1761 - British operations in Bengal

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Hierarchical Path: Seven Years War (Main Page) >> Campaigns >> 1761 - British operations in Bengal

The main campaign took place from January to June 1761

Description of events

At the beginning of January 1761, Major Carnac assumed command of the Bengal force. He determined upon an immediate attack on Shah Alam II, the Mughal Emperor of India, who had considerably increased his power and military strength. His headquarters were established at Bihar, but Daudnagar on the Sone River, and Gaya on the Falgu, were also occupied by large detachments of his troops, and the revenues of the province were collected in his name up to within a few km of the city of Patna.

Contextual map of the campaign - Copyright: Kronoskaf

The great obstacle to Major Carnac's operations, existed in the disorganised and mutinous state of the troops of the Nawab of Bengal. Major Carnac vainly addressed them on the subject, requesting their cooperation, pointing out that their circumstances would not be improved by remaining at Patna, where supplies were daily becoming more scarce and expensive, and that their best chance was to move into the districts now occupied by the enemy.

Major Carnac then determined to move with his own troops only, hoping that the fear of being left alone would induce his allies to march also. This anticipation proved perfectly correct, for the Nawab<s troops immediately followed his example and joined him on the first march.

Detailed map of the campaign - Copyright: Kronoskaf

Combat of Suan

On January 15, the united forces of the East India Company army and of the Nawab of Bengal arrived at Suan (probably Saine), 10 km from Bihar, on a stream (probably the Baya Nadi) formed by a branch of the Mahani River; and here Carnac found the army of Shah Alam II drawn up on the opposite bank. The British artillery, led by Captain Broadbridge, immediately opened fire, under cover of which the British troops crossed the river without opposition, the enemy retreating amongst the dykes and rough ground formed by the changing course of the stream. The Nawab's troops, as usual, remained in the rear, awaiting the turn of events.

Carnac now advanced, but the enemy continued to retire, although on 3 occasions they halted and took up fresh ground, finally electing to encamp on the open plain. The British army formed up for attack; the Bengal European Regiment being in the centre, flanked on either side by a battalion of Bengal Sepoys infantry; the artillery between the Europeans and Sepoys. A third battalion of Bengal Sepoys and a small body of cavalry were held in rear as a reserve. The British guns were now pushed slightly forward, and a general advance made; but, the emperor's cavalry attacking the British line on both flanks, some confusion arose, making the result of the battle doubtful; when, most opportunely, a well-directed shot from one of the British 12-pdrs killed the driver and wounded the elephant on which the emperor was riding, and directing the movements of his army. The animal, now freed from restraint, frightened, and wounded, rushed uncontrolled to the rear. The news that the emperor had disappeared from the field soon spread, creating a panic amongst his troops; who in the absence of their commander, were rushing about seeking orders, but finding none.

By this time the British force had been re-formed, and the British artillery, now formed in one battery to the flank, opened fire on the confused masses of the enemy, who began to give ground; and, when the British infantry charged, they broke and fled from the field.

M. Law, with his French soldiers, endeavouring to check the flight of the emperor's troops, took up a strong position to cover their retreat; drawing up his infantry in line with his 6 guns in front, from which he discharged grape on the advancing British; but, as the French were occupying an elevated position, the Bengal European Regiment managed to get below their fire; and, charging up the hill, captured the French guns.

The Bengal European Regiment now advanced with shouldered arms towards the French officers, 13 or 14 of whom stood by their commander and colours on the rising ground, with some 50 French soldiers in their rear. The Frenchmen, wearied with the vagrant, profitless life they had been leading since the British had captured their possessions at Chandernagore (present-day Chandannagar), seemed determined to sell their lives as dearly as possible; but, when they saw the British soldiers advancing with shouldered arms, they were amazed at the generosity of their conquerors. Major Carnac now, ordering his soldiers to halt, advanced towards the French officers; and, saluting, told them he did not wish to take their lives, if they would surrender. M. Law replied that he and his comrades would submit only on the condition that they might retain their swords; but, this stipulation not agreed to, they would resist to the last. The terms were accepted; and M. Law with his officers giving themselves up as prisoners of war were placed on their parole. All British Officers now advanced, cordially shaking hands with their prisoners, and the British troops were marched back to their camp, where the French officers were hospitably entertained by those of the British army.

