Saga of Fight for Independence!
Chapter 14: Sher Singh Attariwala
Sher Singh Attariwala was appointed as governor of Peshawar in October 1845, and recalled in August 1846 to Lahore where he was nominated a member of the Council of Regency. His father Chatar Singh was conferred the title of ‘Raja’ who requested it to be given to his son in November 1847.
In April 1848, Raja Sher Singh commanded the Khalsa Durbar troops sent out to Multan by the British Resident to quell the rebellion by Diwan Mool Raj. However Sher Singh left the British camp and went over to Mool Raj along with the Khalsa troops. He later moved northwards to join his father, Chatar Singh, at Hazara. Sher Singh’s action set into motion a chain of events which set the whole of the Punjab ablaze. Many disbanded Khalsa soldiers joined and swelled his ranks. Overnight, he became a leader of Sikh resistance.
Sher Singh proclaimed himself a Servant of the Khalsa and that of the sovereign, and called upon the people to rise in arms and expel the British from their country. Simultaneously, the rising in the north under his father, Chatar Singh Attariwala, gained popular support. The Sikh contingents at several places revolted and joined him. The British commander in chief Lord Hugh Gough without formal declaration of war crossed the river Ravi on 16 November 1848, with 24,000 men and 65 guns. Sher Singh fought the British at Ramnagar on 22 November 1848, defeating Brigadier General Campbell’s 3rd Infantry Division.
Soon afterwards he joined his father, Chatar Singh, and together they defeated the British at Challianwala on 13 January 1849 but in the last battle at Gujrat on 21 February 1849 Sikhs suffered a heavy defeat.
Battle of Gujarat:
21st February 1849
After the battle of Chillianwallah, Raja Sher Singh withdrew to Gujarat where his army hastily prepared a defensive position. Gujarat and has been referred to as the ‘Battle of Guns’. The British had never amassed so many guns and men in any single battle. The British army now consisted of 56,636 men-four infantry divisions, 11,569 horse, 96 field-guns, and 67 siege-guns including ten 18-pounders and six 8-inch howitzers drawn by elephants.
Raja Sher Singh was joined by his father Chattar Singh and his forces. Hugh Gough was waiting for the divisions of General Whish to join him after the victory at Multan.
The Sikhs constructed a double entrenchment. Most of the artillery was grouped in a central battery, screened by hastily planted bushes. The cavalry was deployed on the flanks. Several small villages in advance of the central battery were occupied by infantry, and the houses and buildings were prepared for defence. Although the position was strong, it was exposed to British artillery fire, and the hastily erected screen of brush was not as effective as the belts of scrub and jungle which had hidden the Sikh artillery from view at Chillianwallah.
Early on 21 February, Gough advanced against this position. When the Sikh artillery opened fire and disclosed their position, Gough deployed his large numbers of heavy guns against them. In a three-hour artillery duel, the Sikhs were forced to abandon their guns. Once the Sikh artillery was largely silenced, the British infantry advanced. There was desperate hand-to-hand fighting for the small fortified villages of Burra Kalra and Chota Kalra. However, the British guns were being advanced in successive “bounds”, and the Sikhs broke.
The heavy artillery continued to advance taking up successive forward positions, driving the enemy from those positions hey had retired to, whilst the rapid advance broke the ranks of the enemy at all points. The whole infantry line now rapidly advanced and drove the enemy before it, the nulla [ravine] was cleared, several villages stormed, the guns that were in position carried, the camp captured and the enemy routed in every direction
The Bengal Horse Artillery and British and Indian cavalry took up a ruthless and merciless pursuit, which turned the Sikh retreat into a rout over 12 miles (19 km).
The next day, a division under Major General Sir Walter Gilbert took up the pursuit. The remnants of Sher Singh’s forces retreated across the Jhelum and into progressively rougher country for eleven days, but Sher Singh was finally forced to agree to British terms for surrender. His army, reduced to 20,000 men (mainly irregular cavalry) and 10 guns, handed over its arms at a two-day ceremony on 12 March and disbanded.
The small Afghan contingent also hastily retreated, destroying the pontoon bridge at Attock behind them. Dost Mohammed later concluded a peace with the East India Company, acknowledging their possession of the Peshawar region.
The last battle was at “The Sikhs,” commented Lord Dalhousie, “displayed the skill, courage and activity which belong to their race.” With the decisive British victory at Gujrat the hostilities ended on 11 March 1849. Lord Gough repaired his reputation as a commander.
Following annexation of Punjab, Sher Singh along with his father was detained at Attari and their jagirs were confiscated. However Sher Singh continued to contact former soldiers to renew the struggle. The father son duo was then imprisoned at Allahabad. They were later transferred to Fort William at Calcutta from where they were released in January 1854 but were not allowed to return back to Punjab. Chatar Singh passed away in December 1855 and Raja Sher Singh died at Banaras in 1858 hundreds of miles away from their home.
When Even Strongest Of Polingar Were Surrendering To British, The Ruler Of Nelkattunseval Fought Against Them Like A Tiger! Know The Story Of ‘Puli’ Thevar An Able Administrator And A Great Warrior!
Dr. Sindhu Prashanth