Battle of Plassey

Led by Clive, the English forces proceeded to Murshidabad to fight against the Nawab. They arrived at the mango grove of Plassey (corrupted from Palashi), 22 miles south of Murshidabad on the bank of the river Bhagirathi on 22 June 1757. In the early morning of 23 June 1757 the fateful battle between young Siraj ud-Daulah and his French allies, led by St. Frais, and the British army, led by Colonel Clive, took place.

The setting

The ground at Plassey was quite flat. The river winds in two loops and the Mughal force was entrenched on the east of the loop. A mile downstream there is a mango grove protected by an embankment. It was about 800 yards long and 300 yards wide Its north western edge was considerably nearer to the river than its south eastern edge. A little distance from the grove, on the edge of the river, was a small hut or lodge, belonging to the Nawab. Further on there were two tanks, the smaller one near the grove and the larger one to the north. A short distance from the lodge was a brick kiln which also played a part in the battle.

On the left flank of the advance guard of Siraj was a small hill. The ground was thus open and suitable for both cavalry and infantry movement and for artillery.


The Nawab had taken up an entrenched position towards the north near the village of Plassey east of the Bhagirathi river which ran from north to south. His army was deployed in a mass of cavalry and infantry with his right resting on the river, extending in a line towards the east and then curving towards the south in a half curve. {MAP OF ARMY LAYOUT IN PLASSEY}

The only lateral gap was in the south between the river and the southern tip of the Nawab's army. In this gap, there was a grove of mango trees 300 yards in width and 800 yards in depth with its north west angle about 500 yards and south east angle about 200 yards from the river. The grove was surrounded by high mud banks on the front and right which were facing the Nawab's army deployed towards the north and east respectively. The left was covered by the river and 200 yards from the grove towards the north were two brick kilns.


The English army consisted of 950 European infantrymen, 100 European artillerymen, 50 English solidiers and 2,100 Indian soldiers. The Nawab’s army, consisting of 50,000 soldiers, was commanded by Mir Jafar, the chief conspirator [name signify’s epitome of treachery].

Clive reached Plassey on the evening of the 22nd after capturing the small, but tactically important fort of Katawa on the way pushing beyond the village he camped within the grove and could hear the music coming from Siraj's camp. There was no time to delay matters waiting for a positive reply from Mir Jafar. The small hunting lodge was captured and a gun placed there.


Nawab's army outnumber the English

Armies of Siraj and his allies were formed of over 50 guns, 15,000 horses and 35,000 foot soldiers. The forces under Clive consisted of the following: Artillery - 8x6 pounder guns, 2x light howitzers (manned by 150 officers and other ranks including 50 sailors). Infantry - 650-750 British, 100 Bengal Topasses, 100 Bombay Topasses, 2,100 Sepoys.

Having never experienced the effect of field pieces, they (Moghuls) had no conception that it was possible to fire the same piece of cannon five or six times a minute, for in the awkward management of their own clumsy artillery, they think that they do well if they fire once a quarter of an hour...

The cannon were mostly of the largest calibre, 24 and 32 pounders, and those were mounted on the middle of a large stage, raised 6ft from the ground, carrying beside the cannon, all the ammunition belonging to it, and the gunners themselves who managed the cannon on the stage itself. These machines were drawn by 40 or 50 yoke of white oxen, of the largest size, bred in the country of Purnea; and behind each cannon walked an elephant, trained to assist at difficult tugs, by shoving with his forehead against the hinder part of the carriage.

Orme, British historian

------------- Siraj had over 18,000 cavalry and 15,000 infantry and about 54 guns, 32, 24, and 18 pounders. The main camp was entrenched and is shown at (A) on the above map. The guns and a small infantry force was advanced south under the valiant Mir Mardan, the guns being manned by Frenchmen. The bulk of the army was placed in a curve under three commanders, Raja Durlabh Ram in the north, Yar Lutf Khan in the center and that arch traitor, Mir Jafar in the south. Most of it was cavalry with the guns placed in front. This force extended much further than Clive's position in the mango grove and was thus in a position to completely surround and overwhelm the small English force. Clive had 3,000 troops, out of which 800 were Europeans and 1,500 native infantry. There was also 50 sailors lent by Admiral Watson. His artillery was small, ten 6 pounders gun.

