Gough, Sir Hugh
Gough, Sir Hugh
Commander of the British Armies (1779-1869)
Sir Hugh Gough was commander of the British armies in the first and second Sikh wars. He was born on 3 November 1779, at Woodtown, Limerick, Ireland. He joined British army service in 1793 and served at the Cape of Good Hope, and in the Peninsular wars under the Duke of Wellington. He came to India in 1837, and, after serving in the army in various capacities, became the Commander-in-Chief in 1843.
In spite of his experience as a soldier and his qualities of courage and resolution, Lord Gough did not prove the favourite of any of the three Governors-General under whom he served. Viscount Hardinge, in spite of having gallantly offered to serve under him in the first Sikh war, was highly critical of Gough’s conduct of operations at Alival, Ferozeshah and Sabhraori. Lord Dalhousie fought a private war with him during the Punjab campaign of 1848-49. He complained to the British cabinet that his wishes had been ignored, when, in August 1848, Gough’s command had been extended on the advice of the Duke of Wellington. Dalhousie strongly disapproved of the movement of European troops to Ambala and Firozpur in May 1848. Herbert Edwardes’ investment of Multan and Frederick Currie’s acquiescence in the movement of a British column to support him incensed Dalhousie. Lord Gough’s refusal to dismiss General Whish for raising the ineffective siege of Multan greatly displeased him. Further annoyance came from the actions at Ramnagar, Sadullapur and Chelianvala. Dalhousie openly charged the Commander-in-Chief with incompetency, and blamed him for incomplete actions and enormous losses.
Gough was responsible for the steady build-up on the Sutlej, but, unlike the political officers, he discounted the apprehension of a large-scale invasion of the British territories by the Sikhs. As the hostilities broke out, Gough moved forward towards Firozpur, ordering General Wheeler at Ludhiana to join the Army of the Sutlej. He fought an indecisive action at Mudki on 18 December 1845 and advanced on Firozpur. On 21-22 December, Gough fought the Sikhs strongly entrenched at the village of Firozeshah. It turned out to be one of the most fiercely contested battles in the annals of British warfare in India. The British loss amounted to 694 killed and 1,721 wounded. The British army, having sustained heavy losses in previous actions, was unprepared to launch an attack. It was short of men, food, ammunition and heavy guns, and shocked by the Sikh force, it lay badly mauled. On 8 February 1846, the convoy of mercy, with reinforcements, men, stores, ammunition and heavy guns, arrived from Delhi. Two days later, Gough, in one of the fiercest battles, defeated the Sikh army, sustaining 2403 casualties.
In the second Sikh war (1848-49), Lord Gough crossed the Ravi with an army of 24,404 men and 66 guns. Entering rapidly into the Rachna Doab, he fought an incomplete action at Ramnagar on the banks of the Chenab with the Sikhs under Sher Singh. The battle was neither brilliant nor complete. Dalhousie pronounced it "a sad affair with distressing result." At Chelianvala (13 January 1849), the British army courted disaster when two of its cavalry brigades were almost wiped out by the Sikh ghorcharhas.
The British reverse at Chelianvala raised a storm in England. Dalhousie called his Commander-in-Chief incompetent and accused him of fleeing the field from timidity. Within 24 hours of receiving his report, the Home Government appointed Sir Charles Napier to command the Indian army. But on 21 February, Lord Gough won a resounding victory at Gujrat. Soon afterwards he resigned his command. On return to England, he was made a viscount. In 1862, he was given the rank of Field Marshal. He died at St. Helens, near Booterstown, West Dublin, on 2 March 1869.