Two major attacks by Jañtia rebels on the British troops
By H H Mohrmen
(Series to mark the 160th Death Anniversary of u Kiang Nangbah)
In the entire Jañtia rebellion there were two major attacks made by the rebels which had a huge impact on the British troops. The attack was recorded by the respective commanding officers of the party that was assaulted by the rebels. The attack launched at two strategically important locations had a significant impact on the military operations of the British government in the region. The rebels made the first attack on November 30 in the Langkyrding area and the second attack was in what is now known as the War Jañtia area in between Amwai poonjee/Thangbuli and Jaintiapur.
The rebels under the leadership of u Kiang Nangbah knew that the British troops were approaching the Jañtia hills from the plains at least from two directions and had prepared a plan to attack the soldiers. The first attack was not a common tale that people would narrate, but the attack in the War Jañtia area was a story that the people would share with pride that was visible in their demeanour.
The attack happened when Lieutenant F. Henderson who arrived at Teriaghat, located at the foothills of the region took charge of the post of commanding the detachment of Kamroop Regiment. Lieutenant F. Henderson, who commanded the detachment of Kamroop regiment, in his letter to Major J.C. Haughton, Commissioner Assam, Coosyah and Jynteah hills, Cheera Poonjee No. 5, dated Teriaghat the 1st of December 1862 reported of his arrival at his post on the evening of November 27 with fifty men under his command.
In the letter he also reported that on November 30, the Jamadar who was then commanding the detachment of Kamroop regiment in the area, moved with the party of thirty people to the direction of the stockade, located at Lenkadine/Langkyrding. On reaching the distance of five or six miles from the post, the troop was taken by surprise as they were attacked by the rebels. The rebels who had positioned themselves made a surprise attack on the British forces from different directions.
It was reported by the Jamadar that the rebels opened fire on his party with arrows, stones, and with very few muskets. The British troops launched a counter-attack after which a large number of rebels immediately took flight in different directions but mainly in the direction of the stockade. While the majority of rebels fled to the stockade, a considerable number continued to harass the British party leaving three dead and about six members of their party wounded.
This incident occurred on a late winter evening when it turns dark very early so they did not consider it prudent to follow the rebels on their trail. The troops also abandoned the pursuit because of the comparatively small numbers of men they had with them. They returned to Terriaghat that same evening without anybody being wounded. The Jamadar estimated that the number of rebels who attacked them would not have been less than five hundred. This was further corroborated by his party and the villagers of Bor Poonjee who came to report the incident and seemed to be very well informed.
On December 28 morning Henderson dispatched a force to the outpost of Bor Poonjee and Lokhat/Lynkhat. It was a detachment of a good strength and this was in compliance with the instructions of Captain Morton, Deputy Commissioner Jynteah hills. Henderson had also received information of their safe arrival at the location. On November 29, Henderson proceeded along the hills with his party between Bor Poonjee and Lokhat/Lyngkhat – a distance of about six miles. In the morning the lieutenant was with his party in Panduah/Pandua and the nearby areas but on no occasion did he have an encounter with the rebels. He was of the opinion that the rebels had temporarily left the area except for a good number of them who were still posted in the Langkyrding area where the stockade was located and the area was beyond Bor Poonjee.
There are two interesting points to note here. First the area where the stockade was located and the attack that happened was beyond what is now known as Jañtia hills. Did the Jañtia kingdom then extend to this region? This question needs more inquiry. The second point to be noted is the British strategy to counter the rebellion. When the battle lines were drawn, the government had planned to move troops toward the hills from three different directions. One section of the force moved from Sylhet via Jañtiapur, another from Guwahati via Mairang and the third section of the force moved from Cachar towards the hills. The most effective trick employed by the British was to contain the rebels within the hills area of Jañtia by placing outposts at the foothills of the Khasi -Jañtia border – an area frequented by the people.
The second major attack made by the rebels on the body of a big British troop happened in the War Jañtia area in between Amwai Poonjee (most probably Thangbuli) and Jañtiapur. This incident was recorded in the letter from Col H.F. Dunsford Commanding Jañtia Field force to Capt E.K.O. Gilbert, Assistant Adjutant-General Presidency division – (No. 28, dated the 26 December 1862).
In the letter submitted to Brigadier General Showers commanding officer of the division, Dunsford informed that he was forwarding the letter in original No. 400 dated 24 December from Major Thelwall commanding Regiment of Punjab Native Infantry in which he reported the incident when the soldiers were attacked by the rebels. According to oral narratives the attack was said to occur in Syndai area in a location between Amwai Poonjee and Jaintiapur. The army convoy attacked by the rebels comprises 34 rank and file of the regiment and 350 coolies. The place where the attack happened was about eight miles below Amwai poonjee and the commanding officer inferred that it appeared that the rebels were now concentrated in the south of the hills region. The reason is because most of the encounters that the British had with the rebels happened in the area.
Major W. Thelwal, commander 21st Regiment, Punjab Native Infantry in his report to Dunsford informed that the strength of the army he commanded during the attack was 2 Havildars, 2 Naiks and 30 sepoys. The party also included 156 government coolies and it was also accompanied by a large number of villagers carrying provisions for the regiment. The total number in the convoy was 350. In the letter Thelwal also narrated the incident of how the convoy was attacked by the Jañtia rebels.
While they were climbing the steep hills and reached half way up the precipitous drop, the envoy was attacked by a body of Jañtia rebels on December 23. It was reported that the attack happened at the narrowest and the most difficult part in the climb which was also very steep. The precipitous path was also surrounded by thick forests on both sides. As the sepoys and the coolies entered the area, they were attacked by volleys of arrows, stones and even musket shots. The moment the sepoys were attacked they were in shock and fear the line was immediately halted until they gradually recoup and resisted the attack. The rebels could only put up some resistance but were driven off with a loss six or seven men and many wounded.
A sepoy was killed by one of the few muskets that were shot at them and two others were wounded by arrows. The sepoy who died was shot through the head and died on the spot. And before the party could come to his assistance the rebels who were hiding in the jungles very close to where the firing happened, took away his muskets and the ammunition in his possession. Several coolies were also wounded by arrows and stones were hurled at them in the attack and one who was shot through the lungs died the next morning. The troops estimated that more than six rebels were killed and they confiscated bows, arrows and swords which belonged to the deceased rebels.
The two incidents not only bear witness to the strength of the Jañtia rebels but more importantly it brought to light the tactics used by the rebels to fight the British force. The rebels were also able to gather strategically important information and tactically attacked the British force at very difficult stretches of their journey.