Charles Rathbone Low.

The life and correspondence of Field Marshall Sir George Pollock ...(constable of the Tower) online

. (page 5 of 40)
Online LibraryCharles Rathbone LowThe life and correspondence of Field Marshall Sir George Pollock ...(constable of the Tower) → online text (page 5 of 40)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

ing large bastions and short cur- with the name of an army, and
tains. The bastions have high there appears to be no attempt at
cavaliers of earth, which appear discipline among them.

Life of Sir George Pollock. 39

made in the accounts of the wars of Timour, as
having been encountered by him in his march from
Batnir to Semanah. But though this may fix the
period when they removed and settled in their
present territory, they do not appear to have at-
tracted any other notice than as bands of robbers,
till their daring outrages upon the caravans rendered
it necessary to overawe them by the presence of the
imperial troops. These measures, however, were far
from repressing their violence or abridging their
power. In conjunction with the Mewatties, they
continued the same predatory course ; having thereby
amassed considerable wealth and consolidated their
strength, they erected fortresses, and, not long after
the death of Aurungzebe, ventured, under the com-
mand of Chural Mun, one of their first chiefs, to
attack the imperial forces, whom they frequently
defeated and compelled to retreat. Thus, increasing
in strength and audacity, they acquired the form of a
nationality, and fixed their capital at Agra, under
Soorajee Mull, who, in 1756, assumed the sovereign
title of Eajah. On the death of that chief, the
Jauts declined considerably, and were stripped of a
great part of the territories they had usurped by the
celebrated vizier, Nujuff Khan, during whose lifetime
the family of Soorajee Mull was reduced to a state
of comparative insignificance. The character of the
people, however, still remained the same ; and in the
civil feuds of the empire they never failed to take
advantage of the enfeebled condition of the govern-

4-Q Life of Sir George Pollock.

ment, sometimes espousing one side, and as fre-
quently shifting about to the opposite party, ac-
cording as it suited their interest or gratified their
inordinate thirst for plunder.

At the time when hostilities commenced between
the British and the present ruler of the Jauts,
Eajah Eunjeet Singh, the grandson of Soorajee Mull,
the territory remaining to the tribe was still con-
siderable, yielding between twelve and fifteen lacs
of rupees per annum, and defended by strong forts
in the vicinity of Agra and Muttra, on the right
bank of the Jumna. This territory in the inde-
pendent possession of which the Eajah was guaran-
teed by the treaty of alliance concluded between him
and General Lake after the battle of Delhi was
afterwards increased by a gratuitous concession to
him, on the part of the Company, of lands nearly
equal in value to one-third of his ancient possessions,
a generous gift, which it was supposed would confirm
him in his attachment to the British Government.
Eunjeet Singh was, besides, by this connection,
permanently relieved from the payment of his ac-
customed tribute to the Mahrattas, and, indeed, from
the apprehension of exactions and encroachments on
the part of any foreign state.

Notwithstanding all these many benefits, we have
seen how he engaged in a treasonable correspondence
with Holkar, and sought to influence the neigh-
bouring chiefs to take up arms against us, when,
owing to Colonel Monson's disastrous retreat, he

Life of Sir George Pollock. 4 1

thought the hour had struck for the subversion of
British power. After the loss of his fortress of
Deig, Eunjeet Singh concentrated all his strength
at Bhurtpore, and made every preparation to defend
his capital.

42 Life of Sir George Pollock.


The Siege of Bhurtpore, 1805.

ON the 4th of January, 1805, the day after the
arrival of the British army under the command of
General Lake before the walls of Bhurtpore, com-
menced the siege of that fortress, a siege which
forms one of the most memorable episodes in our
Indian history, and fortunately has hardly a parallel
in that eventful story.

