arms, and 14 guns, had succeeded in forcing their way through that great city with a loss of 700, but only to be themselves immediately surrounded by the vast multitude of the enemy, who for three whole months had vainly endeavoured to overpower the heroic defenders of the Residency.
At Cawnpore there were very few troops. The Head-Quarters of the 64th Foot, under Colonel Wilson, and some recovered invalids belonging to regiments which had gone to Lucknow, had held it for more than a month, within an entrenchment thrown up on the river bank to protect the bridge of boats. Just before we arrived four companies of the 93rd Highlanders had marched in. It was the first time I had seen a Highland regiment, and I was duly impressed by their fine physique, and not a little also by their fine dress. They certainly looked splendid in their bonnets and kilts--a striking contrast to my war-worn, travel-stained comrades of the Movable Column. An avant courier of the Naval Brigade had also come in, sent on by Captain William Peel, of H.M.S. Shannon, to arrange for the rest of the blue-jackets who were about to arrive--the first naval officer, I imagine, who had ever been sent on duty so far up the country as Cawnpore.
Other troops were rapidly being pushed up, and officers who had been on leave to England were daily arriving, having hurried out to join their different regiments in various parts of India. Amongst these was an old friend and brother subaltern of mine, Augustus Otway Mayne, whom, greatly to my satisfaction, Hope Grant appointed D.A.Q.M.G. to help me, for there was now more work to be done than I could well get through.
The day after our arrival at Cawnpore we heard that the new Commander-in-Chief, Sir Colin Campbell, was to leave Calcutta that evening to take command of the force with which he hoped to effect the relief of the Lucknow garrison, and with this news came an order to Hope Grant from Sir Colin to get into communication with the Alambagh, a small garden-house not quite two miles from the city of Lucknow, built by one of the Begums of the ex-King of Oudh, in which the sick and wounded, tents and spare stores, had been left in charge of a small detachment, when Outram and Havelock advanced towards the Residency on the 25th September.
On the 30th October we left Cawnpore, and crossed the Ganges into Oudh, taking with us the four companies of the 93rd Highlanders, and the men belonging to Havelock's force, whom I have mentioned as having been left behind on account of sickness.
On the 31st we were at Bani bridge, more than half-way to the Alambagh, when a telegram reached the Brigadier directing him to halt until Sir Colin Campbell (who had got as far as Cawnpore) should arrive.
Hope Grant did not think the ground we were on well adapted for a prolonged halt; that afternoon, therefore, I went off with Mayne to reconnoitre the country for a more suitable place. We fixed upon an open plain at the village of Bhantira, about three miles nearer Lucknow. We met with no opposition that day, but the country people in the neighbourhood had shown marked hostility by killing one or two soldiers and every camp-follower who had strayed from the main road; so we were careful to examine Bhantira and all the neighbouring villages, but were unable to discover the slightest sign of an enemy.
As the next day's march was such a very short one, we did not start until 7 a.m., instead of before daybreak as usual. Mayne and I rode on ahead with a couple of sowars, and reached the site we had chosen for the camp without meeting a single suspicious-looking individual. We then sent back the escort to bring up the camp colour-men, and while waiting for them, we entered into conversation with some passing pilgrims, who told us they were on their way to Benares to procure holy water from the Ganges. Suddenly a bullet whizzed over our heads, fired from the direction from which we had just come. Looking back, to our amazement we saw a crowd of armed men at a distance of between three and four hundred yards, completely cutting us off from the column. The whole plain was alive with them. When they saw they were observed, they advanced towards us, shouting and firing. Fortunately for us, we had made ourselves perfectly acquainted with the country the previous day, and instantly realized that escape by our right (as we faced Lucknow) was impossible, because of a huge impassable jhil. There was another jhil to our left front, but at some little distance off, and our only chance seemed to be in riding hard enough to get round the enemy's flank before they could get close enough to this jhil to stop us.
