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Kunwar Singh

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December 31, 1856
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Mirza Firuz Shah
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People
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Bahadur Shah II 1837–1857

Kunwar Singh

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A man of great qualities, respected as much by his enemies as by his friends and followers. A few more men like him and the British would not have survived the 'mutiny' of 1857-9. Because his estate was at Jagdishpur in Bihar, Babu Kunwar Singh is often thought only to have operated against the British in that area. This is not so, he joined the main body of rebels, and, despite his age, was indefatigable in covering great distances. He was for example in active cooperation with Tatya Tope at Cawnpore [Kanpur]: 'Previous to the arrival of the Gwalior mutineers at Jalaun, Kooer Singh of Jugdespore, and the 40th Native Infantry, came to Calpee via Banda on 19 October (1857).


They had communication with the Gwalior mutineers, and on 3 November came in and coalesced with Kooer Singh and the 40th Native Infantry, and marched to attack Cawnpore a short time after.' And of course they there won the first battle (against General Windham) and caused Colin Campbell to hurry back from Lucknow to save Cawnpore [Kanpur] from being overrun 'fine old Rajput noble and a gallant and respected gentleman, unwillingly drawn into the enemy's camp.' It is unfortunate that details of rebel successes are rarely available: government reports and dispatches did not omit references to such reverses, but did not go into detail. Thus: 'In this battle (Atraulia, March 1858) the head of the rebels was Kunwar Singh with his 5 or 6 thousand men. The Government troops by chance lost the battle and came to Koelsa. Kunwar Singh pursued and followed them! None the less the British were generous in their praise for the old man 'Indeed they (the rebels under Kunwar Singh) would have affected the passage (of the Ganges) without any suffering, but for the timely presence of the 'Megna' gunboat, whose well-directed guns caused no small loss among the fugitives, and above all inflicted on Koour Singh that wound which speedily rid us of the only foeman worthy of our steel, and deprived the enemy of the only leader who has displayed throughout the rebellion either skill or courage'. Praise and respect for Kunwar Singh were mixed with a guilty conscience at the way the Government had treated him (cf the case of the Rani of Jhansi).


A British sergeant gives some detail on Kunwar Singh's death.' Served in the final conquest of Lucknow and Oude, was present at the death of Hodson. Was at the Martiniere. 28 March 1858 ordered to relieve the 37th Regt, besieged for some months at Azimgarh. Reached there 15 April. Ordered to fire into the town for three hours and drove the enemy out.' His troop and the cavalry were ordered to pursue them and 'we followed them for four or five miles before we came up with them. We fired on them with grape and the cavalry charged them, but they fought well, always forming square when they saw the cavalry coming. So the Horse Artillery had to gallop to the front and ply them with grapeshot. Running fight in this manner for six miles, taking three guns, a great many elephants and camels, all their baggage and that of the 37th Regt which the enemy had captured from them about two months before. At 2 am on 17 April with the cavalry and Horse Artillery in front we advanced cautiously for a few miles, until we came to a village that had been occupied by the enemy, 5,000 strong, with 6 guns, under the command of a rajah (Kunwar Singh). 


Villagers told our general that the enemy had left there a few hours before, and pointed out the road they had taken. Sudden 'salute' of musketry from ambush in a clump of trees. Action front fired canister at sepoys only 200 yds away, mowed them down but they tried to turn our flank. No infantiy to support us so General gave command to limber up and retire, or the sepoys would certainly have taken our guns. We followed the enemy every day until 20 April when we had another engagement with them at a place called Mannuhur, capturing four small guns. On 21st we came up with them again at a place called Sheopore Ghat, on the banks of the Ganges where they were crossing in boats. We sank one boat in the middle of the river, drowning a great many, and we continued to fire shells among them as long as they continued in sight. It was singular that the last shell we fired wounded their chief (Kunwar Singh), of which hurt he died two days afterwards.. ' See Chambers Journal No 20, 1930. KUNWAR SINGH, Death of It has always been assumed that Kunwar Singh was in a boat, crossing the Ganges, when he was wounded by artillery fire. But there is another suggestion. The unpublished manuscript report of a certain Major Edward Michell, contains the following statement: ..'we overtook them in the act of crossing the Ganges. Our fire caused them a considerable loss, among the rest being that of Koor Sing himself, who received a wound from a shrapnel shell as he was crossing on his elephant, of which he ultimately died.' From the Report to his Artillery superiors of Captain and Brevet Major J.E.Michell, R.A.,dated Soraon 20th July 1858, in archive collection MD/147 in the Royal Artillery Institution at Woolwich, S.E. Lon don.


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Ismail Mazari

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Very good information.

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