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The onset of the 19th century saw the emergence of rising tensions amongst the local ruler of the Deccan. While some of them chose to become colonial puppets by agreeing to the Subsidiary Alliance, other rulers chose to fight for their honour.
Happened on 23rd September 1803
The British were eyeing on the Deccan for quite some time when a feud between the Holkars and Scindias, two dominant Maratha leaders, led to the culmination of the Battle of Poona. While the combined troops of Scindias and Baji Rao II were defeated, the latter was also driven out of his territory. A defeated Baji Rao II sought refuge in the British, who wasted no time to make the Peshwa sign the Treaty of Bassein. The Peshwa officially became a British puppet with the dream of ruling over Poona.
The treaty did not sit well with the other Maratha leaders. They did not wish to submit to the authority of the Peshwa or the British Raj. Major General Arthur Wellesley, who had the responsibility of East India Company's political and military affairs in central India, tried to negotiate with the Scindias. As a result of failed negotiations, Wellesley declared war against the Scindias and the Raja of Berar (supporter of Scindias).
The task of bagging Ahmednagar was not a difficult one for Wellesley. After claiming Ahmednagar, he proceeded to defeat the combined forces of Scindias and Bhonsles (the Raja of Berar), which was stationed at the village of Assaye. Without wasting any time, Wellesley led his forces to march up to Berar. On a short break on their way, Wellesly received the good news from his intelligence that they had spotted the Maratha army a mere five miles away.
It was Wellesley's sheer strategic planning that helped him subdue the Marathas. He noticed that the Marathas were waiting for his arrival on the banks of river Kailna. Since a frontal attack would be suicidal, Wellesley decided to sneak up from the left ford of river Kailna which was left unguarded. The Maratha forces were taken by surprise but immediately started firing cannonballs at the British army.
The formidable British army didn't give up and continued to penetrate the village of Assaye. The latter half of the battle involved slashing of enemy soldiers on both ends. The well-trained army of Maratha infantry played smart and tricked the British sepoys by acting dead at the rear end of Assaye. The British opened fire at the Maratha soldiers without hesitation before they could harm them.
The battle was now slowly coming to an end. Some Maratha soldiers had formed a second line of defence but were mercilessly crushed by the British forces. This incident marked the formal end of the battle and the Second Anglo Maratha War came to an end with a heavy price of casualties on both ends.
The British casualties amounted up to 428 dead, 1,138 wounded and 18 missing soldiers. While it was difficult to corroborate the exact number of Maratha casualties, modern Historians estimate that around 6,000 Maratha soldiers were wounded and killed.
The fact that Wellesley himself confesses that the Battle of Assaye was the bloodiest battle he ever fought only leaves us to imagine the number of lives lost.
The Battle of Assaye thus crowned the British supremacy undisputably. Wellesley's monumental win on September 23, 1803, declared him as a force to reckon with. His experience and military prowess came in handy when he defeated Napolean at the Battle of Waterloo.
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