Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, Volume 59, No. 367, May 1846
Author: Various
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Then it was, that, under the auspices of Heera Singh, the present Maharajah, Dhuleep Singh, a mere boy, and the alleged offspring of old Runjeet Singh, was raised to the throne of the Sikhs. The army again renewed the formidable pretensions which had formerly distracted and wasted the Punjaub, and with which Heera Singh was now forced to comply. But the powers of the throne were prostrate. The infant Maharajah, a puppet in the hands of intriguing kinsmen, or of the ungovernable army, passively witnessed the slaughter of a succession of his principal rajahs who aspired to be his ministers, and each of whom raised himself a step nearer the summit of his desire upon the butchered body of his predecessor. A glow, perhaps, of undefinable pleasure may have warmed the heart of the child, who wore

"upon his baby brow the round And top of sovereignty,"

when he saw the horrible drama apparently closed by his mother taking upon herself the responsibility and duties of the administration of affairs. She was a more helpless slave than himself. There was but one man in the Punjaub who could have aided her in her extremity. Neither of them could trust the other. Goolab Singh, a brother of Dhyan Singh, had been playing a safe game throughout the complicated troubles in which so many were overwhelmed. Bad as the worst, unscrupulously villanous, profoundly treacherous, detestably profligate and exciting behind the scenes discontent, mutiny, tumult, and massacre, he appeared occasionally on the stage to check or perplex the plot, as it suited his purposes. His arm never visibly reached to any point from which it could not be safely drawn back; but his hand was stirring every mischief. He was well aware of the insane and unappeasable passion for a war with the British which had long infected the whole Sikh army. He saw, we believe, the inevitable collision and the inevitable issue. With an infant on the throne, and a woman as prime-minister, the barrier to the torrent was a shadow. And so it happened. The voice of authority was drowned by the thundering tread of thousands and tens of thousands on their march to the Sutlej. Goolab Singh, folding himself in the cloak of neutrality, crouched, cat-like, to watch the vicissitudes of the contest.

The condition of the Punjaub necessarily attracted the anxious attention of our Indian government. The horizon grew blacker every hour, as the total inability of the authorities at Lahore to subdue or restrain the refractory and warlike spirit of the Sikh army, was made more and more manifest in unmistakable characters of blood and violence. Upon the 22d of last November, the Governor-General of India, while moving from Delhi to join the Commander-in-Chief in his camp at Umballah, received from the political agent, Major Broadfoot, an official despatch, dated the 20th November, detailing the sudden intention of the Sikh army to advance in force to the frontier, for the avowed purpose of invading the British territories. This despatch was succeeded by a private communication of the following day, stating the same facts, and inclosing news, letters, and papers of intelligence received from Lahore, which professed to give an account of the circumstances which had led to the movement, which would appear (if these papers are to be depended upon) to have originated with the Ranee and certain of the sirdars, who felt the pressure of the demands of the army to be so urgent, and its present attitude and temper so perilous to their existence, that they desired to turn the thoughts of the troops to objects which might divert their attention from making extortionate demands for higher pay, by employing their energies in hostile operations against the British government.[13]

We shall quote the substance of Major Broadfoot's letters, presenting, as they do, a curious picture of the chaos of matters on the other side of the Sutlej, and forming, likewise, important links in the narrative. The following extracts are taken from his communications on the 20th and 21st of November to the Governor-General and the Commander-in-Chief:—

"I have received Lahore letters of the 18th instant (morning).

"During the night of the 17th the chiefs had agreed on, and the Durbar had ordered in writing, the following plan of operations:—

"The army was to be divided into seven divisions, one to remain at Lahore, and the rest to proceed against Roopar and our hills, Loodianah, Hurreekee, Ferozepore, and Seinde, while one was to proceed to Peshawer; and a force under Rajah Goolab Singh was to be sent to Attock.

"Each division was to be of 8,000 to 12,000 men against Ferozepore, under Sham Singh Attareewallah, whose estates adjoin the place against which it was to act. Against Hurreekee is to go Rajah Lal Singh; against Loodianah, Sirdar Tej Singh, the new commander-in-chief; and against Roopar, a brother of Sena Singh Mujeeteea.

"The force under Sham Singh is to be 4,000 horse, and two brigades of infantry, with guns; under Raja Lal Singh, 4,500 horse, and two infantry brigades; under Sirdar Tej Singh, four brigades of infantry (one of them irregulars, and one new levies) and 1,000 horse, &c; but till the plans of the Durbar are in actual execution, they cannot be considered fixed, and therefore I do not trouble our Excellency with further details.

"With respect to the probability of their actually moving, I must say that my correspondents in Lahore seem to doubt it, though they are perplexed."

* * * * *

"The Durbar of the forenoon of the 18th was protracted till 2 o'clock, but I have not the details of the afternoon Durbar.

"11 A.M. was the hour found by the astrologers as auspicious for the march of the troops; not a chief stirred from his house. The officers and punchayets of the troops, regular and irregular, to the number of a couple of thousand, crowded to the Durbar and demanded the reason; the Ranee tried to soothe them, saying, that the fortunate hour being passed, the march could not be undertaken till the astrologers found another. The crowd demanded that this should be instantly done, and the court astrologer was ordered into their presence to find the proper time. He pored through his tables for two or three hours, while the Ranee sought to divert the attention of the military mob; at length he announced that the most favourable day was not till the 15th Mujsur (28th November). The military were furious, and declared that he was an impostor, and that they had to get from him two crores of rupees which he had made from the public money; the pundit implored mercy, and said the 7th Mujsur (20th) was also a good day; the military were still angry, and the poor pundit left amidst their menaces.

"They proposed that the Ranee and her son should march, and intimated that till they made an example of some chief no march would take place.

"The Ranee complained that whilst the troops were urging the march, they were still going home to their villages as fast as they got their pay; and Sirdar Sham Singh Attareewallah declared his belief, that unless something was done to stop this, he would find himself on his way to Ferozepore with empty tents. The bait of money to be paid, and to accompany them, was also offered, and at length the Durbar broke up at 2 P.M. Great consultations took place in the afternoon, but I know only one result, that the Ranee had to give to her lover his formal dismissal, and that he (Rajah Lal Singh) actually went into the camp of the Sawars he is to command, and pitched his tent.

"What the Ranee says is quite true of the sepoys dispersing to their houses; the whole affair has so suddenly reached its present height, that many of the men themselves think it will come to nothing, and still more who had taken their departure do not believe it serious enough to go back. On the day after this scene took place, i. e., the 19th, the usual stream of sepoys, natives of the protected states, who had got their pay, poured across the Sutlej, at Hurreekee, on their way to their homes. Every preparation, however, for war is making with probably more energy than if it had been a long-planned scheme; for every person of whatever party must show his sincerity by activity and virulent professions of hatred to the English."

It is proper to add, that Major Broadfoot also announces, that when the Sikh intrigues and commotions assumed a serious form, he had addressed an official letter of remonstrance through the proper channel to Lahore. Five days after these letters were written, on the 26th of November, the Commander-in-Chief and Major Broadfoot joined, at Kurnaul, the Governor-General, who shall be the exponent of his own impressions, intentions, and plans:—

"I had the satisfaction of concurring in all the orders which his Excellency had given, to hold the troops in readiness to move at the shortest notice, and in the instructions which he had sent to the officers in command of the stations at Ferozepore and Loodianah. The force at the former post consists of one European regiment, seven regiments of native infantry, two regiments of native cavalry, and twenty-four field-guns, exclusive of heavy ordnance. The force at Loodianah consists of one regiment of Europeans, five regiments of native infantry, one regiment of native cavalry, and two troops of horse artillery.

