Saturday, 3 July 2010

Battle of Assaye

From August 1803, Wellesley's army and a separate force under the command of his subordinate Colonel James Stevenson had been pursuing the Maratha cavalry-based army which threatened to raid south into Hyderabad. After several weeks of pursuit and countermarching, Scindia reinforced the combined Maratha army with his Europeanised infantry and artillery as the British forces closed in on his position.Wellesley received intelligence indicating the location of the Maratha encampment on 21 September and devised a plan whereby his two armies would converge on the Maratha position three days later. Wellesley's force, however, encountered the Maratha army – which was under the command of Colonel Anthony Pohlmann – 6 miles (9.7 km) farther south than he anticipated. Although outnumbered, Wellesley resolved to attack at once, believing that the Maratha army would soon move off. Both sides suffered heavily in the ensuing battle; Maratha artillery caused large numbers of casualties among Wellesley's troops but the vast numbers of Maratha cavalry proved largely ineffective. A combination of bayonet and cavalry charges eventually forced the Maratha army to retreat with the loss of most of their guns, but Wellesley's army was too battered and exhausted to pursue.

Wellesley's victory at Assaye, preceded by the capture of Ahmednagar and followed by victories at Argaon and Gawilghur, resulted in the defeat of Scindia and Berar's armies in the Deccan. Wellesley's progress in the Deccan was matched by Lieutenant General Gerard Lake's successful campaigns in Northern India and led to the British becoming the dominant power in the heartlands of India.

picture wellesley: Lord Mornington, the Governor-General of British India between 1798 and 1805, oversaw a rapid expansion of British territory in India.

Feuding between the two dominant powers within the Maratha Confederacy, Yashwant Rao Holkar and Daulat Rao Scindia, led to civil war at the turn of the 19th century. The hostilities culminated in the Battle of Poona in October 1802 where Holkar defeated a combined army of Scindia and Baji Rao II – the Peshwa and nominal overlord of the Confederacy. Scindia retreated into his dominions to the north, but Baji Rao was driven from his territory and sought refuge with the East India Company at Bassein. He appealed to the Company for assistance, offering to accept its authority if he were restored to his principality at Poona. Lord Mornington, the ambitious Governor-General of British India, seized on the opportunity to extend Company influence into the Confederacy which he perceived as the final obstacle to British paramountcy over the Indian subcontinent.

The Treaty of Bassein was signed in December 1802 whereby the Company agreed to restore Baji Rao in return for control over his foreign affairs and a garrison of 6,000 Company troops permanently stationed in Poona. The restoration was commanded by Lord Mornington’s younger brother, Major General Arthur Wellesley, who in March 1803 marched on Poona from Mysore with 15,000 Company troops and 9,000 Hyderabad allies. Wellesley entered Poona without opposition on 20 April, and Baji Rao was formally restored to his throne on 13 May.

The treaty gave offence to the other Maratha leaders, who deemed that the system of subsidiary alliances with the British was an unwarranted interference into their affairs and fatal to the independent Maratha states. The Maratha leaders refused to submit to the Peshwa's authority and tensions were raised further when Holkar raided into Hyderabad in May, claiming that the Nizam of Hyderabad (a British ally) owed him money. Mornington consequently engaged the various Maratha chieftains in negotiations.

Lieutenant Colonel John Collins was sent to Scindia's camp to discuss his objections and propose a defensive alliance. However, Scindia had formed a military alliance with the Rajah of Berar in view to bringing the Maratha leaders into a coalition against the British, and had begun to mass his forces on the Nizam's border. Wellesley, who had been given control over the Company's military and political affairs in central India in June, demanded Scindia declare his intentions and withdraw his forces or face the prospect of war. After a protracted period of negotiations, Collins reported to Wellesley on 3 August that Scindia refused to give an answer and would not withdraw his troops. Wellesley's response was to declare war on Scindia and Berar "in order to secure the interests of the British government and its allies".The East India Company attacked the two principal Maratha forces of Scindia and the Raja of Berar from the north and the south. Of the other Maratha leaders, Holkar was hesitant to enter the war in cooperation with his rival, Scindia, and remained aloof from the hostilities, and the Gaekwad of Baroda placed himself under British protection. Operations in the north were directed by Lieutenant General Gerard Lake who entered Maratha territory from Cawnpore to face Scindia's main army which was commanded by the French mercenary, Pierre Perron. A second British force under the command of Major General Wellesley confronted a combined army of Scindia and Berar in the Deccan.

Wellesley was determined to gain the initiative through offensive action and told his senior subordinate, Colonel James Stevenson, that "a long defensive war would ruin us and will answer no purpose whatever".The Maratha army in the Deccan was largely composed of fast-moving cavalry able to live off the land. Consequently, Wellesley planned to work in conjunction with a separate force under Colonel Stevenson to enable his slower troops to out-manoeuvre the Maratha army and force it into a position where it could not avoid a pitched battle. Stevenson was despatched from Hyderabad with an army of some 10,000 men to Jafarabad to deny Scindia and Berar the chance to raid east into the Nizam's territory. In the meantime, Wellesley moved north from his camp near the Godavari River on 8 August with some 13,500 troops and headed towards Scindia's nearest stronghold – the walled town and fort at Ahmednuggur. The bulk of his forces were Company troops from Mysore: five sepoy infantry battalions of the Madras Native Infantry and three squadrons of Madras Native Cavalry. A contingent of European troops were supplied by the British Army and included cavalry from the 19th Light Dragoons and two battalions of Scottish infantry from the 74th and 78th Regiment of Foot. Irregular light cavalry were also provided by the Company's Mysore and Maratha allies.