The first operation to be carried out was to expel
Holkar's army from their entrenched position outside
the walls, and this was effected in a manner that was
a sure presage of ultimate success in the sanguine
minds of the British army, from the Commander-in-
Chief down to the drummer-boy. The troops drove
Holkar's battalions from their entrenchments with
great slaughter, and the loss of all the artillery they
had been enabled to remove from Deig, and then
took up a position south-west of the town for carry-
ing on the siege. No time was lost in opening the
trenches. A grove considerably in advance of the
British camp, and advantageously situated for favour-
ing the approaches, was occupied on the evening of

Life of Sir George Pollock. 43

the same day by a party under Colonel Maitland of
the 75th Eegiment. The following night a breach-
ing battery for six 18-pounders was erected, and
opened its fire on the morning of the 7th January.
The same day, about noon, another battery of
four 8-inch, and four 5^-inch mortars, commenced
throwing shells into the town. Lieutenant Pollock
was employed in this mortar battery, and indeed
assisted to direct the fire of the mortars through-
out the siege with great execution, as appears from
the narrative of Major Thorn of the 25th Light
Dragoons, who was present during the ensuing ope-
rations, and to whose valuable History of the War
we are greatly indebted. The enemy replied to our
bombardment with great spirit, and the cannonade
continued with little interruption till the afternoon
of the 9th, when the breach in the town wall being
reported practicable by the Engineer officers, the
Commander-in-Chief resolved to make an attempt to
storm the same night, so as to prevent the enemy
from stockading the breach during the darkness, as
they had hitherto done.

During the heavy fire kept up throughout the day
by the breaching battery to the left of the mortars,
an artillery officer of the name of Percival was killed,
and the subject of this Memoir used to tell an anecdote
of the manner of his death. All the morning Percival
had been weighed down by a strong presentiment of
his approaching fate, and when he went down during
the course of the afternoon to take his turn of duty in

44 Life of Sir George Pollock.

his battery, lie told Pollock that he would never return
to camp, and left him a valuable gun as a memento
of their friendship. Soon after his arrival he sent a
soldier into the mortar battery, requesting Pollock to
go and see him, as he was wounded. The latter did
as he was desired, and found Percival sitting on a
gun-carriage, with his hand pressing his head, which
he thought had been struck. On examination, his
friend found that a round shot had knocked off his
bearskin, but Percival himself was untouched ; though
so satisfied was he that he was about to meet his death,
that he could not at first be assured of his escape.
A little later in the evening an artilleryman came
round a second time from Percival's battery, and re-
quested Lieutenant Pollock to come and see his
friend. He did so, and found him lying prone on
the earth, shot through the head. He was mortally
wounded and speechless, and died during the night.

At seven o'clock that evening the storming party
moved out of camp ; it was divided into three columns,
and was composed of the following troops : The centre
column, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Mait-
land, consisted of the flank companies of the 22nd,
75th, and 76th King's Eegiments, and of the Com-
pany's European E-egiment, amounting in all to
500 men, with a battalion of Sepoys. Lieutenant-
Colonel Eyan, with 150 of the Company's Europeans
and a battalion of Sepoys, had orders to attempt a
gateway on the left of the breaching battery ; while
Major Hawkes, with two companies of the 75th, and

Life of Sir George Pollock. 45

another battalion of Sepoys, was to carry the ad-
vanced guns of the enemy on its right. Both the
latter columns had instructions to make their way, if
possible, into the town, with the fugitives ; but
should that prove ineffectual, they were ordered to
turn and support the centre column in endeavouring
to get in at the breach. Precisely at eight o'clock
the three columns marched out of the trenches, sup-
ported by a heavy fire from the breaching battery
and the mortars ; but no sooner was the head of the
storming party clear of the protection afforded by
the siege works, than they were assailed by a tre-
mendous fire of great guns and small arms, which did
not cease until near midnight. Colonel Maitland
had orders to take the enemy by surprise, but in this
he unluckily failed, owing to an inadvertent disar-
rangement of the columns in diverging outwards on
their arrival at the ditch. This misfortune arose
from the irregularity of the ground, which, being
much broken with swamps, not only occasioned delay
in the advance of the troops, but obliged the men to
open out, and in consequence many lost their way,
some following the left column and some the right.

Major Thorn thus describes the incidents of the
assault : " The 22nd flankers crossed the ditch,
which was .breast- deep in water, and mounted the
brea3h, though with great difficulty ; and being only
about twenty-three in number, they could not
attempt storming the enemy's guns on the bastions
to the right and left of them without support.

