Warfare in the exotic world of the early days of Britain's Indian Empire In the early years of the nineteenth century as Napoleon's French Army dominated Europe the British empire continued with its expansion of power on the Indian Sub-Continent. There, a young general-Arthur Wellesley-who would soon become the Duke of Wellington fought his formative battles-including the one which he would always cite as his hardest fought victory at Assaye. The enemy were the formidable Marathas-one of the pre-eminent martial races of India. Wellington was not alone in this pivotal war for Indian domination. His rising, bright star has always overshadowed the campaigns of Gerard Lake-an accomplished fighting leader of British soldiers now close to the end of his career. Often neglected by historians and students alike, Lake's Indian campaign was fought against a resourceful and ruthless enemy-almost always superior in numbers to his own forces. Commanding an army of a few British regular cavalry and infantry regiments, together with elements of the Honourable East India Company's own army, Lake fought hard battles and invested strongly held fortresses. In this book the reader will discover the mighty strongholds of Aligarh, Agra and Deeg, Lakes own Assaye-Laswari, and the slaughter which was the attempt on the nearly impregnable stronghold of Bhurtpur. Lake appears with a host of colourful supporting characters-Perron and other mercenary 'freelancers', James Skinner and his 'Yellow Boys' irregular cavalry, the incompetent Colonel Monson and Holkar-the despotic and cruel Maratha leader himself.
The dust and the inundation confirmed Lake in his belief that Abaji was still endeavouring to escape, and determined at all costs to prevent the removal of the Maratha guns, he ordered his advanced-guard and the 3rd Cavalry Brigade, which had crossed the nala, to advance as rapidly as possible through the newly created swamp, move along the whole Maratha front, and attack Malpur and the left portion of the infantry line. This flank movement would clear the ground for the advance of the 1st Cavalry Brigade, which was ordered to cross the nala and attack the village of Laswari and the right portion of the infantry line. The 2nd Cavalry Brigade, which was in rear, was to attack in like manner when ordered to do it so. The advanced-guard (one squadron of the 8th Light Dragoons, commanded by Major Griffiths of the 29th Light Dragoons), and the list Brigade (remainder of the 8th Light Dragoons, 1st and 3rd Native Cavalry), commanded by Colonel T. P. Vandeleur, advanced somewhat slowly at first, in consequence of the, inundation, but afterwards at high speed, ignoring the heavy fire opened upon them by all the Maratha guns, which caused numerous casualties among men and horses. Approaching the Maratha left, this fine brigade, headed by the advanced-guard, charged with such impetuosity as to break clean through the Maratha line and to penetrate into the village of Malpur, where they captured several guns. Colonel Vandeleur, however, did not live to lead this gallant charge. Seeing that the moment of action had arrived, immediately before ordering the charge he had turned to address a few words to his own regiment, the 8th Light Dragoons, which were at the head of his brigade, and urged them in spirited language to bring honour to their standards, pointing at the harp and crown with which they were emblazoned. Vandeleur then placed himself at the head of his beloved regiment, and while in the act of drawing his sword, was shot through the heart by a French artilleryman.
Vandeleur offered too conspicuous a mark to the enemy that day, for while his regiment were mounted on grey Arabs, he himself rode a favourite black charger. Lieut.-Colonel Gordon of the 1st Bengal Cavalry now took command of the 1st Brigade, and led it in its glorious and successful charge through the Maratha position. This was an extraordinary achievement, for the Maratha infantry were thickly posted, and were drawn up behind a deep breast-work, strengthened by all the bullock-carts and other vehicles of their army. The guns, too, arranged as has been described along the front, were united to one another by chains, forming an awkward obstacle to cavalry. The Maratha artillerymen, as was commonly the case with natives of India serving in that arm, showed fine courage and devotion, holding their fire until the British cavalry had arrived within twenty yards of the muzzles of the guns. So strongly was General Lake impressed by the conduct of these brave artillerymen that he subsequently enlisted all their survivors who desired it into the British service. Fighting against so determined and powerful an enemy, and in the teeth of such formidable obstacles, it will be readily imagined that the losses of the advanced-guard and 1st Brigade were very heavy. This was particularly the case with the advanced-guard, the first body of troops to come into action, and a brief extract from the Records of the 8th Hussars brings this portion of the battle of Laswari vividly before us:
Lieutenant Lindon (commanding the leading troop) received a grape-shot in the knee, and died within twenty-four hours in the arms of his beloved friend, Cornet Burrowes. After Lieutenant Lindon was wounded, the command of the troop devolved on Lieutenant Willard, but he presently had his arm carried away by a charge of grape while cheering on his men under a destructive fire. Cornet Burrowes next took command, and continued at his post in spite of severe wounds in the face and head, received in single combat with a French artillery officer.