Forty-One Years in India
From Subaltern to Commander-In-Chief
FIELD MARSHAL LORD ROBERTS
The Relief of the Lucknow garrison was now accomplished—a grand achievement indeed, of which any Commander might well be proud, carried out as it had been in every particular as originally planned, thus demonstrating with what care each detail had been thought out, and how admirably movement after movement had been executed.
November the 23rd was spent in arranging for the march to Cawnpore, and in organizing the division which was to be left in position, under Outram, in and about the Alambagh; it was to be strong enough to hold its own, and to keep open communication with Head-Quarters.
My time was chiefly occupied in assisting in the distribution of transport, and in carrying out Hope Grant's directions as to the order in which the troops were to march. Round the Dilkusha the scene of confusion was bewildering in the extreme; women, children, sick and wounded men, elephants, camels, bullocks and bullock-carts, grass-cutters'[Page 199] ponies, and doolies with their innumerable bearers, all crowded together. To marshal these incongruous elements and get them started seemed at first to be an almost hopeless task. At last the families were got off in two bodies, each under a married officer whose wife was of the party, and through whom all possible arrangements for their comfort were to be made, and their place on the line of march, position in camp, etc., determined.
In the afternoon the force was gratified by the issue of a General Order by the Commander-in-Chief thanking the troops for the manner in which the very difficult and harassing service of the Relief had been performed. Alluding to the withdrawal, he said it was a model of discipline and exactitude, the result of which was that the rebels were completely thrown off their guard, and the retirement had been successfully carried out in the face of 50,000 of the enemy along a most inconveniently narrow and tortuous lane—the only line of retreat open.
Death of General Havelock The following morning Hope Grant's division marched to the Alambagh. On arrival there, our transport was sent back for Outram's division, which joined us the morning after, bringing with it General Havelock's dead body. He had died the previous day—'a martyr to duty,' as the Commander-in-Chief expressed it in his General Order. The brave old soldier, who had served with distinction in four campaigns before the Mutiny—Burma, Afghanistan, Gwalior, and the Sutlej—was buried inside the Alambagh enclosure, respected and honoured by the whole army, but more especially by those who had shared in his noble efforts to rescue the Lucknow garrison.
A wash and change of clothes, in which we were now able to indulge, were much-appreciated luxuries. From the time we had left the Alambagh every officer and man had been on duty without cessation, and slept, if they slept at all, on the spot where the close of day found them fighting.
It was a rough experience, but, notwithstanding the exposure, hard work, and a minimum of sleep, there was no great sickness amongst the troops. The personal interest which every man in the force felt in the rescue of his countrymen and countrywomen, in addition to the excitement at all times inseparable from war, was a stimulant which enabled all ranks to bear up in a marvellous manner against long-continued privations and hardships—for body and mind are equally affected by will—and there was no doubt about the will in this instance to endure anything that was necessary for the speedy achievement of the object in view. Personally, I was in the best of health, and though I almost lived on horseback, I never felt inconvenience or fatigue.
The 25th and 26th were busy days, spent in allotting camp equipage and making the necessary arrangements for fitting out Outram's force—4,000[Page 200] strong, with 25 guns and howitzers and 10 mortars.
At 11 a.m. on the 27th we started on our return march towards Cawnpore.1 It was a strange procession. Everything in the shape of wheeled carriage and laden animals had to keep to the road, which was narrow, and for the greater part of the way raised, for the country at that time of the year was partly under water, and jhils were numerous. Thus, the column was about twelve miles in length, so that the head had almost reached the end of the march before the rear could start. Delays were constant and unavoidable, and the time each day's journey occupied, as well as the mode of conveyance—country carts innocent of springs—must have been most trying to delicate women and wounded men. Fortunately there was no rain; but the sun was still hot in the daytime, causing greater sensitiveness to the bitter cold at night.
My place was with the advance guard, as I had to go on ahead to mark out the camp and have ramps got ready to enable the carts to be taken off the raised roads. Soon after leaving the Alambagh we heard the sound of guns from the direction of Cawnpore, and when we reached Bani bridge (about thirteen miles on, where a small post had been established) the officer in command told us that there had been heavy firing all that day and the day before.
