Battle of Chillianwala

Last updated

Battle of Chillianwala
Part of the Second Anglo-Sikh War
Hugh Gough, 1st Viscount Gough (1779-1869).jpg
Hugh Gough, 1st Viscount Gough (1779–1869), Oriental Club, Hanover Square, London.
Date13 January 1849
Result Both sides claimed Victory [1]
Flag of the British East India Company (1801).svg East India Company Sikh Empire flag.jpg Sikh Empire
Commanders and leaders
Sir Hugh Gough Raja Sher Singh Attariwalla
15,000 [2]
100 guns
10,000 [2]
60 guns
Casualties and losses
2,512 (~1,512 Indian, ~1,000 British) [3] about 4,000. [4]

The Battle of Chillianwala was fought in January 1849 during the Second Anglo-Sikh War in the Chillianwala region of Punjab [4] (Mandi Bahauddin), now part of modern-day Pakistan. The battle was one of the bloodiest fought by the British East India Company. Both armies held their positions at the end of the battle and both sides claimed victory. [5] The battle was a strategic check to immediate British ambitions in India and a shock to British military prestige. [1]



The Second Anglo-Sikh 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, when the city of Multan rebelled under Dewan Mulraj. The East India Company's Commissioner for the Punjab, Frederick Currie, sent several forces of locally raised troops to help quell the revolt. One of these forces consisted largely of Sikhs, formerly from the Sikh Khalsa Army, under Sher Singh Attariwalla. Some junior British Political Officers viewed this development with alarm as Sher Singh's father, Chattar Singh Attariwalla, was known to be plotting sedition in Hazara, north of the Punjab.

On 14 September, Sher Singh's army also rebelled. Other than opposition to the British, Mulraj and Sher Singh had no aims in common. Sher Singh decided to move his army north, to join that of Chattar Singh, who had also rebelled. However, some British officers had taken steps to secure vital fortresses. For the time being, Chattar Singh was unable to leave Hazara, as the British held Attock on the Indus River, and the passes over the Margalla Hills separating Hazara from the Punjab. Instead, Sher Singh moved a few miles north and fortified the crossings over the Chenab River, while awaiting events.

The East India Company responded by announcing their intention to depose the young Maharaja, Duleep Singh, annexe the Punjab and confiscate the lands of any landholders who joined the revolt. [6] While an army under Major General Whish resumed the Siege of Multan, the company ordered the formation of an Army of the Punjab under the veteran Commander in Chief, Sir Hugh Gough. However, both Gough and the Governor General, the 37-year-old Lord Dalhousie, delayed operations until after the end of the monsoon season, allowing Sher Singh to gather reinforcements and establish strong positions.

Gough took charge of the Army on 21 November. The next day, he attacked Sher Singh's bridgehead on the left bank of the Chenab at Ramnagar but was repulsed, raising Sikh morale. On 1 December, a cavalry division under Major General Joseph Thackwell crossed the Chenab upstream from Ramnagar. Sher Singh advanced against him, resulting in a day-long artillery duel at Sadullapur. Gough meanwhile bombarded the empty Sikh positions at Ramnagar, and postponed a general attack until the next day. During the night, Sher Singh withdrew to the north.

Gough then halted, awaiting further instructions from Dalhousie. Early in January 1849, news came that the British had recaptured the city of Multan (although Mulraj still defended the citadel), but also that the Muslim garrison of Attock had defected to Amir Dost Mohammad Khan of Afghanistan, who was half-heartedly supporting Chattar Singh. The fall of Attock nevertheless allowed Chattar Singh's army to leave Hazara and move south. Dalhousie ordered Gough to seek out and destroy Sher Singh's main army before the Sikh armies could combine, without waiting for reinforcements from the army at Multan.

