Battle of Ferozeshah
The second battle of the
First Sikh War: Gough’s rash
and disorganised assault on the Sikh camp at Ferozeshah.
War: First Sikh War.
Date: 21st December 1845.
Place: In the Punjab in the North West of India.
Combatants: British troops and Indian troops of the Bengal
Presidency against Sikhs of the Khalsa, the army of the Punjab.
The 31st Foot attacking the Sikh fortifications on
the morning of the second day of the Battle of Ferozeshah
Generals: Generals Sir Hugh Gough and Sir Henry Hardinge
against Lal Singh and Tej Singh.
Size of the armies: A British and Bengal army of 18,000
men, 63 guns and 2 Howitzers against a Sikh army initially of Lal
Singh’s force, then joined by Tej Singh’s troops from Ferozepore of
30,000 men and 150 guns (including many heavy calibre). The Sikh
army contained a force of religious fanatics called the Akalis.
Uniforms, arms and equipment (this section is identical for
each of the battles in the Sikh Wars):
The two wars fought between 1845 and 1849 between the British and
the Sikhs led to the annexation of the Punjab by the British East
India Company and one of the most successful military co-operations
between two races, stretching into a century of strife on the North
West Frontier of British India, the Indian Mutiny, Egypt and finally
the First and Second World Wars.
The British contingent comprised four light cavalry regiments
(3rd, 9th, 14th and 16th Light Dragoons- the 9th and 16th being
lancers) and twelve regiments of foot (9th, 10th, 24th, 29th, 31st,
32nd, 50th, 53rd, 60th, 61st, 62nd and 80th regiments).
The bulk of General Gough’s “Army of the Sutlej" in the First
Sikh War and “Army of the Punjab" in the Second comprised regiments
from the Bengal Presidency’s army: 9 regular cavalry regiments (the
Governor-General’s Bodyguard and 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th
and 11th Bengal Light Cavalry), 13 regiments of irregular cavalry
(2nd, 3rd, 4th, 7th to 9th and 11th to the 17th Bengal Irregular
Cavalry), 48 regiments of foot (1st to 4th, 7th, 8th, 12th to 16th,
18th, 20th, 22nd, 24th to 27th, 29th to 33rd, 36th, 37th, 41st to
54th, 56th, 59th, 63rd and 68th to 73rd Bengal Native Infantry),
horse artillery, field artillery, heavy artillery and sappers and
The Bombay presidency contributed a force that marched in from
Scinde in the West and gave considerable assistance at the Siege of
Multan; the 19th Bombay Native Infantry gaining the title of the
Multan Regiment for its services in the siege, a label still held by
its Indian Army successor. A Bombay brigade under Brigadier Dundas
joined General Gough’s army for the final battle of the Second Sikh
War at Goojerat, where the two regiments of Scinde Horse, Bombay
Irregular Cavalry, particularly distinguished themselves. The
brigade comprised: 2 regiments of Scinde Horse, 3rd and 19th Bombay
Native Infantry and Bombay horse artillery and field artillery.
Each of the three presidencies in addition to their native
regiments possessed European infantry, of which the 1st Bengal
(European) Infantry, 2nd Bengal (European) Light Infantry and 1st
Bombay (European) Fusiliers took part in the Sikh Wars.
Other corps fought under the British flag, such as the Shekawati
cavalry and infantry and the first two Gurkha regiments: the Nasiri
Battalion (later 1st Gurkhas) and the Sirmoor Battalion (later 2nd
General Gough commanded the British/Indian army at 6 of the 7
major battles (not Aliwal). An Irishman, Gough was immensely popular
with his soldiers for whose welfare he was constantly solicitous.
The troops admired Gough’s bravery, in action wearing a conspicuous
white coat, which he called his “Battle Coat", so that he might draw
fire away from his soldiers.
Gough’s tactics were heavily criticised, even in the Indian press
in letters written by his own officers. At the Battles of Moodkee,
Sobraon and Chillianwallah Gough launched headlong attacks
considered to be ill-thought out by many of his contemporaries.
