« AnteriorContinuar »
The enemy first opened a brisk fire from their four guns. The horseartillery galloped forward and replied without much effect, for their opponents had skilfully placed their guns behind a natural parapet.
But it was of little consequence. The infantry, not without loss, marched in line across the plain, forded the river, and scaled the heights on the enemy's left and centre. The right, where the guns were, being thus unsupported, abandoned their pieces under a volley from the 13th Native Infantry. The cavalry under Colonel Naylor, which had been keeping near our guns as a support, now dashed forward across the stream. Colonel Naylor's Arab charger had been desperately wounded by a round shot in the breast, but lifted its head and neighed as the advancing squadron left it lying at the mercy of the vultures and jackals.
The cavalry found the rebels scattered over a level plain behind their first position. The order was given to disperse and pursue. The horsemen were seen riding furiously among the fugitives, the 8th Hussars dealing death with their sabres, and the 1st Bombay Lancers with their lances. After two miles' chase, Colonel Naylor collected his men, a good many of whom had fallen, including the sergeant-major of the 8th, killed by some rebels who had taken shelter among a cluster of rocks in the middle of the plain, and fired on the cavalry, till the British infantry came up and bayoneted them.
The horse-artillery had crossed the Bunnas river after the cavalry. While they were ascending a steep road, leading up to the position just abandoned by the rebels, a Mussulman sepoy stepped from behind a rock into the centre of the path. He had a single-barrelled rifle in his left hand, and a drawn sword in his right. When summoned to lay down his arms, he declined, and requested to be killed at once. Lieutenant Malcolmson and an artillery sergeant cut him down. He had plenty of powder and bullets upon him, and might, had he chosen to pick off some men or horses, have caused considerable confusion among the troop while struggling up the ascent. But it is a remarkable
feature of the Oriental character how calmly they take death, yet how seldom they sell their lives. An Englishman, if he must die, prefers to keep up his courage by struggling against fate to the last. It is only when physical exertion can no longer either save or avenge him, that his heart begins to sink; an Oriental finds it easier to lapse at once into a state of listless apathy. His power to face death (courage it cannot be called) begins where that of the other ends; it is of no use to his fellows, it may soften the last agonies to himself. The Englishman's spirit can, however, be inspired into the Orientals by an Englishman. There could easily have been selected a hundred men from the rebel army, burning with religious fanaticism, and as indifferent to life as the individual we have here described, but not one could have been found able to utilise this quality; whereas, in the British camp, you might have selected a hundred officers or soldiers, any one of whom, had he been engaged on the opposite side, could have inspired his own spirit into every man of such a band, and made them fight or die when and where he liked.
When the General saw that the infantry and artillery would have no further chance, he ordered a steady pursuit to be kept up with the cavalry alone. Colonel Naylor and his small force continued doggedly on the rebel tracks for fifteen miles, killing numbers of stragglers, and capturing three elephants and quantities of baggage.
At four o'clock the rebels began to make a stand in a village surrounded by jungle, through which Colonel Naylor had followed them for two miles on counting his men, he found he had only one hundred regulars and fifty Beloochees left; the country, moreover, being totally unfit for cavalry, he abandoned the pursuit.
The rebels fled east by prodigious marches. On the fourth day after the action General Roberts and Brigadier Parke met in pursuit at Poonah: the General gave Parke the 8th Hussars and Beloochees, intrusting the further operations to him. Tantia fled in a direction nearly due east, apparently trusting to his luck to find the river Chumbul less flooded than
when it hemmed him in before. Brigadier Parke, who was ordered above all things to prevent Tantia from getting south, did not follow exactly in his track, but marched to Neemuch, a British cantonment, where he was able to get about fifty fresh horses for Captain Clowe's troop of the 8th Hussars: the remainder of the hussars and Beloochees were knocked up. He was a good deal puzzled how to act: on the one hand, he was informed by a district officer that the rebels could never cross the Chumbul at that season, and meant to shoot past him to the southward; on the other hand, Captain Showers, the political agent at Oodeypore, had intimation sent him by a correspondent near the rebels, that they were resolved to get over the river somehow. The former appeared the most probable, but unfortunately was not correct. It delayed Parke for a few hours at a place called Moorassa, fifteen miles from Neemuch, and thirty miles from the Chumbul; and he only reached the river (after a hard march) to find it passable, but rising rapidly. A few disabled ponies were standing on the left bank, and the rebels disappearing among some mango-trees in the west horizon. He returned to Neemuch to refit a column, which will again shortly appear on the scene.
