The first campaign in which British Army cavalry fought with the lance
Napoleon’s light cavalry taught its enemies, in harshly learned lessons, that the lance was a highly effective weapon of first contact. Nevertheless, the British Army had not, to the close of the war with France in 1815, adopted it. This policy was soon changed and the 16th Light Dragoons, together with several other regiments, were converted to lancers. In 1822, the 16th Lancers set sail for service in India. From the citadel at Bharatpore (Bhurtpore) in eastern Rajasthan, the martial Jats dominated the region and in 1825 their maharajah died suddenly creating the opportunity for a usurper, Durgan Sal, to seize the throne and occupy the city which he held in defiance against all-comers. An army under Combermere, which included the 16th Lancers, was sent to restore order—the first occasion in which British lancers rode to war. This book contains a brief history of the ‘sixteenth’ during the Napoleonic Wars and the ‘Jat War’ together with a remarkable diary of an officer of the regiment, Lieutenant Arthur Lowe. It concludes with an account of the siege and assault of the fortress of Bharatpore by British and Hon. East India Company forces. This Leonaur edition contains maps and illustrations which did not accompany the original texts.
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Dec. 9.—On the march an alarm was given that the enemy’s troops were in sight. We were formed in half squadrons and orders given for the balls to be taken off the points of the lances. We were then briskly trotted forwards, and arrived quite in time to ascertain that the report was like the old one of the mountain and mouse. The advanced guard had seen about thirty scouts, who, on being discovered, disappeared among the jungle. We were encamped at a small village called Agapoor, about six miles to the southward of Bhurtpoor; close to our encampment was a bank or slight elevation of ground which commanded the surrounding country; this was a complete lounge to walk up to; everyone anxious to get a view of the place which was to be attacked, and speculating on the probability of the spot where we should make our approaches.
Dec. 10.—The brigade turned out at 4 o’clock as a brigade of reconnaissance; the object was to ascertain if the bund of a lake which could supply the ditches of the fort with water had been cut so as to fill them. We were to take and keep possession of this embankment, and to dam up the embankment if it were cut. On the march Carpenter, a man in Enderby’s troop, fell into a well when it was dark, and wonderful to say neither the man or his horse were in the least hurt. At daybreak the skirmishers commanded by Luard surprised a party of the enemy’s horse that were encamped near the village of Seewah and were soon partially engaged with them. These troops belonged to a rajah who had come to Bhurtpoor to pay a visit to Dourjan Sal; they were completely taken by surprise and endeavoured to get into the fort through the jungle.
Our skirmishers and Skinner’s Horse cut off about fifty, who with the rajah were killed. We did not lose a single man, and had only one wounded. Armstrong was struck by a spent ball. Fraser who was with Skinner’s Horse, had a scratch from a spear. Our left squadron and the left squadron of the 6th Cavalry were sent forward to reinforce the skirmishers, but their support was unnecessary, for the enemy had fled in all directions. I never heard of greater proofs of passive courage than were displayed by some of the enemy; four were surrounded by our men, and desired to give up their arms, and surrender themselves prisoners. This they refused, and when told that resistance was in vain, and that if they did not give up their arms, they would be killed, an old man turned round to his son, who seemed disposed to give up his arms and said to him; “If you don’t fight to the last, I will kill you myself.”
The remainder of our brigade were drawn up in front of a jungle, which, in the imperfect light of the morning, hid the fort from us. However, we had not been five minutes in line when the guns from the fort opened on us; at first the shot fell short of us; four or five balls in quick succession, bounded through our squadron interval, and as the spent balls were bounding through our ranks in all directions, it is wonderful how our men and horses escaped. Douglas’ syce had his arm broken, and a horse of the artillery was struck; these are the only accidents I heard of. It was now thought prudent to change our position, as the enemy were getting the range of us.