1758-12-09 - Battle of Condore
Prelude to the Battle
In September 1758, Bussy, who was commanding a French corps in Deccan, was recalled with his troop to reinforce Lally and support him for the siege of Madras. The only French military presence in this region now consisted of a very small corps under M. de Conflans occupying the Northern Circars. Furthermore, a local rajah revolted against the French.
From December 6 to 8, Forde's and Conflans' army faced each other on the road leading south to Rajahmundry. On December 8, both commanders simultaneously framed independent designs for extricating themselves from the dead-lock. Conflans' plan was to send 6 field-pieces with a sufficient force to a height which commanded the British camp, and which Forde had omitted to occupy. Forde, for his part, had decided to make a detour of 5 km to Condore (present-day Chendurthi), from where he could turn Conflans' position and regain the high road to Rajahmundry.
Description of Events
On December 9 at 4:00 a.m., according to his plan, Forde marched away with his own troops while the rajah's army, which though warned was not ready to move, remained in the camp.
A little before daybreak, the French artillery began its cannonade, uninformed of Forde’s manoeuvres. This greatly disconcerted the rajah, who dispatched a messenger to Forde, acquainting him with his distress. Forde ordered his men to halt. He then rejoined the rajah and brought up his army. Their whole army then marched to the village of Golapool (present-day Gollaprolu) where it halted around 8:00 a.m. on a small plain.
Meanwhile, Conflans had realised that Forde intended to steal a march round his position. He immediately ordered his troops in line of march and proceeded towards the British positions, staying between Forde’s Army and his own camp.
The British had not halted more than 30 minutes when they discovered Cipayes some 1,100 m. in the rear of their left wing.
Conflans’ Bataillon de l'Inde was in his centre, with 13 field-pieces distributed on its flanks, while his right and left wings were composed each of 3,000 Cipayes supported by 5 or 6 heavy pieces of cannon.
About 9:00 a.m., Forde formed his line. In his centre, he posted the Bengal European Regiment, with 3 guns on each flank, and the Bengal Sepoys, in 2 divisions each of 900 men: the 1st Bengal Sepoy Battalion on the right and the 2nd Bengal Sepoy Battalion on the left. However, the rajah’s troops were all in confusion. The Rajah told Forde that he could dispose of his troops as he wished. Forde immediately ordered all the Indians with fire-arms to form on both flanks of his own army. Captain Bristol, an officer in the Rajah’s service was ordered to join the British artillery deployed on the left with his 4 cannon.
About 10:00 a.m., the French began a cannonade which was continued by a sharp fire from both armies for more than 40 minutes.
Forde then advanced under a heavy cannonade from the enemy for some distance before Condore, and halted with his centre in rear of a field of Indian corn, which entirely concealed the British but left the Sepoys uncovered on the plain on either hand. These Sepoys on either flank - for Anunderaj's troops had by this time decamped and concealed themselves in a hollow - were in full sight of the enemy. Now the Sepoys accompanying the British force had, by Clive's order, recently been clothed in red. The French had never seen the scarlet except on the bodies of British troops, and Forde was fully aware of the fact; for he ordered the Sepoys to furl their small old-fashioned company colours, as also their regimental colours, that they might be the more easily mistaken for a regular battalion of British.
The French line, from its superiority in numbers, far outflanked the British on both wings; but as it drew nearer, the Bataillon de l'Inde in the centre suddenly inclined to the right towards Forde's left wing.
About 10:45 a.m., the Bataillon de l'Inde and the Cipayes of their right wing, with a body of horse, advanced against the British left flank. They mistakenly identified the 2nd Sepoy Battalion clothed in red as a British battalion. Conflans had swallowed the bait laid for him by Forde. In the ardour of their advance Conflans' infantry out-marched their guns and moved forward without them.
Forde, who at once saw the enemy were at fault, rode up to the 2nd Sepoy Battalion to encourage them.
The French battalion evidently mistook the Sepoys for British, for before engaging them it dressed its ranks, and then opened fire by platoons at a distance of 180 meters. Long though this range was for the old musket, the 2nd Sepoy Battalion seeing French in front and natives menacing their flank hardly stood to deliver a feeble volley, but immediately broke, despite all the efforts of Forde, and fled away in the direction of Chambole (probably Chebrolu) pursued by the enemy's horse.
Conflans, now thinking he had put the British Europeans to flight, at once detached several platoons of his French troops to join in the pursuit. These advanced rapidly, obliquing to their right, but in so doing became somewhat scattered. Forde grasped the opportunity, and directed the Bengal European Regiment to change front and to take the French in flank.
Conflans to his dismay saw a second line of scarlet filed steadily up from behind the Indian corn to the ground whereon the Sepoys had stood, halted and fronted as coolly as if on parade, and then with equal coolness opened fire by volleys of divisions from the left (a battalion of 500 men would have been in 5 divisions, each of 100). The first volley brought down half of the French grenadiers of the Bataillon de l'Inde. Meanwhile, the British guns galled the French with grape-shot and, by the time that the fifth and last division had pulled trigger, the whole of Conflans' Bataillon de l'Inde was broken up, and flying back in disorder to its guns, 800 meters in rear.
