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Entrance to the Sitabuldi fort
|Built by||Mudhoji II Bhonsle|
|In use||1817 to present|
|Controlled by||Kingdom of Nagpur, East India Company|
|Garrison||Indian Army's 118th infantry battalion|
|Commanders||Mudhoji II Bhonsle|
|Occupants||Mahatma Gandhi, King George V and Queen Mary|
|Battles/wars||Battle of Sitabuldi|
The Sitabuldi fort, which was the site of the Battle of Sitabuldi in 1817, is located atop a small hillock in the middle of Nagpur, in central India. The fort was built by Mudhoji II Bhonsle, also known as Appa Sahib Bhosle of the Kingdom of Nagpur, just before he fought against the British East India Company during the Third Anglo-Maratha War. The area surrounding the hillock is now known as Sitabuldi and is an important commercial hub for Nagpur. To the south of the hillock is Nagpur Railway Station and at its back is a temple of Ganesha (Tekdi Ganapati). The temple was constructed by Bhonsle kings of Nagpur Kingdom. The fort is now home to the Indian Army's 118th infantry battalion.
Battle of Sitabuldi 
The Sitabuldi Fort is one of the major tourist attractions in Nagpur. The Fort is situated on two hillocks: "Badi Tekri", literally meaning "big hill", and "Choti "Tekri", meaning "small hill" in Hindi. It is said that Sitabuldi got its name from two Yadavvanshi brothers -- Shitlaprasad and Badriprasad Gawali, who ruled the area in the 17th century. The place came to be known as "Shitlabadri", which during the British rule became "Seetabuldee" and later assumed its current form "Sitabardi" or "Sitabuldi". It is on these two twin hillocks that the Battle of Sitabuldi was fought in Nov 1817 between the forces of Appa Saheb Bhonsle of Nagpur and the British.
The Sitabuldi hills, though barren and rocky in those times, were not entirely unoccupied.
After the death of Shivaji on 3 April 1680, the Maratha empire disintegrated into five families, viz. the Peshwas of Satara, Gaekwads of Baroda, Holkars of Indore, Scindias of Gwalior and Bhonsles of Nagpur. However, the Maratha confederacy, as the five families were known, was still a formidable force to reckon with.
During 18th and 19th centuries, the Marathas tried to overcome the gradual supremacy of the East India Company. The British too fervently prepared to suppress the Marathas. In the beginning of 19th century, during the second Anglo Maratha war, the British met with successes and annexed the territories of Marathas.
The second Anglo Maratha war involved five sets of battles: three major ones against the Scindias, Holkars and Bhonsles and two minor ones in Bundelkhand and Orissa. The campaign opened with the capture of Ahmednagar by Arthur Wellesly on 12 August 1803, followed by the capture of Burhanpur,Asirgarh and a victory over the Bhosla at Argon on 29th Nov 1803. The Bhosla signed a treaty at Deogaon by which he surrendered cuttack and all territory west of river Wardha to the British and agreed to receive a British resident at Nagpur.
The next great spurt in the expansion of the British in India took place between 1813 and 1823. In 1813 the Marquis of Hastings assumed charge of Government of India from Lord Minto and soon after began to make dispositions for the suppressions of the hordes of pindaris and other marauders that infested Central India. The ruler of Nagpur at that time was Raghuji II and the conclusion of a defensive treaty with him formed a part of the arrangements contemplated. Raghuji II, however rejected the terms offered to him.
Raghuji II died in March 1816, Mudhoji, better known as Appasahib, ascended the throne of Nagpur in April 1817 and entered into subsidiary alliance in May 1817. A subsidiary force was formed in accordance with this treaty and was maintained in or about Nagpur. Appasahib was however not comfortable with the alliance and went over to the views of the Poona court.
On 23rd Nov 1817, Appasahib made known to the residents his intention of receiving on the following day a 'Khilat' sent to him by the Peshwa which would make him ' Sena Saheb Suba' or " Senapati' of Marathas. He requested that the resident should honour the occasion by his presence. He also requested that a salute should be fired in the British Cantonment on the auspicious occasion. As at this very time the British were at war with the Peshwa, it was clear that Appasahib's request could not be.acceded to Mr Jenkis, the resident at Nagpur notified Appasahib that his request under the circumstances was highly offensive to the British Government.
