The Battle of Sobraon 10th February 1846

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The Sikhs had been temporarily dismayed by their defeat at the Battle of Ferozeshah, and had withdrawn most of their forces across the Sutlej River.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)

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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.

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Battle of Chillianwallah 13th January 1849

Fought during the Second Anglo-Sikh War, in the region of Punjab, now part of Pakistan. Although the battle may be considered a draw, it was a strategic check to Britain, and damaged British prestige in India.

When war broke out in the Punjab, which had recently lost much of its independence to the British East India Company following the First Anglo-Sikh War, in April 1848, the East India Company’s Commissioner for the Punjab, Frederick Currie, sent several forces of locally raised troops to help quell the revolt. The force led by Sher Singh Attariwalla also revolted and moved north to join his father, Chattar Singh Attariwalla in Hazara.

The East India Company ordered the formation of an Army of the Punjab under the veteran Commander in Chief, Sir Hugh Gough. On 18th November news arrived of the crossing of the Chenab by an army under Shere Singh. Gough dispatched a column up stream, which crossed, and marched down the enemy flank. The 29th Foot, having taken up a position with a battery on the British right, opened fire on the Sikhs to distract their attention from the outflanking troops, but the Sikh general was too wise to be caught and, breaking camp, retired to the north.

Shere Singh was now joined by Chattar Singh’s army bringing his strength to 30,000 against Gough’s 13,000. When the British closed Gough was, therefore, fairly cautious. The enemy were in positions at Chillianwallah stretching some six miles from the low hill at Rasul to Mung on the right. The country in front was mostly thick scrub and movement was difficult, but on the Sikh left in front of Rasul the approaches were fairly open. At 0700 hours on 13th January 1849 Gough advanced with the intention of forcing the enemy left flank, which task was given to Gilbert’s division. Mountain’s brigade with the 29th of Foot was on the right and on their left was Pennycuick’s brigade. Shere Singh, perceiving the British intention, seized a small mound near Chillianwallah causing Gough to alter the line of advance to the village. Nevertheless, he did not intend to assault until the next day.

Shere Singh was now joined by Chattar Singh’s army bringing his strength to 30,000 against Gough’s 13,000. When the British closed Gough was, therefore, fairly cautious. The enemy were in positions at Chillianwallah stretching some six miles from the low hill at Rasul to Mung on the right. The country in front was mostly thick scrub and movement was difficult, but on the Sikh left in front of Rasul the approaches were fairly open. At 0700 hours on 13th January 1849 Gough advanced with the intention of forcing the enemy left flank, which task was given to Gilbert’s division. Mountain’s brigade with the 29th of Foot was on the right and on their left was Pennycuick’s brigade. Shere Singh, perceiving the British intention, seized a small mound near Chillianwallah causing Gough to alter the line of advance to the village. Nevertheless, he did not intend to assault until the next day.

While the troops were piling their arms and unsaddling the horses Lieutenant MacPherson, of the 24th of Foot, climbed a tree and was appalled to see masses of turbans moving through the undergrowth. Bugles were sounded and the British took up their positions for attack. Moving up the guns Gough ordered the advance to commence at 0300 hours. As the advance passed through the thick undergrowth, it was subjected to heavy fire from the Sikh sharpshooters. This caused the orderly line to disintegrate into a series of small groups that, when they debouched into the open, came under the enemy artillery which poured grape into their ranks. The situation on the right was retrieved by the action of General Colin Campbell with the 61st and in the centre by Congreve who, seeing that the 29th were suffering from the fire of a particularly dangerous Sikh gun, charged it himself. Then commenced a struggle of the utmost ferocity. The Sikhs cast aside their matchlocks, and sword in hand fought desperately until overwhelmed.chillianwallah

The battle was by no means over. Pennycuick’s brigade had suffered heavily and the 29th were ordered to change front to cover the gap that had occurred. Congreve, noticing that the enemy was attempting to withdraw its guns, turned the 29th about and charged. Sikh cavalry were now seen moving up but checked their pace within 200 yards of the 29th. Every British firelock was brought up to the present and as they fired Sikhs dropped from their saddles and horses rolled over. Another volley completed the confusion and the survivors galloped away.

