Mutiny in Lucknow
The great Rebellion of 1857 (also called the Indian Mutiny, Sepoy Rebellion, and First war of Independence) began as a mutiny by Bengal army soldiers, against their commanders in the army of the British East India Company. The rebellion came out of the sepoy’s long-held grievances about unfair assignments, low pay, limited opportunities for advancements, and the reorganization of Oudh, a region from which a third of them had been recruited. A more immediate cause of insult to the sepoys was the new Enfield rifle that required soldiers to reload by biting off the ends of cartridges greased with pig and cow fat, substances offensive to both.
The Siege of Lucknow was the prolonged defence of the Residency within the city of Lucknow during the Indian Rebellion of 1857. After two successive relief attempts had reached the city, the defenders and the civilians were evacuated from the Residency, which was then abandoned.
Lucknow was the capital of the former state of Awadh. The prolonged defence there by the British proved to be one of the key episodes in this uprising. Mainly there were issues of prestige and morale involved, but Lucknow also became the point at which the main forces of both the British and rebels were concentrated.
Background of the siege
The state of Oudh had been annexed by British East India Company and the Nawab Wajid Ali Shah was exiled to Calcutta the year before the rebellion broke out. This high-handed action by the East India Company was greatly resented within the state and elsewhere in India. The first British Commissioner (in effect the governor) appointed to the newly acquired territory was Coverley Jackson. He behaved tactlessly, and Sir Henry Lawrence, a very experienced administrator, took up the appointment only six weeks before the rebellion broke out.
The sepoys (Indian Soldiers) of the East India Company’s Bengal Presidency Army had become increasingly troubled over the preceding years, feeling that their religion and customs were under threat from the rationalizing and evangelizing activities of the company. Lawrence was well aware of the rebellious mood of the Indian troops under his command (which included several units of Oudh Irregulars, recruited from the former army of the state of Oudh). On 18 April, he warned the Governor General, Lord Canning, of some of the manifestations of discontent, and asked permission to transfer certain rebellious crops to another province.
The flashpoint of the rebellion was the introduction of the Enfield rifle; the cartridges for this weapon were believed to be greased with a mixture of beef and pork fat, it was felt that would defy both Hindu and Muslim native soldiers. On 1 May, the 7th Oudh Irregular Infantry refused to bite the cartridge, and on 3 May they were disarmed by other regiments.
On 10th May, the Indian soldiers at Meerut broke into open rebellion, and marched on to Delhi. When news of this reached Lucknow, Lawrence recognized the gravity of the crisis and summoned from their homes two sets of pensioners, one of sepoys and one of artillerymen, to whose loyalty, and to that of the Sikh and some Hindu sepoys, the successful defence of the Residency was largely entrusted.
On 23rd May, Lawrence began fortifying the Residency and laying in supplies for a siege; large number of British civilians made their way there from outlying districts. On 30th May (the Muslim festival of Eid-ul-Fitr), most of the Oudh and Bengal troops at Lucknow broke into open rebellion. In addition to his locally recruited pensioners, Lawrence also had the bulk of British 32nd Regiment of Foot available to him, and they were able to drive the rebels away from the city.
On 4th June, there was a rebellion at Sitapur, a large and important station, 51 miles (82 km) from Lucknow. This was followed by another at Faizabad, one of the most important cities in the province, and other outbreaks at Daryabad, Sultanpur and Salon. Thus, in the course of these ten days, British authority in Oudh practically was lost.
On 30th June, Lawrence learned that the rebels were gathering in the north of Lucknow and ordered a reconnaissance of the force, despite the available intelligence being of poor quality. Although he had comparatively little military experience, Lawrence led the expedition himself. The expedition was not very well organized though. The troops were forced to march without food or adequate water during the hottest part of the day at the height of summer, and at the Chinhat he met a well-organized rebel force, with a cavalry and dug-in artillery. Some of Lawrence’s sepoys and Indian artillerymen defected to the rebels, and his exhausted British soldiers retreated in disorder. Some died of heatstroke before reaching and within sight of the Residency. Lieutenant William George Cubitt, 13th Native Infantry, was awarded the Victoria Cross several years later, for his act of saving the lives of three men of the 32nd Regiment of Foot during the retreat. His was not a unique action; sepoys loyal to the British, especially those of the 13th Native Infantry saved many British soldiers, even at the cost of abandoning their own wounded men, who were hacked to pieces by the Indian sepoys.