In the month of April preceding, General Roberts had been ordered to detach a brigade consisting of H.M. 95th, 10th N.I., one wing of 8th Hussars, one wing 1st Bombay Lancers, and Blake's troop Bombay Horse-Artillery, under Brigadier Smith, to co-operate with Sir Hugh Rose. This brigade played an important part in the capture of Gwalior, after which it was moved to Goonah, a town between Mhow and Gwalior, on the grand trunk-road which runs through these places from Bombay to Agra. General Roberts had early seen the importance of watching the east bank of the Chumbul, and sent to Brigadier Smith, who still nominally belonged to his division, to move to Jalra Patun (the capital of a Rajpoot state of that name), not far from the Chumbul, where there were considerable munitions of war, and some three or four thousand troops requiring to
be guarded and overawed; but Brigadier Smith had just commenced the siege of a small fort near Goonah, and remained where he was.
The only other place from which troops could move was Mhow. This is a British cantonment about fourteen miles from the large town of Indore, the capital of the Mahratta chieftain Holkar. The main road and telegraph from Bombay to Agra pass through these places. About eighty miles to the north-west of Indore is a large and wealthy town called Oojein, which it was supposed the rebels would have no objection to plunder.
On the 22d of August, a force consisting of 350 92d Highlanders, 450 19th Native Infantry, one squadron Bombay 3d Light Cavalry, and two guns, Le Marchand's battery Bengal Artillery, was despatched from Mhow, under Colonel Lockhart, to cover Oojein, followed shortly afterwards by another column under LieutenantColonel Hope. When Tantia crossed the Chumbul he found the coast clear, and, looking around for the next move, Jalra Patun, distant about thirty miles, naturally presented itself as a convenient place from which to replenish his army with men, money, and materials. The Rajah of Jalra Patun, an active and intelligent man, Iwas well inclined to the British for political reasons, which we need not here detail. His troops were drawn out on the hopeless chance of their being induced to fire on the rebels, with whom they fraternised at once. The Rajah escaped to Mhow after placing some barrels of powder handy for his wife and family to blow themselves up if threatened with insult : fortunately they were not compelled to avail themselves of their fugitive lord's last proof of affection. Tantia had taken no mean prize. Jalra Patun is not a first-class Rajpoot state, but the town is wealthy, and the Rajah had been at considerable pains in collecting warlike materials and drilling his troops.
A war contribution of £60,000 was levied on the town, while £40,000 more was collected from the Government property. The rebel army was paid up, and a large number of additional troops enlisted, completing the
force to 8000 or 10,000 men. what raised the hopes of the rebel partisans far and wide was the outfit of artillery which Tantia got from the Rajah's arsenal. Above thirty guns, with abundance of ammunition, gunbullocks, and a few artillery horses, were selected. The draught animals he cared less about, because there are plenty of bullocks in every Indian village, and the rebels could only keep their guns with them in their long marches by getting fresh teams every eight or ten miles. In the beginning of September, Tantia Topee left Jalra Patun with his whole force. His intention was to march on Indore, about 150 miles distant. He was assured of a similar and far more important success than he had achieved at Jalra Patun, could he but appear before Indore without being previously discomfited by a British force. The cause of the Rao Sahib, a representative of the Nana, who was in their eyes the real Peishwa, had many warm sympathies and scarcely a single enemy at the court of a Mahratta chieftain like Holkar. Had Tantia Topee even marched with a light column, which could have eluded the British field-forces, and presented himself at Indore one hour before the weak column which Mhow cantonment could have spared arrived at the capital, the troops at Indore would have openly joined him, and the revolt spread to all Holkar's districts. But the rebels had not a single man of sufficient influence and determination in their ranks to propose such a scheme, nor the confidence in each other to carry it out.
The rebels, as we have said, first directed their course in the southerly direction towards Indore. Colonel Lockhart thought it was best to wait for the reinforcements under Colonel Hope before he attacked them, and intrenched himself in a good position at Soosnair. Tantia, who had no object in forcing an action, and was not very likely to try it if he had, inclined to the westward. Colonels Lockhart and Hope conformed to this movement, and united their force at Nalkerry, their first object being to prevent the rebels from outflanking them, and leaving an open route to the south.
