The actual Siege of Delhi may be said to have commenced on September 7, 1857. All reinforcements that could possibly arrive had reached us with the siege-train, and the effective force now available for operations before Delhi consisted of the following troops:
European artillery 580 " cavalry 514 " infantry 2,672 ----- 3,766 Native artillery 770 " cavalry 1,313 " infantry 3,417 Engineers, sappers, miners, etc. 722 ----- 6,222 ----- Grand total 9,988
To the above must be added the Kashmir contingent of 2,200 men, with four guns, and the cavalry of the Jhind Rajah, perhaps 400 more, making the full amount of troops employed at the siege 12,588.
The seven regiments of European infantry were sadly reduced in numbers, being mere skeletons, the strongest mustering 409 effective rank and file, and the weakest only 242. There were also nearly 3,000 men in hospital, Europeans and natives.
From the most reliable sources the enemy at this period numbered 40,000 men, all trained soldiers of the former regular army, besides undisciplined armed hordes of fanatics and rabble of the city and surrounding country--a formidable disproportion to our scanty force when it is recollected that they were protected by strong fortifications mounting upwards of fifty guns, with an unlimited supply of artillery and munitions of war, and that with their vast numbers they had ample opportunities of harassing our right flank and rear and cutting off communications up-country.
Nevertheless, political considerations demanded that we should take the offensive and deal such a blow as would convince the rebels, as well as those whose loyalty was wavering, that the British arms were irresistible. Moreover, there was no likelihood of our force being increased. So on September 7 General Wilson issued the following address to his troops:
"The force assembled before Delhi has had much hardship to undergo since its arrival in this camp, all of which has been most cheerfully borne by officers and men. The time is now drawing near when the Major-General commanding the force trusts that its labours will be over, and it will be rewarded by the capture of the city for all its past exertions, and for a cheerful endurance of still greater fatigue and exposure. The troops will be required to aid and assist the Engineers in the erection of the batteries and trenches, and in daily exposure to the sun, as covering parties.
"The artillery will have even harder work than they yet have had, and which they have so well and cheerfully performed hitherto: this, however, will be for a short period only, and when ordered to the assault, the Major-General feels assured British pluck and determination will carry everything before them, and that the bloodthirsty and murderous mutineers against whom they are fighting will be driven headlong out of their stronghold, or be exterminated. But to enable them to do this, he warns the troops of the absolute necessity of their keeping together, and not straggling from their columns. By this can success only be secured.
"Major-General Wilson need hardly remind the troops of the cruel murders committed on their officers and comrades, as well as their wives and children, to move them in the deadly struggle. No quarter should be given to the mutineers; at the same time, for the sake of humanity and the honour of the country they belong to, he calls upon them to spare all women and children that may come in their way.
"It is so imperative, not only for their safety, but for the success of the assault, that men should not straggle from their column that the Major-General feels it his duty to direct all commanding officers to impress this strictly upon their men, and he is confident that after this warning the men's good sense and discipline will induce them to obey their officers and keep steady to their duty. It is to be explained to every regiment that indiscriminate plunder will not be allowed; that prize agents have been appointed, by whom all captured property will be collected and sold, to be divided, according to the rules and regulations on this head, fairly among all men engaged; and that any man found guilty of having concealed captured property will be made to restore it, and will forfeit all claims to the general prize; he will also be likely to be made over to the Provost-Marshal to be summarily dealt with.
"The Major-General calls upon the officers of the force to lend their zealous and efficient co-operation in the erection of the works of the siege now about to be commenced. He looks especially to the regimental officers of all grades to impress upon their men that to work in the trenches during a siege is as necessary and honourable as to fight in the ranks during a battle.
"He will hold all officers responsible for their utmost being done to carry out the directions of the Engineers, and he confidently trusts that all will exhibit a healthy and hearty spirit of emulation and zeal, from which he has no doubt that the happiest results will follow in the brilliant termination of all their labours."
September 7.--From the night of September 7 to the day of assault all the artillerymen in the force, European as well as native, were constantly employed in the batteries and trenches. Day and night officers and men worked with unflagging energy in the advanced batteries, with no relief and no cessation from their toil. Few in number, worn out by the excessive fatigues of a three months' campaign, and enervated by continuous work in the deadliest season of the year, these gallant European artillerymen earned during those last days of the siege, by their zeal and devotion, the heartfelt thanks of the whole army. The old Bengal Artillery have a splendid roll of services, extending for upwards of 100 years; still, in the annals of that distinguished regiment there is no brighter record than their achievements before Delhi in 1857. The corps has been merged into the Royal Artillery, but the ancient name still lives in the memory of those who were witnesses of their deeds, and their imperishable renown adds greater lustre to the proud motto, Ubique, borne by the regiment to which they are affiliated.
Many officers and men of the cavalry and infantry volunteered for service in the batteries when called on by the General. They acquitted themselves well, were of great use to the gunners in lightening the arduous duties, and were complimented in orders for the valuable aid they had afforded to their companions in arms.
September 11.--The advanced batteries were all completed by the evening of September 11, when the actual bombardment of the city began. For three days and nights previous No. 1 Battery, on the extreme right, was severely pounded from the Mori bastion and Kishenganj, but when the guns got into full play the fire from the former grew gradually weaker and weaker, till it was completely overpowered. Nos. 2 and 4 Batteries, being nearer to the walls, suffered much from the enemy, and the losses were very severe both among the artillery and the covering and working bodies of infantry.
September 11.--At length, on September 11, the whole of our batteries opened fire simultaneously on the city bastions and walls. The Kashmir bastion was soon silenced, the ramparts and adjacent curtains knocked to fragments, and a large breach opened in the walls. On the extreme left, at the Custom-House, our battery, as before related, was only 180 yards from the city, and the crushing fire from this, when in full play, smashed to pieces the Water bastion, overturned the guns, and made a breach in the curtain so wide and practicable that it could be ascended with ease.