First contact

On 13 January, Gough's army was marching towards the reported Sikh position at Rasul, on the left bank of the Jhelum River, about 85 miles (137 km) north-west of Lahore. At noon, they drove a Sikh outpost out of the village of Chillianwala. At this point, Gough intended to march round to the north of the Sikh position and attack its left flank on the following day, but from the vantage point of a mound near Chillianwala, it was apparent that the Sikhs had advanced from their original positions along ridges close to the Jhelum. Sher Singh's army had originally occupied a position six miles long, too extended for their numbers and vulnerable to a flank attack such as Gough proposed. By advancing, Sher Singh made a British flank march too risky and forced the British to make a frontal attack. [7]

It was estimated by Frederick Mackeson, Gough's attached political officer, that Sher Singh's army numbered 23,000 (although most later British historians put it at 30,000 or more), including 5,000 irregular cavalry, with some 60 guns. However after the First Anglo-Sikh War, the Khalsa was reduced to 12,000 infantry and 60 guns in total, so some historians have stated the Sikh army could not have been more than 10,000 on the day. [1]

The Sikh army consisted of three main bodies of troops. [8] On the left under Sher Singh himself were one cavalry regiment, nine infantry battalions, some irregulars and 20 guns, occupying some low hills and ridges. In the centre under Lal Singh were two cavalry regiments, ten infantry battalions and 17 guns, mostly concealed in or behind belts of scrub and jungle. On the right was a brigade which formerly had garrisoned Bannu, consisting of one cavalry regiment, four infantry battalions and eleven guns, anchored on two villages. Other irregulars extended Sher Singh's left flank. [7]

Gough intended to delay the attack until the following day, but as his army prepared to pitch camp, hitherto concealed Sikh artillery opened fire from positions much closer than had been anticipated. Gough later wrote that he feared the Sikhs might bombard his encampments overnight, though some of his officers believed he had merely been stung into hasty action. [9]

Gough's army was composed of two infantry divisions, each of two brigades, each in turn of one British and two Bengal Native infantry battalions, with a total of 66 guns from the Bengal Artillery and Bengal Horse Artillery. The 3rd Division under Sir Colin Campbell, with two field artillery batteries and three horse artillery troops, was deployed on the left, while the 2nd Division commanded by Major General Sir Walter Gilbert was deployed on the right with a field artillery battery and three horse artillery troops. Gough also had a cavalry division under Major General Joseph Thackwell, but this was split, with one brigade on each flank; Brigadier White's on the left, Brigadier Pope's on the right. Gough deployed two heavy artillery batteries with eight 18-pounder guns and four 8-inch howitzers in the centre. A brigade of Bengal Native troops under Brigadier Penney was in reserve. [7]

The battle

Map of the battle Battle of Chillianwalla.jpg
Map of the battle

Gough ordered the advance to commence at about 3:00 pm. From the outset, the right-hand brigade of Campbell's division, commanded by Brigadier Pennycuick, was in difficulties. Because the jungle made it difficult for Campbell to coordinate his two brigades, he assumed personal command of the left hand brigade under Brigadier Hoggan, while ordering Pennycuick to attack with the bayonet. The British regiment of Pennycuick's brigade was the 24th Foot, which had only recently arrived in India. They advanced very rapidly, but lost cohesion and also lost touch with the rest of the brigade in the thick scrub. Trying to attack Sikh guns head-on, they suffered heavily from grapeshot. When they reached the main Sikh positions, Sikh resistance was desperate and the 24th were driven back. The Queen's colours were lost, [10] although the Sikhs never claimed to have captured them and they were either destroyed or conceivably buried with the officer who had carried them. Pennycuick's brigade eventually became completely disorganised and had to make its way back to the start line in small parties. Pennycuick himself was killed.

Picture of the plaque erected in St James Church Sialkot Cantonment by Sarah Pennycuick, widow of Brigadier John Pennycuick and mother of Alexender of 24th Regiment, both of whom died in Battle of Chillianwala on 13 January 1849. Plaque erected in the memory of Brigadier John Pennycuick and his son Alexender of 24th Regiment, both of whom died in Battle of Chillianwala on 18 January 1849 by Sarah Pennycuick, widow and mother of deceased.jpg
Picture of the plaque erected in St James Church Sialkot Cantonment by Sarah Pennycuick, widow of Brigadier John Pennycuick and mother of Alexender of 24th Regiment, both of whom died in Battle of Chillianwala on 13 January 1849.

Campbell's left hand brigade (under Brigadier Hoggan and Campbell himself) had greater success. The 61st Foot captured several guns and even an elephant, and Brigadier White's cavalry followed up with an effective charge. Hoggan's troops eventually met the left-hand brigade of Gilbert's division, commanded by Brigadier Mountain, behind the Sikhs' centre positions.

