The capture of Delhi by the 3rd Light Cavalry on 11 May 1857 was the most serious blow suffered by the EEIC in particular and the British Empire in general since the rebellion of the North American Colonies in 1776. Thus it is an indisputable fact that till 1858 in the words of Sir J.W. Fortescue, the official historian of the British Army 'Never, I think, before 1858, had there been a British army of equal strength in any one country....as in India during the Mutiny. Excluding the British troops in the East India Company's service, there were in India at the end of 1858 eight regiments of British Cavalry and sixty eight battalions of British infantry' 237. Never before was the British strength in India reinforced in such a manner from overseas as during 1857-58. Not even in the First Afghan war or in any of the Sikh wars238. We have already discussed how Delhi was captured by the 3rd Light Cavalry. Its manpower was predominantly Muslim as was true for Cavalry in general before 1857. However, bulk of the infantry which followed 3rd LC to Delhi ie 11 & 20 NI were Hindu. The same was true for 38, NI 54 NI and 74 NI who were stationed at Delhi. The same was true for the entire Bengal Army infantry239.
Overall Strategic Situation
The strategic situation at the time of seizure of Delhi by the 3rd Light Cavalry on 11th May 1857 was as following. There were 19 Regiments of European troops in Northern India from and including Calcutta till Peshawar on the Afghan Frontier. These were divided armwise and organisation wise as following:-- (1) EEIC Troops:- 3 Infantry Battalions. (2) Royal Army:-Two Cavalry Regiments and Fourteen Infantry Battalions. Against these were following native troops:-Roughly 34 Cavalry Regiments and Roughly 119 Infantry Battalions240. All of these had not rebelled but their behaviour was not certainly positive towards the British.
One major town Delhi was in 'Rebel' hands. The only troops which could be immediately employed against Delhi were the Meerut European troops or those in Simla-Ambala area. The rest of the European troops could not be employed immediately. The two battalions at Calcutta i.e. HM 53 Foot and HM 84 Foot were required to protect Calcutta. Calcutta was only port from which North India could be directly reinforced from the sea route. The Battalion at Dinapur which was 400 miles north west of Calcutta i.e HM 10th Foot was required to guard the line of communication from Calcutta to Delhi. The two battalions at Lucknow and Agra i.e. HM 32 Foot at Lucknow and 3rd European at Agra were required to hold these two strategically and politically crucial places. In addition orders were sent to Madras to get the Madras Fusiliers (1st Madras European Infantry) of the East India Company, and to Ceylon to get half of the 37th Company of Royal Artillery from Ceylon.In addition orders were sent to move the HM 64 and 78th Foot returning from the Persian Expedition to directly disembark at Calcutta241 (rather than Bombay, the otherwise natural port of disembarkation). The Madras Fusiliers reached Calcutta on 24th May and were immediately despatched towards Allahabad242.
The British troops in Punjab i.e. the eight infantry battalions located from Peshawar to Jallandhar - Ferozepur could not move because they had to deal with some 45 potentially rebellious sepoy battalions.
Thus the following British troops could be employed against Delhi. The two unit at Meerut i.e. 60th Rifles and 6th Dragoons. The troops in Ambala Simla area ie ; 9 Lancer at Ambala, 75 Foot at Kasaulii, 1st Europeans at Dagshahi and 2nd Europeans at Subathu. Apart from these the following troops were comparatively reliable and could be employed again Delhi. (1) Nusseeree Gurtha Battalion in Simla area. (2) Sirmnur Gurkha Battalion at Dera Dun. (3) Gurkha Regiment at Almora243.
British reactions and counter measures after the fall of Delhi
There were two principal men who were the main decision makers in EEICs Indian Empire. First was the Governor General of India Lord Canning located at Calcutta. The second was the C in C of the Bengal Army General George Anson who was also the overall Commander of the other two armies i.e. the Madras and the Bombay Army. Canning received the news of the Meerut outbreak on 12 May and of the loss of Delhi on 14th May, 1857. He took the following actions244:-
a. Transmitted orders to Lord Elphinstone Governor of Bombay to immediately send all British troops returning from Persia to Calcutta. The expedition to Persia had been sent using entirely the troops of Bombay Army and European Regiments numbering some 14,000 men245. These included three Royal Army units246 and also the Bombay army European unit246.
b. Ordered Governor of Madras to despatch two European Regiments i.e. Ist Madras Fusiliers and 43 Foot by sea to Calcutta247.
c. Cancelled orders previously issued to 84 foot to go back to Burma248.
d. Ordered another unit i.e. HM 35 Foot from Pegu in Burma to Calcutta. An express steamer was sent from Calcutta to Burma for this purpose249.
e. Telegraphed orders to Anson to advance and capture Delhi immediately.
f. Started making arrangements to intercept ships carrying British troops for expedition to China and to instead divert them to Calcutta.
g. Ordered John Lawrence Chief Commissioner of Punjab to send as many European and Sikh troops from Punjab to Delhi to assist General Anson as he could.
h. Issued a proclamation addressed to all native soldiers reassuring them the British Government never had any intention of interfering with their caste or religion. He also asked them 'to refuse to believe the seditious lies of designing traitors who were leading good men to their ruin.'
i. Delegated power to the military authorities to assemble summary and field general court martials without reference to headquarters. Act XI of 30 May 1857 provided for punishment by death and by confiscation of property of all persons guilty of rebellion and Act XIV of 6 June 1857 extended these penalties to all those who incited to mutiny and rebellion250.
General Anson C in C Bengal Army and India received the news of fall of Delhi on 12 May 1857 at Simla251. General Anson took the following measures in response to the information about loss of Delhi252:-
a. Ordered 75 Foot stationed at Kasauli to march to Ambala. This was done on 13 May 1857.
b. Issued following instructions regarding safeguarding the two arsenals at Ferozepur and Phillaur:-
1) 61 Foot to securely hold the fort and arsenal at Ferozepur.
2) 8 Foot at Jallandhar to at once despatch two European companies to hold the fort/arsenal at Phillaur253.
3) 81 Foot at Lahore to send some troops to hold the fort at Govindghar Amritsar.
c. Ordered the remaining two European regiments i.e. 1st Bengal Europeans Fusiliers at Dagshahi and 2nd Bengal European Fusiliers at Sabathu on 13 May to be ready to move to Ambala on orders.
c. Siege train to be prepared at Phillaur for subsequent move to Delhi. Nusseeree battalion of Gurkhas presently stationed at Jatogh near Simla to move to Phillaur to escort the siege train. (This battalion initially disobeyed the orders to move, but agreed to do so when their administrative demands were met).
On 14 May Anson ordered the 1st and 2nd Europeans to move to Ambala and himself left Simla for Ambala on 14 May reaching Ambala before noon on 15 May. At the time the logistic problems being faced by the British were very grave. The 75 Foot had just 30 rounds per man while the 1st and 2nd Europeans had just 70 rounds per man. The nearest arsenal from where they could get ammunition was at Phillaur 80 miles west of Ambala. There was one potentially rebellious native infantry regiment i.e. 3rd NI at Phillaur but at this time it was not aware of the fall of Delhi. Had this regiment captured the arsenal/fort at Phillaur before the two companies of 8th Foot arrived from Jallandhar the British situation may have become very vulnerable. There is no inevitability in history. Individual tactical actions and decisions can influence its course254.
