Gawilghur and the End of the Second Anglo-Maratha War Part II

Wellesley’s two southern, essentially diversionary, assaults were commanded by Wallace and Chalmers. Wallace was to take the steep route to the southernmost gate and had his own under-strength King’s 74th, the right wing of the King’s 78th, and the ever-reliable 1/8 Madras; Chalmers was to ascend by the less difficult, though far from easy, road which led round the west side to the Outer Fort and was commanded by heavy guns on the west wall of the Inner Fort. He had the left wing of the King’s 78th and the 1/10 Madras.

Wallace and Chalmers began their movement on time, but the Mahratta killadar (Beny Singh?) apparently tried to negotiate for terms before the assault. Stevenson, in spite of his illness, was now at hand to take charge of such a situation. Nothing but surrender at discretion was acceptable and the Mahrattas were given only half an hour to decide. However, when the enemy was seen to be violating the truce Stevenson ordered Kenny forward before the time had elapsed.

Stevenson’s storming parties swept up the breach in the approved fashion of the time and apparently without serious difficulty. The Scots, followed by the sepoy flankers, went into Gawilghur covered by a storm of grape from all three British batteries which lifted only as they began to climb into the line of fire. A few brave Mahrattas rushed forward to contest the narrow passages at the top, but with shock weapons only. No effort had been made to retrench, or to close the breach with gambions. There were many cannons and scores of wall-pieces, but none had been shifted to sweep the breaches. The greater physical strength and discipline of the Highlanders were too much for the enemy in the close confines of the breach itself and the passages which lay beyond it. Their bayonets and clubbed muskets quickly killed almost every man that ventured to oppose them. A single Mahratta is said to have fought on equal terms with the assaulters for a time, but he too was killed.

Kenny’s party entered the Outer Fort with relatively minor casualties, but apparently then split up. Remember, no one in the British camp knew much about the lay-out of Gawilghur. One group which probably went through the right-hand upper breach moved slightly west of south pressing their enemies towards the gate Chalmers was approaching. This ‘north-west’ gate actually lay in the south wall of the Outer Fort. In an endeavour to escape from some of Kenny’s men, the garrison opened this gate and ran head on into Chalmers and the left wing of the 78th. These unfortunate men had just escaped from Scots in trews and were faced with more in kilts. They were caught literally between two fires. Those who had already emerged from the gate were on a narrow scarped causeway blocked by red giants behind viciously gleaming bayonets. The Highlanders’ blood was fired by the audacious ascent and the skirling pipes. The situation for the enemy, especially at the head of their narrow column, could hardly have been worse. Heavy bullets from Brown Bess muskets were ploughing into them, front and rear. The survivors had a choice between the bayonets and the jagged rocks below. This double-ended slaughter was soon over. Chalmers’ column from the valley below entered the Outer Fort.

Kenny himself and some of his men probably used the left-hand upper breach, went straight south and then east of south towards the Inner Fort. They soon received the support of Desse’s units which had cleared the breaches and moved in the same direction. For the first time the significance of the half-seen ravine between the two hills became apparent. The British columns had overwhelmed the Outer Fort, but they were as far from taking the larger and more powerful Inner Fort as on the day before. The most formidable defences in Gawilghur, the so-called ‘third wall’, lie south of the ravine. On this side the only entrance is through a series of five massive gates with long, steep and narrow angled passages between. The entire route was swept by fire from battlements along the top of each passage. This retreat route for the garrison in the Outer Fort was apparently prematurely closed which led to the slaughter at the ‘north-west’ gate.

The series of gates and passages from the Outer into the Inner Fort could probably have been forced by British infantry, perhaps with the aid of an artillery piece, but it would have been a long and costly fight. Fortunately, it was unnecessary. Kenny and Desse formed their twelve companies of sepoy flankers, or at least a major part of them, in line at the bottom of the ravine. They extended a distance of about 350 yards from east to west, filling most or all of the portion of the ravine between the Inner and Outer Forts. The sepoys were told to fire at any enemy heads appearing above the ‘third wall’ battlements. Kenny then led the three companies of Scots under his command at the succession of gates. He fell mortally wounded, but his units began to make some progress.

