Sikh Wars

1845 to 1849
Sikh Armies — versus — British

First Sikh War — 1846-1847      Second Sikh War — 1848-1849     

The Punjab region, in the northwest of India was the last portion of India to fall under the rule of the British. It was ruled by Ranjit Singh, the "Lion of Lahore", for nearly fifty years between 1792 and 1839, and during this period was stable and strongly governed. He had a strong and well-disciplined army, and used it to drive the Afghans out of his territory. Although a devout Sikh, he treated the Hindu or Moslem residents of his domains with reasonable justice, and accepted certain western technologies into his realm, particularly in regards to modernizing his military. He maintained a good relationship with Britain while he lived, and although he ruled tyrannically in his realm, Britain appreciated the stability he maintained, particularly since his was a the "buffer" region between India and Afghan territory.

First Sikh War : 1846-1847

On the death of Ranjit Singh however, the Sikh kingdom fell into disarray. There were serious succession problems because his legitimate heir was unpopular, and several other influential members of the royal family had claims to the throne. Assassinations and treachery abounded, but eventually the power fell into the hands of a regent who acted in the name of an infant son of Ranjit.

Meanwhile the Sikh army, which was greatly respected throughout the region, sought to rebel. Britain was aware of these machinations, and built up their forces on the border regions. War finally did break out in 1845, and was extremely hard fought with many losses on both sides. The Sikhs had modern guns, and greater numbers but the British superior tactics carried the day. The Sikhs fought valiantly however, and refused to surrender until they had incurred very serious losses. The Sikhs were compelled to give up some of their territory to a British ally, and to accept a British resident in their capital, effectively handing control of their foreign policy to the British. The British however, did not disband the Sikh army because is was needed to defend the western border.

DateBattle Summary
Battle of Moodkee (First ) British victory
Fought December 18, 1845, between the British, 12,000 strong, with 42 guns, under Sir Hugh Gough, and the Sikhs, 30,000 strong, with 40 guns, under Taj Singh. Gough, at the end of a long march, was surprised by the Sikhs, and his force thrown into some confusion, but he succeeded in rallying them, and finally drove the Sikhs from the field, capturing 17 guns. The British loss was 872 killed and wounded, among the former being Generals M'Caskill and Sir Robert Sale.
Battle of Ferozeshah (First ) British victory
Fought December 21, 1845, between 50,000 Sikhs, with 108 guns, under Lal Singh, and 16,700 British and native troops, under Sir Hugh Gough. An attempt was made to carry the Sikh entrenched camp by a night attack, but this was unsuccessful. When the attack was renewed at dawn, dissensions among the Sikh leaders enfeebled the resistance, and the Sikhs were defeated with a loss of about 7,000. The British losses were 694 killed, 1,721 wounded.
Battle of Aliwal (First ) British victory
Fought January 28, 1846, between the British, 10,000 strong, under Sir Harry Smith, and 20,000 Sikhs under Runjur Singh. The troops of the Khalsa withstood three charges of the British cavalry with splendid bravery, but at last broke and fled, losing many drowned in the Sutlej, besides those left on the field. The British captured 67 guns.
Battle of Sobraon (Second ) British victory
Fought February 10, 1846, between the British, about 15,000 strong, and 25,000 Sikhs, under Runjur Singh. The Sikhs were strongly entrenched on the Sutlej, and Sir Hugh Gough, with feigned attacks on their centre and right, succeeded in pushing home his assault on their left, and after hard fighting drove the defenders to the river, where many perished. The British lost 2,383, the Sikhs about 8,000.

Short Biography
Sir Henry Gough British commander during the first Sikh War

Story Links
Book Links
How the Punjab was Painted Red  in  India: Peeps at History  by  Beatrice Home
Sikh Monument  in  Tales from Canterbury Cathedral  by  Mrs. Frewen Lord
Sikhs  in  Our Empire Story  by  H. E. Marshall
Valley of Death  in  India  by  Victor Surridge

Second Sikh War : 1848-1849

The first British Resident in the Punjab was Henry Lawrence. He had great respect for the Sikhs, and the relationship worked well. When he returned to England however, he was replaced by a commander with much less experience dealing with the Sikhs. This lead to a series of misunderstandings, and a renewed rebellion. When the rebellion finally did break out, however, it occurred in two stages—first under a Hindu viceroy named Malraj, and later under a Sikh general named Sher Singh.

