Forty-One Years in India
From Subaltern to Commander-In-Chief
FIELD MARSHAL LORD ROBERTS
The time had now arrived to give the Gwalior troops a repetition of the lesson taught them at Agra on the 10th October. They had had it all their own way since then; and having proved too strong for Windham, they misunderstood the Commander-in-Chief remaining for so long on the defensive, and attributed his inaction to fear of their superior prowess.
Sunday, the 6th December, was one of those glorious days in which the European in northern India revels for a great part of the winter, clear and cool, with a cloudless sky. I awoke refreshed after a good night's rest, and in high spirits at the prospect before us of a satisfactory day's work; for we hoped to drive the enemy from Cawnpore, and to convince those who had witnessed, if not taken part in, the horrible brutalities perpetrated there, that England's hour had come at last.
The 42nd Highlanders, a battery of Royal Artillery, and detachments of several different corps, had quite lately been added to the force, so that the Commander-in-Chief had now at his disposal about 5,000 Infantry, 600 Cavalry, and 35 guns. The Infantry were divided into four brigades, commanded respectively by Greathed, Adrian Hope, Inglis, and Walpole.1 The Cavalry brigade, consisting of the same regiments which had come with us from Delhi, was commanded by Brigadier Little, the Artillery2 by Major-General Dupuis, and the Engineers by Colonel Harness, General Windham being placed in charge of the entrenchments.
Opposed to this force there were 25,000 men, with 40 guns, not all disciplined soldiers, but all adepts in the use of arms, and accustomed to fighting. They were divided into two distinct bodies, one composed of the Gwalior Contingent, the Rani of Jhansi's followers, and the mutinous regiments which had been stationed in Bundelkand, Central India, and Rajputana, which occupied the right of the enemy's position, covering their line of retreat by the Kalpi road. The other consisted of the troops—regular and irregular—which had attached themselves to the Nana, and held the city and the ground which lay between it and the Ganges, their line of retreat being along the Grand Trunk Road to Bithur. Tantia Topi was in command of the whole[Page 205] force, while the Nana remained with his own people on the left flank.
On the centre and left the enemy were very strongly posted, and could only be approached through the city and by way of the difficult broken ground, covered with ruined houses, stretching along the river bank.
While the men were eating their breakfasts, and the tents were being struck, packed, and sent to the rear, Sir Colin carefully explained his plan of operations to the Commanding officers and the staff; this plan was, to make a feint on the enemy's left and centre, but to direct the real attack on their right, hoping thus to be able to dispose of this portion of Tantia Topi's force, before assistance could be obtained from any other part of the line.
With this view Windham was ordered to open with every gun within the entrenchment at 9 a.m.; while Greathed, supported by Walpole, threatened the enemy's centre. Exactly at the hour named, the roar of Windham's Artillery was heard, followed a few minutes later by the rattle of Greathed's musketry along the bank of the canal. Meanwhile, Adrian Hope's brigade was drawn up in fighting formation behind the Cavalry stables on our side of the Trunk Road, and Inglis's brigade behind the racecourse on the other side. At eleven o'clock the order was given to advance. The Cavalry and Horse Artillery moved to the left with instructions to cross the canal by a bridge about two miles off, and to be ready to fall upon the enemy as they retreated along the Kalpi road. Walpole's brigade, covered by Smith's Field battery, crossed the canal by a bridge immediately to the left of Generalganj, cleared the canal bank, and, by hugging the wall of the city, effectually prevented reinforcements reaching the enemy's right.
Peel's and Longden's heavy guns, and Bourchier's and Middleton's Field batteries, now opened on some brick-kilns and mounds which the enemy were holding in strength on our side of the canal, and against which Adrian Hope's and Inglis's brigades advanced in parallel lines, covered by the 4th Punjab Infantry in skirmishing order
It was a sight to be remembered, that advance, as we watched it from our position on horseback, grouped round the Commander-in-Chief. Before us stretched a fine open grassy plain; to the right the dark green of the Rifle Brigade battalions revealed where Walpole's brigade was crossing the canal. Nearer to us, the 53rd Foot, and the 42nd and 93rd Highlanders in their bonnets and kilts, marched as on parade, although the enemy's guns played upon them and every now and then a round shot plunged through their ranks or ricocheted over their heads; on they went without apparently being in the least disconcerted, and without the slightest confusion.