Reforming line the regiment continued to advance; meeting some Sikh infantry who were engaging Pennycuick’s men they charged. Six of the guns that had been supporting the Sikhs limbered up and got away, but the seventh turned round and, taking a shot at the colours, succeeded in clearing away every man around them. The gun was captured, however, and the gunners bayoneted; the gallant 24th who had taken the brunt of this action was saved further loss.

In this battle the centre of the Queen’s Colour was shot out and its bearer, Ensign Smith, was twice hit by bullets. This battle was the last occasion on which the colours of any battalion of the regiment were carried in action.

An obelisk was subsequently erected in memory of the British who lost their lives at Chillianwallah. Locally the battle goes by the name of ‘Katalgarh’, the House of Slaughter.

 

Recent acquisition – a Lovell pattern 1839 musket

The Mercian Regiment Museum Trust has recently acquired a fine 1839 musket recently acquired for the Worcestershire Soldier Gallery

A fine 1839 musket recently acquired for the Worcestershire Soldier Gallery

The Trustees of the Mercian Regiment Museum have recently acquired an British Pattern 1839, percussion smooth bore musket. It is 55 ½” long with a 39″ barrel marked with ordnance proof marks. The barrel is equipped with a standing foresight and a plain rear sight. It is equipped with a side action lock which is engraved with a Crown over VR (Victoria Regina) set over an Enfield stamp. The lock bears a crowned broad arrow Ordnance mark and is dated 1841. The lock is retained by 2 side nails with Lovell cups. The musket has a New Land pattern style full stock, with brass furniture including a plain brass fore-end cap for socket bayonet, three ramrod pipes retaining the original ramrod. The musket has two sling swivels, one mounted from trigger guard, the other above front ramrod tube.
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The percussion lock of an 1839 pattern musket


It was with this pattern of musket that the 29th Regiment obtained its victories in the Sikh Wars. Although it is equipped with the most up to date percussion ignition system the musket’s smooth bore limited its accuracy and its effective range was between 50 to a hundred yards. The musket fired a lead ball of .75″ calibre (approximately 18mm).

The Sikh Wars, 1845-49

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Sikh War Case

The Sikh War Case

In the 1840’s the 29th Regiment of Foot were on garrison duty in India, and took part in both Sikh Wars. Despite being outnumbered and against some of the best troops in the world, the British fought two bloody and successful campaigns against the Sikhs, with the 29th in the thick of the action. The 29th fought in the centre at the battle at Ferozeshah, and repeatedly stormed the Sikh fortifications at Sobraon, despite being heavily outgunned and outnumbered.

During the Second War they fought at Goojerat (alias Gujerat) and Chillianwallah, where the 29th took heavy casualties taking a line of Sikh guns. A few years later, detachments from the 29th also served in the Indian Mutiny.

Sikh Jacket

The Sikh Jacket

The Sikh Jacket

This jacket, or tunic, is traditionally referred to as the ‘Sikh Chieftain’s tunic’, although its small size means that it probably belonged to a young prince or a son of a chief. It was picked up on field at Sobraon by an officer in the 29th Regiment.

Between 1845 and 1849 the 29th fought in two wars against the Sikhs in north western India. The Sikhs were a very martial nation, and their Army was very well trained and equipped in modern warfare. The battles in the two Sikh Wars were very hard and bloody, and this jacket has always been a proud trophy and a popular attraction in the museum.

 The jacket and other material from the Sikh Wars currently forms part of the exhibition ‘Anglo-Sikh Wars: Battles, Treaties and Relics’ being held at Newarke Houses Museum, Leicester from 11th March to 4th June 2017. The exhibition is being developed by the Sikh Museum Initiative and hosted by Leicester City Council.  Please follow the links for more information.Anglo-Sikh Museum Initiative