Anson realized that he could not advance to Delhi at once keeping in view the logistic and arms ammunition, transport, tentage, medical facilities etc. Anson assessed that he required at least 16 days255 to make administrative and logistic preparations for moving to Delhi. The administrative and logistic failure of the EEIC army to move to Delhi was the result of Dalhousie's economy measures. After the Second Sikh War of 1848-49 the transport department had been abolished256. Despite all these drawbacks Anson managed to arrange some transport etc by ad hoc makes shift arrangements which principally consisted of coercing the civilian contractors.
Anyhow, by 16 May, 1857 a squadron of 9th Lancers and five companies of 2nd Bengal European supported by two Horse Artillery guns moved to Karnal257. Captain Hodson who was in troubled waters before the rebellion 258started was tasked to keep the road between Ambala and Meerut open. He was given the command of Jind state irregular troops for this purpose259.
We will briefly analyse 'Hodson' a little more. The reason is that Hodson is character type of a universal type. Hodson was not a typically British phenomena as propagated by many post-1947 Indo-Pak historians. We find 'Hodsons' in all civil wars. Had he been from the Pakistan Army his name would surely have been very high in the list of officers that Bengalis wanted to be tried as war criminals. Had he been in Nazi Germany may have been a Heydrich or Eichmann. In the US army we find a prototype in Lieutenant Calley. In Warsaw uprising there was a Hodson in shape of Kaminski or Dirlewanger. Hodson was essentially a man with sadistic tendencies who had limited prospects even in EEIC service had the rebellion of 1857 not broken out. A Britisher described this country man of his as 'His whole record in India seemed to show that he was incapable of enjoying any position or privilege on authority without abusing it 260!'
It is significant to note that Lawrence the Chief Commissioner of Punjab was so demoralised by the loss of Delhi, and the consequent requirement to send as many troops from the Punjab as possible that he wanted to surrender area till Indus river including Peshawar to Afghanistan since he was fearing an attack by the Afghans. Lawrence was restrained from doing so by Edwardes the Commissioner of Peshawar 260a.
Ansons initial plan of action against Delhi
As soon as Anson arrived at Ambala from Simla, he made the following rough plan of action against the Sepoys holding Delhi 261:-
a. Organised the troops available to him as following:--
(1) 1st Ambala Brigade (Brigadier Halifax)
(a) HM 75 Regiment
(2) 2nd Ambala Brigade (Brig Jones)
(a) 2nd Bengal Europeans
(3) Meerut Brigade
(a) Wing (Half Regiment) 60 Rifles
Note: Total strength of these troops was about 3,000 Europeans 1,000 native troops and 22 guns
b. The two Ambala Brigades were to concentrate at Karnal by 30 May, 1857 and then march to Baghpat and wait at Baghpat for the Meerut Brigade which was to join them by 05 June, 1857.
General Anson left Ambala on 24 May and arrived at Karnal on 25 May. However he died because of Cholera on 29 May. He was succeeded by Sir Henry Barnard. Henry Barnard was from the Royal Army and had last seen action in the Crimean war of 1854-56 as Chief of Staff of the British Force in Crimea. Barnard made a change in plan and decided to march on towards Baghpat rather than waiting for the siege train coming from Ludhiana as Anson had planned262 .
Meanwhile Brigadier Archdale Wilson also left Meerut on 27 May with the following force263:-
a) Two Squadrons of 6th Carabineers (Dragoons)
Archdale Wilson had left half of 60th Rifle and a squadron of carabineers (6th Dragoons) to hold Meerut. On 30 May Wilson's force reached the area of Ghazi uddin Nagar. Here he had a short encounter with Delhi sepoys on 30 May. The sepoys had no success, what was their intention and their strength we do not know and can never find out. We cannot again rely on the British accounts since these exaggerate odds by ten times. On 31 May the sepoys resorted to an artillery duel but withdrew once the 60th Rifles advanced. On 1st of June the 2nd Gurkhas (Sirmur) Battalion who were coming from Dera Dun joined Wilson opposite Ghaziuddin Nagar. This regiment had about 500 men. Wilson resumed his march north after few days rest and joined the main field force at Alipur on 07 June264. The British strength at Alipur on 07 June was about 3,500 men. According to Lord Roberts the rough British strength was 265: -
a) Cavalry - 600
Meanwhile on 07 June Hodson had carried out a reconnaissance on the Delhi road and found the Delhi sepoys entrenched on the Delhi road at Badli Ke Serai. The engagement at Badli was the first major engagement of the rebellion of 1857. For those who are not familiar with the Bengal Army of 1857 it is necessary to explain the British system of command and organization. The officers of the Bengal Army were all Europeans. The EEIC created a class called 'native officers'. Subsequently after 1857 they were called VCOs or Viceroy Commissioned Officers. Later on they were called JCOs or Junior Commissioned Officers. But all these terms are misleading. These men were actually not officers at all. Their salary was less than that of the Junior most European officer. In a company of infantry there were two European officers so the authority of the Indian officer was very limited266. A sepoy became an Indian officer after about 35 years of service, so he was about 55 to 56 once he became a Subadar or Jamadar. These sepoys had almost no education and limited initiative since they were allowed little authority to be exercised by the two European officers in each company. The highest sub-unit which an Indian officer handled was a platoon. Till 1830s and 1840s mixed Anglo Indians could become officers in the Company's Army. But in 1850s a certificate was required from Cadets for Indian Commission testifying that they were not the sons of wives or concubines of pure Indian blood 267.
The battle of Badli was a classic example of the essence of the Sepoy war. The British were facing an enemy with almost no IQ, who had little concept of manoeuvre or even the vastly superior firepower of the Enfield Rifle which the British possessed and the native did not. Most of the British authors and officers who fought in 1857 deliberately avoid discussing the simple fact that the Enfield Rifle with which they fought the sepoys was far superior as a weapon to the Brown Bess Musket which the sepoy possessed.'The sepoys at Badli took a strong position with their left resting on the village of Badli and their right on a serai'268. This is the standard British description of the sepoy position. The following facts are always omitted.That the sepoy did not use any cavalry (and they had plenty of it) to act as a screen or early warning element to protect their left or the right.That they did not bother to destroy a bridge on the western Jumna Canal about 800 yards to their left. The British account does however, always says that their left was protected by the Jumna Canal. It was not because the sepoys were dumb enough to think that the British would not be clever enough to turn their left flank by coming across the bridge on the Jumna canal. 'Their right was protected by a 'Jheel' (Lake). But the account stops here, it does not say that from the Jheel till river Jumna there was an open space of about five miles and there was no sepoy cavalry in this area to act as a protective detachment against Colonel Graves' force who outflanked the sepoys from the east !