Casualties were high and excited concern in Britain and India. His
final battle, Goojerat, decisively won the war, cost few of his
soldiers their lives and was considered a model of care and
Every battle saw vigorous cavalry actions with HM 3rd King’s Own
Light Dragoons and HM 16th Queen’s Royal Lancers particularly
distinguishing themselves. The British light cavalry wore
embroidered dark blue jackets and dark blue overall trousers, except
the 16th who bore the sobriquet “the Scarlet Lancers" for their red
jackets. The headgear of the two regiments of light dragoons was a
shako with a white cover; the headgear of the lancers the
traditional Polish tschapka.
Map of the Battle of Ferozeshah
HM regiments of foot wore red coats and blue trousers with shakos
and white covers.
The Bengal and Bombay light cavalry regiments wore pale blue
uniforms. The infantry of the presidency armies wore red coats and
peakless black shakos.
The weapons for the cavalry were the lance for the lancer
regiments and sword and carbine for all; the infantry were armed
with the Brown Bess musket and bayonet.
Bengal Native Infantry
Commands in the field were given by the cavalry trumpet and the
infantry drum and bugle.
In the initial battles the Sikh artillery outgunned Gough’s
batteries. Even in these battles and in the later ones the Bengal
and Bombay horse and field artillery were handled with great
resource and were a major cause of Gough’s success.
Many of the more senior British officers had cut their military
teeth in the Peninsular War and at the Battle of Waterloo: Gough,
Hardinge, Havelock of the 14th Light Dragoons, Cureton, Dick,
Thackwell and others. Many of the younger men would go on to fight
in the Crimea and the Indian Mutiny.
The Sikhs of the Punjab looked to the sequence of Gurus for their
spiritual inspiration and had established their independence
fiercely resisting the Moghul Kings in Delhi and the Muslims of
Afghanistan. The Sikhs were required by their religion to wear the
five “Ks", not to cut their hair or beard and to wear the highly
characteristic turban, a length of cloth in which the hair is
wrapped around the head.
The Maharajah of the Punjab, Ranjit Singh, whose death in 1839
ended the Sikh embargo on war with the British, established and
built up the powerful Sikh Army, the “Khalsa", over the twenty years
of his reign. The core of the “Khalsa" was its body of infantry
regiments, equipped and trained as European troops, wearing red
jackets and blue trousers. The Sikh artillery was held in high
esteem by both sides. The weakness in the Sikh army was its horse.
The regular cavalry regiments never reached a standard comparable to
the Sikh foot, while the main element of the mounted arm comprised
clouds of irregular and ill-disciplined “Gorcharras".
The traditional weapon of the Sikh warrior is the “Kirpan", a
curved sword kept razor sharp and one of the five “Ks" a baptised
Sikh must wear. In battle, at the first opportunity, many of the
Sikh foot abandoned their muskets and, joining their mounted
comrades, engaged in hand to hand combat with sword and shield.
Horrific cutting wounds, severing limbs and heads, were a frightful
feature of the Sikh Wars in which neither side gave quarter to the
It had taken the towering personality of Ranjit Singh to control
the turbulent “Khalsa" he had established. His descendants found the
task beyond them and did much to provoke the outbreak of the First
Sikh War in the hope that the Khalsa would be cut down to size by
the armies of the British East India Company. The commanders of the
Sikh armies in the field rarely took the initiative in battle,
preferring to occupy a fortified position and wait for the British
and Bengalis to attack. In the opening stages of the war there was
correspondence between Lal Singh and the British officer, Major
Nicholson, suggesting that the Sikhs were being betrayed by their
Pay in the Khalsa was good, twice the rate for sepoys in the
Bengal Army, but it was haphazard, particularly after the death of
Ranjit Singh. Khalsa administration was conducted by clerks writing
in the Persian language. In one notorious mutiny over pay Sikh
soldiers ran riot looking for anyone who could, or looked as if they
could, speak Persian and putting them to the sword.
