(Last Updated on : 31-01-2009)
Colonel Neill was an extremely competent English soldier, on whom were entrusted significant responsibilities. He had already restored Benaras with full intelligence and farsightedness. However, danger was already impending, in the form of Kanpur and Allahabad. Neill first rode off to the latter place, and scanning the conditions, posted a regiment of Sikhs there. Disregarding the hostile conditions, he then travelled to concentrate his attention on Kanpur and its restoration. He felt the place was more in need of attention. But, things had taken a sudden turnaround from midway.
Leaving to the authorities appointed under the martial law to deal with rebels and murderers, Neill proceeded to develop the plan he had arranged in his own mind. The plan constituted of a march, as soon as possible, to the relief of Kanhpur (Kanpur). On the 18th of June, his force amounted to 360 English soldiers. The same day 150 more arrived. He had placed the Commissariat and Transport departments on a serviceable footing. These had obtained carts and camels, and more were coming in. His executive officers, Captain Russell, in the Ordnance department, Captain Davidson of the Commissariat, Captain Brown of the artillery, were working with tremendous will-power. The natives, too, were now displaying untiring energy on behalf of the British cause.
Messrs Chester and Court, of the Civil Service, were rendering invaluable aid. Cholera, though it came, did not stop the efforts of a single man of that heroic band. On the 24th the force had attained somewhat greater proportions. The dimension was so much so that Neill could talk of the advance to Kanhpur (Kanpur) as a matter of a few days. That same day he heard that the Government had decided to entrust the command of the relieving force to Havelock. Bitterly as he felt the suppression, he did not in the least slacken his efforts. On the afternoon of the 30th of June he despatched an advance force of 400 Europeans, 300 Sikhs, and 120 troopers, under one of his best officers, Major Renaud, on the road to Kanhpur (Kanpur). He arranged, also, to ship a hundred men and two guns under Captain Spurgin, on a river steamer, under orders for the same destination. This intention was carried out-but by Havelock.
Henry Havelock, in fact, reached Allahabad
on the 30th of June, the day on which Renaud started. He at once took up the thread of Neill's preparations, despatched Spurgin and his steamer on the 3rd of July. At four o'clock of the evening of the 7th, he himself started at the head of his small brigade for Kanhpur (Kanpur).
Rumours of disaster at that place had reached Allahabad on the 2nd. Neill disbelieved them. Even Havelock doubted. But not many hours passed after he set out before the condition of the districts gave to his mind fullest confirmation of the worst reports.
The force led by Havelock from Allahabad, on the afternoon of 7th of July, consisted of 76 artillerymen, 979 English infantry - taken from the 64th, the 78th, and the 84th foot, 18 volunteer cavalry, Englishmen, 150 Sikhs, and 30 irregular cavalry. He was preceded by Renaud's small detachment, and by Spurgin's 100 men on board the steamer. He left behind him Neill and the remainder of the 1st Madras Fusiliers, with instructions to follow as soon as another column should be organised. He should thus be able to transfer the fort to proper hands.
In the selection of his staff Havelock had been particularly happy. From the 10th foot he had taken his son, as his Adjutant. Stuart Beatson, a man instructed, able, and devoted was his assistant Adjutant-General. Fraser Tytler, an excellent cavalry officer, was his assistant Quartermaster-General.
Assured that Kanhpur (Kanpur) had fallen, and advised that the station of Fathpur had fallen into the hands of the rebels, Havelock transmitted orders to Renaud to halt where he was, 14 miles east of Fathpur. Pushing on as speedily as possible, Havelock reached Khagah, nineteen miles from that place, on the 11th. There he received information from Renaud, then only five miles in advance of him, to the effect that the mutinied regiments of Kanhpur (Kanpur), reinforced by other rebels, were marching on Fathpur. The rebels were with the apparent intention of holding that place against the advancing British. Havelock then broke up his camp at midnight, and joined Renaud an hour and a half later. He then pushed on to Balindah, four miles to the east of Fathpur.
The native troops stationed in Fathpur, consisting of fifty men of the 6th N. I. They had, after a show of loyalty, joined other rebels and mutineers in a general outbreak on 9th June. The natives of Fathpur and of the districts around it, under the guidance of one Hikmatullah, a Deputy Magistrate under British rule, rose up in revolt. They declared their readiness to submit to the authority then supreme at Kanhpur (Kanpur). It was to secure this place that Nana Sahib despatched a force of 1,400 trained sipahis, 1,500 local levies, 500 trained cavalry, and 100 artillerymen, with twelve guns, to bar the road to the English. It was commanded by Tika Singh, a Subahdar of the 2nd L. C, who had taken a prominent part in the besiege of Kanpur.