Camp was pitched about two miles further on late in the afternoon; but my work was not over till midnight, when the rear guard arrived, for it took all that time to form up the miscellaneous convoy.
Next morning we made an early start, in order to reach our destination, if possible, before dark. Having received no information from Cawnpore for more than ten days, the Commander-in-Chief was beginning to feel extremely anxious, and the firing we had heard the previous day had greatly increased his uneasiness, for there seemed little room for doubt that the Gwalior rebels were making an attack on that place. The probability that this would happen had been foreseen by Sir Colin, and was one of his reasons for determining to limit the operations at Lucknow to the withdrawal of the garrison.
Appeals from Cawnpore We had not proceeded far, when firing was again heard, and by noon[Page 201] all doubt as to its meaning was ended by a Native who brought a note marked 'Most urgent,' written in Greek character, and addressed to 'General Sir Colin Campbell, or any officer commanding troops on the Lucknow road.' This turned out to be a communication from General Windham, who had been placed in command at Cawnpore when the Commander-in-Chief left for Lucknow on the 9th of November. It was dated two days earlier, and told of an attack having been made, that there had been hard fighting, and that the troops were sorely pressed; in conclusion Windham earnestly besought the Chief to come to his assistance with the least possible delay.
Two other letters followed in quick succession, the last containing the disappointing and disheartening intelligence that Windham, with the greater part of his troops, had been driven into the entrenchment, plainly showing that the city and cantonment were in the possession of the enemy, and suggesting the possibility of the bridge of boats having been destroyed.
Sir Colin, becoming impatient to learn the exact state of the case, desired me to ride on as fast as I could to the river; and if I found the bridge broken, to return at once, but if it were still in existence to cross over, try and see the General, and bring back all the information I could obtain.
I took a couple of sowars with me, and on reaching the river I found, under cover of a hastily-constructed tête-de-pont, a guard of British soldiers, under Lieutenant Budgen, of the 82nd Foot, whose delight at seeing me was most effusively expressed. He informed me that the bridge was still intact, but that it was unlikely it would long remain so, for Windham was surrounded except on the river side, and the garrison was 'at its last gasp.'
I pushed across and got into the entrenchment, which was situated on the river immediately below the bridge of boats. The confusion inside was great, and I could hardly force my way through the mass of men who thronged round my horse, eager to learn when help might be expected; they were evidently demoralized by the ill-success which had attended the previous days' operations, and it was not until I reassured them with the news that the Commander-in-Chief was close at hand that I managed to get through the crowd and deliver my message to the General.
General Windham The 'hero of the Redan,' whom I now saw for the first time, though the fame of his achievement had preceded him to India, was a handsome, cheery-looking man of about forty-eight years of age, who appeared, in contrast to the excited multitude I had passed, thoroughly calm and collected; and notwithstanding the bitter disappointment it must have been to him to be obliged to give up the city and retire with his wholly inadequate force into the entrenchment, he was not dispirited, and had all his wits about him. In a few words he told me what had[Page 202] happened, and desired me to explain to the Commander-in-Chief that, although the city and cantonment had to be abandoned, he was still holding the enemy in check round the assembly-rooms (which were situated outside and to the west front of the entrenchment), thus preventing their approaching the bridge of boats near enough to injure it.
I was about to start back to Head-Quarters, when suddenly loud cheers broke from the men, caused by the appearance in their midst of the Commander-in-Chief himself. After I had left him, Sir Colin became every minute more impatient and fidgety, and ere long started off after me, accompanied by Mansfield and some other staff officers. He was recognized by the soldiers, some of whom had known him in the Crimea, and they at once surrounded him, giving enthusiastic expression to their joy at seeing him again.
The Chief could now judge for himself as to how matters stood, so, as there was plenty of work in camp for me, I started back to rejoin my own General. On my way I stopped to speak to Budgen, whom I found in a most dejected frame of mind. Unfortunately for him, he had used exactly the same words in describing the situation at Cawnpore to Sir Colin as he had to me, which roused the old Chief's indignation, and he flew at the wretched man as he was sometimes apt to do when greatly put out, rating him soundly, and asking him how he dared to say of Her Majesty's troops that they were 'at their last gasp.'
