Battle of Khongjom
- Part 2 -

Ningthoukhongjam Khelchandra Singh *

The battle of Khongjom - RKCS Painting
The battle of Khongjom
Warning: These images CANNOT be reproduced in any form or size without written permission from the RKCS Gallery

Hearing the news of the advance of the British troops from three directions- North, West and East the Maharaja of Manipur send seven hundred sepoys under Maipaksana alias Lokendra Birjit Singh Wangkheirakpa 1 and Rudra Singh Yengkhoiba Major 2 to resist the advance of British Column from Tamu (Burma).

At this critical time the Maharaja appointed Subadar Paona Brajabasi and Chongtha Mia Singh* to the posts of Majors and four hundred sepoys under the two Majors were reinforced to oppose the British force from Burma (Tamu Column). The Manipuri forces under Wangkheirakpa and Yengkoiba Major made a strong stockade at Thoubal.

Learning that a strong British camp was at Pallel, orders were issued to Wangkhei Meiraba Poila to lead a party of Manipuri sepoys to proceed to Pallel via Kakching and to Majors Paona Brajabasi and Chongtha Mia Singh to proceeds to Pallel by the Burma Road.

From Pallel on the morning of 23rd April Major Leslie took out with him a party of 150 Gurkhas, the Mounted infantry of the 12th Burma, and arrived at Kakching at day light. When the Manipuri force under Wangkhei Meiraba Poila arrived at Kakching they were taken by surprised by the British troops under Major Leslie.

A hand-to-hand fighting took place there. In this encounter 20 Manipuris including Wangkhei Meiraba Poila died after fighting bravely against the outnumbered British army on 23rd April 1891 4 at Manao Ching of Kakching.

By this time the British troops (Tamu Column) occupied Pallel, Kakching and Langathel successively. As the reconnoitering party of the British force from Pallel (their headquarters) was seen moving the Manipuri troops under the two Major (Paona and Mia) could not proceed further. So the Manipuris encamped on the bank of the Khongjom Turel 1 on the west of the Indo-Burma Road.

The Manipuri fort, which was almost oval in shape about 50 yards long and 40 yards broad was built in an open plain about 200 yards to the west of the main road (Indo-Burma Road) by way of a morcha or mud work at Khongjom, 32 kilometers from Imphal. The earthwork was almost four feet high in all directions with a view to obstructing the immediate advance of the enemy.

A deep nullah about 12 feet deep and 12 to 15 feet wide containing three or four feet of water in it surrounded the east, south and west sides of the morcha. This nullah was entirely concealed by tall grass, and it could not be seen till one almost tumbled into it, more over, all round the fort and outside it were scattered a few trenches, in which were sharp, pangis covered with grass, for the enemy to tumble into.

Inside this wall there was a deep trench into which the Manipuri Soldiers took position. The whole of the centre of the fort was filled up with temporary shelters of bamboo and grass.

About 500 yards to the east of the main road a long low range of hill extended from south to north, from which low knoll ran out towards the mad an intervals. A strong 'picket of Manipuri troops was also posted on a hill to the east of the An road opposite the morcha or mudfort.

The Sect of the advance body of the British troops was to reconnoiter, and during the process they were able to elicit information from the side of the Manipuris. Whenever the British troops approached near the Manipuri Camp, they were fired upon by the Manipuris.

On the morning of 24th April 1891 Lieutenant Cox, with 34 Mounted Infantry of 12th (Burma) Madras infantry was sent out from Pallel, along the road towards the north to reconnoiter. At Khongjom AVON Cox dismounted some of his men and ascended a neighbouring knoll from which he spied out the disposition of the Manipuri troops. The Manipuris opened Are on that reconnoitering party of the enemy.

Having realised the possible gravity of the situation, the Majors at Khongjom-Paona and Chongtha Mia requested the Commander-in-charge of Manipuri force at Thoubal for immediate supply of pounders of high caliber. Non-complience of three consecutive repels made the majors at Khongjom to fight against the British troops without adequate weapons when Compared to the guns of the British.

Having learnt the nature of the position on 24th April 1891 Sir Charles Leslie, Officer Commanding of the advance body of the British troops at Pallel applied to the General Officer Commanding while the main body of the Tamu Column was at Tinghaphul, on their way to Pallel for permission to attack the Manipuri position at once; but he was instructed to postpone the attack till the arrival of the 60th Kings Royal Rifles, who were expected in Pallel on the morning of the 25th April with the General.

However, a party was directed to be sent out to make a careful reconnaissance of the Manipuri position early on the morning of the 25th April, and to select the best position for the guns.

The fatal morning of 25th April was to witness how valiantly the Manipuri force which was benefit of high Caliber pounders, was to fight against the outnumbered British force which was well equipped with adequate guns etc. On that day, at day break, a party consisting of 50 rifles of 2-4th Gurkhas under Captain Drury and 50 rifles of the 12th (Burma) Madras Infantry under Lieutenant Grant and 35 Mounted Infantry of the 12th (Burma) Madras Infantry under Lieutenant Cox marched up the Thoubal Road.

The Mounted Infantry made a detour off the road and got to the left or west of the Manipuri position while the Infantry got round the hills to the right or east of the Manipuri position.

Captain Drury who commanded the reconnaissance party reported to the Officer Commanding at Pallel that he had surrounded the Manipuri force and asked for more troops and guns along with the permission to attack the Manipuri position. General Graham with his staff had in the mean time arrived at Pallel.

Thinking that the force under Captain Drury was not strong enough for the purpose, ordered out another 200 rifles of 2-4th Gurkhas with Captains Rundall and Carnegy and 2 guns of No. 2 Mountain Battery under Lieutenant Persse to reinforce Captain Drury's party and attack the Manipuri fort. The whole British force at Khongjom was under the Commander of Captain Rundall of 2-4th Gurkha Regiment.

To be continued ...

o Browse picture gallery on Khongjom day observation on 23rd April 2009 - Part 1 | Part 2

N. Khelchandra Singh

* Oja Ningthoukhongjam Khelchandra Singh is a Padmashri (Literature) recipient. This article is reproduced & reprinted from the Manipur Today special issue Vol. XV No. 2 and was published by DIPR Manipur on the eve of Khongjom day 2009. This article was webcasted on July 09, 2009.

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