Wellesley reached Ahmednuggur later the same day after a 7-mile (11 km) march and immediately ordered an escalade assault on the town rather than enter into a time-consuming siege.

The walled town, which was garrisoned by 1,000 Arab mercenaries, upwards of 60 cannon and one of Scindia’s infantry battalions under the command of French officers, was captured with minimal losses after a brief action. The adjacent fort's defenders capitulated four days later once the walls were breached by British artillery. With the fortification providing a logistics base and point of support for future operations into Maratha territory, Wellesley installed a garrison and headed north towards the Nizam's city of Aurungabad. Along the way he captured Scindia’s other possessions south of the Godavari and established a series of guarded bridges and ferries along the river to maintain his communication and supply lines.

Map of the Assaye campaign

The Marathas slipped past Stevenson and advanced on Hyderabad. After receiving reports of their movement on 30 August, Wellesley hurried east down to the Godavari to intercept. Stevenson, meanwhile, marched westwards to the Maratha city of Jalna which he took by storm. Scindia learned of Wellesley's intentions and returned to a position north of Jalna. Unable to make a clean break from the pursuing British he abandoned plans to raid into Hyderabad and instead assembled his infantry and artillery. The combined Maratha army was around 50,000 strong, the core of which was 10,800 well equipped regular infantry organised into three brigades, trained and commanded by European adventurer and mercenary officers. Colonel Anthony Pohlmann, a Hanoverian and former East India Company sergeant, commanded the largest brigade with eight battalions. A further brigade with five battalions was provided by Begum Samru, and was commanded on her behalf by a Frenchman, Colonel Jean Saleur.

The third brigade had four battalions and was commanded by Dutchman, Major John James Dupont. In addition, the Maratha force included 10,000–20,000 of Berar's irregular infantry, some 30,000–40,000 irregular light cavalry and over 100 guns ranging in size from one to 18-pounders.After several weeks of chasing down the Maratha army, Wellesley and Stevenson met at Budnapoor on 21 September and received intelligence that the Maratha army was at Borkardan, around 30 miles (48 km) to the north. They agreed a plan by which their two armies – moving separately along either side of a range of hills with Wellesley to the east and Stevenson to the west – would converge on Borkardan on 24 September. Wellesley's force reached Paugy on the afternoon of 22 September and departed camp before dawn. By noon, the army had marched 14 miles (23 km) to Naulniah, a small town 12 miles (19 km) south of Borkardan, where they intended to rest before joining Stevenson to attack the Maratha army the next day.

At this point, Wellesley received further intelligence that rather than being at Borkardan, the Maratha army was camped just 5 miles (8.0 km) north, but their cavalry had moved off and the infantry were about to follow.At about 13:00, Wellesley went forward with a cavalry escort to reconnoitre the Maratha position. The rest of his army followed closely behind apart from a battalion of sepoys left at Naulniah to guard the baggage. In all, Wellesley had 4,500 troops at his disposal plus 5,000 Mysore and Maratha horse and 17 cannon. Aware that the British were nearby, The Maratha chiefs had positioned their army in a strong defensive position along a tongue of land stretching east from Borkardan between the Kailna River and its tributary the Juah. However, Scindia and Berar did not believe Wellesley would attack with his small force and had moved off from the area in the morning. Command of their army was given to Pohlmann, who had positioned his infantry to the east of the Maratha camp in the plains around the village of Assaye on the southern bank of the Juah.

To his surprise, Wellesley found the entire combined army before him. Nevertheless, he resolved to attack at once, believing that if he waited for Stevenson, the Marathas would have the chance to slip away and force the pursuit to drag on. Wellesley was also eager to forge a reputation for himself, and despite his numerical disadvantage, he was confident that the Maratha’s irregular forces would be swept aside by his disciplined troops, and only Scindia’s regular infantry could be expected to stand and fight.

Pohlmann struck camp and deployed his infantry battalions in a line facing southwards behind the steep banks of the Kailna with his cannon arrayed directly in front. The great mass of Maratha cavalry was kept on the right flank and Berar's irregular infantry garrisoned Assaye to the rear.

The only observable crossing point over the river was a small ford directly ahead of the Maratha position. Pohlmann's strategy was to funnel the British and Madras troops across the ford into the mouth of his cannon, and then on to the massed infantry and cavalry behind. Wellesley's local guides assured him that no other ford existed nearby, but he quickly discarded the option of a frontal assault as suicide. While reconnoitring he had noticed two unguarded villages, Peepulgaon and Waroor, one on each bank of the Kailna beyond the Maratha left. On the assumption that a ford must exist between the two villages, Wellesley ordered the area to be further reconnoitred by his Chief Engineer, Captain John Johnson, who reported that there was indeed a ford at that spot.

