This is another series languishing for quite some time now – let me get back to it. I was telling you about how some command decisions of the First Anglo-Sikh War were taken and in the last post on the topic, had left you at the point in the Battle of Ferozeshah when the badly-battered British brace for the onslaught but see to their consternation that their artillery and cavalry are abandoning them. To their further bewilderment, it is same time the imposing ranks of their enemy suddenly turn around and scoot away. How this happens, well let Flashman tell you….
~~~ So that was Ferozeshah as I saw it – the “Indian Waterloo”, the bloodiest battle we fought in the Orient, and certainly the queerest – and while other accounts may not tally with mine (or each other’s) on small points, all are agreed on the essentials. We took Ferozeshah, at terrible cost, in two days of fighting, and were at the end of our teether when Tej Singh hove in view with an overwhelming force, and then sheered off when he could eaten us for dinner.
The great controversy is : why did he do it? Well, you know why, because I’ve told you – he kept his word to us, and betrayed his army and country. Yet there are respected historians who won’t believe it to this day – some because they claim the evidence is not strong enough, others because they just won’t have it that victory was won by anything but sheer British valour. Well, it played its part, by God it did, but the fact is it wouldn’t have been enough, without Tej’s treachery.
One of the things which confuses the historians is that Tej himself, who could lie truth out of India when he wanted to, told so many different stories afterwards. He assured Henry Lawrence that he didn’t push home his attack because he was sure it must fail; having seen the losses we’d taken in capturing Ferozeshah, he decided it was a hopeless position to assail now that we were defending it. He told the same tale to Sandy Abbott. Well, that’s all my eye: he knew his strength, and knew we were at the last gasp, so that won’t wash.
Another lie, repeated to Alick Gardener, was that he was off collecting reserves ar the time. If that’s so, who gave the Khalsa the order to turn about?
The truth, I believe, is what he told me many years later. He’d have stayed before Ferozepore till the Sutlej froze, if his colonels hadn’t forced him to march to the battle – and once in sight of Ferozeshah he was in a pickle, because he could see that victory was his for the taking. He had to think up some damned fine excuse for not overwhelming us, and Chance provided it, at the last moment, when our guns and cavalry inexplicably withdrew, leaving our infantry as lonely as the policeman at Herne Bay. “Now’s your time, Tej!” cries the Khalsa, “give the word and the day is ours!” “Not a bit of it!” says clever Tej. “Those crafty bastards ain’t withdrawing at all – they’re circling around to take us flank and rear! Back to the Sutlej, boys, I’ll show you the way!” And the Khalsa did as they were told.
Well, you can see why. The three days of Moodkee and Ferozeshah had given their rank and file a great deal of respect for us. They didn’t realise what poor fettle we were in, or that the withdrawal of our horse and artillery was in fact an appalling mistake. It looked as though it might have some sinister purpose to it, as Tej was suggesting, and while they suspected his courage and character (rightly), they also knew he wasn’t a bad soldier, and might be right for once. So they obeyed him, and we were saved when we should have been massacred.
You may ask why our cavalry and guns unexpected flew into the blue…..
To be continued…..