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Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 53.djvu/112

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1857, to proceed with five hundred men by forced marches to Mirat, he took his men, at Baird Smith's suggestion, by the canal, and was thus enabled to reach Mirat on the 15th in a perfectly fresh condition. Unfortunately they mutinied the next day, and Fraser was killed. Baird Smith meanwhile was assisting in defensive measures for Rurki; the workshops were converted into a citadel, in which the women and children were accommodated, while the two companies of sappers and miners left at Rurki were placed in the Thomason College buildings. It was known that the Sirmur battalion under Major Reid was coming to Rurki from Dhera on its way to Mirat, and fearing that the Rurki sappers would imagine their arrival to be a hostile demonstration against them, Baird Smith sent word to Reid to march straight to the canal and embark in boats, which he had ready for him, without entering Rurki. Baird Smith's foresight and prompt action on this occasion were generally considered to have saved Rurki and the lives of the women and children there. Always hopeful, on 30 May Baird Smith wrote to a friend in England: ‘As to the empire, it will be all the stronger after this storm, and I have never had a moment's fear for it … and though we small fragments of the great machine may fall at our posts, there is that vitality in the English people that will bound stronger against misfortunes and build up the damaged fabric anew.’

In the last week of June Baird Smith was ordered to Delhi to take up the duties of chief engineer. He improvised a body of six hundred pioneers to follow him, and, being pressed to hasten his arrival so as to take part in the assault, started on the 27th, and reached Delhi at 3 A.M. on 3 July to find that the assault had been, as usual, postponed. He had already an intimate knowledge of the city, and he at once examined the means of attack. He found both artillery and ammunition and also the engineer party quite inadequate for a regular and successful siege, and urged ineffectually upon the general commanding, as had already been done by others, an immediate assault by storming and blowing in certain gates. Baird Smith considered that if the place had been assaulted at any time between 4 and 14 July it would have been carried. On the 5th Sir Henry William Barnard [q. v.], dying of cholera, was succeeded in the command by Major-general Reed, who was at the time ill. Reed would not take the risk of an assault, and before he resigned on 17 July two severe actions had been fought and had so weakened the British that the chances of a successful assault had been much diminished, if not altogether destroyed. Baird Smith, however, sedulously attended to the defence of the Ridge, strengthening the position by every possible means.

Since the beginning of the month a retrograde movement had been discussed, and when Brigadier-general (afterwards Sir) Archdale Wilson [q. v.] assumed command on 17 July it required all Baird Smith's energy and enthusiasm to sweep away Wilson's doubts, and to persuade him, as he wrote to him, ‘to hold on like grim death until the place is ours.’ At the same time Baird Smith assured him that as soon as a siege-train of sufficient magnitude and weight to silence the guns on the walls of Delhi could be brought up, success would be certain. On 12 Aug. Baird Smith, who was in bad health, was struck by the splinter of a shell in the ankle-joint, but he did not allow either the wound or his sickness to interfere with his duties as chief engineer.

The siege train arrived on 5 Sept., and in consultation with Captain (afterwards Sir) Alexander Taylor, his second in command, Baird Smith submitted a plan of attack which General Wilson, despite his divergence from Smith's views, had already directed him to prepare. It was supported by Colonel John Nicholson and Neville Chamberlain, the adjutant-general, and the assault was decided upon. Wilson recorded that he yielded to the judgment of his chief engineer. Thus a heavy responsibility fell upon Baird Smith.

The first siege battery for ten guns was commenced on the night of 7 Sept.; others rapidly followed, until fifty-six guns opened fire. The attacking force completed its work triumphantly. After a heavy bombardment practicable breaches were made, and the assault took place on 14 Sept. A lodgment was made, but at heavy loss, and the progress inside Delhi was so slow and difficult that Wilson thought it might be necessary to withdraw to the Ridge, but Baird Smith asserted ‘We must retain the ground we have won.’ He deprecated street fighting, and by his advice the open ground inside the Kashmir gate was secured, the college, magazine, and other strong forts gained, and progress gradually made, under cover, till the rear of the enemy's positions was reached, and the enemy compelled to evacuate them on the 20th, when headquarters were established in the palace.

Baird Smith had been ably seconded in all his exertions by Captain Alexander Taylor, and he expressed his obligations in no stinted terms. The picture, however, which is sometimes presented of Baird Smith disabled, and in the background, while his