OPINION

Chapter Eight
The Lucknow Campaign-1857-58
The Siege of Lucknow Residency

Maj (Retd) AGHA HUMAYUN AMIN from WASHINGTON DC gives a brilliant analysis of the 1857 War of Independence

We have earlier discussed in brief the situation at Lucknow in a previous chapter. The Composition of European troops at Lucknow was One Infantry Regiment and One Artillery Company while there were Four Infantry, two Cavalry and five Native Artillery units On 3rd May 7th Oudh Irregular Infantry was dispersed/disarmed after its refusal to use greased cartridges380. Thereafter, Sir Henry Lawrence started making serious preparations against a likely siege by the rebel Sepoys. The Garrison was located in an old fort Machhi Bhawan, however, Lawrence selected the Residency and surrounding buildings to be defended and held in case a popular outbreak in Lucknow. He also dumped a large quantity of ammunition and rations in the residency area. Things, however, remained calm till news of outbreak at Cawnpore reached Lawrence on 23rd of May. By 25th Lawrence was ready to face a likely siege of the Residency by rebel Sepoys. On the night of 30th May almost all native troops in Lucknow rebelled but were successfully defeated and dispersed by Lawrence on 31st May. About 800 troops however remained loyal to the Britishers. These included about 80 pensioners who had earlier been invited by Lawrence to re-enlist. Lawrence, however, succeeded in keeping Lucknow calm although the surrounding area encompassing the whole of Oudh went into complete rebellion. On 28th June, Lawrence received information about surrender of Cawnpore's tiny garrison which was surrounded by Sepoys led by Nana Sahib (adopted son of the Last Marhatta Peshwa). On 29th Lawrence learnt that Sepoys were threatening Lucknow from northeast via the Faizabad Road. On 30th he mustered about 700 troops and marched northeast but was defeated with heavy losses381 at Chinhat 8 miles northeast of Lucknow following which Lawrence hastily retreated towards Lucknow. On 1st of July feeling that he could not hold both Machhi Bhawan and the Residency keeping in view his limited strength, Lawrence withdrew the garrison to the Residency. The British also blew up the magazine in Machhi Bhawan which contained about 240 barrels of gun powder and 50 lakh rounds of Ball and Gun ammunition .The Siege of the Lucknow thus commenced from 2nd of July 1857382. The British strength of Combatants/Non Combatants in the Residency was as following383 :-

a. Fighting Men
(1) Europeans - 1008.
(2) Natives       - 712 (230 deserted during the siege).
b. Non Combatants
      1280 (including 600 European women and children).

Orientation with the City of Lucknow and the Residency Defences

Lucknow was the capital of Oudh state since 1775. It occupied an area of about twelve square miles and its population varied between 600,000 to 700,000384. River Gumti flowed north of the city from northwest to southeast. There were, however, some suburbs of the city north of the river also. The city was full of Palaces and Gardens built on the western style by various rulers of Oudh. Most prominent of these was the Kaisar Bagh completed in 1850 by Wajid Ali Shah385. North of it was the old Palace Chattar Manzil on right bank of Gumti. To the south and east of the city was the Ghazi-ud-Din Haider canal built during the reign of Ghazi-ud-Din Haider(1814-27) with the purpose of bringing water from Ganges river in the South to river Gumti which it hardly ever probably did386. East of the canal was the Dilkusha Bagh Palace a hunting lodge built during the reign of Saadat Ali Khan (1798-1814)387. The Palace was surrounded by very thick vegetation and was located on an elevated piece of ground. In 1830 an Englishman made a balloon ascent here in presence of King Nasir-ud-Din Haider and large number of his courtiers 388. Other famous buildings of the city were the Bara Imambara built around 1784389, the Shah Najaf Masoulem, Sikandar Bagh, Farhat Baksh Palace and the Kaddam-i-Rasul Mosque. The Gumti was spanned by two bridges i.e. Stone Bridge built in 1780 (Refers - Ibid.Page 192) and the Iron Bridge built in the reign of King Amjad Ali (1842-1847). This Bridge had a very interesting history, its iron structure was imported from England in 1798 only 20 years after the first Iron Bridge of its kind was constructed in England. However, due to poor Engineering knowledge it could not be launched till finally Amjad Ali approached the East India Company's Bengal Army Engineers who finally constructed it 390.

