Forty-One Years in India
From Subaltern to Commander-In-Chief
FIELD MARSHAL LORD ROBERTS
The fall of Delhi was loudly proclaimed, and the glad tidings spread like wildfire throughout the length and breadth of India, bringing intense relief to Europeans everywhere, but more especially to those in the Punjab, who felt that far too great a strain was being put upon the loyalty of the people, and that failure at Delhi would probably mean a rising of the Sikhs and Punjabis. Salutes were fired in honour of the victory at all the principal stations, but the Native population of[Page 141] the Punjab could not at first be made to believe that the Moghul capital, with its hordes of defenders, could have been captured by the small English army they saw marching through their province a few months before. Even at that time it seemed all too small for the task before it, and since then they knew it had dwindled down to less than half its numbers. It was not, indeed, until they had ocular demonstration of our success, in the shape of the loot which some of the Native followers belonging to the besieging force took back to their homes, that they became convinced of the reality of our victory.
Necessity for Further Action Sir John Lawrence being painfully alive to the weakness of our position in the Punjab, as compared to the great strength of the Sikhs, on hearing the news of the capture of Delhi, begged General Wilson to send back at once a British regiment as a practical proof that our triumph was complete, and that he no longer needed so many troops. But though the city was in our possession, a great deal remained to be done before a single soldier could be spared. Above all things, it was necessary to open up communication with Cawnpore and Lucknow, in order to ascertain exactly the state of affairs in that part of the country. We had heard of the failure of Havelock's attempts to reach Lucknow, and of his having been obliged in the end to retire to Cawnpore and wait for reinforcements, but we had not been able to learn whether such reinforcements had reached him, or how long the beleaguered garrison of Lucknow was likely to hold out.
No time was wasted at Delhi. On the 21st September, the very day after the palace was occupied, it was decided to despatch a column to Cawnpore; but, on account of the weakened condition of the whole force, there was considerable difficulty in detailing the troops for its composition. The total strength of the corps1 eventually selected amounted to 750 British and 1,900 Native soldiers, with sixteen field-guns.
No officer of note or high rank being available, the command of the column should have been given to the senior regimental officer serving with it, viz., Colonel Hope Grant, of the 9th Lancers; but for some[Page 142] unexplained motive Lieutenant-Colonel Greathed, of the 8th Foot, was chosen by General Wilson. Captain Bannatyne, of the same regiment, was appointed his Brigade-Major, and I was sent with the column as Deputy Assistant-Quartermaster-General. On the fall of Delhi the whole of the Head-Quarters staff returned to Simla, except Henry Norman, whose soldierly instincts made him prefer accompanying the column, in order that he might be ready to join Sir Colin Campbell, the newly-appointed Commander-in-Chief, who had shortly before arrived in India.
Departure from Delhi Nicholson's funeral was taking place as we marched out of Delhi, at daybreak on the morning of the 24th September. It was a matter of regret to me that I was unable to pay a last tribute of respect to my loved and honoured friend and Commander by following his body to the grave, but I could not leave the column. That march through Delhi in the early morning light was a gruesome proceeding. Our way from the Lahore gate by the Chandni Chauk led through a veritable city of the dead; not a sound was to be heard but the falling of our own footsteps; not a living creature was to be seen. Dead bodies were strewn about in all directions, in every attitude that the death-struggle had caused them to assume, and in every stage of decomposition. We marched in silence, or involuntarily spoke in whispers, as though fearing to disturb those ghastly remains of humanity. The sights we encountered were horrible and sickening to the last degree. Here a dog gnawed at an uncovered limb; there a vulture, disturbed by our approach from its loathsome meal, but too completely gorged to fly, fluttered away to a safer distance. In many instances the positions of the bodies were appallingly life-like. Some lay with their arms uplifted as if beckoning, and, indeed, the whole scene was weird and terrible beyond description. Our horses seemed to feel the horror of it as much as we did, for they shook and snorted in evident terror. The atmosphere was unimaginably disgusting, laden as it was with the most noxious and sickening odours.
