(Last Updated on : 27/03/2012)
Delhi was regarded a city of the Rajas and everything that was imperial. Since the times of the Mughal dynasty, it had been a point of interest and assaults. After the advent of the British East India Company
, numerous princely states had bore the brunt of such ruthless attacks. Delhi however remained unoccupied. A storming had already been experimented by the British. It went off, without much help. Yet again, attempts were in the pipeline. The severe fights and struggles had all started with the introduction of the Enfield Rifle
and a certain type of greased cartridge. Lord Canning
had arranged all possible kinds of reinforcements, troops, batteries of armed forces for the British victory. Yet again, the generals had been defeated in their machinated endeavours. The Governor-General had despatched several generals and brigadiers, comprising General Wilson, engineer Baird-Smith, Lieutenant Nicholson, Brigadier William Jones, Lieutenant-Colonel Greathed, Colonel Campbell, Major Reid, and the likes. In consultation with all the officers in the battalions, four columns of batteries were set up for the ensuing struggle. There was an additional fifth column, meant to assist the first column in times of emergency. The armed swarm was waiting in hiding to ambush the insurrectionists.
The first three columns were almost gaining success in their feat, waiting for the fourth to usher in the good news. The fourth column, under Major Reid had suffered mortal losses in the form of Reid himself getting knocked down senseless. Captain Lawrence had hugely been incapable to take on Reid's regiment. They could not secure the breach near the Kashmeri gate
The first and second columns had been victorious inside the breach. Nicholson at once amassed his men on the square of the main-guard. Turning to the right, he pushed on along the foot of the walls towards the Lahore gate. There, a pesky fire was being kept up on his men. Beyond the Kabul gate, which had been occupied by the second column, Nicholson hoped to feel the support of fourth column. But, the attack of that column had failed. It was this failure which rendered his advance difficult and dangerous.
To reach the Lahore gate Nicholson had to push on under the fire of the Burn bastion. Then, he had to force his way through a long lane, every building in which was manned by sharpshooters. The further end of it was commanded by two brass guns. One was stationed approximately 160 yards from its opening, pointed in the direction of the advance, the other about 100 yards in rear of and commanding it. Behind both was a bullet-proof screen. Projecting from the wall was the bastion commanding the Lahore gate, armed with heavy pieces, and capable of holding a thousand men.
In his advance Nicholson had been exposed to a continuous fire. But he had a position at the Kabul gate which was strong enough for him to maintain until the movements of the other columns should facilitate his advance. But Nicholson, though urged to halt there, was so fully impressed with the necessity of taking the fullest advantage of the so far successful assault, that he resolved at all costs to push on to the Lahore gate. He felt this the more because he was convinced that the rebuff of the fourth column had rehabilitated the hopes of an enemy peculiarly liable to be affected by success. He directed, then, his men to storm the narrow lane.
His men responded gallantly. With a rush they cleared the space up to the first brass gun, and captured it. Then they dashed on towards the second. But within ten yards of this they were attacked by a fire of grapeshots and musketry, by volleys of stones and round-shot. These were thrown by hand, so severe that they recoiled under the dreadful and incessant shower. Lieutenant Butler infiltrated beyond the second gun, up to the bulletproof screen. How he escaped with his life was a miracle, but he rejoined his men.
The men had recoiled only to form again, and once more rush forward. Again did they capture the first gun. This time Greville (1st Fusiliers) had spiked, and again did they dash at the second. The leader of the attack, Jacobs, of the 1st Fusiliers, was mortally wounded. Wemyss, Greville, Caulfield, Speke, Woodcock, Butler, all attached to the same regiment, were in turn struck down. The men, greatly discouraged by the fall of their officers, were falling back a second time. When, an inspiring voice called upon them to follow where their general led. It was the clear-sounding voice of Nicholson. But the broken order could not be restored in a moment. Before a sufficient number of men could respond to the inspiring cry, a bullet pierced the body of the illustrious leader.
