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Recollections of Thirty-nine Years in the Army
Chapter XIV


1857-1858. THE JOUNPORE FIELD FORCE

The 10th ordered on service-.----The start—More defeats of rebels—The Jounpore field force—Preparing for work—Action at Chanda - Hummeerpore -Forced marches—Sooltanpore----Captured relics—Reinforcements—Rebel messengers— An attack—A wounded officer—Arrive at Lucknow.

ORDERS to take the field had been expected, and preparations made accordingly in the 10th, so that when they did arrive all was in readiness to carry them out immediately. Uncertainty for some time prevailed with respect to the 73rd N.I., professedly and somewhat demonstratively "loyal," but known to be in a dangerous state of disaffection, ready to sweep over the indigo-yielding places in Tirhoot, some of the planters from which, abandoning houses and factories, had betaken themselves to Dinapore for safety. A report spread that a body of rebels had crossed the river Gogra and threatened the "Pearl" Brigade at Sewan; a steamer accordingly started to Benares, conveying detachments of the 10th and 37th Regiments, to be in readiness to act from that base as circumstances might require. Reports at the same time told that the 11th Irregulars had broken away from Berhampore; that they had been severely handled by the 5th Fusiliers, but that they were making their way towards Tirhoot.

By daylight on December 23, a detachment of our men and officers was in progress of embarking on board a steamer for conveyance towards Chuprah, at and from which place they were intended to act in concert with bodies of Ghoorka troops for the assistance of threatened stations in Tirhoot. Equally early on the 24th our headquarters marched away from barracks. Arriving in due time at the point where the Ganges was to be crossed, much delay resulted from the incompleteness of arrangements made for the purpose. Evening had far advanced when we arrived on our camping-ground; tents were far behind; so were the messing arrangements. From such "reserves" as our haversacks supplied our first meal was taken, after which we bivouacked "on the cold ground," under shelter of a mango grove. Next day being Christmas Day, equipment and arrangements were got into working order and ready for eventualities. On the 26th the sound of firing, as if at Sewan, indicated that the arrival of the ioth was none too soon, and shortly thereafter news came in that an attack, not determined in character, by the mutineers had been repulsed. In the course of the next few days the Nepaulese contingent captured a considerable number of mutineers belonging to the 11th Irregulars, but those of the 5th Irregulars succeeded in joining the body of rebels assembled under Koer Singh.

New Year's Day brought the welcome news that the rebels had been severely beaten at Alumbagh by Sir James Outram, great loss inflicted upon them, and four of their guns captured; also that Colonel Seton had defeated a body of mutineers at Futtyghur. Having moved our camp to a position north-westward of the town, we discovered a saltpetre manufactory for the use of the rebels. Firing was again heard in our near vicinity, indicative, as we soon learned, that our Nepaulese allies had attacked a rebel village, which they captured and destroyed.

The ioth were ordered to advance towards Azimghur, to be joined en route by other regiments, the combined force to be named the Jounpore Field Force, commanded by Brigadier-General Franks. On the second day of our progress, at a place called Muttyala, the first active signs of disaffection were shown by some of the villagers; it was quickly suppressed, however, by the simple method of handing over to the Provost Marshal those who had so acted, and having them flogged. No further trouble with natives was experienced; and so, without adventure, on the fourth day of our march we crossed the river Gogra, and entered the district of Azimghur. Thence to the provincial city our progress was cautious and wary; villages through which our route lay were seen to be deserted by their ordinary inhabitants, except the old and very young, by women and the infirm.