The seven battles of the war and the siege of the city of Multan
were hard fought. Several of the battle fields were wide flat spaces
broken by jungly scrub, from which the movement of large bodies of
troops in scorching heat raised choking clouds of dust. As the
fighting began the dust clouds intermingled with dense volumes of
musket and cannon smoke. With the thunder of gunfire and horse
hooves, the battle yells and cries of the injured, the battles of
the Sikh Wars were indeed infernos.
Winner: The British and Bengali army, but only just. If
Tej Singh had pressed his attack he is likely to have won the
A military procession in India with British Light Dragoons in the
foreground and a battalion of infantry at the front.
British and Indian Regiments:
HM 3rd King’s Own Light Dragoons, now the Queen’s Royal Hussars. *
HM 9th Foot, later the Norfolk Regiment and now the Royal Anglian
HM 29th Foot, later the Worcestershire Regiment and now the
Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters Regiment. *
HM 31st Foot, later the East Surrey Regiment and now the Princess of
Wales’s Royal Regiment.*
HM 50th Foot, later the Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment and now
the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment.*
HM 62nd Foot, later the Wiltshire Regiment and now the Royal
Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment. *
HM 80th Foot, later the South Staffordshire Regiment and now the
The Governor General’s Bodyguard.*
4th Bengal Light Cavalry.*
5th Bengal Light Cavalry.*
8th Bengal Light Cavalry.*
8th Irregular Cavalry.*
9th Irregular Cavalry.*
1st Bengal European Light Infantry.*
2nd Bengal Native Infantry.*
12th Bengal Native Infantry.*
14th Bengal Native Infantry.*
16th Bengal Native Infantry.*
24th Bengal Native Infantry.*
26th Bengal Native Infantry.*
33rd Bengal Native Infantry.*
42nd Bengal Native Infantry.*
44th Bengal Native Infantry.*
45th Bengal Native Infantry.*
47th Bengal Native Infantry.*
The Indian Army regiments:
The Governor General’s Bodyguard continues as the President of
Skinner’s Horse in 1861 became the 1st Bengal Cavalry, in 1903 the
1st Duke of York’s Own Lancers (Skinner’s Horse), in 1922 the 1st
Duke of York’s Own Skinner’s Horse and from 1950 the 1st Horse of
the Indian Army.*
8th Bengal Irregular Cavalry in 1861 became the 6th Bengal Cavalry,
in 1906 the 6th King Edward’s Own Cavalry, in 1922 the 18th King
Edward’s Own Cavalry and from 1950 the 18th Cavalry of the Indian
All the regular Bengal cavalry regiments that fought at Ferozeshah
and 9th Irregular Cavalry ceased to exist in 1857.*
33rd Bengal Native Infantry in 1861 became 4th Bengal Native
Infantry, in 1903 4th Prince Albert Victor’s Rajputs, in 1922 2nd
Battalion (Prince Albert Victor’s) 7th Rajput Regiment and in 1950
2nd Battalion, the Rajput Regiment of the Indian Army.*
42nd Bengal Native Infantry in 1861 became the 5th Light Infantry
and were disbanded in 1922.*
47th Bengal Native Infantry in1861 became the 7th Bengal Light
Infantry, in 1903 7th Duke of Connaught’s Own Rajputs, in 1922 3rd
Battalion (Duke of Connaught’s Own) 7th Rajput Regiment and in 1950
3rd Battalion, the Rajput Regiment of the Indian Army.*
The remaining Bengal infantry regiments that fought at Ferozeshah
ceased to exist in 1857.
* These regiments have or had Ferozeshah as a battle honour.
The order of battle of the Army of the Sutlej at the Battle of
Commander-in-Chief: General Sir Hugh Gough.
Second in command: Sir Henry Hardinge, Governor General of Bengal.
The Cavalry Division:
First Brigade: Brigadier White; HM 3rd Ligh Dragoons, 4th and 9th
Bengal Light Cavalry.
