Battle of Sobraon

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Battle of Sobraon
Part of First Anglo-Sikh War
Shaam Singh Attari leading his last charge at the Battle of Sobraon.jpg
Sardar Sham Singh Attariwala rallying Sikh cavalry for the last stand
Date10 February 1846
Location
31°11′N74°51′E / 31.183°N 74.850°E / 31.183; 74.850 Coordinates: 31°11′N74°51′E / 31.183°N 74.850°E / 31.183; 74.850
Result Decisive British victory
Belligerents
Sikh Empire flag.jpg Sikh Empire Flag of the British East India Company (1801).svg East India Company
Commanders and leaders
Sardar Tej Singh
Sardar Lal Singh
Sardar Sham Singh Attariwala  
Sardar Ranjodh Singh Majithia  (WIA)
Sir Hugh Gough
Sir Henry Hardinge
Strength
26,000
70 guns [1]
20,000
35 siege guns
30 field or light guns [1]
Casualties and losses
Unknown 2300 killed
2,063 wounded [2]

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.

East India Company 16th through 19th-century British trading company

The East India Company (EIC), also known as the Honourable East India Company (HEIC) or the British East India Company and informally as John Company, Company Bahadur, or simply The Company, was an English and later British joint-stock company. It was formed to trade in the Indian Ocean region, initially with Mughal India and the East Indies, and later with Qing China. The company ended up seizing control over large parts of the Indian subcontinent, colonised parts of Southeast Asia, and colonised Hong Kong after a war with Qing China.

Sikh Khalsa Army

The Sikh Khalsa Army, Khalsa or simply Sikh Army was the military force of the Sikh Empire, formed in 1799 with the capture of Lahore by Ranjit Singh. From then 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.

Sikh Empire empire in the Indian subcontinent

The Sikh Empire was a major power originating in the Indian subcontinent, formed under the leadership of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, who established a secular empire based in the Punjab. The empire existed from 1799, when Ranjit Singh captured Lahore, to 1849 and was forged on the foundations of the Khalsa from a collection of autonomous Sikh misls. At its peak in the 19th century, the Empire extended from the Khyber Pass in the west to western Tibet in the east, and from Mithankot in the south to Kashmir in the north. The religious demography of the Sikh Empire was Muslim (80%), Sikh (10%), Hindu (10%). The population of the empire was 3.5 million in 1831. It was the last major region of the Indian subcontinent to be annexed by the British.

Contents

Background

Raja Lal Singh, who led Sikh forces against the British during the First Anglo-Sikh War, 1846 Raja Lal Singh, of First Anglo-Sikh War, 1846.jpg
Raja Lal Singh, who led Sikh forces against the British during the First Anglo-Sikh War, 1846

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 Sikh Khalsa Army 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 and equivocal conduct bordering on deliberate treachery by Tej Singh and Lal Singh, the commanders of the Sikh Army.

Ranjit Singh founder of Sikh Empire (early 19th century)

Maharaja Ranjit Singh was the leader of the Sikh Empire, which ruled the northwest Indian subcontinent in the early half of the 19th century. He survived smallpox in infancy but lost sight in his left eye. He fought his first battle alongside his father at age 10. After his father died, he fought several wars to expel the Afghans in his teenage years and was proclaimed as the "Maharaja of Punjab" at age 21. His empire grew in the Punjab region under his leadership through 1839.

On the British side, the Governor General, Sir Henry Hardinge, had been dismayed by the head-on tactics of the Bengal Army's commander-in-chief, Sir Hugh Gough, and was seeking to have him removed from command. However, no commander senior enough to supersede Gough could arrive from England for several months. Then the army's spirits were revived by the victory gained by Sir Harry Smith at the Battle of Aliwal, in which he eliminated a threat to the army's lines of communication, and the arrival of reinforcements including much-needed heavy artillery and two battalions of Gurkhas.

Henry Hardinge, 1st Viscount Hardinge British politician

Field Marshal Henry Hardinge, 1st Viscount Hardinge, was a British Army officer and politician. After serving in the Peninsula War and the Waterloo Campaign he became Secretary at War in Wellington's ministry. After a tour as Chief Secretary for Ireland in 1830 he became Secretary at War again in Sir Robert Peel's cabinet. He went on to be Governor-General of India at the time of the First Anglo-Sikh War and then Commander-in-Chief of the Forces during the Crimean War.