Even the sepoy strength is grossly overassessed by the British historians. Michael Edwardes a modern historian puts the sepoy strength at Badli at 30,000 men269 ! Now this is a highly inflated figure. How Michael Edwardes fits them in the total frontage of some 600 yards as specifically depicted on the British map of the battle published by Forrest in his mutiny records270 we do not know! Forrest who edited the mutiny records quotes a despatch from an officer who fought the battle. The despatch said: 'It is impossible to give anything like an estimate of the insurgent force271'. The man was more sensible than the more educated Cambridge and Oxford historians and placed the rough sepoy strength as elements of 38 NI, 54 NI and 74 NI from Delhi, 3 LC 11 NI and 20 NI from Meerut, Headquarters of the 9 NI from Aligarh and detachment from Bulandshahr 272. These may come to some 4,000 to 5,000 infantry and some 400 cavalry.
Following is a simple calculation which even a child can do. As per the British account of sepoy strength at Meerut the following was the approximate sepoy strength unit wise273:-
(1) 3LC - 504
Omit the following straight away from this i.e. one troop of 3 LC which never rebelled i.e. Craigie's troop. A troop had strength of some 70 natives so omit one troop from 3 LC. It strength goes down to 434. Now 3 LC 11 NI and 20 NI as per the British had 'Mutinied'. It means that all the troops certainly never came in proper military order to Delhi 40 miles away. It also means that between 10 May 1857 the day 3 LC mutinied and 08 June, 1857 many troopers of 3 LC may otherwise have deserted. Since military discipline had broken down so it was easier for the troops to go back to their villages? The Sepoys did not have any organisational or administrative framework to apprehend deserters. Their control was only limited to Delhi City. Lets see the infantry. No unit had complete strength. The 11 NI as per Palmer had 780 men. So how many were still there on 08 June about 28 days after the mutiny? The sepoys could not have brought all men to Badli. Some had to be left behind for guarding the magazine, the bridge of boats the city gates etc.We will still give the British due allowance. They are very truthful people. We place the average infantry regiment strength at 700 men. So there were five regiments. This comes to 3,500 men. The LC at 400. It comes to 3,900 men.
These are discrepancies that few Indian historians have bothered to point out. But they were there. What were the British trying to do. Their motive simply has been to create a myth that they were really superior to the Indians. Michael Edward's even today wants us to believe that !
Simple facts of Battle of Badli are as follows: -The sepoys numbering roughly 4,000 to 6,000 men, (we have given allowance of British racial superiority of 2,000 extra natives!) were holding a roughly 600 yards wide position at Badli.Their left and right flanks could be turned since no cavalry was guarding them.The British plan was three pronged. A frontal attack by the 1st Brigade (Showers). Turning of left flank by Colonel Grant and turning of sepoys right flank by Colonel Graves. At Leuthen the Prussians with 35,000 men defeated 60,000274 Austrians because they turned their flank. Once an army is outflanked its numerical superiority is nullified since only part of its manpower is facing the enemy.
The British fought well. They were well led, they had a strong motivation to fight. Facing them was a mixture of troops who had rebelled led by 50 or 60 years old JCOs who had never been given independent command in their life. A force which neglected to protect its flanks.
A hard short fight was followed by the sepoy withdrawal. The British pursued the sepoys till the ridge which was captured after a brief resistance. The British casualties were as follows 275:-
a. Killed-51 (including 3 officers)
No Gurkha or native troop was killed. Only 8 Gurkhas were wounded276.
Philip Mason one of the most balanced and brilliant authors from the British side describes the battle of Badli in the following words 'The sepoys had taken up a strong position and fought with courage but showed no ability to manoeuvre in the field; their officers (JCOs) had no experience of commanding anything bigger than a company and allowed themselves to be outflanked and enfiladed by horse artillery277.
Delhi lies on the west bank of river Jamna. The outer wall surrounding the city had a perimeter of seven miles and its height was 26 feet. The ditch outside the wall was 25 feet wide and 20 feet deep. There were ten gates leading into the city out of which only three were near the ridge. Thickness of the walls was 11 feet at the top and 16 feet at the base. Above the wall was a loopholed parapet 8 feet high and 2 feet thick. Outside the wall was a faussebrae from 16 to 30 feet wide, with a vertical scarp wall from 8 feet high followed by the 25 feet wide dry ditch. The Ridge north of the city was 60 feet high, two miles in length, and its breadth varied from 200 yards in the north to 800 yards in the south. The Ridge afforded an ideal defensive position for a besieger approaching the city from the north. Its northern flank rested on river Jumna which was unfordable in the summers and wide enough to negate any possibility of artillery enfilading fire from east of Jamna. Also the northern half of the ridge was outside the range of the guns mounted on the walls of Delhi. The right or the southern flank of the ridge was about 1,000 yards from Kabul Gate, whereas the northern edge was about three and a half miles away from the city walls278. The area to the Ridge's west was protected by the Najafgarh Drain which was a complete water obstacle.
The southern part of the ridge was very close to a built up area known as 'Sabzi Mandi', which had numerous buildings, enclosures, and clumps of trees which severely restricted observation. The summit of the ridge was occupied by four buildings i.e. 'Hindu Rao's House' on the extreme south, the 'Observatory' and the 'Mosque' close to it, and the 'Flag Staff Tower' in the centre. In the total city wall length of 7 miles, the British position at the Ridge only covered two miles of the city wall279. The bridge of boats on the Jamna and the Agra road in the south were open throughout the siege and many regiments which successively rebelled kept on reinforcing the sepoy strength at Delhi right till September 1857.
The earlier British accounts of the siege of Delhi kept on maintaining the myth that the sepoys were supplied with gunpowder and ammunition. On 11 May the main magazine was blown up by its very brave British Ordinance staff. However the new magazine at Wazirabad three miles north of the city was captured by the sepoys. The British historians maintain that the sepoys had plenty of gunpowder supplies since they captured this magazine. The fact is that once the sepoys assumed control of this magazine, it had already been plundered by the Gujars. Most of the weapons had been taken and there was no gunpowder in this magazine once the sepoys assumed its control280. Gunpowder, however, was locally manufactured since there was plenty of saltpetre found in the neighbourhood of Delhi. However, a very small quantity of weapons was captured by the Sepoys. This negates and nullifies the myth that the sepoys armed the locals of Delhi with captured weapons.
On 9th June, 1857 the Corps of Guides marching from Mardan reached Delhi. They had marched for 580 miles in 22 days281. A march for which they are proud even today as part of the Pakistan Army !
The sepoys at Delhi were constantly being reinforced. Many regiments were pouring in every day into Delhi. Yet they failed to make any serious attempt to either destroy the British force at Delhi or even to sever its line of communication with Punjab. The reason for this inaction lies in the fact that there was no unified leadership in the sepoy camp. The Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah was a mere figure head. He was despised by the sepoys and he himself was repenting inside his heart the loss of the handsome pension which he was getting from East India company. Another important factor which hampers the Indo-Pak armies even today was lack of initiative and aggressiveness on the part of their leaders. This essentially was the British strong point and Indian weakpoint. In 1965 we saw at Khem Karn and Chawinda a situation where the Pakistan Army in the former case and the Indian Army in the latter case could have easily outflanked the enemy position opposite them. Yet they failed to do it, simply because their leaders lacked the imagination and resolution to do so. It was this coup d'oeil as the French call it which saved the British in 1857 and doomed the sepoys.
