The story in brief
The English colonial desires in Deccan, Indian subcontinent, suffered a major setback after the French expeditionary force from Mangalore under Marshals Ravi de Mohan and Sajan de Joseph defeated the English contingent form Fort St George in Madras lead by Generals Manoj Govindan and Mridul Jain. The English lost the bulk of their cavalry in the short and sharp engagement and a shocked Wellington withdrew with his shaken infantry more or less intact. Shock and surprise tactics and French artillery fire carried the day for the Marshals of Napoleon.
One hot Summer in Madras...
The English blame it on the heat. There must be something to what they say, for all this nasty affair for the Crown began one hot summer in Madras, when the Resident Director of the East India company had a brain wave. (Ask Wellington and he'll say that was brain fever, for "No man in his right mind would venture upon such crazy adventures") Well, fever or not, the director (who shall remain unnamed in this dispatch) had come to hear that Deccan, especially Lower Deccan was good for cotton cultivation. The French style of wearing cotton dresses was in Vogue all over Europe, and therefore it was only natural that he, the representative of His Majesty King George in India, should take active steps to ensure a steady supply of the fine fabric to England. And since Deccan was so near, and Fort St George having troops to spare, it was inevitable that he should order some of them to go ahead and secure the approaches to the cotton fields. His Eminence had originally planned to spent a brigade, but the Generals, already stumped by the proposal, threatened to mutiny if they were not given more troops for the job. His eminence relented, and agreed to give them three brigades and two batteries of 12 pdrs. More artillery he would not give, for the summer festival was nearing and it was a matter of his pride that he be greeted by six gun salutes on that day.
Fortunatley for the British, the occasion of His Eminence's desire to get hold of Deccan coincided with the visit of General Mridul Jain from Delhi. Having taken a lengthy stage coach ride followed by a brief sea voyage, the General appeared tired, but agreed to Wellington's pleas to accompany him to Deccan. Being a family man, he too had his reservations, but Wellington was some how able to persuade him to accomapny him. What His Eminence had missed out was that Lower Deccan was only marchable distance from Mangalore, a port town currently in the hands of the French. Les Francaise were not going to sit idle, and His Eminence or not, the Generals were going to decide their course of action for themselves.
The Cavalier of Fort St Geroge
The British forces had assembled two brigades of Infantry and their field pieces, but they were yet to get any cavalry. His Eminence had promised that cavalry was on its way from Upper Deccan and would meet them on their way. He conveniently forgot to tell him that it was being commanded by Lord Crauford of Derby shire, a swashbuckling cavalier known for his 'shoot first ask questions later' nature which had lead him to trouble more than once in the field. (Had he known it then, swore Wellington later, he would have quit then and there.)
But for all his rage, Manoj had no choice. 'The army' said the angry General, 'is being run by a ****** company'. He consoled himself with the thought that Crauford could at least think for his own most of the time, unlike some of the officers he had served with and had under him. Also, he had Mridul, who was known to him from his years in Southern India and who he believed to be a reliable officer. Mindful of such thoughts, the General led his men out of Fort St George and onto the plains of Deccan.
Four days of forced marching saw Manoj and his team in upper Deccan, and more importantly, face to face with Lord Crauford. The haughty Lord of Derby shire seemed unusually quiet and avoided talk with a scowl, which the other Generals took for a blessing. Perhaps it was the heat(again!) or perhaps he was busy exchanging stories with Mridul, in any case Manoj did not think much about the manner of Crauford, and ordered the army forward again.
Lord Crauford, Lord of the land of Derby shire, peerless cavalier of the British Army, ladies man of the Crown court, was deep in thought. He had received news the day before from the Company estate in Upper Deccan that the Countess Gloria of the Royal Family of Belgium, currently on a tour of South India and the focus of his amorous desires for the past week, had eloped with a Colonel of the French Army. The loss of pride involved in being spurned had been bad, but worse was the news that his own wife had came to know of his stories and was already yelling for blood. He shuddered and cursed Manoj for his desire to cultivate ***** cotton(!) [His Eminence the Director of East India Comapny had signed the order asking Crauford on with Manoj's seal; he knew Crauford well and was not going to risk Craufords revenge] and his own inferior position in His Majesty's army. By all means, Crauford ought to have revolted, but the thoughts of his impending doom when he returned home(brr!) made him glad of any excuse to be away, cotton or not.