The wound was mortal, and Nicholson knew it to be so. But neither the pain he suffered, nor the consciousness of approaching death, could quell the passion of his gallant spirit. He still called upon his men to go on. But he was asking that which had now turned impossible. Nicholson had no guns, and already eight officers and fifty men had fallen in the attempt. There was nothing for it but to retire towards the Kabul gate. This was done, and Jones assumed the command of the two columns.
The third column, meanwhile, was in front of the Jama Masjid
, without artillery to beat down its defences. Campbell maintained this position for an hour and a half, exposed to an intense fire of grapeshots, musketry, and canister. The failure of the attack of the fourth column was fatal to a longer maintenance of that position. The Lahore gate being in the hands of the rebels, Campbell was liable to be cut off. He fell back, then, in a soldierly manner, on the Begam Bagh. He resolved to hold it till he could communicate with headquarters. An hour and a half later, however, learning that the fourth column had failed, and that the first and second had been unable to advance beyond the Kabul gate, he fell back on the church. There, he disposed his men for the night in it and in the houses in the vicinity.
Scott's field-battery which had entered the city by the Kashmeri gate, had during all this time rendered excellent service to the several columns. But, this was arrived at, at a large expenditure of life.
Meanwhile, the failure of the fourth column had become known to the English leaders outside the city. Wilson had directed Hope Grant to move down, with 200 of the 9th Lancers and 400 Sikh cavalry, to cover the Sabzimandi defences and Hindu Rao's house, laid open to attack. At the same time Tombs's battery, under Grant's order, opened fire on the advancing rebels. So far as the checking of the rebels' advance was concerned, these measures were successful. But Tombs's fire provoked a reply from the heavy guns on the Burn bastion. This fire, at a distance of 500 yards, made terrible openings in the ranks of the cavalry. Six officers and forty-two men were struck down. Rosser of the Carabineers fell with a bullet through his forehead. Nine officers of the Lancers had their horses shot under them. But for two long hours they stood to incur fire.
Tomb's battery felt that by drawing upon themselves the attention of the rebels they were serving the common cause. The battery of the gallant Bourchier vainly came up to aid them with its fire. The blazing from the Burn bastion still continued. Nor did they move until information came that the stormers had established their positions for the night. They then fell back on Ludlow Castle. The battery was conscious that they had not only prevented the disastrous results which the defeat of the fourth column might have entailed, but also that they had occupied the rebels' attention with considerable advantage to the central operations. The reserve column, meanwhile, led by Longfield, had followed the third column through the Kashmeri gate
, and cleared the college gardens. One portion of the column had occupied those gardens, the other held the Water bastion, the Kashmir gate, Skinner's house, and another large building.
Thus ended the first day's operations, with startling effects. The entire space inside the city, from the Water bastion to the Kabul gate, was held by the first, second, third, and fifth columns. The fourth column, outside the city, held the batteries behind Hindu Rao's house. It was clear, then, that within the city a solid base had been obtained for further development. But the cost had been massive. In the day's fight the assaulters had lost sixty-six officers and 1104 men killed and wounded. Four out of the five assaulting columns were within the walls. But the position they held was stretched, and their right flank was very open to attack. The rebels were still strong in numbers, in guns, and in position. They, too, had had success as well as reverses. They had no need to abandon hope of ultimate victory.
To the British general the result of the day's work was discouraging. The plan which had been so urgently pressed upon him had failed to secure success. His columns had been stopped and driven back. Instead of the whole city, his troops held simply a short line of rampart. Baird-Smith and Neville Chamberlain's appealing were directed in the same sense to the General. The opinions of these two strong men sufficed to decide Wilson.
The 15th was utilised by the troops within the city in securing the positions gained, in preparing the means to shell the city, in the restoration of order, and in putting a stop to indiscriminate drinking and pillaging. The 16th gave further evidence of the marked effect on the rebel spirits of the British lodgment. In the early morning of that day they evacuated Kishanganj
, from where, on the 14th, they had forced back the fourth column. The British then stormed the great magazine, the scene of the heroic action of Willoughby and his comrades on 1lth May. It was found to be full of guns, howitzers, and ammunition. The rebels, made a vain desperate attempt to recover it in the afternoon. They were rebuffed with loss.
