Chambers Journal, 28 May 1859

The position which we were ordered to attack, and, if possible, carry, will be familiar enough to those who have visited Lucknow by the name of the 'Char Bagh.' It consisted of an extensive enclosure, surrounded on three sides by high brick walls, while on the fourth it was flanked by the canal, which, after describing a semicircle, falls into the Goomtee, at the further extremity of the city.

On the opposite bank of the canal - that is to say, on the Lucknow side - the rebels had thrown up a formidable-looking battery, which completely swept the enclosure beyond; while their sharp-shooters, posted in every available cover, were enabled to keep up a withering fire on all those who might be foolhardy enough to venture within range.

At early dawn, a brigade of Goorkhas moved out of camp in the direction of the Char Bagh. They were preceded by half-a-dozen pieces of brass ordnance, neither remarkable for their serviceable condition nor their accuracy of range. These guns were drawn by a singular description of the human race, who, it is understood, are a kind of serf or helot among the Nepaulese. They were of short stature, bull necked and round shouldered, clad in dingy rags of every stage of impurity.

Caste they have none, and they are in the habit of devouring - doubtless to the scorn and scandal of the Nepaulese - every description of viand which chance might throw in their way. Linked together in couples, like galley-slaves, their duties consist in dragging these cumbrous masses of brass, which they perform with a strength, patience, and dexterity perfectly marvellous; while their behaviour under fire evinces that stoical indifference to death which is so strong a characteristic among the lower orders in India.

In rear of the artillery followed the infantry, marching in no 'serried phalanx,' but swarming over the country in a dense, straggling, irregular body, the several regiments distinguished by uniforms of red, green, and blue.

As the column crowns the summit of a rising-ground, over which are thickly scattered villages, gardens, trees, and here and there a large white house shining through the foliage, the city of Lucknow lies stretched before us. But it is in vain that we strain our eyes to catch a glimpse of the capital of Oude; the atmosphere is obscured by thick volumes of smoke and dust, floating over the town, which effectually conceal the fantastic minarets, gilt cupolas; and other whimsical designs of eastern architecture.

Now and again, a small spiral column of white smoke shoots up into the sky, accompanied by a loud report. These are the explosion of magazines in the enemy's works, and they appear at this moment to be unusually frequent. The loud, sullen boom of heavy guns, and the rattle of musketry, are distinctly audible to our right, and it is evident that an attack is being made on one of the enemy's positions; but it is only the roar of the artillery, and the sharp ring of the small-arms, which induce us to form this conjecture, for as to knowing what is actually taking place, we might just as well be fifty miles distant from the spot.

As we advance down the side of the slope, the rebels bring their guns to bear upon us, and the round-shot flies thick and fast over our heads, or rips open the surface of the earth at our feet, burying itself deep in the soil, with a dull, heavy crash, and throwing showers of dust and earth into our faces. Our guns are brought to the front, and for a considerable space of time it is an exchange of round-shot at long artillery-range, with very little execution on either side; for the dense canopy of smoke and dust which envelops the scene completely screens the belligerent forces from each other's observation.

As we sweep onwards, and approach the enemy's position, we are exposed to a flanking fire from a village on the extreme left, which gives us considerable annoyance; and this post must be carried before we can proceed any further. The column halts, and, see! a small body of Goorkhas, detaching itself from the main force, proceeds rapidly in the direction of the village. We watch their advance with much interest. They are within a few hundred yards of the spot; now they have reached it, and we can distinguish the red and blue coats of the Nepaulese disappearing in quick succession amid the long line of low mat-huts which form the village, and hear the rattling volleys of musketry as the combat sweeps down the narrow streets of the hamlet.

Suddenly, the whole scene is obscured in one dense rolling column of black smoke, through which occasionally bursts forth a lurid sheet of flame. -The rebels have fired the village, and under cover of this are effecting their retreat. And now the order is given for the whole force to advance and carry the rebels' position at the Char Bagh. At that time, but little was known of the defences of this post, and of course we were unaware that the whole interior of the enclosure was swept by the battery erected on the opposite bank of the canal.

Buoyed up with the hope of an easy conquest, therefore, the signal for the assault is given, and the Nepaulese battalions pass rapidly to the front, led by several British officers; for the Goorkha officers evince such a decided partiality for the rear of the column, and such an utter disrelish for round-shot and bullets, that the greater portion of these warriors prefer the more undignified though safer retreat afforded by the high brick walls in the background, to earning laurels in the field.

The Nepaulese officers, it may be as well to state here, are indeed of a class wholly distinct from the Goorkhas themselves: the great majority of these gentry are zemindars (landholders) in Nepaul, and obtain the command of regiments and brigades not from any merit of their own, but from the degree of influence or rank they or their families may possess in their native land.

In appearance and disposition they approach nearer than any other race in the East to the weak, effeminate, pusillanimous Bengalee; and whatever virtues they may claim to, personal courage cannot, assuredly, be ranked among them. Unattended, then, with a few exceptions, by their leaders, the battalions of Nepaul move rapidly over the plain, and the head of the column is soon close up under the wails of the Char Bagh.

In this position, we are almost unmolested, the shot passing over our heads at a considerable altitude. After a brief investigation of the spot, we discover a small opening in one part of the wall sufficiently large for the body of a man to pass through. In single file, and, to say truth, with sundry misgivings on the part of the Goorkhas, we scramble over the narrow pathway, and in a short space of time a couple of hundreds of us are within.

