A situation had already been marked out for our encampment, and, directed by an officer, we passed through the main portion of our lines, and halted at the bottom of the ridge on the extreme left of our position. Some time was occupied after the arrival of the baggage in pitching our camp; but when all was concluded, Vicars and I started on foot to take our first view of the imperial city.
We walked a short distance to the right, and along the foot of the ridge, and then ascended, making our way to the celebrated Flagstaff Tower. We mounted to the top: and shall I ever forget the sight which met our gaze?
About a mile to our front, and stretching to right and left as far as the eye could reach, appeared the high walls and the bastions of Delhi. The intervening space below was covered with a thick forest of trees and gardens, forming a dense mass of verdure, in the midst of which, and peeping out here and there in picturesque confusion, were the white walls and roofs of numerous buildings. Tall and graceful minarets, Hindoo temples and Mohammedan mosques, symmetrical in shape and gorgeous in colouring, appeared interspersed in endless numbers among the densely-packed houses inside the city, their domes and spires shining with a brilliant radiance, clear-cut against the sky. Above all, in the far distance towered the Jama Masjid, or Great Mosque, its three huge domes of pure white marble, with two high minarets, dwarfing into insignificance the buildings by which it was surrounded--surely, the noblest work of art ever built by man for the service of the Creator.
To the left could be seen the lofty castellated walls of the Palace of the Emperors, the former seat of the Great Mogul--that palace in which at that moment the degenerate descendant of Timour, and last representative of his race, held his court, and in his pride of heart fondly hoped that British rule was at an end.
Beyond rose the ancient fortress of Selimgarh, its walls, as well as those of the palace on the north side, washed by the waters of the Jumna. A long bridge of boats connected the fort with the opposite bank of the river, here many hundred yards in width: and over this we could see, with the aid of glasses, bodies of armed men moving.
It was by this bridge that most of the reinforcements and all the supplies for the mutineers crossed over to the city. On the very day of our arrival the mutinous Bareilly Brigade of infantry and artillery, numbering over 3,000 men, marched across this bridge. Our advanced picket at the Metcalfe House stables, close to the Jumna, heard distinctly their bands playing "Cheer, boys, cheer!" the very same tune with which we had celebrated our entrance into camp that morning.
Few cities in the world have passed through such vicissitudes as Delhi. Tradition says it was the capital of an empire ages before the great Macedonian invaded India, and its origin is lost in the mists of antiquity. Traces there were in every direction, amid the interminable cluster of ruins and mounds outside the present city, of cities still more vast, the builders and inhabitants of which lived before the dawn of history.
Delhi had been taken and sacked times out of number. Its riches were beyond compare; and for hundreds of years it had been the prey, not only of every conqueror who invaded India from the north-west, but also of every race which, during the perpetual wars in Hindostan, happened for the time to be predominant. Tartars, Turks, Afghans, Persians, Mahrattas and Rajpoots, each in turn in succeeding ages had been masters of the city. There had been indiscriminate massacres of the populace, the last by Nadir Shah, the King of Persia in 1747, when 100,000 souls were put to death by his order, and booty to a fabulous amount was carried away. Still, notwithstanding the vicissitudes of fortune through which it had passed, Delhi was, in 1857, one of the largest, most beautiful, and certainly the richest city in Hindostan. We knew well that there was wealth untold within the walls, and our hearts were cheered even at this time when we thought of the prize-money which would fall to our share at the capture of the rebellious city.
The walls surrounding Delhi were seven miles in circumference, flanked at intervals by strong bastions, on which the enemy had mounted the largest guns and mortars, procured from the arsenal. Munitions of war they had in abundance--enough to last them, at the present rate of firing, for nearly three years. Long we gazed, fascinated at the scene before us. A dead silence had reigned for some time, when we were awakened from our dreams by the whiz and hissing of a shell fired by the enemy. It fell close below the tower and burst without doing any harm; but some jets of smoke appeared on the bastions of the city, and shells and round-shot fired at the ridge along the crest of which a small body of our men was moving. The cannonade lasted for some time, our own guns replying at intervals. We could plainly see the dark forms of the rebel artillerymen, stripped to the waist, sponging and firing with great rapidity, their shot being chiefly directed at the three other buildings on the ridge--namely, the Observatory--the Mosque, as it was called--and, on the extreme right, Hindoo Rao's house.
From the Flagstaff Tower the ridge trended in a southerly direction towards those buildings, approaching gradually nearer and nearer to the city, till at Hindoo Rao's house it was distant about 1,200 yards from the walls.
To the rear of this ridge, and some distance below, so that all view of Delhi was quite shut out from it, was the camp of the besieging army, numbering at this period about 6,000 men. The tents were pitched at regular intervals behind the ruined houses of the old cantonment, which, at the outbreak on May 11, had been burnt and destroyed by the sepoys. A canal which supplied us with water from the Jumna ran round the ridge past the suburb of Kishenganj into the city, and was crossed by two bridges, over which communication with the country to the north-west, and leading to the Punjab, was kept open by the loyal Sikh chieftains and their retainers.
Our position on the ridge extended about a mile and a half, the right and left front flanks defended by outlying advanced pickets, which I shall hereafter describe.
The city walls, as before recorded, were seven miles in circumference, so that at this time, and, in fact, almost to the end of the siege, we, with our small force, in a manner only commanded a small part of the city. The bridge of boats remained to the last in the possession of the enemy, and was quite out of range even from our advanced approaches, while to the right and rear of the city the gates gave full ingress to reinforcing bodies of insurgents from the south, whose entrance we were unable to prevent.
Our investment, if such it could be called, was therefore only partial, being confined to that portion of the city extending from the water battery near Selimgarh Fort to the Ajmir Gate, which was just visible from the extreme right of the ridge. This part was defended by, I think, four bastions, named, respectively, the Water, Kashmir, Mori, and Burn. Three gates besides the Lahore gave egress to the mutineers when making sorties, the afterwards celebrated Kashmir Gate, the Kabul and the Ajmir Gates.
The Hindoo Rao's house, on the right of the ridge where it sloped down into the plain, was the key of our position, and was defended with great bravery and unflinching tenacity throughout the whole siege by the Sirmoor battalion of Goorkhas, and portions of the 60th Royal Rifles and the Guide Corps. Incessant day and night attacks were here made by the enemy, who knew that, were that position turned, our camp--in fact, our very existence as a besieging force--would be imperilled.
But no assault, however strong and determined, made any impression on the men of these gallant regiments, led by Major Reid, the officer commanding the Sirmoor battalion. They lost in killed and wounded a number far out of all proportion to that of any other corps before Delhi, and must in truth be reckoned the heroes of the siege.
The Goorkhas are recruited in the mountain districts of the Himalayas, in the kingdom of Nepal. They are short and squat in figure, never more than five feet three inches in height, of dark complexion, with deep-set eyes and high cheek-bones denoting their affinity to the Turanian race. Good-humoured and of a cheerful disposition, they have always been great favourites with the European soldiers, whose ways and peculiarities they endeavour to imitate to a ludicrous extent. In battle, as I have often seen them, they seem in their proper element, fierce and courageous, shrinking from no danger. They carried, besides the musket, a short, heavy, curved knife called a kukri, a formidable weapon of which the sepoys were in deadly terror. As soldiers they are second to none, amenable to discipline and docile, but very tigers when roused; they fought with unflinching spirit during the Mutiny, freely giving up their lives in the service of their European masters.
And now that I have endeavoured, for the purposes of this narrative, to explain our position and that of the enemy, I shall proceed to recount, as far as my recollection serves, the main incidents of the siege, and more particularly those in which I personally took part.
The camp of my regiment was pitched, as I have said, on the extreme left of the besieging force, on the rear slope of the ridge. We were completely hidden from any view of the city, and but for the sound of the firing close by, which seldom ceased day or night, might have fancied ourselves far away from Delhi.
Cholera still carried off its victims from our midst, and the very night of our arrival I performed the melancholy duty of reading the Burial Service over five gallant fellows of the Grenadier Company who had died that day from the fell disease.
The heat was insupportable, the thermometer under the shade of my tent marking 112°F.; and to add to our misery there came upon us a plague of flies, the like of which I verily believe had not been on the earth since Moses in that manner brought down the wrath of God on the Egyptians. They literally darkened the air, descending in myriads and covering everything in our midst. Foul and loathsome they were, and we knew that they owed their existence to, and fattened on, the putrid corpses of dead men and animals which lay rotting and unburied in every direction. The air was tainted with corruption, and the heat was intense. Can it, then, be wondered that pestilence increased daily in the camp, claiming its victims from every regiment, native as well as European?
About this time many spies were captured and executed; in fact, so many prisoners were taken by the pickets that it was ordered that for the future, instead of being sent under escort to the camp for trial, they should be summarily dealt with by the officers commanding pickets.
