Bengal Army

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Bengal Army
Active1756–1895 (as the Bengal Army)
1895–1908 (as the Bengal Command of the Indian Army)
Size105,000 (1876)[1]
Part ofPresidency armies
Garrison/HQNainital, Nainital district (1895–1908)[2]

The Bengal Army was the army of the Bengal Presidency, one of the three presidencies of British India within the British Empire.

The presidency armies, like the presidencies themselves, belonged to the East India Company (EIC) until the Government of India Act 1858, passed in the aftermath of the Indian Rebellion of 1857, transferred all three presidencies to the direct authority of the British Crown.

In 1895 all three presidency armies were merged into the Indian Army.



The Bengal Army originated with the establishment of a European Regiment in 1756.[3] While the East India Company had previously maintained a small force of Dutch and Eurasian mercenaries in Bengal, this was destroyed when Calcutta was captured by the Nawab of Bengal on 30 June that year.[4]

Under East India Company[edit]

Bengal troops in the 19th century (1840s)
Bengal infantry on the line of march

In 1757 the first locally recruited unit of Bengal sepoys was created in the form of the Lal Paltan battalion. It was recruited from soldiers that had served in the Nawab's Army from Bihar and the Awadh (Oudh) who were collectively called Purbiyas. Drilled and armed along British army lines this force served well at the Battle of Plassey in 1757 and 20 more Indian battalions were raised by 1764. In 1766, the Monghyr Mutiny, quelled by Robert Clive, affected many of the white officers of the Bengal Army.[5]

In his deposition, Lieutenant General Jasper Nicolls, who was an army commander stationed in India, stated of the Bengal Army's recruitment that:[6][7]

"It may well be said that the whole sepoy army of Bengal is drawn from the Company's province of Bihar and Oudh, with very few exceptions".

The East India Company steadily expanded its Bengal Army and by 1796 the establishment was set at three battalions of European artillery, three regiments of European infantry, ten regiments of Indian cavalry and twelve regiments (each of two battalions) of Indian infantry.[8]

In 1824 the Bengal Army underwent reorganisation, with the regular infantry being grouped into 68 single battalion regiments numbered according to their date of establishment. Nine additional infantry regiments were subsequently raised, though several existing units were disbanded between 1826 and 1843. On the eve of the First Afghan War (1839–42) the Bengal Army had achieved a dominant role in the forces of the HEIC. There were 74 battalions of Bengal regular infantry against only 52 from Madras, 26 from Bombay and 24 British (Queen's and Company). On average an inch and a half taller and a stone heavier than the southern Indian troops, the Bengal sepoy was highly regarded by a military establishment that tended to evaluate its soldiers by physical appearance.[9]

Skinner's Horse

A new feature in the Bengal Army was the creation of irregular infantry and cavalry regiments during the 1840s.[10] Originally designated as "Local Infantry" these were permanently established units but with less formal drill and fewer British officers than the regular Bengal line regiments.[11]

The main source of recruitment continued to be high caste Brahmins, Bhumihars and Rajputs from Bihar and Oudh,[12][13] although the eight regular cavalry regiments consisted mainly of Muslim sowars from the Indian Muslim biradaris such as the Ranghar (Rajput Muslims), Sheikhs, Sayyids, Mughals, and Hindustani Pathans.[14][15][16]

Another innovation introduced prior to 1845 was to designate specific regiments as "Volunteers" – that is recruited for general service, with sepoys who had accepted a commitment for possible overseas duty. Recruits for the Bengal Army who were prepared to travel by ship if required, received a special allowance or batta.[17] Two of these BNI regiments were serving in China in 1857 and so escaped any involvement in the great rebellion of that year.[18]

The East India Company's Bengal Army in 1857 consisted of 151,361 men of all ranks, of whom the great majority - 128,663 - were Indians.[19]


A total of 64 Bengal Army regular infantry and cavalry regiments rebelled during the Indian Rebellion of 1857, or were disbanded after their continued loyalty was considered doubtful.[1] From 1858 onwards the Chamars(Outcaste)[20] and the actual high-caste Awadhi and Bihari Hindu presence in the Bengal Army was reduced[21] because of their perceived primary role as "mutineers" in the 1857 rebellion.[22] The new and less homogeneous Bengal Army was essentially drawn from Punjabi Muslims, Sikhs, Gurkhas, Baluchis and Pathans, although twelve of the pre-mutiny Bengal line infantry regiments continued in service with the same basis of recruitment, traditions and uniform colours as before.[23]

A largely unspoken rationale was that an army of diverse origins was unlikely to unite in rebellion.[24]

Post 1857[edit]

End of the separate Bengal Army[edit]

The Bengal Presidency at its greatest extent in 1858
Soldiers of the 1st European Bengal Fusiliers, pre-1862
Sepoy of the 6th Bengal Light Infantry, c. 1890s.

