(Last Updated on : 27-03-2012)
The city of Lakhnao (Lucknow) stretches, in an irregular form, on the right bank of the Gomti River
. Lucknow was the seat of prime importance during the ongoing sieges of Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. Since the era of Muslim Maharajas, the place has served as an imperial fortress, girded with enormous bulwarks. Sir Colin Campbell had served as the chieftain of the British troops, perfectly assisted by his other trusted officers. The native fighters who had rebelled against British opposition, had authorised themselves to successfully siege Lucknow and bring it to their dominion. However, English efforts, under the gallant Havelock had completed their positionings by the Gomti River. The city now was waiting in anxious breath for the siege to become victorious, by the best-laid plans of British forces.
The strong positions held by the rebels within the city were the Kaisarbagh. It is a palace approximately 400 yards square, containing several ranges of buildings. Kaisarbagh had been completed only in 1850, and was not originally fortified. The rebels, however, had greatly strengthened it. To the east of the Observatory, overlooking the river, were the Farhatbakhsh palace and the palaces adjoining. These consisted of the Residency, the ruins of the Machchi Bhawan, the great Imambarah, the Jamaniabagh, the Sheesh Mahal, All Nakis house, extending to the west along the banks of the river, the Musabagh, a mile and a half beyond it, the little Imambarah, and a range of palaces stretching from the Kaisarbagh to the canal. Beyond the canal, towards the east of the city, was the Martiniere. Overlooking this and the eastern suburbs, on the top of a table-land, stood the Dilkhusha.
The rebels had greatly benefitted by their experience of the British action in the previous November. Consequently, they had greatly strengthened the line by which Sir Colin had then advanced. They too had, formed three lines of defence. The first rested on Hazratganj, at the point where the three roads into Lakhnao (Lucknow) converge. The right of the second line rested on the little Imambarah. From there, the line embraced the mess-house, and joined the riverbank near the Moti Mahal. The third covered the Kaisarbagh. These defences were protected by a hundred guns. All the main streets were likewise protected by bastions and barricades. Every building of importance, besides being loopholed, had an outer work shielding the entrance to it.
In the process of protecting the city on three sides, the rebels had neglected the northern side. Sir Colin detected this error, and resolved, in his plan of attack, to take full advantage of it.
He determined to cross the Gomti with his main force, marched by the Hazratganj towards the Kaisarbagh. He would thus employ a strong division, under Outram, to turn those defences. He could not, with the force at his disposal, completely besiege the city. But Colin hoped that, as he pushed on the main body in the line indicated, Outram would be able to move round the angle on one side while Jang Bahadur and the force at the Alambagh would close in round the corresponding angle on the other.
Having resolved on this plan, Sir Colin advanced, with his main body, on the Dilkhusha Park and captured it. While he erected batteries there to keep down the rebels' fire, he continued to bring up his troops. By the 4th of March, Sir Colin had assembled there the whole of the siege-train, and had the bulk of his force, Franks's division and the Nepalese battalion. That force now occupied a line which touched on the right the Gomti River
, at the village of Bibiapur. Then, intersecting the Dilkhusha, the line stopped at a point nearly two miles from Jalalabad. The interval was occupied by Hodson's Horse, 1600 strong. Outram still continued to occupy his former position. On the 5th, Franks and the Nepalese arrived.
During the night of 4th March, Sir Colin had directed the throwing of two bridges over the Gomti near Bibiapur. One of these was completed by the morning of the 5th. Across it a picket had been sent to cover the completion of the remaining works. These were finished by midnight on the 5th March. Sir Colin then sent Outram and his division across the river. He was very anxious for the success of the movement he had consigned to that officer. Sir Colin had resolved not to stir a step until Outram would have charged to turn the rebels' position and to take them in reverse. In doing so, Outram would march beyond, and thus would be successful to turn the first line of defence.
Outram crossed and marched up the Gomti for about a mile. The river makes a sharp bend at that point. So Outram left the curves of the river, and marched straight on in the direction of the city. He encamped that evening about four miles from it, facing it, his left resting on the Faizabad road. The exact position was about half a mile in advance of the village of Chinhat.
The following day and the 8th of March were spent in skirmishing. But on the 9th, Outram made his leap. With a prelude of heavy fire from the batteries he had constructed, he sent Walpole to attack the rebels' left. Meanwhile, he led his own left column across the Kokrail stream. Waiting there till Walpole had completed the task allotted to him, Outram then stormed the Chakar Kothi, the key of the rebels' position. He turned the combat and rendered useless to them the strong line of entrenchments the rebels had thrown up on the right bank of the Gomti.
In the attack on the Chakar Kothi, Anderson of the Sikhs and St. George of the 1st Fusiliers greatly distinguished themselves. While, in opening communications with Adrian Hope's brigade on the opposite bank, young Butler of the 1st Fusiliers performed a deed of cool intrepidity. The result of the day's operations was that Outram occupied the left bank of the Gomti as far as the Badshahbagh. His position took the rebels completely in reverse.