On reaching Balindah, Havelock sent Tytler to the front to reconnoitre. Tytler came upon the rebels as they were marching towards the British position. Their infantry, in column of route, held the high road, with three guns in front of the column. The remainder were in the rear, and the cavalry on both flanks. These latter, noticing Tytler almost as soon as he saw them, dashed at him. Tytler had to ride hard to give timely information to Havelock. The latter, who was resting his troops after their early march, at once formed them in order of battle. He placed the guns in front, eight in number, commanded by Captain Maude, R.A. In the same line with them were a body of skirmishers, armed with the Enfield rifle
, then new in India, ready to open fire on the enemy as soon as he should appear. Behind the guns Havelock disposed the several detachments of infantry, forming a line of quarter-distance columns ready to deploy. The eighteen volunteer-horse guarded the right flank; the bulk of the irregulars the left.
During this time the rebel cavalry had been steadily manoeuvring on both flanks. Their efforts on the British left were controlled by the handful of volunteers; but on the right, where the horsemen were, a disaster threatened. Some eighteen or twenty of the rebel cavalry, advancing with a jog, called out to the men serving under Havelock to join them. They seemed to hesitate, when Palliser, who commanded them, sounded the charge. He was followed by Simpson, the Adjutant, but by only three or four of the men. Noticing this, the rebels charged in their turn. In the tussle which followed Palliser was unhorsed. It would have gone hard with him, but that some of the men who had refused to follow him rallied round him and brought him off. The irregulars then fled, followed by the rebel cavalry.
In the able company of Renaud, Tytler and Havelock, the British troops were finally successful to recapture Fathpur. They fought fearlessly day and night, under extreme conditions, and dire circumstances. The British loss in the two actions was about thirty men killed and wounded. The most regrettable of these was that of Major Renaud, an excellent officer, always to be depended upon.
The soldiers encamped that night on the spot from where the last gun was fired at the retreating enemy. That evening Havelock received information that Nana Sahib, at the head of 7000 men of all arms, would oppose his entry into Kanhpur (Kanpur) on the following day. But other information, that there were some 200 women and children of British blood still alive in that station, who had escaped the massacre, cheered him and his men.
Kanhpur (Kanpur) was 22 miles distant from the spot on which the handful of British troops was encamped. For them there was but little sleep that night. The knowledge that some of their countrywomen were alive, and that they might actually be rescued, had excited them to feverish impatience. A tramp of sixteen miles brought them to the village of Maharajpur. Halting there, Havelock despatched Barrow to the front for information. Barrow had not proceeded far when he met two loyal sipahis (soldiers) on their way, to convey to the leader of the retaliating force the particulars they had carefully noted regarding the dispositions of Nana Sahib. The information they gave was of the last importance. Nana Sahib was in front, occupying, with approximately 5,000 men and eight guns, a position around 800 yards in rear of the point where the branch road into Kanhpur (Kanpur) leaves the grand trunk road
. His left rested on an entrenched village, standing among trees on highlands, within a mile of the Ganges, and was defended by three twenty-four-pounders. His centre was covered by swampy ground, and by a low-lying hamlet. On the edge of the hamlet, commanding the trunk road, was a twenty-four-pound howitzer and a nine-pounder, covered by mud earthworks. His right was covered by a village in a mango grove, surrounded by a mud wall. Through the portholes of the mud wall was two nine-pounders pointing their muzzles towards the fork.
This timely information decided Havelock to attempt a turning movement. He halted long enough to allow his men to have their dinners. Then remembering, he advanced, covered by his cavalry, until he reached a point where a line of groves, on his right, promised to cover a flanking movement in that direction. This point was within half-a-mile of the forking of the roads. Directing Barrow to move straight on, accompanied by a company of the Madras Fusiliers to deceive the rebels, he marched with the bulk of the force to his right. The enemy, meanwhile, believing that in the horse and foot in front of them they beheld the heads of the British columns, opened a concentrated fire on the fork. This lasted the time it took the main body to march half-a-mile. Havelock's leafy screen then failed him. The rebels discovered to their surprise that their left flank had been all but turned. They at once changed, as best they could, the direction of their fire. The English general, however, realising that the turning movement was not completed, withheld all reply to the shot and shell. This soon came whizzing about him, until he had reached a point at a right angle to the enemy's position. He then wheeled into line and advanced against it.
