Mountstuart Elphinstone.

Selections from the minutes and other official writings of the Honourable Mountstuart Elphinstone, governor of Bombay. With an introductory memoir online

. (page 2 of 41)
Online LibraryMountstuart ElphinstoneSelections from the minutes and other official writings of the Honourable Mountstuart Elphinstone, governor of Bombay. With an introductory memoir → online text (page 2 of 41)
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the 74th ; and Elphinstone justly remarks : ' This
was the critical moment of the engagement ; if the
enemy's horse had pushed the Sepoy they could never
have stood what had overpowered the 74th. But
at this instant our cavalry appeared on the right,
charged the enemy and drove them with groat
slaughter into a nullah (or river).' Eventually the
whole British line advanced, and the enemy gave way
in all directions. He was unable to carry oft' his
guns, ninety of which were captured. Then it was
that, having to cross the nullah of the Juah, his
infantry became huddled together and cramped for
room. A short attack was made by the British


cavalry. As the General writes, ' After the action
there was no pursuit, because our cavalry was not
then in a state to jDursue.' Had a pursuit been pos-
sible, the battle of Assaye, decisive as it was, would
have been as deadly and as complete an overthrov/
of the Mahrattas as the battle of Panipat. The
victory was bought at a heavy price in killed and
wounded. * I fear,' writes Elj^hinstone, * we have
scarce less than 600 Europeans killed and wounded ;
50 officers is the least at which the killed and wounded
can be reckoned, and 1,500 odd men and officers
appear on the returns.'

The most graphic account of the battle of Assaye is
given in the letter which is now published for the first
time. It details in clear and simple language the
difi'erent phases of the fight on which hung the fate of
the Indian Empire. There are words of hearty praise
for the General's bravery, and the clearness with which
he gave his orders at the most anxious and important
moment ; but there is not a single word about self,
though the young civilian rode by the side of the
General through the thick of that hot fight.

'Camp near the village of Assaye, ten miles from Jafferabad,

25//i Sq^temher, 1803.

' My dear x\DA:\r,

' You will have heard that this army has
fought a very bloody battle, and gained an important

' Scindia and the Eajah of Berar, after trying what
they could do with an arni}^ of horse only, and after
getting as far south as the Godavari river, changed
their place and moved south to near the Ajunta Pass,
to meet a detachment of infantry and guns, which
Scindia ordered to join them.


' The detachment consisted (it is said) of seven-
teen hattahons, 500 strong, and upwards of 100
guns. General Wellesley, after halting for some
time for supplies, followed the enemy, and Colonel
Stevenson also moved north, and halted at Badala-

* The two divisions met there on the 21st, and it
was settled that they were to move separately towards
the enemy, and both attack them on the 24th. When
this was settled he marched on the 22nd to Pangey,
and on the 23rd to Naulnair, from which place he
thought the enemy was at some distance (sixteen
miles, or near it) ; but, as he was taking up our
ground, news was brought that the enemy was close
at hand.

' General Wellesley sent for the cavahy, and pushed
on about three miles, and came to the brow of a rising-
ground from which he saw the enemy's two camps at
the distance of about three miles. The General halted
the cavahy and rode back for the infantry. They
came up in an hour, and w^re shown a road to the
enemy's camp. In the meantime a large body of the
enemy's horse advanced towards the cavalry. The
General went thither ; the cavalry were drawn up in
line, and I really expected to have had the pleasure
of a charge ; but when the enemy came near they
halted, and the General left the cavalry to watch their
motion, and joined the infantry. He went to the head
of the line, which soon got in sight of the enemy's
camp ; and they opened a cannonade upon it, with no
effect that I knew of except slightly wounding General
Wcllesley's Brigade-Major, Lieutenant Campbell, in
the leg, and carrying off the head of one of the General's
orderly troopers. Going on, he passed some ravines
and came to a broad nullah (or river). We were


lucky enough to find the only place passable for j]funs,
and he crossed and marched on, and began to form in
line, with little or no loss, though we were cannonaded
all the time. But while the troops were forming the
enemy advanced on us ; and then shots which were so
ineffectual before, now foil like hail, and knocked down
men, horses, and bullocks every shot. A gentleman
with the General had his horse shot under him, and I
and another gentleman had the dust knocked in our
faces, at this time.

After we had gone on a good way (near enough
to hear the enemy shout) with the infantry, who
were terribly harassed, but cheered as they advanced,
we rode back to the cavalry, whom the General had
sent for, and who were now about the spot where
the line had formed. The General ordered them to
take care of the right of the infantry, and rode back,
intending to join our line. In going and coming the
General crossed a tract where there was very heavy
fire ; one of the gentlemen with him had two horses,
and another one, killed under them. The General
pushed for the first line he saw, which happened to be
the enemy, but when we got pretty near (not within
musket-shot) he saw the guns firing towards us, and
towards our own line. In coming back we fell in with
several of the enemy's guns (a most delightful sight),
and soon after got to our line. We moved on under a
very heavy fire. The enemy retreated in front, and
fell back on a second line in their rear. They out-
flanked us greatly to the right, and kept up a very
heavy cannonade on our line. The right suffered,
particularly the 74tli Eegiment. The corps on the
right was dreadfully cannonaded and cut in on by the
enemy's cavahy, and, I fear, almost annihilated ; out
of 19 officers, 11 killed and 6 wounded; and out of


569 men and officers, exactly 400 have been returned
killed and wounded.

