In Times of Peril by G. A. Henty
Chapter XVIII. The Storming of Delhi.
On the morning of the 8th of September the battery, eight hundred yards from the Moree gate of Delhi, opened fire, and sent the first battering shot against the town which had for three months been besieged. Hitherto, indeed, light shot, shell, and shrapnel had been fired at the gunners on the walls to keep down their fire, and the city and palace had been shelled by the mortar batteries; but not a shot had been fired with the object of injuring the walls or bringing the siege to an end.
For three months the besiegers had stood on the offensive, and the enemy not only held the city, but had erected very strong works in the open ground in front of the Lahore gate, and had free ingress and egress from the town at all points save from the gates on the north side, facing the British position on the Ridge. During these three long months, however, the respective position of the parties had changed a good deal. For the first month the mutineers were elated with their success all over that part of India. They were intoxicated with treason and murder; and their enormous numbers in comparison with those of the British troops in the country made them not only confident of success, but arrogant in the belief that success was already assured. Gradually, however, the failure of all their attempts, even with enormously superior forces, to drive the little British force from the grip which it so tenaciously held of the hill in front of Delhi, damped the ardor of their enthusiasm. Doubts as to whether, after all, their mutiny and their treachery would meet with eventual success, and fear that punishment for their atrocities would finally overtake them, began for the first time to enter their minds.
Quarrels and strife broke out between the various leaders of the movement, and pitched battles were fought between the men of different corps. Then came pestilence and swept the crowded quarters. A reign of terror prevailed throughout the city; the respectable inhabitants were robbed and murdered, shops were burst open and sacked, and riot and violence reigned supreme.
The puppet monarch, terrified at the disorder that prevailed, and finding his authority was purely nominal--the real power resting in the hands of his own sons, who had taken a leading share in getting up the revolt, and in those of the Sepoy generals--began to long for rest and quiet. The heavy shell which from time to time crashed into his palace disturbed his peace, and, through his wives, he secretly endeavored to open negotiations with the British. These overtures were, however, rejected. The king had no power whatever, and he and his household were all concerned in the massacres which had taken place in the palace itself.
It was then, by an army which, however small, was confident of victory, against one which, however large, was beginning to doubt that final success would be theirs, that the siege operations began on the morning of the 8th of September. Thenceforth the besiegers worked night and day. Every night saw fresh batteries rising at a distance of only three hundred yards from the walls; fifteen hundred camels brought earth; three thousand men filled sandbags, placed fascines, and erected traverses for the guns. The batteries rose as if by magic. The besieged viewed these preparations with a strange apathy. They might at the commencement of the work have swept the ground with such a shower of grape and musketry fire that the erection of batteries so close to their walls would have been impossible; but for the first three nights of the work they seemed to pay but little heed to what we were doing, and when at last they awoke to the nature of our proceedings, and began a furious cannonade against the British, the works had reached a height that afforded shelter to those employed upon them. Each battery, as fast as the heavy siege guns were placed in position, opened upon the walls, until forty heavy guns thundered incessantly.
The enemy now fought desperately. Our fire overpowered that of the guns at the bastions opposed to them; but from guns placed out in the open, on our flank, they played upon our batteries, while from the walls a storm of musketry fire and rockets was poured upon us. But our gunners worked away unceasingly. Piece by piece the massive walls crumbled under our fire, until, on the 13th, yawning gaps were torn through the walls of the Cashmere and Water bastions. That night four engineer officers--Medley, Long, Greathead, and Home--crept forward and examined the breaches, and returned, reporting that it would be possible to climb the heaps of rubbish and enter at the gaps in the wall. Orders were at once issued for the assault to take place at daybreak next morning.