As the brick-kilns were neared, the 4th Punjab Infantry, supported by the 53rd Foot, charged the enemy in grand style, and drove them across the canal. Here there occurred a slight check. The rebels,[Page 206] having been reinforced, made a stand, and bringing guns to bear upon the bridge within grape range, they must have done us great damage but for the timely arrival of Peel and his sailors with a heavy gun. This put new life into the attacking party; with a loud cheer they dashed across the bridge, while Peel poured round after round from his 24-pounder on the insurgents with most salutary effect. The enemy faced about and retired with the utmost celerity, leaving a 9-pounder gun in our possession.
The whole of Hope's brigade, followed by Inglis's, now arrived on the scene and proceeded to cross the canal, some by the bridge, while others waded through the water. Having got to the other side, both brigades re-formed, and moved rapidly along the Kalpi road. We (the Commander-in-Chief, Hope Grant, and their respective staffs) accompanied this body of troops for about a mile and a half, when the rebels' camp came in sight. A few rounds were fired into it, and then it was rushed.
Unexpected Visitors We were evidently unexpected visitors; wounded men were lying about in all directions, and many sepoys were surprised calmly cooking their frugal meal of unleavened bread. The tents were found to be full of property plundered from the city and cantonment of Cawnpore—soldiers' kits, bedding, clothing, and every description of miscellaneous articles; but to us the most valuable acquisition was a quantity of grain and a large number of fine bullocks, of which those best suited for Ordnance purposes were kept, and the rest were made over to the Commissariat.
That portion of the rebel force with which we had been engaged was now in full retreat, and Sir Colin wished to follow it up at once; but the Cavalry and Horse Artillery had not arrived, so that considerable delay occurred; while we were waiting the Chief arranged to send Mansfield with a small force3 round to the north of Cawnpore, and, by thus threatening the road along which the Nana's troops must retreat, compel them to evacuate the city. The 23rd Royal Welsh Fusiliers and a detachment of the 38th Foot were to be left to look after the deserted camp, and Inglis's brigade was to move along the Kalpi road in support of the Cavalry and Horse Artillery. But where were the much-needed and anxiously-expected mounted troops? It was not like them to be out of the way when their services were required; but it was now nearly two o'clock, they had not appeared, and the days were very short. What was to be done? The enemy could not be allowed to carry off their guns and escape punishment. Suddenly the old Chief announced that he had determined to follow them up himself with Bourchier's battery and his own escort.
A Long Chase What a chase we had! We went at a gallop, only pulling up[Page 207] occasionally for the battery to come into action, 'to clear our front and flanks.' We came up with a goodly number of stragglers, and captured several guns and carts laden with ammunition. But we were by this time overtaking large bodies of the rebels, and they were becoming too numerous for a single battery and a few staff officers to cope with. We had outstripped the Commander-in-Chief, and Hope Grant decided to halt, hoping that the missing Cavalry and Horse Artillery might soon turn up. We had not to wait long. In about a quarter of an hour they appeared among some trees to our left, even more put out than we were at their not having been to the front at such a time. Their guide had made too great a détour, but the sound of our guns showed them his mistake, and they at once altered their course and pushed on in the direction of the firing. Sir Colin had also come up, so off we started again, and never drew rein until we reached the Pandu Naddi, fourteen miles from Cawnpore. The rout was complete. Finding themselves pressed, the sepoys scattered over the country, throwing away their arms and divesting themselves of their uniform, that they might pass for harmless peasants. Nineteen guns, some of them of large calibre, were left in our hands. Our victory was particularly satisfactory in that it was achieved with but slight loss to ourselves, the casualties being 2 officers and 11 men killed, and 9 officers and 76 men wounded.
