John William Fortescue.

Military history; lectures delivered at Trinity college, Cambridge online

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Meanwhile the death of the Nawab of the Camatic
and of the Viceroy of the Dekhan almost simul-
taneously gave Dupleix an opportunity, which he
did not neglect, of making French influence para-
mount at both Courts. The succession, as almost
invariably happens in the East, was disputed ; and
Dupleix, by supporting in each case one candidate,
saw^ his way to making him a puppet and himself
the actual ruler. The Enghsh of course supported
the rival candidates ; and thus, though France and
England were at peace, the representatives of both
nations in India were at war as auxiliaries of native
princes. Stringer Lawrence being at home on leave,
EngUsh military affairs went sadly wrong ; and at
one moment the situation was so desperate that
it was only saved by a diversion against Arcot, the
capital of the Carnatic, by the young but not
uninstructed volunteer Clive. However in 1752
Lawrence returned, and in that and the following
year he gained victory after victory over the French.
The centre of the fighting, by a singular chain of
accidents, was the city of Trichinopoly ; and in the
plain before it Lawrence, with forces ranging from


eight hundred to three thousand regular troops, two-
thirds of them Sepoys, against superior numbers of
French, fought a series of beautiful little actions,
out-manoeuvring his enemy on the open ground by
what would now be called parade movements, but
which were then the finest achievements of training
and discipline. In 1754 Dupleix was recalled to
France to answer for misconduct, and the struggle
was closed by a suspension of arms. The interest
of these few years, 1748 to 1754, is that, France and
England being at peace, their fleets could not inter-
vene in the contest ; otherwise the power which
enjoyed supremacy at sea was bound to win, being
always able to bring out her own reinforcements and
exclude those of the enemy. When the fight was
resumed, the influence of superiority at sea was very
clearly seen ; but meanwhile the year 1753 had wit-
nessed a new departure in British policy in India,
namely the arrival of a king's regiment, the 39th
Dorsetshire, which still bears the motto Primus in
Indis. Henceforward the rivalry in the great
peninsula was not to be between trading companies
but between nations.

And now you will ask what manner of campaigns
were these ? I must answer that generally speaking
they were extremely comfortable. The theatre of
war, which extended along about two hundred miles
of the east coast from Madras to the River Cavery,


and about fifty miles inland, is mostly easy country,
cultivated and full of supplies, with abundance of
old fortified places to serve for depots and maga-
zines. Thus the sea could be used for the conveyance
of troops and heavy stores along the coast (though
the ports are unsafe during the monsoon) ; while
inland there was abundance of native carts and of
bullocks, which, though small and weakly, could
travel at the rate of two miles an hour. The army
was, as always in India, accompanied b}^ a vast
number of followers — in those days about ten
followers to one fighting man, though the proportion
has now been greatly reduced. In fact an army on
the march had much the appearance of a moving
city, every kind of trade, profession and calling being
represented, with speculators, in particular, in great
strength. On the march the officers were for the
most part carried in palanquins, and they were of
course attended by the full strength of their native
households, with every appliance for their comfort.
The men marched, the British, so far as one can
gather, in full European costume and with no special
protection from the sun ; though it is difficult to be
certain about the matter, for it is quite likely that
they were equipped very much according to the
notions of their officers. They too had plenty of
followers to look after them. The Sepoys, so far
as uniform went, were dressed in a short red jacket,


a curious semi-oriental, semi-European black head-
dress, very short little white drawers barely reaching
mid-thigh, and native shoes. The Madrassi is not
a fighting man — indeed Lord Roberts went so far
as to disband most of the true Madras infantry —
and it is almost certain that the sepoys who fought
with La^vrence, Clive, Coote, and Wellesley were
adventurers from aU parts of India, including many
from the fighting races of the north. The British
in column of route marched two abreast, the Sepoys
three abreast, for though well disciplined their drill
was primitive ; and, so far as I can gather, they
knew few words of command (apart from the manual
and firing exercise) except " Right turn " and '' Left
turn," which sufficed to bring them from line into
column and from column into line, the British in
two ranks, the Sepoys in three. It must be added
that the Company's troops, being accustomed to
march from place to place to relieve each other in
various garrisons, always kept a respectable amount
of transport with them, and hence could enter upon
a campaign ready mobilised. But at all times the
number of the followers was, and still is, a great
encumbrance, and, when supplies and forage were
scanty, an appalling difficulty.