Fifty guns and mortars were now pouring shot and shell without a moment's interval on the doomed city. The din and roar were deafening; day and night salvos of artillery were heard, roll following roll in endless succession, and striking terror in the hearts of those who knew and felt that the day of retribution was at hand.
Still, though their batteries on the bastions had been wellnigh silenced, the rebels stuck well to their field-guns in the open space before the walls; they sent a storm of rockets from one of the martello towers, and fired a stream of musketry from the ramparts and advanced trenches. Kishenganj, too, made its voice heard, harassing our right and sweeping the Sabzi Mandi and Hindoo Rao's with its incessant fire.
During the bombardment our casualties amounted to nearly 350 men, the enemy causing great loss at No. 2 Battery through the fire of a 3-pounder served from a hole broken in the curtain-wall. This gun was admirably directed, and could not be silenced notwithstanding all our efforts. One officer, looking over the parapet to see the effect of his fire, was struck by a shot from the "hole in the wall," his head being taken completely off, the mutilated trunk falling back amongst the men at the guns--a ghastly and terrible sight, which filled us who were present with horror.
During the whole of the bombardment portions of my regiment were on duty in the batteries and trenches, working at the repair of the parapets and embrasures occasionally damaged by the enemy's shot, and also taking their share of duty with the advanced and covering parties. These were harassing and dangerous services, involving great vigilance. We were almost always under fire from the enemy; but with the utmost cheerfulness, and even, I may say, good-humour, the whole of the infantry did all in their power to lighten the work of the overtasked artillerymen: comrades we were, all striving for the accomplishment of one purpose--that of bringing swift and sure destruction on the rebels who had for so long a period successfully resisted our arms. So cool and collected had the men become that even in the midst of fire from the advanced trenches, and while keeping up on our side a brisk fusillade, the soldiers smoked their pipes, rude jokes were bandied from one to the other, and laughter was heard.
When off duty I and others took our station for hours on the ridge, and sometimes on the top of the Flagstaff Tower. Thence with eager eyes we watched the batteries cannonading the walls, and marked the effects of the round-shot on the ramparts and bastions. Few of the enemy could be seen; but every now and then some would show themselves, disappearing when a well-directed shot struck in too close proximity. Cavalry and infantry at times issued from the gates; but from their hurried movements it seemed evident that they were ill at ease, and after a short time they returned into the city.
At night the scene was, as may be supposed, grand in the extreme. The space below was lighted up by continuous flashes and bursts of flame, throwing a flood of light among the thick forest of trees and gardens, while shells would burst high over the city, illuminating the spires and domes, and bringing into prominence every object around. There was not only the roll of the heavy guns and mortars, but the sharp rattle of musketry, and the hiss of the huge rocket, as it cut through the air with its brilliant light, sounded in our ears.
September 12.--On the 12th the enemy made frequent sorties from the Lahore and Ajmir Gates with bodies of cavalry and foot, while a party of horsemen crossed the canal, and made for the right rear of the camp. The latter were seen by the Guides and some Punjabi cavalry, who, led by Probyn and Watson, advanced to meet the enemy. There was a short but sharp encounter at close quarters, in which thirty rebels were killed, the remainder flying at full speed towards the city. The sorties from the gates turned out comparatively harmless, and seemed meant only as demonstrations to draw out our troops from the cover of the advanced trenches. Seeing that the attempt was futile, and resulted only in loss to themselves, the enemy retreated in confusion, their flight being accelerated by shell and round-shot from No. 1 Battery, and musketry from our outlying posts.
A serious loss befell the army on this day in the death of Captain Robert Fagan, of the Bengal Artillery. This officer, whose heroism made his name conspicuous even among the many gallant spirits of the Delhi Field Force, was killed in No. 3 Advanced Battery, a post he had occupied since September 8, and which was more than any other exposed to the enemy's fire. He had served throughout the siege, and was beloved by his men, winning the hearts of all, not only by his undaunted behaviour and cool courage, but also by his kind-hearted and amiable disposition.
The approaching day of assault was now the subject of conversation among officers and men; for the end was at hand. On September 12 a council of war met in General Wilson's tent, at which all the superior officers of the army were present. All the arrangements for attack were perfected, and the position of every brigade and corps was fixed and decided, though the day and hour of assault was known to no one, not even to the General in command.
September 13.--There was no rest for us on the 13th, the last Sunday we were destined to pass before the walls of Delhi. The fire of our heavy cannon increased in violence every hour, and the silence of the enemy's batteries assured us of the efficacy of the bombardment, and the speedy approach of the time when our columns would move to the assault on the city.
That night, soon after darkness had set in, four officers of the Engineers proceeded to examine the two large breaches in the walls made by the batteries. It was a hazardous duty, exposing them to peril of their lives; but these brave young fellows executed their task in safety, and, unobserved by the enemy, few of whom seemed to be keeping watch on the ramparts, returned to report the perfect practicability of the breaches for escalade.
Then the General issued his orders for the final assault; and long before midnight each regiment in camp knew its allotted place in the coming attack on the city.
Five storming columns were formed, the position and details of each being as under:
No. 1, under Brigadier General Nicholson, consisting of the 75th Regiment, 1st Bengal Fusiliers, and Punjab Infantry, to storm the breach at the Kashmir bastion--in all 1,000 men.
No. 2 Column, under Brigadier W. Jones (H.M. 61st Regiment), consisting of H.M. 8th (the King's) Regiment, 2nd Europeans, 4th Sikhs--altogether 850 men to storm the breach near the Water bastion.