In 1895 the three separate Presidency Armies began a process of unification which was not to be concluded until the Kitchener reforms of eight years later.[25] As an initial step the Army of India was divided into four commands, each commanded by a lieutenant-general. These comprised Bengal, Bombay (including Aden), Madras (including Burma) and Punjab (including the North West Frontier).[26] In 1903 the separately numbered regiments of the Bombay, Madras and Bengal Armies were unified in a single organisational sequence and the presidency affiliations disappeared.[27]

The Bengal infantry units in existence at the end of the Presidency era continued as the senior regiments (1st Brahmans to 48th Pioneers) of the newly unified Indian Army.[28]

Ethnic composition[edit]

The Bengal Army of the East India Company was mainly recruited from high castes living in Bihar and the Awadh.[29]

Prior to 1857, company military service was most popular in the zamindaris of North and South Bihar with the East India Company signing contracts to raise levies of troops from them.[30] Recruits from the Rajput and Bhumihar caste were common and they would use service in the Bengal Army as an opportunity to raise their wealth and status and for this reason, the Bhumihar zamindaris of Bihar became "prime recruiting grounds" for the Army.[30] In the 1780s, the Company maintained a major recruiting station in Buxar with six companies under a Captain Eaton. These recruiting stations in Bihar were kept as "nurseries" which supplied battalions when drafts were made. Other recruiting centres were located in Bhagalpur, Shahabad, Monghyr, Saran and Hajipur.[30]

Brigadier Troup, who served as the commander of Bareilly, stated of recruitment that the ‘Bengal native Infantry came chiefly from the province of Awadh, Buxar, Bhojpur and Arrah.’[30] In 1810, Francis Buchanan-Hamilton noted in his account of the districts of Bihar, that the number of men absent from Shahabad to serve in the Army was 4680. The Ujjainiya zamindar of Bhojpur also informed him that 12000 recruits from his district had joined the Bengal Army.[30]

Writing in The Indian Army (1834), Sir John Malcolm, who had a lifetime's experience of Indian soldiering, wrote: "They consist largely of Rajpoots (Rajput), who are a distinguished race. We may judge the size of these men when we are told that the height below which no recruit is taken is five feet six inches. The great proportion of the Grenadiers are six feet and upwards."[19]

Both prior to and following 1857, the Bengal Army included what were to become some of the most famous units in India: Skinner's Horse, the Gurkhas from the Himalayas and the Corps of Guides on the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.[31]



Regular regiments[edit]

  • Governor General's Bodyguard
  • 1st to 10th Bengal Light Cavalry Regiments (see 3rd and 5th Regiments). Eight of these regular regiments mutinied and two were disbanded during 1857–58. None were carried over into the post-Mutiny army.[32]
  • 1st to 4th Bengal European Light Cavalry Regiments. Recruited hastily in Britain in November 1857 to replace the eight regiments of Bengal Light Cavalry which had mutinied. The mention of "European" in the name indicated that it consisted of white soldiers rather than Indian sowars. In 1861, all four European regiments were transferred to the British Army as the 19th, 20th and 21st Hussars.[33]

Irregular units[edit]