Hope Grant now desired me to hurry back to Cawnpore before it got too dark, and select the ground for the night's bivouac. As there was some risk in going alone, Augustus Anson volunteered to accompany me. We had got about half-way, when we came across the dead body of Lieutenant Salmond, who had been acting Aide-de-camp to my General, and must have got separated from us in the pursuit. His throat was cut, and he had a severe wound on the face. Soon after we met Inglis's brigade, which, in accordance with my instructions, I turned back. On reaching the Gwalior Contingent camp, we heard that an attempt had been made to recapture it, which had been repulsed by the troops left in charge.
It was dusk by the time we reached the junction of the Kalpi and Grand Trunk roads, and we agreed that this would be a good place for a bivouac, the city being about a mile in front, and Mansfield's column less than two miles to the left. I marked out the ground, and showed each corps as it came up the position it was to occupy. When all this was over I was pretty well tired out and ravenously hungry; but food there was none, so I had made up my mind to lie down, famished as I was. Just then I came across some sleeping men, who to my joy turned out to be Dighton Probyn and the officers of the 2nd Punjab Cavalry, who were magnanimous enough to forgive the abrupt interruption to their slumbers, and to supply me with some cold mutton, bread, and a bottle of beer. Never was man more grateful for a meal, and never was a meal more thoroughly enjoyed. I lay down beside my[Page 208] friends and was soon fast asleep, in spite of the bitter cold and being much troubled about my horse; neither for him nor myself was there a vestige of covering to be found.
The next morning I was astir by cockcrow. Patrols who had been sent forward to ascertain the truth of a rumour which had reached the Commander-in-Chief the previous evening, to the effect that the city had been evacuated, returned with confirmation of the report; but the news in other respects was far from satisfactory. Mansfield's movement had caused the enemy to retire, but they had got away without loss, and had succeeded in carrying off all their guns; so that only one half of Tantia Topi's force had really been dealt with; the other half still remained to be disposed of, and to Hope Grant's great satisfaction and my delight, the duty of following them up was entrusted to him.
His orders were to go to Bithur, as it was thought likely that the Nana's troops would retire on that place. But as the news was not very reliable, Hope Grant was told to use his own discretion, and act according to circumstances.
Unjur Tiwari For several days I had been trying unsuccessfully to get hold of some Natives upon whom I could rely to bring me trustworthy information as to the enemy's movements. It is always of the utmost importance that a Quartermaster-General on service should have the help of such men, and I was now more than ever in need of reliable intelligence. In this emergency I applied to Captain Bruce, the officer in charge of the Intelligence Department which had been established at Cawnpore for the purpose of tracing the whereabouts of those rebels who had taken a prominent part in the atrocities. I was at once supplied with a first-rate man, Unjur Tiwari by name,4 who from that moment until I left India for England in April, 1858, rendered me most valuable service.[Page 209] He was a Brahmin by caste, and belonged to the 1st Native Infantry. In a few words I explained what I required of him, and he started at once for Bithur, promising to meet me the next day on the line of march.
Early on the afternoon of the 8th we marched out of Cawnpore, and at sunset Unjur Tiwari, true to his promise, made his appearance at the point where the road turns off to Bithur. He told me that the Nana had slept at that place the night before, but hearing of our approach, had decamped with all his guns and most of his followers, and was now at a ferry some miles up the river, trying to get across and make his way to Oudh. We had come thirteen miles, and had as many more to go before we could get to the ferry, and as there was nothing to be gained by arriving there in the dark, a halt was ordered for rest and refreshment. At midnight we started again, and reached Sheorajpur (three miles from the ferry) at daybreak. Here we left our impedimenta, and proceeded by a cross-country road. Presently a couple of mounted men belonging to the enemy, not perceiving who we were, galloped straight into the escort. On discovering their mistake, they turned and tried to escape, but in vain; one was killed, the other captured, and from him we learnt that the rebels were only a short distance ahead. We pushed on, and soon came in sight of them and of the river; crowds were collected on the banks, and boats were being hurriedly laden, some of the guns having already been placed on board. Our troops were ordered to advance, but the ground along the river bank was treacherous and very heavy. Notwithstanding, the Artillery managed to struggle through, and when the batteries had got to within 1,000 yards of the ferry, the enemy appeared suddenly to discover our presence, and opened upon us with their Artillery. Our batteries galloped on, and got considerably nearer before they returned the fire; after a few rounds the rebels broke and fled. The ground was so unfavourable for pursuit, being full of holes and quicksands, that nearly all escaped, except a few cut up by the Cavalry. Fifteen guns were captured, with one single casualty on our side—the General himself—who was hit on the foot by a spent grape-shot, without, happily, being much hurt.
