The Second Anglo Sikh War 1848-49
Events Leading up to the war
The Second Anglo Sikh War , 1848-49, which resulted in the abrogation of the Sikh kingdom of the Punjab, was virtually a campaign by the victors of the first Anglo-Sikh war (1945-46) and since then the de facto rulers of the State finally to overcome the resistance of some of the sardars who chafed at the defeat in the earlier war which, they believed, had been lost owing to the treachery on the part of the commanders at the top and not to any lack of fighting strength of the Sikh army. It marked also the fulfillment of the imperialist ambition of the new governor-general, Lord Dalhousie (184856), to carry forward the British flag up to the natural boundary of India on the northwest. According to the peace settlement of March 1846, at the end of Anglo-Sikh war I, the British force in Lahore was to be withdrawn at the end of the year, but a severer treaty was imposed on the Sikhs before the expiry of that date.
Sir Henry Hardinge, the then governor-general, had his Agent, Frederick Currie, persuade the Lahore Darbar to request the British for the continuance of the troops in Lahore. According to the treaty which was consequently signed at Bharoval on 16 December 1846, Henry Lawrence was appointed Resident with “full authority to direct and control all matters in every department of the State.” A Council of Regency, consisting of the nominees of the Resident and headed by Tej Singh, was appointed. The power to make changes in its personnel vested in the Resident. Under another clause the British could maintain as many troops in the Punjab as they thought necessary for the preservation of peace and order. This treaty was to remain in operation until the minor Maharaja Duleep Singh attained the age of 16. By a proclamation issued in July 1847, the governor-general further enhanced the powers of the Resident. On 23 October 1847, Sir Henry Hardinge wrote to Henry Lawrence: “In all our measures taken during the minority we must bear in mind that by the treaty of Lahore, March 1846, the Punjab never was intended to be an independent State. By the clause I added the chief of the State can neither make war or peace, or exchange or sell an acre of territory or admit a European officer, or refuse us a thoroughfare through his territories, or, in fact, perform any act without our permission. In fact the native Prince is in fetters, and under our protection and must do our bidding.”
In the words of British historian John Clark Marshman, “an officer of the Company’s artillery became, in fact, the successor to Ranjit Singh.” The Sikhs resented this gradual liquidation of their authority in the Punjab. The new government at Lahore became totally unpopular. The abolition of tigers in the Jalandhar Doab and changes introduced in the system of land revenue and its collection angered the landed classes. Maharani Jind Kaur, who was described by Lord Dalhousie as the only woman it the Punjab with manly understanding and in whom the British Resident foresaw a rallying point for the well-wishers of the Sikh dynasty, was kept under close surveillance. Henry Lawrence laid down that she could not receive in audience more than five or six sardars in a month and that she remain in purdah like the ladies of the royal families of Nepal, Jodhpur and Jaipur.
In January 1848, Henry Lawrence took leave of absence and traveled back home with Lord Hardinge, who had completed his term in India. The former was replaced by Frederick Currie and the latter by the Earl of Dalhousie. The new regime confronted a rebellion in the Sikh province of Multan which it utilized as an excuse for the annexation of the Punjab. The British Resident at Lahore increased the levy payable by the Multan governor, Diwan Mul Raj , who, finding himself unable to comply, resigned his office. Frederick Currie appointed General Kahn Singh Man in his place and sent him to Multan along with two British officers P.A. Vans Agnew and William Anderson, to take charge from Mul Raj The party arrived at Multan on 18 April 1848, and the Diwan vacated the Fort and made over the keys to the representatives of the Lahore Darbar But his soldiers rebelled and the British officers were set upon in their camp and killed This was the beginning of the Multan outbreak.
Some soldiers of the Lahore escort deserted their officers and joined Mul Raj’s army. Currie received the news at Lahore on 21 April, but delayed action Lord Dalhousie allowed the Multan rebellion to spread for five months. The interval was utilized by the British further to provoke Sikh opinion. The Resident did his best to fan the flames of rebellion. Maharani Jind Kaur, then under detention in the Fort of Sheikupura, was exiled from the Punjab She was taken to Firozpur and thence to Banaras, in the British dominions. Her annual allowance, which according to the treaty of Bharoval had been fixed at one and a half lakh of rupees, was reduced to twelve thousand. Her jewellery worth fifty thousand of rupees was forfeited; so was her cash amounting to a lakh and a half. The humiliating treatment of the Maharani caused deep resentment among the people of the Punjab Even the Muslim ruler of Afghanistan, Amir Dost Muhammad, protested to the British, saying that such treatment is objectionable to all creeds.”
