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Havelock’s Little Band

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Havelock’s Little Band
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Author(s): Charles Napier North
Date Published: 2011/06
Page Count: 128
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-562-9
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-561-2

The long march to Lucknow

This is an excellent account of the Indian Mutiny as experienced by an officer of the Rifle Brigade who served with Havelock’s Allahabad Moveable Column in 1857 on its march to Lucknow and in which he was closely associated with the 78th Highlanders (Ross-shire Buffs) as a volunteer. Leonaur have retitled their edition of North’s account, which was originally ambiguously published as, Journal of an English Officer in India. Havelock’s ‘little band,’ as the author affectionately terms it, fought its way to Cawnpore and crossed the Ganges into Oude before taking part in the fierce fighting in and around Lucknow and contributing to the relief of the besieged garrison in the Residency. Those familiar with Indian Mutiny accounts know that memoirs tend to portray the terrible retribution exacted by the British and reveal fighting of the most brutal and merciless kind with little quarter asked or given.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.

As I surveyed their ranks, I felt convinced that we should be able, ere night, to reach the Residency of Lucknow. I imparted this conviction to a brother officer, with whom I was talking during the conference of the Generals, which seemed of unusual length, so impatient were we for action. At length was spoken that word, so welcome to every heart in our united and determined band, “forward!”
The first brigade, General Neil’s, with heavy guns, took the lead. It was composed of Her Majesty’s 5th Fusiliers, Madras Fusiliers, 84th, a detachment of the 64th, and Olphert’s Horse Battery. It followed the road leading to the city by the Char Bagh Bridge.<br>
We had only advanced a short distance, when guns, commanding the road, opened from front and flanks, which, together with a musket fire from a large enclosed building filled by the enemy, made each advancing step one of great peril. While the head of our column checked this opposition, the succeeding regiments were ordered to lie down, the road above the level of the plain being greatly exposed.
It was fringed on either side by a row of young trees. I found cover behind one of these, about nine inches in girth, occasionally taking a shot as the mutineers appeared at doors or windows to give their fire.<br>
In this situation our men were so much exposed, and our casualties were so numerous, that it was a relief afterwards to advance. Onwards they rushed, like an impetuous torrent, bearing down every obstacle, and braving every danger; nor did they slacken their speed till they reached the enemy’s guns, which they captured at the point of the bayonet, killing his gunners or putting them to flight. The enemy was also obliged, by the valiant 5th Fusiliers, to abandon the house from whence, behind doors and windows, he had lately kept up a destructive fire, and thus the bridge was won.<br>
Our adversaries seemed paralysed—there was a pause in the firing—it ceased altogether. Still, though flushed by success, we were not insensible to danger, for we had to advance through a street of some length, on each side of which stood rows of houses. There was something suspicious—nay, sinister—in their aspect. We had, however, no time for dwelling upon such fancies. Our object was not yet attained, but must be won from death, which seemed to lower on the ‘devoted garrison, and also on ourselves. What of that? We are not to be baffled—it shall be relieved! My pulse throbbed with wild excitement.<br>
On into the street we rushed. A perfect storm of musketry, thick as hail, burst forth from doors, windows, and from flat roofs above our heads. Every aperture belched out fire; still onward rushed our hardy men, undaunted. No hesitation or confusion was there amongst them. Cool and composed, they preserved their sections of forces, mindful only of what was to be effected, and resolute on its performance.
The rear brigade, with Generals Outram and Havelock, having joined us, a pause ensued, of which the enemy took advantage to collect, and hang upon our rear.<br>
On observing this, two regiments were immediately detached for the purpose of resisting any demonstration on his part, as well as for the protection of our heavy guns, now an immense encumbrance, hampering our progress, when to push on with the utmost celerity consistent with the preservation of good order and safety was imperative.<br>
This delay, after the successful manner in which we had forced the main street, seemed to act on the enemy as a stimulant to renew the attack, for he opened a withering fire upon the head of our column from his various lurking-places; nor did it encourage our confidence. At last, making a counter-march, we quitted the street, led by Sir James Outram, and pursued a rough, uneven way, which skirted the deep ravine, already crossed by us, over the Char Bagh Bridge, and which opened into an avenue near the king’s stables and bazaar. The ground on our left flank was steep and abrupt, thickly studded with sugar-cane, but fortunately unoccupied by the enemy.<br>
For some time the only obstacle we encountered was the ruggedness of the way, and the consequent difficulty of bringing along our heavy guns, their progress being frequently interrupted by ruts, from which they required to be extricated, a work performed with much activity and goodwill by the Sikh Regiment of Ferozepore.<br>
On this particular day, a fine spirit was manifested by that regiment, caused, perhaps, by the prospect of plunder, to which the Sikhs are extremely addicted. The sturdy 78th Highlanders, meantime, were busily engaged with the enemy, who closed upon the route we had taken. A part of our adversaries now made their appearance on the opposite side of the ravine, but were so overawed by the Sikh Regiment, that they remained concealed in the thick sugar-cane, while we steadily pushed onwards through narrow and intricate lanes and byways, which we found deserted and quite undefended. These led to the bazaar, where we came upon another portion of them; but we speedily forced them out of it Here we again halted, to close up the column. <br>