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Recollections of Thirty-nine Years in the Army
Chapter XV


1858. CAPTURE OF LUCKNOW

Rifles against cannon—The sailors' battery—The circle narrows—The 10th in Lucknow—The Moulvie's house—Ladies rescued—Surgeon's place in battle—Soldiers' gratitude—Martiničre—Wrecks of victory—The city—The Residency—Isolated casualties—Flight of sepoys— Columns in pursuit.

THROUGHOUT March 5 heavy bombardment continued, the batteries of rebels within Lucknow replying actively to those outside the city. On the 6th, Captain Graham's company of the 10th occupied an intrenched position at an angle of the Mohamed Bagh, where during the night temporary defences had been thrown up, the task assigned to, and successfully performed, being by their rifle fire to keep down that from rebel guns of a battery close to Begum Serai. It became an exciting sight to watch the enemy as they moved their guns into the several embrasures of their battery preparatory to discharging them upon our position, and then the effect of the volley poured into those embrasures by our men; then the burst of flame—our soldiers instantly throwing themselves prone on the ground; the thud of round shot upon our protecting rampart; our soldiers starting to their feet, pouring volley after volley as before into the embrasures, while the guns were being lowered therefrom to be reloaded. Thus the seemingly unequal duel went on. After a time the rebel fire from that particular point began to slacken, then ceased. The men of the 10th had done their work right well. Other portions of our general force were engaged elsewhere, preparatory to the grand attack about to be delivered.

Steadily during the next two days the circle of fire narrowed around the city. On the 9th a more than usual heavy artillery fire took place between our forces and the enemy. The sailors' battery of 68-pounders was engaged against large bodies of the rebels assembled among a range of ruined buildings at the western end of the Martiničre, the men who worked the guns taking affairs with such coolness that, in the intervals between firing, cleaning, and loading their respective pieces, they squatted in parties of four on the ground, and proceeded with games of cards, in which they seemed to take as much interest as in the effect produced by their fire. About 2 p.m., to an increased rapidity. of fire from sailors and artillery guns was added more active pings of rifles, and somewhat later on the position of the Martiničre was in the possession of our force.

Two more days of arduous work by all ranks, the rebels gradually but steadily being pressed in from their advanced positions; the siege guns opening heavily upon the city; bodies of rebels in their endeavours at flight falling into the hands of our troops, many of their own numbers being killed. Our force increased by the arrival of reinforcements from Cawnpore, and by that of 10,000 Ghoorkas under Jung Bahadur, the advent of the latter causing some interest, and not a little amusement, dirty and untidy, fiat-faced, small-sized as they were, their guns drawn by men instead of horses, their whole aspect more suited to dramatic effect than for such work as was then in progress.

On March 11 the Begum Kotee was stormed and captured by a combined force of 93rd Highlanders, 4th Sikhs, and Ghoorkas, the losses sustained by the assailants being on the occasion very heavy in both men and officers. In the afternoon of next day, the 10th, led by Colonel Fenwick, occupied the position thus so gallantly won. Everywhere around signs indicated the deadly nature of the struggle that had taken place during its assault. Bodies of defenders, bleeding and mangled, lay in heaps ; some were being thrown pell-mell into a V-shaped ditch, down, then up the sides of which our troops had in the first instance to scramble, while exposed to terrific fire by the defenders. As we entered, our artillery hastened to prepare for its further work of bombarding at close quarters. During the night we bivouacked within the city. On the 13th, the 10th forced its way against severe opposition directly through the city towards the Kaiser Bagh, while other portions of the troops were similarly at work from other directions. Again, as night closed in after a day of most arduous work and heavy list of casualties among our numbers, the 10th bivouacked in streets and gardens wrested from their sepoy occupants. On the 14th the regiment went on with its work of conquest, heavy fire from roofs and loopholes bringing to earth, now one, then another, and another of our men as we continued to advance. At last the Kaiser Bagh was reached; it was quickly entered by Captain Annesly at the head of his company, by means of a gateway first detected by Havelock, then adjutant of the 10th; thus the central point within the city, held by the rebels, was now in the hands of our troops.

At a short distance from that position, and partly hidden by other buildings, were the ruins of what had until the previous day been the residence of the notorious Moulvie,' by whose orders, in the earlier days of the mutiny, several of our countrymen and countrywomen who had fallen into the hands of the rebels were put to death. As our troops now entered the enclosure within which those ruins stood, they came upon two gory heads of British soldiers, who had during recent operations been captured by the rebels. The Moulvie had, however, escaped, but was known to be in the still unsubdued part of the city, whence he exerted command over the rebels yet actively engaged against our forces.

A communication of romantic and pathetic interest now reached the more advanced portion of our force. It detailed the fact that two ladies 2 were in the hands of the rebels, their lives threatened, their position in other respects one of serious danger ; it urged those into whose hands it might fall to press onwards to their rescue. As subsequently transpired, those ladies were held prisoners by Wajid Ali, and by him treated with some degree of consideration, so much so that suspicion was brought upon him in respect to his fidelity to the rebel cause. He it was also who sent, by the hand of his brother, to the nearest British officer, the letter alluded to. Instantly on receipt of it, Captain McNeil and Lieutenant Bogle, at the head of a rescue party of Ghoorkas, started under the guidance of the bearer of the letter. The house in which the ladies were was quickly reached; the two captives were placed in doolies, and together with their protector escorted, not without much difficulty and risk, to the camp of General Macgregor.

