The loss of armour at Aliwal put the Durbar army on the defensive. Its generals were uncertain where the enemy,would cross the Sutlej and so they split their forces. To check the enemy advance on Lahore, the larger portion of the army was entrenched in a horse-shoe curve of the Sutlej near village Sabraon; this was under the command of the traitor, Tej Singh. The other traitor, Lai Singh, posted himself a little higher up the river ostensibly to prevent an attack on Amritsar.

Punjabi entrenchments at Sabraon were on the left bank of the Sutlej with a pontoon bridge connecting them with their base camp. Their big guns were placed behind high embankments and consequently immobilised for offensive action. The infantry was also posted behind earthworks and could not, therefore, be deployed to harass the enemy.

Gough and Hardinge decided to make a frontal assault on Sabraon and destroy the Durbar army at one blow. This was undoubtedly planned with confidence that the Sikh commanders were on their side.

On February 7, it began to rain. For the next two days the downpour continued unabated, and the Sutlej rose more than seven inches, making all fords quite unfordable; only one rickety pontoon bridge connected the army encamped on the left bank with its base. Gough was quick to seize the opportunity. As soon as the rain stopped, he marched out of Ferozepur and, under cover of darkness, took his position at Sabraon.

On the morning of February 10, a heavy mist spread from the river over the rain-sodden fields, enveloping both contending armies. When the sun broke through the mist, the Punjabis found themselves encircled between two horse-shoes: facing them were the British and behind them was the Sutlej now in spate. After a preliminary artillery duel, British cavalry made a feint to check on the exact, location of Punjabi guns. The cannonade was resumed, and in two hours British guns put the Durbar artillery out of action. Then the British charged Punjabi entrenchments from three sides.

Tej Singh fled across the pontoon bridge and had it destroyed. But most of the other generals stayed to fight. The most famous of them was General Sham Singh Attariwala, who rallied the Punjabis in a last desperate stand against the enemy. Those who tried to escape were drowned in the swirling waters of the Sutlej. Nearly 10,000 Lahore empire army lost their lives in the action. All their guns were either captured or abandoned in the river. It was a complete and crushing defeat.

Lord Gough described Sabraon as the Waterloo of India. He paid tribute to the Punjabis: “Policy precluded me publicly recording my sentiments on the splendid gallantry of our fallen foe, or to record the acts of heroism displayed, not only individually, but almost collectively, by the Sikh sardars and the army; and I declare were it not from a deep conviction that my country’s good required the sacrifice, I could have wept to have witnessed the fearful slaughter of so devoted a body of men.The attitude of the people of Malwa during the conflict between their trans-Sutlej brethren and the British deserves attention. Of the innumerable Sikh Jat chiefs of this region, only four — Patiala, Jind, Faridkot, and Chachrauli (Kalsia)— gave unstinted support to the enemy; others either stayed on the fence or expressed sympathy with the Durbar.Of the two Muslim chiefs, Malerkotla sided with the British; Mamdot, despite the offer of confirmation of his estates, allowed his brother to lead his contingent against the British at Ferozeshahr.The attitude of the common people was uniformly hostile to the feringhee. Peasants refused to sell grain or fodder to the British army.

On the termination of the Sutlej campaign, the British government confiscated some other Jatsikh States like Rupar, Ladwa, and Kapurthala ruler, took a quarter of Nabha territory and distributed it among the collaborating Jatchiefs. The MalwaJagirdars were deprived of judicial powers and left only with the right to collect revenue.


  • A History Of The Sikhs, Vol. 2: 1839-1964
  • Smith, Sir Harry. ‘’The Autobiography of Lieutenant-General Sir Harry Smith Baronet of Aliwal on the Sutlej.’’ Publisher: JOHN MURRAY, ALBEMARLE STREET 1903
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