Meanwhile, Lieutenant Herbert Edwardes, the Resident’s Assistant at Bannu, having heard of the Multan revolt, began raising levies from among the Pathan mercenaries, and after summoning Van Cortlandt, the local Lahore commander, marched on Multan and called upon the rebels to submit. Although the British Resident approved of Edwardes’ conduct, Lord Dalhousie was furious at the audacity of a “subaltern of ficer” to invest Multan without any authority and offer terms to Mul Raj. He was severely reprimanded and ordered not to extend his operations any further. However, Edwardes was not discouraged and ignoring these orders, he crossed the Indus on 14 June; four days later, he inflicted a crushing defeat on Mul Raj’s forces at Kineri. Edwarde’s action turned Sikh national sentiment in favor of Mul Raj and there was restiveness among the troops. British forces began to be moved towards the frontier. The Lahore garrison was reinforced; likewise more regiments reached Ambala and Firozpur. By June 1848, an army had been assembled at the frontier — 11,740 men in the Bari Doab, 9,430 in the Jalandhar Doab; in all 21,170 men ready to go into action against Multan to quell what was no more than a local rising.
Proclamation of War
Meanwhile, Captain James Abbott, the Resident’s assistant at Hazara, suspecting that Sardar Chatar Singh Atarivala, the governor of the province, had been hatching a conspiracy to lead a general Sikh uprising against the British, charged him with treason and cut off all communication with him and marched against him the Muslim peasantry and tribal mercenaries.
Captain Nicholson who conducted an enquiry into Abbott’s allegations, exonerated Chatar Singh of the charge of treason, but offered him terms which amounted to his virtual dismissal and the confiscation of his jagirs. Chatar Singh rejected these. Abbott’s treatment of Chatar Singh, a chief of eminence and position since Ranjit Singh’s time and whose daughter was betrothed to the young Maharaja Duleep Singh, was humiliating. Chatar Singh’s son Raja Sher Singh, who had steadfastly fought on the side of Herbert Edwardes against Diwan Mul Raj, was greatly exercised, and he joined hands with the Diwan’s force on 14 September 1848.
Raja Sher Singh made a passionate appeal to his countrymen warning them of the fate that awaited the Punjab and inviting them to join his standard in a final bid to preserve their freedom. Many old soldiers of the Khalsa army responded to the call and left their homes to rally round Diwan Mul Raj, Raja Sher Singh and Chatar Singh. Lord Dalhousie received the news of Sher Singh’s action with unconcealed pleasure because it had brought matters to the crisis that he had for months been awaiting. At a public banquet on 5 October 1848 at Barrackpore (Calcutta), he announced: “Unwarned by precedents, uninfluenced by example, the Sikh nation has called for war, and, on my words, Sirs, they shall have it with a vengeanceWe are now not on the eve but in the midst of war with the Sikh nation and the kingdom of the PunjabI have drawn the sword, and have thrown away the scabbard, both in relation to the war immediately before us, and to the stern policy which that war must precede and establish.”
The Resident at Lahore found this position legally indefensible and practically untenable. He and his staff were there to superintend and aid the administration of the Sikh State and to look after the interests of the ruler, Maharaja Duleep Singh, during the period of his minority. The Lahore Darbar and the Maharaja had supported the Resident in all his efforts to deal with the situation in Multan and Hazara.