The assaulting force was divided into four columns; the first, composed of three hundred men of the Seventy-fifth Regiment, two hundred and fifty men of the First Bengal Fusiliers, and four hundred and fifty men of the Second Punjaub Infantry--in all one thousand men, under Brigadier-General Nicholson, were to storm the breach near the Cashmere bastion. The second column, consisting of two hundred and fifty men of the Eighth Regiment, two hundred and fifty men of the Second Bengal Fusiliers, and three hundred and fifty men of the Fourth Sikh Infantry, under Colonel Jones, Q.B., were to storm the breach in the Water bastion. The third column, consisting of two hundred men of the Fifty-second Regiment, two hundred and fifty men of the Ghoorka Kumaan battalion, and five hundred men of the First Punjaub Infantry, under Colonel Campbell, were to assault by the Cashmere gate, which was to be blown open by the engineers. The fourth column, eight hundred and sixty strong, was made up of detachments of European regiments, the Sirmoor battalion of Ghoorkas, and the Guides. It was commanded by Major Reed, and was to carry the suburb outside the walls, held by the rebels, called Kissengunge, and to enter the city by the Lahore gate. In addition to the four storming columns was the reserve, fifteen hundred strong, under Brigadier Longfield. It consisted of two hundred and fifty men of the Sixty-first Regiment, three hundred of the Beloochee battalion, four hundred and fifty of the Fourth Punjab Infantry, three hundred of the Jhind Auxiliary Force, and two hundred of the Sixtieth Rifles, who were to cover with their fire the advance of the storming column, and then to take their places with the reserves. This body was to await the success of the storming column, and then follow them into the city, and assist them as required. The cavalry and the rest of the force were to cover the flank and defend the Ridge, should the enemy attempt a counter attack.
Precisely at four o'clock on the morning of the 14th, the Sixtieth Rifles dashed forward in skirmishing order toward the walls, and the heads of the assaulting columns moved out of the batteries, which had until this moment kept up their fire without intermission.
The Warreners were on duty by the side of General Nicholson; and accustomed as they were to danger, their hearts beat fast as they awaited the signal. It was to be a tremendous enterprise--an enterprise absolutely unrivaled in history--for five thousand men to assault a city garrisoned by some thirty thousand trained troops, and a fanatical and turbulent population of five hundred thousand, all, it may be said, fighting with ropes round their necks.
As the Rifles dashed forward in front, and the head of the column advanced, a terrific fire of musketry broke out from wall and bastion, which the British, all necessity for concealment being over, answered with a tremendous cheer as they swept forward. Arrived at the ditch there was a halt. It took some time to place the ladders, and officers and men fell fast under the hail of bullets. Then as they gathered in strength in the ditch there was one wild cheer, and they dashed up the slope of rubbish and stones, and passed through the breach.
The entrance to Delhi was won.
Scrambling breathlessly up, keeping just behind their gallant general, the Warreners were among the first to win their way into the city.
An equally rapid success had attended the assault upon the breach in the Water bastion by the second column. Nor were the third far behind in the assault through the Cashmere gate, But here a deed had first to be done which should live in the memories of Englishmen so long as we exist as a nation.
As the head of the assaulting column moved forward a little party started at the double toward the Cashmere gate. The party consisted of Lieutenants Home and Salkeld, of the Royal Engineers, and Sergeants Smith and Carmichael, and Corporal Burgess, of the same corps; Bugler Hawthorne of the Fifty-second regiment; and twenty-four native sappers and miners under Havildars Mahor and Tilluh Sing. Each of the sappers carried a bag of powder, and, covered by such shelter as the fire of the Sixtieth skirmishers could give them, they advanced to the gate. This gate stands close to an angle in the wall, and from the parapets a storm of musketry fire was poured upon them. When they reached the ditch they found the drawbridge destroyed, but crossed in single file upon the beams on which it rested. The gate was of course closed, but a small postern-door beside it was open, and through this the mutineers added a heavy fire to that which streamed from above. The sappers laid their bags against the gate, and slipped down into the ditch to allow the firing party to do their work. Many had already fallen. Sergeant Carmichael was shot dead as he laid down his powder bag; Havildar Mahor was wounded. As Lieutenant Salkeld tried to fire the fuse he fell, shot through the arm and leg; while Havildar Tilluh Sing, who stood by, was killed, and Ramloll Sepoy was wounded. As he fell Lieutenant Salkeld handed the slow match to Corporal Burgess, who lit the fuse, but fell mortally wounded as he did so. Then those who survived jumped, or were helped, into the ditch, and in another moment a great explosion took place, and the Cashmere gate blew into splinters, killing some forty mutineers who were behind it. Then Lieutenant Home, seeing that the way was clear, ordered Bugler Hawthorne to sound the advance, and the assaulting column came rushing forward with a cheer, and burst through the gateway into the city.