Hugh Gough, 1st Viscount Gough British field marshal

Field Marshal Hugh Gough, 1st Viscount Gough, was a British Army officer. After serving as a junior officer at the seizure of the Cape of Good Hope during the French Revolutionary Wars, Gough commanded the 2nd Battalion of the 87th Regiment of Foot during the Peninsular War. After serving as commander-in-chief of the British forces in China during the First Opium War, he became Commander-in-Chief, India and led the British forces in action against the Mahrattas defeating them decisively at the conclusion of the Gwalior Campaign and then commanded the troops that defeated the Sikhs during both the First Anglo-Sikh War and the Second Anglo-Sikh War for which he became known as the 'hammer of the Sikhs'.

Sir Harry Smith, 1st Baronet British Army general

Lieutenant General Sir Henry George Wakelyn Smith, 1st Baronet GCB, known as Sir Harry Smith, was a notable English soldier and military commander in the British Army of the early 19th century. A veteran of the Napoleonic Wars, he is also particularly remembered for his role in the Battle of Aliwal (India) in 1846, and as the husband of Lady Smith.

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 Regent Jind Kaur who was ruling in the name of her son, the infant Maharaja Duleep Singh, had accused 500 of her officers of cowardice, even flinging one of her garments in their faces.

Battle of Ferozeshah battle

The Battle of Ferozeshah was fought on 21 December and 22 December 1845 between the British and the Sikhs, 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.

Jind Kaur Maharani of the Sikh Empire

Maharani Jind Kaur was regent of the Sikh Empire from 1843 until 1846. She was the youngest wife of the first Maharaja of the Sikh Empire, Ranjit Singh, and the mother of the last Maharaja, Duleep Singh. She was renowned for her beauty, energy and strength of purpose and was popularly known as Rani Jindan, but her fame is derived chiefly from the fear she engendered in the British in India, who described her as "the Messalina of the Punjab", a seductress too rebellious to be controlled.

Duleep Singh last Maharaja of the Sikh Empire

His Highness Maharaja Sir Duleep Singh, G.C.S.I., also known as Sir Dalip Singh and later in life nicknamed the Black Prince of Perthshire, was the last Maharaja of the Sikh Empire. He was Maharaja Ranjit Singh's youngest son, the only child of Maharani Jind Kaur.

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.

Lahore Place in Punjab, Pakistan

Lahore is a city in the Pakistani province of Punjab. Lahore is the country's second-most populous city after Karachi, and is one of Pakistan's wealthiest cities with an estimated GDP of $58.14 billion (PPP) as of 2015. Lahore is the largest city, and historic cultural centre of the Punjab region, and one of Pakistan's most socially liberal, progressive, and cosmopolitan cities.

The battle

Gough had intended to attack the Sikh army as soon as Smith's division rejoined from Ludhiana, but Hardinge forced him to wait until a heavy artillery train had arrived. At last, he moved forward early on 10 February. The start of the battle was delayed by heavy fog, but as it lifted, 35 British heavy guns and howitzers opened fire. The Sikh cannon replied. The bombardment went on for two hours without much effect on the Sikh defences. Gough was told that his heavy guns were running short of ammunition and is alleged to have replied, "Thank God! Then I'll be at them with the bayonet."

Ludhiana Metropolis in Punjab, India

Ludhiana is a city and a municipal corporation in Ludhiana district in the Indian state of Punjab, and India's largest city north of Delhi, with an area of 310sq. km and an estimated population of 1,618,879 as of the 2011 census. The population increases substantially during the harvesting season due to the migration of labourers from highly populated states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Odisha. The city stands on the Sutlej River's old bank, 13 kilometres (8.1 mi) south of its present course. It is an industrial center of northern India; the BBC has called it India's Manchester. Ludhiana was among the list of smart cities that will be developed by government of India. According to World Bank Group Ludhiana is the best city in India to do business.

The British cavalry charges the breach (illustration from a British book) Charge of cavalry at Sobraon.jpg
The British cavalry charges the breach (illustration from a British book)

Two British divisions under Harry Smith [3] and Major General Sir Walter Gilbert made feint attacks on the Sikh left, while another division under Major General Robert Henry Dick made the main attack on the Sikh right, where the defences were of soft sand and were lower and weaker than the rest of the line. (It is believed that Lal Singh had supplied this information to Major Henry Lawrence, the Political Agent at Gough's headquarters.) Nevertheless, Dick's division was driven back by Sikh counter-attacks after initially gaining footholds within the Sikh lines. Dick himself was killed. As the British fell back, some frenzied Sikh soldiers attacked British wounded left in the ditch in front of the entrenchments, enraging the British soldiers.