So much for Madras ; but Madras was only one
of three presidencies, which were practically as far
from each other as England is from Portugal. From

160 MILITARY HI:<TORY [lect.

Calcutta to Madras is a goad eight hundred miles
bv -■' ' . and by land the journey was almost im-
}'. :ble owing to the numbt-r of great rivers

that cross the Une oi march. Fr*.>m t^'iu'ca} to the
British settlements on the Malabar ooa.^t is another
eight hundred miJe^ by sea. and to Madras itself.
going round Ceylon, over two thousand miles. Fron\
Cideutta to Bomba\ L'serland is a thousand miles as
the crow flies, thougli part of the distance could be
travers<Hi by river, and by sea at lca^t two thousand
live hundred miles. Moreover there was until 177:>
no Governor-General ; but the three presidencies
of Bombay. Bengal and Madras were co-equal, and
divided moreover by jealousies ami self-importance.
The opening of the Seven Years' War in 1756
brought about a renew al of hostilities : but it began
with an miexpected disaster in the capture of Cal-
cutta, through a sudden flt of jealousy, by Siraj-ud-
Daula. the Xawab of Bengal. Upon this disaster
followed the tragedy of the Black Hole. It was
necessary to send troops up from Madras under
Clive to recover the city with all haste, for French
reinforcements were expected at Pondicherry. and
there was no fleet to stop them. Having but a
handful of men. Clive contrived to detach one of
the Xawab ^ principal ofticers from him. and by
the man's treacherous a^istance defeated Siraj-ud-
Ihiula at Plassej, This done, he installed Mir


Jaffier, the officer aforesaid., in the Xawab's place,
and left a young clerk named Warren Hastings to
keep him in order.

Meanwhile a very able French officer, one de
Bussy, had contrived by consummate skill and
daring tx) restore French influence with the Vice-
roy of the Dekhan, but, having little military force
at his command, was unable to effect much, while
the British themselves were too weak greatly to
harm their enemies. In the spring of 1758 the
French reinforcements arrived, and the commander,
Count Lally Tollendal, was able to take the field
with twenty-five hundred Europeans — an enormous
force in those days — and half as many Sepoys. He
captured several minor places in the first few months,
but, finding himself short of money, turned south-
ward to take some from the rich Rajah of Mysore.
Persecuting and bullying wherever he went, he
soon turned all the natives against him. All cattle
were driven ofi, all food was hidden away ; and, when
Tan j ore was reached, he found himself opposed not
only by natives but by part of the British garrison
of Trichinopoly, which the British commandant had
sent to their assistance. After heavy loss and much
suffering he returned to Pondicherry, where he
learned that after a sharp action the French fleet
had been driven from the coast by a British fleet of
inferior numbers ; and, what with one trouble and

F. M. H. 11


another, it was December before he could lay siege
to Madras. He stayed before the city for two
months, when the appearance of the British fleet,
which had been refitted after the recent engagement,
compelled him to retreat. Meanwhile Clive in
Bengal had detached a small force, as a diversion,
by sea against the French settlements in the Northern
Sirkars, about two hundred miles north of Madras ;
where the commander. Colonel Forde of the Thirty-
ninth, fought a brilliant campaign against superior
numbers, and by his success not only extinguished
the French power in that quarter but banished
French influence in favour of English at the court
of the Viceroy of the Dekhan. The tide now tiu-ned.
Fresh reinforcements arrived from England together
with a new commander. Colonel Eyre Coote, to take
the place of Lawrence whose health had given way.
The Dutch in Batavia, always jealous of the British,
fitted out an expedition to attack their rivals in
Bengal while the bulk of British troops were in
Madras ; but it was useless. CHve detached Forde
with orders to fight them immediately. Forde did
so, overthrowing their superior numbers in half an
hour, and capturing their army almost to a man.
Three months later Coote met Lally at Wandewash
upon equal terms and completel}^ defeated him, thus
destroying for ever the French competition for the
mastery of India.