On 10 June the sepoys sallied out of the Ajmer Gate with some guns and made reconnaissance in force towards the British right flank trying to by-pass it and threaten the Ambala road. This attempt was, however, defeated by a resolute counter-attack launched by the British under Major Reid. On 12 June the sepoys attacked the Flagstaff tower but were defeated282.
Native accounts written after the mutiny state that had the British attacked Delhi shortly after Battle of Badli, they could have captured Delhi. But the British were too exhausted to do so283.
The Governor General Lord Canning and Chief Commissioner of Punjab John Lawrence were goading Bernard to capture Delhi as soon as he could. But Barnard felt that he was not strong enough to do so284.
The sepoys launched various attacks on the British position but all these were direct attacks and were beaten off. On 23 June the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Plassey the sepoys launched a very deliberate attack on the ridge. This, however, also made no success since the Britishers had been forewarned. The Najafgarh Drain flowing to the west of the Ridge gave the British rear considerable protection285.After the blowing of Bussye Bridge west of the city on 8th of July286 it became increasingly difficult for the rebels to take artillery guns across the Drain for providing fire support while raiding British communications with Punjab. However its obstacle value is rarely mentioned in any British account! However its obstacle value is rarely mentioned in any British account!
The British meanwhile were also getting reinforcements from Punjab287: -
a. 23 June: - 800 men
Meanwhile severely pressurised by the Governor General, General Barnard drew up a plan to capture Delhi by coup de main (surprise attack) rather than through conventional siege warfare288. The two city gates nearest to the ridge ( i.e. the Mori Gate and the Kabul Gate) were to be blown up by assault parties using ladders and gunpowder. Two columns were to assault and enter the city through the two blown up gates and to turn left and right outwards along the inner side of the walls capturing the successive bastions. A third column subsequently sent from the ridge was to enter through the Kashmir Gate which by then was to have been opened by the column which had entered the city from Mori Gate from the inside. This third column was to attack and capture the citadel i.e. 'The Red Fort' . This plan to be carried out on 13 June was however abandoned at the last stage289. Barnard as a matter of fact at the last moment lost the resolution to carry it out. Most probably if carried out this plan may have seriously jeopardized the British position at Delhi.
On the 17th June the British carried out a sortie and destroyed a sepoy battery being erected at Eidgah which if operational would have enfiladed the whole British position along the ridge290.
The sepoys inside Delhi were a highly disorganised and unruly mob. They had no unified leadership. Initially Bahadur Shah Zafar appointed his son Mirza Mughal as the C-in-C. But this prince had no military experience. Subsequently when the Bareilly Brigade arrived in Delhi under the command of Subedar Bakht Khan of Indian Horse Artillery in early July the leadership situation improved. Bakht Khan was a heavy imposing man with 40 years service in the Bengal Horse Artillery of the East Company's army291. He had also seen action in the First Afghan war. The Bareilly Brigade reached Delhi on 1st July 1857 on Wednesday292. It consisted of the following troops293: -
a) 18 NI and 68 NI from Bareilly. These had rebelled on 31 May 1857. 28 NI from Shahjahanpur. 29 NI which had rebelled at Badaun and Moradabad on 1st and 3rd June 1857.
b) 8th irregular cavalry which had joined the rebellion on 31 May 1857 at Bareilly (Part of this regiment, however, stayed loyal)294.
c) The foot artillery battery and No 15 Light Horsed Artillery battery from Bareilly to which Subedar Bakht Khan belonged295.
The major weakness of the sepoys was administrative. There was hardly any money to pay the troops and the rich citizens of Delhi were not interested in financially contributing anything. This forced the sepoys to make forced contributions. The second major problem was supply of food stuffs. This became more and more serious by September 1857 when the British assaulted the city. Many city butchers were as a matter of fact secretly selling meat to the British on the Ridge out of a greed for the much higher rates which the British were prepared to pay. Many butchers and bakers were as a matter of fact caught by the sepoys while doing so and were executed296.
Another major problem was that of lack of security. There was no dearth of spies and informers and most of the sepoy attacks against the ridge or against the British line of communication failed because the British were informed well in time about the future sepoy intentions. Hodson was incharge of the Intelligence Department, assisted by a Muslim Maulvi Rajab Ali from Ludhiana district297.
Many of the civilians however were patriotic and fought along with the sepoys. The civilians were keen to fight and this can be seen from some of the following incidents. In the first week of September a proclamation was issued that Bahadur Shah Zafar would personally lead an assault on the British position at the ridge. On 12 September in response to this call some 10,000 soldiers and civilians gathered near the Kashmir Gate. They were highly motivated and excited and were firm in their resolution to attack the British. However they waited till midnight, but the king never came. The king was by this time in a highly demoralised state298. The king was more worried about his own life and as a matter of fact told Bakht Khan that 'It is quite clear to me that the English will ultimately recapture Delhi and will kill me299. Leadership was and is Indo-Pak sub-continents problem. Irresolute, indecisive and incompetent leadership, in addition to being extremely corrupt !
The sepoy strength in Delhi kept on decreasing as months progressed. Christopher Hibbert a very eminent modern author from the British camp who does not have the habit of inflating the number of sepoy states the number of sepoys had been reduced in August to 20,000 from 30,000 in mid-July300. We may decrease this figure by 5,000 and place the sepoy strength at 15,000 in August and 10,000 in September once the British assaulted !
The morale of the civilians can be gauged from the fact that many sepoy assaults were led by two very old women from Rampur in Rohail Khand. Compare this with Nawab Rampur who remained loyal to the British when whole Rohail Khand was freed by the sepoys. What sagacity what foresightedness! The post-1857 Muslim leadership was largely composed of such loyal toadies both in UP and Punjab and most of the eminent Muslim League leaders of 1947 were grandsons of these loyalist turncoat Nawabs and Maliks ! These two old tigresses according to Syed Mubarak Shah would lead the spoys with swords in their hands. These women were forever present in the sepoy batteries on the city wall from which the sepoy guns used to pound the British position on the ridge301. In 1971 war there was a Pakistani Brigade Commander who avoided joining his brigade by staying on Martial Law Duty and later on became a full General !
By the end of August the gunpower supplies of the sepoys were exhausted. The local gunpower which they made in the city was not reliable and did not often burst the shells302.
Meanwhile in later part of June Barnard decided to capture the suburb of Sabzi Mandi since the sepoys were using it as a base to attack the British position on the ridge. The Sabzi Mandi was, therefore, captured by the British by 23 June 1857303. A British writer writing about the situation as in June - July made the following comments 'If the enemy had only possessed a general of any moderate ability he could have recognised the importance of severing our communication (with Punjab) completely, which would have led to the raising of the siege, or the destruction of the British force304.'
