How the battle of Undwah Nala completely destroyed the power of Mir Kasim; how, skilfully and promptly followed up, it forced him to evacuate Patna, and, crossing the frontier of Bihar, to throw himself into the arms of the Nuwab-Vazir of Awadh (Oudh); how the most influential nobles of the country then submitted to the British: has been already told. By his great victory Major Adams had brought the British standards to the Karamnasa; but in bringing them to that borderline of Bihar, and in forcing the defeated ruler of the three provinces to cross it, to receive a hearty welcome from the powerful satrap of the Mughul Empire whose dominions he would then enter, Major Adams had come upon a new enemy, an enemy not at all disinclined to look him in the face, to dispute with him the possession of the three provinces, to conquer which from Mir Kasim had required three pitched battles, several minor combats, and a siege.
The province of Awadh (Oudh) had not escaped the great Muhammadan invasion of the twelfth century. The decisive victory gained in 1194 by Shahab’u’din Muhammad over Jaichand Rai, the Hindu sovereign of Kanoj, had been followed by the complete conquest of the neighbouring provinces. Thenceforth Awadh had become an integral portion of the empire ruled by
the sovereign of Dihli. When, then, in the last quarter of the sixteenth century, the illustrious Akbar welded into one compact whole the provinces which had been conquered by Muhammadan invaders of various races, Awadh came naturally into the general system. It was reckoned as one of his most important provinces, for it virtually included all the districts watered by the river Ganges, from Shahjahanpur to the Karamnasa.
In the disruption of the Mughul empire which followed the death of Aurangzib, in 1707, the powerful nobles, each fighting for his own hand, had sought to secure for their respective families, in permanent possession, provinces or districts which they might claim as their own. Whilst one family appropriated the large territory known as the Dakhan, another the Karnatak, a third Bengal and Bihar, the representative of a fourth looked with longing eyes upon Awadh. This was Saadat Khan, an adventurer of a Khorasani family of traders who had but recently come to Dihli, at the Court of which he struggled for paramount influence with the famous Chin Killich Khan. In 1722 Saadat Khan, then Vazir of the empire, procured his own nomination to the government of the province he had coveted, under the title of Nuwab-Vazir. He began immediately to employ all the means in his power to render the office hereditary in his family. He succeeded. On his death in 1739, his nephew and heir, Abdu’l Mansur, better known under the name of Safdar Jang, succeeded him in both offices; and on Safdar Jang’s death, seventeen years later, his son, Shuja’u’d daulah, assumed his title and position without a murmur from any quarter.
The accession of Shuja’u’d daulah to the rule over Awadh, in 1756, was contemporaneous with the accession of Siraju’d daulah to the Subahdari of Bengal. The new ruler of Awadh had not been an inattentive observer of the events which had followed, in that province, the proceedings of its young and
inexperienced Nuwab. He had noticed how he had run his head against a race of foreigners from beyond the sea, and how that race of foreigners had in return deposed him. For the moment he was too much occupied with his own affairs to give very much attention to the events passing outside his own domains. But when the death of the Emperor Alamgir II., in 1759, had enabled him to achieve the project contemplated by his great-uncle, of establishing himself, on a basis secure and permanent, in the province over which he ruled as Nuwab-Vazir, Shuja’u’d daulah began to inquire more narrowly into the events which were passing in the provinces adjoining his own dominions. There did not then (1760) seem very much to disturb him. The foreigners from beyond the sea appeared to acquiesce in the rule of the Nuwab of their own making. But an ambitious Muhammadan ruler is always glad to foment disturbances in the dominions of a neighbour. When, therefore, the war broke out between Mir Kasim and the foreigners, the attention of Shuja’u’d daulah, till then spasmodic, became fixed. Ideas of aggrandisement for himself began to flit through his brain. Whichever of the two rivals might conquer, the victor must be weakened: then would come his turn. It would be no slight achievement, after having secured his own independence in Awadh, to add three fertile provinces to his dominions. Full of these ideas, Shuja’u’d daulah levied an army at Lakhnao, and summoned his vassal, Balwant Singh, Rajah of Banaras, whose dominions adjoined Bihar, to prepare for the campaign which he declared to be impending.
The result of the battle of Undwah Nala had made it clear to Shuja’u’d daulah that it was with the English, and not with Mir Kasim, that he would have to fight for Bengal. He made preparations accordingly. He deemed it of especial importance to have Mir Maim in his camp, not only because he represented, from a Muhammadan point of view, the cause of national independence, nor even, although that was of no little importance,
because he disposed still of the trained battalions of Samru and Madoc – but because he had still money. The treasures which, after the battle of Gheriah, Mir Kasim had despatched to the strong fortress of Rotas, were still at Rotas. Between Rotas and the northern bank of the Karamnasa the communications were as yet uninterrupted. But they might not be so for long. It was of the greatest importance to act with vigour and promptitude. The fall of Patna rendered the situation still more difficult. Mir Kasim had, in anticipation of that event, sent to Rotas for his family and for his treasures. Any delay in their arrival would be fatal. Fortunately for the common cause, no such delay occurred. When the convoy from Rotas reached Mir Kasim, the English were still two days’ march in his rear. Mir Kasim mounted his retinue and his property on camels, and started for the Karamnasa. Just before reaching its banks, an opportune letter, despatched by the Nuwab-Vazir, reached him. In that letter, and in the fly-leaves of the copy of the Koran which accompanied it, Shuja’u’d daulah promised him protection and support. The receipt of an invitation so solemn decided Mir Kasim, against the advice of many of his friends, to throw himself into the arms of the Nuwab-Vazir. He accordingly crossed the Karamnasa.
Meanwhile, however, events had happened in North-Western India and in Bundelkhand which had modified, if they had not altogether changed, the intentions of the Nuwab-Vazir. Although by the death of Alamgir II., Shah A’lam had become titular King of Dihli and Emperor of India, he had not, up to this time, been able to seat himself on the throne of his ancestors. His capital was still occupied by some of the Afghan victors of Panipat, and an attempt made by Shah A’lam, about this very time, to recover it, had resulted in signal failure. His army had, in consequence, gradually so dwindled down that it could only be regarded as a body of followers, without discipline, without proper arms, without organisation. Of all the sections
of his subjects, the Rohilahs alone had remained faithful to him. This anomalous condition of affairs – the capital occupied by foreigners, and the King a wanderer – had stimulated the ambition of many a powerful noble to follow the example which had been set by the rulers of the Dakhan, of the Karnatak, of Awadh, and of Bengal, to create for his own family an independent kingdom from the now separating portions of the Mughul empire. Amongst the first to adopt this course was the Rajah of Bundelkhand.
Bundelkhand, the country of the Bundela Rajputs, was separated solely by the river Jamna from the dominions of the Nuwab-Vazir of Awadh. The independent action of the Rajah of that country would, under any circumstances, have affected him. It affected him very considerably indeed, when the Rajah, not content with independence, proceeded to aggression; when, at the head of an army deemed by himself to be irresistible, he crossed the Jamna, and began to overrun the districts of his neighbour. It became, then, a matter of very serious consideration with the Nuwab-Vazir whether he should not renounce his designs upon Bengal, and march, rather, against the invader from Bundelkhand. Whilst he was yet pondering over the he course should adopt, he was visited at Lakhnao by the fugitive Emperor, Shah A’lam, who, bestowing upon him the flattering title of Protector of the Empire, earnestly besought him to espouse his cause. Nothing was further from the mind of the Nuwab-Vazir than to render to the Emperor the only assistance he really wished for – the assistance of an army to recover Dihli; but the ruler of Awadh was far too sensible of the advantages which would accrue to himself from the presence in his capital, and in his camp, of the representative of the authority of the Mughul, to reject his advances. He welcomed Shah A’lam, therefore, with great respect and heartiness, and persuaded him to accompany him on the march he was then about to undertake to Allahabad.
Before quitting Lakhnao, the Nuwab-Vazir had despatched to
Mir Kasim the letter and the Koran of which I have already spoken. A little later, however, there came to give him grave cause for reflection, first, the news of the invasion of the Rajah of Bundelkhand, and, secondly, letters from Mir Jafar informing him of the collapse of Mir Kasim and his party, and most earnestly beseeching his friendship and alliance. The consideration that the friendship of the last would enable him to deal effectually with the first, caused the Nuwab-Vazir to repent that he had given so pressing an invitation, accompanied by a safe-conduct, to Mir Kasim. However, his preparations had been made, and he set out for Allahabad.
But when he arrived at that city, he found that Mir Maim had preceded him thither. It was necessary that he should pay his guest the first visit. Accordingly, with great ceremony, and escorted by ten thousand horsemen, the Nuwab-Vazir, the very day of his arrival, proceeded to the camp of Mir Kasim. As he entered the camp he saw, drawn up to do him honour, the battalions and the artillery of the trained brigades of Samru and Madoc, the men well set-up, well armed, uniformly dressed – the gunners smartly arrayed after the manner of the English. The Nuwab-Vazir had never seen European troops. The sight, then, of sipahis clothed and drilled according to their fashion, and presenting a striking contrast to the soldiers of his experience, made a deep impression upon him. He had entered Mir Kasim’s camp all but resolved to dismiss him from his dominions; he left it, after the interview, all but resolved to use him for his own purpose.