I found Hope Grant about four miles from the river bank, where the camp was being pitched. Sir Colin did not return till after dark, when we were told that the rest of Windham's troops had been driven inside the entrenchment, which only confirmed what we had suspected, for flames were seen mounting high into the air from the direction of the assembly-rooms, which, it now turned out, had been set on fire by the enemy—an unfortunate occurrence, as in them had been stored the camp equipage, kits, clothing, etc., belonging to most of the regiments which had crossed the Ganges into Oudh. But what was more serious still was the fact that the road was now open for the rebels' heavy guns, which might be brought to bear upon the bridge of boats at any moment.
Owing to the length of the march (thirty-two or thirty-three miles), some of the carts and the heavy guns did not arrive till daybreak. Scarcely had the bullocks been unyoked, before the guns were ordered on to the river bank, where they formed up, and so effectually plied the enemy with shot and shell that the passage of the river was rendered comparatively safe for our troops.
When the men had breakfasted, the order was given to cross over. Sir Colin accompanied the column as far as the bridge, and then directed Hope Grant, with the Horse Artillery and most of the Cavalry, Bourchier's battery and Adrian Hope's brigade, to move to the south-east[Page 203] of the city and take up a position on the open ground which stretched from the river to the Grand Trunk Road, with the canal between us and the enemy. By this arrangement communication with Allahabad, which had been temporarily interrupted, was restored, a very necessary measure, for until the road was made safe, reinforcements, which on account of the paucity of transport had to be sent up in small detachments, could not reach us, nor could the families and sick soldiers be sent down country.
The Passage of the Ganges The passage of the huge convoy over the bridge of boats, under the protection of Greathed's brigade, was a most tedious business, occupying thirty hours, from 3 p.m. on the 29th till about 9 p.m. on the 30th, when Inglis brought over the rear guard. During its transit the enemy fired occasionally on the bridge, and tried to destroy it by floating fire-rafts down the river; fortunately they did not succeed, and the convoy arrived without accident on the ground set apart for it in the rear of our camp.
For the three first days of December I was chiefly employed in reconnoitring with the Native Cavalry the country to our left and rear, to make sure that the rebels had no intention of attempting to get round that flank, and in making arrangements for the despatch of the families, the sick, and the wounded, to Allahabad en route to Calcutta. We improvised covers for some of the carts, in which we placed the women and children and the worst cases amongst the men; but with all our efforts to render them less unfit for the purpose, these carts remained but rough and painful conveyances for delicate women and suffering men to travel in.
We were not left altogether unmolested by the enemy during these days. Round shot kept continually falling in our midst, particularly in the neighbourhood of the Commander-in-Chief's tent, the exact position of which must have somehow been made known to the rebels, otherwise they could not have distinguished it from the rest of the camp, as it was an unpretentious hill tent, such as was then used by subaltern officers.
Until the women left camp on the night of the 3rd December, we were obliged to act on the defensive, and were not able to stop the enemy's fire completely, though we managed to keep it under control by occupying the point called Generalganj, and strengthening the piquets on our right and left flank. On the 4th a second unsuccessful attempt was made to destroy the bridge of boats by means of fire-rafts, and on the 5th there were several affairs at the outposts, all of which ended in the discomfiture of the rebels without any great loss to ourselves; Lieutenant-Colonel Ewart of the 93rd Highlanders, who lost his arm on the 1st, and Captain Crutchley of the same regiment, who was severely wounded, being the only casualties amongst the officers.
FOOTNOTES, CHAPTER XXVI
[Footnote 1: Our force consisted of the troops which Sir Colin had reviewed on the Alambagh plain on the 11th instant, with the exception of the 75th Foot, which was transferred to Outram's division. We had, however, in their place, the survivors of the 32nd Foot, and of the Native regiments who had behaved so loyally during the siege. These latter were formed into one battalion, called the Regiment of Lucknow—the present 16th Bengal Infantry. The 32nd Foot, which was not up to full strength (1,067) when the Mutiny broke out, had in 1857-58 no less than 610 men killed and wounded, exclusive of 169 who died from disease. We had also with us, and to them was given an honoured place, 'the remnant of the few faithful pensioners who had alone, of many thousands in Oudh, responded to the call of Sir Henry Lawrence to come in to aid the cause of those whose salt they had eaten.'—Lecture on the Relief of Lucknow, by Colonel H.W. Norman.]