Skinner's Horse at Exercise
Skinner's Horse Regimental Durbar
'7th Irregular Cavalry', 1841 (c)
  • 1st Irregular Cavalry (Skinner's Horse)
  • 2nd to 18th Irregular Cavalry Regiments
  • Bundelkhand Legion Cavalry
  • Gwalior Contingent Cavalry
  • Kotah Contingent Cavalry
  • Bhopal Contingent Cavalry
  • United Malwa Contingent Cavalry
  • Ramgarh Irregular Cavalry
  • Nagpore Irregular Cavalry
  • 1st to 3rd Oudh Irregular Cavalry Regiments
  • 1st, 2nd and 3rd Regiments of Hodson's Horse
  • 1st to 4th Sikh Irregular Cavalry Regiments
  • The Jat Horse Yeomanry
  • Rohilkhand Horse
  • The Muttra Horse
  • Alexander's Horse
  • Barrow's Volunteers
  • Behar Irregular Cavalry
  • Belooch Horse
  • Benares Horse
  • Bengal Yeomanry Cavalry
  • Calcutta Volunteer Guards
  • De Kantzow's Irregular Cavalry
  • Graham's Horse
  • 2nd Gwalior Cavalry
  • 2nd Gwalior Mahratta Horse
  • H.H. The Guicowar's Horse
  • Jackson's Volunteer Horse
  • Jellandhar Cavalry
  • Lahore Light Horse
  • 1st Mahratta Horse
  • Meerut Light Horse
  • Peshawar Light Horse
  • Rajghazi Volunteer Cavalry
  • The Volunteer Cavalry
  • Lind's and Cureton's Risalahs of Pathan Horse
  • 2nd Mahratta Horse
  • Fane's Horse
  • The Corps of Guides, Punjab Irregular Force
  • 1st to 5th Regiments of Cavalry of the Punjab Irregular Force


The Bengal Artillery was divided into three 'sections', the Bengal Horse Artillery (affiliated with the Royal Horse Artillery), Bengal European Foot Artillery (European/white members), and the Bengal Native Foot Artillery (native Indians). Below is the list of those that were formed/active before their disbandment/absorption into the Royal Artillery and RHA. Units below will have their formation designation and then designation after joining the British Army.[34]

Bengal Horse Artillery[edit]

  • Bengal Horse Artillery:[35]
    • 1st Brigade, Bengal Horse Artillery (formed in 1824)
    • 2nd Brigade, Bengal Horse Artillery (formed in 1825)
    • 3rd Brigade, Bengal Horse Artillery (formed in 1825)
      • 1st Troop (formed in 1809, transferred to Royal Horse Artillery 1864), formed as 3rd Trp, BenHA
      • 2nd Troop (formed 1825, transferred to Royal Horse Artillery 1864)
      • 3rd Troop (formed 1825, transferred to Royal Horse Artillery 1864)
      • (1st) 4th (Native) Troop (formed 1817, joined 2nd Bde 1829), formed as 6th Trop, BenHA
      • (2nd) 4th (Native) Troop (formed 1827, to 2nd Bde 1829)
      • (3rd) 4th (Native) Troop (formed 1829, mutinied in Multan, reformed 1859 as European troop, transferred to Royal Horse Artillery 1864)

Bengal European Foot Artillery[edit]

Bengal Native Foot Artillery[edit]

  • Bengal Native Foot Artillery: (units listed in after precedence #)[34]
    • 1st Bengal Artillery Battalion
      • 7th Company (raised in 1780, late 1st Battery, 16th Brigade Royal Artillery)
      • 3rd Company (raised 1780, late 2nd Bty, 16th Bde RA)
      • 9th Company (raised 1780, late 3rd Bty, 16th Bde RA)
      • Fort William Company (raised 1780, late 4th Bty, 16th Bde RA)
      • Calcutta Garrison Company (raised 1770, late 1st Company, 6th Battalion)
      • 6th Company (raised 1802, late 3rd Co, 3rd Btn)
      • 7th Company (raised 1802, late 4th Co, 3rd Btn)
      • 8th Company (raised 1817, late 3rd Co, 1st Btn)
    • 2nd Bengal Artillery Battalion
      • 8th Company (raised 1778, late 1st Bty, 19th Bde RA)
      • 4th Company (raised 1763, late 2nd Bty, 19th Bde RA)
      • 6th Company (raised 1778, late 3rd Bty, 19th Bde RA)
      • 2nd Company (raised 1780, late 4th Bty, 19th Bde RA)
      • 10th Company (raised 1780, late 2nd Co, 6th Btn)
      • 6th Company (raised 1802, late 3rd Co, 2nd Btn)
      • 7th Company (raised 1802, late 4th Co, 2nd Btn)
      • 8th Company (raised 1818, late 3rd Co, 5th Btn)
    • 3rd Bengal Artillery Battalion
      • 1st Company (raised 1786, late 1st Bty, 22nd Bde RA)
      • 2nd Company (raised 1786, late 2nd Bty, 22nd Bde RA)
      • 3rd Company (raised 1786, late 3rd Bty, 22nd Bde RA)
      • 4th Company (raised 1786, late 4th Bty, 22nd Bde RA)
      • 5th Company (raised 1786, late 3rd Co, 6th Btn)
      • 6th Company (raised 1802, late 2nd Co, 5th Btn)
      • 7th Company (raised 1802, disbanded 1824)
      • 8th Company (raised 1818, late 4th Co, 5th Btn)
    • 4th Bengal Artillery Battalion
      • 1st Company (raised 1824, late 1st Bty, 24th Bde RA)
      • 2nd Company (raised 1824, late 2nd Bty, 2nd Bde RA)
      • 3rd Company (raised 1824, late 3rd Bty, 24th Bde RA)
      • 4th Company (raised 1824, late 4th Bty, 24th Bde RA)
      • 5th Company (raised 1842, late 4th Bty, 6th Btn)
    • 5th Bengal Artillery Battalion
      • 1st Company (raised 1824, late 1st Bty, 25th Bde RA)
      • 2nd Company (raised 1824, late 2nd Bty, 25th Bde RA)
      • 3rd Company (raised 1824, late 3rd Bty, 25th Bde RA)
      • 4th Company (raised 1824, late 4th Bty, 25th Bde RA)
      • 5th Company (Raised 1842, disbanded 1845)
    • 6th Bengal Artillery Battalion
      • 1st Company (raised 1845, late 5th Bty, 16th Bde RA)
      • 2nd Company (raised 1845, late 5th Bty, 19th Bde RA)
      • 3rd Company (raised 1845, late 5th Bty, 22nd Bde RA)
      • 4th Company (raised 1845, late 5th Bty, 24th Bde RA)