The Marshals of Mangalore
The French had received word of the red coats soon after they started from Madras, and were immediately taken by panic. At the time of receiving the news, they had no commanders worth entrusting the task to, and the nearest French station was several weeks away. Fortunately for the Francaise, two French Marshals on leave from the fighting in Spain had chosen lower deccan as their holiday destination and were camping in Bangalore. Word was immediately sent, and a rather irritated Marshal Ravi de Mohan was called out of leave to resolve the crisis. 'These crazy Red coats' cursed Marshal Ravi, 'First they spoil their vacation, and now they want to spoil mine too! But hold! It has only begun. We'll see who laughs in the end!' A grim looking Marshal Sajan smiled silently. He was used to his colleagues' sharp words and equally sharp tactics in battles. 'Fictitious,' said Ravi to his aide,'get the captain of the Guards'. 'I want this thing over with quickly. My time is precious and I am not in a mood to waste it over fights for cotton plants'. Soon, the two Marshals were deep in their discussion, and Colonel Fictitious knew that this was going to be one quickie of a battle.
In a short time, De Mohan and De Sajan had assembled their forces. Mangalore had yielded some quality troops, and Marshal Mohan had commandeered the 12 pdr gun batteries from the port command. These were veterans of many a battle, and knew the lay of the land very well. In a deviation from tradition, the Marshals decided to split up the mounted troops and attached Squadrons to two out of three of their Infantry battalions. Fictitious was a good man but rather dim on the battlefield, and the battle had to be planned and lead by the Marshals.
The French force was on its way towards the key village of Kuppam, which guarded the approaches to Lower Deccan.
The battle ground: A reproduction of the picture from the Fort St.George dispatches
Kuppam, the land of cotton
Kuppam was a key village located right across the approaches to the foot hills of Lower Deccan.Whoever controlled Kuppam would have a clear line of supply to Lower Deccan and a vantage point of defence. Kuppam village was in the centre of the battlefield, flanked by the cotton farms of Sarpanch Mariappa on its south and the hamlet called North Kuppam to its north-west. A road connected these settlements, and lead to Lower Deccan. The eastern approaches of the battle field was dominated by the Kuppam hill, and the western edge by the foot hills of Deccan. On the south west edge stood old mans woods, a wooded patch of rocks. Both kuppam village and north kuppam had adjacent pools for their water supply.
The meeting at Kuppam
The nearer the two forces came to Kuppam, the more clearer their intentions became to each other. In the race to reach and hold the village, the Armies had been force marching their troops in brigade size columns so as to gain the speed advantage. While this was a tactic worth fighting for the French, for His Majesty's troops it meant that they were being deprived of their traditional form of fighting which was the line. Any how, on the 4th of August, the two forces found each other in the valley of Kuppam. Manoj had placed Crauford and his Cavalry to the left extreme of the British end, with himself in the middle and Mridul in the right. Facing Mridul was Fictitious, and facing Manoj and Crauford were Ravi and Sajan.
Manoj had just been handed the spy glasses by his aide, and the General was viewing the field. He would have chosen to move, but the 'lads' were having morning tea in traditional English style, and would be unavailable for marching till the event was over. " English Customs", muttered Manoj,"in the battlefiled, I say! Can't these people change it for once?". But as it was, tea was being served and there was nothing he could do but observe the field with his glasses and wait for the troops to form up.
The French had abolished all such customs well before war, and as it was on that day, were ready to deploy at the orders from their commanders. In a quick move, Ravi de Mohan looked at the field once, made his decision and made a move. Drums struck up, and the French tricolors waved. The 1st Imperial Guards, those fearsome cavaliers of Bordeaux, spurred their horses onward into the middle of the battle field. Hooves sounding, the horses kicked up a cloud of dust, reared as the riders ordered them to wheel and raced to Kuppam village. The Guard captain was yelled out "Aaaall Dismount! Open order! Skirmishers to the front! Seize the gates and hold!". In the interval of less than a minute, the Village of Kuppam had become the property of France. Marshal Ravi smiled a wicked smile. He had moved first, and he knew that the Brits would be surprised.
At this point, something unique and fascinating happened. Lord Crauford, the noble cavalier from Derby Shire, His Majesty's Loyal soldier, peer of the realm, was outraged by the blatant usurping of territory by the French. Yelling at the top of his voice to avenge the crown(and perhaps the usurping of his would-have-been-mistress?), he ordered a CHARGE! Hooves thundered, carbines roared out and whips cracked. The whole cavalry brigade was charging the VILLAGE! In a single dash, His Britannic Majesty's cavaliers had descended to the valley, and were galloping on towards the village of Kuppam. They moved across, and to the front of the entire British Army and rode up the road to Kuppam.