"After a full and satisfactory consultation with his Excellency, and taking into consideration the improbability of the Sikh army crossing the Sutlej, I determined that no movement should be made towards the river by the forces from Umballah and Meerut, and I postponed for further consideration with his Excellency any change in the present distribution of the troops; eventually some alterations will be made, which, when they have been finally determined upon between me and the Commander-in-Chief, will be reported to you. At the present moment, his Excellency coincides with me, that no forward movement is required.

"In the midst of much hesitation and irresolution, the enterprise ordered by the Sikh government does not appear to have been formally abandoned; the intelligence received by Major Broadfoot on the day of his joining my camp, showed that the three brigades of the Sikh force had actually left Lahore a few miles in advance, to be followed the next morning by three other brigades including one of artillery. This was on the 24th ultimo. The intelligence received from that date has been communicated to me by Major Broadfoot each day, as it arrives.

"It is said they intend, in reply to Major Broadfoot's remonstrance, to allege that the fact of our having collected so large a force, with all the munitions of war, on the frontier, is the cause of the concentration of their forces on the Sutlej; that they intend to demand the reasons of our preparations; to insist on the surrender to the Lahore government of the treasure which belonged to the late Rajah Soocheyt Singh; the restoration by the Rajah of Nabba of the village of Mowran, escheated by the Rajah, and the escheat confirmed by us; and henceforth the free passage of their troops into the Lahore possessions on this side the Sutlej.

"I need only remark, on the first and most essential point, that the Sikh army did in the beginning of last January prepare to move to the Sutlej. The political agent remonstrated, and the troops were withdrawn; the reason then assigned for the movement being the same as that now intended to be brought forward, namely, the state of our military preparations on the frontier. The Governor-General in Council, in a despatch to Major Broadfoot of the 25th January 1845, entered into very full explanations, which were conveyed to the Lahore Vakeel.

"As regards the past, it is clear that no cause of complaint has been given by the government of India. If it should be asserted that our military preparations this autumn have given offence, the assertion is equally unfounded, and is a mere pretext for hostile proceedings, which have originated in the political weakness and the internal dissensions of the Lahore government; and, above all, in their desire to be released, on any terms, from the terror which the ferocity of their own troops has inspired. The proof is to be found in the fact, that at the time these disorderly movements commenced, no additional British troops had reached our frontier stations. The additional regiment of native infantry, destined for the reinforcement of Ferozepore, had not arrived. At Loodianah one of the two regiments of native cavalry had actually marched for Scinde before it was relieved, leaving that post, as it is at present, with one regiment, instead of the usual complement of two regiments of cavalry. At the other stations no alterations had been made, and the troops which had marched were peaceably engaged in completing the annual reliefs according to custom at this season.

"Such is the state of affairs at the present moment, and although my conviction is strong that the Sikh army will be deterred from acts of aggression, on account of the state of our military preparation, yet it is by no means impossible that we may be forced at any moment into war, and that operations, on a very extended scale, may be immediately necessary.

"My views and measures will be anxiously directed to avoid a recourse to arms, as long as it may be possible. On this point my determination is fixed. At the same time it is very apparent, from the general aspect of affairs, that the period is fast approaching when further changes will take place at Lahore, and that the weak government of the regent will be subverted by the violence of the troops, instigated by the intrigues of the party favourable to the Rajah Goolab Singh.

"I shall not consider the march of the Sikh troops in hostile array towards the banks of the Sutlej as a cause justifying hostilities, if no actual violation of our frontier should occur. The same privilege which we take to adopt precautionary measures on our side must be conceded to them. Every forbearance shall be shown to a weak government, struggling for assistance against its own soldiers in a state of successful mutiny."[14]

A week later, no act of open hostility having yet been committed, the Governor-General, then in the camp at Umballah, was informed that the authorized agent of the court of Lahore had joined the camp. Major Broadfoot was immediately directed to see the Vakeel, and to require from him a reply to the remonstrance, which, as we have said, had been previously made against the proceedings that had taken place at the time it was written. At this conference the Vakeel asserted that he had received no reply from the Durbar at Lahore. The Governor-General acted with the utmost temperance:—

"When Major Broadfoot reported to me, in the evening, the result of this interview, I immediately directed him to address to the Vakeel the written communication, a copy of which is inclosed.

"I considered that it was absolutely necessary, on my arrival at Umballah, to take decided notice of the extraordinary proceedings that had taken place, and were stated to be still in progress. It was evident I could not permit the political agent's communications, in the face of what was going on at Lahore, to be treated with disregard. I took the mildest course in my power, consistently with the dignity, position, and interests of the British government. I purposely left an opening to the Lahore government to remedy, through its Vakeel, the discourtesy it had shown, by affording to that government the facility of making any explanation it might desire. The plain construction to be put on the silence of the Lahore government, in reply to the demand for explanation, evidently was, that the intentions of that government were hostile, in which case I did not deem it to be expedient to give to that government the leisure to complete their hostile preparations; whilst, on my part, I had abstained from making any movement, expressly for the purpose of avoiding any cause of jealousy or alarm; thus according to the Maharajah's government the strongest proof of the good faith and forbearance of the British government.

"I am satisfied that the course I have adopted was imperatively required; and before I authorize any precautionary movements to be made, I shall give full time for a reply to be received from Lahore."

The letter which narrates these proceedings concludes thus:—

"This morning, news up to the 1st inst. has been received. The Ranee and sirdars are becoming more and more urgent that the army should advance to the frontier, believing that, in the present posture of affairs, the only hope of saving their lives and prolonging their power is to be found in bringing about a collision with the British forces. The Sikh army moves with evident reluctance, and is calling for Goolab Singh, who is collecting forces at Jumboo, and is watching the progress of events.

"My own impression remains unaltered. I do not expect that the troops will come as far as the banks of the Sutlej, or that any positive act of aggression will be committed; but it is evident that the Ranee and chiefs are, for their own preservation, endeavouring to raise a storm, which, when raised, they will be powerless either to direct or allay.

"I shall, as I have before said, await the reply from Lahore to Major Broadfoot's last communication to the Vakeel.

"If the reply from the ostensible government, acting under the control and at the discretion of the army, is hostile, I shall at once order up troops from Meerut, and other stations, to the support of our advanced positions, persevering up to the last moment in the sincere desire to avoid hostilities."[15]

We cannot, with any honesty, suppress our conviction that forbearance was here pushed to the very verge of safety. The sullen silence of the Lahore government, as its only answer to our most legitimate demand for an explanation of its menacing attitude, it seems to us, would have been a complete justification of such a movement of our forces as might have concentrated them, by a march of one day, instead of six days, on the banks of the Sutlej, and in the face of the enemy. Had such a step hastened the rupture, who could righteously blame us for the result? But, as it happened, the trumpet of the Sikhs which summoned us to the dreadful appeal of battle could not have sounded sooner than it did, and we should have entered the mortal lists every way at less disadvantage, without the odds against us, which the disparity of numbers rendered formidable enough, being multiplied an hundred-fold by the physical exhaustion of each individual soldier in our ranks.

The disbelief in the probability of any serious hostility still filled the mind of the Governor-General, when, upon the 6th of December, he moved from Umballah towards Loodianah, peaceably prosecuting his visitation of the Sikh protected states, according to the usual custom of his predecessors. "In common with the most experienced officers of the Indian government," he writes,

"I was not of opinion that the Sikh army would cross the Sutlej with its infantry and artillery.

"I considered it probable that some act of aggression would be committed by parties of plunderers, for the purpose of compelling the British government to interfere, to which course the Sikh chiefs knew I was most averse; but I concurred with the Commander-in-Chief, and the chief Secretary to the Government, as well as with my political agent, Major Broadfoot, that offensive operations, on a large scale, would not be resorted to.