No. 3, under Colonel Campbell, consisting of the 52nd Regiment, the Kumaon battalion of Goorkhas, and 1st Punjab Infantry--in all 950 men--to assault the Kashmir Gate after it should be blown in by the Engineers.
No. 5, or the Reserve, under Brigadier Longfield (H.M. 8th Regiment), to follow No. 3 by that gate into the city, was composed of the 61st, the Belooch battalion, 4th Punjab Infantry, and the Jhind troops--altogether 1,300 men, with 200 of H.M. 60th Rifles--to cover the advance of Nicholson's column and to form a reserve.
The whole of the above-named columns were under the immediate command of General Nicholson, on whom devolved all arrangements for carrying out the assault on Delhi.
No. 4 Column, under Major Reid, the officer in command at Hindoo Rao's house, was formed of part of the 60th Rifles, the Sirmoor battalion of Goorkhas, detachments from European regiments, and the Kashmir contingent. This column was to attack the fortified suburb of Kishenganj, and enter the city by the Lahore Gate, meeting Nos. 1 and 2 Columns at that place.
The cavalry brigade, under Colonel Grant, composed of the 9th Lancers, part of the 6th Carabineers, with Sikh and Punjab cavalry and some Horse Artillery, took up their position on the right of No. 1 Advanced Battery, facing the Mori Gate, and within range of Kishenganj. Their object was to oppose any attempt to take the storming columns in flank, to watch the movements of the enemy, and to guard the camp from surprise.
To the convalescents and a small force of cavalry and artillery the protection of the camp was confided--a very insufficient guard when it is considered that the enemy might well, out of their vast numbers, have detached part of their horsemen and infantry to harass, if not imperil, its safety, and that of the many, sick and wounded. As will hereafter be seen, great danger resulted from the arrangements made in this respect; and had the enemy, after our unsuccessful attack on Kishenganj on the 14th, but shown a spirit of pluck and daring, it is not too much to affirm that the camp might have fallen into their hands, and our successes in the city have thereby been rendered almost nugatory.
The night of the 13th was passed by us in a cheerful mood, everyone hopeful and confident of what the morrow would bring forth. There was a character of determination among the officers and men, a cool, deliberate conviction that, under Providence, success would crown our arms, and that vengeance would be done on those who had forfeited their lives by the cruel massacre of our defenceless women and children.
Sleep visited the eyes of few in camp during the short hours of preparation for the assault. Fully equipped to turn out at a moment's notice, we lay down on our beds waiting for the signal to fall in. This came at about three o'clock on the morning of September 14--an auspicious day, it being the third anniversary of the Battle of the Alma.
September 14.--The troops fell in on their respective lines, and, assembling at the slope of the ridge, the four columns of attack marched in silence to the Flagstaff Tower. Thence, picking up the men on picket, who were all withdrawn from the outlying posts, the force moved by the road to the neighbourhood of Ludlow Castle, and close to No. 2 Advanced Battery. Our movements were entirely concealed from the enemy; the darkness which prevailed, and the ample cover from trees, gardens, and houses, masking the march of the columns, while the breaching batteries, which had kept up their fire all night long, still continued the bombardment; nor did they cease till the actual moment when the columns were set in motion and took their way to the city.
Just before sunrise all the dispositions were completed, the gallant Nicholson, under whose orders we were, moving from point to point to perfect his arrangements. Our artillery fire ceased as if by magic; and a stillness, which contrasted ominously with the former roar and din, must have convinced the rebels that something unusual was about to take place.
The 60th Rifles with a cheer advanced to the front, and opened out as skirmishers to the right and left of the Koodsia Bagh. Then followed Nos. 1 and 2 Columns, which, in compact order, issued from their cover, making for the two breaches to be assaulted.
I was with my regiment in No. 5 Column; and with breathless interest, each heart aflame with excitement, we watched our comrades marching to the attack. Presently the order for No. 3 Column to move forward was given, and at a short interval our own followed.
Meanwhile the enemy had descried our movements, and the ramparts and walls and also the top of the breaches were alive with men, who poured in a galling fire on our troops Soon they reached the outer edge of the moat, and amidst a perfect hailstorm of bullets, causing great havoc among our men, the scaling-ladders were let down. The ditch here, 20 feet deep and 25 feet broad, offered a serious obstacle to the quick advance of the assaulting columns; the men fell fast under the withering fire, and some delay ensued before the ladders could be properly adjusted. However, nothing daunted, the opposite side was scaled, and, mounting the escarp, the assailants, with shouts and cheers that could be heard above the din of battle, rushed up the two breaches.
Without waiting for the charge of the British bayonets, the greater part of the rebels deserted the walls and bastions and ran pell-mell into the city, followed by our men. Some few stood manfully and endeavoured to check the flight of the rest; but they were soon shot or bayoneted, and the two columns halted inside the walls.
Almost simultaneously with the entrance of our troops into the city, the Kashmir Gate was blown in, and No. 3 Column, followed by No. 5, advanced along the covered way and passed into the city. We had only been, met by desultory fire from the enemy, which caused few casualties, during our march to the gate; the men were in high spirits, and longed to come to close quarters.
The episode of the blowing in of the Kashmir Gate of Delhi is too well known to require description here; suffice it to say that the deed was an act of heroism almost without a parallel in the annals of the British army. In broad daylight, a small band of heroes advanced to almost certain death; but with a determination and valour seldom heard of, after repeated attempts to lay the powder-bags and apply the match, and losing nearly all their number, killed and wounded, the gate was blown in, giving free passage to the assaulting columns.
All the troops were now assembled at the main guard, in an open space close to the Kashmir Gate, and here, as well as the firing from the enemy would permit, the force re-formed, under the orders of General Nicholson. Nos. 1 and 2 Columns united, and under command of that officer moved to their right, advancing along the walls in that direction and clearing everything in their way.
