Japanese Fortifications and strongholds I

Fortunately for the economic survival of Japan, in subsequent decades defensive strategies, particularly in large-scale campaigns, began to center on entrenchments and fortifications, rather than on evasion and refusal of battle. Whether bushi perceived a problem and responded directly to it, or simply stumbled onto a solution for other reasons, is difficult to assess. Whatever their genesis, however, in the event, the new tactics helped prevent recurrences of devastation on the level of the Tadatsune episode.

The first significant campaign in which fortifications played a major role appears to have been Minamoto Yoriyoshi’s so-called Former Nine Years’ War against Abe Yoritoki and his sons, waged from 1055 to 1062. This contest took place in Mutsu, in the northeast, a region where warriors were heir to a three century-old tradition of establishing stockades as bases from which to control the local population. The Abe’s strategy throughout the conflict centered on ensconcing themselves and their followers behind bulwarks and palisades, in an effort to outlast Yoriyoshi’s patience and resolve. Such tactics played on the eagerness of Yoriyoshi’s troops to get back as soon as possible to their own lands and affairs. As Yoriyoshi’s lieutenant Kiyowara Takenori warned him:

Our government army is made up of mercenaries, and they are short of food. They want a decisive fight. If the rebels were to defend their strongholds and refuse to come out, these exhausted mercenaries could never maintain an offensive for long. Some would desert; others might attack us. I have always feared this.

If the Mutsuwaki, a nearly-contemporaneous literary account of the war, is to be believed, the forts the Abe manned, and the defenses they employed, could be elaborate:

On the north and east sides of the stockade there was a great swamp; the other two sides were protected by a river, the banks of which were more than three jo [about 10 meters] high and as unscalable as a wall. It was on such a site that the stockade had been built. Above the stockade the defenders stood towers, manned by fierce warriors. Between the stockade and the river, they dug a trench. At the bottom of the trench they placed upturned knives and above the ground they strew caltrops. Attackers at a distance they shot down with oyumi; at those who drew close they hurled stones. When, intermittently, an attacker reached the base of the stockade wall, they scalded him with boiling water and then brandished sharp swords and killed him. Warriors in the towers jeered the besieging army as it approached, calling for it to come forth and fight. Dozens of servant women climbed the towers to taunt the attackers with songs. . . .

Yoriyoshi’s tactics against this stockade were equally elaborate – and ruthless as well:

The attack began on at the hour of the hare [5:00-7:00 am] on the following day. The assembled oyumi shot throughout the day and night, the arrows and stones falling like rain. But the stockade was defended tenaciously and the besieging army sacrificed hundreds of men without taking it. The following day at the hour of the sheep [1:00-3:00 pm] the besieging commander ordered his troops to enter the nearby village, demolish the houses, and heap the wood in the dry moat around the stockade. He further told them to cut thatch and reeds and pile these along the river banks. Accordingly much was demolished and carried, cut and piled, until at length the stacks towered high as a mountain. . . . The commander then took up a torch himself and threw it on the pyre. . . . A fierce wind suddenly sprang up and the smoke and flames seemed to leap at the stockade. The arrows previously fired by the besieging army blanketed the outer walls and towers of the stockade like the hairs of a raincoat. Now the flames, borne by the wind, leaped to the feathers of these arrows and the towers and buildings of the stockade caught fire at once. In the fortress thousands of men and women wept and cried out as with one voice. The defenders became frantic; some hurling themselves into the blue abyss, others losing their heads to naked blades.

The besieging forces crossed the river and attacked. At this time several hundred defenders put on their armor and brandished their swords in an attempt to break through the encirclement. Since they were certain of death and had no thought of living, they inflicted many casualties upon the besieging troops, until [the deputy commander of the besieging army] ordered his men to open the cordon to let the defenders escape. When the warriors opened the encirclement, the defenders immediately broke for the outside; they did not fight, but ran. The besiegers then attacked their flanks and killed them all. . . . In the stockade dozens of beautiful women all dressed in silk and damask, minutely adorned in green and gold, wept miserably amidst the smoke. Every one of them was dragged out and given to the warriors, who raped them.

Yoriyoshi’s experiences with the Abe may have become the inspiration for increasingly widespread use of fortifications elsewhere in the country; nevertheless defensive works as elaborate or permanent as those Yoritoki and his sons occupied remained rare outside the northeast until the fourteenth century. Most Heian- and Kamakura-period fortresses were comparatively simple structures erected for a single battle or campaign.

Unlike the castle homes – protected by deep moats, wooden palisades and earthworks – of Sengoku-era warlords, early medieval bushi residences were scarcely distinguishable from those of other rural elites, and differed only in size and opulence from the dwellings of nobles in the capital.

Heian, Kamakura and Nambokucho warriors built their homes on level ground, usually on relatively high points in or very near the alluvial lowlands of rivers, and immediately adjacent to paddies and other agricultural fields. The main houses, stables and other key buildings were surrounded by water-filled ditches and hedges or fences, and accessed through wooden- or thatch-roofed gates. None of these features, however, appear to have been designed for military expediency.

Ditches were narrow and shallow – less than a meter wide and 30 cm deep  – and enclosed areas of 150 by 150 meters or more, presenting an impractically long line to defend with the small number of men normally available to early medieval landowners. They seem, therefore, to have served primarily as components of irrigation works, used to warm water and as a safeguard against droughts. Similarly, fences depicted in medieval artwork are low – a meter or so in height – and constructed of wood, thatch or natural vegetation, making them more suitable for controlling wandering animals than for keeping out marauding warriors. Careful archeological studies indicate that deeper moats and earthworks did not appear around warrior homes until the fourteenth century, and did not become widespread until the fifteenth.

The terms “shiro” or “jokaku” (usually translated as “castle” in later medieval contexts) appear frequently in diaries, chronicles, documents and literary accounts of late twelfth- and thirteenth-century warfare, but only in wartime situations, and nearly always in reference to field fortifications, erected for a particular battle. Such breastworks were intended to be temporary, and were rudimentary in comparison to the castles of the later medieval period, but they were not always small in scale. Some, like the famous Taira defense works erected in 1184 at Ichinotani, near Naniwa on the Harima border of Settsu province, could be quite impressive:

The entrance to Ichinotani was narrow; the interior was broad. To the south was the sea; to the north were mountains – high cliffs like a folding screen. There seemed not even a small space through which horses or men could pass. It was truly a monumental fortress. Red banners in unknown numbers unfurled, blowing toward heaven in the spring wind like leaping flames. . . . The enemy would surely lose its spirit when it looked upon this.

From the mountain cliffs to the shallows of the sea they had piled up large boulders, and over these stacked thick logs, on top of which they positioned two rows of shields and erected double turrets, with narrow openings through which to shoot. Warriors stood with bows strung and arrows at the ready. Below this, they covered the tops of the boulders with brush fences. Vassals and their underlings waited, grasping bearclaw rakes and long-handled sickles, ready to charge forth when given the word. Behind the walls stood countless saddled horses in twenty or thirty rows. . . . In the shallows of the sea to the south were large boats ready to be put to oars instantly and head to the deeper water, where tens of thousands of ships floated, like wild geese scattered across the sky. On the high ground they readied rocks and logs to roll down upon attackers. On the low ground they dug trenches and planted sharp stakes.

These descriptions, drawn from later literary accounts of the Gempei War, doubtless incorporate considerable exaggeration, but they nevertheless offer important clues about the nature of late twelfth-century fortifications. Two points, in particular, merit special attention. First, the preparations for battle involved provisions for escape – “countless saddled horses in twenty or thirty rows” and “large boats ready to be put to oars instantly,” to ferry troops to “tens of thousands of ships” waiting in deeper water – in addition to the defensive works. And second, as formidable as Ichinotani was, it was neither a complete enclosure nor fortified in all directions. In fact, the Taira defeat there was brought about, in part, by Minamoto Yoshitsune’s attack from the hills behind it. Similar tactics decided other key battles of the age as well.

Late Heian and early Kamakura “jokaku” were defensive lines, not castles or forts intended to provide long-term safe haven for armies ensconced within. Many were simply barricades erected across important roads or mountain passes. Others were transient wartime modifications to temples, shrines or warrior residences. Their purpose, in either case, was to concentrate campaigns and battles: to slow enemy advances, thwart raiding tactics, control selection of the battleground, restrict cavalry maneuver, and enhance the ability of foot soldiers (who could be recruited in much larger numbers) to compete with skilled horsemen. And they were expendable, as well as expedient; they were never the sites of sustained sieges or – by choice – of heroic final stands. Contingency planning normally provided for withdrawal and reestablishment of new defensive lines elsewhere.

Picture scrolls indicate that most of the defense features cataloged in the descriptions of Ichinotani were commonly deployed by the late thirteenth century, and most appear in descriptions of other Gempei War-era fortifications in Heike monogatari and its sister texts. Curiously, however, some of the simplest devices – brush barricades (sakamogi) and shield walls (kaidate) – cannot be corroborated in more reliable sources for the 1180s.

Shield walls were exactly what the name implies: rows of standing shields erected behind or on top of other defense works. Standing shields had been used as portable field fortifications since the ritsuryo era, and were also deployed as counter-fortifications by besieging armies. Kaidate were used on boats as well, to convert what were otherwise fishing vessels to warships.

Sakamogi (literally, “stacked wood”) appear to have been essentially piles or hedges of thorny branches placed in front of the principal defensive palisade. They served as an application of what is sometimes called “the principle of the curtain”: a light barrier designed to break the momentum of an enemy charge, dissipating its shock power and holding the enemy under fire before he can bring force against the main walls. Brush fences of this sort were architecturally simple, yet extremely effective for the task: Martin Brice notes that, during World War I, thorn enclosures, called boma or zareba, built by the Masai of Tanzania and Kenya proved as difficult to cross, and as resistant to high explosive bombardment, as barbed wire!

Masai thorn fences represented a wartime application of a device normally used to contain and protect livestock. Japanese sakamogi may have had similar origins. Such a military adaptation of a technology developed for animal control was entirely apropos for early medieval warriors, whose main concern was restricting the movement of enemy horsemen. Brush curtains are, however, vulnerable to fire, which, as we have seen, was a favorite weapon of early bushi.

Japanese Fortifications and strongholds II

Ditches and moats, another tool borrowed from horse and cattle breeders, offered twelfth-century military architects a more durable curtaining wall for their field fortifications. Because they were intended to halt or hinder the advance of mounted troops, rather than keep hordes of attacking infantry at bay, such ditches needed to be only a few meters wide or deep, and were usually dry. Many were topped on the inner side with earthen ramparts constructed from the dirt removed to dig the trench.

Among the most remarkable examples of early medieval military ditches is the massive defensive line Fujiwara Yasuhira prepared when he learned of Yoritomo’s invasion plans in 1189. This barrier, the remains of which can still be seen today, effectively blocked the whole of the Tosando, the only route into Mutsu. Stretching some 3 kilometers between Azukashiyama and Kunimishuku, on the northeast end of the Fukushima plain, it was about 15 meters wide and 3 meters deep, featuring steep ramparts of packed earth, augmented here and there with stone. Yasuhira also set up a secondary line some 20 kilometers behind this, and stretched ropes across the Natori and Hirose rivers to form a tertiary line 30 kilometers behind that.

The line of walls constructed along the coastline of northern Kyushu, as a defense against the Mongol invasions of the late thirteenth century, was even grander. Composed of earth, granite and sandstone, and standing 2 to 3 meters high and equally wide, it stretched nearly 10 kilometers.

Fortifications of this scale required enormous labor resources. Manpower costs for Yasuhira’s Azukashiyama ditch have, for example, been calculated at more than 20,000 working days. Thus, even mobilizing the entire adult peasant population of the neighboring three districts – at the time, about 5,000 men – the project would have taken forty days or more to complete. Workers for military construction projects were usually conscripted locally, on the basis of various tax obligations.

Ditches and dry moats, augmented with sakamogi or earthen ramparts, were more than adequate barriers against Japanese ponies. Unlike European or later medieval Japanese castles, moreover, twelfth-century jokaku did not trap the defenders inside, and therefore constituted only a part of the strategy underlying the battles and campaigns in which they were deployed. Indeed, the construction and use of barricades was intimately bound up with the question of how and when to throw one’s own mounted troops at the enemy. Warriors waited behind the walls for the right moment to charge out and counter-attack, or to withdraw to secondary or tertiary lines.

Wooden gates (kido or kidoguchi), through which defenders on horseback could rush forth to assault besieging forces, constitute the one ubiquitous feature of late twelfth- and early thirteenth-century fortifications. As the only points at which mounted warriors – of either side – could readily cross the barricades, they were usually the nodal points of battle. Consequently, they were the most heavily defended parts of the line, flanked by one or more shielded platforms (yagura, literally, “arrow stores”) from which archers could shoot down at approaching troops.

On occasion, attacking armies mobilized laborers to build counterfortifications or dismantle enemy barricades. In the Mutsu campaign, for example, Yoritomo set eighty men, under Hatakeyama Shigetada, to hauling rocks and earth with plows and hoes in order to fill in parts of the Azukashiyama ditch, so that his horsemen could cross. But while the sheer size of the Azukashiyama ditch, and of Yoritomo’s army, made counter-mining operations practical and necessary, against less extensive – and more densely defended – fortifications this tactic would have exposed the workers and their supervisors to rocks and arrows launched from the ramparts. Similarly, bushi who dismounted to scale the walls of the trench made themselves vulnerable to horse-borne counter-offenses, or made it easier for the defenders to withdraw and escape. More commonly, therefore, warriors confronting fortifications focused on storming the entrances and on flanking attacks.

The architectural features, and the tactical considerations, that governed Kamakura-period fortifications continued to dominate the fortresses and skirmishes of the Nambokucho era as well. But the battles of the 1330s also introduced a new role for warrior strongholds, new kinds of fortresses, and new forms of siege warfare.

During the eighth month of 1331, Go-Daigo fled the capital and “reestablished his imperial abode” in Kasagi temple, on the border between Yamato and Yamashiro. There he speedily erected fortifications and began sending out calls to arms. In response, the shogunate dispatched Sasaki Tokinobu, in command of troops from Omi and reinforced by 800 horsemen under the Kuge and Nakazawa families of Tamba, to capture him. On the first day of the ninth month, as 300 outriders from this force, under Takahashi Matashiro, approached the foot of Mount Kasagi, they were ambushed and routed by the castle garrison. Concerned that “should rumors spread of how [the shogunate’s men] lost this first battle, and how the castle was victorious, warriors of the various provinces would gallop to assemble there,” Kamakura promptly sent a massive army – nearly 75,000 men, according to Taiheiki – to invest the castle.

At dawn, on the third day of the ninth month, this force assaulted Kasagi “from all directions.” But the castle defenders fought back fiercely, showering the attacking troops with rocks and arrows such that:

Men and horses tumbled down one upon another from the eastern and western slopes surrounding the castle, filling the deep valleys and choking the roads with corpses. The Kozu River ran with blood, as if its waters reflected the crimson of autumn leaves. After this, though the besieging forces swarmed like clouds and mist, none dared assail the castle.

