The Battle of Chillianwala
"These sort of things [the Charge of the Light Brigade] will happen in war. It is nothing to Chillianwala." (General Airey, 1854) 3




Other sources

  1. The 24th (2nd Warwickshire) Regiment of Foot - 2nd Sikh War - Chillianwallah 1849. Fact Sheet 2-B04-01, from the regimental museum of the Royal Welsh Regiment
  2. Lieut.-Col. J. Pennycuick, CB, KH, A Memoir, by W.S. Sampson (Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research, winter 1974)
  3. 'The Pennycuicks', notes written and compiled by Col. James A.C. Pennycuick and Janet Buchanan (.pdf file) [pages 20-28]
  4. Vignettes from Indian wars, by Lieut.-General Sir George MacMunn, Sampson, Low & Marston, 1900


Map of Chillianwala


Map of the battlefield showing brigades etc.

By John Fawkes

Chillianwala Map MacMunn


Map of the present battlefield site

By George MacMunn, 1900


Chillianwala cannon
Sikh cannons from Chillianwala at the Royal Hospital Chelsea

Photo courtesy of John Rochester, RHC



Battlefield monument

Illustrated London News, 1853

RHC Memorial


Chillianwala monument at the Royal Hospital, Chelsea

Granite obelisk by Cockerell, 1853

RHC Memorial


Royal Hospital monument, as above

The names of Pennycuick and his son are the third and last on the list

Poems commemorating Chillianwala

Two poems were written about the battle and the tragic deaths of Pennycuick and his son Alexander. The first is by Henry Littledean of Edinburgh, transcript in the National Army Museum.1 The second is by 'a brother officer' (unknown, date also unknown), sent to me by Colin Pennycook of Glasgow.

Toll the bell for the brave

[first of the ten stanzas]

Toll the bell for the brave,

for the sire and for the son,

whose warrior race is run -

grimly now they sleep in one bloody grave.

Two thousand years have passed away

[seventh of the ten stanzas]

Twas there upon that blood-stained plain, amidst a host of warriors slain

fell Pennycook the brave.

Before the Sikh's well-levelled gun,

twas there the father and the son

found out a solder's grave.

The Chillianwala graves

Chillianwala memorial site
The Chillianwala memorial site

Microsoft / HERE maps

Coordinates: 32.662409, 73.605966

At the top is the Gujrat - Sargodha Road, at the bottom is Battle of Chillianwala Road

Chillianwala Tombs 2


Chillianwala Tombs 1


Above two photos: the four individual tombs at the Chillianwala memorial site

The graves of the 24th Foot

These three burial sites, now sadly ruined, are where the fallen from the 24th Foot were hurriedly buried, to the west of the village of Chillianwala. Photos and the exact locations (indicated on the above map by MacMunn) are given on the 'Victorian Web' website from 1996,11 and on two 'geotagging' websites from 2014 and 2015.13,12 The numbering system is slightly inconsistent, but it can be worked out.

Chillianwala 24th Foot grave 2


Chillianwala 24th Foot grave 3


The second and third of the three walled enclosures containing the mass graves of the 24th Foot regiment

(see note above)

Memorial tablet


Memorial tablet to Brig. John and Alexander Pennycuick, Holy Trinity Cathedral, Sialkot

(not St James' church, as stated in Wikipedia)

Probably erected about 1853. The wording is essentially the same as the tombstone inscription (see below).



Battle of Chillianwallah, charge of H.M. 24th Regiment through jungle and water

Coloured lithograph of an on-the-spot drawing by J.H. Archer, reproduced with kind permission of the National Army Museum

One of the bloodiest of its time, the battle of Chillianwala was fought on 13th January 1849 during the 2nd Anglo-Sikh War (1848-1849) between the British East India Company and the armies of the Sikh empire.2 Although the outcome of the battle was inconclusive, and although the war ended a month later with defeat of the Sikhs and annexation of the Punjab, Chillianwala was in many ways a bitter defeat and a source of shame for the British.