While these operations were in progress, one or other regimental surgeon was constantly with the fighting line, rendering what aid was practicable to those struck down; and here it is well to mention that whenever officer or soldier felt himself wounded, his first call was "for the doctor." Nor is it to be questioned that the moral effect of our presence was very considerable; the presence of a hand to succour imparted confidence.

As soon as practicable, the wounded were withdrawn to our hospital tents, and there their injuries more particularly attended to. While work in front was in progress, and as a consequence that in hospital was most active, I was on an occasion occupied during twilight in so affording aid to a wounded soldier just brought in, myself on my knees on the ground and leaning over him. A touch on my shoulder, and then in a soldier's voice, "Here, sir, put that in your haversack," the action accompanying the word, and the man passed on his way, my attention too much occupied to observe his appearance. When work was done and I returned to my tent, I examined my haversack; I found therein a brick of silver, of sufficient size to make, as subsequently it did, a tea and coffee service, the donor remaining unknown. The circumstance is noted, as in contrast to that already mentioned, in which an officer was concerned.

A visit to the Martiničre revealed the effects of recent operations against that building ; statues and other works of art dilapidated, broken, and in ruins; doors and other woodwork torn and split, walls, ceilings, corridors injured in every possible way, large masses of debris at particular places indicating those upon which shot and shell had been most heavily directed. From the summit of the building we traced the route by which, in the previous October, the relieving force had effected its advance, together .with some of the buildings historically associated with that gallant feat, including the Yellow House, Secundra Bagh, Mess House, and Motee Mahal.

In our field hospital the wreck of our "glorious victory" was to be seen in plenty; officers and soldiers, wounded, maimed, or in various instances terribly burnt and disfigured by explosions; many groaning in their agony, others placidly bearing their sufferings, a few unconscious to pain, the death-rattle in their throats—all arranged on pallets, and far less comfortably seen to than were their comrades fortunate enough to be taken into their own regimental hospitals.

The streets along which the 10th had so recently forced its way to the Kaiser Bagh presented a scene of utter devastation: walls blackened, loopholed, shattered with shot-holes of various sizes, the buildings roofless and tenantless except by dead bodies gashed or torn by bullets, their cotton-wadded clothing burning, sickening odours therefrom contaminating the air; heaps of debris everywhere, furniture, utensils and dead bodies, all mixed up together; breaches made by heavy guns to make way for advancing infantry, round shot by which they had been effected; domes, at one time gilded and otherwise ornamental, but now dilapidated and charred; costly furniture, oil paintings once of great value, ornamental glass and china strewed about, and everywhere to be seen; ornamental garden lakes black from gunpowder cast into them; the gardens trodden down, mosaic work of cisterns broken into fragments. At Secundra Bagh, where on November 16 some two thousand sepoys perished at the hands of the 53rd and 93rd Regiments, the bones of the slain, now, four months after the event, lay in heaps, a heavy odour of decomposition pervading the enclosure.

At the Residency a deep irregular-shaped pit immediately outside the Bailee Guard marked the spot where, in the latter days of the memorable siege, the rebels had prepared their mine against the defenders oi that position; inside and close to the same entrance were the remains of the countermine by which the operations connected with the former were detected, and itself sprung upon the besiegers. The door of that gateway, penetrated and torn by bullets; buildings roofless and bespattered with shot-marks, including that where ladies and children spent the eighty-five days to which the siege extended, and that in which Sir Henry Lawrence received his death-wound,—the whole presenting an epitome of what war implies, not to be forgotten.

For some time after Lucknow was virtually in the power of our force desultory fights continued to occur at places in and around the city. In the portions actually held by our troops, isolated men occasionally fell by a rebel bullet. Among other casualties, two officers had the misfortune to fall into the hands of the sepoys, by whom they were put to death, and their heads, so report said, borne away as trophies.

No sooner had the principal positions held by the rebels been captured from them than their flight from the city began, at first in small bodies, but rapidly increasing in numbers as channels of egress became known among them. Although without artillery, considerable numbers carried their small arms, while others were content to abandon everything, and seek only their own safety. One armed body of the fugitives, while endeavouring to get away in the direction of the Alumbagh, was fallen upon by our troops and severely dealt with; in other directions, however, the fact became known that large bodies effected their escape without being attacked, in places where no special difficulties intervened,—nor did explanation of the circumstance transpire.

Several field columns were immediately organized and dispatched along different routes known or believed to have been taken by the escaped rebels. Years afterwards the gallant services performed by one of those columns were detailed in a published Biography. Other bodies found their way to the neighbourhood of Azimghur and there united with a considerable force of their brethren, which had on March 21 defeated a small body of British troops at Atrowlea, obliging it to retire within entrenchments at the first-named city.


 


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