Battle of Koregaon
|Battle of Koregaon|
|Part of Third Anglo-Maratha War|
Bhima Koregaon Victory Pillar
|British East India Company||Maratha Empire|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Captain Francis F. Staunton||Peshwa Baji Rao II
|834, including 500 infantry, 250–300 cavalry and 24 artillery
2 6-pounder cannons
|20,000 cavalry, 8000 infantry (around 2,000 participated in the battle)|
|Casualties and losses|
|275 killed, wounded or missing||500–600|
The Battle of Koregaon was fought in 1818 between the British East India Company and the Maratha Confederacy, at Koregaon Bhima. The 25,000-strong Marathas, led by Peshwa Baji Rao II intended to attack Pune. On their way, they were met by a 800-strong Company force that was on its way to reinforce the British troops in Pune. The Peshwa dispatched around 2,000 soldiers to attack the Company force, stationed in Koregaon. Led by Captain Francis Staunton, the Company troops defended their position for nearly 12 hours. The Marathas ultimately withdrew, fearing the arrival of a larger British force led by General Joseph Smith.
The reign of Peshwa Baji Rao II saw the Marathas facing several confrontations with the British. In November 1817, the Company forces defeated the Peshawas in the Battle of Khadki near Pune. After the Peshwa fled to Satara, the Company forces took control of Pune. Pune was placed under Colonel Burr, while a British force led by General Smith pursued Peshwa. Smith feared that the Marathas might escape to Konkan and overpower the small British detachment there. As a result, he instructed Colonel Burr to send reinforcements to Konkan, and in turn, call in for reinforcements from Shirur. Towards the end of December, Colonel Burr received news that the Peshwa meant to attack Pune, and asked the Company troops stationed at Shirur for help.
The Peshwa's army comprised 20,000 cavalry and 8,000 infantry. Out of these, 2,000 men were deployed in the action, constantly reinforced during the battle.
The Company troops dispatched from Shirur comprised 834 men, including:
- 500 soldiers of the 2nd Battalion of the 1st Regiment of Bombay Native Infantry, led by Captain Francis Staunton
- Around 250–300 irregular horsemen under Lieutenant Swanston
- 24 European Madras artillerymen with two 6-pounder guns, under Lieutenant Chisholm
The native soldiers were predominantly Mahars.
The Company troops left Shirur at 8 pm on 31 December 1817. After marching all night and covering a distance of 25 miles, they reached the high ground behind Talegaon Dhamdhere. From there, they spotted Peshwa's army across the Bhima River. Captain Staunton marched up to Koregaon Bhima village, which was located on the banks of the river. The village was surrounded by a low mud wall. Captain Staunton made a feint of crossing the river. A 5,000-strong infantry, which was slightly ahead of the Peshwa's base, retreated to inform him about the presence of British forces. Meanwhile, Staunton stationed his forces in Koregaon instead of crossing the river. He secured a strong position for his guns, posting one of them to guard an approach from the Bhima river (which was running almost dry), and another to guard the road from Shirur.
After the return of his 5,000-strong infantry, the Peshwa dispatched three parties of Arab and Maratha soldiers. Each party comprised 300–600 soldiers. The parties crossed the Bhima River at three different points, under the cover of cannoade and rocket fire. The Marathas also made a feint attack from the Shirur road.
By noon, the Arabs took control of a temple on the outskirts of the village. One of the temples was retaken by a party led by Lieutenant Jones and Assistant Surgeon Wyllie. The Arabs also captured the sole gun guarding the river, and killed eleven gunners, including their officer Lieutenant Chisholm. Driven by thirst and hunger, some of the Company's gunners suggested negotiating a surrender. However, Captain Staunton refused to yield. A group led by Lieutenant Pattison retook the gun, and found Lieutenant Chisholm's body with the head cut off. Captain Staunton declared that this would be the fate of those who fall into the Maratha hands. This encouraged the gunners to fight on. The Company troops successfully defended the village.
The Maratha forces ceased firing and left by 9 pm, driven by the fear of approaching British reinforcements under General Joseph Smith. When the Marathas didn't renew the attack next morning, Captain Staunton marched back to Shirur.
Out of the 834 British troops, 275 were killed, wounded or missing. The Marathas lost between 500 to 600 soldiers, most of whom were Arabs.
As a reward, the 2nd battalion of the 1st Regiment of the Bombay Native Infantry was made Grenadiers. Their regiment came to be known as 1st Grenadier Regiment of Bombay Native Infantry. The official report to the British Residents at Poona recalls the "heroic valour and enduring fortitude" of the soldiers, the "disciplined intrepidity" and "devoted courage and admirable consistency" of their actions.
Captain Staunton was appointed an honorary aide-de-camp to the Governor General of India. The Court of Directors presented him with a sword and a sum of 500 guineas (gold coins). Later in 1823, he became a Major, and was appointed a companion of the Most Honourable Military Order of the Bath.
The battle was commemorated by an obelisk, known as the Koregaon pillar, which featured on the Mahar Regiment's crest until Indian Independence. It features the names inscribed of the 49 Company soldiers, including 22 Mahars, killed in the battle. The obelisk was built by the British as a symbol of their own power, but today serves as a memorial of the Mahars. A number of Mahar gatherings have been held at the place.
"This gallant defense by a small number of Company's troops against an overwhelming Maratha force is rightly considered as one of the most glorious example of valour and fortitude in the annals of the Company's forces."
- Charles Augustus Kincaid; Dattātraya Baḷavanta Pārasanīsa (1918). A history of the Maratha people. Oxford University Press. pp. 212–216.
- Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency 18. Printed at the Government Central Press. 1885. pp. 244–246.
- Reginald George Burton (2008). Wellington's Campaigns in India. Lancer. p. 164. ISBN 978-0-9796174-6-1.
- Tony Jaques (2007). Dictionary of Battles and Sieges: F-O. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 542–. ISBN 978-0-313-33538-9.
- John F. Riddick (2006). The History of British India: A Chronology. Greenwood. p. 34. ISBN 978-0-313-32280-8.
- Kumbhojkar, Shraddha (2012). "Contesting Power, Contesting Memories – The History of the Koregaon Memorial". The Economic and Political Weekly. Retrieved 2012-10-19.(subscription required)
- Doranne Jacobson; Eleanor Zelliot; Susan Snow Wadley (1992). From untouchable to Dalit: essays on the Ambedkar Movement. Manohar. p. 89.
- Naravane, M.S. (2014). Battles of the Honorourable East India Company. A.P.H. Publishing Corporation. pp. 83–84. ISBN 9788131300343.