Battle of Ferozeshah
There was no movement of troops on 19th and 20th though both at Mudki and Ferozepur, the adversaries remained at very close range of each other. The Sikhs used this respite to their best ability by throwing up earth work without guidance from senior officers or expert technicians. Lal Singh conveyed this position to the British through emissary Shams-ud-Din. The Governor General ordered Sir Littler to bring assistance from Ferozepur. He also sent all his available transport at Mudki to speedily bring the European hilly troops to the scene of battle who were already on their way to Mudki. Even, relinquishing his superior civil status as Governor General, he decided to take part in the battle as second in command to Lord Gough. In view of what he saw of the fighting spirit of the Sikhs at Mudki, he over-ruled Gough and ordered that the attack be deferred till Littler's force from Ferozepur joined the main army. On the other hand, Tej Singh with a force of ten thousand under him, remained idle in the neighbourhood of the battle field absurdly pretending that he was guarding Ferozepur although Littler's force had left the place in broad day light.
| The Khalsa's muscle: Sikh gunners stand by their weapons as the British Army begins its near-suicidal advance at Ferozeshah |
Lord Gough the British Commander-in-Chief opened the attack at 3.30 p.m. on 21 st December, 1845, himself led the right, the Governor General the Centre and Sir Littler the left wing of the assailing force. As the British forces came in sight, the Sikh gunners opened fire. Such were the quick volleys of this firing that within ten minutes two hundred British soldiers were either killed or crippled and Sir Littler retired with his force. General Harry Smith who tried to take a Sikh position was also repulsed. Sir Walter Gilbert and General Wallace showed tremendous daring with some success losing 270 men in the exploit. The British now found themselves in a grave position. Half their force under Littler and Harry Smith were outside the Sikh entrenchments but the other half within, unable to advance. Cunningham who was present in the battle gives a graphic description of the battle scene, Darkness, and the obstinacy of the contest, threw the English into confusion; men of all regiments and arms were mixed together: generals were doubtful of the fact or of the extent of their own success and colonels knew not what had become of the regiments they commanded or of the army of which they formed a part.
He adds : On that memorable night the English were hardly masters of the ground on which they stood; they had no reserve at hand, while the enemy had fallen back upon a second army, and could renew the fight with increased numbers. The not imprudent thought occurred of retiring upon Ferozepur. On the morning of the 22nd December, the last remnants of the Sikhs were driven from their camp; but as the day advanced the second wing of their army approached in battle-array, and the wearied and famished English saw before them a desperate, and, perhaps, useless struggle. This reserve was commanded by Tej Singh, who had been urged by his zealous and sincere soldiery to fall upon the English at daybreak, but his object was to have the dreaded army of the Khalsa over-come and dispersed, and he delayed untill Lal Singh's force was everywhere put to flight, and until his opponents had again ranged themselves round their colours. Even at the last moment he rather skirmished and made feints than led his men to a resolute attack, and after a time, he precipitately fled, leaving his subordinates without orders and without an object, at a moment when the artillery ammunition of the English had failed, when a portion of their force was retiring upon Ferozepur, and when no exertions could have prevented the remainder from retreating likewise, if the Sikhs had boldly pressed forward.”
Lal Singh had spent the day hidden in a ditch; and at night-stole away to Amritsar.5
Col. G.B. Malleson writes, Then among many panic set in. The cry of India lost was heard from one commanding officer who tried in vain to rally his men. The left attack on the Khalsa had failed so signally that it could not be renewed. The Sikh Army had repulsed the British attack. They had driven back Littler, forced Smith to retire, compelled even Gilbert to evacuate the position he had gained and had thrown the whole British army into disorder. What was more, they had still 10,000 men under Tej Singh. Had a guiding mind directed the movements of the Sikh army nothing could have saved the exhausted British.
Following entry exists in the Diary of Sir Robert Cust, who was present in the battle
December 22nd. News came from the Governor General that our attack of yesterday had failed, that affairs were desperate, that all State papers were to be destroyed, and that if the morning attack failed, all would be over; this was kept secret by Mr. Currie and we were concerting measures to make an unconditional surrender to save the wounded, the part of the news that grieved me the most.
General Sir Hope Grant who fought in the Anglo-Sikh wars says : Sir Henry Hardinge thought it was all up and gave his sword, a present from the Duke of Wellington and which once belonged to Napoleon-and his Star of the Bath to his son, with directions to proceed to Ferozepur remarking that if the day were lost, he must fall.
William Edwards writes : Had they (the Sikhs) advanced during the night, the result must have been very disastrous to us, as our European regiments were much reduced in number and our ammunition, both for artillery and small arms, almost expended.
William Edwards, Under Secretary to the British Government, who followed the Governor General in the very thick of these battles mentions having been told by Lord Hardinge soon after the battle of Ferozeshah, that the fire (of the Sikh artillery) was even more terrible than at Albuera, for the Sikhs had guns in position of treble the calibre ever used in European Warfare.10
Source:Anglo-Sikh Wars and its Inside Tale - Karnail Singh