It is impossible to describe the joy of breathing the pure air of the open country after such a horrible experience; but we had not escaped untainted. That night we had several cases of cholera, one of the victims being Captain Wilde, the Commandant of the 4th Punjab Infantry. He was sent back to Delhi in a hopeless condition, it was thought, but he recovered, and did excellent work at the head of his fine regiment during the latter part of the campaign.
After a march of eleven miles we reached Ghazi-uddin nagar, to find the place deserted. We halted the next day. The baggage animals were out of condition after their long rest at Delhi; and it was necessary to overhaul their loads and get rid of the superfluous kit and plunder which the followers had brought away with them. We were accompanied on our march by a few enterprising civilians, who had[Page 143] found their way into Delhi the day after we took possession of the palace. Amongst them was Alfred Lyall,2 a schoolfellow of mine at Eton. He was on his way to take up the appointment of Assistant-Magistrate at Bulandshahr, where he was located when the Mutiny broke out. As we rode along he gave me a most interesting little history of his personal experiences during the early days of May, from the time when the first symptoms of the coming storm were felt, until that when the surrounding country rose en masse, and he and those with him had to seek shelter at Meerut. I should like to repeat his story for the benefit of my readers, but I refrain, as it would lose so much by my telling; and I hope that some day Sir Alfred Lyall may be induced to tell his own story in the picturesque and attractive language which is so well known and so much appreciated by the reading public.
Early on the morning of the 28th, Norman, Lyall, and I, marching with Watson's Cavalry, two or three miles in advance of the column, arrived at cross-roads, one leading to Bulandshahr, the other to Malagarh, a fort belonging to a Mahomedan of the name of Walidad Khan, who, when the British rule was in abeyance, assumed authority over the district in the name of the Emperor of Delhi. We halted, and, having put out our piquets, lay down and waited for the dawn. From information obtained by the civil officers with the column, we suspected that large numbers of mutineers were collected in the neighbourhood.
Action at Bulandshahr We were not left long in doubt as to the correctness of our surmisings, for we were soon rudely awakened by the rattle of shots exchanged between our vedettes and those of the enemy. Information was sent back at once to the advance guard and to our Commander, while we set to work to ascertain the enemy's exact position; this proved to be at Bulandshahr, and we were within a couple of miles of the main body.
As we advanced the rebel Cavalry fell back, and when we got under fire of their guns, our Horse Artillery came into action; our Infantry coming up, found the enemy occupying an extremely strong position, in the gaol and a walled serai at the entrance to the town, their left being covered by the enclosed gardens and ruined houses of the deserted civil station, within which they were collected in considerable force. From these points they were driven by the 75th Foot, who, in a most dashing manner, captured two 9-pounder guns, while a third was taken by the Cavalry. The rebels then began to retreat, and were followed up by a small body of Cavalry, under Drysdale,3 of the 9th Lancers, with whom were Sarel, of the same regiment, Augustus Anson of the[Page 144] 84th Foot, and myself. We soon became entangled in narrow streets, but at last found ourselves in a gateway leading out of the town, which was crowded with bullock-carts, flying townspeople, and a number of the enemy, some on horseback, some on foot. There we had hard fighting; Sarel was wounded in the act of running a sepoy through the body, the forefinger of his right hand being taken off by a bullet, which then passed through his left arm; Anson was surrounded by mutineers, and performed prodigies of valour, for which he was rewarded with the Victoria Cross. I was riding a Waziri horse, which had belonged to John Nicholson, and as it had been a great favourite of his, I had commissioned a friend to buy him for me at the sale of Nicholson's effects. He was naturally impetuous, and, being now greatly excited by the firing and confusion, plunged about a good deal. He certainly was not a comfortable mount on that day, but all the same he saved my life. In the midst of the mêlée I observed a sepoy taking deliberate aim at me, and tried to get at him, but the crowd between him and me prevented my reaching him. He fired; my frightened animal reared, and received in his head the bullet which was intended for me.4
The work fell chiefly on the Cavalry and Horse Artillery. Major Ouvry, who commanded them, must have been a proud man that day, for they behaved splendidly. Two of Blunt's guns also, under an old Addiscombe friend of mine named Cracklow, did excellent service. The 9th Lancers, under Drysdale, performed wonders; and the three squadrons of Punjab Cavalry, under their gallant young leaders, Probyn, Watson, and Younghusband, and the squadron of Hodson's Horse, under Hugh Gough, showed of what good stuff they were made. Our casualties were 6 men killed, 6 officers and 35 men wounded. The enemy's loss was 300. A large quantity of ammunition and baggage fell into our hands, including many articles plundered from European men and women.
