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THE BRITISH FORCES—THE SIKH ARMY CROSS THE SUTLEJ
THE BATTLE OF MOODKEE-POSITION AND OPERATIONS
UNDER the circumstances thus briefly detailed, it would appear to have been expedient to bring matters at once to a crisis ; for this annual threatening posture assumed by the gigantic incubus which Runjeet Singh had created on our threshold, could not be suffered permanently to draw the strength of the British forces in the presidency to guard their frontier. But it was generally understood that the wishes of Leadenhall Street were strongly in favour of a pacific line of conduct, and
thus the governor-general had little choice as to the line of operations to be pursued.
No actual increase of numbers over the preceding year took place on the frontier, but nearly every British regiment in Bengal had been marched to the north-western provinces.
Umbala was the cantonment for the main body of the army, to which Ferozepore and Loodiana were the outposts on the Sutlej, distant respectively one hundred and ten, and seventy miles, whilst the base line connecting the latter places measured about seventy-five miles.
The reserve force remained at Merut, which, being one hundred and fifty miles from Umbala, and more than two hundred and sixty from Ferozepore, might appear the most defective part of the arrangement.
The whole of the Bengal presidency had been so drained of British troops to supply the northwestern provinces, that from Merut to Calcutta (nearly nine hundred miles,) there remained but one British infantry regiment* to overawe the
* H.M. 39th. The 61st Regiment landed in December, and were immediately ordered up the country.
numerous independent principalities of India, to garrison Fort William, and to show the people of Hindostan that the British had not altogether forsaken them in their ardour to form new acquaintances on the frontier. No one will assert that the gallant 39th had not a handful of responsibility assigned them, and none were more capable of undertaking whatever Britons could effect, than the victors of Maharajpore.
The forces at Ferozepore, Loodiana, and Umbala, including the regiments at the hill stations of Kussowlie and Subathoo, amounted to about twenty thousand men, with seventy pieces of cannon, (six and nine-pounders, and twelve and twenty-four-pound howitzers.) This force having been warned some weeks previously to complete their marching establishment, were available for field service at a few hours' notice.
The regiments composing the above-named force were as follow:-H.M.'s 3rd Light Dragoons, and seven regiments of Native Cavalry; H.M.'s 9th, 29th, 31st, 50th, 62nd, and 80th Regiments; the Company's European Regiment, and fourteen regiments of Native Infantry, ex
clusive of the Sirmoor and Nusseeree battalions, which were destined to garrison Loodiana in case of emergency.
The reserve force, at Merut, amounted to more than four thousand men, including H. M. 9th and 16th Lancers, 3rd Native Cavalry, H. M. 10th Regiment, two corps of Native Infantry, and two troops of Horse Artillery. An elephant battery of twelve-pounders also moved with the reserve force. Other corps in the neighbourhood or on the line of march might complete the whole reserve force to a numerical strength of about eight thousand men.
Thus, within a month, the whole army might, when concentrated on the frontier, amount, in round numbers, to nearly thirty thousand men, with one hundred pieces of artillery. Nearly onethird of which force would consist of British troops, including the artillery, of which not more than one-third were natives.
With such an army at his disposal, Sir Henry Hardinge cannot be deemed guilty of having despised his enemies.
On the 20th of November, Major Broadfoot* communicated to the governor-general that the information which he had received from Lahore led him to suppose that the Sikhs had resolved on an advance towards the Sutlej, for the purpose of invading the British territories, and the next day's accounts tended to corroborate this statement.
On the 24th and 25th of November, a great portion of the Sikh army were on their march towards the Sutlej, openly proclaiming their intentions of crossing the river. On this news reaching the governor-general's camp, the Sikh Vakeel (ambassador) was called upon for an explanation of this hostile attitude, and being unable to give any satisfactory answer, was ordered, on the 4th of December, to quit the governor-general's camp at Umbala, and return to the Punjauh.
After the Vakeel's departure, Sir Henry Hardinge continued to advance peaceably towards the frontier, visiting the protected Sikh states; nor were orders issued for the movement of any por
* Governor-General to the Secret Committee. Letter No. 9.