To the rear of this ridge, and some distance below, so that all view of Delhi was quite shut out from it, was the camp of the besieging army, numbering at this period about 6,000 men. The tents were pitched at regular intervals behind the ruined houses of the old cantonment, which, at the outbreak on May 11, had been burnt and destroyed by the sepoys. A canal which supplied us with water from the Jumna ran round the ridge past the suburb of Kishenganj into the city, and was crossed by two bridges, over which communication with the country to the north-west, and leading to the Punjab, was kept open by the loyal Sikh chieftains and their retainers.
Our position on the ridge extended about a mile and a half, the right and left front flanks defended by outlying advanced pickets, which I shall hereafter describe.
The city walls, as before recorded, were seven miles in circumference, so that at this time, and, in fact, almost to the end of the siege, we, with our small force, in a manner only commanded a small part of the city. The bridge of boats remained to the last in the possession of the enemy, and was quite out of range even from our advanced approaches, while to the right and rear of the city the gates gave full ingress to reinforcing bodies of insurgents from the south, whose entrance we were unable to prevent.
Our investment, if such it could be called, was therefore only partial, being confined to that portion of the city extending from the water battery near Selimgarh Fort to the Ajmir Gate, which was just visible from the extreme right of the ridge. This part was defended by, I think, four bastions, named, respectively, the Water, Kashmir, Mori, and Burn. Three gates besides the Lahore gave egress to the mutineers when making sorties, the afterwards celebrated Kashmir Gate, the Kabul and the Ajmir Gates.
The Hindoo Rao's house, on the right of the ridge where it sloped down into the plain, was the key of our position, and was defended with great bravery and unflinching tenacity throughout the whole siege by the Sirmoor battalion of Goorkhas, and portions of the 60th Royal Rifles and the Guide Corps. Incessant day and night attacks were here made by the enemy, who knew that, were that position turned, our camp - in fact, our very existence as a besieging force - would be imperilled.
But no assault, however strong and determined, made any impression on the men of these gallant regiments, led by Major Reid, the officer commanding the Sirmoor battalion. They lost in killed and wounded a number far out of all proportion to that of any other corps before Delhi, and must in truth be reckoned the heroes of the siege.
The Goorkhas are recruited in the mountain districts of the Himalayas, in the kingdom of Nepal. They are short and squat in figure, never more than five feet three inches in height, of dark complexion, with deep-set eyes and high cheek-bones denoting their affinity to the Turanian race. Good-humoured and of a cheerful disposition, they have always been great favourites with the European soldiers, whose ways and peculiarities they endeavour to imitate to a ludicrous extent. In battle, as I have often seen them, they seem in their proper element, fierce and courageous, shrinking from no danger. They carried, besides the musket, a short, heavy, curved knife called a kukri, a formidable weapon of which the sepoys were in deadly terror. As soldiers they are second to none, amenable to discipline and docile, but very tigers when roused; they fought with unflinching spirit during the Mutiny, freely giving up their lives in the service of their European masters.
And now that I have endeavoured, for the purposes of this narrative, to explain our position and that of the enemy, I shall proceed to recount, as far as my recollection serves, the main incidents of the siege, and more particularly those in which I personally took part.
The camp of my regiment was pitched, as I have said, on the extreme left of the besieging force, on the rear slope of the ridge. We were completely hidden from any view of the city, and but for the sound of the firing close by, which seldom ceased day or night, might have fancied ourselves far away from Delhi.
Cholera still carried off its victims from our midst, and the very night of our arrival I performed the melancholy duty of reading the Burial Service over five gallant fellows of the Grenadier Company who had died that day from the fell disease.
The heat was insupportable, the thermometer under the shade of my tent marking 112 deg.F.; and to add to our misery there came upon us a plague of flies, the like of which I verily believe had not been on the earth since Moses in that manner brought down the wrath of God on the Egyptians. They literally darkened the air, descending in myriads and covering everything in our midst. Foul and loathsome they were, and we knew that they owed their existence to, and fattened on, the putrid corpses of dead men and animals which lay rotting and unburied in every direction. The air was tainted with corruption, and the heat was intense. Can it, then, be wondered that pestilence increased daily in the camp, claiming its victims from every regiment, native as well as European?
About this time many spies were captured and executed; in fact, so many prisoners were taken by the pickets that it was ordered that for the future, instead of being sent under escort to the camp for trial, they should be summarily dealt with by the officers commanding pickets.