After the fight was over, the column passed through the town, and our camp was pitched about a mile beyond, on the banks of the Kali Naddi. The same afternoon Malagarh was reconnoitred, but was found to be deserted, a satisfactory result of the morning's action, for the fort, if defended, would have given us some trouble to take. Walidad Khan evidently hoped to become a power in the district, for he had begun to make gun-carriages, and we found roughly-cast guns on the lathes ready for boring out. It was decided that Malagarh Fort, which was full of articles of every description taken from the English residents, should be destroyed. Its demolition, however, took some time to effect, and as we could not move till transport came[Page 145] from Meerut to convey our wounded officers and men back to that place, the column halted at Bulandshahr for four days.
Lieutenant Home's Death On the afternoon of the 1st October the fort was blown up, and most unfortunately, while superintending the operation, Lieutenant Home was killed.5 The mine had been laid and the slow-match lighted, but the explosion not following as quickly as was expected, Home thought the match must have gone out, and went forward again to relight it. At that moment the mine blew up. His death was greatly felt in camp, happening as it did when all the excitement of battle was over.
We left Bulandshahr, and said good-bye to Lyall on the 3rd October, feeling that he was being placed in a position of considerable risk, thrown as he was on his own resources, with general instructions to re-establish the authority of the British Government. He was not, however, molested, and after two or three days he was joined by a small body of troops from Meerut. During the months that followed he and his escort had several alarms and some smart skirmishes; for Rohilkand, a large tract of country to the east of Bulandshahr, was held by the rebels until the following spring, and Lyall's district was constantly traversed by bodies of mutinous sepoys.
On the afternoon of the same day we reached Khurja, a fair-sized Mahomedan town, from which some of our Cavalry soldiers were recruited. The first thing that met our eyes on arrival at this place was a skeleton, ostentatiously placed against the side of a bridge leading to the encamping-ground; it was headless, and the bones were hacked and broken. It was pronounced by more than one doctor to be the skeleton of a European woman. This sight maddened the soldiery, who demanded vengeance, and at one time it seemed that the town of Khurja would have to pay the penalty for the supposed crime. The whole force was greatly excited. At length calmer counsels prevailed. The people of the town protested their innocence, and expressed their anxiety to be our humble servants; they were, as a whole, given the benefit of the doubt, but some soldiers found in the town, belonging to regiments which had mutinied, were tried, and hanged or acquitted according to the evidence given.
Some excitement was caused on reaching camp by the appearance of a fakir seated under a tree close to where our tents were pitched. The man was evidently under a vow of silence, which Hindu devotees often make as a penance for sin, or to earn a title to more than a fair share of happiness in a future life. On our addressing him, the fakir pointed to a small wooden platter, making signs for us to examine it. The platter had been quite recently used for mixing food in, and at first there seemed to be nothing unusual about it. On closer inspection,[Page 146] however, we discovered that a detachable square of wood had been let in at the bottom, on removing which a hollow became visible, and in it lay a small folded paper, that proved to be a note from General Havelock, written in the Greek character, containing the information that he was on his way to the relief of the Lucknow garrison, and begging any Commander into whose hands the communication might fall to push on as fast as possible to his assistance, as he sorely needed reinforcements, having few men and no carriage to speak of. This decided Greathed to proceed with as little delay as might be to Cawnpore.