The Residency originally built in 1780 was located in the northern part of the city and its building and surrounding area occupied the highest elevation dominating the city. The surrounding buildings were connected with earthworks of mud wood and iron to form a perimeter about a mile in total length. The southern and western perimeter had buildings of great strength serving as a protection against artillery fire. The ground between the Water Gate and the Hospital was protected by a ditch and a low embankment of earth whose height was increased till breast level with the help of sandbags. The ground towards the western side was rugged and sloped down towards a ravine which flowed south to north into the Gumti. Many buildings towards the east and south outside the Residency perimeter area were as close as 25 yard from the perimeter. The three sides of the Residency Area Defences were surrounded by native houses which nullified the possibility of attacking in deployed formation but were excellent for snipers and sharpshooters. Only the northern side was open and afforded space for forming up to mount an assault on the Residency Defences. The Redan Battery on the northern side was primarily against a Sepoy assault from the north. This battery jutted out from the alignment of main defences like a bastion to enable flanking fire against any force assaulting the Residency. This Battery had two eighteen pounder and one nine pounder guns supported by seven guns of smaller calibre on the surrounding walls. About 150 yards south of the Redan Battery was the Residency building itself where 50 European Troops were located as a reserve. The Hospital to the east of Water Gate had three mortars. The Bailie Guard was again covered by three guns. Two guns were located in the Fayrer's House area and four to cover the post office area. The Cawnpore Battery had two nine pounders and one eighteen pounder. The Gubbin's Battery had one nine pounder and subsequently an 18 pounder mounted on it. In all, the Britishers used about fifteen guns and seven mortars as their artillery support at one time though they also had about 200 guns of various calibres confiscated from the ex King of Oudh's Arsenal391. The guns were not used because of manpower constraints.

Siege of Residency from July to September 1857

A modern British author in the habit of forever magnifying Sepoy strength placed the strength of the Residency's besiegers at between eight to ten thousand392. However, Fortescue393 places the Sepoy strength at 6,000 though still being reinforced; against British strength of about seventeen hundred. The Sepoy regiments retained their military formation and in addition were reinforced by soldiers from Oudh State's army. What hampered the Sepoys and which proved to be the ultimate salvation of the British was lack of experienced leadership. Instead of concentrating artillery fire on vulnerable points of the Residency defences which could easily be breached they kept on firing haphazardly and also did not bother to coordinate their fire with the assaults. Instead the Sepoys resorted to driving underground mines to breach the Residency defences. However, this method was more time consuming and less effective than direct artillery fire. An interesting part of the siege were the Sikhs inside the Residency who kept contact with the Sepoys and smuggled Opium inside the Residency which was used by the besieged troops in plenty394)! The first important event of the siege was the death of Sir Henry Lawrence. He died due to wounds received from an 8 inch shell on 4th July. Major Banks succeeded him as Chief Commissioner and Colonel Inglis of 32nd Foot assumed the military command. However, Inglis became both civil as well as military commander after Major Banks was killed by a Musket shot on 21st July. Another interesting aspect of the siege were the Sepoy sharpshooters most famous of whom was one African from Oudh's kings disbanded Army named by the Britishers as Bob the Nailer (because he used to put nails in his musket shots). A special mine was dug by British to destroy the House which this marksman used as his post as a result of which he was killed on 21st August, Dr. Brydon the only survivor of the Kabul Brigade of First Afghan war to reach Jalalabad was also one of the Residency Garrison members 396!

The Sepoys attempted to drive underground mine galleries to create a breach and the British led by Captain Fulton of Engineers did efficient countermining. On 20th July the Sepoys succeeded in blowing a mine but missed the Redan Battery by about hundred feet. Thus their subsequent assault based on the mistaken premise that they had effected a breach in the Redan Battery area on 20th July was repulsed. On night of 23rd July Angad Tewari a Hindu pensioner whose fees per trip were 500 Pounds Sterling397 (Refers - Ibid. Page 176). brought the news to the Residency about Sir Havelock's relieving force's capture of Cawnpore. Meanwhile Colonel Inglis firmly curbed an attempt by a civil servant Gubbins to the claim that as senior civil servant he was the acting Chief commissioner of Oudh and held civil as well as military command! Inglis declared that the office of Chief Commissioner was vacant and the Residency was under Martial Law398!

