The Sword of Freedom
An unexpected incident occurred in
Barrackpore. The 31 St of May was yet two months away when the sepoy regiment
there struck the first blow. The hero to fire the first shot was Mangal
Orders had been issued to the Indian
sepoys to use new cartridges for the rifles. News spread that the new cartridges
were greased with the fat of cows and pigs. The
revolutionaries had spread this news
throughout the country. , The soldiers became wild with excitement. It
was against their religion.Regardless of threats the sepoys at Barrackpore
refused to use the new cartridges. The white officers ordered the sepoys
to be disarmed. It was a great insult. One of the sepoys, Mangal pande,
was not prepared to pocket this insult. He was a patriot, proud and brave.
His blood boiled. A bullet from Pande killed the officer in charge, Hughson.
Preferring death to loss of freedom and honor, Mangal Pande shot at himself.
He fell down wounded. He was captured and tried before a court-martial.
As his fellow- soldiers tearfully watched he was hanged on April 8,1857.
So died the first martyr.
Though his bravery was worthy of praise
he had blundered in haste. He had upset the whole plan because he could
not restrain himself till the appointed day, The revolution broke out in
a haphazard way.
Within a month after Barrackpore, the
Meerut regiment rose in revolt. As the 10th of May dawned, the air of Meerut
resounded with the cry 'Maro Feringhi Ko!' (Kill the foreigner.)
Meerut was ablaze. Englishmen fled
helter-skelter to save their lives. As Meerut fell, the sepoys marched
to Delhi, 36 miles away. -Chalo Delhi!' (On to Delhi) was the
trumpet cry ! The next day Delhi fell.
Bahadur Shah was proclaimed Emperor.
The news reached Brahmavarta. But Brahmavarta
was as quiet and calm as ever, Neither Nana Saheb nor Tatia Tope showed
any outward sign of their fury and their plans. Both were waiting for the
ripe moment. No trace of suspicion entered the British minds.
Of course, the English had become nervous.
Their chief at Kanpur, Sir Hugh Wheeler, suspected that a revolt was imminent.
He was greatly concerned for the safety of English citizens as also of
the large amount of 12 Iakh rupees under his charge. How best to guard
it? He felt that the help of Nana Saheb would be valuable. He asked for
Nana along with Tatia promptly arrived
at Kanpur with 2 guns and 300 sepoys. He was entrusted with the task of
guarding the treasury. Wheeler heaved a sigh of relief. Poor Wheeler! He
failed to see the volcanic minds of the two deadliest enemies whom he believed
to be his friends.
No sooner did he arrive at Kanpur than
Nana Saheb got into touch with the leader of the sepoys, Subhedar Tika
Singh. Under the pretext of a boating excursion, one day Nana came down
to the banks of the Ganga. There stood Tika Singh and his band of revolutionaries.
They got into the boat. With the holy Ganga as witness, oaths were taken
and plans were finalized. It was decided that Kanpur should strike at midnight
on the fourth of June.
At the appointed hour Kanpur struck
the blow. The sepoys rebelled. It was a terrible war, a war of vengeance.
Nana and Tatia assumed the leadership. The English had never been in such
a plight. Many died and many more were in the jaws of death. A huge amount
of twelve lakh rupees changed hands in a moment. The sepoys had captured
Kanpur and their joy knew no bounds. Nana Saheb was ceremoniously proclaimed
the Peshwa. The land had once again one of its sons as the ruler.
Immediately Jhansi followed Kanpur
by joining the battle of freedom. Lakshmibai, the Queen, staked her claim
to the throne of Jhansi again. With her sword drawn, the young queen moved
like lightning. The news of the revolt in Kanpur and Jhansi spread like
wild fire. It inspired other regiments to rise in revolt. The whole of
North India was aflame. The English, men and women, ran hither and thither
seeking safety and shelter. A hundred years of cruelty and injustice pursued
them. A sleeping giant had now awakened - and the English were terrified.But
the victory was short-lived. Fresh British troopsarrived at Kanpur. There
was a fierce battle. In the end, on July 16, Nana's troops were defeated.
Nana Saheb had to beat aretreat with what remained of the army. TatiaTope
followed him like a shadow, determined to save him at any cost.
Defeat greatly disheartened the sepoys.
They could not fight the well-organized and
disciplined British army. A big question
now faced one and all. Who could undertake the task of rebuilding the army?
Who could instil inspiration and great courage in the troops? There could
be only one answer - Tatia Tope. Nana Saheb entrusted the huge responsibility
to Tatia Tope and commanded him to keep the flag of freedom flying. Nana's
command was law to Tatia. All through their lives they had been inseparable,
but now they had to part. Tatia was not unaware howformidable the task
was. Many difficult problems awaited solution. Organizing the scattered
sepoys, providing food and shelter, securing arms and every thing which
the army needed - a hundred such problems
plagued him. On the other hand theEnglish
soldiers were fully equipped. Still Tatia Tope accepted the challenge.
He first went straight to Shivarajpur.
The regiment there had just then rebelled. Tatia
won over the rebel sepoys to his side.
