Battle of Plassey 23rd June 1757 – A Brief Overview

2009/07/28 at 10:00 pm | Posted in Battle | 3 Comments

Opposing Armies

 British Army

  Robert Clive,  National Army Museum

A Mixed army of:

  • approximately 1,000 European troops

  • 2,000 sepoys commanded by English officers

  • Eight 6 pounder guns and two howitzers

Principal officers – British
  • Major Killpatrick
  • Major Grant
  • Major Eyre Coote, later Lieutenant-General, and then Sir Eyre Coote
  • Captain Guah (or Gaupp)
  • Captain Richard Knox, 1st CO of the 1st Bengal Native Infantry

Eyre Coote, 1763 (National portrait gallery)

British East India Company regiments

800px-Flag_of_the_British_East_India_Company_%281707%29_svg

Flag of the Honourable East India Company. The flag had a Union Flag in the canton after the creation of the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707

Regular British  Troops

  • 1st Battalion 39th (Dorsetshire) Regiment of Foot
  • 9th Battery, 12th Regiment, Royal Artillery
  • 50 naval ratings

 

 The force consisted of detachments of the Bengal, Madras and Bombay artillery, the British 39th Regiment, and the Bengal, Madras and Bombay European Regiments. Serving with the Artillery were fifty sailors . There were also some companies of Bengal and Madras sepoys.

 

Four regiments were awarded a battle honour for Plassey; The 39th Regiment of Foot, the Bengal European Regiment, the 1st Madras European Regiment, and the Bombay European Regiment.

 

The 39th Regiment of Foot

The 39th Foot with a detachment of Royal Artillery were dispatched to India in 1754 at the request of the East India Company.  There having been little thought given to adjusting military dress for tropical wear, the men wore the uniforms they had been issued in Britain, which were based on the regulation 1751 uniform. This consisted of a thick wool coat of scarlet, faced with pale green lapels and cuffs, and bearing white lace, with scarlet waistcoats and breeches, white gaiters (brown for marching) and buff belt, plus a black cocked hat bound with white lace. The musicians carried drums painted with ’39’ on them. The green regimental colour had the Union flag in the upper left and the numerals ‘XXXIX’ surrounded by a wreath of laurels. The main firearm was the East India flintlock musket – 46 inches in length derived from the Brown Bess.  Grenadiers were also part of the detachment.

  
Royal Artillery

It is known that at Plassey there were 171 artillerymen including 50 sailors and 7 midshipmen with 10 field pieces commanded by Lieutenant Hater of the Royal Navy.

 scan0010

 Source Osprey ‘Plassey 1757’

 
 

The Army of Siraj-ud-daula, the Nawab of Bengal

 Siraj-ud-daula

  

A very mixed army!! 

  • Approximately 35,000 untrained and undisciplined soldiers. Armed with matchlocks, pikes, swords, bows and arrows.
  • The Nawab also had the use of 15,000 cavalry who were better organised. These were mostly Pathan tribesmen armed with swords and long spears, and riding large horses

Principal officers – Nawab 

  • Mir Jafar Ali Khan – commanding 16,000 cavalry
  • Yar Latif
  • Mir Madan
  • Jagat Seth
  • Rai Durlabh
  • Monsieur Sinfray – French artillery officer.

 The clothing worn by the Nawab’s men was as diverse as their ethnic origins. Some men, probably cavalry, wore armour and mail manufactured in Lahore.

The French

The only French troops present at Plassey were 50 artillerymen who had escaped from the garrison at Chandernagore under the command of Monsieur St. Frais ( or Sinfray). They were in charge of an artillery train of 53 large guns, mainly 18, 24 and 32 pounders. They also had four of their own guns.

Indian Artillery

Each Indian gun with its carriage and tumbril was mounted on a large wooden platform about six feet from the ground moved by wheels and drawn by forty or fifty white bullocks.  Behind each gun was an elephant trained to use its head to push when required.

The Indian force also had a considerable number of rockets.

Illustrated London News 1893

Richard Caton Woodville for the Illustrated London News, 1893 (Anne S. K. Brown Military Collection, Brown University Library) . 

‘A large stage, raised six feet from the ground, carrying besides the cannon, all the ammunition belonging to it, and the gunners themselves who managed the cannon, on the stage itself. These machines were drawn by 40 or 50 yoke of white oxen, of the largest size, bred in the country of Purnea; and behind each cannon walked an elephant, trained to assist at difficult tugs, by shoving with his forehead against the hinder part of the carriage.‘ (Orme)

 

Part of diorama at the Dorsetshire Regimental museum, Dorchester

 

scan0010 (2)Source Osprey ‘Plassey 1757’

 

The Battle

The Anglo-Indian army established a position in a grove of mango trees. The area enclosed by a ditch and mud wall approx 300 yards adjacent to a hunting lodge formally owned by the Nawab.

The Nawab’s position lay behind earthen entrenchments running at right angles to a river and then forming a 3 mile line running in a north-easterly direction. Just in from the river along the entrenchment was a redoubt defended by cannon, three hundred yards east of this was a small tree covered hill. Eight hundred yards further on towards the British position in the grove was a small tank or artificial lake, and a hundred yards further on was a larger tank.