Still the British armies were marched without an open declaration of war towards the Punjab. Lord Hugh Gough, the commander-in-chief, left his headquarters at Shimla towards the end of October and a huge army was assembled at Firozpur in the beginning of November. The army consisted of four columns. Lord Gough personally commanded 22 infantry divisions (14,419 men), a cavalry division (3,369 horse) and an artillery division with 66 guns, including ten 18-pounder batteries and six 8-inch howitzers drawn by elephants. In addition, there were 6 troops of horse artillery and 3 light and 2 heavy field batteries. Its total strength amounted to 24,404 men (6,396 Europeans). At Lahore, General Wheeler’s Occupation Force of 10,000 men held firmly the capital of the Sikhs. In front of the citadel of Multan was the 1st Infantry Division under Major General Whish. The arrival of the Bombay column under Brigadier-General Henry Dundas had augmented its strength to over 21,000 men of all arms. In addition 5,300 men of the Lahore infantry were under British control at Multan. This brought the total regular force at the disposal of Major General Whish at Multan to 26,300 men. Besides, there were irregular Muslim levies and mercenaries raised by the British to fight the Sikhs. Taken in all these and other troops at Hazara, Peshawar, Bannu, Gobindgarh, Jalandhar and Hoshiarpur added up to the total of 1,04,666 men — 61,366 of regular British army, 5,300 of the Lahore army and 38,000 irregular troops; 13,524 cavalry, 123 field and 22 heavy guns, all deployed at various points in the Punjab.
The numerical strength of the Sikhs was comparatively much smaller. Lord Cough’s dispatches enumerate the Sikh force at Ramnagar and Chillianvala between 30,000 and 40,000 men and at Gujrat 60,000 men and 60 guns, which figures are highly exaggerated by at least Six times the real Sikh forces. The powerful Khalsa army of Ranjit Singh was broken up after its capitulation at Sabhraon in 1849. Its soldiers had been disbanded by the British, its generals discharged or won over, and its jagirdan force reduced to starvation. A skeleton army of 25 battalions (20,000 men) and 12,000 horse permitted to the State under the treaty of March 1846 was a shadow force under British control and dispersed to far-flung districts for garrison duty- Lahore had a garrison strength of 6,500 men, Peshawar of 3,000 men, Gobindgarh Fort 2,000 men, Hazara 3,000 men, Banner and Tonk 1,300 men, Attock 700 men, and Kohat 500 men. The remaining 3,000 men of the entire force were at numerous small posts throughout the Punjab.
The contingents of the Lahore army which joined the rebels were those of I Sahara Peshawar, Tonk and Bannu, Kohat, and Attock—9,400 men, inclusive of the force of Shem Singh at Multan (900 infantry and 3,400 horse) . Allowing that 3,000 men stationed at various isolated places throughout the Punjab could get through and join the rebels in the north, the regular Sikh force could scarcely have exceeded 13,000 men and 9,000 horse. Disbanded Sikh soldiers and the freelance who flocked round the banner did not exceed 10,000 men. The disbanded soldiery merely augmented the numerical strength of the Khalsa; it had few generals and fewer arms and no means of procurement of arms and supplies. The total strength thus could not have been more than 23,000 men and 12,000 horse.
Lord Gough crossed the Sutlej on 9 November and reached Lahore on 13 November. Moving rapidly into the Rachna Doab, he arrived at Ramnagar on 22 November. Sher Singh’s entire force was on the right bank of the River Chenab. Brigadier-General Campbell with the 3rd Infantry Division (8,171 men) was ordered to move out to disperse the Sikh force in the vicinity of Ramnagar; Brigadier-General Cureton in command of the cavalry accompanied Campbell’s force. On arrival at Ramnagar, Campbell found the Sikh force on the opposite side of the river. Cureton had numerous cavalry but no guns; he ordered the horse artillery under Colonel Lane to overtake the withdrawing Sikh troops through the sandy riverbed, but met with disaster.
The Sikh artillery on the opposite bank opened up with disastrous effect, and Lane hastily withdrew the horse artillery leaving behind a heavy gun and two ammunition wagons, which the Sikhs captured. Suddenly, a column of the Sikh cavalry crossed the river under cover of artillery. The commander of the 14th Light Dragoons who led a squardon in support of Lane’s horse artillery was shot dead. The charge failed and the British lost 90 officers and men including Brigadier-General Cureton and Lieutenant-Colonel Havelock, and 140 horse. The action at Ramnagar was a victory for the Sikhs. Lord Dalhousie blamed both Campbell and Gough for the Assad affair” from which at here was no objective to be gained.” Gough, on the other hand, claimed it as a victory. The enemy,” he announced in a General Order, was signally overthrown on every occasion, and only saved from utter annihilation by their flight to the cover of their guns on the opposite bank.”
