It was a pretty sight to see this miniature army advancing in perfect order towards the enemy. The plain extended for a mile quite open and without trees, bounded at that distance by a village, in which the insurgent guns were posted. Clouds of horsemen, apparently without any formation, hovered on each side of the village, and a large force of infantry was standing in line somewhat in advance.
Our guns came into action at a distance of about 1,000 yards from the village, and were soon answered by those of the enemy, their shot striking unpleasantly close to our line, and ricochetting over our heads. Still we advanced, hoping that the rebels would stand till we came to close quarters. At 500 yards the fire from our artillery seemed to prove too hot for them; and presently, to our infinite disgust, we saw their infantry moving off to the left, followed shortly after by the cavalry. Then their guns ceased firing, and were also quickly withdrawn.
The Carabineers and Guides were sent in pursuit, and cut up some stragglers; but the insurgents stampeded at a great pace, and succeeded in carrying off all their guns.
A few sepoys were found hiding in the village huts, and were killed by our men, the Alipore plunder was recovered, besides some ammunition and camp equipment, and, rather dissatisfied with the result of the action, we moved slowly back across the plain.
The regiment was commanded on this occasion by our senior Captain, an officer of some thirty-five years' service. He was, without exception, the greatest oddity for a soldier that our army has ever seen. Five feet two inches in height, with an enormous head, short, hunchback body, long arms, and thin, shrivelled legs, his whole appearance reminded one of Dickens' celebrated character Quilp, in the "Old Curiosity Shop." Entering the service in the "good" old times, when there was no examination by a medical man, he had, through some back-door influence, obtained a commission in the army. All his service had been passed abroad, exchanging from one regiment to another, for it would have been utterly impossible for him to have retained his commission in England. Marching, he was unable to keep step with the men, and on horseback he presented the most ludicrous appearance, being quite unable to ride, and looking more like a monkey than a human being. On our first advance across the plain the little Captain was riding in our front, vainly endeavouring to make his horse move faster, and striking him every now and then on the flanks with his sword. I was on the right of the line, and, together with the men, could not keep from laughing, when a friend of mine - a tall officer of one of the native infantry regiments - rode to my side and asked me who that was leading the regiment. I answered, "He is our commanding officer."
The sun shone with intense heat on our march back across the plain, and the European soldiers began to feel its effects, many being struck down with apoplexy. About midday the infantry halted at the canal, the guns and most of the cavalry returning to camp, as it was supposed there would be no more work for them to do. We lay down in the welcome shade of the trees on the bank, enjoying our breakfast, which had been brought to us by our native servants, and, in company with an officer of the 9th Lancers, I was discussing a bottle of ale, the sweetest draught I think I have ever tasted. The arms were piled in our front, and at intervals we watched, as they crossed the canal, a troop of elephants which had been sent out to bring the sick and wounded into camp.
All at once, from our left front, and without any warning, shots came whistling through the trees and jungle, and some men lying on the ground were hit. The regiment at once fell in and changed front to the left, moving in the direction from which the shots were coming.
Frightened at the sound of the firing, the elephants were seized with a panic and made off across the canal. Trumpeting, with their trunks high above their heads, they floundered through the water to the opposite side, their drivers vainly attempting to stop their flight. We saw them disappearing through the trees, and learnt afterwards that they never stopped till close to their own quarters at the camp.
Meanwhile the shots came thick and fast, and we advanced in line till we came to a comparatively open space, and in sight of the enemy - a large body of infantry outnumbering us by four to one. They were at no great distance from us, and a sharp musketry fire was kept up from both sides, causing heavy losses.
Seeing that no object was to be gained with our small force by encountering one so vastly superior, Major Coke deemed it prudent to retire, and retreating firing, we crossed the bridge and lined the bank on each side.
The enemy followed, their men forming opposite to us and keeping up a steady fire at a distance of from 100 to 150 yards. I was on the right of the line with the Grenadiers, when, half an hour later, I was directed by the Adjutant to march my men to the left of the bridge to reinforce the Light Company, who were being hard pressed by the insurgents, some of whom were wading through the canal, with the evident intention of turning our left flank. We crept along under the bank, and were received with joy by our comrades, one of them, I well remember, welcoming us in most forcible language, and intimating that they would soon have been sent to - if we had not come.