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HOME > Short Stories > In Times of Peril A Tale of India > CHAPTER XVIII. THE STORMING OF DELHI.
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 On the morning of the 8th of September the battery, eight hundred yards from the Moree gate of Delhi, opened fire, and sent the first battering shot against the town which had for three months been besieged. Hitherto, indeed, light shot, shell, and shrapnel had been fired at the gunners on the walls to keep down their fire, and the city and palace had been shelled by the mortar batteries; but not a shot had been fired with the object of injuring the walls or bringing the siege to an end.  
For three months the besiegers had stood on the offensive, and the enemy not only held the city, but had erected very strong works in the open ground in front of the Lahore gate, and had free ingress and egress from the town at all points save from the gates on the north side, facing the British position on the Ridge. During these three long months, however, the respective position of the parties had changed a good deal. For the first month the mutineers were elated with their success all over that part of India. They were intoxicated with treason and murder; and their enormous numbers in comparison with those of the British troops in the country made them not only confident of success, but arrogant in the belief that success was already assured. Gradually, however, the failure of all their attempts, even with enormously superior forces, to drive the little British force from the grip which it so tenaciously held of the hill in front of Delhi, damped the ardor of their enthusiasm. Doubts as to whether, after all, their mutiny and their treachery would meet with eventual success, and fear that punishment for their atrocities would finally overtake them, began for the first time to enter their minds.
Quarrels and strife broke out between the various leaders of the movement, and pitched battles were fought between the men of different corps. Then came pestilence and swept the crowded quarters. A reign of terror prevailed throughout the city; the respectable inhabitants were robbed and murdered, shops were burst open and sacked, and riot and violence reigned supreme.
The puppet monarch, terrified at the disorder that prevailed, and finding his authority was purely nominal—the real power resting in the hands of his own sons, who had taken a leading share in getting up the revolt, and in those of the Sepoy generals—began to long for rest and quiet. The heavy shell which from time to time crashed into his palace disturbed his peace, and, through his wives, he secretly endeavored to open negotiations with the British. These overtures were, however, rejected. The king had no power whatever, and he and his household were all concerned in the massacres which had taken place in the palace itself.
It was then, by an army which, however small, was confident of victory, against one which, however large, was beginning to doubt that final success would be theirs, that the siege operations began on the morning of the 8th of September. Thenceforth the besiegers worked night and day. Every night saw fresh batteries rising at a distance of only three hundred yards from the walls; fifteen hundred camels brought earth; three thousand men filled sandbags, placed fascines, and erected traverses for the guns. The batteries rose as if by magic. The besieged viewed these preparations with a strange apathy. They might at the commencement of the work have swept the ground with such a shower of grape and musketry fire that the erection of batteries so close to their walls would have been impossible; but for the first three nights of the work they seemed to pay but little heed to what we were doing, and when at last they awoke to the nature of our proceedings, and began a furious cannonade against the British, the works had reached a height that afforded shelter to those employed upon them. Each battery, as fast as the heavy siege guns were placed in position, opened upon the walls, until forty heavy guns thundered incessantly.
The enemy now fought desperately. Our fire overpowered that of the guns at the bastions opposed to them; but from guns placed out in the open, on our flank, they played upon our batteries, while from the walls a storm of musketry fire and rockets was poured upon us. But our gunners worked away unceasingly. Piece by piece the massive walls crumbled under our fire, until, on the 13th, yawning gaps were torn through the walls of the Cashmere and Water bastions. That night four engineer officers—Medley, Long, Greathead, and Home—crept forward and examined the breaches, and returned, reporting that it would be possible to climb the heaps of rubbish and enter at the gaps in the wall. Orders were at once issued for the assault to take place at daybreak next morning.
