Bengal Sepoy Battalions
Origin and History
In June 1756, when the Nawab of Bengal, Siraj Ud Daulah, advanced on Calcutta, the authorities increased the number of Peons (Native foot soldiers armed with matchlocks) to 1,500.
In January 1757, Lieutenant-Colonel Clive commenced the formation of a battalion of Sepoys at Calcutta, rapidly raising some 350 men. He furnished the new unit with arms and accouterments, but with clothing of the European fashion, drilled and disciplined them as regular troops, and appointed an European officer to command and non-commissioned officers to instruct and drill them. This first battalion of Bengal Sepoys was designated as the "Lall Pultun" or "Red Regiment". It consisted of 10 companies with officers from the Madras detachment in Bengal.
In August 1757, Clive commenced enlisting men and organising the 2nd Battalion of Bengal Sepoys, formed on drafts from the first battalion. The new battalion was in a state of comparative efficiency in a remarkably short period. This battalion must not be confounded with the future 2nd or Grenadier Regiment of Native Infantry, as it was destroyed at Patna in 1763. In October, Major Kilpatrick, commanding the Bengal Troops died. By that time, the 2nd Battalion was ready to take the field.
In March 1758, Clive commenced the organization of the 3rd Battalion of Bengal Sepoys (aka Turner's Battalion) at Patna. These sepoys were raised chiefly from the inhabitants of the Bojepore district. In May, Lieutenant-Colonel Forde succeeded Kilpatrick at the head of the Bengal troops. In September, the 4th Battalion of Bengal Sepoys (aka Grant's Battalion) was raised.
By February 1759, the Bengal Army numbered four battalions of Sepoys, and a 5th Battalion was being raised. This battalion was placed under the command of Lieutenant George Wilson.
In February 1761, two new battalions of Bengal Sepoys were raised:
- the 6th Battalion, raised at Patna and placed under the command of Captain Giles Stibbert
- the 7th Battalion, raised at Chittagong (present-day Chattogram) and placed under the command of Lieutenant John Mathews
By 1762, there were 21 battalions of Bengal Sepoys.
Service during the War
In March 1757, soon after its formation the 1st Battalion of Bengal Sepoys took part in the siege and capture of Chandernagore.
By June, Lieutenant R. L. Knox appears to have had command of the 1st Battalion. On June 23, this battalion took part in the Battle of Plassey. On July 4, Clive sent forward towards Murshidabad the two grenadier companies of the battalion under a Native officer named Mooten Beg, as an advanced guard.
In October, a company of the 1st Battalion was sent from Calcutta to Dacca to support the governor against a coup led by Ahmanee Khan.
On November 17, Clive embarked in boats at Chandernagore with 400 Europeans and 1,300 Sepoys to come to the rescue of Mir Jafar at Murshidabad. On November 30, Clive was joined at Murshidabad by 250 Europeans previously stationed at Kossimbazar. He was now at the head of 550 Europeans, including the company of artillery, and the 1st and 2nd battalions of the Bengal Sepoys.
On May 24, 1758, Clive left Murshidabad for Calcutta with the 1st and 2nd battalions of Bengal Sepoys, leaving the newly raised 3rd Battalion in garrison at Kossimbazar.
From mid-October to December, the 1st and 2nd battalions of Bengal Sepoys took part in Forde's operations in Deccan. Meanwhile, the 3rd and 4th battalions were left behind to protect Bengal.
On December 9, the 1st and 2nd battalions of Bengal Sepoys took part in the Battle of Condore.
At the beginning of 1759, the 1st and 2nd battalions of Bengal Sepoys took part in the expedition against Masulipatam. In February, the 1st Battalion captured (present-day Narasapur).
On February 25, Clive left Calcutta with all his available force
- Bengal European Regiment (5 companies of the so-called left wing of the regiment)
- Bengal European Artillery (100 men)
- Sepoys (2,500 men)
- 3rd Battalion of the Bengal Sepoys
- 4th Battalion of the Bengal Sepoys
- 5th Battalion of the Bengal Sepoys (only part of the battalion)
This force took part in the relief of Patna.
On March 3, the 2nd Battalion of Bengal Sepoys captured Concale. On April 7, the 1st and 2nd battalions took part in the storming of the Fortress of Masulipatam.
In November 1759, the 3rd and 4th battalions took part in the operations against a Dutch expeditionary force sent from Batavia.
In mid-December, Major Caillaud of the East India Company assembled a force to take the field against Emperor Shah Alam II. This force consisted of:
- Bengal European Regiment (300 men)
- 1st Company of Bengal European Artillery (50 men with 6 field-pieces)
- unidentified Sepoy battalion (1 bn of 1,000 men) 3rd or 4th Battalion of Bengal Sepoys
On January 6, 1760, the battalion of Sepoy (3rd or 4th Battalion of Bengal Sepoys) already stationed in Murshidabad was ordered to join Caillaud's little army. By then, the 3rd and 4th battalions of the Bengal Sepoys formed part of Major Caillaud's forces assembled at Murshidabad for the relief of Patna, which was threatened by Shah Alam II.
In mid-January, the 1st and 2nd Battalions of Bengal Sepoys under the command of Captain Macleane, left Vizagapatam and marched by land towards Bengal, by way of Ganjam and Kuttack.
On February 9, five coys of Bengal Sepoys fought in the combat in front of Patna as part of Ram Narian’s force which was severely defeated. Soon Patna was relieved by Major Caillaud’s force. On February 22, the 3rd and 4th battalions of Bengal Sepoys took part in the victorious Battle of Seerpore.
