The British Regain Control

On the 14 th of September, Delhi was finally attacked by the reinforcements from the Punjab: the massive Kashmiri gate was partly blown up, and the British rushed in and recaptured the city. On the 20th of September, the last of the Delhi strongholds was taken, and on the 21st William Hodson captured the Emperor, who was hiding in Humayun's tomb and surrendered in exchange for the guarantee of his life The emperor was taken back to the Red Fort, now under British control. The next day Hodson seized from the tomb the princes Mirza Mughal, Khizr Sultan, and Abu Bakr, the three princes who had commanded the Mughal forces in Delhi. Accompanied by an escort of sawars (cavalry troopers) he took them out on the road to Delhi, then stopped, stripped the three princes naked and shot them dead at point blank range with his revolver.   For several weeks after its recapture, Delhi resounded to the sounds of gunfire as the British looted and wreaked revenge with a series of horrific executions of mutinous sepoys, hundreds of whom were shot or hanged each day on a gallows especially constructed in Chandni Chowk or occasionally (in imitation of a Muslim style of execution) blown from the mouths of cannons. Thereafter, in a mirror image of the slaughter when the city was first captured by the sepoys, able-bodied male civilians were dragged from their houses and killed upon the word of informers, who then shared in the loot of their property. The Urdu poet Ghalib, one of the few notables to survive the ordeal, described the scene in his inimitable fashion in a poem, the opening lines of which are reproduced at the beginning of this chapter. The destruction within the city, which reduced the buildings of the Red Fort alone to one fifth of their former area, brought to a complete end not only a dynasty but the dominance of Muslim, Urdu culture in north India.

On the 25 th of September Generals Outram and Havelock reached Lucknow, and the British soldiers embarked upon an orgy of looting, vividly described by The Times correspondent W.H. Russell.

It was one of the strangest and most distressing sights that could be seen; but it was also most exciting .... Discipline may hold soldiers together till the fight is won; but it assuredly does not exist for a moment after an assault has been delivered, or a storm has taken place... Through all these hither and thither, with loud cries, dart European and native soldiery firing at the windows, from which come now and then dropping shots or hisses of a musket ball. At every door there is an eager crowd, smashing the panels with the stocks of their firelocks, or breaking the fastenings by discharges of their weapons... you hear the musketry rattling inside; the crash of glass, the shouts and yells of the combatants, and little jets of smoke curl out of closed lattices. Lying amid the orange-groves are dead and dying sepoys; and the white statues are reddened with blood... From the broken portals issue soldiers laden with loot or plunder: shawls, rich tapestry, gold and silver brocade, caskets of jewels, arms and splendid dresses. The men are wild with fury and lust of gold - literally drunk with plunder. [Russell, 1859]

However, the mutineers had only strategically withdrawn and these same British soldiers soon after found themselves trapped within the city walls, forcing the Commander in Chief, Sir Colin Campbell, to set out from Calcutta to relieve them with troops sent from London. He arrived at Lucknow on the 17 th October and on the night of the 23 rd the besieged Britishers sneaked through the lines of the insurgents to safety. Five days later Nana Saheb's army, led by Tatya Tope, took revenge by engaging and defeating the army of Lt. Gen. Windham and retaking Kanpur. This victory was short-lived, however, as the army of Sir Colin Campbell took the city back again on December 6 th , forcing Tatya Tope into retreat. On the 21 st March 1858, the forces of Colin Campbell finally recaptured Lucknow, the capital of Awadh, engaging in an orgy of looting and plunder in the process.

After the defeat at Kanpur, Nana Saheb allegedly fled to Nepal while Tatya Tope marched to Kalpi to aid the Rani Lakshmi of Jhansi against the forces of General Walpole. Walpole was defeated, and Tatya continued south. However on the 23 rd April 1858 General Hugh Rose arrived, and engaged and captured the remainder of the Rani's forces at Kopatti Serai. The Rani led her forces into battle on horseback, was shot and wounded, then rode to Gwalior, where she died. Indefatigable, Tatya Tope marched on through central India, Rajasthan, and Gujarat in an attempt to raise the Marathas in revolt. Only a few Gond chiefs in the highlands of central India agreed to lend support, and he was finally betrayed and captured in Khandesh. Tope was executed in Jaipur in January 1859.

Tatya Tope, whose real name was Ramchandra Pandurang, was one of the more strategically minded, ruthless and efficient of the rebel leaders. Originally just a Maratha gunner, he rose to be the commander in chief of the forces led by Nana Saheb. Others were less clear-sighted.   The siege of the British residency in Lucknow was prioritised by the rebels because of its royal associations - as the former capital of the kingdom of Awadh - at the expense of advancing on Calcutta, crossing the Ganges river, and cutting one of the means of communication available to the British. This lapse enabled the British to marshal troops in the East and in the Western part of India and to retake the Northern plains.

