Topi’s attack on Cawnpore in December 1857 was the only worthwhile sepoy
countermove against the British at the strategic level.
Unlike the Delhi sepoys, the fact that Tantia’s force
reached the British line of communication and seriously threatened
it proves Tantia’s ability as a first rate strategist and tactician.
have seen that Tantia left Gwalior on 15 October 1857. They marched via
Jalaun to Kalpi and crossed the Jumna River opposite Kalpi on 15 November
1857. Many of the sepoy Regiments at Banda joined him. Here it is
important to note that bulk of Tantia’s troops belonged to the Gwalior
contingent which was not as well trained as Regular Bengal Army
Infantry Regiments. The Gwalior contingent
comprised seven infantry and two cavalry regiments
and its total strength before the rebellion was 8,318 men439. All
British writings repeatedly refer to Tantia Topi leading the Gwalior
contingent to Cawnpore, but we must remember that the term “Gwalior
Contingent” is misleading,
keeping in view the fact that in December 1857 this contingent was not the
same as a military entity what it was in May 1857. Following factors
greatly reduced its strength : -
by December 1857 the Gwalior Contingent
which may have accompanied Tantia to Kalpi
and Gwalior could not
have exceeded 3,000 infantry and
300 cavalry. The sepoys who may have joined him at Kalpi similarly could
not have been more than 2,000. Delhi the focal point of rebel expectations
by this time had fallen and the major part of the sepoy strength was
committed at Lucknow. Tantia’s move against
Cawnpore at a time when the initiative had firmly been regained by
the British was a titanic effort in terms of morale since the sepoy cause
in Decmber 1857 was almost hopeless. All territory south of Ganges and
north of Jumna had been recaptured by the British and their final victory
was now just a matter of few months. Strategically the Grand Trunk Road
was firmly in British control and steady reinforcements were arriving from
Britain and China via the port of Calcutta. Viewed in face of these odds
when the so-called martial races of India were swelling
the ranks of the irregular regiments of the newly raised British
Regiments and the fiery Afghans had been cooled down with a cool retainer
of 12 lakh per annum; we can only salute this indomitable Mahratta who was still
thinking like the ultimate Greek Hero!
the following had been the situation at Cawnpore during November -
December 1857443 : -
situation by 30 November was steadily favouring the British. The 24
pounder heavy guns of Peel had silenced and effectively neutralised
Tantia’s artillery. Some 3,000 soldiers had reinforced Windham bringing
British strength over 5,000 troops445.
position had some serious drawbacks. He was occupying built up area along
the west bank of the Ganges canal. His numerical superiority if he ever
had any keeping in view the dubious British
claims was turned into inferiority because
of the fact that Tantia could not reinforce his vulnerable right
flank by shifting troops from his centre or left. This fact has been somehow admitted by the British
authors ! We are very grateful to them for having been a little
intellectually honest for a change in
this case. In this Campbell left no choice to subsequent British
historians by admitting this fact in despatch written about the battle of
plan of battle was as following446 : -
2 Greathed’s Brigade
3 4th Infantry Brigade
4 5th Infantry Brigade
5 6th Infantry Brigade
rebel left rested on the Ganges and their centre was based on the built up
area of Cawnpore which was located on both east and west bank of the
Ganges canal. The Sepoy right extended for about one and half to two miles
south of the Cawnpore city on the west bank of the Ganges canal.
British attack commenced after a heavy artillery preparation at nine
O’clock on the morning of 06 December 1857. All praise to Tantia Topi
who with all the tremendous odds against him managed to march all the way
from Gwalior to Cawnpore with a obsolete pre-1815 Brown Bess whereas we so
miserably failed to advance more than ten miles despite having the most
sophisticated tank of 1960s. Those who have any doubt must visit a village
called “Patton Nagar” near Valtoha in Indian Punjab! The British
victory was a foregone conclusion and Tantia’s defeat as inevitable as
that of Russians in the Crimean War or the Afghans in the First Afghan
all this superiority Brigadier Mansfield who had been specifically ordered
by Campbell with blocking the retreat of Tantia’s centre miserably
failed in his assigned task! Thus the rebel centre was able to execute an
organised withdrawal along the Bithur road. Fortescue compares this
inexcusable blunder with John Stuart’s at Wellington’s passage of the
Douro River during the Peninsular war447.