At Azimghur—once a pretty and otherwise favoured station—the public buildings, including the church, had been reduced to charred and roofless walls, gardens wasted and disfigured; a series of huts in course of being erected for the faithless sepoys at the time, when on June 3 the 17th N.I. broke into mutiny, left standing as they then were; the gaol strongly fortified, everything destructible bearing an aspect of ruin. Within the intrenched position at the gaol a small force of Ghoorkas kept at defiance the rebel sepoys who had already made two unsuccessful attacks, with considerable loss in life and of two of their guns. Resuming our progress, the 10th reached Aroul on January 26. There the various portions' of the force of which we were to form a part united, and was organized for its prospective duties. A halt of three days sufficed. On the 29th a march of twenty- three miles was performed by our little army, the minimum quantity of equipment and transport accompanying it. Several houses in ruins, belonging to planters, were passed in our progress to the river Goomtee; that river was crossed, and about midnight we bivouacked on Oude territory. By break of day our force was again in motion towards its objective point, now known to be Lucknow. That day's march was uneventful, except that the water in the roadside wells was rendered unpalatable by branches of neem tree (Afelia Azadircichia) thrown into them by the rebels.

A short halt was made at Singramow, during which preparation was made for eventualities. Intimation was there received that the rebels were collecting their forces at Chanda, about a dozen miles in front of us, and that their pickets had advanced to within four or five miles of our camp. On February 19 our force was under arms at daylight, and then began its advance towards the enemy. About nine o'clock a halt was ordered; men and officers partook of such "breakfast" as under the circumstances they could get, while staff officers rode to the front to reconnoitre. A long line of rebels was seen to occupy a somewhat elevated position at a little distance from us. Our guns immediately advanced, opened fire upon them, their fire being for a short time returned. The 10th—Colonel Fenwick at their head— threw out their skirmishers, and thus covered, advanced at steady pace towards the point where the rebels seemed thickest. They, however, did not long stand their ground; before our men came within striking distance the sepoys gave way and took to flight. Pursuit was impossible, by reason of want of cavalry; but the small band of mounted infantry, recently extemporised from the 10th, managed to come up, with some of the enemy, of whom, in the language of the day, they "gave a good account." We subsequently learned that the forces against whom we had been engaged comprised 8,000 men, commanded by Bunda Hussun, a lieutenant of Mendhee Hussun.

It was intended that our force should encamp on the field whence the rebels had lied. While halting for that purpose, it was found that a second engagement was to take place; that the enemy had taken up a position at Hummeerpore, a little distance from their former, and under shelter of a wood. From there their guns soon opened fire upon us. Ours quickly replied; a few casualties in our ranks were the result, when darkness having put an end to the duel we bivouacked on our ground. When morning dawned, it was seen that the position they had occupied was abandoned; our camp was accordingly pitched, and so we remained, prepared for the next move.

Resuming our advance towards Lucknow, two successive marches of great length, and consequently fatiguing, were performed, considerable numbers of our transport animals completely breaking down, and so being the cause of much inconvenience to our force.

On the 23rd, about 10 a.m., our skirmishers drew upon them fire from a position taken up by the rebels at Sooltanpore. That position was attacked, and from a direction unexpected by them; thus disconcerted, their fire was comparatively little destructive in our ranks, nor was it long before—having discharged upon us a volley of grape— they abandoned their artillery and fled, leaving fourteen guns, besides stores and a large quantity of equipment, in our possession, also much ammunition and loot. Again the mounted men of the 10th did good service in pursuit of the fugitives; some of our artillery followed, and it was said destroyed large numbers of them, the loss to our troops engaged being again comparatively small. Thus were the forces of Mendhee Hussun defeated, though numbering 6,000 regular sepoys and 6,000 matchlock men; the station of Sooltanpore recovered after being held by the rebels since the previous month of June.

After some delay our camp was pitched on the ground our men had won, and we halted for a day. A party dispatched to destroy a manufactory of gun carriages deserted by the rebels came upon various relics, with which doubtless were connected sad and painful associations; these included what had been an elegant barouche, a palkee garree, and a metal toy—the whole pertaining to victims of the first outburst of mutiny among the troops there stationed. Near our camp the artillery were occupied in bursting the guns deserted by the enemy.