On Gough's right however, his troops had met with disaster. While Gilbert's two brigades had at first successfully driven the Sikhs before them, capturing or spiking several guns, on their right flank, Brigadier Pope (who was almost an invalid) first ordered an ineffective cavalry charge through thorn scrub which threw his brigade into confusion, and then panicked and ordered a retreat. One of his British cavalry regiments, the 14th Light Dragoons, routed. The Sikhs followed up the fleeing cavalry and captured four guns. They then attacked Gilbert's right-hand infantry brigade, commanded by Brigadier Godby, from the rear, forcing him to withdraw under heavy pressure until Penney's reserve brigade came to his aid.

By now, darkness was approaching. The Sikhs had been driven from many of their positions with heavy casualties, but were still fighting strongly. With some of his formations rendered ineffective, or having to fight their way out of encirclement, Gough ordered a withdrawal to the start line. Although his units brought back as many wounded as they could, many of them could not be found in the scrub. Many of the abandoned wounded were killed during the night by roving Sikh irregulars. Gough's retreat also allowed the Sikhs to recapture all but twelve of the guns the British had taken earlier in the day.


The final losses to Gough's army were 757 killed, 1,651 wounded and 104 missing [11] for a total of 2,512. [12] A comparatively high proportion of the casualties (almost 1,000) were British rather than Indian. This was mainly a result of the disaster which befell the 24th Foot, which suffered 590 casualties, over 50 percent.

Sikh casualties were 4,000 dead and wounded. [4]

An obelisk later erected at Chillianwalla by the British government preserves the names of those who fell in the battle.


A monument was erected in memory of the losses sustained by both armies Monument of the Battle of Chillianwala 3.jpg
A monument was erected in memory of the losses sustained by both armies

Both armies held their positions at the end of the battle and Sher Singh withdrew to the north. Both sides claimed a victory. [1] The Sikhs claimed that they forced the British to retreat but the British forces actually withdrew three days after the battle ended; however, this was due to the rains which separated the two armies for that duration. [13] Since the Sikhs disengaged first, the British claimed the victory, [1] although they admitted that the Sikhs missed an opportunity to gain a victory. [14] However, the repulse of the British, together with the loss of several guns and the colours of the 24th and two other regiments, and the rout of the 14th Light Dragoons, dealt a blow to British morale and is testament to the tenacity and martial skill of the Sikh army.

A testimony left by a British observer says:

The Sikhs fought like devils, fierce and untamed... Such a mass of men I never set eyes on and a plucky as lions: they ran right on the bayonets and struck their assailants when they were transfixed. [15]

Two later editorials by the military historian Major A.H. Amin stated:

At Chillianwala a British Army which had a high European troop component, a large number of Sepoy (regiments), sufficient artillery, two heavy cavalry brigades to ensure that no one could surprise the British army, excellent logistics, little campaign exhaustion having fought no major battle since assumption of hostilities...failed to defeat the Sikhs. [7]

The Battle of Chillianwala fought on 13 January 1849 is, however, one odd exception and stands out as a battle in which the British failed to defeat their opponents despite having the advantages of weight of numbers (sic), ideal weather and terrain, superior logistics etc [7]

Gough was criticised for his handling of the battle, was relieved of command and superseded by General Charles James Napier. Before Napier could arrive from England to take over command, Gough had fought the decisive Battle of Goojerat (or Gujrat, Gujerat).

The loss of British prestige at Chillianwala was one of the factors which contributed to the Indian rebellion of 1857 some nine years later. However, the Sikh soldiers serving in the British army remained loyal to Britain and helped crush the rebellion. [16] [17]

Later in the Revolt of 1857 Hindu poet Prakashanth Das wrote a short poem in Hindi-

"हाल ही में मैंने रंग-बिरंगे कपड़े पहने हजारों सैनिकों को क्षितिज में बिना म्यान के तलवारें लहराते हुए देखा। हनुमान का एक लाल झंडा उठा और झाँसी की सेना रो पड़ी और चिल्लाई "चिल्लनवाला याद करो।"

Roughly translated it states:

Recently I saw a thousands of troops clothed in colorful cloth, with swords unsheathed charging into the horizon. A red banner of Hanuman rose and the army of Jhansi cried and screamed "Remember Chillanwala."

This even influenced the Namdhari Revolt of 1871 and Ram Kuka many times talked about the Battle of Chillianwala.