"Exclusive of the political reasons which induced me to carry my forbearance as far as it was possible, I was confident, from the opinions given by the Commander-in-Chief and Major-general Sir John Littler, in command of the forces at Ferozepore, that that post would resist any attack from the Sikh army as long as its provisions lasted; and that I could at any time relieve it, under the ordinary circumstances of an Asiatic army making an irruption into our territories, provided it had not the means of laying siege to the fort and the intrenched camp.

"Up to this period no act of aggression had been committed by the Sikh army. The Lahore government had as good a right to reinforce their bank of the river Sutlej, as we had to reinforce our posts on that river.

"The Sikh army had, in 1843 and 1844, moved down upon the river from Lahore, and, after remaining there encamped a few weeks, had returned to the capital. These reasons, and above all my extreme anxiety to avoid hostilities, induced me not to make any hasty movement with our army, which, when the two armies came into each other's presence, might bring about a collision.

"The army had, however, been ordered to be in readiness to move at the shortest notice; and, on the 7th and 8th December, when I heard from Lahore that preparations were making on a large scale for artillery, stores, and all the munitions of war, I wrote to the Commander-in-Chief, directing his Excellency, on the 11th, to move up the force from Umballah, from Meerut, and some other stations in the rear.

"Up to this time no infantry or artillery had been reported to have left Lahore, nor had a single Sikh soldier crossed the Sutlej. Nevertheless, I considered it prudent no longer to delay the forward movement of our troops, having given to the Lahore government the most ample time for a reply to our remonstrance."

During the four days following the 8th of December, the fluctuating intelligence from Lahore, although, on the whole, more cloudy than formerly, was not of a character to shake the prevalent opinion that no Sikh movement, on a large scale, was intended, and that the Sikh army would not cross the Sutlej. On the 13th, the Governor-General first received precise information that the Sikh army had crossed the Sutlej, and was forming in great force on the left bank of the river, in order to attack Ferozepore, which was occupied by a British force of little more than five thousand men. He immediately issued a proclamation, on the part of the British government, which set forth, that—

"In the year 1809 a treaty of amity and concord was concluded between the British government and the late Maharajah Runjeet Singh, the conditions of which have always been faithfully observed by the British government, and were scrupulously fulfilled by the late Maharajah.

"The same friendly relations have been maintained with the successors of Maharajah Runjeet Singh by the British government up to the present time.

"Since the death of the late Maharajah Shere Singh, the disorganized state of the Lahore government has made it incumbent on the Governor-General in council to adopt precautionary measures for the protection of the British frontier; the nature of these measures, and the cause of their adoption, were at that time fully explained to the Lahore Durbar.

"Notwithstanding the disorganized state of the Lahore government during the last two years, and many most unfriendly proceedings on the part of the Durbar, the Governor-General in council has continued to evince his desire to maintain the relations of amity and concord which had so long existed between the two states, for the mutual interests and happiness of both. He has shown on every occasion the utmost forbearance, from consideration to the helpless state of the infant Maharajah Dhuleep Singh, whom the British government had recognised as the successor to the late Maharajah Shere Singh.

"The Governor-General in council sincerely desired to see a strong Sikh government re-established in the Punjaub, able to control its army and to protect its subjects. He had not, up to the present moment, abandoned the hope of seeing that important object effected by the patriotic efforts of the Sikhs and people of that country.

"The Sikh army recently marched from Lahore towards the British frontier, as it was alleged by the orders of the Durbar, for the purpose of invading the British territory.

"The Governor-General's agent, by direction of the Governor-General, demanded an explanation of this movement, and no reply being returned within a reasonable time, the demand was repeated. The Governor-General, unwilling to believe in the hostile intentions of the Sikh government, to which no provocation had been given, refrained from taking any measures which might have a tendency to embarrass the government of the Maharajah, or to induce collision between the two states.

"When no reply was given to the repeated demand for explanation, and while active military preparations were continued at Lahore, the Governor-General considered it necessary to order the advance of troops towards the frontier to reinforce the frontier posts.

"The Sikh army has now, without a shadow of provocation, invaded the British territories.

"The Governor-General must, therefore, take measures for effectually protecting the British provinces, for vindicating the authority of the British government, and for punishing the violators of treaties, and the disturbers of public peace.

"The Governor-General hereby declares the possessions of Maharajah Dhuleep Singh on the left or British banks of the Sutlej confiscated, and annexed to the British territories."

In the mean time the Umballah division of our troops had been in movement towards the Sutlej for three days; but as this force, if intercepted by a large Sikh army, was not considered sufficiently strong to force its way to the relief of Ferozepore, the Governor-General directed the whole garrison, amounting to five thousand men and twenty-one guns, of Loodianah, even at the risk of leaving that town and its cantonments exposed to capture and plunder, to effect a junction with the Umballah division. By a rapid march the Loodianah troops formed the advanced column of the army, and secured the supplies which had been laid in at Busseean, an important point, where the roads from Umballah and Kurnaul meet. On the 18th of December the British forces, having moved up by double marches on alternate days, reached, and, with the exception of two European and two native regiments, were concentrated at MOODKEE, twenty miles from Ferozepore. How easy it is for us to describe, in a single sentence, the results of the irrepressible spirit and indefatigable exertions of those gallant men! In seven days they had traversed, over roads of heavy sand, a distance of upwards of one hundred and fifty miles, while their perpetual toil allowed them scarcely leisure to cook what scanty food they could procure, and hardly an hour for sleep. Four-and-twenty hours had elapsed since their parched lips were moistened by a single drop of water, when these exhausted but indomitable troops, a little after mid-day, took up their encamping ground in front of Moodkee. But their toil had not begun. Never, surely, were the harassing fatigues of so laborious a march alleviated by a more terrible refreshment. The way-worn warriors had not halted two hours, and were engaged in cooking their meals, when they were startled by a sudden order to get under arms, and move to their positions. The Sikh army was at hand in battle array. Instantly our horse artillery and cavalry pushed forward, while the infantry, accompanied by the field-batteries, advanced to their support, and, scarcely two miles off, confronted the enemy, nearly forty thousand strong, with forty guns, preparing for action. To resist the attack, and to cover the formation of the infantry, the cavalry, dashing rapidly to the front in columns of squadrons, occupied the plain, and were speedily followed by the troops of horse artillery, who took up their position with the cavalry on their flanks.

"The country," writes the Commander-in-Chief, "is a dead flat, covered at short intervals with a low, but in some places thick jhow jungle, and dotted with sandy hillocks. The enemy screened their infantry and cavalry behind this jungle, and such undulations as the ground afforded; and, whilst our twelve battalions formed from echelon of brigade into line, opened a very severe cannonade upon our advancing troops, which was vigorously replied to by the battery of horse artillery under Brigadier Brooke, which was soon joined by the two light field-batteries. The rapid and well-directed fire of our artillery appeared soon to paralyse that of the enemy; and as it was necessary to complete our infantry dispositions without advancing the artillery too near to the jungle, I directed the cavalry under Brigadiers White and Gough to make a flank movement on the enemy's left, with a view of threatening and turning that flank, if possible. With praiseworthy gallantry, the 3d light dragoons, with the 2d brigade of cavalry, consisting of the body-guard and 5th light cavalry, with a portion of the 4th lancers, turned the left of the Sikh army, and, sweeping along the whole rear of its infantry and guns, silenced for a time the latter, and put their numerous cavalry to flight. Whilst this movement was taking place on the enemy's left, I directed the remainder of the 4th lancers, the 9th irregular cavalry under Brigadier Mactier, with a light field-battery, to threaten their right. This manoeuvre was also successful. Had not the infantry and guns of the enemy been screened by the jungle, these brilliant charges of the cavalry would have been productive of greater effect.