The assaulting force was divided into four columns; the first, composed of three hundred men of the Seventy-fifth Regiment, two hundred and fifty men of the First Bengal Fusiliers, and four hundred and fifty men of the Second Punjaub Infantry—in all one thousand men, under Brigadier-General Nicholson, were to storm the breach near the Cashmere bastion. The second column, consisting of two hundred and fifty men of the Eighth Regiment, two hundred and fifty men of the Second Bengal Fusiliers, and three hundred and fifty men of the Fourth Sikh Infantry, under Colonel Jones, Q.B., were to storm the breach in the Water bastion. The third column, consisting of two hundred men of the Fifty-second Regiment, two hundred and fifty men of the Ghoorka Kumaan battalion, and five hundred men of the First Punjaub Infantry, under Colonel Campbell, were to assault by the Cashmere gate, which was to be blown open by the engineers. The fourth column, eight hundred and sixty strong, was made up of detachments of European regiments, the Sirmoor battalion of Ghoorkas, and the Guides. It was commanded by Major Reed, and was to carry the suburb outside the walls, held by the rebels, called Kissengunge, and to enter the city by the Lahore gate. In addition to the four storming columns was the reserve, fifteen hundred strong, under Brigadier Longfield. It consisted of two hundred and fifty men of the Sixty-first Regiment, three hundred of the Beloochee battalion, four hundred and fifty of the Fourth Punjab Infantry, three hundred of the Jhind Auxiliary Force, and two hundred of the Sixtieth Rifles, who were to cover with their fire the advance of the storming column, and then to take their places with the reserves. This body was to await the success of the storming column, and then follow them into the city, and assist them as required. The cavalry and the rest of the force were to cover the flank and defend the Ridge, should the enemy attempt a counter attack.
Precisely at four o'clock on the morning of the 14th, the Sixtieth Rifles dashed forward in skirmishing order toward the walls, and the heads of the assaulting columns moved out of the batteries, which had until this moment kept up their fire without intermission.
The Warreners were on duty by the side of General Nicholson; and accustomed as they were to danger, their hearts beat fast as they awaited the signal. It was to be a tremendous enterprise—an enterprise absolutely unrivaled in history—for five thousand men to assault a city garrisoned by some thirty thousand trained troops, and a fanatical and turbulent population of five hundred thousand, all, it may be said, fighting with ropes round their necks.
As the Rifles dashed forward in front, and the head of the column advanced, a terrific fire of musketry broke out from wall and bastion, which the British, all necessity for concealment being over, answered with a tremendous cheer as they swept forward. Arrived at the ditch there was a halt. It took some time to place the ladders, and officers and men fell fast under the hail of bullets. Then as they gathered in strength in the ditch there was one wild cheer, and they dashed up the slope of rubbish and stones, and passed through the breach.
The entrance to Delhi was won.
Scrambling breathlessly up, keeping just behind their gallant general, the Warreners were among the first to win their way into the city.
An equally rapid success had attended the assault upon the breach in the Water bastion by the second column. Nor were the third far behind in the assault through the Cashmere gate, But here a deed had first to be done which should live in the memories of Englishmen so long as we exist as a nation.
As the head of the assaulting column moved forward a little party started at the double toward the Cashmere gate. The party consisted of Lieutenants Home and Salkeld, of the Royal Engineers, and Sergeants Smith and Carmichael, and Corporal Burgess, of the same corps; Bugler Hawthorne of the Fifty-second regiment; and twenty-four native sappers and miners under Havildars Mahor and Tilluh Sing. Each of the sappers carried a bag of powder, and, covered by such shelter as the fire of the Sixtieth skirmishers could give them, they advanced to the gate. This gate stands close to an angle in the wall, and from the parapets a storm of musketry fire was poured upon them. When they reached the ditch they found the drawbridge destroyed, but crossed in single file upon the beams on which it rested. The gate was of course closed, but a small postern-door beside it was open, and through this the mutineers added a heavy fire to that which streamed from above. The sappers laid their bags against the gate, and slipped down into the ditch to allow the firing party to do their work. Many had already fallen. Sergeant Carmichael was shot dead as he laid down his powder bag; Havildar Mahor was wounded. As Lieutenant Salkeld tried to fire the fuse he fell, shot through the arm and leg; while Havildar Tilluh Sing, who stood by, was killed, and Ramloll Sepoy was wounded. As he fell Lieutenant Salkeld handed the slow match to Corporal Burgess, who lit the fuse, but fell mortally wounded as he did so. Then those who survived jumped, or were helped, into the ditch, and in another moment a great explosion took place, and the Cashmere gate blew into splinters, killing some forty mutineers who were behind it. Then Lieutenant Home, seeing that the way was clear, ordered Bugler Hawthorne to sound the advance, and the assaulting column came rushing forward with a cheer, and burst through the gateway into the city.
