Siege of Cawnpore - Attack On Wheeler's Entrenchment

Attack On Wheeler's Entrenchment

On 5 June 1857, Nana Sahib sent a polite note to General Wheeler, informing him that he intended to attack the following morning, at 10 AM. On 6 June Nana Sahib's forces (including the rebel soldiers) attacked the British entrenchment at 10:30 AM. The British were not adequately prepared for the attack, but managed to defend themselves for a long time, as the attacking forces were reluctant to enter the entrenchment. Nana Sahib's forces had been led to falsely believe that the entrenchment had gunpowder-filled trenches that would explode if they got closer.

As the news of Nana Sahib's advances over the British garrison spread, several of the rebel sepoys joined him. By 10 June, he was believed to be leading around twelve thousand to fifteen thousand Indian soldiers.

The British held out in their makeshift fort for three weeks with little water and food supplies. Many died as a result of sunstroke and lack of water. As the ground was too hard to dig graves, the British would pile the dead bodies of their killed outside the buildings, and drag and dump them inside a dried well during the night. The lack of sanitation facilities led to spread of diseases such as dysentery and cholera, further weakening the defenders. There was also a small outbreak of smallpox, although this was relatively confined.

During the first week of the siege, Nana Sahib's forces encircled the entrenchment, created loopholes and established firing positions from the surrounding buildings. Captain John Moore of the 32nd (Cornwall) Light Infantry countered this by launching night-time sorties. Nana Sahib withdrew his headquarters to Savada House (or Savada Kothi), situated about two miles away. In response to Moore's sorties, Nana Sahib decided to attempt a direct assault on the British entrenchment, but the rebel soldiers displayed a lack of enthusiasm.

On 11 June, Nana Sahib's forces changed their tactics. They started concentrated firing on specific buildings, firing endless salvos of round shot into the entrenchment. They successfully damaged some of the smaller barrack buildings, and also tried to set fire to the buildings.

The first major assault by Nana Sahib's side took place on the evening of June 12. However, the attacking soldiers were still convinced that the British had laid out gunpowder-filled trenches, and did not enter the area. On 13 June, the British lost their hospital building to a fire, which destroyed most of their medical supplies and caused the deaths of a number of wounded and sick artillerymen who burned alive in the inferno. The loss of the hospital was a major blow to the defenders. Nana Sahib's forces gathered for an attack, but were repulsed by the canister shots from artillery under the command of Lieutenant George Ashe. By 21 June, the British had lost around a third of their numbers.

Wheeler's repeated messages to Henry Lawrence, the commanding officer in Lucknow, could not be answered as that garrison was itself under siege.

Read more about this topic:  Siege Of Cawnpore

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