While the shogunal leaders stood at bay in front of Kasagi castle, “which held strong, and did not fall even when attacked day and night by great forces from many provinces,” to their rear other imperial loyalists were “raising large numbers of rebels, and messengers rushed to shogunal headquarters daily”:

On the eleventh day of that month, a courier was dispatched from Kawachi, reporting that, “Ever since the one called Kusanoki Hyoe Masashige raised his banner in service of the Emperor, those with ambitions have joined him, while those without ambition have fled to the east and west. Kusanoki has impressed the subjects of his province, and built a fortress on Akasaka mountain above his home, which he has stocked with as many provisions as he could transport, and manned with more than 500 horsemen. Should our response lag, this must become a troublesome matter indeed. We must direct our forces toward him at once!” . . .

Meanwhile, on the thirteenth day of that month a courier was dispatched from Bingo, with the message that, “The lay monk Sakurayama Shiro and his kinsmen have raised imperial banners, and have fortified [Kibitsu] shrine of this province. Since they have ensconced themselves within it, rebels of nearby provinces have been galloping to join them. Their numbers are now more than 700 horsemen. . . . If we do not strike them quickly, before night gives way to day, this will become an immense problem.”

Go-Daigo’s loyalist followers looked to fortifications not just as tactical barricades – devices for focusing battles, delimiting campaigns, or trammeling enemy horsemen – but as rallying points, sanctuaries, and symbols of resistance. Thus, while most twelfth- and thirteenth-century defense works had been constructed across or adjacent to roads, beachheads and other travel arteries, Kusanoki Masashige and his allies ensconced themselves in remote mountain citadels, whose purpose and presence defied Kamakura authority, and served as a beacon to other recruits.

Descriptions in Taiheiki and other texts, and depictions of fortifications in fourteenth-century scroll paintings, indicate that fortresses of the period were architecturally similar to those of the early Kamakura era, albeit now fully enclosed and often reinforced with wooden palisades and additional yagura erected at various points along the walls between, as well as adjacent to, the gates. The latter two innovations were a necessary consequence of the first. For, unlike the easily abandoned defensive lines favored by twelfth- and thirteenth-century warriors, the citadels Kusanoki and his compatriots occupied allowed the defenders no rapid means of escape or retreat. Indeed, they invited encirclement and siege, beckoning enemy horsemen – hitherto stymied by trenches and simple earthworks – to dismount and assault the walls directly.

Compact enough to be easily defended on all exposures, and located on terrain sufficiently treacherous to render them difficult to approach quickly or in large numbers, such citadels were not readily taken by direct onslaught – even if besieging forces did not really have to contend with the collapsing sham walls, decoy armies of mannequins, and other imaginative slight-of-hand tactics Taiheiki attributes to Kusanoki Masashige. More often, it seems, mountain castles fell to attrition – sometimes hastened by cutting off the garrison’s water or food supplies. Others were captured by infiltration or stealth.

In this way, relatively small numbers of warriors could tie up sizeable enemy forces for long periods, buying time and credibility for Go-Daigo’s cause, and whittling away at the morale of Kamakura’s troops. Kusanoki’s garrison of “more than 500 warriors” on Mount Akasaka in 1331 held “what looked to be a hastily-devised” fort “less than one or two hundred meters across” for nearly three weeks, against a shogunal army allegedly comprising “more than 20,000 horsemen.” In 1333, he held Chihaya castle near Mount Kongo in Kawachi for more than two months, while a besieging force “rumored to have been over 800,000 horsemen at the beginning” of the siege dwindled to “scarcely 100,000 riders.”

Kirke’s Relief Fleet: Derry I

Major General Kirke’s fleet continued to lie in the lough and the people and garrison of the beleaguered city wondered when the ships would ever make the run upriver to bring relief at last. With little information from inside the city, Kirke faced a dilemma: should he risk his vessels by sailing upriver to the city or wait until he had more information on what was happening there? First of all he sought to obtain more intelligence through reconnaissance. By now HMS Dartmouth had joined the ships in the lough and, on 15 June, Kirke asked Captain John Leake to make a reconnaissance. Leake ‘sailed within a large mile of Culmore’ with his ship grounding for about an hour on its way up Lough Foyle. Discussion in the fleet now turned to such critical matters as pilotage – these were not men who were familiar with the waters of the Foyle – and breaking the boom. Depth soundings were also taken in the lough; at high tide there was only 17.5 feet clearance. Kirke called a council of war, or court martial, on the 19th, which was attended by the army commanders, Colonels Steuart, Sir John Hanmer, Thomas St John and William Wolseley, with Richards and the four French engineers present as well as Majors Henry Rowe, Zachariah Tiffin and William Carville and the ships’ captains, Wolfranc Cornwall, of HMS Swallow, John Leake, of HMS Dartmouth, Thomas Gwillam, of HMS Greyhound, William Sanderson of the Henrietta and Edward Boyce of the Kingfisher. Kirke presided at the court martial. The subsequent report of the proceedings read

That by all we can see or hear it is positively believed that there is a boom cross the river a little above Brookhall at a place called Charles’s Fort, where one end of this boom is fixed, the other extending to the opposite point. The boom is said to consist of a chain and several cables, floated also with timbers, at each end of which are redoubts with heavy cannon. The sides of the river are entrenched and lined with musketeers. Besides this obstacle in the river, several intimations have also been given of boats sunk, stockadoes drove with great iron spikes, but in what manner we could never perfectly learn, but it’s certain that they neither want boats, timbers etc to effect any thing of this kind.

The accident that happened on Saturday the 8th instant to the Greyhound frigate is evident proof that they are in a capacity to bring down cannon anywhere they should be opposed; so that, should anything be attempted in going up this straight channel and miscarry therein by several accidents as may happen, or the shifting of a wind, striking ashore, or damages received by their great guns and there is very little reason or hopes left to think to set off. And if no other opposition should be then the boom, which, if not broke by our attempt the breadth of this river is so narrow as that the ship will certainly run ashore. This loss, though great to his Majesty, would be of much more and of greater consequence in the leaving the enemy possessors of so many great guns with our stores of war and victuals, which, if they had, they would certainly make a more formal attack upon the town of Londonderry, which to this time they have not attempted. We suppose for no other reason, than for want of artillery enough, besides the miscarriage would so dishearten the town and encourage the enemy as to be of extreme consequence. Besides since the Greyhound and the rest of the fleet’s being here, we have never received any intelligence from Londonderry, which gives us great reason and some assurance that they are not extremely pressed by the enemy or want of ammunition or provisions of mouth.

All this being considered it’s the opinion of us now sitting at this council, that it will be more prudent and for his Majesty’s service, to stay here, till a greater force join us so that we may be a sufficient number to make a descent and force the enemy to raise the siege by which means the town should have sent us advice of every particular relating to this affair by which we may safely take other measures.

The names of those in attendance, signed on the original document, include ‘all the Sea-captains whose opinions and advice would have been central to the deliberations, since it was by naval action alone that the relief fleet could overcome the Jacobite defences of the river and reach the city. Cornwall had already been to the Foyle; it was he who had, in Swallow, escorted the original relief force commanded by Cunningham and Richards in April, while we have seen that Gwillam had been there more recently and still bore the wounds to prove it. John Leake had also proved himself an outstanding officer of great bravery, as he had demonstrated at Bantry Bay; he would eventually achieve the rank of admiral. It was the opinion of Edward B Powley, a respected naval historian, that none of these sea captains held ‘so strongly’ the view that the boom could probably be broken ‘as to consider it a matter of professional importance that the opinion, if he held it, should go on record’. The weight of their experience has to be considered when judging Kirke and his apparent procrastination; his decision was based on their professional opinions.

The day after this meeting Kirke went aboard HMS Dartmouth, which was the advance ship of the fleet, and the vessel from which Richards was maintaining continuous observation. Kirke climbed to the maintop with Richards from where

we could easily discern the rippling of the Boom, and sometimes see part of it just heave upon the face of the water; along which were several boats lying stern and stem with the Boom, as if they floated it up.

Kirke was able to see the city as well as the Jacobite dispositions. The latter were now showing no signs of the concern that the first appearance of the ships had caused. His observations did not change Kirke’s view of the problems presented by the boom, nor did it make him alter his earlier conclusion that the city was not hard pressed by the besiegers; he was also able to check his earlier estimates of Jacobite strength.

Those inside the city’s walls might not have been pleased to learn of Kirke’s council of war and its deliberations, nor of his further conclusions based on the evidence of his own eyes from Dartmouth’s maintop. They would have been even less pleased to learn that Kirke entertained Jacobite officers on board HMS Swallow a few days later on 27 June. This followed a message to Kirke from Lord George Howard who had asked the major-general for a safe passage to visit him. Kirke issued the ‘passport’ and Howard and another gentleman came on board ‘and they were very civilly received by the Major-General’. This appears to have been a most convivial meeting at which the two Jacobite visitors were entertained to a meal that brought forth the comment that ‘they had not such a meal’s meat [since] the Lord knows when’. Kirke and Howard were obviously friends, and the occasion was sufficiently relaxed for the Jacobites to express their exasperation at the French officers in their army, of whose ‘insolencies’ they complained, saying that they ‘were almost weary of being under their command’. From them, Kirke learned that Rosen, rather than Hamilton, was now commanding the Jacobite forces in the area. Howard and his companion returned ashore that evening, having enjoyed their day, been well fed and having supplied Kirke with some useful intelligence on his enemies.

The ships of the fleet did not remain constantly at anchor in the one spot; Richards records that, on 29 June, his vessel ‘watered at Greencastle’ which is some distance away at the mouth of Lough Foyle. While the ship was taking on fresh water, ‘under the cannon of the Antelope’, a yacht arrived from Scotland. This was the Ferret, commanded by Captain Sanders, who brought a letter for Kirke from the Duke of Hamilton, telling the major-general that Edinburgh Castle had surrendered, the Jacobites in Scotland had been routed and their principal leaders taken prisoner.

On 1 July Richards visited Kirke, who showed him a letter he had received the previous morning. This missive told Kirke that ‘nothing of any notice had happened between Londonderry and the Irish camp’ for the past three or four days. However, a postscript included news of an attack on the city by Jacobite troops on Tuesday 25 June. In fact, this was Skelton’s, or Clancarty’s, attack which had occurred on the Friday, 28 June. The writer of the letter lived in a house, described as the parson’s, above Whitecastle, close to where Swallow lay at anchor. The scribe and his wife had devised a code to let Kirke know that they had information for him. When the pair, the lady wearing a white mantle, were seen walking back and forth along the beach before returning to their home, that would be a sign that a letter had been concealed under ‘a certain stone’ and this would be retrieved under cover of darkness by someone from the ship.

Richards includes an interesting note about Lord Dungan sending Kirke ‘a very fine and large salmon’ at 4 o’clock that afternoon (1 July). Dungan was the commanding officer of one of the Jacobite dragoon regiments, and the salmon might well have been a gift in appreciation of the meal given to Howard and his companion four days earlier. Equally, it might simply have been a gift from one soldier to another. However, Kirke’s friendship with Jacobite officers emphasizes an often neglected fact about the conflict in Ireland: that it was a civil war, the type of conflict in which brother can be pitched against brother and friend against friend. In such circumstances it is not surprising that there were some who believed that Kirke was sympathetic to the Jacobite cause and that his apparent prevaricating was quite deliberate. Of those inside the city who wrote accounts of the siege, only the Reverend John Mackenzie is critical of Kirke, suggesting that Kirke and Walker had conspired to create their own version of the siege; it is notable that Mackenzie gives the garrison, inspired by the Almighty, rather than Kirke the credit for relieving the city.

Further accusations against Kirke were made by Sir James Caldwell, one of the defenders of Enniskillen, who listed thirty charges against the general, including ‘corruption, incompetence, irreligion, and a total lack of appreciation or understanding for those who had carried on the struggle for King William in Ireland both before and during the siege’. In two queries against Kirke, Caldwell is quite clear in his allegations of treachery, asking ‘whether several officers of the late King James’s army did not wrong Major General Kirke when they often times declared that they expected no injury from him who they knew to be one of their own friends and that at length he would appear to be so’. In support of his claim, Caldwell states that the witnesses were ‘the whole soldiers of Londonderry’. He also asks if Kirke did not have a pardon from James in July 1689 ‘for not relieving Londonderry and holding other correspondence with the enemy and whether it was not a common discourse among the enemy that the said Major General Kirke was their friend’.

Caldwell’s charges seem never to have been made at an official level but they merit some reflection. Was Kirke guilty of treachery at Derry? There is no doubt that he maintained friends in the Jacobite officer corps, but this can be seen as a legacy of their having served together in the past. The argument can equally be made that such friendships allowed Kirke to garner useful information on the Jacobites’ situation while impressing upon them the strength of his own force. His seemingly lackadaisical approach may also be seen as the product of his believing that the garrison was in no great distress. The lack of communication between relief force and defenders has already been noted and it seems plausible that the signals being made from the cathedral were considered to be signs of rejoicing. However, since Kirke had already changed sides, from James to William, it is reasonable to assume that he might have done so again, had the circumstances been right. He continued to correspond with James in exile, and it seems that Kirke was determined to be a survivor, as he had always been, irrespective of the sufferings of anyone else. A pragmatic individual, Kirke was, at best, a man who looked out for himself and, at worst, a man who would have changed sides again, abandoning Derry and its garrison, had it suited him.

At noon on 2 July a Mr Hagason signed from the northern, or Inishowen, shore that he wished to speak with Captain Withers of the Swallow. Withers went ashore and spent about an hour with Hagason and others, returning with news that there had been another sally by the people of Derry the previous night, during which they had cut off some 300 Jacobites. From this it seems that Hagason might have been a Jacobite officer who seems to have been on familiar terms with Withers. There were also complaints about lack of provisions, and it seemed that Hagason and his friends were tired of the siege ‘for there was nothing but hunger and slaughter in it’. One recent writer on the siege suggests that Hagason was a Williamite and that he was relaying information from the garrison but the description of the sally would suggest otherwise.

Later that day, after dinner, Kirke called a council of war which was attended by all his field officers and the sea captains. This was to discuss sending some 500 or 600 men to Inch, an island in Lough Swilly, to create a diversion. The proposal followed a reconnaissance to Inch carried out by Captain Thomas Hobson in HMS Bonadventure when he learned from Protestants on the island that a Jacobite quartermaster was there to gather provisions for the Irish army. Inch was, and is, a fertile island, and was described as ‘abounding in all sorts of grain’. Hobson sent his lieutenant ashore with one of the Protestant gentlemen who took the sailor to the house where the Jacobite quartermaster was based. The naval officer relieved the quartermaster of his papers and a sum of £5 which he had on his person, presumably to pay for whatever he collected from the island. Having done so, the lieutenant went back to his boat but, having been admonished by the local man for not making the Jacobite officer a prisoner, returned to the house, only to find that the quartermaster had mounted his horse and made off. He was said to have had a considerable sum of money with him. For failing to make the man prisoner, the naval lieutenant was criticized severely, and Richards commented that ‘it is thought he will be dismissed’. Nonetheless, the papers he had taken provided some good intelligence for Kirke.

The papers were letters from the general officers of the Irish camp, pressing the said quarter master to send provisions with what expedition he could, for they and their horses came near starved, with intimations that he should take great care to preserve all sorts of provisions, for their dependence was wholly on that island.