Knights-Errant Just before we left Bulandshahr, a spy reported to me that an English lady was a prisoner in a village some twenty miles off, and that she was anxious to be rescued. As on cross-examination, however, the story did not appear to me to be very reliable, I told the man he must bring me some proof of the presence of the lady in the village. Accordingly, on the arrival of the column at Khurja, he appeared with a piece of paper on which was written 'Miss Martindale.' This necessitated the matter being inquired into, and I obtained the Brigadier's permission to make a detour to the village in question. I started off, accompanied by Watson and Probyn, with their two squadrons of Cavalry. We timed our march so as to reach our destination just before dawn; the Cavalry surrounded the village, and with a small escort we three proceeded up the little street to the house where the guide told us the lady was confined. Not only was the house empty, but, with the exception of a few sick and bedridden old people, there was not a soul in the village. There had evidently been a hasty retreat, which puzzled me greatly, as I had taken every precaution to ensure secrecy, for I feared that if our intention to rescue the lady became known she would be carried off. As day broke we searched the surrounding crops, and found the villagers and some soldiers hidden amongst them. They one and all denied that there was the slightest truth in the story, and as it appeared a waste of time to further prosecute the fruitless search, we were on the point of starting to rejoin our camp, when there was a cry from our troopers of 'Mem sahib hai!' (Here is the lady), and presently an excessively dusky girl about sixteen years of age appeared, clad in Native dress. We had some difficulty in getting the young woman to tell us what had happened; but on assuring her that no harm should be done to those with whom she was living, she told us that she was the daughter of a clerk in the Commissioner's office at Sitapur; that all her family had been killed when the rising took place at that station, and that she had been carried off by a sowar to his home. We asked her if she wished to come away with us. After some hesitation she declined, saying the sowar had married her (after the Mahomedan fashion), and was kind to her, and she had no friends and relations to go to. On asking her why she had sent to let us know she was there, she replied that she thought[Page 147] she would like to join the British force, which she heard was in the neighbourhood, but on further reflection she had come to the conclusion it was best for her to remain where she was. After talking to her for some time, and making quite sure she was not likely to change her mind, we rode away, leaving her to her sowar, with whom she was apparently quite content.6 I need hardly say we got unmercifully chaffed on our return to camp, when the result of our expedition leaked out.
Fight at Aligarh At Somna, where we halted for the night, we heard that the Mahomedan insurgents, the prisoners released from gaol, and the rebel Rajputs of the neighbourhood, were prepared to resist our advance on Aligarh, and that they expected to be aided by a large number of mutineers from Delhi. We came in sight of Aligarh shortly before daybreak on the 5th October. Our advance was stopped by a motley crowd drawn up before the walls, shouting, blowing horns, beating drums, and abusing the Feringhis in the choicest Hindustani; but, so far as we could see, there were no sepoys amongst them. The Horse Artillery coming up, these valiant defenders quickly fled inside the city and closed the gates, leaving two guns in our possession. Thinking we should be sure to attack and take the place, they rushed through it to the other side, and made for the open country. But we had had enough of street fighting at Delhi. Our Cavalry and Artillery were divided into two parties, which moved round the walls, one to the right and the other to the left, and united in pursuit of the fugitives at the further side. We followed them for several miles. Some had concealed themselves in the high crops, and were discovered by the Cavalry on their return march to camp. Ouvry formed a long line, and one by one the rebels, starting up as the troopers rode through the fields, were killed, while our loss was trifling.
The inhabitants of Aligarh had apparently had a bad time of it under the rebel rule, for they expressed much joy at the result of the morning's work, and were eager in their proffers to bring in supplies for our troops and to otherwise help us.
Ill as we could afford to weaken our column, it was so necessary to keep the main line of communication open, and put a stop to the disorder into which the country had fallen, that it was decided to leave two companies of Punjabis at Aligarh, as a guard to the young civilian who was placed in charge of the district.
Fourteen miles from Aligarh on the road to Cawnpore there lived two Rajputs, twin brothers, who had taken such a prominent part in the rebellion that a price had been put on their heads, and for the future peace of the district it was considered necessary to capture them.[Page 148] In order to surprise them the more completely, it was given out that the column was to march towards Agra, from which place disquieting news had been received, while secret orders were issued to proceed towards Cawnpore. The Cavalry went on in advance, and while it was still dark, succeeded in surrounding the village of Akrabad, where dwelt the brothers. In attempting to escape they were both killed, and three small guns were found in their house loaded and primed, but we had arrived too suddenly to admit of their being used against us. We discovered besides a quantity of articles which must have belonged to European ladies—dresses, books, photographs, and knick-knacks of every description—which made us feel that the twins had richly deserved their fate.
