King's College London
Exhibitions & Conferences
The Duke of Wellington

Indian campaign

The Tiger subdued, 1799-1803

Assaye battle mapAssaye battle mapBattle of AssayeBattle of AssayeWellesley's first Indian campaign, led by General George Harris, was waged in 1799 against the Muslim ally of France, Tippoo Sultan - the so-called Tiger of Mysore, culminating in the siege and storming of his palace of Seringapatam in May, and during which Tippoo was killed. Wellesley's stock reached a new high.

His second major campaign in 1803 was directed against the Hindu Maratha Confederacy. Beginning with the taking the fortress of Ahmednuggur, the campaign reached a pitch with the Battle of Assaye on the Kaitna River.

A particularly bloody affair, it witnessed nearly 8,000 casualties on both sides among the French-trained Mahrattas, British and German troops and native sepoys.

The battle was regarded by Wellington throughout his life as his greatest military achievement - his force had been outnumbered at least seven to one - although his doleful regret at the fearful loss of life also highlighted what became another of his distinctive qualities: compassion and magnanimity in victory.

Finally, Wellesley followed his triumph at Assaye with the successful siege and storming of the bastion at Gawilghur in December 1803.

As a consequence of the Indian wars, Wellesley's reputation - and solvency with the distribution of prize money - was hugely strengthened.

However, he was criticised by rivals envious of his rapid promotion and the part played in it by his brother, the governor general. Wellesley was in turn critical of his allies and some fellow officers and the squandering by civilians of the painful fruits of victory.

The politics and jealousies of war were thereafter to remain a central feature of Wellington's life and career. Nevertheless, reward at home came with his being created a Knight of the Bath in September 1804.

The Lessons of the Campaign

Assaye, another viewAssaye, another viewThe Indian campaign had taught important lessons that Wellesley was to deploy in Europe.

The logistical problems of the Indian wars were particularly acute - supply lines were sometimes hundreds of miles long and Wellesley organised local traders to feed and water his soldiers and remain in attendance during the campaign, thus avoiding the need to live off the land and needlessly make enemies of its native population.

Wellesley also began strengthening the infantry's discipline under fire required to make possible the repeated close range volley fire necessary to break the ranks of the enemy. Such withering fire from defensive formations were later decisive at Waterloo.

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