British traditions of Infantry Attack-Brigadier Pennycuicks attack




Traditions of that time - brigade commander leads three units including his own unit and his 17 year old son and is killed in action - almost all officers of his own unit are killed and as per tradition their bodies laid on the battalions dinner table carried in battle at the camp -Atlas of Battle of Chillianwallah-13 January 1849 by Agha Humayun Amin via @amazon extract from my book :—-

Brigadier Pennycuicks Attack

We will now proceed brigadewise and briefly discuss the battle. Firstly we will deal with Brigadier General Campbell’s Division. Campbell was a Royal British Army officer born in 1792. He had seen action under Wellington in the Peninsular War and in 1849 had some 42 years of service behind him. Son of a Glasgow carpenter Campbell was helped getting into the class-conscious British army through the help of a rich relative. Campbell became, as was the norm at that time a colonel after some 30 years service. He was described by many contemporaries as “extremely brave” and “thorough” but “utterly devoid of dash” and “too cautious” and “ too selfish for any place”45 as is mostly the case with men with humble origins who progress upwards slowly mastering all the red tapism and bureaucratic obstacles in armies! Campbell like Gough was a firm believer in the power of the bayonet! Campbell’s prime responsibility was to command and co-ordinate the function of both his brigades. However keeping in view the adverse terrain he decided to accompany his left brigade i.e Hoggan’s brigade in the attack while ordering Pennycuick the right brigade commander to lead the attack on his own. . Gough and Innes well summed up Campbell’s decision as following, “ He abrogated the duties of a divisional commander to discharge with splendid success those of a brigadier”!46 However before the attack commenced Campbell rode to Pennycuicks brigade and after briefing Pennycuick about the attack rode on to HM 24th Foot, the British unit of Pennycuicks brigade and gave them the following orders, “ There must be no firing, the work has to be done with the bayonet” 47. HM 24th Foot 1000 bayonets strong had newly arrived in India.48 The unit was thus highly enthusiastic but highly inexperienced in the British Indian way of warfare! By some oversight or due to an out of proportion sense of excitement, once HM 24th Foot commenced its advance, it did so without loading its muskets!49 through some confusion the artillery designated to provide fire support to Pennycuick trotted to the left50. Pennycuick advanced rapidly towards the Sikh position, HM 24th Foot doing so more rapidly, full of enthusiasm to bayonet the accursed natives, that thin red line tipped with steel, as the British infantry at that time was known! The Sikh artillery whose overall commander was Illahi Baksh a Punjabi Muslim functioned admirably and as soon as 24 Foot came within round shot range of 800 yards, it was effectively engaged by Sikh artillery, and men starting falling. At 100 yards the Sikh infantry engaged the unit with musket fire, but the unit advanced stoically without firing back, their muskets unloaded, determined to do the work with the bayonet as ordered by Campbell. 24th Foot was the first to emerge in open ground west of the jungle outstripping both the native units of Pennycuick’s brigade i.e the 25 and 45 NI on the right and left flanks respectively. To add further bad luck to 24th Foot’s fate right across its axis of advance was a large water pond between the Sikh position and the British unit. 24th Foot thus had to break formation to cross the pond bypassing it from left and right while some braver souls attempted to wade through it. At this moment the Sikh artillery played havoc with 24th Foot causing inflicting great slaughter. 24th Foot did reach the Sikh guns but the punishment inflicted was too severe. As close quarter fighting started 24th Foot soon lost many officers including its commanding officer. The unit had not loaded its muskets and had advanced too fast thus reaching the Sikh position unsupported by both native units. Beveridge states that the unit advanced at a double time pace because of a misunderstanding on part of two officers leading the brigade , however this view is not substantiated by either Fortescue or Gough and Innes .The native units advancing more carefully, while preserving their energy for the final assault under the more experienced British officers of the East India Company’s private army did finally attack the Sikh position, a few minutes after 24th Foot’s attack, suffering many casualties in the process but by this time HM 24th Foot was close to the breaking point The Sikhs counterattacked and the 24th Foot broke up and withdrew in disorder back into the jungle towards Chillianwalla. The native units also withdrew. Pennycuick, his son Lieutenant Pennycuick and his brigade major all died in the bloody engagement. In all Penycuicks brigade lost some 376 men killed (244 from HM 24 Foot and, 112 from 25 NI, and 20 from 45 NI) and about 417 wounded (266 from HM 24 Foot, 92 from 25 NI and 59 from 45 NI). The brigade fought well but failed because of sheer tactical ineptitude of HM 24 Foot in advancing too rapidly and because of its blind obedience to Campbell’s instructions regarding use of bayonets apart from lack of artillery support. Pennycuick’s brigade’s remnants arrived in driblets back to their start line east of the jungle.51