There are many articles on the battle online. Wikipedia is as usual excellent,3 and the extremely detailed (and at times harrowing) account by Maj. A.H. Amin is probably its source.4 The fine British Battles site includes many paintings of regimental uniforms and battle scenes.5 The historical account of the heroic role played by the 24th Foot at Chillianwala is at present not accessible through the Royal Welsh Regiment website6 - I am grateful to Richard Davies of the regimental museum for sending it to me.i The website detailing the history of the 29th Foot Regiment (now the Worcestershire Regiment) also gives a description of the battle.7 Two accounts by W. Stuart Sampson concentrate on the fate of Brig. John Pennycuick and his son Alick in the battle.8,ii An article by Lieut.-Gen. K.S. Randhawa, written in 2002, gives a flavour of the view from the Sikh standpoint.9 Finally, the notes on the battle by Col. James A.C. Pennycuick are exceptionally good.iii James was a grandson of Brigadier Pennycuick, and visited the battle site himself in 1954.

The Anglo-Sikh wars2

The Sikh kingdom of the Punjab (see map), straddling modern-day India and Pakistan, was ruled by Maharaja Ranjit Singh from 1801 to 1839. He maintained a policy of 'wary friendship' with the British, at the same time strengthening his army to deter any attempts at annexation. After his death, and following a struggle among his descendants, his third son Sher Singh became Maharaja in 1841, but he died two years later. The British took this opportunity to strengthen their forces in the border region, and the 1st Anglo-Sikh War of 1845-46 resulted in British annexation of the Punjab, amidst considerable resentment among the Sikh population.

The 2nd Anglo-Sikh War started in April 1848, when, in a dispute over succession, two political agents were murdered in the city of Multan, leading to a full-blown revolt led by the city's governor, Dewan Mulraj. The British besieged the city with a small force, later strengthened under Gen. Whish. He in turn had to wait for reinforcements, but after these arrived in December, the city and then the citadel were taken, thus freeing up Whish's heavy siege force to reinforce Gen. Gough's army (see below). Meanwhile, two prominent Sikh commanders had joined the rebellion: Sher Singh Attariwalla, originally on the government side at Multan, raised a large force and marched northwards on 9th October 1848 to the central Punjab, with the aim of meeting the army led by his father, Chattar Singh, the governor of the Hazara province in the foothills of the Himalayas. Sher Singh took up a position on the banks of the Chenab river, but his father was blocked by the British presence at Attock, a fort guarding the southern approaches of Hazara.

The approach

The central Punjab, known as the 'Land of the five waters',2 has rivers running southwestwards from the Himalayas, namely the Indus, Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi and Sutlej (see map ). The British began assembling their Army of the Punjab under commander-in-chief Gen. Gough in October 1848 in Ferozepore on the Sutlej, moving off on November 8th to meet Sher Singh's army which was camped on the north bank of the Chenab. Gough had just turned 59 - popular, courageous and irascible, with a preference for straightforward frontal attacks on the enemy. His army was about 13,000 strong, roughly half British and half 'native' (Indian) soldiers, with 66 guns.

By 21st November Gough had reached a point a south of Ramnagar on the Chenab, with most of his army. (The Governor-General of India, Lord Dalhousie, had forbidden Gough to cross the Chenab until the siege of Multan was over and Gen. Whish's force could strengthen Gough's.) Sher Singh's army was camped on the north bank, with a small detachment on the south bank. What followed the next day was eerily like a pre-run for Chillianwala: Gough attacked Singh's unit on the south bank, only to be bombarded by heavy Sikh artillery from the north, which he could not counter as his heavy artillery hadn't arrived yet. Gough's cavalry was effectively ambushed, as the small Sikh infantry force was also covered by Sikh cavalry.4 This Battle of Ramnagar cost the British 100 casualties including two senior officers killed, boosting Sikh morale.3

A similarly confused action took place a few days later at Sadullapur, when Gen. Thackwell was sent with a large force (a cavalry brigade, two infantry brigades including Pennycuick's 5th Brigade,8 and 32 guns) to cross the Chenab and attack the flank of Sher Singh's force on the north bank, while Gough's artillery bombarded them from the south. Delays in crossing the river, and a mix-up in dispatches, led to Thackwell's force and Gough's army being fired on by Sikh artillery, while the bulk of Singh's army moved off, without significant infantry engagement, northwards to Rasul.4

Gough finally crossed the river at Ramnagar on 18th December and established base camp at Helan, a few miles north of there. At about this time there was a hiatus, due possibly to renewed political attempts to prevent a conflict,ii but also to await the outcome of the siege of Multan. But by early January 1849, Chattar Singh had broken through the British blockade at Attock, and was proceeding southwards towards his son's force in the central Punjab, meaning Gough needed to engage with Sher Singh before the two Sikh armies could combine.3,5

