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Ferozeshah

 

The Sikhs had been able to disengage under the cover of darkness early in the morning of 19th December and fell back on their main army which was camped around the village of Ferozeshah about halfway between Moodkee and Ferozepore. It also became evident that a second Sikh army was opposing the Ferozepore garrison. During the following day H.M. 29th Foot and the 1st European Light Infantry arrived with a division of heavy guns, and preparations were made for a renewed attack on the main Sikh army. The British commander at Ferozepore was ordered to leave two battalions to guard the town and fort and join the Moodkee force with the rest of the garrison.

At four in the morning of 21st December the Moodkee army was formed up in line of columns ready to advance. Every soldier had been issued with 60 rounds of ammunition and two day’s cooked rations. But the move was postponed until after midday after the Ferozepore regiments had skillfully slipped away and were approaching Ferozeshah. The delay was unfortunate as it was the shortest day of the year and the battle for Ferozeshah did not begin until four in the afternoon.

Bivouac of the 31st Regiment, Ferozeshah.
Click to enlarge

The Ferozepore Division on the left advanced prematurely to the attack and came to a standstill 150 yards from the Sikh position under heavy artillery fire. The two Moodkee divisions in the centre and on the right were at once ordered to attack. It was beginning to get dark. The 31st Regiment was on the right of Sir Harry Smith’s division which had initially been held in reserve, and at first had to advance carefully to avoid the many casualties sustained by the troops ahead. Once through the enemy entrenchments the division changed direction and occupied the village of Ferozeshah. But in the darkness all was confusion and regiments were becoming isolated. The division therefore withdrew and spent the rest of the night reorganising and resting despite the bitter cold and bombardment by Sikh artillery. At early dawn line was formed. The attack was renewed in thick mist and was successful. The 31st Regiment was on the extreme right. Lieutenant Robertson later recorded that “We advanced very quietly upon a strong battery on the left of the Sikh camp; they did not see us till we were right upon them, and they had only time to fire one or two rounds when we gave them a volley and charged right into them. We bayoneted a great many artillerymen and infantry who stood to the last; we also took a standard, and then charged on through the camp, polishing off all we could get at”

So ended the battle of Ferozeshah, one of the most critical fought in India. The Sikh armies withdrew to the Sutlej River and awaited reinforcements. The British were too exhausted to follow up closely and remained at Ferozeshah to rest and reorganise. They benefited from the large stores of grain and livestock which the Sikhs had accumulated there. There were many wounded who were moved to Ferozepore where the Governor-General visited them. The 31st Regiment had again suffered severe casualties, 327 in all from the two battles, almost half its strength.

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