His mind, however, was not absolutely made up. In concert with the Nuwab-Vazir, and with his entire concurrence, the Emperor had already despatched a letter of congratulation and of friendship, with a dress of honour to Mir Jafar. This friendly missive had persuaded the latter that he had nothing to fear from his rival, that Mir Elmira would enter the dominions of the Nuwab-Vazir only to be expelled from them, and he had
persuaded the English that it was unnecessary to challenge the enmity of an independent prince by pursuing their defeated enemy across the Karamnasa. But Mir Jafar had not given sufficient weight to the consummate ability of his son-in-law. We have already noticed the impression which the skilful array of his troops produced upon the mind of the Nuwab-Vazir. Mir Kasim hastened to confirm and strengthen this impression. We have seen how, three years’ before, he had bought the members of the Calcutta Council. He still had plenty of money. With that money he now bought the ministers and favourites of the Nuwab-Vazir and of the Emperor. He did even more. Setting forth, in a plain unvarnished statement, the proceedings of the foreigners from beyond the sea; showing the Nuwab-Vazir how, in six years, they had risen from the position of humble and dependent traders to be masters of the three richest provinces of the Empire; and reminding him that, according to the ideas of an aggressive race, the process of absorption never is complete so long as anything remains to be absorbed; that the frontier of the foreigners now touched the domains of his vassal, the Rajah of Banaras, and that, therefore, he himself would most certainly be the next victim: he induced Shuja’u’d daulah to return to his earlier idea – that which had for its aim the conquest of Bengal, the expulsion of these foreigners.
But one difficulty remained to bar the full acceptance of this policy; and that was the invasion of the Rajah of Bundelkhand. Mir Kasim was equal to the occasion. He offered to proceed at once, with his own troops only, against the Rajah of Bundelkhand, provided that on his return successful from the enterprise the Nuwab-Vazir would at once invade Bihar. Shuja’u’d daulah closed immediately with the offer.
Mir Kasim promptly marched to the banks of the Jamna and attacked the army of the Bundelkhand Rajah. The enormous relative superiority of soldiers disciplined after the European fashion to the irregular armies of the native princes at once
asserted itself. We have seen how in their desperate struggle for the three provinces the soldiers of Mir Kasim had succumbed to the English. The very same soldiers gained an easy victory over the Rajput warriors of Bundelkhand. The campaign was short but decisive. Beaten in two pitched battles, the invading Rajah hastened to retreat within his own borders; nor did Mir Kasim relax his hold until he had rendered his enemy incapable of pursuing further the contest, and had forced from him a renunciation of all his ambitious plans. Mir Kasim then returned to Allahabad, to find the Nuwab-Vazir dazzled by his exploits and eager now to afford him the assistance which he desired.
The terms of the co-operation were speedily settled. Mir Kasim, whose wealth was far from being exhausted, agreed to pay his powerful ally eleven lakhs of rupees a month, from the day that his army should cross the Ganges. In return he received a promise that as soon as the English had been beaten, Mir Kasim should be restored to the Subahdari, on the condition of paying a yearly tribute to the Emperor and of maintaining a body of disciplined troops ready always to aid the Nuwab-Vazir. It was further arranged that the treasures and property of the English and of Mir Jafar should be divided between the contracting parties.
There were no more delays. The combined armies set out at once, reached Banaras on the 7th March (1704), and immediately made preparations for throwing a bridge of boats across the Ganges. Whilst they are engaged in that operation I propose to trace the movements of the enemy they were marching to encounter.
Various causes combined to offer to the enterprise of the Nuwab-Vazir and Mir Kasim many chances of success. The first of these was the change in the English command. After driving his enemy across the Karamnasa, Major Adams, whose abilities had so much contributed to the success of the campaign,
had been forced by the state of his health to proceed to Calcutta. He had been succeeded for the moment by Major Knox, one of the heroes of Machhlipatanam and Biderra; but the fatigues and exposure of the campaign had told upon Knox, and he was forced in a very few weeks to resign the command to Captain Jennings. Jennings was an artillery officer who had served through the Plassey campaign. He possessed considerable merit, but he laboured under the disadvantage of knowing that he held the chief command only till his successor should be appointed. This knowledge rendered him unwilling to assume any unforeseen responsibility.
Jennings was the less disposed to cross the Karamnasa in pursuit of Mir Maim, because of the hopes entertained by Mir Jafar, and communicated by him to the Calcutta Council, that his rival would receive no assistance from the Nuwab-Vazir. The interchange of compliments and assurances between the courts of Lakhnao and of Murshidabad fully justified Mir Jafar, veteran intriguer as he was, in entertaining such a belief. He could offer more than could Mir Kasim, he could offer peace and alliance whilst the Nuwab-Vazir should march against the Bundelas; he never dreamt that Mir Kasim would render a service which could bind the Nuwab-Vazir to him by the ties of confidence. This illusion constituted the second cause which gave to the projected invasion its greatest chance of success.
The third cause arose from the undermining process adopted by the agents of Mir Kasim. That Nuwab had left in the provinces he had quitted a large number of partisans – men who preferred an independent prince of their choice to a ruler dependent upon, under the control of, and upheld by, the foreigner. Amongst these partisans were men of great ability, who, seeing the collapse of force, endeavoured to obtain their end by ruse and intrigue. They submitted, then, to the inevitable, acknowledged Mir Jafar, and then proceeded to work in the dark for the restoration
of his rival. The great obstacle in their way was that army of Englishmen and of English-trained sipahis which had driven Mir Moan across the border. But the English portion of that army contained not only some Englishmen who were discontented; it contained likewise many foreigners, some the remnants of the Dutch beaten at Biderra, others Frenchmen driven from Chandranagar, and others, adventurers from other parts of Europe. Upon the lower stratum of the natures of these men, and upon the sipahis, the conspirators set instantly to work.
After Mir Kasim had crossed the Karamnasa, the English field force remained for some time encamped at and near Sawant, a small town on the river Durgawati.39 Here, on the 26th January, it was joined by a reinforcement from Bardhwan, commanded by Captain Maclean. With this reinforcement there came also two French companies from Madras, who had formed part of the expedition sent from that presidency against the Manillas, and who had there displayed many symptoms of indiscipline. On arriving at the camp on the Durgawati, these two companies were broken up and re-formed into three.
A long halt in a country which offered no field for employment; the presence in the camp of an unusually large number of foreigners – for, in addition to the three French companies, to the Dutch, the Germans, and other adventurers, there was a fourth French company, commanded by Lieutenant Claude Martine, subsequently the founder and endower of the Martinière in Lakhnao – afforded to the friends of Mir Kasim the opportunity for which they had been waiting. They had, a few weeks earlier, made proof that the English soldiers were not above temptation, for, just before Major Knox resigned his command, they had induced three of them to quit their colours. These men had, indeed, been recaptured, but, owing to the confusion resulting from a change of command, they had
escaped the punishment they had merited. Their good fortune was not likely to act as a deterrent to others. The conspirators now set to work on a more systematic principle.
They were immensely aided at this crisis by the conduct of the English Government. In the earlier days of the campaign, when everything depended upon the devotion, the valour, the endurance of the English soldiers and their native comrades, Mir Jafar had promised the men of the Bengal army that, should they emerge victorious from the campaign, they should receive a handsome donation. This promise had, with the sanction of the Calcutta Council, been communicated officially to the army. Yet when the campaign was over, when the devotion, the valour, and the endurance of the English and the English-trained sipahis had won for Mir Jafar all that he had demanded, the Calcutta Council withheld the promised reward. Mir Jafar was ready enough to pay it, but his finances were under the virtual control of the Calcutta Council, and its members, always ready to help themselves, closed their ears to the just demands of their soldiers.
The first manifestation of the ill-feeling caused and nurtured in the manner I have described, took place on the 30th January (1764), when the European troops, assembled under arms on the parade-ground, refused to obey the word of command. Captain Jennings, who then commanded, was told on the spot by one of their ringleaders that the conduct of the men was prompted by the want of faith of the Government in the matter of the donation promised by the Nuwab; that they had performed their allotted task, had, after a campaign of extraordinary severity, seated Mir Jafar on the maenad; that two months had since elapsed, spent in idleness on the banks of the Durgawati; that they saw no signs of the payment of the promised reward; that, considering themselves aggrieved and defrauded, they had resolved to refuse further service until their wrongs should be redressed,
For the moment Jennings pacified the men, and induced them to return to their duty by promising to write to Calcutta and support their claims, and by assuring them that, to his knowledge, a sum of money was then on its way to the camp, and that from this he would pay an instalment of the promised donation. And, in fact, on the day following, he issued an order, in which, whilst exhorting the men to emulate by their good conduct in camp their gallantry in the field, he pledged his word of honour that the verbal assurances he had given them should be carried out as soon as possible. Three days later Jennings endeavoured to check the spread of the mutinous feeling by detaching the companies in which it had chiefly manifested itself on command to the Karamnasa.