On the evening of July 2 I was sent, in command of fifty men, to relieve the picket at a place called the "Cow House"; this was an outshed belonging to Sir Theophilus Metcalfe's mansion, burnt by the rebels on May 11, and midway between that building and the stables, at each of which were stationed 150 men. At the beginning of the siege our left advanced flank, on the side of the River Jumna, was exposed to constant attacks by the enemy, and the three pickets mentioned above had been since that time stationed at those places. Each communicated with the other, the one to the right being on a mound near the ruins of the house, and some 1,200 yards from the city, the cowshed situated midway between this mound and the river, and, lastly, the stables close to the banks, all partially hidden from view of the batteries on the walls by gardens and thick clusters of trees.
I stationed my men at the sheds, and placed double rows of sentries to my front along the edge of a deep nallah, or ravine.
Soon after this that gallant officer, Lieutenant Hodson (on whose memory lately aspersions have been cast by an author who knows nothing of the subject on which he has written), rode up to the picket and told me that a sortie in force was expected that night, and that I was to keep a sharp lookout to prevent surprise.
Hodson, besides commanding a regiment of native Sikh cavalry of his own raising, was head of the Intelligence Department. He covered himself with glory during the siege, was untiring in his exertions and well-nigh ubiquitous, riding incessantly round the pickets at night, and being present at most of the engagements. He was a perfect Hindustani scholar, and it was reported in camp, though with what truth I cannot say, that he on several occasions entered Delhi in disguise during the siege to gain information of the enemy's intentions. This may have been exaggeration, but it is nevertheless certain that, through some source or other, he made himself well acquainted with the doings and movements of the mutineers.
Shortly after he left, the field-officer on duty appeared, who ordered me, in case I should be attacked, to defend my post to the last extremity, and in no case to fall back, adding that to my picket, and to those on my right and left, the safety of the camp during the expected sortie, together with the security of our left flank, was entrusted.
After darkness set in the enemy commenced a furious cannonade in the direction of the three pickets, round shot whistling through the trees and shells bursting around us. The din and roar were deafening, but firing, as they did, at random, little damage was done. Nothing can be grander than the sight of live shells cleaving the air on a dark night. They seemed like so many brilliant meteors rushing through the heavens, or like lightning-flashes during a storm, and this being my first experience of the sort, no words can paint my awe and admiration.
We naturally expected an attack in force from the insurgents under cover of the cannonade; but hours passed by in suspense and anxiety, and none was attempted. The firing was continued all night--sleep being impossible--and ceased only at daybreak, when the relief arrived, and I marched the picket back to our camp.
July 3.--That day the monsoon--the Indian wet season--set in, and rain descended in sheets of water for many hours.
In the afternoon it was reported that a large force of mutineers was moving out of the city by the Kabul and Ajmir Gates into the suburbs to the right front of our position, and the alarm sounded, most of the troops in camp turning out and assembling on the road to the rear of the canal. Here we were halted for some time, it being uncertain what direction had been taken by the enemy.
At sunset two doolies, escorted by men of the 5th Punjab Cavalry, were seen on the road coming towards us. They contained the bodies of a European sergeant and a man of the Road Department, who had been surprised and cut to pieces by some of the rebel cavalry. The escort also reported that a body of insurgents numbering many thousand men had been seen moving towards Alipore, one march in our rear, their object, it was supposed, being to cut off supplies and intercept treasure.
It being too late to start in pursuit of the enemy, we were dismissed to our quarters, being warned to hold ourselves in readiness to turn out at a moment's notice.
July 4.--That night the sound of the enemy's guns to our rear was heard in the camp, and soon after 2 a. m. we paraded, and joined a force destined to overtake or cut off the mutineers on their return to Delhi. The little army, consisting of 1,500 men, cavalry, artillery, and infantry, marched at once towards Alipore. After we had proceeded three miles, and just at daybreak, news was brought that the enemy, after plundering the town, were retreating to the city laden with booty.
Major Coke, who was in command, then changed our direction to the left, and we advanced for about two miles over swampy ground to a canal, the cavalry being in front, then the infantry, the battery of Horse Artillery bringing up the rear.
When near the canal, which was shaded on each side by trees, the Major advanced to reconnoitre, and on his return, the order was given, "Guns to the front!" The Horse Artillery galloped past us, and we then heard that the enemy were in sight on the other side of the canal.
Crossing a bridge, and passing through trees and jungle, the whole force debouched on an open plain, and formed in order of battle. The first line consisted of the artillery, in the centre, flanked on each side by the cavalry--cavalry--portions of the 9th Lancers, the Carabineers, and that fine regiment, the Guide Corps. Coke's Corps of Punjabees and my regiment formed the second line.
It was a pretty sight to see this miniature army advancing in perfect order towards the enemy. The plain extended for a mile quite open and without trees, bounded at that distance by a village, in which the insurgent guns were posted. Clouds of horsemen, apparently without any formation, hovered on each side of the village, and a large force of infantry was standing in line somewhat in advance.
Our guns came into action at a distance of about 1,000 yards from the village, and were soon answered by those of the enemy, their shot striking unpleasantly close to our line, and ricochetting over our heads. Still we advanced, hoping that the rebels would stand till we came to close quarters. At 500 yards the fire from our artillery seemed to prove too hot for them; and presently, to our infinite disgust, we saw their infantry moving off to the left, followed shortly after by the cavalry. Then their guns ceased firing, and were also quickly withdrawn.
The Carabineers and Guides were sent in pursuit, and cut up some stragglers; but the insurgents stampeded at a great pace, and succeeded in carrying off all their guns.
A few sepoys were found hiding in the village huts, and were killed by our men, the Alipore plunder was recovered, besides some ammunition and camp equipment, and, rather dissatisfied with the result of the action, we moved slowly back across the plain.
The regiment was commanded on this occasion by our senior Captain, an officer of some thirty-five years' service. He was, without exception, the greatest oddity for a soldier that our army has ever seen. Five feet two inches in height, with an enormous head, short, hunchback body, long arms, and thin, shrivelled legs, his whole appearance reminded one of Dickens' celebrated character Quilp, in the "Old Curiosity Shop." Entering the service in the "good" old times, when there was no examination by a medical man, he had, through some back-door influence, obtained a commission in the army. All his service had been passed abroad, exchanging from one regiment to another, for it would have been utterly impossible for him to have retained his commission in England. Marching, he was unable to keep step with the men, and on horseback he presented the most ludicrous appearance, being quite unable to ride, and looking more like a monkey than a human being. On our first advance across the plain the little Captain was riding in our front, vainly endeavouring to make his horse move faster, and striking him every now and then on the flanks with his sword. I was on the right of the line, and, together with the men, could not keep from laughing, when a friend of mine--a tall officer of one of the native infantry regiments--rode to my side and asked me who that was leading the regiment. I answered, "He is our commanding officer."
The sun shone with intense heat on our march back across the plain, and the European soldiers began to feel its effects, many being struck down with apoplexy. About midday the infantry halted at the canal, the guns and most of the cavalry returning to camp, as it was supposed there would be no more work for them to do. We lay down in the welcome shade of the trees on the bank, enjoying our breakfast, which had been brought to us by our native servants, and, in company with an officer of the 9th Lancers, I was discussing a bottle of ale, the sweetest draught I think I have ever tasted. The arms were piled in our front, and at intervals we watched, as they crossed the canal, a troop of elephants which had been sent out to bring the sick and wounded into camp.
All at once, from our left front, and without any warning, shots came whistling through the trees and jungle, and some men lying on the ground were hit. The regiment at once fell in and changed front to the left, moving in the direction from which the shots were coming.
Frightened at the sound of the firing, the elephants were seized with a panic and made off across the canal. Trumpeting, with their trunks high above their heads, they floundered through the water to the opposite side, their drivers vainly attempting to stop their flight. We saw them disappearing through the trees, and learnt afterwards that they never stopped till close to their own quarters at the camp.
Meanwhile the shots came thick and fast, and we advanced in line till we came to a comparatively open space, and in sight of the enemy--a large body of infantry outnumbering us by four to one. They were at no great distance from us, and a sharp musketry fire was kept up from both sides, causing heavy losses.
Seeing that no object was to be gained with our small force by encountering one so vastly superior, Major Coke deemed it prudent to retire, and retreating firing, we crossed the bridge and lined the bank on each side.
The enemy followed, their men forming opposite to us and keeping up a steady fire at a distance of from 100 to 150 yards. I was on the right of the line with the Grenadiers, when, half an hour later, I was directed by the Adjutant to march my men to the left of the bridge to reinforce the Light Company, who were being hard pressed by the insurgents, some of whom were wading through the canal, with the evident intention of turning our left flank. We crept along under the bank, and were received with joy by our comrades, one of them, I well remember, welcoming us in most forcible language, and intimating that they would soon have been sent to--if we had not come.
The file-firing here was continuous, a perfect hail of bullets, and it was dangerous to show one's head over the bank. Shouting and taunting us, the rebels came up close to the opposite side, and were struck down in numbers by our men, who rested their muskets on the bank and took sure aim. Still, the contest was most unequal; the enemy were wading in force through the water on our left, and the day would have gone hard with us from their overwhelming numerical superiority, when, just at this critical moment, the galloping of horses and the noise of wheels was heard in our rear.
Six Horse Artillery guns, led by Major Tombs--one of the most gallant officers in camp--came thundering along the road. They passed with a cheer, crossed the bridge at full speed, wheeled to their left, unlimbered as quick as lightning, and opened fire on the rebels. Taken completely by surprise, these made no stand, and fled pell-mell towards Delhi, leaving altogether 200 dead on the ground.
