Wellington and the British Army’s Indian Campaigns 1798-1805
Martin R. Howard
Pen and Sword (2020)
Hardback, 320 pages, 30 colour illustrations
Following his previous study of the British Army’s campaigns in the West Indies, Death Before Glory (2015), Martin R. Howard continues to explore the colonial role of British forces during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars in his latest book Wellington and the British Army’s Indian Campaigns. While the famed Duke of Wellington features in the title of this text, this is not another rehashing of Wellington’s time in the sub-continent, in fact it would be fair to say that the main character for much of this text is not the Duke, but his elder brother Robert Wellesley, Marquess Wellesley. Howard homes in on Wellesley’s term as Governor-General in India and with it, the expansionist policies he pursued against the rulers who bordered the East India Company. This book brings together a range of academic material and first-hand sources including first-hand British accounts and rare Maratha texts to produce a well-rounded history of the British campaigns in India from 1798-1805.
The book opens with a brief overview of the players on the stage of early 19th century India, providing a look at the British forces in India, both King’s and Company Regiments. While the forces they faced like the Armies of the Marathas and Mysore are not forgotten and come under Howard’s scrutiny in the second half of his examination of the armies engaged in India. The section entitled II Campaigns, is where the real meat of the text is found as Howard examines each campaign in turn commencing with the fourth and final Anglo-Mysore War (1798-99) and the death of Tipu Sultan during the Storming of Seringapatam (Srirangapatna) in 1799. Howard goes on to describe Sir Arthur Wellesley’s campaigns in the Deccan during the Second Anglo-Maratha War (1803-1805) culminating in the famous Battle of Assaye and the less well-known Sieges of Argaum and Gwalior.
So far familiar territory for those with an interest in British campaigns in India, however this is not the sum of Howard’s analysis as he also examines elements of the British expansion in India which are rarely touched upon in mainstream accounts of the conflict. These include the regularly overlooked campaigns of General Gerard Lake, Viscount Lake (1744-1808) whose aggressive drive through the Gangetic Plains to the gates of Delhi, during the Second Anglo-Maratha War, is usually omitted as Wellington’s exploits in the Deccan take centre stage. Howard also sets aside time to look at some of the smaller conflicts that took place in the interlude between the Anglo-Mysore and Maratha wars, focusing on the fighting against Dhondia Wagh, a freebooter who in the disorder after the fall of Tipu Sultan raised a band from some of the former Mysorean army to raid both the territories of the Company and its Indian Allies.
In the final part of this book Howard focuses on the human experience of British India. He examines the soldiers experience of the voyage to India; life in the barracks and on the battlefield, he also attempts to piece together the experience of the sepoys and sowars – Indian infantrymen and cavalrymen – serving in the armies of the Company. A fascinating insight, which is incredibly difficult to obtain due to the lack of first-hand accounts from former Indian sepoys of the early 19th Century who served with the Company. Howard’s research in this section enables him to put a human face to the many actors in the campaigns, which gives a broad appeal to his work.
While much of Howard’s examination of the British campaigns in India will be familiar to those with an interest in the field, there is still much to discover in this book. With the stroke of his pen Howard brings these battlefields and the soldiers who served on them to life. This book is a great starting point for those who are unfamiliar with the British campaigns that took place during the Napoleonic period, while still having enough material that is seldom written about in most accounts of the period allowing readers who are more familiar with this subject area to engage with this text as well.