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Recollections of Thirty-nine Years in the Army
Chapter XVI


1858. THE AZIMGHUR FIELD FORCE

The force extemporised—Jounpore—Tigra—Azimghur—Prestige— Casualties— Pur- suing column - Mr. Venables - Night march - Painful news - Ghazepore— Recross the Ganges—Arrah—Preparations—Beheea—Jugdispore —Resting— Jungle fight—Chitowrah—Heat and exhaustion—Work under difficulties—Our commissariat lost —Peroo —Bivouac—Return to camp—Threatened attack— Village destroyed—Our physical condition—Dhuleeppore— Preparing for attack —Guns recaptured—A sad duty performed—Sick and wounded—Messenger mutilated— Keishwa— Slaughter —Force to Buxar—Non effectives—The force ceases to exist—General orders, thanks, and batta.

THE task of the 10th was looked upon as finished; the regiment had been sixteen years in India, the entire period continuously' in the plains. With an expression of glee on the part of the men was the order received to commence our homeward march,—that is, to proceed towards Calcutta, there to embark for England. On the 28th of March the regiment turned its back on Lucknov ; after several hours of weary progress it reached its camping ground. About midnight we were roused from slumber by the arrival of a cavalry escort and Staff Officer, with orders that the regiment should march forthwith towards Goorsagunge, there to form part of a field force under command of Brigadier-General Lugard, its object to raise what had become the siege of Azimghur by the combined rebel forces just mentioned. Before ten o'clock on the 29th our soldiers, to use their own expression, had "done twenty-eight miles of road, heel and toe," disappointed at the unexpected change in destination, but also, in their own phrase, "ready for the new work cut out for them." Other portions of what was to be the Azimghur Field Force' quickly reached the appointed rendezvous, and the process of organization was complete. Then we learned that the combined rebel force under Koer Singh surrounded Azimghur; that a body of British, while en route thither from Benares, had suffered severely while in conflict with them; that therefore the rapid advance of that under General Lugard was urgently called for.

Continuing our march from day to day, we traversed much of the route by which our advance upon Lucknow had recently lain, it being marked by whitened bones of men slain, ruins of villages, and huts destroyed by fire; otherwise no event worth notice occurred until the 9th of April, by which date we had reached Budlapore. On the morning of that day our force marched from its camp at 2 a.m., proceeding thence direct to Jounpore, a distance of twenty miles. There information was received that the rebel troops around Azimghur were commanded by Mendhee Hussun, Koer Singh being present with them.

Men and animals, tired out by fatiguing marches, were equally constrained to make one day's halt. On the morning of the 11th information led General Lugard to deviate from the regular route and proceed towards Tigra, situated on our left, adjoining the left side of the river Goomtee, the rebels under Gholam Hussun being reported to have there taken up a position. A reconnoitring party speedily discovered the point taken up by about 500 rebels with two guns; they were at once attacked by our irregular cavalry, eighty of their number killed, the remainder dispersed, though this small affair lost the life of Lieutenant Havelock, cousin of our Adjutant.

Another day's halt to rest our men and animals; the heat already severe, 102 F. in our tents. Resuming our progress, our force arrived within striking distance of Azimghur after darkness of the night had closed in, and bivouacked on the position assigned to us, the rebels for some time disturbing our rest by their bullets that kept dropping among our ranks. With dawn on the 15th the several members of our body militant were at their posts, prepared for the work before them. As the 10th moved forward past a strip of dense jungle that skirts the river Tonse, a smart fire was opened upon us from the thicket, as also from a grove at some distance across that stream. The first of these positions was at once attacked by our artillery, the infantry rapidly following; by means of a dilapidated bridge hastily repaired, some cavalry and artillery got across and so attacked the second. Other portions of our force were engaged with similar activity at the points assigned to them respectively, the result being, that after losing considerably in their numbers, the rebels fled pell-mell, and as we entered the city only some of their killed and wounded were anywhere met with. It was subsequently found that they had lost some guns, much equipage and stores, and that, under command of Koer Singh, they were in full flight towards the Ganges.

