Battle of Ferozeshah 21st December 1845

The 1845-46 Sikh War (The First Sikh War) was a difficult one, as the Sikh army was well-trained and well-armed. As a result, British Casualties were heavy. The campaign was short and concentrated, lasting only three months and was restricted to the Punjab in the North West of India. The Battle of Ferozeshah  was the second battle of the campaign and is characterised by General Gough’s rash and disorganised assault on the entrenched Sikh camp at Ferozeshah.

Following the Battle of Moodkee on 18th December 1845, Lal Singh’s force of Sikhs withdrew to Ferozeshah, eight miles to the North-West of the Moodkee battlefield, occupying strong fortified positions around the village.

While his British and Bengali troops dealt with the casualties of Moodkee, General Gough sent instructions to General Littler, commanding the garrison in Ferozepore, to march out of the town, evading the blockading force of Tej Singh, and join him before Ferozeshah on 21st December 1845 for the second battle with Lal Singh’s force.

On the day after Moodkee, reinforcements marched in from Ludhiana: HM 29th Foot, 1st Bengal Europeans and two regiments of Bengal Native Infantry with two howitzers.  The 29th were assigned to the Second Division: under Major General Sir Walter Gilbert and placed in the Third Brigade under Brigadier Taylor (their former Commanding Officer along with the HM 80th Foot and 41st Bengal Native Infantry (BNI).  The Fourth Brigade commanded by Brigadier McClaren consisting of the 1st Bengal Europeans, 16th BNI and 45th BNI.

Gough’s army was in place in the morning of the 21st waiting for Littler. Gough decided to launch his attack without Littler’s men, but General Sir Henry Hardinge used his authority as Governor General to veto an attack until the Ferozepore garrison arrived.

It was early afternoon when Littler arrived with 2 Bengal Light Cavalry regiments, HM 62nd Foot, 5 Bengal Native Infantry battalions, 2 troops of horse artillery and 2 field batteries at 1.30pm, increasing Gough’s army to 18,000 troops and 65 guns. Littler’s division took up position on the extreme left of the line with his cavalry regiments in support.

At 3 pm, with only two hours of daylight left, Gough opened the battle with an artillery bombardment, which the Sikh answered vigorously. As in most of the early battles of the war the Sikh artillery had the best of the exchange.

 The fortifications around Ferozeshah comprised a series of trenches on a line of hillocks surrounding the village in a rectangle. The Sikh gunners manned some 100 good quality guns that they served with skill and devotion. It is not known how many Sikhs were present in Ferozeshah, but they appear to have constituted a powerful force.

At around 3.30pm Littler began an assault well in advance of the rest of the army, moving his guns forward to engage the Sikhs at closer range, his infantry regiments following in support. The infantry emerged into the open plain 300 metres from the Sikh line and were met with a heavy fire of grapeshot from the guns (fragmented shot used on troops at close range to cause maximum casualties). HM 62nd Foot led the assault, losing 160 casualties in ten minutes. The regiment faltered and fell back, taking the native infantry regiments with them. Littler’s attack had failed.

As Littler began his attack Gough ordered the rest of the British and Bengali line to assault the Sikh lines. The regiments pushed through the jungle under heavy artillery fire, emerging into the dense smoke and dust of the open plain, lit by the flashes of the Sikh gunfire.
Part of the left of the line faltered under the heavy fire, but HM 9th Foot and the right hand (Gibert’s)division pressed on with the attack, while a brigade from the reserve commanded by General Smith moved forward to cover the gap left by the retreat of Littler’s brigade.

The 29th advanced in quick time, file firing as it approached the entrenched positions, all the while suffering from well-directed discharges of shell, grape shot and musketry.  The attacking troops reached the Sikh entrenchments and pressed through, although suffering heavy casualties, and captured and spiked numbers of guns, before pushing on into the Sikh camp.

Here a large magazine exploded causing considerable confusion and casualties. All over the Sikh camp tents were ablaze; stores of gunpowder exploding in the gathering dusk.

On the right of the British line Gough committed Brigadier White’s cavalry brigade; HM 3rd King’s Own Light Dragoons, 4th Bengal Light Cavalry (Lancers) and the 9th Bengal Irregular Cavalry, to an attack on the corner of the fortifications. Considerably reduced by their casualties at Moodkee, the 3rd charged through a battery and the infantry positioned behind it, before breaking into the Sikh camp and engaging in ferocious hand to hand combat with crowds of swordsmen and matchlock men.