Of the six Englishmen who took part in that glorious deed only two lived to wear the Victoria cross, the reward of valor. Two had died on the spot, and upon the other four General Wilson at once bestowed the cross; but Lieutenant Salkeld died of his wounds, and Lieutenant Home was killed within a week of the capture of the city. Thus only Sergeant Smith and Bugler Hawthorne lived to wear the honor so nobly won.
General Nicholson, who was in general command of the whole force, concentrated the two columns which had entered in a wide open space inside the Cashmere gate, and then swept the enemy off the ramparts as far as the Moree bastion, the whole of the north wall being now in the possession of our troops. Then he proceeded to push on toward the Lahore gate, where he expected to meet Major Reed with, the fourth column. This column had, however, failed even to reach the Lahore gate, the enemy's position in the suburb beyond the wall proving so strong, and being held by so numerous a force, that, after suffering very heavily, the commander had to call back his men, his retreat being covered by the cavalry.
Thus, as General Nicholson advanced through the narrow lane between the wall and the houses, the column was swept by a storm of fire from window, loophole, and housetop--a fire to which no effective reply was possible. Then, just as he was in the act of cheering on his men, the gallant soldier fell back in the arms of those behind him, mortally wounded. He was carried off by his sorrowing soldiers, and lingered until the 26th of the month, when, to the deep grief of the whole army, he expired.
It being evident that any attempt to force a path further in this direction would lead to useless slaughter, and that the place must be won step by step, by the aid of artillery, the troops were called back to the bastion.
A similar experience had befallen the third column, which had, guided by Sir T. Metcalfe, who knew the city intimately, endeavored to make a circuit so as to reach and carry the Jumma Musjid, the great mosque which dominated the city. So desperate was the resistance experienced that this column had also to fall back to the ramparts. The reserve column had followed the third in at the Cashmere gate, and had, after some fighting, possessed itself of some strong buildings in that neighborhood, most important of which was a large and commanding house, the residence of Achmed Ali Khan; and when the third column fell back Skinner's house, the church, the magazine, and the main-guard were held, and guns were planted to command the streets leading thereto. One cause of the slight advance made that day was, that the enemy, knowing the weakness of the British soldier, had stored immense quantities of champagne and other wines, beer, and spirits in the streets next to the ramparts, and the troops--British, Sikhs, Beloochees, and Ghoorkas alike--parched with thirst, and excited by the sight of these long untasted luxuries, fell into the snare, and drank so deeply that the lighting power of the force was for awhile very seriously impaired.
On the 15th the stubborn fighting recommenced. From house to house our troops fought their way; frequently, when the street was so swept by fire that it was impossible to progress there, making their way by breaking down the party walls, and so working from one house into another. During this day guns and mortars were brought into the city from our batteries, and placed so as to shell the palace and the great building called the Selimgur.
The next morning the Sixty-first Regiment and the Fourth Punjaub Rifles made a rush at the great magazine, and the rebels were so stricken by their rapidity and dash that they threw down their portfires and fled, without even once discharging the cannon, which, crammed to the muzzle with grape, commanded every approach. Here one hundred and twenty-five cannon and an enormous supply of ammunition fell into our hands, and a great many of the guns were at once turned against their late owners.
So day by day the fight went on. At night the sky was red with the flames of burning houses, by day a pall of smoke hung over the city. From either side cannon and mortars played unceasingly, while the rattle of musketry, the crash of falling houses, the shrieks of women, the screams of children, and the shouting of men mingled in a chaos of sounds. To the credit of the British soldier be it said, that infuriated as they were by the thirst for vengeance, the thought of the murdered women, and the heat of battle, not a single case occurred, so far as is known, of a woman being ill-treated, insulted, or fired upon--although the women had been present in the massacres, and had constantly accompanied and cheered on the sorties of the mutineers. To the Sepoys met with in Delhi no mercy was shown; every man taken was at once bayoneted, and the same fate befell all townsmen found fighting against us. The rest of the men, as well as the women and children, were, after the fighting was over, permitted to leave the city unmolested, although large numbers of them had taken share in the sack of the white inhabitants' houses, and the murder of every Christian, British or native, in the town. It would, however, have been impossible to separate the innocent from the guilty; consequently all were allowed to go free.
