Punjab, Pakistan (1849 AD)
The Battles of Chilianwala and Gujrat were arguably the most important engagements of the Anglo-Sikh Wars in what is now Northern India and Pakistan. Of all the peoples of India, the Sikhs, thanks in large part to geography, put up the fiercest resistance to British colonial rule on the Subcontinent. In the first battle, the Sikhs fought the British to a draw, which was hailed by default as a Sikh victory. Unfortunately, this only caused the British to fall back, regroup, and attack even more ferociously a short time later. Although the Battle of Gujrat was a dark event in Pakistani history, the Battle of Chilianwala is well remembered as a local triumph over the European powers.
Throughout the 18th and early 19th centuries, the British Empire, under the auspices of the British East India Company, steadily acquired territories in India until most of the Subcontinent consisted of colonial possessions. The last frontier to hold out was the mountainous north, far from the sea, where the fierce tribes of Central Asia kept the Europeans at bay. However, by the 1840s, the British had reached the Punjab region, and a showdown between the Europeans and Sikhs of the region became inevitable.
War broke out, and taking advantage of internal divisions, the British acquired valuable territory in northern India, though due to fierce resistance fell short of acquiring the entire region. There was a brief peace, followed by a resumption of hostilities in 1848. A rebellion broke out under the Sikh leader Sher Singh, who organized a large force to drive the British out. The East India Company responded by sending in a mixed force of regulars and local irregulars.
Although the British were outnumbered almost three to one, their superior training and weaponry leveled the battlefield. The two armies met in January 1849 at Chilianwali, and fought a fierce day-long battle which ended in heavy casualties for both sides but was otherwise considered a tactical draw. Shocked by what they considered a setback, the British gathered fresh forces, and moved against Sher Singh with greater determination.
The two armies met again, this time at Gujrat. This time the British had a force nearly twice as large, while the Sikh army, not fully recovered from Chilianwali, was smaller. With the two armies roughly equal in size, the superior British arms won the day. Interestling, although the Sikhs were forced to cede the field, in an extremely rare historic occurrence the victors actually took heavier casualties. Although Sikh resistance continued for years, the Punjab was officially lost and annexed by the British a few weeks later.
Both the Battle of Chilianwala and the Battle of Gujrat were fought in areas that have since been absorbed into developed urban areas. However, both engagements are locally commemorated. In Chilianwala there is an obelisk monument established to honor the fallen of both sides. Because it was a loss, Gujrat is not as well remembered, though some of the locations of the battle are marked.
The two battlefields are located approximately 25 miles apart from each other in the state of Punjab, approximately ninety miles southeast of Islamabad. All relavent battle destinations are open sites, and there is no charge for admission. Web: www.tdcp.gop.pk (official tourism website of Punjab).
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