A shell shocked Manoj was dumbstruck for a moment. He could simply not believe his eyes! "Crauford! you fool!" yelled Manoj. Frantically he called for his staff to sound halt, but it was too late. Even as the dazed General watched, Crauford and his mad horsemen were out of earshot and gaining on the village. The British CinCs rage was beyond words. "Who let this FOOL into the army?! The IDIOT! Peer of the realm, my foot!" raged Manoj. But alas, the charge was on its way and there was nothing he could do but watch."Half a league, half a league, Half a league onward, All in the valley of Death, Rode the six hundred"
It would be right to say that Les Francaise were equally surprised at the charge. Marshal Ravi was laughing out with glee. Here were some mounted fools, attempting to charge his crack skirmish-cavalry in the village! "Boys! Muskets at the ready! Hold your Fire! Captain, the range! Fire at 25 yards!" Yelled Ravi de Mohan at the troopers, who were gazing at the unbelievable. "Aye aye sir!" yelled back the captain of Guards
"500 yards! 400 and closing! 250! Hold fire! 100! 50!!" yelled the captain.
Lord Crauford was a wild man. He could see the houses looming nearer and nearer. He held his sabre high, and spurred his horse onward for the jump across the village fence. With incredible force, the Horses and riders cleared the top and stood poised in mid air in an historic moment.
"25 yards!!! FIIIIRE!!!!" And the musketeers let go with all guns.
There was but one roaring sound as 600 muskets roared in unision. With a thud that shook the village, the balls charged home on the leaping cavaliers with deadly force. Yelling and shouting, many a horse and man went down. The survivors rode past in momentum, as the muskets fired yet again. Crauford was dazed. In a flash, he had lost a good many men. What had happend?
But the answers were slow to come, where as the musket balls weren't. He ordered a retreat, and the survivors jumped the very same fence, but in the reverse direction, and rode for cover even as the musketeers paused to reload.
Ravi de Mohan was grinning. "Well done lads!" he said, "Let us teach the Brits not to go charging houses!" Sajan de Joseph could not contain his laughter. Still smiling, he watched the cavalry charge away from the houses and towards the pool. Cooly, he ordered his artillery forward to unlimber near old mans woods and smiled yet again.
Manoj and Mridul were in a daze. Their best Cavalry had taken losses even before making contact, and the key village was in French hands. The only chance now stood in retaking the village or wriggling past to meet the enemy in the open. With an uncertain mind, he ordered hi brigade onwards towards the valley. After looking at the dismounted cavaliers in the village, he ordered a line to be formed. Taking the lead, Mridul also moved out into the open, and started forming lines.
Unfortunately for them Ravi and Sajan had made plans to avoid this. Sajan de Joseph looked at the British cavalry reorganizing near the pond and at his own horse driven 12 pounders unlimbering. He looked grim, and when the captain of the artillery approached him, just pointed at the British cavalry and smiled. The captain followed the General's hand, found what he meant, and nodded. "Gunners! Take aim! Range 1000 yards! Load shot! Set your level! Fire!"
Here was a chance to practice their art, and to show the rest that their elite status was well earned. Guns roared, belching flames and shot. They roared again. And again. And for every roar, Sajan watched as the British fell, retreated, were hit again and fell some more. All chaos broke out amongst the cavalry. Horses reared, and the column lost order. Crauford, all ego replaced by mortal fear, tried to stem the panic and barely managed to get them to regroup behind mariappas farm, to where many had fled. He gave a sigh of relief, but unknown to him, the calm was only temporary.
Hidden from view of Crauford, but visible to all others, the rest of the French cavalry were forming a line. Leading them was Marshal Sajan himself, all determined to get the battle over with. Pointing his saber in the direction of Mariappas farm, he ordered the horses into a trot, a canter and a gallop. Riding past, they closed over the farm and had entered. Shouting fiercely, French troopers leaped out from the farm, onto the dumbstruck British Cavaliers. The outcome was decided quickly. In a massive crash, Lord Craufords troops broke, routed and fell.
The battle was over for the British Cavalry.
The end of the battle
Sound the retreat!
Manoj had nothing to say as word reached him. He was numb. But to his credit, he conferred with Mridul and called the most dismaying of all calls for a General 'Retreat!' Lost he had, but a retreat would at least keep his troops alive to fight another battle. The shaken Redcoats made a swift turn, and beat it out of Kuppam valley. Cotton cultivation would have to wait, His Eminence or not.
Across the battlefield, Ravi de Mohan and Sajan de Joseph looked at the cheering soldiers and grinned. "Not bad for a day's work, eh Sajan?" asked Ravi. "Not bad indeed" Said Sajan de Joseph in agreement "A pity that we have to be back in Spain soon".
We played this game using a Piquet adaptation of Big Battalions by Foundry . We had an old and battered copy lying around somewhere and, charged with enthusiasm for the yet to come Piquet, decided to adapt it to see get a feel of Piquet. We used the pip-impetus system together with the card-draw system of Foundry rules to get a pseudo Piquet. PK morale rules were not clear to us and were not used. The game turned out to be really enjoyable for all present. The game is memorable more because of the sportsman like way all involved played it. The three of us (Ravi, Sajan and Manoj) were seeing Mridul Jain after two years and wanted to have a proper celebration. As it turned out, we had a really enjoyable time.