Bithur Hope Grant's successful management of this little expedition considerably enhanced the high opinion the Commander-in-Chief had already formed of his ability. He was next ordered to proceed to Bithur and complete the destruction of that place, which had been begun by Havelock in July. We found the palace in good order—there[Page 210] was little evidence that it had been visited by an avenging force, and in one of the rooms which had been occupied by the treacherous Azimula Khan, I came across a number of letters, some unopened, and some extremely interesting, to which I shall have to refer later on.
We left Adrian Hope's brigade at Bithur to search for treasure reported to have been buried near the palace, and returned to Cawnpore, where we remained for about ten days, not at all sorry for the rest.
Windham at Cornpore During this time of comparative idleness, I went over the ground where the troops under Windham had been engaged for three days, and heard many comments on the conduct of the operations. All spoke in high terms of Windham's dash and courage, but as a Commander he was generally considered to have failed.
Windham was without doubt placed in an extremely difficult position. The relief of the garrison at Lucknow was of such paramount importance that Sir Colin Campbell was obliged to take with him every available man,5 and found it necessary to order Windham to send all reinforcements after him as soon as they arrived, although it was recognized as probable that Tantia Topi, with the large force then assembled near Kalpi, would advance on Cawnpore as soon as the Commander-in-Chief was committed to his difficult undertaking. Windham's orders were to improve the defences of the entrenchment; to carefully watch the movements of the Gwalior army; and to make as much display as possible of the troops at his command by encamping them in a conspicuous position outside the city; but he was not on any account to move out to attack, unless compelled to do so in order to prevent the bombardment of the entrenchment. The safety of this entrenchment was of great importance, for it contained a number of guns, quantities of ammunition and other warlike stores, and it covered, as already shown, the bridge of boats over the Ganges.
Windham loyally carried out his instructions, but he subsequently asked for and obtained leave to detain any troops arriving at Cawnpore after the 14th of November, as he did not feel himself strong enough, with the force at his disposal, to resist the enemy if attacked. But even after having received this sanction he twice despatched strong reinforcements to Lucknow, thus weakening himself considerably in order to give Sir Colin all possible help.
Windham eventually had at his disposal about 1,700 Infantry and[Page 211] eight guns, the greater part of which were encamped as directed, outside the city, close to the junction of the Delhi and Kalpi roads, while the rest were posted in and around the entrenchment. Meanwhile the rebels were slowly approaching Cawnpore in detachments, with the evident intention of surrounding the place. On the 17th two bodies of troops were pushed on to Shuli and Shirajpur, within fifteen miles of the city, and a little less than that distance from each other. Windham thought that if he could manage to surprise either of these, he could prevent the enemy from concentrating, and he drew up a scheme for giving effect to this plan, which he submitted for the approval of the Commander-in-Chief. No reply came, and after waiting a week he gave up all idea of attempting to surprise the detachments, and determined to try and arrest the rebels' advance by attacking the main body, still some distance off. Accordingly he broke up his camp, and marched six miles along the Kalpi road, on the same day that the Gwalior force moved some distance nearer to Cawnpore. The next morning, the 25th, the enemy advanced to Pandu Naddi, within three miles of Windham's camp.
