(Last Updated on : 27-03-2012)
Delhi was the hotseat of rebellious and insurrectional operations both on behalf of the native and British side. The city had already been prepared as a fortification, guarding it from every possible angle. Chief Engineer of the British, Baird-Smith had devised out a plan, because he hated to wait for further delay. He had already consulted with General Wilson about his proposed plan. However, Wilson was not willing to proceed with the issue, without the strict affirmation from the Governor-General Lord Canning
. Finally, after Smith had pacified Wilson saying that the loyal Sikhs could not be bound much longer, the urgency of the situation dawned upon Wilson. The rebels had already started to attack their bastioned ridge and fort. Baird-Smith, in coalition with his second command, Alexander Taylor had decided to attack the assaulters from the northern face of Delhi.
The engineers worked untiringly with much energy at these sections. On the morning of the 8th, while still unfinished, and mounting but one gun, the enemy discovered Brind's section. They opened upon it a fire so concentrated and so relentless that to venture from its protection was to invite almost certain death. A little later the rebels tried to improve the opportunity by despatching a body of infantry and cavalry from the Lahore gate. This diversion really privileged the English. For, while it lasted, the men in the new battery worked with such a will that they succeeded in finishing five platforms. As each platform was completed, the gun mounted on it opened against the enemy. The sortie, which had thus given badly-needed time to the defenders, was beaten back with loss. The first section of No. 1 battery had no sooner been completed than its fire, well directed by the energetic Brind, rendered the Mori bastion harmless. The gallant Kaye also had done his work with tremendous zeal. The fire directed from the left section had done good work against the Kashmir bastion. At noon of the 10th, the half-battery caught fire from the constant discharge of the guns. For a moment or two it seemed that the hard work of the three previous days would be thrown away. The rebels had at once directed on the burning battery every gun they could command.
But from such a catastrophe the battery was saved by the gallantry of Lieutenant Lockhart. He was on duty on the spot, with two companies of the 2nd Gurkhas. As soon as he saw the fire, Lockhart apprehended its fatal consequences. He suggested to Kaye whether it would be possible to save it by working from the outside, and on the top of the parapet. Kaye replied that something might be done if a party were to take sandbags to the top, cut them, and smother the fire with the sand. But the attempt, under the concentrated fire of the rebels, involved almost certain death. Lockhart nobly thought that the occasion was one to justify the risk. Calling for volunteers, he jumped on the parapet, followed by six or seven Gurkhas, and set himself to the task. The enemy's fire immediately redoubled. Two of the Gurkhas were shot dead. Lockhart rolled over the parapet, with a shot through his jaw. But the survivors hung on, and by incredible exertions succeeded in extinguishing the fire.
Meanwhile No. 2 battery had been traced, on the evening of the 7th. They were discovered in front of Ludlow Castle, 500 yards from the Kashmeri gate
. This, too, was divided into two sections, at a distance of 200 yards from each other. They were both directed against the Kashmir bastion. The No. 2 battery intended to silence the bastion's fire, to knock away the parapet to the right and the left that gave cover to its defenders. The battery also had the intention to open a breach for the stormers. Before dawn of the 11th, it had been completed and armed, and was then unmasked. Major Campbell commanded the left section. The right was first entrusted to Major Kaye, transferred to it from the ignited left section of No 1. But on the officer being wounded on the 11th, it was placed in the capable hands of Major Edwin Johnson.
The third battery required in its construction a large amount of skill and courageousness. It was traced, under the directions of Captain Medley of the engineers, within 160 yards of the Water bastion. This battery was finished and armed by the night of the 1lth.
A fourth battery, commanded by the gallant Tombs for four heavy mortars, was traced in the Kudsiya Bagh. It was completed on the 1lth, ready to open fire whenever its fire might be required.
The rebels had neither been blind nor indifferent to the active movements in the camp of the besiegers. Recognising at last that the meditated attack would be directed against their left, they adopted measures which, if carried out sooner, would have added staggeringly to the difficulties of the attack. They at once set to work to mount heavy guns along the curtain wall between the bastions on the northern face. In other convenient nooks they mounted light guns. Taking advantage of the broken ground, they made in one night an advanced trench parallel to the left attack. 350 yards from it, the soldiers covered their entire front. This trench they lined with infantry.
