Siege of Trichinopoly, July 1751-10 April 1752

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The siege of Trichinopoly (July 1751-10 April 1752) saw Chanda Sahib, the French supported Nawab of the Carnatic, attempt and fail to capture the city, which contained his main rival for the post, Muhammed Ali, as well as most of the British troops in southern India.

By the end of 1750 the French supported candidates were in power in both Hyderabad and the Carnatic. Muzaffar Jang had become Nizam of Hyderabad in December 1750, after his uncle had been killed in battle. Chanda Sahib had come to power earlier, after the death of his predecessor at Ambur (3 August 1749). Both owed much of their success to Joseph Dupleix, the French Governor of Pondicherry. The only one of their rivals still in the field was Muhammed Ali, the son of the defeated Nawab of the Carnatic, Anwar-ud-Din. He had occupied Trichinopoly, and with British support prepared to resist the French and their allies.

Trichinopoly was a rectangular well-fortified city, located just to the south of the Cauvery River. This was a branch of the Coleroon River, and the two rivers were separated by the long thin island of Srirangam. Access to the city from the south could be blocked by possession of a series of rocky outcroppings, including the Golden Rock, south of the city, and the Sugar-loaf Rock, to the south east.

The build-up to the siege took most of the first half of 1751. The British first sent troops to Trichinopoly in February 1751, when 300 British troops and 300 Sepoys were dispatched. In March they forced another force, this time with 500 Europeans, 100 Africans and 1,000 Sepoys, under the command of a Swiss officer, Captain Gingen (Robert Clive served as his commissariat officer). Gingen was then forced to wait until mid-May for the arrival of 1,600 of Mohammed Ali’s troops – during the Second Carnatic War Britain and France were officially at peace, so they could only fight each other when serving as auxiliaries for a local power.

The French and their allies were also busy. Chanda Sahib gathered 8,000 men, and Governor Dupleix added 400 French troops under d'Auteuil. The two armies clashed at Volkondah (19-20 July 1751), and Chanda Sahib and the French were victorious. Clive escaped back to Madras, but Gingen and most of his men fled to Trichinopoly, arriving on 28 July. Chanda Sahib and the French followed, and the city was soon under blockade.

The French artillery train didn’t reach Trichinopoly until September 1751, the same month in which Robert Clive made a dramatic attempt to force the French to lift the siege by capturing Chanda Sahib’s capital of Arcot. Although Chanda Sahib did detach 4,000 men to try and retake his capital, Trichinopoly remained under siege. Clive successfully defended Arcot (September-November 1751), and then won a victory over Chanda Sahib at Arni (3 December 1751), before returning to Fort St. David to prepare a relief column. Meanwhile Jacques Law, the French commander at Trichinopoly, was remarkably inactive. The garrison was weak and would have struggled to fight off a determined assault, but Law decided to rely on starvation.

Governor Dupleix was rather more active. He helped Raju Sahib recover from the defeat at Arni. Raju Sahib then occupied Conjeveram, and began to raid the countryside close to Madra. Clive was recalled to deal with the situation. He nearly fell into a trap pursuing Raju Sahib, who had made an attempt to retake Arcot, but Clive was eventually victorious at Kaveripak (28 February 1752), and once again began to prepare a relief force. Despite all of his earlier successes Clive wasn’t to command this column. In mid-March Stringer Lawrence returned to India, and was given command. Clive became his second in command.

Law was ordered to try and intercept the relief army before it could reach the city. He decided to try and block the British advance as it passed the fort of Coilady/ Koiladi, at the eastern end of the island of Srirangam, but only used a small part of his army. Although Lawrence came within range of the gun’s forts, Law failed to act, and the relief army was able to get past this dangerous position and advance to within ten miles of Trichinopoly.

After this failure Law called together his scattered army, and on 8 April attempted to block the road the British were using. Lawrence responded by turning off the road to the south, slipping round the right flank of the French line. This allowed him to join up with the garrison, and made it impossible for Law to stop the relief column from reaching Trichinopoly. At this point Law decided to finally risk attacking the British, but this last ditch attack was repulsed.

Although the blockade of Trichinopoly had been broken, Law still had a powerful army at his disposal, but his next move doomed him to defeat. On 12 April, after a bungled British attempt to attack Chanda Sahib's lines, Law moved his army onto the island of Srirangam, where he was besieged from 12 April to 13 June 1752, and was forced to surrender.

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (12 January 2012), Siege of Trichinopoly, July 1751-10 April 1752 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/siege_trichinopoly_1751.html

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