A new army was created. With the largeforce so collected he swept upon
Havelock, the victor of Kanpur, now advancing towards Lucknow. The suddenness
of the attack stunned the English. It was a bolt from the blue. Well
skilled in the guerilla tactics of the Marathas, Tatia attacked the British
on all sides. It was hide and seek, hit and run. He appeared and disappeared
with such swiftness that the enemy was baffled. Havelock's troops were
Tatia's eyes then fell on Kalpi. Kalpi
was only 45 miles from Kanpur. Moreover, it was centrally situated linking
Fatehpur on one side and Jhansi on the other, the headquarters of Nana
Saheb and of Lakshmibai. It was a very important place. Like a lion from
the hillsides Tatia Tope descended on the fortress. And in no time the
fort was taken.
He then proceeded to convert Kalpi
into a base for his military operations. He strengthened the defense of
the fort. He began to manufacture arms. Kalpi became a workshop. In the
heart of the enemy territory Tatia was working wonders. In a swift sweep
Tatia captured a series of forts. A chain of forts connected Kanpur with
The Gwalior regiment was still inactive.
Under disguise he reached the Scindhia
regiment at Morar. The magic words
of Tatia won over the sepoys stationed at Morar. Now he became doubly strong.
The revolution was reinforced.
At that time the garrison at Kanpur
was commanded by Major Windham. News reached Tatia Tope that Windham was
short of troops. Tatia got his opportunity. He acted swiftly. He collected
his men, crossed the Jamuna and appeared before the unsuspecting Windham.
Windham was taken by surprise. Tatia dealt him a crushing blow. The battle
was fought on the banks of the river Pandu. Tatia Tope, with his sword
flashing, appeared here, there and everywhere. He was revenge incarnate!
The English army was beaten and battered. Its loss in men and money was
crippling. Before the tears shed for the loss of Kalpi could dry, Kanpur
was gone. By winning back Kanpur, Tatia had won back glory.
Tatia Tope's fame reached every corner
of Europe. His name struck terror in every
home of England. In him, the world
saw Indian heroism in action. The recapture of
Kanpur had electrified the atmosphere.
Kanpur was again in the hands of Nana Saheb. It became the rallying center
for all the sepoys whom the British were pursuing.
A British military chief, Sir Colin
Campbell, was then busy in Lucknow. A master of
military action as he was, he recognized
that the leader of' the sepoy army was no fool. He saw with his own eyes
what a terror Tatia had created. He resolved that Tatia must be captured,
if the British were to survive.
He acted at once. He mobilized all
his forces. He fielded the best of his generals. He made a determined bid
to capture the man whom the British dreaded most. A pitched battle raged.
It was a struggle for Kanpur. But this time success smiled on the British.
Nana Saheb's sepoys ran away.
His palace was burnt down. The city
was robbed of its riches. But to Campbell's utter disappointment Tatia
Tope had slipped away. Campbell had risked many lives to catch the man.
But the lion had defied all attempts to catch him. The British went in
hot pursuit. But the swif t- footed guerilla was beyond their reach.
Tatia Tope had arrived at Kalpi.
Now Tatia Tope turned his attention
to the native rulers and princes. They had been
repeatedly requested to lend a helping
hand. Some of the princes were patriotic enough to give help secretly at
least. There were others who, afraid of theBritish , remained neutral.
But there were a few who chose to remain loyal to theBritish against their
own countrymen. One such man was the ruler of Charkhari State. Not only
did he turn a deaf ear to the call of freedom but had behaved in an arrogant
way. He had shown Nana Saheb no respect. So Tatia Tope decided to teach
every traitor the lesson of his life. The ruler of Charkhari was his first
The news of Tatia Tope's approach gave
this ruler the shivers. The traitorking trembled. In panic he sent an urgent
appeal to the British for protection. Both Viceroy Canning and the Commander-
in- Chief Campbell promised protection. They ordered a prominent British
General, Sir Hugh Rose, to rush to the help of the faithful ally. But Sir
Hugh Rose was held up at Jhansi and was unable to move. Tatia knew it before
hand. He suddenly appeared before the capital of. Charkhari and besieged
it. In no time the town was captured and with it 24 guns and 3 lakh rupees.
The traitors had a lesson to learn that the promise and the pledges
of even the Viceroy and the commander-in- Chief could no longer save them
from the fury of Tatia Tope. What a damage to British prestige! Should
he need money andarms, Tatia Tope would henceforth plunderthese 'faithful
friends' of the British.
It was very clever of Tatia to have
converted Kalpi into his military base. The Sepoys elsewhere had marched
towards Delhi and had crowded the Capital. There were 80,000 in all. The
first flush of victory had blinded them to the requirements of their plan.
They did not realize that the enemy should be pressed on all sides. So
when the British made a terrible onslaught on Delhi they had no need to
worry about any other place. Delhi fell and allresistance was destroyed.
Bahadur Shah was taken prisoner. The sepoys fled. It was a costly defeat
for the cause of India's freedom.
But 'Chalo Delhi' had not been TatiaTope's
slogan. He built up Kalpi as a rival strong hold. He made it hot for the
British. Kalpi had emerged as a symbol of the nation's pride and as a source
of inspiration. It was a storehouse of armaments and a shelter for the
hunted sepoys. Its architect was Tatia Tope.