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Chapter 28: 1857-1858

The Fight at Khudaganj--A mêlée--Oudh or Rohilkand?

Our stay at Cawnpore was more prolonged than the Commander-in-Chief intended or wished it to be, but want of transport made it impossible for us to move until the carts returned which had gone to Allahabad with the women and children and the sick soldiers. We were thus delayed until the 23rd December, on which date we commenced our march towards Fatehgarh.

At Chobipur, two marches from Cawnpore, where we spent Christmas Day, we were joined by the troops who had been left behind at Bithur; they had not succeeded in discovering any considerable quantity of treasure, some silver vessels of various kinds being the only result of their labours.

The Commander-in-Chief's object in moving on Fatehgarh was to restore order throughout the Doab and open communication between the Punjab and Bengal.

A brigade under Brigadier Walpole had been despatched on the 16th, with orders to clear the country along the left bank of the Jumna up to Mainpuri, where he was to be joined by Brigadier Seaton with a strong column from Delhi, and whence the united force was to advance on Fatehgarh.

We reached Gursahaiganj, where the road turns off to Fatehgarh, on the 31st, and here the main body of the army halted on New Year's Day, 1858; but information having been received that 5,000 rebels under the Nawab of Farakabad had partly destroyed the suspension bridge over the Kali Naddi, about five miles ahead, and had then gone off towards Fatehgarh, Adrian Hope's brigade was sent forward to repair the damage and watch the bridge.

Early the following morning Sir Colin, with Mansfield and the rest of his staff, went on to inspect progress, leaving orders for the rest of the force to follow later in the day. Very soon, however, Hope Grant received an urgent message from the Chief of the Staff, telling him to push on the troops with all possible speed, as the enemy had returned, and were now in strength on the other side of the Kali Naddi.

We (Sir Hope and his staff) started off with the Horse Artillery and Cavalry, and found, on reaching the bridge, that the rebels were occupying the village of Khudaganj, just across the river, and only about 300 yards off, from which advantageous position they were pouring a heavy fire on Hope's brigade. Our piquets on the further side of the stream had been strengthened by a wing of the 53rd Foot, and a wing of the 93rd Highlanders had been placed in reserve behind the bridge on the nearer side, the rest of the regiment having been despatched to watch a ford some distance down the river, while a battery of Field Artillery had been brought into action in reply to the enemy's guns. Immediately on the arrival of the main body, three of Peel's guns, under Vaughan, his First Lieutenant, were pushed across the bridge to the further side, and getting under shelter of a convenient building, opened fire on the village, and on a toll-bar directly in its front, about which the enemy were collected in considerable numbers. Our Infantry now crossed over, followed by the Cavalry and Horse Artillery--a tedious operation, as there had not been time to fully repair the bridge, and in one place planks had only been laid for half its width, necessitating horses being led, and Infantry passing over in sections. Moreover, the enemy had got the exact range, and several casualties occurred at this spot; one round shot alone killed and wounded six men of the 8th Foot. Vaughan at last succeeded in silencing the gun which had troubled us most, and preparations were made for an attack on the village. While we were watching the proceedings, the Interpreter to the Naval Brigade, Henry Hamilton Maxwell, a brother officer of mine who had been standing close to me, was very badly wounded in the leg, and both Sir Colin and Sir Hope were hit by spent bullets, luckily without being much hurt.

There was a feeling throughout the army that Sir Colin was inclined to favour Highlanders unduly; and a rumour got about that the 93rd were to be allowed the honour of delivering the assault on Khudaganj, which was highly resented by the 53rd, and they determined that on this occasion, at any rate, the Highlanders should not have it all their own way. The 53rd was composed of a remarkably fine set of fellows, chiefly Irish, and it was Mansfield's own regiment; wishing, therefore, to do an old comrade a good turn, he had placed Major Payn,[1] one of the senior officers, in command of the piquets. Payn was a fine dashing soldier, and a great favourite with the men, who calculated on his backing them up if they upset Sir Colin's little plan. Whether what happened was with or without Payn's permission, I cannot say, but we were all waiting near the bridge for the attacking party to form when suddenly the 'advance' was sounded, then the 'double,' followed by a tremendous cheer, and we saw the 53rd charge the enemy. Sir Colin was very angry, but the 53rd could not be brought back, and there was nothing for it but to support them. Hope's and Greathed's troops were instantly pushed on, and the Cavalry and Horse Artillery were ordered to mount.

The ground gradually sloped upwards towards Khudaganj, and the regiments moving up to the attack made a fine picture. The 93rd followed the impulsive 53rd, while Greathed's brigade took a line to the left, and as they neared the village the rebels hastily limbered up their guns and retired. This was an opportunity for mounted troops such as does not often occur; it was instantly seized by Hope Grant, who rode to the Cavalry, drawn up behind some sand hills, and gave the word of command, 'Threes left, trot, march.' The words had hardly left his lips before we had started in pursuit of the enemy, by this time half a mile ahead, the 9th Lancers leading the way, followed by Younghusband's, Gough's, and Probyn's squadrons. When within 300 yards of the fugitives, the 'charge' was sounded, and in a few seconds we were in their midst. A regular mêlée ensued, a number of the rebels were killed, and seven guns captured in less than as many minutes. The General now formed the Cavalry into a long line, and, placing himself at the head of his own regiment (the 9th Lancers), followed up the flying foe. I rode a little to his left with Younghusband's squadron, and next to him came Tyrrell Ross, the doctor.[2] As we galloped along, Younghusband drew my attention with great pride to the admirable manner in which his men kept their dressing.