Punjab Horse Artillery, Punjab Irregular Force[edit]



Regular regiments[edit]

Bengal Native Infantry 1846
Hindu priest garlanding the flags of the Bengal Light Infantry at a presentation of colours ceremony, c. 1847
  • 1st Bengal (European) Fusiliers
  • 2nd Bengal (European) Fusiliers
  • 3rd Bengal (European) Light Infantry
  • 4th, 5th and 6th Bengal European Regiments
  • 1st to 74th Regiments of Bengal Native Infantry (including Goorkha 66th Regiment of Bengal Native Infantry). Of these regular regiments only twelve (the 21st, 31st, 32nd 33rd, 42nd, 43rd, 47th 59th, 63rd, 65th, 66th and 70th BNI) escaped mutiny or disbandment to survive into the post-Mutiny army.[36] As such they retained a number of features and traditions of the "old" Bengal Army, such as the wearing of red coats. The remainder of the regiments making up the "new" Bengal Army were derived from a mixture of irregular units already in existence before the Mutiny, plus Punjabis, Sikhs and Gurkhas. Local corps, levies and even police battalions raised for the suppression of the Mutiny were in some cases transformed into new regular infantry regiments, which brought the total number up to 49.[36]

Irregular units[edit]

  • Alipore Regiment
  • The Ramgarh Light Infantry
  • 3rd Local Battalion
  • The Sirmoor Rifle Regiment
  • The Kamaoon Battalion
  • 1st Assam Light Infantry
  • 11th Sylhet Local Light Infantry
  • The Mhairwara Battalion
  • 2nd Assam Light Infantry
  • Joudpore Legion (1836–1857) – a mixed unit of cavalry, infantry, and artillery (a two-gun battery)
  • 43rd Erinpura Regiment (1860–1921) – former Erinpura Irregular Force, itself a successor to the loyal companies of the Joudpore Legion
  • Oudh Irregular Force
  • Narbudda Sebundy Corps
  • Shekhawati Battalion
  • Harianna Light Infantry
  • Regiment of Khelat-i-Gilzie
  • Malwa Bheel Corps
  • Kotah Contingent
  • Mehidpore Contingent
  • Gwalior Contingent
  • Malwa Contingent
  • Bhopal Contingent
  • Ferozepore Regiment
  • Regiment of Ludhiana
  • Camel Corps
  • Nusseree Battalion
  • Nagpore Irregular Force
  • Deoli Irregular Force
  • Regiment of Lucknow
  • Mhair Regiment
  • Kamroop Regiment
  • Landhoor Rangers
  • Kuppurthala Contingent
  • 1st and 2nd Gwalior Regiments
  • Allahabad Levy
  • Shahjehanpur Levy
  • Cawnpore Levy
  • Fatehgarh Levy
  • Moradabad Levy
  • Mynpoorie Levy
  • Sealkote Infantry Levy
  • Bareilly Levy
  • Goojramwallah Levy
  • Meerut Levy
  • Kumaon Levy
  • Agra Levy
  • Cole and Sonthal Levy
  • Rajpoot Levy
  • Loyal Purbeah Regiment
  • Corps of Guides, Punjab Irregular Force
  • 1st to 4th Sikh Infantry Regiments of the Punjab Irregular Force
  • 1st to 6th Punjab Infantry Regiments of the Punjab Irregular Force
  • 7th to 24th Regiments of Punjab Infantry, of which the 15th and 24th were pioneer regiments