Of the six Englishmen who took part in that glorious deed only two lived to wear the Victoria cross, the reward of valor. Two had died on the spot, and upon the other four General Wilson at once bestowed the cross; but Lieutenant Salkeld died of his wounds, and Lieutenant Home was killed within a week of the capture of the city. Thus only Sergeant Smith and Bugler Hawthorne lived to wear the honor so nobly won.
General Nicholson, who was in general command of the whole force, concentrated the two columns which had entered in a wide open space inside the Cashmere gate, and then swept the enemy off the ramparts as far as the Moree bastion, the whole of the north wall being now in the possession of our troops. Then he proceeded to push on toward the Lahore gate, where he expected to meet Major Reed with, the fourth column. This column had, however, failed even to reach the Lahore gate, the enemy's position in the suburb beyond the wall proving so strong, and being held by so numerous a force, that, after suffering very heavily, the commander had to call back his men, his retreat being covered by the cavalry.
Thus, as General Nicholson advanced through the narrow lane between the wall and the houses, the column was swept by a storm of fire from window, loophole, and housetop—a fire to which no effective reply was possible. Then, just as he was in the act of cheering on his men, the gallant soldier fell back in the arms of those behind him, mortally wounded. He was carried off by his sorrowing soldiers, and lingered until the 26th of the month, when, to the deep grief of the whole army, he expired.
It being evident that any attempt to force a path further in this direction would lead to useless slaughter, and that the place must be won step by step, by the aid of artillery, the troops were called back to the bastion.
A similar experience had befallen the third column, which had, guided by Sir T. Metcalfe, who knew the city intimately, endeavored to make a circuit so as to reach and carry the Jumma Musjid, the great mosque which dominated the city. So desperate was the resistance experienced that this column had also to fall back to the ramparts. The reserve column had followed the third in at the Cashmere gate, and had, after some fighting, possessed itself of some strong buildings in that neighborhood, most important of which was a large and commanding house, the residence of Achmed Ali Khan; and when the third column fell back Skinner's house, the church, the magazine, and the main-guard were held, and guns were planted to command the streets leading thereto. One cause of the slight advance made that day was, that the enemy, knowing the weakness of the British soldier, had stored immense quantities of champagne and other wines, beer, and spirits in the streets next to the ramparts, and the troops—British, Sikhs, Beloochees, and Ghoorkas alike—parched with thirst, and excited by the sight of these long untasted luxuries, fell into the snare, and drank so deeply that the lighting power of the force was for awhile very seriously impaired.
On the 15th the stubborn fighting recommenced. From house to house our troops fought their way; frequently, when the street was so swept by fire that it was impossible to progress there, making their way by breaking down the party walls, and so working from one house into another. During this day guns and mortars were brought into the city from our batteries, and placed so as to shell the palace and the great building called the Selimgur.
The next morning the Sixty-first Regiment and the Fourth Punjaub Rifles made a rush at the great magazine, and the rebels were so stricken by their rapidity and dash that they threw down their portfires and fled, without even once discharging the cannon, which, crammed to the muzzle with grape, commanded every approach. Here one hundred and twenty-five cannon and an enormous supply of ammunition fell into our hands, and a great many of the guns were at once turned against their late owners.
So day by day the fight went on. At night the sky was red with the flames of burning houses, by day a pall of smoke hung over the city. From either side cannon and mortars played unceasingly, while the rattle of musketry, the crash of falling houses, the shrieks of women, the screams of children, and the shouting of men mingled in a chaos of sounds. To the credit of the British soldier be it said, that infuriated as they were by the thirst for vengeance, the thought of the murdered women, and the heat of battle, not a single case occurred, so far as is known, of a woman being ill-treated, insulted, or fired upon—although the women had been present in the massacres, and had constantly accompanied and cheered on the sorties of the mutineers. To the Sepoys met with in Delhi no mercy was shown; every man taken was at once bayoneted, and the same fate befell all townsmen found fighting against us. The rest of the men, as well as the women and children, were, after the fighting was over, permitted to leave the city unmolested, although large numbers of them had taken share in the sack of the white inhabitants' houses, and the murder of every Christian, British or native, in the town. It would, however, have been impossible to separate the innocent from the guilty; consequently all were allowed to go free.
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