When, as already mentioned, the rebels from their position in the jungle opened fire upon the ioth, the demeanour of our men, hardened as they were by long service in India, and accustomed to the work ot war, was such as vividly to illustrate the advantages of having old soldiers under such circumstances. Although taken by surprise, our men wavered not with equanimity our Colonel,' as he turned towards them, said, "Steady, men, steady." There was a sharp fire of musketry into the brushwood, instantly followed by a charge with the bayonet; native voices were heard as the sepoys recognised the soldiers they had to deal with, calling to their comrades, "Bhago, bliago Mai, this Julian aya" (Run, brothers, run; the 10th have come). A minute more, and those who escaped bayonet thrusts by our men were in rapid flight.

Resulting from the day's encounter a considerable number of dead had to be interred, and wounded attended to. For the latter accommodation had to be procured, as well as for our sick, whose numbers had been rendered considerable by the great fatigue and exposure undergone during our recent long and arduous marches. As a guard to those so provided for, as well as to hold the city now in our power against further attack, and leave our force unencumbered for further action, the 34th was detailed to fulfil both duties.

A column under command of Brigadier Douglas started in pursuit of the body of rebels directly under Koer Singh. They having made a stand against Douglas as soon as the first panic of defeat had somewhat subsided, the pursuing column was on 17th reinforced by additional artillery, cavalry, and part of the 84th. Within a few hours thereafter the sound of active firing told us what was taking place; then the arrival of wounded men declared that serious work was being done. In due time we learned that the rebels had been defeated, a hundred of their number killed, and one of their guns captured.

Among the wounded so brought in was Mr. Venables, an indigo planter, a typical representative of the rough, ready, and energetic men who collectively become the makers of Greater Britain. Mr. Venables had, by his own force of character, prevented open revolt in the district of Azimghur after the 17th N.I. had mutinied, and, by means of levies raised and commanded by himself, repelled an attack by the latter; subsequently on various occasions he was in actual conflict against the rebels. Gangrene of the wounded shoulder took place, and within a very short time his death occurred, much to the sorrow and regret of those of us with whom he had been associated. After his death it was discovered that he wore upon his bosom the wedding ring of his deceased wife. She had died at Azimghur, and now his body was laid in a grave close to the remains of her for whom his affection was manifest in tangible form.

On the 23rd General Lugard learned that notwithstanding their recent defeat the rebels under Koer Singh were advancing, as if to threaten Ghazepore. At 9 p.m. our force was in motion towards them. The night march was long and trying; for some hours our way was enlivened by the clear moonlight, but the air was hot and sultry. Occasional halts were necessary to enable the men to rest for a little, and refresh themselves with draughts of water. Arrived at Mohumdee next morning, several hours elapsed before camp equipage arrived and tents were pitched, for as on various previous occasions our men outmarched their transport train. There news reached camp that Koer Singh had so far succeeded that nearly all the men commanded by him had got across the Ganges ; but that Douglas, having arrived and opened fire upon them from the left bank, their chief had been severely wounded,' and of themselves many put liars de combat.

Later in the day the painful news circulated in camp that a small force, composed of men of 35th, the Naval Brigade, and some Sikhs, sent from Arrah to intercept the rebels then in rapid flight from the Ganges to Jugdispore, had met with disaster at their hands. The force referred to was that under the command of Captain Le Grand, 35th Regiment.

Two successive marches during the hottest period of each day, and we were at Ghazepore. Officers and men, forced by reason of seasonal temperature to dispense with outer uniform, wore only khakee trousers and woollen shirts, the sleeves turned up for sake of comfort. Thus equipped, dusty, and grimy, our aspect presented a sorry contrast to the neat and in some instances elegant turn-out of men and women who rode out from cantonments to see our force march into camp.