But the evil had taken too deep a root to be eradicated either by smooth words or by paltry expedients. It should always be borne in mind that amongst the Europeans now remaining in camp the foreign element was largely represented. Foreigners, indeed, represented two-thirds of the entire number, and these foreigners had been worked upon by the agents of Mir Kasim! When, then, after the lapse of twelve days, the promised payment had not been made, these men persuaded their comrades to act. At their suggestion the entire European infantry turned out, and electing from their own ranks a commander bearing the name of Straw, with the title of Major, compelled the lascars to draw out six field-pieces and place them in position on the flanks of the battalion. It was only by extraordinary exertions on the part of their officers that the sipahis were induced to refrain from joining their European comrades in this movement. Jennings acted on this occasion with promptitude and vigour. Riding up to Straw, he seized him by the collar, and announced his intention of carrying him to the quarter-guard as the ringleader of the mutiny. The mutineers forced him, however, to let go his hold, and declared their intention, as they saw no prospect of receiving their money by
remaining where they were, of marching to Patna, taking up on their way their comrades who had been detached to the Karamnasa. A long parley followed, Jennings using all his efforts to pacify the men, and even promising to raise a portion of the money from the private funds of the officers. To his advice and promises they paid, however, no regard; finally, to end the matter, Straw gave the order to march to the Karamnasa. The men set out at once in that direction; but, to reach their destination, they had to pass through the camp of the Nuwab. Mir Jafar, forewarned of all that was going on, met the mutineers as they were entering his camp, and promised to pay them a lakh of rupees on the spot, the balance before 1 o’clock of the following day, if they would return to their duty. At this crisis, however, the influence of the foreigners and of the men whom Mir Kasim had bought, came into play. These persuaded their comrades to disregard the offer of Mir Jafar and to carry out their original intention. The mutineers, therefore, pushed on for the Karamnasa.
But Jennings did not yet despair of bringing them to reason. Ordering the officers and the non-commissioned officers to follow the mutineers and to reason with them, he galloped across country to the camp on the Karamnasa, and detaching thence the Europeans encamped there in a direction nearly opposite to that by which their comrades were approaching, turned out the two battalions of sipahis with the two 6-pounders in the camp.
Meanwhile, however, events were happening in the ranks of the mutineers which gave a new colour to the transaction. Obeying the orders of Captain Jennings, the officers and non-commissioned officers had followed the men, and, mingling with them, had all but persuaded the English portion of them to listen to reason. This was far from suiting the purpose of the foreigners. They threatened to drive the officers from their midst, and at length induced their English comrades to persevere in their design. Upon this some of the officers desisted; others,
however, continued to persevere. Amongst the latter was a French lieutenant, to whom I have already made allusion, Claude Martine. As Martine continued to exhort his countrymen, one of the mutineers, likewise a Frenchman, took him aside, and told him that his exhortations were useless, that the men had made up their minds, that the plea of the money and of the march to Patna was only a blind, that they had pledged themselves to the Nuwab-Vazir of Awadh, and were now on their way to cross the Karamnasa and enter his dominions. He concluded by assuring Martine that if he would put himself at their head, he should be their general!
Astounded at this revelation, Martine gave an evasive reply, and made his way back to the camp in search of Jennings. Not finding him there, he took the same way across country which that officer had followed, reached the Karamnasa before the mutineers, and communicated the information he had received. He had hardly done so when the mutineers arrived, and, seeing that the sipahis had no serious intention of opposing them, took possession of the two field-pieces.
Again did Jennings harangue them, this time with fuller knowledge of their real intentions. His serious tone, his exposure of the real aims of the men who were misleading them, produced a marked effect upon the English portion of his listeners. Straw himself, the whilom commandant of the band, was one of the first to recognise that he had been duped. Not only did he admit his fault, but he exerted himself to his utmost to induce his comrades to return to their duty. The consequence of Jennings’s exhortations, of a promise of free pardon, and of the exertions of repentant sinners like Straw, was soon visible. By twos and threes the English came over to stand or fall by their commander. Impatient at this, the foreigners, fearful of further desertions, broke off the conference, and, giving the order to advance, to the number of three hundred crossed the Karamnasa. They were accompanied by about six hundred sipahis,
amongst whose battalions, whilst Jennings was haranguing the Europeans, the Mughul horsemen, devoted to a man to Mir Kasim, had been extremely busy.
But the English officers had not abandoned the task of persuasion. Some seven or eight of them followed the mutineers, and, mixing in their ranks, induced about eighty Europeans and three hundred sipahis to return. Conspicuous in these efforts, so long as the English officers were present, was a Sergeant Delamarr, a man born in London of French parents, and who, as a sergeant of the 84th, had so greatly distinguished himself during the recent campaign that Major Adams had promised him a commission. Major Adams had died, and the promise had not been kept. Delamarr had seen other non-commissioned officers who had rendered far inferior services promoted and provided for, whilst he was still kept in the background. Dissimulating his resentment, he, under the cover of zealous sympathy with his officers, became the soul of the mutiny. So much did the officers trust him, that on this critical occasion one of them had lent him a horse to follow and use his persuasions with the men. Delamarr did follow with the seven or eight officers to whom I have referred, but when they had left with their repentant following, he put himself at the head of the remainder, and declared he would show them the way to fortune and glory.
If the Nuwab-Vazir had been close at hand to receive and to encourage the malcontents as they crossed the Karamnasa, the situation would have been serious indeed. But the march into an unknown country, where no welcome awaited them, acted upon a large number of the mutinous soldiers as a plunge into a cold bath acts upon a drunken man. It completely sobered them. The further they advanced the more did their confidence vanish. The cautious German element was especially affected by considerations which grew stronger every moment. By degrees every man of that nationality fell out and retraced his
steps. Of the whole force, there finally joined the Nuwab-Vazir at Allahabad a hundred and seventy-three deserters, of whom only three were Englishmen. The remainder were almost all Frenchmen. The majority of them joined the brigades of Sunni and Madoc. The more intelligent were received into the special service of the Nuwab-Vazir, and were subsequently entrusted with subordinate commands.
Meanwhile, with the return of the repentant deserters, order had been restored in the British force. The receipt of a lakh of rupees from Mir Jafar enabled Captain Jennings to make a timely distribution of a part of the promised donation, and his men, touched by this liberality, and free from the pressure of their French comrades, evinced not only shame for their conduct, but a desire to atone for it by some striking act of service.
An opportunity soon presented itself. In his distribution of the Nuwab ’s money Jennings had paid the European soldier more than six times the amount he had allowed to the sipahi.40 The gross unfairness of the proportion produced a marked effect upon the minds of the men who had to a very great extent resisted the pressure put upon them by their European comrades and by their co-religionists to desert. To them it appeared in the light of a premium upon revolt. They resolved, therefore, to obtain their rights by the means which in the case of their European comrades had proved so successful. Accordingly, on the morning of the 13th February, the day after the issue of the order directing the distribution, the sipahis turned out in tumultuous order on their parade-grounds. Jennings at once ordered the European battalions and the artillery under arms. He had no need to incite them to do their duty. He found them only too eager to wipe out, by an attack
upon the men who had presumed to follow their example, all recollection of their contumacy. An extraordinary scene followed. The Europeans occupied a position which cut off one native battalion from the other. For a time no movement was made by either party. Suddenly, however, the sipahi battalion on the extreme left advanced in a tumultuous manner towards the Europeans. Rightly conjecturing that the object of the sipahis was not to make an assault but to effect a junction with their comrades, and especially anxious to avoid a contest which, however it might terminate, could not fail to prove fatal to English interests, Jennings, with great presence of mind, controlled his troops so far as to force them to refrain from drawing a trigger. The moment was very critical, for the discharge of a single piece must have precipitated a conflict. The sipahis came on in tumultuous order, passed through the Europeans, and joined their comrades on the other flank. Two of the native battalions then marched towards the Karamnasa; of the other two present, one, though clamorous and excited, was restrained by its officers; the fourth showed no disposition to mutiny; a fifth, on duty in the camp of the Nuwab, was kept under control; two others were on detached duty on the Karamnasa; and it was to join these, which had already displayed disaffection, that the two revolted battalions now marched.
Jennings and his officers followed them, and by promising them the same concessions which had been accepted by the other battalions, he succeeded in inducing them to return to their duty. Similar concessions ensured the loyalty of the two battalions on the Karamnasa. The concessions were that the share of the native rank and file should be increased from less than one-sixth to one-half of that awarded to their European comrades.
It is strange that a revolt, which, in the cases alike of the Europeans and the sipahis, might have been attended with the most serious consequences, should have been precipitated by
the conduct of the authorities, and that, in both instances, it required the breaking of the bonds of discipline to force those authorities to consent to an act of simple justice. The delay in carrying out a solemn obligation in the one case, and the insult offered to the sipahis in the other, imperilled without necessity the British hold upon Bengal.
