Sikh Wars

Sikh Wars
(1845–1846, 1848–1849)
   Two short but particularly brutal wars waged by British forces against the Khalsa, the army of the Sikh religious sect, for control of the Punjab in northwest India. The First Sikh War followed hot on the East India Company’s failed effort in Afghanistan, 1838–1842. The British presence in Afghanistan and annexation of Sind in 1843 provoked first apprehension and then a preemptive response from the Sikh court in Lahore, which quite rightly feared a British attack. A Khalsa force estimated between 12,000 and 20,000 men crossed the Sutlej River into British India on December 11, 1845, and seized Ferozepore two days later. When it pressed its offensive further southward, it was met and defeated by an Anglo-Indian force of 10,000 under General Sir Hugh Gough at Mudki. Gough’s army then attacked and captured in bitter fighting Sikh entrenchments at Ferozeshah, after which the Khalsa withdrew across the Sutlej. When in January 1846 the Sikhs again crossed the frontier, the British forces were ready. They inflicted defeats on the Khalsa at Ludhiana and Aliwal before capturing the village of Sobraon near Lahore. Hostilities ended with a treaty signed at the Sikh capital on March 11, 1846, whereupon the Punjab became a British protectorate and the Sikhs were forced to pay an indemnity of £1.5 million.
   The second war was the product of a conviction on the part of Khalsa that it had never been truly defeated and an ambition on the part of Lord Dalhousie, the new governor-general of India, to annex the Punjab outright. Both sides, in other words, were hankering for a return bout when the murder of two British officers at Lahore provided Dalhousie with appropriate outrage to invade the Punjab protectorate. After a bloody but indecisive engagement at Chilianwala in January 1849 - the battle cost 2,300 British casualties and prompted a call to replace Gough as commander-in-chief in India - the British force captured Multan and then shattered a combined Sikh-Afghan force of 50,000 with his artillery at Gujarat. Gough, who thereby concluded the war and made himself a hero before he could be fired, described Gujarat as “a victory, not over my enemies, but over my country.” The Punjab was annexed on March 30.
   See also <>; <>; <>.
    Bruce, George. Six Battles for India: The Anglo-Sikh Wars, 1845–6, 1848–9. London: Arthur Baker, 1969;
    Farwell, Byron. Queen Victoria ’ s Little Wars. New York: W. W. Norton, 1972.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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