The war of independence and an upsurge of resistance against the British, has many facets in the history. After the year 1818, the defeat of Marathas in the third Anglo- Maratha war, the English East India Company made sure that no Maratha power rose again against them. But one should not forget, that lions can be unconscious for sometimes, but they would never stop fighting till their death. The biggest Hindu power which brought Hindus out of the deep darkness of Islamic brutality and assured them to build their own empire and dominance, were the Marathas. And they continued to keep up that spirit alight even after 1818.
The Trail of 1857 Event in Kanpur
An important event which generally gets missed while tracing the history, is a strong challenge, a strategic move posed by Nana Saheb to the British in Kanpur. Kanpur was an important garrison town for the East India Company. Kanpur was was located on the Grand Trunk Road and approached Sindh, Punjab and Awadh, which is a prime location connecting all the major cities.
The revolt of 1857, when started in May, began to spread by many major cities by June, it got intensified. The sepoys who were enraged against the British power wanted to decimate it. The involvement and leadership of the kings, queens, jagirdars and local leaders was a strong backup for the sepoys at the forefront.
This was a chance to give a blow to the company, in 1857.
British were confident enough to not get swayed in this flood of war against the British power, because of Hugh Wheeler. A British General, who had served the company in India for 50 years. He had married to a local woman and knew many languages. This helped them involve with the Indians amicably and build a trust among the soldiers. He was sure of the loyalty of sepoys towards the company. Under this confidence, he even sent 84th and 32nd Regiments to the besieged Lucknow. The British contingent consisted of almost 900 people, including 300 military men, around 300 women and children along with people of other occupations. Though, earlier they had been living in the north of the city, but Wheeler decided to take refuge in the south of the city in case of the groups of sepoys from other parts come to attack the city. The southern military site was not strategically a safe place. It had two entrenchments surrounded by the mud walls. In the summer season it was very difficult to dig the trenches further and the water availability was also scarce and under the direct target. Moreover, there were many places that could work for attackers as a cover in front of the entrenchment.
In 2-3 days the rebellion in Fatehgarh erupted. Knowing the unsafe situation, the English women and children started to take refuge in the entrenchments.
Though earlier, the Indian soldiers at Kanpur didn’t show sign of revolt. The air of waging a war against the British could not be controlled and on June 5 at 1:30 AM, the Indian sepoys revolted and attacked the British entrenchment. The three pistol shots by the soldiers of 2nd Bengal cavalry created a ruckus all around. And eventually, all other regiments joined in. They also took possession of all the arms and ammunitions from the depots. With Hugh Wheeler, only 150 soldiers remained loyal.
Nana Saheb Arrives
Nana Saheb was the son of the last exiled Peshwa of the Marathas, Shrimant Peshwa Baji Rao II. Since, he was an adopted son, according to the Doctrine of Lapse, he could not be given the desired place and the reputation of a Peshwa. Nana Saheb had always posed himself to be accommodative towards the company officials. However, the desire to regain the lost power was waiting for an appropriate time. The treachery with which the Peshwas were shunned from the power and the two Chattrapati Houses made limited in certain cities, was the master strategy played by the British.
As soon as the morning of the 6 June arrived, Nana sahib arrived full-fledged at the scene. So, he went to meet Wheeler to assure him of his loyalty towards the British. But, Nana Saheb had taken charge of the Indian soldiers who had revolted. Nana Saheb took hold of the treasury and advanced upto the Grand Trunk Road. This clearly shows this was a war for the resurrection of Maratha Confederacy and establish Hindu power by uprooting the British. The 1857 revolt was led by the wounded Marathas.
On his way, Nana Saheb met with the soldiers in Kalyanpur. He promised those soldiers to double their pay and asked them to go to Kanpur to join the other rebel soldiers and defeat the British. Eventually, by the 10th of June, Nana Saheb was leading around 12 to 15 thousand of soldiers.
British were stashed away in their hideout for almost three weeks with little of food and water at their disposal. Even a chicken-pox outbreak also happened there. In all these scary situations, British had to pile up the dead bodies, as there was no place to dig up the graves. Overall, this was a situation of havoc for British in Kanpur.
During the first week, Nana Saheb’s troop encircled the entrenchment and created firing posts. Nana Saheb also decided to do a direct assault but soldiers were not enthusiastic for this. Eventually, next week he changed the tactics. On 12th June a major assault was done from Nana Saheb’s side. The hospital building was on fire, which destroyed the British’s most of the medical supplies. The death tolls were increasing for the British side. Indian troops were also repulsed by the canister shot from British side. By June 21, almost a third of British had lost their lives.
On 23rd June, Nana Saheb launched a major attack on British entrenchment. However, they were not successful in gaining entry into the entrenchment. But since, British were losing, morale of General Wheeler was also low after the death of his son Lieutenant Gordon Wheeler by a round shot. A Eurasian civil servant Jonah Shepherd stealthily entered the Maratha camp to ascertain the situation of the enemy. But the soldiers caught hold of him and imprisoned him.
Until now, Nana Saheb’s troops were apprehensive, that the entrenchment had gunpowder stored, which would do a blast if attacked through cannons. So to make the already defeated British surrender before him, Nana Saheb sent a proposal to the British side, while he will provide them a safe passage via Sati Cahura Ghat, a dock on the Ganga river banks. He again sent a note signed by himself on 25th June, which gave an assurance to Wheeler. And eventually the British had to surrender. And a decision was made to send them to Allahabad by 27 June, 1857, in the morning.
Around 40 boats were arranged for them. Around Sati Chaura Ghat ,Ganga was a bit dried up, so it was difficult to steer the boats. And eventually a violent attack took place on the British soldiers by the revolting Indian troops. British also fired. Tatya Tope then gave order to the 2nd Bengal Infantry and artillery unit to openly fire on the British. And the remaining British soldiers were killed from swords and pistols. Around 120 women and children were taken prisoners, afterwards. For some it could be a massacre, but for us it was a war to regain what was ours!
This was a history of standing up, challenging and decimating the enemy with their own strategies. It was a challenge posed by a Peshwa to the foreign robbers. This shows, that we had never surrendered, never hid away to wage a war and always made sure to make the enemy taste defeat.