The British, Gurkhas and Bengal regiments renewed their attacks along the entire front of the entrenchment, and broke through at several points. On the vulnerable Sikh right, engineers blew a breach in the fortifications and British cavalry and horse artillery pushed through it to engage the Sikhs in the centre of their position. Tej Singh had left the battlefield early. It is alleged in many Sikh accounts that he deliberately weakened the pontoon bridge, casting loose the boat at its centre, or that he ordered his own artillery on the west bank to fire on the bridge on the pretext of preventing British pursuit. British accounts claim that the bridge simply broke under the weight of the numbers of soldiers trying to retreat across it, having been weakened by the swollen river. Whichever account is correct, the bridge broke, trapping nearly 20,000 of the Sikh Khalsa Army on the east bank.

The bridge collapses (illustration from a British book) Sikh retreat at Sobraon.jpg
The bridge collapses (illustration from a British book)

None of the trapped Sikh soldiers attempted to surrender. Many detachments, including one led by Sham Singh, fought to the death. Some Sikhs rushed forward to attack the British regiments sword in hand; others tried to ford or swim the river. British horse artillery lined the bank of the river and continued to fire into the crowds in the water. By the time the firing ceased, the Sikhs had lost about 10,000 men. The British had also captured 67 guns.

Aftermath

Map of the battle Battle of Sobraon.jpg
Map of the battle

The destruction of the bridge did not delay Gough at all, if this had indeed been Tej Singh's intention. 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. Although detachments of the Khalsa remained intact in outlying frontier districts of the Punjab, they could not be concentrated quickly enough to defend Lahore.

The central durbar of the Punjab nominated Gulab Singh, the effective ruler of Jammu, to negotiate terms for surrender. By the Treaty of Lahore, the Sikhs ceded the valuable agricultural lands of the Bist Doab(Jullundur Doab) (between the Beas and Sutlej Rivers) to the East India Company, and allowed a British Resident at Lahore with subordinates in other principal cities. These Residents and Agents would indirectly govern the Punjab, through Sikh Sardars. In addition, the Sikhs were to pay an indemnity of 1.2 million pounds. Since they could not readily find this sum, Gulab Singh was allowed to acquire Kashmir from the Punjab by paying 750,000 pounds to the East India Company.

Order of battle

British regiments

Memorial to Sir Robert Henry Dick, Dunkeld Cathedral, Scotland Memorial to Sir Robert Henry Dick, Dunkeld Cathedral.jpg
Memorial to Sir Robert Henry Dick, Dunkeld Cathedral, Scotland
Memorial to Sir Robert Henry Dick, St. George's Cathedral, Madras, depicting a 42nd Highlander in full uniform Memorial to Sir Robert Henry Dick, St. George's Cathedral, Madras.jpg
Memorial to Sir Robert Henry Dick, St. George's Cathedral, Madras, depicting a 42nd Highlander in full uniform

British Indian Army regiments

Folklore and personal accounts

Several years after the battle, Gough wrote,

"The awful slaughter, confusion and dismay were such as would have excited compassion in the hearts of their generous conquerors, if the Khalsa troops had not, in the early part of the action, sullied their gallantry by slaughtering and barbarously mangling every wounded soldier whom, in the vicissitudes of attack, the fortune of war left at their mercy."

After hearing of the battle, the wife of Sham Singh Attariwala immolated herself on a funeral pyre without waiting for news of her husband, convinced (correctly) that he would never return alive from such a defeat.

Some accounts state that Lal Singh was present on the battlefield, and accompanied Tej Singh on his retreat. Other sources maintain that he commanded a large body of gorchurras (irregular cavalry) which was some miles away, and took no action against Gough's army although he might have attacked Gough's communications.

The friendship between the 10th Regiment of Foot and the 29th Regiment of Foot was cemented here at the battle as the two regiments met in the captured trenches that had cost so many lives to take. To this day Officers and Sergeants of both regiments address each other as “My Dear Cousin”.

The battle provides the climax for George MacDonald Fraser's novel, Flashman and the Mountain of Light. It is mentioned in Rudyard Kipling's Stalky & Co

See also

Notes

  1. 1 2 Hernon, p.567
  2. Hernon, p.572
  3. Smith, Sir Harry. ‘’The Autobiography of Lieutenant-General Sir Harry Smith Baronet of Aliwal on the Sutlej.’’ Publisher: JOHN MURRAY, ALBEMARLE STREET 1903
  4. Cotton, Julian James (1945). List Of Inscriptions On Tombs & Monuments in Madras Vol 1. Madras, British India: Government Press. p. 488. Retrieved 2 June 2016.

Sources

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