Sir Colin had waited the three days, the 6th, 7th, and 8th of March, while Outram was making his preparations. But, on the 9th, he too advanced, carrying the Martiniere. He moved Adrian Hope's brigade from the vicinity of Banks's house to a point from where, some six hundred yards from the river, it could communicate with Outram on the opposite bank. Sir Colin completed the operation the next day by storming Banks's house. The two army corps were then in total communication.
During the night of the 10th of March, Outram erected batteries to cover his projected movement of the following day. When that day dawned, he carried all the positions leading to the iron bridge-the bridge leading to the Residency-and positioned batteries close to it. In this operation he lost two most gallant officers, Thynne of the Rifle Brigade, and Moorsom of the Quartermaster-General's department. Outram continued to carry out the operations entrusted to him on the 12th, 13th, 14th, and 15th of March. He established himself in a position which enabled him, during those days, to rake and attack. The attack was made by artillery fire in flank and rear, in the positions which Sir Colin was assailing in front.
Meanwhile, Sir Colin, having stormed Banks' house on 10th March, occupied without opposition Sikandarabagh on the 11th. Owing to the tremendous audacity of three engineer officers, Medley, Lang, and Carnegy, he could also take possession of the Kadam Rasul and Shah Najaf mosque. But the Begum Kothi foretold to offer a fierce resistance. It erupted forth fire and flame, and it was so strong as to seem capable of rebuffing a direct attack. Lugard, however, who commanded the force in front of it, resolved to attempt one. The troops he employed were those companions in glory, the 93rd Highlanders and the 4th Punjab Rifles, led by the chivalrous Adrian Hope. The assault was made at four o'clock in the afternoon. Though it was opposed with a fury and discipline almost equal to that of the assailants, it was successful. Six hundred corpses testified to the unerring force of the British and Sikh bayonet.
The capture of the Begum Kothi gave to the Chief Engineer, Brigadier Napier, the opportunity of pushing his approaches, by means of sappers and heavy guns. He pushed through the enclosures, towards the mess-house, the little Imambarah and to the Kaisarbagh. Some changes, however, were made in the disposition of the troops. Franks's division relieved that of Lugard as the leading division, and the Nepalese troops were brought into line. They were placed on the extreme left, so as to hold the line of the canal beyond Banks's house. On 13th March, the Nepalese were moved across the canal against the suburb to the left of Banks's house. The move was made so as to attract the attention of the rebels to that quarter. By the evening the engineers' work was completed. All the great buildings to the left, up to the little Imambarah, had been sapped through. By nine o'clock the next morning, the heavy guns had resulted in a breach in its walls. Franks was then directed to storm it. He carried out the operation with brilliant success.
The siege of the little Imambarah had whetted the martial instincts of the men. Following up the rebels as they evacuated it, they forced their way into a palace which commanded three of the bastions of Kaisarbagh. From there, the British troops brought to bear on the rebels below them so heavy a fire that one by one they deserted their guns. Their flight left the second line of defence literally at the mercy of the British. It was turned. A daring advance alone was necessary to gain it. The rebels, realising this, had no thought but to save themselves. They ran then for security into the buildings between the little Imambarah and the Kaisarbagh. But the 90th and Brasyer's Sikhs, who were in the front line of stormers, had equally recognised the advantages of their position. Led by young Havelock and Brasyer, they forced their way under a terrible fire, into a courtyard adjoining the Kaisarbagh, driving the rebels before them.
At this juncture, young Havelock saw with a soldier's eye the extent of the possibilities before him. He thus ran back to the detachment of the 10th in support and ordered it to the front. Annesley, who commanded it, led it forward with readiness. Nor did his men halt, till driving the rebels before them. Annesley's men had penetrated to the Chini bazaar, to the rear of the Tara Kothi and the mess-house. They could thus turn the rebels' third line. The rebels, congregated in the Tara Kothi and mess-house, numbering approximately 6000. Realising their position, they evacuated those buildings, and made as though they would re-enter the city through an opening in the further gateway of the Chini bazaar. In this process, they thus cut off the Sikhs and the 90th.
However, Havelock, with great presence of mind; advanced with some Sikhs to the support of Brasyer. Seizing two adjoining bastions, he turned the six guns found upon them with so much effect against the rebels that their attempt was checked. The rebels abandoned it. By this time the fourth note sent by young Havelock had reached Franks. That gallant officer pushed forward every available man in support of the advance. The results already achieved far surpassed in importance those which had been contemplated for the day. The question arose whether the advantage should be pursued. After a brief consultation, Franks and Napier decided in favour of pushing on.
Some necessary rearrangement of troops followed. Then, those on the right advanced and occupied in succession, the Moti Mahal, the Chatar Manzil, and the Tara Kothi. Franks sent his men through the court of Saadat Ali's Mosque into the Kaisarbagh itself. The resistance there was fierce, but of short duration. The stormers were wound to a pitch which made them irresistible. One after another, the Britons stormed the courts and the summer-houses which made up the interior of the palace. They drove the rebels headlong into the garden. Those who failed to escape were soon put to rest forever.