On March 21, the 1st and 2nd battalions of Bengal Sepoys under the command of Captain Macleane, reached Kuttack, where Macleane found instructions awaiting him, advising him of the state of affairs, impressing the necessity of due caution on his march, and directing him to follow the coast road as far as Balasore, from whence he was ordered to strike off northwards and proceed with all practicable expedition by way of Midnapore and Keerpoy to Burdwán, where he was desired to place himself under the orders of Captain Spier, or should he have arrived, of Major Caillaud.
On March 23, Captain Fischer with 250 of the Bengal European Regiment, 4 light guns, and 300 Bengal Sepoys, were sent to reinforce Spier, and Captain Yorke was ordered to hold himself in readiness to take the field with 250 more of the Bengal European Regiment and 500 Bengal Sepoys.
On April 16, Knox, by this time near at hand, was sent by forced marches with his detachment of 200 men of the Bengal European Regiment, the 1st Battalion of Bengal Sepoys, and a detail of the Bengal European Artillery, with 2 light field-guns, to assist Ram Narian at Patna. On April 25, Knox with the 200 men of the Bengal European Regiment, Macleane with his well-seasoned 1st Battalion of Bengal Sepoys, and the Bengal European Artillery with their field-guns, were heartily welcomed by the citizens of Patna.
On June 16, 800 men of the Bengal Sepoys took part in the combat of Beerpore against Kuddum Hassain.
On October 3, Mr. Vansittart, accompanied by Mr. Warren Hastings and Mr. Lushington, set off for Murshidabad. They were escorted Captain Yorke with 2 coy of the Bengal European Regiment, the 1st company of Bengal European Artillery with 4 field-pieces under Captain Jennings and the 2nd Battalion of Bengal Sepoys under Captain James Tabby, who had succeeded Captain Macleane. This detachment was used to deposed Mir Jafar who was replaced by Mir Kassim.
On January 15, 1761, 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 took part in the Combat of Suan where Major Carnac defeated the forces of the Emperor of India.
By August, the forces of the Bengal Army were deployed as follows:
- at Patna
- Bengal European Battalion (4 companies)
- 2nd Company of Bengal European Artillery
- 2nd Battalion of Bengal Sepoys aka Captain Tabby's Battalion
- 3rd Battalion of Bengal Sepoys aka Captain Turner's Battalion
- at the fort near Calcutta
- 1st Company of Bengal European Artillery
- Bengal European Cavalry
- Bengal European Battalion
- 5th Battalion of Bengal Sepoys (½ battalion) aka Captain Wilson's Battalion
- at Ghyrettie
- 1st Battalion of Bengal Sepoys aka Captain Broadbrook's Battalion
- 1st Troop of Moghul Horse
- at Chandernagore
- 4th Battalion of Bengal Sepoys aka Captain Hugh Grant's Battalion
- at Burdwán
- Bengal European Battalion (only a detachment)
- Bengal European Artillery (only a detachment)
- Burdwán Independent Companies (2 companies)
- 5th Battalion of Bengal Sepoys (½ battalion)
- at Jellasore
- 6th Battalion of Bengal Sepoys aka Captain Stibbert's Battalions
- 2nd Troop of Moghul Horse
- Bengal European Battalion (3 companies)
- at Chittagong
- 7th Battalion of Bengal Sepoys aka Captain Mathew's Battalion
In 1763, the 3rd Battalion of Bengal Sepoys was destroyed at Patna.
We found no detailed information on the uniforms of the Bengal Sepoys with the exception of a mention that the 1st and 2nd battalions wore red coats at the Battle of Condore.
The sepoy's head-dress in Bengal was most distinctive: a "sundial hat" which rose from the head to a wide brim, the top dome varied in shape but a sharp triangle was placed in front. In pictures the colour in shown as black or blue, but an order of 1796 definitely mentions blue. The coat had collar, cuffs and lapels of regimental facing colours and loops in pair with simple plaited shoulder cords but grenadiers had wings. The belts were black. A white shirt with a cummerbund over the lower part allowing only 2 cm of the shirt to show below. The cummerbund was of dark blue linen and was fastened in place by white linen strips, giving the appearance of a saltire cross. White shorts (janghirs) with a pattern of blue triangles and lines around the lower edge. Several men wore necklaces and other jewellery. In the early days, sepoys went barefoot, but sandals (chapplis) were later provided (probably after 1810).
White pantalons were worn by native officers at all time, and by sepoys in cold weather.
In 1764, the uniform of the newly raised 21st (Morgan) Bengal Sepoys is described as red with white facings, white turban with red end, white cummerbund (a broad waist sash) with red crosses.
We found no information on the colours of the Bengal Sepoys with the exception of a mention that each company of the 1st and 2nd battalions carried colours and that these colours were smaller than those carried by the Bengal European Regiment and were hidden in the hope that the enemy would identify these units as European.
Each company had a stand of colours of the same hue as the facings of the uniform.
This article contains texts from the following sources, which are now in the public domain:
- Broome, Captain Arthur: History of the Rise and Progress of the Bengal Army, Vol. 1, Calcutta, 1850, pp. 55-330
- Carman, W. Y.: Indian Army Uniforms under the British from the 18th century to 1947 – Artillery, Engineers and Infantry, London: Morgan-Grampian, 1969, pp. 96-98
Mollo, Boris: The Indian Army, Poole: Blandford Press, 1981, pp. 22, 29, 35, 38