  The Extent of Popular Support

Although the Uprising was confined to the northern part of India, other parts of the country had similar cause to resent British rule. Nonetheless, despite the fact that many Mughal aristocrats had been supplanted by Hindu traders, who had profited from their relationship with the British, the Company's rule had failed to penetrate much towards the village level in zamindari areas such as Bihar, where it could even be described as superficial [Yang 1988]. There were rulers in other parts of India who had been dispossessed, and local populations with serious grievances. But the fact that the insurrection was confined largely to the Indo-Gangetic plain demonstrates that India was far from being a homogeneous polity at this time. Indians living in Hyderabad thought that yet another war between the Marathas and the British was in progress. Others had little idea of the scale of insurrection, believing it was merely a zamindari uprising of the sort that had occurred frequently under the Mughals. Although there are clearly the seeds here of later patriotic nationalism [Bayly 1998], the insurrection was arguably a purely regional affair. Two areas - Bengal and the Punjab - remained at least superficially loyal despite their proximity to the rebellion's heartland of North India. There was a large British force based in Bengal, and another in the Punjab, which had been recently conquered; British troops were also massed on the borders of Afghanistan.

The desire for a restitution of the old system, and for the conjunction once again of civil and moral law, caused many insurrectionists to turn to traditional leaders to achieve this end. To this extent 1857 was a reactionary movement, intended and tending to revive former privileges. So it was that the revolt centred around aristocrats such as Khan Bahadur Khan, the last independent Muslim ruler of Rohilhkand before it was annexed by the British in 1801; whilst in Awadh, the revolt was led by ex-military leaders and focussed around the capital, Lucknow.

Subaltern historians have very convincingly demonstrated, using available evidence, that there were many opportunists as well as established local leaders, and numerous individuals took up arms on their own initiative without waiting for the Emperor's appeal, or for feudal aristocrats to tell them what to do. Gautam Bhadra [1985] assesses four localities involved in the Uprising and describes the concerns which motivated the insurrectionists. Depicted in detail are characters such as Shah Mal, a Jat resident of the village of Bijraul in the pargana of Barout, which had suffered from over-taxation by the British in the months before the uprising. Shah Mahal put together a combined force of Jat and Gujar peasants, and attacked and plundered the tahsil of Barout and the bazaar at Baghpat. 

Devi Singh was perhaps the quitessential subaltern insurgent, acting entirely on his own without any contact with outsiders. He came from a Jat dominated region centred around the small rural town of Raya in Mathura district. When zamindars and villagers in the locality heard of the King of Delhi's proclamation, they rose up against the moneylenders and attacked the town. Devi Singh, otherwise a man of no distinction, was dressed in yellow, the traditional symbol of royalty, and declared by popular acclaim to be the jat peasant king' of the 14 villages in the locality. Upon entering the town, he set up a Government upon the English model – thus simultaneously demonstrating the limits of insurgent consciousness at this time, and tried the moneylenders [Bhadra 1985: 254]. Unfortunately, Devi Singh thought that having driven away the police he had destroyed the British raj. When Mark Thornhill, the Collector of Muttra arrived in mid June with a contingent of troops from Kotah, Devi Singh was quickly captured and executed.

Bhadra also details the story of Gonoo, a Kol adivasi and cultivator from the Singhbhum district of Chotanagpur, who led   the Larkha Kol insurrection in reaction to attempts by the British to interfere with traditional institutions. The arrow of war was circulated, and the insurrection kicked off with a mutiny by the sepoys at Ramgarh but then escalated into a wholesale Kol insurrection with the Rajah of Porahat forced to assume the customary role as their head.   Bhadra's final example is the Maulvi Ahmadullah Shah, an itinerant preacher who advocated jehad against the English across north India. In Fyzabad he was imprisoned, but then freed by mutinous sepoys of the irregular cavalry and 22 nd Native Infantry who acclaimed him their leader. These he then led to Lucknow, where he took part in the crucial battle of Chinhat, alongside the sepoys and lumpen elements from the city population who took part. [Bhadra 1985: 267].

What all of these rebels shared was a high level of purpose and a common goal. Much as with the insurrectionists in Awadh, they were organised, usually in defence of a territory, as wells as through networks of kinship, religion, or political adherence. Caste did not necessarily divide them, they received no instructions from higher authorities, and they were united in their opposition to outside, primarily British, interference. This pattern of organisation was both feasible and commonplace [Guha 1983], and was at least as common as the more feudal forms of insurrection in support of local elites, emphasised in the accounts of Stokes [1979] and others.

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