Combined with the information from Howard and his dining companion, that from Hagason and other sources, this indicated that the Jacobite army was in a poor state. Furthermore, since Inch was so valuable to the Jacobites for supplies, it made sense to deprive them of that source of supply by occupying the island. This had the further advantage of providing a rallying point for local Protestants, some of whom asserted that several hundred of their number would ‘fly to us and take up arms’. It would also allow sailors and soldiers to have some liberty from the crowded conditions of their ships and, as had already been suggested to Kirke, the island would provide a location for a hospital. And thus began the Williamite expedition to Inch.

In a direct line, Inch is only a little more than six miles from the walls of Derry. An old road, part of which has been there for centuries, probably since the days when the local centre of power was the Grianan of Aileach overlooking the island, runs almost in a straight line from the city to the island. A body of men would have had to march no more than eight miles to reach the city from the island, although this would have meant marching over high ground; but this rises to less than 500 feet. The direct route would have presented no problems, especially at this time of year. Alternatively, an approach could also have been made via the flat land where once the Foyle and Swilly waters had commingled to cut off Inishowen, the island of Eoghan. Using this route the distance would have been increased but by no more than another mile or two. Thus Williamite soldiers on Inch represented a very real danger to the Jacobites about Derry who now had to be wary of an attack from behind.

Kirke’s Relief Fleet: Derry II

The expedition to Inch gave Richards the opportunity to practise his profession. Having landed on Inch strand near Burt castle on 10 July, with an escort of an ensign and twenty men, he soon identified a suitable site for a redoubt facing the mainland. But their intention to begin work on this was interrupted by the appearance of some Jacobite horsemen which prompted Richards to send for reinforcements. These arrived in the form of some men of Kirke’s regiment under Captain Collier, who drove off an attack by the Jacobites, although Richards thought that the latter might have suspected an ambush and did not therefore press any harder on the Williamites.

Earlier, Richards had sent for field pieces as well as men and tools from Colonel Steuart but these had not arrived. He now learned why. The day before some Protestants from the west bank of Lough Swilly had signalled the fleet and a boat had been sent to fetch them. They brought news of a ‘great herd of cattle’ at Tully near Rathmullan and some troops had been sent ashore to round up these animals, about 200 in number, and bring them to Inch. This had meant deploying all the boats in the fleet to ferry the cattle from Rathmullan, and thus none had been available to carry guns, men and equipment to Richards at the site for the redoubt. But Richards was soon in a much happier state, being joined by Colonel St John with about 200 men. The latter had observed what was happening and had marched to support Richards. It had been the sight of this body of men in the distance that had prompted the Jacobite horsemen to retire.

Later that afternoon Steuart arrived in Captain Rooke’s barge, bringing with him tools and four field pieces. Steuart thought that the entrenchment staked out by Richards was too large, a view in which St John concurred; the latter considered himself to be an engineer, according to Richards. Work on the first of two redoubts was begun and continued until midnight when the working party retired to the far side of the island. Richards went back on board Greyhound for the night. Work continued the next day on the second redoubt with four field pieces emplaced to deter the Jacobites, but these were later removed and the working party was taken back to the far side of the island. That evening, at 6 o’clock, the building began again and the soldiers laboured until an hour past midnight. Returning to Greyhound, Richards learned from ‘a man who told us he had been in the Irish camp’ that the Jacobites planned to attack the works with a force of horse and foot at the next morning tide. Today Inch is joined to the mainland by two embankments, whereas, at this time, it was necessary to row across or wait until low tide when the water separating island and mainland was fordable.

Richards became so exasperated with the would-be engineers’ interference, especially when St John had an outwork constructed that was effectively isolated and could provide no support to the rest of the works, that he ‘troubled [him]self no farther with the works, of which I am sure any one that pretends to be an engineer ought to be ashamed’. Eventually, by 14 July, the defensive works were completed and eight guns were emplaced in their batteries; these included six 3-pounders, possibly minions,4 and two 6-pounders, or sakers. These enabled the small garrison of Inch to discourage the Jacobites while the defences were being completed.

And it was also on 14 July that HMS Bonadventure sailed into the Swilly to drop anchor at Inch. Its commander, Captain Thomas Hobson, had taken supplies of powder and ball to the garrison of Enniskillen. Hobson’s destination at that time had been Killybegs in County Donegal, or Killy Bay as he described it in his log, since Enniskillen is an inland town. On his return journey Hobson was accompanied by several men from Enniskillen who had a proposal to put to Kirke, which explains why Hobson returned first to Greencastle on Lough Foyle before sailing into the Swilly. The Enniskilleners promised that they would relieve Derry by taking a force there that would cause the Jacobites to ‘raise their camp’. However, they lacked sufficient arms and so wanted 1,500 guns from Kirke as well as some officers to lead their force. Into the field they could put about 8,000 foot and 1,200 good cavalry while they also had enough small horses to raise a dragoon regiment, although weapons would be needed for these troops. (Kirke would report to London that the Enniskillen garrison had formed twenty-six companies of infantry, seventeen troops of cavalry and two troops of dragoons, all of whom were ready to come under the major-general’s orders.) When he had heard this proposal, Kirke ordered Rooke, who was commanding the squadron, to join him with Portland and Bonadventure. Thus Kirke was expected to arrive at Inch very soon. Even so, when news was received at the camp on Inch that the boom was broken ‘in several pieces’ and that the Jacobites had withdrawn their large guns from the riverbank, a messenger was sent over the neck of Inishowen to take the news to Kirke in Lough Foyle.

That messenger returned early next morning to say that the fleet had weighed anchor, left Lough Foyle and was at sea. But there was other news: the Duke of Berwick had left Derry to deal with the defenders of Enniskillen, and a fleet had been seen off Carrickfergus. This latter story came from the Irish camp where it was believed to be a French fleet coming with 20,000 men and ‘a vast sum of money’. Cash was a vital necessity for King James who had issued a debased coinage, known as brass money. Richards comments that a ‘small piece of copper not the value of half a farthing goes for sixpence’. These pieces of intelligence were as yet rumours with no firm evidence to substantiate them. On the other hand, there was no doubting the fact that the Williamite force at Inch had been strengthened by some 500 to 600 ‘good lusty men able to bear arms’. These new recruits had been formed into companies under local commanders but attached to the regular regiments, each of which now had eighteen companies and a grenadier company in its order of battle. Nor was there a shortage of fresh meat for the garrison at Inch since hundreds of cattle had been sent over from Rathmullan in the past week.

No serious threat to Inch was posed by the Jacobites although there was a further rumour concerning Berwick: having been trounced on the road to Enniskillen he was now going to return to Derry whence he would march on Rathmullan. In fact, a Jacobite force of about 1,500 horse and foot did march on Rathmullan, which was held by no more than 120 Williamites under Captains Echlin and Cunningham. A Williamite account puts the strength of Berwick’s force at 2,000 horse and dragoons. When the Jacobites made their first foray against Rathmullan, a small ketch anchored offshore ‘fired among the horse and killed a cornet and 3 troopers with its first shot’. This caused the cavalry to draw off with the foot soldiers following. The same account claims that forty Jacobites were killed together with ten of their horses while a colonel was wounded desperately. Since the Williamite officers had had barricades raised, the Jacobites failed to get into Rathmullan in spite of a determined attack. The retreating Jacobites left their dead; Williamite casualties were said to be no more than one officer – Captain Cunningham6 – and two or three soldiers dead. However, it was obvious that the Jacobites would attack again and that they had the advantage of numbers, and so Echlin was ordered to evacuate Rathmullan. This was completed that night although about a hundred cattle had to be left behind since there was not enough time to get them away. At least some Jacobites would feast on fresh meat over the next day or so. A deserter from the Irish army later confirmed that Berwick had led the attack on Rathmullan and claimed to have killed about 200 men.

Kirke arrived off Inch late on the 19th and, early the following morning, came ashore, having ordered the disembarkation of all his command. He inspected the defence works, with which he seemed satisfied, and brought some news for the Inch garrison: more troops were being assembled to sail for Ireland through Chester, Liverpool and Whitehaven but three French warships had captured the James of Derry, a small ship that Kirke had sent to Scotland to buy wine and other supplies for the fleet. A Royal Navy squadron, commanded by Rooke in HMS Deptford, had sailed in pursuit of the French; Rooke’s other ships were Bonadventure, Portland and Dartmouth under Captains Hobson, Leigh and Leake. When his men had disembarked, and ammunition and provisions had been stored in the magazine that Richards had had built, Kirke ordered two vessels to sail for Enniskillen with 500 fusils7 and some officers to take command of the Enniskillen garrison; the latter included Wolseley, who was to command a regiment of horse, and Major Tiffin, who was to take command of an infantry regiment.

Later that afternoon, about 5 o’clock, Kirke received a letter from Walker in Derry. According to the latter, the boom had been broken and the guns covering it had been ‘drawn away’. This brought about a flurry of activity with Kirke ordering that three ships be loaded with provisions and each manned by forty musketeers. The loading operation was carried out as surreptitiously as possible so as not to attract the attention of the Jacobites and, later that night, Kirke went back aboard the Swallow and sailed with the other three ships for ‘Derry Lough, with resolution to relieve that place or lie by it’. This report, albeit from Walker on this occasion, seems to have been the second time that the same rumour had reached Inch. Although there was no truth in it, this rumour was to have a profound effect on events: it set in train the actions that would lead to the raising of the siege and the relief of Derry.

Inch was a hubbub of activity over the next few days as accommodation in the form of huts was built for the soldiers. There was also news that the Jacobites intended to attack the island. Richards wrote that attacks were expected from three points and then detailed two of those: by Captain Tristram Sweetman’s and by Burt Castle, ‘at which two places it is very narrow but not fordable’. At both locations the guard was strengthened (which seems to confirm that Richards ‘Burt Castle’ was in fact the castle on Inch) and a ship was also posted to deter any attackers. None came, although some firing was heard at midnight from the north-west of the island; this was thought to come from a group led by Lieutenant Hart, who had been sent out into Inishowen with a foraging party of thirty men. Later it was thought to be the advanced guard at Captain Sweetman’s but it turned out to be fire from one of the ships which had spotted light from Rathmullan as the Jacobites tried to fire the village; several rounds were fired by the ship to deter them.

There is no clear indication from Richards as to the third possible direction of attack but it is more than likely that this was across the neck of water between the island and the mainland which, on the 23rd, was dry from side to side. Certainly Richards notes that on that day ‘we draw all our forces to our fortifications on the strand, to be ready to receive our enemies that have so often threatened us’. Lieutenant Hart returned with some provisions from his wife’s relations in Inishowen but without the horses, cattle and corn he had been sent for, so Captain Echlin was sent with fifty men to complete the task. He arrived too late. Jacobite dragoons had that morning escorted about a hundred horse-loads of corn from the area and Echlin was left with what remained, about a hundred bushels.

Fires from villages on Inishowen that evening suggested that the Jacobites were retreating from the peninsula while there was further rumour that Berwick was on the move towards Enniskillen again. Next morning, 24 July, Jacobite troops, both cavalry and infantry, appeared on the hills facing Inch and looked to be preparing to attack. The strand was dry and the Williamites made ready to meet an attack but it seemed that the Jacobites feared a possible attack from Inch since they withdrew as soon as the tide came in and the strand was no longer fordable, suggesting that their deployment had been defensive rather than offensive. There were also reports that Kirke’s ships had got into Derry but Richards thought this improbable due to the winds having been contrary over recent days.

While Kirke had not reached Derry he had made contact with the James, the ship that had been taken by the French. This vessel had been recovered and had sailed into Lough Swilly to drop anchor off Inch on the morning of the 25th. Its captain brought a letter from Kirke to Colonel Steuart which the latter showed to Richards to seek his opinion. Richards’ view was that if Kirke’s orders, as expressed in the letter, were followed, it would lead to disaster for the Williamites on the island since it would ‘ruin our interest here, expose some thousands of souls to the mercy of a cruel enemy, and unavoidably lose the island’. It was a view with which Steuart agreed and he called a council of war of all the field officers and captains of the regiments present to solicit their opinions.

What had Kirke suggested? He had expressed concern that the island would not be tenable if the Jacobites deployed artillery against it, and proposed to recall all his regular soldiers to the ships, there not being enough cover for them on Inch, leaving the local men to provide the garrison. He reasoned that the shipborne men would be able to move quickly to defend any part of the island that was threatened. Dispositions for a detachment to be left on Inch were also detailed, while the letter had contained the news that Rooke had retaken the ships captured by the French but that adverse winds had prevented Kirke’s ships entering Lough Foyle; however, he hoped to enter the lough on the next tide.

Steuart’s council of war decided to maintain their positions on Inch, and Richards was asked to draft a reply to Kirke. In his letter Richards pointed out that the Jacobites could not bring heavy cannon into action against Inch as these ‘cannot well be brought over the strand’ while artillery on the opposite shore would present no danger due to the distance. Furthermore, all the troops were now under cover on the island and withdrawing them to the ships would make it almost impossible to oppose any assault by the enemy. He added that Jacobite intelligence about Inch was good and that a move such as that proposed by Kirke would be known to them very quickly and would probably lead to an attack. The Jacobites would have every opportunity to ‘possess themselves of this Island, into which there is, since our arrival here, fled about 12,000 souls, who can expect no mercy at so cruel an enemy’s hands’. He related how the Jacobites had burned Rathmullan and murdered the few Protestants left there and how they had done the same on Inishowen ‘over against Capt. [Tristram] Sweetman’s house, as far as over against the Fisher ketch, which is nigh two miles that the Irish have put in flames’. Berwick was later to gain notoriety for employing the scorched-earth tactic but it appears that he may have begun using it in Donegal. Richards argued that the refugees on Inch would be safe as long as the garrison remained and that the Jacobites would not attack while Derry held out since they had already ‘neglected so many fair opportunities when our numbers were much less’.

Having despatched the letter to Kirke, Richards and Steuart continued to improve the defences of Inch. They had refused to obey an order from their commander, a serious offence in military law, but they had provided sufficient justification for their decisions, so that no action was taken against them. As the events at Derry played out to their conclusion, the two men would be vindicated in their decision. Over the next few days there would be more rumours reaching the garrison at Inch and it would be difficult to separate fact from fancy. Berwick crops up again in those reports, staving off the threat from Enniskillen; it seems that the Jacobites at Derry were now in constant worry about an attack from Enniskillen. By the end of the month the Jacobite army was being estimated at not much more than 4,000 infantry and 1,000 cavalry before Derry, while Berwick at Castlefinn had about 2,000 cavalry and dragoons.

The Williamite force at Inch now threatened the Jacobites investing Derry since it could deploy within a few hours to strike the rear of the Jacobite lines. By now in London it was learned that the presence of Kirke’s men on Inch had caused the Duke of Berwick to be called back from a planned attack on Enniskillen. With Schomberg at Chester taking command of ‘his Majesty’s forces for the relief of Ireland’, the situation appeared much more positive than hitherto.