Thus Wellesley led his army east to the crossing in an attempt to launch an attack on Pohlmann's left flank. At around 15:00, the British crossed to the northern bank of the Kaitna unopposed apart from a distant harassing fire from the Maratha cannon which was largely inaccurate but succeeded in decapitating Wellesley's dragoon orderly. Once across, Wellesley ordered his six infantry battalions to form into two lines, with his cavalry as a reserve in a third.

His allied Maratha and Mysore cavalry were ordered to remain south of the Kaitna to keep in check a large body of Maratha cavalry which hovered around the British rear. Pohlmann soon recognised Wellesley’s intentions and swung his infantry and guns through 90 degrees to establish a new line spread approximately 1 mile (1.6 km) across the isthmus with their right flank on the Kaitna and the left on Assaye. Although the new position secured the Maratha flanks, it restricted Pohlmann from bringing his superior numbers into action.The Maratha redeployment was swifter and more efficient than Wellesley had anticipated and he immediately reacted by extending his front to deny Pohlmann the opportunity to out-flank him. A battalion of pickets and the 74th Highlanders, which formed the right of the first and second lines, were ordered to move obliquely to the right. This allowed the 78th to anchor the left flank and Madras infantry battalions (the 1/10th, 1/8th, 1/4th and 2/12th) to form the centre of the British line.

Wellesley's intention was to force back the Marathas from their guns and then – operating by his left to avoid the heavily defended Assaye – throw them back on the Juah and complete their destruction with his cavalry.Map of the battle. The British and Indian infantry move forward to attack the redeployed Maratha line.The Maratha cannonade intensified as the British redeployed. Although British artillery was brought forward to counter, it was ineffective against the mass firepower of the Maratha guns and quickly disabled through the weight of shot directed against it. British casualties mounted as the Maratha guns turned their attention to the infantry and subjected them to a barrage of canister, grape and round shot. Wellesley decided that his only option to neutralise the artillery and get his men out of the killing field was to advance directly into the mouth of the Maratha artillery. He ordered his cannon to be abandoned and gave the command for his infantry to march forward with bayonets fixed.

The Maratha cannonade punched holes in the British line, but the infantry maintained a steady pace, closing up the gaps in their ranks as they advanced. The 78th Highlanders were the first to reach the enemy in the southern sector next to the River Kailna. They paused 50 yards (46 m) from the Maratha gunners and unleashed a volley of musket fire before launching into a bayonet charge. The four battalions of Madras infantry to the right of the 78th, accompanied by the Madras Pioneers, reached Pohlmann's line shortly afterwards and attacked in the same fashion. The gunners stood by their cannon but were no match for the bayonets of the British and Madras troops who swiftly pressed on towards the Maratha infantry. However, instead of meeting the charge, the Maratha right broke and fled northwards towards the Juah, causing the rest of the southern half of the line to follow. The officers of the Madras battalions temporarily lost control as the sepoys, encouraged by their success, pushed too far pursuit. Maratha cavalry momentarily threatened to charge but were checked by the 78th who remained in order and re-formed to face the danger.

In the northern sector of the battle field however, Wellesley's right flank was in turmoil. The commander of the pickets, Lieutenant Colonel William Orrock, had mistaken his orders and continued his oblique path directly towards Assaye. Major Samuel Swinton of the 74th regiment was ordered to support the pickets and followed close behind. This created a large gap in the centre of the British line, and brought the two battalions under a barrage of cannonade from the artillery around the village and the Maratha left. The two battalions began to fall back in disarray and Pohlmann ordered his remaining infantry and cavalry forward to attack. The Marathas gave no quarter; the pickets were virtually annihilated but the remnants of the 74th were able to form a rough square behind hastily piled bodies of dead.

Realising that the destruction of his right would leave his army exposed and out-flanked, Wellesley ordered a detachment of British cavalry under Colonel Patrick Maxwell consisting of the 19th Light Dragoons and elements of the 4th and 5th Madras Native Cavalry into action. From their position at the rear, the cavalry dashed directly towards the 74th's square, crashed into the swarming attackers and routed them. Maxwell pressed his advantage and continued his charge into the Maratha infantry and guns on the left, driving them backwards and across the Juah "with great slaughter".A number of Maratha gunners who had feigned death when the British advanced over their position re-manned their guns and began to pour cannon fire into the rear of the 74th and Madras infantry. Wellesley ordered his four sepoy battalions to re-form and ward off any threat from the Maratha infantry and cavalry while the 78th were sent back to retake the Maratha gun line. Wellesley, meanwhile, galloped back to 7th Madras Native Cavalry, which had been held back in reserve to the east, and led a cavalry charge from the opposite direction. The gunners again stood their ground but were eventually driven from their guns and this time it was ensured that all those who remained were dead.