Captain Jennings, hoping that a change of quarters might have the effect of effacing the recollection of the scenes of the previous fortnight, marched, as soon as order had been restored, to Sahasram (Sasseram). Here he remained for a fortnight and then moved to Hariganj on the Son. On the 5th March Major Carnac arrived at that place to take command.
Major Carnac was not one of the glorious illustrations of the old Indian army. He possessed few of the qualities which are required in a general. Careful of his own comfort, absorbed by a love of the acquisition of money, then very prevalent amongst the high officials in India, he displayed neither energy nor enterprise. With far greater means at his disposal than had been possessed by Major Adams, he accomplished much less. He paid but little attention to the comfort of his troops, who, however, disliked him less on that account than for the distrust he evinced on many occasions of their capacity to beat the enemy. The intense dislike felt towards him by his officers and men, and which can be traced in all the correspondence of the time, was increased by the semi-regal state with which, whilst careless for others, he shrouded himself. It was his delight to pitch his camp at some distance in the rear of that of his army, and, whilst living in it a life of luxury and ease, to leave the details of his command to subordinates. That his officers and men gauged his military capacity aright was shown some years later, when his conduct in the campaign against the Marathas imperilled Western India.41
The first act of Major Carnac after assuming command gave evidence of the want of enterprise which was his besetting fault as a general. I have already described how, after the fall of Patna, Mir Kasim had proceeded to the fort of Rotas, and, mounting the members of his family and all his portable treasure upon camels, had succeeded in escorting both across the Karamnasa. But many valuables, not to be transported in that easy manner, had been left at Rotas. To secure these likewise, Mir Kasim had dispatched in February, from Allahabad, one of his ablest officers, Shekh Ishmail Bey, with a chosen body of troops and a supply of cattle. The enterprise had not been so secretly conducted but that it came to the knowledge of Mir Jafar. Mir Jafar communicated the information to Jennings, and Jennings, on the 2nd March, had despatched a party to intercept the convoy, and, if possible, to take possession of Rotas.
Three days later Carnac assumed the command. His first act was to recall the intercepting party, at that time within a few miles of its destination.
Carnac had found ready to his hand a force consisting, in spite of the recent desertions, of seven hundred and fifty European infantry, a hundred and fifty artillery-men, about seventy cavalry, some three or four hundred native cavalry and seven battalions of native infantry, a total strength of about six thousand men. He knew well, moreover, that reinforcements of both races were on their way to join him, and that the Europeans would arrive some time in April. Without counting these, he had an army larger than that with which Clive had fought at Plassey, numerically stronger than that other at the head of which Adams had conquered at Katwa, at Gheriah, and at Undwah Nala, and he was, moreover, supported by the army, twelve thousand strong, of Mir Jafar. His own men were especially eager for the fray. They were tired of inaction, and they greatly longed for an opportunity to
wipe out, by gallantry in the field, every recollection of their insubordination on the banks of the Durgawati.
Their hopes in this respect were, however, soon dispelled. Although, on his way to join, Carnac had received precise information regarding the movements of the Nuwab -Vazir and Mir Kasim, knew that they had quitted Allahabad, and had calculated that they would reach Banaras a day or two after his assumption of the command of the British force, he remained for some days unaccountably idle. In another way he pursued a line of conduct not less irritating to his troops. As though he distrusted them, he ordered his own tent to be pitched, not in camp of his army, but in the camp of his ally, Mir Jafar, separated from that of his army by the river Durgawati. To lessen the inconveniences which might arise from such a course, he – two days after his arrival – issued an order directing that all reports were to be made to his second in command, Major Champion, “who, when there is anything extraordinary, will report to the Commander-in-Chief.”
This conduct, and the apparent determination of Carnac not to move, caused considerable discontent, and for a moment there appeared symptoms of the renewal of the disturbances which had only recently been subdued. Prompt measures – amongst them the despatch to Calcutta of Claude Martine’s French company, and the disbursement of the remainder of the Nuwab’s donation – checked these for the moment, and the brooding discontent was further dissipated by the issue, on the 12th, of an order to move forward. On the 17th the army reached Baksar.
The delay of more than a week, however, had given the enemy – who had, we have seen, reached Banaras on the 7th – time to prepare and throw across the Ganges a bridge of boats. If we may form a conclusion from his correspondence, Carnac had never intended to anticipate them at that place. He had formed a resolution to halt at Baksar; to await there the negotiations
which Mir Jafar was carrying on with the Rajah of Banaras, and which, according to the calculations of those days, were likely to be pecuniarily more profitable even than a successful campaign, and it was with a feeling of relief that, two days after his arrival at that place, and when the tracing of the intrenchments with which he designed to cover his camp had been begun, he learned that the enemy had successfully placed their bridge of boats, and were engaged in crossing the Ganges. He resolved to await them where he was.
This Fabian conduct by no means corresponded to the views of the Calcutta Council. Whatever opinion we may form of the moral character of the gentlemen who formed that Council, we are bound to do justice to their political foresight. These men, the colleagues of Clive and of Adams, had, though not soldiers themselves, gleaned from the action of those leaders a very clear view of the manner in which a war with a native prince ought to be conducted. They had noticed that, alike in Southern India and in Bengal, Clive had been successful because he had attacked. Adams had followed the same system. What faith, then, could they place in a plan, the principle of which was entirely opposed to that with which unbroken success had made them familiar? If Carnac was right, they argued, Clive and Adams had been wrong. To argue that Clive and Adams had been wrong was an absurdity; therefore it was the new system which was defective, and must be abandoned. Full of this conviction, the Council sent orders to Carnac to cross the Karamnasa and proceed to act against the enemy.
Carnac received these orders on the 24th. He at once despatched an officer to arrange for throwing a bridge across the Karamnasa, and wrote to the Council that their orders would be obeyed as soon as he should have collected a sufficient supply of grain. This collection of grain, however, was a mere excuse to evade the orders he had received. For the next twelve days he remained encamped at Baksar, and when on the 3rd April he
received another despatch from the Council urging more decisive measures, he called a council of war.
A council of war never fights. Carnac forced a decision favourable to his own views by proving that the army had not a supply of provisions sufficient to permit them to advance. He did not tell them that the army might have had a sufficient supply of provisions if he had made serious efforts to obtain it. Some of the members of the council did not shrink from expressing that opinion. But it was now too late, and, although the enemy’s army was marching upon them, the council decided to retreat on Patna.
On the following day, the 4th, the army fell back, and on the 18th reached Danapur. On the 14th the European reinforcements, augmenting the army by nearly two hundred Europeans and as many sipahis, reached Patna,. The Europeans at once joined the army in the field.
At Danapur, Carnac halted five days. The murmur of his troops, and certain information that the enemy were approaching the Son – a river most difficult to cross in the face of an enemy – induced him to announce his intention of marching to prevent them. But again he was too late. The very day after he had set out he had a rough proof that the enemy had been beforehand with him; for his own tent, pitched as usual at a distance from the camp, was threatened by a detachment of their cavalry, and he himself was roused from the occupation of a game of whist to run for refuge amongst his own sipahis. This adventure, which reflected little credit on the intelligence department,42 had the effect of inducing Carnac to abandon the unmilitary habit of encamping at a distance from his men.
Certain now of the proximity of the enemy, Carnac despatched his European cavalry – consisting of about seventy men inclusive
of officers – under Captain Hay, with instructions to engage them, then suddenly to retire and draw them into an ambuscade. Hay had not even set out when Carnac changed his mind, without, however, informing Hay of the change. The consequence may be imagined. Hay obeyed orders literally; engaged the enemy at so great an advantage, that the latter sent forward considerable bodies of troops to support their broken advance-guard; then fell back, drawing the enemy’s masses after him to the grove, to which the infantry intended for the ambuscade should have been sent. To his amazement, not a man was to be seen, and Hay, recklessly abandoned to his fate, had great difficulty in extricating himself from his false position.
The near approach of the enemy forced the British army, two days later, to fall back on Patna. After a harassing and disorderly march, it reached that place on the 25th and took up an intrenched position, part of which was already occupied by the army of Mir Jafar. The left of this position rested on the Ganges, then made a sweep round the eastern side and a portion of the southern side of the city, then receding, ran parallel to its western side. It was thus covered for three parts of its extent by the guns mounted on the city walls. Its front was defended to the same extent by a low rampart and a deep ditch. Mir Jafar’s army occupied the left portion of the intrenchment, the extremity of which rested on the Ganges; the English sipahis, the part covered by the south-west bastions of the city wall, and protected by the intrenchment; the Europeans, the most vulnerable portion of the line, running parallel to the western side of the city, not covered by the rampart guns, and open towards the front. The force occupying this intrenchment numbered – including Mir Jafar’s army of twelve thousand men and about a thousand Europeans and English sipahis within the city – nineteen thousand men. It was the largest force ever, till then, put into the field against an enemy in Bengal; it was certainly the first that had allowed itself to be beleaguered.
Leaving their commander, Major Carnac, engaged in completing his preparations for its defence, I propose to return to the Nuwab-Vazir and Mir Kasim.