At Nalkerry, Major-General Michel arrived to assume the command in person. Shortly after this, General Roberts was appointed to the_military and political control of the Gujerat division, and Malwa and Rajpootana formed into one division, under General Michel. The General had no exact information regarding the rebels' position, except that they were in a north-easterly direction. He made a march to Chapeira, but was much impeded by a continuous downfall of rain. In Malwa the soil is of the description, peculiar, we believe, to India, called black or cotton soil. Immense tracts of Central India are covered with this rich earth, the detritus of igneous rocks, well suited for every kind of crop. In the hot weather it is intersected by fissures like those on the bottom of an empty pond. After a heavy fall of rain it swells into a sticky paste. Except on the main lines, the roads in India are mere cross-country tracks, without any metal thrown on the surface, and where black soil prevails, very difficult to traverse during the rains, especially for an army with its guns, and long train of carts and baggage-animals, the latter almost entirely camels, whose long legs and flat spongy feet are well suited for a solemn march across the sandy desert, but place their owners at a great disadvantage when sprawling in slippery mud. It is a common belief in India that the camel's hind-legs sometimes slip out laterally, and the animal fairly splits up. This, however, is a mistake. Indeed it is wonderful, when one watches their gait, to see how few do actually tumble. The great mortality which always occurs among camels during the rains, as those who have campaigned in India know to their cost, arises partly from the effects of damp on their skins, and not a little from the length of time occupied by a march over a flooded country. Men and animals come in late and fatigued, and the camels do not have sufficient time to browse, or their tired drivers neglect to take them to a proper feeding-ground. The camel's load is much increased by the weight of soaking tents, and it rapidly sinks beneath the combined effects of damp, bad roads, heavy
burdens, and insufficient food. General Michel continued his march the following day, which was dry, but so intensely hot that some of the horses dropt down dead at the guns. During the afternoon the troops were halted, while the General reconnoitred in advance, to ascertain the truth of a report that he was near the rebels, who were accordingly descried three miles ahead, encamped near the walled town of Rajgurh. An attack with tired troops at that time of day could not have had great results, so the British remained where they were for the night. On their advance next morning the enemy had disappeared. The cavalry were pushed on in the direction which the tracks of the gunwheels and elephants indicated, and followed for about four miles. They found three guns abandoned by the rebels on the road, and a few loiterers were killed near them. The main body of the rebels, drawn up in position, checked their further advance, and they waited for the infantry and guns. Tantia Topee formed up his army in two lines, the second being on the highest ground, so that their guns could fire over the front line. The action commenced by a cannonade on both sides at long range, during which the British infantry deployed, and the whole force then advanced, the artillery in the centre and cavalry on the right.
The rebels behaved in a most dastardly manner. It seems scarcely credible that an army of eight thousand men, at the lowest estimate, with thirty guns and abundance of ammunition, should retreat without an attempt at resistance-without drawing one drop of blood-from an enemy not one-sixth of their number in men or guns! Yet such was the strange spectacle now presented.
The British advanced in a steady line. The rebels saw, and were conquered. They commenced retiring, and, gradually converging on the road to Beora, which intersected their position, got into inextricable confusion. The British artillery moved forward at a gallop by alternate divisions of two guns, and kept up a fire on the dense masses, while the cavalry threatened their left flank,
and made their line of retreat incline toward the north.
General Michel was too weak in cavalry to keep up a vigorous pursuit, and not many of the rebels were killed, but twenty-seven guns were brought into camp, and more were actually abandoned. We believe there is not another instance on record of so large a force sustaining such an utter defeat without a single casualty on the side of the victors; and the fugitives were not mere barbarians, but one half, at any rate, had been disciplined after the European fashion. Their infantry had muskets with the Tower mark; their cavalry had swords a good deal sharper than an English dragoon has often the fortune to wield; and their guns were perfectly effective pieces, of larger calibre than the British nine-pounder battery, and worked by trained gunners.