Meanwhile, there was another development. The ‘third wall’ along the north-west side of the Inner Fort is built along the top of a steep cliff. From the north-east – the only place from which much of it could be seen before the assault – this cliff seemed near impossible to climb. However, Captain Campbell1 of the light company of the King’s 94th had studied it and the wall above with a telescope, perhaps from well down in the chasm. He believed that it could be climbed and led his men up a route he had already chosen. They carried with them a single sturdy ladder, not more than fifteen feet long, and reached the base of the wall on the top of the cliff without being discovered. They were taking full advantage of the covering fire from Desse’s sepoys. Kenny’s assault on the series of gates and twisting passages undoubtedly occupied most of the garrison’s attention.

Campbell was the first man up the ladder and leapt down inside, sword in hand, followed quickly by his men. For a few seconds the Scots had to fight for their lives. Again physical strength, discipline and courage was on their side. Once all eighty of them were inside, the local opposition lost heart. Campbell led his men east behind the battlements to the head of the line of passages and gates and started opening them one at a time from the top. There were several short, bloody clashes, but the Mahrattas were always over borne.

Ten minutes later Campbell and his men admitted the rest of the British force into the Inner Fort. All organized resistance collapsed soon thereafter. Elphinstone tells us that he and a small party, haphazardly collected, opened the southern gate so that Wallace’s column could enter. The colours of Berar were replaced by those of the King’s 78th for which an even higher spot was found.

Elphinstone gives, perhaps unintentionally, an interesting picture of Wellesley’s own movements during the storm of Gawilghur. On the morning of the 15th, Stevenson asked the young civilian, ‘Will you go down from the fort to the valley below, or ride round by Damer-gaum, to tell the General what happens?’

‘Neither, Sir! We are going to meet inside.’

Wellesley was never again so far forward in action as at Sultanpetah Tope. He lost control of a whole situation there because he was leading in a physical sense, but he was not going to sit in his tent at Deogaum and wait for someone to bring him news of the assault on Gawilghur. He entered the Inner Fort with Wallace, probably between the right wing of the 78th and the 74th.

British casualties were light, a total of 126. The Mahrattas lost tragically. Wellesley was to write three weeks later that the loss of ‘the enemy was immense. The killadar, all the principal officers, and the greater part of the garrison were killed.’ The killadar atoned somewhat for his military inefficiency by dying sword in hand. So did Manoo Bapoo who had aimed so high and failed so ignominiously at Argaum. The fighting at the breaches and both inside and outside the ‘north-west’ gate was excessively bloody. There were some other spots of extreme resistance which led to severe enemy casualties. Quarter was not normally given when fortresses were stormed in India; the danger was too great that prisoners taken would return to the fight.

Some historians have assumed that practically the entire garrison of Gawilghur perished because they could not escape. I disagree; the walls were never high nor was the descent into the ravine unmanageable. In my opinion an active man with a turban of tough material that could be used as a rope could leave Gawilghur at almost any point and get away safely. There still is, for instance, a way out from the extreme eastern corner where a middle-aged American can get out and back again even without a turban. I believe there were at least 8,000 fighting men inside Gawilghur, of whom more than half got away.

Gawilghur contained fifty-two cannon, including the big wrought-iron pieces already mentioned, and 150 smaller wall-pieces which apparently were -pounders. The garrison had 2,000 new British Brown Bess muskets complete with bayonets, scabbards, belts and cartridge boxes. There were, of course, many other weapons, including matchlocks and bows and arrows, but Berar’s entire regular infantry had modern arms, most of them made in Agra probably after the French pattern.