Resuming the march next morning, the occurrence of a rain storm drenched us, but even that was an agreeable relief in the great heat and dust heretofore prevailing. No halt took place, but throughout that day and following night our wearied men continued what was indeed their forced march. By daylight on May 2 we arrived at Synhee Ghat. There, by means of steamers ready for the purpose, the work of crossing the Ganges rapidly proceeded, and by 9 a.m. we were in the Arrah district. We were now reunited to the column which under Douglas had been recently sent on from Azimghur, it having succeeded in preventing Koer Singh's men from falling upon Arrah after inflicting on a small body of our troops the disaster already mentioned.

Not until the 4th were all our stores and equipment transferred to the right side of the river, and our force in readiness for further work. The following morning our camp was pitched at Arrah,1 and thus an opportunity afforded us to visit places in and around that station with which some recent painful events were associated. A building occupied a few months past by a civil servant now presented the appearance of a star-shaped fort from the embrasures of which the muzzles of guns projected ; masses of ruins told where other bungalows had been. There stood the small fortified house, its walls loopholed and battered by rebel bullets, a memorial of the gallant defence made by Herwald Wake and his few comrades until relieved by Major Eyre. At a little distance eastward from the city is the scene of the great disaster of July 30, already alluded to more than once; the road by which our men had marched, bordered on either side by isolated houses, at one spot by a clump of "toddy" palms, at another by a tope of mango trees; there the Hindoo temples at which, it was said, certain of our men on that occasion were offered as sacrifices to Kali; there the trees on which others were hung, though, as expressed by those on the spot, the events referred to are as far as possible "hushed up."

Information reached General Lugard that the rebels in considerable force had taken up a position at Jugdispore. He resolved to march upon and attack them without unnecessary delay. All extra establishment and equipment was left to be retained in store; sick and men otherwise non-effective eliminated; commissariat and transport suited for service on which we were about to enter, alone set apart for the purpose; mobility and efficiency the two qualities held in view.

In the lightest possible marching order our advance began on May 27. While it was yet dark, thirteen miles of road were got over; two more after daybreak, we then arrived at our intended camping ground; our only incident the capture of a spy, in the act of counting the numbers and noting the composition of our column. The rebels had determined to oppose us en route. For that purpose they took up a position in a tract of jungle through which the road extended near Beheea; there our artillery opened fire upon them, and thence they were quickly expelled. The aspect of the sky portended a dust storm; it was now upon us with all the usual violence of such meteors, the air so laden with dust that for a time all was dark. Then came a deluge of rain, soaking us completely, converting the hitherto parched ground into a swamp, but reducing the temperature from 100° to 85°. As the sky became clear, a strong body of rebels were observed advancing towards us. At once a party was dispatched against them; brisk fire by the artillery, then our cavalry dashed in among them; they broke up and soon disappeared in the jungle. All through next night the camp was on the alert; pickets patrolled in all directions. In early morning of the 9th our advance was resumed.

During the march parties of rebels hovered on either flank, but at a safe distance from our column. As we neared the town of Jugdispore the enemy advanced upon us from front and flanks. When they came within striking distance, our column, already prepared for such an emergency, took the initiative; our men, to use their own expression, "went at them with a will." Before sunset that town, together with the palace of Koer Singh, were in our possession.

The 10th was a day of comparative quiet; men had to rest after their arduous work; those prostrated by heat and fatigue be attended to, information obtained regarding movements of the fugitive enemy, and arrangements made for further action against them. While our force was thus enjoying comparative quiet, news reached our commander that the rebels had taken up a position at Chitowrah, situated deep in a dense jungle, some seven miles distant from our present camp; that a column comprising the 6th Regiment was in a position near Peroo to co-operate with us; that the column under Sir Hugh Rose was steadily closing around Jhansi; and that in Rohilcund our troops had obtained several important successes.

In the forenoon of the 11th a sufficient guard for its protection being left in camp, a strong body of our force marched to attack the rebel position at Chitowrah. It had not proceeded more than three miles when an earthwork across the road for a short time interrupted progress; that obstacle overcome, a heavy fire from the dense jungle on our flanks and front opened upon us. As a reply our artillery opened with grape, after which skirmishers dashed into the thick forest, with the result that they carried all before them; but pursuit was impossible by reason of its density.