While the British power was thus growing, that
of the Marathas had increased hkewise ; and they
had organised themselves into a confederacy of
five co-eqnal parts under five principal chiefs. In
1758 their success ran so high that they laid hold
upon Delhi itself ; but this was too much for the
Mohammedan Afghans. They came down in their
wrath ; and in 1761 a great battle was fought at
Panipat in which the Marathas were utterly defeated.
Had the Afghans followed up their success, the
Marathas would have taken long to recover from
the blow ; but the victors were obliged to look to
their own western frontier which was threatened
by the Persians ; and the only result of the fight
was to exhaust two of the possible masters of
northern India and leave the country in greater
confusion than ever. Most unfortunately, too, Clive,
the representative of the third possible master,
went home on leave at this time ; and the supreme
power in Bengal passed into the hands of the Com-
pany's clerks. Having no high standard before
their eyes and being miserably paid, these clerks
saw the chance of enriching themselves by selling
the use of the Company's troops to any potentate
or adventurer who might offer to buy ; and, by
setting up and throwing down the Nawabs of Bengal
as best suited their pockets, they involved the
Company in most perilous and soon disastrous



wars. From the worst of their difficulties they
were extricated by the military genius of Major
Thomas Adams, who though deficient alike in men,
arms and supplies, contrived by three victories at
Katwa, Suti and Undwa Nala in July, August and
September, 1763, to maintain the terror of the
British arms. But the titular Emperor of Delhi
of the Mogul dynasty also entered the fray, and
strove with the help of the Nawab of Oudh to re-
establish his former sovereignty over Bengal ; and
to make matters worse at this critical moment there
was a mutiny among the Sepoys of the Bengal
Presidency. The mutiny, however, was sternly
repressed by Major Hector Munro, who then led
his army against the Emperor and utterly defeated
him at Buxar on the 23rd of Februar^^, 1764. This
victory opened the way to Oudh, and the British
captured in succession the great cities of Allahabad
and Lucknow ; when at this moment Clive returned
and stopped further annexation. He had no wish
to have for neighbours the adventurers who had
sprung up at Delhi, Agra, Bhurtpore and in Rohil-
khand. He therefore restored Oudh to its Nawab,
so as to keep it a buffer-state between Bengal and
the rest of Hindostan.

In Madras likewise the British officials had
lost their heads. They were threatened by two
dangerous enemies, the Marathas, and Hyder Ali,


a Mohammedan soldier who by sheer mihtary genius
had acquired the sovereignty of Mysore, and from
that base was threatening the territory ahke of the
Marathas, the Nizam, and the British in southern
India. The British might have played off their
rivals against each other, but they contrived instead
to make enemies of both ; and Hyder AH was a
formidable opponent. Happily there was a British
officer, Colonel Joseph Smith, who was more than
his equal, and before whom Hyder trembled in
the field. But the Council of Madras displaced
Smith to make room for a creature of their own ;
and the consequence was that in 1769 H3^der Ali
advanced to within five miles of Madras itself, and
forced the Council to an humiliating peace. Even
so, however, though they obtained the mercy, they
did not obtain the forgiveness of the ruler of Mysore.
In 1773 the British Parliament passed an Act
which, among other reforms, made the Governor
of Bengal the Governor-General of all three pro-
vinces, but most foolishly omitted to make him
supreme in his own Council, leaving him instead at
the mercy of the majority. Warren Hastings was
the first Governor-General, and well for us it is that
he was so ; for no smaller man would have sufficed
to preserve our dominion in India against the folly
and malignity of the adverse faction in his Council.
He made of his own will but one war, against the


predatory Rohillas, whom he compelled to pay
due obedience to their suzerain the Nawab of Oudh.
This action was afterwards distorted by the ma-
li'gnit}^ of his enemies into a crime. But the Govern-
ment of Bombay, like those of Madras and Bengal,
had through greed of territory entangled itself in
a war with the Marathas ; and Hastings, while
utterly disapproving its policy, found it imperative
to send assistance. Moreover, he had the courage
to order the reinforcements to march overland from
the frontier of Oudh to Bombay, a thing which
hitherto had never been dreamed of ; and indeed
the passage of six battalions of Sepoys across
Hindostan over a vast extent of territory which no
Englishman knew and where no one could say
whether they would be welcomed or fired upon, is
a sufficiently striking episode. Unfortunately the
commander allowed himself to be tempted to do a
little fighting for some petty potentates on the way ;
and this delay caused Hastings's heroic determina-
tion to be in great measure fruitless. The Bombay
Government too managed its military affairs so ill
that no operations of their designing could prosper ;
and finally it was necessary to patch up a hasty and
discreditable peace with the Marathas in the north-
west in view of a far more formidable danger else-

