1757-02-04 - Combat of Calcutta
Indian Marginal Victory (the battle is also known as the combat of Chitpore)
Prelude to the Battle
At the beginning of 1757, responding to the recapture of Calcutta by a British expeditionary force, the nawab Siraj Ud Daulah had advanced on Calcutta and encamped in front of the town on February 2 1757. Robert Clive had taken position near the town with his small army. Cut from any additional supply, Clive decided to attack the nawab's army before it had entirely crossed the "Mahratta Ditch".
Description of Events
Clive's general plan of action was as follows: starting from his entrenchments before daybreak, he intended to make a bold dash, under cover of darkness, upon the enemy's artillery, which was nearly all massed in one large park towards the rear of their army. Having spiked all the guns, he intended to push on rapidly to Amichand's house, situated inside the outer defences of the city at the eastern corner. It was in Amichand's house that Siraj Ud Daulah had taken up his quarters; if, then, Clive could manage to seize the nawab and carry him off prisoner to the fort, he could dictate his own terms and end the war.
On February 4 at 2:00 AM, 600 sailors from the ships of the line were landed to reinforce Clive.
The British troops were then drawn up ready to start, the European infantry being all massed into one column, with half of the Sepoys in front and half in the rear. The artillery, with 6 field-pieces, followed, the guns being dragged by the sailors and the ammunition carried by lascars.
The nawab's army was encamped without method or order. Mir Jafar Khan who was to figure so prominently in the future was one of the nawab's principal generals, and he had, with a small Division of cavalry, crossed the Maratha Ditch close to Amichand's garden, and was, therefore, encamped within the outer defences of the city. Near at hand, and within the garden enclosure, was a compact corps of Moghul Horse, lately engaged as a special body-guard for the protection of the nawab. The remainder of the army, with their camp followers and cattle, were spread over the plain between the outer defences of the city and the marshes which skirted the Salt-Water Lake. The Indian park of guns lay to the south of the main road, which runs due east to Dum Dum.
At 3:00 AM, Clive advanced on the nawab's camp with his small force. His advance was made in a long column of 3 men abreast, with the artillery in rear. The column took the direction of the enemy's park of guns.
Day had just broken when this column unexpectedly struck against the outposts of the nawab's army. After having fired a volley and discharged some rockets, the defenders of these outposts hastily decamped.
But here a mishap occurred, which, owing to the darkness, threw the British column into confusion. A rocket ignited the cartouche-box of one of the Sepoys, which, exploding, communicated the fire to several others. This threw the Sepoys into complete disorder, with the advantage, however, of separating the men, who the fire extinguished were rallied by the grenadier company, and the march was resumed. But the enemy had heard the firing at their outpost and were on the alert; so that the capture of the park of guns by a coup-de-main was impracticable; moreover, rallying the Sepoys after the accident had occupied so much time that the day began to break and a thick impenetrable fog now rose from the marshes, screening the advance of the column.
The British Column was by this time near Amichand's garden, which was a few hundred meters to its right. Suddenly the nawab's bodyguard was heard charging down on the British right flank, but by this time the fog prevented the possibility of seeing even a meter's distance. Clive halted, faced his men towards the advancing cavalry, waited until he judged in the obscurity that they should be within a few meters, when he fired a volley, creating havoc amongst them, emptying many of their saddles. The attack of the nawab's cavalry was finally repulsed.
The fog now grew thicker and thicker; the British column feeling its way, keeping up platoon firing right and left, and its light guns in the rear sustaining an oblique fire from each side of the advancing British troops.
Clive felt that his position was one of great peril, but the thick fog told adversely on the enemy as well as on the British; for although the latter could not see in what direction they were moving, the former could not succeed in collecting their troops to oppose the British onward march. Clive had missed the park of the enemy's artillery, and passed Amichand's garden without securing his prize; he was therefore obliged to change his plan of action. He now determined to march straight through the enemy's camp, knowing that by so doing his daring would overawe his foes; and further, he anticipated that by pushing forward he must reach the causeway dividing the Company's from the Native territory, and would then be able to ascertain his exact position. This causeway led to the nawab's quarters within the "Mahratta Ditch".