Perceiving that the foremost of the column have met with no opposition in their course, the Nepaulese, with a feeble imitation of a British cheer, swarm through the aperture, in the firm conviction that the place is evacuated by the foe. But they are soon undeceived, and in a manner they little anticipated. The battery on the bank beyond, until now masked and silent, suddenly bursts into life like the unexpected eruption of a sleeping volcano. 'Whiz,' 'whiz,' comes the round-shot, crashing through the trees in front, and tearing down huge branches in their destructive career, while the bullets, flying thick and fast, strike the ground with a pattering sound, like the big drops of rain which precede a thunder-shower.

A huge mass of iron, hurtling a few inches above our heads, strikes a group of Nepaulese beyond. One man is crushed into a shapeless mass by the mighty thunder-bolt; and several, severely wounded, are borne to the rear. The deafening roar of the artillery, and the sharper 'ping' of the musketry, are all that is now heard, while we can clearly discern the red coats of the sepoys glancing through the thick foliage opposite, or dodging behind the trunks of trees, in order to screen their bodies from fire, and obtain a passing glimpse of their assailants.

That small ruined building in front is swarming with the enemy, and we can see many a dark face grouped about the windows, or peering at us round the corners of the dilapidated walls. It affords admirable cover, and from it is kept up a continued and most destructive fire. The Goorkhas fall fast around; and after a hurried attempt at formation, and an incipient essay at a charge, betray such a decided inclination to retreat, that all hope of inducing them to advance seems at an end. The few British officers attached to the force, attempt, by word and gesture, to animate the fainting hearts of the little mountain-eers; but it is all in vain.

Crouched behind trees, or in the partial shelter which the angles of the walls afford, they appear more anxious to avoid the fast flying shot than to come to close quarters with their opponents. A few hundred Europeans, a British cheer, a British use of the bayonet, and the position would have been carried, the battery silenced, and the enemy driven from their post; but Goorkhas are not Britons, and the inhabitants of the mountains of Himalaya are not formed of the same stuff as the sturdy islanders of the west.

But where are the officers who should have animated their men and rallied their wavering ranks? See that large, un-wieldy Nepaulese colonel, who has found his way - probably by mistake - into the enclosure. With his body bent to a curve, and all the insolent assurance of his former demeanour entirely gone, he crouches behind the ample trunk of an adjacent tree, in an ague-fit of terror, and with the tears which cowardice has wrung from his chicken heart coursing down his cheeks, as he overwhelms us with reproaches, cen-suring our conduct as rash, precipitate, insane, in leading him into such a position, exposed to such a fire! Surely we had some diabolical design on his life! Ah! there comes another round-shot, and down goes his head, like the cork attached to a fisher's line when the treacherous hook has ensnared some unwary victim.

The heat is intense, the eyes blinded and inflamed by clouds of dust, while thick and unceasing pours the storm of iron hail. The scattered forces of the Goorkhas no longer wear any semblance of disci-pline, and are rapidly dwindling away by casualties, and desertions to the rear. A sudden movement is observed among the enemy in front, who, emboldened by our inaction, seem determined to assume the initiative themselves, and a large force is seen advancing towards us, their bayonets glancing through the green foliage of the mango-trees, in a long line of glittering steel. This is enough to turn the already doubtful balance.

As the foremost of the foe approach, there is a stir among the Goorkhas, a hesitating pause, a sudden retrograde movement, and then, with a rush, they pass swiftly to the rear, fly through the narrow opening like a flock of startled sheep, and sweep like a torrent into the plain beyond. The panic is great and general; it is sauve qui peut, 'the devil take the hindmost;' and in a brief space of time the Char Bagh is occupied by the enemy alone, who hail our departure by firing a fen de joie, and uttering loud shouts of defiance. No attempt is made on their part, however, to follow us up; and, once outside, the Nepaulese assume, in some degree, an appearance of order; but so great had been the panic, that on no consideration, we firmly believe, would they have been induced again to venture within that fatal enclosure.

The sun had some time since sunk below the horizon, and night was fast gathering round the scene; but instead of returning to camp which was a couple of miles in the rear, we receive orders to bivouac for the night in the open air. Slowly, and with but little martial appearance, we wheel in beneath a wide-spread-ing grove of mango-trees; sentries are placed, large fires lighted, and those who have had the pre-caution to provide themselves with a supply of provisions, proceed to satisfy the cravings of nature. The moon shines brightly down upon the scene, which is wild and picturesque in the extreme. There is a group of Nepaulese soldiers squatted in a circle round a large, cheerful fire, with musket in hand, watching the blaze which illumines their round flat faces, little eyes, and oddly shaped caps, ornamented by some metal emblem of Hindoo superstition, which indicates the regiment to which they belong. There is a good-humoured look about their circular, inexpres-sive, and dirty visages, which interests the spectator in their behalf.

Not far distant are to be seen a heap of 'doolies' (oblong boxes of wood and canvas, with a pole run through the middle), containing the sick and wounded. Squatted on their haunches around these queer-shaped conveyances, are the doolie--bearers, with bare chests, legs, and arms, regaling themselves with the 'hubble-bubble' (small hookah), and passing it round from one to another with true oriental politeness. Food has not passed their lips for more than twelve hours, yet they appear happy and contented, entertaining each other with oriental legends, uttered in their own peculiar patois.

A dropping fire of musketry is still kept up at intervals by either party; and the sepoys, flushed by their partial success in the earlier part of the day, have approached within musket-shot of the camp, while by the silver light of the moon the sowars are seen hovering about the skirts of the encampment, or careering in circles in the far distance. All through the night the heavy boom of the British guns on the extreme right, and the rattle of musketry in our immediate vicinity, continue unceasingly; but in spite of the warlike din, we are soon buried in forgetfulness, for by long habit, one sinks into slumber amid the roar of artillery as calmly as in the hushed bedroom and curtained bed of an English country-house.