Fallen men of HM’s24th Regiment at Chillianwala
For about a week after the British reverse, the two armies faced each other across the river. Lord Cough waited impatiently for the heavy guns o arrive. On 30 November, he detached a force under Major-General Thackwell across the river to take the Sikh army in the flank; another brigade of infantry under Brigadier Godby was ordered to ford the river 10 km from Ramnagar to support Thackwell’s force. Across the river, at the principal ford 3 km from Ramnagar, Sher Singh’s entire force, now risen to 12,000 men and 28 guns, lay strongly entrenched. Thackwell’s force moved about 30 km up the river to Wazirabad and made the crossing, while Godby’s brigade had crossed the river 25 km below. At midday on 3 December Thackwell arrived at Sadullapur barely 6 km from the Sikh encampment.
The Sikhs realized the imminent danger to their flanks and rear. The heavy Sikh artillery opened fire at Thackwell’s position, while the Sikh cavalry barred the passage of Godby’s force which failed to join up with his troops. At dusk, the entire Sikh army crossed over to the left bank of the river. Sher Singh’s action nullified the British maneuver; it also made it possible for Chatar Singh’s force to join him. The British General claimed a victory without a battle. He reported a meagre loss of 4 men at Sadullapur, and claimed that the army under his command had upheld the tradition of valor. The Sikhs, he reported, were in full retreat, leaving behind some 60 boats which had been captured. In British military and political circles in England, Lord Gough was severely castigated for lack of drive and initiative. Lord Dalhousie openly charged him with incompetency and blamed him for incomplete actions and enormous losses.
Under the shadow of these adverse strictures, Lord Gough fought the battle of Chillianwala on 13 January 1849. The Sikh army 12,000 strong was drawn in battle array in the dense jungle in front, their heavy guns bearing upon Chillianwala, on the River Jehlum. British preparations for encampment were rudely interrupted by sharp Sikh artillery fire. Lord Cough hesitated, but instantly drew up the order of the battle. In the centre were placed heavy 18-pounders and 8-inch howitzers; Major-General Gilbert’s 2nd Infantry Division (5,248 men) was placed on the right, flanked by Brigadier Pope’s 2nd Cavalry Brigade and 14th Light Dragoons and horse artillery. To the left was Brigadier-General Campbell’s 3rd Infantry Division (8,171 men) flanked by White’s 1st Cavalry Brigade and 3 troops of horse artillery.
The British guns started firing upon the Sikh centre. The density of the jungle made it impossible to preserve order and formation and the British brigades and regiments got separated from one another. The ground proved unsuitable for cavalry action, and the artillery failed to provide cover. Sikhs fought with determination and their artillery took a heavy toll. The British infantrymen were mowed down by fire from Sikh musketry, and the successive onslaughts of the Sikh ghorcharas broke the British cavalry line. While Campbell’s charge failed to dislodge the Sikhs, the Khalsa horsemen swept the field like lightning raising vociferous Khalsa war cries.
In another direction, Brigadier Pennycuick’s brigade moving in double time into the jungle, was routed by Sikh artillery. The brigade turned back to flee from the destructive fire of shot and shell leaving behind nearly half a regiment which faced total destruction. The most serious disaster befell Gilbert’s division which halted in utter bewilderment when a large body of Sikhs surrounded the 2nd Infantry brigade. Gilbert’s brigade had neither the cover of guns nor the support of cavalry. In the hand to hand fight, the brigade was repulsed and driven back with heavy loss. The battle lasted over three hours when Lord Gough ordered the whole army to retreat. British casualties in the action amounted to 2,446 men and 132 officers killed with four guns lost.
The British Commander-in-chief claimed a victory, which claim the governor-general scornfully dubbed as “perhaps poetical.” “We have gained a victory,” he observed ruefully, “like that of the ancients; it is such a one that ‘another such would ruin us.’ ” There was an outburst of popular indignation in England and Gough was squarely blamed for the defeat of the British. Military experts at home described him as a Superannuated general who could not mount his horse without assistance.” It was decided to retire Lord Gough and replace him by Sir Charles Napier.
