On the evening of May 14, at sunset, I was sitting smoking and chatting in the barrack-room with some of our officers when, quite unexpectedly, I was again called to the orderly-room, and directed to march with the Grenadier company on outlying picket to the left rear of the cantonment, and close to the lines of the disarmed sepoys. Two guns of the Light Field Battery, under a subaltern, were also placed under my orders, and I took with me a young ensign to assist me in my duties.
The Brigadier said he had received intelligence that an attack by the mutineers was expected from the direction of Lahore; and I was told to keep a sharp lookout, in case the enemy made during the night a flank movement on the station. I was also constantly to patrol the lines of the native regiments, to confine the sepoys to their huts, and to take prisoner any who ventured outside.
The short Indian twilight was drawing to a close when I arrived on the ground, and, without losing time, I drew up the Grenadiers in line, with the two guns a little in advance and on my left flank.
Two sentries were posted in front of the guns, two on the right and left of my small detachment, and two in the rear.
The plain extended before us for miles to the horizon, bare and treeless, without one intervening obstacle.
Evening closed and night came on - a night dark as Erebus, though the stars shone bright and luminous in the heavens. All nature was silent as the grave, and, save for the tramp of the sentinels and the marching away and return of the patrolling parties, for hours we heard no sound.
Before leaving barracks the picket had loaded the guns with grape and the old Brown Bess (there were no rifles in most of the Indian regiments in those far-off days) with ball-cartridge. I had also ordered the men to fix bayonets, and we were thus fully prepared to give a warm reception to any sepoys who might attack us. The arms were piled, and in silence we lay on the ground.
Presently, about midnight, one of the sentinels in front of the guns challenged:
"Who comes there?"
There was no answer, and the cry was repeated, the sentry at the same moment firing off his musket.
The company sprang to their arms, and I called on the sentries in front to retreat under cover of the guns. Almost simultaneously, and before the men could retire, flashes of fire appeared on the plain, and numerous shots came whistling over our heads, while, clear and distinct, a cry rang out, and we knew that one of the sentries had been hit. Close following the first came several straggling shots, but the rascals fired too high, and we had no casualty. I then ordered the men to fire a volley, and the artillery officer at the same time swept his front with grape from the two guns.
After these discharges all was still, and we strained our eyes in the darkness, but could see nothing. Then, taking with me a sergeant and four men, I proceeded to where the sentry had made the first challenge.
We found the poor fellow lying face downwards on the ground, and raising him up, saw that he was quite dead. Slowly and tenderly the body was borne to the picket, and on examination by the light of a lantern, we discovered that he had received a bullet over the region of the heart, and that death, therefore, must have been instantaneous. My heart sickened at the sight; this was my first contact with the horrors of war, and the remembrance will remain with me to my dying day.
The other sentinel was then questioned, and from him we learnt that, peering through the darkness when the challenge was first given, he had seen figures passing in his front across the plain. Soon they halted and fired, and then disappeared, probably having lain down to escape being hit by our men. Hearing this, I sent out a small reconnoitring party, which patrolled the plain for some distance. They returned with the news that all was quiet, and no human being was to be seen. Two fresh sentries were placed in front of the guns, and the men lay down as before, fully expecting another attack.
May 15. - All, however, passed off without further incident, and at sunrise I marched the picket to barracks and reported myself to the Brigadier. He made no comment on the events of the night, nor did he even ask for particulars as to the manner of the soldier's death. The mutineers, he said, were in scattered detachments still, no doubt prowling about the outskirts of the cantonment and in the neighbouring villages, taking advantage of every opportunity to harass and inflict loss on our soldiers.
From this time forward for nearly a month, with the single exception of one encounter with a body of mutineers, which I shall relate hereafter, no event of importance occurred at Ferozepore.
The chief danger had passed from our midst in the flight towards Delhi of more than half of the two battalions of sepoys, the disarmament of 300 of the 57th, and the imprisonment of those who had been captured fighting when attempting to take the arsenal.
Everything being thus comparatively peaceful, with no enemy in the vicinity, the Brigadier at last woke up to a sense of his duty; and extraordinary measures were taken by his command for the safety of the cantonments and lines of Ferozepore.
It was ordered that one company should be placed each night on advanced outlying picket, another on rear picket, and a third to be stationed at the main guard to furnish sentries as a cordon round the whole extent of the barracks. Two companies were to remain constantly in the fort in charge of a senior Captain, so that, out of the ten companies, six were always on duty.