British casualties were nominal, i.e. just 98 killed or wounded448.
Pursuit continued till 08
December 1857. Tantia escaped towards Kalpi while his centre
and left escaped towards Bithur. From here some of them withdrew
towards Farrukhabad whereas some crossed the Ganges and withdrew into Oudh.
was the last major sepoy stronghold after capture of Lucknow in March
1858. Sir Colin Campbell made the following plan to recapture
The attacking force was divided into four columns which were to advance
from the west the south west
the south and the south west and to ensure that the sepoys were pushed
towards the Himalayan rain forest of Terai.
The south eastern force consisted of General Walpoles column originating
from Lucknow consisting of :-
Walpole was to march from Lucknow towards west and clear the northern bank
of Ganges River and the districts bordering
the western bank of Ganges
River. Subsequently he was to join forces with the force commanded by
Seaton attacking from Fatehgarh and little south of Shah Jahanpur.
Walpole’s force was about 6,000 men
of all arms.
Seaton Commanding a column consisting of 82 Foot, a Sikh Battalion and
troops was to march north from Fatehgarh and effect a junction with
Walpole short of Shahjahanpur.
The Third Column commanded by General Penny was to advance from Meerut and
advance Eastwards joining the two other columns east of Bareilly.
The fourth column commended by General Coke was to cross the Ganges from
Rurki side and was to ensure
that no sepoys escaped west of Bareilly.
in April 1858 the British situation
was excellent and all should have proceeded like clock work. But the
British had one very gifted general by the name of Walpole. He left
Lucknow with his column on 7th April 1858. All proceeded well till this
outstanding general arrived at a small fort Ruiya about 51 miles south
west of Lucknow on 15 April 1858. Walpole was told by his spies
that the Talukdar Nirpat Singh occupying the fort had no intention
of opposing the British but only wanted by putting up a token resistance
order to preserve appearances and to save his honour. Walpole refused to
believe this and decided to assault the fort without bothering to carry
out any type of reconnaissance of the fort. Subsequently it was discovered
that the rear wall of the fort in contrast with the front wall was so low
that even a child could climb it ! Walpole’s frontal assault
on the front
failed with a casualty figure of over 100 killed and wounded including
a very promising officer by the name of Brigadier Adrian Hope.
While Walpole was planning a future assault Nirpat Singh
abandoned the fort during
the night with his entire force 450!
Brigadier Coke crossed the Ganges a little west of Hardwar and moving
south east twice defeated the sepoys halfway between Ganges and Bareilly
on 17 and 21 April and finally arrived on 26 April about five miles west
of Muradabad. At Moradabad
Coke carried out a house to house search to find prince Feroze Shah but
Feroze Shah had already escaped towards
Brigadier Penny was killed in a night ambush short of Badaun and was
succeeded by Brigadier Jones. On 27 April Campbell effected a junction
with Walpoles column while marching north. On 30 April they entered
Shahjahanpur and left a garrison of 500 men under Colonel Hale.
They joined Penny’s column at Miranpur Kattra on 3rd May 1858 and
marched towards Bareilly.
Column defeated a sepoy force
at Nagina on 21 April 1858 and reached
Mirganj on 5 May about 14 miles west of Bareilly.
had now about 8,000 men from the following units451 :-
Bahadur Khan contested Campbells force about two miles south of Bareilly
but was defeated on 05 May 1858. He withdrew towards Pilibhit near the
the Maulvi of Faizabad i.e. Maulvi Ahmadullah had attacked Hale with 500
men and had forced Hale to
fortify himself in jail. This situation continued till Shahjahanpur was
relieved by Brig. Jones on 11 May 1858. The Maulvi was soon joined by
Firoz Shah and Hazrat Mahal and the battle continued till 15 May 1858 once
after being reinforced again Jones was finally able to recapture
Shahjahanpur. Thus ended the last major resistance in Northern India452