The Bengal European Regiment, elated with their success, now vigorously pursued the enemy, charging in echelon of companies, left in front. Captain Adnet, who commanded the regiment, was leading and Captain Yorke with the 4th Company was acting in reserve, to afford immediate assistance to any of our companies needing succour.
The French rallied at their 13 guns and opened a hot grape fire on the advancing British troops. Adnet being mortally wounded and several of his men falling. However, the French had not time to fire more than a round or two when the British fell upon them, drove them from their batteries and captured all the 13 guns.
In the meantime the 1st Bengal Sepoy Battalion had been taking a leading part in the fight; attacked by the French Cipayes, who vastly outnumbered them; but the Bengal Sepoys held their ground with tenacity, supported by the guns left behind by the Bengal European Regiment.
The Cipayes, seeing their European comrades in full flight and their guns captured, also fled, and the 1st Bengal Sepoy Battalion rejoined the British Europeans. The 2nd Bengal Sepoy Battalion, who had early in the day fled towards Chambole, now returned to the field and joined the British Army.
No sooner were the Sepoy battalions come than Forde made fresh dispositions, and marched on without losing a moment to attack Conflans' camp, determined to rapidly follow up his success. Forde also attempted to induce Anunderaj to send some of his cavalry ahead, but they were all concealed in the hollow and refused to expose themselves to danger. Forde, therefore, pushed on single-handed without his guns, which, on account of the muddy state of the roads, were left in rear.
The remnants of the Bataillon de l'Inde were posted in a hollow way before their camp and had placed in position some heavy guns to protect it and to dispute the British advance.
Forde halted for his guns, deployed his infantry, and took up a position from which he could, at a moment's notice, make a dash on the French positions. This movement had just been completed when the British artillery appeared. Forde then ordered the leading company of the Bengal European Regiment to advance and deliver a volley; when the enemy fled, leaving his camp and leaving guns in the possession of Forde's troops.
The British army now hotly pursued the French. Many of the fugitives threw down their arms and surrendered; the rest, together with the remainder of the French army, ran away in hopeless confusion. They abandoned their camp, baggage, ammunition and most of their artillery.
Conflans, after sending off his military chest and 4 field-guns, jumped on a horse and galloped away, not stopping except to change horses till he reached Rajahmundry, 66 km distant.
From the Bataillon de l'Inde, Conflans lost 6 Officers and 80 men killed or mortally wounded, and 6 officers and 70 men made prisoners or wounded. Furthermore, he lost 32 brass artillery pieces (including 7 mortars), 50 tumbrils and other carriages, 1,000 draught bullocks, and all the camp equipage. The Indians captured a few more cannon.
The British lost Captain Adnet and 15 men of the Bengal European Regiment killed, 4 officers and 30 men wounded, amongst the latter Mr. Johnson political officer serving as a volunteer with the grenadier company of the Bengal Europeans; and over 200 men of the Bengal Sepoys (100 killed and 100 wounded).
Had the rajah's cavalry been of a better quality, the losses of the French would have been far greater; but Forde's promptness in following up his first success made his victory sufficiently complete.
Order of Battle
British Order of Battle
Commander-in-chief: Lieutenant-Colonel Francis Forde
Summary: 7,600 foot, 500 horse, 6 guns
- Forde's force
- Bengal European Regiment (5 coys) under captain Adnet
- 2nd Company of the Bengal European Artillery (1 coy)
- 6 x short brass 6-pdrs
- 6 x 24-pdr battering-pieces
- 1 howitzer
- 1 x 8-in mortar
- 2 x 5½-in royal mortars
- Lascars (100 men)
- Sepoys (1,800 Sepoys)
- 1st Battalion of the Bengal Sepoys (1 bn) under Captain Ransfur Lee Knox
- 2nd Battalion of the Bengal Sepoys (1 bn) under Captain-Lieutenant Lachlan MacLean
- Anunderaj's force
- Cavalry (500 men)
- Infantry (5,000 men mostly armed with pikes and bows)
- European gunners (40 men) under Bristol
- 4 field-pieces
French Order of Battle
Summary: 6,500 foot, about 2,000 Native levies, no cavalry and at least 30 guns
- Bataillon de l'Inde (500 men)
- Cipayes (6,000 men)
- Native levies (2,000)
- Artillery: 13 field guns and at least 17 native guns
This article is essentially a compilation of texts from the following books which are now in the public domain:
- An anonymous staff officer; Historical Record of the Honourable East India Company's First Madras Regiment, London: Smith, Elder and Co; 1843, pp. X-xvi, 145-146
- Cambridge, Richard Owen: An Account of the War in India between the English and French on the Coast of Coromandel from the Year 1750 to the Year 1760 together with a Relation of the late Remarkable Events on the Malabar Coast, and the Expeditions to Golconda and Surat; with the Operations of the Fleet, London: T. Jefferys, 1761, pp. 204-206
- Broome, Captain Arthur: History of the Rise and Progress of the Bengal Army, Vol. 1, Calcutta, 1850, pp. 215-219
- Fortescue, J. W., A History of the British Army, Vol. II, MacMillan, London, 1899, pp. 442-445
- 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. 76-80