Meanwhile on 5th July General Barnard died of that illustrious killer of British in 1857 i.e. Cholera ! He was succeeded by Brigadier Reed, who however soon handed over the command to the illustrious Brigadier Archdale Wilson of Meerut masterly inaction fame on 17 July 305.
The state of British morale can be gauged from the following incident which took place on 9th of July. A body of sepoy cavalry charged right into the British camp from Kishenganj. They attacked a picquet of 60th Rifles a European unit. The white soldiers panicked and abandoned the picquet without any resistance! The rebel cavalry now galloped right into the artillery guns and exhorted the Punjabi and Pathan troops to abandon the infidels and joined them but off course without any results ! The cavalry now withdrew because no sepoy infantry was supporting them! The incident proves that a resolute well planned and carefully executed surprise attack on the Ridge may have succeeded in destroying the entire British position 306!
On 23rd July the Sepoys occupied Ludlow castle and opened fire on Metclafe House, with an intention of attacking the British left flank. A force under Brigadier showers was tasked to attack the Ludlow Castle and drive the sepoys away307. This was successfully done. On 31 July the sepoys tried to bridge the Jamna Canal protecting the British right flank and attack the British position on the Ridge from the rear but were unsuccessful in crossing the canal in face of British artillery fire and because of fast flow of water in the canal308. On 07 August the Ludlow Castle was again occupied by the sepoys and Brigadier Showers was again tasked to clear it309.
On 07 August Brigadier John Nicholson (1821-1857) arrived at the British Camp310. Nicholson was not anything like a military genius, but no genius was required against the Sepoys led by rankers and Subedars with no conception of handling units larger than platoons and companies. The military record of Nicholson was of having served as a junior infantry officer in the First Afghan War and later as an army man seconded to the district administration after 1846. Nicholson had a tendency of taking the law in his own hands as was the policy of most British administrators in Punjab and Frontier since these were non-Regulation Provinces with minimum laws unlike the Regulation Provinces with full fledged courts and rule of law. Before the rebellion this practice, however, was checked by great men like Dalhousie and Dalhousie once censured Nicholson thus: 'I know that Nicholson is a first rate guerilla leader (referring to Nicholsons dealing with Frontier Tribes as Deputy Commissioner of Bannu), but we don't want a guerrilla policy'311! The crisis of 1857, however, enabled Nicholson to assume a role that no one could have foreseen for a man serving as a Deputy Commissioner in the remote Bannu District of the Trans Indus Frontier312. The British at Delhi were, however, demoralised and needed a resolute man who could put some steel in their nerves, and it was this that Nicholson did. Nicholson was a man of great resolution and courage and his arrival at the ridge considerably improved the morale of British force313. He belonged to East India Company's European Officer Corps and had arrived in India as a subaltern commissioned in the East India Company's Bengal Native Infantry in July 1839314. Shortly before Nicholsons arrival Brigadier General Archdale Wilson the Commander of Delhi Field Force was so demoralised that he was already thinking about withdrawing the Delhi Field Force away from Delhi till he was suitably reinforced and in a position to capture Delhi315. Baird Smith the Chief Military Engineer of the Delhi Field Force played the most instrumental role in convincing Wilson not to think of withdrawing for in Baird Smith's opinion 'it would lead all India to think that that we retreated because we were beaten' 316. Baird Smith thus convinced Wilson into hanging on and Nicholsons arrival and the reinforcements that he brought however further reinforced Wilson's decision not to withdraw.
The sepoys in the second half of August started planning to make an attempt to intercept the siege train which was on its way from Lahore to Delhi. Arrival of this heavy siege train would enable the British to batter and breach the walls of Delhi and assault it.
A force was assembled to move to Delhi Karnal road from the west and to surprise and destroy the siege train before it could reach Delhi317. Conceptually it was good plan just like Churchill's plan to attack the Dardanelles. But the element of surprise was lost by giving the British ample early warning of this plan, thanks to the spies inside the city.
On the night of 23/24 August the sepoys moved towards Najafgarh on their way to a little north of Alipur to intercept and destroy the siege train. The strength of this sepoy force may have been 4,000 to 5,000 and according to the British, they also had 18 guns318.
Nicholson marched on 25 August before sunrise with about 2,000 men and sixteen horse artillery guns with the object of intercepting this sepoy force. Nicholson's force made contact with this sepoy force around four o'clock in the evening near Najafgarh. Nicholson probably took the sepoys by surprise. He attacked their right flank and defeated the sepoys capturing 13 guns and himself suffering about 100 casualties319.
On 4 September 1857 the siege train reached Delhi. It was escorted by about 200 Europeans of 8th Foot Regiment and a battalion of Baluch. This train consisted of 32 Heavy artillery pieces. This siege train was a very lucrative target for the sepoys. Its reaching Delhi was a major failure on the part of sepoy leadership. Its guns were elephant and bullock drawn and moved at a snail's pace. The length of the siege train column was some eight miles319a. Attacking it and destroying it was simple affair. But the sepoys lost this golden opportunity 320.
Even after the arrival of the siege train Archdale Wilson was half hearted about launching the attack. He started having psychosomatic problems like headache, cramps in the legs and insomnia. Baird Smith from the Corps of Engineers was the man who was spurring Wilson; the sceptical artillery man who saw a calamity in every action proposed to him. Wilson confessed that 'my head gets so confused that I at times almost despair321.'
Wilson did not want to mount an assault since he felt that an assault would not succeed. He, however, agreed to do so under great pressure from Baird Smith. The official historian of the British Army Sir John Fortescuee described Wilson's apprehensions about mounting an assault in the following words: 'Here was an oriental city more than two square miles in extent, with narrow tortuous streets and endless buildings where a mutinous sepoy, from his local knowledge, might prove as good a man, as the British soldier. The precedents of Rosetta and Buenos Aires suggested a very good chance of failure, while that of Badajoz was a painful reminder that pillage and Liquor could reduce a British army to an ungovernable mob. Poor Wilson, ill and worn out by heat, anxiety and hard work had some excuse for hesitation. But Fortescue went further in describing Wilson's fears i.e. 'It should be seen that he dreaded not so much the damages of a repulse as the possible dissolution of his army in the event of success'322.
In military history a military commander's belief in the success of his plan and his resolution to carry it out against all odds is a very important part of success in battle. Wilson was, however, an exception to this rule. Following note which Wilson wrote on the proposed plan of assault on Delhi forwarded to him by Baird Smith throws some light on Wilson's state of mind a few days before the assault on Delhi. Wilson thus wrote on Baird Smith's memorandum 'the results of the proposed operations will be thrown on the hazard of a die; but under the circumstances in which I am placed, I am willing to try this hazard - the more so as I cannot suggest any other plan to meet our difficulties. I cannot, however, help being of the opinion that the chances of success under such heavy fire as the working parties will be exposed to, are anything but favourable. I yield, however, to the judgement of the Chief Engineer'!323 The aim of quoting all this is to illustrate that the British at Delhi were being commanded by an indecisive man who was there just because he was the senior most . Had the sepoys possessed a really unified command and a reasonable command organisation Delhi may have gone down in history as a disastrous British defeat, just like New Orleans324.
