The savage skirmish on the banks of the Chenab River that led to the
of General Cureton and Colonel Havelock of the 14th Light
War: Second Sikh War.
Date: 22nd November 1848.
Place: In the Punjab in the North West of India.
The Charge of HM14th King's Light Dragoons at the Battle of Ramnagar
Combatants: British troops and Indian troops of the Bengal
Presidency against Sikhs of the Khalsa, the army of the Punjab.
Generals: Major General Sir Hugh Gough against Shere Singh.
Size of the armies: 12,000 British and Bengalis and 60 guns against
20,000 Sikhs and 50 guns.
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.
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.
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.
Lieutenant Colonel William Havelock, commanding officer of
HM 14th King's Light Dragoons at the Battle of Ramnagar
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 enemy.
HM 14th King's Light Dragoons
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: As Gough’s aim was to drive the Sikhs back across the Chenab
River and he achieved this, it could be said that the action was
successful. On the other hand the result was the death of Brigadier Cureton, probably the best cavalry general in India, and many other
men including the commanding officer of the 14th Light Dragoons,
Lieutenant Colonel Havelock.
The 14th Light Dragoons : the regiment that celebrates their charge
at the Battle of Ramnagar
British and Indian Regiments:
HM 3rd King’s Own Light Dragoons, now the Queen’s Royal Hussars.
HM 9th Queen’s Royal Light Dragoons (Lancers), now the 9th/12th
HM 14th the King’s Light Dragoons, now the King’s Royal Hussars.
HM 24th Foot, later the South Wales Borderers and now the Royal
HM 29th Foot, later the Worcestershire Regiment and now the
Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters Regiment.
HM 61st Foot, later the Wiltshire Regiment and now the Royal
Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment.
All the regular Bengal cavalry regiments that fought at Sobraon
ceased to exist in 1857.
2nd Bengal (European) Light Infantry from 1861 102nd Light Infantry,
from 1880 the Munster Fusiliers, disbanded in 1922.
31st Bengal Native Infantry in1861 became the 2nd Bengal Light
Infantry, in 1903 2nd (Queen’s Own) Rajput Light Infantry, in 1922
1st (Queen Victoria’s Own) Light Infantry Battalion 7th Rajput
Regiment and in 1947 became 4th Battalion the Brigade of the Guards
of the Indian Army.
70th Bengal Native Infantry from 1861 11th Bengal Native Infantry,
from 1903 11th Rajputs, from 1922 5th Battalion 7th Rajput Regiment
and from 1947 5th Battalion, the Rajput Regiment of the Indian Army.
The remaining Bengal infantry regiments that fought at Ramnagar
ceased to exist in 1857.
Ramnagar is not a battle honour for British or Bengal regiments. It
is subsumed in the general battle honour of “Punjab 1848-49".
Order of Battle of the Army of the Punjab at the Battle of Ramnagar:
1st Infantry Division: General Gilbert.
1st Brigade: Brigadier Mountain; HM 29th Foot, 30th and 56th BNI.
2nd Brigade: Brigadier Godby; 2nd European LI, 31st and 70th BNI.
2nd Infantry Division: General Thackwell.
1st Brigade: Brigadier Pennycuick; HM 24th Foot, 25th and 45th BNI.
2nd Brigade: Brigadier Hoggan; HM 61st Foot, 6th and 36th BNI.
3rd Brigade: Brigadier Penny; 15th, 20th and 69th BNI.
6 horse batteries: Lane, Christie, Huish, Warner, Duncan and
3 field batteries: Dawes, Kenleside and Austin.
2 heavy batteries.
The First Sikh War ended in 1846 with the Treaty of Lahore, leaving
the Punjab dependent on the British, but stopping short of outright
annexation. The treaty required that the Khalsa, the Sikh army, be
reduced in size and number of guns, although it is doubtful that
this was complied with. The Sikh government agreed to pay a large
sum in reparations to the British, with compliance secured on
Kashmir. When the Sikhs found themselves unable to pay Kashmir
became forfeit, to the dismay of the British who lacked the
resources to occupy the remote Himalayan province.
Difficulties over Kashmir were followed by the killing of two
British officers by Sikh soldiers in Multan in April 1848. A force
of Sikh troops moved against the rebels commanded by a British
officer, Herbert Edwardes, but the Sikhs began to desert and it
became apparent that the rebels were acting with the encouragement
of the Sikh rulers.
Edwardes intended to conduct a siege of Multan while Major General
Sir Hubert Gough, the commander-in-chief in the First Sikh War,
gathered his forces, this time on the River Chenab, further north
than the Sutlej, the scene of the fighting in the first war.
Edwardes did not have sufficient strength for a siege and the
enterprise passed to Major General Whish with two brigades of
infantry, a brigade of cavalry and a siege train.
Until this force captured Multan and rejoined him, Gough was forced
to delay taking the offensive against the Sikhs with his newly named
“Army of the Punjab".
At this stage in the Second Sikh War it was far from clear who would
be fighting against the British.
A Sikh general, Shere Singh, revolted against the Punjab government
and marched with his army up the Chenab River towards the North of
the province. Gough feared that Shere Singh would join his father
Chattar Singh in the area of Peshawar. The rebels also held the
capital of the Punjab, Lahore.
Shere Singh halted with his troops at Ramnagar on the northern bank
of the Chenab and pushed outposts and guns across the river.
While the plain itself was good cavalry country, at this time of
year the wide Chenab River shrank to a thin winding stream in a wide
sandy bed, treacherous for horses and guns. The troops needed to
ensure that they kept out of the river.
