The Battle of Sobraon was fought on 10 February 1846, between the forces of the East India Company and the Sikh Khalsa Army, the army of the Sikh Empire of the Punjab. The Sikhs were utterly defeated, making this the decisive battle of the First Anglo-Sikh War.
The First Anglo-Sikh war began in late 1845, after a combination of increasing disorder in the Sikh empire following the death of Ranjit Singh in 1839 and provocations by the British East India Company led to the Khalsa invading British territory. The British had won the first two major battles of the war through a combination of luck, the steadfastness of British and Bengal units.
The Sikhs had been temporarily dismayed by their defeat at the Battle of Ferozeshah, and had withdrawn most of their forces across the Sutlej River. The Khalsa had been reinforced from districts west of Lahore, and now moved in strength into a bridgehead across the Sutlej at Sobraon, entrenching and fortifying their encampment. Any wavering after their earlier defeats was dispelled by the presence of the respected veteran leader, Sham Singh Attariwala. Unfortunately for the Khalsa, Tej Singh and Lal Singh retained the overall direction of the Sikh armies. Also, their position at Sobraon was linked to the west, Punjabi, bank of the river by a single vulnerable pontoon bridge. Three days’ continuous rain before the battle had swollen the river and threatened to carry away this bridge.
Contemporary sketch map of the Battle of Sobraon from the Collection of the Mercian Regiment Museum (Worcestershire)
On 7th February 1846 Sir Hugh Gough received reinforcements. Moving out before dawn on 10th February with Taylor’s brigade (including the 29th Regiment) leading, Chota Sobraon was occupied and from here at 10.00 hours the attack was launched. The 29th supported by two native battalions dashed towards the ramparts of clay and wood (in some places ten feet high), which the enemy had erected. The attackers could see nothing but the muzzles of the guns behind which the enemy infantry were posted in entrenchments four deep. After two unsuccessful charges, the 29th succeeded in reaching the first Sikh trenches. The enemy suffered terrible casualties and by the end of the battle had lost some 10,000 men and 67 guns. The British losses, too, were heavy suffering 2,383 killed or wounded, out of which the 29th’s casualties numbered 186 out of a total strength of 552.
The first British units began to cross the river on the evening of the day of battle, and on 13 February, Gough’s army was only 30 miles (48 km) from Lahore, the capital. The remaining Sikh troops could not be concentrated quickly enough to defend Lahore. As a result the Sikhs were forced to come to terms.
By the Treaty of Lahore, the Sikhs ceded the lands between the Sutlej and Chenab Rivers to the East India Company, and allowed a British Resident at Lahore. In addition, the Sikhs were to pay an indemnity of 1.2 million pounds.