While Wellesley was preoccupied with re-taking the gun line, Pohlmann rallied his infantry and redeployed them into a semicircle with their backs to the Juah; their right flank across the river and their left in Assaye. However, most of the Maratha cannon, which had inflicted heavy losses on Wellesley's infantry, had been captured or lay abandoned on the battlefield. Reluctant to join the fray, the Maratha cavalry lingered in the distance to the west. Most were Pindarries: loosely organised and lightly armed horsemen whose traditional role was to cut down fleeing enemy troops, harass convoy lines and carry out raids into enemy territory. They were not trained to attack well-formed infantry or heavily armed European cavalry, and did not play a further part in the battle.With the remanned Maratha artillery silenced, Wellesley turned his attention to Pohlmann's reformed infantry. Although Maxwell had suffered heavy losses, he had rallied his cavalry and returned to the field of battle. Wellesley ordered him to charge the Maratha left flank, while the infantry moved forward as a single line to meet the centre and right. The cavalry spurred forward but were met with a volley of canister shot which struck Maxwell, killing him instantly. Their momentum lost, the cavalry did not complete their charge but veered away from the Maratha line at the last moment.

The British and Madras infantry marched on against the Maratha position but Pohlmann's men, their morale low, did not wait for the attack and instead retreated northwards across the Juah. Descriptions differ as to the manner of their departure: Maratha sources claim the line marched away from the battlefield in an orderly manner on Pohlmann's orders but British accounts claim the Maratha infantry fled in an uncontrolled panic. Berar's irregulars inside Assaye, now leaderless and having witnessed the fate of the regular infantry, abandoned the village and marched off northwards at around 18:00, followed shortly afterwards by the Maratha cavalry. Wellesley's troops, however, were exhausted and in no condition to pursue and the native allied cavalry which had remained on the south bank of the Kailna and had not been engaged, refused to pursue without the support of the British and Madras cavalry

Assaye elephant emblem awarded to the Madras Sappers

The East India Company and British Army casualties amounted to 428 killed, 1138 wounded and 18 missing; a total of 1,584 – over a third of the force engaged in combat. The 74th and the picket battalion were decimated; from a strength of about 500, the 74th lost ten officers killed and seven wounded, and 124 other ranks killed and 270 wounded. The pickets lost all their officers except their commander, Lieutenant Colonel William Orrock, and had only about 75 men remaining. Of the ten officers forming the general's staff, eight were wounded or had their horses killed. Wellesley himself lost two horses; the first was shot from underneath him and the second was speared as he led the charge to re-capture the Maratha gun line. The number of Maratha casualties is more difficult to ascertain.

Despatches from British officers give a figure of 1,200 dead and many more wounded but contemporary historians have estimated a total of 6,000 dead and wounded. The Marathas also surrendered seven stands of colours, large amounts of stores and ammunition and 98 cannon – most of which were later taken into service by the East India Company. Although Scindia and Berar's army was not finished as a fighting force, several of Scindia's regular infantry battalions and artillery crews had been destroyed. Their command structure had also been damaged: many of their European officers, including Colonel Pohlmann and Major Dupont, surrendered to the Company – which had offered amnesty to Europeans in the service of the Maratha armies – or deserted and sought employment with other native chieftains. The sound of the guns at Assaye was heard by Stevenson who immediately broke up his camp 10 miles (16 km) miles to the west in an attempt to join the battle.

However, he was misled by his guide and marched first on Borkardan before he reached the battlefield on the evening of 24 September. Suspecting that his guide had intentionally led him astray, Stevenson later had him hanged. He remained with Wellesley to assist with the wounded – troops were still being carried from the battlefield four days after the engagement – until ordered to recommence the pursuit of the Maratha army on 26 September. Wellesley remained to the south while he established a hospital at Ajanta and awaited reinforcements from Poona. Two months later, he combined with Stevenson to rout Scindia and Berar's demoralised and weakened army at Argaon, and shortly afterwards stormed Berar's fortress at Gawilghur. These victories, coupled with Lieutenant General Lake's successful campaign in the north, induced the two Maratha chiefs to sue for peace.

Wellesley later told Stevenson that "I should not like to see again such a loss as I sustained on the 23rd September, even if attended by such a gain", and in later life he referred to Assaye as "the bloodiest for the numbers that I ever saw". Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Munro, the Company's district collector at Mysore, was critical of the high proportion of casualties and questioned Wellesley's decision not to wait for Stevenson. He wrote to Wellesley: "I am tempted to think that you did it with a view of sharing the glory with the smallest numbers". In response, Wellesley politely rebuffed Munro's accusations and defended his action as necessary because he had received and acted upon incorrect intelligence regarding the Maratha position.

Assaye was 34-year-old Wellesley's first major success and despite his anguish over the heavy losses, it was a battle he always held in the highest estimation. After his retirement from active military service, the Duke of Wellington (as he later became known) considered Assaye the finest thing he ever did in the way of fighting even when compared to his later military career.

Lord Mornington and his Council lauded the battle as a "most brilliant and important victory", and presented each of the Madras units and British regiments involved in the engagement with a set of honorary colours. The British regiments and native units were also awarded the Assaye battle honour and most were later given permission to adopt an Assaye elephant as part of their insignia.