From the time that the British troops burst through the breaches, an exodus had begun from the gates of the town on the other side, and across the bridge over the Jumna. Our heavy guns could have destroyed this bridge, and our cavalry might have swept round the city and cut off the retreat on the other side; but the proverb that it is good to build a bridge for a flying foe was eminently applicable here. Had the enemy felt their retreat cut off--had they known that certain death awaited them unless they could drive us out of the city, the defense would have been so desperate that it would have been absolutely impossible for the British forces to have accomplished it. The defense of some of the Spanish towns in the Peninsular war by the inhabitants, lighting from house to house against French armies, showed what could be effected by desperate men lighting in narrow streets; and the loss inflicted on our troops at Nujufghur by twenty Sepoys was another evidence of the inexpediency of driving the enemy to despair. As it was, the rebels after the first day fought feebly, and were far from making the most of the narrow streets and strongly-built houses. No one liked to be the first to retreat, but all were resolved to make off at the earliest opportunity. Men grew distrustful of each other, and day by day the desertions increased, the resistance diminished, and the districts held by the rebels grew smaller and smaller. It is true that by thus allowing tens of thousands of rebels to escape we allowed them to continue the war in the open country, but here, as it afterward proved, they were contemptible foes, and their defeat did not cost a tithe of the loss which would have resulted in their extermination within the walls of Delhi.
Up to the 20th the palace still held out. This was a fortress in itself, mounting many cannon on its walls, and surrounded by an open park-like space. On that morning the engineers began to run a trench, to enable a battery to be erected to play upon the Lahore gate of the palace. Before, however, they had been long at work, a party of men of the Sixty-first, with some Sikhs and Ghoorkas, ran boldly forward, and taking shelter under a low wall close to the gate, opened fire at the embrasures and loopholes. The answering fire was so weak that Colonel Jones, who was in command of the troops in this quarter--convinced that the report that the king with his wives and family, and the greater part of the garrison of the palace, had already left was true--determined upon blowing in the gate at once. Lieutenant Home was appointed to lead the party told off for the duty, which was happily effected without loss. The British rushed in, and found three guns loaded to the muzzle placed in the gateway, but fortunately the Sepoys who should have fired them had fled.
The news that the palace was taken spread rapidly, and there was a rush to share in the spoil. But few of the enemy were found inside; these were at once bayoneted, and then a general scramble ensued. The order had been given that no private plundering should be allowed, but that everything taken should be collected, and sold for the general benefit of the troops. Orders like this are, however, never observed, at any rate with portable articles; and Sikhs, Ghoorkas, and British alike, loaded themselves with spoil. Cashmere shawls worth a hundred pounds were sold for five shillings, silk dresses might be had for nothing, and jewelry went for less than the value of the setting.
The same day the headquarters of the army were removed to the palace of Delhi. As the Union Jack of England ran up the flagstaff on the palace so lately occupied by the man crowned by the rebels Emperor of India, the seat and headquarters of the revolt which had deluged the land with blood, and caused the rule of England to totter, a royal salute was fired by the British guns, and tremendous cheers arose from the troops in all parts of the city.
The raising of that flag, the booming of those guns, were the signal of the deathblow of the Indian mutiny. Over one hundred thousand rebels were still in arms against the British government, but the heart of the insurrection was gone. It was no longer a war, it was a rebellion. There was no longer a head, a center, or a common aim. Each body of mutineers fought for themselves--for life rather than for victory. The final issue of the struggle was now certain; and all the native princes who had hitherto held aloof, watching the issue of the fight at Delhi, and remaining neutral until it was decided whether the Sepoys could pluck up the British flag from the Ridge, or the British tear down the emblem of rebellion from above the palace of Delhi, hesitated no longer, but hastened to give in their allegiance to the victorious power.