No. 3 Column now marched into the heart of the city, being guided by Sir Theophilus Metcalfe, and by a circuitous route made its way towards the Jama Musjid. Soon we lost sight of this force, and then our own work began.
Advancing from our first place at the main guard, No. 5 Column pushed forward to the College Gardens, marching through narrow streets and lanes, with high houses on each side. But how can I describe that terrible street-fighting, which lasted without intermission the whole day? From every window and door, from loopholes in the buildings, and from the tops of the houses, a storm of musketry saluted us on every side, while every now and then, when passing the corner of a street, field-guns, loaded with grape, discharged their contents into the column. Officers and men fell fast, but this only served to exasperate the remainder, who almost without a check reached the College, and, after some severe skirmishing, cleared the gardens and houses of the rebels, and bayoneted all who were found there.
Leaving a detachment to occupy this post, we passed through more streets and lanes, ever exposed to the same terrific fire, and after great trouble succeeded in taking possession of Colonel Skinner's house and a large building known as the palace of Ahmed Ali Khan.
It was now midday, and at the latter place we were joined by No. 3 Column, which, making its way to the Jama Musjid, met with such a strenuous resistance that, after losing many men, and being without powder with which to blow up the gates of the mosque, it was forced to retire. The streets, we heard, were alive with men on their line of route, and the column had been exposed to incessant fire without any good resulting from their undaunted efforts.
There was work enough and to spare to clear the streets and houses in front and on each side of the Kashmir Gate; and from the time the two columns joined forces till night set in a continuous fight was maintained. The system of attack in which we were engaged allowed of no formation being retained. Isolated groups of men, European and native, led sometimes by officers, and often without any leaders, roamed through the narrow streets, entering houses from which the fire was more than usually severe, and putting to death without mercy all who were found inside.
On one occasion a party of sepoys and armed rabble emerged from a house in our front, and were seen by our men, who immediately opened fire. Soon they were followed by a troop of women yelling and screaming. Keeping these as a cover for their retreat, the rebels got clear away, the soldiers having desisted from firing the moment the women appeared. This was a ruse which, I heard from others, was often adopted by the mutineers, who seemed to know intuitively that their women and children were safe from the fire of our men.
The deeds of individual daring performed during September 14 were numberless, and I was witness of many feats of arms and cool courage by the rank and file and non-commissioned officers of the different regiments. A private of my corps, a huge Grenadier Irishman named Moylan, saved the life of an officer under circumstances which fully entitled him to the coveted distinction of the Victoria Cross. In one of the numerous encounters which took place this officer, leading on a few men, turned sharply round the corner of a street, and was met by a force of sepoys coming from the opposite direction. A shot struck him, and he was felled to the ground from the blow of a sword, and would have been quickly despatched had not Moylan rushed to his rescue. Discharging his musket, he shot one of the assailants, and charged with the bayonet. This was broken off; and then, with firelock clubbed, he stood over the prostrate officer, dealing such fearful blows with the weapon--felling his foes in every direction--that the sepoys took to their heels, and Moylan, picking up the wounded officer, brought him to a place of safety. He was made a sergeant on the spot by the Colonel, but all efforts to obtain the Cross for this gallant fellow were unavailing. In those days the distinction was but seldom given; probably so many names were submitted for the General's consideration that only a few could be approved, and the application for Moylan was passed by.
But though in the latter's case the Victoria Cross was not given, it was awarded to a surgeon (named Reade) of my regiment on that day. He was ever to be found in the thick of the fighting, ministering to the wounded and cheering on the men. While engaged in his professional duties, a number of sepoys poured a deadly fire from the far end of a street into the group of wounded of which he was the central figure. This was too much for the surgeon, who, drawing his sword, called on some men of the regiment close by, and led them in gallant style against the enemy, whom he dispersed with great loss, killing two sepoys with his own hand. Not only on this occasion, but on several others, the surgeon's bravery was most conspicuous, no one grudging him the distinction he had so gallantly won.
There is nothing so destructive of the morale and discipline of soldiers as street-fighting, nor can control be maintained except by men of extraordinary resolution. The veterans of the European regiments composing the Delhi army on the day of assault fully justified their reputation. Cool and determined, they kept in check the impulsive valour of the young soldiers, and assisted their officers on various occasions when it became almost impossible to control their ardour. Till late at night the fighting never ceased; the weary and famished soldiers, exhausted and worn out from fatigue and exposure, and without a moment's rest, carried out the work of clearing the streets and houses, exposed all the time to a fire of musketry, coming chiefly from unseen foes.
Many lost their lives in the houses, where, entangled in the labyrinth of roofs, courtyards, and passages, they were shot down by the inmates, and were found, in several instances days after, with their throats cut and otherwise mutilated. The hope of finding plunder in these places also led many to their doom, and accounted for the large list of missing soldiers whose names appeared in the day's casualties.
And now I must pass from our force to record the doings of No. 1 and 2 Columns, under General Nicholson. These, for a long distance, had carried all before them, taking possession of the ramparts and bastions as far as the Kabul Gate, and effectually clearing the streets leading to the heart of the city. Exposed to a pitiless fire of grape and musketry through their whole advance, their loss was very heavy, but, still pressing forward, barrier after barrier was taken, the guns on each bastion, after its capture, being at once turned on the city. Their goal was the Burn bastion and the Lahore Gate, and all that men could do with their diminished numbers was tried at those points without effect. The rebels were in enormous force at these positions; field-guns and howitzers poured grape and canister into the assaulting columns, and musketry rained on them from the adjoining houses. Time after time attacks were made, till the sadly harassed soldiers, completely worn out, were forced to retire to the Kabul Gate and the bastions and ramparts they had already gained.