' The enemy's cavalry broke the 74th Eegiment, and
this was the critical moment of the engagement. If
the enemy's horse had pushed the Sepoy, tlieij could
never have stood what had overpowered the 74th; ' but
at this instant our cavalry appeared on the right,
charged the enemy, and drove them with great
slaughter into a nullah (or river) in our front. Our
cavalry crossed this, and charged among the enemy's
infantry, who had been driven by our infantry across
it, and made a great slaughter. They afterwards re-
crossed the nullah, and made another charge at a body
of infantry wdtli less success. While they were making
this charge, the General took the 78th and 7th Regi-
ment of Native Cavalry and led them back to drive off
a body of the enemy's foot, who had taken some of
our guns which we left behind, and turned them

While moving to this attack, the General's horse was
killed under him ; after which he pushed on, the enemy
retreated, and this concluded the engagement. We saw
enormous bodies of horse on all sides, but they behaved
very ill. They came almost within musket-shot, and
threatened us often, but never charged but once, when
they cut up the 74tli. We have taken 95 pieces of
cannon, and there are some more not yet brought in.
The enemy's loss in men is almost equal to our own in
numbers, but very different in value. I fear we have
scarce less than GOO Europeans killed and wounded ;
50 officers is the least at which the killed and wounded
can be reckoned, and 1,500 and odd men and officers
appear in the returns.

' This is, all agree, the bloodiest battle ever fought in
India. Cuddelore is the only one I have heard com-


pared with it, and there the force of our army was 12,000
men at least, and their loss 1,G00 killed and womided.
Our army consisted of live battalions of natives, 700
strong ; of these a battalion was left with the baggage,
as was the rear-guard of 100 men from each battalion
(total 500), and each battalion left its baggage-guard of
100 men (500 more). So that there were four corps of
natives, 500 each ; the 78th Eegiment, GOO ; the
74th Kegiment, 570 ; the artillery, 150 : total infantr}^
3,320. The cavalry were 1,200. Total of all descrip-
tions, 4,520. The enemy, at the lowest number that
can be reckoned, were 17,000 strong, besides thousands
of horse. The enemy have fled to the northward, and
are getting down the passes as fast as they can. Colonel
Stevenson marched after them this morning, after
having reinforced us with one battalion. His force is
7,000 firelocks and 750 cavalry, but they are ill off
for artillery.

' I got on horseback early in the morning of the
action (the first time for a month, owing to a liver
complaint), and kept close to the General the whole
day ; slept almost supperless (and really breakfastless
and dinnerless), on the ground in the open air, without
finding the smallest inconvenience.

' The General will doubtless get great credit for this.
I am sure he deserves it. It is nothing to say of him
that he exposed himself on all occasions, and behaved
with perfect indifference in the hottest fire (for I did not
see a European do otherwise, nor do I believe people
ever do) ; but in the most anxious and important
moments he gave his orders as clearly and coolty as if
he had been inspecting a corps or manoeuvring at a

' I am afraid to say how well I like the General, for,
though I have known him some time, I have only been


with him six weeks, and I may change my mind ; but
all that can be said in six weeks' acquaintance I would
have said before this action, which has not lowered my
opinion of him.'

The following extract gives a graphic and a poetic
description of a visit to the battle-field at night :

Extract of a Letter to ' Stracheij,' dated ' Camp of
Assay c, Srd Octohcr, 1808.'

* I went yesterday evening to the field of battle. It
was a dark, cloudy evening. I rode by myself, and
saw phirima mortis imago. Some of the dead are
withered, their features still remaining, but their faces
blackened to the colour of coal ; others still swollen
and blistered. The Persian I mentioned was perfect
everywhere, and had his great quilted coat on ; but his
face had fallen or been eaten off, and his naked skull
stared out like the hermits of the wood of Joppa (in the
" Castle of Otranto "). Kites and adjutants, larger than
the Calcutta ones, were feasting in some places, and in
others dogs howling all over the plain. I saw a black
dog tearing in a furious way large pieces of flesh from a
dead man looking fiercely and not regarding him. I
thought the gaze horrible and subhme. At last I
began to feel a good deal of horror — awful, but not
unpleasant — when, by way of adding to the sublimity,
iha evening gun fired, and, to my surprise, I heard a
shot whistle over my head. This I suppose was some
neglect of the artilleryman.'

The day after the battle of Assaye Colonel Steven-
son joined (lencral Wellesley, and was immediately
despatched in pursuit of Scindia beyond the Tapti.


The capture of the famous fortress of Aseer^-urh
deprived that chief of his hist stron

Online LibraryMountstuart ElphinstoneSelections from the minutes and other official writings of the Honourable Mountstuart Elphinstone, governor of Bombay. With an introductory memoir → online text (page 2 of 41)