“The Devil’s Wind” - Storming the Secundra Bagh, Lucknow, 16 November 1857
- The struggle for the Secundra Bagh was one of the most bloody of the whole campaign.
‘In the annals of war there are few achievements more heroic than the defence and relief of Lucknow. For nearly six months the garrison withstood repeated attacks of an overwhelming force and suffered hunger and sickness with a courage that won them an imperishable name.
’- British Battles
’- British Battles
Causes of the Mutiny
During the 1850s many Indians in Bengal believed that the British were deliberately seeking to destroy traditional Indian religious and cultural customs. Matters were brought to a head by the introduction of the The rumoured use of cow and pig fat to grease the cartridges would make them offensive to Hindu and Muslim soldiers. The British made it known that these fats had not been used and they replaced the cartridges with new ones. They also allowed the sepoys to make their own grease from beeswax, ghee and vegetable oils. Enfield .557 cal rifle-musket.
The rumour persisted, however, showing that the unrest was much more deep rooted than simply a problem with cartridge grease. From February, when the 19th Bengal Native Infantry refused to use the cartridges, until May 1857 when the 10th, the 11th and 20th Bengal Light Cavalry turned on their British officers matters grew worse. The following day mutinous sepoys reached Delhi. The Red Fort, the residence of the aged Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah II, was captured & he was proclaimed ‘emperor of all India’. News of these events spread, further mutinies followed.
Eventually all 10 Bengal Light Cavalry Regiments and most of the 74 Bengal Native Infantry Regiments were affected. In Jhansi the army rebelled and killed the British officers. The mutiny spread rapidly through Northern central India, and, by the end of June, Cawnpore had fallen and Lucknow was besieged.
Fortunately for the British, the Mutiny was almost exclusively confined to the Bengal Army. The Madras and Bombay Armies were relatively unaffected and Sikhs, Punjabi Moslems and Gurkhas remained loyal. The British soldiers in India were scattered across the vast sub-continent and regiments were brought from the Crimea and China.
Lucknow – Besieged, Relieved & Besieged Again!
In the summer of 1857 the country between Delhi and Allahabad was in the hands of the rebels, and Cawnpore and Lucknow were besieged. Sir Henry Lawrence, Chief Commissioner at Lucknow, had the Residency buildings fortified and supplies stockpiled. Lawrence had about 1,500 troops, half of them loyal Bengal sepoys, to defend the Residency and a similar number of civilians to protect.
The Mutineers attacked on 4 July 1857. The initial assaults were unsuccessful and they begun an artillery and musket barrage. The siege continued until 25th Sept, by which time the British were reduced to 350 British soldiers, 300 loyal sepoys and 550 civilians.
Amazingly schoolboys from the La Martiniere school served alongside a detachment of 32nd Regiment in defences. As well fighting, the boys performed a number of tasks within the Residency compound. Two died of dysentery and two others were wounded in action. When a mine blew down the outer room of The Martiniere Post, the boys bravely defended the breach and after days of bitter fighting drove off the enemy. Uniquely, the school was awarded a Battle Honour.
A relief force of 1400 British soldiers and some Sikhs, under Maj-Gen Sir Henry Havelock, fought its way into Lucknow on 25th Sept. Every street was entrenched and barricaded and every house loopholed and defended by sepoys. Taking the bridge to the city and in the 2 miles of streets one third of the relief force fell.
The remaining force was now too small to evacuate the defenders, and joined the besieged. Again and again the rebels sought to capture the fort. They tried to breach the walls with mining, explosives and through underground tunnels. Both sides fought with desperation and courage. Sharpshooters crept within 50 yards of the defences and kept up a galling fire, while disease and death took their toll.
A 2nd relief force under Lt-Gen Sir Colin Campbell, of less than 4,500, arrived a month later but was vastly outnumbered by the rebels. To avoid fighting in the narrow lanes and streets of the native city which had hampered Havelock’s earlier relief attempt, instead of a direct attack down the Cawnpore road, a flanking movement to the right to capture the Dilkusha Palace and Martiniere buildings was made. From there they would go through a number of large gardens and fortified positions, the Sikandra Bagh, Shah Najif and others, to the Residency itself, clearing a route by which the beleaguered garrison could be evacuated.