It was now nearly five o'clock, and we were distant four miles from camp. Many of our men had died from apoplexy and sunstroke, their faces turning quite black in a few minutes--a horrible sight. These, with the killed and the sick and wounded, were placed on the backs of a fresh lot of elephants, which had just arrived; and, scarcely able to drag one leg after the other, we turned our faces towards the camp, reaching our own quarters soon after sunset.
This was a terrible and trying day for all engaged, and more especially for the European infantry. We had been under arms for seventeen hours, most of the time exposed to the pitiless rays of an Indian sun, under fire for a considerable period, and, with the exception of the slight halt for breakfast, on our feet all the time.
When nearing camp we were met by the General, Sir Henry Barnard, who addressed us with some kindly words, and little did we think that that was the last occasion we should see the gallant old soldier. The following morning he was attacked with cholera, and expired in the afternoon, deeply regretted by the whole army.
No man could possibly have been placed in a more trying situation than he who had just given up his life in the service of his country. Called on to command an army to which was entrusted the safety of British rule in India, the cares and anxiety of the task, together with his unremitting attention to his duties and constant exposure to the sun, made him peculiarly susceptible to the disease from which he died. He had served with distinction in the Crimean campaign, and had only landed in India to take command of a division in the April of this year.
July 5.--From July 5 to 8 nothing of note occurred. The enemy kept up, as usual, a constant fire upon the ridge and outlying pickets; but no attempt at a sortie was made.
I visited the Flagstaff Tower each day when off duty, seemingly never tired of gazing at the glorious panorama spread out before me, and watching the batteries delivering their unceasing fire.
With the exception of two 24-pound cannon taken from the enemy, for which we had no shot, the heaviest guns on the ridge were 18-pounders and a few small mortars. Having possession of the great arsenal, the insurgents mounted on the bastions of Delhi 32-and 24-pounder guns and 13-inch mortars, their trained artillerymen acquitting themselves right valiantly, and making excellent practice. They were almost to a man killed at their guns during the siege, and towards the end the difference in firing was fully perceptible, when the infantry filled their places and worked the guns.
Having no round-shot for the two 24-pounders, we were reduced to firing back on the city the shot of the same calibre hurled against us, and a reward of half a rupee per shot was paid by the commissariat to any camp-follower bringing in the missiles.
On one occasion I saw a party of native servants, carrying on their heads cooked provisions for the men on picket, wend their way up the slope from the camp. Two round-shot fired by the enemy struck the top of the ridge and rolled down the declivity. Here was a prize worth contending for, and the cooks, depositing the dishes on the ground, ran in all haste to seize the treasures. I watched the race with interest, and anticipated some fun, knowing that in their eagerness they would forget that the shots had not had time to cool. Two men in advance of the rest picked up the balls, and, uttering a cry, dropped them quickly, rubbing and blowing their hands. The remainder stood patiently waiting, and then, after a time, spent evidently in deliberation, two men placed the shot on their heads, and all in a body moved off towards the commissariat quarters to receive and divide the reward.
July 7.--On the morning of July 7, I accompanied a detachment of 150 men under command of a Captain to relieve the picket at the mound close to the ruins of Sir Theophilus Metcalfe's house. This mansion, built by the present baronet's father, was situated about 1,200 yards from the walls of the city, and surrounded by trees and gardens. At the outbreak of May 11, it had been plundered and burnt by the mutinous sepoys and badmashes, who also in like manner had destroyed every house belonging to the Europeans in the suburbs of Delhi and the adjoining cantonment. Of the murders that then took place I shall have something to say hereafter, when writing the history of a young school-fellow whose sister was killed by the insurgents.
From our position on picket we could see a short distance in front, the ground having been partially cleared of trees and undergrowth. A chain of double sentries was posted, and the utmost vigilance observed. We could hear the batteries opening on the ridge, while occasionally, as if to harass the picket, a 13-inch shell would burst either in our front or in our rear. The night passed quickly, and at daybreak, when visiting the sentries, I heard distinctly the bugles of the rebels sounding the reveille, succeeded by other familiar calls. It seemed strange to hear our own bugle-calls sounded by men who were now our enemies; and not only was this the case, but also the insurgents for some time wore the scarlet uniform of the British soldiers, and invariably to the end of the war gave the English words of command they had been taught in our service.
We were relieved from picket on the morning of the 8th, and returned to our camp, remaining quiet during the day. Executions by hanging took place every day, but after the first horrible experience nothing would induce me to be a spectator. The rain, which had begun on the 3rd, continued almost without intermission, our camp becoming a quagmire, and the muggy, moist atmosphere increasing the ravages of cholera amongst our unfortunate soldiers.
July 9.--At sunrise on the 9th, a terrific cannonade woke us out of our sleep; but, the main camp being some distance from the right of the ridge, we for a long time heard no tidings of what was going on. At 8 a. m. the bugles of the regiments on the right sounded the alarm, followed at once by the "assembly."
Some 200 men of my regiment, all that remained off duty, paraded in front of the tents, and received orders to march to the centre rear of the camp, in rear of the quarters of the General in command. Here we were joined by some companies of the 8th Regiment and a battalion of Sikhs, and, continuing our march, we halted near the tents of Tombs' battery of Horse Artillery.
Lying around and even among the tent-ropes were dead bodies of the enemy's cavalry, and a little way beyond, close to the graveyard, some men of the 75th were firing into the branches of the trees which surrounded the enclosure. Every now and then the body of a rebel would fall on the ground at their feet, the soldiers laughing and chatting together, and making as much sport out of the novel business as though they were shooting at birds in the branches of a tree.
How the native cavalry came there was at first inexplicable to us; but we were informed afterwards that a body of irregular horsemen, dressed in white, the same uniform as that worn by the 9th Irregulars on our side, had, with the greatest daring, an hour before dashed across the canal bridge and charged the picket of the Carabineers, making also for the two guns of Tombs' battery. The former, mostly young soldiers, had turned and fled, all save their officer and one sergeant, who nobly stood their ground. Lieutenant Hills, who commanded the two guns on picket, also alone charged the horsemen, cutting down one or two of the sowars.
Meantime the guns were unlimbered, but before they had time to fire, the enemy were upon them. Hills was struck down badly wounded, and was on the point of being despatched by a sowar, when Major Tombs, hearing the noise, rushed out of his tent, and seeing the plight his subaltern was in, fired his revolver at thirty yards and killed the sowar.
The camp was now fairly alarmed; the guns of Olpherts' battery opened on the enemy, and, some men of the 75th appearing on the scene, the rebels were shot down in every direction, thirty-five being killed, and the rest escaping by the bridge. A few climbed into the trees and were shot down as I have said before.
This attack by the enemy's cavalry was a fitting prelude to the events of the memorable sortie of that day.
At early morn, under cover of an unceasing cannonade from the city batteries on to the right of our position, the insurgents in great force and of all arms streamed out from the gates, making in the direction of the suburb of Kishenganj, their evident intention being to turn our right flank and make for our camp.
Seeing that the enemy were increasing in numbers, and coming on with great determination, the alarm had sounded; and detachments from most of the regiments, with Horse Artillery and a few cavalry under the command of Brigadier-General Chamberlain, marched towards the right rear of the camp, taking the road to the suburb of Kishenganj.
We crossed the canal at about 10 a. m., and, moving in column for some little distance, came in sight of advanced bodies of the enemy, chiefly infantry with cavalry and field artillery on each flank. We formed in line, sending out skirmishers, the guns opened fire--the country here being pretty open--and the action began.
Soon we drove back the rebels, who continued retreating in excellent order, turning at intervals and discharging their muskets, while every now and then their guns were faced about and unlimbered, and round-shot and grape sent among our ranks. As we advanced, the vegetation became thicker, and we were confronted at times by high hedges of prickly-pear and cactus, growing so close together that it was impossible to make our way through. This occasioned several détours, the sepoys lining the hedges and firing at us through loopholes and openings, cursing the gore log and daring us to come on.
The rain, which had kept off during the morning, now descended in a steady downpour, soaking through our thin cotton clothing, and in a few minutes drenching us to the skin.
Passing the obstacles on each flank, the force again formed in as good order as the inequalities of the ground would permit, and continued its advance, all the time under a heavy fire of artillery and musketry. We caught glimpses of the enemy retreating towards the Kishenganj Serai, but the vegetation was so dense in the numerous gardens, and the view so obstructed by stone walls and ruined buildings, that it was with great difficulty that we made any progress, nor, having the advantage of so much cover, did the enemy suffer much loss from our musketry fire.
Many of our men fell at this period of the fight; despising the enemy and refusing to take cover, our soldiers would stand out exposed and deliver their fire, offering a sure aim to the enemy's marksmen. It was a continual rush from one point to another, halting and firing at intervals, the rebels all the time slowly retreating. Our Horse Artillery at this juncture could only act on occasions, the ground being so broken that the guns were often brought to a standstill.
All this time the batteries on the ridge, which from their high position could see what was going on, sent shells and round-shot at every opportunity over our heads, dispersing the mutineers when grouped together in any large number, and dealing death amongst them.