Lawrence retreated into the Residency, where the siege had now begun, with the Residency as the centre of the defence. The actual defended line was based on six detached smaller buildings and four entrenched batteries. The position covered some 60 acres (240000 Sq Mt) of ground, and the garrison (855 British officers and soldiers, 712 Indians, 153 civilian volunteers, with 1280 non-combatants, including hundreds of women and children) was too small to be defended effectively against a well prepared and well supported attack. Also, the Residency lay in the midst of several palaces, mosques and administrative buildings, as Lucknow has been the royal capital of Oudh for many years now. Lawrence initially refused permission for these to be demolished, urging his engineers to “spare the holy places”. During the siege, they provided good vantage points and cover for rebel sharpshooters and artillery.
One of the first bombardments at the beginning of the siege was on 30th June where a civilian was trapped by a falling roof. Corporal William Oxenham of the 32nd Foot, saved him under intense musket and cannon fire, and was later awarded the Victoria Cross. The first attack was repulsed on 1st July, when the separate position of the Machhi Bhawan Palace to the east of the Residency was evacuated, and blown up. (Large amounts of power and ammunition was stored in it.) The very next day, Sir Henry Lawrence was fatally wounded by a shell, later dying on 4th July. Colonel John Inglis of the 32nd Regiment took military command of the garrison. Major John Banks was appointed the acting Civil Commissioner by Lawrence. When Banks was killed by a sniper a short time later, Inglis assumed overall command.
About 8000 sepoys who had joined the rebellion and several hundred retainers of landowners surrounded the Residency. They had some modern guns and also some older pieces which fired all sorts of improvised missiles. There were several determined attempts to storm the defence during the first week of the siege, but the rebels lacked a unified command that could have coordinated all the besieging forces.
The defenders, their numbers constantly reduced by military action as well as disease, were able to repulse all attempts to overwhelm them. In addition they mounted several sorties, attempting to reduce the effectiveness of the most dangerous rebel position and to silence their guns.
First Relief Attempt
On 16th July, a force under Major General Henry Havelock recaptured Cawnpore, 48 miles (77 km) from Lucknow. On 20th July, he decided to attempt to relieve Lucknow, but it took six days to ferry his force of 1500 men across the Ganges River. On 29th July, Havelock won a battle at Unnao, but causalities, diseases and heatstroke reduced his force to 850 effectives, and he fell back.
There followed a sharp exchange of letters between Havelock and the insolent Brigadier James Neill who was left in charge at Cawnpore. Havelock eventually received 257 reinforcements and some more guns, and tried again to advance. He won another victory near Unnao on 4 August, but was once again too weak to continue the advance, and retired. Havelock intended to remain on the north bank of the Ganges, inside Oudh, and thereby prevent the large force of rebels which had been facing him from joining the siege of the Residency, but on 11th August, Neill reported that Cawnpore was threatened. To allow himself to retreat without being attacked from behind, Havelock marched again to Unnao and won a third victory there. He then fell back across the Ganges, and destroyed the newly completed bridge. On 16th August, he defeated a rebel force at Bithur, disposing any new threat to Cawnpore.
Havelock’s retreat was tactically necessary, but caused the rebellion in Oudh to become a national revolt, as previously uncommitted landowners joined and rebels.
First Relief of Lucknow
Havelock had been superseded in command by Major General Sir James Outram. Before Outram arrived at Cawnpore, Havelock made preparations for another relief attempt. He had earlier sent a letter to lnglis in the Residency, suggesting he cut his way out and make for Cawnpore. Inglis replied that he had too few effective troops and too many sick, wounded and non-combatants to make such an attempt. He also pleaded for urgent assistance. The rebels meanwhile continued to shell the garrison in the Residency, and also dug mines beneath the defences, which destroyed several post. Although the garrison kept the rebels at a distance with sorties and counter-attacks, they were becoming weaker by the day and food too was running short.
Outram Arrived at Cawnpore with reinforcements on 15th September. He allowed Havelock to command the relief force, accompanying it nominally as a volunteer until Lucknow was reached. The force numbered 3,179 and comprised six British and one Sikh infantry battalions, with three artillery batteries, but only 168 volunteer cavalry. They were divided into two brigades, under Neill and Colonel Hamilton of the 78th Highlanders.
