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17 July 1845 - First Anglo Sikh War

After the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the Sikh Empire began to crumble due to lack of any capable heirs. When Maharaja Duleep Singh ascended the throne at the age of 5, the British forces looked at it as an opportunity to and started building provisions near the Sutlej river. Sir Hugh Gough, the Commander-in-Chief of British Forces in the East Indies, and Sir Henry Hardinge, the British Governor-General of India led the forces of the British Army and the East India Company into the region of Punjab, which was gradually falling apart. This conquest of Punjab led to two conflicts, known as the First and Second Anglo-Sikh Wars (1845-46 and 1848-49 respectively).

These two wars consisted of numerous battles that expanded British rule in India and shaped the history of the sub-continent. The First Anglo Sikh War began with the Battle of Mudki on December 18, 1845, near the banks of the Sutlej River. This battle was between the British and Bengal Army led by Major General Sir Hugh Gough and General Sir Henry Hardinge, and the Sikh Army led by Raja Lal Singh and Tej Singh. The strategy of Gough has been criticized because the British Army was tired and hungry after travelling for miles, and were hurriedly deployed into the Battle. “The battle was in no way a win for either side, according to Cook, ‘thus ended one of the most untidy actions the British Army in India had ever fought.” (ASW)

The Battle of Ferozeshah took place on the south bank of India between December 21 and 22, 1845. After the Battle of Mudki, both sides buried their dead; many bodies were left to rot as the armies moved further towards Ferozeshah. Diary of Sir Robert Cust, who was present in the battle states,

“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 an unconditional surrender to save the wounded, the part of the news that grieved me the most.”

However, unlike the expectation, the British achieved victory on the second day of the battle.

The Battle of Aliwal was the third battle fought between the British forces and the Sikh Empire during the First Anglo Sikh Wars on January 28, 1846. The British forces captured the village of Bhundri and the heavy fighting took place around the Bhudah Nulla. The Sikhs retreated and the battle was over, with the Sikhs dead being far less than the 3000, as claimed by the British. This led to the final and decisive Battle of Sobraon, which took place on February 18, 1846. This last battle of the First Anglo Sikh Wars was an intense artillery duel, which finally culminated in the annexation of the Sikh state of Punjab in north-western India by the British powers.


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