Gough moved off again on 10th January, and on the 12th camped at Dinga.ii The next day the army advanced, through open country, with minimal reconnaissance, towards Rasul, where the Sikh army was known to be. Singh had in fact dug in his force in a long curve between the villages of Rasul and Mung, with the river at their backs (see map by John Fawkes, left). But on 12th January he decided to advance his line towards the jungle, which would force the British to attack head-on through difficult terrain. He also placed a gun outpost on the mound in the village of Chillianwala, to draw them in that direction.4

Gough's army, advancing towards Rasul on the morning of the 13th, were informed of the Sikh piquet at Chillianwala and diverted left to take it out. They halted just past the village and prepared to camp, while Gough himself went on a quick 'recce': he saw the Sikhs just the other side of the jungle, some 2,000 yards distant, and at about 2pm he decided to attack this new Sikh position the following day.4 But the Sikh artillery intervened, opening fire along their line, from some 30 guns which had been brought forward.7 (Artillery at that time had a range of about 300 yards for grapeshot and 800 yards for round-shot.4) Gough was forced to return artillery fire, and, faced with the choice of waiting out the night (too risky), retreating (inconceivable) or going into battle, he chose the latter - over unreconnoitred ground, with only a few hours of daylight left.

The battle

Gough spread out his army in a thin line about 4 miles long, with four brigades of infantry in the centre, flanked by cavalry brigades - see the map by John Fawkes (left).

1st Cavalry Div. (Thackwell) 1st Brig. (White) 3rd Light Dragoons, 2 native regts.

2nd Brig. (Pope) 9th Lancers, 14th Light Dragoons, 2 native regts.
2nd Infantry Div. (Gilbert) 3rd Brig. (Mountain) 29th Foot, 2 native regts.

4th Brig. (Godby) 2nd Bengal European Light Infantry
3rd Infantry Div. (Campbell) 5th Brig. (Pennycuick) 24th Foot, 2 native regts.

6th Brig. (Hoggan) 61st Foot, 3 native regts.

7th Brig. (Penny) reserves (3 native regts.)

The Sikh army was about 23,000 to 30,000 strong (but see also below), with some 60 guns, spread out over 6 to 7 miles, thus outflanking the British on both sides. Between them was a belt of scrub and jungle, with water pools and ravines, and then open ground between the jungle and the Sikh line. Given the terrain, communication along the line was nigh on impossible, so rather than try and coordinate his two brigades, Campbell joined Hoggan's troops on the left flank. Notoriously, Campbell ordered Pennycuick's brigade to advance without firing, all the work to be done with the bayonet.8,11 (See below for comments on this.) After an hour of artillery bombardment the order to advance was given at 3pm.5

In the middle of the line, Pennycuick's 5th Brigade advanced through the jungle towards a Sikh gun position, unaware that it was strongly held and that between them and it was a large pool of water. At first they made steady progress in spite of Sikh sniper fire and the difficulties of keeping order and direction, but once they were out in the open, the Sikh guns opened fire. The 24th Foot, a comparatively inexperienced regiment full of young soldiers,5 rushed forward, outpacing the two native regiments at its flanks as well as their own supporting artillery fire. Following Campbell's order to the letter, their muskets were unloaded.4 On reaching the guns they met with heavy resistance from Sikh infantry drawn up behind them. Some guns were spiked, but under the counter-attack the 24th were outmatched and forced to retreat. Countless officers and men in the centre of the line were killed or wounded in the charge, and the brigade was split in two. After a headlong retreat through the jungle, they regrouped, helped by Penny's reserve brigade which held off the Sikh pursuit.5 Brigadier John Pennycuick was fatally wounded just before reaching the Sikh battery, and was carried to the rear, before those carrying his body were forced to flee in their turn. Col. Brookes, standing in for Pennycuick as CO of the 24th, was also killed among the Sikh guns.

Elsewhere in the battle, Hoggan's brigade (including the 61st Foot), aided by massive artillery support,4 succeeded in pushing back the Sikh infantry line and getting behind the Sikh guns, capturing several of them before rolling up the Sikh infantry and meeting Mountain's brigade.5 In White's cavalry brigade, the 3rd Light Dragoons cut through the Sikh cavalry, then turned and charged back, removing the cavalry threat to the left flank.