A public monument was also erected by the East India Company at Fort William, Calcutta to commemorate the victory. The 74th Regiment of foot later became known as the Assaye regiment due to their stand at the battle and their modern-day successors, the Royal Highland Fusiliers (2 SCOTS), still celebrate the anniversary of the battle each year. Of the native infantry battalions, In the Indian Army, only the Madras Sappers survive in their original form but do not celebrate Assaye as it has been declared a repugnant battle honour by the Government of India.

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Wellesley, Gerald, ed. (1956), The Conversations of the First Duke of Wellington with George William Chad, Cambridge: Saint Nicolas Press

Indian adventure

The events depicted in the Sharpe stories also take this "brilliant but wayward" soldier into conflicts other than the Napoleonic wars, for example the earliest tales take us to India under the command of the East India Company and chronicle Sharpe's years spent in the ranks.
During the late 18th Century, The British Empire would be found in a great many parts of the globe and one particular jewel in the crown was India. In the stories, Sharpe serves four years as Armoury Sergeant in Seringapatam, which was the location in 1799 of a hugely significant battle.
The Battle of Seringapatam was important because it was the final confrontation between the British and Tipu Sultan, the Tiger of Mysore, who was killed when the British broke into the fortress. Because of the British victory, the fate of India changed forever, as did English dominance in the continent.
Being a fictional hero, Sharpe's creator Cornwell frankly admits he has taken license with history, often placing Sharpe in the place of another man whose identity is lost to history. These achievements include killing the Tipu Sultan at Seringapatam, saving Wellesley's life at the Battle of Assaye and personally taking command of a regiment that drives off the French Imperial Guard at Waterloo.
However, the fact that the character of Sharpe is so closely intertwined with such key events in European history means that the series has great opportunities to reveal the bloodshed, drama and European politics that erupted during this period, while at the same time spinning more cracking good swashbuckling yarns than you can shake a sword at! The Siege of Seringapatam (4 May 1799) was the final confrontation of the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War between the British East India Company and the Kingdom of Mysore. The British achieved a decisive victory after breaching the walls of the fortress at Seringapatam (as Srirangapatna was then known) and storming the citadel. Tippu Sultan, Mysore's ruler, was killed in the action. The British restored the Wodeyar dynasty to the throne after the victory, but retained indirect control of the kingdom.

The battle consisted of a series of encounters around Seringapatam (as Srirangapatna was then called) in the months of April and May 1799, between the combined forces of the British East India Company and their allies, numbering over 50,000 soldiers in all, and the soldiers of the Kingdom of Mysore, ruled by Tippu Sultan, numbering up to 30,000. The Fourth Anglo-Mysore War came to an end with the defeat and death of Tippu Sultan in the battle.
When the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War broke out, the British assembled two large columns under General George Harris. The first consisted of over 26,000 British East India Company troops, 4,000 of whom were European while the rest were local Indian sepoys. The second column was supplied by the Nizam of Hyderabad, and consisted of ten battalions and over 16,000 cavalry. Together, the allied force numbered over 50,000 soldiers. Tippu's forces had been depleted by the Third Anglo-Mysore War and the consequent loss of half his kingdom, but he still probably had up to 30,000 soldiers.

The British forces consisted of the following:
12th (East Suffolk) Regiment of Foot 19th Light Dragoons 25th Light Dragoons 33rd (Duke of Wellington's) Regiment of Foot 73rd (Highland) Regiment of Foot 74th (Highland) Regiment of Foot 75th (Highland) Regiment of Foot 77th Regiment of Foot Scotch Brigade [later 94th Regiment]
The Indian (sepoy) forces consisted of the following:
1st Madras Native Infantry 2nd Madras Native Infantry 1st Madras Native Cavalry 2nd Madras Native Cavalry 3rd Madras Native Cavalry 4th Madras Native Cavalry Madras Pioneers Madras Artillery 1st Bengal Native Infantry 2nd Bengal Native Infantry Bengal Artillery.

Seringapatam was besieged by the British forces on 5 April 1799. The River Cauvery, which flowed around the city of Seringapatam, was at its lowest level of the year and could be forded by infantry — if an assault commenced before the monsoon. When letters were exchanged with Tippu, it seemed that the Sultan was playing for time. He requested two persons to be sent to him for discussions and also stated that he was preoccupied with hunting expeditions. Tippu Sultan's prime minister, Mir Saadiq, was a traitor bought by the British. He pulled out the Mysore army for paying wages in the midst of the battle, thus allowing British forces to storm the boundary wall with little defence. Another key treachery to help the British was the spilling of water in the basements where the Sultan's army stored its gunpowder, which rendered the gunpowder useless.