On 10th August the Sepoys succeeded in exploding an underground mine below the Sikh Square 100 yards west of Cawnpore Battery and in creating a breach through which they made a determined assault. However, the Sepoys were again repulsed with heavy losses. On 18th August another underground mine breach was created but the Sepoy assault was again repulsed. Further assaults were attempted till 5th September but with little success till news of Havelock's force turned the attention of the besiegers. An interesting part of the siege was the presence of State prisoners in the Residency. These were the ex King Wajid Ali Shah's elder brother Mustafa Ali Khan, two Mughal Princes Mirza Mohammad Shikoh and Mohammad Humayun Khan, Nawab Rukn-ud-Daula and the Raja of Tulsipur. The Sepoys did not spare any nook or corner of the Residency area with their artillery and musket fire save the rooms north of the Hospital area where these prisoners were lodged399!

On 23rd September the besieged Garrison heard the sound of Havelock's relieving force's gun from the direction of Cawnpore. By the night of 25/26 September Havelock's relieving force entered the Residency through the Bailie Guard gate after being under tough siege for 87 days. The strength of the Garrison's fighting men during this period was reduced from 1,720 to 1,172400.

Chapter Nine

Havelock's First Relief of Lucknow-June-September 1857

Sir Henry Havelock (1795-1857) had forty one years of service and was a veteran of Burma, First Afghan War, Gwalior and Sikh wars. In addition he was a figure of considerable literary merit,having written a book on the First Afghan War. He was appointed to command the force assembled for relief of Cawnpore and Lucknow on 24th June superseding Colonel Neill who had already reached Allahabad on 9th of July from Calcutta. Colonel Neill from the Madras Army had marched from Calcutta around 25th May and had pacified Benares and Allahabad. On 30th June he despatched Major Renaud with a force of 800 men on towards Cawnpore as an advance guard401. The same day Havelock arrived at Allahabad and assumed command. On 3rd July news of fall of Cawnpore Garrison surrounded by Sepoys reached Allahabad. On 7th July Havelock moved from Allahabad with about 1,000 European Troops (64th Foot, 84th Foot, 78th Highlanders, 102nd Madras Fusiliers), 130 Sikhs and six guns402. Havelock overtook Major Renaud on 12th July four miles from Fatehpur. Thereafter, Havelock marched towards Cawnpore routing the rebel Sepoys in various minor engagements with a major engagement at Maharajpur on 16th July where he turned the Left flank of Nana Sahib who had a force of 5,000 troops, and defeating him, finally entered Cawnpore on the next day. On 19th July he sent a force to capture Bithur near Cawnpore. The Sepoys had destroyed the Bridge of Boats on the Ganges over which Havelock could move northwards to relieve Lucknow. Havelock therefore collected boats and ferried his force across the river which during this season was about a mile wide. Thus on 25th July Havelock marched towards Lucknow 40 miles north of Cawnpore leaving Colonel Neill to defense a fortified position near Ganges river with 300 men. Havelock had the following Force403 :-

a. 64 Foot, 78 High landers &
102 Fusiliers - 1,200 men
b. Sikhs - 300 men
c. Royal Horse Artillery - 10 Guns

On 26th July he reached Mangalwar about five and half miles north of Cawnpore. On 29th July he marched to Unao three miles ahead and routed a Sepoy Force of around 5,000 men, after which he moved to the town of Bashirat Ganj about seven miles ahead where he defeated another Sepoy Force. However by nightfall on 29th July Havelock's Force was reduced from 1,500 to 850 due to battle casualties and weather casualties in the shape of Heatstroke. Havelock, therefore, now decided to retire to Mangalwar and wait for reinforcements which were now delayed due to the Sepoy outbreak at Dinapur. Havelock retreated south and reached Mangalwar on July 31st. Here he received an insolent letter from Neill who although Havelock's junior in rank as well as service admonished him for not being energetic enough! Havelock's answer was crisp and decisive....'You sent me back a letter of censure of my measures, reproof and advice for the future. I do not want and will not receive any of them from an officer under my command, be his experience what it may. Understand this distinctly, and that a consideration of the obstruction that would arise to the public service at this moment alone prevents me from taking the stronger step of placing you under arrest. You now stand warned. Attempt no further dictation. I have my own reasons, which I will not communicate to anyone, and I alone am responsible for the course which I have pursued404.'

