Brevet Bishop rallies disgraced British cavalry regiment
Conduct of Pope’s Cavalry Brigade leading to diasaster on the right flank
We have earlier stated that Brigadier Pope’s cavalry brigade was tasked to protect the right flank of the army of Punjab. Pope’s cavalry brigade consisted of HM 14th Light Dragoons , HM 9th Lancers, 1st Bengal Native Light Cavalry (1 LC) , and 6th LC . The European cavalry regiment average strength was approximately 400 Sabres and Native Cavalry Regiment strength was approximately 300 sabres.58 Brigadier Pope was from 6th LC and had more than forty years service. He was a brave and dashing officer in his earlier years but was not really physically or mentally fit to command a cavalry brigade in action.59 The 6th Bengal Native Light Cavalry the readers may note was one of the most illustrious units of the native cavalry. One of its most illustrious feats was a daring charge at the battle of Sitabldi in the Third Maratha War where it dispersed a Maratha force of about 18,000 men including 3,000 Arab mercenaries.60 This battle was unique in the sense that there were no British units present and the battle was an all Indian show barring the British officers of the native units.
Pope notwithstanding his dash as a young officer , was an invalid in 1849 , and one who could hardly sit on horseback 61. As soon as the British advance commenced Pope with the cavalry brigade on the right flank also advanced. Immediately a body of Sikh cavalry emerging from the high ground around Rasul , made a threatening demonstration towards Popes right rear flank. Pope detached a wing (half regiment) each of HM 9th Lancers and 1st and 6th LC under the overall command of Colonel Lane to observe them and to act as a flank protection screen. Lane deployed his force a little northwards and thus lost visual contact with the remaining British army ,because of the intervening strips of jungle . Pope continued his advance westwards with the remaining brigade, some nine cavalry squadrons, i.e HM 14th Light Dragoons (HM 14 LD) and wing each of 1st and 6th LC and HM 9th Lancers. Soon another body of Sikh cavalry appeared in front of Pope’s axis of advance . The Bengal Horse artillery the best branch of the British immediately deployed into action to engage these Sikhs. However Pope , without thinking of anything decided to charge the Sikhs , also masking the British artillery’s fire in line formation . The result was a weak charge without any depth or artillery support , delivered in words of Gough and Innes without speed or momentum.62 The Sikh horsemen led by Jawahir Singh Nalwa63 the bold and dashing son of Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa now realising that poor execution and bad terrain had brought Pope’s apology of a cavalry charge to an absolute halt64 now counter charged. Jawahir Singh with his band of horsemen emerged, once again, through the wild Doab jungle, and charged Popes force, in the process of which some Sikh horsemen physically attacked Brigadier Pope, cutting him across the head with his Tulwar, and wounding him 65. At this critical stage of the battle Pope’s brigade which had already halted and was waiting for orders, now became leaderless. An event then occurred which the British historians right from 1849 onwards find hard to explain or account for. HM 14th Light Dragoon turned about and bolted! The native cavalry also panicked and followed HM 14th Light Dragoon rearwards, galloping through at top speed through their own horse artillery batteries backwards! Fortescue states that HM 14th Light Dragoon bolted because Pope gave them a word of command of “Threes Right” which they heard as something like “Threes about” 66 and that’s why the unit bolted! There is no doubt that had a native cavalry unit done so Fortescue’s verdict may have been much more harsh! Jawahir Singh Nalwa pursued Pope’s cavalry brigade with great elan, cutting down many British Horse artillerymen including Major Christie, one of the battery commanders , destroying six guns and carrying four guns intact apart from two ammunition wagons and fifty three horses as war trophies!67 Pope’s cavalry brigade from this moment onwards ceased to be a fighting formation! It was rallied with great difficulty by Gough’s staff and the regimental Chaplain of HM 14 LD, with his pistol! It was said that Gough recommended the Chaplain to be promoted to the rank of Brevet Bishop ,on the battlefield!68
The flight of Pope’s brigade resulted in a serious operational imbalance in the British position . Their right rear flank was now vulnerable to counter attack . Sher Singh Attariwalla immediately ordered a counter attack and Sikh infantry and cavalry west of Rasul immediately advanced down from the heights through the open gap encircling Gilbert’s division from the rear! It was Pope’s good luck that he died soon afterwards from wounds suffered in the battle.