Dec 02, 2023
Dec 02, 2023
The story so far: British victory over the French territory of Pondicherry and Fort Mahe angered Hyder Ali and he declared war on the British. British forces, under Sir Hector Munroe, gathered at Kanchipuram. Colonel William Bailey who was stationed at Pondicherry was asked to join at Kanchipuram. He was just 14 miles away from where Sir Hector Munroe was stationed but couldn’t meet him due to the flooding of river Kortallayar and had to wait from 25th August till 4th September 1780.
The Battle of Pollilur – The Facts
As soon as Hyder heard about the movement of Colonel Bailey, he sent a part of his 30,000-man army, led by Tipu, to intercept and destroy Colonel Bailey and his small battalion as they travelled from Guntur to join Sir Hector Munro's regiment at Kanchipuram. Tipu's army consisted of 5000 select infantry, 6000 horses, 12 light cannons, six heavy cannons, and the remaining large bodies of soldiers. Please note that Bailey’s force comprised of 2813 army men of which 207 were Europeans.
Bailey had only crossed the river on September 4th and on the way, they were camping at Perambakkam. On September 6th, Tipu caught them at Perambakkam and at once started firing at close range. The battle lasted for three hours, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., during which time Tipu’s guns killed and wounded about 100 Europeans and sepoys but never got a chance to load flintlock rifles.
On the other hand, Bailey and his men fought gallantly and injured Tipu severely by the cannonades. Tipu sent a message to Hyder that without further assistance, he was unable to pressure Bailey. Hyder's camp was just 6 miles away to the west of Sir Hector Munro's regiment having 60,000 troops, including cavalry, artillery, and cannons. Hyder promptly went off to help and reinforce Tippu without alerting Sir Hector's unit. However, Bailey made a choice to remain at Perambakkam even after the battle stopped at 2 p.m., rather than making a hasty trip to Kanchipuram, which was few miles distant. This was another grave error on the part of Bailey. However, he sent a word to Hector Munroe to join.
In the ensuing hours, neither Munroe nor Bailey realized that Hyder himself was moving fastly towards Perambakkam. However, Sir Hector Munro made the fatal error of failing to send his regiment to Perambakkam in order to assist Colonel Bailey. Instead, on September 8, he dispatched a small battalion led by Colonel Fletcher, consisting of 1007 men, and on September 9, they arrived in Bailey's camp undetected by Hyder's force. Munro dispatched a small reinforcement of Highlanders and sepoys instead of the assistance Baillie had anticipated, as it appears he was afraid of having his supplies exposed at Kanchipuram. Indeed, a lack of wisdom and initiative appears to have pervaded both commanders' actions, as a result of which Bailey, found himself surrounded by Hyder Ali and Tipu’s entire army on the morning of September 10, 1780. They launched a frontal and reared assault against Bailey’s men.
Bailey had arranged his forces into an oblong shape and inside he had kept tumbrels filled with ammunition. Somehow the bullets fired from Hyder’s camp landed on the tumbrels of ammunition and exploded in full force. What followed was a widespread stampede, confusion and bewilderment of camp-followers, causing irreparable disarray and frenzy in the ensuing combat. Despite the valiant efforts of Bailey, the panic-stricken sepoys were unable to be roused; nevertheless, the Europeans, numbering 500, gathered in a square under Baillie, who was on foot and took up position atop a rising mound of sand, fought with a tenacity and doggedness. Now that the enemy knew the spot where the ammunition was stored, they blew it and went on a rampage till all the officers lay dead or injured. Only sixteen men out of the 500 soldiers of all ranks in the square were unharmed, they withstood the violent attacks of Hyder's infantry in the intervals. The surviving, including the injured that were deemed worthy of deportation, were rounded up as prisoners and taken to Srirangpattanam. Colonel Baillie was one of the many people who suffered serious injuries and was held captive. He was brought bruised, drained and bloodied into the dungeon at Srirangapatnam, the capital city of Haidar and Tipu. The inmates stayed in Srirangpattanam.'s prisons, most of the time in chains, until 1784 when the survivors were sent back to Madras. Few of them, such as Captain David Baird of the 73rd (71st) Highlanders, who became General Sir Baird afterwards, were present when the citadel was captured by British forces on May 4, 1799 and killed Tipu. Colonel Baillie was not among them because his death on November 13, 1782, put an end to his captivity-related agony.
It was an unequal fight. Even after Bailey surrendered, Hyder’s army went on a killing spree of sepoys, highlanders and soldiers. Some French soldiers rescued wounded sepoys and men from Bailey’s camp.
However, contrary to what left liberals and jihadist historians stated, it was not a significant conflict. Destroying a little battalion of fewer than 4000 soldiers with an army of 80,000, including artillery and cavalry, is not a matter to be felt victorious. In the initial stage, Tipu was on the verge of losing and sustained significant damage at the hands of Bailey. Despite having a sizable battalion at his command, Tipu was forced to call for reinforcements.
“Your son will inform you that you owe the victory to our disaster rather than to our defeat,” Bailey is reported to have told Haidar Ali.
On the walls of the Darya Daulat at Srirangpattanam, a fascinating picture depicting the British defeat is hung. The tumbrels can be seen exploding in the background as Colonel Bailey sits on his palanquin biting his thumb in annoyance.
Just a year earlier, on 12 January 1779, the Maratha army under Nana Fadnavis and Mahadji Shinde had defeated British Army at Vadgaon Maval in Maharashtra, which is hardly talked about.
The Rajput king Maharana Pratap used to carry two swords which weighed nearly 25 kilos each. It is said that he would offer one sword to his enemy before a fight if he (enemy) was unarmed. That is the kind of chivalry Maharana Pratap exhibited. The question is why Tipu didn’t show such magnanimity and provided equal ammunition to Colonel Bailey?
“There’s more to being a warrior than killing. A true warrior — the best warrior — isn’t cruel or mean. He doesn’t claw an enemy who can’t fight back. Where’s the honour in that?”
More by : Dr. Satish Bendigiri