We saw them lying in heaps of twenty and thirty as we advanced, and the fire was so hot and the practice so excellent that the enemy evacuated the gardens and fled towards the suburb of Kishenganj.
Here the country was more open, so, re-forming our scattered line, with skirmishers in advance, we drove the rebels before us, the Horse Artillery playing on them in the open and bringing down scores.
Crossing the canal (which here barred our progress) by a bridge, we entered into a wide lane to the left, the high bank of the canal being on one side and the walls of a large caravanserai on the other.
The insurgents were posted at the far end of the lane, where it opened out at the gate of the serai, and received us, as we advanced at the double, with a rattling fire of musketry. Some climbed to the top of the bank, while others fired down at us from the walls. It was a perfect feu d'enfer, and the loss on our side became so heavy that a temporary check was the result, and it was only with great trouble that the men could be urged on.
Seeing a disposition to waver, Colonel W. Jones, the Brigadier under Chamberlain, with great bravery placed himself in front on foot, and called on the soldiers, now a confused mass of Sikhs, Goorkhas, and Europeans, to charge and dislodge the enemy from the end of the lane. He was answered with a ringing cheer, the men broke into a run, and, without firing a shot, charged the sepoys, who waited till we were within fifty yards, and then, as usual, turned and fled.
Some entered the caravanserai by the large gate, which they attempted to shut; but we were too quick for them, and following close on their heels, a hard fight began in the enclosure.
Others of the enemy ran onwards in the direction of the city, chased by portions of our force, who pursued them a long distance, and after a desperate resistance killed many who in their flight had taken refuge in the serais and buildings.
The party I was with in the great caravanserai ranged the place like demons, the English soldiers putting to death every sepoy they could find. Their aspect was certainly inhuman--eyes flashing with passion and revenge, faces wet and blackened from powder through biting cartridges; it would have been useless to attempt to check them in their work of slaughter.
Twenty or more of the insurgents, flying for life from their pitiless foe, made for a small building standing in the centre of the serai. They were followed by our men, who entered after them at the door. The house had four windows, one on each side, about three feet from the ground, and I ran to one and looked in.
The wretched fugitives had thrown down their arms and, crouching on the floor with their backs to the wall, begged with out-stretched hands for mercy, calling out in their language, "Dohai! dohai!" words I well knew the meaning of, and which I had often heard under similar circumstances. I knew, however, that no quarter would be given, and in a short time every rebel lay in the agonies of death.
Most of the force, as I have related, had continued chasing the enemy, so that for some time we were alone and few in number in the serai. It was nearly five o'clock, and we thought that, as far as we were concerned, the action was over.
It was not so, however. Shouts and yells were heard outside, and, running to see, we found a fresh force of the mutineers assembled outside the gates. There was nothing for it but to make a rush and fight our way through; so with fixed bayonets we charged through them, meeting soon afterwards the remainder of the force on its way back. Joining with these, we drove the enemy again before us till we came within 700 yards of the city walls, there losing sight of our foes. Their guns fired into us, but the insurgent infantry seemed now to have had sufficient fighting for one day, and not one man was to be seen.
Our work was accomplished, and the order was given to retire. Slowly we wended our way back to camp, arriving there about sunset, having been continuously under fire for nearly seven hours.
The losses on this day exceeded that of any since the siege began. Out of our small force engaged, 221 men were killed and wounded. It was computed that of the enemy more than 500 were killed, and probably twice that number wounded, the dead bodies lying thick together at every stage of our advance, but the wounded men in almost every instance were carried off by their comrades.
The camp of our regiment on the extreme left of the line having become a mere swamp and mud hole from the long-continued rain, and also being at too great a distance from the main body of the army, we were directed to change to a position close to the banks of the canal, near the General's headquarters, and on the left of the 8th Regiment. The move was made, I think, on July 11; and here we remained till the end of the siege.
At about this period, too, I was most agreeably surprised by a visit from an old school-fellow named C---- d. He had entered the Bengal Civil Service a few years before, and, at the breaking out of the disturbances, was Assistant Collector at Goorgaon, seventeen miles from Delhi. On the death of their mother in Ireland, an only sister, a young girl of eighteen years of age, came out to India to take up her residence with him. C---- d escorted his sister to Delhi on May 10, she having received an invitation to stay with the chaplain and his wife, who had quarters in the Palace. He returned to Goorgaon, little thinking he would never see her again.
The next morning, on the arrival of the insurgent cavalry from Meerut, and the subsequent mutiny of the native infantry regiments and artillery in the cantonments, the massacre of the Europeans in Delhi began.
I forbear entering into all the details of this dreadful butchery; suffice it to say that the chaplain, Mr. Jennings, his wife, Miss C---- d, and nearly all the white people, both in the Palace and the city, were murdered. The editor of the Delhi Gazette and his family were tortured to death by having their throats cut with pieces of broken bottles, but there were conflicting accounts as to how the Jenningses and Miss C---- d met their end. From what I gathered after the siege from some Delhi natives, it was reported that the ladies were stripped naked at the Palace, tied in that condition to the wheels of gun-carriages, dragged up the "Chandni Chauk," or silver street of Delhi, and there, in the presence of the King's sons, cut to pieces.
It was not till the following evening, May 12, that C---- d heard of the Mutiny, and, fearing death from the populace of Goorgaon, who had also risen in revolt, he disguised himself as best he could and rode off into the country. After enduring great privations, and the danger of being taken by predatory bands, he at last reached Meerut, and thence accompanied the force to Delhi.
From what he hinted, I feel sure he had it on his mind that his sister, before being murdered, was outraged by the rebels. However this may be, my old school-fellow had become a changed being. All his passions were aroused to their fullest extent, and he thought of nothing but revenge. Armed with sword, revolver, and rifle, he had been present at almost every engagement with the mutineers since leaving Meerut. He was known to most of the regiments in camp, and would attach himself to one or the other on the occasion of a fight, dealing death with his rifle and giving no quarter. Caring nothing for his own life, so long as he succeeded in glutting his vengeance on the murderers of his sister, he exposed himself most recklessly throughout the siege, and never received a wound.
On the day of the final assault I met him in one of the streets after we had gained entrance into the city. He shook my hands, saying that he had put to death all he had come across, not excepting women and children, and from his excited manner and the appearance of his dress--which was covered with blood-stains--I quite believe he told me the truth. One would imagine he must have tired of slaughter during those six days' fighting in the city, but it was not so. I dined with him at the Palace the night Delhi was taken, when he told me he intended accompanying a small force the next morning to attack a village close by. All my remonstrances at this were of no avail; he vowed to me he would never stay his hand while he had an opportunity of wreaking his vengeance. Poor fellow! that was his last fight; advancing in front of the soldiers, he met his death from a bullet in the heart when assaulting the village.
There were other officers of the army in camp who had lost wives and relations at Delhi and Meerut, and who behaved in the same manner as C---- d. One in particular, whose wife I had known well, was an object of pity to the whole camp. She was the first woman who was murdered during the outrage at Meerut, and her death took place under circumstances of such shocking barbarity that they cannot be recorded in these pages.
Truly these were fearful times, when Christian men and gallant soldiers, maddened by the foul murder of those nearest and dearest to them, steeled their hearts to pity and swore vengeance against the murderers. And much the same feelings, though not to such an extent, pervaded the breasts of all who were engaged in the suppression of the Mutiny. Every soldier fighting in our ranks knew that a day of reckoning would come for the atrocities which had been committed, and with unrelenting spirit dedicated himself to the accomplishment of that purpose. Moreover, it was on our part a fight for existence, a war of extermination, in which no prisoners were taken and no mercy shown--in short, one of the most cruel and vindictive wars that the world has seen.
From July 10 to 14 there was comparative quiet in the camp; the cannonade continued on each side, but no sorties were made by the enemy.
July 12.--On the morning of the 12th I was detailed for picket duty at the Sabzi Mandi Gardens, to the right front of Hindoo Rao's house, the picket consisting of 100 men under the command of a Captain. Since the opening of the siege this had been the scene of many sanguinary encounters with the enemy, who put forth all their strength in endeavours to drive in the picket, and so turn our right flank at Hindoo Rao's house.
The view at first was almost completely closed in; but by the end of July the unremitting labours of the Engineers had cleared away the trees, walls, and buildings in front of the picket for some distance, and the earth-works connecting it with the ridge at Hindoo Rao's house were also completed.
I can remember no event of interest as occurring on July 12. Few shots were fired at us, and on being relieved the next morning we returned to camp, wondering at the unusual inactivity of the enemy.
July 14.--They were, however, only preparing for another sortie on a grand scale, and on the morning of the 14th the bugles again sounded the "alarm" and the "assembly." The insurgents poured out of the Kabul and Lahore Gates in great numbers, making, as usual, for the Sabzi Mandi Gardens and the right of the ridge. They kept up a constant fire of musketry and field-artillery; and though our batteries swept their masses with shell and round-shot, they still continued the attack, pressing close to the pickets and Hindoo Rao's house.
[Illustration: THE SMALL PICKET, SABZI MANDI, FROM THE SOUTH-EAST.]