There had been rumours in the British camps that Gawilghur contained treasure of gold and silver coin, plate and jewels belonging to the Rajah of Berar. The treasure was not discovered, although the British found tons of copper coins together with some silver bowls and dishes worth less than 300,000 rupees in all. No other coins and no gold vessels were discovered, nor were any jewels captured for the public treasury, although individual soldiers undoubtedly did obtain some loot. If the treasure ever had been kept in Gawilghur, and there seems to be little reason to doubt that some at least had been there, the Mah-rattas got it out in time. The British armies neither tried nor could possibly have succeeded in surrounding the place. It is also possible that the treasure was hidden and recovered later. Gawilghur was too large for an efficient search.

British soldiers, particularly the Light Company of the King’s 94th, performed superbly in the taking of Gawilghur. The routes from the valley below were extremely rough and steep. Had Chalmers not fortuitously found his gate open, the passages behind it appear defensible by boys with rocks. The same is true of the southern entrance to the Inner Fort.

Wellesley’s own contribution was as much physical as mental. He directed both armies, which meant an average of at least thirty-five miles of riding each day, much of it over a bad new road. He made no mistakes in the siege and assaults, but the victory depended in about equal parts on the professional skills of his armies, especially the engineers and artillerymen, and on the dominance of the Scottish infantry already established on the plain of Argaum and in the rolling country between the Kaitna and the Juah. Wellesley was able to retain the initiative and keep pressure on the enemy. He won with a combination of military expertise, fighting efficiency and audacity.

A military victory again solved problems. The Rajah of Berar was now nearly defenceless and his capital at Nagpoor lay open to an advance from Ellichpoor only eighty miles north-east. For once, a Mahratta chief had no desire for diplomatic manoeuvring. Berar wanted peace on any terms as quickly as possible. His vakels came the day after Gawilghur fell.

The Governor-General had given Wellesley command of all military forces and control of all British Residents in the Deccan; he had also granted him complete authority to negotiate with both Berar and Scindia. This appointment was of extreme consequence; Wellesley was authorized to deal with the two rulers not only over their territory in the Deccan, but in the rest of India as well. Nominally, Scindia had controlled territory far to the north around Delhi and Agra; Berar had ruled Cuttack (his littoral on the Bay of Bengal). Much of these areas had now been taken from them. In those days conquered territory was not often returned. But a peace treaty would have to state precisely each territorial gain for the EIC, the Peshwa and the Nizam, and every other condition in favour of the British and their allies. Wellesley was aware that the enemy was extremely capable at interpreting documents that were the least bit ambiguous in their interest. His military responsibility would cease with the restoring of peace, but the treaties he made might last for generations.

Few young professional soldiers have had such great political and diplomatic responsibility and none have handled it better. The Treaty of Deogaum was concluded with Berar three days after the fall of Gawilghur. The Rajah was to disband his army, to receive a British Resident, to give up all of Cuttack and to surrender to the EIC and its allies his domains to the west of the Werdah river. The treaty was extremely advantageous to the British administration in India, but left the State of Berar still in being. The Wellesleys did not want to destroy the old order completely, but just to mould it according to their own ideas. The Rajah would become a minor power within a few years, but his people would benefit from an imposed peace and what was likely to be a more comfortable and prosperous situation.

What appeared to be a simple, easily interpreted clause of the treaty gave rise to a problem. Wellesley had chosen the Werdah, a large and well defined stream, as a definite frontier between the territories of Hyderabad and Berar. As early as 24 October Wellesley wrote to the younger Kirkpatrick, who still was British Resident at Hyderabad, for a complete list of the Nizam’s districts and villages, but none was furnished. However, he was told by the Nizam’s chief representative in his camp, Rajah Mohiput Ram, that the Nizam had no territory east of the Werdah. After the treaty was signed, Wellesley discovered that the Nizam did in fact have three districts on that side of the river. Mohiput Ram had been disloyal to his master. On 9 January 1804 Wellesley wrote to the Governor-General, ‘It is scarcely possible to believe that Rajah Mohiput Ram did not know that the Soubah of the Deccan had territories on the left bank of the Wurda, but he told me upon more than one occasion that he had none. But supposing him to have had a knowledge of the extent of his master’s territories in that quarter, his conduct in deceiving me upon that subject is not more extraordinary than his having been the channel by which a present of five lacs of rupees was offered to me provided I would consent to make peace with the Rajah of Berar on condition of his ceding to the Company the province of Cuttack only.’ Treaty or no treaty, Wellesley had no intention of depriving the Nizam of territory that had been long in his possession, even though the new frontier became less workable.