It seemed that Kirke was awaiting reinforcements from England before making his attempt to relieve Londonderry. In a despatch from Lough Foyle he reported that:

The enemy are well entrenched on both sides of the river and have batteries of 24-pounders on the narrowest part of it, which is not a pistol shot over. But if that were all, we could pass them with a leading gale, but they have secured the river with a boom cross it, made of cables, chains and timber, and have besides sunk great boats laden with stones in the middle of the channel so that being by a council of war not thought advisable to attempt the relieving the town by the river we are waiting for some more forces in order to land and force our way through the enemy’s camp.

The dangers of trying to run upriver were thus many in the minds of Kirke, his army officers and the Royal Navy captains. Believing that boats had been sunk in the channel meant that the naval officers would have been concerned about the safety of their ships as they tried to navigate the narrows. Most of the warships drew too much draught to risk them in such an enterprise, and this fact alone would have made the seamen counsel Kirke against a waterborne assault. (The frigate HMS Dartmouth was one of the few with a draught shallow enough to operate in the Foyle river, and it was this vessel that eventually escorted the relief ships.)

Kirke also reported that the besieged were holding out ‘very bravely and have placed two guns upon the church steeple, which do great execution’. Although the Irish army had made several attempts on the city, they had been beaten off each time ‘with great loss’. He reported on the two attacks on the Windmill Hill positions and noted the friction that existed between the Irish and the French officers, especially the French general. These, he recorded, had a ‘cold reception in the camp, tho’ a very warm one from the town’. As for his own men, they were ‘very hearty and in good health’ and their presence on Lough Foyle was, he believed, a great encouragement to the besieged. Finally, he noted that a messenger had succeeded in swimming from the fleet to the town as signals made from there had indicated his arrival.

Other reports coming back to London emphasized the morale and courage of the besieged. HMS Antelope had left the Foyle on 5 July and arrived at Highlake (Hoylake) two days later with a report that the ‘besieged continue to defend themselves with a bravery and resolve that exceeds all the account that can be put on it’. On 24 July a report reached Whitehall from Kirke stating that ‘Londonderry held out with the greatest bravery that can be imagined, and continued to repulse the enemy in all their attempts’. And there was also intelligence on the overall state of the Jacobite army from ‘persons in Dublin’ who claimed that the main body of that army was before Derry and ‘not above two or three regiments’ were at Dublin and that many of the soldiers of these units ‘wanted clothes and arms’. The Dublin informants also advised that ‘the town of Derry, upon the best enquiry they could make, was not yet reduced to any great distress and that the Irish soldiers deserted in great numbers’.

Thus it seemed to Kirke and to his masters that there was no great urgency in relieving the city since the defenders were in a good state and holding out so well that they were inflicting heavy losses on the Jacobites. In addition, the dangers presented by the boom and the boats that were believed to have been sunk in the narrows, never mind the Jacobite batteries along the river, militated against moving upriver towards the city. With the knowledge that further troops would soon be landing in Ireland, Kirke must have felt that his best course of action was to wait for those men to arrive before advancing overland. Those inside the city would not have agreed with him, and their frustration mounted as they looked at the masts and sails of the ships in the lough.

Frederick Invades Austria a Second Time; Siege of Olmütz III

Of greater import, General Hülsen moved on Zschopau. Henry slowly and deliberately moved to join him, in the process leaving General Itzenplitz with eight battalions and seven squadrons, including two squadrons of the Szekely Hussars, at Zwickau. Itzenplitz was to play the spoiler to any effort in Henry’s direction that Dombâle might try. Henry’s command itself was 14 battalions and 20 squadrons, although this did not include Knobloch’s command. The latter had three full battalions; he set up shop at Freibergsdorf. Itzenplitz’ post was shadowed by Luzinsky, while Dombâle himself moved discreetly on Bamberg (June 20 1758). The latter was marching to join forces with Esterhazy. Dombâle’s forward elements did not even begin to reach Hof until July 1.

Daun’s task was not easy. Originally, it had been felt wise to give the marshal some leeway about how to relieve Olmütz. However, so soon as Vienna discerned Daun was merely marking time, with scarcely any action planned, orders were sent to him to relieve the garrison in Olmütz. So, while Henry was preparing something in Bohemia, in Moravia, the main Austrian army made ready to move. In mid–June, Daun rose from Gewitsch, detaching 1,100 men, from the command of Bülow, to cross the Morawa to bolster the garrison in the fortifications and make some feints. The detachment brushed Neustadt, and Frederick sent Ziethen to deal with the new intruders. Ziethen failed to intercept it, and the newcomers were able to slip into Olmütz while Daun, begging off, withdrew again into his old lines. The Austrian detachments, under Laudon, had been busy all this while. They regularly struck at the Prussian outposts under cover of night and frequently threw a scare or two into the escorts for the supply trains. Prussian provisions were running low, and in a remarkable twist of events, Prussian deserters began appearing regularly at the gates of Olmütz wanting to get into the city. These raids, however, did little to alleviate the suffering of the defenders of Olmütz, and such half-hearted attempts to draw the attention of the bluecoats elsewhere could not by themselves hope to drive Frederick’s men from the walls of the place.

The siege was making progress all this time. Inside Olmütz, supplies of food and powder were running low, but the Prussians suffered even more from the shortage of ammunition and powder. One final large convoy was to be made up and brought in with all the supplies that Frederick believed his men would need to bring the siege to a successful conclusion. He detailed Lt.-Col. Konrad Wilhelm von der Mosel with a 7,000-man force to escort this final convoy in. To provide additional security against Laudon, who was sure to make an effort to cut off this all-important supply train, the king saw good to detach Ziethen’s men to help shield Mosel’s force.

Mosel was to leave Troppau with the van of the wagons on June 26, according to plan. Ziethen sent Colonel Werner (with 200 dragoons, 300 hussars, and a full battalion of grenadiers) to meet Mosel. Werner moved out from near Olmütz on June 28 to greet the incoming train. Frederick could no more than hope for the best. With this last reinforcement, Balbi promised he could wrestle Olmütz from the enemy in a fortnight. Time was becoming critical now for the bluecoats, with enemies beginning to close in from all sides.

The march of the train started on schedule, but the movement of the double-teamed wagons over the windy narrow roads was slow and cumbersome. A group of 3,000 wagons altogether, with two civilian drivers (although military personnel would have made more sense under the circumstances, had that been the usual procedure) per wagon. As there had been no letup in wagons coming and going across the same routes, the pathways were worn. Heavy rains added further difficulties, and the wily enemy knew about the move almost from the beginning.

The trek was through some 90 miles of twisting, rolling countryside, in territory largely controlled by the enemy. The movement of such a large convoy was a haphazard affair at best, but the efforts required to attack it en route were also not without risk. The whole length of the train varied considerably, at some points being spread out to 30 miles or more from beginning to end, and at other places condensed into less than half that. The forces under the direct command of Mosel were divided into three separate groups: the van; the main body; the rearguard. What was worse, even in a situation where the wagons were close together, there were not sufficient men for a continuous front to provide support between these three bodies of moving men and equipment. The condition of the roads and rain degraded the further they went. On June 27, after just one day on the move, Mosel found it necessary to stop the front wagons of the convoy to give the rearward elements time to close up.

Surprisingly, however, the progress of the trek proceeded much better than could have been expected. The convoy’s escorts hoped the train might be brought through before the Austrians had word of its advent. A forlorn hope! And, for a change, Daun had decided to do something about it. Heretofore, he had not simply ignored the pleas and requests he had received to break up the siege, but cautious Daun was just not willing to risk a major battle over this fortress. He had done precious little in the way of stopping the supply trains without which no siege, no matter how lengthy, could hope to be successful. Any firefighter knows the quickest way to put out a flame is at the source. In a way this analogy was fitting because these supply trains were the source of the Prussian effort before Olmütz; extinguish the source and Frederick’s designs would be ruined.

It was now two choices for Daun: (1) Give battle to relieve the pressure on Olmütz; (2) Stop that last convoy. Not wishing to force a fight with the eager king (at least on the latter’s terms), the cautious marshal chose the second alternative. His plan as formulated was quite simple. From the west end of the Morawa River, Laudon, with his various detachments, was to do all he could to intercept the convoy, while General Siskovics66 was to operate in the Littau-Müglitz country—east of the river—against the Prussians from that end.

Immediately upon giving Laudon and Siskovics their marching orders, Daun marched the main army from Gewitsch near Konitz southward. This latter maneuver caused Frederick to think his foe was at last coming out for a finish fight over Olmütz. The Prussians were encouraged to see Daun’s massed army on the rises across from Prossnitz (June 22) and the king ordered his men to realign their outer lines in preparation for battle. Did the Austrian commander intend to fight? He did not and Daun’s only aim was to send the reinforcements into Olmütz, as well as to divert Frederick’s attention while his subordinates went to smash the convoy.

Ironically, on that same day, the siege took a turn for the better in favor of the bluecoats. Balbi had made an indentation in the defender’s lines (incessant Prussian howitzer fire had opened a widening gap in the earthen fortifications), and was inexorably squeezing the enemy’s presence at the walls into a tightening vise. Daun, who had retired to the south again, crossed the Morawa to steer north to support the impending effort on the Prussian train. Siskovics had reached his appointed posts, and Laudon, moving by Müglitz and Hofberg, made a roundabout path on the western end of the Prussians. From there he moved towards Bautsch (specifically, Güntersdorf) where Laudon intended to perform an unexpected attack upon the supply train from the pass there. As a precaution, Laudon left a force of some 600 men at Domstadl itself, under Major von Goese, to hold a position through which the convoy would come.

Mosel made good progress the first day, but the following day, the halt we have looked at, while probably a normal procedure, gave Laudon the time he required to move into attack position. Otherwise, the Austrians might not have reached Güntersdorf in time. As it was, Laudon arrived there on June 27, and undertook the necessary preparations to ambush the foe in the defile beyond. The following morning, Mosel got on the road leading to Güntersdorf from Bautsch, where he had spent the previous evening.

On approaching the place, Mosel found the enemy drawn out ahead (on the wooded hills above and in the pass in front) intending to dispute his passage. The Prussian commander ordered the train to halt, and, taking his troopers, led a charge that quickly cleared the defile of its occupants. Laudon’s men lost many prisoners69 out of a total of about 500 altogether. The 1st Battalion of Young Kreutz led the initial stroke, pushing through the defile into the enemy’s fire. Once there, the men took up an exposed position hard by. Behind this body, the grenadiers of Billerbeck and Captain Pirch led a part of Prince Ferdinand’s men and the rest of Young Kreutz. Laudon’s most effective measure was to plant a battery confronting the Prussian left. It just so happened that Old Billerbeck was positioned directly opposite the offending big guns. The grenadiers wasted no time trying to silence the Austrian ordnance. The men pressed forward into the woods, overcoming in the process the light irregulars who were supposed to be “protecting” the approaches to the battery. The crew of the guns, and the regulars who were with them, were not so readily inclined to go. Billerbeck promptly put in a determined charge at the point of the bayonet, which drove off the enemy, took one gun from its desperate crew, and captured some 200 men.

With the offending Austrian battery silenced at last, the Kreutz and the Prince Ferdinand regiments took their turn. A most determined effort now ensued, in which the latter two Prussian units sought to match the achievement of Old Billerbeck. Laudon did all he could to shore up his lines, calling upon his men for a supreme effort. But, after losing another of his guns to the advancing bluecoats, Laudon saw the contest was lost. Reluctantly, he ordered his tattered men to fall back on Bährn. The Austrian commander’s behavior had been almost impeccable, but there was no denying his force had suffered a serious drubbing. Losses were nearly 500 men. Fifty-two men were dead, approximately 340 were prisoners, the rest wounded.

Mosel was in no condition to follow up his advantage, as he most correctly did not lose sight of his more important mission of the safe conduct of the convoy. There had been some ill-effects from the action. The sounds and smells of the spectacle of artillery fire had unnerved many of the civilian crews. Some of their number took to horse or feet and started back on Troppau, leaving some of the wagons without crews, while the Prussians were taking care of Laudon. This vacuum left the irregulars, those who had not been chased away, the opportunity to break into the train. The bluecoats who had just chased off Laudon’s men at the defile then had to return to chase away the irregulars from the convoy’s vicinity.

It occurred to Mosel the king needed to be informed about the progress of the supply train. He disptached a trusted aid, named Beville, to go to Prussian headquarters. Meanwhile, after the convoy had been righted again as much as was possible, Mosel pressed on for Neudörfel. When Ziethen momentarily joined up with the train, he discovered that much more needed to be done with the wagons. As it worked out, “every single wagon had been turned around to go back the way they had come.” This would simply never do. Calling off of the march for a day was a necessity. In the present state, the train would never have reached its destination even without further enemy interference.

Laudon would still have made his main attack there had he not known of a more appropriate defile not far from Güntersdorf. A short distance from the little village, there arose a short knoll to the right of the roadway. This gave way to a pair of hills protruding not far from the Domstadtl River; rises which were separated by a large wooded hollow which the pass went through.

This defile, known to history fittingly as the Pass of Domstadtl, was the place that Laudon now selected for the main effort against the convoy. Ziethen had recovered his detachment under Werner, which had only reached Gibau anyway, accompanied by the grenadiers of Manteuffel and General Kaspar Rudolph von Unruh. Ziethen, as soon as he reached Gibau, was rewarded with the bad news that Mosel’s forward progress had come to a virtual halt. The horizon showed smoke and there were sounds of a struggle of some sort in Mosel’s direction. Not more than half the wagons had caught up with Mosel, which had caused the day of rest. The horses were exhausted and many of their guides were either missing or else wished they were.

At dawn, June 30, the convoy moved out again. Ziethen and Mosel had decided to take precautions as they approached the Pass at Domstadtl, where they rightly assumed the foe would make another attempt to ambush them. Ziethen’s cavalry was on the right side of the convoy, this being the direction from which the enemy might reasonably be expected. The foot soldiers were on the left, and the escort forces were fanned out enough to maximize their efforts.

As quickly as the advanced wagons of the convoy drew within sight in the early afternoon of June 30, Laudon (who had been joined in the meanwhile by Siskovics and his men) opened on them with his small guns and massed musketry fire. The Austrian mounted men were ordered to block the pass itself. The Prussians approached with the infantry escort still strung out, and the train divided into separate groups. The advanced guard was under General Krockow. The latter promptly rushed forward, cleared the way of the enemy, and managed to push some 250 of the wagons through before Laudon and Siskovics could seal off the penetration. Then Krockow halted his wagons to await the outcome of the struggle.

The Austrian advanced batteries on the leftward rises promptly opened a heavy fire upon the desperate Prussian force below. The small arms fire concentrated on killing the horses, without which the convoy could not proceed. Ziethen’s men, led by the dogmatic Puttkammer, then charged the Austro-Saxon force. This fired up body crashed into Siskovics’s first line, which was sent reeling. Then an enemy force of dragoons burst forth, surrounding the Prussian force. In heavy fighting, the stunned grenadiers cut their way through the enemy and retreated to the “security” of the convoy. This was not a done deal. Laudon, with his force, suddenly emerged on the right. This latter body crashed into the convoy from a new angle. Laudon was particularly determined, and a most obstinate Prussian force was finally overcome by the combined efforts of both allied parties. Finally, the bluecoat force fragmented, allowing the enemy to break in upon the train.

