Three wars of the mid-19th century recounted by a fighting British soldier
All those interested in the Anglo-Sikh Wars will be familiar with the services of the 31st (Huntingdonshire) Regiment of Foot, for it had served during the First Afghan War and, when the Sikhs of the Punjab opposed the British Empire in 1845, it formed part of Gough’s force. The regiment notably fought at the battles of Mudki, Ferozeshah, Aliwal and Sobraon. In the Crimean War it fought at Sebastopol. The author of this book (originally published as ‘Personal Adventures and Anecdotes of an Old Officer’) served with the regiment and has written an essential, riveting and invaluable record of his experiences during these campaigns. Later in his career he formed a military train, which was, of necessity, converted to a cavalry regiment to serve in the Indian Mutiny of 1857 . The author also records those campaign experiences as a cavalryman with equal clarity and drama. Robertson’s book is a brilliant autobiography of a British soldier at war in three of the most notable conflicts of the Victorian age and is recommended. Contains illustrations and maps not present in the original edition.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
Suddenly an officer came galloping up to me furiously, and said. ‘There are two guns which have been annoying the Jelalabad Fort all the morning; you are to take them at once.’
‘Where are the guns?’ I asked. ‘I will show you,’ he said.
I replied, ‘Come on.’
We started off at once, first at a trot and then at a gallop, when suddenly, to our great astonishment, we found ourselves on the right flank of the rebel army, some 30,000 strong, drawn up in a perfect line, as if on parade.
The officer who brought the order led us right along the front of the whole of this force, and only about 100 yards from them. Of course, the moment we appeared a tremendous fire was opened upon us, which lasted the whole length of the line. (General Outram’s calculation afterwards was that there were eleven infantry regiments in this line.) A terrific running fire and a perfect hail of bullets streamed over our heads; but miraculously, I may say, throughout the whole of this gallop not a man or horse was hit, and the only casualty I could ascertain was a ball through the trumpet-major’s trumpet.
When we arrived right at the other flank of the line, the officer who was conducting us, and riding alongside of me, said: ‘There are the guns’—pointing to two guns, which were then in the act of being loaded, and were being supported by a strong party of rebel infantry.
I gave the command, ‘Left wheel, charge!’ and we rode right at them.
A party of the rebels were drawing water at a well which stood in front of us, and every man of them jumped into the well.
I was leading in front of everybody, in the hope of getting at the guns before they were loaded. The first man I encountered was a fat old native officer who evidently commanded the supports. As I came towards him, he made a fierce cut at me with his tulwar, but missed his blow, and as I passed him at full gallop, I drew my sword across his naked throat and the blood spurted right up to the hilt of my sword. Instantly after this a second man cut at me, but I caught the blow on my sword, dropped my point, and ran him through the throat, breaking 6 inches off the end of my sword. At the same instant a man on the other side hit at me, fortunately missing his blow, and I struck him fair over the head, and dropped him.
Just then, about 10 yards in front of me, I saw a sepoy with his finger on the trigger of his musket, aiming directly at my chest. I swerved my horse sharp to the right, and called out in Hindustani to the man, ‘Run away, and I won’t hurt you.’ For one instant he hesitated with his finger on the trigger, then threw the musket on his shoulder, and went off like a greyhound. He knew perfectly well that the moment he killed me he would have been killed himself by my own men, immediately behind. I always fought in an old blue quilted jacket over my uniform, and he evidently mistook me for a private soldier, and so I escaped his shot.
There was a short and sharp fight, and not a man of the enemy was left alive, except those who saved themselves by flight.
Fancy our astonishment when we saw almost the whole of this great army in full flight back to Lucknow; and as we stood by the guns we had captured, we had the pleasure of seeing a magnificent charge by Hodson’s Horse, who went galloping in among the flying sepoys, doing splendid execution. They evidently had dashed forward on seeing our charge, and were in good time to do some excellent work.