We left those potentates entering Banaras on the 7th March, and we have heard of them quitting that city by the bridge of boats they had thrown over the Ganges on the 17th. The object being to reach Patna, the direct route led the army to Baksar, a distance of sixty-two miles. The passage of the Ganges proved, however, to be an operation far longer than had been anticipated; indeed, had Major Carnac displayed the smallest enterprise, it might have proved fatal to the invaders. When rather less than one half of the force had crossed to the opposite side, the bridge suddenly gave way. What an opportunity for Carnac! At this very time he was frittering away his energies at Baksar! Some days elapsed before the bridge could be repaired, and it was not till the 2nd April that the enemy’s army, reunited on the southern bank, was in a position to march towards Baksar. The information that it had marched compelled Carnac, as we have seen, to make a hasty retreat towards Patna (4th April).
The Nuwab-Vazir reached Baksar on the 9th April, and, learning the somewhat erratic movements of Carina, resolved to make an effort to cut him off from Patna. He pushed on, therefore, with all speed, crossed the Son, unopposed, on the 17th and 18th, and sent to the front the reconnoitring party which, as we have seen, surprised and almost captured Carnac on the 20th. Whilst Carnac was planning the counter-attack which he failed to support, the Nuwab-Vazir detached on the 21st, a considerable body of troops to cut off his army from Patna. This operation, which, if carried out in its entirety, might have produced serious results, was frustrated only by an accident. Carnac being in want of provisions, had ordered a battalion of sipahis and three guns, to escort, on the 22nd, a convoy from Patna to his camp. Captain Smith, who commanded
this escort, happened to receive information during his march, of the approach of the enemy’s detachment. He was on the line by which the enemy must advance, and close to an extremely strong position formed of the bed of a tank with mud embankments on every side. He promptly took possession of this natural fortress, and when the enemy approached, gave them a reception so unexpected and so warm, that, imagining their purpose had been discovered, they renounced the enterprise and rejoined the main army.
How Carnac fell back before that army, and after a somewhat disorderly retreat, took up a strong position under the walls of Patna, has been already told. The next day the armies of the Emperor, the Nuwab -Vazir, and Mir Kasim, about forty thousand strong, of whom, however, not more than twelve thousand were regular troops, and the larger proportion of the remainder cavalry, took up a position fronting him. The Emperor, Shah A’lam, was on the right opposed to Mir Jafar; Mir Kasim, with his trained brigades, and having his head-quarters at Bankipur, opposed the right wing of Mir Jafar and the left wing of the English; the Nuwab-Vazir, with his head-quarters at Lohannapur, occupied the ground facing the south wall of the city, and opposed the right wing of the English.
It was altogether a new position for the contending parties; an English force nineteen thousand strong, thus bearded in their camp by an enemy whose troops, though exceeding them in number by nearly two to one, were, for the most part, of a quality greatly inferior. But prestige – the prestige gained at Plassey, at Katwa, at Gheriah, and at Undwah Nala – still fought for the English. That prestige had so impressed their enemies with their prowess, that for a week they hesitated to attack. During that period the English and their allies remained passive behind the trenches.
On the 2nd May, however, information reached the Nuwab-Vazir which forced a decision of some kind. He learned that a
detachment of English troops, between two and three hundred strong, commanded by Captain Wemyss, was approaching Patna. It was already too late, even had it been possible, to send a force to crush them; Patna, and the army under its walls, barred his way; he resolved, therefore, to attempt to crush that army before the reinforcement should arrive.
At daybreak of the following day (May 3rd), he made the attempt. The English being the most formidable of his enemies, and the most exposed, he formed up his line of battle so as, if possible, to overwhelm them, whilst, by a feigned attack, he should prevent Mir Jafar from detaching troops to their aid. The English, it will be recollected, occupied the right of the line parallel to the southern face of the city, their left touching the troops of Mir Jafar under the south-western bastions of the city. It should be added that their strongest point was a slight eminence close to, and under the fire of, the south-west bastion.
Leaving the troops of the Emperor to amuse Mir Jafar, the Nuwab-Vazir ranged his own army in the following order. On his right, nearly opposite the mound of which I have spoken, he placed his own choicest soldiers, supported by three thousand Rohilah horse; immediately to the left of these, the divisions of his Minister, Behni Bahadur, and of the Rajah, Balwant Singh, of Banaras; to their left again, a body of five thousand fanatics, all perfectly naked, and covered with paint and ashes. Formed next to these troops, and facing the English line, where it receded and ran parallel to the western face of the city, were the troops of Mir Kasim. Samru occupied, with his Europeans and five battalions of regular sipahis and sixteen guns, the post of honour on the right, touching the five thousand fanatics. Next to Samru were the cavalry and irregular infantry, flanked by the rocket-men of Mir Kasim. The Nuwab was in the rear with the reserve.
A distant cannonade naturally preluded the attack. Under
cover of its fire the Nuwab-Vazir advanced, and, sheltered by some buildings which served as intrenchments, opened and maintained for some time a musketry-fire on the enemy. The task allotted to Samru was more difficult. His men had no cover, and they were called upon to beard the British troops in the open. They advanced with great precision, but no sooner had they come within range than they were received with so hot a fire, that after several attempts to induce them to press on, Samru drew them off to the protection of a hollow way, nearly half-a-mile from the intrenchment. On the enemy’s left, affairs had not progressed much better. It is true that Mir Kasim’s horsemen made several gallant charges, and, supported by their infantry, did their utmost to storm the eminence in advance of the English line, held by Captain Wilding with a company of sipahis; whilst at the same time his rocket-men used every effort to turn the extreme right of their line. Though they did not succeed, their attack produced the effect of occupying the attention of a large portion of the English force, and thus gave an opportunity to the enemy’s leader to concentrate all his efforts on another part of the line.
The Nuwab-Vazir, in fact, noticing how thoroughly Mir Kasim’s troops were occupying the English on their left, resolved to make one determined effort to crush their right. For this purpose he brought up his guns close to the intrenchment, and opened a very heavy fire, sending word to Mir Kasim to send either Samru or his reserves to support him. The fire was continued for some time with great vigour, but the Nuwab-Vazir looked in vain for the support he had solicited from Mir Kasim. Irritated at last beyond measure, he despatched a peremptory message to his ally. But Mir Kasim, great in council, had no head on the battlefield. There he was incapable of even issuing an order. In vain did the message reach him; he neither sent his own troops nor gave an order to Samru. Compelled to rest solely on his own resources, the gallant ruler of Awadh ordered then the five
thousand naked fanatics to attack the angle of the intrenchment – a point where it was defended solely by Europeans. The fanatics rushed forward with great impetuosity with wild shrieks and gestures, presenting a very formidable appearance; but the English received them with a volley so well directed, that many of them were laid low and the remainder scattered in disorder. They had scarcely cleared the way, however, when the Rohilah horsemen galloped at full speed to accomplish the allotted task. These gallant men met, however, no better success. The solid musketry-fire from the unbroken line of unconquered Englishmen emptied many a saddle, and compelled the survivors to fall back to rally.
It was now half-past two. The attack, begun at noon, had been foiled at all points. Still the Nuwab-Vazir did not despair. He had fought with great vigour; the cavalry and the rocket-men on his right had displayed signal courage, but the rest of the army had scarcely fought at all. Neither from Samru, from Behni Bahadur, nor from the Rajah of Banaras, had he received any support. As for Mir Kasim’s reserves, the English artillery-fire, passing over the hollow in which Samru ensconced, had put them to flight long before. The Nuwab-Vazir, then, did not feel himself beaten because his first attack had failed. He resolved to make one more bid for victory. Forming up in line his own troops and those of his immediate dependents, he made a gallant advance, still unsupported either by Samru or Mir Kasim, against the British line. So gallantly did his troops charge home, that, for a moment, it seemed as though victory were about to crown his efforts. The English line wavered, a part of the intrenchment was forced, and some prisoners were made. One effort more, and victory! A similar thought crossed the minds of the English. With calm determination they closed their ranks and presented a new front to the advancing foe, this time not to be broken. Just at this moment, too, the guns from the south-west bastions of the city
opened fire with great effect on the enemy’s line. The soldiers of the Nuwab-Vazir displayed, notwithstanding, prodigies of valour. They did not retire until the battle had gone irretrievably against them.
Beaten but not disgraced, the Nuwab-Vazir fell back, sending, as he did so, a contemptuous message to Mir Maim, to the effect that he should renew the action the following day with troops more to be depended upon than those led by himself and by Samru. The English were anxious to pursue him, to turn the repulse into a complete defeat, but were withheld, to their great indignation, by Carnac. The victory, then, was almost barren. The Nuwab-Vazir carried off all his guns, left no prisoners, and returned to the position he had occupied before the fight. The losses on both sides were never certainly stated; but there can be no doubt but that the enemy suffered far more than the English.