The Governor-General of the East India Company, Richard Wellesley, planned the opening of a breach in the walls of Seringapatam. The location of the breach, as noted by Beatson, the author of an account of the Fourth Mysore War, was 'in the west curtain, a little to the right of the flank of the north-west bastion. This being the old rampart appeared weaker than the new.' The Mysorean defence succeeded in preventing the establishment of a battery on the north side of the River Cauvery on 22 April 1799. However, by 1 May, working at night, the British had completed their southern batteries and brought them up to the wall. At sunrise on 2 May, the batteries of the Nizam of Hyderabad succeeded in opening a practical breach in the outer wall. In addition, the mines that were laid under the breach were hit by artillery and blew up prematurely.

The leader of the British troops was Major General David Baird, an implacable enemy of the Sultan: twenty years earlier, he had been held captive by the Sultan for 44 months. The storming troops, including men of the 73rd and 74th regiments, clambered up the breach and fought their way along the ramparts. After the Company troops had taken the city, the Sultan's body was found among the dead, shot in the head and stripped of his jewels.
The assault was to begin at 1:00 p.m. to coincide with the hottest part of the day when the defenders would be taking refreshment. Led by two forlorn-hopes, two columns would advance upon the defences around the breach, then wheel right and left to take over the fortifications. A third reserve column, commanded by Arthur Wellesley would deploy as required to provide support where needed.
At 11:00 a.m., on 4 May 1799, the British troops were briefed and whisky and a biscuit issued to the European soldiers, before the signal to attack was given. The forlorn-hopes, numbering seventy-six men, led the charge. The columns quickly formed, were ordered to fix bayonets, and began to move forward. The storming party dashed across the River Cauvery in water four feet deep, with covering fire from British batteries, and within 16 minutes had scaled the ramparts and swept aside the defenders quickly.
The column that rounded the northwest corner of the outer wall was immediately involved in a serious fight with a group of Mysorean warriors under a short fat officer, which defended every traverse. The officer was observed to be discharging loaded hunting weapons, passed to him by servants in his service, at the British. After the fall of the city, in the gathering dusk, some of the British officers went to look for the body of Tippu Sultan. He was identified as the fat officer who had fired hunting weapons at the offenders, and his body was found in a choked tunnel-like passage near the Water Gate.

The Siege is depicted in:
Wilkie Collins's novel The Moonstone begins with the looting of the jewels removed from Seringapatam in 1799 from the legendary treasury of Tippu Saltan. The Battle of Seringapatam was adapted, and was the main conflict in the novel Sharpe's Tiger by Bernard Cornwell.
Two cannon captured by the British during the battle are now placed in front of the officers mess at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.
Elizabeth Longford (Elizabeth Harman Pakenham, Countess of Longford), 1996, Wellington: The Years of the Sword, Smithmark Pub, New York, ISBN 978-0831756468. Jac Weller, 2006, Wellington in India, Greenhill Books, London, ISBN 978-1853673979

Siege at Srirangapattana /Seringapatam

Srirangapattana (Kannada: ಶ್ರೀರಂಗಪಟ್ಟಣ) (also spelled Srirangapatna; anglicized to Seringapatam during the British Raj) is a town in Mandya district of the Indian state of Karnataka. It is located near the city of Mysore and is of great religious, cultural and historic importance.
Although situated a mere 19 km from Mysore city, Srirangapattana lies in the neighbouring district of Mandya. The entire town is enclosed by the river Kaveri to form an island, northern half of which is shown in the image to the right. While the main river flows on the eastern side of the island, the Paschima Vaahini segment of the same river flows to its west.

Ranganatha Temple

Srirangapattana has since time immemorial been an urban center and place of pilgrimage. During the Vijayanagar empire, it became the seat of a major viceroyalty, from where several nearby vassal states of the empire, such as Mysore and Talakad, were overseen. When, perceiving the decline of the Vijayanagar empire, the rulers of Mysore ventured to assert independence, Srirangapattana was their first target. Raja Wodeyar vanquished Rangaraya, the then viceroy of Srirangapattana, in 1610 and celebrated the Navaratri festival in the town that year. It came to be accepted in time that two things demonstrated control and signified sovereignty over the Kingdom of Mysore by any claimant to the throne:
Successful holding of the 10-day-long Navaratri festival, dedicated to Chamundeshwari, patron goddess of Mysore; Control of the fort of Srirangapattana, the fortification nearest to the capital city of Mysore. Srirangapattana remained part of the Kingdom of Mysore from 1610 to after India's independence in 1947; as the fortress closest to the capital city of Mysore, it was the last bastion and defence of the kingdom in case of invasion.

View of the Hoally Gateway, where Tipu Sultan was killed, Seringapatam (Mysore).

Srirangapattana became the de facto capital of Mysore under Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan. When Tipu finally dispensed with the charade of deference to the legitimate Wodeyar Maharaja who was actually his captive, and proclaimed the "Khudadad State" under his own kingship, Srirangapattana became de jure the capital of that short-lived political entity. In that heady period, the state ruled by Tipu extended its frontiers in every direction, encompassing a major portion of South India. Srirangapattana flourished as the cosmopolitan capital of this powerful state. Various Indo-Islamic monuments that dot the town, such as Tipu Sultan's palaces, the Darya Daulat and the Jumma Maseedi (Friday congregational mosque), date from this period.

