Battle of Gujarat
The 21st of February 1849 AD
The conquest of India by the East India Company was an incremental business as state after state succumbed to military action or political manoeuvring. The Punjab was effectively already under British control by 1848 when the Second Anglo-Sikh War began, elements of the Sikh army rebelling at indirect British rule. That conflict ended with the Sikh defeat at the Battle of Gujarat on February 21 1849.
Sikh general Sher Singh with a great numerical advantage (50,000 Sikhs and Afghans facing 24,000 British and native troops) was hoping to outflank British forces and engage them in the field, but was prevented from doing so. Instead he was forced to establish a defensive position south of Gujarat, using a ravine and a stream on either flank for increased protection.
Major General Sir Hugh Gough, previously known for ill-considered and costly frontal fixed-bayonet assaults, for once fought an astute battle: with 96 field pieces against 59 in his favour Gough engaged in a three-hour artillery exchange. With most of the Sikh guns silenced the British advanced, taking two fortified villages in their path with heavy casualties (some later treated with anaesthetics in the field for the first time in British military history). The Sikhs retreated to a second defensive line, and though they tried sorties the attackers made good use of rapidly redeployed horse artillery to eventually rout Sher Singh’s troops.
At a recent battle the Sikhs had shown no mercy to British wounded; At Gujarat the roles were reversed. The retreating enemy was pursued for many miles, some Afghan cavalry fighting with the Sikhs chased to the Khyber Pass.
It was a comprehensive victory; Punjab was annexed by the East India Company on April 2.
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