Though the reinforcements commanded by Captain Wemyss safely reached Patna., Carnac still remained on the defensive. He sent, indeed, parties, one to put down insurgents, into the Saran district, and ventured upon one or two skirmishes; but, judging from the reasons he himself assigned, he dreaded, though at the head of the largest force till then employed by the English in Bengal, to attack the enemy in their entrenchments, lest the attack should fail. Possibly his inaction was due to the fact that whilst the armies faced one another before Patna, he himself was carrying on negotiations with the Nuwab-Vazir and the Emperor, and that, as the result showed, a year later,43 he found negotiating more profitable than fighting.
The approach of the rains at last forced the Nuwab-Vazir to retreat. On the 30th May he broke up his camp, and, not
pursued by Carnac, though Carnac was at a very early hour made acquainted with the movement, fell back upon Baksar, where, with fertile provinces behind him, and resting upon the river, he resolved to await in an intrenched position the approach of the English army. Leaving him there, I return to relate the very important measures which now began to affect that army.
On the 28th June, Major Carnac was, by an order of the Court of Directors, removed from the Company’s service. His removal was due to causes which bore no reference whatever to his conduct of the campaign, at that time unknown in England. But it was, nevertheless, a great satisfaction to the Calcutta Council, who had lost all confidence in him, and an intense relief to the officers under his command.
His successor was Major Hector Munro. Munro, who belonged to the 89th Foot, was on the point of embarking for England with the officers and men of his regiment, who had not volunteered for the Company’s service, when he received the intimation that his services were required to command the army in Bengal. Taking with him the remnant of his own regiment and of the 90th, he proceeded to Calcutta, and arrived there at the end of May. He remained there a short time at the request of the Council; acquainted himself, as far as he could, with the views of its members, and with the state of affairs generally; had interviews with Major Carnac and with Mir Jafar, who had likewise quitted the field; then started off and joined the army, strengthened by the arrival of fresh troops, on the 13th August.
Munro was the very opposite of Carnac. Not a great tactician, he was a daring, dashing warrior, always on the alert, ready for any enterprise, however foolhardy it would appear. He disdained the ceremonious pomp and stately ceremony in which Carnac had delighted. To him, danger, privations, difficulties, were as nothing. To set out stealthily with a lightly equipped force, and
dash without warning upon an enemy, was a warfare after his heart. Time was to show him, in another part of India, that such tactics might be turned against himself by a resolute and watchful enemy] but in Bengal, the prestige acquired by the English allowed them to dare greatly with impunity.
But Munro had his difficulties likewise. Scarcely had he joined when the sipahi battalions displayed, in a worse form, those mutinous symptoms which had with difficulty been repressed, a few months previously, on the Durgawati and the Karamnasa. After some less important manifestations, repressed without difficulty, the men of Captain Galliez’s battalion, the oldest corps in the service, rose at Manji, imprisoned their officers, and declared their intention of serving no longer, as the promises made to them had not been kept. A battalion stationed at Chapra, the 6th, commanded by Captain Trevannion, was at once despatched to Manji to bring the mutineers to reason. The 6th proved, as Captain Trevannion believed they would prove, loyal to their colours; and the mutineers, taken by surprise, surrendered themselves as prisoners to their native comrades. They were at once embarked upon rafts and conveyed to Chapra.
Munro was awaiting their arrival at that place. Having received information of the date and of the hour on which he might expect them-8 o’clock on the morning of the 13th he had assembled the troops of the station, European and native, on the parade-ground. The prisoners were at once landed and drawn up in front of their loyal comrades. Their own commanding officer then, at Munro’s request, selected fifty of the ringleaders. From these fifty he again picked out twenty-four, and these Munro brought at once before a general court-martial on capital charges of mutiny and desertion. The court found them guilty, and sentenced them to be blown away from guns.
Munro was a humane man, averse from blood-shedding unless
in cases of absolute necessity. But the times were critical. Misplaced leniency would, he felt, endanger the whole fabric of British dominion in Bengal. The easy condonation of the events on the Karamnasa had alone rendered possible the mutiny of Manji. He accordingly directed that the sentence of the court should be carried into effect.
The sentence was about to be executed – four of the condemned mutineers were being tied to loaded guns, when four of their comrades stepped forward and declared that as they belonged to the grenadier company, and had occupied the post of honour on the field of battle, they claimed their right to it on the present occasion. The request of these gallant men was complied with; they were tied to the guns and blown away!
The action of these men, the calmness with which they met their fate, their tragic end, produced an immense effect upon the spectators. There was scarcely a dry eye on the parade-ground. Detestation for the crime had been effaced by admiration for the romantic heroism of the criminals. On the loyal sipahis the effect was different. They could not bear to assist at the slaughter of men of their own blood – sent to that slaughter for a cause with which in their hearts they sympathised. The murmurs in their ranks became irrepressible, and their commanding officers, stepping forward, interpreted those murmurs by declaring to Munro that their men would not allow the execution to proceed.
Again was the moment critical. Any faltering on the part of Munro would have made the sipahis masters of the situation. Fortunately he was equal to the occasion. Directing the officers of the artillery to load their guns with grape, he drew up the marines on one side of them and the European grenadiers on the other; dismissed the commandants to their regiments, and gave orders to the sipahis to ground their arms. Instinctively they obeyed him. Firmness and decision are qualities
which can always command Asiatics! The execution then proceeded. Sixteen of the remaining men were blown away; the remaining four were sent to Moniah and executed in a similar manner in the presence of the two battalions there stationed, who had recently evinced a disposition to mutiny.
Having, by this decided conduct, weeded his army of the “perilous stuff” which might have ruined it and him, and having reorganised his force, Munro issued, on the 6th October, the welcome order to advance. Bearing in mind the great superiority in cavalry possessed by his opponent, he resolved to leave a considerable body of men to protect Bihar, whilst with a select and lightly-equipped force he should execute his favourite manoeuvre of beating up the enemy. The force he selected for this purpose consisted of nearly nine hundred Europeans – artillery and infantry – eight battalions of sipahis, and the Mughul horse, now increased to a thousand men. Of this force two sipahi battalions and about a hundred Europeans were at Chap& Whilst he himself, then, should advance from Bankipur by the direct route, Munro directed that the Chapra force should set out from that place under Major Champion, and form a junction with him at Kalvarghat on the Son, on the 10th. At the same time a ninth sipahi battalion (Captain Goddard’s), was ordered to surprise Rotas, and then join the main body at the same point.
These arrangements having been completed, Munro set out on the 9th October from Bankipur. He reached Kalvarghat on the 10th, only to find the opposite bank of the Son occupied by the enemy. A passage which might have been extremely difficult was rendered easy by the timely arrival of Major Champion. That officer was more than true to his appointment, for he had marched up the west bank of the Son, and was therefore in a position to take in flank the enemy sent to oppose the advance of Munro. The enemy, not liking the new position, resolved to reserve their energies for another day, and, after a
demonstration against Champion, fell back in the direction of A’rah. The British force then crossed and halted. The following day it was joined by Goddard.
The army being completed by this arrival, Munro divided it into three divisions, assigning them to Majors Champion, Pemble, and Stibbert. On the 13th he again advanced. He found A’rah evacuated; but as he pressed on, his advanced guard, commanded by Champion, came upon a body of the enemy’s horse drawn up on the further bank of the Bonas nala, close to the spot where, ninety-three years later, Vincent Eyre gained his ever-memorable victory. Champion easily dispersed the horsemen, but, following them up too quickly, was led, about a mile beyond the nala, into a village in which the enemy had planted an ambuscade. The leading files, suddenly assailed from the houses, turned rein and galloped back, pursued by the enemy, who emerged not only from the village but from the groves in the neighbourhood. Following up their advantage, the enemy charged and put to flight the Mughul horse, notwithstanding the efforts of their European officers. They then dashed across the bridge, sabring all who came in their way; but noticing, a few hundred yards beyond it, two companies of sipahis drawn up to receive them, they fell back, contented with their morning’s work. They had killed or severely wounded seventy-two of their adversaries. They themselves, though not unscathed, suffered far less.
This surprise caused a greater exhibition of caution on the part of the English. Thenceforth they strengthened the advance-guard by the addition of two companies of Europeans and two guns. On arriving at their ground every day they were practised likewise in the order of battle to be observed in the event of being attacked in camp or on the march. Their further progress continued to be harassed by cavalry attacks, but the presence of the guns prevented a recurrence of the disaster of the bridge over the Bonas nala.
At length, on the 22nd October, Munro reached the plain of Baksar, and beheld the enemy’s army drawn up in front of their intrenchments. The two armies remained in presence for a short time, neither prepared to attack. At the end of an hour, the Nuwab-Vazir withdrew his troops within their lines, whereupon Munro moved into the position marked out for his men, and convened a council of war. While they are deliberating, I propose to record the events which had occurred in the camp of the Nuwab-Vazir, subsequent to his arrival at Baksar.