The advance resumed on 18th September. This time, the rebels did not make any serious stand in the open country, even failing to destroy some vital bridges. On 23rd September, Havelock’s force drove the rebels from Alambagh, a walled park four miles south of the Residency. Leaving the baggage with a small force in Alambagh, he began the final advance on 25th September. Because of the heavy rains, much of the open ground around the city was flooded or waterlogged, preventing the British making any outflanking moves and forcing them to make a direct advance through the parts of the city.
The force met heavy resistance trying to cross the Charbagh Canal, but succeeded, only after nine out of ten men were killed storming a bridge there. They then turned to their right, following the west bank of the canal. The 78th Highlanders took a wrong turning, but were able to capture a rebel battery near the Qaiserbagh Palace (also Kaiserbagh), before dwindling their way back to the main force. After further heavy fighting, by nightfall the force had reached Machhi Bhawan. Outram proposed to halt and contact the defenders of the Residency by digging tunnels and mining through the intervening buildings, but Havelock insisted on an immediate advance (he feared that the defenders of the Residency were so wakened that they might still be overwhelmed by a last-minute rebel attack.). The advance was made through heavily defended narrow lanes. Neill was one of those killed by a rebel musket fire. In all, the relief force lost 535 men out of 2000, mainly in this last rush.
By the time of the relief, the defenders of the Residency had endured a siege of 87 days, and were reduced to only 982 fighting persons.
Originally, Outram had intended to evacuate the Residency, but the heavy casualties incurred during the final advance made it impossible to remove all the sick and wounded and non-combatants. Another factor which influenced Outram’s decision to remain in Lucknow was the discovery of a large stock of supplies beneath the Residency, sufficient to maintain the garrison for two more months. This was laid in the stores by Lawrence before he died and he did not manage to inform about this to any of his subordinates. (thus, due to not being informed about this fact, Inglis had feared that starvation was imminent.)
Under Outram’s overall command, lnglis took charge of the original Residency area, and Havelock occupied and defended the palaces (the Farhat Baksh and Chattar Manzil) and other buildings east of it. Outram had hoped that the relief would also demoralise the rebels, but was disappointed. For the next six weeks, the rebels continued to subject the defenders to musket and artillery fire, and dug a series of mines beneath them. The defenders replied with sorties, as before, and dug counter-mines.
The defenders were able to send messengers to and from Alambagh, from where in turn messengers could reach Cawnpore. A volunteer civil servant, Thomas Henry Kavanagh, the son of a British soldier, disguised himself as a sepoy and ventured from the Residency, aided by a local man named Kananji Lal. He and his scout crossed the entrenchments east of the city to reach Alambagh, to act as a guide to the next relief attempt. For this action, Kavanagh was awarded the Victoria Cross and was the first civilian in British history to be honoured with such an award for the action during a military conflict.
Preparations for the Second Relief
The rebellion had involved a very wide stretch of territory in northern India. Large number of rebels had flocked to Delhi, where they proclaimed the restoration of the Mughal Empire under Bahadur Shah-II. A British army besieged the city from the first week in June. On 10th September, they launched a storming attempt, and by 21st September they had captured the city. On 24th September, a column of 2,790 British, Sikh and Punjabi troops under Colonel Greathed of the 8th (The King’s) Regiment of Foot marched through the Lahore Gate to restore British rule from Delhi to Cawnpore. On 9th October, Greathed received urgent calls for help from a British garrison in the Red Fort at Agra. He diverted his force to Agra, to find the rebels had apparently retreated. While his force rested, they were surprised and attacked by the rebel force, which had been camping close by. Nevertheless, they rallied, defeated and dispersed the rebel force. This Battle of Agra cleared all organised rebel forces from the area between Delhi and Cawnpore, although guerrilla bands remained.
Shortly afterwards, Greathed received reinforcements from Delhi, and was superseded in command by Major General James Hope Grant. Grant reached Cawnpore late in October, where he received orders from the new commander-in-chief in India, Sir Colin Campbell, to proceed to Alambagh, and transport the sick and wounded to Cawnpore. He was also strictly told, not to commit himself for any relief to Lucknow until Campbell himself arrived.