Second Brigade: Brigadier Gough; The Governor General’s Bodyguard
and 4th Bengal Light Cavalry.
First Division: Major General Sir Harry Smith.
First Brigade: Brigadier Hicks; HM 31st Foot, 24th BNI and 47th BNI.
Second Brigade: Brigadier Ryan; HM 50th Foot, 42nd BNI and 48th BNI.
Second Division: Major General Sir Walter Gilbert.
Third Brigade: Brigadier Taylor: HM 29th Foot, HM 80th Foot and 41st
Fourth Brigade: Brigadier McClaren: 1st Bengal Europeans, 16th BNI
and 45th BNI.
Brigadier General Wallace; HM 9th Foot and 73rd BNI.
Fourth Division: Major General Sir John Littler.
Seventh Brigade: Brigadier Reid; HM 62nd Foot, 12th BNI and 14th BNI.
Eighth Brigade: Brigadier Ashburnham; 33rd BNI, 44th BNI and 54th
A parade of the Wiltshire Regiment in 1933 commemorating
the Battle of Ferozeshah; the colours being handed to two sergeants
Following the Battle of Moodkee on 18th December 1845, Lal Singh’s
force of Sikhs withdrew to Ferozeshah, eight miles to the North-West
of the Moodkee battlefield, occupying strong fortified positions
around the village.
While his British and Bengali troops dealt with the casualties of
Moodkee General Gough sent instructions to General Littler,
commanding the garrison in Ferozepore, to march out of the town,
evading the blockading force of Tej Singh, and join him before
Ferozeshah on 21st December 1845 for the second battle with Lal
On the day after Moodkee, reinforcements marched in from
Ludhiana: HM 29th Foot, 1st Bengal Europeans and two regiments of
Bengal Native Infantry with two howitzers.
Gough’s army was in place in the morning of the 21st waiting for
Littler. Gough decided to launch his attack without Littler’s men,
but General Sir Henry Hardinge used his authority as Governor
General to veto an attack until the Ferozepore garrison arrived.
It was early afternoon when Littler arrived with 2 Bengal Light
Cavalry regiments, HM 62nd Foot, 5 Bengal Native Infantry
battalions, 2 troops of horse artillery and 2 field batteries at
1.30pm, increasing Gough’s army to 18,000 troops and 65 guns.
Littler’s division took up position on the extreme left of the line
with his cavalry regiments in support.
At 3 pm, with only two hours of daylight left, Gough opened the
battle with an artillery bombardment, which the Sikh answered
vigorously. As in most of the early battles of the war the Sikh
artillery had the best of the exchange.
The Sikh fortified position at the Battle of Ferozeshah
The fortifications around Ferozeshah comprised a series of
trenches on a line of hillocks surrounding the village in a
rectangle. The Sikh gunners manned some 100 good quality guns that
they served with skill and devotion. It is not known how many Sikhs
were present in Ferozeshah, but they appear to have constituted a
At around 3.30pm Littler began an assault well in advance of the
rest of the army, moving his guns forward to engage the Sikhs at
closer range, his infantry regiments following in support. The
infantry emerged into the open plain 300 metres from the Sikh line
and were met with a heavy fire of grapeshot from the guns
(fragmented shot used on troops at close range to cause maximum
casualties). HM 62nd Foot led the assault, losing 160 casualties in
ten minutes. The regiment faltered and fell back, taking the native
infantry regiments with them. Littler’s attack had failed.
HM 3rd King's Own Light Dragoons charging the Sikh fortifications at
the Battle of Ferozeshah
As Littler began his attack Gough ordered the rest of the British
and Bengali line to assault the Sikh lines. The regiments pushed
through the jungle under heavy artillery fire, emerging into the
dense smoke and dust of the open plain, lit by the flashes of the
Part of the left of the line faltered under the heavy fire, but HM
9th Foot and the right hand division pressed on with the attack,
while a brigade from the reserve commanded by General Smith moved
forward to cover the gap left by the retreat of Littler’s brigade.