In the meantime, however, Multan fell and Diwan Mul Raj surrendered to Major-General Whish on 22 January 1849. Lord Gough repaired his reputation in the battle of Gujrat fought on 21 February 1849. The Sikh army had regrouped on the banks of the Jehlum. On 15 February, it arrived at Gujrat where Chatar Singh’s force and an Afghan contingent of 3,000 horse under Akram Khan encircled the town.
Battle of Gujarat
On 13 February, Major-General Whish’s 1st Division (13,400 men and 30 pieces of heavy artillery joined the British force. The Bombay column (12,100 men and 3,000 cavalry) joined a few days later. Thus assured of an overwhelming superiority of men and heavy artillery, Lord Gough ordered the entire force forward and reaching a few days later Shadival, a village 8 km from Gujrat, he found himself face to face with the Sikhs.
The battle of Gujrat must be reckoned as one of the most notable in the annals of British warfare in India. Never, perhaps, the British had amassed so many guns and men in any single battle. The British army now consisted of 56,636 men four infantry divisions, 11,569 horse, 96 field-guns, and 67 siege-guns including ten 18-pounders and six 8-inch howitzers drawn by elephants. For this obvious reason the battle of Gujrat has often been described as “the battle of guns.
On the morning of 21 February, the whole British army advanced with the precision of a parade movement. The Sikh guns opened fire, thus disclosing their positions and range. The British General brought the three divisions to a sudden halt and ordered the whole line of artillery to fire. The sustained cannonade of 100 guns, the fire of 18-pounders and 8-inch howitzers, which continued for two hours blunted Sikh artillery. When the British guns had spent up their fury, their infantry line advanced rapidly. The Sikh infantry positions were Captured, and the Sikhs driven out of cover. The battle was over within a few hours. The advance of the whole British line completely overwhelmed the Sikhs and they fled the field in confusion. Their loss was estimated between 3,000 and 5,000 men and 53 guns the British casualties were 96 killed and 700 wounded. “The Sikhs,” commented Lord Dalhousie, “displayed the skill, courage and activity which belong to their race. ” With the decisive British victory at Gujrat the hostilities ended on 11 March 1849.
Sher Singh and Chatar Singh formally surrendered their swords to Major-General Gilbert near Rawalpindi. They were followed on the 14th by the whole Sikh army. “Today is Ranjit Singh dead,” sighed the soldiers as they kissed their swords and laid them down on the ever-enlarging heap of steel. Lord Dalhousie proclaimed annexation of the Punjab on 29 March 1849. His foreign secretary, Henry Meirs Elliot, arrived at Lahore to obtain the signatures of the members of the Council of Regency and of the minor king, Maharaja Duleep Singh. A darbar was held in the Lahore Fort and, with the British troops lined up on his right and his helpless sardars on his left, the young Duleep Singh affixed his signatures to the document which deprived him of his crown and kingdom.
1. Ganda Singh, Private Correspondence Relating to the Anglo-Sikh Wars. Amritsar, 1955
2. The British Occupation of the Punjab. Patiala, I956
3. Cook, H.C.B., The Sikh Wars 184S49. Delhi, 1975
4. Cough, Sir C. and A.D. Innes, The Sikhs and the Sikh Wars. London, 1897
5. Burton, R.C., The First and the Second Sikh Wars. Simla, 1911
6. Cunningham, Joseph Davey, A History of the Silchs from the Origin of the Nation to the Battles of the Sutlej. London, 1849
7. Khushwant Singh, A History of the Sikhs, vol. 2. Princeton 1966
8. Harbans Singh, The Heritage of the Sikhs. Delhi, 1983
9. Niyyar, B.S., Anglo-Sikh Wars. Delhi, 1976
10. Hasrat, BikramaJit, Anglo-Sikh Relations 1799-1849. Hoshiarpur,1968
11. The Punjab Papers. Hoshiarpur, 1970
12. Gupta, Hari Ram, Panjab on the Eve of First Sikh War. Chandigarh, 1956
Excerpts taken from
The Encyclopedia of Sikhism Edited by Harbans Singh ji.
Published by Punjabi University, Patiala
Chillianwala :The forgotten British reverse in India