The enemy were now fully aroused, and, not relishing the fun of being buffeted unmercifully in their beds without resistance, they one and all turned out and, seizing their pillows, joined in the fight. The attack, begun with tactical judgment, turned now into a confused melee. Friend and foe were mixed up in one grand shindy, and for many minutes the battle continued without intermission. Blows fell fast and thick; there was a rushing about of half-clad figures swaying bolsters, and each one intent on the same object - namely, that of overcoming his antagonist for the time being. So weird, and yet so utterly ludicrous a sight, surely never has been seen before or since in India.
At length, from sheer exhaustion, the combat came to an end, and, sitting on our beds panting from fatigue, and overcome by the heat of the night, we discussed the incidents of the fight. Some of the senior officers seemed at first inclined to treat the attack as something more than a joke, and threatened to report us to the Colonel. We pointed out to them that such a proceeding would be absurd, for had they not also compromised themselves by joining in the fray? It was not long, however, before they were struck with the grand ridiculousness of this very strange episode; and the question at issue, as may naturally be supposed, ended in laughter. Peace being restored, we wished each other good-night, and, thoroughly worn out by our exertions, all slept soundly till break of day.
The affair was kept quiet as far as possible, but gradually got noised abroad among other regiments of Her Majesty's infantry. Great amusement was caused by the recital, nor for a long period afterwards was the comical "night-attack" at Ferozepore forgotten.
The trial of the sepoys who had been taken prisoners when resisting the detachment sent to disarm them in the fort, and of those also who attacked the arsenal on May 13, had been proceeding for some time. It was a general court-martial composed of thirteen officers, presided over by a Lieutenant-Colonel. Of the prisoners taken, some 100 were singled out as the ringleaders, the rest being put back for trial till a future occasion.
The evidence was most clear as to the heinous offences of mutiny and rebellion with regard to all these men, and they were accordingly found guilty. Sentence was at once pronounced on fourteen of the sepoys, and the punishment was death.
Two men of low caste were to be hanged, while the remaining twelve, comprising Mohammedans and high-caste Hindoos, were to expiate their crime by that most awful and ghastly penalty, execution by being blown to pieces from the mouths of cannons.
This terrible punishment had been but seldom inflicted during British rule in India, the last instance occurring in 1825, when a native regiment mutinied and refused to cross the sea to take part in the first Burmese War.
Neither was it from the English that this special death penalty originated. It had been for hundreds of years the recognized punishment for mutiny and rebellion throughout Hindostan, and in numberless cases was carried out by the Mogul Emperors.
With us at this period it was found necessary to strike terror into the hearts of the rebels, to prove to them that we were resolved at all hazards to crush the revolt, and to give warning that to those who were taken fighting against us no mercy would be shown.
On religious grounds also the infliction of the death penalty by blowing away mutineers at the mouths of cannons was dreaded both by the Hindoos and Mohammedans.
The Hindoo, unless the corpse after death is burnt to ashes with all ceremony, or else consigned to the sacred stream of the Ganges, cannot partake of the glories of the future state, nor dwell in bliss everlasting with the gods of his mythology.
So with the Mohammedan, the Koran enjoins that all true believers must be buried with the body in the natural state, and only those are exempted who have lost limbs in fighting against the infidel. The joys of Paradise, where ever-young and beautiful houris minister to the wants and pleasures of the faithful, were therefore not for those who met a shameful death and were denied or unable to obtain burial in the orthodox manner.
Thus, it will be seen, the terrors of future shame and dishonour resulted to both Hindoo and Mohammedan by the death we were about to inflict on them; and it was for the awe inspired by the punishment that the military authorities at this time thought proper to carry it out in this unaccustomed manner.
June 13. - The morning of June 13 was fixed upon for the execution. A gallows was erected on the plain to the north side of the fort, facing the native bazaars, and at a distance of some 300 yards. On this two sepoys were to be hanged, and at the same time their comrades in mutiny were to be blown away from guns.
We paraded at daylight every man off duty, and, with the band playing, marched to the place of execution, and drew up in line near the gallows and opposite the native quarter.
Shortly after our arrival the European Light Field Battery, of six guns, appeared on the scene, forming up on our left flank, and about twenty yards in front of the Light Company.
The morning was close and sultry, not a cloud in the sky, and not a breath of wind stirring; and I confess I felt sick with a suffocating sense of horror when I reflected on the terrible sight I was about to witness.
Soon the fourteen mutineers, under a strong escort of our men with fixed bayonets, were seen moving from the fort. They advanced over the plain at our rear, and drew up to the left front of, and at right angles to, the battery of artillery.