At Delhi, the nominal and symbolic; leadership belonged to the Emperor Bahadur Shah, but the real command lay with a Court of Soldiers headed by General Bakht Khan who had led the revolt of the Bareilly troops and brought them to Delhi.
In the British army, Bakht Khan was an ordinary subedar of artillery.
Bakht Khan represented the popular and plebian element at the headquarters of the Revolt.
After the British occupation of Delhi in September 1857, Bakht Khan went to Lucknow and continued to fight the British till he died in a battle on 13 May 1859.
The Emperor Bahadur Shah was perhaps the weakest link in the chain of leadership of the Revolt.
At Kanpur, the Revolt was led by Nana Sahib, the adopted son of Baji Rao II, the last Peshwa.
Nana Sahib expelled the English from Kanpur with the help of the sepoysand proclaimed himself the Peshwa. At the same time, he acknowledged Bahadur Shah as the Emperor of India and declared himself to be his Governor.
The chief burden of fighting on behalf of Nana Sahib fell on the shoulders of Tantia Tope, one of his most loyal servants.
Tantia Tope has won immortal fame by his patriotism, determined fighting, and skillful guerrilla operations.
Azimullah was another loyal servant of Nana Sahib. He was an expert in political propaganda.
Unfortunately, Nana Sahib tarnished his (Azimullah’s) brave record by deceitfully killing the garrison at Kanpur after he had agreed to give them safe conduct.
The revolt at Lucknow was led by the Begum of Avadh who had proclaimed her young son, Birjis Kadr, as the Nawab of Avadh.
One of the great leaders of the Revolt of 1857 and perhaps one of the greatest heroines of Indian history, was the young Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi.
The young Rani joined the rebels when the British refused to acknowledge her right to adopt an heir to the Jhansi gaddi (throne) annexed her state, and threatened to treat her as an instigator of the rebellion of the sepoys at Jhansi.
Rani captured Gwalior with the help of Tantia Tope and her trusted Afghan guards.
Maharaja Sindhia, loyal to the British, made an attempt to fight the Rani but most of his troops deserted to her.
The brave Rani died fighting on 17 June 1858.
Kunwar Singh, a ruined and discontented zamindar of Jagdishpur near Arrah, was the chief organizer of the Revolt in Bihar.
Though nearly 80 years old, Kunwar Singh was perhaps the most outstanding military leader and strategist of the Revolt.
Kunwar Singh fought with the British in Bihar, and, later joined hands with Nana Sahib’s forces; he also campaigned in Avadh and Central India.
Racing back home, Kunwar Singh treated the British forts near Arrah. But this proved to be his last battle. He had sustained a fatal wound in the fighting. He died on 27 April 1858 in his ancestral house in the village of Jagdishpur.
Maulavi Ahmadullah of Faizabad was another outstanding leader of the Revolt. He was a native of Madras where he had started preaching armed rebellion.
In January 1857, Maulavi Ahmadullah moved towards the North to Faizabad where he fought a largescale battle against a company of British troops sent to stop him from preaching sedition.
When the general Revolt broke out in May, Maulavi Ahmadullah emerged as one of its acknowledged leaders in Avadh. After the defeat at Lucknow, he led the rebellion in Rohilkhand where he was treacherously killed by the Raja of Puwain who was received Rs 50,000 as a reward by the British.