46 Life of Sir George Pollock.

Lieutenant Manser, therefore, caused his men to sit
down in the breach under cover, while he went in
search of the rest of the column. In the mean time,
Major Hawkes having succeeded in driving the
enemy from their guns on the right, and spiking
them, was returning to the support of the centre, as
also was Colonel Ryan, after performing a like
service in expelling the enemy from their guns
outside of the gate ; but the access to that entrance
being cut off by a deep drain, it became impossible to
follow up the advantage gained in this quarter.
During these operations the confusion originating
by the impediments which the troops had to en-
counter in their advance, was increased by the dark-
ness of the night, the broken state of the ground,
and the dreadful fire to which all were exposed.
The few flankers of the 22nd having their remain-
ing officers, Lieutenants Sweetman and Cresswell,
wounded, and seeing no appearance of being sup-
ported, were drawn off from the breach, which was
enfiladed by three guns on the right bastion, from
whence an incessant fire of grape was kept up on the
assailants. Notwithstanding this, such was the de-
termined spirit of the gallant Colonel Maitland, that
amidst all the dreadful circumstances by which he
was surrounded, he continued his efforts with in-
flexible ardour, and fell in the last when near the
summit of the breach. Many other officers, as well
as a number of the men, were either killed or
wounded before the attempt was relinquished ; but

Life of Sir George Pollock. 47

the troops suffered most on this occasion in the re-
treat to the trenches, from the destructive fire of the
enemy's guns and musketry, to which they were
completely exposed. The distress of this mortifying
scene was heightened by the melancholy fate of
many of our wounded men, who, being unavoidably
left behind, were most cruelly murdered in cold blood
by the ferocious enemy."

Our entire loss in this afflicting business amounted
to 456, consisting of 43 Europeans and 42 natives
killed; 206 of the former and 165 of the latter
wounded. The officers killed were Lieutenant-Colonel
Maitland, of the 75th Eegiment ; Captain John
Watson, Major of the brigade ; Lieutenant Grlubb, of
the 76th ; Lieutenant Percival, of the Artillery, who
fell in the battery during the day ; and Ensign Wa-
terhouse, of the 12th Eegiment of Native Infantry.
Also 24 officers wounded.

George Pollock has always been of opinion that
had Major Lumley,* who commanded his regiment,
the 8th N. I., and who, while the assault was
progressing, had been directed to make a feint on
the enemy's works to the right, been properly
supported, he could have entered the city, and
thus have turned the feint into a successful diver-
sion. However, when we come to take into con-
sideration the preparations made to breach the walls
of this strong fort, the failure that ensued is by

* Afterwards Sir James Lumley and Adjutant-General of the Bengal

48 Life of Sir George Pollock.

no means extraordinary. The breaching battery was
wholly insufficient, while the distance of 700 yards
rendered its fire not very efficacious. The wall of the
fort extended right and left as far as the eye could
reach, and was thickly studded with projecting bas-
tions well furnished with artillery. The spot chosen
for forming a breach lay close to the right flank of
one of these bastions, which enabled the defenders to
enfilade the approach, a circumstance that occasioned
much of the loss suffered in the attempt to storm.
Delay and confusion was caused by the accidental
divergence of the column of attack, and to this may
be chiefly attributed the failure. There were,
however, other causes that aided in bringing about
the disastrous result in a scarcely less degree. The
success of Colonel Byan's supporting column on the
left was rendered nugatory by a deep ditch, the exist-
ence of which was not even suspected, so careless had
been the reconnoissance. The distance at which the
battery had been raised, and the absence of regular
approaches, prevented the assailants from discovering
what was in progress along the foot of the wall, and
enabled the garrison to employ working parties to
widen and deepen what was a dry and neglected ditch,
and to fill it for the requisite distance, opposite to the
breach, with water from a watercourse which com-
municated with an extensive swamp at some short dis-
tance from the fort. Such was the impediment which
arrested the column, and the stormers were wholly
unprepared for it. A few men continued to cross the

Life of Sir George Pollock. 49

ditch above the breach, and make their way to the
latter byanarrow path at the foot of the wall, just broad
enough to admit one man at a time. In this way a
handful of the flank companies of His Majesty's 22nd
mounted the breach ; but it is manifest a strong fort,
swarming with resolute defenders, could not be taken in
this method. No support was forthcoming to enable the
gallant fellows to maintain their hazardous position,
and they were compelled to retire. The fort kept up
a hot fire during the whole of the assault, and Holkar's
cavalry hovered on the flanks of the column, cutting
off all stragglers, and killing several men during the

This repulse came upon the Commander-in-Chief
and the army, which had been so sanguine of success,
as a great shock ; but disastrous as the attempt had
proved, it only served as an incentive to renewed exer-
tions, and in no measure weakened the confidence of
the force in ultimate success.