Wellesley realized, of course, that a treaty signed by an Indian prince was valueless in itself. If Berar was not made to abide by the British interpretation of this instrument, he certainly would not do so. Stevenson was told to repair his gun carriages, return the men and material borrowed from Wellesley’s army and return to Ellichpoor from Gawilghur by the route that he went up. He was then to move east towards Nagpoor until Berar proved his sincerity, or at least complied because of his inability to do anything else.

Scindia was not personally involved in the siege and fall of Gawilghur. For reasons best known to himself he neither interfered with the British armies there nor tried to raid Poona or Hyderabad. Now he was even more anxious for peace than during the short-lived armistice before Argaum. Wellesley’s victory at Argaum followed by the capture of Gawilghur put the British in as superior a position to Scindia as they were to Berar. The former had already lost heavily in Guzerat and might lose his capital to British forces operating from there. As we have seen, Murray was ready to march on Ougein on receipt of Wellesley’s orders to do so.

By now Lake had defeated Perron completely. The area from south of Agra to north of Delhi was British; so was a considerable area to the south-east known as Bundelcund. With Berar and Perron defeated and Holkar neutral, Scindia was virtually helpless; British armies could attack his remaining territories in Hindostan from the south, west, east and north. Arthur could have dictated severe terms to Scindia, but the Wellesley policy was not to destroy Indian states, just to change them enough to make sure they fitted into their new concept of India. In many respects subsidiary treaties were better than extending the Company’s direct control.

The treaty with Scindia was signed on 30 December 1803. He was to receive an EIC subsidiary force similar to those at Hyderabad and Poona. He was to give up a great deal of territory in the north, some in Guzerat and all his possessions south of the Godavery, including the magnificent fortress at Ahmednuggur, except for hereditary holdings of sentimental but small actual consequence. These were to be held for revenue only and not to be occupied by military units of any type.

More humiliating, all disagreements between Scindia and the Nizam or the Peshwa were now to be arbitrated by the British. On the other hand, Wellesley refused to allow Mohiput Ram and his Hyderabad forces to keep some of Scindia’s towns and villages taken after Assaye and Argaum which were not confirmed to the Nizam in the treaty. Scindia conceivably might be as good an ally in future as the new Nizam. The French officers in Scindia’s Regular Battalions were eliminated – no foreigners unacceptable to the British were to be admitted to his territory.

At this time another political-military development was completed, the alliance between the British, the Peshwa and Amrut Rao. Amrut Rao joined Wellesley’s armies with a considerable body of cavalry on 22 December. Negotiations had been going on for months. Amrut, the Peshwa’s brother by adoption, had never completely gone over to Holkar. Whatever Amrut’s intentions might have been, Wellesley’s final rush for the Peshwa’s capital in April had prevented him from burning the city. He had wanted to come over to the British since Wellesley’s arrival at Poona. Loyalty to Bajee Rao was secondary to his desire to be on the winning side. Amrut Rao was abler than his adopted brother. Wellesley compared them in his dispatch to the Governor-General’s secretary of 26 January 1804. Having complained of the Peshwa he continues, ‘I do know that if I was to give the government over to Amrut Rao I should establish there a most able fellow, who, if he should prove treacherous, would be a worse thorn in the side of the British Government than the creature who is Peshwa at present can ever be.’