Campbell was 65 years old when he left England in July 1857, to assume the command of the Bengal Army. By mid-August, he was in Calcutta preparing his departure upcountry. It was late October before all preparations were completed. Fighting his way up the Grand Trunk Road, Campbell arrived in Cawnpore on 3rd November, securing the countryside before launching his relief of Lucknow. The massacre of British women and children following the capitulation of Cawnpore was still in recent memory. In British eyes, Lucknow had become a symbol of their resolve. Accordingly, Campbell left 1,100 troops in Cawnpore for its defence, leading 600 cavalry, 3,500 infantry and 42 guns of to Alambagh, in what Samuel Smiles described as an example of the “women and children first” protocol being applied.
British warships were dispatched from Hong Kong to Calcutta. The marines and sailors of the Shannon, Pearl and Sanspareil formed a Naval Brigade with the ships’ guns (8-inches guns and 24-pounder howitzers) and fought their way from Calcutta until they met up with Campbell’s force.
The strength of the rebels in Lucknow had been widely estimated from 30,000 to 60,000. They were amply equipped, the sepoy regiments among them were well trained, and they had improved their defence in response to Havelock’s and Outram’s first relief of the Residency. The Charbagh Bridge used by Havelock and Outram just north of the Alambagh had been fortified. The Charbagh Canal from the Dilkusha Bridge to the Charbagh Bridge was dammed and flooded to prevent troops or heavy guns fording it. Cannon emplaced in entrenchments north of the Gumti River, not only daily bombarded the besieged Residency but also enfiladed the only viable relief path. However, the lack of a unified command structure among the sepoys diminished the value of their superior numbers and strategic positions.
At daybreak on 14 November, Campbell commenced his relief of Lucknow. He had made his plans on the basis of Kavanagh’s information and the heavy loss of life experienced by the first Lucknow relief column. Rather than crossing the Charbagh Bridge and fighting though the tortuous, narrow streets of Lucknow, Campbell opted to make a flanking march to the east and proceed to Dilkusha Park. He would then advance to La Martiniere (a school for British and Anglo-Indian boys) and cross the canal as close to the River Gumti as possible. As he advanced, he would secure each position protecting his ammunitions and supply. He then secured a walled enclosure known as the Secunderbagh and linked it up with the Residency, whose outer perimeter had been extended by Havelock and Outram till the Chuttur Manzil.
For 3 miles (4.8 km) as the column moved to the east of the Alambagh, no opposition was encountered. When the relief column reached the Dilkusha wall, the silence ended with an outburst of musket fire. British cavalry and artillery quickly pushed through the wall. The column then advanced to La Martiniere. By noon, the Dilkusha and La Martiniere were in British hands. The defending sepoys vigorously attacked the British left flank from the Bank’s House, but the British counter-attacked and drove them back into Lucknow.
The rapid advance of Campbell’s column placed it far ahead of its supply caravan. The advance paused until the required stores of food, ammunition and medical equipment were brought forward. The request for additional ammunition from Alambagh further delayed the relief column’s march. On the evening of 15th November, the Residency was signaled by semaphore, “Advance tomorrow.”
The next day, the relief column advanced from La Martiniere to the northern point where the canal meets the Gumti River. The damming of the canal to flood the area beneath the Dilkusha Bridge had left the canal dry at the crossing point. The column and guns advanced forward and then turned sharp left towards Secunder Bagh.
Storming of Secunder Bagh
The Secunder Bagh was a high walled garden approximately 120 square yards (100 sq mt), with parapets at each corner and a main entry gate arch on the southern wall. Campbell’s column approached along a road that ran parallel to the eastern wall of the garden. The advancing column of infantry, cavalry and artillery had great difficulty in maneuvering the cramped village streets. They afforded some protection from the intense fire raining down on them by a high road embankment that faced the garden. Musket fire came from loopholes in the Secunder Bagh and nearby fortified cottages, and cannon shot from the distant Kaiserbagh as well (the former King of Oudh’s – Wajid Ali Shah palace). Campbell positioned artillery to suppress this incoming fire. Heavy 18-pounder artillery was also hauled by rope and handled over the steep road embankment and placed within 60 yards (55m) of the enclosure. Although significant British casualties were sustained in these maneuvers, the cannon fire breached the southeastern wall of Secunder Bagh.
