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Siege of Lucknow

Among all revolts attempted by the Indian sepoys against the early British rule, Siege of Lucknow can undoubtedly be considered as one of the most significant and crucial endeavor. The siege refers to the defence of Lucknow’s Residency by the British during an attack by a rebellious Indian Army in 1857.

Sepoy Mutiny Siege of Lucknow

Despite the failure of the siege, the entire episode gave a strong warning to the British about the strength and unity of a rebellious Indian Sepoy group and the extent they can go to safeguard their religion and sanctity. It is also claimed to be one of the longest and most intense rebel acts during the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857.

What propelled the Siege

Lucknow, then capital of Oudh or Awadh, was annexed by the British East India Company and the state’s Nawab, Wajid Ali Shah, was exiled to Calcutta. During this period, there was a widespread resentment among Indian soldiers working under the British commandment who were outraged with the new policies introduced by Company. The anger revolved around the new cartridges introduced by the British which were apparently greased with beef and pork and therefore, hurting religious sentiments of both Hindus and Muslims.

In May 1857, the 7th Oudh Irregular Infantry declined to bite the cartridges and on May 3, the Infantry was neutralized by other regiments. This act of disarmament, however, failed to subdue the anger among the soldiers. On May 10, they attacked Meerut and moved towards Delhi. When the news reached the-then Commissioner of Awadh, Sir Henry Lawrence, he immediately started fortifying the Residency.

The Siege Begins

Siege of Lucknow

On May 30, Indian Army troops of Awadh and Bengal broke into rebellion in Lucknow. But Lawrence’s strong battalion forced the rebel out of Awadh. Open rebellion simultaneously broke out at places near Lucknow like Sitapur, Faizabad, Sultanpur, Salon, Daryabad. This forced the British to step back from authority from Awadh for a brief period. On June 30, Lawrence received information about a rebel gathering in north of Lucknow. He decided to quash the rebel, but with no proper planning and a disorganized British Army he decided to retreat into the Residency.

The 60 acres Residency surrounded by mosques, palaces and administrative buildings did not prove to be a good hide-out for the British Company and their families. They, however, managed to crush some of the dens of the rebel group and lack of co-ordination among Indian soldiers further helped the British to keep a check on the sepoy activities.

British Army decided to advance tactically and before gaining the administrative power in Lucknow, they decided to first regain their lost position in nearby districts. Accordingly, the army ousted the rebels from Cawnpore, Unao, Bithur, Alambagh, Qaisarbagh palace. By the time the British Army reached Lucknow, the fragile guardians of the Residency have sustained the siege for 87 days and the Army was reduced to only about 900 fighting personnel.

This relief attempt by the British failed to demoralize the rebels and they continued to bombard the Residency and its nearby areas with artillery fire, mines and muskets. The British Army answered back with counter-mines and sorties. It is estimated that as many as 60,000 rebels were stationed in Lucknow fighting to usurp the Residency. However, the absence of a strong leader and unified command lessened the value of their strategic positions and superior number.

Lucknow Siege Memorial

The British troop began their second relief attempt on November 14. And after 61 days, on March 21 1858, the Company again regained its administrative power in Lucknow bringing an end to the siege of Lucknow. The siege and relief of Lucknow had taken lives of approximately 2,500 British soldiers with many wounded and missing.

Aftermath of the Lucknow Siege

After the British regained its power and pride, they decided to proper action and measure against the inhabitants of the city to curtail any further rebel act. They decided to reshape Lucknow and demolished nearly two-fifth of the entire city, including Macchi Bhawan, they believed could be potential hideouts during future attacks. Narrow lanes and winding streets were obstacles during any military engagements were replaced by wide and broad streets. Post-siege policies adopted by the British rule paved way for modern architecture of Lucknow.

Siege of Lucknow episode has been an inspiration for many writers such as Dion Boucicault's Jessie Brown or the Relief of Lucknow, Maxwell Gray's 1891 In the Heart of the Storm, G. A. Henty's In Times of Peril, George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman in the Great Game among others have written extensively on the survival strategy of the British during the 148 days siege.

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