We think of it as a British victory but actually most of Clive’s men were not Brits but Indians. The ‘white’ men in his troops were mixed e.g. Swedes, Dutch & French, it’s a mongrel army – therefore Battle of Plassey not a victory for ‘British’. What that campaign teaches the British, which the French already knew, was that they could build up armies of Indian troops to fight for them. They knew they couldn’t have enough white troops due to the disease level, transport difficulties, transport cost n small population size. This indigenous army reached 250,000 by 1815. This is your weapon. This is what converts the private, commercial company to a political, military and fiscal complex.


Three-hour long battle begins

On the 23rd morning, at 8.00am, the artillery of Mir Madan, manned by the French, fired the first shot and started a three-hour long battle. The English guns replied and the artillery duel carried on for most of the morning, the advantage being with the Nawab.

Much has been written about the decision making process in the English camp. Clive called a council of war and asked each his opinion about the tactics to be employed. Contrary to usual practice, Clive gave his opinion first, recommending not to take offensive action without getting a definite indication of Mir Jafar's promise of not attacking the British. Major Kilpatrick agreed but Major Coote opposed saying that an immediate attack should be launched. This would have been suicidal if Mir Jar remained loyal to the Nawab and attacked the small British force. In the event Clive decided to retreat to the cover of the grove, re-group and launch a night attack.

Mir Mardan's guns, manned by the Frenchmen under Sinfray, so effective in the open, did little damage to the Company's force sheltering below the trees. On the other hand the English guns scored on the Mughal troops positioned in the open.


Rain drenches Bengali gun powder and brave Mir Madan is killed

Two events now occurred which proved of great advantage to Clive. At 11am it rained very heavily for an hour or two, something that was common in those parts of that time of the year The English were prepared for such an eventuality and covered their guns and powder with tarpaulins and kept them dry. But the Nawab's gunners apparently took no such precaution. Their guns were in the open and their powder suffered. It became wet and unusable therefore the guns became weaker and slack after the rain had stopped. Thus when Mir Madan advanced, it was without artillery support.

Convinced that the English artillery must have suffered the same face, Mir Madan, the bravest chief in the army of the Nawab, advanced with his cavalry after a short lull. But they were met with heavy grape fire from the Company's guns which opened up and did considerable damage. They not only drove back his men but succeeding in killing Mir Madan by a round shot of guns.

The British, while issuing their directive in 1748 on their artillery policy, were so specific in not allowing native access to the art and science of this arm and even not permitting an untrustworthy Englishman or European to man their own guns; this policy was to be instrumental in their conquest of India and their subsequent retention of power for the next 200 years.


The loss of this trusted leader and the dampening ammunition completely unnerved the Nawab.

By 2pm the artillery fire of the Nawab's guns ceased and some guns were seen retreating slowly Clive therefore moved his guns forward for better effect and range and an artillery duel with the French gunners took place.


. While a small portion of the Nawab’s army, commanded by Mir Madan and Mohan Lal, fought desperately and gallantly against the enemy, the bulk of the army did not fight because of the treachery of Mir Jafar. But both parties made no substantial progress and Clive had decided that they'd attack on the Nawab's camp at midnight. Soon after the three-hour long confrontation a heavy rainstorm occurred which was to become the turning point in this battle.

The British used tarpaulins to protect their ammunition, while the Nawab’s army took no such precautions. As a result, their powder got drenched and their rate of fire slackened, while Clive’s artillery kept up a continuous fire. As the rain began to subside, Mir Madan Khan, assuming that the British guns were rendered ineffective by the rain, led his cavalry to a charge. However, the British countered the charge with heavy grape shot, killing Mir Madan Khan and driving back his men.


Treachery of Mir Jafar

Deeply disturbed by the attack on his faithful general who led the advanced cavalry, 24-year-old Siraj ud-Daulah panicked and pleaded with Mir Jafar for his support - even going to the extent of placing his turban at Mir Jafar's feet.

That turban you must defend

24-year-old Siraj-ud-Daulah pleads with Mir Jafar to save his honour

Mir Jafar swore by the Holy Qur'an to fight the British but immediately sent word of this encounter to Clive, urging him to push forward. When Mir Jafar left the Nawab’s tent, Rai Durlabh urged Siraj to withdraw his army behind the entrenchment and advised him to return to Murshidabad leaving the battle to his generals. Siraj complied with this advice and ordered the troops under Mohan Lal to retreat behind the entrenchment. He then mounted a camel and accompanied by 2,000 horsemen set out for Murshidabad in early afternoon - leaving St. Frais and his artillery without support.