The army which had fought against the English at Patna, and which, repulsed before that place, had retreated on Baksar, had had three nominal leaders, but only one directing head. The Emperor was virtually a state prisoner, lending only to the cause the halo of the imperial title. Mir Kasim had held an independent command in the attack on Patna. But his conduct in that engagement had brought the Nuwab-Vazir to the resolution to rid himself of him altogether. He acted to this end with the cunning which, in an oriental nature, occupies the place of prudence. Mir Kasim still had money; he still possessed a certain amount of influence. Until that money should be spent and that influence be dissipated, the Nuwab-Vazir would seek, by the means dear to an Asiatic, to prepare to become possessor of his property and to inherit that influence. The day at last arrived when, whilst they were in the intrenchment at Baksar, Mir Kasim’s treasures became exhausted. Then, in conformity with his plan, the Nuwab-Vazir treated him with marked and studied insolence. After some bye-play, the whole truth burst upon Mir Kasim. He discovered that his troops, the trained brigades of Samru, his Europeans, had been secretly bought by his ally; that all his friends except one solitary attendant were prepared to desert him. The very same day he was robbed, by the Nuwab-Vazir’s orders, of the few valuables that remained to him, confined as a prisoner, and, the day after the appearance of the English force at Baksar,
placed upon a lame elephant, and dismissed, as one who brought bad luck to any cause, from the camp.44
Undisputed master, now, of the legions, possessing courage and no inconsiderable military skill, Shuja’u’d daulah might fairly hope to give a good account of the comparatively small force which was about to assail him in his intrenchments. He could still dispose of some forty thousand men, one-third at least of whom were trained warriors, and this time they would not be assailing men behind intrenchments covered by a fortress – they themselves would have the advantage of the cover. His position was really a strong one, the left flank covered by the Ganges, the right by the Torah nala, and the whole front covered by earthworks. Well might he calculate that, before his right flank could be turned or his centre forced, the weight of his greatly superior numbers would tell.
There is an impulse, however, in the nature of the Latin and the Oriental races which makes it impatient of delay, which upsets all the calculations of prudence. At Dettingen, at Talavera, and on many other fields, the French have voluntarily flung to the winds the natural advantages which would have secured to them victory. We have seen how, at Gheriah, Mir Kasim’s army, leaving its strong intrenchments, marched into the open to meet the English. And now, at Baksar, the Nuwab-Vazir pursued the same course. He had sighted the English army on the morning of the 22nd. He had waited for them in his intrenchments all that day. As they did not attack him, he resolved to attack them on the following morning. At daybreak he moved out of his intrenchments accordingly.
We left Munro, meanwhile, presiding at the council of war which he had summoned after dismissing his troops on the
morning of the 22nd. There were officers present who, during the stay of the army at Baksar under Carnac, had gained a thorough knowledge of the ground; two, even, who had surveyed the position now occupied by the enemy. After a brief consultation it was resolved to give the main body of the troops a rest on the 23rd, and to attack the intrenchment on the 24th, that a strong detachment should endeavour, then, to turn the right of the position, whilst the main body should assail it in front; that, meanwhile, trenches and false batteries should be thrown up on the 23rd opposite the enemy’s left, so as to delude them with the idea that the English intended to proceed by regular approaches.
The Nuwab-Vazir disconcerted all these arrangements by boldly challenging a combat on the 23rd. His army was discovered, soon’ after daybreak, marching in battle array towards the English camp by Major Champion, who had been detached with a party to prepare the false approaches of which I have spoken. Champion at once sent word to Munro, and Munro, after galloping to the front to reconnoitre, ordered his men to form up in the order of battle in which he had practised them during the line of march, and which would enable them, if threatened by cavalry, to form, on the moment, an oblong square.
That order was in two lines. In the front line the Royal troops, composed of the Marines, and details of the 84th, 89th, and 90th Regiments, commanded by Captain Wemyss, occupied the right centre; four companies of the Company’s European troops – two belonging to Bombay, and two to Bengal – commanded by Captain Macpherson, the left centre. Flanking these two centres, on the right and on the left, were two battalions of sipahis. In the intervals between these four battalions were two six-pounders; in the intervals between the Royal and the Company’s Europeans were four six-pounders; on the extreme flanks were one twelve-pounder and two six-pounders.
In the second line, about two hundred of the Bengal European Battalion occupied the centre, with two battalions of sipahis on either flank, two six-pounders filling up the spaces between the Europeans and the natives, and two being posted on either flank. The cavalry was divided into two divisions. One of these, supported by four companies of sipahis taken from the battalions in the second line, was posted at a village to protect the baggage; the other, commanded by Captain Hay, occupied a position fifty paces behind the centre of the front line, supported by a reserve composed of the European grenadiers. The force numbered, exclusive of officers and sergeants, eight hundred and fifty-seven Europeans, of whom seventy-one were artillerymen, and forty cavalry; five thousand two hundred and ninety-seven sipahis, and nine hundred and eighteen native cavalry (Mughul Horse); or a total of seven thousand and seventy-two. It had twenty-eight guns. The right wing of the front line was commanded by Major Champion, and the left by Major Hibbert. Major Pemble commanded the second line; Captain Hay, as I have said, the cavalry, with the reserve; and Lieutenant Vertue the cavalry and sipahis guarding the baggage.
It remains only to describe the position. To the left and in front of the left wing was an extensive morass, and beyond that a village; in front of the right wing a large grove, between which and the village on the left the space was clear; to the right of the grove, beyond the extreme right of the line, was another village. These points, the villages and the grove, had been occupied by the enemy before the English line could be formed.
The Nuwab-Vazir had been allowed, indeed, plenty of time to consider the ground upon which he now resolved to fight; and it must be allowed that in his choice he had displayed considerable skill. His position was, indeed, formidable. His left, which, resting on the Ganges, occupied the fort and village of Baksar, was composed of the division of Behni Bahadur, several
native battalions officered by the foreigners who had deserted from the Karamnasa in the preceding February, supported by a chosen body of horsemen raised by the Nuwab-Vazir in Awadh, and known as the Shekhzadi,45 commanded by Shekh Gulam Khadar. In the centre were the trained brigades of Samru and Madoc, consisting of eight battalions of sipahis and eight field-pieces worked by Europeans, and supported by a mixed body of horse and foot, six thousand strong, commanded by Shuja Kuli Khan. In this centre, on either flank of the trained battalions, were powerful batteries of heavy guns, worked by trained native gunners under European superintendence. The right wing was composed of the division of the Rajah of Banaras, a large body of Rohilahs, horse and foot, and five thousand Afghan cavalry, known as the Durani horse, from the fact that the majority of them had served under Ahmad Shah Durani at Panipat. The reserve, composed mainly of cavalry, was posted in the rear. The Nuwab-Vazir, though he commanded the whole army, took especial direction of the right wing.
The Nuwab-Vazir advanced slowly towards the English force until, judging himself within range, he halted and opened fire from his heavy guns in the centre. He had judged correctly, and Munro, finding that his own guns were not of sufficient calibre to reach the enemy’s line, whilst his own men were a target for theirs, gave the order to advance. This forward movement was especially trying, as the morass in front of the left wing was unfordable and had to be turned, and this under a heavy fire from the enemy’s guns and rockets. But never did British troops behave more steadily than on this trying occasion. Calmly and deliberately as on the parade ground they accomplished the manoeuvre. Meanwhile, as they advanced within range, the guns of their centre and of their right wing opened fire, with a better aim than that of the enemy. The
Morass at length cleared, the line was re-formed, and the advance continued. Just at this moment the Durani Horse, galloping up, threatened the left flank. Again, as on parade, the two British lines executed the manoeuvre to which they had been accustomed, and promptly forming into an oblong square, poured in a fire of grape and musketry so galling that the Duranis recoiled. An attempt by the same horsemen made immediately afterwards, in conjunction with the Shekhzadis, on the baggage, was more successful. The whole of this fell into their hands.
Flushed with this success, the two bodies of horsemen charged impetuously the rear-line of the British. The charge, though repelled, was repeated and repeated, the enemy behaving with the greatest gallantry, many of their men falling in hand-to-hand contest in the very ranks of the assailed. Amongst these was their heroic leader. Not even his loss, however, checked their ardour, nor did the survivors retire until the heaped-up bodies of their comrades, dead and dying, convinced them of the impossibility of breaking down the solid British wall before them.
Whilst his cavalry were thus maintaining their reputation on the rear of the British lines, the infantry of the Nuwab-Vazir were, under his own personal directions, using every endeavour to gain the victory which should make him master of the three provinces. A battery of heavy guns had been moved to the village overlapping the right of the British line, beyond the grove immediately in their front, and the fire from it had already produced something like a wavering in their right wing as it advanced. Munro, perceiving this, recognised that the critical moment had arrived when, if he did not wish to allow the conviction to steal over his men that they were overmatched, he must achieve some striking success. He accordingly ordered a battalion of sipahis to charge the village. This feat was performed with great
gallantry and skill by Lieutenant Nicoll, Adjutant-General of the sipahis. This officer, making a detour, surprised the enemy, and drove them out at the point of the bayonet. No sooner had this been accomplished than. Munro, sending another battalion to support Nicoll, directed him to carry his success further, and attack the grove. The enemy, however, were by this time on the alert, and they received Nicoll with so much resolution, and with numbers so superior, that they forced him back. An opportune charge of cavalry completed his discomfiture.