Ziethen, meanwhile, charged again and again to puncture the enemy ring of defenses, with little success. He had the wagons formed into a square (a Wagenburg) to resist the allied strokes. Ziethen’s horsemen surged forward and swept back the foe from the hills, but lost his ground again to counterattacks. It was clear Prussian resistance was indeed stubborn, and the artillery that was at hand unleashed a heavy fire to try to force the allies from the ravine.

At length, Ziethen discovered he had Laudon on one side and Siskovics on the other, and the wagon train was hopelessly bogged down. The prospects for rescue were growing dim.75 In desperation, he abandoned the wagons and, cutting his way through the enemy’s lines, made for Troppau. The entire train was captured, save for that small group rescued by Krockow.

The latter determined to press on, so as to fulfill the mission to the extent now possible. As Ziethen was retreating in the other direction with most of the escort force, it was not long at all before the rather energetic enemy once again appeared, to complete the overthrow of the force trapped at the pass. Scouts reported that allied celebration of their success, which Krockow could do nothing about at the moment.

Any delay did nothing but risk another enemy effort to finish the job. So the greatly reduced supply train lunged forward. By evening, the convoy was near Bistrowan. At Heiligenberg, a new enemy effort indeed was made. This one was far less involved, but the attackers did snare one more wagon. The remainder reached the main Prussian lines.

Prussian losses for the escorting force were approximately 2,386 men; allied casualties were approximately 600.77 One of the most valiant tales associated with this action was the bravery of new recruits of the ranks of the Ferdinand Regiment. “Those inexperienced lads, varying from 17 to 20 years, defended themselves to the last.” Some 900 of these brave youths were at Domstadtl; only 67 passed into captivity. Except for a few wounded survivors, all of the rest perished that day at the pass, almost all of them fighting in a sustained action for the first time. Captain Pirch was among that number. The capping of the Prussian defeat in this melée was in the terrible execution of the Austrian guns, which speedily gained the upper hand.

Siege of Delhi 1857 Part I

In 1857 the city of Delhi was largely confined within its 8km (5 miles) of medieval walls, forming a semi – circle on the west bank of the River Jumna. Some triangular bastions and general repairs had been carried out when the British first took over the city in 1804, but otherwise no attempt had been made to modernize the defences. Nevertheless the walls were some 7.3m (24ft) high and massively constructed, so that breaching them was difficult, even with ample heavy artillery and abundant ammunition. As was usual in Indian fortresses, the gates were formidable enough in themselves. The only real weak point was assumed (wrongly) to be the suburb of Kishangunj lying outside the Kabul Gate. The siege was eventually ended after an artillery bombardment breached the wall near the Kashmire Gate and the city was taken by regular infantry assault.

Major-General Sir Archdale Wilson

Major-General Sir Archdale Wilson’s thoughts now returned to his chief objective: the capture of Delhi. But even after the arrival of the siege-train* on 4 September he was loath to order an assault. By 6 September reinforcements had increased the number of effectives to more than 11,000 men† (though 2,200 of them were the Maharaja of Jammu’s troops and of doubtful quality); a further 3,000 men were in hospital and the number was rising daily. Wilson had been told by Sir John Lawrence that he could expect no more troops and that an assault was imperative. ‘Every day disaffection and mutiny spread,’‡ wrote Lawrence on 29 August. ‘Every day adds to the danger of the European Princes taking part against us.’ Wilson knew that the number of sick was steadily rising. Yet still he procrastinated. Fred Roberts, then on Nicholson’s staff, wrote later:

* Thirty-two howitzers and heavy mortars and more than a hundred bullock-carts of ammunition.

† But only 3,317 were European troops: 580 artillery, 443 cavalry and 2,294 infantry. The infantry regiments were shadows of their former selves, the strongest numbering 409 effectives. The 52nd, which had arrived 600 strong, had already dwindled to 242 fit for duty.

‡ Particularly in the Punjab. There had already been an attempted conspiracy of Muslim tribes in the Murree Hills and an insurrection in Gogaira; moreover, many Sikhs were unconvinced about the durability of British rule and were refusing to enlist. Late August also saw three mutinies by disarmed corps in the Punjab: the 10th Light Cavalry at Ferozepore, the 51st Native Infantry at Peshawar, and the 62nd and 69th Native Infantry at Multan.

Everyone felt that the time had come for the assault to be made, and Wilson’s hesitation caused considerable anxiety. For some unaccountable reason he kept hoping that assistance would come from the South. I say unaccountable because we all knew: —

That Cawnpore had fallen into the enemy’s hands.

That Henry Lawrence was dead and that Lucknow was still being besieged.

That Havelock had written on the 25th July that he had found it impossible to force his way through to Lucknow and had been obliged to fall back upon Cawnpore.

That all the British troops and residents at Agra were shut up in the fort.

In the early days at Delhi we had hoped that troops would arrive from England in time to help us, but by September it was clear that this was impossible . . . There was no place to retreat to and on the slightest sign of our giving in the Punjab would have risen — in more places than one disturbances had already broken out.

When Wilson first took over the command he did very well — far better than either of his two predecessors. We artillerymen especially were proud of having an officer of our own regiment at the head of the Delhi Field Force. But six weeks of responsibility told heavily upon him. The strain was tremendous, and there is no doubt he was quite broken down by the beginning of September.

Wilson confirmed as much in a letter to his wife of 5 September: ‘We are busy preparing for the final struggle, and my work is almost more than I can carry through. I get so exhausted and my head so confused that I at times almost despair. It is made worse by my not sleeping well at night.’ The consequences of a failed assault were clearly uppermost in his mind; at the same time the pressure on him to act was becoming irresistible. No one was more voluble in this respect than his chief engineer, Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Baird-Smith, who ‘fully appreciated the tremendous risks which an assault involved’, but who felt ‘they were less than those of delay’. Baird-Smith was strongly supported by his executive engineer, Lieutenant Alex Taylor, and most of the senior officers on the Ridge, including Nicholson, Chamberlain, Daly and Norman, the acting adjutant-general. At last Wilson bowed to the pressure and agreed to let the engineers prepare a plan of attack. But his objections continued. Baird-Smith recalled: ‘I believe his mind to have been a little off its usual balance all the time we were at work, and he was literally more difficult to deal with than the enemy. It was only by constantly reminding him that if he interfered with my plans, I would throw the whole responsibility for the consequences on him, that I could get on at all.’

The question of an assault finally came to a head at a council of war in Wilson’s tent on 7 September. Fred Roberts recalled:

I was sitting in [Nicholson’s] tent before he set out to attend the council. He had been talking to me in confidential terms . . . and ended by telling me of his intention to take a very unusual step should the council fail to arrive at any fixed determination regarding the assault. ‘Delhi must be taken,’ he said, ‘and it is absolutely essential that this should be done at once; and if Wilson hesitates longer, I intend to propose at today’s meeting that he should be superseded.’ I was greatly startled, and ventured to remark that, as Chamberlain was hors de combat from his wound, Wilson’s removal would leave him, Nicholson, the senior officer with the force. He smiled as he answered: ‘I have not overlooked that fact. I shall make it perfectly clear that, under the circumstances, I could not possibly accept the command myself, and I shall propose that it be given to Campbell of the 52nd; I am prepared to serve under him for the time being, so no one can ever accuse me of being influenced by personal motives’.

As it happened, Nicholson’s resolve to overthrow his commander was not put to the test because, at the council of war, Wilson bowed to the inevitable. He accepted Baird-Smith’s plan of assault in its entirety, but with the proviso that the chief engineer would take the blame if it failed. In a letter to Sir John Lawrence, an elated Nicholson could not hide his contempt for Wilson: ‘I have seen lots of useless generals in my day; but such an ignorant, croaking obstructive as he is, I have hitherto never met with . . .’ The purport of his last message in reply to the Engineers ran thus: ‘I disagree with the Engineers entirely. I foresee great, if not insuperable difficulties in the plan they propose. But as I have no other plan myself, I yield to the urgent remonstrances of the chief engineer.’

The engineers’ plan was to build batteries close enough to the city walls for the new siege guns to be effective. The site chosen was the area between Ludlow Castle, the commissioner’s residence that the rebels had left unoccupied, and the Kashmir and Water Bastions at the north of the city. A ravine here, running east to west, offered the sappers a modicum of cover as they worked. The intention was first to establish a heavy battery on the western side of the ravine to suppress the fire from the Mori and Kashmir Bastions. Then three siege batteries could be constructed in front of Ludlow Castle, the closest only 180 yards from the walls. These would make the breaches. It is unclear who was chiefly responsible for the plan: Baird-Smith has generally been given the credit because he was the senior engineer; but Taylor was the one who, with Nicholson, undertook the hazardous task of reconnoitring the sites and who personally supervised their construction.

Work began on the first battery, known as No. 1, during the night of 7 September. By sunrise its four 24-pounders, five 18-pounders and one 18-inch mortar were ready to open fire. The adjutant of the 75th Foot recalled:

The Moree proceeded to administer its usual dose to the piquets, but the smoke had scarcely spurted from its embrasures when the leafy screen was torn from our battery and we could see the iron hail strike the wall, sending up clouds of dust and bringing the masonry down into the ditch. It must have been an astonisher to the fellows in the bastion, but they quickly recovered from their surprise and turning the guns on the battery commenced a regular duel with it; our fellows continued to fire salvos, that is, all the guns fired together like an infantry volley, and the effect of such a weight of metal striking the walls at once soon became apparent, for the Moree began to look like a large heap of earth, and gun after gun was disabled in the front of it till at length not one was fit for service.

That evening, Ludlow Castle was occupied and work began on No. 2 Battery, just 500 yards from the Kashmir Bastion. The rebels had assumed that the focal point of any British attack would be against the Kabul and Lahore Gates on the west side of the city. Now, disabused of that notion, they did everything they could to prevent the siege batteries from being constructed. But the engineers would not be deterred. No. 2 Battery* was ready on 11 September, the remaining two† a day later. No. 3 Battery, the closest to the walls, had been built under ‘a constant fire of musketry’ that inevitably cost the Indian workmen‡ many casualties: thirty-nine during the first night of work. Fred Roberts, who was in charge of two guns in No. 2 Battery, had nothing but admiration for the bravery of these unarmed pioneers. ‘As man after man was knocked over,’ he wrote, ‘they would stop a moment, weep a little over a fallen friend, place his body in a row with the rest, and then work on as before.’

* Seven heavy howitzers, two 18-pounders and nine 24-pounders.

† No. 3 Battery comprised six 18-pounders and twelve 5½-inch mortars; No. 4 Battery, sited between 2 and 3, ten heavy mortars.

‡ The British camp on the Ridge was a magnet for thousands of Indian camp-followers who were prepared to risk their lives for a few annas a day.

The morning of 12 September saw the combined fire of all four batteries — a total of fifty guns and mortars — unleashed upon Delhi’s walls. The rebels, unable to fire from their ruined bastions, brought their guns out into the open and enfiladed the siege batteries. They also sited a gun in the curtain wall near the Kashmir Bastion, fired rockets from one of their towers and ‘maintained a perfect storm of musketry from their advanced trench and from the city walls’. British casualties alone were more than three hundred during the six days prior to the assault.

At dusk on 13 September two pairs of engineer officers — Lieutenants Lang,§ Medley, Greathed and Home — went to reconnoitre the breaches near the Kashmir and Water Bastions. Lieutenants Lang and Medley made it across the ditch and were about to ascend the rubble in the breach when the appearance of two sepoy sentries forced them to retire. Both pairs reported to Baird-Smith that the breaches were ‘practicable’. He, in turn, convinced Wilson that to delay any longer would be fatal. Finally Wilson gave orders for the attack to take place the following morning.

§ Lieutenant Arthur Lang, who arrived at Delhi from Lahore on 27 July, had already carried out a daring daytime reconnaissance on the breach near the Kashmir Bastion, but was sent back in company with Medley to ascertain whether ladders would be required to scale the ditch.

The infantry assigned to the assault was divided into five columns:* the first, commanded by Brigadier-General Nicholson, was given the task of storming the broken face of the Kashmir Bastion and the nearby breach in the wall, before clearing the ramparts and bastions as far as the Ajmir Gate; the second, under Brigadier Jones of the 61st Foot, was to storm the breach in the Water Bastion and follow Nicholson as far as the Kabul Gate; the third, led by Colonel Campbell of the 52nd Light Infantry, was to enter through the shattered Kashmir Gate and head through the heart of the city towards the Jama Masjid mosque; the fourth, under Major Reid of the Sirmur Battalion, was to attack the suburbs of Kisenganj and Paharipur, and support ‘the main attack by effecting an entrance at the Cabul Gate after it should be taken’; the fifth, under Brigadier Longfield, was to cover Nicholson’s column and form a reserve. In addition the Cavalry Brigade, under Brigadier Hope Grant, was to take up a position on the right of No. 1 Battery to oppose any attempt at taking the storming columns in the flank. With so many soldiers devoted to the attack, only a thin covering screen of cavalry, artillery and convalescents was available to protect the camp. ‘A very insufficient guard,’ wrote one officer, ‘when it is considered that the enemy might well, out of their vast numbers, have detached part of their horsemen and infantry to harass, if not imperil, its safety and that of the many sick and wounded.’

* The 1st column (1,000 men) was made up of HM 75th Foot, 1st Bengal Fusiliers and 2nd Punjab Infantry; the 2nd column (850 men) of HM 8th Foot, 2nd Bengal Fusiliers and 4th Sikhs; the 3rd column (950 men) of HM 52nd Light Infantry, Kumaon Battalion and 1st Punjab Infantry; the 4th column (860 men) of the Sirmur Battalion, Guides Infantry and various other units, as well as 1,200 men of the Jammu Contingent; the reserve column (1,000 men) of HM 61st Foot, 4th Punjab Infantry and the Baluch Battalion, as well as 300 of the Jhind Contingent.

The plan was to attack at dawn. But many of the men assigned to the storming columns had been on picket duty and it took some time for them to re-join their corps. A further delay was caused by the need to destroy the partial repairs to the breaches that the rebels had effected during the night. It was, therefore, daylight when the breaching guns ceased fire and the order to advance was given. ‘No sooner were the front ranks seen by the rebels,’ recalled Fred Roberts, who was watching with Wilson from Ludlow Castle, than a storm of bullets met them from every side, and officers and men fell thick on the crest of the glacis. Then, for a few seconds, amidst a blaze of musketry, the soldiers stood at the edge of the ditch, for only one or two of the ladders had come up, the rest having been dropped by their killed or wounded carriers. Dark figures crowded on the breach, hurling stones upon our men, and daring them to come on. More ladders were brought up, they were thrown into the ditch, and our men, leaping into it, raised them against the escarp on the other side. Nicholson, at the head of a part of his column, was the first to ascend the breach in the curtain. The remainder of his troops diverged a little to the right to escalade the breach in the Kashmir bastion.

The engineer officer leading this party was Lieutenant Arthur Lang, who recorded:

Up went our ladder, but once on the berm we instantly saw that there was no place for placing our long ladders, so we scrambled just a steep, crumbling wall of masonry. I have seen it since in cold blood, and wondered how we got up at all. I was just falling backwards on our own bayonets when a Gurkha pushed me up luckily, and presently over we were, and, with the 75th and men from the Water Bastion breach, were tearing down the ramp into the Main Guard behind the Kashmere Gate.