Bit by bit the important positions in the city were wrested from the rebels. On the 17th and 18th, the bank, Major Abbott's house, and the house of Khan Muhammad Khan, were occupied. The besiegers' posts were brought close to the Chandni Chawk and the palace. On the evening of the 18th the position occupied by the besiegers was as follows: their front was marked by the line of the canal. On the banks of the canal, light guns were posted at the main junction of the streets, and sandbag batteries erected. The right and left, indicated respectively by the Kabul gate and the magazine, were communicated by a line of posts. The rear was secure against attack. It had been attempted, during that day to extend the right, to the Lahore gate. But the attack, directed by Greathed of the 8th, had failed.
It had become absolutely necessary to take that gate, now twice attempted. The Burn bastion, which commanded it, was no longer supported, as on the 14th, by rebels in Kishanganj
and Taliwari. The General then authorised Alexander Taylor of the Engineers to work his way, on the morning of the 19th, to the Burn bastion. While Taylor, with a party of men, was engaged in this somewhat slow process. Brigadier William Jones held himself in eagerness to proceed, with 500 men from the 8th, 75th, and Sikh regiments, to attack the Lahore gate. This time success crowned the joint efforts. Taylor worked his way through the buildings to the top of a house commanding the bastion. Then Jones advanced, and finding it abandoned, took up his post there for the night. Early the following morning he launched his troops from it, and carried the Lahore gate with a rush. After that success, dividing his force, he detached one portion up the Chandni Chawk to capture the Jama Masjid
, the other to gain the Ajmer gate. Major Brind arrived opportunely with reinforcements to command in the carrying out of the first of these operations. He entered the mosque without difficulty. Simultaneously Jones occupied the Ajmer
Brind, when he had carried the Jama Masjid, had noticed that the one thing wanting to guarantee complete success was to storm the palace at once. He sent for and obtained permission to attempt it. His success was complete. The famous fort-palace of Shah Jahan
was not even defended. The gates were blown in, and British troops entered. The same afternoon Wilson took up his quarters in the Imperial palace.
was now virtually won. But there still remained in the vicinity, even in the city itself, thousands of armed rebels, ready to take advantage of the slightest slackness on the part of the victors. So huge had been the casualties that Wilson had merely 3000 men fit for service. From these the guards of the several posts had to be provided. The King of Delhi was still at large, a rallying point to the rebellious. It seemed to the General essential that a determined effort should be made to capture his person.
While events with the King and his lineage were occurring outside the walls, Wilson had, commissioned Brind to clear the city of the murderers and incendiaries. Such insurrectionists still lurked within it, to the number of many thousands. Brind accomplished this task with the completeness which was necessary.
On the 21st, the restoration of regular rule was announced in the appointment of Colonel Burn to be Governor of the city. The day following John Nicholson died from the effects of the wounds he had received on the 14th. He had lingered in agony for eight days. But, he had lived long enough to witness the absolute success of the plans to the attempting and accomplishing of which he had so much contributed. He died with the reputation of being the most successful administrator, the greatest soldier, and the most perfect master of men in India.
The siege of Delhi
was indeed calculated to bring out all the great qualities which distinguish the British soldier. Vying with him, alike in his endurance of hardships, his eagerness for enterprise, were the Gurkhas of the Himalayas, the frontier men of the Guides, the hardy Baluchis, the daring Sikhs, the resolute Pathans. Amongst the most remarkable to occupy centre stage were the names of Baird-Smith, of Nicholson, of Barnard, of Neville Chamberlain, of Charles Reid, of James Brind, of Frederick Roberts, of Hope Grant, of John Jones, of Edwin Johnson, of Alec Taylor, of Tait, of Lockhart, of Turnbull, of Seaton, of Hodson, of Dighton Probyn, of Daly, of Tombs, of Renny, of Jacob, of John Coke, of Speke, of Greville, of Watson, of Medley, of James Hills, of Quintin Battye, of Rosser, of Aikman, of Salkeld, of Home.