The siege of Delhi, 1857

A brief first hand account of the effects of war on a man, by the man who ordered the siege of Delhi; also known as the First War of Indian Independence (which the Indians did not win, by the way)

Captain William Hodsons captures King Bahadur Shah II of Delhi, Print by R. M. Martin

Captain William Hodsons captures King Bahadur Shah II of Delhi, Print by R. M. Martin

“My poor wife had some reason to think that war and disease between them had left very little of a husband to take under nursing when she got him again. . . .  I was marvelously unlovely to look upon. . . . A smart knock on the ankle-joint . . . a shell that burst in my face . . . I hadn’t broken my arm at the elbow, it turned out to be only a very severe sprain . . . and a constant diarrhea. I consumed as much opium as would have done credit to my father-in-law. We were sadly scourged by the cholera and it was almost appalling to me to find that out of twenty-seven officers present, I could only muster fifteen for the operations of the attack. Don’t be horrified when I tell you that for the whole of the actual siege, and in truth for some little time before, I almost lived on brandy . . . the strongest stimulant I could get. Strange to say, I was quite unconscious of its affecting me in the slightest degree. The excitement of the work was so great that no lesser one seemed to have any chance against it, and I certainly never found my intellect clearer or my nerves stronger in my life. It was only my wretched body that was weak, and the moment the real work was done by our becoming complete masters of Delhi, I broke down without delay and discovered that if I wished to live I must continue no longer the system that had kept me up until the crisis was past.”

– Colonel Richard Baird-Smith. Chief engineer in charge of the siege works