The attacking troops reached the Sikh entrenchments and pressed
through, although suffering heavy casualties, and captured and
spiked numbers of guns, before pushing on into the Sikh camp.
Here a large magazine exploded causing considerable confusion and
casualties. All over the Sikh camp tents were ablaze; stores of
gunpowder exploding in the gathering dusk.
On the right of the British line Gough committed Brigadier
White’s cavalry brigade; HM 3rd King’s Own Light Dragoons, 4th
Bengal Light Cavalry (Lancers) and the 9th Bengal Irregular Cavalry,
to an attack on the corner of the fortifications. Considerably
reduced by their casualties at Moodkee, the 3rd charged through a
battery and the infantry positioned behind it, before breaking into
the Sikh camp and engaging in ferocious hand to hand combat with
crowds of swordsmen and matchlock men.
HM 62nd Regiment attacking the Sikh fortifications at the Battle
General Smith, after fighting through the Sikh camp, found
himself with a party of soldiers from his division on the far side
of Ferozeshah, where he was attacked throughout the night by the
Sikhs. He finally fought his way around the outside of the village
to the south side where he rejoined Gough and Hardinge as dawn
The fall of night forced the British and Bengali regiments to
withdraw from Ferozeshah, abandoning the Sikh camp and
fortifications, to pass the night as best they could among the
casualties of the day’s fighting, under the renewed fire of the Sikh
Gough and Hardinge spent the night in considerable anxiety,
Hardinge making hasty arrangements to destroy the state papers to
prevent them from falling into Sikh hands in the event of a British
With dawn the drums and trumpets signaled a renewed attack on the
fortifications, but the Sikhs were falling back and Gough’s army
quickly re-took Ferozeshah.
Battered and exhausted the British and Bengali regiments ceased
fighting, cheering Gough and Hardinge as they rode down the ranks,
troopers carrying captured Khalsa flags.
But the battle was not finished. To the stupefaction of Gough’s
men, onto the field marched the army of Tej Singh, the force that
Littler had evaded in the previous days to escape from Ferozepore.
The British and Bengali troops were exhausted, their ammunition
almost entirely expended. Gough occupied the Sikh fortifications,
while a horse artillery battery engaged the Sikhs to keep them away
for as long as possible. Then the line stood waiting for the Sikh
attack, hardly expecting to be able to resist a determined assault.
Tej Singh’s artillery conducted a long and galling bombardment of
Gough’s line, followed by an advance by his cavalry against Gough’s
right. Gough ordered Brigadier White to attack the Sikhs and in one
last effort HM 3rd Light Dragoons, 4th Bengal Light Cavalry and 9th
Bengal Irregular Cavalry urged their blown horses into the charge,
causing Tej Singh to abandon his assault and withdraw from the
A curious incident had occurred at the beginning of the day’s
crisis, when the assistant adjutant-general, Captain Lumley,
suffering it is thought from the sun and the stress of battle,
approached various regiments in turn and ordered them to march to
Ferozepore, with the result that at the worst moment of the hard
fought two day battle a significant portion of Gough’s army left the
field. It may be that the sight of those forces marching away
towards Ferozepore contributed to Tej Singh abandoning his attack
and leaving the field.
The battle ended at around 4pm on 22nd December 1845, Gough and
his army, now virtually without ammunition, reprieved from an attack
that would have been hard to resist.
The camp of the British and Bengal regiments during the night after
the first day of the Battle of Ferozeshah
Casualties: The casualties in the British and Bengali
regiments were some 700 dead and 1,700 wounded, of which 1,207 were
European, including 115 officers. Among the dead were several staff
officers, including Major Broadfoot and Brigadier Taylor.
HM 3rd King’s Own Light Dragoons lost 152 men and 60 horses.
HM 9th Foot suffered 280 casualties.
HM 62nd Foot suffered 299 casualties.
HM 102nd Foot suffered 204 casualties.
HM 29th Foot suffered 184 casualties.
HM 31st Foot suffered 142 casualties.