We halted on the 7th, and on the 8th marched across country to Bryjgarh (a prettily situated village under a fortified hill), our object being to get nearer to Agra, the reports from which place had been causing us anxiety, and likewise to put ourselves in a position to intercept the Rohilkand mutineers, who we were told were on their way to Lucknow.
Appeals from Agra No sooner had we got to Bryjgarh than we received information that the detachment we had left behind at Aligarh was not likely to be left undisturbed, and at the same time an urgent call for assistance came from Agra, where a combined attack by insurgents from Gwalior, Mhow, and Delhi was imminent. Fifty of Hodson's Horse, under a European officer, and a sufficient number of Infantry to make the detachment we had left there up to 200, were at once despatched to Aligarh. It was clear, too, that the appeal from Agra must be responded to, for it was an important place, the capital of the North-West Provinces; the troops and residents had been shut up in the fort for more than three months, and the letters, which followed each other in quick succession, showed that the authorities were considerably alarmed. It was felt, therefore, that it was imperative upon us to turn our steps towards Agra, but it entailed our marching forty-eight miles out of our way, and having to give up for the time any idea of aiding Havelock in the relief of Lucknow.
The column marched at midnight on the 8th October, the Horse Artillery and Cavalry, which I accompanied, pushing on as fast as possible. We had done thirty-six miles, when we were advised from Agra that there was no need for so much haste, as the enemy, having heard of our approach, were retiring; we accordingly halted, nothing loath, till the Infantry came up.
Early the next morning, the 10th October, we reached Agra. Crossing the Jumna by a bridge of boats, we passed under the walls of the picturesque old fort built by the Emperor Akbar nearly 300 years before.
The European residents who had been prisoners within the walls of[Page 149] the fort for so long streamed out to meet and welcome us, overjoyed at being free at last. We presented, I am afraid, but a sorry appearance, as compared to the neatly-dressed ladies and the spick-and-span troops who greeted us, for one of the fair sex was overheard to remark, 'Was ever such a dirty-looking lot seen?' Our clothes were, indeed, worn and soiled, and our faces so bronzed that the white soldiers were hardly to be distinguished from their Native comrades.
Our questions as to what had become of the enemy, who we had been informed had disappeared with such unaccountable celerity on hearing of the advance of the column, were answered by assurances that there was no need to concern ourselves about them, as they had fled across the Kari Naddi, a river thirteen miles away, and were in full retreat towards Gwalior. It was a little difficult to believe in the complete dispersion of the formidable rebel army, the mere rumoured approach of which had created such consternation in the minds of the Agra authorities, and had caused the many urgent messages imploring us to push on.
Our doubts, however, were met with the smile of superior knowledge. We were informed that the rebels had found it impossible to get their guns across to the Agra side of the stream, and that, feeling themselves powerless without them to resist our column, they had taken themselves off with the least possible delay. We were asked with some indignation, 'Had not the whole country round been scoured by thoroughly trustworthy men without a trace of the enemy being discovered?' And we were assured that we might take our much-needed rest in perfect confidence that we were not likely to be disturbed. We were further told by those who were responsible for the local Intelligence Department, and who were repeatedly questioned, that they had no doubt whatever their information was correct, and that there was no need to follow up the enemy until our troops were rested and refreshed.
Collapse of the Agra Administration We were then not aware of what soon became painfully apparent, that neither the information nor the opinions of the heads of the civil and military administration at Agra were to be relied upon. That administration had, indeed, completely collapsed; there was no controlling authority; the crisis had produced no one in any responsible position who understood the nature of the convulsion through which we were passing; and endless discussion had resulted (as must always be the case) in fatal indecision and timidity.
We could hardly have been expected to know that the government of so great a province was in the hands of men who were utterly unfit to cope with the difficulties of an emergency such as had now arisen, although in quieter times they had filled their positions with credit to themselves and advantage to the State.