British prestige in India had never been so high. Half a dozen armies had won quickly and decisively, sometimes against nearly impossible odds. The Governor-General’s diplomacy had been extremely successful without sacrificing the reputation for fairness and honesty so coveted by all the Wellesleys. The change from the spring of 1798 to the beginning of 1804 is almost unbelievable. Shore had complied with his instructions from home and had allowed British prestige and power to decline. He refused to support his allies and quaked before potential enemies. The Wellesleys and their band of active young men had restored local dominance within the old British areas of influence around Calcutta, Madras and Bombay and carried the fight to their enemies. The French had been removed successively from Hyderabad, Mysore and the Mahratta countries. The Company’s territory had been more than doubled. Hyderabad, Mysore and Baroda had become prosperous and happy allies. During the winter of 1803–4 Britain appeared to have no serious rival in India at all. The future seemed secure.

There was still some fighting to be done after Wellesley concluded his treaties, some of it because of them. When Mahratta armies were defeated as at Assaye and Argaum, massive desertions were usually one result. Further, under the new treaties both Scindia and Berar were required to disband their forces. Not all their men could return to peaceful pursuits as there were too many of them. Some had either to plunder or starve; they formed themselves into bandit groups around leaders who were able to direct their joint activities productively. Berar and Scindia both covertly encouraged these bands, especially in territory they had surrendered, but the British armies which had won against regular foes won against these irregulars with comparatively little trouble.

First in point of time, EIC Major-General Dugald Campbell, Wellesley’s senior who commanded south of the Kistna only, pursued a new Dhoondiah Waugh who had appeared in his area and had a growing following. He was not, of course, the man whom Wellesley and his cavalry had finally caught and killed at Conaghul on 10 September 1800. The second Dhoondiah was really Mohamet Beg Khan, but he was trying to gain mystic strength from a name associated with the earlier leader.

Campbell began a rapid three-day pursuit on 28 December 1803 and caught the new King of Two Worlds on the 31st. Mohamet Beg Khan and about 3,000 of his followers were killed. Campbell was using the organization, strategy and tactics already evolved by Wellesley in his pursuit of the original Dhoondiah Waugh. British armies in India would never again move like vast slow pastoral migrations as Cornwallis’s and Harris’s had done towards Seringapatam.

Early in 1804 Wellesley ordered Malcolm to procure from Scindia a letter disavowing one of his lieutenants, Mulwa Dada, who had started to operate in Scindia’s name against territory belonging to Hyderabad, the EIC and the Peshwa. Once Wellesley had the letter, he informed Mulwa Dada ‘that he is little better than a common thief’ and threatened to hang him if he were captured. The message appears to have been enough for Mulwa Dada; we hear no more of him.

The killadar who surrendered Ahmednuggur and then removed most of the valuable public property in his private baggage was of a different stamp. He continued to operate as a freebooter after the treaties; Wellesley pursued him twice without success. But accurate and recent information about the killadar reached Wellesley during the evening of 3 February while he was bringing his army back towards Poona. Wellesley selected a special force consisting of all cavalrymen whose horses were in good shape, the complete King’s 74th, the whole 1/8 Madras (Wellesley’s own), and 100 screened volunteers from each of the other five EIC battalions. There were also twelve guns, those attached to the complete units selected.

This force began its march at 6 a.m. on 4 February and had covered eighteen miles by noon when they camped in accordance with Wellesley’s usual marching procedure. The enemy was not alarmed by the movement. At 10 p.m. the special force recommenced the march and covered forty-two more miles in the next fourteen hours. They came up with the former killadar and his forces and utterly destroyed them.

These sixty miles were covered in a total of 30 hours, twenty hours of marching time.1 Not a man dropped out. There were undoubtedly enough spare horses and bullocks to take care of any who fell lame. The physical condition and discipline of men and beasts must have been practically perfect. To march so far with a considerable proportion of the whole command infantry and then fight successfully, even against a disorganized enemy, is an almost incredible feat. It was a greater achievement than Wellesley’s dash for Poona the year before, which was completed with cavalry only.