While the 1st and 2nd Columns were storming the breaches, the 3rd Column was attacking the Kashmir Gate. On reaching the ditch in front of the gate, the infantry were ordered to lie down while Lieutenants Home and Salkeld of the Bengal Engineers, eight sappers and a bugler from the 52nd Light Infantry went forward to blow the gate. The bridge in front of the gate had been destroyed, and it was no easy task for Home and the men carrying the powder-bags to cross the single beam that remained. All the while the rebels kept up a stream of fire from the top of the gate, the city walls and through the open wicket, killing Sergeant Carmichael and wounding Havildar Madhoo. But their comrades managed to nail the bags to the gate before dropping down into the ditch to make way for Salkeld and the firing party. Salkeld was about to fire the charge when he was hit in the leg and arm. He handed the slow-match to Corporal Burgess, who, though mortally wounded, managed to complete the task.* As the noise of the explosion died away, Bugler Hawthorne sounded the advance. Ensign Wilberforce, part of the storming party of the 52nd that was sheltering in the ditch, remembered:

* Four of the eleven-strong party received the Victoria Cross: Lieutenants Duncan Home and Philip Salkeld (Bengal Engineers), Sergeant John Smith (Bengal Sappers and Miners) and Bugler Robert Hawthorne (HM 52nd Light Infantry). Both officers were dead within a month: Home was killed at Malagarh; Salkeld died of his wounds.

Away we went. Inside that sheltering glacis was security from the murderous fire to which we had been exposed . . . I saw my Captain, Crosse, go in through the Gate. It was only large enough to admit one at a time. I was going next when Corporal Taylor pushed me on one side and got second. I came next — third man in. Through the gateway we saw an open square, the sunlight pouring into it — empty. Under the arch of the gateway stood a nine-pounder gun . . . Near to and around the gun lay some dead bodies, the defenders of the Gate, the men who had shot the devoted Salkeld . . . The Gate was soon thrown open, and our men, Coke’s Rifles, and the Kumaon battalion, which formed our assaulting column, poured in after us.

As the 3rd Column entered the open space between the Main Guard and the charred ruins of St James’s Church, its men met and mingled with soldiers from the first two columns. Gradually the columns sorted themselves out and set off towards their various objectives: the 1st and 2nd Columns up the narrow road that followed the ramparts; the 3rd Column towards the Jama Masjid and the kotwali. For a time, however, the 1st Column was without Nicholson because he and Alex Taylor had taken a wrong turn towards Skinner’s House. Instead it was left to Lieutenant Lang to lead the way. He recalled:

On we rushed, shouting and cheering, while the grape and musketry from each bend, and from every street leading from our left, and from rampart and housetop, knocked down men and officers. It was exciting to madness and I felt no feeling except to rush on and hit: I only wondered how much longer I could possibly go on unhit, when the whole air seemed full of bullets . . .

We poured past the Kabul Gate and we went swimmingly along until we nearly reached the Lahore; then a short check was given by a barricade with a gun firing grape from behind it. Brig. Jones came up and called for the Engineer officer and asked where the Kabul Gate was . . . ‘Far behind,’ I said. ‘We shall have the Lahore presently.’ Alas, he declared that his orders were to stop at the Kabul.

Lang and others in the vanguard were all for continuing. But the opposition had stiffened and it was as much as they could do to hold the ground already gained. ‘As long as we rushed on cheering and never stopping, all went well,’ recalled Lang. ‘But the check was sad: the men, crouching behind comers, and in the archways which support the ramparts, gradually nursed a panic.’ Assailed by a storm of rebel musket and cannon fire, the advance troops began to retire in ones and twos. The officers did their best to stem the flow. But, within half an hour, the trickle had become a flood, and the officers were swept along in the headlong retreat back to the Kabul Gate.

It was now that Nicholson re-joined his column and resumed command. Minutes earlier he had been spotted on the walls of the Mori Bastion by Brigadier Hope Grant, commander of the cavalry brigade supporting the 4th Column. Nicholson had shouted down to Grant that all was going to plan, and that he was about to attack the Lahore Gate. Grant had less encouraging news: the 4th Column’s attack, led by Major Reid of the Sirmur Battalion, had been repulsed from the suburbs outside the Kabul Gate. A rebel counter-attack was now driving the entire column back to its starting point in the gardens of Sabzi Mundi. ‘We saw the repulse of Reid’s column,’ wrote the recuperating Neville Chamberlain, who was watching from his stretcher on the roof of Hindu Rao’s house, ‘and could not fail to admire the conduct of the mutineer native officers as they rode along in front of their regiments endeavouring to incite their men to press home their advantage against the Cashmere Contingent . . . The Jummoo troops bolted,* lost the whole or a portion of their guns, came back on our men, created a panic, and we were driven back in confusion . . . So critical did affairs then look that it seemed possible the enemy might succeed in passing through, or might turn our right defences and attack them from the rear.’ Chamberlain’s response was to order his bearers to carry him down to the gardens, where he rallied the beaten troops and organized a defensive position from his stretcher.

* Wilson also blamed the failure of the attack on ‘the cowardice of the Jummoo contingent, who ran away leaving their guns to the enemy’ (Wilson to his wife, 15 September 1857, Wilson Letters, NAM, 6807-483).

All this time Grant’s cavalry brigade had been watching helplessly, unable to ride to the assistance of Reid’s column because of the broken and built-up nature of the ground. Instead they had moved round to a position on the far right, less than 500 yards from the Lahore Gate. But the failure of Reid’s column to take the ground in front of the Kabul Gate, and Nicholson’s inability to progress beyond the same point within the city, meant that Grant’s men were subjected to a galling fire from the untouched heavy guns of the Burn Bastion and Lahore Gate. Grant and four of his staff had their horses killed under them; two of them were wounded, and Grant himself was hit by a spent musket-ball. Tombs’s troop of horse artillery lost half its 50 men and a further 17 horses; the 9th Lancers had 38 casualties and 71 horses wounded. ‘Nothing daunted,’ wrote Grant, ‘those gallant fellows held their trying position with patient endurance; and on my praising them for their good behaviour, they declared their readiness to stand the fire as long as I chose.’

Siege of Delhi 1857 Part II

Lieutenant George Alexander Renny VC at the Delhi Magazine, 16th December 1857 by David Rowlands

It may well have been the plight of the cavalry that made Nicholson so determined to achieve his last objective by capturing the Lahore Gate. But to do so he first had to take the Burn Bastion, which lay at the end of a narrow lane, 200 yards long, flanked on one side by the city wall and on the other by flat-roofed houses swarming with rebel snipers. Twice men from the 1st Bengal Fusiliers had tried to advance down the lane and twice they had been driven back with heavy losses, including their commander, Major Jacob, who was mortally wounded. Now Nicholson himself took charge. Calling on the demoralized fusiliers to follow him, he ran forward into the lane. But halfway down he realized that only a handful of men were still with him. He was in the act of calling the rest to come on, his sword above his head, when he was shot below his exposed right armpit by a sepoy firing down from one of the flat roofs. As he fell, a sergeant of the 1st Fusiliers caught him and dragged him into a small recess below the city wall. For some time he refused to be moved, saying he would stay until Delhi had been taken. Eventually he relented and was carried back to the Kabul Gate and placed in a doolie. The bearers were told to take him to the field hospital beyond the Ridge, but they preferred to plunder and left him on the side of the road a short way beyond the Kashmir Gate.

General Wilson had watched the start of the assault from the roof of Ludlow Castle. When it became clear that the first three columns had gained a foothold in the city, he rode with his staff through the Kashmir Gate and set up his advanced headquarters in the ruins of St Thomas’s Church. There he remained for the rest of the day, becoming ‘more anxious and depressed’ as report after discouraging report came in. ‘He heard of Reid’s failure,’ recalled Fred Roberts, ‘and of Reid himself having been severely wounded; then came the disastrous news that Nicholson had fallen, and a report (happily false) that Hope Grant and Tombs were both killed. All this greatly agitated and depressed the General, until at last he began seriously to consider the advisability of leaving the city and falling back on the Ridge. I was ordered to go and find out the truth of these reports, and to ascertain exactly what had happened to No. 4 column and the Cavalry on our right.’

Roberts had just ridden through the Kashmir Gate when he came upon an abandoned doolie. Dismounting to see if he could be of any assistance to the occupant, he discovered to his ‘grief and consternation, that it was John Nicholson, with death written on his face’. Nicholson told him that he was in great pain and wished to be taken to hospital. Roberts, observing no visible sign of injury, expressed the hope that he was not seriously wounded. ‘I am dying,’ replied Nicholson, ‘there is no chance for me.’ Roberts was shocked. He had seen many men die, but to lose Nicholson at that moment was to ‘lose everything’. Only with difficulty did he gather four doolie-bearers from the multitude of camp-followers who were looting property in the vicinity and place them under the orders of a sergeant of the 61st Foot. He never saw Nicholson again.

Continuing his mission, Roberts eventually came across the Cavalry Brigade. Delighted to discover that both Tombs and Hope Grant were still alive, and that there was ‘no need for further anxiety about Reid’s column’, he galloped back to the church to report to Wilson. The news cheered Wilson without entirely dispelling his forebodings — and these increased when word arrived soon after that Campbell’s column had been forced to retire from the Jama Masjid, its furthest point of advance, to the area around the church. This failure, coupled with the ‘hopelessness of Nicholson’s condition, and, above all, the heavy list of casualties which he received later,* appeared to crush all spirit and energy’ out of Wilson. He became more convinced than ever of the need to withdraw from the city and would, in Roberts’s opinion, have ‘carried out this fatal measure’ had it not been for the presence of his chief engineer, Richard Baird-Smith, who had insisted on remaining at headquarters despite suffering from dysentery and a painful leg wound. When asked for his opinion, Baird-Smith’s reply was emphatic: ‘We must hold on.’

* During the first day of the assault, 14 September 1857, the Delhi Field Force’s casualties were sixty-six officers and 1,104 men killed and wounded, or two men in nine.

Chamberlain gave the same response to a letter from Wilson, written at four in the afternoon, stating that ‘if the Hindu Rao’s picquet cannot be moved, I do not think we shall be strong enough to take the city’. It was, said Chamberlain, imperative to hold on to the last, not least because the ground already gained would have severely demoralized the enemy. The dying Nicholson was just as determined. When told of Wilson’s suggestion to retire, he rose up in bed and roared: ‘Thank God I have strength yet to shoot him, if necessary.’

Faced with this consensus of opinion, Wilson gave up all idea of retreating. But he could not dispel his fear of failure for some days yet, as his letters to his wife demonstrate. ‘We are now holding what we have taken, but nothing more,’ he wrote on the 15th. ‘Our position is from the Cabul Gate to the College, and I cannot say we have complete possession of that. I am in Skinner’s house . . . The Europeans with the Column with me got hold of lots of beer in the Shops, and made themselves helpless. I have not a Queen’s officer under me worth a pin, or who can preserve any sort of discipline except Jones of the 60th Rifles, in fact the men are so badly officered that they will and can do nothing tomorrow . . . All we can now expect to do, is to get on gradually, but this street fighting is frightful work. Pandy is as good a soldier at that as our men.’

The fighting technique employed by Lieutenant Lang and soldiers of the 1st Column in the vicinity of the Kabul Gate was to climb on to the roof of a house and fire down into the next yard while sappers picked a hole through the wall into the adjoining house. They would then storm through the hole, turn out any non-combatants* and secure the house. And so on. But on the 15th they were forced to concede some ground and spent the day erecting parapets on the rooftops out of ‘gaily painted doors and sandbags’.

* In his ‘General Order’ of 6 September 1857, Wilson had told his men to give ‘no quarter’ to the mutineers. But for the ‘sake of humanity, and the honour of the country they belong to’, he asked them ‘to spare all women and children that may come in their way’. On the whole this request was adhered to. Able-bodied men, on the other hand, were invariably ‘taken for rebels and shot’. Mainodin Hassan Khan, the rebel kotwal of Delhi, recorded: ‘The green as well as the dry trees were consumed; the guiltless shared the same fate as the guilty. As innocent Christians fell victims on the 11th of May, so the same evil fate befel the Mahommedans on the 20th September, 1857. The gallows slew those who had escaped the sword.’ (Two Native Narratives, 72.)

The following day the 61st Foot took the magazine and Lang was given the task of setting up a battery to play on the Selimgarh Fort and neighbouring Royal Palace. Yet Wilson’s spirits were lower than ever. ‘Our force is too weak for this street fighting, where we have to gain our way inch by inch,’ he informed his wife on the 16th. As Wilson’s letter of the 15th mentioned, part of the problem was drunkenness, particularly among his European and Sikh troops who had got hold of an ‘immense quantity of wines, spirits and beer’ and were ‘incapable of doing their duty’.

On 17 September the 52nd Light Infantry occupied the Bank of Delhi on the Chandni Chauk (‘Silver Bazaar’), the famous main street of jewellers and cloth merchants that ran from the Red Fort to the Lahore Gate. Also that day Hodson’s spies reported that most of the mutineers had already fled the city in the direction of Mathura, and that those remaining were about to follow. This news reinvigorated Wilson, who told his wife that the rebels appeared to be ‘very disheartened’ and that he would not be surprised ‘to find the whole City with exception to the Palace evacuated in two or three days’.

Unknown to Wilson until the following day, the King of Delhi and his family had left the Red Fort during the afternoon of the 18th and taken refuge in Humayun’s tomb,* six miles south of the city. Bakht Khan is said to have begged the King to accompany him and a large force to Lucknow. But the King refused and Bakht Khan departed without him, taking as many men as he could muster. With the rebel garrison greatly reduced, Wilson’s men made significant gains on the 19th, notably the Burn Bastion, which was captured by Lang, Roberts and fewer than fifty men. Even now Wilson’s letters to his wife were only cautiously optimistic. ‘We are . . . progressing favourably through bombarding the City and gradually seizing strong posts,’ he wrote.

* Humayun (1530-56) was the second of the six great Mogul Emperors.

The following day it was all over. First Lang and Roberts repeated their feat of the previous day by taking the Lahore Gate from the rear with a small force; then they advanced up the deserted Chandni Chouk, ‘finding none but dead and wounded Pandies, and wondering at our finding our way all clear before us’. Meanwhile a separate column had occupied the Jama Masjid and Ensign McQueen of the 4th Punjab Infantry had ascertained that the Red Fort was all but denuded of defenders. So Lang and Roberts pushed on to the Lahore Gate of the fort. Powder was brought by another engineer officer, Lieutenant Home, and the outer gate was blown in. ‘As soon as the smoke of the explosion died away,’ recalled Roberts, ‘the 60th [Rifles], supported by the 4th Punjab Infantry, sprang through the gateway; but we did not get far, for there was a second door beyond, chained and barred, which was with difficulty forced open, when the whole party rushed in. The recesses in the long passage which led to the palace buildings were crowded with wounded men, but there was very little opposition, for only a few fanatics still held out.’