The British were too much fatigued to follow up the retreating enemy, and no support could be obtained from the Nawab's troops, who had kept carefully in the rear during the whole action.

For these reasons, the Emperor was soon enabled to collect his scattered troops, amongst whom there had been but slight loss; and retired north of Bihar.

The forces of the East India Company involved in the Combat of Suan were a portion of the Bengal European Regiment, the 2nd Company of the Bengal European Artillery, the 1st Battalion of Bengal Sepoys under Captain-Lieutenant Broadbrook, the 3rd Battalion of Bengal Sepoys under Lieutenant William Turner and the 4th Battalion of Bengal Sepoys under Lieutenant Hugh Grant, with some Eurpean and Native cavalry.

The Emperor intended to proceed at once towards Patna, which he knew had been left but poorly protected. But Major Carnac by forced marches got between him and the city and thus compelled him to turn south towards those districts where for several months his troops had been encamped, and where he was not welcomed on his return.

The British were now pressing on the emperor's rear; he had but a scanty supply of provisions, his treasury was empty, and his troops deserting.

Major Carnac sent Rajah Shitab Roy to the Emperor to open negotiations but his offers were rejected.

On January 29, the Emperor finally sent an envoy to Major Carnac to initiate negotiations.

Submission of Shah Alam II

On February 2, the British army overtook the enemy, who attempted to make some show of resistance; but, on Carnac forming his force for attack, they all fled, not rallying until they had covered some 30 km. The Emperor Shah Alam II, feeling his case to be hopeless, sent an express intimating his readiness to come to terms, and proposing that he should visit Major Carnac in person.

On February 6, a meeting took place at the town of Gaya, where an agreement was concluded, under the stipulations of which Shah Alam's claim to be emperor of Hindustan was to be acknowledged by the Company, and, for his maintenance, he was to receive a daily allowance from Raja Ram Narian.

On February 8, hostilities having now ceased, the Emperor, with Carnac's permission, pitched his camp with that of the British army, and the conditional treaty was sent to Calcutta (present-day Kolkata) for the consideration of the Council.

A detachment of 2 companies of the Bengal European Regiment, 6 companies of Bengal Sepoys, a detachment of the Bengal European Artillery with 2 field-pieces, and 1 troop of Moghul horse, was ordered to remain at Gaya under Captain Alexander Champion and watch events in Bihar.

Major Carnac, with the main army and accompanied by the Emperor, returned to Patna, which he entered on February 14. The Emperor, on learning that the Calcutta Council would not accede to his request that he should be escorted to his capital by British troops and placed on his throne under British auspices, accepted the invitation of some powerful chiefs who offered to join him with their troops, advance on Delhi, and seize the capital in his name.

Shortly afterwards, Champion's detachment took the field against a chief named Ramghur Khan, who with his lawless troops had seized a fortress and was devastating the whole district. The British detachment, having defeated Ramghur Khan's army, drove them back amongst the jungles and low hills.

On March 12, the Nawab of Bengal, Mir Kassim Khan met Emperor Shah Alam II near Patna and made his obeisance and offered presents.

In April, Colonel Eyre Coote arrived in Bengal with a portion of his new regiment, the 84th Foot. On the way, the Futty Islam, one of the ship transporting the regiment, foundered on arrival at the Sandheads. The remnants of the regiment were quartered in Calcutta and Colonel Coote assumed the general command of troops in Bengal.

In June, the Emperor, naturally anxious to occupy his throne, left Patna under the escort of these supporters; a British guard of honour accompanying him to the Bengal frontier.

References

This article is essentially a compilation of texts from the following books which are now in the public domain:

  • 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.130-132
  • Broome, Captain Arthur: History of the Rise and Progress of the Bengal Army, Vol. 1, Calcutta, 1850, pp. 322-341