Accordingly, we put spurs to our horses and galloped as fast as they could carry us to our left; the enemy turned in the same direction, and made for a village we must pass, and which we could see was already occupied. The firing got hotter and more uncomfortable as we neared this village, the walls of which we skirted at our best possible pace. We cleared the village, and hoped we had distanced the rebels, when suddenly we came upon a deep nulla. Mayne got safely to the other side, but my horse stumbled and rolled over with me into the water at the bottom. In the fall my hand was slightly cut by my sword, which I had drawn, thinking we might have to fight for our lives; the blood flowed freely, and made the reins so slippery when I tried to remount, that it was with considerable difficulty I got into the saddle. The enemy were already at the edge of the nulla, and preparing to fire, so there was no time to be lost. I struggled through the water and up the opposite bank, and ducking my head to avoid the shots, now coming thick and fast, galloped straight into some high cultivation in which Mayne had already sought shelter. Finally we succeeded in making our way to the main body of the force, where we found Hope Grant in great anxiety about us, as he had heard the firing and knew we were ahead. The dear old fellow evinced his satisfaction at our safe return by shaking each of us heartily by the hand, repeating over and over again in his quick, quaint way, 'Well, my boys, well, my boys, very glad to have you back! never thought to see you again.' The column now moved on, and we found ourselves opposed to a vast body of men, not soldiers, but country people, who in those days were all armed warriors, and who spent their time chiefly in fighting with each other. As we approached the crowd turned, opened out, and fled in every direction, spreading over the plain and concealing themselves in the long grass. We gave chase and killed many, but a large proportion escaped. Favoured by the high crops, they disappeared with that marvellous celerity with which Natives can almost instantly become invisible, leaving in our possession a 9-pounder brass gun. On this occasion we had thirty killed and wounded.
We could not at the time understand where the men had sprung from who so suddenly attacked us; but it afterwards transpired that some powerful zemindars in the neighbourhood had collected all the forces they could get together, and established them after dark in the very villages we had so carefully examined the previous afternoon and had found completely deserted, with the intention of falling upon the column as it passed in the early morning. The unusually late hour at which the march was made, however, disconcerted their little plan, and giving up all hope of the force coming that day, they consoled themselves by trying to get hold of Mayne and myself.
We halted on the 3rd and 4th November. On the 5th, Hope Grant sent a force to the Alambagh for the purpose of escorting a long line of carts and camels laden with provisions and ammunition, which the Commander-in-Chief was desirous of having near at hand, in case the relief of the Lucknow garrison should prove a more prolonged operation than he hoped or anticipated it was likely to be.
As we neared the Alambagh the enemy's guns opened on us from our right, while their Cavalry threatened us on both flanks. They were easily disposed of, and we deposited the stores, receiving in exchange a number of sick and wounded who were to be sent back to Cawnpore.
A curious incident happened at the Alambagh. I was employed inside the enclosure, when all at once I heard a noise and commotion some little distance off. Getting on to the roof, I looked over the plain, and saw our troops flying in every direction; there was no firing, no enemy in sight, but evidently something was wrong; so I mounted my horse and rode to the scene of confusion, where I found that the ignominious flight of our troops was caused by infuriated bees which had been disturbed by an officer of the 9th Lancers thoughtlessly thrusting a lance into their nest. There were no serious consequences, but the Highlanders were heard to remark on the unsuitability of their dress for an encounter with an enemy of that description.
On the 9th November Sir Colin Campbell joined the column, accompanied by his Chief of the Staff, Brigadier-General Mansfield.
The following morning we were surprised to hear that a European from the Lucknow garrison had arrived in camp. All were keen to see him, and to hear how it was faring with those who had been shut up in the Residency for so long; but the new-comer was the bearer of very important information from Sir James Outram, and to prevent any chance of its getting about, the Commander-in-Chief kept the messenger, Mr. Kavanagh, a close prisoner in his own tent.