The heat of the day, great as it was in the open ground, was overpowering while we traversed the forest already mentioned. It was fortunate for all of us that this contingency had been foreseen and provided for by General Lugard; skins full of water, carried by elephants, camels, and bullocks, forming part of our equipment on the occasion. At short intervals of time and distance, soldiers and officers indiscriminately placed themselves under the open mouths of those skins, had their heads and clothing drenched; then continuing their march until the hot wind effected complete evaporation, they again and again underwent a similar ordeal. Nevertheless, many staggered, some fell from heat and exhaustion, others gasped for breath. Considerable numbers had to be brought along in doolies; among those so prostrated was Colonel Fenwick. Exhausted as we were, it was fortunate for us that our enemies were wanting in resolution to take advantage of our condition.

Wearied and fatigued as were men and officers, little in the way of food was needed. Tea—that ever-agreeable beverage under such circumstances—was about the only thing obtainable at the time. Rest was out of the question during the night. Impressions of the day's work, repeated pings of musketry from the adjoining jungle, the thud of bullets on the ruined walls among which we lay, the occasional arrival of wounded men,—all combined to banish sleep; while to those engaged in looking after sick and wounded, whose numbers had become considerable, their work left them worn out and exhausted.

Daylight of the 12th revealed to us the scene of action. In jungle recesses mangled corpses; in the ruins, now utilised as "barracks" for effectives, and hospital for those struck down, whether by wounds or sickness, heavy moans of the suffering were intermingled with coarse jests of their more fortunate comrades. The unpleasant fact transpired that our commissariat supplies had fallen into the hands of the rebels, while the force was engaged against them in the jungle as already mentioned. Breakfast for men and officers became a meal more nominal than real; orders were issued for the march to be resumed southward, so that our force might the more effectively co-operate with another making its way from that direction.

Early in the afternoon our force was on its march towards Peroo, with a view to effect that junction. As we advanced, the forest became less and less dense; emerging therefrom into open country, the burnt remains of huts and villages were passed. Some stray shots reached us from small concealed bodies of the enemy, but these were quickly silenced by parties of our men detached for that purpose. Without opposition in more serious form we arrived, while it was still daylight, at a mango tope, in which we bivouacked for the night, all necessary precautions being first taken against surprise. During that night a thunderstorm burst over us; this was followed by heavy downpour of rain, which soaked us to a degree that made sorry objects of us, situated as we then were, and at the same time reduced the ground that formed our beds to the condition of a marsh.

A raid was made upon cattle and rice, both of which were found among some ruined huts ; the former were shot, and with the latter cooked, thus meal thus provided being savoury or otherwise according to whether individuals had or had not in their haversacks a small reserve of salt. At dawn next morning a strong party was detached to bring in supplies sent on to us from camp. It was not long before that escort was engaged with the rebels by whom it was attacked en route, and having defeated them, proceeded to obtain the needed supplies, with which in due time it returned to us. As a part of that escort were some young soldiers of the 6th Foot, recently arrived from the Cape of Good Hope. On their arrival back from that duty they were in so exhausted a condition that when time arrived to break up our bivouac they had to be removed by means of bullock-carts, elephants, and gun-carriages; the older soldiers of the same party, though much exhausted, were able to resume the march with their respective companies.

In the great heat now prevailing, the distance of nineteen miles that separated us from our standing camp was got over by ten o'clock that day; many so exhausted that, unable to keep up with the column, they followed as best they could, arriving as so many stragglers, but fortunately for them, unmolested and undiscovered by the rebels. During the absence of our column, our camp, left under protection of the 84th, was threatened by the rebels, who, however, were easily beaten off.

An attempt, made by men engaged for the purpose, to burn down the jungle—work in which had already cost us the lives of many men— was but partially successful. While at one point this was in progress, from another came indications of attack by a considerable body of well- armed rebels. The 10th were quickly in movement towards them, a few of their bullets telling among our ranks. Soon, however, the enemy disappeared in the dense forest, our men returning to the comparative quiet and "comfort" of their tents.