The British finally met the rebels in battle. Malraj surrendered after his first major defeat, but the Sikhs held on for another year, and fought some terribly contested battles, incurring heavy losses on both sides. They finally surrendered, however, and in 1850 signed away the independent governorship of the Punjab. The Sikh fighters, however, won a great deal of respect from the English army for their personal qualities and bravery. John Lawrence, the brother of Henry Lawrence, was one of the British administrators of the Punjab after the Sikh wars, and he developed such a positive relationship with them, that when the Indian Mutiny occurred eight year later, the Sikhs were among the most valuable divisions that remained loyal to the British Raj.

DateBattle Summary
Battle of Kineyri (Second ) British victory
Fought June 18, 1848, between 8,000 Bhawalpuris, under Futteh Mohammed Khan, aided by 3,000 Sikh irregulars, under Lieutenant Edwardes, and the Sikhs, 8,000 strong, under Rung Ram. The Bhawalpuris were repulsed in an attack on the Sikh positions, but the arrival of Lieutenant Edwardes' guns turned the scale, and at a second attempt the entrenchments were stormed and captured, with a loss to the victors of 300 men. The Sikhs lost 500 killed in the action, and many more during their flight to Multan.
Battle of Suddusain (Second ) British victory
Fought July 1, 1848, when a force of Bhawalpuris and British 18,000 strong, under Lieutenant Edwardes, encountered 12,000 Sikhs, under Malraj. The Sikhs attacked, but were beaten off, largely owing to the superiority of the British artillery, and defeated with heavy loss.
Siege of Multan (Second ) British victory
This fortress, defended by the Sikhs, under Mulraj, was besieged by Lieutenant Edwardes with about 1,200 men in July, 1848. After an ineffectual bombardment, the siege was raised September 22, but was renewed December 27 by General Whish, with 17,000 men and 64 guns. After a heavy bombardment the place was stormed January 2, 1849, and on the 22nd of the same month Mulraj surrendered the citadel. The British loss during the siege was 210 killed and 910 wounded.
Battle of Sadulapur (Second ) drawn battle victory
Fought December 3, 1848. After the failure of his frontal attack on the Sikh position at Ramnugger in November, Lord Gough despatched a force under Sir Joseph Thackwell, to cross the Chenab and turn the Sikh left. An indecisive action followed, which Lord Gough claimed as a victory, but though the Sikhs retired, it was slowly, and only to take up a fresh position, which Thackwell did not consider himself strong enough to attack.
Battle of Chillianwallah (Second ) drawn battle victory
Fought January 14, 1849, between the British under Lord Gough, and the Sikhs, 40,000 strong, under Shere Singh. The battle was very evenly contested, and though in the end Lord Gough drove the Sikhs from the field, his own position was so insecure that he was himself compelled to retire after the action. The British losses were over 2400. They Sikh losses were about 4000.
Battle of Gujerat (Second ) British victory
Fought February 22, 1849, between the British, 25,000 strong, under Lord Gough, and 50,000 Sikhs, under Shir Singh. The British artillery, numbering 84 pieces, broke the Sikh lines, and after resisting for over two hours, they fled, and were practically annihilated in the pursuit. Fifty-three guns were taken. The British lost only 92 killed and 682 wounded.
Battle of Ramnugger (First ) Sihks victory
Fought November, 1849, when Lord Gough attempted to dislodge Shir Singh, who with about 35,000 Sikhs, had occupied a position behind the Chenab opposite Ramnugger. The attempt was made by a brigade under General Campbell, with a cavalry force under General Cureton, and failed owing to the unexpected strength of the Sikh artillery, which was well posted and served. General Cureton was killed.

Short Biography
Henry Lawrence Statesman in British India who promoted the welfare of the Indian natives. Died at the siege of Lucknow.
Malraj Hindu Viceroy who led the first rebellion during second Sikh War
Shir Singh Commander of the Sikh Khalsa army during the second Sikh War
Sir Henry Gough Commander-and-chief of the Bengal Army