The Day the British were Preparing to Surrender Unconditionally to the Sikhs
– A Page from Sikh History: December 22, 1845 –
First Anglo-Sikh War
The war that broke out in 1845 had been in the making for at least 8 years. The British Commander-in-Chief Henry Fane who came to attend the marriage of Kanwar Nau Nihal Singh in 1837, prepared an estimate that it would take 65,000 men and two years’ active warfare to swallow the territory of his host, Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The maps that the British used in the war of 1845-46, were prepared then by their Quarter-Master-General, Lieutenant Colonel Garden whom Henry Fane had brought along to attend the marriage. (See: Cunningham, History of the Sikhs, fn, p193)
However, according to Lord Henry Hardinge, Governor-General of India:
“The Sikh army, in large numbers, commenced crossing the Sutlej on the 11th, and, after investing Ferozepore on one side, took up an entrenched position at the village of Ferozeshah, about ten miles in advance of Ferozepore and about the same distance from the village of Moodkee.” (Communication of Governor General of India to the Secret Committee of the East India Company, December 31, 1845)
Lord Hardinge declared war on Punjab, on December 13, 1845.
Tej Singh and Lal Singh, Commander-in-Chief, and Deputy Commander of the Sikhs, both, were treacherously in league with the British. Their aim was to get the Sikh army destroyed, and be awarded high positions by the would-be victorious British.
Sikh soldiers were aware of the intentions of their commanders, but were anxious to give the British a clicking, to stop them from threatening the Sikh Sarkar of Punjab.
“It was a stalwart army, equipped with every requisite which the prudence and administrative ability of Ranjit Singh had deemed necessary for war; its ranks were overflowing with men who were warriors by birth and long tradition, and who thirsted for battle and plunder. The recent reverses of the British in the disastrous campaign in Afghanistan had shaken our prestige. The Sikh soldier had learnt to sneer at us. He had beaten the Afghan in war, and the Afghan had beaten us, and the logical conclusion was that he could do it too, only better.” (Archibald Forbes; G A Henry, Major Arthur Griffiths, et al, Battles of the Nineteenth Century, in the Punjab Past and Present, April 1983, pp 47-48)
“Lall Singh, evidently had much difficulty in making up his mind to attack the British force that was approaching his position; and it was not until the Seiks had reproached him with cowardice, and declared their determination to fight whether he led them or not, that he advanced to meet the British column, which was then drawing near to Moodkee, about five coss in his front.”
Battle of Mudki, December 18, 1845
In the bloody battle of Mudki, the British were on the verge of total defeat, when Prime Minister of the Sikhs, Lal Singh stopped firing, and turned the tide:
“The battle was sharp and sanguinary. It cost us [the British] 872 killed and wounded, although the English portion of the army did not exceed one third of the whole. Generals Sir Robert Sale and Sir John McCaskell were killed. And among the wounded was the late Field Marshall Sir Patrick Grant,” (Despatches and General Orders, p 50)
Battle of Ferozshah, December 21-22, 1845
The fate of [British rule in] India trembled during the eventful night of 21st December  :
“Soon murmurs of despondency began to be heard, and there were those who carried her Majesty’s commission and yet urged a retreat to Firozpore. But the leaders of the army were men to whom the honour of England was dearer than safety—dearer than life—and the timid councils met the reception they deserved.
“Strange as it seems, during the critical period of anxiety and dire foreboding, and when the Khalsa army almost held victory in its grasp, insubordination and license broke out in its ranks. The Akalis -a fanatical section of the race - plundered the tents of Lal Singh, their commander, and, a general riot ensuing all remnants of discipline were lost.”
Robert Cust wrote in his diary: British were considering surrendering unconditionally.
“December 22nd. News came from the Governor-General that our attack of yesterday had failed; that affairs were desperate, that all state papers were to be destroyed, and that if the morning attack failed, all would be over; this was kept secret by Mr. Currie and we were concerting measures to make our unconditional surrender to save the wounded, the part of the news that grieved me the most.” (Robert N Cust, Linguistic and Oriental Essays)
“Reserve was commanded by Tej Singh; he had been urged by his zealous and sincere soldiery to fall upon the English at daybreak, but his object was to have the dreaded army of the Khalsa overcome and dispersed, and he delayed until Lal Singh’s force was everywhere put to flight, and his opponents had again ranged themselves round their colours.” (J D Cunningham, History of the Sikhs, p 267)
“All our history shows,” says Major William Hodson, “that sooner or later connection with us is political death. The sunshine is not more fatal to a dew drop than our friendship or alliance to an Asiatic kingdom.” Trotter, Life of Hodson of Hodson’s Horse, p 150, cited by Ganda Singh in Journal of Sikh Studies, August 1977)
And, if the British forces (commanded by the Commander-in-Chief, and the Governor-General) had surrendered to the Sikhs, what would have been the history of India, may be left to one’s imagination.