After being reinforced by the siege train on 4th of September the British artillery strength was as follows325: -
a) 15 x 24 Pounder Guns
The British Plan of Assault
Baird Smith was the guiding spirit of this plan although Wilson being the de jure overall commander was supposedly the final authority. Salient aspects of the plan were as follows326: -
a. Main attack from the British left flank i.e. on the north eastern part of the city wall in the area between and including Water Bastion in the east and including Kashmir Gate to the west of Water Bastion.
b. Use of artillery fire to deceive the sepoys into believing that main attack was coming from the right i.e. in the Mori Bastion area. For this purpose a battery was constructed in the Sammy House area on the extreme right.
c. Main points from which the assaulting columns would enter and assault the city were as follows:
(1) Breach in the Water Bastion
d. Organization and respective tasks of the four columns and the reserve force were as follows: -
(1) First Column (Brigadier Nicholson)
(i) 75 Foot - 300 men
Total - 1,000 men
(b) Task : - Assault through the breach made in the Kashmir Bastion and turn west along the inner city wall. Attack towards the Kabul Gate opening it from inside for the fourth column assaulting the city from Kishenganj area.
(2) Second Column (Brigadier Jones)
i. 8 Foot - 250 men
Total - 850 men
(b) Task : - Assault through the breach made in the Water Bastion area and subsequently operate as ordered.
(3) Third Column (Colonel Campbell)
i. 52 Foot - 200 men
Total: - 950 men
(b) Assault through the blown up Kashmiri Gate and subsequently operate As ordered.
(4) Fourth Column (Major Reid)
(a) Composition: -
i. Sirmur Battalion Guides Infantry
Collected Picquets - 860 men
ii Kashmir contingent - 1,000 men
Total - 1,860 men
(b) Task:- Attack by entering the city through the Kabul Gate which was to be opened from the inside by the 'First Column'
(5) Fifth (Reserve) Column
(a) Commanded by Brigadier Longfield
i. 61 Foot - 250 men
Total: - 1,300 men
(c) Task: - Act as reserve and reinforce any other column as ordered.
Note::- 200 men of 60 Foot were to join it after the initial assault.
(6) Cavalry:- Composed of 9 Lancers, 6 Dragoon Guards, Hodsons Horse,Guides Cavalry and various Punjab Cavalry Regiments was to guard the Main Ridge as Cavalry Brigade under Hope Grant.
e. Artillery / Assault Party Breaching plan
(1) Construction of Four Siege batteries to per- form the following tasks:
(a) To deceive the enemy about direction of main attack.
(b) To neutralize Sepoy artillery guns firing on the main batteries being constructed to create a breach through which the main assault was to be launched.
(c) To prevent by application of artillery fire sepoy sorties mounted against the flanks of the main attack or against the Ridge.
(d) To create two breaches; one in the Kashmir Bastion area and the second in the Water Bastion area through which the main asault was to be launched.
(2) Specific tasks of the respective batteries were as follows: -
(a) REID'S BATTERY:-
Located slightly to the east of the Sammy House this battery consisted of four 9 pounders and two 24 pounders. This battery was tasked to provide covering fire for construction of 1st Siege Battery. This battery had to silence sepoy guns mounted on the Mori Bastion. Till these guns were neutralised it was not possible to construct the first siege battery. This battery was also tasked to destroy by fire any sepoy sortie against the No. 1, No. 2 No. 3 or No. 4 breaching batteries mounted from the Lahore or Kabul Gate. This battery was also to deceive the Sepoys into thinking that the Main British attack was coming from the right and against the Mori Bastion area.
(b) No. 1 Siege Battery:-
This battery was to be constructed under the covering fire of the first battery east of Sammy House which was commanded by Captain Remington. This battery commanded by Major Brind was assigned a dual task. It had to destroy the Mori Bastion from where sepoy artillery guns could enfilade and disrupt the work on No.2, 3 and 4 breaching batteries. It also had to neutralize the sepoy guns mounted on the Kashmir bastion which could seriously discourage the construction of No.2, 3 and 4 breaching batteries. This battery had two parts. The part on the left housed four guns to neutralize sepoy artillery fire from guns placed on top of the Kashmir Bastion. The right part housed six guns including one heavy howitzer to destroy the Mori Bastion. This battery was 700 yards from the Mori Bastion and each gun was pulled by forty bullocks.
(c) No. 2 Siege Battery:-
This battery was to be constructed slightly to the east of a mansion called Ludlow Castle. It was commanded by Major Kaye and Major Campbell. It had two sub-parts ie. the 'left' and the 'right'. Its right part housed seven 8' howitzers and two 18 pounder guns. Its left part housed nine 24 pounder guns. This battery was just 500 yards from the Kashmir Bastion. Its main task was to completely destroy the Kashmir Bastion. Its left part was to also neutralize the Sepoy guns to the east of the Kashmir Bastion.
(d) No. 3 Siege Battery:-
Located to the east of the old Custom House this battery was just 160 yards from the Water Bastion. This battery consisted of six 18 pounder guns and was tasked to breach the Water Bastion so that the assaulting troops could enter the city through this breach.
(e) No. 4 Siege Battery:-
Commanded by Major Tombs this battery was to be constructed in the Kudsia Bagh area. It housed ten heavy mortars. This battery was to provide overhead covering fire and to neutralize the various Sepoy guns placed in the entire length of the wall between the Water and the Kashmir Bastions.
Execution of the Artillery Plan
The 'Sammy House' or the 'Reid's Battery' was operational by 6th of September. Under its covering fire work was commenced on the 'No. 1 Siege Battery' which was completed by the night of 7th September 1857. The 'No. 1 Siege Battery' or 'Major Brind's Battery' was thus operational and firing on the Mori and Kashmir Bastions by 08 September 1857. By afternoon of 8 Sept. Mori Bastion had been destroyed and thus the sepoy guns of heavy calibre which were placed on it and could enfilade and interfere with construction and occupation of 'No.2' and 'No.4' siege batteries were neutralized. Nicholson was right once he said that it was Lieutenant Taylor who captured Delhi327. Taylor was the captain from Engineers who assisted Baird Smith in the selection and construction of the siege battery sites.
The construction and subsequent firing from the first two batteries i.e. the 'Sammy House' and the 'No. 1 Siege Battery' for a time deceived the sepoys into thinking that the main expected British assault would come from their left i.e. the British right.
Meanwhile on the evening of 8th of September the British occupied the Ludlow Castle and the Kudsia Bagh. A sepoy picquet was holding the Ludlow Castle but in weak strength. Failure to effectively hold Ludlow Castle was a major tactical sepoy failure. Construction of the No.2 Siege Battery was started on the night of 8th September. This battery was fully operational by the night of 9 / 10 September but the guns inside it were kept concealed for the time being. This battery was also known as the 'Great Breaching Battery' and was the most important siege battery since it was tasked to destroy the Kashmir Bastion. It was just 500 yards from the Kashmir Bastion.