A decisive moment had now arrived. If the enemy could maintain themselves in the grove, the ultimate victory must be with them. Samru and Madoc were at least holding their own in the centre; on the right the Nuwab-Vazir had not lost an inch of ground. Could he repulse the English once more from the grove, and then overwhelm them with a charge of cavalry, the day would be his own. No one recognised the position more clearly than Munro. He felt that unless he could carry the grove he was beaten. He resolved, therefore, to carry it at all hazards.
That there might be no mistake this time, Munro supported the battalions already in advance, and which he further strengthened, with his entire right wing, and directing them to trust only to the bayonet, sent them forward. Had the enemy only shown resolution, the contest might have been doubtful; but the pertinacity of the English daunted them; they could not view with firmness the sight of the dark masses advancing against them. As soon, therefore, as the English entered the grove the enemy gave way, leaving twenty-seven guns behind them. A volley from the victors hastened their retreat, but they formed up again on the left of the line, and presented there an unbroken front.
Still the battle, though more favourable to the English, was not yet decided. A mistake made by the commander of the mixed horse and foot, Shuja Kuli Khan, who was supporting
the brigades of Samru and Madoc, came, however, opportunely to give the final touch to the impending catastrophe. This officer had no sooner heard the volley which the English had poured upon the infantry retreating from the grove, than, elated as he was with the promising aspect of affairs, he came to the unfortunate conclusion that they were the troops of the Nuwab-Vazir who had fired it – the retreating English who had received it. The moment, then, had arrived, he thought, to complete the victory. Without communicating with anyone, then, he moved round the skirts of the morass, and charged the English left wing in front and in flank. But here again English steadiness, never more conspicuously displayed than on this memorable day, baffled the gallantry of the enemy. The men of the left wing, Natives and Europeans, repulsed charge after charge, and at length compelled the baffled survivors of the enemy, who had lost their gallant leader, to retire broken and in disorder. That leader had paid more than his life for his mistake. His discomfiture was the signal for the retreat of the whole line!
Munro at once gave orders for a general advance. Riding to the head of his troops he thanked them for their conduct, told them that the victory was now in their hands, and, taking off his hat, gave three cheers, to which the men responded. The battalions then broke into column, and pushed on to improve their success.
Fortune again favoured them. The Nuwab-Vazir, who was formed of a good fighting material, and who had not spared himself during the battle, had, on seeing the victory on which he had counted escape from his grasp, taken up a new position to check pursuit and, if possible, to restore the battle. He would probably have succeeded in doing the first. But, unfortunately for him, Behni Bahadur, who had occupied the fort and village of Baksar, had not heard of the defeat of the main body. Himself dismounted and his men in loose order-,
chatting, probably, regarding the victory they believed had been gained – they were surprised by the sudden apparition in their midst of the English soldiers. To mount, to flee, all in disorder, was the simultaneous thought of several thousands Of men. The consequent rush of terrified fugitives was fatal to the new dispositions taken up by the Nuwab-Vazir.
Thenceforward all was over. There was nothing for it but flight – or pillage. The Durani horse, true to their Afghan instincts, chose the latter alternative, and set to work with a good will to plunder the camp of the master for whom they had fought. The Nuwab-Vazir himself succeeded in crossing the Torah nala with his regular brigades, his moneys, and his jewels; but no sooner had he seen them on the opposite bank than, like Napoleon after Leipsic, he ordered the bridge of boats to be destroyed. The rear of the force and all the camp-followers were thus exposed to destruction. Still they pushed on; some into the stream, elephants, camels, horses, men, and bullocks all mixed together, the same animal instinct inspiring them all. The result was terrible. In this struggle for life, writes the native chronicler, so many perished that at last a bridge, three hundred yards long, was formed of their bodies, over which the survivors escaped! It need scarcely be added that across that bridge the victors did not follow them.
Such was the battle of Baksar! a battle in all respects a test battle, won by courage, endurance, and, above all, by discipline and steadiness. If we may say that the English were fortunate in possessing as a leader a man so cool, so enterprising, and yet so firm and decided as Hector Munro, we must also admit that never before had they encountered an enemy in all respects so formidable. Shuja’u’d daulah, Nuwab-Vazir of Awadh, was the most skilled native leader of soldiers in India. Contemporary writers declare that if he had lived in the palmy days of the Mughuls, his force of character, his astuteness, and, above all, his qualities as a general, would have placed him in the very
front rank. The same writers proceed, whilst lamenting the fortune which brought him, at a critical period, in contact with a race physically superior and which had attained a higher standard in the practice of arms, to point to the statesmanlike wisdom which admitted defeat, recognised that the conqueror was not to be withstood, and eventually bound him towards himself and his family by ties of friendship. Such a leader was no unworthy opponent even of Munro; and the most critical will admit that he fought the battle with skill and resolution. He cannot be held responsible for the mistakes of Shuja Kull Khan and of Behni Bahadur – mistakes, the first of which ensured his defeat, and the second made of the defeat a rout. Again, his men, especially his cavalry, fought most bravely. Witness the charges on the second line of the English, the first defence of the grove, the firm attitude of the disciplined brigades. But for the wonderful steadiness of the English those charges would have brought them victory. It was that steadiness, as conspicuous here as it was on the hill of Albuera and on the field of Waterloo, which not only saved Bengal, but gained for our countrymen the north-west provinces of India.
For those were the stakes. The English risked the three provinces of Bengal, Bihar, and Orisa, the Nuwab-Vazir the north-western provinces from Shahjahanpur to the Karamnasa. They fought to decide to whom both should belong. That was the practical issue. Had the English been badly beaten – and defeat would have meant annihilation – Shuja’u’d daulah would not have stopped short of Calcutta. What were the consequences of his defeat? Baksar was fought on the 23rd October 1764. By the following February the English had subdued the country as far as Allahabad, including Banaras and Chunar; in March they had overrun Awadh, occupied Faizabad and Lakhnao, beaten the enemy at Karrah, again at Kalpi on the Jamna, and finally forced the Nuwab-Vazir – a “houseless wanderer” – to throw himself upon their generosity. The extent
of the territory conquered alone prevented the English from, at the time, taking the fullest advantage of their victory. From motives of policy they restored to its owner the greater part of the stake, all of which, nevertheless, the victory of Baksar, well followed up, had won for them. Clive, who arrived from England in time to negotiate the treaty, would have given back nearly the whole of it. But circumstances were too strong for him. The victory of Baksar advanced the English frontier practically to Allahabad.46
That victory cost the English eight hundred and forty-seven in killed and wounded; of these a hundred and one were Europeans, and nine of these, again, were officers. The enemy’s loss was more severe. Upwards of two thousand men lay dead on the field, and many more were wounded. The victors captured a hundred and thirty-three pieces of artillery, the standing camp, and all the personal effects of the enemy. Exclusive of the number of articles plundered, the booty, when sold, realised upwards of twelve lakhs of rupees
Whether regarded as a duel between the foreigner and the native, or as an event pregnant with vast permanent consequences, Baksar takes rank amongst the most decisive battles ever fought. Not only did the victory of the English save Bengal, not only did it advance the British frontier to Allahabad, but it bound the rulers of Awadh to the conqueror by ties of admiration, of gratitude, of absolute reliance and trust, ties which made them for the ninety-four years that followed the friends of his friends and the enemies of his enemies. For that constancy of friendship England repaid them in 1855–6!
39. The Durgawati joins the Karamnasa about twenty-seven miles above the point where the latter empties itself into the Ganges.
40. The proportions were – to all sergeants, and to corporals and bombardiers of the artillery, 80 rupees each; to corporals of infantry and gunners, 60 rupees each; to private soldiers and drummers, 40 rupees each; to havildars (native sergeants), 12 rupees each; to naiks (native corporals), 9 rupees each; to sipahis 6 rupees each.
41. I allude to the conduct which led to the shameful convention of Wargaon.
42. For secret-service money, attendance, and table-money, Major Carnac drew the unprecedentedly large allowance of Rs. 11,291.8.0 per mensem, a sum greatly exceeding those drawn by his predecessor and successor for similar purposes.
43. In 1765, when again at the head of the army, Carnac wrung from the impoverished Emperor a donation, for himself individually, of two lakhs of rupees.
44. The story is told in detail in the Sayar il Muta’akkhirin. Mir Kasim eventually found his way to Rohilkhand, where, after many vicissitudes, he became a pensioner of the upright and virtuous Najib-u’d daulah. Left by his death without a protector, he eventually died in Dihli in extreme poverty, his last shawl being sold to pay for his winding sheet. – Asiatic Annual Register.
45. Literally, the sons of the Shekh.
46. The English held that place nominally for the Emperor till 1771, when they sold it to the Nuwab of Awadh for fifty lakhs of rupees. They continued, nevertheless, to garrison it. It was formally transferred to the English in 1801.
This collection transcribed by Chris Gage