Gough decided to attack the Sikh troops on the southern side of the
river and on 21st November 1848 sent forward Major General Campbell
with a brigade of infantry and Brigadier General Cureton with the
In the early hours of 22nd November 1848 Gough joined Campbell’s
division and ordered an attack on the Sikhs who were hurrying to
cross back across the Chenab. Two batteries of horse artillery
accompanied by cavalry advanced to the edge of the river and opened
fire on the retreating Sikhs. A force of Sikh Gorcharras crossed
from the north bank to protect their infantry comrades. As the
Gorcharras advanced onto the plain, they were charged by Brigadier
White with the 3rd King’s Own Light Dragoons, who drove the Sikhs
back into the river bed, where White sensibly declined to follow.
The Bengal horse artillery following in support found one of its
guns stuck in the quicksands of the river bed. The gunners were
unable to extract it and the gun had to be abandoned.
Their success in forcing the Bengal horse artillery to abandon a gun
caused the Sikhs to push more cavalry across the river. This time
against Gough’s right flank.
General Gough ordered the 14th Light Dragoons to drive this new
force back across the river. The colonel of the 14th, William
Havelock, led his regiment and the 5th Bengal Light Cavalry in a
headlong charge at the Sikhs, and, without stopping at the edge of
the bank, led his men into the river.
It was apparent to the divisional commander that Havelock was taking
his regiment into considerable danger. General Cureton led a party
of the 5th Bengal Light Cavalry in an attempt to halt the 14th in
its charge, but was shot dead as he rode forward.
Havelock was killed in the melee in the river, while 12 other
officers and 84 men of the two cavalry regiments became casualties
before the 14th turned back and the battle ended.
The Sikhs had been cleared from the south bank of the River Chenab.
Casualties: British and Bengali casualties were around 150. Sikh
casualties have to be estimated at a few hundred.
The body of Lieutenant Colonel Havelock, who had led the 14th King’s
Light Dragoons into the charge, was found in the river bed twelve
days after the action. The head had been cut off and the left arm
and leg nearly severed. He lay with nine dead troopers of his
Follow-up: Gough decided to hold the Sikh force at Ramnagar while
General Sir Joseph Thackwell, who had taken over command of the
Cavalry Division on the death of General Cureton, marched upstream
and crossed to the north bank. Thackwell, with a force of cavalry,
infantry and guns marched up the river and crossed to the north
side. To Gough’s chagrin no full action materialized, but the Army
of the Punjab had forced the River Chenab.
Regimental anecdotes and traditions:
The death of Brigadier General Cureton, a cavalry commander of
great experience and ability, was considered a grave loss to the
British Army. Cureton fought through the Peninsular War in the ranks
of the 14th Light Dragoons, the most consistently successful British
cavalry regiment in that campaign, rising to the rank of sergeant.
In 1813 Cureton was given a commission in an infantry regiment
before exchanging into the 16th Lancers in India. Of his three sons
one was severely wounded at Moodkee serving in the 3rd Light
Dragoons, another was killed at Chillianwallah, while the third was
at Aliwal as his father’s aide de camp and went on to raise his own
Bengal Army cavalry regiment, Cureton’s Multanis. Cureton took air
cushions on campaign with him as the most comfortable form of
bedding. See the note to Aliwal for Sir Harry Smith’s assessment of
Cureton’s performance at that battle.
Colonel William Havelock, who led the 14th Light Dragoons into the
river and lost his life in the charge, also made his name in the
Peninsular, acquiring from the Spanish troops that he led the
nickname of “el chico blanco" or the blonde boy. It was said of him
by his brother, the Havelock of Indian Mutiny fame, “it was natural
that an old Peninsular officer, who had not seen a shot fired in
anger since Waterloo, should desire to blood the noses of his young
At the beginning of the battle the 14th were dismounted, gathering
turnips in a field. When the trumpets sounded to mount a Sergeant
Clifton quickly put a turnip inside his shako. In the charge
Clifton’s shako was cut to pieces by Sikh sword cuts. The turnip
prevented Clifton from receiving any injury to his head although he
was cut about the shoulders. The turnip was sliced up.
General Gough presented a sum of 5,000 rupees to the 5th Bengal
Light Cavalry for their conduct in the battle. The 5th spent the sum
in entertaining the 14th Light Dragoons to a feast. As their
religion prevented them from eating with non-Hindus the soldiers of
the 5th waited on the British troopers of the 14th.
The 5th Bengal Light Cavalry presented a silver bowl to the 14th
King’s Light Dragoons to commemorate the battle. The bowl was
engraved with the battle honours of the 14th.
“Ramnagar Day" has been celebrated by the 14th Light Dragoons and
its successor regiments on the anniversary of the battle, and is
still commemorated by the King’s Royal Hussars.
The Punjab Campaign Medal
Medals and decorations:
British and Indian soldiers who took part in the Second Sikh War
received the silver medal entitled “Punjab Campaign, 1848-9".
Clasps were issued for the battles (or in the case of Mooltan the
siege) which were described as: “Mooltan", “Chillianwallah", and “Goojerat".
Description of the medal:
Obverse.-Crowned head of Queen Victoria. Legend: “Victoria Regina."
Reverse.-The Sikh army laying down its arms before Sir W.R. Gilbert
and his troops near Rawal Pindi. Inscription “To the Army of the
Punjab." In exergue “MDCCCXLIX."
Mounting.-Silver scroll bar and swivel.
Ribbon.-Dark blue with two thin yellow stripes, 1 ¼ inch wide.
History of the British Army by Fortescue.
History of British Cavalry by the Marquis of Angelsey.