Short was the rest enjoyed by them. On the third day an attack from our side was directed upon two villages occupied by the rebels in our near vicinity. Similar attacks on other villages succeeded each other; a convoy with supplies from our base at Arrah arrived; attempts on a larger scale than heretofore to burn down the forest were made, but unsuccessfully; and so, with the hot season upon us, did all concerned try their best to carry out the general work we had to do.

Some idea of the physical condition of our troops may best be gathered from the particulars now to be given. Soon after the middle of May fevers and bowel disorders had become very prevalent among them ; in other ways they suffered severely from the prevailing heat and fatigue. As to myself, according to my diary, "from the time I became attacked at Azimghur, I have found it impossible to throw off my illness, and now am exhausted and debilitated to a great degree by the continued heat. Were it not my duty to hold out for the benefit of my wife and children, I would certainly apply for sick leave." By that time, although our force had been only ten days in the field and jungle near Jugdispore, the number of non-effectives was so great as to seriously impair its efficiency and mobility as many of these as could be so disposed of were accordingly sent under strong cavalry escort to Arrah. Cases of sunstroke were of occasional occurrence, though far less so than we had expected. Our transport suffered scarcely, if at all, in a less degree than our men, thus still further adding to the daily increasing difficulties under which we were expected to act as an efficient force. Another phase of our difficulties arose from the want of vegetables as part of our food. From the day when we first took the field supplies in this respect have been absent, the result being that men and officers are more or less suffering from land scurvy.

On the 20th our force made an attack on the village of Dhuleeppore, recently destroyed, but in the ruins of which a body of rebels had assembled. The result of that attack was discomfiture to them, though, unhappily, unusually heavy loss to the assailants.

Then followed a few days of comparative rest to our men; but meanwhile the rebels re-occupied the position from which so recently they had been driven. Arrangements were accordingly made for a renewed attack on that place.

At daylight on the 20th our force was in motion: one portion by a road just within the skirt of jungle, a second along the plain on which the affair of a few days before took place. As they drew close upon the rebel position, fire was opened from two howitzers captured on the occasion of the disaster to the party under Captain Le Grand already mentioned. Three rounds were fired before the 10th and 84th were able "to get at" the rebels. Once among them, the guns were quickly recaptured, many of the gunners killed, the rebels in flight. Our men returned to their tents.

Our camp ground had become so offensive, and otherwise objectionable, that, leaving for a time a body of our force sufficiently strong to hold its own in case of emergency, the larger portion, under orders by General Lugard, proceeded to take up a fresh position. The move involved a march of four miles and upwards. While en route we traversed the scene of Le Grand's disaster. Isolated bones, some partly gnawed, lay scattered about; fragments of utensils of sorts strewed the surface,—sad relics, in their several ways, of the episode referred to. A halt was made; the fragments of what had been gallant men carefully collected and most reverently interred. We then resumed our way.

The numbers of sick and wounded had now exceeded the capacity of our transport; it became a matter of necessity to get rid of them, so that the force might be left ready prepared for further action. Being provided with a strong cavalry escort, I started with a full convoy of such non-effectives. We traversed a piece of country directly in front of the rebels, halting under the shelter of a mango tope during the hottest hours of daylight; resumed the journey at nightfall, and reached Arrah before daybreak. There the sick and wounded were disposed of in hospital; our return journey quickly resumed, and without adventure we were again with our force in time for further work.

A few days prior to the date now reached, a messenger had been sent with dispatches from General Lugard to the officer in command of a column co-operating with his own. The man presented a sorry plight as he returned to camp; his nose cut off, his right hand severed at the wrist, his face and other parts of his person besmeared with blood, himself faint, bewildered, and dazed. After a time he related the story of his capture. He had reached his destination without mishap, had delivered the dispatches of which he was bearer, received those in reply, and started on his return journey with them. While passing through a rebel village on his way he was arrested, his papers taken from him, he himself ordered for execution, as traitor and spy. On the plea that in the state of mutilation inflicted upon him his appearance would be more deterrent among possible vaverers in the rebel cause than would be the fact of his being put to death, the extreme penalty was commuted.

