BATTLE OF PLASSEY (IMPERIALISM IN INDIA)
The Battle of Plassey was a major conflict in India during the time of British imperialism. As such, the battle played a significant role in both British and Indian history, and is an important part of the history of European imperialism.
The Battle of Plassey was a major conflict between the British East India Company and Muslim rulers (Nawab) in Bengal. At the time the Nawab were supported by the French and had overrun a British trading post, causing the British East India Company to send Robert Clive and British soldiers. Robert Clive was a British military officer and British official important to the history of British imperialism in India. More specifically, he was a significant historical figure during the time of the British East India Company and its rise to prominence in India.
The actual fighting took place in western India along the shores of the Hooghly River. It is estimated that the Nawab had as many as 30,000 infantry soldiers and another 20,000 cavalry. In contrast, Clive and the British were vastly outnumbered. By this point Clive held the rank of lieutenant-colonel in the British Army and led approximately 1,100 British soldiers and another 2,100 sepoys for the British East India Company during the Battle of Plassey. The Battle of Plassey began early on the morning of June 23rd, 1757 as French artillery launched shells towards Clive’s soldiers. The Nawab infantry began to move in on the British in continuous waves. Clive ordered his British soldiers and sepoys to retreat a bit to find cover, where they dug in against the advancing Nawab.
The situation for the British improved as a rainstorm hit the battlefield. Clive had prepared for this situation, because he protected the British gunpowder stores with ‘tarpaulins’. The tarpaulins, which were large cloths made waterproof by tar, were used to keep the gunpowder dry and usable even during the rain. Whereas, the Nawab made no such protections, and as a result were unable to use their firearms in the wet conditions. This caused the Nawab commander, Mir Madan Khan, to attack the British with the Nawab cavalry, because he believed that the British were no longer able to use their firearms. However, when the Nawab cavalry advanced on the British position, they realized their error as the British opened fire and devastated the Nawab. In the chaos of the attack, Mir Madan Khan was wounded and later died. The loss of the Nawab commander proved significant, as it caused the Nawab to order a retreat from the battlefield. The British, recognizing their opportunity, attacked the retreating Nawab and were able to capture several key pieces of French artillery, which were put into action for the British. As a result, Clive led the British to victory over the Nawab and its French Allies on June 23rd, 1757. Historians estimate that the British lost 22 sepoy soldiers with another 50 wounded in the Battle of Plassey while the Nawab lost approximately 500.
At the end of the battle, Clive installed Mir Jafar as the new leader of the Nawab. Mir Jafar was a supporter of the British and the British East India Company. The victory in the Battle of Plassey was important for the British East India Company because it gave it a foothold in Bengal that it used to expand throughout the rest of India. For example, Clive is credited with expanding the military capabilities of the British East India Company in the region around Bengal. In fact, many historians credit the Battle of Plassey as being the major turning point when the British East India Company gained a stronghold in India. The Battle of Plassey was likely the most significant event in Clive’s career in India and the one for which he is best remembered today.
Throughout the late 1700s, the British East India Company expanded its control over large sections of eastern India from its main base in Bengal. For example, by the mid-1800s, the company had come to control all of the Indian subcontinent and ruled over the country through direct administration. This transformed the British East India Company from having a focus on trade to directly ruling and controlling India as a possession. It did this by expanding its military strength in the region. In fact, by 1857, the British East India Company had several armies that totaled as much as 267,000 soldiers.
Following his success in the Battle of Plassey, Clive carried out more campaigns in western India to further strengthen the position of the British East India Company. When he returned to England, in 1760, he was a fairly wealthy man. During this time in England, he worked to gain political influence over the policy decisions that impacted India. At the same time, stories of corruption began to emerge about the British East India Company, which caused Clive to return to India in 1765, at the age of 40.
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