On 4th August, Havelock after getting some reinforcements again started for Lucknow with about 1,400 men405. He again defeated the Sepoys at Bashirat Ganj on 5th August and subsequently in certain other minor actions but was forced to return to Cawnpore on 13th August, once news of a Sepoy force threatening Cawnpore from Bithur reached him. Havelock marched towards Bithur 8 miles from Cawnpore and defeated the Sepoy force on 16th August406. In the meantime Sir James Outram had been appointed commander of both Cawnpore and Dinapur Divisions. However Outram was still travelling on route from Calcutta to Cawnpore. On 20th August Havelock sent a message to Commander-in-Chief, Bengal Army located at Calcutta that unless he was immediately reinforced, he would be forced to abandon Cawnpore and withdraw towards Allahabad407. Havelock's position at this moment indeed was very serious. The Gwalior Contingent numbering 8,000 men had raised the standard of rebellion on 14th June. Since then it had remained at Morar 4 miles from Gwalior; but lately Havelock had received information that it could threaten Cawnpore via Kalpi which was 40 miles south of Cawnpore. In addition another Sepoy Force was present at Farkhabad and was likely to threaten Cawnpore. And finally to make things more adverse there was a Sepoy Force at Dalmau Ghat threatening Fatehpur408 i.e. Havelock's communications with Allahabad. As a result of Havelock's frantic message reinforcements soon started pouring in and resultantly the British position at Cawnpore was stabilised.

Outram (1803-1863) who was younger in age from Havelock also known as 'Bayard of India' was basically a soldier but had been seconded to the political service. He had performed important political duties during the First Afghan War and subsequently as Resident at Sindh and in Oudh. Being a man of character he had opposed his seniors against the annexation of Sindh which he considered to be unjust409. He also had led the successful expedition to Persia in 1856. Outram had been appointed Commander of Cawnpore and Dinapur Divisions as well as Chief Commissioner of Oudh. To take up these duties he arrived at Allahabad from Calcutta on 1st of September and reached Cawnpore on 15th of September. Outram was Havelock's Senior during the Persian expedition ,but on reaching Cawnpore he announced that Havelock would remain the commander of the force assembled for relief of Lucknow while he would just accompany Havelock as a volunteer and in his civil capacity as Chief Commissioner of Oudh410 In actual practice, however, Outram continued interfering with Havelock's exercise of command which irritated Havelock and at times made the pace of conduct of British operations slow and conusing411. for the relief of Lucknow. On 18th and 19th September his Force again crossed the Ganges and on 21st defeated a Sepoy Force opposing their advance at Mangalwar412. The same night Havelock's Force reached Basharat Ganj and encamped there. On 22nd Havelock's Force marched northwards towards Sai River which during this period of the year is a complete water obstacle. However, the retreating Sepoys had in haste left the bridge over it intact enabling Havelock's Forces safe passage. Thus by evening of 22nd Havelock's Force reached Bani a village north of Sai and camped there. On 23rd Havelock's Force reached Alam Bagh on the outskirts of Lucknow after routing another Sepoy Force a little north of Bani413.

Havelock had various options as far as selection of route for reaching the Residency was concerned; however the final choice was made by Outram who was the last British Resident at Lucknow in 1856 and knew the area well. The direct route i.e. the Cawnpore road was ruled out as it involved continuous fighting in built up area and was the most expected route of British advance by the Sepoys defending Lucknow. The second option of going right via Dilkusha Bagh or via Faizabad Road after crossing the Gumti near Dilkusha was impracticable due to bad cross country going as a result of heavy rains which made the passage of British guns difficult.

The route finally selected was via Char Bagh Bridge after crossing which a road was to be adopted which turned east towards the canal and went northwards along the canal till open country was reached near Sikandar Bagh and subsequently turning westwards to finally reach the Residency via the open space between Kaisar Bagh Palace and the Gumti River. The Sepoys devoid of even rudimentary tactical common sense or insight were on the other hand expecting Havelock to adopt the most direct route via the Cawnpore Road. Thus all Sepoy defences and artillery were only covering the Cawnpore Road from Char Bagh till the Residency414.