On the right flank however, the cavalry of Brigadier Pope, in his day a brave and dashing officer but now rather long in the tooth,4 advanced tentatively through the scrub and engaged the Sikh cavalry. Faced with a fierce counter-attack, they were repulsed, Pope was wounded, and retreat turned into rout, with the 14th Light Dragoons showing particular lack of courage.4,5 This left the brigade horse artillery dangerously exposed, and the Sikhs were able to capture two of its guns.5 Godby's infantry brigade were also exposed on their right by the evaporation of Pope's cavalry, but in spite of this they were able to push through the Sikh infantry, almost to the river; then on being attacked from the rear, turned and attacked the counter-attackers, aided by strong artillery support.4 In Mountain's brigade, the 29th Foot managed to cover the gap left by the 24th, capturing a gun and successfully dispersing a Sikh cavalry force.7

As dark fell, amid scenes of great confusion on the battlefield, and worsened by a heavy downpour of rain, Gough ordered his demoralised troops to withdraw to the starting position. Many of the wounded were however left on the field, as were several captured Sikh guns, which the Sikhs later recaptured.3, iii The Sikhs took few prisoners, but killed many of the wounded where they lay,3,11,12 as the British later did at Gujrat.2


The immediate effects of the battle were clear. Two brigades had been forced to retreat, one with heavy losses (Pennycuick), and another (Pope) in ignominy. The 24th Foot lost their Queen's Colour (the Regimental Colours were lost but found the next dayii), as did the 29th Foot, who never again carried them into battle.7 The 24th suffered over 50 percent casualties, including the death of its two most senior officers, and Brig. Pope was fatally wounded and died a few months later.

The outcome of the battle was inconclusive, although both sides claimed victory. The British force was some 13,000 strong, and although by most estimates the Sikh army was between 23,000 and 30,000,4 some historians argue that on the day it was closer to 10,000.3 British casualties (i.e. dead and wounded) were 2,512 against the Sikhs' 4,000. The British were on paper much the stronger force and should have easily defeated the Sikhs; Sher Singh on the other hand, described by Maj. Amin as a brilliant military commander,4 fought an essentially defensive battle,iii and perhaps missed the opportunity to defeat the British outright.5

Gough's impulsive decision to do battle at once, rather than wait till the next day, has been much debated. While a night camp would have been uncomfortable, it may be that the Sikh rate of artillery fire would not have been maintained.8 There was also much discussion about the order by Campbell that the 24th should advance without firing their muskets. It seems there are situations when this is the correct procedure, as a letter from Major Smith in the National Army Museum makes clear.1,8 But Maj. Smith also reports that Campbell later "blamed himself for it".8

Alexander Pennycuick
'Chillianwala, January 13th 1849: The body of Pennycuick guarded by his son'

Watercolour by Walter Stanley Paget, from a book in possession of Stuart Sampson

The death of Brigadier John and Alexander Pennycuick

Brig. John Pennycuick and his son were both killed in the battle: the former in front of the Sikh guns after the 24th's heroic charge, the latter after he had come to find his father's body. For more details, including a letter from Major Smith of the 29th, see the page on Brig. John Pennycuick. See below for details of the tomb.

There are two depictions of this scene: one by a drawing master at the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich; the other a rather mawkish watercolour by Paget (1861-1935), which shows Alexander guarding his father's body with a sword. It probably bears little resemblance to the actual scene, but reflects the deep imprint left by the battle on British society. The illustration has acquired a certain notoriety and is printed in various books, including the volume of the Famous Regiments series dealing with the South Wales Borderers, by Jack Adams, and Victoria's Wars by Saul David. The two Pennycuicks are also mentioned in two poems written after the battle (see side note).

Remainder of the campaign

Later that month General Whish's army completed the siege of Multan and were able to march north to reinforce Gough's army, who having camped in Chillianwala for a month, heard that the Sikh army had moved on to Gujrat. The resulting combined British force easily defeated Sher Singh's army in an artillery battle there on 13th February, and Singh surrendered a few weeks later, bringing the war to an end. After this there was peace in the Punjab for over 100 years.