It was in one of these unsuccessful attempts to carry the Lahore Gate that Nicholson fell mortally wounded. Ever eager and impetuous, his dauntless soul led him into the thick of the combat. Spurning danger, and unmindful of his valuable life, he was in the front, in the act of encouraging and leading on his men, when the fatal shot laid low a spirit whose equal there was not to be found in India. He lingered for some days in great torment, expiring on September 23, mourned by everyone in the force, from the General in command to the private soldier, all of whom knew his worth, and felt that in the then momentous crisis his absence from amongst us could ill be borne. No eulogy can add to his renown; through his efforts, more than those of any other, Delhi fell, and he left his unconquered spirit as a heritage for the work still to be accomplished in the pacification of India. His name itself was a tower of strength in the army. Peerless amongst the brave men of his time, to what brilliant destinies might he not have succeeded had his young life (he was but thirty-four years old) been prolonged!
I must now revert to No. 4 Column, under Major Reid, and the attack on the strong fortified suburb of Kishenganj. About 100 men of my regiment were engaged in this affair; and from the lips of our officers I had a full account of the fight and the subsequent retreat.
The morning had dawned, and Major Reid waited to hear the signal to commence operations--the blowing in of the Kashmir Gate. His force, numbering about 1,000 men besides the Kashmir troops, were formed up on the Grand Trunk Road, opposite the Sabzi Mandi picket and at the foot of the ridge. Now the sun had risen, and still he watched for the signal, when shots in quick succession were heard on the right of the column, and it became known that the Kashmir contingent, without waiting for orders, had become engaged with the enemy.
Some men of the 60th Rifles were thrown out as skirmishers, and Major Reid moved with his force in the direction of Kishenganj. Soon they were stopped by strong breastworks thrown up by the enemy and barring the road to the suburb, the rebels being concealed behind these in great force, and pouring a heavy fire on our troops when only fifty yards distant. A rush was made for the earthworks, which were taken in gallant style; but the want of field-guns was here felt, and the enemy retired a short distance amongst the gardens, from which they continued to harass our troops. The Kishenganj battery also opened fire, and our position became critical in the extreme from the increasing number of the foe, who were constantly reinforced, and defied all endeavours to drive them from their cover.
While the struggle was thus raging on the left, the Kashmir troops on the extreme right flank had become involved with a large force of the enemy of all arms, who, no doubt despising the martial qualities of these half-disciplined levies, attacked them on all sides with great vigour. Our allies made no stand, and soon became completely disorganized, flying at length in headlong rout, with the loss of all their guns. No record was kept of their casualties, but they must have been very severe. For the future they remained unemployed in their camp, bewailing the loss of their four guns, and were never again engaged with the enemy.
Two or three days after the capture of Delhi I was wandering, with some others, through the streets of the city, when we came upon an officer and four men of the contingent, who accosted us, asking if we had heard or seen anything of their lost guns. They seemed in great grief, fearing the wrath of the Maharajah of Kashmir when they should arrive home, leaving the guns behind. With difficulty restraining a laugh, we assured them that we could give no information on the subject, and counselled them to search among the guns on the bastions near the Lahore and Ajmir Gates. They succeeded eventually in finding two, the others probably being borne off as trophies by the sepoys during the evacuation of Delhi. The contingent soon afterwards left for Kashmir, but how they were received by the Maharajah we never heard, though probably condign punishment was meted out to those who had actual charge of the guns.
The defeat of the Kashmir troops had a most disastrous effect on the issue of the attack on Kishenganj. Reinforced in great numbers, as I have related, the enemy maintained their ground, and our men could make no impression on them, chiefly from the want of field-guns. Major Reid, moreover, was wounded at an early stage of the action, and was carried off the field. His absence was soon felt in the altered dispositions of the force, and the want of a leader to carry out the plans formed by him.
The breastworks which had been taken could not be held for want of support, and some confusion resulted, the enemy's artillery from Kishenganj and musketry from the gardens causing great destruction. Many gallant attempts were made to drive off the rebels, but all were unavailing; and at length, after losing one-third of its number, the column fell back in good order to its original starting-point near the Sabzi Mandi, and Kishenganj remained in the hands of the enemy. Had that position been taken, and No. 4 Column, according to instructions, pushed on to the Lahore Gate, no good, as it turned out, would have been effected. Nicholson's columns, as related, had been forced to retire; the gate would have remained closed, and possibly the undertaking would have resulted in a more serious collapse than the ineffectual attempt on Kishenganj.
The presence of a large unconquered force on our right flank also placed the camp in imminent danger. It was known--from information received from spies--that it was the enemy's intention, after our failure to dislodge them from the suburb, to make an attack on the almost unprotected camp. The danger fortunately passed off, the rebels probably having little heart to join in operations to our rear when they heard the news of the signal success of our columns in the city. Still, their presence at Kishenganj was a standing menace; nor were we completely at ease with regard to the safety of the camp till the 20th, when the city was found to be evacuated by the enemy, and our troops immediately took possession.
Lastly, I must narrate the doings of the Cavalry Brigade. This force, with Horse Artillery, was stationed near No. 1 Advanced Battery, under the command of Brigadier Hope-Grant, their duty being to guard our right flank from being turned during the assault on the city. Here they remained, keeping a watchful lookout for some hours, till orders came for the brigade to move towards the walls of Delhi. They halted opposite the Kabul Gate, at a distance of 400 yards, and were at once exposed to the fire from the bastions, and to musketry from the gardens outside the suburbs of Taliwarra and Kishenganj. Our Horse Artillery made good practice, driving the enemy from their cover and spiking two guns; but the exposed situation caused great losses in the cavalry, and they moved still further to their front, halting amidst some trees.
