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Heritage Battle Of Chillianwala - The Battle That Shook The British Army


Jun 1, 2004
The following are excerpts from a neutral source-

"The Battle of Chillianwala fought on 13 January 1849 is, however, one odd exception and stands out as a battle in which the British failed to defeat their opponents despite having the advantages of weight of numbers, ideal weather and terrain, superior logistics etc"

The Sikhs had little if any superiority to the British force of 13,000. The artillery was about equal, 60 guns to each side. British Army despite a high European troop component, sufficient artillery, and two heavy cavalry brigades to ensure that no one could surprise them, little campaign exhaustion having fought no major battle since assumption of hostilities, winter weather negating the possibility of heatstroke and cholera the worst killers of white soldiers in India, failed to defeat the Sikhs.

The final losses to Gough's army were 2,800 men killed, of whom nearly 1000 were Europeans and 89 were British and 43 native officers. HM 24th Foot suffered 590 casualties, over 50 percent. Sikh casualties were harder to estimate, but it is put at around 4,000. An obelisk erected at Chillianwalla by the British government preserves the names of those who fell in the battle.

Both armies held their positions for three days, at the end of which the British withdrew. Sher Singh later withdrew to the north. Both sides could claim a victory. However, the British repulse, together with the loss of several guns and the colours of the 24th and two other regiments, and the rout of the 14th Light Dragoons, dealt a severe blow to British morale and prestige.

The British and the Sikhs fought a series of wars after the collapse of the Sikh Durbar from 1845 to 1849. The battles were hard fought and many a time the British army came close to defeat. It will be no exaggeration to say that the Anglo Sikh wars brought the British face to face with their toughest opponents in India. But the age of chivalry was not dead and despite a bloody war the Sikhs won the respect of the English, who later classified them as a martial race. This was the beginning of an association that continued for a 100 year as the Sikhs fought for the British and the Raj with fervor, loyalty and distinction.

The Chillianwala battle is important as the Sikhs almost beat the English. Both sides claimed victory, but the British losses were heavy and they could not press forward as they withdrew from the battlefield.

Chillianwala is a small village in Pakistan. It is about 85 miles towards the North West from Lahore on the banks of the Jhelum. It was the setting for a set piece battle between the Khalsa Fauj and the British army. It must be noted that in this battle the British had a preponderance of English soldiers and officers as the British respected the fighting qualities of the Sikhs as evidenced at the Battle of Mudki.

The Commander of the Sikh army was General Sher Singh Attariwala while the British were led by Sir Hugh Gough, who was in direct contact with the Governor general Lord Dalhousie. As instructed by the GG lord Gaugh was directed to destroy the army of General Sher Singh and as such the British army with a majority of English officers and men advanced forward.

Both the armies met at Chillianwala on 12 January 1849. It was winter and the white British soldiers and officers felt a lot more comfortable in the e weather. Sher Singh had about 25000 soldiers and 60 guns, while the British under Gaugh had two infantry divisions and two cavalry brigades with 66 guns. It must be noted that the Sikh line spread a distance of 6 miles with the river on one side.

The battle commenced with a charge by the cavalry, but no headway could be made and the Sikh gunners who were earlier trained by French generals were unerring in their aim. The battle continued for 3 days and Gough had to stop engagement as the casualties were heavy. The British lost 2800 dead out of which over 1000 were English. It was a dead end and the first time after Mudki that the British had been checkmated. Sher Singh also withdrew claiming victory, but I would assess the battle as a draw. But there is no doubt that the British prestige suffered a dent. The battle had its repercussions and Lord Gough was relieved of his command by the GG and replace by Charles Napier.

All that is left at Chillianwala is the cemetery of the fallen British soldiers. No monument exits for the fallen Sikhs. Whatever it may be the Battle at Chillianwala was a battle between heroes and deserves its place as one of the important battles of the sub continent.


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
These threads from the history of Sikh battles are in my top 10 choices, and I always perk up when you or someone else bumps or starts a thread. Thanks.


May 10, 2010
Ancient Greece
CHILLIANWALLAH (by George Meredith)

Chillanwallah, Chillanwallah!
Where our brothers fought and bled,
O thy name is natural music
And a dirge above the dead!
Though we have not been defeated,
Though we can't be overcome,
Still, whene'er thou art repeated,
I would fain that grief were dumb.
Chillianwallah, Chillianwallah!
'Tis a name so sad and strange,
Like a breeze through midnight harpstrings
Ringing many a mournful change;
But the wildness and the sorrow
Have a meaning of their own -
Oh, whereof no glad to-morrow
Can relieve the dismal tone!
Chillianwallah, Chillianwallah!
'Tis a village dark and low,
By the bloody Jhelum river
Bridged by the foreboding foe;
And across the wintry water
He is ready to retreat,
When the carnage and the slaughter
Shall have paid for his defeat.
Chillianwallah, Chillianwallah!
'Tis a wild and dreary plain,
Strewn with plots of thickest jungle,
Matted with the gory stain.
There the murder-mouthed artillery,
In the deadly ambuscade,
Wrought the thunder of its treachery
On the skeleton brigade.
Chillianwallah, Chillianwallah!
When the night set in with rain,
Came the savage plundering devils
To their work among the slain;
And the wounded and the dying
In cold blood did share the doom
Of their comrades round them lying,
Stiff in the dead skyless gloom.
Chillianwallah, Chillianwallah!
Thou wilt be a doleful chord,
And a mystic note of mourning
That will need no chiming word;
And that heart will leap with anguish
Who may understand thee best;
But the hopes of all will languish
Till thy memory is at rest.
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