A body of rebels having destroyed an indigo factory and taken up a position at Kishwa, our force started at 3 a.m. on the 2nd of June towards that point. As we approached it, a heavy though happily ineffectual fire was opened against our ranks. The ioth marched steadily onwards. The rebels did not long remain to permit our men to close with them; pell-mell they fled, the Madras guns sending several charges of grape-shot after them, the cavalry then taking up the pursuit. We afterwards bivouacked in the open.

Driven thence, the rebels returned to their former position at Chitowrah. By daylight on the 4th of June our force advanced upon them in two separate columns: the one along the narrow jungle road already mentioned; the other, under the command of Brigadier Douglas, by the southern border of the same jungle. As we neared the densest part of forest, in the heart of which lay that hunting seat of Koer Singh, we suddenly found ourselves exposed in a semi-circle of fire in front and both our flanks; fortunately without much damage to our numbers. There was a momentary halt, then a cheer, and into the forest dashed the 10th, trusting to their bayonets rather than their rifle fire. The rebels fled, at first through and from the thicket whence their attack had been made, our men following close upon them; next, through ruins of houses and enclosures; through a cactus hedge, across an open plain, our soldiers gaining upon them in the race, the result being a loss to our enemies of ninety-four, fallen by bayonet thrust of our regiment alone. Wearied and exhausted, a short rest had to be allowed to men and officers. In our return journey towards camp we again traversed the ground over which the running fight described had taken place; the rebels killed in the early part of the day were represented by so many masses of skeletons, blood covered, some few shreds of flesh still adhering, thus telling what had been the work done in the interval by jackals, dogs, and vultures.

The immediate result of the rebel defeat at Chitowrah was that their force divided itself into small parties, each of which seemed to proceed on its own initiative, some as marauders, others with the apparent object of making for Buxar, and thence across the Ganges. With a view to act against the latter, a portion of our force, reduced as it now was by casualties and sickness, was placed under command of Brigadier Douglas, and proceeded on the duty assigned to it.

To the regret of all associated with him, General Lugard completely broke down in health; several of the officers were ill or had been invalided; the numbers of our soldiers who had become non-effective was very large. Under the circumstances in which we were thus placed, the fact became evident that unless it was intended by the responsible authorities that our force should be permitted to melt away and so cease to exist, a speedy return to cantonments was necessary to preserve that portion which still existed of its component elements.

Great, therefore, was the relief with which, in obedience to orders to return to cantonments, we marched away from Jugdispore on June 15. Our first day's march was no more than six miles long. Our men, however, had no longer the stimulus of expected fight to brace them up; many fell out en route, to come in as stragglers during the day. Continuing our journey, we once again passed through Arrah, then crossed the Soane, marching into quarters at Dinapore on the 19th of that month. The Azimghur Field Force had done the work assigned to it, and now ceased to exist as such.

The arrival of General Orders, in which were contained the official dispatches relating to work performed by the force of which we had so recently formed a part, became naturally enough an event of importance to most of us, gratification to some, disappointment to others. Much praise was accorded to the 10th Regiment, as a whole, for arduous work efficiently done, and special reference made to individual officers whose services were "mentioned" in those dispatches. Paragraph 19 of the Orders in question gave the report by Sir Edward Lugard thus: "I beg most especially to recommend to His Excellency's notice - [myself], Surgeon of the 10th Foot and Senior Medical Officer in charge of this force; his exertions have been untiring; though at times suffering from sickness, he never quitted his post, but continued his valuable superintendence. I feel more indebted to him than I can express." With reference to which the entry made in my diary at the time was: "I am thankful to God for having enabled me to fufil my duties satisfactorily, and, for the sake of my dear wife and children, hope advancement may speedily follow so handsome an acknowledgment of services performed." A few days afterwards we had the further gratification of reading "Orders" awarding to each of us six months' batta.


 


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