Within the British Army, such was the consternation over the events at Chillianwala that, after the disastrous Charge of the Light Brigade, when Lord Lucan remarked "This is a most serious matter", General Airey replied, "These sort of things will happen in war. It is nothing to Chillianwala." [18]

Order of battle

British regiment

British Indian Army regiments

Related Research Articles

4th Infantry Division (India) Military unit

The 4th Indian Infantry Division, also known as the Red Eagle Division, is the infantry division of the Indian Army. This division of the British Indian Army was formed in Egypt in 1939 during the Second World War. During the Second World War, it took part in campaigns in East Africa, Syria, North Africa and Italy. Post independence, the division is part of the I Corps and headquartered at Prayagraj.

First Anglo-Sikh War 1845-46 conflict between the British East India Company and the Sikh Empire

The First Anglo-Sikh War was fought between the Sikh Empire and the British East India Company in 1845 and 1846 in and around the Ferozepur district of Punjab. It resulted in defeat and partial subjugation of the Sikh empire and cession of Jammu and Kashmir as a separate princely state under British suzerainty.

Second Anglo-Sikh War 1848-49 conflict in which the British East India Company conquered the Sikh Empire

The Second Anglo-Sikh War was a military conflict between the Sikh Empire and the British East India Company that took place in 1848 and 1849. It resulted in the fall of the Sikh Empire, and the annexation of the Punjab and what subsequently became the North-West Frontier Province, by the East India Company.

Battle of Sobraon Major Battle fought during First Anglo Sikh War

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 completely defeated, making this the decisive battle of the First Anglo-Sikh War.

Battle of Aliwal 1846 battle of the First Anglo-Sikh War

The Battle of Aliwal was fought on 28 January 1846 between the British and Sikh forces in northern India. The British were led by Sir Harry Smith, while the Sikhs were led by Ranjodh Singh Majithia. Britain's victory in the battle is sometimes regarded as the turning point in the First Anglo-Sikh War.

Battle of Mudki Major Battle of First Anglo Sikh War

The Battle of Mudki was fought on 18 December 1845, between the forces of the East India Company and part of the Sikh Khalsa Army, the army of the Sikh Empire of the Punjab. The British army won an untidy encounter battle, suffering heavy casualties.

Battle of Ferozeshah

The Battle of Ferozeshah was fought on 21 December and 22 December 1845 between the British East India Company and the Sikh Empire, at the village of Ferozeshah in Punjab. The British were led by Sir Hugh Gough and Governor-General Sir Henry Hardinge, while the Sikhs were led by Lal Singh. The British emerged victorious.

The Battle of Ramnagar was fought on 22 November 1848 between British East India Company and Sikh Empire forces during the Second Anglo-Sikh War. The British were led by Sir Hugh Gough, while the Sikhs were led by Raja Sher Singh Attariwalla. The Sikhs repelled an attempted British surprise attack.

Battle of Gujrat 1849 battle of the Anglo-Sikh War

The Battle of Gujrat was a decisive battle in the Second Anglo-Sikh War, fought on 21 February 1849, between the forces of the East India Company, and a Sikh army in rebellion against the Company's control of the Sikh Empire, represented by the child Maharaja Duleep Singh who was in British custody in Lahore. The Sikh army was defeated by the British regular and Bengal Army forces of the British East India Company. After it capitulated a few days later, the Punjab was annexed to the East India Company's territories and Duleep Singh was deposed.

The siege of Multan was a prolonged contest between the city and state of Multan and the British East India Company. The siege lasted from 19 April 1848, when a rebellion in the city against a ruler imposed by the East India Company precipitated the Second Anglo-Sikh War, until 22 January 1849, when the last defenders surrendered.

Sher Singh Attariwalla

Raja Sher Singh Attariwala was a royal military commander and a member of the Sikh nobility during the period of the Sikh Empire in the mid-19th century in Punjab.

Sikh Khalsa Army Military unit

The Sikh Khalsa Army, also known as Khalsa or simply Sikh Army was the military force of the Khalsa, formed in 1598 by Guru Hargobind. It was a cavalry unit until the time of Guru Gobind Singh ji. From Maharaja Ranjit Singh on the army was modernized on Franco-British principles. It was divided in three wings: the Fauj-i-Khas (elites), Fauj-i-Ain and Fauj-i-Be Qawaid (irregulars). Due to the lifelong efforts of the Maharaja and his European officers, it gradually became a prominent fighting force of Asia. Ranjit Singh changed and improved the training and organisation of his army. He reorganized responsibility and set performance standards in logistical efficiency in troop deployment, manoeuvre, and marksmanship. He reformed the staffing to emphasize steady fire over cavalry and guerrilla warfare, improved the equipment and methods of war. The military system of Ranjit Singh combined the best of both old and new ideas. He strengthened the infantry and the artillery. He paid the members of the standing army from treasury, instead of the Mughal method of paying an army with local feudal levies.

