The domination of the Indian sub-continent by the British would have been impossible without the support of the armies of the presidencies of the Honourable East India Company. Most of these were regiments of native troops led by British officers, but a few were entirely comprised of Europeans. Among the most notable of these regiments was the Bengal European Regiment—a corps which forged a formidable reputation for itself over more than a century of warfare and which became—in time—a regular regiment of the British line. This book is the history of that regiment from its battles under Clive to the Carnatic War, through the Maratha Wars to the First Afghan War and the Sikh Wars, until it became a stalwart in the apocalypse that was the Indian Mutiny. This was a regiment—affectionately nicknamed the 'Dirty Shirts'—which won the admiration of every commander who knew them. Their story is the history of the British in India and this substantial volume recounts it in fascinating and vital detail.
The advance towards Afghanistan was made in five columns separated from each other by one day's march; the 4th Brigade, commanded by Major-General Duncan, in which was the Bengal European Regiment, being the last to leave Ferozpóre.
On the 29th of December, 1838, the army reached Bahawalpore, 229 miles from Ferozpóre and just half-way between that station and Bhakkar; which town is situated close to the river Indus, and was reached on the 24th of January, 1839. Much difficulty had been experienced en route by reason of the mortality amongst the camels and draft cattle; no less than 28,000 camels accompanying the force.
Shah Shujah's army had in the meantime reached Bhakkar, and had crossed the Indus in boats about seven miles higher up the stream.<br>
Affairs at Haidarábad in Scinde, being found in an unsatisfactory condition, the Commander-in-Chief in India, General Sir H. Fane, ordered a detachment of 5000 men of the Bengal army to join that of Bombay, which was under the command of General Sir J. Keane.<br>
The 4th Infantry Brigade, together with some cavalry, artillery, and sappers, was ordered to remain at Bhakkar; and this brigade—in which was the Bengal European Regiment—was employed in the construction of the bridge of boats by which the invading army was to cross the river Indus; and further, the brigade was instructed to rake possession of the small fortress of Bhakkar, stated to have been originally built by Alexander the Great when he invaded India in B.C. 327.<br>
Though in a very dilapidated condition the fortress of Bhakkar would, if repaired and garrisoned, have possessed considerable strength. The castellated building is picturesquely situated on an island in the middle of the river Indus, and was at this time within the territory of the Amir of Khyrpore; who consented, under treaty 23rd January, 1839, to hand it over to the British Commander. The fort was accordingly taken possession of on the 29th of January, and the English flag raised upon its ramparts.<br>
The Command-in-Chief of the "army of the Indus" was now assumed by Lieutenant-General Sir John Keane, and the infantry of the Bengal column was denominated the 1st Infantry Division, and placed under Major-General Sir W. Cotton.<br>
On the 15th of February the headquarters of the 1st Infantry Division were established on the right bank of the Indus, and on the 19th it reached Shikarpore.
At Shikarpore the 1st Infantry Division joined Shah Shuja's contingent; the advanced force numbering over 15,000 men.<br>
The invading army was now nearing the enemy's country; and Dadur, a small town in the gorge of the Bolan Pass, 146 miles distant from Shikarpore, was reached on the 10th March; but this progress had been made with difficulty, for a desert 26½ miles in extent had to be crossed, and the troops and cattle had suffered terribly from want of drinkable water. The suffering from the heat was very great, the thermometer reaching 98° in the shade. Provisions also were scarce, and non-combatants were placed on half rations.<br>
The column entered the Bolan Pass on the 16th of March, 1839; but notwithstanding that the temperature was now considerably lower, and good water plentiful, the passage through the pass is described by an officer1 of the Bengal European Regiment, who was present during the march, as having the-appearance of an army "retreating under every disaster; public stores and private property lying about scattered and abandoned in every direction."