Flintlock Blunderbuss Tipoo Sahib Seringapatam 1793 1794

Srirangapattana was the scene of the last and decisive battle fought between Tipu Sultan and a combined force of 50,000 men provided equally by the Nizam of Hyderabad and the British under the overall command of General Harris. This battle was the last engagement of the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War. The Battle of Seringapatam, 1799, was truly momentous in its historic effects.

In any event, Tipu Sultan was killed within the fort of Srirangapattana, betrayed infamously by one of his own confidants; the spot where he ultimately fell is marked by a memorial. For the last time in history, Srirangapattana had been the scene of political change in the Kingdom of Mysore. The joint forces of the victorious army proceeded to plunder Srirangapattana and ransack Tipu's palace. Apart from the usual gold and cash, innumerable valuables and objets d'art, not excepting even the personal effects of Tipu Sultan, his rich clothes and shoes, sword and firearms, were shipped to England.
While most of this is now to be found in the British Royal Collection and in the Victoria and Albert Museum, some articles have occasionally become available at auctions and have been retrieved for their native land. The sword of Tipu Sultan has been acquired by Vijay Mallya, a liquor baron from Karnataka, who purchased the same at a Sotheby's auction.

Tippu Mausoleum

The fall of Srirangapattana to the Wodeyar dynasty in 1614 is much celebrated in local ballad and legend, one of which concerns a curse put upon the Wodeyars by Alamelamma, the lamenting wife of the defeated Vijayanagar viceroy. In fulfillment of that curse, no ruling Maharaja of Mysore has ever had children; the succession has inevitably devolved upon brothers, nephews or adopted heirs, or on children born to the Maharaja before his accession, but never has a child been born to a ruling Maharaja.

Daria Daulat ,The Palace of Tipu Sulthan

Friday, 2 July 2010

Indian Was: Sharpe's Tiger

Sharpe's Tiger is Bernard Cornwell's return to the Richard Sharpe series of novels, set during his early years in India. This is Cornwell's device to find prequel material for his hero. First published in 1997, more novels were to follow, both in India and the Western theatre of the Napoleonic Wars.
The first (chronologically) of the Richard Sharpe series, and of the Sharpe India trilogy, by the English author Bernard Cornwell. It takes place in Mysore, India and tells of Sharpe's adventures and triumphs against the Tipu Sultan during the Siege of Seringapatam.

Plot summary

Up to this time Cornwell had been going back through the period of the Napoleonic Wars to find new incidents into which to place his hero. Rather than do this, he adopts a "prequel" approach and uses an earlier campaign period in the history of the British Army, that of colonial India.
The novel opens with Richard Sharpe serving as a private with the British army, then invading Mysore and advancing on the Tippoo Sultan's capital city of Seringapatam. Sharpe is contemplating desertion with his paramour, widow Mary Bickerstaff. His sadistic company sergeant, Obadiah Hakeswill, deliberately provokes Sharpe into attacking him, and engineers the virtual death sentence of 2,000 lashes for the private. But Sharpe is rescued by Lieutenant William Lawford after 200 lashes are inflicted, in order to effect a rescue mission behind the Tippoo's lines.
Lawford and Sharpe are ordered to pose as deserters to rescue Colonel Hector McCandless, chief of the British East India Company's intelligence service. Although Lawford is nominally in command, Sharpe quickly dominates the lieutenant by force of personality and, without authorization, brings Mary on the mission. Joining the Tippoo's army, they discover that the Tippoo has set a trap for the invading British by mining the weakest (and thus most inviting) portion of Seringapatam's walls.
Before Sharpe and Lawford can discover a way to transmit a warning to the British, they are betrayed by Sergeant Hakeswill. Hakeswill has been captured in battle and the Tippoo orders him made a human sacrifice for victory, but Hakeswill secures the Sultan's mercy in exchange for revealing Sharpe's and Lawford's identity as spies.
Sharpe and Lawford are imprisoned as the British army prepares to assault the booby-trapped wall of the city. Mary helps Sharpe to escape, and Sharpe blows up the mine before the main British army can enter the trap. As the Tippoo tries to flee the city, Sharpe finds him in a dark tunnel, kills him, and steals his rich jewels. Sharpe throws Hakeswill to the Tippoo's tigers, but the recently fed animals ignore Hakeswill, and Sharpe's enemy survives to plague him in later adventures.

Characters in "Sharpe's Tiger"

Richard Sharpe – the main protagonist.

William Lawford – Sharpe's lieutenant who aids him in freeing Colonel McCandless.

Mary Bickerstaff – a widowed half-Indian army wife, now attached to Sharpe.

Colonel Arthur Wellesley – later 1st Duke of Wellington.

Colonel Hector McCandless – Scots intelligence officer for the East India Company, held captive by Tipoo Sultan in the dungeons of Seringapatam.

Tippoo Sultan – the Indian King who is killed by Sharpe. His red ruby and some of his other jewels are stolen by Sharpe.

Colonel Jean Gudin – a French adviser to Tippoo Sultan.

