Time has rolled on, and the Crimean battles and
Indian mutinies have in a great measure dimmed the memory of the
terrible struggles of the first and second Sikh war, which shook our
Indian empire to its foundation.
They can, however, never be forgotten by those of us
who took part in them, and whose strange work it was to lead on the late
Bengal army against the very Sikhs who, fighting under our orders, have,
during the last two years, so materially assisted in destroying it.
Being one of those present in the battle of
Chilianwalla, I think it may interest to tell of a scene which occurred
on that terrible day.
On the 13th of January 1849, the Sikh army, 45,000
strong, was drawn up there in a line, two or three miles in length,
partly in an open space,, but concealed from us, behind a dense jungle.
About one o'clock p.m., our army, nearly 14,000
strong, had arrived within range of their guns, though we did not know
it. We were preparing to pitch our tents, when the lobbing of their shot
into our lines told of their being too close to allow of our encamping.
Our own army, in its advance, had been formed in
order of battle, and was prepared for the order to attack.
The brigade to which I was attached had to-advance
obliquely, with the object of attacking those guns that had already
opened from the enemy's left. To do this, we advanced through a thick
tree-jungle, which interfered much with the regularity of our line, and,
consequently, with the steadiness of the native regiments. It, however,
at the same time, covered the advance of the troops from the observation
of the Sikhs; so that, on their becoming aware of our approach to their
batteries, they were so uncertain of our whereabouts, that their shot
flew harmlessly over our heads.
When our line came within sight of the Sikh guns, the
Queen's regiment, which formed the centre of our brigade, was formed up
in an open space to charge and take them. The Sepoy regiment, on its
right, could not be got, by the utmost exertion of its officers, to take
up its position in line with the above regiment, but sheltered itself
behind it, from the terrible storm of bullets that assailed them.
Seeing this, the young ensign, (an English boy,) who
carried the colours of the native regiment, turning to another ensign
who stood by, called out, "Come along with me, G------."
They both started off at a run to the front, and
planted the colours in line with that of the European regiment. In doing
this, they thought to induce their men to come forward and save the
colours from falling into the hands of the Sikhs. Their men, however,
did not support them; and a party of the enemy's cavalry, seeing the two
young officers standing alone, made a dash at the colours. Observing the
critical position of the officers and colours, the mounted European
officers of the native regiment rode to the rescue, followed by some of
the sepoys. A short, sharp struggle ensued, in which several lives were
lost, and young G------- severely wounded; but the colours remained
safe. Bleeding and insensible, he was carried to the surgeon of his
regiment, who stopped the flow of blood at once. I had been similarly
engaged, binding up the wounds of other soldiers, and seeing no one
immediately requiring assistance, ran up to the surgeon to help, if
necessary. He asked me to stay by G--------, and watch the vessels till
he fetched another instrument. While watching, I observed a European
soldier kneeling at the other side of the wounded officer, who, drawing
a long breath, sighed out, "O God." On hearing this, the soldier,
speaking with an earnestness well befitting such a scene, said, "Yes,
young man, call now on Jesus, He is sure to hear you ; call now on Him,
and He will save you."
I tried to take in, and realise the strange scene. In
the background, at a short distance, a terrible struggle, and deafening
noise of battle, extended along at least a couple of miles. Here, a poor
sick soldier, who, though unable to carry his arms, had come out of
hospital to look for, and render assistance to the wounded, was telling
of a Saviour's love to, as he thought, a dying officer.
I could not but feel ashamed to think of the boldness
of the soldier, in comparison with my own silence. Strong, indeed, in
his weak state of body, must his love for souls have been, to bring him
to the field to seek their comfort amid such danger as then surrounded
us. Doubtless God's grace was strong in his own soul, and a rich
blessing his reward.
The scene lasted but a moment. Other bleeding men
called me away, and I saw the soldier no more. Years after, I met the
officer, strong and well, on the banks of the Cabul river.