On the line thundered, overtaking groups of the enemy, who every now and then turned and fired into us before they could be cut down, or knelt to receive us on their bayonets before discharging their muskets. The chase continued for nearly five miles, until daylight began to fail and we appeared to have got to the end of the fugitives, when the order was given to wheel to the right and form up on the road. Before, however, this movement could be carried out, we overtook a batch of mutineers, who faced about and fired into the squadron at close quarters. I saw Younghusband fall, but I could not go to his assistance, as at that moment one of his sowars was in dire peril from a sepoy who was attacking him with his fixed bayonet, and had I not helped the man and disposed of his opponent, he must have been killed. The next moment I descried in the distance two sepoys making off with a standard, which I determined must be captured, so I rode after the rebels and overtook them, and while wrenching the staff out of the hands of one of them, whom I cut down, the other put his musket close to my body and fired; fortunately for me it missed fire, and I carried off the standard.[3]

Tyrrell Ross, attracted by a party of men in the rear of the squadron bending over the fallen Younghusband, now came up, and, to everyone's great grief, pronounced the wound to be mortal. From the day that I had annexed Younghusband's pony at the siege of Delhi we had been so much together, and had become such fast friends, that it was a great shock to me to be told that never again would my gallant comrade lead the men in whom he took such soldierly pride.[4]

When the wounded had been attended to, we returned to camp, where we found Sir Colin waiting to welcome us, and we received quite an ovation from our comrades in the Infantry and Artillery. We must have presented a curious spectacle as we rode back, almost every man carrying some trophy of the day, for the enemy had abandoned everything in their flight, and we found the road strewn with laden carts and palankins, arms, Native clothing, etc. Our losses were surprisingly small--only 10 men killed, and 30 men and 2 officers wounded.

The next day the column marched to Fatehgarh, which we found deserted. The rebels had fled so precipitately that they had left the bridge over the Ganges intact, and had not attempted to destroy the valuable gun-carriage factory in the fort, which was then placed in the charge of Captain H. Legeyt Bruce.[5]

We remained a whole month at Fatehgarh, and loud were the complaints in camp at the unaccountable delay. It was the general opinion that we ought to move into Rohilkand, and settle that part of the country before returning to Lucknow; this view was very strongly held by Sir Colin Campbell, and those who accused him of "indecision, dilatoriness, and wasting the best of the cold weather" could not have known how little he deserved their censure. The truth was, that the Governor-General and the Commander-in-Chief were not in accord as to the order in which the several military operations should be taken in hand; the latter urged that Rohilkand should be dealt with first, and settled before the end of the cold weather; he thought that the troops would then be the better for a rest, and that Lucknow could very well wait till the following autumn. Lord Canning opined, on the other hand (and I entirely agree with him), that, while it was most desirable that order should be restored in Rohilkand, and indeed throughout the whole of the North-West Provinces, the possession of Lucknow was of 'far greater value.' 'Every eye,' Lord Canning wrote, 'is upon Oudh as it was upon Delhi: Oudh is not only the rallying-place of the sepoys, the place to which they all look, and by the doings in which their own hopes and prospects rise or fall; but it represents a dynasty; there is a king of Oudh "seeking his own."' He pointed out that there was an uneasy feeling amongst the Chiefs of Native States, who were intently watching our attitude with regard to Lucknow, and that even in 'far-off Burma' news from Lucknow was anxiously looked for. The Governor-General laid great stress also upon the advisability of employing as soon and as close to their own country as possible the troops from Nepal which, at Sir Henry Lawrence's suggestion, had been applied for to, and lent us by, the Nepalese Government.

The visit of Jung Bahadur (the Prime Minister of Nepal) to England a few years before had opened his eyes to our latent power, and he had been able to convince his people that time alone was required for us to recover completely from the blow which had been dealt us by the Mutiny, and that it was therefore to their advantage to side with us. Lord Canning wisely judged, however, that it would be highly imprudent to allow the province immediately adjoining Nepal to continue in a state of revolt, and he felt that neither Jung Bahadur nor his Gurkhas would be satisfied unless they were allowed to take an active part in the campaign.

[Footnote 1: The late General Sir William Payn, K.C.B.]

[Footnote 2: Tyrrell Ross was well known as a skilful surgeon, and much esteemed as a staunch friend. He had just returned from England, and had that very morning been placed in medical charge of the Cavalry Brigade. When the order to mount was given, Ross asked the General where he wished him to be, pointing out that he would not be of much use in the rear if there were a pursuit across country. Hope Grant replied: 'Quite so; I have heard that you are a good rider and can use your sword. Ride on my left, and help to look after my third squadron.' This Ross did as well as any Cavalry officer could have done.]

[Footnote 3: For these two acts I was awarded the Victoria Cross.]

[Footnote 4: Younghusband met with an extraordinary accident during the fight at Agra. While pursuing one of the Gwalior rebels, he fell with his horse into a disused well, fifty feet deep, and was followed by two of his men, also mounted. Ropes were brought, and the bodies were hauled up, when, to the astonishment of everyone, Younghusband was found to be alive, and, beyond being badly bruised, uninjured. He had fallen to the bottom in a sitting position, his back resting against the side of the well, and his legs stretched out in front of him, while his horse fell standing and across him. He was thus protected from the weight of the other two horses and their riders, who were all killed.]

[Footnote 5: Now Major-General H.L. Bruce, C.B.]