Outram, being anxious that the officer in command of the relieving force should not follow the same route taken by himself and Havelock, and wishing to communicate his ideas more at length than was possible in a note conveyed as usual by a spy, Kavanagh, a clerk in an office in Lucknow, pluckily volunteered to carry a letter. It was an offer which appealed to the heart of the 'Bayard of the East,' as Outram has been appropriately called, and just such an errand as he himself, had he been in a less responsible position, would have delighted to undertake. Outram thoroughly understood the risk of the enterprise, and placed it clearly before the brave volunteer, who, nothing daunted, expressed his readiness to start at once, and his confidence in being able to reach the British camp.
Disguised as a Native, and accompanied by a man of Oudh, on whose courage and loyalty he was convinced he could rely, Kavanagh left the Residency after dark on the 9th and got safely across the Gumti. He and his guide remained in the suburbs mixing with the people until the streets might be expected to be pretty well empty, when they re-crossed the river and got safely through the city. They were accosted more than once on their way, but were saved by the readiness of the Native, who it had been arranged should answer all inquiries, though Kavanagh, having been born and bred in the country, could himself speak the language fluently. On the morning of the 10th they made themselves known to a piquet of Punjab Cavalry on duty near the Alambagh.
Outram, profiting by his own experience, wished the relieving column to be spared having to fight its way through the streets of Lucknow. This was all the more necessary because the enemy, calculating on our following the same route as before, had destroyed the bridge over the canal and made extensive preparations to oppose our advance in that direction. Outram explained his views most clearly, and sent with his letter a plan on which the line he proposed we should take was plainly marked. He recommended that the advance should be made, by the Dilkusha and Martinière, and that the canal should be crossed by the bridge nearest the Gumti. Outram showed his military acumen in suggesting this route, as our right flank would be covered by the river, and therefore could only be molested by a comparatively distant fire. Sir Colin, appreciating all the advantages pointed out, readily accepted and strictly adhered to this plan of advance, except that, instead of crossing the canal by the bridge, we forded it a little nearer the river, a wise divergence from Outram's recommendation, and one which he would assuredly have advised had he been aware that the canal was fordable at this spot, as it kept us altogether clear of the streets.
Outram did not touch in his despatch upon any question but the all-important one of how the junction between his own and the relieving forces could best be effected. Many other matters, however, claimed the earnest consideration of the Commander-in-Chief before he could proceed. He had to determine what was to be done to secure the safety of the women and children in the Residency, after the first most pressing duty of relieving the garrison had been accomplished. Cawnpore was again in great danger from the Gwalior mutineers, who, foiled at Agra, and finding that the Maharaja Sindhia would not espouse their cause, had placed themselves under the orders of the Rani of Jhansi and Tantia Topi, the vile Mahratta whom the Nana made use of to carry out the massacre of the Sati-Choura Ghat; led by this man the rebels were seriously threatening Cawnpore, and it was necessary to take steps for its security. Then again the city of Lucknow had to be thought of; its capture and the restoration of British authority were alike essential, but our Chief knew that he had neither the time nor the means at his disposal to undertake this important operation at once. He therefore made up his mind that so soon as the Residency had been relieved he would withdraw altogether from Lucknow, and place a force at the Cawnpore side of the city, to form the nucleus of the army with which he hoped later on to take the place, and to keep open communication with his Head-Quarters, while he himself should hurry back to Cawnpore, taking with him all the non-combatants and the sick and wounded.
[Footnote 1: No account of the quantity and description of supplies stored in the Residency had been kept, or, if kept, it was destroyed when the Mutiny broke out. Captain James, the energetic Commissariat officer, on receiving Sir Henry Lawrence's order to provision the Residency, spent his time riding about the country buying supplies of all descriptions, which were stored wherever room could be found for them. James was very severely wounded at the fight at Chinhut, and was incapacitated the greater part of the siege. It was only by degrees that some of the supplies were discovered; no one knew how much had been collected, and no record of the quantities issued from day to day could be kept. When Outram joined hands with Inglis, his first question was, 'How much food is there?' Thanks to Sir Henry Lawrence's foresight, there was an ample supply, not only for the original garrison, but for the numbers by which it was augmented on the arrival of the relieving force. Of this, however, Outram must have been ignorant when he despatched the little note to which I have alluded in the text.]
