Battle of Agra

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Battle of Agra
Part of Indian Rebellion of 1857
Date August 2, 1857
Location Near Agra, India
Result British victory
Belligerents
British East India Company flag.svg British East India Company  Mughal Empire
Commanders and leaders
Brigadier Edward Greathed unknown
Strength
2,650+
including 12 cannon
10,000
(including 12 cannon)
Casualties and losses
? Unknown, but heavy

The Battle of Agra was a comparatively minor but nevertheless decisive action during the Indian Rebellion of 1857 (also known as the First War of Indian Independence or the Indian Mutiny). Indian rebels attacked a column of British troops which had relieved a garrison at Agra, but although they surprised the column, they were defeated and dispersed. This allowed the British to establish communications across all of Northern India, and to concentrate troops for the vital Relief of Lucknow.

Background[edit]

Before the rebellion broke out, Agra was an important centre of British administration and commerce. Stationed in the military cantonments nearby were the 3rd Bengal Fusiliers (a "European" regiment of infantry of the British East India Company's army), a battery of artillery also manned by white troops, and the 44th and 67th Regiments of Bengal Native Infantry.

The loyalty of the sepoys (Indian soldiers) of the Bengal Army had been wavering for several years, as they feared that the actions and reforms of the East India Company were threatening Indian society and their own caste and status. After increasing unrest during the early months of 1857, the sepoys at Meerut broke into rebellion on 10 May 1857. They subsequently moved to Delhi, where they called on more sepoys to join them, and for the Emperor Bahadur Shah II to lead a nation-wide rebellion.

News of the revolt spread fast. In Agra, the news prompted the local British commanders to disarm the two Bengal Native Infantry regiments on 31 May, thus forestalling any potential uprising, although the regiments had apparently made no hostile moves in the fortnight since news of the events at Delhi had reached them. Nevertheless, the news of the events at Delhi and the increasing unrest in the countryside prompted 6,000 refugees (British civilians and their families and servants) to converge on Agra and take shelter in the historic Agra Fort. Although the fort was well provisioned, the sanitation and medical facilities were poor. After an uprising in the city in June, the British were blockaded in the Fort.

They endured a desultory siege for three months. Morale was poor, and the understrength Bengal Fusiliers were mainly raw and untrained troops. Delhi however, was too strong an attraction for the sepoys and other rebels. Many thousands of these moved to Delhi, where they were unable to dislodge a British force on the ridge to the north-west, but none of the rebel leaders there attempted to organise a force to clear the comparatively easy target of Agra.

Relief[edit]

On 21 September, the Siege of Delhi ended with the storming of the city by the British. Within days, the victorious besiegers had organised columns which secured the countryside around the city. The strongest column consisted of 750 British soldiers, and 1,900 Sikh and Punjabi soldiers, under Brigadier Edward Greathed (formerly the commanding officer of the 8th (King's) Regiment). It moved out of the city on 24 September. Several officers were surprised that the column was able to move so promptly, given the exhausted and debauched state of many units after the siege and storming of the city.

Greathed's column moved along the Grand Trunk Road, taking indiscriminate punitive measures against several Indian villages. Although Greathed intended to move directly to Cawnpore, which had been recaptured by the British in July (see Siege of Cawnpore), he received several urgent requests for aid from Agra. Some of the rebels who had retreated from Delhi were said to have rallied at Muttra near Agra, and the garrison were alarmed at what seemed to be an imminent threat.

Greathed accordingly marched his troops and his large baggage train of elephants, camels and bullock carts 44 miles (71 km) to Agra in twenty-eight hours. On arrival, his force received a cool reception from the garrison. His battle-weary British troops in worn khaki dress were mistaken at first for Afghan tribesmen by some of the civilians. By contrast the soldiers of the garrison were still splendid in scarlet uniforms with pipeclayed white belts.

The battle[edit]

Having recovered from their earlier state of panic, the senior officers of the garrison now assured Greathed that the enemy had retreated across the Khara Naddi, a stream 9 miles (14 km) distant. Fatigued and without any apparent danger, the column retired to rest without posting sufficient pickets. Greathed himself went to take breakfast in the fort. Taking advantage of this lapse in security, the rebels launched a surprise attack.

Round shot from 12 sepoy cannons raked the British bivouac area. Cavalry descended upon the British, musket balls filled the air and there was hand-to-hand combat between the British and their attackers. The veteran British, Sikhs and Punjabis nevertheless rallied, fell into their ranks, and returned the fire. The British cavalry outflanked the attackers on both flanks.

The rebels fled, but regrouped and tried to stand 4 miles (6.4 km) along the road to Gwalior. Grape shot from British cannon and a cavalry charge broke their line. The British cavalry then pursued those fleeing for miles.

Results[edit]

This small but fierce action broke organised opposition to the British between Delhi and Cawnpore. Most of the victory was due to the hardbitten British and Indian troops, who had been marching and fighting continuously for four months. They were very short of British officers, and Greathed himself was regarded disparagingly by many of his junior officers. (He nevertheless led a brigade at the Relief of Lucknow and the Second Battle of Cawnpore.)

References[edit]