General Smith, after fighting through the Sikh camp, found himself with a party of soldiers from his division on the far side of Ferozeshah, where he was attacked throughout the night by the Sikhs. He finally fought his way around the outside of the village to the south side where he rejoined Gough and Hardinge as dawn broke.

The fall of night forced the British and Bengali regiments to withdraw from Ferozeshah, abandoning the Sikh camp and fortifications, to pass the night as best they could among the casualties of the day’s fighting, under the renewed fire of the Sikh guns.

The Battle of Ferozeshah , the night of the 21st December 1845. Print in the the museum collection.

Gough and Hardinge spent the night in considerable anxiety, Hardinge making hasty arrangements to destroy the state papers to prevent them from falling into Sikh hands in the event of a British defeat.

With dawn the drums and trumpets signaled a renewed attack on the fortifications, but the Sikhs were falling back and Gough’s army quickly re-took Ferozeshah.

Battered and exhausted the British and Bengali regiments ceased fighting, cheering Gough and Hardinge as they rode down the ranks, troopers carrying captured Khalsa flags.

But the battle was not finished. To the stupefaction of Gough’s men, onto the field marched the army of Tej Singh, the force that Littler had evaded in the previous days to escape from Ferozepore. The British and Bengali troops were exhausted, their ammunition almost entirely expended. Gough occupied the Sikh fortifications, while a horse artillery battery engaged the Sikhs to keep them away for as long as possible. Then the line stood waiting for the Sikh attack, hardly expecting to be able to resist a determined assault.

Tej Singh’s artillery conducted a long and galling bombardment of Gough’s line, followed by an advance by his cavalry against Gough’s right. Gough ordered Brigadier White to attack the Sikhs and in one last effort HM 3rd Light Dragoons, 4th Bengal Light Cavalry and 9th Bengal Irregular Cavalry urged their blown horses into the charge, causing Tej Singh to abandon his assault and withdraw from the battle field.

A curious incident had occurred at the beginning of the day’s crisis, when the assistant adjutant-general, Captain Lumley, suffering it is thought from the sun and the stress of battle, approached various regiments in turn and ordered them to march to Ferozepore, with the result that at the worst moment of the hard fought two day battle a significant portion of Gough’s army left the field. It may be that the sight of those forces marching away towards Ferozepore contributed to Tej Singh abandoning his attack and leaving the field.

The battle ended at around 4pm on 22nd December 1845, Gough and his army, now virtually without ammunition, reprieved from an attack that would have been hard to resist.

Casualties: The casualties in the British and Bengali regiments were some 700 dead and 1,700 wounded, of which 1,207 were European, including 115 officers. Among the dead were several staff officers, including Major Broadfoot and Brigadier Taylor (Lt. Col. HM 29th Regiment)

Before the action at Ferozeshah on the 21st December 1845, the effective strength of the 29th Foot (Worcestershire Regiment) was 28 Officers and 765 other ranks. After the first battle at Ferozeshah the battalion suffered 2 officers and 52 other ranks killed in action and 196 wounded,  a further 38 men died of their wounds.

Battles of the Nive (9–13 December 1813)

After his defeat at Nivelles, Marshal Soult fell back to a defensive line south of the town of Bayonne along the Adour and Nive rivers.

Despite poor weather, Hill led five Anglo-Portuguese divisions (2nd (including the 29th Regiment), 3rd, 6th (including the 36th Regiment), Portuguese and Pablo Morillo’s Spanish Divisions) across to the east bank of the Nive near Ustaritz on 9 December. Meanwhile, the remainder of the British force under Hope launched diversionary attacks towards Bayonne on the west bank of the Nive.

Soult launched a counter-attack with eight divisions against Hope the following day, and despite several fierce actions the British line held until reinforced.

The right flank of Hope’s line was held by the 7th Division at the bridge of Urdains. The Light Division defended the centre near Bassussary. The left was held by Bradford and Campbell’s independent Portuguese brigades north of Barroilhet. The terrain forced the French into these three corridors of attack. The 5th Division lay three miles to the rear while the 1st Division were ten miles away.

Soult committed five divisions against Bassussary and three divisions against Barroilhet. The four divisions leading the attack were fresh while the supporting troops were tired from skirmishing with Hill’s troops.