"When the infantry advanced to the attack, Brigadier Brooke rapidly pushed on his horse artillery close to the jungle, and the cannonade was resumed on both sides. The infantry, under Major Generals Sir Harry Smith, Gilbert, and Sir John M'Caskill, attacked in echelon of lines the enemy's infantry, almost invisible amongst wood and the approaching darkness of night. The opposition of the enemy was such as might have been expected from troops who had every thing at stake, and who had long vaunted of being irresistible. Their ample and extended line, from their great superiority of numbers, far outflanked ours; but this was counteracted by the flank movements of our cavalry. The attack of the infantry now commenced; and the roll of fire from this powerful arm soon convinced the Sikh army that they had met with a foe they little expected; and their whole force was driven from position after position with great slaughter, and the loss of seventeen pieces of artillery, some of them of heavy calibre; our infantry using that never-failing weapon the bayonet, whenever the enemy stood. Night only saved them from worse disaster; for this stout conflict was maintained during an hour and a half of dim starlight, amidst a cloud of dust from the sandy plain, which yet more obscured every object."

The more awful combats of Ferozeshah and Sobraon must not eclipse the brightness of Moodkee, which revealed so vividly, even under that "dim starlight," the elastic vigour of the British spirit.

Hunger, and thirst, and weariness vanished at once, as, with the alacrity and precision of a peaceful parade, our enthusiastic regiments moved into their positions, and impetuously advanced to encounter an enemy who mustered his host in myriads. On they swept like a hurricane. "The only fault found," are the words of an officer present in the engagement, "was, that the men were too fresh, and could not be kept from running at the enemy." Outflanking us by masses of infantry and swarms of cavalry—tearing us to tatters by the swift destruction from their immense and beautiful artillery—it fared with the Sikhs, before the stemless tide of British ardour, as with the Philistines before Samson—

"When unsupportably his foot advanced," —"In scorn of their proud arms and warlike tools," "Spurn'd them to death by troops."—

The moral effect upon our soldiers of this battle, we may believe to have been decisive of the campaign. The prodigious preponderance of the Sikhs in numerical strength; the weight, and celerity, and accuracy of their batteries; their stanch and obstinate courage, which often went down only before the intolerable contact of the bayonet, had been made undeniably manifest. What had they availed against our imperturbable intrepidity, under circumstances and at a moment in which we might have thrown, almost without dishonour, the blame of discomfiture upon physical infirmities, that overmaster the brave and the strong as relentlessly as the timid and feeble? What would they avail, when the chances were fairer for us—the collision more even? When the fight at Moodkee was done, there was not, of the surviving victors, a Queen's soldier or a sepoy who had not already settled to his own satisfaction the whole campaign of the Sutlej, in the pithy but comprehensive conviction, that he should drub the Sikhs whenever he met them. The logician smiles at the vulnerable reasoning; the soldier smiles, too, and feels himself clad in better armour than steel or brass. There had been a reciprocal amicable emulation every where prevalent throughout the battle, between the officers and the men, between our Indian and our European troops. The Governor-General shared all the perils of the field; Sale and M'Caskill "foremost fighting fell;" while our native regiments vied with, and were not excelled by, their British comrades in active daring or unswerving steadiness. One temper, one will, and a universal mutual confidence, thrilled through, cemented, and fired the whole mass.

On the day after the battle, the Sikhs having retired upon their intrenchments at Ferozeshah, orders were sent to direct Sir John Littler, with the Ferozepore force, to join as soon as possible the main army. The relief of Ferozepore—threatened, according to the first reports received by the Governor-General, by the Sikh army en masse—had been his primary object in those rapid marches which brought him to Moodkee. It now appears that, on the 13th of December, Sir John Littler had moved out of Ferozepore into camp, and on the 15th took up a strong position at a village about two miles to the southeast of his encampment, in order to intercept the anticipated attack on the city. The Sikh camp was distinctly visible, and supposed to contain 60,000 men, with 120 guns. Three days passed without even a demonstration of active hostility; and on the night of the 17th, the Sikhs were moving away to meet the Governor-General. On the evening of the 20th, therefore, Sir John Littler had no difficulty in instantly obeying the orders from Moodkee, and in arriving next morning at headquarters in time to share the peril and the glory of one of the most dreadful contests in which we were ever engaged in Europe or in Asia. The inaction of the Sikhs at Ferozepore is, in the present state of our information, unintelligible; but it would be an idle waste of time and space to speculate upon the consequences of a peril which did not assail us, or harrow our minds with the probability of disasters and difficulties from which we never suffered.

At Moodkee, our army, for most needful repose, and fully to prepare for a more gigantic effort, rested two days. In this interval the Governor-General took a step which has not escaped comment, in offering to the Commander-in-Chief his services as second in command of the army. He did right. Battalions and brigades could hardly have strengthened the hands of the general, and invigorated the spirits of the troops, so much as the active accession of Hardinge. Prim etiquette may pucker its thin lips, and solemn discretion knit its ponderous brows; but neither discipline nor prudence ran any risk of being injured or affronted by the veteran of the Peninsula. What the exigency required, he knew; what the exigency exacted, he performed. That those who censure would not have imitated his conduct, in defiance of the admonitions of the hundred-throated Sikh ordnance, we may allowably imagine. Such critics, being themselves governors-general, would probably have received beneath the cool verandas of Calcutta the news of the tempestuous bivouacs of Ferozeshah. For ourselves, we learn with pride and satisfaction, that when offensive operations were resumed on the morning of the 21st of December, the charge and direction of the left wing of the army was committed to Lieutenant-General Sir Henry Hardinge.

"Breaking up on that morning from Moodkee, our columns of all arms" (so writes the Commander-in-Chief) "debouched four miles on the road to Ferozeshah, where it was known that the enemy, posted in great force and with a most formidable artillery, had remained since the action of the 18th, incessantly employed in intrenching his position. Instead of advancing to the direct attack of their formidable works, our force manoeuvred to their right; the second and fourth divisions of infantry in front, supported by the first division and cavalry in second line, continued to defile for some time out of cannon-shot between the Sikhs and Ferozepore. The desired effect was not long delayed: a cloud of dust was seen on our left, and, according to the instructions sent him on the preceding evening, Major-General Sir John Littler, with his division, availing himself of the offered opportunity, was discovered in full march to unite his force with mine. The junction was soon effected, and thus was accomplished one of the great objects of all our harassing marches and privations, in the relief of this division of our army from the blockade of the numerous forces by which it was surrounded.

"Dispositions were now made for a united attack on the enemy's intrenched camp. We found it to be a parallelogram, of about a mile in length, and half a mile in breadth, including within its area the strong village of Ferozeshah; the shorter sides looking towards the Sutlej and Moodkee, and the longer towards Ferozepore and the open country. We moved against the last-named face, the ground in front of which was, like the Sikh position in Moodkee, covered with low jungle.

"A very heavy cannonade was opened by the enemy, who had dispersed over their position upwards of one hundred guns, more than forty of which were of battering calibre: these kept up a heavy and well-directed fire, which the practice of our far less numerous artillery, of much lighter metal, checked in some degree, but could not silence; finally, in the face of a storm of shot and shell, our infantry advanced and carried these formidable intrenchments; they threw themselves upon their guns, and with matchless gallantry wrested them from the enemy; but when the batteries were partially within our grasp, our soldiery had to face such a fire of musketry from the Sikh infantry, arrayed behind their guns, that, in spite of the most heroic efforts, a portion only of the intrenchment could be carried. Night fell while the conflict was every where raging.

"Although I now brought up Major-General Sir Harry Smith's division, and he captured and long maintained another point of the position, and her Majesty's 3d light dragoons charged and took some of the most formidable batteries, yet the enemy remained in possession of a considerable portion of the great quadrangle; whilst our troops, intermingled with theirs, kept possession of the remainder, and firmly bivouacked upon it, exhausted by their gallant efforts, greatly reduced in numbers, and suffering extremely from thirst, yet animated by an indomitable spirit. In this state of things the long night wore away.