Shortly after midday a column of some 1,500 men was assembled to dislodge and drive them back to the city. We took the road as on the 9th, and soon became engaged with the enemy in the Sabzi Mandi Gardens. The struggle was long and fierce, a perpetual interchange of musketry and artillery, our losses, especially in officers, being very severe. The city batteries also sent grape and canister amongst us from their large guns and howitzers, inflicting mortal wounds, even at the great distance of 1,100 yards.
When driving the rebels before us past the suburb of Kishenganj, Lieutenant Gabbett and I, in the confusion of the rush, became separated from the few men of our regiment who were engaged on that day, and found ourselves--we being the only officers present--with about fifty soldiers of different corps. For more than half an hour we were completely isolated from the main body, and were occupied in several little fights on our own account. Advancing, we scarcely knew where, and in our excitement fully engaged in chasing the foe, we all at once came most unexpectedly on to a broad road, with open ground on each side. There, to our front, and scarcely 500 yards distant, we saw a gate with embattled towers, the high walls of the city, and a bastion. We were soon descried by the enemy, who depressed their guns and fired at us with grape, fortunately without hitting any of our party. We were in a complete dilemma, under fire of the batteries, cut off from our force, and liable at any moment to be surrounded; so, deeming discretion the better part of valour, we turned about and ran with all speed to the rear, coming upon a troop of Horse Artillery, which was halted amongst some gardens.
Soon the main body of our force returned from the pursuit of the rebels, whom they had driven to within 600 yards of the city wall; and joining our own detachment, who had given us up as lost, we returned to camp about sundown.
Again we had to lament the loss of many fine officers and soldiers. Nearly 200 men had been killed and wounded--a sad diminution of our little army, which, had it long continued, would have entirely decimated the Delhi Field Force. The enemy, however, had suffered most severely, their loss amounting to quite 1,000 men; and the next morning they were seen for hours carting the dead bodies into the city. Unusual bravery was shown by the rebels on this day: they stood fairly in the open, and also attacked the pickets with great pertinacity, assaulting one called the "Sammy House" for hours, and leaving eighty dead bodies in its front, all killed by the infantry of the Guides, who most gallantly held the picket against overwhelming numbers.
Cholera all this time raged in the force, and carried off its victims daily, my own regiment and the 8th being the principal sufferers. It was melancholy to enter the hospital, to see the agony and hear the groans of the men, many of them with their dying breath lamenting the hard fate which had stretched them on a sick-bed and prevented them from doing their duty in the ranks against the enemy. Fever and ague, too, were very prevalent, and hospital gangrene broke out, which attained such virulence that many wounded died from its effects; while of amputations, I believe not one recovered during the whole siege.
We were also in the midst of the Indian monsoon, the most unhealthy season of the year, when rain descended in torrents almost every day, a hot, muggy atmosphere increasing the sickness and adding to the eternal plague of flies, a plague the most nauseating it has ever been my lot to experience. When off duty, it was the custom of some of the officers to pass the time fishing in the canal at our rear. Here, seated on camp-stools brought out by our servants, we amused ourselves for hours, holding lotteries as to who would catch the first fish, the prize being a bottle of beer. To see us on these occasions, full of merriment, one would scarcely have realized the fact that the men employed in this peaceful occupation were part of an army engaged in almost continual warfare, and fighting for very existence. Laughter and jokes filled the air, and chaff reigned supreme; while ever and anon we were rudely recalled to a sense of the dangers around us by the report of a shell bursting over the ridge, or the presence of an orderly, who summoned one of the party to proceed on picket or on some perilous duty at the front.
With regard to provisions, we were plentifully supplied with regular meals, a sufficiency of good food and drinkables; our lot in this respect was far more enjoyable than that of the usual run of campaigners. A large flock of fat sheep accompanied us on the march down from Ferozepore; and I shall never forget the agony of mind of one of our gourmands when one day it was reported that the sheep had all been carried off by the enemy when grazing in the rear of the canal. I had also purchased 100 dozen of ale at Umballah for the use of the mess, and this being noised abroad in the camp, we were visited by several thirsty souls from other regiments, who, less fortunate than ourselves, had neglected furnishing themselves with this tempting beverage. It was a pleasure to us to minister to their wants, though I need hardly say that the stock lasted but a short time, from the numerous calls made on it.
July 17.--General Reed, who had taken command of the army on the death of Sir Henry Barnard, resigned his position on July 17 in consequence of sickness and the infirmities of old age. He was succeeded by General Wilson, of the Artillery, an officer who had already greatly distinguished himself, and under whom the siege was eventually brought to a successful conclusion.
July 18.--For three days after the last sortie the enemy were singularly quiet, quarrelling amongst themselves, as it was reported, and disputing as to what portion of their army was to lead the next sortie. However, on July 18, they again made another attempt upon the Sabzi Mandi and the ridge at Hindoo Rao's.
The force sent to dislodge them was under command of Colonel Jones, of the 60th Rifles, who made his arrangements with singular judgment and tact, and insisted on a regular formation being kept by the troops, instead of the desultory style of action in vogue during previous sorties. There was, however, some very hard fighting in the gardens and serais, where we were received by a storm of bullets; but the men being persuaded to keep well under cover, the losses were not very serious, the casualties amounting in all to about ninety officers and men. The enemy, as usual, suffered severely, more especially from the fire of our field-guns, which mowed them down when collected in groups of two and three hundred together.
[Illustration: FROM THE SMALL PICKET, SABZI MANDI, LOOKING TOWARDS KISHENGANJ.]
I was amused on this day, as well as on previous sorties, by seeing the eagerness with which the soldiers, European, Sikh, and Goorkha, rifled the bodies of the slain sepoys. These last had plundered the city inhabitants of all they could find in money and jewels, and having no place of safety (from the anarchy which prevailed in Delhi) in which to deposit their loot, they one and all invariably carried their treasure about with them, concealed in the kammerbund folds of muslin or linen rolled round the waist. On the fall of a mutineer, a rush would be made by the men to secure the coveted loot, a race taking place sometimes between a European and one of our native soldiers as to who should first reach the body. The kammerbund was quickly torn off and the money snatched up, a wrangle often ensuing among the men as to the division of the booty. In this manner many soldiers succeeded, to my knowledge, in securing large sums of money; one in particular, a Grenadier of my regiment, after killing a sepoy, rifled the body, and, returning in great glee to where I was standing, showed me twenty gold mohurs, worth £32 sterling. It was a most reprehensible practice, but almost impossible entirely to prevent, for in the loose order of fighting which generally prevailed, the men did not break from their ranks to accomplish their purpose, but often, in isolated groups of two and three, were separated at times a short distance from the rest of the combatants.
The General, we heard, was loud in his praise of the manner in which Colonel Jones conducted the operations on this day; after the action also, he withdrew his men in perfect order, allowing no straggling--a great contrast to our former usual style when returning to camp after the repulse of a sortie.
This was the last action of any consequence fought in the open at the Sabzi Mandi Gardens. The ground in front of the picket was soon after cleared, and during future attacks our men remained behind the breastworks and entrenchments which had been thrown up, and by a steady fire soon drove back any rebels who were foolhardy enough to come within range.
It speaks well for the prowess of the mutineers, and proves that we had no contemptible foe to deal with, that so many sorties and attacks were made by them during the siege. They amounted in all to thirty-six--all of these being regularly organized actions and assaults--besides innumerable others on isolated pickets and advanced posts. They seldom came to close quarters with our men, and then only when surprised; but nothing could exceed their persistent courage in fighting almost every day, and, though beaten on every occasion with frightful loss, returning over and over again to renew the combat.
July 19.--The succeeding days from July 19 to 23 were days of quiet, with the exception of the usual artillery duel. We took our turn at picket duty with the other regiments, one day at the Metcalfe house and stables, and on another at the Sabzi Mandi.
July 23.--On the morning of the 23rd the insurgents, for the first time since the previous month, made a sortie on our left, emerging from the Kashmir Gate with infantry and field-guns. With the latter they occupied Ludlow Castle, a ruined house midway between the Flagstaff Tower and the Kashmir Gate. Then they opened fire on the left of the ridge, and moving about continually amongst the trees and buildings, were well sheltered from our batteries, which were unable to make good practice. The rebels also showed at the Metcalfe picket, attacking at the same time with their infantry; and becoming emboldened by receiving no opposition from us, the greater part of their force advanced nearer and nearer to the ridge, till they were seen distinctly from the Mosque battery.
To punish their temerity, a force of all arms was sent out from camp under Brigadier Showers, with the intention of attacking their right flank. We moved up a deep gorge, and coming on them by surprise, forced them to remove their guns, which quickly limbered up and made for the city. There was a great deal of skirmishing in the gardens and ruined houses before the infantry followed the example of their comrades; but the fight was not nearly so severe as during the sorties on the right, nor did the enemy suffer any very great loss. On our side, we had in all fifty officers and men killed and wounded.
Again for some days the enemy made no movement, and the weather also holding up for a time, some sport was inaugurated in the camp. The men might be seen amusing themselves at various games, while the officers actually got up an impromptu horse-race.