The enemy now sallied from the gardens as though with the intention of driving the cavalry in the direction of the Kashmir Gate. The circumstances were most critical, when a body of Guide Infantry, coming up at the time, threw themselves on the rebels, maintaining their place with great resolution till help arrived, with a part of the Belooch battalion, and the enemy were forced to retire.
Too much praise cannot be given to the 9th Lancers and Horse Artillery for their conduct on this occasion. Exposed for hours to cannonade and musketry, unable to act from the nature of the ground, they never flinched from their post, forming a living target to the fire of the rebels. The same may be said of the Sikh and Punjabi cavalry, who displayed a coolness and intrepidity scarcely, if at all, less meritorious than that of their European comrades. Our casualties were very severe, the 9th Lancers alone losing upwards of twenty men killed and wounded.
And now that I have described the operations of each column and portions of the Delhi army during September 14, it will be necessary to record the advantages we had gained. From the Water bastion to the Kabul Gate, a distance of more than a mile, and constituting the northern face of the fortifications of Delhi, was in our possession, with all the intervening bastions, ramparts, and walls. Some progress had been made into the city opposite, and to the right and left of the Kashmir Gate, and along the line of walls. The College and its grounds, Colonel Skinner's house, that of Ahmed Ali Khan, and many other smaller buildings were held by the infantry. The enemy's guns on the bastions had been turned on to the city, and a constant fire was kept up, the streets and lanes being cleared in front, and advanced posts occupied by our men.
These advantages had not been gained without a severe struggle, and a terrible roll of killed and wounded was the consequence. Our casualties on September 14 amounted to upwards of 1,200 officers and men killed, wounded, and missing--a loss out of all proportion to the small number of men engaged, and when the relative forces are considered, far exceeding that which was suffered by the British army during the assault on the Redan on September 8, 1855. The deadly and destructive nature of street-fighting was here apparent, and the long-sustained contest, lasting more than twelve hours, swelled the total loss to the excessive amount recorded. In my regiment alone 100 men were placed hors de combat, thirty-three being killed; but the other European regiments suffered still more in proportion, and especially so those which took part in the actual assault on the breaches.
The native troops fought with the most determined bravery; Sikhs, Punjabis, and Goorkhas, side by side with their English comrades, pressed into the forefront of the strife, helping in the most material manner towards the day's success.
It was impossible to ascertain the loss sustained by the enemy. Dead bodies lay thick in the streets and open spaces, and numbers were killed in the houses; but the greater part of those who fell were no doubt carried off by the rebels. In the ardour of the fight many non-combatants also lost their lives, our men, mad and excited, making no distinction.
There is no more terrible spectacle than a city taken by storm. All the pent-up passions of men are here let loose without restraint. Roused to a pitch of fury from long-continued resistance, and eager to take vengeance on the murderers of women and children, the men in their pitiless rage showed no mercy. The dark days of Badajoz and San Sebastian were renewed on a small scale at Delhi; and during the assault, seeing the impetuous fury of our men, I could not help recalling to my mind the harrowing details of the old Peninsular Wars here reproduced before my eyes.
With the exception of a small amount of looting, the men were too much occupied with fighting and vengeance to take note of the means of temptation which lay within their reach in the untold quantities of spirits in the stores of the city. Strong drink is now, and has in all ages been, the bane of the British soldier--a propensity he cannot resist in times of peace, and which is tenfold aggravated when excited by fighting, and when the wherewithal to indulge it lies spread before him, as was the case at Delhi. When and by whom begun I cannot say, but early in the morning of the 15th the stores had been broken into, and the men revelled in unlimited supplies of drink of every kind. It is a sad circumstance to chronicle, and the drunkenness which ensued might have resulted in serious consequences to the army had the enemy taken advantage of the sorry position we were in. Vain were the attempts made at first to put a stop to the dissipations, and not till orders went forth from the General to destroy all the liquor that could be found did the orgy cease, and the men return crestfallen and ashamed to a sense of their duties. The work of destruction was carried out chiefly by the Sikhs and Punjabis, and the wasted drink ran in streams through the conduits of the city.
September 15.--This untoward event considerably hampered the operations on September 15, and but small progress was made that day towards driving the rebels out of Delhi. The artillery and engineers worked hard at the completion of the batteries on the captured bastions, on which were mounted our own and the enemy's heavy guns; and one for mortars was erected in the College grounds, which shelled the Palace and the Fort of Selimgarh. A few houses were taken in advance of our positions, but no further movement on any large scale was attempted, owing to the demoralized state of a great portion of the European infantry, and, further, to a desire that the troops should obtain some rest after the unparalleled fatigues and exposure of the previous day.
Reports also spread through the force that the General, feeling his strength and means inadequate to hold even the portions of the city in our possession, meditated an evacuation of the place, and a retirement to the old camp to await reinforcements. Every consideration must be made for one placed in his critical position; and he, no doubt, in his own mind, felt justified in proposing the step, which, had it been carried out, would, in all probability, have ended in the fall of British rule in India. "In an extraordinary situation extraordinary resolution is needed," was the saying of the Great Napoleon, and to no crisis in our history was this dictum more applicable than that at Delhi in September, 1857. Mutiny and rebellion spread their hydra heads over the land, disaffection was rife in the Punjab, our only source of supply for operations in the field; and nought could stay the alarming symptoms save the complete capture and retention of the great stronghold of rebellion. It had also been a well-known maxim laid down and carried out by Clive, Wellesley, Lake, and all the great commanders who had made our name famous in Hindostan, never to retire before an Eastern foe, no matter how great the disparity of numbers; and history tells us that our successes were due mainly to this rule, while the few reverses we have suffered resulted from a timid policy carried out by men whose heart failed them in the hour of trial.
