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.
Gough was a colourful and controversial figure who commanded the army in both the first China War and the Sikh Wars. The second Sikh War was almost his undoing but he prevailed in the end. He drew criticism for being tolerant of high levels of casualties and was well known to favour the use of the bayonet in battle. But he was well loved and respected by his men.
The painting of Lord Gough shows him apparently directing operations during the Sikh wars but he posed for it in England in 1854, wearing his famous white ‘battle coat’ and sun hat which made him more conspicuous in the fog of battle. The decorations on his chest include the star of the Order of the Bath and two medal ribbons for China and Gwalior. The painter was Sir Francis Grant.
He was born in Ireland on 3rd November 1779 and later claimed to have had a childhood tainted by neglect. In 1807 he married Frances Maria Stephens to whom he wrote many letters during his career. It was a 56 year marriage that ended with her death in March 1863. They had a son on 9th December 1810 but he died in infancy while Gough was fighting in the Peninsula. However, whilst he was living the life of a country squire, in Ireland, from 1817 to 1829, he and his wife had another son and three daughters.
1792 Commissioned into the Limerick Militia aged 13.
1794 Adjutant in 119th Foot
1795 Transferred to the 2nd Battalion 76th Highlanders
1795 First campaign at Cape of Good Hope
1796 Transferred to 87th Foot (his favourite regiment)
1796 Campaigning in West Indies, St Lucia, Trinidad, Peurto Rico and Surinam.
1805 Major in 2nd Battalion 87th.
1809 Commanded his battalion in Peninsula
1809 July. Wounded at Talavera
1811 Battle of Barrosa. 87th capture French eagle.
1811 Siege of Tarifa where Gough’s battalion played a significant part.
1812 Placed in command of garrison at Tarifa
1813 Battle of Vittoria
1813 Seriously wounded in the hip at Nivelle
1815 Knighted and made Lieutenant-Colonel
1817 His battalion was disbanded. Gough went on half-pay for 12 years.
1819 Promotion to Colonel whilst not serving
1829 Returned to duty and served in Ireland ‘suppressing outrages’.
1837 Command of Mysore Division in Madras
1839 Appointed Colonel of 99th Foot
1841 Appointed Colonel of 87th Foot
1841 Sent to China as commander of British Expeditionary force.
1842 Appointed Commander-in-Chief in India
1843 Gwalior campaign
1845 First Sikh War
1846 Raised to the Peerage
1848 Second Sikh War
1849 Battle of Chillianwallah, 13th January.
1849 Gough relieved of his command because of high casualty figures.
1849 Slowness of communication meant that Gough did not know of the decision to sack him and he commanded the British at Gujerat a successful battle which ended the Sikh Wars.
1854 General. Appointed Colonel of 60th Rifles.
1855 Colonel of Royal Horse Guards and Gold Stick
1857 Knight of St Patrick and member of Privy Council
1861 Knight Grand Commander of the Order of the Star of India
1862 Field Marshal
1869 Died on 2nd March aged 90
Sir Charles Napier had been sent out to India to replace him as Commander-in-Chief but was pleased to find that Lord Gough had saved his reputation at Gujerat. He said of him: “I like that noble old fellow Gough more than ever. I told him that my wish was that he would order me home; it would be a kindness, and so saying I told him the truth… Again, let me express my delight with old Gough; he is so good, so honest, so noble-minded.”