The barracks of the European infantry at Ferozepore were distant half a mile from the station, and consisted of ten or twelve large detached buildings, one for each company, arranged in echelon, with some thirty paces between each. In front of these was the parade-ground where we were drawn up, and before us an open plain, 300 yards in width, extending to the entrenched camp, or, as it was generally called, the fort and arsenal of Ferozepore. The space around the fort was quite clear, its position being directly opposite the centre of the cantonment, from which it was separated by some 200 yards.
From our situation on parade we had a direct and unbroken view of the localities I have endeavoured to describe, and holding this vantage-ground, we should be enabled to act as circumstances might require.
The regiment wheeled into line more than 900 strong. One hundred men under command of a field-officer were then detached, with orders to disarm the sepoy guard in the fort, and to remain there on duty pending any attempt which might probably be made by the two native regiments to gain forcible possession of the arsenal.
The detachment marched off, and we watched our comrades cross the plain, and enter without molestation the gates of the fort.
In anxious expectation we waited for the result, when, after a short interval, shots were heard, and we knew that our men had engaged the sepoy guard. The firing was continuous while it lasted, but soon died away. A mounted officer then rode out at the gate, and, galloping to where the Colonel was standing, reported that the sepoys, when ordered to lay down their arms, refused, and that one of them, taking direct aim at the Major, shot him in the thigh, leaving a dangerous wound. Our men then poured a volley into the mutineers, who fired in return, but fortunately without causing any casualty on our side. Two sepoys had been killed and several wounded, while the remainder, offering no further resistance, were disarmed and made prisoners.
Meantime the regiment stood under arms in line, and another company was sent to reinforce the men in the fort.
Amid great excitement, more especially among the young soldiers, we waited to see what would follow when the sepoy battalions marching from cantonments into the country appeared in sight. Eagerly it was whispered amongst us, "Will the rascals fight, or remain loyal and obedient to the orders of their officers?"
The evening was drawing on apace, but at last, about six o'clock, the heads of the columns emerged from the houses and gardens of the station, the 45th Native Infantry advancing in almost a direct line to the fort, while the 57th Native Infantry were inclined to their right, and followed the road leading to the rear of our lines. All eyes were turned on the former regiment, and its movements were ardently scanned.
Closer and closer they came to the fort, till, when only about fifty paces distant, the column wavered. We could see the officers rushing about among their men, and in another instant the whole mass broke into disorder and ran pell-mell in hundreds towards the ditch which surrounded the entrenchment.
This was of no depth, with sloping sides, and easy to escalade, and in less time than I take to write it the sepoys, with a shout, jumped into the trench, scrambled up the parapet, and disappeared from our sight into the enclosure.
It was not long before we heard the sound of firing, and shots came in quick succession, maddening us beyond control, for we thought of our men, few in number and scattered over the fort, opposed to some five or six hundred of these savages.
We had loaded with ball-cartridge soon after forming on parade, and the men now grasped their muskets, and cries and murmurs were heard, "Why do we not advance?" and all this couched in language more forcible than polite.
The order at last was given to fix bayonets, and then came the welcome words:
"The line will advance."
Every heart thrilled with excitement. All longed to have a brush with the mutineers, and help our comrades in the fort who were fighting against such odds.
Twenty paces only we advanced, and then, by the Brigadier's command, our Colonel gave the order to halt.
The men were furious, and could hardly be restrained from marching forward, when, looking towards the outer side of the fort, we saw some sepoys on the ramparts, evidently in a state of panic, throw themselves into the ditch, and mounting the other side, run helterhelterskelter into the country. These were followed by numbers of others, who all made off as fast as their legs would carry them, and then we heard a true British cheer, our men appeared on the walls shooting at the fugitives, bayonetting and driving them over the glacis.
The fight had continued some twenty minutes, and was pretty severe while it lasted. A few of our men were more or less hurt, but of the sepoys many had been killed and wounded. About 100 also had laid down their arms, and, begging for mercy, were taken prisoners.