|The Sepoy Rebellion
(Indian Mutiny) of 1857
In May, 1857, the Sepoys (Indian soldiers) in the Bengal Army revolted against their British officers. Before the mutiny was finally put down in 1859, it had spread over a large part of northern India and resulted in the end of the British East India Company.
Before 1857, several Indian mutinies had reflected discontent and distrust among the people. They saw threats to their institutions and beliefs in the gradual reduction of the old Indian aristocracy, new ideas of education, and economic discrimination. An immediate cause of the rebellion was a British order that Sepoys use greased cartridges, some of which were rumored to be greased with cow or hog fat. To use them, the Sepoys had to bite the end patches from them, and, in doing so, taste the fat, which was prohibited by the Hindu and Muslim religions.
The rebellion broke out at Meerut, near Delhi, on May 10. The mutineers restored the aged Mogul Emperor, Bahadur Shah, to his throne. At first, they seized several cities, including Delhi and Kanpur, but the British soon recaptured Delhi and saved Lucknow. By June 1858, the British had suppressed the revolt, except for scattered pockets of resistance that continued into 1859.
First Major Incident On March 31, 1857, the 34th Sepoy Regiment at Barrackpore allowed one of its men to attack his superior officer, a British Sergeant. The man was subsequently captured and hanged, and the entire regiment was dismissed as a collective punishment. Other Sepoys across India believed the punishment was too harsh.
Meerut On May 9, members of the 3rd Regiment of Light Cavalry were imprisoned, sentenced to ten years of hard labor, and stripped of their uniforms in public for refusing to obey direct orders to use rifle cartridges greased with hog and/or beef fat. The next day, members of the 11th and 20th Cavalry broke rank and turned on their commanding officers. They then killed every European and Indian Christian they could find, including all women and children, from master to servant, burned their houses, and then began marching towards Delhi. Initially, the British chose not to pursue the mutineers.
Delhi On May 11, the Sepoys from Meerut were joined by Indians from the Delhi bazzar. They attacked the Red Fort, killing a British officer, two women, and two others. They then demanded that Bahadur Shah reclaim his throne, after which they went on a rampage and killed every European and Indian Christian in the city they could find.
Meanwhile, the British decided to begin striking back. Two columns left Meerut and Simla and proceeded slowly towards Delhi, fighting, killing, and hanging numerous Indians along the way. They also moved regiments from the Crimean War and diverted other regiments on their way to China to India.
Delhi was finally recaptured by the British on September 20. Bahadur Shah was arrested and subsequently exiled to Rangoon, where he died in 1862.
Kanpur In June, 1857, the last Maratha prince, Baji Rao II, decreed his title and 80,000-pound annual pension to his son, Nana Sahib, but the decree was negated by Governor-General Lord Dalhousie. In response, Nana Sahib led the Sepoy battalions at Kanpur against the British. On June 25, he sent word to Sir Hugh Wheeler, commander of British forces there, requesting that he surrender, a request Wheeler accepted. But, as the British attempted to evacuate Kanpur on June 27, Sahib's men attacked and killed many of the soldiers. They then rounded up the surviving women and children, took them back to Kanpur, and massacred them.
Lucknow In early July, 1857, Lucknow was attacked by a sizable Sepoy force. Although British commander Sir Henry Lawrence was killed early in the attack, the remaining soldiers were able to fend off the initial assault. The Sepoys laid siege to the city, and assaults were launched almost daily for the next three months. On September 25, the British were reinforced by 1,000 Highlanders under the command of General Sir Henry Havelock. In October, another Highlander unit under Sir Colin Campbell came in to relieve them. On November 18, the British were finally able to evacuate their compound and flee to the recently retaken city of Kanpur. The British finally retook Lucknow by force in March, 1858.
The last rebels were finally defeated in Gwalior on June 20, 1858. The Sepoy Rebellion was formally ended by the signing of a peace treaty, on July 8, 1858, although small pockets of resistance held out into early 1859.
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This page was last updated on 08/06/2012.