Nothing has been said as to the part the Warreners bore in that fierce six days' fighting. They did their duty, as did every other man in the British army, but they had no opportunity for specially distinguishing themselves. As staff officers, they had often to carry messages to troops engaged in stubborn fight, and in doing so to dash across open spaces, and run the gantlet of a score of musket balls; both, however, escaped without a scratch. They had not been present on the occasion of the taking of the palace, for they had been at early morning on the point of going in to the headquarters for orders, when Captain Hodgson came out. They had dined with him on the day previous to the assault, and he came up them now.
"Now," he said, "I am just going on an expedition after your own hearts, lads. We have news that the king and queen have stolen away, and have gone to the palace at the Kotub Minar. I am going with my troops to bring them in. Would you like to go?"
"Oh, yes, of all things," the Warreners exclaimed. "But we have no horses."
"Oh, I can mount you," he said. "Several of my fellows slipped into the town in hopes of getting some loot, and three or four were shot; so if the general will give you leave, I will take you."
The Warreners at once went in to Brigadier-General Jones, to whom they had been attached since the fall of General Nicholson. As they were supernumeraries on his staff, the general at once gave them leave, and in high delight they followed their friend--a most gallant and fearless officer, who had greatly distinguished himself by the dashing exploits which he had executed with his troop of irregular horse--to his camp outside the walls. Half an hour later they were riding at a trot toward the spot where the ex-emperor had taken refuge. Their route lay across ground hitherto in possession of the enemy, and they rode past thousands of armed budmashes, or blackguards, of Delhi, who had left the city, and were making their way to join some of the rebel leaders in the field. These scowled and muttered curses as the little troop rode by; but the blow which had just been dealt was so crushing, the dread inspired by British valor so complete, that although apparently numerous enough to have destroyed the little band without difficulty, not a man dared raise his voice or lift a weapon.
"What are all these wonderful ruins?" Dick asked Captain Hodgson, by whose side they were riding.
"This is where old Delhi stood. These great buildings are tombs of kings and other great men; the smaller houses have gone to dust centuries ago, but these massive buildings will remain for as many centuries more. Wait till you see Kotub Minar; in my opinion there is nothing in India or in the world to equal it."
Another half-hour's riding brought them into sight of a magnificent shaft of masonry, rising far above the plain.
"That is the Minar," Captain Hodgson said; "it is the same word as minaret. Is it not magnificent?"
The Kotub Minar is an immense shaft tapering gradually toward the top. It is built in stages, with a gallery round each. Each stage is different. In one it is fluted with round columns like a huge mass of basalt. In another the columns are angular; and in the next, round and angular alternately. The highest stage is plain. The height is very great, and the solidity of execution and the strength of the edifice are as striking as its height and beauty.
They were not, however, to go so far as the Kotub, for, questioning some peasants, they learned that the king had halted at a building called Durzah-Nizam-oo-deen. The gates were shut, and it was certain that the king would have a large body of retainers with him. Matchlock men showed at the windows and on the roof, and things looked awkward for the little troop of cavalry. Captain Hodgson rode forward, however, without hesitation, and struck on the great gate. A window by the side of the gate opened, and he was asked what was wanted.
"I am come to take, and to carry into Delhi, the ex-king and his family. It is better to submit quietly, for if I have to force my way in, every soul in the place will be put to the sword."
In two minutes the postern opened, and a closely veiled figure made her appearance.
"I am the Begum," she said. And Captain Hodgson bent in acknowledgment that the favorite wife of the man who was yesterday regarded as the emperor of India, stood before him.
"The king will surrender," she said, "if you will promise that his life shall be spared; if not, he will defend himself to the last, and will die by his own hand."
"Defense would be useless," Captain Hodgson said. "The force I have would suffice amply to carry the place; and if it did not, in three hours any reinforcements I could ask for would be here. I have no authority to give such a promise."
"If you give the promise it will be kept," the Begum said. "If you refuse, the king will shoot himself when the first soldier passes the gate."
Captain Hodgson hesitated. It was true that he had no authority to make such a promise; but he felt that government would far rather have the king a captive in their hands than that he should excite a feeling of regret and admiration among the people by dying by his own hand in preference to falling into those of the British.