At dawn, marching in separate and compact bodies, the army of Siraj-ud-daula began to move towards the mango grove where the British were entrenched. A small group of French (50) under the command of M. de St Frais moved towards the tank nearest the grove, about half a mile from it, with four light cannon. Two larger guns under the command of a native officer were positioned in line with the smaller tank. Part of Siraj’s force of 5,000 horse and 7,000 infantry under the command of Mir Maden and Mohan Lal took up position between the tank and the river. The remaining part of the force took up position in an arc to the left of this; Mir Jafar on the left near the British, Yar Lutuf Khan in the centre, and Rai Durlabh on the right. Field pieces were interspersed between the columns along with dense masses of infantry and mounted troops.

Clive moved to the roof of the hunting lodge to observe.

Clive ordered his men out of the grove and to form into line. The 6 pounders were arrayed in groups of three on each side side of the battalion of European troops. These were stationed in four divisions in the centre flanked by two divisions of sepoys. Ahead of the left wing of sepoys closest to the river were two brick-kilns where the two remaining guns and the howitzers were deployed.

At 8am the French artillery opened fire with one gun on the British position from the tank, killing one soldier and wounding another from a grenadier company of the 39th. The Nawabs artillery then opended fire as well. The British guns responded from their brick-kiln position as did the other guns. After about half an hour the British had sustained about ten European and twenty sepoy casualties. The men were ordered back into the grove, whilst the advanced guns remained at the brick-kilns.

The artillery exchange continued for several hours. At about 12 o’clock there was a heavy rainstorm which drenched most of the Bengali powder. Whilst the Indian artillery now became sporadic, that of the British continued as before, their powder and ammunition having been covered with tarpaulins during the downpour.

As the rain began to abate, the Nawab’s cavalry under Mir Maden moved forward to charge, but Mir Maden was killed by grapeshot from a 6 pounder and the charge came to nothing. Clive convinced that another charge was unlikely went into the hunting lodge to change his sodden clothes. The Nawab’s son in law Behadur Al Khan was also killed (one of only three commanders he could depend on along with Mir Madden and Mohan Lal).

Siraj ordered his troops under Mohan Lal to retreat to their entrenchment. At 2 o’clock the Indians ceased the cannonade and were seen yoking the trains of oxen to their artillery and moving off towards their camp. Siraj rode off in great haste with his bodyguard of 2,000 horse to his capital.

Folowing the order to retreat into the entrenchment, Mir Jafar’s division moved south to be nearer to the British force, while the bulk of the Nawab’s army moved northwards, away from the enemy. This left the French detachment isolated in their position. Major Kilpatrick seeing that the French were isolated, advanced towards the larger tank with two companies of the 39th totalling 250 men, and two guns to attack  the French.

Clive on hearing of this reappeared, realised he would have done the same, and took over leading the advance. The tank was taken at about 3 o’clock after the French fell back with their guns to the entrenchment.  The French established their battery in a redoubt situated at the corner of the earthwork, where they recommenced firing. There was also a cavalry charge but this was kept at bay by musket and cannon fire.

Clive moved half of his infantry and half of his artillery to the smaller water tank, and the other half to rising grund 200 yards to the left of it. They then commenced bombarding the entrenchment, receiving fire back. Most of the British casualties were sustained at this part of the battle.

Watercolour by E.S Hardy

Mir Jafir’s troops now began to leave the field. Clive, seeing this, could now focus his efforts on dislodging the French from the redoubt, a party of matchlockmen, and a large body of cavalry situated on a hillock to the east of it.   Two grenadier companies of the 39th, 160 men, under Coote were sent against the hillock whilst another detachment assaulted the redoubt, supported by the main force which advanced in the centre. The enemy on the hillock bolted without firing a shot as Coote’s men moved into position. The hillock was taken at about 4.30 p.m. The French also retreated leaving their guns. The last to leave the entrechment were the French soldiers. Siraj’s army was now in complete disarray, making off in all directions. The battle was over.

 

Overview of the battle. Osprey, ‘Plassey 1757’

The total losses suffered by the  Anglo-Indian force were estimated at 22 killed and 50 wounded.  According  to the return dated 3rd August 1757, the casualties of 23rd June are listed; Of the killed three were of the Madrass Artillery, one of the Madras Regiment, and one of the Bengal Europeans. 15 other ranks are listed as wounded, of which four were of the 39th Regiment, three of the Madras Regiment, two of the Bengal Europeans, four of the Madras Artillery, one of the Bengal Artillery, and one of the Bombay Regiment. Four Madras sepoys are listed as killed and 19 wounded, while the Bengal sepoys lost nine killed and eleven woundd. One sailor from HMS Kent was wounded while serving with the artillery.

It has been estimated that the Nawab lost 500 men.  

 

Robert Clive and Mir Jafar after the Battle of Plassey, 1757, by Francis Hayman 

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3 Comments »

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  1. Very detailed account of warfare in the late Mughal era. However, unfortunately you have made a significant error. Bengal was part of East Indian culture, which is as significantly different to North Indian cultures as the difference between North and South Indian culture groups.

    • Hi,
      Thank you for raising this. I’m learning as I go along!

  2. good answer


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