Monday, July 25, 2016

The Siege of Cuddalore—Last Battle of the American Revolution

British Regulars engage forces of the Sultan of Mysore during the Seige of Cuddalore


The last battle of the American Revolution came to an end on July 25, 1783 when the combatants got preliminary notice that a Peace Treaty  had been signed.  The British forces including Hessian mercenaries and native forces lifted their 48 day siege of the citadel strong point of Cuddalore which was defended by a recently reinforced French garrison and their native allies.  You scholars scrambling to find the fortress on a map of North America or even a map of the New World will be frustrated. Cuddalore was a port on the far south east coast of India.
Huh!?!  Let me explain.
The French renewed an old feud with England when they became allies of the struggling and infant United States of America in February 1778 and an active belligerent by Declaration of War a month later.  Like the Seven Years War (the French and Indian War in North America) it quickly became a world war between empires fought not only in the former Colonies but on the high seas around the globe, on Caribbean islands, in Europe, West Africa, India, and the Philippines.  Britain’s allies included Prussia, Portugal, and a small gaggle of German principalities.  Fighting with the French in addition to the Continentals were the Holy Roman Empire (Austria, Saxony, and Bavaria), Spain, Russia, and the Indian Mughal Empire.
Both nations had ambitions and interests on the sub-continent and had fought there in the previous 1754-63 conflict where East India Company under Robert Clive mounted its own private army.  The French Mughal allies were crushed and French enclaves and strong points including Cuddalore fell to the British virtually ending their presence in India.

French Admiral Pierre André de Suffren de Saint Tropez, also known as the Bailli de Suffren gestures to the Citadel of Cuddalore in this 1785 portrait by Pompeo Batoni.


By 1782 with British forces heavily committed in North America and the Antilles, French Vice Admiral Pierre André de Suffren Saint-Tropez, who had already defeated a Royal Navy Squadron off of the Cape Verde Islands in the South Atlantic preventing the British from taking Cape of Good Hope, sailed to Southern India and allied with the Nawab of Mysore in his war against the East India Company.  Mysore troops had been able to seize some old French strong holds including Cuddalore, which the French reinforced with 2500 European troops and 2000 Sepoys (native Indian troops) under the command of the Marquis de Bussy join the 5800 Musorians in the city and citadel.
As Suffren cruised Indian Ocean fighting a series of hard fought, desperate naval battles with a fleet under English Admiral Sir Edward Hughes, British troops under the command of Major-General James Stuart arrived outside Cuddalore on June 7, 1783.   Hughes’s army consisted of the 73rd and 78th Highlanders, the 101st Regiment—Regulars rather than East India Company troops—and a large body of Sepoys.  It was reinforced by a detachment of two Hanover mercenary regiments under Colonel Christoph August von Wangenheim.  The siege was on.

A French map showing the dispositions of forces during the Siege of Cuddalore.  The British lines are to the left and the fortress is inn the lower right.
On June 15 Stuart launched a surprise pre-dawn attack which after hours of desperate fighting dislodged the allies from a key redoubt in front of the main citadel.  The defenders were forced back into the Fort and city as Stuart tightened his lines and waited for reinforcements from the sea.  But it was a costly victory.  His forces lost more than 900 killed and wounded while the allies lost more than 500 of their much larger force.  Stuart badly beat up force, especially the Europeans in their wool uniforms also suffered badly from the intense summer heat and disease which swept their encampments.
In the naval Battle of Cuddalore, Suffren's inferior fleet decisively defeated the Royal Navy driving it back to Madras.

Then on June 20Stuart’s hopes for reinforcements were dashed when Suffren’s fleet arrived off shore and engaged the British flotilla for the final time, this time decisively defeating Hughes and sending him reeling back to Madras.  Suffren was then able to land 2500 marines who got inside the allied lines, significantly tipping the balance of power.
On June 25 DeBussy launched several sorties against the British lines but despite his superiority in numbers, badly botched the attacks.  The well entrenched British lost only 25 men while the attackers lost 450 killed and wounded with another 150 taken prisoner including  the field commander  of the led the assault, the Chevalier de Dumas and several other officers.  The French lost the advantage they had gained by the reinforcements.
The siege dragged on for another five days with both sides taking casualties and suffering from losses to the heat and camp sickness, likely dysentery.  DeBussy was trying to get his depleted forces read for another sortie when a British ship arrived with news that France and Britain has tentatively agreed on peace.
On July 25 both exhausted European armies agreed on a local end of hostilities.   When the terms of the Treaty of Paris became known, the French had to surrender Cuddalore to the British.  In exchange they got back their important trading posts at Pondicherry north of Cuddalore and Mahé across the tip of the subcontinent on the western shore.
Thus ended the Indian part of the world war sparked by the American Revolution.  Historians refer to actions in that war outside of the New World as the Anglo-French War.  Although peace was restored between the powers, the war between Britain and the Mysoreans continued until the Treaty of Mangalore was signed in March 1784.  The Second Anglo-Mysore War ended with a British humiliation and the beginning of the end of the British East India Company.  Eventually the India Act mad British possessions in India direct colonies with a Royal Governor General, and a vast colonial bureaucracy.
The French held on to their small enclave at Mahé and a few other points surrounded by British India.  After Indian independence, they were finally ceded by France in 1954.
There is some small irony that it was heavily taxed East India Company tea that helped spark the American Revolution when Patriots dumped it into Boston Harbor.  And it was the last battle of that war that led to the ulimate collapse of the Company.


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