Battle of Sobraon: Background, Events & More

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Battle of Sobraon

The Battle of Sobraon, also called the Battle of Sobrahan was fought on the 10th of February, 1846. It took place between the British army and the Sikh Khalsa forces,  which was the army of the Sikh Empire of Punjab. The battle was an end to the First Anglo-Sikh War when the British army had a decisive win against the Sikh Khalsa army.  The First Anglo-Sikh War in 1845 was due to the deteriorating situation in the Sikh empire after the demise of Ranjit Singh in the year 1839, along with provocations by the British East India Company

The British won the first two major battles of the Anglo-Sikh War, partly due to luck and the steadfastness of their units, as well as questionable conduct by Tej Singh and Lal Singh of the Sikh Army’s commanders. Sir Henry Hardinge, Governor General on the British side, was disappointed with the different strategies of the Bengal Army’s commander-in-chief, Sir Hugh Gough, and sought to have him replaced, but no suitable replacement could be found for several months. The army’s morale improved after Sir Harry Smith’s victory at the Battle of Aliwal, and reinforcements, including heavy artillery and Gurkha battalions had soon arrived.

Background of the Battle of Sobraon

The commencement of the First Anglo-Sikh War in 1845 was started by the crossing of the River Sutlej by the Khalsa army, which however, then attacked British positions. This conflict involved a series of numerous battles between the Khalsa army and the British Indian Army, which was primarily composed of the units of the East India Company’s Bengal army.

  • The battles took place at Mudki, Ferozeshah, Baddowal, and Aliwal before the one at Sobraon. The British emerged victorious in all the battles except the indecisive one at Baddowal. However, the British victory was hard-earned due to the strength and aggressiveness of the Khalsa army.
  • The Khalsa army possessed exceptional infantry units that had been trained in European military tactics under the leadership of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. After his death in 1839, there were mismanagement issues in the army. Nonetheless, even their enemies acknowledged the bravery and combat skills of the Khalsa army.
  • The Sikhs had faced a setback after the Battle of Ferozeshah and had withdrawn most of their forces across the Sutlej River. 
  • Jind Kaur, the Regent, who was ruling on behalf of her son Maharaja Duleep Singh, also accused 500 officers of treacherous activities and showed her displeasure by flinging one of her garments at them.
  • The Khalsa forces had received reinforcements from districts west of Lahore and had fortified their position at Sobraon after crossing the Sutlej River. The presence of the esteemed leader Sham Singh Attariwala had boosted their morale. 
  • However, the overall direction of the Sikh armies was still under the command of Lal Singh and Tej Singh. Their position at Sobraon was connected to the west bank of the river by a single vulnerable pontoon bridge, which was at risk of being carried away with the water due to three days of continuous rain before the battle which caused the river to swell.

Also Read – Battle Of Porto Novo: Background, Outcome & More

Event of the Battle

Sir Haugh Gough originally planned to engage the Sikh army once Smith’s division returned from Ludhiana. However, under pressure from Hardinge, he had to wait for the heavy artillery train to arrive. 

  • Finally, in the early morning of February 10th, he marched. The battle’s commencement was delayed due to dense fog, but as it cleared, 35 British heavy guns and howitzers initiated the attack. 
  • The Sikh artillery returned fire and the bombardment continued for two hours with little impact on the Sikh defences. Upon learning that his heavy guns were running low on ammunition, Gough reportedly remarked, “Thank goodness! Then I will confront them with the bayonet.”
  • During the day of the battle, the British forces targeted the most vulnerable area of the Sikh defence. 
  • It is also alleged that Lal Singh had provided this important information to the British side. 
Credit – Lucknow University

  • After the intense battle and the cessation of firing, the Sikhs lost approximately 10000 men and 67 of their guns, while the British had around 230 casualties.
  • Engineers created a breach in the fortifications, allowing British cavalry and horse artillery to engage the Sikhs in the centre of their position.
  • The collapse of the pontoon bridge trapped a large portion of the Sikh army on the east bank, which led to a fierce battle resulting in many Sikh soldiers fighting to the death.
  • The British accounts and Sikh accounts differ in their explanations of how the bridge collapsed, but the result was that thousands of Sikh soldiers were lost in the battle.

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Outcome of the Battle

On the evening of 13 February, after the Battle of Sobraon, the British forces swiftly crossed the river and marched towards the capital city of Lahore which was only 48km away. The remaining Sikh forces were unable to regroup quickly enough to defend the city.

  • The Punjab’s central durbar selected Gulab Singh as the effective ruler of Jammu, to negotiate the terms of surrender. 
  • As per the Treaty of Lahore, the Sikhs agreed to cede the valuable agricultural lands of the Bist Doab (Jullundur Doab) (between the Beas River and Sutlej River) to the East India Company and permitted a British Residency at Lahore with subordinates in other important cities.
  • The governance of Punjab would be indirectly managed by these Residents and Agents through Sikh Sardars. 
  • Additionally, the Sikhs were required to pay an indemnity of 1.2 million pounds. As they were unable to immediately produce this sum, Gulab Singh was permitted to obtain Kashmir from the Punjab by paying 750,000 pounds to the East India Company.

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