This, however, was not to last long, and on July 31 we were again on the alert from the report that several thousands of rebels, with thirteen guns and mortars, were making for the open country to the right rear of our camp.
A force under Major Coke was sent out to watch their movements, and also to convoy a large store of treasure and ammunition coming down to us from the Punjab. The convoy arrived safe on the morning of August 1, and the rain falling heavily on that day, making the ground impassable for guns, the insurgent force, which had moved to our rear, broke up their camp and retired towards Delhi.
The 1st of August was the anniversary of a great Mohammedan festival called the "Bakra Id," and for some time there had been rumours of a grand sortie in honour of the event.
Morning and afternoon passed, and we began to think the enemy had given up their purpose, when about sunset firing began at the right pickets. The mutineers returning from our rear had met an equal number, which had sallied from the city, at the suburb of Kishenganj, and the forces, joining together, moved forward and attacked the whole right of the ridge and the pickets in that quarter.
Loudly the bugles sounded the alarm all over the camp, and in a very short time every available man was mustered, and the troops were hurried forward to reinforce the breastworks at Hindoo Rao's house and on each side.
There had been only one actual night-attack since the beginning of the siege, and that took place to the rear; it therefore naturally occurred to the officers in command that this assault by the enemy with such vast numbers would require all our efforts to prevent being turned, thus imperilling the safety of the camp.
The action had commenced in earnest when we arrived on the ridge, and the brave defenders of Hindoo Rao's house were holding their own against enormous odds. Masses of infantry with field-guns swarmed in our front, yelling and shouting like demons while keeping up a steady fire.
Darkness came on--a lovely night, calm and clear without a cloud in the sky. The batteries on both sides kept up a terrific cannonade; and our men, effectually concealed behind the earth-works, poured incessant volleys of musketry into the enemy. The roar and din exceeded anything I had ever heard before, and formed one continuous roll, while all around the air was illumined by a thousand bright flashes of fire, exposing to our view the movements of the rebels. They had also thrown up breastworks at no great distance to our front, from behind which they sallied at intervals, returning, however, quickly under cover when our fire became too hot for them. And in this manner, without a moment's intermission, the combat continued all night long, with no advantage to the assailants, and with few casualties on our side.
August 2.--Morning broke without any cessation in the firing; and it was not till ten o'clock that the rebels, seeing how futile were all efforts, began to retire. Some few still kept up the firing; but at 2 p. m. all was quiet, and our sadly harassed soldiers were enabled to obtain some rest after seventeen hours' fighting. Nothing could have surpassed the steadiness of the men and the cool manner in which they met the attacks of the enemy, remaining well under cover, and only showing themselves when the rebels came close up. Our casualties during those long hours only amounted to fifty killed and wounded, thus proving the judgment of the General in ordering the men to remain behind the earthworks, and not to advance in pursuit unless absolutely necessary. Two hundred dead bodies were counted in front of the entrenchments, and doubtless during the darkness many more were carried off by the enemy.
After the severe lesson they had received the rebels remained inactive for some days, very few shots even being fired from the walls. We learnt that the late grand attack had been made by the Neemuch and part of the Gwalior and Kotah insurgents who had mutinied at those places not long before. This accounted for the stubbornness of the assault, it being the custom, when reinforcements arrived, to send them out at once to try their mettle with the besiegers.
The fruits of General Wilson's accession to the command of the army, and the stringent orders issued by him for the maintenance of order and discipline both in camp and on picket became more and more apparent every day. All duties were now regulated and carried out with the utmost precision; each regiment knew its allotted place in case of a sortie, and the officers on picket had to furnish reports during their term of duty, thereby making them more attentive to the discipline and care of their men. In the matter of uniform, also, a great and desirable change was made. Many corps had become quite regardless of appearance, entirely discarding all pretensions to uniformity, and adopting the most nondescript dress. One in particular, a most gallant regiment of Europeans which had served almost from the beginning of the siege, was known by the sobriquet of the "Dirty Shirts," from their habit of fighting in their shirts with sleeves turned up, without jacket or coat, and their nether extremities clad in soiled blue dungaree trousers.
The army in general wore a cotton dress, dyed with khaki rang, or dust colour, which at a distance could with difficulty be seen, and was far preferable to white or to the scarlet of the British uniform. The enemy, on the contrary, appeared entirely in white, having soon discarded the dress of their former masters; and it was a pretty sight to see them turning out of the gates on the occasion of a sortie, their arms glittering, pennons flying, and their whole appearance presenting a gay contrast to the dull, dingy dress of their foes.
August 5.--On August 5 an attempt was made by our Engineers to blow up the bridge of boats across the Jumna, and some of us went to the top of the Flagstaff Tower to see the result.
Two rafts filled with barrels of powder and with a slow match in each were sent down the river, starting from a point nearly a mile up the stream. We saw them descending, carried down slowly by the flood, one blowing up half a mile from the bridge. The other continued its course, and was descried by some mutineers on the opposite bank, who sent off men to the raft on massaks (inflated sheep-skins). It was a perilous deed for the men, but without any delay they made their way to the raft, put out the fuse, and towed the engine of destruction to shore. A most ignominious failure, and the attempt was never repeated, the bridge remaining intact to the last.
August 6.--At 7 a. m. on August 6 the alarm again sounded, and we remained accoutred in camp for some hours, but were not called to the front on that day. A large party of the enemy's cavalry--more, it must be supposed, in a spirit of bravado than anything else--charged up the road towards the Flagstaff Tower, waving their swords and shouting, "Din! din!" A battery was brought to bear on them, and this, with a volley or two of musketry, soon sent them to the right about, galloping off and disappearing amongst the trees, after leaving some dead on the ground.
The enemy's infantry also harassed the pickets on the right flank, causing some casualties, and their artillery fire was kept up all day, the guns in the new Kishenganj battery almost enfilading the right of our position. No efforts on our part could silence the fire from this place, and it remained intact, a constant source of annoyance, to the end of the siege.
The numerous cavalry of the enemy might have caused us a vast amount of trouble had they been properly led, or behaved even as well as the infantry and artillery. But there seemed to be little dash or spirit amongst them, and though they made a brave show, emerging from the gates in company with the rest of their forces, waving swords and brandishing spears, they took care to keep at a respectful distance from our fire, their only exploit, as far as I can remember, being that on July 9, when 100 horsemen charged into the rear of our camp.
From the 8th to the 11th there were constant attacks on all the pickets, and the artillery fire on both sides was almost unceasing. The enemy brought out some guns by the Kashmir Gate and shelled the Metcalfe pickets, their skirmishers advancing close to our defences with shouts, and harassing the men day and night, though with small loss on our side. They also made the approach to the pickets for relief so perilous that at early morn of the 12th a large force, under Brigadier Showers, was detailed to drive the rebels into the city. My regiment furnished twenty men, under an officer, on this occasion.
August 12.--We attacked them at dawn, taking them completely by surprise, and capturing all their guns, four in number. The 1st Fusiliers and Coke's Rifles behaved most gallantly, and bore the brunt of the fight, losing half the number of those killed and wounded--namely, 110. The enemy's casualties amounted to upwards of 300, and they left many wounded on the ground, who were shot and bayoneted without mercy. This signal chastisement had the effect of cowing them for a time, and the pickets on the left were unmolested for the future, save by occasional shots from the city batteries.
August 14.--August 14 was quiet, the enemy giving us a respite and scarcely firing a gun, though they must have known of the welcome reinforcements we had received that morning. These consisted of nearly 3,000 men, of which number more than 1,100 were Europeans.
This force, under command of General Nicholson, comprised the 52nd Regiment, our left wing from Ferozepore, some Mooltani Horse, 1,200 Sikhs and Punjabees, and a battery of European artillery. The reinforcements brought up the Delhi Field Force to more than 8,000 effectives, while of sick and wounded we had the frightful number of nearly 2,000 in camp, many more having been sent away to Umballah.
But what added most to our strength was the presence amongst us of the hero John Nicholson, he who has been since designated as the "foremost man in India." Young in years, he had already done good service in the Punjab wars, and was noted not only for his striking military talent, but also for the aptitude he displayed in bringing into subjection and ruling with a firm hand the lawless tribes on our North-West Frontier. Many stories are told of his prowess and skill, and he ingratiated himself so strongly amongst a certain race that he received his apotheosis at their hands, and years afterwards was, and perhaps to this day is, worshipped by these rude mountaineers under the title of "Nikul Seyn." Spare in form, but of great stature, his whole appearance and mien stamped him as a "king of men." Calm and self-confident, full of resource and daring, no difficulties could daunt him; he was a born soldier, the idol of the men, the pride of the whole army. His indomitable spirit seemed at once to infuse fresh vigour into the force, and from the time of his arrival to the day of the assault Nicholson's name was in everyone's mouth, and each soldier knew that vigorous measures would be taken to insure ultimate success.
We were freed from attack for some days, and the only event of importance was a raid made by the enemy's horsemen in the direction of Rohtak. They were followed by that great irregular leader Hodson, who succeeded, with small loss, in cutting up some thirty of their number, his own newly-raised regiment and the Guide Cavalry behaving admirably.