Diwan Mulraj Chopra

Mulraj Chopra was the Diwan (governor) of Multan and leader of a Sikh rebellion against the British which led to the Second Anglo-Sikh War.

The 3rd (Lahore) Division was an infantry division of the British Indian Army, first organised in 1852. It saw service during World War I as part of the Indian Corps in France before being moved to the Middle East where it fought against troops of the Ottoman Empire.

Sir Frederick Currie, 1st Baronet

Sir Frederick Currie, 1st Baronet was a British diplomat, who had a distinguished career in the British East India Company and the Indian Civil Service. His posts included Foreign Secretary to the Government of India, Member of the Supreme Council of India, Resident at Lahore and Chairman of the East India Company.

Battle of Ali Masjid

The Battle of Ali Masjid, which took place on 21 November 1878, was the opening battle in the Second Anglo-Afghan War between the British forces, under Lieutenant-General Sir Samuel James Browne, and the Afghan forces, under Ghulam Haider Khan. The perceived offence of an Afghan general's refusal to allow a British envoy entrance to the country was used as an excuse to attack the fortress of Ali Masjid, as the opening battle in the war. Despite numerous setbacks, including half the troops getting lost or delayed and missing the battle entirely, the British were lucky that the Afghans abandoned their position overnight.

The Peshawar Valley Field Force was a British field force. It was the largest of three military columns created in November 1878 at the start of the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878-1880), each of which invaded Afghanistan by a different route. The Peshawar force initially consisted of around 16,000 men, a mix of both British and Indian Army regiments, under the command of Lieutenant General Sir Samuel J. Browne.

John Pennycuick (British Army infantry officer)

Brigadier John Pennycuick CB, KH was an officer in the British Army who served in Java, Burma, Aden, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. He was born in Soilzarie in Perthshire and was killed at the Battle of Chillianwalla in the Second Anglo-Sikh War.

Lieutenant-General Sir Joseph Thackwell was a British Army officer. He served with the 15th Hussars in the Peninsular War at the Battle of Sahagún in 1808 and the Battle of Vitoria in 1813, and he lost his left arm at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. He commanded the regiment from 1820 to 1832. He then served in India, commanding the cavalry in the First Anglo-Afghan War of 1838–89, and at the Battle of Sobraon in the First Anglo-Sikh War of 1845–46, and at the Battle of Chillianwala and Battle of Gujrat in the Second Anglo-Sikh War of 1848–9. He also commanded the 3rd The King's Own Dragoons, was colonel of the 16th Lancers, and was appointed Inspector-general of cavalry.

Lieutenant-General Sir Michael White KCB was a British Army officer. The son of a major in the 27th Dragoons, he received a commission in the same regiment in 1804. White served in India on the Sikh frontier; during the 1817 Siege of Hathras; the 1817-18 Third Anglo-Maratha War and the 1825-26 Siege of Bharatpur. From 1839 he commanded the 3rd Light Dragoons and led them in the 1842 invasion of Afghanistan for which he was appointed a Companion of the Order of the Bath.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Major A. H. Amin (retd.) Archived 7 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  2. 1 2 Sadler, p.44
  3. Farwell, p.58
  4. 1 2 3 "Chillianwalla"  . Encyclopædia Britannica . 6 (11th ed.). 1911. pp. 161–162.
  5. Heath, p.42
  6. Hernon, p.583
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 A. H. Amin, Archived 16 February 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  8. Farwell, pp.53–54
  9. Hernon, p.594
  10. Hernon, p.596
  11. Hernon, p.599
  12. Farwell, p.58
  13. Rain separated the foes for three days and on the fourth day the British withdrew.
  14. [ permanent dead link ]
  15. When fate & destiny conspired against Sikhs’ victory – The Tribune, Chandigarh, India
  16. The Indian Mutiny – Education forum
  17. The Sikhs and the Sikh Wars General Sir Charles Gough
  18. Woodham-Smith, p. 257