The French advance soon came upon the ridge of Arcangues, topped by a chateau and a church. After one attack was beaten off with ease by the Light Division, the French settled down to a futile artillery bombardment and probing attacks against the very strongly built structures.

The picket line on Hope’s left flank was overrun by the French attack and 200 men captured. The Portuguese held onto Barroilhet and awaited reinforcements. The 5th Division arrived, but due to a staff blunder, was low on ammunition.

Soult sent two divisions to assist this attack. After hours of heavy fighting, he ordered one last charge. This attack drove to the mayor’s house of Barroilhet, the French skirmishers wounding and nearly capturing Hope. At this point, the 1st Division came up and Soult called off his attacks. Both sides had lost around 1,600 troops.

Battle of St. Pierre

On the night of 12 December, a temporary pontoon bridge over the Nive at Villefranque was washed away. This isolated Hill’s 14,000 men and 10 guns on the east bank of the river, just as the French were reorganizing for an assault.

Seizing his opportunity, Soult rapidly switched six divisions and 22 guns to the east bank of the Nive and attacked Hill. Soult outnumbered Hill’s corps by three-to-one. Defending a line between Petit Mougerre and the Nive, the Allied corps held on for hours in a bitter fight. The capable Hill performed superbly, feeding in his few reserves with skill and exhorting his troops.

However, after the arrival of reinforcements under Wellington, the French troops refused to continue the attack. Soult reluctantly retreated into Bayonne, having lost 3,000 men against Anglo-Portuguese losses of 1,750. The Allied army commander rode up to his subordinate and congratulated him, “Hill, the day’s your own.”

As a result of their courage on this day both the 29th and 36th Regiments were accorded the battle Honour NIVE.

An aquatint of the Battle of Nive 1813 by Heath from the Museum Collection.

Battle of Nivelle 10 November 1813

Aquatint of the Battle of Nivelle by W. E. Heath in the Museum Collection

Following the Allied victory at the siege of San Sebastian, Wellington’s 80,000 British, Portuguese and Spanish troops pursued the army of Marshal Soult into France. Soult took up a strong defensive position in front of the River Nivelle. At this point, the river’s course is marked by a series of hills on which the French had built strong defensive fortifications. Soult’s lines stretched from the shores of the Atlantic on the French right flank to the snow-covered pass of Roncesvalles on the left, a perimeter of about 20 miles. With only 60,000 men, Soult’s troops were stretched very thinly indeed.
The French position was dominated by the Greater Rhune, a gorse-covered, craggy mountain nearly 3,000 feet high. Separated from the Greater Rhune by a ravine, roughly 700 metres below it, is the Lesser Rhune along the precipitous crest of which the French had constructed three defensive positions.
Wellington’s plan was, to deploy his army along the whole of Soult’s line but, to make his main attack in the centre. Any breakthrough in the centre or the French left flank would enable the British to cut off the French right. The British left (attacking the French right) under Sir John Hope comprised the 1st and 5th Divisions as well as Freire’s Spaniards. General William Beresford would lead the main Allied attack against the French centre with the 3rd, (including the 36th Regiment), 4th, 7th and Light Divisions, while on the British right Sir Rowland Hill would attack with the 2nd (including the 29th Worcestershire Regiment) and 6th Divisions, supported by Morillo’s Spaniards and Hamilton’s Portuguese. Wellington decided to attack on 10 November.


The battle started just before dawn on the 10th November. The Light Division headed towards the plateau on the summit of the Greater Rhune. Their objective was the French Redoubts. The men of the 43rd, 52nd and 95th Regiments (with the 17th Portuguese infantry Regiment in support) advanced from The ravine below and stormed the redoubts on the crest of the Rhune. The boldness of this British move sent the French fleeing towards other forts on other hills.
While the 43rd and 95th were dealing with the French on the Rhune, there still remained one very formidable fort on the Mouiz plateau which reached out towards the coast. This was attacked by Colborne’s 52nd Light Infantry, supported by riflemen from the 95th. Once again, the French were surprised and fled, leaving Colborne in possession of the fort without a single fatal casualty.
Then, the main British assault began with the nine divisions fanning out over a five-mile front. When the 3rd division (including the 36th Regiment), took the bridge at Amotz, all French resistance broke as any communication between the two halves of Soult’s army was now impossible. By two o’clock, the French were in full retreat and were streaming across the Nivelle, having lost 4351 men to Wellington’s 2450.