[Footnote 2: On the 25th June, after twenty-one days of intense suffering--with his numbers so reduced as to render further defence scarcely possible, with starvation staring him in the face, and with no hope of succour--Sir Hugh Wheeler most reluctantly consented to capitulate. The first overtures were made by the Nana, who, despairing of being able to capture the position, and with disaffection in his own camp, sent the following message to the General: 'All those who are in no way connected with the acts of Lord Dalhousie, and are willing to lay down their arms, shall receive a safe passage to Allahabad.' This missive, which was without signature, was in the handwriting of Azimula Khan, a Mahomedan who had been employed by the Nana as his Agent in England, and was addressed, 'To the subjects of Her Most Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria.' General Wheeler agreed to give up the fortification, the treasure, and the Artillery, on condition that each man should be allowed to carry his arms and sixty rounds of ammunition, that carriages should be provided for the conveyance of the wounded, the women, and the children, and that boats, with a sufficiency of flour, should be ready at the neighbouring ghat (landing-place). The Nana accepted these conditions, and three officers of the garrison were deputed to go to the river and see that the boats were properly prepared. They found about forty boats moored, and apparently ready for departure, and in their presence a show of putting supplies on board was made.]
[Footnote 3: The Nana never intended that one of the garrison should leave Cawnpore alive, and during the night of the 26th June he arranged with Tantia Topi to have soldiers and guns concealed at the Sati-Choura Ghat to open fire upon the Europeans he had been unable to conquer as soon as the embarkation had been effected and they could no longer defend themselves and their helpless companions in misery. The river was low and the boats were aground, having been purposely drawn close to the shore. When the last man had stepped on board, at a given signal the boatmen jumped into the water and waded to the bank. They had contrived to secrete burning charcoal in the thatch of most of the boats; this soon blazed up, and as the flames rose and the dry wood crackled, the troops in ambush on the shore opened fire. Officers and men tried in vain to push off the boats; three only floated, and of these two drifted to the opposite side, where sepoys were waiting to murder the passengers. The third boat floated down the stream, and of the number on board four eventually escaped--Lieutenants Thomson and Delafosse, both of the 53rd Native Infantry, Private Murphy of the 84th Foot, and Gunner Sullivan, of the Bengal Artillery. The rest of the officers and men were killed or drowned, and the women and children who escaped were carried off as prisoners.]
[Footnote 4: Permanent occupiers of the land, either of the landlord class, as in Bengal, Oudh, and the North-West Provinces, or of the yeoman class, as in the Punjab.]
[Footnote 5: Afterwards General Lord Sandhurst, G.C.B., G.C.S.I.]
[Footnote 6: The Dilkusha house was built at the beginning of the century by a king of Oudh as a hunting-box and country residence, and close to it he cleared away the jungle and laid out a large park, which he stocked with herds of deer and other game.]
[Footnote 7: The Martinière was built by Claude Martin, a French soldier of fortune, who came out to India, under Count de Lally, in the stirring days of 1757. In 1761 he was taken prisoner by the English at Pondicherry and sent to Bengal. After the conclusion of the war he enlisted in the English Army, and on attaining the rank of Captain he got permission to attach himself to the Court of the King of Oudh, where he soon obtained supreme influence, and became to all practical purposes Prime Minister. He remained an officer of the East India Company's Service, and at the time of his death held the rank of Major-General. He amassed a large fortune, and by his will founded colleges at Lucknow, Calcutta, and Lyons, the place of his birth. His directions that his house at the former place should never be sold, but should 'serve as a college for educating children and men in the English language and religion,' were carried out by the British Government, and Martin lies buried in its vault.]