]STot an hour was lost in the renewal of active opera-
tions ; but as the enemy quickly repaired the first
breach, it was resolved to make an effort against an-
other part of the wall, a little more to t-he right.
Accordingly, a battery of two 24 and four 18 pounders
was constructed in that direction, adjoining to the
former one. Besides, several 12-pounder batteries
were erected to play on the defences, and two, of
6-pounders, to flank the parallel. The whole of these
ordnance, amounting to two 24-pounders, ten 18-
pounders, seven 12-pounders, and eight mortars,


50 Life of Sir George Pollock.

opened on the 16th a very heavy fire, and with some
effect. The ensuing morning it was discovered that
the enemy had formed a stockade in the breach ; but
the fire being continued, the piles gave way, and an
aperture was made quite through the work. Our
shells during the siege did much execution; and
among those who suffered by them was Eundeer
Singh, the eldest son of the Rajah, who was wounded
in the arm. The uncle of this prince came by his
death in rather remarkable a manner. The anec-
dote will bear repetition. Captain Nelly of the
Artillery, who commanded the old battery, seeing a
large party looking intently over the parapet into the
ditch, suffered them to do so for some time without
molestation. At length a person of superior appear-
ance to the rest, and covered with a large parasol, was
observed descending a little way down the breach ; on
which Captain Nelly, concluding that he must be of
some distinction, laid one of the guns for him, saying
to his men, ' We will show this fine curious gentleman
how well we can hit a mark ;' and ordering them
immediately to fire, his words proved true, for the
shot struck the brother of the Eajah and killed him
on the spot. It appeared afterwards, by the account
of the hircarrah or spy, that this personage lost his life
through the mere desire of gratifying the strange
curiosity of inspecting the bodies of our unfortunate
men who fell in the late storm, and were still lying
at the foot of the old breach.

On the 18th of January, reinforcements arrived

Life of Sir George Pollock.

in camp from Agra, under the command of Major-
General Smith, who marched fifty miles by a circuit-
ous route in twenty-four hours, with three battalions
of Sepoys and 100 convalescent Europeans, in all
about 1,600 men. Besides this, a further accession of
strength was received in the arrival of some 500 horse
under a chief named Ismael Beg, originally one of
Holkar's partisans, but who abandoned his cause
and enlisted under the British banner after the capture
of Deig.

The operations of the besieging force were renewed
with unflagging spirit, and an incessant fire was kept
up till the 21st, when a large and practicable breach
was effected. The enemy finding that they could not
silence our guns, and fearful that their own would be
dismounted, took the precaution of withdrawing them
behind the parapet, with the object of keeping them
in reserve to bear upon our men whenever they
should advance again to storm their defences.

General Lake, on his part, was desirous of possess-
ing an exact knowledge of the breadth and depth of
the ditch, so as to obviate a repetition of the unfortu-
nate failure of the 9th. Being of opinion that the ditch
was not fordable, he had caused to be prepared, some
time before, three broad ladders covered with laths,
and constructed so as to be easily raised or depressed
by levers at the brink of the ditch. It was requisite,
therefore, to have that part of the ditch opposite the
breach inspected, and this dangerous service was un-
dertaken and carried into effect by three troopers (a

52 Life of Sir George Pollock.

havildar, and two sowars or privates) belonging to
the 3rd Eegiment of Native Cavalry. The manner
in which these men carried out their instructions,
showed the possession of great coolness and courage.

Having disguised themselves in the dress of the
country, they sallied out on their horses, and were in-
stantly pursued as deserters by a party of Sepoys, who
fired blank cartridge after them. On their arrival
at the brink of the ditch, the two troopers' horses
fell, and while the men were extricating themselves,
the havildar called to the people on the walls, and en-
treated to be shown the way into the city, that they
might escape from the Feringhees.