On 24th Nov 1817, Appasahib publicly received the 'Khilat' sent to him by the Peshwa and also accepted a commission from Poona, appointing him 'Senapati' of the Maratha armies. he then mounted his elephant and addressed his principal Sardars, telling them that his honour was now in their hands and that he placed his trust in them alone. Surrounded by his troops he proceeded to the camp at Sukhardara. The ' Jaripataka' or royal standard was displayed, the army drawn up, salutes fired from the artillery stations around the camp, and in short nothing was omitted which could add to the pomp of the ceremony.
On the morning of 25th Nov 1817, all communications between the residency and the city was prohibited, the resident ' Harakars' were refused permission to carry a letter to the darbar, the markets were shut against the English troops. Events had taken a serious turn and inspire of grave provocation the resident decided to delay taking any decisive measures.
Towards noon of 25th Nov a body of about 2000 of the Bhosla horse left their camp at Bokur, five miles North East of the city and approached the residency. The cavalry commanded by Subedar Ganpat Rao got under arms and reports were spread around that the Pindaris were in the neighbourhood and threatened Nagpur. The city now became a scene of consternation, confusion and alarm, not that the people believed that tere was any danger from the Pindaris, but because Appasahib's design of atitacking the British and driving them out of his dominions was publicly talked about and universally credited. The alarm had now spread to the market frequented by the people of the residency which soon became almost deserted and indeed all classes both rich and poor, removed their families and property from the vicinity of Sitabuldi.
The resident now knew that the attack on the residency was now imminent. He sent orders to Lt Col Scott at about 2 pm, to march immediately from his cantonment at Telankheri,. The force arrived near the residency and occupied the twin hills of Sitabuldi. This movement was executed only just in time for a strong body of Arabs who were a part of the Maratha army, stationed in a village (where now stands the Railway Station of Nagpur) were awaiting final orders to secure this position. Express messages were also sent to General Doveton to come immediately with the Second Division of the Army from Berar.
The Battleground 
The high ground of Sitabuldi consists of two hills ( Badi Tekri to the South and Choti Tekri to the North) which are joined by a narrow saddle about 300 yards in length. The trig height of Badi Teri is 387m. The whole surface was rock and devoid of trees so it was not possible in a short time to dig any entrenchments on the two hills. Choti Tekri in the North is lesser in height but being within musket range of the Badi Tekri, it's possession was vital. More significantly the suburbs of the city came close to the lower hill (Choti Tekri). The present 118 Infantry Battallion (Territorial Army) GRENADIERS has made the hills green over a period of time.
Deployment of Troops 
The forces on both sides were not equally matched. Marathas had amassed 18,000 troops including one third Arabs with 26 guns ( at some places 36 guns have been attributed to Marathas) The British had a brigade of two battalions with depleted strength of Madras Native infantry under Lt Col Scott, two loose coys, some cavalry and four guns. The total strength was about 1800 troops.
