First Anglo Sikh War

Prelude to First Anglo Sikh War

Maharaja Ranjit Singh expanded and consolidated the Sikh kingdom of Punjab during the early years of the nineteenth century.

Ranjit Singh maintained a policy of wary friendship with the British, ceding some territory south of the Sutlej River.

Out of these discordant elements Ranjit Singh created his famous army of the Khalsa.

By consummate tact he stirred up the old enthusiasm of the Sikh soldiery, while employing French officers to drill and command them.

Hopeless Anarchy after Death of Ranjit Singh

Between 1839 and 1845, the Punjab was sinking into hopeless anarchy.

There was a deadly conflict between Sikhs and Dogras.

Plots and murders followed in rapid succession. Rival faction assassinated Princes, ministers, and generals.

Meanwhile, Minister squandered the treasures of Ranjit Singh in wild debauchery, or lavished on the army.

An infant, named Dhuleep Singh was the nominal sovereign; but the queen-mother were the rulers of the country.

Danger of Khalsa Army Uprising

By this time, army of the Khalsa hold real power in the state.

The Sikh government considered Khalsa as dangerous threat, and paid money and concessions to keep them quiet.

It demanded more pay, and got it. The French officers fled for their lives.

The army was bent on sacking the capital and slaughtering all who stood in their way.

While the Akalis, the fanatical soldiers of God, were burning to purge the court at Lahore of its iniquities.

Begining of First Anglo Sikh War , November, 1845

The Sikh rulers implored the British government to protect them against the army of the Khalsa. However, the British government underrated the strength of the Sikh army.

The ministers feared attack of Khalsa at Lahore. They sent an army of the Khalsa across the river Sutlej to plunder the cities of North India.

The invasion of Khalsa surprised British government.

There was no warning whatever, and the enemy was estimated to number 100,000 men with 150 large guns.

Ferozpur, the frontier station of the British army on the north-west, was held by a British force of 10,000 men.

The Sikhs might have overwhelmed Ferozpur, and marched on to Delhi and Agra before the main army could have taken the field.

The British force at Ferozpur moved out and offered them battle, but they shrank from a collision.

They divided the Sikh army into two bodies: one stopped to watch Ferozpur, whilst the other entrenched a camp a few miles off at Ferozshahr.

Battle of Mudki, 18th December 1845

Soon Sir Henry Hardinge and Sir Hugh Gough marched British army to the frontier. On the 18th of December a battle was fought at Mudki.

The Sikh general fled at the outset, but the Sikh soldiers opened fire with a rapidity and precision which for a while staggered the British.

At last the British gained a victory, but it was not decisive.

Battle of Ferozshahr, 20th December 1845

Two days after Mudki, the British attacked the Sikh force at Ferozshahr.

The Sikhs general deserted their soldier, who fought with the reckless bravery of zealots.

First Anglo Sikh War
                 First Anglo Sikh War

Sir Hugh Gough charged up to the muzzles of their guns with cold steel before he could carry their batteries.

Night came on, and the firing ceased. During the darkness there was an uproar in the enemy’s camp.

As it turned out that the Sikh soldiers plundered their own treasury, which their general had left behind in his hasty flight from the field.

Next morning the battle British renewed the battle, but the Sikhs had lost their enthusiasm. Soon Sikh in full retreat toward the Sutlej.

Battle of Aliwal and Sobraon, 29th January 1846

Early in 1846, the Sikh army used a bridge of boats to recross the Sutlej.

Sir Harry Smith defeated one force at Aliwal, but the main army of the Khalsa strongly entrenched themselves at Sobraon.

In February Hardinge and Gough advanced to storm the entrenchment.

Then followed the hardest and bloodiest battle which the British had hitherto fought in India.

The Sikhs fought with the desperation of despair, but were slowly beaten back by the fiery resolution of the British.

At last they retreated to the Sutlej, and thousands were drowned in the river.

Their general had fled on the morning of the battle, and had broken down the bridge to prevent their return to the Punjab.

End of First Anglo Sikh War

Thus ended the first Anglo Sikh war. The British army marched in triumph to Lahore.

Sir Henry Hardinge, now Lord Hardinge, began to settle the future government of the Punjab.

He was unwilling to annex the country, for the British nation was already jealous of the territorial possessions of the East India Company.

British dared not withdraw the British army lest the army of the Khalsa should spring again into life and sweep away the Sikh régime. He tried a compromise.

He recognised the infant, the queen-mother and her minister, as de facto rulers of the Punjab.

British reduced the army of the Khalsa to a third of its former strength.

He annexed the frontier province on the north, known as the Jalandar Doab, and he demanded a subsidy of a million and a-half sterling towards the expenses of the war

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