This had its effect : and the enemy, without sus-
pecting the stratagem, readily pointed out the way to
one of the gates, which, happening to be in the very
direction required, the havildar, as soon as his men
were mounted, rode along the side of the ditch, till,
having passed the breach, and made the necessary ob-
servations, the whole galloped back again full speed
towards the British trenches. The enemy, being now
sensible of the design and the object they had in view,
began to howl with rage, and to fire in every direction
upon the supposed deserters, who, however, arrived safe
at head-quarters, when they received the promised
reward of 500 rupees each and immediate promotion.

The report brought by these men was of a re-
assuring character : the breach, they said, was easy
to be ascended, and the ditch was neither very broad,
nor did it appear to be deep. It being deemed advi-

Life of Sir George Pollock. 53

sable to deliver the assault by daylight, General Lake
determined to assemble in the trenches that night all
the troops intended for the storm ; and, after the
guns had demolished whatever repairs the enemy had
made during the hours of darkness, to advance about
noon. Accordingly, the troops selected moved into
the trenches before daybreak of the 21st of January,
while the cavalry were held in readiness to attack the
enemy's horse.

The following were the soldiers warned for the
perilous honours of the assault : 150 men of the
76th, 120 of the 75th, 100 of the 1st Europeans,
and the 50 remaining men of the 22nd flankers,
headed by Captain Lindsay, who, on this occasion,
though suffering from former wounds, threw away
his crutch, and marched with his left arm in a sling.
These were to lead the advance, supported, as soon
as an entrance should be gained, by the remainder of
the above regiments, and the second battalion of the
9th, loth, and 22nd N. I. The whole force was
under the command of Colonel Macrae. The port-
able bridges which had been constructed were to be
carried by picked men, who had been previously
exercised in the mode of throwing them across the
ditch; and the 75th and 76th were to keep up a fire
of musketry upon the parapet, in order to drive off the
enemy while that operation was being carried out.

It was not till a little before three in the afternoon
that the storming party, under the protection of a
tremendous fire from our batteries, moved out of the

54 Life of Sir George Pollock.

trenches. They arrived, without much opposition
from the enemy's guns, at the brink of the ditch, but,
to the dismay of the gallant fellows, it was found that
the enemy had dammed up the ditch below the breach,
and caused a large body of water, that had been
stored above it for such an emergency as had now
arisen, to be poured in, by which means the ditch was
widened and deepened almost instantaneously. The
possibility of such a contretemps had not been taken
into consideration in constructing the portable ladders,
which now therefore proved too short. A tall
grenadier, who jumped in, practically proved that the
depth was over eight feet, so that all chance of cross-
ing the ditch to the breach was at once negatived.
Notwithstanding these impediments, several of the
stormers, nothing daunted, plunged into the water
and swam across, and even mounted the breach ;
among them was a young officer, Lieutenant Morris,
of the Company's European Regiment, who received
a wound in the attempt. All this time, while the
attacking column was drawn up on the brink of the
ditch, powerless to effect anything, the cannon on the
walls was pouring upon their devoted ranks a heavy
and destructive fire of grape and round shot, while
the musketry kept up a murderous discharge, at a
range at which almost every shot told. It was simple
massacre, and our troops were as helpless as so many
sheep. At length Colonel Macrae wisely resolved to
withdraw his column, and, recalling the handful of
noble fellows who had swum the ditch, hastened back

Life of Sir George Pollock. 55

to the trenches with all precipitation, though with
unbroken order. This second failure was a bitter
disappointment to the whole army, which felt that
the further heavy loss that had been incurred was
not only without any counterbalancing gain, but
tended to encourage lukewarm allies into adopting a
policy of hostility. The casualty roll showed a loss
of 573 soldiers, and eighteen officers, killed and

While the storming column had been engaged,
Holkar, with some confederate horse, employed the
British cavalry, who, however, could not succeed in
bringing the arch robber to close quarters. Never-
theless, they were successful in protecting the camp
and trenches from attack, and succeeded in cutting
up about fifty of the enemy before night put an end
to the pursuit. The ill success of the affair of the
21st January was more to be condemned than even
the failure of the first assault, on account of the
culpable ignorance displayed by those officers whose
duty it was to provide against the possibility of a
miscarriage. Had they ascertained whence the ditch
was fed, it would have been easy for them to have
cut off the supply of water.

The day after this second failure, his Excellency

Online LibraryCharles Rathbone LowThe life and correspondence of Field Marshall Sir George Pollock ...(constable of the Tower) → online text (page 5 of 40)