Storming of the Shah Najaf
By late noon, a detachment of the relief column led by Adrian Hope disengaged from the Secunder Bagh and moved towards the Shah Najaf, a walled imambara and mosque, that is also a mausoleum of Ghazi-ud-Din Haider, the first king of Oudh in 1814. The defenders had heavily fortified this multi-storey position. When the full force of the British column was brought to the Shah Najaf, the sepoys responded with unrelenting musketry, cannon grape shot and supporting cannon fire from the Kaisebagh, as well as oblique cannon fire from secured batteries north of the Gumti River. From heavily exposed positions, for three hours the British directed strong cannon fire on the thick walls of the Shah Najaf. The walls remained unscathed, the sepoy fire was unrelenting and British losses mounted. Additional British assaults failed, with heavy losses.
However, retiring from their exposed position was deemed equally dangerous by the British command. Fifty Highlanders were dispatched to seek an alternate access route to the Shah Najaf. Discovering a breach in the wall on the opposite side of the fighting, sappers were brought forward to widen the breach. The small advance party pushed through this opening, crossed the courtyard and opened the main gates.
Seeing the long sought opening, their comrades rushed forth into the Shah Najaf. Campbell made his headquarters in the Shah Najaf by nightfall.
Within the besieged Residency, Havelock and Outram completed their preparations to link up with Campbell’s column. Positioned in the Chattar Manzil, they executed their plan to blow open the outer walls of the garden once they could see that the Secunder Bagh was in Campbell’s hands.
Moti Mahal, the last major position that separated the two British forces, was cleared by charges from Campbell’s column. Only an open space of 450 yards (410 m) now separated the two forces. Outram, Havelock and some other officers ran across the space to confer with Campbell, before returning. Stubborn resistance continued as the sepoys defended their remaining positions, but repeated efforts by the British cleared these last pockets of resistance. The second relief column had reached the residency.
Although Outram and Havelock both recommended storming the Kaisarbagh palace to secure the British position, Campbell knew that other rebel forces were threatening Cawnpore and other cities held by the British, and thus he ordered Lucknow to be abandoned now. The evacuation began on 19th November, while Campbell’s artillery bombarded the Kaiserbagh to deceive the rebels that an assault on it was imminent, canvas screens were erected to shield the open space from the rebels’ view. The women, children, sick and the wounded made their way to the Dilkusha Palace, under cover of these screens, some in a variety of carriages or litters, others on foot. Over the next two days, Outram spiked his guns and withdrew after this evacuation.
At the Dilkusha Palace, Havelock unfortunately died on 24th November. The entire army and convoy now moved to the Alambagh. Campbell left Outram with 4000 men to defend Alambagh, while he himself moved with 3000 men and most of the civilians to Cawnpore on 27th November.
The first siege had lasted 87 days, the second siege a further 61. The most Victoria Cross awarded on a single day were 24 and on 16th November 1857, during the second relief, the bulk of these being for the assault on Secunder Bagh.
Now the rebels were left in control of Lucknow (though temporarily) over the following winter, but surely were prevented from undertaking any other major operation, by their own lack of unity and by Outram’s strong hold on the defended Alambagh.
The Second Seige of Lucknow
During the following winter season, Campbell re-established his communications with Delhi and with Calcutta. He also received fresh reinforcements from Britain and built up a substantial transport and supply column. After capturing Fatehgarh on 1 January, 1858, which allowed him to establish control over the countryside between Cawnpore and Delhi, Campbell suggested leaving Oudh alone during 1858, concentrating instead on recapturing the state of Rohilkhand, which was also in rebel hands. However, the Governor General, Lord Canning, insisted that Oudh be recaptured, so as to discourage other potential rebels.
Campbell’s army consisted of seventeen infantry battalions, twenty-eight cavalry squadrons and 134 guns and mortars, with a large and unwieldy baggage train and large numbers of Indian camp followers. The army crossed the Ganges River in late February, and advanced to rendezvous with Outram at the Alambagh on 1st March 1858. The army was then reorganised into three infantry divisions under Outram, Brigadier Walpole and Brigadier Lugard, and a cavalry division under James Hope Grant. A force of 9,000 Nepalis (not to be confused with the regular Gorkha units of the Bengal Army) was approaching Lucknow from the north, commanded by Brigadier Franks.