The British army advanced forward and attacked the reminder of Siraj and French army. And true to his word, Mir Jafar and his army watched from the left flank whilst the rest of his comrades were being attacked. This wiped out much of the numerical superiority that Bengalis and French enjoyed, and the soldiers of Siraj-Ud-Daula were decimated by the smaller but much better armed and trained British forces. Overpowered by the British attack, St. Frais retreated and handed Clive's army the victory.

Clive thus won an easy victory. On his side, only 29 soliders were killed and on the Nawab’s side, 500.

The Nawab's cavalry made several bold charges but were repulsed by the steady and rapid fire of British guns and maskets which killed over 400 men and 4-5 principal officers. This continued till 5pm when the defection of Mir Jafar became evident. On this indication Clive ordered the capture of a hillock and a redoubt towards the east and with this the victory was completed. The Nawab's army left behind a large quantity of baggage and cattle along with his 53 guns.


In the evening of 23 June 1757, Clive received a letter from Mir Jafar asking for a meeting with him. Clive replied that he would meet Mir Jafar at Daudpur the next morning. When Mir Jafar arrived at the British camp at Daudpur in the morning, Clive embraced him and saluted him as the Nawab of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. He then advised Mir Jafar to hasten to Murshidabad to prevent Siraj’s escape and the plunder of his treasure. Mir Jafar reached Murshidabad that evening with his troops.

------- The latter assured the Nawab of his loyalty but advised that the forces should be called back for an attack the next day, so the order to retreat was given. Mohanlal was in command after Mir Madan's death and he was employing his troops with skill. On hearing the order to retire he vehemently protested and cautioned the Nawab of the folly of a retreat when things were about to go his way. But Siraj, thoroughly confused and panic striken stuck to this order of retreat. When Mohanlal started withdrawing the troops lost heart and started retreating in a confused manner, the retreat soon becoming a rout, with soldiers running away as fast as they could. Clive had given orders not to take any action till nightfall and had gone to sleep in the hunting lodge. But Kilpatrick saw the Nawab retreating and, on his own initiative, ordered an attack and pursuit. Clive was woken by the tumult and was angry but did not countermand the order. The British guns targeted the fleeing mass and did a great deal of damage. The infantry advanced, took the second tank and the small hill on the enemy's left flank. By dusk the battle was over. The Nawab's right flank was in full retreat and his left flank and the three columns under the three traitors standing still and watching the spectacle. The casualties on the English side were slight, less than 50 in killed and wounded. The Nawab's army lost about 1,000 in killed and wounded.

A succession of British authors have glorified Clive and his enterprising spirit and dash. The truth is often the first casualty when bias takes over. The fact was that Clive's march so far inland, without a secure communication with Calcutta was strategically wrong. It was his good fortune that his LoC were not cut. Tactically, too, Clive's position was hopeless. Had Mir Jafar - or for that matter Raja Durlabh Ram and Yar Luft Khan - had been true to his salt, the British force would have been annihilated. Even the order to advance and pursue was given by Kilpatrick on his own initiative, Clive's role being appreciating the soundness of the move and not countermanding it. "He can lay no claim to either extraordinary military skill or statesmanship. It was a triump of subversion, not conquest". The Battle of Plassey was really a moderate size skirmish but its effect was far reaching. On the English side 16 sepoys were killed and 36 wounded. The loss of Siraj was (estimated) over 3,000. It opened the road that led to the British Empire in India.



Capture and murder of Siraj ud-Daulah by Mir Jafar's son

Siraj-ud-daulah deserted his army at 5pm and fled on a camel He reached Murshidabad at midnight on 23 June. Having lost the battle and feeling unsafe, Siraj disguised himself and escaped northwards with his wife Lutfunnisa on a boat at 22:00 on 24 June.

His intention was to escape to Patna, Bihar, with aid from Jean Law. At midnight on 24 June, Mir Jafar sent several parties in pursuit of Siraj. On 2 July, Siraj reached Rajmahal in Sahibganj district (north of Murshidabad) and took shelter in a deserted garden but was soon discovered and betrayed to the local military governor, the brother of Mir Jafar, by a man who was previously arrested and punished by Siraj. His fate could not be decided by a council headed by Mir Jafar and was handed over to Mir Jafar’s son, Miran, who had Siraj murdered by Muhammadi Beg, an Iranian guard, that night.