Sergeant Obadiah Hakeswill – becomes Sharpe's enemy, engineering his sentence to 2000 lashes.

brevet Lieutenant Fitzgerald – murdered by Hakeswill during a battle outside Seringapatam. Ensign Hicks - the junior officer serving with the Light Company

Captain Morris - the commanding officer of 33rd Light Company

Major Shee - the commanding officer of the 33rd Regiment

Sharpe's Fortress

Sharpe's Fortress is the third (historically) of the Richard Sharpe series, and last of the Sharpe India trilogy, by English author Bernard Cornwell. It tells the story of ensign Sharpe, during the battle of Argaum and the following siege of the Fortress of Gawilghur in 1803.


It is 1803 and Sir Arthur Wellesley’s army is closing on the retreating Mahrattas in western India. Marching with the British is Ensign Richard Sharpe, newly made into an officer and wishing he had stayed a sergeant. Spurned by his new regiment, he is sent to the army’s baggage train and there finds corruption, romance, treason and enemies old and new. Sergeant Hakeswill wants Sharpe dead, and Hakeswill has powerful friends while Sharpe has only an orphaned Arab boy as his ally.
And waiting with the cornered Mahrattas is another enemy, the renegade Englishman, William Dodd, who does not envisage defeat, but only a glorious triumph. For the Mahrattas have taken refuge in Gawilghur, the greatest stronghold of India, perched high on its cliffs above the Deccan Plain. Who rules in Gawilghur, it is said, rules India, and Dodd knows that the fortress is impregnable. There, behind its double walls, in the towering twin forts, Sharpe must face his enemies in what will prove to be Wellesley’s last battle on Indian soil.

Characters in "Sharpe's Fortress"

Ensign Richard Sharpe – Ensign in the British Army

General Sir Arthur Wellesley – commander of the British in India

Sgt. Obadiah Hakeswill – Sharpe's former sergeant and ongoing nemesis

Major William Dodd – renegade British officer

Ahmed – Sharpe's trusty Arab helper

Syud Sevajee – commander of allied Mahratta forces and Sharpe's ally and old friend

English Commander: Rowland Hill

Without doubt the most popular of Wellington's Generals among both officers and enlisted men, Rowland Hill was born on the 11th August 1772, the second son of a Shropshire gentleman. He joined the Army in 1790 and like many officers of the time transferred between regiments to gain promotion although he did spend 2 years at a military school in Strasbourg. His abilities quickly got him noticed and he became Lieutenant-colonel of the 90th Regt in 1794 which he commanded in Egypt in 1801. He was also present during the first British victories in the Peninsular and was to return to fight in the Peninsular War. Wellington regarded him as highly dependable and trustworthy and this is shown by the commands Wellington gave him including watching his flank while he besieged Badajoz. In 1812 Hill was promoted to Lieutenant-general and gained entry to the Order of the Bath. Again Hill's corps protected Wellingtons flank while he besieged Badajoz for the final time. When the Salamanca campaign began he was protecting the armies rear against any attack by Soult. These vital roles of protecting the Army while other Generals may have sought glory shows the high degree of trust Wellington had in the intelligent and thoughtful Hill. Hill commanded a corps through the campaigns of 1813-14 fighting at Vittoria (1813). Daddy Hill gained his nickname due to his charitable nature be it with friend or foe, enlisted or officer. After the Peninsular War he fought at Waterloo commanding the 2nd and 4th Divisions and leading the counter attack against the Imperial Guard in the closing stages, having his horse shot form under him for his trouble. After Waterloo he served with the Army of occupation until 1818 when he retired. When Wellington became Prime Minister in 1828 he became Commander-in-chief of the army and was to continue in this role for 14 years until he died in 1842.
Glover, Michael. The Peninsular War 1807-1814. London: Penguin Books, 2001. ISBN 0-141-39041-7 Oman, Charles. Wellington's Army, 1809-1814. London: Greenhill, (1913) 1993. ISBN 0-947898-41-7

English Commander: 'Black Bob' Crauford

'Black Bob' Crauford was one of Wellington's most able commanders during the Peninsula War. Born the 3rd son of a Sir Alexander Crauford a Scottish baronet he was to become a fine general who was a serious student of military science and a consummate professional.A fluent German speaker, renown for his sarcasm and violent temper he found throughout his early career that advancement was slow. He served (on attachment) with several foreign armies in places as far afield as India to the Netherlands gaining much first hand experience of continental warfare. In 1807 he took part in the attack on Buenios Aires but could gain no glory when the ill fated expedition collapsed. By 1808 he was commanding a brigade in the Peninsula. From 1809 to 1812 he commanded the Light Brigade, an elite formation of some of the best infantry units in the British army at that time. He had high standards and was the master of detail, at times he was like a spider at the centre of a web of scouts that detected the slightest movement. Despite his ability his temper and over confidence often proved a problem and he could not be trusted to follow Wellington's orders to the letter and could get him into trouble, as he did in 1810 by engaging Neys Corps on the wrong side of the river Coa. On 19th January 1812 he led his troops into the lesser breach of the fortress of Cuidad Rodrigo where he was wounded and after 5 days of agony finally died.