Their Infantry And Guns Will Astonish You
The Army of Hindustan and European Mercenaries in Maratha Service (1780-1803)
Helion and Company. 2021
Illustrations: 21 black and white images, 8 maps, 13 colour images
Preface, Introduction, Chronology of Events
1 Anarchy In Hindustan: India in the later eighteenth century
2 Mughals, Marathas, and Mercenaries: Indian military forces in the eighteenth century.
3 The man from savoy: The making of a military entrepreneur.
4 Building an army from the ground up: de Boigne’s first campaign.
5 The army of Hindustan: organisation, weapons, and uniforms
6 The army of Hindustan at war: de Boigne takes command.
7 General Perron takes command
8 The widows war and other stories
9 Mercenaries and freebooters: George Thomas’ War.
10 Holkar and Scindia: The Civil War in the Maratha Confederacy
11 ‘Their infantry and guns will astonish you’ The Last Campaigns of the Army of Hindustan: The Campaign in the Deccan.
12 Things fall apart: The Last Campaign In Hindustan.
13 What Came after: ‘Sometimes Pleasure, sometimes pain, in the Service of the English.’
Appendices. I Officers of the Army of Hindustan. II A selection of Other Trained Brigades.
There is a great misconception current in popular history that because India was conquered by the British that the armies of Mysore and the Marathas were somehow easy to defeat. It is an impression that is based on overblown accounts of battles against the odds were weight of numbers was overcome by superior tactics and technology. An imperfect impression of the makeup of the armies of the great Indian powers is also at the root of the idea that South Asian military forces cannot be rated against or alongside European ones. This can be adequately explained by the relative dearth of written popular history in English that specifically looks at the true state of the military culture of India.
One of the greatest fallacies that can be teased out of the larger misconceptions is the idea that Indian states were backward militarily or did not begin to adapt to western ways of warfare until it was too late, or that the European style corps’ they did form were ineffective and their leaders gutless freebooters; all saying without saying that somehow the EIC’s army was singular in South Asia.
All at once, Andy Copestake’s ‘Their Infantry and Guns will Astonish You’ is telling people who believe these tired old myths that these sorts of misconceptions were current in the late 18th early 19th century, and that they were as wrong then as they are now. The very title speaks to a moment when a British resident told General Wellesley in 1803 that he need not fear the Maratha cavalry, it was their cannons and muskets he had to fear.
It is no exaggeration to say that either the victories of Assaye or Laswari could have been lost by the British because their commanding officers believed that Indian soldiers were of inferior quality and worse led than their own. Besides the Armies of the EIC presidency the Army of Hindustan, which fell under the command of the powerful Maratha Maharajahs of Gwalior, was the most efficient and effective fighting force in India and at one time probably rivalled it. Had they challenged the Army of Hindustan at the height of its powers, such close-run things might have been marked defeats rather than costly victories.
When I was writing my own book on the 2nd Maratha War, I read about the organisation of what was often called ‘the regular corps’. I discovered that this body of men had been in arms for decades by the time the Maratha state fell into ruin and had its own traditions of service and history. More, a reader making even the most superficial examination of warfare in India at this time will be forced to conclude that western military doctrines were being quickly adopted across the country in the middle of the 18th century.
The officers who trained them, both Indian and European, became legendary figures, and almost household names in Hindustan, Hyderabad, and Mysore. It was a subject, I thought, ripe for a history, and thankfully now we have one. Copestake’s subject is not without its challenges, the army of Hindustan exists in the written record exactly as that; an army. The regiment’s that made up the Campoo’s that formed its body have no unit histories past that which is contained in the mini biographies of their commanders found in semi-regular publications looking at the European Mercenaries of India, with much of the minutia that is replete in European military histories sadly obscured by time.
Yet there is more than enough for Copestake to show the reader that indeed the Maratha infantry and artillery, even the regular cavalry, had not only a modern organisation, but an astonishing record in battle. It must be admitted that one of the reasons the wars than built the Maratha state are little known is because there is a great deal of unfamiliar politics and customs at play. But Copestake’s survey of the campaigns of the Army of Hindustan is clear and easy to understand.
Although the book is not strictly about the Napoleonic period in India, if anyone is to understand the 2nd Maratha War, which is generally the contact point for most people, they must get a balanced view of the opposing forces and especially the history of the Maratha Regular army, and indeed the true state of the military scene in India.
This book with its graphs, maps and clear, detailed narrative is a great resource for those wishing to get beyond the stereotypes.