His remains were paraded on the streets of Murshidabad the next morning and were buried at the tomb of Alivardi Khan.

Masnad of Bengal was full of thorns for him. During his short lived administration in which he ruled for little over one year (April 1756 to June 1757) the young nawab faced enemies from within the family as well as from outside.

Sirajuddaula's limitations and his public and private character should be judged considering the environment he worked in and the cause he fought for and gave his life. A marked change in his character was noticeable after he had become the nawab. Alivardi's last advice might have acted as a great influencing factor on him. The verdict of history is that whatever might have been his fault, Sirajuddaula neither betrayed his master nor sold his country. 'The name of Sirajuddaula stands higher in the scale of honour than does the name of Clive. He was the only one of the principal actors who did not attempt to deceive'.


Siraj-ud-Daulah is indeed reported to have been a very wicked, and a very cruel prince: but how he deserved that character does not appear in fact. He was very young, not 20 years old when he was put to death—and the first provocation to his enmity was given by the English. It is true, that when he took Calcutta a very lamentable event happened, I mean the story of the Black Hole; but that catastrophe can never be attributed to the intention, for it was without the knowledge of the prince.

I remember a similar accident happening in St. Martin's roundhouse; but it should appear very ridiculous, were I, on that account, to attribute any guilt or imputation of cruelty to the memory of the late king, in whose reign it happened. A peace was however agreed upon with Suraj-ud-Daulah; and the persons who went as ambassadors to confirm that peace, formed the conspiracy, by which he was deprived of his kingdom and his life.

Sir William Meredith, British politician, during the Parliamentary inquiry into Robert Clive's actions in India

---------- Siraj-ud-Daulah left his camp as soon as he heard of Mir Jafar's treachery. At Murshidabad he escaped from his palace in disguise taking with him a lot of his jewels and accompanied by his favourite concubine. At Chaukihat he was robbed of his jewels. At Bhagalpur he took to boats with the intention of going up river to Patna. He had to take shelter in a deserted garden to rest his boatmen. Here he was betrayed again, and brought to Murshidabad in chains. He was beheaded by Mir Jafar's son. Mir Jafar was duly installed as the Nawab. He had promised huge amounts to the Company and its servants, sums which he just could not pay because the State Treasury was not as full as he supposed it to be.

This was a period of unashamed avarice and exploitation by the Company. Not only the Nawab, but the people were mercilessly squeezed to satisfy the hunger for riches that the Company's servants had developed. They left a blot on the Company's name which even three centuries of history has not been able to wipe out. Clive was honoured with titles such as Sadat Jung (Firm in War), Saif Jung (Sword of War) and Amir-ul-Mamalik (Grandee of the Empire). The amount that Mir Jafar promised to give to the Company totalled 22,000,000 Sicca rupees or £2,750,000.



'Nawab' Mir Jafar

On 29 June Clive met Mir Jafar at Sirajuddaula's Hirajhil Palace and there, in the presence of the rajas and other courtiers, he led Mir Jafar by the hand to the masnad, and saluted him as the nawab of Bengal, Bihar and Qrissa, upon which the courtiers congratulated him and paid him the usual homage.

---------------- After the Battle of Plassey on 23rd June 1757 AD, Clive placed Mir Jafar on the viceregal throne at Murshidabad on 29th June 1757 AD. Clive met Mir Jafar at Siraj-ud-Daulla's Heera Jheel Palace and there, in the presence of the rajas and other courtiers, he led Mir Jafar by the hand to the masnad, and saluted him as the nawab of Bengal, Bihar and Qrissa, upon which the courtiers congratulated him and paid him the usual homage. ------------

By conspiracy and treachery, the English merchants deposed Siraj ud-Daulah and became the virtual rulers of Bengal. The new Nawab became a puppet in the hands of the East India Company. An English army of 6,000 soldiers was maintained in Bengal to help and protect Mir Jafar as the latter could not act independently.

The Battle of Plassey placed the vast resources of Bengal at the disposal of the East India Company. It was with the wealth of Bengal at their command that the English could win their final and decisive victory over the French in south India. The trade of Bengal became a monopoly of the East India Company after the Battle of Plassey.