The Force - Britishers
- A brigade of two Battalions of 20 and 24 Madras Native Infantry
- Two companies of Native Infantry
- Three troops of Bengal Native Cavalry
- Four six pounder guns marines by Europeans of the Madras Artillery
- Resident Escorts (British Imperial Army)
The Force - Marathas
- Infantry - About 18000 troops
- Cavalry - 2000 Maratha Cavalry
- Artillery - 26 Guns
Disposition of British Troops - 26 Nov 1817
- Chotti Tekri - 24 Battalion Madras Native Infantry with one 6 pounder gun
- Badi Tekri - 20 Battalion Madras Native Infantry with two 6 pounder guns
- Residency - This area had Resident Escorts, Three troops f Bangal Native Cavalry, Two Infantry Companies and one 6 pounder gun
The Day of the Battle 
Twin hills were occupied on 25th Nov 1817. Badi Tekri was occupied by about 800 men under Lt Col Scott. About 300 men of the 24th Regiment under capt Saddle were posted on the Choti Tekri with one 6 pounder. On the other side of the suburbs of the city gave cover to the Maratha troops, especially the Arabs ( Mercenaries) who throughout on the 26th Nov were gathering in large numbers. On the evening of 26th Nov 1817, the Arabs began the battle from the village by opening fire on the lower hill ( Choti Tekri). The engagement lasted till the early hours of the morning when it slackned somewhat on the side of the Marathas. Several times during the night.the Arabs had tried hard to carry the lower hill. Although they were repulsed, they inflicted heavy casualties on the defenders. Capt Saddle was killed by a shot while defending lower hill. Time after time as the ranks of 24th Regiment were thinned , help was sent down from the 20th Regiment occupying the upper hill. At dawn on 27th Nov the British troops were holding on desperately to an isolated position.about 18000 men of whom nearly one quarter were Arabs, we're drawn up against them. At 5 O' clock in the morning the few remaining men of the 24th Regiment being utterly exhausted, we're withdrawn. Their place was taken by the Residents Escorts with orders to confine their defence to the summit of the lower hill. The fight continued till 9 O' clock the next morning when the Arabs again charged home. Just as they gained the crest, the accidental explosion of a tumbril caused considerable confusion amongst the defenders. They captured the hill and turned the gun which fell into their hands, against the higher hill position.
The Maratha Cavalry and Infantry taking advantage of this began to close in from all sides and started preparing for a general assault. To add to the confusion the Arabs broke into the huts of the English troops and started ransacking the place. A body of Maratha horse entered the residency compound. It was at this time that Capt Fitzgerald performed that gallant action which entitles a man to distinction. This brave officer, in command of three troops of the Bengal Cavalry and some horseman of the resident escorts had been repeatedly requesting permission to charge and was as often, prevented by orders from the Commanding Officer. Seeing the impending destruction he made a last attempt to charge. Col Scott's reply was " Tell him to charge at his peril". "At my peril be it", said Capt Fitzgerald on receiving this answer and soon charged the principal body of the horse, drove them away from two guns by which they were supported, pursued them to some distance, cut a body of Infantry accompanying them to pieces and bought back the captured guns. The infantry posted on the hill witnessed this gallant exploit with loud cheers and the men, became freshly animated. Just then another explosion of ammunition took place amongst the Arabs on the lower hill. This was indeed fortunate for the British troops, officers and men together rushed forward, irresistible, they pursued the Arabs down the hill, took two of their guns, spiked them and returned to their position. The Arabs rallied again and evinced a determination to recover their ground. As they were getting ready to come up, a troop of cavalry under Colonel Smith charged round the base of the hill, took the Arabs in the flank and dispersed them. The British troops now advanced from the hill, drove the infantry from the adjoining hills and by noon the conflict had wholly ceased.
The British lost 367 killed and wounded including 16 British Officers. Among the killed wee Mr Sotheby's of the civil services who had been with the resident throughout the engagement.
During the British Raj 
The graves of British soldiers who died in the battle of Sitabuldi remain in the fort. After the crushing of the 1857 rebellion, Tipu Sultan's grandson Nawab Kadar Ali and his eight associates were hanged on the ramparts of Sitabuldi fort for fighting against the British East India Company. A mosque is maintained in the fort to mark the hangings. The graves along with the mosque are maintained by the Indian Army as a mark of respect for the gallantry of all those who died. A memorial has also been constructed to the soldiers who fell during the colonial period.
Mahatma Gandhi was imprisoned in the fort from 10 April to 15 May 1923. King George V and Queen Mary of the United Kingdom gave audience to the people of Nagpur from the fort during their visit to British India. A pillar to commemorate the event stands in the fort. The royals were greeted by a huge crowd gathered at the area towards the present Nagpur Railway Station.
Current status 
The fort is now home to the Indian Army's 118th infantry battalion (Territorial Army) GRENADIERS. The fort was initially open to the public on 2 days a year i.e. on 26 January and 15 August, but since 19 May 2007 it is now open all year.Now it is occupied by India Army and opened for public on three occasions I.e., on 26 January, 01 May (Maharashtra Day) and 15 August.
See also