"Near the middle of it, one of their heavy guns was advanced, and played with deadly effect upon our troops. Lieutenant-General Sir Henry Hardinge immediately formed her Majesty's 80th foot and the 1st European light infantry. They were led to the attack by their commanding-officers, and animated in their exertions by Lieutenant-Colonel Wood, (aide-de-camp to the Lieutenant-General,) who was wounded in the outset. The 80th captured the gun, and the enemy, dismayed by this counter-check, did not venture to press on further. During the whole night, however, they continued to harass our troops by a fire of artillery, wherever moonlight discovered our position."[16]

The ghastly horrors of that awful night we should hopelessly struggle to describe. The attack began about three o'clock in the afternoon, and was urged incessantly for six hours in the face of the devastating storm of the Sikh batteries, which, with one continuous roar of thunder, blurted forth agony, and mutilation, and death upon their assailants. On the bare cold earth—the night was bitterly, intensely cold—with no food and no water—the living and the dying, in their exhaustion and torture, lay with the dead in their tranquillity. Broadfoot, with a happier fate, had already yielded up his spirit; Somerset, sensible, but helplessly benumbed, was lingering through the tedious hours, to die in the morning, knolled by the shouts of victory. All night long "the havoc did not cease." In the very noon of darkness, a sleepless rest was invaded and broken by such extraordinary efforts as those to which the Governor-General in person excited the 80th and 1st European light infantry. And it well merits remembrance, what we know from other sources, that in these midnight charges, the men fell into the ranks so noiselessly and swiftly, that they were ready to advance before their officers were aware of their commands being generally understood.

"But with daylight of the 22d came retribution. Our infantry formed line, supported on both flanks by horse artillery, whilst a fire was opened from our centre by such of our heavy guns as remained effective, aided by a flight of rockets. A masked battery played with great effect upon this point, dismounting our pieces, and blowing up our tumbrils. At this moment Lieutenant-General Sir Henry Hardinge placed himself at the head of the left, whilst I rode at the head of the right wing.

"Our line advanced, and, unchecked by the enemy's fire, drove them rapidly out of the village of Ferozeshah and their encampment; then, changing front to its left, on its centre, our force continued to sweep the camp, bearing down all opposition, and dislodged the enemy from their whole position. The line then halted, as if on a day of manoeuvre, receiving its two leaders, as they rode along its front, with a gratifying cheer, and displaying the captured standards of the Khalsa army. We had taken upwards of seventy-three pieces of cannon, and were masters of the whole field.

"The force assumed a position on the ground which it had won; but even here its labours were not to cease. In the course of two hours, Sirdar Tej Singh, who had commanded in the last great battle, brought up from the vicinity of Ferozopore fresh battalions and a large field of artillery, supported by 30,000 Ghorepurras, hitherto encamped near the river. He drove in our cavalry parties, and made strenuous efforts to regain the position at Ferozeshah: this attempt was defeated; but its failure had scarcely become manifest, when the Sirdar renewed the contest with more troops and a large artillery. He commenced by a combination against our left flank, and when this was frustrated, made such a demonstration against the captured village as compelled us to change our whole front to the right. His guns during this manoeuvre maintained an incessant fire, whilst, our artillery ammunition being completely expended in those protracted combats, we were unable to answer him with a single shot.

"I now directed our almost exhausted cavalry to threaten both flanks at once, preparing the infantry to advance in support, which apparently caused him suddenly to cease his fire, and abandon the field.

* * * * *

"The loss of this army has been heavy; how could a hope be formed that it should be otherwise? Within thirty hours this force stormed an intrenched camp, fought a general action, and sustained two considerable combats with the enemy. Within four days it has dislodged from their positions, on the left bank of the Sutlej, 60,000 Sikh soldiers, supported by upwards of 150 pieces of cannon, 108 of which the enemy acknowledge to have lost, and 91 of which are in our possession.

"In addition to our losses in the battle, the captured camp was found to be every where protected by charged mines, by the successive springing of which many brave officers and men have been destroyed."[17]

Was there ever harder fighting? No—not even a month afterwards at Sobraon. For two-and-twenty hours, from three o'clock on the afternoon of the 21st till one o'clock after mid-day of the 22d, the combat—unremitted, as we have seen, even beneath the shade of night—endured, and deepened as it endured, having raged with appalling fury in its very termination. The intrenched Sikh camp was literally a fortress, occupied by a great army not untutored in European discipline, and protected by enormous batteries of heavy ordnance, which were served so rapidly, and pointed so truly, as to elicit the unqualified admiration of the victims of their efficiency. Against this bristling rock, while, wave after wave, our sea of battle surged and reverberated, dark clouds of Sikh cavalry, hovering on all sides, sent forth at opportune conjunctures their sweeping whirlwinds, which either destroyed those ranks, whose compact array was broken by eagerness and the nature of the ground, or more frequently forced our infantry suddenly to form into squares beneath the iron tempest of a demolishing artillery. With difficulty and labour our heroic soldiers had but breached, and surmounted, and gained footing within the fortifications, when the earth, heaving and opening with the successive explosion of charged mines, hurled into fragments scores of those who had passed unscathed through the ordeal of manly warfare with confronting foes. But moat and mound, cannon and cavern, were at length overleapt, silenced and exhausted. Still was it "double, double, toil and trouble." With fresh reinforcements of men, backed as ever by a massive artillery, the enemy repeatedly attempted to retrieve his loss, and regain his camp. To his incessant fire, we could not answer with a single shot; our ammunition was gone. Frustrating his manoeuvres, what else remained to do was done with the hard steel of the bayonet, and hand to hand with the good sword. And thus were earned the laurels of Ferozeshah.

Over the carnage of such battle-fields, we would glance hastily. At Moodkee, of the British, fell two hundred and fifteen; at Ferozeshah, six hundred and ninety-four, gallant men and faithful soldiers. The long lists, also, of the wounded, which catalogue six hundred and fifty-seven sufferers at Moodkee, and swell to one thousand seven hundred and twenty-one at Ferozeshah, painfully attest the severity of the struggle, and the deadly precision of the foe. But the foe! who has numbered his dead? None; nor ever will. The pall of a decent oblivion has been tacitly cast upon the incalculable amount of his loss, which has exceeded the utmost extent of British loss, as much as his hordes of living warriors outnumbered by tens of thousands the British force at the dawn of the eventful day which looked on Moodkee—the Agincourt of India. "Is it not lawful," asks honest Fluellen, "to tell how many is killed?" "Yes," is the answer of our Fifth Harry—"Yes, captain; but with this acknowledgment, that God fought for us."

The route of the Sikhs at Ferozeshah was succeeded by nearly a month employed, as we are now aware, by both sides in making preparations, offensive and defensive, for further serious exertions. The Sikh army, upon its overthrow, retired, not in confusion and haste, but steadily and easily, towards the Sutlej, which they crossed about the 27th of December. They recrossed, however, soon after, and worked indefatigably in rearing those magnificent and powerful fortifications at Sobraon, with which we are yet destined in the course of our narrative to come into rude collision. The Governor-General, on the other hand, was busy in collecting and amassing the munitions of war of every description, for the purpose of forcing, if opposed, the passage of the Sutlej, and carrying his victorious standard into the heart of the Punjaub. But fortune was now about to shower her smiles upon a peculiar favourite. Pressed for supplies on their own bank, the Sikhs were endeavouring to draw them from the British side of the Upper Sutlej. In the fort and town of Dhurrumkote, which were filled with grain, they maintained a small garrison. Against this place, Major-General Sir Harry Smith was ordered, on the 18th of January, to move, with one brigade of his division, and a light field-battery. In the mean time, the Commander-in-Chief received information that the Sirdar Runjoor Singh, crossing from Philour at the head of a numerous force of all arms, had established himself between the old and new sources of the Sutlej, and threatened the rich and populous city of Loodianah. Sir Harry Smith was accordingly directed to advance by Jugraon towards Loodianah, with the brigade which had accompanied him to Dhurrumkote, while his second brigade, under Brigadier Wheeler, moved on to support him. "Then commenced," we learn from the Commander-in-Chief, "a series of very delicate combinations."