Happily for the Delhi army, and more especially for the English name, the counsels of the General in command were overruled by the chief officers in the force, and even the gallant Nicholson from his death-bed denounced, in language which those who heard it will never forget, the step contemplated by his superior officer.
Towards the evening of the 15th the enemy, becoming emboldened by our inactivity, attacked the advanced posts along our whole line, and kept up a sharp musketry fire, more especially on the College compound, while the heavy guns at Selimgarh and some at the magazine shelled those gardens and houses adjacent--even as far as the Kashmir Gate--occupied by our troops. At 5 p. m. a battery of heavy guns played on the defences of the magazine, soon crumbling the wall to pieces, and opening out a large breach for assault.
September 16.--My regiment, the 4th Punjab Rifles, and a wing of the Belooch battalion were detailed as a storming party, and mustering at an early hour on the morning of the 16th, we marched to the attack on the magazine. This enclosure--a large walled area close to the Palace--was surrounded by a high curtained wall with towers, the interior space being occupied by buildings and containing a park of artillery and munitions of war. We met with no resistance on our way, and on approaching the breach saw only a few defenders on the ramparts, who opened a fire, which, however, caused little damage. A rush was at once made, the men gaining the top of the bridge without difficulty, and bayoneting some sepoys and firing on the remainder, who fled through the enclosure and were driven out at the gates on the opposite side. We had only about a dozen men killed and wounded, but of the enemy more than 100 lost their lives, being dragged out of the buildings where they had taken refuge and quickly put to death. Two hundred and thirty-two guns fell into our hands, besides piles of shot and shell; in fact, so vast was the amount that, although the enemy had been firing from their batteries for more than three months, making a lavish use of the stores at their command, scarcely any impression seemed to have been made on it.
That day and the following night our position in the captured magazine was anything but pleasant. The rebels continually harassed us with shells fired from the Chandni Chauk and near the Palace. Some, more venturesome than the rest, climbed on ladders to the top of the walls, plying us with musketry and hand-grenades, while others during the night mounted the high trees overhanging the enclosure, and with long lighted bamboos tried to set fire to the thatched buildings and blow up a small magazine. These attempts kept us constantly on the alert; and it was with great difficulty that we prevented damage being done.
Fighting continued during the day among the other portions of the force, and Nos. 1 and 2 Columns made further advances among the streets, the guns and mortars from the bastions throwing shot and shell far into the crowded parts of the city. Houses in commanding situations were taken and made secure from assault by defences of sand-bags. Great judgment was shown in these operations, and the losses in consequence were comparatively few; but the enemy as yet gave no signs of retreating from Delhi, and our leaders felt that great exertions would still be necessary before the city fell entirely into our hands.
September 17.--During the 17th and 18th a constant fire of shells from upwards of twenty mortars was directed from the magazine and College grounds on the Selimgarh Fort and the Palace, those from the bastions still firing into a large portion of the city. Skirmishing went on at the advanced posts, and a regular unbroken line of communication was established from one end of our pickets to the other.
September 18.--On the 18th my regiment moved from the magazine and took up its quarters in the Protestant Church, close to the main guard and Kashmir Gate, and at no great distance from the northern walls of the city. This church had been built by the gallant and philanthropic Colonel Alexander Skinner, C.B., an Eurasian and an Irregular cavalry commander of some eminence during the wars in the beginning of the century. He also erected at his own expense a Hindoo temple and a Mohammedan mosque, giving as his reason that all religions were alike, and that, in his opinion, each one was entitled to as much consideration as the other.
This church in which we were now quartered had been sadly desecrated by the rebels and fanatics of the city. They had, in their religious zeal, torn down the pulpit and reading-desk, defaced emblems, broken up the pews and the benches, and shattered all the panes of glass, while here and there inside the building were remains of their cooking-places, with broken fragments of utensils. The walls, too, had suffered much from the effects of our bombardment from September 11 to 14, the church being in the line of fire directed on the bastions. Many, no doubt, would consider it a sacrilege to quarter English troops in this sacred edifice, but the exigencies of war required its use for this purpose, and of all the buildings occupied by us during our stay in Delhi, the church was found to be cleanest and best ventilated, free from the noisome smells and close atmosphere of the native houses.
The close of the 18th saw our outposts extended hard by the Chandni Chauk--the main street of the city--the bank, Major Abbott's and Khan Mohammed's houses having first been seized by our men, who suffered severely from the field-guns and musketry of the rebels. There was also another unsuccessful attack made on the Burn bastion and Lahore Gate by the right column, in which the 75th lost one officer and many men killed. The arrangements for attack seemed to have been bad and ill-advised; the soldiers felt the want of the guiding genius of Nicholson, and, during an advance through a narrow lane were literally mown down by grape from the enemy's field-guns.
The weather, which since the 14th had been fine, broke up on the night of the 18th, and was succeeded by a terrific storm of rain, which fell in torrents like a deluge. That night it was reported that the rebels in great numbers were evacuating the city by the south side, the Bareilly and Neemuch brigades making off in the direction of Gwalior. Certain it is that from this period signs of waning strength appeared among the enemy, and fewer attempts at assault were made on our outposts, those on the left near the Palace, which were well protected by breastworks, being only exposed to a very desultory fire of musketry.
During the forenoon of the 18th there was, I think, a partial eclipse of the sun, which lasted three hours. The unusual darkness which prevailed astonished us beyond measure (our minds being taken up with events more startling than astronomical phenomena) till reference to an almanac explained the mystery. The eclipse had, we were told, an alarming effect on the mutineers, who attributed the phenomenon to some supernatural agency. The darkness no doubt worked on their superstitious fears, and hastened their flight from the city on which the wrath of the Almighty had descended.
