Against the Khalsa and Mutineers in nineteenth century India
Originally titled, Cavalry Experiences and Leaves From My Journal, this book by Henry Ouvry is comprised of his correspondence and private writings whilst serving as a British officer of regular light cavalry in India during the middle years of the Victorian era. Originally an infantry officer, Ouvry suffered a leg injury whilst serving in Canada which necessitated his transfer to the mounted arm. As a troop commander during the Second Sikh War with H. M 3rd Light Dragoons he experienced the campaign in full measure and his detailed reports on the cavalry engagements in which he took part are vital and well written source material. Particularly fascinating is his description of the management of his troop under battlefield conditions. After a transfer to H. M 9th Lancers Ouvry saw hard campaigning during the Indian Mutiny which erupted in 1857. The 9th Lancers earned a fearsome reputation as the ‘Delhi Spearmen’ and it is clear that Ouvry took his full part in what he considered to be justifiable retribution and vengeance. It is particularly interesting to note that his letters were often addressed to his wife ‘Mittie’ who was with him on the sub-continent. Mrs M. H Ouvry also wrote a book, published by Leonaur as A Lady’s Indian Mutiny Diary, which of course touches on many of the same topics raised in her husbands writing and thus vitally completes the historical record.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
Two days ago, we advanced and found the Sikh army of some 20,000 men, posted partly on this and partly on the other side of the river Chinab, their immense encampment covering the opposite bank. Lord Gough, who has joined the army, at once determined to clear the Ramnugger side of the river; he himself came to the front with a troop of cavalry and some horse artillery. The 3rd Light Dragoons were with the advanced guard, and Lord Gough ordered a squadron of them to clear the Ramnugger side of the river. I was ordered to perform this duty. The artillery opened on the Sikh camp and I set off with my squadron, about 130 strong, to cut up the scattered small bodies of men on our side of the river. The moment the stragglers saw me advancing at a gallop to cut them off, they all rushed and threw themselves into the river, where they were quite out of my reach.<br>
I pursued my sweep along the bank about a mile, having only cut up one man, who could not run fast enough, when a Sikh battery on the opposite bank opened on my squadron at point blank range. Hearing the trumpeters sound the recall, I went about, and retired at a gallop, presenting the smallest mark possible to the Sikh battery, that is, I retired with my squadron in line. The Sikh gunners fired so beautifully that every shot came within a few feet of the edge of my line. At last a round shot ploughed through the squadron, passing clean through two horses, wounding one man and knocking the pouch belt off another. Seeing I should come to grief if I continued my line of retreat, I went threes right and soon got out of their range. I then joined my regiment.<br>
We marched at three o’clock in the morning, and our advanced guard, of which my regiment formed the chief part, arrived within sight of the Sikh camp at 8 a.m. and while I was clearing the bank of the river on our side, Lord Gough opened with the battery of horse artillery on the Sikh camp. The Sikhs were taken by surprise but they soon recovered, and replied with an overwhelming fire from the guns on their side of the river; their superior weight of metal soon forcing our guns to retire, with the loss of one, the carriage of which was smashed by a round shot.<br>
The Sikhs now appeared with about 1,500 cavalry on our side of the river, somewhere about the place where I had turned back after my advance, which I have described to you, and my regiment and the 5th Native Cavalry were ordered to charge them.<br>
Having opened on them with our field guns with shot and shell, our brigadier formed one line and advanced to the attack. I commanded the Squadron on the extreme right of the line and felt very astonished that the enemy stood firm, even when they heard the cheer of our men as they spurred their horses for the shock. The reason was very soon apparent, a vast and deep chasm called a nullah, completely separated us from them. My squadron came first on to the brink of the nullah and of course we pulled up short; the rest as they came up followed our example. While we stood looking at each other, the Sikhs dismounted, and kneeling by the side of their horses which stood quite quiet, they gave us a volley of carbines. There was a great whistling of bullets, but they all went over our heads, so that they must have expended a great quantity of lead, to no purpose.<br>
Some of our horses, however, were hit, and our brigadier, White, seeing that nothing could be done, ordered us to retire, by squadrons, when the enemy, thinking that we were going to give up the game, actually began to cross over the nullah. We went off slowly, in order to let them get well across, then suddenly wheeling about we charged them home and succeeded in cutting off about twenty. The rest escaped by recrossing the nullah, which we now perceived was full of infantry; and thus we halted, when the Sikhs opened out on us from the batteries on their side of the river.<br>
We now retired over the same ground that I had done in the morning and were again exposed to the fire of the same guns. We were in open column of troops. As we retired, the Sikh cavalry again crossed the nullah and the fire from the Sikh batteries became so hot that we soon broke into a gallop. Just at this moment a round shot struck my charger just behind my left thigh, completely smashing his hindquarters and, at the same time, wounding my subaltern’s horse. Of course I came down, and then, indeed, I was in a predicament. I took one of my pistols out of the holster, the other flew out and was lost in the sand.
One man fell out and came to my assistance, but nothing would have saved me, as the Sikh cavalry were very near in pursuit, had I not fortunately seen a horse near me which had its bridle entangled in its fore foot. I cut the reins with my sword and was soon on his back; and, as I gave him the spur, I looked back and amid a cloud of dust could see the Sikh horsemen dismounting to strip my poor horse of his trappings.