The time which had elapsed since the enemy caught sight of Havelock's turning movement and his completion of it, had been sufficiently long. It thus enabled them to change their alignment, and to bring their guns to bear in the new direction. The rebels had no longer the exact knowledge of the distance, which they had hoped to utilise in the first position. When within eighty yards of the rebel batteries, Havelock gave the order to charge. Like an eager pack of hounds racing to the kill, the Highlanders dashed forward. In a few seconds they were over the mound covering the rebel position and into the village which they had held. They did not fire a shot or utter a shout. But they did the work with the bayonet. The slaughter was proportionate. But the great gun in the enemy's centre was now turned against the victorious soldiers. Havelock, noticing this, galloped up to the Highlanders. With a few cheery words provoked them to make one more charge. Then, indeed, they cheered, and barely waiting to make a regular formation, dashed on against the gun, led by the General in person. The English carried it, completely smashing the rebel centre as they had smashed his left. Then they halted, impatient to direct their expertise in a new direction.
Nor had success been less pronounced on the right. There the 64th and the 84th, the Sikhs and Barrow's handful of volunteers, had forced back the rebels. They had compelled them to concentrate in a village about a mile in the back of their first position. To drive them from this position - a very strong one, was now the work before the unshaken infantry. The 64th approached it from the left, the Highlanders from the centre, while on the extreme right the Madras Fusiliers were carrying all before them.
The battle now seemed won. After the storm of the village, Havelock halted to reorganise his line. He then advanced up the low rise which covers the entrance into Kanhpur (Kanpur). But hardly had he crowned the summit when a fierce fire unfolded upon him. And he beheld, drawn up at a distance of half-a-mile, straight in front of him, the reunited masses of rebel infantry. From their centre a twenty-four-pounder gun erupted forth its fire, as two smaller pieces on either side of it followed suit. Remarkably seated on an elephant was Nana Sahib, moving about amongst the troops, encouraging them with sounds of native music and appeals to their fanaticism. The sight was as unexpected as it was formidable, for Havelock had gladly hoped that the serious part of the business was over.
He had, indeed, in need of all his coolness and self-possession. His men, who had marched 20 miles, and fought one fierce battle, were worn out. His guns were a mile in the back, and the horses which had drawn them were knocked up. It was demanding a great deal of the infantry soldier to require him to charge those masses and those guns. But Havelock recognised that there was nothing else to be done. He recognised, moreover, that if to be done at all it must be done at once, for the spirits of the soldiers were still high. Realising the situation on the moment, he rode to the front on his pony-for his horse had been shot under him-and turning round to the men, he asked them to rise up.
The left battalion was the 64th. In spite of the enemy's roundshot (cannonball) or grapeshot, the English could not be veered from their sole goal. The band was led by Major Sterling, in company with Havelock. After a hurried fire of musketry, four guns came up in front to discharge more with their heavy cannonade. At last, it appeared to the British troops that Kanpur was once more in their possession.
The little force encamped for the night on the edge of the plain, which marked the entry into the station, approximately two miles from the town. They had neither food nor tents. They had marched twenty miles, and had defeated an enemy, stronger in all arms. They were outnumbered by nearly five to one, and the rebels had occupied a carefully prepared position. But they lay down happy because they deserved a conscious applause due to their precision. The loss sustained by the victors in this fierce contest was nearly 100 killed and wounded.
The next morning Tytler, who had been sent forward to reconnoitre, returned to report that the rebels had evacuated the city and its surrounds. Shortly before a concussion which shook the plain had conveyed the information that the magazine had been blown up. It was the last parting shot of the rebels. They retired, then, to Bithor.
After breakfast the troops marched into the station to witness the horrible and heart-rending sight. It was sufficient to stir up the meekest among them to revenge. But before that vengeance could be wreaked, many things required to be accomplished. Havelock stood, indeed, victorious at Kanhpur (Kanpur). He was successful to calm down the unrest. But it was a position, so to speak, in the air. Close to him, at Bithor, was the army of Nana Sahib, still largely outnumbering his own. The Ganges alone separated him from the revolted province of Oudh. At Kalpi, to the south-west, forty-five miles from Kanhpur (Kanpur) the mutinied Gwaliar (present day Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh
) contingent was gradually concentrating. Their presence there was a menace to his left rear. He had but 1,100 men altogether. On the 15th, prefiguring his early reoccupation of Kanhpur (Kanpur), he had directed Neill to bring him all the reinforcements he could. Neill brought him 227 men on the 20th, a mere handful. The position was difficult in the extreme. To hold Kanhpur (Kanpur) at all with such a force as his - with an enemy in front, an enemy on his right flank, and an enemy making for his left rear, was against all rules. But Havelock, with noble courage resolved, then, first to storm the position of the rebel chieftain. The chieftain, Nana Sahib had ordered the massacre of his countrymen, and then had made a desperate effort to ward from the English, nobly defending the Lakhnao (Lucknow) Residency. He had hopes that the troops which he knew were daily reaching Calcutta would be sent on to strengthen him.