The 'No. 3' and 'No. 4' siege batteries' construction was commenced on the night of 10 / 11 September 1857. On 11 September the heavy guns were moved to the 'No. 3 Siege Battery' under heavy sepoy fire.
On 11 September 1857 at 8 a.m. the 'Great Breaching Battery' or 'No. 2 Siege Battery' opened fire on the Kashmir Bastion. By the evening the Kashmir Bastion was in ruins.
On 12 September 1857 the 'No. 3 Siege Battery' opened fire on the Water Bastion.
The sepoys also countered the British firing. Thus between 7 and 14 September the British casualties exceeded 300 men328 .
It must be noted that sepoy artillery was professionally the best arm in the rebellion. Thus after 1857 till almost the 1930s most of the Indian artillery was disbanded for security reasons. Only the trusted 'Punjab Irregular Frontier Force' was left with few insignificant mountain batteries !
The sepoys meanwhile between 8th and 14th September made two significant artillery counter-attack attempts, to enfilade and counter-bombard the British siege batteries. They successfully constructed and operated two batteries to bring artillery fire on the British siege guns. The first battery was at Kishenganj and fired on the 'No. 1 Siege Battery' with considerable effect. The second battery was constructed and operated from across the Jumna against the Kudsia Bagh Battery and the Custom House Battery or the 'No. 3' and 'No. 4' siege batteries329. By the night of 13/ 14 September 1857 artillery had won the battle for the British. On the night 13 /14 September a reconnaissance was carried out by engineers escorted by the infantry and the breaches in the Kashmir Bastion and Water Bastion were pronounced as practicable for an assault on the city329a.
An Assault Force of 1,500 resolute Britishers who were heroes fighting for their home country and 4,660 natives330 who were inspired mercenaries in the hope of material gains in shape of land grants and loot was ready to attack the fortress city of Delhi! The British knew when to kick and when to reward the natives. Ancestors of most of the Muslim League leaders of 1947 were among those 5,000 collaborators waiting few hundred yards north of the city walls to assault Delhi. The real freedom fighters on the other side of the wall perished fighting or later on in the Terai !
Assault and Capture of Delhi
On the morning of 14 September the four assaulting columns were already in their positions around the Kudsia Bagh area. Heavy artillery fire was opened to further widen the breaches and to stun the defenders. Meanwhile the assaulting troops had been in position since three o'clock in the morning.
The detailed account covering even individuals has been given by many historians. This work is more concerned with the analytical aspects of 1857, therefore the following account of the actual assault of Delhi is not as detailed as in other works connected with 1857.
The main assault was plannned to start early in the morning. However it was delayed since during the preceeding night the sepoys had covered the breaches. Guns therefore had resumed fire in the morning to widen the breaches again331. Once this was done assault was commenced under the leadership of Brigadier Nicholson by the Ist and 2nd Columns who rushed towards the two main breaches, i.e. the Ist column towards the breach in the Kashmir Bastion and the 2nd colum towards the breach in the Water Bastion wall. These columns suffered terrible casualties but Nicholson was a very brave man and he led the British troops and the loyal Indian troops onwards into the breaches. The only difference perhaps at this stage was that the British had only one Nicholson and the Sepoys had no Nilcholson !
Meanwhile the third column had to wait for the blowing up of the Kashmir Gate. This was successfully done by a breaching party of engineers who reached the Kashmir Gate under tremendous fire. The breaching party was commaned by Lieutenant Home and Salkeld of the Engineers. Their approach to the gate was covered by the 60th Rifles. They were accompanied by a bugler from 52 Foot who had to blow the bugle once the gate was successfully blown up in order to warn the assaulting column to commence its approach advance to the blown up gate. While placing the charge and while lighting the fire one sergeant and one officer were killed but the gate was successfully blown up. The assault party consisting of 150 men (50 Europeans for 52 foot, 50 Gurkhas from Kumaoon battalion and 50 Indians (Muslims + Sikhs) from Ist Punjab Infantry) rushed in followed by the main body of the third column. The third column immediately started moving towards Chandni Chowk but was soon forced to retire due to heavy sepoy fire to the Saint James Church332.
The Ist 2nd and 3rd column succeeded in entering the city but were stopped from advancing due to heavy resistance333 Meanwhile Archdale Wilson rode into the city and established his forward tactical headquarters in the Saint James Church which was located near the Kashmir Gate.
Meanwhile the 4th column was actually forced to retreat by the sepoys soon after it attacked Kishenganj334. The Kashmir contingent composed mostly of Dogras was severely mauled and routed by the sepoys once this force attacked the Eidgah.
The sepoys taking advantage of the confusion and lack of success of the three columns in advancing further into the city launched a resolute counter attack on the Ridge from the Kishanganj area,sallying from the Lahore Gate and attempting to turn the British flank from the west. This however was repulsed by the cavalry Brigade under Brigadier Hope Grant 335.
Brigadier Nicholson was the first man who entered the breach in the Kashmir Bastion336. Leading the First Column he turned right i.e. westwards and advanced on the inner side of the city wall towards Mori Bastion.He successfully advanced till the Kabul Gate but determined sepoy resistance did not allow the Ist column to advance beyond the Kabul Gate337. Nicholson was mortally wounded by a musket ball at Burn Bastion and was carried back in a litter (Dolly) to the camp. After Nicholsons evacuation the first column retreated to the Kabul Gate. Nicholson died nine days later after being wounded in 14 September 1857338.
By the night of 14 September 1857 the British position was not encouraging. The Ist and the 2nd column were at the Kabul Gate and had failed to advance any further. The 3rd column was bogged down at Saint James Church. The fourth column had failed to capture Kishenganj and to enter Delhi via the Kabul Gate. The British casualties for 14 September only had been 66 Officers and 1104 men killed or wounded or a third of all the assaulting columns339.
A very serious incident occured on the night of 14/15 September 1857. Had the sepoys possessed any resolute leader with 25 % of Nicholsons's resolution they could have destroyed the whole British force. The British soldiers started looting the shops near the Kashmir Gate. There were many liqour shops in this area and the British soldiers discovered large quantities of liquor in their cellars. By nightfall the greater part of the British troops around Saint James Church were dead drunk340. Had the sepoys counter-attacked the British they could have easily destroyed the whole British Force.
On 15 September no progress was made in any direction and Wilson was seriously planning for withdrawal from the city. He was only restrained from doing so by the indomitable Baird Smith. (Unfortunately the post-1947 Indian and Pakistan armies on the average had more 'Wilsons' and few 'Nicholsons'!
The British demoralisation can be judged from the fact that a stage came when both the 8th and 75th Foot refused orders to advance341. Wilson finally gave an order to destroy all the liquor and some order was restored on 16th September342. Baird Smith now employed his engineers in a masterly way to carry our demolitions. Once this was done the British were able to make some headway from 16 Sept. on the 17th a Bank close to the old magazine was captured. On 18th however the British troops refused to obey an order to capture Lahore Gate343. On the 19th however, things started improving. On the night of 19th of September sepoys started abandoning the city across the bridge of boats and via the Muttra Road in larger numbers. On the 20th September at last the Burn Bastion was captured344 The Lahore Gate was also finally captured on 20th September. Also fell on the same day the Jamia Masjid and the Red Fort.