On the 25th our force resumed its march at daylight, and so continued till late in the afternoon, making one short halt to allow the troops to draw water from some village wells, a second to cook and distribute food. Shortly after we had started a very hideous object presented itself to view; it was the body of a native suspended by the feet from a branch of a tree, his arms dangling in mid-air, and so doubtless indicating the cruel manner of his death. Arrived at Mosufferkhan, where it was arranged that our camp should be pitched we found awaiting to join us a reinforcement of Sikh and Pathai Horse, together with some mounted men comprising half-castes an Christians who had belonged to mutinied or disbanded regiments all of whom had been sent by forced marches to our aid. Some stray mutineers were discovered in near proximity to camp by our scouts and by them duly "disposed of"

A long and arduous march through difficult country; the village along our route deserted by their inhabitants, the fields destitute o labourers. On arrival at our camping ground near Jugdispore, it wa ascertained that our advance guard had fallen in with and captured two messengers conveying a purwana, or order, from the Ranee Lucknow to the zemindars of the district just traversed by us, intimating to them the advance of a small body of English, and calling upon then to destroy the intruders at Sooltanpore; also to send without delay provisions for the rebel troops holding Lucknow. A day's halt and much-needed rest for man and animal. On 28th a long march, it the course of which we passed through some villages strongly fortified and loopholed, but deserted by inhabitants. Reinforced as we now were by cavalry, they scoured the vicinity of our route, in the course of their proceedings coming upon seventeen rebels, some wearing the uniform of their former regiments, all of whom they killed.

With rain and boisterous weather the month of March began; it was therefore somewhat late in the morning of the 1st when our advance was resumed. As we proceeded, the discovery was made by our scouts that a considerable body of rebels occupied a point at some little distance on our flank. The main body of our force was accordingly halted, while a portion was sent against the mutineers, the result being that in the attack upon them the latter had sixty of their numbers killed or wounded, and lost two of their guns. Resuming progress, we traversed a number of towns and villages, all strongly fortified, but sparsely occupied. Night had closed in when we reached our halting-place. While tents were being pitched, lurid flames at intervals in our near vicinity told the fate of villages and isolated houses.

During the attack just mentioned several hand-to-hand conflicts took place between the Sikh troopers and the rebels. In one of these an officer received a tulwar cut which severed an artery. By-and-by I came upon him, prostrate on the ground, alone, and bleeding to death. A ligature was applied to the divided vessel; he was placed in a dooly, and so carried to my tent, where he remained during the following night. While there he was visited by some of his men, who laid before him various articles of loot—some valuable—of which they had possessed themselves, and now presented to him. In contrast with an incident shortly to be related, and also in its way characteristic of a class, the fact made an impression upon me that under the particular circumstances of time and place, the officer alluded to [For his gallantry in the attack mentioned he was awarded the Victoria Cross.] offered to me—who in all likelihood had been the means of saving his life—not one thing of the many laid out for display on the floor rug of my tent.

Early on March 3 the sound of heavy guns from the direction of Lucknow told that active work was in progress there. Later in the day a staff officer, escorted by a squadron of the 9th Lancers and two Horse Artillery guns, arrived in camp as bearer of dispatches. These contained orders that on the morrow our force should advance and take up the position assigned to it in relation to the contemplated attack on that capital. They informed us that already the Dilkhosha had been captured. On the following day our force was accordingly in motion towards Lucknow. It had not proceeded far when information was received that a small body of rebels occupied the inconsiderable fort of Dowraha, situated at the distance of a mile or so from our line of route. A body, unfortunately, as events proved, too small for its intended purpose, was detached with the object of effecting its capture; but with the loss of one officer killed and several casualties among the rank and file, the position had to be left untaken, while our force continued its march. In the afternoon we took up the position assigned to us on an extensive plain between Dilkhosha and Bebeepore, and so merged into the general force under the Commander-in-Chief.


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