"I agree," he said after a pause. "I promise that the king's life shall be spared."
In a minute the gate was thrown back, and an aged man came out, followed by several women. The age of the king was nearly eighty-five, and he was from first to last a mere puppet in the hands of others. In no case would he have been executed by the government, since the old man was clearly beyond any active participation in what had taken place.
The litter in which the king and his wives had been conveyed from Delhi was again brought into requisition, and the party were soon en route for Delhi. The royal palace had been but a few hours in our hands before the ex-king was brought in, a prisoner where he had so lately reigned. He was lodged with his women in a small building in the palace, under a strong guard, until it should be decided what to do with him.
"I shall go out to-morrow to try and catch some of the sons of the old man. They are the real culprits in the matter. If you like to go out again, and can get off duty, well and good," Captain Hodgson said.
The boys, who were very pleased at having been present at so historical an event as the capture of the king of Delhi, warmly thanked Captain Hodgson; and, having again obtained leave, started with him on the following morning at daybreak. Some of the princes a spy had reported to Captain Hodgson as being at Humayoon's tomb, a large building near the Kotub Minar. They rode in the same direction that they had gone out on the preceding day, but proceeded somewhat further.
"That is Humayoon's tomb," Captain Hodgson said, pointing to a large square building with a domed roof and four lofty minarets, standing half a mile off the road.
The troop rode up at a gallop, and, surrounding the building, dismounted. Soldiers were placed at all the various doors of the building, with orders to shoot down any one who might come out, and Captain Hodgson sent a loyal moulvie, named Rujol Ali, who had accompanied him, into the building, to order the princes there to come out. Then arose within the building a great tumult of voices, as the question whether they should or should not surrender was argued. Several times the moulvie returned, to ask if any conditions would be given; but Hodgson said sternly that no conditions whatever would be made with them.
At last, after two hours' delay, two of the sons and a grandson of the king, all of whom had been leaders in the mutiny, and authors of massacres and atrocities, came out and surrendered. They were immediately placed in a carriage which had been brought for the purpose, a guard was placed over them, and ordered to proceed slowly toward the city.
Then Hodgson, accompanied by the Warreners, entered the inclosure which surrounded the tomb. Here from five to six thousand of the refuse of the city, many of them armed, were assembled. A yell of hate arose as the little band entered; guns were shaken defiantly; sabers waved in the air. The odds were tremendous, and the Warreners felt that nothing remained but to sell their lives dearly.
"Lay down your arms!" Captain Hodgson shouted in a stentorian voice.
Eight or ten shots were fired from the crowd, and the bullets whistled over the heads of the horsemen, but fortunately none were hit.
"Lay down your arms!" he shouted again. "Men, unsling your carbines. Level."
As the carbines were leveled, the bravery of the mob evaporated at once. Those nearest threw down their arms, and as with leveled guns the horsemen rode through the crowd, arms were everywhere thrown down, and resistance was at an end. Over a thousand guns, five hundred swords, and quantities of daggers and knives were collected; and a number of elephants, camels, and horses were captured.
Ordering the native lieutenant to remain with the troop in charge of these things until some carts could be sent out for the arms, Captain Hodgson, accompanied by the boys, rode off after the carriage, which had started two hours before.
They rode rapidly until they neared Delhi, when they saw the carriage, surrounded by a great mob. Captain Hodgson set spurs to his horse and galloped forward at full speed, followed by the boys. They burst through the crowd, who were a large body of ruffians who had just left the city, where the fighting was even now not over, and who were all armed. A defiant cry broke from them as the three horsemen rode up to the carriage, from which with the greatest difficulty the guard had so far kept the crowd.
There was not a moment for hesitation. Captain Hodgson raised a hand, and a momentary silence reigned.
"These men in the carriage," said he in loud tones, "have not only rebelled against the government, but have ordered and witnessed the massacre and shameful treatment of women and children. Thus, therefore, the government punishes such traitors and murderers!"
Then drawing his revolver, before the crowd could move or lift a hand he shot the three prisoners through the head. The crowd, awed and astonished, fell back, and the carriage with the dead bodies passed into the city.