Battle of Mudki
Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Battle of Mudki
First Anglo-Sikh War
December 18, 1845
British East India Company
commander2=Sir Hugh Gough
Sir Henry Hardinge
The Battle of Mudki was fought on
December 18, 1845, between the forces of the British East India Companyand part of the Khalsa, the army of the Sikhkingdom of the Punjab. The British army won an untidy encounter battle, suffering heavy casualties.
Sikhkingdom of the Punjab had been held together by Maharajah Ranjit Singh. Ranjit Singh had maintained a policy of friendship with the British East India Company, who held territories adjoining the Punjab, while at the same time building up the Khalsa, to deter aggression. When he died in 1839, the Sikh kingdom fell into increasing disorder. As a succession of rulers were deposed or murdered, the army became increasingly restive. To secure their hold on power, some of the leaders in the Punjab goaded their army into a war against the British.
The Governor General of the Bengal Presidency (and in effect, of all British-controlled India) was Sir Henry Hardinge. Receiving reports of the disorder in the Punjab, he wrote late in 1845, "... it is evident that the Rani and the Chiefs are for their own preservation, endeavouring to raise a storm which, when raised, they will be powerless to direct or allay." He increased the British military force on the borders of the Punjab, stationing a division of 7,000 at
Ferozepore, and moving other troops to Ambalaand Meerut.
This military buildup finally goaded the Khalsa into war, and they began to cross the
Sutlej River, which marked the frontier between the Punjab and British territory on December 10, 1845.
The main British and Bengal army, under its commander-in-chief, Sir Hugh Gough, began marching rapidly from its garrisons at Ambala and Meerut towards Ferozepur. Although the march took place in India's cold weather season, the troops were enveloped in choking dust clouds and water and food was short. Hardinge accompanied the army, waiving his right to command.
The British reached Mudki, 18 miles from Ferozepur in the afternoon of
December 18. Having commandeered grain from the village, they began preparing their first proper meal for some days. A Sikh detachment under Lal Singh, Vizierof the Punjab, spotted their cooking fires and advanced. The terrain was a flat sandy plain, with occasional villages and patches of scrub.
In the late evening the Sikh guns opened fire. As 30 of Gough's light guns replied, the Sikh cavalry tried to outflank both flanks of Gough's army. Although the irregular cavalry, the "Gorchurras", were the elite of the Sikh army, and individually very skilled (for example, being able to spear a tent-peg out of the ground at full gallop), they were comparatively ineffective against the disciplined British and Bengal units. A counter-charge by a British light dragoon regiment cut down many Sikh gunners, but in turn suffered heavy casualties from the Sikh infantry.
The British and Bengal infantry now advanced. In the gathering darkness, smoke and dust clouds, the advance quickly became disordered. Some Bengal infantry regiments caused casualties among the British units with confused fire. Although outnumbered five to one, the Sikh infantry resisted desperately, and their gunners kept firing volleys of
Eventually, after two hours of darkness, the last Sikhs were driven from the field. The British returned to their camp. The British army was unused to fighting or manoeuvering at night, and the battle was nicknamed, "Midnight Mudki".
Casualties among British senior officers were heavy. Among them were two brigade commanders ("Fighting Bob" Sale and John McCaskill). Another senior officer killed was Major George Broadfoot, formerly the British representative to the Punjab and now on Hardinge's staff. [Hernon, p.554]
By itself, the battle decided little. It did however confirm Hardinge in the belief that Gough was too bull-headed and unimaginative to command the army. The two officers would clash several times over strategy during the war.
On the Sikh side, it was alleged that Lal Singh had fled the battlefield early, although there was little scope for direction once the battle had been joined.
*Ian Hernon, "Britain's forgotten wars", Sutton Publishing Ltd. 2003, ISBN 0-7509-3162-0
* [http://www.britishbattles.com/first-sikh-war/moodkee.htm BritishBattles.com]
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