For in 1778, as wiU be remembered, the French


declared war upon us in consequence of our disasters
in America ; and in 1780 Hyder AH, the southern
Marathas and the Nizam formed a confederacy to
expel the British from India. In June of that year
Hyder descended from Mysore upon Madras with
ninety thousand men, including four hundred French,
and fifteen thousand Sepoys trained and disciplined
after the European manner. The wretched Council of
Madras had nothing ready, neither men, nor stores,
nor supplies ; and unfortunately Hector Munro of
Buxar, who held the command of such troops as
there were, managed his affairs badly and divided
his force. One detachment of three thousand men
was cut to pieces ; and matters were so serious
that Hastings sent Sir Eyre Coote down to take
command in the Carnatic, with every soldier that
could be spared from Bengal. A superior French
fleet was on the coast, and Hyder conceived the
bold notion of capturing or destroying all supplies
that Coote might use ashore, while the French cut
off all that might arrive by sea. Happily the French
admiral left the coast in the nick of time to save
Coote, who averted all immediate danger by the
victory of Porto Novo ; but in the campaign that
followed the British general was so much hampered
by Hyder's light troops that he could hardly keep
the field from want of transport and supplies.
Another mishap then occurred ; and a detachment


of a thousand British troops was surprised and cut
to pieces ; while a succession of naval actions left
the French fleet practically supreme on the coast.
Hyder Ali died early in 1782, and Eyre Coote soon
followed him, but Hyder's son Tippoo was an abler
man than Coote's successor. In 1783 the crisis
came. A detachment of a thousand men from
Bombay, which had been sent to make a diversion
on the west side of Mysore, was cut off and captured
by Tippoo ; and a month later a formidable French
force landed at Cuddalore (Gadalur) on the east
coast, and fought a severe though indecisive action
against the British under General Stuart. Three
daj^s later the French squadron on the coast under
Admiral Suffren drove off the British ships and
landed yet more reinforcements, which gave them
a decided superiority over the British. The fate
of British supremacy in India hung in the balance
for seven anxious days, when in the nick of time
news came that peace had been concluded between
France and England in Europe. So nearly were
all the victories of Lawrence, Clive and Eyre Coote
neutralised by incompetent administration at Bom-
bay and Madras. The one able man among Indian
officials, Warren Hastings, went home to be shame-
fully persecuted under the form of a judicial trial by
a clique of vindictive politicians. They succeeded
in ruining him financially by sheer blackguardly


cunning ; but they couid not damage his great
name, which will never be forgotten in India while
British rule endures.

Parliament now amended the government of
India by giving the Governor- General absolute and
supreme power, and making the chief officials re-
sponsible to Parliament instead of to the Company.
These were good and useful reforms ; but extreme
anxiety to check the levying of war for purposes of
gain led English statesmen to enact further that
the Governor-General should not make war at all
except for defence, thus leaving to his enemies
practically the undisputed power of taking the
initiative in hostilities. Lord Cornwallis, a good
soldier, was the first Governor-General under the
new system ; and Tippoo Sahib at once took ad-
vantage of it to make a raid into the Carnatic.
Cornwallis accordingly took the field against him
in 1791, and invaded Mysore from the east, while
a detachment from Bombay invaded it from the
west. The enterprise was most difficult, for it was
certain that, as soon as the British arrived on the
table-land of Mysore, Tippoo would draw a ring of
devastation about them, destroying all food and
forage. With enormous difficulty Cornwallis reached
Seringapatam, Tippoo's capital city, and laid siege
to it ; but, strive as he would, he could not provide
transport for more than twenty days' supplies, and


he could only bring forward his ammunition by
paying the women and boys among the followers to
carry each a cannon-shot or two. Before he reached
the city nearly all of his animals were dead, and not
only his guns but all the public conveyances of the
army were dragged by the troops. Ultimately he
was obliged to destroy the whole of his siege-train
and retreat, his camp being poisoned by the bodies
of starved followers and cattle, and his troops
weakened by want of food. He must not be blamed.
It is not easy to take an army, even without a mass
of followers, for a hundred miles through a country
where there is neither food nor forage.