August 19.--On August 19 a noteworthy incident occurred at the Sabzi Mandi picket. A woman dressed in the native costume, and attended by an Afghan, walked up to the sentries at that post, and on approaching the men, threw herself on her knees, thanking God in English that she was under the protection of British soldiers. The honest fellows were greatly taken aback, and wondered who this could be dressed in native costume, speaking to them in their own language. She was brought before the officer commanding the picket, when it transpired that she was a Eurasian named Seeson, the wife of a European road sergeant. During the outbreak on May 11 at Delhi her children had been slain before her eyes and she herself badly wounded, escaping, however, from the murderers in a most providential manner, and finding shelter in the house of a friendly native, who had succoured her ever since. By the aid of the Afghan, and disguised as an ayah, or nurse, she had passed through the gates of the city that morning, eventually finding her way to the picket. We had one lady in camp, the wife of an officer of native infantry, and to her kindly charge the poor creature was consigned, living to the end of the siege in Mrs. Tytler's tent, and being an object of curiosity as well as of pity to the whole force.
The enemy, lately, had caused great annoyance by firing at the ridge 32-pound rockets, a large store of which they had found in the magazine, and as they were unused to discharging these dangerous missiles, the rockets at first, by their rebound, inflicted more damage on the rebels than on us; but, gaining experience through long practice, they every evening and during part of the night fired them at the ridge, one or two falling right amongst the tents in camp.
A battery also was erected about this time on the opposite bank of the Jumna, at a distance of some 2,000 yards from the Metcalfe pickets, and this was served so well that not only were the outposts in considerable danger from the fire, but the camp of one of our native regiments on the extreme left, and below the Flagstaff Tower, was shifted in consequence of the enemy's shells falling in their midst.
It will thus be seen that the rebels put forth their whole strength and used every means at their disposal to harass and annoy us. Like a swarm of hornets, they attacked us in every direction, first in one quarter and then in another; but no effort of theirs affected in the smallest degree the bulldog grip of the British army on the rebellious city. Reports were rife that the King had sent to propose terms to the General, and that the answer was a cannonade directed on the walls by all our batteries; also that their ammunition was falling short; but these, with other silly rumours, were merely the gossip of the camp, and were not credited by the bulk of the army.
August 24.--Again, a very large body of mutineers, numbering, it was said, 9,000 men, with thirteen guns, left the city on August 24. They were seen from the ridge for hours trooping out of the Lahore and Ajmir Gates, and proceeding far to our right rear. Their intention, no doubt, was to cut off the large siege-train and munitions of war on their way down to us from the arsenal at Ferozepore.
August 25.--A force was at once detailed, under command of the gallant Nicholson, to intercept the enemy and, if possible, to bring them to battle. Long before daylight on the morning of August 25 we paraded, cavalry, infantry, and three batteries of Horse Artillery, or eighteen guns, numbering in all nearly 2,500 men.
At six o'clock the march began, and leaving the Grand Trunk road a short distance from the rear of our camp, we made across country to a town named Nanglooi, distant six miles. The men were in high spirits notwithstanding the difficulties we had to encounter in traversing a route wellnigh impassable from the recent rains, and ankle-deep in mud. Two broad swamps also had to be crossed, the soldiers wading waist-high in the water, and carrying their ammunition-pouches on their heads. Three hours and more were passed before we arrived at the village, and here information reached the General that the enemy were posted twelve miles distant, at a place named Najafgarh.
The march was at once resumed, and, floundering in the mud, the artillery horses especially with great labour dragging the guns through the morass which extended nearly all the way, we arrived at about four o'clock on the banks of a canal in full view of the enemy's position.
This had been chosen with great judgment, and presented a formidable appearance, stretching about a mile and a half from the canal bridge on the extreme right to a large serai on the left in the town of Najafgarh. Nine guns were posted between the bridge and the serai, with four more in the latter building, all protected by entrenchments with parapets and embrasures.
The troops crossed the canal by a ford, and formed up in line of battle on the opposite side, facing the town of Najafgarh, and about 900 yards from the serai, the infantry in two lines, ourselves and the 1st Bengal Fusiliers in front, with artillery and cavalry on each flank.
When we were halted, Nicholson came to the front and, addressing the regiments of European infantry, spoke a few soul-stirring words, calling on us to reserve our fire till close to the enemy's batteries, and then to charge with fixed bayonets. He was answered with a cheer, and the lines advanced across the plain steady and unbroken, as though on parade.
The enemy had opened fire, and were answered by our guns, the infantry marching with sloped arms at the quick step till within 100 yards, when we delivered a volley. Then the war-cry of the British soldiers was heard, and the two regiments came to the charge, and ran at the double towards the serai.
Lieutenant Gabbett of my regiment was the first man to reach the entrenchment, and, passing through an embrasure, received a bayonet thrust in the left breast, which stretched him on the ground. The men followed, clearing everything before them, capturing the four guns in the serai, bayoneting the rebels and firing at those who had taken to flight at our approach. Then, changing front, the whole force swept along the entrenchment to the bridge, making a clean sweep of the enemy, who turned and fled, leaving the remaining nine guns in our hands.
Our Horse Artillery, under Major Tombs--never better served than in this action--mowed down the fugitives in hundreds, and continued following and firing on them till darkness set in. The cavalry also--a squadron of the gallant 9th Lancers, with the Guides and Punjabees--did their share of work, while the European infantry were nobly supported by the corps of Punjab Rifles, who cleared the town of the sepoys.
The battle had lasted a very short time, and after dark we bivouacked on the wet ground in the pouring rain, completely exhausted from our long march and subsequent fighting, and faint from want of food, none of which passed our lips for more than sixteen hours.
[Illustration: NOTE.--MAJOR RAINBY COMMANDED THE 61ST REGIMENT IN THIS ENGAGEMENT.]
[From Lord Roberts' "Forty-one Years in India." By kind permission.]
Still, the day's work was not over. A village to the rear was found to be occupied by the enemy, and the Punjab Rifles were ordered to take it. They met with a most obstinate resistance, their young commander, Lumsden, being killed. The General then sent part of my regiment to dislodge the rebels, but we met with only partial success, and had one officer, named Elkington, mortally wounded, the enemy evacuating the place during the night.
We passed the night of the 25th in the greatest discomfort. Hungry and wet through, we lay on the ground, snatching sleep at intervals. Poor Gabbett died of internal haemorrhage soon after he received his wound, and his death deprived the regiment of one of its best and bravest officers, and me of a true friend. He had shared my tent on the march down and during the whole campaign, a cheery, good-hearted fellow, and one who had earned the respect of officers and the love of his men. The General was particularly struck with his bravery, and with feeling heart wrote a letter to Gabbett's mother, saying he would have recommended her son for the Victoria Cross had he survived the action.
Young Elkington also received his death-wound at the night-attack on the village. He was quite a stripling, being only eighteen years old, and had joined the regiment but a few months before. His was one of those strange cases of a presentiment of death, many of which have been well authenticated in our army. On looking over his effects, it was found that he had written letters to his nearest relations on the night before marching to Najafgarh; and he had also carefully made up small parcels of his valuables and trinkets, with directions on them to whom they were to be delivered in case of his being killed next day. It was noticed, too, that he was unusually quiet and reserved, never speaking a word to anyone on the march, though when the action began he behaved like a gallant soldier, giving up his young life in the service of his country.
August 26.--On the morning of August 26 we marched back to camp, arriving there before sundown, and were played in by the bands of the two regiments, while many soldiers, native as well as European, lined the road and gave us a hearty cheer.
Our casualties at the action of Najafgarh amounted to twenty-five officers and men killed and seventy wounded. The enemy left great numbers of dead in the entrenchments and on the plain, their loss being computed at 500 killed and wounded; but this, I fancy, is much below the mark, for our artillery fire was very destructive, and the cavalry committed great havoc amongst the host of fugitives. The battle of the 25th was the most brilliant and decisive since that of Badli-ki-Serai on June 8. All the guns, thirteen in number, were captured, and the enemy's camp, ammunition, stores, camels and bullocks were taken. Would that we had met the insurgents oftener in the open in this manner! But the rascals were too wary, and had too great a dread of our troops to face them in a pitched encounter.
During the absence of Nicholson's small force the enemy had attacked all the pickets, and kept up a heavy cannonade from the walls, causing us a loss of thirty-five men. It was their impression that the camp had been left almost bare and defenceless by the withdrawal of so large a force; but they were quickly undeceived, and were met at each point of assault by a galling fire from our men.
For many nights after August 26 our right pickets were constantly harassed by the rebels, who also shelled Hindoo Rao's house from the city and Kishenganj batteries. Our sappers, too, found it not only difficult, but dangerous, to work in the advanced trenches below the ridge, being always met by a murderous musketry from the enemy's sharpshooters, who fired down behind breastworks. It was resolved, therefore, on August 30, to drive them out from their cover, and on two or more occasions this was performed by the Goorkhas and the 60th Rifles, who, as usual, fighting together and supporting each other, took the breastworks in gallant style. Our Engineers were then enabled to continue their operations in the trenches preparatory to making approaches towards the city walls, and constructing the batteries for the siege-train, now daily expected.