The Secundra Bagh- The Desperate Struggle 16 Nov 1857
"93rd! We are about to advance to relieve our countrymen and women besieged in the Residency of Lucknow by the rebel army. It will be a duty of danger and difficulty, but I rely on you."
- Lt-Gen Sir Colin Campbell
- Lt-Gen Sir Colin Campbell
The Dilkusha and Martiniere were captured on 14th Nov. On the 16th, the main column, 93rd Highlanders in the lead, began clearing lanes and gardens up to the Sikandra Bagh. This structure was described as "a high-walled enclosure of strong masonry... of 120 yards square, and carefully loop-holed all round". It was held by 2,000 mutineers of the 71st Bengal Native Infantry and regiments of Oudh Irregulars and supported by large bodies of rebels in a nearby small fortified village.
Under intense fire, the British infantry, with several guns in support, came into action and forced the enemy to abandon the village. The Sikandra Bagh was bombarded for more than an hour, then the enclosure was stormed.
Detachments of the 93rd & 53rd kept down enemy fire from the left while the Sikandra Bagh was breached. In a bold attack they captured 2 enemy guns and made an entrance into a huge barracks building south of the Sikandra Bagh, creating a secure protective flank position.
A company of the 93rd extended in skirmishing order between the two buildings, further strengthened the British left and enabled the attack to be made without fear of rebel reinforcement.
The 93rd, the 53rd, the Punjab Infantry and a battalion of detachments from other regiments, urged on by the martial sounds of the 93rd's pipers, rushed forward. The regimental sergeant-major was among the first to fall, shot dead as he advanced. So narrow was the breach that only one man at a time could enter but the first few through in held off the mutineers while their comrades rushed in. When sufficient men had gathered, they drove the enemy back into an open square in the center of the enclosure.
The struggle was one of the hardest fought and most bloody of the whole campaign, no quarter being asked or given.
Above the rebels calls of ‘Din, din!’ (Kill, kill!)and ‘Chalo, bahudar!’ (Come on, my brave one!) rang the Sikh battle-cry of ‘Jai Kalsa Jee!’ and the Highlanders’ ‘Come on, for the honour of Scotland!’. The sepoys defended themselves stubbornly, but Campbell’s men had learned of the massacre of over 200 British women and children at Cawnpore. Enraged by this and in the heat of battle, the British and Punjabis showed no mercy, slaughtering all but a handful of the defenders.
Lt-Col Ewart attacked the leader of an enemy group with sword and revolver, killing him and 5 others. With sword wounds on the arm and hand, Ewart fought two native officers for a regimental colour, downed both and captured it.
The slaughter continued until the British overcame the last sepoy in the position, which presented an appalling appearance, with great heaps of dead piled upon each other, most of them killed by bayonet or sword.
Over the next day, the relief force the remaining fortified, including the old mess house of the 32nd Foot, and the Moti Mahal. These permitted the union of the relieving forces with the Residency garrison.
The force of mutineers was still so vast that there was no question of holding the Residency. The women and children, sick and wounded were evacuated. It was the successful conclusion of one of the most audacious operations attempted during the mutiny. With little more than 4000 men, Sir Colin Campbell had fought upwards of ten times that number, seized by storm one strong point after another and withdrawn both garrison and civilians.
Richard Collier. The Indian Mutiny. London: Collins, 1963.
Christopher Wilkinson-Latham & G A Embleton. The Indian Mutiny. London: Osprey, 1977.
Michael Barthorp & Douglas Anderson. The British Troops in the Indian Mutiny 1857-9. London: Osprey, 1994.
Ian Knight & Richard Scollins. Queen Victoria’s Enemies (3): India. London: Osprey, 1990.
The Preziosi Collection, 19th Century & Colonial Era Orders of Battle, British Colonial Wars, 1856-1881, The Indian Mutiny (1857-1859) from The Virtual Armchair General, at http://home.att.net/~patrick.wilson33/VArmGenIndex.html