Taken by Surprise That this was the case can be proved beyond a doubt, but I do not[Page 150] give it as an excuse for our being caught napping by the enemy, which we certainly were. We ought, of course, to have reconnoitred the surrounding country for ourselves, and posted our piquets as usual; and we ought not to have been induced to neglect these essential military precautions by the confident assertion of the Agra authorities that the enemy were nowhere in our neighbourhood.
The Brigadier gave orders for our camp to be pitched as soon as the tents should arrive, but he saw no necessity for posting piquets until the evening. Accordingly, I marked out the camp on the brigade parade-ground, which had been selected as best suited for the purpose—a grassy, level, open spot, a mile and a half from the fort. On the left and rear were the ruined lines of the two Native Infantry regiments which had been disarmed and sent to their homes, and the charred remains of the British officers' houses. To the right and front there was cultivation, and the high crops, almost ready to be reaped, shut out the view of the country beyond.
As the tents and baggage could not arrive for some time, I got leave to go with Norman, Watson, and a few others to breakfast in the fort. We had scarcely sat down, bent on enjoying such an unusual event as a meal in ladies' society, when we were startled by the report of a gun, then another and another. Springing to our feet, there was a general exclamation of, 'What can it mean? Not the enemy, surely!' But the enemy it was, as we were soon convinced by our host, who, having gone to a point from which he could get a view of the surrounding country, came back in hot haste, to tell us that an action was taking place.
We who belonged to the column hurried down the stairs, jumped on our horses, and galloped out of the fort and along the road in the direction of the firing. We had got but half-way to camp, when we were met and almost borne down by an enormous crowd, consisting of men, women, and children of every shade of colour, animals and baggage all mixed up in inextricable confusion. On they rushed, struggling and yelling as if pursued by demons.
The refugees from the fort, tired of their long imprisonment, had taken advantage of the security which they thought was assured by the arrival of the column to visit their deserted homes. Two-thirds of the 150,000 inhabitants of the city had also flocked out to see the troops who had taken part in the capture of Delhi (the report of which achievement was still universally disbelieved), to watch our camp being pitched, and to see what was going on generally. All this varied crowd, in terror at the first sound of firing, made for the fort and city, and were met in their flight by the heavy baggage of the column on its way to camp. Instantly, elephants, camels, led horses, doolie-bearers carrying the sick and wounded, bullocks yoked to heavily-laden carts, all becoming panic-stricken, turned round and joined in the stampede.[Page 151] Elephants, as terrified as their mahouts7, shuffled along, screaming and trumpeting; drivers twisted the tails of their long-suffering bullocks with more than usual energy and heartlessness, in the vain hope of goading them into a gallop; and camels had their nostrils rent asunder by the men in charge of them, in their unsuccessful endeavours to urge their phlegmatic animals into something faster than their ordinary stately pace.
The Fight at Agra Into this surging multitude we rushed, but for a time our progress was completely checked. Eventually, however, by dint of blows, threats, and shouts, we managed to force our way through the motley crowd and reach the scene of action. What a sight was that we came upon! I seem to see it now as distinctly as I did then. Independent fights were going on all over the parade-ground. Here, a couple of Cavalry soldiers were charging each other. There, the game of bayonet versus sword was being carried on in real earnest. Further on, a party of the enemy's Cavalry were attacking one of Blunt's guns (which they succeeded in carrying off a short distance). Just in front, the 75th Foot (many of the men in their shirt-sleeves) were forming square to receive a body of the rebel horse. A little to the left of the 75th, Remmington's troop of Horse Artillery and Bourchier's battery had opened fire from the park without waiting to put on their accoutrements, while the horses were being hastily harnessed by the Native drivers and saices. Still further to the left, the 9th Lancers and Gough's squadron of Hodson's Horse were rapidly saddling and falling in. On the right the 8th Foot and the 2nd and 4th Punjab Infantry were busy getting under arms, while beyond, the three squadrons of Punjab Cavalry, under Probyn and Younghusband, were hurrying to get on the enemy's flank.