"The Major-General, breaking up from Jugraon, moved towards Loodianah; when the Sirdar, relying on the vast superiority of his forces; assumed the initiative, and endeavoured to intercept his progress, by marching in a line parallel to him, and opening upon his troops a furious cannonade. The Major-General continued coolly to manoeuvre; and when the Sikh Sirdar, bending round one wing of his army, enveloped his flank, he extricated himself, by retiring, with the steadiness of a field-day, by echelon of battalions, and effected his communication with Loodianah, but not without severe loss.

"Reinforced by Brigadier Godby, he felt himself to be strong; but his manoeuvres had thrown him out of communication with Brigadier Wheeler, and a portion of his baggage had fallen into the hands of the enemy. The Sikh Sirdar took up an intrenched position at Budhowal, supporting himself on its fort; but, threatened on either flank by General Smith and Brigadier Wheeler, finally decamped, and moved down to the Sutlej. The British troops made good their junction, and occupied the abandoned position of Budhowal; the Shekawattee brigade and her Majesty's 53d regiment, also added to the strength of the Major-General, and he prepared to attack the Sikh Sirdar on his new ground. But, on the 26th, Runjoor Singh was reinforced from the right bank with four thousand regular troops, twelve pieces of artillery, and a large force of cavalry.

"Emboldened by this accession of strength, he ventured on the measure of advancing towards Jugraon, apparently with the view of intercepting our communications by that route."[18]

The audacity of the Sikhs was doomed to meet a rough check. Wheeler having joined Sir Harry by long marches on the 26th of January, the troops required one day's rest. And now we have our hand upon the most delightful official despatch, and the most admirable picture of a battle, which has stirred our blood for many a day. Not a sentence of explanation do the words of Sir Harry Smith need, nor with a syllable of observation shall we rashly dare to gild his gold. Let us hear Caesar dictating his commentary.

"At daylight on the 28th, my order of advance was, the cavalry in front, in contiguous columns of squadrons of regiments; two troops of horse artillery in the interval of brigades; the infantry in contiguous columns of brigades at intervals of deploying distance; artillery in the intervals, followed by two eight-inch howitzers, on travelling carriages, brought into the field from the fort of Loodianah by the indefatigable exertions of Lieutenant-Colonel Lane, horse artillery. Brigadier Godby's brigade, which I had marched out from Loodianah the previous evening, on the right, the Shekawattee infantry on the left, the 4th irregular cavalry and the Shekawattee cavalry considerably to the right, for the purpose of sweeping the banks of the wet mullah on my right, and preventing any of the enemy's horse attempting an inroad towards Loodianah, or any attempt upon the baggage assembled round the fort of Budhowal.

"In this order the troops moved forward towards the enemy, a distance of six miles, the advance conducted by Captain Waugh, 16th lancers, the Deputy-assistant Quartermaster of cavalry; Major Bradford of the 1st cavalry, and Lieutenant Strachey of the engineers—who had been jointly employed in the conduct of patrols up to the enemy's position, and for the purpose of reporting upon the facility and points of approach. Previously to the march of the troops, it had been intimated to me by Major Mackeson, that the information by spies led to the belief the enemy would move, somewhere at daylight, either on Jugraon, my position of Budhowal, or Loodianah. On a near approach to his outposts, this rumour was confirmed by a spy, who had just left his camp, saying the Sikh army was actually in march towards Jugraon. My advance was steady, my troops well in hand; and if he had anticipated me on the Jugraon road, I could have fallen upon his centre with advantage.

"From the tops of the houses of the village of Poorein, I had a distant view of the enemy. He was in motion, and appeared directly opposite my front on a ridge, of which the village of Aliwal may be regarded as the centre. His left appeared still to occupy its ground in the circular intrenchment; his right was brought forward and occupied the ridge. I immediately deployed the cavalry into line, and moved on. As I neared the enemy, the ground became most favourable for the troops to manoeuvre, being open and hard grass land. I ordered the cavalry to take ground to the right and left by brigades, thus displaying the heads of the infantry columns, and as they reached the hard ground I directed them to deploy into line. Brigadier Godby's brigade was in direct echelon to the rear of the right—the Shekawattee infantry in like manner to the rear of my left. The cavalry in direct echelon on, and well to the rear of both flanks of the infantry. The artillery massed on the right, and centre, and left. After deployment, I observed the enemy's left to outflank me; I therefore broke into open columns and took ground to my right. When I had gained sufficient ground, the troops wheeled into line; there was no dust, the sun shone brightly. The manoeuvres were performed with the celerity and precision of the most correct field-day. The glistening of the bayonets and swords of this order of battle was most imposing, and the line advanced. Scarcely had it moved forward 150 yards, when at 10 o'clock the enemy opened a fierce cannonade from his whole line. At first his balls fell short, but quickly reached us. Thus upon him, and capable of better ascertaining his position, I was compelled to halt the line, though under fire, for a few moments, until I ascertained that by bringing up my right and carrying the village of Aliwal, I could with great effect precipitate myself upon his left and centre. I therefore quickly brought Brigadier Godby's brigade, and with it and the 1st brigade under Brigadier Hicks, made a rapid and noble charge, carried the village, and two guns of large calibre. The line I ordered to advance—her Majesty's 31st foot and the native regiments contending for the front, and the battle became general. The enemy had a numerous body of cavalry on the heights to his left, and I ordered Brigadier Cureton to bring up the right brigade of cavalry; who, in the most gallant manner, dashed in among them, and drove them back upon their infantry. Meanwhile a second gallant charge to my right was made by the light cavalry and the body-guard. The Shekawattee brigade was moved well to the right, in support of Brigadier Cureton. When I observed the enemy's encampment, and saw it was full of infantry, I immediately brought upon it Brigadier Godby's brigade, by changing front, and taking the enemy's infantry en reverse. They drove them before them, and took some guns without a check.

"While these operations were going on upon the right, and the enemy's flank was thus driven back, I occasionally observed the brigade under Brigadier Wheeler, an officer in whom I have the greatest confidence, charging and carrying guns and every thing before it, again connecting his line and moving on in a manner which ably displayed the coolness of the brigadier, and the gallantry of his irresistible brigade—her Majesty's 50th foot, the 48th native infantry, and the Sirmoor battalion, although the loss was, I regret to say, severe in the 50th. Upon the left, Brigadier Wilson, with her Majesty's 53d and 30th native infantry, equalled in celerity and regularity their comrades on the right, and this brigade was opposed to the 'Aieen' troops, called Avitabile's, when the fight was fiercely raging.

