1761 - British operations in Bengal
The main campaign took place from January to June 1761
Description of events
Combat of Suan
On January 15 1761, the united forces of the East India Company army and of the nawab of Bengal arrived at Suan, 10 km from Bihar, on a stream formed by a branch of the Mahani River; and here Carnac found the army of Shah Alam II, the Mughal emperor of India, drawn up on the opposite bank. The British artillery 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 native infantry; the artillery between the Europeans and Sepoys. A third battalion of native infantry 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 opened fire on the confused masses of the enemy, who began to give ground; and, the British infantry charging, 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 Europeans 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 (today 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 Emperor was soon enabled to collect his scattered troops, amongst whom there had been but slight loss; and proceeded at once towards Patna, which he knew had been left but poorly protected. But Major Carnac, intercepting him, forced him 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.
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. The meeting took place at the town of Gyah (probably today Gaya), when an agreement was entered into, 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. 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 (today Kolkata) for the consideration of the Council.
A detachment of 200 of the Bengal European Regiment, with some native infantry, artillery, and cavalry, was ordered to remain at Gyah under captain Alexander Champion and watch events in Bihar; but, 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.
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.
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.
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