In the next year, 1792, Cornwallis decided to try
again, having meanwhile captured several strong
forts which would serve him as advanced bases
and magazines. The whole force from Bengal and
Bombay exceeded thirty thousand men ; and, as
he advanced, Tippoo as usual burned the whole
country on his line of march. But the previous
year's operations had given CornwaUis secure bases
within little more than fifty miles of Seringapatam ;
and four marches sufficed to bring his force before
the walls. Even so, if Tippoo had left a garrison
in the capital and used the rest of his force to harass
the British communications from end to end, Corn-
waUis would have had much ado to keep his army
in sufficient strength before the walls ; but Tippoo


was proud of his disciplined infantry and of his
fortifications, and preferred to meet the British with
their weapons instead of with his own. The result
was that Cornwallis stormed Seringapatam out of
hand within forty-eight hours, and compelled Tippoo
to sign a treaty which deprived him of half of his
territory and resources.

Now came the war of the French Revolution, a
war above all of French intrigues with every people,
nation and language that might bear England a
grudge. During the ten years which followed the
peace of 1783 there had been little peril to the British
in Hindostan ow'ng to the gathering strength of the
Sikhs, who in 1785 had mastered the whole of the
eastern Punjab from the Jhelum to the Sutlej,
where they formed at once a barrier against any
invasion from the passes on the north-west, and a
dam against the rising flood of the Marathas from
the south. The Marathas had by this time thrown
off the authority of the Peshwa, and broken up
into five practically independent states ; and the
most powerful of their chiefs, Scindia of GwaHor,
had reoccupied Delhi and Agra and had actually
called upon the East India Companj^ to pay tribute
for Bengal to him, as the holder of the old Mogul
capital. A contest between British and Marathas for
the mastery of India was therefore certain, sooner
or later ; but meanwhile the various members


of the late confederacy fought indiscriminately
against each other. The whole country was over-
run with mercenary bands, eager to sell themselves
to the highest bidder ; and adventurers of all nations
were to be found among them, not the least remark-
able of such being an Irish sailor, who became for a
time a reigning prince with an army of ten thousand
men. Luckily for us these adventurers prevailed
upon many of the chiefs to train their armies after
the European model, which was a fatal error for
them ; for, choosing to fight the British with their
own weapons, they were bound to deliver themselves
into their enemies' hands.

Cornwallis left India in 1793, and was succeeded
by Sir John Shore. This well-meaning but feeble
gentleman allowed both the Marathas and Tippoo
to increase their strength at the expense of the
Nizam, the ally of the British, and by his weakness
encouraged Tippoo to cultivate relations with the
French. In 1798 he was succeeded by a very
different kind of man. Lord Mornington, better
known as Marquess WeUesley, who speedily made
up his mind that the anarchy outside the British
dominions must cease, and that to this end British
authority must become paramount in India. Tippoo
Sahib, being the open ally of the French, was the
first enemy to be attacked ; and the command of
the expedition was entrusted to General Harris


with Colonel Arthur Wellesley, Mornington's younger
brother, for one of his brigadiers. Harris, knowing
Tippoo's trick of devastating his country before an
invading army, had to think out some method of
neutralising it, for his difficulties of transport and
supply were frightful. In all he had 120,000 bullocks
to draw supplies and stores for his army, and those
bullocks must be fed, or the campaign would go for
nothing. To protect them he was obliged to advance
in a hollow square, two miles broad and seven miles
deep, an extremely cumbersome formation ; and yet
his onty resource was to make feints of an advance
in one direction so that Tippoo should destroy the
country in that quarter, and then swerve away to
a district which Tippoo had spared. This device was
successful. By much zig-zagging Harris reached

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Online LibraryJohn William FortescueMilitary history; lectures delivered at Trinity college, Cambridge → online text (page 10 of 13)