The exact position which the rebel infantry had occupied could easily be recognised by a line of shoes. An Englishman, when he enters a room, and sometimes when he is going to run a race, takes off his hat. An Oriental, on similar occasions, takes off his shoes; and Tantia Topee's soldiers seldom came out of action without leaving several hundred pairs of Oriental slippers on the ground, as a proof they had taken to flight in real earnest. The moral effects of the victory of Rajgurh were decisive: even after Gwalior, some few of the natives believed that the Peishwa's name might yet become great, but they could not shut their eyes to what had here happened. Tantia Topee, with plenty of money, plenty of soldiers, and, above all, a field-artillery from one of the best native arsenals in India, had again been weighed in the balances and found so lamentably wanting, that those who had not already risked their necks or their property in the struggle, resolved to be content with such things as they had, and pray for another avatar to perform the good work which was too much for human hands.
The rebels, after the action at Rajgurh, wandered about the jungly country on both sides of the Betwa without any apparent plan. General Michel was a good deal hampered
in his endeavours to bring them to action, by the necessity of covering Indore and the Bhopal state; but Brigadier Parke, who had taken the field a second time on the 5th September, now arrived from Neemuch, and to him was intrusted the duty of keeping up a position to cover those places, leaving the General free. Brigadier Smith's brigade was now in the field to the north of Seronge, and Colonel Liddell, from the station of Jhansi, had a light force to the northeast.
The rains fell very heavily, which also impeded operations; and it was not till three weeks after Rajghur that another action ensued, at a place called Mungrowlee, about fifty miles from Rajgurh. The rebels in the interval had plundered a town called Essagurh, and taken ten guns. They endeavoured to seize the fort of Chendaree, but were repulsed by a garrison of Sindiah's troops. After this a portion of them, with four guns, went in a northerly direction towards Jhansi, while the main body marched south, and were met by General Michel near Mungrowlee, at 9 A.M. on the 9th October.
The action at Mungrowlee presents the usual sameness of all the engagements between the British and rebels, but the latter showed more spirit than they had done at Rajgurh. They were drawn up on a piece of commanding ground, with six guns in front, which maintained a heavy fire. Parties were detached to outflank the British, and some of them got between the main body and the rearguard. The latter cut them up before they could throw our line into confusion. The British advanced steadily when the infantry skirmishers came near the guns, they carried them with a rush, and the rebels retired. The greater part of our cavalry was detached a few miles distant on this occasion, and the action less decisive than it would otherwise have been.
The rebels crossed the river Betwa (a confluent of the Ganges) a few miles east of Mongrowlee. At Lullutpore they were joined by the detachment with four guns which had gone north from Chandaree. General Michel sent Brigadier Smith
orders to watch the left or western bank of the Betwa, while he crossed over in pursuit, and, after much embarrassment in the dense Jaclone jungle, came up with the rebels (who had been moving most leisurely) at Sindwaho, about thirty miles east of the Betwa. A surprise would have been effected had not a bugle sounded contrary to orders, and warned the enemy to prepare for action. The usual programme ensued; rebels drawn up on an eminence; parties pretend to threaten British flank; British advance in a steady line, capture rebel guns; exeunt rebels. They did not escape so easily on this occasion, however. Crowded masses got entangled in the rugged ravines to their rear, and were pursued with great slaughter for twelve miles. Our loss was five officers and twenty men killed and wounded.
The rebels in their flight adopted a north-westerly route, which brought them back to a ford of the Betwa river, somewhat lower down than they had crossed before. The ford was guarded by Colonel Lidell with a small party from Jhansi. On this Tantia, who had now for five weeks been hanging about these wild districts, made a final resolve to push south for the Nerbudda at all hazards.
General Michel also moved northwest from Sindwaho, but kept more to the westward than Tantia, on the principle which he always had in view of covering the country to the south. On the 22d October, or three days after the action, he was at Lullut pore, fifteen miles from the Betwa, when a courier who had been despatched with a letter to Brigadier Smith brought back information that before reaching the Betwa he had come across the rebels in full march for the south. They were thus nearly due west of our camp.
General Michel commenced a rapid pursuit, and sent off an express to warn Parke, whose brigade had always been held in reserve to cover Bhopal and Indore. By daylight on the morning of the 25th, General Michel had fairly outmarched the rebels, and came suddenly upon them, obliquely crossing his front near the village of Khoraie. The cavalry and