According to Lang, the race to ‘sit first in the crystal throne of the Moghuls in the Diwan-i-Khas’ was between an officer named Murray and a private of the 60th. He does not mention the victor, but adds:

British soldiers and Sikhs rummaged all the swell private rooms and marble baths of the Zenana. All the valuables seemed to have been taken away, and what was left the troops seized and tossed about. I took a little book which I say was a present from the Prince of Bokhara to the Delhi family! It was in an elegant private room in the Zenana; there I took too five pachisi* markers of glass which young princesses had been playing with just before their flight: but no real valuable plunder are we allowed to take.

* An Indian game similar to ludo.

Wilson’s ‘General Order’ of 6 September had prohibited ‘indiscriminate plunder’ and instead appointed prize agents to collect and sell ‘all captured property’ with the proceeds divided ‘fairly among all men engaged’. It was widely ignored as both officers and men ‘appropriated to their own use much treasure that ought to have gone towards swelling the general fund’. Nevertheless, goods worth more than £350,000 were handed in. And honesty did not pay because, shortly after the fall of Delhi, Canning countermanded Wilson’s order by forbidding the payment of prize money for goods stolen from British subjects, which the Indians technically were. The official reward for the victors of Delhi was restricted to the standard campaign batta of 36 rupees and 10 annas for privates and 450 rupees for lieutenants. The soldiers were incensed and took care not to surrender plunder during subsequent operations. Eventually the Indian government gave in to public pressure in Britain and agreed to distribute the prize money for Delhi in two instalments: the first in 1862, the second in 1865. The basic share for privates was £17 (almost a year’s pay); ensigns received five shares, captains eleven and a half and Wilson, the Commander-in-Chief, a sixteenth of the total, ‘an immense sum’.

That evening, 20 September, Lang and others celebrated the taking of Delhi by riding their horses up the steps of the Jama Masjid, dancing jigs and drinking toasts of beer and brandy. Sikh soldiers celebrated by lighting fires in the sacred mosque.

The following morning Wilson established his headquarters in the Diwan-i-Khas. One of his first visitors was Hodson, who had discovered that Bahadur Shah and the principal members of his family were sheltering in Humayun’s tomb. Hodson volunteered to arrest them, pointing out that ‘victory would be incomplete if the King and his male relatives were allowed to remain at large’. Wilson replied that the enterprise was too dangerous. Even when Hodson enlisted the support of Neville Chamberlain, Wilson ‘would not consent to any force being sent after them, and it was with considerable reluctance that he agreed to Hodson going on this hazardous duty with some of his men only’. Hodson set off at once with a hundred horsemen and soon reached the tomb, a magnificent structure of red sandstone inlaid with white marble whose grounds were thronged with thousands of armed retainers. Halting at the gateway, he sent in two emissaries to negotiate with Bahadur Shah. In return for surrendering, his life and that of his favourite wife, Begum Zinat Mahal, and her son, Mirza Jawan Bakht, would be guaranteed. After two hours of tense negotiations, Bahadur Shah and the Begum appeared in a gharry and Hodson escorted them back to Delhi, where they were placed under an armed guard in the Begum’s house in Chandi Chauk.

Bahadur Shah remained in Delhi until his trial in January 1858,* a figure of curiosity for the many Europeans who found it hard to believe that this was the man in whose name the rebellion had begun. Among his visitors was ‘Butcher’ Vibart, who had more reason to resent him than most, but who actually felt more pity than anger. Vibart recorded:

* Bahadur Shah was arraigned before a military commission at Delhi on 27 January 1858 on charges of rebellion, treason and murder. After a trial lasting forty days, he was found guilty on all counts, but no sentence was passed because Hodson had guaranteed his life. Instead the government exiled him, Begum Zinat Mahal and the surviving members of his family to Rangoon. He died there in 1862.

At the door stood a European sentry, but I had no difficulty in gaining admittance, and there I saw, sitting cross-legged on a native bedstead, on which he was rocking himself to and fro, a small and attenuated old man apparently between eighty and ninety years of age, with a long white beard, and almost totally blind. He was repeating to himself, in a low but audible murmur, some verses of the Koran, or it may be of some of his own poetical compositions — for he aspired to be a poet — and he certainly looked an object of pity and compassion . . . and not feeling inclined to disturb them by making any remarks, I merely stood and gazed for a while in silence on this woe-begone picture of fallen greatness, and then left the poor old man still mumbling to himself in the solitude of his dreary apartment.

On 24 September, having convinced Wilson of the need to arrest the King’s sons, Hodson returned to Humayun’s tomb. Lieutenant Macdowell, Hodson’s second-in-command, takes up the story:

We started at eight o’clock, and halted half a mile from the tomb where the Princes were. Close by were about 3,000 of their Mussalmen followers, so it was rather a ticklish bit of work. We sent in to say the Princes must give themselves up unconditionally, or take the consequences. A long half hour elapsed, when a messenger came out to say the Princes wished to know if their lives would be promised them if they came out. ‘Unconditional surrender,’ was the answer. Again we waited. It was a most anxious time . . . We heard the shouts of the fanatics . . . begging the Princes to lead them on against us. And we had only one hundred men and were six miles from Delhi. At length . . . they resolved to give themselves up . . . Soon the Princes [two of the King’s sons, Mirza Mogul and Mirza Kizr Sultan, and his grandson, Mirza Abu Bakr] appeared in a cart. Behind them thronged about 2,000 or 3,000 Mussulmans (I am not exaggerating).

Hodson told ten sowars to hurry the princes into the city while he and the rest of his men kept back the mob. The best way to do this, Hodson reasoned, would be to disarm the crowd. So accompanied by just four men he entered the garden in front of the tomb and ordered the men there to lay down their arms. Macdowell recorded: ‘There was a murmur. He reiterated the command and (God knows why, I never can understand it) they commenced doing so.’

When all the weapons had been thrown into a cart, Hodson and his men set off for Delhi, overtaking the princes and their small escort about a mile from the city walls. ‘I came up just in time,’ wrote Hodson, ‘as a large crowd had collected and were turning on the guard. I rode in among them at a gallop, and in a few words appealed to the crowd, saying that these were the butchers who had murdered and brutally used helpless women and children, and that the Government had now sent their punishment: seizing a carbine from one of my men, I deliberately shot them one after another.’ Hodson’s version of events is open to question. According to Macdowell, there was no overt threat from the crowd when Hodson caught up with the princes and declared: ‘I think we had better shoot them here. We shall never get them in.’ He did not help his cause by stripping the princes of some signet rings, a turquoise armlet and their swords. Forced to relinquish the jewellery, he was determined to hang on to at least one sword. ‘If I ever part with it,’ he wrote, ‘it shall be to . . . our Good Queen . . . Tombs declares I shall get a CB . . . and, between ourselves, I ought to have anything they can give me, for it was a fearful risk.’ Reaction to Hodson’s summary executions was mixed. Most British officers at Delhi thought the princes had got their just deserts. Even Wilson was supportive, telling his wife that two of the princes ‘have been most virulent against us’ and that ‘Hodson, as a Partizan Officer, has not his equal’. But others, further afield, were not convinced the shootings were necessary, and Hodson’s battered reputation suffered still further.

On 23 September, the day after Hodson shot the princes, Nicholson at last succumbed to the wound he had received on the 14th. He had spent most of the intervening period high on morphine, though in his more lucid moments he dictated a number of messages, including one to Sir John Lawrence, begging him to replace Wilson with Chamberlain. Other — more personal — notes were to his mother and Herbert Edwardes. Many officers, including Roberts, tried to visit Nicholson on his deathbed, but were turned away by the faithful Muhammad Hayat Khan, who did not want his master disturbed. Told on the 20th that Delhi had fallen, Nicholson replied that his last wish had ‘been granted’. Two days later he was too weak to say more than a few words to Chamberlain. The following day, at one in the afternoon, he died.

Much of British India was grief-stricken — but no one was hit harder than Herbert Edwardes in Peshawar. ‘I feel as if all happiness has gone out of my public career,’ he telegraphed to Chamberlain. ‘It was a pleasure even to behold him. And then his nature was so fully equal to his frame! So undaunted, so noble, so tender, so good, so stern to evil, so single-minded, so generous, so heroic, yet so modest. I never saw another like him, and never expect to do so. And to have had him for a brother, and now to lose him in the prime of life. It is an inexpressible and irreparable grief.’ Of the old Punjab hands only Sir John Lawrence, with whom he had crossed swords in the past, was less than fulsome in his praise, though even Lawrence was prepared to acknowledge that he had played the major role in the victory at Delhi. As for Wilson, he mourned the passing of that ‘fine fellow Nicholson’ with the words: ‘What an assistance he would have been to me.’

Nicholson’s funeral took place on 24 September in the newly prepared cemetery between the Kashmir Gate and Ludlow Castle. It was a sombre occasion: no ‘Dead March’, no volleys over the grave. Just a large, respectful crowd of Europeans, Gurkhas, Pathans and Afghans, led by the chief mourner, Neville Chamberlain. Only after the grave had been filled in did Nicholson’s frontier horsemen give vent to their grief by throwing themselves on the ground and weeping. Ensign Wilberforce, who was present, recorded:

Probably not one of these men had ever shed a tear; but for them Nicholson was everything. For him they left their frontier homes, for him they had forsaken their beloved hills to come down to the detested plains; they acknowledged none but him, they served none but him. They believed, as others, that the bullet was not cast, the sword not ground, that could hurt him; over and over again in the frontier skirmishes they had seen Nicholson pass unharmed where others must have been killed; and now that the earth was placed on his coffin, they threw their tradition to the wind.

Fred Roberts was among those who missed the funeral. As it took place, he was marching out of Delhi with a mobile column of 2,650 men* and sixteen guns, under Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Greathed of the 8th Foot, sent in pursuit of the ‘flying Rebels’. Roberts later described their route along the Chandni Chauk as a ‘veritable city of the dead’. He added: ‘Dead bodies were strewn about in all directions, in every attitude that the death-struggle had caused them to assume, and in every stage of decomposition . . . Here a dog gnawed at an uncovered limb, there a vulture, disturbed by our approach from its loathsome meal, but too completely gorged to fly, fluttered away to a safer distance . . . Our horses seemed to feel the horror of it as much as we did, for they shook and snorted in evident terror.’

* 750 British and 1,900 Indian troops, including detachments from the 9th Lancers, 8th and 75th Foot, 1st, 2nd and 5th Punjab Cavalry, 2nd and 4th Punjab Infantry, Bengal Sappers and Miners.

General Wilson remained at Delhi until 4 October, when he was relieved by General Penny and given two months’ sick leave with his wife in the hills. For his services at Delhi he was successively awarded a CB, a knighthood, a baronetcy — Sir Archdale Wilson of Delhi — and finally a pension of £1,000 a year. No mention was made in public of his hesitant — almost defeatist — conduct at Delhi until much later. And yet if men of the calibre of Chamberlain, Baird-Smith and, above all, Nicholson, had not stood up to him, he might well have withdrawn his troops from Delhi — an act whose consequences could have been fatal for British India. As it was, the success of the assault was in the balance for at least four days, a fact not lost on Wilson himself. ‘Had the fellows had any pluck,’ wrote Wilson to his brother on 27 September, ‘our small Force must have been annihilated, after getting into the City, which is built of brick houses each a fortification with few exceptions, narrow winding streets, and large masses of shops and buildings. It is only by God’s Providence in putting dismay into the Rebels’ hearts, that we have succeeded . . . I trust my success will have the effect of cutting the neck of the Rebellion, but there is much to be done yet.’

No sooner had news of Delhi’s capture reached Agra than the authorities there* were urging Wilson to move to their assistance ‘with a large moveable Column’. But it was as much as Wilson could do to scrape together the troops that he did. The retaking of Delhi had cost the British 992 killed and 2,845 wounded,† out of an effective force that was never more than 10,000 men. Many hundreds more had died of disease and exposure. Most of the seven European regiments were down to barely two hundred effectives. All were ‘sadly disorganized’, ill-disciplined and, according to Wilson, ‘badly commanded from the loss of most of their old Officers’. Yet Wilson was not disheartened. ‘If Havelock could only relieve Lucknow and move up this way,’ he wrote on 22 September, ‘the whole rebellion could be put down.’

* John Colvin, the Lieutenant-Governor of the North-Western Provinces, had died of a mysterious illness on 9 September. E. A. Reade, the next senior civilian, assumed charge of the Agra administration until Calcutta appointed a military officer, Colonel Hugh Fraser of the Bengal Engineers, as Colvin’s replacement with the inferior rank of chief commissioner. Colonel Cotton continued as military chief.

† The casualties of the three corps that bore the brunt of the fighting at Delhi were as follows: 60th Rifles, 389 out of 640 men; Sirmur Battalion, 319 out of 540; Corps of Guides, 303 out of 550.

The Loss of Cyprus [1564–1570] I

Selim, Ottoman Sultan, Emperor of the Turks, Lord of Lords, King of Kings, Shadow of God, Lord of the Earthly Paradise and of Jerusalem, to the Signory of Venice:

We demand of you Cyprus, which you shall give us willingly or perforce; and do not awake our horrible sword, for we shall wage most cruel war against you everywhere; neither put your trust in your treasure, for we shall cause it suddenly to run from you like a torrent.

Beware, therefore, lest you arouse our wrath…

Venice had now been at peace with the Turks for almost a quarter of a century: twenty-five years in which she had had a chance to restore her finances, build up her fleet, and erect ever more sumptuous monuments with which to dazzle friend and foe alike. She well knew, however, that that peace could not last indefinitely. Suleiman the Magnificent was not yet satisfied with his conquests. Recently, it was true, domestic affairs had claimed much of his attention; but since 1559 Turkish naval activity in the Mediterranean had been noticeably – and ominously – on the increase, and though much of it was centred on the North African coast and so somewhat outside Venice’s direct sphere of interest, it was nevertheless near enough to cause her misgivings. The great Khaireddin Barbarossa, at whose name all the maritime states of Europe had once trembled, was dead – though not before he had sacked and briefly occupied Nice and actually had the audacity to winter his fleet in Toulon; but his mantle had fallen on another freebooting captain, Torghud Ra’is, known to most Christians as Dragut, who had already proved himself more than worthy of it – capturing Tripoli from the Knights of St John in 1551 and utterly routing, nine years later, a Spanish fleet sent by Philip II to dislodge him.

It was, as likely as not, these two successes that now decided Suleiman to launch a major attack against Malta, with the object of expelling the Knights from the island just as he had expelled them from their earlier base at Rhodes some forty years before. He had no reason to think that the operation would prove any harder than its predecessor. Malta might possess one of the finest natural harbours in the world, but it was not a natural stronghold, and the Knights had only their own man-made defences in which to put their trust. Moreover their resources were quite unusually poor. Compared with the greenness and fertility of Rhodes, Malta was almost a desert island, rocky and treeless, possessed of no lakes or rivers and manifestly incapable of withstanding a prolonged siege through one of its long, rainless summers.

If, however, the Knights could expect little sustenance from their scanty, stony soil, that soil would show itself still more inhospitable to a besieging army. It followed that the force which the Sultan was to hurl against them in May 1565 had from the first to be largely self-supporting. And whereas Rhodes was only ten miles from the Turkish coast, Malta was nearly a thousand. Small wonder that Suleiman’s invasion fleet, carrying as it did not only the entire army with its horses, cannon and ammunition but all its food and water too, was said to be one of the largest ever seen on the high seas.

