It is perhaps surprising that although India was the brightest jewel in the British Imperial Crown. there is comparatively little in print today about the many wars which were fought to win it. These had raged for nearly a century before the Sikhs of the Punjab were subjugated and the Sepoy Army rose in rebellion in the middle of the nineteenth century. The Duke of Wellington fought his hardest won victory, by his own assessment, in India at Assaye during the Second Mahratta War before he set foot in Iberia or bested Napoleon on the slopes of Waterloo. This is the story of a much more humble British soldier—an officer of the Bengal Army during the war against Scindia and Holkar. This is a substantial book—a diary-written in great detail by a man of the times. Pester takes us on campaign, onto the battlefield and to the assault in great sieges. His account of sporting life in the Indian jungles makes no less entertaining reading.
After the ground was in readiness and the camp colours of each brigade pitched, we sat quietly down in the shade of some plantain trees, and got a drink of water. At this period we did not know that the enemy’s line was within a mile and a half of us, nor had they the smallest idea of our being within fifteen miles of them!<br>
The line came up about nine o’clock; the different corps were dismissed, and the advanced picquets and troops for duty went in front to take their post. The men had begun to undress, and officers’ tents were pitching when we heard a straggling fire of musketry in front, and presently a few cannon. Our advanced picquets had hardly reached their destination when we saw them open their guns. A regiment of dragoons were ordered on to reconnoitre; the commander-in-chief went at their head; as they approached the enemy we saw the flashes of more guns, and from that we could plainly make out the direction of the enemy’s line, and their position.<br>
The reconnoitring party and our advanced picquets were quickly driven in. The drums on the right of the line now beat to arms, and each brigade took it up in succession. The troops on the right were instantly in motion, and in a few minutes we were all advancing to the attack in excellent order. The rapidity of our advance was so great that our brigade guns and field pieces were obliged to drop in the rear, and we soon found that it was the general’s intention to close with the bayonet. The line advanced, silent and determined. Their heavy shot now began to make some havoc among us, and we had yet a full mile to advance under the cannonade of nearly one hundred heavy guns, uncommonly well served, and as their fire seemed every moment to increase, the shot came thicker, and officers and men began to drop fast!<br>
A village on an eminence was immediately in front of our wing, and as we could not pass through it, without throwing the brigade into confusion, Colonel Blair ordered them to wheel back by sections on the right, and moved round its flank in column. The enemy’s fire was very destructive on us in clearing this village, and while we were forming again after we had passed it. I was with Colonel Blair at the head of the column receiving some orders from him, when a very heavy shot grazed between us, and most completely buried us in the dust it threw up.<br>
The colonel was nearly dismounted by his horse taking fright. We escaped, but the shot plunged directly into the column, and killed and wounded a great many men in the leading company (the Grenadiers of the 14th Regiment). At this moment another cannon shot grazed my horse, and although it touched him, fortunately but very slightly, he dropped on his haunches, but as it was merely the jar of the shot that shook him, he immediately recovered himself, nor did he appear the least intimidated.<br>
We quickly formed our line after we had passed the village, and closed again with the corps on our right. The cannonade at this time to a calm spectator must have seemed tremendous and awful, and the grape came literally in showers. I had the mortification to see poor Aldin and Harriott of our corps fall, while gallantly leading on their respective companies.<br>
A grape shot passed through the housings of my pistols, and shattered the stock of one of them, and I felt my horse staggering under me; another grape had grazed his side, and lodged under the skin; a third went through him. It entered at his near quarter and passed out at the other. He fell on me, and I was a little bruised. General St. John’s orderly dragoon (a man of the 27th) by the general’s orders rode to the rear to bring up one of his horses, but I mounted one of Colonel Blair’s which was immediately at hand. Our troops advanced most gallantly, without taking their muskets from their shoulders, under this galling fire, and such a rattling of shot as we were now exposed to I never witnessed.<br>
At this moment we were within two hundred and fifty paces of the muzzles of their guns. I was the only mounted officer in front of our brigades. I saw the left a little staggered, and was pushing down in front to encourage them, when General Saint John from the rear, who did not observe me, gave the word to “Fire,” and, most miraculous to say, I escaped unhurt, though I was actually within twelve yards of the front rank men, at full speed, when the whole gave their fire. The volley was instantly followed by a cheer, and the drums, striking up, they rushed on with an ardour nothing could resist, closed with the bayonet, when the enemy fled, and the contest with us on the left was now decided. Our troops, after marching eighteen miles, and being so long in action were, of course, much worn and fatigued, and the enemy had greatly the advantage of us in running.