"The enemy, well driven back on his left and centre, endeavoured to hold his right to cover the passage of the river and he strongly occupied the village of Bhoondee. I directed a squadron of the 16th lancers, under Major Smith and Captain Pearson, to charge a body to the right of the village; which they did in the most gallant and determined style, bearing every thing before them, as a squadron under Captain Bere had previously done, going through a square of infantry, wheeling about and re-entering the square in the most intrepid manner with the deadly lance. This charge was accompanied by the 3d light cavalry, under Major Angelo, and as gallantly sustained. The largest gun upon the field, and seven others, were then captured; while the 53d regiment carried the village by the bayonet, and the 30th N.I. wheeled round to the rear in a most spirited manner. Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander's and Captain Turton's troops of horse artillery, under Major Lawrenson, dashed almost among the flying infantry, committing great havoc, until about eight hundred or one thousand men rallied under the high bank of a nullah, and opened a heavy but ineffectual fire from below the bank. I immediately directed the 30th native infantry to charge them, which they were able to do upon their left flank, while in a line in rear of the village. This native corps nobly obeyed my orders, and rushed among the Avitabile troops, driving them from under the bank, and exposing them once more to the deadly fire of twelve guns within 300 yards. The destruction was very great, as may be supposed from guns served as these were. Her Majesty's 53d regiment moved forward in support of the 30th N.I., by the right of the village. The battle was won—our troops advancing with the most perfect order to the common focus, the passage of the river. The enemy, completely hemmed in, were flying from our fire, and precipitating themselves in disordered masses into the ford and boats, in the utmost confusion and consternation. Our eight-inch howitzers soon began to play upon their boats, when the 'debris' of the Sikh army appeared upon the opposite and high bank of the river, flying in every direction, although a sort of line was attempted to countenance their retreat, until all our guns commenced a furious cannonade, when they quickly receded. Nine guns were on the verge of the river by the ford. It appears as if they had been unlimbered to cover the ford. These, being loaded, were fired once upon our advance. To others were sticking in the river; one of them, we got out. Two were seen to sink in the quicksands; two were dragged to the opposite bank and abandoned. These, and the one in the middle of the river, were gallantly spiked by Lieutenant Holmes, of the 11th irregular cavalry, and Gunner Scott, of the 1st troop 2nd brigade horse artillery, who rode into the stream, and crossed for the purpose, covered by our guns and light infantry.

"Thus ended the battle of Aliwal, one of the most glorious victories ever achieved in India. By the united efforts of her Majesty's and the Hon. Company's troops, every gun the enemy had fell into our hands, as I infer from his never opening one upon us from the opposite bank of the river, which is high and favourable for the purpose; 52 guns are now in the ordnance park, two sank in the bed of the Sutlej, and two were spiked on the opposite bank—making a total of 56 pieces of cannon captured or destroyed.[19] Many jingalls, which were attached to Avitabile's corps, and which aided in the defence of the village of Bhoondee, have also been taken. The whole army of the enemy has been driven headlong over the difficult ford of a broad river; his camp, baggage, stores of ammunition, and of grain—his all, in fact—wrested from him by the repeated charges of cavalry and infantry, aided by the guns of Alexander, Turton, Lane, Mill, Boileau, and of the Shekawattee brigade, and by the eight-inch howitzers—our guns literally being constantly ahead of every thing. The determined bravery of all was as conspicuous as noble. I am unwont to praise when praise is not merited, and I here most avowedly express my firm opinion and conviction, that no troops in any battle on record ever behaved more nobly. British and native (no distinction) cavalry all vying with her Majesty's 16th lancers, and striving to head in the repeated charges. Our guns and gunners, officers and men, may be equalled, but cannot be excelled, by any artillery in the world. Throughout the day no hesitation—a bold and intrepid advance; and thus it is that our loss is comparatively small, though I deeply regret to say severe. The enemy fought with much resolution; they maintained frequent rencounters with our cavalry hand to hand. In one charge of infantry upon her Majesty's 16th lancers, they threw away their muskets, and came on with their swords and targets against the lance."[20]

"There was no dust, the sun shone brightly." Unquestionably, not a particle of dust, and all bright sunshine, from the first paragraph to the last of this unrivalled production. It is a diorama and a panorama of the battle. Truly, oh reader!

"Duller shouldst thou be than the fat weed That rots itself in ease on Lethe wharf,— Would'st thou not stir in this!"

In the luminous rays of such a description, we are made eye-witnesses of the stirring dashing scene in all its circumstantial variety and general grandeur. What a sight it is, that steady advance with his "troops well in hand!" But for a peculiar flashing of the eyes, and sternness in the features, of the men, we should have fancied them in the Home Park at Windsor, encircled, not by ferocious Sikhs in the horrid harness of war, but by the graceful array of gentler—though, in sooth, more irresistible—foes. Sir Harry Smith has disappeared—very likely hidden himself behind a baggage waggon or a huge drum. Sapient speculator! behold him yonder on the house-top, darting his eagle vision down into the centre of the distant enemy, and unmasking and anticipating their movements with unerring foresight. Many serious things his vigilance must watch; but, without distracting his attention, the "glistening of the bayonets and swords of his order of battle," fills his heart with boyish glee. The fierce cannonade from the whole hostile line has begun, and, although the balls fall short at first, quickly reaches us. Under this murderous shower, he halts his line for a minute's pregnant reflection, as an elderly gentleman, playing golf on a rainy day, takes his spectacles from his nose, and wipes the water-drops away, before venturing the decisive stroke of the game. Nothing escapes him; every thing is done in the nick of time. Infantry, cavalry, and artillery, charge to the right or the left, or straight before them, dash through the enemy's front, or scour the flanks, or sweep the rear, perambulate squares, and perforate encampments, just as if the serried ranks of the Sikhs had been unsubstantial creatures of the imagination, or mist-wreaths from the "wet nullah," which a lively fancy had invested with human form and warlike panoply. But one hundred and fifty-one gallant men killed, and four hundred and thirteen wounded, sufficiently proved that "one of the most glorious victories ever achieved in India," had not been won in a combat with phantoms.

The current of the Sutlej hurried melancholy and portentous tidings from Aliwal to the Sikhs at Sobraon. The bodies of their slaughtered countrymen rolling down in hundreds, announced, in terms too dismally unequivocal, another tremendous blow of British might. In the breasts of such a people—ay, or of any people—these ominous visitations could hardly be the harbingers of hope, to cheer them in the final death-struggle, which they knew to be hourly approaching. The fortifications at Sobraon had been repeatedly reconnoitred by the Commander-in-Chief, who satisfied himself that not fewer than thirty thousand men, the best of the Khalsa troops, were covered by these formidable intrenchments, guarded by seventy pieces of cannon, and united by a good bridge to a reserve on the opposite bank, where the enemy had a considerable camp and some artillery, commanding and flanking his fieldworks on the British bank. On the 8th of February, Sir Harry Smith's triumphant division having rejoined headquarters, it was resolved to attack, on the morning of the 10th, the Sikh intrenchments.

"The battering and disposed field artillery was then put in position in an extended semicircle, embracing within its fire the works of the Sikhs. It had been intended that the cannonade should have commenced at daybreak; but so heavy a mist hung over the plain and river, that it became necessary to wait until the rays of the sun had penetrated it and cleared the atmosphere. Meanwhile, on the margin of the Sutlej on our left, two brigades of Major-General Sir R. Dick's division, under his personal command, stood ready to commence the assault against the enemy's extreme right. His 7th brigade, in which was the 10th foot, reinforced by the 53d foot, and led by Brigadier Stacey, was to head the attack, supported, at two hundred yards' distance, by the 6th brigade, under Brigadier Wilkinson. In reserve was the 5th brigade, under Brigadier the Hon. T. Ashburnham, which was to move forward from the intrenched village of Kodeewalla, leaving, if necessary, a regiment for its defence. In the centre, Major-General Gilbert's division was deployed for support or attack, its right resting on and in the village of the little Sobraon. Major-General Sir Harry Smith's was formed near the village of Guttah, with its right thrown up towards the Sutlej. Brigadier Cureton's cavalry threatened, by feigned attacks, the ford at Hurreekee and the enemy's horse, under Lall Singh Misr, on the opposite bank. Brigadier Campbell, taking an intermediate position in the rear, between Major-General Gilbert's right and Major-General Sir Harry Smith's left, protected both. Major-General Sir Joseph Thackwell, under whom was Brigadier Scott, held in reserve on our left, ready to act as circumstances might demand, the rest of the cavalry.