Watson galloped off to take command of the Punjab Cavalry, and Norman and I rode in different directions to search for the Brigadier. While thus employed, I was stopped by a dismounted sowar, who danced about in front of me, waving his pagri8 before the eyes of my horse with one hand, and brandishing his sword with the other. I could not get the frightened animal near enough to use my sword, and my pistol (a Deane and Adams revolver), with which I tried to shoot my opponent, refused to go off, so I felt myself pretty well at his mercy, when, to my relief, I saw him fall, having been run through the body by a man of the 9th Lancers who had come to my rescue.
Being unable to find the Brigadier, I attached myself to the next senior officer, Major Frank Turner, who commanded the Artillery. Gradually the enemy were beaten off, and the troops formed themselves up ready for pursuit, or whatever they might be called upon to do. At this juncture Greathed appeared on the ground.
With less experienced troops the surprise—and a thorough surprise[Page 152] it was—would in all probability have had serious results. Most of the men were asleep under the few tents which had already arrived, or such shelter as could be obtained near at hand, when first one round shot, then another, came right into their midst from a battery concealed in the high crops to our right front. At the same time half a dozen rebels, one of them playing the nagàra,9 rode quietly up to the Quarter-Guard of the 9th Lancers and cut down the sentry. Being dressed, like Probyn's men, in red, they were mistaken for them, and were thus enabled to get close to the guard. This act was quickly followed by a general rush of the enemy's Cavalry, which brought about the series of fights that were going on when we appeared on the scene. The Commander was not to be found; no one knew who was the senior officer present; consequently each regiment and battery had to act according to its own discretion. The troops got ready with incredible rapidity, and set to work to drive the enemy off the ground. The Artillery replied to the insurgents' guns; the Infantry did what they could, but were hampered by the fear of doing more injury to their friends than their foes, and thus the brunt of the work fell upon the Cavalry. The 9th Lancers made a succession of brilliant charges. One troop especially distinguished itself by recovering Blunt's captured gun; the Captain (French) was killed, and the subaltern (Jones), covered with wounds, was left on the ground for dead. Watson, Probyn, and Younghusband, with their three squadrons, cleared our right flank, capturing two guns and some standards; and Hugh Gough, with his squadron, performed a similar duty on the left.
Probyn greatly distinguished himself on this occasion. In one of the charges he got separated from his men, and was for a time surrounded by the enemy, two of whom he slew. In another charge he captured a standard. For these and numerous acts of gallantry during the Mutiny, he was, to the great delight of his many friends in the column, awarded the Victoria Cross.
When Greathed arrived, the order for a general advance was given, and we were just moving off in pursuit of the rebels, when the 3rd European Regiment and a battery of Field Artillery under Lieutenant-Colonel Cotton arrived from the fort. This officer, being senior to our Brigadier, took command of the force, and untimely delay was caused while he learnt the details of our position. Having satisfied himself that the enemy must be followed up, he endorsed Greathed's order, and off we again started.
We soon overtook the retreating foe, who every now and then turned and made an ineffectual stand. At the end of about four miles we came upon their camp; it covered a considerable space, and must have taken a long time to transport and pitch—a circumstance which made[Page 153] the ignorance on the part of the Agra authorities as to the close proximity of the enemy appear even more unaccountable than before.
An Exciting Chase Our Infantry were now pretty well done up; they had been on the move, with one or two short intervals, for nearly sixty hours, and the 3rd Europeans were not in trim for a long and hot day's work after such a lengthened period of inactivity in the fort, and clad, as they were, in thick scarlet uniform. The enemy, however, could not be allowed to carry off their guns; so, leaving the Infantry to amuse themselves by making hay in the rebels' camp, we pushed forward with the Cavalry and Artillery. It was a most exciting chase. Property of all sorts and descriptions fell into our hands, and before we reached the Kari Naddi we had captured thirteen guns, some of them of large calibre, and a great quantity of ammunition. The enemy's loss on this occasion was not very great, owing to the extraordinary facility with which Native troops can break up and disappear, particularly when crops are on the ground.
