Battle of Aliwal

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Battle of Aliwal
Part of 1st Sikh War
Date: 28 January 1846
Location: Aliwal, Punjab
Presidency: Bengal
Co-ordinates: 30.944623°N 75.528246°E
Result: British victory
Combatants
East India Company Sikh Empire
Commanders
Sir Harry Smith Ranjodh Singh
Strength
12,000 British & Indian troops
30 guns
30,000 Sikh troops of the Khalsa
67 guns
Casualties
589 killed 3,000 killed
67 guns
Aliwal Location
1920-1946 Survey

Order of Battle

Commander: General Sir Harry Smith
Cavalry Division: Brigadier General Cureton

Brigadier Macdowell’s brigade:

Brigadier Stedman’s brigade:

Horse Artillery:
Major Laurenson, 3 batteries.

Infantry Division:
1st Brigade:

2nd Brigade: Brigadier Wheeler;

3rd Brigade: Brigadier Wilson;

4th Brigade: Colonel Godby;

Artillery:

  • 2 field batteries
  • 2 eight-inch howitzers.


William Morris - 16th Lancers at Aliwal

16th Lancers Aliwal memorial in Canterbury Cathedral

An extract from Robert White-Thomson's 1903 Memoir of Lieut-Colonel William Morris:

Meanwhile, Lord Hardinge had assembled a British force, and we may be sure that Morris was not sorry that his Regiment was sent to the front. There was fierce fighting, and he was present at the battles of Buddiwal, Aliwal and Sobraon, in command of a troop of 16th Lancers.
The following is an extract from a letter written by Morris the day after the Battle of Aliwal:
January 29th, 1846
"We attacked the Sikhs yesterday, and gave them an awful licking, with much less loss than I expected. After some very sharp firing for about an hour, the 16th Lancers charged in two wings ... we went across an open plain and took the enemy's guns in spite of thousands who guarded them. I was with the left squadron, which charged the extreme right of the enemy's position. We attacked the only body of their Cavalry that showed fight, and sent them flying . . . but we found we were surrounded by thousands of their Infantry, who formed a square to prevent our getting back, and it would have done your eyes good to see how we dashed through them. The squadron lost forty men killed beside the wounded. I first went at one of their standards, but it got away from me into a mass of Infantry. I then attacked one of the Officers and sent my sword clean through him, but before I could disengage my sword, he hit me over the left eye and gave me a slight wound, which I do not think will leave a scar. I do not yet know the loss on either side, but we are said to have taken seventy guns, and have driven the enemy across the Sutlej. We took their camp standing as it was, and as we had to lie on the ground all the night, I found some of their blankets very agreeable. We had six Officers of the Regiment wounded and two killed. I will write by every mail while we are in the enemy's country. I suppose we shall cross the Sutlej in a few days. I am quite well except for my eye which will be right again in a day or two."
Sir Harry Smith, in his report of the battle of Aliwal writes;
"The enemy had a numerous body of Cavalry on the heights to his left, and I ordered Brigadier Cureton to bring up the right brigade of Cavalry, who, in the most gallant manner, dashed in among them and drove the back upon their Infantry ... The enemy, well driven back upon his left and centre, endeavoured to hold his right to cover the passage of the river ... I directed a squadron of the 16th Lancers, under Major Smith and Captain Pearson to charge a body to the right of the village, which they did in most gallant style, bearing everything before them as a squadron, under Captain Price, had previously done, going right through a square of infantry, wheeling about and re-entering the square in the most intrepid manner with the deadly lance.
Sir Harry's report of the killed and wounded of the 16th Lancers was as follows:
  • 2 Officers, 56 men and 77 horses killed.
  • 6 Officers, 77 men and 22 horses wounded.
  • 1 man and 73 horses injured.
It is thus seen by the General Officer Commanding's report that Morris had rather understated the losses of his Regiment, and certainly not overstated their gallantry.
I subjoin extracts from a letter written by Captain Pearson, 16th Lancers, one of the Senior Captains of the Regiment, afterwards a General Officer, dated from Aliwal on the same days as above from Morris:
"We have gained a glorious victory ... but I regret to say the 16th has suffered much, more so than in any other battle of the Peninsula or Waterloo. Two Officers killed, Williams and Swettenham; Major Smyth severely wounded, Captain Benn hit in the face, Captain Tyler dangerously wounded, Captain Pattle shot in the face, Morris slightly hit in the face.
Captain Pearson had a wing of the Regiment in reserve, but, receiving no orders, obtained permission from Major Smyth (commanding the Regiment) to advance. He writes:
"... who went down before our charge, yet retiring fighting, and at one time 200 of the 16th were in the midst of 10,000 of their choicest troops, drilled and led by French Officers ... and our loss in men and horses is enormous for our strength, 134 of the Regiment, Officers, and men out of 300 fell on the bloody field, and 179 horses are killed or missing ... Sir Harry Smith came to me and on the the field and said to me, 'You may rely on a Majority for this.' I brought the Regiment out of action, and am in command until Major Smyth recovers, which will not be for some time to come."


External Links

Historical books online

  • The War in India, Despatches of Hardinge Gough and Smith 1846 Despatches archive.org
  • The War in India, Despatches of Hardinge Gough and Smith 1846 List of killed and wounded at Aliwal archive.org
  • Battle of Aliwal in A comprehensive history of India etc. Vol 3 Henry Beveridge (1862) Google Books
  • Aliwal in A gazetteer of the territories under the government of the East-India company Edward Thornton (1857) Google Books
  • Aliwal in Ten years in India, in the 16th Queen's Lancers WJD Gould (1880) Archive.org