The defenders of Lucknow were said to be 100,000 in number. This suspiciously large and round figure reflects the fact that the defenders lacked coordinated leadership, and were largely the personal retinues of landowners, or loosely organised bodies of fighters, whose motives, dedication and equipment varied widely. The British were not able to gain any reliable reports of their numbers. The rebels were nevertheless equipped with large numbers of cannon and had heavily fortified the Charbagh Canal, the city and the palaces and mosques adjoining the Residency to the north of the city. They had however not fortified the northern approaches to the city on the north bank of the Gumti River, which had not seen fighting previously
Campbell began by repeating his moves of the relief of the Residency the previous year. He moved to the east of the city and Charbagh Canal to occupy a walled park, the Dilkusha Park, although this time he suffered from rebel artillery fire until his own guns could be brought up.
On 5th March, Campbell’s engineers constructed two pontoon bridges across the Gumti. Outram’s division crossed to the north bank, and by 9th March, they were established north of the city. Under covering fire from his siege guns, his division captured the grandstand of the King of Oudh’s racecourse (known as the Chakar Kothi). Meanwhile, Campbell’s main body captured La Martiniere (formerly a school for the children of British civilians) and forced their way across the Charbagh Canal with few casualties.
By 11th March, Outram captured two bridges across the Gumti near the Residency (an iron bridge and a nearby stone bridge) although heavy rebel artillery fire forced him to abandon the stone bridge. Meanwhile, Campbell occupied an enclosed palace (the Secundrabagh) and an imambara (the Shah Najaf) with little opposition; these two positions had been the scene of heavy fighting the previous November. In front of him was a block of palace buildings, collectively known as the Begum Kothi. There was severe fighting for these on 11th March, in which 600 to 700 rebels died.
Over the next three days, Campbell’s engineers and gunners blasted and tunneled their way through the buildings between the Begum Kothi and the main rebel position in the King of Oudh’s palace, the Kaisarbagh. Meanwhile, Outram’s guns bombarded the Kaisarbagh from the north. The main assault on the Kaisarbagh took place on 14th March. Campbell’s and Frank’s forces attacked from the east, but Campbell surprisingly refused permission to Outram to cross the Gumti and take possession of Kaisarbagh between two fires. As a result, although the Kaisarbagh was easily captured, its defenders were able to retreat without difficulty.
Final Capture of Lucknow
Most of the rebels were abandoning Lucknow and scattering into the countryside. Campbell failed to stop most of them, by sending his cavalry after some rebels who had left earlier. Operations temporarily halted while the British reorganised and most regiments fell to looting the captured palaces.
On 16th March, Outram finally re-crossed the river Gumti, and his division advanced on and stormed the Residency. There were disjointed rebel counter-attacks on Alambagh and the British positions north of the Gumti, which failed. A rebel force which was supposed to contain Begum Hazrat Mahal, the wife of the dispossessed King of Oudh, Wajid Ali Shah and her son Birjis Qadar whom the rebels had proclaimed King, was driven away from the Musabagh, yet another walled palace four miles northwest of Lucknow.
The last few rebels, 1,200 men under a noted leader, Ahmadullah Shah, also known as the Maulvi of Faizabad, were driven from this fortified house in the centre of the city on 21st March. It was then that the city of Lucknow was declared cleared.
Campbell had advanced cautiously and had captured Lucknow with few casualties, but by failing to prevent the rebels escaping, he was forced to spend much of the following summer and monsoon season clearing the rebels from the countryside of Oudh. As a result, his army suffered heavy casualties from heatstroke and other diseases.
Outram had also failed to protest his orders not to advance on 14th March, which had allowed most rebels to escape. Outram was the Civil Commissioner for Oudh in addition to his military command, and may have allowed his hope for pacification and reconciliation to override his soldier’s instincts.
Rebel casualties were hard to estimate. British troops usually executed any prisoners they captured, whether armed or not. One of the prominent British casualties was William Hodson, who led an irregular cavalry unit and also served as an Intelligence officer, killed during the capture of the Begum Kothi on 11th March.