A tremendous fire from both sides continued from the opening of the new batteries till the afternoon of the 13th. The damage done to assailants and defenders alike were tremendous. Never was there displayed in the British army greater energy, more splendid determination. Men fearlessly exposed themselves to repair damages. At length, on the afternoon of 13th, Wilson and Baird-Smith came to the conclusion that two sufficient breaches had been made. Wilson directed, accordingly, that they should be examined.
This perilous duty was performed by four young engineer officers- Medley and Lang for the Kashmir bastion, Greathed and Home for the Water. The two first named, reached the edge of the ditch undetected, descended into it. Although they saw the enemy was on the alert, they warily examined the breach. They returned, pursued by a volley, to report it practicable. A similar report reached Baird-Smith from Greathed and Home. He therefore advised Wilson not to delay a single day, but to attack the coming morning. Wilson, agreeing with him, issued the necessary orders forthwith.
The order of the attack was as follows: Nicholson, with 300 men of the 75th, under Lieutenant-Colonel Herbert; 250 men of the 1st Fusiliers, under Major Jacob; 450 men of the 2nd Punjab Infantry, under Captain Green, was to storm the breach near the Kashmir bastion, and escalade the face of the bastion. The engineers attached to this column were Medley, Lang, and Bingham.
At the same time Brigadier William Jones of the 61st, commanding the second column, composed of 250 men of the 8th foot, under Lieutenant-Colonel Greathed; 250 men of the 2nd Fusiliers, under Captain Boyd; 350 men of the 4th Sikh Infantry, under Captain Rothney, was to storm the breach in the Water bastion. The engineers with this column were Greathed, Hovenden, and Pemberton.
Similarly, Colonel Campbell of the 52nd Light Infantry, commanding the third column, composed of 250 men of the 52nd, under Major Vigors; 250 Gurkhas of the Kumaon battalion, under Captain Ramsay; 500 men of the 1st Punjab Infantry, under Lieutenant Nicholson, was to attack by the Kashmeri gate after it should have been blown open. The engineers were Home, Salkeld, and Tandy.
Major Reid of the Sirmaur battalion commanded the fourth column. The column was composed of the Sirmaur battalion (2nd Gurkhas), the Guide corps, European and native as could be spared from Hindu Rao's house, and 1,200 men of the Kashmir (Jammu) contingent. Led by Captain Richard Lawrence, the battalion was to attack the suburb of Kishanganj
, and enter by the Lahore gate. The engineers attached to this column were Maunsell and Tennant.
The fifth, or reserve column, was commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Longfield of the 8th foot. It consisted of 250 men of the 61st, under Lieutenant-Colonel Deacon; 450 men of the 4th Punjab Infantry, under Captain Wilde; 300 men of Baluch battalion, under Lieutenant-Colonel Farquhar; 300 men of the Jhind auxiliary force, under Lieutenant-Colonel Dunsford. To these were subsequently added 200 men of the 60th Rifles, under Lieutenant-Colonel John Jones of that regiment. This column was to support the first column. Its engineers were Ward and Thackeray.
At three o'clock in the morning the columns of attack were drawn up. Every man who composed the columns felt that upon the exertions of themselves and their comrades depended the fate of India. There was a slight but inevitable delay. Then, as the day dawned the columns advanced, and quietly took up the positions assigned to them. They were to remain in that position until signal to advance should be given. Meanwhile, an explosion party, comprising Lieutenants Home and Salkeld, Sergeants Smith and Carmichael, Corporal Burgess, Bugler Hawthorne, and eight native sappers, covered by 100 men of the 60th Rifles were structured. They sped their way to the front to attach kegs of powder to, and blow up, the Kashmeri gate
. The bugle-sound from this point was to be the signal of success, and for the advance of the third column.
Nicholson, after one glance to see that the first and second columns were in position, gave the order to advance just after daybreak. The first column moved steadily forward at a walk, until it reached the further edge of the jungle. Then, the engineers and storming party rushed to the breach near the Kashmir bastion. In a few seconds they gained the summit of the glacis. The entire fire of the rebels seemed to be concentrated upon them there. So fierce was it that for ten minutes it was impossible to lower down the ladders. At last they lowered down two, and down these the officers led their men. Once in the ditch, to mount the escarpment and clamber up the breach was the work of a few seconds. There the rebels, who had been so daring up to that point, did not await them. They could not stand the hand-to-hand encounter. The insurrectionists fell back on the second line. The breach at this point was won.