Chillianwala cast a long shadow over British army morale, forming the background to the Indian Rebellion of 1857. Gough was recalled from his post, but the news of this didn't reach him until after the battle of Gujrat. The quotation (above) from General Airey, while stark, should be taken into context: it was he who gave the order for the 'Charge of the Light Brigade' at the Battle of Balaclava. Chillianwala became known locally as Katal-garh ('house of slaughter').4,7


Chillianwala has several important memorials in India and Britain, as well as graves of the fallen. In London, a granite obelisk was erected in 1853 in the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea as a memorial to the fallen of the 24th Foot regiment (photos left). It was quite unusual for such a large, prominent monument to be dedicated to a single regiment. (I am grateful to John Rochester at the RHC for taking the time to show me the documentation about this.) Two cannons captured from the Sikhs are also at the Royal Hospital.

The battle site at Chillianwala itself (now in Pakistan) is described on various websites. 'The Victorian web' contains two articles, one describing the battlefield as it was in 1853,10 the other by Tim Willasey-Wilsey from 1996 describing the present topography,11 including photos and a map from 1900 drawn by Gen. Sir George MacMunn.i I'm extremely grateful to Prof. Wilsey for his support, and permission to use his photos here. Two 'geotagging' blogs, by Mohammed Imran Saeed and Tariq Amir, also describe the battlefield and the current site, with photos and maps.12,13 Supplementing these is a fascinating book published in 1910 listing the inscriptions on Christian tombs and monuments in the Punjab.14 Page 6 has a brief account of the battle, and pp. 111-118 give details of the memorials and graves on the battle site, together with a more detailed account of the battle.

The Chillianwala Memorial Site is a six-sided walled enclosure on the top of a small mound, slightly north of the village, containing two monuments, four long stone slabs and four tombs. At the corners are four large trees, clearly visible in the satellite photo (left). The four stone slabs are trench graves: it was here that the fallen British soldiers were buried, rather hurriedly, in the freezing January rain, after the battle.11 The graves were later smartened up (vaulted over with masonry),4,10 probably in 1853. Certain named soldiers are buried in the four tombs, including Brig. John and Alexander Pennycuick (see below).

In 1853 a sandstone obelisk was erected on the mound, clearly seen in a contemporary engraving (above left), with inscriptions in four languages commemorating the fallen.10 Then in 1871 a marble cross was put up next to it, on the initiative of the viceroy Lord Mayo. The base of this was inscribed with a list of the army corps engaged in the battle, and of the European officers who were killed or died of wounds.11 The names of John and Alexander Pennycuick are clearly visible (see the page on Brig. John Pennycuick for close-up photo).

Chillianwala Obelisk


Sandstone obelisk erected by Capt. Harley Maxwell in 1853
Chillianwala Cross


Marble cross erected by Viceroy Lord Mayo in 1871
Chillianwala Memorials


Obelisk and memorial cross at the Chillianwala battlefield

For most of the fallen of the 24th Foot, the work of carrying the bodies to the mound was so arduous and demoralising that it was decided to bury the men where they had fallen, mostly between the jungle and the Sikh guns.11 The graves for this regiment are thus set apart from the rest, in three cemeteries enclosed by low walls, marked by small black squares left of centre on MacMunn's map. They are now hard to find, overgrown and falling to ruin (see side note and photos, left), but work on restoring them has recently started, so as to prevent further deterioration.

John Pennycuick and his son Alexander were buried together, in one of the four tombs at the main Chillianwala Memorial Site. Sarah Pennycuick, the Brigadier's widow, travelled out to the battle site in about 1853 and had a gravestone erected here:ii,iii the inscription, mentioned in a letter in the National Army Museum,1 is as follows:14

Sacred to the memory of Brigadier J. Pennycuick, CB & KH, Lieut.-Col. in HM 24th Regiment, who entered the service as Ensign in 78th Regiment, fought in fifteen General Engagements, and after a service of forty-three years, fell at the head of his Brigade in the battle of Chillianwala, 13th of January 1849.

And of Alexander, his son, Ensign in HM 24th Regiment, who fell in the same Engagement while defending the body of his Father, aged 17 years.

Sarah Pennycuick, widow, has erected this tablet, over the remains of her husband and son.

Sarah also had a memorial tablet (shown left) erected in Holy Trinity Cathedral, Sialkot (built 1852-7), some 100 miles east of Chillianwala.14 A memorial tablet was also erected in Cheltenham Minster.