On the morning of 25th Havelock left 250 men and his heavy baggage at Alam Bagh under Colonel Mc Intyre of 78th Highlanders. The Char Bagh was stormed and captured after a tough fight in which Havelock's son almost got killed. Havelock's Force now crossed the canal and turned right and subsequently northwards along the canal. They encountered little opposition till they reached the Begum Kothi where they were again showered by a hail of musket and artillery fire. They were now about a mile from the Residency. Tough fighting continued as the British advance inched forward till they reached Farhat Baksh Palace about 500 yards from the Residency. Here another segment of the British force which had lost their way in the streets joined them. At this juncture Outram proposed a halt but Havelock overruled 415 the proposal and ordered an immediate advance. Advance was again resumed and soon Colonel Neill was shot through the head and killed. By nightfall Havelock's Force entered the Residency via the Bailie Guard Gate. However, Havelock from the morning had suffered enormous casualties and his force proved to be a reinforcement and not a relieving Force as it was originally meant to be. Havelock' relief force of roughly 2,000 men on the 25th of September suffered casualties amounting to 31 Officers and 504 men killed and wounded416. Havelock's Force was however able to extend the defended area of the Residency after capturing various palaces towards the east.

Notes

380Page-14-Fitz Gerald and Lee-Op Cit.
381Pages-741 to 744-Henry Beveridge-Vol-III-Op Cit and Pages-73 & 74 -Fitz Gerald and Lee-Op Cit.
382Page-64-Battles of the Indian Mutiny-Op Cit.
383Page-255-History of Indian Mutiny-Volume-One-G.W Forrest-Op Cit.
384Page-34- A Season in Hell- Michael Edwards-London-1977
385Page-186- The Mutiny Records-Oudh and Lucknow- 1857-58 Edward.H.Hilton- Lucknow-1911-Reprinted- Oriental Publishers Lahore-1975.
386 Page-181-Ibid.
387 Page-178-Ibid.
388 Ibid.
389 Page-194-Ibid.
390 Page-192-Ibid.
391 Page-73-A Season in Hell-Op Cit
392 Page-76-Ibid.
393 Page-281-J.W Fortescue-Vol- XIII-Op Cit.
394 Page-98-A Season in Hell-Op Cit.
395 Page-87-The Mutiny Records- Oudh and Lucknow-Op Cit.
396 Page-143-A Season in Hell-Op Cit.
397 Page-176-Ibid.
398 Page-116-Ibid.
399 Page-92-Mutiny Records-Oudh & Lucknow-Op Cit.
400 Page-76-Fitz Gerald and Lee- Op Cit.Gubbins who was inside gave a different figure.According to him the Garrison was original- ly 1, 692 strong; 927 Europeans and 765 Natives..350 Europeans and 133 Natives were killed. 230 Natives deserted. Thus a total of 713 men were lost in killed/deserted.When Havelock relieved the Garrison ,the total strength of the original Garrison was 979 (including sick and wounded) out of which 577 were Europeans and 4 0 2 were Natives (Quoted by-Henry Beveridge-Page-821- Henry Beveridge-Volume-III).
401 Pages-59 & 60-Fitz Gerald and Lee-Op Cit . Pages-282,283 & 284- J.W Fortescue-Vol-XIII-Op Cit.
402 Pages-60 & 61-Fitz Gerald and Lee-Op Cit.
403Page-67-Ibid.
404 Pages-80 & 81-Battles of the Indian Mutiny-Op Cit.
405 Page-69-Fitz Gerald and Lee- Op Cit.
406 Page-69 & 70-Ibid.
407 Page-76-Ibid.
408Page-811-Henry Beveridge- Volume-III-Op Cit.
409 Page-609-Concise Oxford History of India-Op Cit.
410 Page-311-J.W Fortescue-Vol- XIII-Op Cit.
411 Page-90-Battles of the Indian Mutiny-Op Cit.
412 Pages-77 & 78 -Fitz Gerald and Lee-Op Cit and Pages-311 to 314 - J.W Fortescue-Vol-XIII-Op Cit.
413 Page-78-Fitz Gerald and Lee- Op Cit.
414 Pages-79,80 & 81-Ibid.
415 Page-314-J.W Fortescue-Vol- XIII-Op Cit.
416 Page-89-The Battles of the Indian Mutiny-Op Cit.

 

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