Simultaneously the second column, its engineers in front, pressed forward towards the breach in the Water bastion. While, the storming party, carrying the ladders, moved to the appointed spot. Though the party was exposed to a tremendous fire, yet, they lowered down their ladders and carried the breach. Their supports, mistakenly, rushed to the counter-scarp of the curtain wall, slid into the ditch, climbed the breach, and won the rampart. The mistake was a fortunate one. The actual storming party had been reduced to twenty-five by the fire concentrated upon it in its advance. The supports entering into a critical point of the defences, where an attack had not been anticipated, paralysed the rebels. Jones promptly seized the situation to clear the ramparts as far as the Kabul gate. On the crest of the Gate he planted the column flag, carried that day by Private Andrew Laughnan of the 61st.
Meanwhile, the forlorn hope, composed of the two officers and their following, had advanced straight on to the Kashmir gate, in the face of a very heavy fire. Arrived in front of it, Home and Salkeld, and their followers, each carrying a bag containing twenty-five pounds of gun-powder, crossed the ditch by a barrier gate. They fortunately found the gate open, to the foot of the great double gate. The enemy seemed entirely paralysed by the effrontery of the proceeding, and for a moment froze their fire. Home and Salkeld used the opportunity to attach the bags to the gateway, then to fall back as fast as they could. The bags were laid when the rebels, recovering their senses, reopened their deadly fire. Home had time to jump into the ditch unhurt. Salkeld was not so fortunate. He had laid his bags, when he was shot through the arm and leg, and fell back disabled on the bridge.
Salkeld handed the port-fire to Burgess, commanding him to light the fusee. Burgess, in trying to obey, was shot dead. Carmichael then seized the port-fire, lighted the fusee, and fell back mortally wounded. Then Smith, thinking Carmichael had failed, rushed forward to seize the port-fire. But noticing the fusee burning, threw himself into the ditch. The next moment an incredible explosion shattered the massive gate. Home then told the bugler, Hawthorne, to sound the advance. The bugle-call, repeated thrice, was not heard in the clamour. But the gallant commander of the third column, Campbell, noticing the explosion, at once ordered the advance of the column. It dashed forward, crossed the bridge, and entered the city just as the first and second columns had won the breaches. Campbell at once pressed on to the main-guard, cleared the Water bastion, forced his way through the Kashmir gate bazaar, and reached the gate opening on the Chandni Chawk. He forced the gate, and pressed on till a sudden turn brought him within sight of the great mosque, the Jama Masjid
. Its arches and gates were bricked up, and was impossible to be forced without powder bags or guns. Campbell waited in front of it for half-an-hour, in the expectation of the successful advance of the other columns. But as there were no signs of such approach, he fell back on the Begam Bagh, a large enclosure.
An unfortunate incident interfered greatly with the success of the fourth column. A failure on the part of the department concerned to carry out the General's instructions was its root cause. The column was formed up, composed at 4.30 A.M., in front of the Sabzimandi picket. But the four H. A. guns which had been ordered to accompany it had not arrived. When at last they did come, they brought with them only sufficient gunners to man one gun. Reid was waiting until gunners could be procured, when he heard the explosion at the Kashmeri gate. He discovered immediately afterwards that 500 of the Jammu
troops, despatched two hours earlier for the purpose of effecting a diversion by occupying the Idgar, had become engaged. No time was to be lost, so he pushed on without any guns at all.
The assault failed. Reid, who was greatly mortified by the want of guns, facing the unbroken wall of Kishanganj, eighteen feet high, lined with guns and marksmen, had gained the canal bridge with the head of his column. He was meditating a diversion to draw off the attention of the rebels from the main attack when a musket ball, coming from a slanting direction, struck him on the head. It knocked him into the ditch, senseless. Those about him thought he had been killed. When he returned to his senses, Reid found himself on the back of one of his Gurkhas. He was very weak, but he had still strength enough to send for Captain Lawrence. He directed Lawrence to take command, and to support the right flank. The delay, however, had been very injurious. The disorder was further increased. Captain Muter, seeing Reid fall, and regarding Lawrence in the light of a political officer, had assumed command of the portion of the column with which he was serving. By the time that Lawrence had asserted his authority, success had become impossible. He withdrew his men, therefore, leisurely and in good order, on the batteries behind Hindu Rao's house. The attack on the Idgar, made by the Jammu troops alone, was still more unfortunate. They were not only rebuffed, but also lost four guns. The repulse of the fourth column added greatly to the difficulties of the other three.