Battle of Chillianwala
In an amazing coincidence, the battle of Chillianwala was fought in almost the same area where Porus, with his elephants, chariots, and archers, had fought Alexander’s cavalry 2175 years earlier.
Sher Singh displayed exceptional skill by judiciously selecting his position which was protected on the left by a low ridge of hills intersected with ravines and the main stream of the Jhelum, the right being posted in different villages enclosed by a thick jungle.
On 13 January 1849 the British launched their attack. Their artillery advanced to an open space in front of the village of Chillianwala and opened fire on the Sikh artillery. The Sikhs replied with a vigorous cannonade. As the fire ceased the British drew up in order of battle and charged at the enemy’s centre in an attempt to force the Sikhs into the river. The assault was led by Brigadier Pennycuick. For the Sikhs, the conditions were made to order. Scattering into the brushwood jungle they began their hit and run tactics, their snipers taking a heavy toll of the British cavalry and infantry. Those that got through the brushwood and the ravines were easily repulsed in the hand-to-hand fighting with the main body of the Sikh troops.
Brig. Pennycuick leading the Brigade in the front fell as did his son Ensign Pennycuick who was mortally injured while trying to protect the body of his father. Four British guns and the colours of three British Regiments fell to the Sikhs and the British registered nearly 3000 dead or wounded in the area around Chillianwala. A testimony left by a British observer says: “The Sikhs fought like devils, fierce and untamed… Such a mass of men I never set eyes on and as plucky as lions: they ran right on the bayonets and struck their assailants when they were transfixed”.
But, once again, as at Ferozeshahr, the Sikhs failed to drive home their advantage. Having suffered considerable losses themselves they were not aware of the magnitude of the punishment they had inflicted on the British. It then poured incessantly for three days – which kept the Sikhs separated from their quarry – and on the fourth day as the sun shone again, the British had pulled out and retreated across the Chaj to the banks of the Chenab.
The Attariwalas sent George Lawrence, who was their prisoner, with terms for a truce, which included the investment of Dalip Singh as Maharaja. This, however, the British did not accept.
Once more, fate and destiny had conspired against a victory for the Sikhs, bringing to mind Shah Mohammad’s words:
“We won the Battle but we lost the Fight.”
The Battle of Chillianwala
Originally Published By: Sikh Heritage