On 13 Feb 1849 the famous battle of Chillianwala took place. The Sikh army under General Sher Singh Attariwala had inflicted a defeat on the British army led by General Sir Hugh Gough.
Chillianwala and the Removal of Sir Hugh Gough
The news of the setback at Chillianwala reached the Governor General, Lord Dalhousie and he was aghast at the news. The defeat of the English force was a matter of great regret for him and he promptly removed General Hugh Gough from command and General Sir Charles Napier was appointed as commander of the British forces. Napier was at that time.in England. Also as travel from England to India would take at least two months Sir Gough continued to command the East India forces, till the arrival of Charles Napier.
Events were moving at a swift pace and Sher Singh had to be contained. Gough decided to fight Sher Singh and his Sikh army immediately. Thus the last battle of the Anglo Sikh war folded at a place called Gujarat in the Punjab (now in West Pakistan).
Lord Gough and his Strategy
Gough had 96 guns against Sher Singh who had 64 and thus his artillery was weighted in his favor. Gough also had the advantage of better cavalry soldiers as the Sikh cavalry was not of the standard of the British.
The battle was fought on 21 Feb 1849 and is generally recognized as the last battle of the Anglo Sikh wars. Gough must be given credit for the victory in this battle as he marshaled his guns in an excellent way.
Sher sigh despite a favorable result at Chillianwala was hard pressed as the preponderant Moslem countryside was hostile to him and thus he preferred to fight from the areas which had a Sikh majority. Thus location was not to his advantage. Sir Hugh Gough had 24,000 troops while Sher Singh commanded 20,000 soldiers.
The battle commenced in the early hours of 21 Feb 1849 on a ground that was wet with 3 days of incessant rain. Sher Singh had hidden his guns with hastily prepared shrubs and bushes as cover. But this was not very effective. The British Guns opened up and targeted the Sikh gunners. However the preponderance of the British guns began to have effect and after a 3 hour gun duel the British advanced. The artillery duel is without parallel in Indian history and because of this the British carried the day. Most of the Sikh artillery guns were now silenced and the result was hand to hand fighting. But the guns again played their part and as Gough had moved them forward they fired on the Sikhs with unrelenting accuracy. Without adequate cover the Sikh army broke ranks and started withdrawing.
The Cavalry Charge and Defeat of the Sikhs
This was the moment for Gough to order the cavalry charge. This had its effect and the Sikhs were beaten. Though Sher Singh retreated he did not have the where with all to continue the fight and at a ceremony on 12 March surrendered with 10,000 troops and 10 guns. The curtain finally came down on the Anglo Sikh wars and on 2 April 1849 the Punjab was annexed. Before that for 12 days he had eluded the British cavalry, till finally he accepted the terms of surrender and handed in his sword.The casualties on the Sikh side were heavy with almost 2000 dead in contrast to the English who lost just a100 men.
However records of the battle available with the archives shows the deep respect that the British had for the fighting capabilities of the Sikh army and its soldiery in particular. The battle also restored the fractured reputation of Lord Hugh Gough as an Army commander. The last battle of the Anglo Sikh war would have had a different result in case at Chillianwala Sher Singh had followed the English after they broke ranks. But unseasonal rain had thwarted him and thus at Gujarat he was cornered into a fight that was not his liking. In addition the 1500 Afghans sent by Dost Mohammed were the weak link and never integrated with the Sikh defense.
The Aftermath of the Battle
The annexation of the Punjab made the British complete masters of India. The fledgling Prince Dali Singh the youngest son of the Maharaja Ranjit was deposed and taken to England and the Punjab became part of British India.
The Anglo-Sikh wars however had a deep effect on the British psyche and they appreciated the fighting qualities of the Sikhs and the Governor General Lord Dalhousie not with a little egging from Gough decided to merge them as part of the army of the Raj. In 1856 the first Sikh Regiment called Ratreys Sikhs was formed by Captain Ratrey. The rest is history as the Sikhs started an association with the English that lasted another 100 years.
The deep respect of the English for the Sikhs soldiers has been given expression by Prince Charles who wished to have a Sikh regiment on the lines of the Gurkha regiment in the British army.