HM 50th Foot suffered 124 casualties.
HM 80th Foot suffered 81 casualties.
1st Bengal (European) Light Infantry suffered 204 casualties.
Sikh casualties are thought to have been around 3,000. They lost 73
Follow-up: After the battle the Sikh army crossed the
Sutlej at Sobraon, while Gough led his army on to Ferozepore,
meeting there the demented Major Lumley and the regiments he had led
from the field.
Only when reinforcements and additional ammunition arrived in the
New Year would Gough resume his offensive and attack the main Sikh
army in Sobraon.
Sikh Akali religious warriors. The Akali were particularly
formidable opponents at the Battle of Ferozeshah
Regimental anecdotes and traditions:
- HM 3rd King’s Light Dragoons made numerous charges in the three
days of fighting at Moodkee and Ferozeshah, losing half their
strength in casualties. At Ferozepore the 3rd performed the unusual
feat for cavalry of charging fortifications and taking them. After
the battle the Governor General, Sir Henry Hardinge, praised the
regiment for their conduct.
- HM 62nd Foot suffered 7 officers killed and 11 wounded in the
battle, leaving the regiment effectively without officers. It became
a regimental custom on the anniversary of the battle to hand the
colours to the care of the non-commissioned officers for 24 hours in
- During the battle a particularly hard fought action took place
over a black Akali standard, with several officers and soldiers of
HM 80th killed in the struggle to capture it. The standard was
finally taken by Colour Sergeant Kirkland of HM 29th Foot and hangs
in Litchfield Cathedral.
- When news of the battle reached London the Prime Minister Sir
Robert Peel talked of a Pyrrhic victory. The Duke of Wellington said
“Gough has lost a good many men; but what of it? You must lose
officers and men if you have to fight a great battle. At Assaye I
lost a third of my force."
- Present with the British generals at the beginning of the battle
was Prince Waldemar of Prussia, son of the King of Prussia and
colonel of the Prussian Guard Dragoons. One of the prince’s
companions, Herr Hoffmeister, was killed during the fighting. At the
end of the first day, fearing that the Sikhs would win the battle
when it renewed the next day, Sir Henry Hardinge sent the prince to
the rear out of harm’s way.
- Sir Henry Hardinge ensured that 1,000 mince pies were distributed
to the British troops on Christmas Day 1845.
- The Sikhs mined their camp so that casualties were caused to the
British and Bengali soldiers as they ransacked the tents.
- Many of the captured Sikh guns were brass and decorated with
- Although threatened with trial by court martial Major Lumley, the
assistant adjutant general who ordered several regiments to leave
the battlefield at the moment of crisis as Tej Singh’s army marched
up, was medically discharged and sent home.
- Several British regiments commemorate the Battle of Ferozeshah: in
particular the 62nd, which became the Wiltshire Regiment and the
80th which became the South Staffordshire Regiment. The successors
of both these regiments still mount parades on the anniversary of
the battle. In the Wiltshire Regiment the colours were handed to two
sergeants who held them for 24 hours in commemoration of the high
officer casualties at Ferozeshah which led to the colours being
taken over by sergeants.
The Sutlej Campaign Medal
Medals and decorations: British and Indian soldiers who
took part in the First Sikh War received the medal entitled “Sutlej
Where a soldier took part in one or more battles, his medal would
have the first battle inscribed on the reverse side of the medal and
the remaining battles on clasps on the ribbon.
The battles being described as: “Moodkee 1845", “Ferozeshuhur
1845", “Aliwal 1946" and “Sobraon 1846".
Description of the medal:
Obverse.-Crowned head of Queen Victoria. Legend: “Victoria Regina."
Reverse.-Victory standing beside a trophy, holding a wreath in her
outstretched hand. Inscription: “Army of the Sutlej."
Mounting.-Silver scroll bar and swivel.
Ribbon: Dark blue with crimson edges. 1 ¼ inches wide.
- History of the British Army by Fortescue.
- History of British Cavalry by the Marquis of Angelsey.