Siege of Delhi - Company Moves - The Siege: June Through July

The Siege: June Through July

It was quickly apparent that Delhi was too well-fortified and strongly held to fall to a coup de main. Barnard ordered a dawn assault on 13 June, but the orders were confused and failed to reach most of his subordinates in time. The attack had to be called off, amidst much recrimination. After this, it was accepted that the odds were too great for any assault to be successful until the besiegers were reinforced.

Large contingents of rebellious sepoys and volunteers continued to arrive in Delhi. The majority of no less than ten regiments of cavalry and fifteen of infantry of the Bengal army rebelled and made their way to Delhi during June and July, along with large numbers of irregulars, mainly Moslem mujahaddin. As each new contingent arrived, the rebels made attacks on Hindu Rao's house and other outposts on several successive days. A major attack was mounted from three directions on 19 June, and nearly forced the exhausted besiegers to retreat, but the rebels did not know how close they came to success. Another major attack was made on 23 June, the centenary of the Battle of Plassey. (It was believed that British rule in India would end one hundred years after this event).

Although all these attacks were beaten off, the besiegers were ground down through exhaustion and disease. Conditions on the ridge and in the encampment were extremely unhealthy and unpleasant. General Barnard died of cholera on 5 July. His successor (Reed) was also stricken with cholera and forced to hand over command to Archdale Wilson, who was promoted to Major General. Although Wilson made efforts to clear the unburied corpses and other refuse from the ridge and encampment and reorganise the outposts and reliefs, he himself was scarcely capable of exercising command, and in every letter he wrote, he complained of his exhaustion and prostration. Brigadier Neville Chamberlain, a much younger officer who might have provided better leadership, was severely wounded repelling a sortie on 14 July.

Meanwhile, in Delhi, there had been some loss of morale due to the failures of Mirza Moghul and Bahadur Shah's equally unmilitary grandson, Mirza Abu Bakr. A large party of reinforcements arrived from Bareilly under Bakht Khan, a veteran artillery officer of the Company's army. Pleased with the loot they brought with them, Bahadur Shah made Bakht Khan the new commander in chief. Bakht Khan was able to replenish the city's finances and inspire the rebel soldiers to renewed efforts. Bahadur Shah however, was growing discouraged, and turned away offers of assistance from other rebel leaders.

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