On this day in 1857 the British guns fell silent as Captain John Nicholson gave the order to storm Delhi and bring the British one step closer to crushing the mutiny
"If there is ever a desparate deed to be done in India, John Nicholson is the man to do it." These were the words spoken to Lord Canning by Herbert Edwardes, and it is true to say that taking Delhi would be the most difficult battle the British would face in India till 1944
After months of bloody siege warfare the artillery pummelled the walls carving huge gaps into them and reducing great bastions to heaps of shattered brickwork. These openings would allow British forces to pour into the city.
The British and EIC forces were not guaranteed victory as they were heavily outnumbered with 6000 men assembled to attack the city against up to 30,000 rebels. Most of these rebels were mutinous sepoys who would prove formidable opponents
especially as the squat houses that filled the Delhi had been fortified, with each one being turned into a stronghold that had to be taken at the point of the bayonet. Herbert Reade, a Canadian surgeon won the VC for clearing an enemy strongpoint that was targeting the wounded
The British army was split into five columns of around a 1000 men each and a cavalry unit which was held in reserve with the 5th column. The 1st column would seize the Cashmere bastion, the 2nd would take the Water bastion while the 3rd would enter the city via the Cashmere gate
The 4th column would enter through the Cabul gate after it had been opened from the inside. Nicholson who was in overall command of columns 1, 2 and 3 gave the order to charge an hour after dawn and the 1st and 2nd charged towards the battered city. However, the 3rd had to wait
As the Cashmere gate had to be destroyed, and and the task fell to Lt Home and Lt Skallad who had volunteered to lead the forlorn hope seeking to cover themselves in glory! Under a hail of withering gun fire the party dashed towards the gate carrying bags of powder
and they succeed in detonating the bomb causing an earth shattering explosion that destroyed the gate and stunned the rebels, allowing the 3rd column to charge into the city with relative ease as the defenders fled in disarray allowing them to clear the streets and ramparts.
What ensued was bitter hand to hand fighting as British soldiers who had heard of the gruesome crimes committed against not only their fellow soldiers but also British women and children extracted a bloody vengeance from anyone they crossed
However, the attack was almost repulsed when the 4th column was driven back after it was ambushed by rebels in the Kishangunj suburb. The only reason they were unable to attack the ridge was as a result of the quick action of the cavalry reserve, the horsemen held their position
Till they were relieved, but they had suffered appalling casualties as a result of mutineer fire from the walls. Having realised that the assault was in jeopardy John gathered as many men as he could and advanced on the Cabul Gate with the overall aim of reaching Burn bastion
However, the men were exhausted and no more attempts to advance should have been made that day. He ordered the 1st fusiliers to charge through the narrow lanes to outflank the structure but they were turned back under heavy fire. John went to the Shah bastion to plan his attack
He collected his men, drew his sword and led them into oblivion. While encouraging them forward he looked back and was struck in the side by a Rebel bullet.
He was caught by a sergeant who laid him down in a recess on the street, where he was advised to fall back as the threat of a counter attack was looming over them. His biographer Lionel Trotter was there and recounted his reluctance to leave the frontline
In the heat of battle the native doolie carrier's abandoned him and with rumors flying that he had died General Wilson dispatched the young Fred Roberts to find him. Like many young officers and soldiers Roberts idolised Nicholson as the saviour of India and the sight of
His Hero mortally wounded left him distraught. Nicholson had survived so many brushes with death that nobody thought he would die on the streets of Delhi but many great men had their lives ended by this savage conflict
At the hospital he was reunited with his brother Charles who had lost his arm leading Coke's rifles in the charge. John knew he was dying but he made peace with his fate remaining lucid. At one point the tribesmen of his bodyguard were hosting a noisy vigil outside his tent
And in order to silence them he fired a shot over their heads. Another testament of his strength was his response to the rumor that Wilson might retreat from the city, he bluntly said "Thank God! I have the strength to shoot him if necessary"
The momentum of the British charge had faltered and the frontline had settled along an axis running from st James Church to South of Burn bastion. Over the next few days sappers and cannon were brought into dislodge and destroy mutineer positions which they did with great success
The morale of the mutineers had been ground down by the lack of ammunition, supplies and the sheer determination of the British to take the city. They were disillusioned and by the 21st the majority of rebels had slipped out of the city along the bridge of boats.
When the British blew open the gates to the royal palace, having expected to fight the enemy to the last man, found it deserted. A royal salute was fired from the palace signaling that the battle was over and the British had won.
The price for taking the city was high with 1,254 dead and over 4000 wounded with John Nicholson and countless other officers among them. But they had won taking the symbolic capital of the Mutiny and captured the last Mughal Emporer and killed his heirs.
With Delhi secured the British army was free to unleash the Devil's Wind across the Gangentic Plain and the lowlands of central India delivering a bloody retribution to the enemies of the crown.

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