With this view the British column moved on, followed by the field-guns, which kept up an oblique fire.
At about 8:00 AM, the British column finally reached the causeway, the fog still continuing as thick as ever; and here it was found that the enemy, taking advantage of the natural defence offered by the raised ground - on each side of which was a ditch - had thrown up a battery with two heavy gun-, thus barricading the passage.
Clive had intended when he reached the causeway to have countermarched along the road running parallel with the "Mahratta Ditch", which would have brought him right up to Arnichand's garden, where he still hoped, under cover of the thick fog, to secure the nawab; but on the head of the British column taking ground to the right it was brought within the range of its own field pieces, still firing obliquely from the rear.
The Sepoys forming the head of the column first came within the range of the British guns, which, causing dismay and confusion, forced them to hastily seek cover in the ditches beside the causeway; and for a time the whole British column was thrown into complete disorder. The enemy at this time opened fire from their two guns which enfiladed the passage across the causeway, creating terrible havoc and killing several Europeans and Sepoys. Clive now attempted to extend his troops, but anything like a regular movement in the fog and confusion was found to be impossible.
Clive's plan of action was again altered, his hope now resting in his being able to gain the main road leading direct to the fort; but to accomplish this many difficulties had to be overcome, for, the fog now lifting, the smallness of the British force became apparent, and its movements were impeded by squadrons of cavalry, who, taking advantage of its palpable discomfiture, threatened its advance. Clive was obliged to abandon the attack and to retreat towards his camp.
Clive, having now re-formed his column, advanced rapidly across the causeway, passed the enemy's enfilading battery, and pushed on through the rice-fields in the direction of the main road to the fort. His movements were still hampered by the enemy's numerous cavalry; but as the British infantry platoons regained their self-possession, a way was cleared for the guns over the difficult ground. As the fog cleared it was seen that the enemy had placed two additional guns in position to oppose the advance of the British column.
A determined charge was now made by the enemy's cavalry on the Britiah rear, difficulties of the British being enhanced by their own field-pieces having been disabled; one of these being gallantly recaptured by ensign Yorke with a few Europeans, who rescued one of the disabled guns; and a charge of the British troops to the front cleared a passage, so that the main road was at last gained. By following the road through Calcutta the fort was reached about noon.
British losses amounted to 27 European infantry 12 sailors and 18 Sepoys killed; 70 European infantry, 12 sailors and 35 Sepoys wounded. Captains Pye and Bridges of the Madras Service, and Mr. Belcher, private secretary to colonel Clive, were killed. The Nawab losses amounted to 600 men and 500 horses.
The same evening the British troops returned to their fortified camp, boldly marching within 400 m. of the enemy's position.
After a few days, despite his marginal victory, the nawab was forced to come to terms with Clive because he had to leave to face an invasion from Afghanistan.
Order of Battle
British Order of Battle
Commander-in-chief: Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Clive
Summary: 2,000 men and 7 guns
- British sailors (600 men)
- European infantrymen (650 men)
- Madras Sepoys (600 men)
- Artillery (6 guns and 100 men)
Indian Order of Battle
Commander-in-chief: Nawab Siraj Ud Daulah
Summary: about 50,000 Bengalis
- Cavalry (18,000 men)
- Infantry (15,000 men)
- Artillery (40 guns)
- Elephants (unknown number)
This article incorporates texts from the following books which are now in the public domain:
- Fortescue, J. W., A History of the British Army, Vol. II, MacMillan, London: 1899, pp. 411-414
- Innes, P. R.; The History of the Bengal European Regiment, now the Royal Munster Fusiliers and how it helped to win India, 2nd ed., London: Simpkin, Marshall & Co., 1885, pp. 29-36
Clive, Robert, Letter to the Lord Chancellor, February 23 1757
Kershner, Tod, Major Battles in India 1756-1763, Seven Years War Association Journal Vol. VI No. 2