Windham now found himself in a very critical position. With only 1,200 Infantry6 and eight light guns, he was opposed to Tantia Topi with an army of 25,000 men and forty guns. He had to choose whether he would fight these enormous odds or retire: he decided that to fight was the least of the two evils, and he was so far successful that he drove back that portion of the opposing force immediately in his front, and captured three guns; but being unable to press his advantage on account of the paucity of men and the total absence of Cavalry, he had perforce to fall back—a grievous necessity. He was followed the whole way, insulted and jeered at, by the rebel horsemen. The result of the day was to give confidence to the wily Mahratta leader; he pushed on to Cawnpore, and attacked Windham with such vehemence that by nightfall on the 28th the British troops were driven inside the entrenchment, having had 315 men killed and wounded, and having lost all their baggage and camp equipage.
Windham undoubtedly laid himself open to censure. His defence was that, had he received the Commander-in-Chief's authority to carry out his plan for surprising the rebels, he would certainly have broken up their army, and the disaster could not have occurred. But surely when he decided that circumstances had so changed since Sir Colin's orders were given as to justify him in disregarding them, he should have acted on his own responsibility, and taken such steps as appeared to him best, instead of applying for sanction to a Commander far from[Page 212] the scene of action, and so entirely ignorant of the conditions under which the application was made, as to render it impossible for him to decide whether such sanction should be given. The march which Windham made towards the enemy on the 24th was quite as grave a disobedience of orders as would have been the surprise movement he contemplated on the 17th; but while the former placed him in a most dangerous position, and one from which it was impossible to deal the enemy a decisive blow, the latter, if successful, would have deserved, and doubtless would have received, the highest praise.
FOOTNOTES, CHAPTER XXVII
[Footnote 1: Greathed's brigade consisted of the 8th and 64th Foot and 2nd Punjab Infantry. Adrian Hope's brigade consisted of the 53rd Foot, 42nd and 93rd Highlanders, and 4th Punjab Infantry. Inglis's brigade consisted of the 23rd Fusiliers, 32nd and 82nd Foot. Walpole's brigade consisted of the 2nd and 3rd Battalions Rifle Brigade and a detachment of the 38th Foot.]
[Footnote 2: The Artillery consisted of Peel's Naval Brigade, Blunt's, Bridge's and Remmington's troops of Horse Artillery, Bourchier's, Middleton's, and Smith's Field batteries, and Longden's Heavy battery.]
[Footnote 3: Mansfield was given the two Rifle Brigade battalions, the 93rd Highlanders, Longden's Heavy, and Middleton's Field battery.]
[Footnote 4: Unjur Tiwari's career was a very remarkable one. A sepoy in the 1st Bengal Native Infantry, he was at Banda when the Mutiny broke out, and during the disturbances at that place he aided a European clerk and his wife to escape, and showed his disinterestedness by refusing to take a gold ring, the only reward they had to offer him. He then joined Havelock's force, and rendered excellent service as a spy; and although taken prisoner more than once, and on one occasion tortured, he never wavered in his loyalty to us. Accompanying Outram to Lucknow, he volunteered to carry a letter to Cawnpore, and after falling into the hands of the rebels, and being cruelly ill-treated by them, he effected his escape, and safely delivered Outram's message to Sir Colin Campbell. He then worked for me most faithfully, procuring information which I could always thoroughly rely upon; and I was much gratified when he was rewarded by a grant of Rs. 3,000, presented with a sword of honour, and invested with the Order of British India, with the title of Sirdar Bahadur. I was proportionately distressed some years later to find that, owing to misrepresentations of enemies when he was serving in the Oudh Military Police, Unjur Tiwari had been deprived of his rewards, and learning he was paralyzed and in want, I begged Lord Napier to interest himself in the matter, the result being that the brave old man was given a yearly pension of Rs. 1,200 for his life. He was alive when I left India, and although he resided some distance from the railway he always had himself carried to see me whenever I travelled in his direction.]
[Footnote 5: The garrison left at Cawnpore consisted of:
Four companies of the 64th Foot, and small
Sailors 47 men.
With a hastily organized bullock battery of four field guns, manned partly by Europeans and partly by Sikhs.]
[Footnote 6: The force was composed of the 34th Foot, and portions of the 82nd and 88th Foot, and 2nd Battalion Rifle Brigade; with four 9-pounders, manned partly by Royal and Bengal gunners and partly by Sikhs; and four 6-pounders, manned by Madras Native gunners.]