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We shall glance very briefly at the events which preceded the capture of Gwalior. In the beginning of 1858, a force composed of troops from the Bombay presidency was collected at Mhow, and placed under the orders of Major-General Sir Hugh Rose. Marching eastward, he captured the fort of Ratgurh, and relieved the garrison of Saugor. He then turned north, took several forts, including Garrakota and Chendaree, forced the Mudenpore pass against seven thousand men, and on March 25th laid siege to Jhansi, where, in the month of June preceding, sixty Europeans who had surrendered to the Ranee (or chieftainess) on promise of their lives being spared, were tied in two rows, males and females separate, and deliberately massacred. After four days of open trenches, matters were nearly ready for the assault, when intelligence arrived that an army was marching from Calpee under Tantia Topee, to raise the siege.
This is the first occasion on which Tantia Topee's name comes prominently forward. A Mahratta Brahmin by birth, he commanded a company of the Nana's body-guard at Bittoor before the rebellion, and was an active instigator of the outbreak. He became the Nana's agent with the Gwalior Contingent, by far the most important rebel force south of the Jumna. This body was, agreeably to treaty, paid by Sindiah, and stationed in his district, but commanded by British officers. It was quite distinct from Sindiah's own army, over which we had no control. The Contingent mutinied in June 1857, and collected at Gwalior, where Sindiah rendered immense service to the British Government (which Lord Canning has since munificently rewarded) by keeping them in play with threats and promises till Delhi had fallen. In October they marched with six regiments, four batteries, a siege-train, and many irregular followers, towards Cawnpore. The well-known disastrous action with General Wyndham, subsequently retrieved by Lord Clyde, followed; and the Gwalior Contingent retired with diminished ranks, but still very formidable both in numbers and organisation, to Calpee. Here they established a foundry and
gun-carriage manufactory, and collected warlike stores of all kinds. Many mutineers from other broken forces joined them, and Tantia Topee led ten thousand men, with twenty guns, to relieve Jhansi.
On their approach, Sir Hugh Rose left one brigade in the trenches, and led the other against Tantia Topee. The rebels were defeated on the 1st April near the river Betwa, with the loss of all their guns. Jhansi was taken with fearful slaughter on the 3d, but the Ranee escaped to Calpee. In May, Sir Hugh Rose advanced on Calpee, and expelled the rebels after several days'fighting, capturing fifteen guns and large stores of ammunition. They escaped in a westerly direction, and made for Gwalior, whither Tantia Topee preceded them in disguise, and so effectually tampered with Sindiah's troops, that when the Ranee of Jhansi and the Rao Sahib appeared with the fugitive Calpee garrison on the 1st June, Sindiah's body-guard alone made any resistance, and he fled to Agra, leaving his capital in the hands of the mutineers. Sir Hugh Rose arrived before Gwalior on the 17th, and after three days' fighting (during which the Ranee of Jhansi was killed), expelled the usurpers and replaced Sindiah on his throne. Tantia Topee fled westward, followed by Brigadier Napier of the Bengal Engineers, with a troop of Bombay Horse-Artillery, one troop 14th Dragoons, and four hundred native cavalry. The rebels were overtaken on the 21st June at Jowra Alipore, and all their guns, twentyfive in number, captured by this small force in a brilliant engagement. But Brigadier Napier could do little execution on the mutineers themselves; an army of four thousand cavalry and three thousand infantry, well armed and accoutred, with abundance of money and jewels from Sindiah's treasury, escaped unhurt across the Chumbul, and had to be pursued by column after column for eight months, till they were finally dispersed or exterminated.
The leaders of this army were Tantia Topee, the Rao Sahib, and the Nawab of Banda. The Rao as well as Tantia had belonged to the band of ruffians in the Nana's household