September 19.--On the 19th operations in front of the Palace Gate were continued, a heavy fire being kept up against that place, while the 60th Rifles and others, perched on the tops of houses, took unerring aim at the rebels clustered in the open space. The same evening, also, the exertions of the right column were rewarded by the capture of the Burn bastion, with little loss on our side.
It was now quite evident that the baffled insurgents were retiring from Delhi in great numbers, mostly by the south side, few crossing the bridge of boats by day owing to it being commanded by our guns. But on the night of the 19th, when sitting in the church compound watching the shells exploding over the Palace and Selimgarh, we heard distinctly, through the intervals of firing, a distant, confused hum of voices, like the murmur of a great multitude. The sound came from the direction of the river, and was caused by multitudes of human beings, who, escaping by the bridge of boats to the opposite side, were deserting the city which was so soon to fall into our hands.
September 20.--After some sharp fighting, and early on the morning of September 20, the Lahore Gate and Garstin bastion, which during former assaults had cost us the lives of so many men, were taken, the column pushing on along the walls to the Ajmir Gate, which also fell into our hands. There were few defenders at these places, the mass of sepoys having evidently fled into the country; and the troops marched through the streets almost without opposition.
There now remained but the Palace, Selimgarh, and the Jama Masjid, and these were all occupied by our troops on that day. The former seemed almost deserted, an occasional shot from the high walls directed on our defences in the Chandni Chauk being the only signs of animation in that quarter. Powder-bags were brought up and attached, to the great gate, which was quickly blown in; and the 60th Rifles, with some Goorkhas, rushed into the enclosure. A score or two of armed fanatics offered some resistance, but they were soon shot down or bayoneted, and a few wounded sepoys found in the buildings were put to death. Passing through the Palace, Selimgarh was entered, and this, the last fortified position belonging to the enemy, was taken possession of without a struggle.
Meanwhile, a force of cavalry under Hodson moved round outside the city walls, and found a large camp of the enemy near the Delhi Gate. This was deserted, save by some sick and wounded sepoys, who were put to the sword; and the horsemen, riding through the gate, made their way into the heart of the city and took possession of the Jama Masjid without striking a blow.
Delhi had at length fallen into our hands, and the toils and dangers of more than three months were at an end. The principal buildings were occupied by our troops, and guards were placed at each gate with orders to prevent the ingress or egress of any suspicious-looking characters, while parties of armed men patrolled the streets of the city from end to end.
That night we moved back to our old quarters at Ahmed Ali Khan's house, the 52nd taking our place at the church. The first-named building was a vast structure, belonging to a rich native, and had been furnished in a style of Oriental magnificence; but now nothing but the bare walls and floors were to be seen, the place having been ransacked of its treasures and completely gutted since our last occupancy.
From September 15 to 20, when Delhi fell, the force lost in killed and wounded about 200 officers and men, making the total casualties 1,400, including those of the day of assault.
From May 30 to September 13 inclusive 2,490 officers and men were killed and wounded, the grand total being close on 4,000. Add to these fully 1,200 who perished by cholera and other diseases, and it will be seen at what a fearful cost of life to the small force engaged the victory was won.
Truly the capture of Delhi was a feat of arms without a parallel in our Indian annals. The bravery of the men, their indomitable pluck and resolution, the siege carried on with dogged pertinacity and without a murmur, proclaimed to the world that British soldiers, in those stormy times when the fate of an Empire was at issue, had fully maintained the reputation of their ancestors and earned the gratitude of their country.
To me, after the long interval of years, the incidents of the siege, with its continual strife and ever-recurring dangers, come back to me as in a dream. Often in fancy has my mind wandered back to those days of turmoil and excitement, when men's hearts were agitated to their profoundest depths, and our cause appeared wellnigh hopeless. Then it was that a small body of men in a far-away part of North-West India, entirely separated from the rest of the world, a few thousands amongst millions of an alien race, rallied round their country's banners and despaired not, though mutiny and rebellion ranged through the land. With steadfast purpose and with hearts that knew no fear, the Delhi army held its own for months against an overwhelming force of cruel and remorseless rebels. Imperfectly equipped, and with little knowledge of the dangers to be surmounted and the difficulties arising on every side, each man of that force felt himself a host, and devoted his energies--nay, his very life--to meet the crisis. None but those who were there can for one moment realize through what suffering and hardship the troops passed during the three months the Siege of Delhi lasted. Day after day, under a burning sun or through the deadly time of the rainy season, with pestilence in their midst, distressing accounts from all parts of the country, and no hope of relief save through their own unaided exertions, the soldiers of the army before Delhi fought with a courage and constancy which no difficulties could daunt and no trials, however severe, could overcome. In the end these men, worn out by exposure and diminished in numbers, stormed a strong fortified city defended by a vastly superior force, and for six days carried on a constant fight in the streets, till the enemy were driven out of their stronghold and Delhi was won. It must also be remembered that the feat was accomplished without the help of a single soldier from home; reinforcements had arrived in the country, but they were hundreds of miles distant when the news reached them of the capture of Delhi: and it is not too much to say that the success which followed the subsequent operations down-country was due mainly to the fact that all danger from the north-west had virtually ceased, and the mutiny had already received a crushing blow from the capture of the great city of rebellion.
[Footnote 1: Lieutenant Boileau, 61st Regiment, served in the batteries till the end of the siege.]
[Footnote 2: Are not the names of the Engineers Home and Salkeld and of Bugler Hawthorne (H.M. 52nd Regiment) household words?]
[Footnote 3: Captain Deacon and Lieutenants Moore and Young were wounded in this engagement.]
[Footnote 4: Colonel Deacon, Her Majesty's 61st Regiment, commanded on this occasion.]