"Our battery of nine-pounders, enlarged into twelves, opened near the little Sobraon with a brigade of howitzers formed from the light field-batteries and troops of horse artillery, shortly after daybreak. But it was half-past six before the whole of our artillery fire was developed. It was most spirited and well-directed. I cannot speak in terms too high of the judicious disposition of the guns, their admirable practice, or the activity with which the cannonade was sustained; but notwithstanding the formidable calibre of our iron guns, mortars, and howitzers, and the admirable way in which they were served, and aided by a rocket battery, it would have been visionary to expect that they could, within any limited time, silence the fire of seventy pieces behind well-constructed batteries of earth, plank, and fascines, or dislodge troops covered either by redoubts or epaulements, or within a treble line of trenches. The effect of the cannonade was, as has since been proved by an inspection of the camp, most severely felt by the enemy; but it soon became evident that the issue of this struggle must be brought to the arbitrament of musketry and the bayonet.

"At nine o'clock Brigadier Stacey's brigade, supported on either flank by Captains Horsford's and Fordyce's batteries, and Lieutenant-Colonel Lane's troop of horse artillery, moved to the attack in admirable order. The infantry and guns aided each other correlatively. The former marched steadily on in line, which they halted only to correct when necessary. The latter took up successive positions at the gallop, until at length they were within three hundred yards of the heavy batteries of the Sikhs; but, notwithstanding the regularity, and coolness, and scientific character of this assault, which Brigadier Wilkinson well supported, so hot was the fire of cannon, musketry, and zumboorucks kept up by the Khalsa troops, that it seemed for some moments impossible that the intrenchments could be won under it; but soon persevering gallantry triumphed, and the whole army had the satisfaction to see the gallant Brigadier Stacey's soldiers driving the Sikhs in confusion before them within the area of their encampment. The 10th foot, under Lieutenant-Colonel Franks, now for the first time brought into serious contact with the enemy, greatly distinguished themselves. This regiment never fired a shot till it got within the works of the enemy. The onset of her Majesty's 53d foot was as gallant and effective. The 43d and 59th N.I., brigaded with them, emulated both in cool determination.

"At the moment of this first success, I directed Brigadier the Hon. T. Ashburnham's brigade to move on in support, and Major-General Gilbert's and Sir Harry Smith's divisions to throw out their light troops to threaten their works, aided by artillery. As these attacks of the centre and right commenced, the fire of our heavy guns had first to be directed to the right, and then gradually to cease, but at one time the thunder of full 120 pieces of ordnance reverberated in this mighty combat through the valley of the Sutlej; and as it was soon seen that the weight of the whole force within the Sikh camp was likely to be thrown upon the two brigades that had passed its trenches, it became necessary to convert into close and serious attacks the demonstrations with skirmishers and artillery of the centre and right; and the battle raged with inconceivable fury from right to left. The Sikhs, even when at particular points their intrenchments were mastered with the bayonet, strove to regain them by the fiercest conflict, sword in hand. Nor was it until the cavalry of the left, under Major-General Sir Joseph Thackwell, had moved forward, and ridden through the openings of the intrenchments made by our sappers, in single file, and re-formed as they passed them, and the 3d dragoons, whom no obstacle usually held formidable by horse appears to check, had on this day, as at Ferozeshah, galloped over and cut down the obstinate defenders of batteries and fieldworks, and until the full weight of three divisions of infantry, with every field artillery gun which could be sent to their aid, had been cast into the scale, that victory finally declared for the British. The fire of the Sikhs first slackened and then nearly ceased; and the victors then pressing them on every side, precipitated them in masses over the bridge, and into the Sutlej, which a sudden rise of seven inches had rendered hardly fordable. In their efforts to reach the right bank, through the deepened water, they suffered from our horse artillery a terrible carnage. Hundreds fell under this cannonade; hundreds upon hundreds were drowned in attempting the perilous passage. Their awful slaughter, confusion, and dismay, were such as would have excited compassion in the hearts of their generous conquerors, if the Khalsa troops had not, in the early part of the action, sullied their gallantry by slaughtering and barbarously mangling every wounded soldier whom, in the vicissitudes of attack, the fortune of war left at their mercy. I must pause in this narrative especially to notice the determined hardihood and bravery with which our two battalions of Goorkhas, the Sirmoor and Nusseree, met the Sikhs wherever they were opposed to them. Soldiers of small stature, but indomitable spirit, they vied in ardent courage in the charge with the grenadiers of our own nation, and, armed with the short weapon of their mountains, gave a terror to the Sikhs throughout this great combat.

"Sixty-seven pieces of cannon, upwards of two hundred camel swivels, (zumboorucks,) numerous standards, and vast munitions of war, captured by our troops, are the pledges and trophies of our victory. The battle was over by eleven in the morning, and in the forenoon I caused our engineers to burn a part and to sink a part of the vaunted bridge of the Khalsa army, across which they had boastfully come once more to defy us, and to threaten India with ruin and devastation."[21]

This stupendous battle—the climax and the close of a campaign unparalleled in many of its circumstances in modern history—was in itself an epitome of every thing most dreadful and most imposing, most destructive and most heroic, which had distinguished its predecessors. Here fell gloriously, at the moment of victory, DICK, the veteran of the Peninsula and Waterloo, "displaying the same energy and intrepidity as when, thirty-five years ago, in Spain, he was the distinguished leader of the 42d Highlanders." No better man—no better soldier—sleeps the sleep of the brave. The lists of our loss show 320 dead, while 2063 wounded bear additional testimony to the desperation and havoc of this sanguinary action. Ancient times involuntarily rush back upon us, recalling the youthful Conqueror of Macedon, who, radiant with the triple glories of the Granicus, of Issus, and of Arbela, vanquished Porus at the Hydaspes, and paused in his career, with a sigh, not far from the banks of the Sutlej. He was wont, and justly, to attribute his Asiatic triumphs to his faithful Macedonians. Does not Britain attribute her Asiatic triumphs to her faithful sons? Yes; with the important explanation, that Europeans and Indians are alike British. Between them no demarcation was made, or seen, or felt, in the majestic spectacle of the campaign of the Sutlej. Their toil and their perils were in common—so shall be their honours and their fame: and while all men agree that every excellence which can illuminate and dignify the character of a British soldier, was displayed in stainless brightness by our European regiments on these colossal battle-fields, all men will also agree that the exact and cloudless counterpart of such merit shone in the indefatigable hardihood, the indomitable valour, the immoveable, incorruptible fidelity of our native Indian troops.

The banners of our country have crossed the Sutlej, and advanced to Lahore. But our present task is done. The policy which has now to regulate the internal condition of a great country, will be better discussed hereafter. We have simply narrated the course of a terrible necessity, which, against the desires of this country, has made the ravages of war a bloody but unavoidable prelude to the beneficent functions of peace. The conflict was not of our seeking. Be the consequences what they may, the Sikhs will have themselves to blame, should it so happen, for the illustration of the maxim, that "when lenity and cruelty play for a kingdom, the gentler gamester is the soonest winner."


[13] Governor-General to the Secret Committee, 2d December 1845.

[14] Governor-General to the Secret Committee, 2d December 1845.

[15] Governor-General to the Secret Committee, 4th December 1845.

[16] Commander-in-Chief to the Governor-General, December 22, 1845.

[17] Commander-in-Chief to Governor-General, 22d December 1845.

[18] Commander-in-Chief to Governor-General, 1st February 1846.

[19] Eleven guns since ascertained to be sunk in the river—total 67; 30 odd jingalls fell into our hands.

[20] Sir Harry Smith to the Adjutant-General, 30th January 1846.

[21] Commander-in-Chief to Governor-General, 13th February 1846.

Edinburgh. Printed by Ballantyne and Hughes, Paul's Work.


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