The occupation of France 1815-18

Following the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo in June 1815. The Allies were faced with the issue of securing France. The allies had not been at war with Louis XVIII and were, in fact, in alliance with him. The terms of a peace settlement therefore focused on securing France’s frontiers with her neighbours, without overstating territorial claims.

As well as the wider object of a peaceful settlement for Europe, each of the allied powers had their own particular interests: the Prussians wished to reshape French territory along its eastern boundary; and the British government became alarmed at the cost of subsidising the fortifications that would guarantee the security of the Low Countries — arguing that the whole of the projected sum (£4 million) should be defrayed by France.

The financial arrangements with France were settled in a meeting of 13 October — and a formal treaty (a second Treaty of Paris) was agreed on 20 November 1815. It committed the four powers — Austria, Great Britain, Prussia and Russia — to the use of military force to ensure the peace of Europe: 60,000 men were to be in the field, beyond the army of occupation. France was to pay 270 million francs over three years from 1 December 1815. That army was to be in place for a minimum of three years and a maximum of five, with the possibility of reducing it in size after one year.

There was a separate military convention agreed at the same time under the terms of the treaty. This defined a zone of occupation which was limited to north-east France, bordering on the Low Countries and the German Confederation — if the allied troops had been dispersed across the whole of France, they would have been spread too thinly to have been of use. Louis XVIII was effectively agreeing to the occupation of his country, while he built up his own military force. While the army of occupation was security for the allies against French aggression, it was also intended that it give France herself, and especially the King, protection against a revolutionary uprising.

The allied powers had considered it desirable on 22 October that Wellington should command the army of occupation. The army was to be composed of 30,000 troops supplied by each of the Austria, Great Britain, Prussia and Russia. On 20 November, formal treaties and conventions were agreed to give effect to the discussions of the allies, for an army of occupation of 150,000 men. The French were to provide quarters, heating, lighting, forage and provisions. In addition France was to pay 50 million francs per annum towards equipment, clothing and other necessaries.

Richelieu attempted within six months of the convention to have the army of occupation reduced in size. Although his moves were rejected, there were other pressures beyond those of the French government for the reduction. France could not resume her normal commercial activity while she was burdened with heavy reparation payments. She had found it hard to raise the funds to pay the allies and a financial crisis in November 1816 resulted in the suspension of payments. At the start of 1817, negotiations with the Hope-Baring bank provided a way for a substantial loan. The Times of 15 July 1817 saw advantages for Anglo-French trade if France had more finance available. The question of payment for French reparations was only concluded at the Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1818, at which point they were reduced and France was enabled to pay them off with further loans from Anglo-Dutch bankers.

Richelieu had been successful in 1817 in reducing the size of the army of occupation: the allies agreed that it should be 20% smaller from 1 April that year. The next stage was to negotiate an early conclusion to the occupation itself. This was also business for Aix-la-Chapelle: it was concluded that two further years of occupation would exacerbate conditions in France, rather than providing security for the allies.

On 4 November 1818, the allies agreed that the provisions of the treaty of 20 November 1815 had been fulfilled, and that France might be restored to her full position in international relations — the declaration was made publicly on 15 November. In parallel, preparations had been in hand since early October for the withdrawal of the army of occupation and the troops marched out of France during mid-November.

Ever thought about volunteering in a museum?

Volunteers and the Curator discussing drawings from  the collection

Volunteers and the Curator discussing drawings from the collection

The Mercian Regiment Museum, whose public galleries are inside the City Museum on Foregate Street, is seeking volunteers to help at the museum offices and store. The museum is the home of medals, weapons, uniforms, equipment and archives all of which tell the story of The Worcestershire Regiment since its formation in the late seventeenth century. If you are computer literate, help is needed to input data into the digital catalogue of the collection and also to research questions from the public who are seeking information about ancestors who served with the regiment. Naturally, training is available and research follows a set pattern for each enquiry.

This is a fundamental role for the museum as the boom in family history as a hobby in recent years has meant an increase in enquiries and the approaching centenary of The First World War is expected to result in many more people wanting to find out about those who ‘took the King’s shilling’ in that conflict.

If you would like further information, please telephone the curator, John Paddock (01905 721982 Monday to Thursday).

No previous experience in museums is necessary, just a familiarity with basic computer skills and an interest in Worcestershire’s historic heritage. If you are not at home with computers but think that volunteering in a museum would be fun, contact John as there other roles that need willing helpers.