Saturday, July 12, 2008

Battle of Kanpur

Kanpur was an important junction where the Grand Trunk Road and the road from Jhansi to Lucknow crossed. One of the leaders of the First War of Independence, Nana Saheb of Bithur was born in 1824. Nana Saheb was well educated. He studied Sanskrit and was known for his deep religious nature. On the death of the last Peshwa, Baji Rao-II, in 1851 the Company's Government stopped the annual pension and the title. Nana Saheb's appeal to the Court of Directors was not accepted. This made him hostile towards the British rulers. In 1857 Kanpur was garrisoned by four regiments of native infantry and a European battery of artillery and was commanded by General Sir Hugh Wheeler. After a fierce battle at Kanpur, General Sir Hugh Wheeler surrendered on June 27, 1857.

The English men, women and children who fell into the hands of Nana Sahib were assured of safe conduct to Allahabad. However the inhuman treatment meted out to the Indians by General James O'Neil at Allahabad and Banaras made the crowd angry who retaliated by murdering British men, women and children. Many innocent lives were lost at ‘Massacre Ghat’ and ‘Bibi ka Ghar’ in Kanpur.

After seizing Kanpur, Nana Saheb proclaimed himself the Peshwa. Tantia Tope, Jwala Prasad and Azimullah Khan were the loyal followers of Nana Sahib, and are remembered for their valiant fight against the British. In June 1857 the British defeated Nana Sahib. Though Nana Sahib and Tantia Tope recaptured Kanpur in November 1857, they could not hold it for long as General Campbell reoccupied it on 6th December 1857. Nana Sahib escaped to Nepal and his whereabouts afterwards were unknown. Tantia Tope escaped and joined the Rani of Jhansi.

Jhansi and Gwalior

Rani Laxmibai was born in 1830 at Banaras in a wealthy family and was named Manukarnika at birth. She got married to King Gangadhar Rao of Jhansi. Gangadhar Rao did not have any children and he adopted one of his relatives Damodar Rao as his heir. After Gangadhar Rao's death in 1853 the British refused to accept Damodar Rao as the legal heir of Jhansi and wanted to annex the kingdom into their rule. In 1857 at Jhansi, the army rebelled and killed the British Army officers. Rani Laxmibai, the widow of the late Raja Gangadhar Rao, was proclaimed the ruler of the state. In 1858 the British army once again marched towards Jhansi. Not willing to let the British takeover her kingdom the Rani built an army of 14,000 volunteers to fight the British. The soldiers of Jhansi fought very bravely for 2 weeks and the Rani led the forces in this battle. Sir Hugh Rose recaptured Jhansi on 3rd April 1858. The English could not capture Rani of Jhansi as she escaped to Kalpi (near Gwalior) where Tantia Tope joined her. Both marched to Gwalior. Sir Hugh Rose also advanced towards Gwalior and captured it in June 1858. Rani Laxmi Bai died fighting bravely. Rani Laxmibai (Rani Jhansi) became immortal in Indian history for her bravery and struggle against British rule. Tantia Tope escaped southward, but was betrayed by one of his friends Man Singh and was finally hanged in 1859.

Arrah Bihar

Kunwar Singh, zamindar of Jagdishpur near Arrah in the state of Bihar, was the chief organizer of the fight against British. He assumed command of the soldiers who had revolted at Danapur on 5th July. Two days later he occupied Arrah, the district headquarter. Major Vincent Eyre relieved the town on 3rd August, defeated Kunwar Singh's force and destroyed Jagdishpur. Kunwar Singh left his ancestral village and reached Lucknow in December 1857. In March 1858 he occupied Azamgarh. However, he had to leave the place soon. Pursued by Brigadier Douglas, he retreated towards his home in Bihar. On 23 April, Kunwar Singh had a victory near Jagdishpur over the force led by Captain Le Grand, but the following day he died in his village. The mantle of the old chief now fell on his brother Amar Singh who, despite heavy odds, continued the struggle and for a considerable time ran a parallel government in the district of Shahabad. In October 1859 Amar Singh joined the rebel leaders in the Nepal Terai.


At Lucknow War against British was led by the Begum of Awadh Hazrat Mehal who proclaimed her young son Nawab. Hazrat Begum felicitated her troops in person in Alambagh and when Dilkusha was taken and the soldiers of freedom fought with desperate courage for the defense of Luknow. Musabagh, which was defended, by a valiant band of revolutionaries under the leadership of the heroic Begum herself till March 1858, when she left Lucknow for the north with her troops followed by Ahmad Shah. Both of them fell upon Shahjehanpur and tried to drive out the British from Rohilkhand. She failed to capture Rohilkhand and she marched on along with other revolutionary leaders towards Nepal where she found asylum till her death.

India’s First War of Independence carried on as late as 1859 in some instances before it was finally over. A number of heroes and heroines of the India’s First war of Independence have been immortalized for their fight in against British rule.

Aftermath of First war of Independence

In the early months of the British recovery, few Indian soldiers were left alive after their positions were overrun. The British soldiers seemed to have made a collective decision not to take prisoners and most actions ended with a frenzied use of the bayonet. Whole villages were sometimes hanged for some real or imagined sympathy for the mutineers. Looting was endemic and neither the sanctity of holy places nor the rank of Indian aristocrats could prevent the wholesale theft of their possessions. Many a British family saw its fortune made during the pacification of northern India. Later, when prisoners started to be taken and trials held, those convicted of mutiny were lashed to the muzzles of cannon and fired through their body. For more than a year the people of northern India trembled with fear as the British sated their thirst for revenge. The Indians called it 'the Devil's Wind'.

A hundred years after battle of Plassey the rule of the East India Company finally did come to an end. In 1858, British parliament passed a law through which the power for governance of India was transferred from the East India Company to the British crown. In 1858, the Queen issued a proclamation saying that all were her subjects and that there would be no discrimination, appointments would be made on the basis of merit, and that there would be no interference in religious matters. It became evident in the succeeding years that the British government did not honor the Queen's promises. After 1857, the nationalist movement started to expand in the hearts of more and more Indians.

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