From the statistical record it appears that the British suffered heavy casualties on 14 September i.e. the first day of the assault i.e. some 66 officers and 1,104 men killed or wounded345. After this the slow progress of the British was more due to demoralization drunkenness and over caution. Loss of Nicholson who was no longer present to spur kick and bully the soldiers and officers into assault was the major factor in this slow progress. This phenomenon was well described by the great German Philosopher of War in the following words: 'The natural timidity and want of resolution in the human mind, a kind of inertia in the moral world, but which is produced not by attractive, but by repellent forces, that is to say by dread of danger and responsibility'. Clausewitz went further in explaining how such a situation could be countered. He thus said: 'The will of the commander by the spark in his breast, by the light of his spirit, the spark of purpose, the light of hope must be kindled afresh in others346. This was not a typically British phenomena but one witnessed in many armies in the history of war347! So although the British loss on 14 September was 66 officers and 1,104 men, they lost in casualties between 15 September and 20 September 1857 only 6 officers and 170 men out of whom only 52 were killed348. Thus progess was slow but fighting was not severe! This further reinforces the theory that had the sepoys launched a vigorous counter-attack on 15 or 16 September or even till 18 Sept, once British troops were hesitant in advancing and were disobeying orders to advance, the Britishers may still have lost Delhi.
Delhi had not been sacked for the first time. Many armies regardless of race or religion had sacked it. The sepoys and citizens of Delhi were collectively guilty in British eyes because they had murdered about 50 British women and children in cold blood in the Red Fort on 16th May. In addition many Europeans had been killed at random by mobs and individuals on 11 May 1857 when the city was seized by the sepoys. As they say truth is the first casualty in war. The British were thus behaving as the Pakistan Army was behaving in East Pakistan in March-April 1971. The victorious soldiers took the law in their own hands and a large number of sepoys and civilians were killed. No figures exist but estimates vary from 10,000 to 20,000. It must be noted however that the British killed much less than Ahmad Shah Abdali or Nadir Shah's army both of whom were Muslims! Nadir Shah sacked Delhi in 1739 and Ahmad Shah Abdali various times between 1748 and 1761 !
The Sikhs were the happiest lot and historically speaking they cannot be blamed. Many Sikhs were tortured and killed by the Mughals. Notorious among these was the execution of Banda Bahadur's son. This five year old boys' liver was ripped out after being killed and shoved by force into his father Banda's mouth. This happened on 19 June 1716349. The Sikhs were avenging their Gurus and other leaders like Banda and resorted to merciless slaughter and pillage with great religious jest. But in such situations all humans behave in the same way i.e. like animals when the coercive forces of social organisation which restrain man are removed. The atrocities committed by the Sepoys and the civilian riff raff of the city against British women and children provided the British with a strong moral justification to commit similar atrocities. In such a situation no army of the world would have behaved any differently.
Moin ud Din who wrote an account of the siege and was present in the city during the assault thus wrote 'In the city no man's life was safe, all able bodied men who were seen were taken for rebels and shot'350. All the population of Delhi was driven out of the city and thousands died of hunger and disease while helpless outside the city. The city was handed over to prize agents and systematically looted. This continued till December 1857. Officially much less people were killed. A special commission was set up which summarily tried 3,306 persons of whom 2,025 were convicted and 392 were executed while 57 were awarded life imprisonment351
Meanwhile the King alongwith some of his family had withdrawn to the tomb of Emperor Humayun south of the city. Subedar Bakht Khan asked the king to accompany him to Lucknow where Bakht Khan was withdrawing with some of his troops. The King was persuaded not to do so by the illustrious traitor Hakeem Ahsan Khan. Thus Bakht Khan left without the king 352. Mubarik Shah writes in his narrative that Bahadur Shah Zafar was urged by many people to place himself at the head of the troops after the British had assaulted the city and die an honourable death. Mubarik Shah states that some 70,000 people gathered outside the Red Fort when they came to know that the king will lead them. This was around 14 or 15 September. But again Hakim Ahsan Khan persuaded the kind not to do so saying 'how can I explain your conduct tomorrow to the British? What excuse can I advance for you after you have joined the mutineers in battle? Mubarik Shah says that on hearing these words the King left the procession and re-entered the Palace on the plea of going to evening prayers. Mubarik Shah says that on seeing this hesitation on part of the king 'the mass of the people and the troops now became confused, then alarmed, and eventually dispersed353.'
A mention must be made by the treatment of Bahadur Shah by the British. Bahadur Shah along with his family gave himself up to Major Hodson on 21 September. On the way to the city Hodson without any provocation shot two of the princes dead. This was an unfortunate act though most of the Britishers of that time upheld it except a few men like Brigadier Hope Grant of the Cavalry who remarked. 'This sad act was most uncalled for'354. Another side of the coin however is the fact that two of these princes had some connection with the cold blooded murder of British women and children in Delhi. Hodsons vilest deed which has unfortunately been ignored or simply not known by many was his cold blooded of Risaldar Basharat at Rohtak355.
There is no doubt that Delhi was the most decisive battle of the Great Rebellion of 1857. Had the British lost it other parts of India may have joined the rebellion. Afghanistan may have taken advantage and attacked British India like vultures attack the carcass of a dead animal! The Bombay and Madras Armies may also have rebelled!
There is nothing inevitable in histroy and it is specific events and their outcome which constitute history. On 14th, 15th and till 18th September the battle for Delhi was still being fought. The British had been effectively checked, their military position was in a state of imbalance, their troops and their commander were demoralised, the sepoys were basically fighting only 1,200 resolute British soldiers, the other 5,000 Indians were a fiction. But the sepoys had not real leader, the King who could have been a real leader by virtue of his special position lacked the resolution or energy to be one due to old age and his defeatist advisors. Bakht Khan appears to have been a leader but he lacked the inherent royal credentials, more than this he lacked an organisation and a cadre of motivated, well trained and energetic young men like Nicholson Taylor and Roberts. Leadership was and remains the weakest and most serious drawback of the Indo-Pak scenario. (Mediocrity in higher ranks both civil and military was and even now essentially remains the hallmarks of both Indian and Pakistani leaders !)
Politically and psychologically speaking till the assault and capture of Delhi the British hold on Indo-Pak sub-continent was regarded as uncertain and doubtful. But capture of Delhi turned the scales 'Loyalty' 'docility' 'sycophancy' which even today are the hallmarks of the character of any Indo-Pak successful soldier politician or bureaucrat, now proved to be the best policy.
The siege of Delhi was a costly affair. Percentage wise the British losses were heavier than the siege of Sevatopol in the Crimean war which till 1857 was the bloodiest siege in terms of percentage of losses, (see Appendix) in the history of the British Army.