While watching a few of the rebel Cavalry making their escape along the opposite bank of the Kari Naddi, I noticed about a dozen men belonging to the 2nd and 4th Punjab Infantry quenching their thirst in the stream. Carried away by excitement, they had managed to keep up with the pursuit, never thinking of the inevitable trudge back to Agra, which meant that, by the time they arrived there, they would have accomplished a march of not less than 70 miles without a halt, besides having had a severe fight with an enemy greatly superior in numbers.
Our casualties were slight: 12 officers and men were killed, 54 wounded, and 2 missing, besides some 20 camp-followers killed and wounded.
There is no doubt that the enemy were almost as much taken by surprise as we were. They knew that we were on our way from Aligarh, and had arranged (as we afterwards heard) with the people of the city to destroy the bridge of boats in time to prevent our crossing. But our movements were sufficiently rapid to prevent their carrying their intention into effect; and although the insurgents were informed that we had actually crossed the river they refused to believe the report, and, it was said, hanged the man who brought it. Their incredulity was strengthened by the small dimensions of the ground taken up for our camp, and the few tents which were pitched, and they made up their minds that these were only being prepared for the troops belonging to the Agra garrison, and so anticipated an easy victory. Their astonishment first became known when they were repulsed by the 75th Foot, and were heard to say to one another, 'Arrah bhai! ye Diliwhale hain!' (I say, brother! these are the fellows from Delhi!).
We halted at Agra on the 11th, 12th, and 13th October, partly to rest the men and transport animals, but chiefly on account of the[Page 154] difficulty we had in getting out of the clutches of the North-West Provinces Government, the local authorities not caring to be left to their own resources. Our wounded were taken to the fort, and lodged in the Moti Masjid,10 which exquisite little building had been turned into a hospital. The men were well taken care of by the ladies, who seemed to think they could never do enough for the Delhi column.
The Taj Mahal I now for the first time saw the lovely Taj Mahal—that beautiful, world-famed memorial of a man's devotion to a woman, a husband's undying love for a dead wife. I will not attempt to describe the indescribable. Neither words nor pencil could give to the most imaginative reader the slightest idea of the all-satisfying beauty and purity of this glorious conception. To those who have not already seen it, I would say: 'Go to India. The Taj alone is well worth the journey.'
FOOTNOTES, CHAPTER XX
[Footnote 1: Two troops of Horse Artillery, with four guns and one howitzer each, commanded respectively by Captains Remmington and Blunt. One Field Battery, with six guns, commanded by Captain Bourchier. One British Cavalry regiment, the 9th Lancers, reduced to 300 men, commanded by Major Ouvry. Two British Infantry regiments (the 8th and 75th Foot), commanded respectively by Major Hinde and Captain Gordon, which could only number between them 450 men. Detachments of three Punjab Cavalry regiments, the 1st, 2nd and 5th, commanded by Lieutenants John Watson, Dighton Probyn and George Younghusband, numbering in all 320 men. A detachment of Hodson's Horse, commanded by Lieutenant Hugh Gough, and consisting of 180 men. Two Punjab Infantry regiments, commanded by Captains Green and Wilde, each about 600 men; and 200 Sappers and Miners, with whom were Lieutenants Home and Lang.]
[Footnote 2: Afterwards Sir Alfred Lyall, G.C.I.E., K.C.B., Lieutenant-Governor of the North-West Provinces, and now a member of the Indian Council.]
[Footnote 3: Now General Sir William Drysdale, K.C.B.]
[Footnote 4: The horse, although badly hurt, was not killed, and eventually did me good service.]
[Footnote 5: This was the Engineer officer who had such a miraculous escape when he blew in the Kashmir gate at Delhi, for which act of gallantry he had been promised the Victoria Cross.]
[Footnote 6: A few years afterwards she communicated with the civil authorities of the district, and made out such a pitiful story of ill-treatment by her Mahomedan husband, that she was sent to Calcutta, where some ladies were good enough to look after her.]
[Footnote 7: Men in charge of the elephants.]
[Footnote 8: Turban.]
[Footnote 9: Native kettle-drum.]
[Footnote 10: Pearl Mosque.]