The Flagstaff Tower, as I have already mentioned in a former part of my narrative, was the chief rendezvous of officers when not on duty. About this time I went to the top of the tower in company with one of my regiment, when an amusing incident occurred.
We were watching the batteries playing on each side, when a tall Afghan, armed to the teeth, appeared at the top of the steps, and was about to set foot on the enclosed space under the flagstaff. A sentry was always stationed there, and on this occasion it happened to be a sturdy little Goorkha, one of the Kumaon battalion. On the approach of the Afghan he immediately came to the charge, and warned him that none but European officers were allowed on the top of the tower. The Afghan laughed, and then, looking with contempt at the diminutive sentry, a dwarf in comparison with himself, he attempted to push aside the bayonet. Losing all patience, the Goorkha at this threw down his musket, and drawing his kukri, the favourite weapon of his race, he rushed at the Afghan with up-lifted blade. This was too much for our valiant hero, who quickly turned tail, and disappeared down the circular staircase, the Goorkha following him at a short distance. On his return he picked up the musket, and seeing us laughing, the frown on his face turned into the most ludicrous expression of good-humour I had ever seen, and he burst out into a fit of laughter which lasted some minutes. He told us that he and the other Goorkhas of his regiment thought nothing of the bravery of the Afghan soldiers, some 100 of whom were on our side at Delhi; and he spoke truly.
These men, all cavalry, superbly mounted, dressed in chain armour, and carrying arms of every description, had been sent down ostensibly as a reinforcement to us by their Ameer, Dost Mohammed Khan of Kabul, but really as spies to watch our movements, and report the state of affairs to their chief. They made a great display about the camp, but I never heard of their meeting the enemy in action during their stay before Delhi.
The last two days of August we had several men killed and wounded in the force, and one of our officers, who shared my tent after poor Gabbett's death, received a severe contusion from the bursting of a shell.
Nearly three months had now elapsed since the Siege of Delhi began. We were, to all appearance, no nearer to the desired end, and had scarcely gained one foot of ground nearer to the walls of the city. Moreover, there was alarm in the Punjab owing to a reported disaffection among the Sikh population, who, it is said, were beginning openly to assert that the British army was unable to take Delhi. To check this feeling, the Chief Commissioner had urged General Wilson to lose no time in making preparations for the assault of the city; and thus our expectations beat high at the near approach of the powerful siege-train on its way down from Ferozepore, though we knew there were still before us trials and dangers to which our former experiences would be as nothing.
The weather had now somewhat cleared, but the heat was overpowering, averaging 98° in the shade of my tent every day. Cholera, too, raged as before, the principal sufferers being ourselves, and the 8th and 52nd Regiments. To cheer the soldiers, the bands played in camp of an evening, while some officers and men engaged in sport of various kinds; but the angel of Death was hovering over my poor regiment, and few of us had the heart to join in pastime while our comrades lay stricken and dying of disease in hospital.
September 1.--A portion of my corps was on duty at the Metcalfe stable picket on September 1, when a lamentable loss was experienced, unparalleled in the annals of the siege. The enemy's battery across the river had never ceased shelling these pickets, though up to this day it had not caused much damage to the defenders.
Shortly after sunrise the men were assembled outside, receiving their grog, which was served out to them every morning at an early hour. Some 100 men and officers, beside Sikhs and native attendants, were grouped around, when a loud hissing sound was heard, and a shrapnel shell, fired from the enemy's battery at the long range of 2,000 yards, exploded a few feet in front.
The bullets scattered around, and the scene which followed it is almost impossible for me to depict. Many threw themselves flat on the ground, falling one on top of the other, while groans and cries were heard. One soldier fell mortally wounded by my side, and on looking around to count up our losses, we found that two of my regiment had been killed outright, besides six others severely wounded. Two Sikhs and a bhisti, or water-carrier, also met their death, and two doolie-bearers were wounded--thirteen men in all.
One very stout old officer was in the act of having his morning bath when the shell exploded, the bhisti standing at his side and pouring over him, when squatted on a tent-mallet, his massuck of water. He rolled over and over on the ground, presenting such a ludicrous appearance in his wet, nude state, and covered with earth, that, notwithstanding the awful surroundings of the scene, I and others could not forbear laughing. The shot had been quite a chance one, but it proved how deadly was the effect of a shrapnel shell exploding, as this had done, only a few feet in front of a large body of men.
September 2 and 3.--The batteries continued exchanging shots during September 2 and 3, but there were no attacks of any consequence on the pickets, and we had on those days only three men wounded on the right of our position.
On the morning of the 4th the long-looked-for siege-train reached camp. It consisted of twenty-four heavy guns and mortars, and a plentiful supply of ammunition and stores. Reinforcements also reached us, amounting to about 400 European infantry and the Belooch battalion, the last a most savage-looking lot of men, who, however, did good service, and fought well. Besides these, a party of Sikh horsemen, in the service of the Rajah of Jhind--a noble-looking man, who, with his retainers, had kept open our communications with the Punjab during the whole siege--joined the army, begging as a favour that they might join in the dangers of the coming assault on the city.
September 7.--September 7 also saw the arrival of Wilde's regiment of Punjabis, 700 strong, followed the same day by the Kashmir contingent of 2,200 men and four guns, sent to our assistance by the ruler of that country.
I was sitting in my tent with the bandmaster of my regiment, a German named Sauer, when we were saluted with the sound of distant music, the most discordant I have ever heard. The bandmaster jumped up from his seat, exclaiming: "Mein Gott! vat is dat? No regiment in camp can play such vile music," and closing his ears immediately, rushed out of the tent.
The Kashmir troops were marching into camp, accompanied by General Wilson and his staff, who had gone out to meet them, their bands playing some English air, drums beating, and colours flying. There was no fault to be found in the appearance of the soldiers, who were mostly Sikhs and hill men of good physique; but their ludicrous style of marching, the strange outlandish uniform of the men, and the shrill discord of their bands, created great amusement among the assembled Europeans, who had never seen such a travesty on soldiers before. They encamped on our right flank; but were not employed on active service till the day of assault, on September 14.
On the arrival of the siege-train, no time was lost in making approaches and parallels, and erecting batteries for the bombardment of Delhi. The trench-work had already been begun, and what with covering and working parties, both of European and native soldiers, and the usual picket duties, the greater part of the army was continually employed in this arduous work every night and a portion of each day. Nothing could surpass the zeal and willing aptitude of the men, who laboured unceasingly digging trenches and filling sand-bags, all the time, and more especially at night, exposed to a galling fire of musketry and shells.
The Engineers, under their able leaders, were unremitting in their duties; and the young officers of that corps covered themselves with glory both in these preliminary operations and at the actual assault.
No. 1 Battery, to our right front, consisting of ten heavy guns and mortars, was traced, on the evening of September 7, about 700 yards from the Mori bastion. No. 2, to the left front, near Ludlow Castle, and only 600 yards from the walls, was completed on the 10th, and contained nineteen pieces of artillery.
No. 4, for ten heavy mortars, and near No. 2, at the Koodsia Bagh, was completed in front of the Kashmir bastion also on that day. And, lastly, No. 3, on the extreme left, with six guns at the short distance of 180 yards from the Water bastion, was unmasked behind the Custom-House, which was blown up after the completion of the battery.
Thus, in four days and nights, after incredible exertions on the part of the working parties, forty-five heavy guns and mortars were in position, strongly entrenched, and ready to silence the fire from the enemy's bastions and to make breaches in the walls for the assaulting columns.
The rebels during all this time plied the covering and working parties with shot and shell, bringing out field-guns, which enfiladed the Ludlow Castle and Koodsia Bagh batteries, and keeping up a sharp musketry fire from an advanced trench they had dug in front of the walls. At the two latter places, where the men of my regiment were employed, the fire was very galling at times, the guns from the distant Selimgarh Fort, Water, and Kashmir bastions all concentrating their shots at those batteries whilst in process of erection.
The nights, fortunately, were clear, and we had plenty of light to assist us in our work; the men were cheerful and active, never resting for a moment in their labours, and receiving in the Field Force orders the praise of the General in command.
We wondered how it was that the enemy allowed us to occupy the advanced positions at Ludlow Castle and the Koodsia Bagh without even so much as a struggle; but it was accounted for by the supposition that they imagined our attack would be made from the right of our position, where all the great conflicts had taken place. There they were in strength, and it was our weakest point; whereas, on the side near the Jumna, we were protected from being turned by having the river on our flank, better cover for operations, and, moreover, batteries to silence which were less powerful and more difficult of concentration than those which faced us on our right from the city walls and from the suburb of Kishenganj.
[Footnote 1: White people.]
[Footnote 2: Lieutenant Pattoun was wounded in the ankle on this occasion, and a sergeant of the 61st was shot through the head.]
[Footnote 3: Colonel Seton, 35th Native Infantry, was wounded in the stomach in this affair.]
[Footnote 4: One man of the 61st Regiment was killed by a round-shot, which in its course also knocked over some sandbags which sent Lieutenant Hutton flying about seven feet.]
[Footnote 5: Lieutenant Yonge.]
[Footnote 6: On August 7 they blew up one of their own powder factories, and with it a number of workmen.]