The story of the siege, with the heroic and ultimately successful resistance of some 600 knights – many of them, like the Grand Master Jean de la Valette, already old men – and rather fewer than 7,000 soldiers, including mercenaries and local militia, is one of the great epics of history: but it has no place in this book. Since their settlement in Malta in 1530 – the island having been leased to them by Charles V at the nominal rental of a single falcon, payable annually on All Souls’ Day – the Knights of St John had lost what little strategic importance they had once possessed. As hospitallers they still had a useful duty to perform; their Great Hospital, open to all, was famous throughout Christendom. As an aggressive fighting force against the Turk, they were negligible.

Malta itself, on the other hand, occupied a key position in the central Mediterranean, being a natural stepping-stone between Turkish-held Tripoli and Sicily – which latter formed part of the dominions of Philip of Spain. Had it fallen, with its superb harbour, into the hands of Suleiman, the consequent danger to Sicily would have been real and immediate, and that to South Italy scarcely less so. In the circumstances it was only surprising that the Gran Soccorso – the 9,000-strong Spanish force which ultimately came to the relief of the by now desperate Knights in September – was not more numerous, and that it had delayed so long. None the less, its appearance was decisive. The Sultan’s army, well over half of it incapacitated by dysentery and fever, raised the siege and re-embarked; and Christendom rejoiced. After five centuries of almost unbroken advance, the Turks had been halted at last. And a year later, almost to the day, came more, equally welcome news: Suleiman the Magnificent was dead.

The Turks had been halted; but there was no indication that they had been finally stopped. Indeed, by the time the eighty-five-year-old Pietro Loredan succeeded Girolamo Priuli as Doge in November 1567, there was already reason to suspect that the new Sultan, Selim II, was contemplating a major expedition of conquest. This time, however, he had his eye not on Malta but on Cyprus.

It was always said of Selim – nicknamed ‘the Sot’ – that his much-publicized determination to seize the island was due to an equally well-known penchant for its unusually potent wines. In fact its strategic value was as obvious as the wealth and fertility of its soil; the wonder is that his father Suleiman had not acted years before to rid himself of an unwanted Christian presence less than fifty miles from his own southern shores. In February 1568 reports reached the Rialto of various Turkish-inspired intrigues among the local inhabitants, many of whom were known to have no love for their Venetian overlords: there were ominous tales of Turkish ships taking clandestine soundings in Cypriot harbours, even of a huge mine being secretly prepared at Famagusta, ready to be detonated at the approach of the Turkish fleet. At the same time there arrived the more reliable but equally unwelcome intelligence that Selim, who had hitherto been continuing his father’s campaigns in Hungary, had concluded an eight-year truce with the new Emperor Maximilian II and was consequently free to devote all his resources to his new enterprise.

In the face of these reports, the Venetian Senate remained indecisive. Clearly some preparations must be made to meet the expected onslaught; on the other hand, Selim had willingly signed a peace treaty with the Republic on his accession. Besides, there had been similar alarms before, and quiet diplomacy – helped, on occasion, by a discreet and well-placed bribe – had usually done the trick. In any case nothing must be done that risked annoying the Sultan, who was as yet unused to power and whose character was known to be somewhat unstable. All through 1569 the argument went on, firm decisions being made even harder to reach by the disastrous harvest of that year, which caused a famine all through Italy, and – at midnight on 13 September – by a mysterious explosion at the Arsenal, which burnt out much of the area between it and the church of S. Francesco della Vigna, destroying the convent of the Celestia and three other churches besides. Inevitably, foul play was suspected, but was never proved.

Towards the end of January 1570, however, news reached Venice which impelled the Senate to action. The Venetian bailo in Constantinople had been sent for by the Grand Vizir, Sokollu Mehmet, who informed him in so many words that the Sultan considered Cyprus to be historically part of the Ottoman Empire and was determined that it should be his. A day or two later there followed mass arrests of Venetian merchants and seizures of Venetian ships in harbour. Immediate orders were given to take similar steps against all subjects of the Sultan and Turkish vessels in Venice. Appeals for help were dispatched to the Pope, Philip of Spain and various other Princes of Europe. The Captain of the Gulf, Marco Querini, hastened to Crete with twenty-five galleys and orders to fit out twenty more which were lying, unmanned and unvictualled, at Candia.

Although there was a party in the Senate that was reluctant to see the end of the long peace and that still believed that some accommodation with the Sultan might be possible, the chances of avoiding open war seemed to be diminishing fast. Then, in mid-March, came further, still more ominous reports from Constantinople. An ambassador from Selim was actually on his way with an ultimatum: either Venice must surrender Cyprus of her own free will or it would be taken from her by force. No longer could the Venetians doubt where they stood. According to a centuries-old custom, when the Doge and Signoria marched in formal procession to the various churches in the city, six banners would be carried – two white, two blue and two red. In time of peace, the white went first; during periods of truce, the blue; in war, the red. That Easter – which fell on 26 March, still two days before the arrival of the Sultan’s envoy – in the annual progress to the church of S. Zaccaria for vespers, it was the red banners that led the way; and on Easter Monday a certain Girolamo Zane was appointed Captain-General of the Venetian fleet, receiving his baton and standard from Doge Loredan at a special mass in the Basilica. Zane was seventy-nine years old, the Doge by now eighty-eight; already more than one observer of the ceremony must have asked himself whether, at this crucial moment in its history, the fate of the Republic was in entirely the right hands.

Less than six weeks later Pietro Loredan was dead, his place being taken by a former ambassador to both Charles V – who had loaded him with imperial honours – and to Pius IV, by name Alvise Mocenigo.1 Girolamo Zane, meanwhile, had sailed with seventy galleys as far as Zara, on the first stage of an expedition which was to end in fiasco and bring upon him humiliation and disgrace.

The original letter which the Sultan’s envoy delivered to the Collegio on 28 March has not come down to us. If, however – as seems likely – the version given at the head of this article is a reasonably accurate rendering, Selim’s ultimatum could hardly have been more clearly, or more offensively, presented. The Venetian reply was equally to the point: Venice was astonished that the Sultan should already wish to break the treaty he had so recently concluded; she was, however, the mistress of Cyprus and would, by the grace of Jesus Christ, have the courage to defend it. The envoy was then let out by a side door to escape the attentions of the furious crowd which had gathered outside the Doges’ Palace, and escorted back to his waiting ship.

As if in an attempt to make up for so much lost time, war preparations in Venice now proceeded apace. The Arsenal, its fire damage hastily repaired, was once again working flat out; to raise funds, meanwhile, the government was adopting ever rmore desperate measures, even going so far as to increase the number of Procurators of St Mark – the highest dignitaries in the state apart from the Doge himself – by eight, disposing of the new titles in return for loans of 20,000 ducats. Neighbouring towns and cities contributed according to their means, and, just as in the old days, rich citizens undertook to build or equip ships, or enlist private militias – sometimes of several thousand men – at their own expense. From the other Christian states to which appeals had been sent, the response was less enthusiastic. The Emperor Maximilian pointed out that his formal truce with the Turk still had five more years to run. The King of Poland was equally reluctant in view of his own exposed position. From France Catherine de’ Medici, now effectively the Regent, was quarrelling with Spain over Flanders and pleaded her nation’s old alliance with the Sultan, though she offered the services of her son, Charles IX, as mediator – an offer which was politely declined. The King of Portugal pointed out that he was fully engaged in the Orient, and that anyway his country was being ravaged by plague. The Knights of St John – who were, incidentally, the biggest landowners in Cyprus – offered five ships, but four of them were to be captured by the Turks soon after they left Malta. A letter had even gone off to the Tsar of Muscovy, but it seems unlikely that it ever reached him; in any event Ivan the Terrible was at war with Poland and it is hard to see what assistance he could have given. No appeal was addressed to Queen Elizabeth of England, who had been under sentence of excommunication since February.

That left Pope Pius V and Philip II of Spain. The Pope had agreed to equip a dozen vessels if Venice would provide the hulls. Philip, for his part, had offered a fleet of fifty ships, under the command of Gian Andrea Doria, great-nephew and heir of that Andrea whose hatred of Venice had twice led him to betray the Republic’s trust, at Corfu and Preveza, some thirty years before. Even this was a niggardly enough contribution; Venice had produced a fleet of 144 ships, including 126 war galleys. But Philip had always mistrusted the Venetians, whom he suspected (not without some cause) of holding themselves ready to make terms with the Sultan if the opportunity offered; and, as events were to show, he had given Doria – whose feelings against the Republic were no whit less hostile than those of his great-uncle – secret instructions to keep out of trouble, to let the Venetians do the fighting, and to bring the Spanish fleet safely home again as soon as possible.

From the start, the expedition seemed to be ill-fated. The Captain-General, who had understood that the Spanish and papal squadrons were to join him at Zara, waited there in vain for two months during which time his fleet was ravaged by some unidentified epidemic, causing not only many deaths but a general demoralization which in turn led to scores of desertions. On 12 June he sailed to Corfu, where he picked up Sebastiano Venier, the erstwhile Proveditor-General of the island who had recently been appointed to the same position in Cyprus. Here he heard that the papal squadron under Marcantonio Colonna was awaiting the Spaniards at Otranto – but of Philip’s promised fleet there was still no sign. Not till July was it learnt that Gian Andrea Doria had simply remained in Sicily, on the pretext that he had received no instructions to go further. After urgent protestations from the Pope, Philip finally sent his admiral sailing orders, which arrived on 8 August; even then, it was another four days before the fleet set forth from Messina and a further eight before it reached Otranto – a journey which, in the perfect weather conditions prevailing, should have taken no more than two.

Having at last joined his papal allies, Doria made no effort to call on Colonna or even to communicate with him; and, when Colonna decided to ignore this studied piece of discourtesy and take the initiative himself, he was answered with a long speech implicitly recommending that the whole expedition should be called off. The season was late; the Spanish ships were not in fighting condition; and, as Doria was at pains to point out, though his instructions were to sail under the papal flag, he was also under the orders of his sovereign to keep his fleet intact. Colonna somehow forbore to remind him who was to blame for the first two misfortunes, merely pointing out that both King and Pope expected their fleets to sail with the Venetians to Cyprus; accordingly, sail they must. Finally, and with ill grace, Doria agreed.

Girolamo Zane had by now moved on to Crete, where the papal and Spanish fleets joined him on 1 September – almost exactly five months since his departure from Venice. A council was called, at which Doria at once began raising new difficulties. This time it was the Venetian galleys that were unfit for war: if the allied fleet were to come to grips with the enemy, it would be either destroyed or ignominiously put to flight. Moreover, once they had left Crete there were no harbours in which to take refuge. Now, too, he revealed a fact that he had not, apparently, thought necessary to mention before: he must return to the West by the end of the month at the latest.

Colonna remained firm. The season, though advanced, was not yet prohibitively so; there were still two clear months before the onset of winter. Cyprus was rich in admirable harbours. The Venetian ships had admittedly been undermanned, but their long wait had given them plenty of time to find replacements and their crews were all once again up to strength. Altogether the combined fleets now comprised 205 sail; the Turks wer£ thought to number 150 at the most. Why, therefore, should they fear an armed encounter? Flight would indeed be ignominious, but to retire now, before even sighting the enemy, would be more dishonourable still.

At this point Zane – who at Colonna’s discreet suggestion had remained absent from the opening discussion – joined his colleagues and immediately tabled a written request that the expedition should be allowed to proceed. Doria still prevaricated, finally agreeing only on condition that the Spanish ships should be given preferential treatment: that they should be exempt from rearguard duty and that they should sail in a group apart, in such a way as to be able to disengage completely if they felt so inclined. It was no wonder that, by 7 September, while discussions were still dragging on, Zane addressed an almost desperate letter to the Council of Ten, complaining that Doria was obviously determined not to fight, that he was continually raising new objections and resuscitating old ones, and that although with patience and tact it had so far been possible to overcome these objections, he was throwing all their plans into confusion and disrupting the whole enterprise.

On the 13th, the fleet moved on to Sitia, at the eastern end of the island; and there, at Doria’s insistence, there was a general review at which it was revealed, to his ill-concealed satisfaction, that the Venetian galleys were indeed below strength, with only some eighty righting men per vessel as compared with the hundred-odd in the papal and Spanish squadrons. Once again he advised withdrawal, and although once again ultimately overruled he managed to delay departure three full days, long enough for Zane to sustain another severe blow: a report that the Turks had landed in Cyprus. It was now or never. On the night of 17 September the fleet sailed for the beleaguered island.

But off Castellorizo there came worse news still. Nicosia had fallen. Another council was called, at which Doria predictably redoubled his protestations. And now, for the first time, the Marquis of Santa Cruz, who as commander of the Neapolitan contingent was technically a subordinate of Doria’s but who had hitherto taken a considerably more robust line than his chief, also advised turning back. The capture of Nicosia, he pointed out, would mean a vast increase in the number of fighting men available for the Turkish fleet, and a corresponding upsurge in enemy morale – at the worst possible time, when the allied crews were becoming more and more dispirited. Colonna agreed with him; so, sadly and reluctantly, did old Girolamo Zane. One voice only was raised in favour of a continued advance: that of Sebastiano Venier, who argued that, however strong the Turks might be, they would almost certainly be a good deal stronger next year – when, incidentally, the allies were most unlikely to have a fleet of over 200 sail to throw against them.

They were brave words, but they failed to convince; and the mighty fleet, flying the banners of Christendom, turned about and sailed for home without having once sighted the enemy. In an almost pathetic attempt to salvage the last shreds of his reputation, poor Zane proposed that the allies should at least try to inflict some damage on enemy territory during their return journey; but once again his hopes were sabotaged by Doria’s impatience to get home. By the time he reached Corfu on 17 November – having stopped in Crete on the way – a new epidemic had broken out in his ships and he himself was, mentally and physically, a broken man. Lacking even the heart to return home, he wrote to the Senate asking to be relieved of his post. His request was granted, and on 13 December Sebastiano Venier was appointed Captain-General in his stead.

So ended one of the most humiliating episodes in the history of Venice. Unless it were argued that, having provided some three quarters of the combined fleet, she should not have lost time waiting for her allies but should have pressed on alone in June, she could not in fairness be held responsible; but neither could she escape her share of the disgrace, much of which fell on the undeserving head of old Girolamo Zane himself. Ordered back to Venice early in 1571, in the following year – the cause of the delay is unknown – he was summoned by the Council of Ten to answer several grave charges relating to his conduct during the expedition. After a long inquiry he was acquitted – but too late. In September 1572 he had died in prison.

The fate of Gian Andrea Doria was somewhat different. Philip II had been left in no doubt of the bitter feelings his admiral had aroused; Pope Pius, indeed, on receiving Colonna’s report, had sent the King a formal letter of complaint. But Philip chose to ignore it. Doria had obeyed his instructions to the letter, and was rewarded by immediate promotion to the rank of General, with seniority over all the commanders of the fleets of Spain, Naples and Sicily – in which capacity he was to do still further damage to the Christian cause before his unedifying career was over.