Because the Bengal Army was the largest of the three Presidency Armies, its Commander-in-Chief was, from 1853 to 1895, also Commander-in-Chief, India.[37]
Commander-in-Chief, Bengal Command

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Raugh, p. 55
  2. ^ Shah, p. 97
  3. ^ Raugh, p. 46
  4. ^ Reid, Stuart (18 August 2009). Armies of the East India Company 1750–1850. Bloomsbury USA. p. 5. ISBN 978-1-84603-460-2.
  5. ^ Martin, Robert Montgomery (1879). Our Indian Empire and the Adjacent Countries of Afghanistan, Beloochistan, Persia, Etc., Depicted and Described by Pen and Pencil. London Print. and Publishing Company. p. 305.
  6. ^ Barat, Amiya (1962). The Bengal Native Infantry: Its Organisation and Discipline, 1796-1852. Firma K.L. Mukhopadhyay. p. 119.
  7. ^ Parliament. House of Commons. Select Committee on the East India Company (1832). Minutes of Evidence Taken Before the Select Committee on the Affairs of the East India Company: And Also an Appendix and Index, Volume 3, Part 1. House of Commons.
  8. ^ Mollo, pp. 13–14
  9. ^ Mason, Philip (1986). A Matter of Honour – An Account of the Indian Army, its Officers and Men. Macmillan. pp. 194–195. ISBN 0-333-41837-9.
  10. ^ Mollo, pp. 51-52
  11. ^ Creese, Michael (2015). Swords Trembling in Their Scabbards. The Changing Status of Indian Officers in the Indian Army 1757–1947. Helion Limited. pp. 26–27. ISBN 9-781909-982819.
  12. ^ Wagner, Kim A. (2018). The Skull of Alum Bheg: The Life and Death of a Rebel of 1857. Oxford University Press. pp. 18, 22. ISBN 978-0-19-087023-2.
  13. ^ Mason, Philip (1986). A Matter of Honour - An Account of the Indian Army, its Officers and Men. p. 125. ISBN 0-333-41837-9.
  14. ^ Defence Journal:Volumes 4-5. 2001. p. 66.
  15. ^ Sumit Walia (2021). Unbattled Fears: Reckoning the National Security. p. 125. ISBN 9788170623311.
  16. ^ Calcutta Review 1956. University of Calcutta. 1956. p. 38.
  17. ^ Wagner, Kim A. (2014). The Great Fear of 1857. p. 37. ISBN 978-93-81406-34-2.
  18. ^ MacMunn, Lt. Gen. Sir George (1984). The Armies of India. Crécy. p. 100. ISBN 0-947554-02-5.
  19. ^ a b Spilsbury, Julian (2007). The Indian Mutiny. Jouve, France: Orion Publishing Group. p. 9. ISBN 9780297856306.
  20. ^ Karsten, Peter (31 October 2013). Recruiting, Drafting, and Enlisting: Two Sides of the Raising of Military Forces. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-135-66150-2.
  21. ^ David, Saul (4 September 2003). The Indian Mutiny. Penguin Adult. p. 377. ISBN 0-141-00554-8.
  22. ^ Bickers and Tiedemann, p. 231
  23. ^ W.Y. Carman, pages 107–108, "Indian Army Uniforms" Morgan-Grampian Books 1969
  24. ^ Mason, Philip (1986). A Matter of Honour. Macmillan. pp. 320 & 326 & 359. ISBN 0-333-41837-9.
  25. ^ Gaylor, John (1992). Sons of John Company. The Indian & Pakistan Armies 1903–1991. Spellmount. p. 2. ISBN 0-946771-98-7.
  26. ^ "Northern Command". Retrieved 5 July 2013.
  27. ^ Gaylor, John (1992). Sons of John Company. The Indian & Pakistan Armies 1903–1991. Spellmount. p. 3. ISBN 0-946771-98-7.
  28. ^ Carmen, pp. 225-226
  29. ^ Hiltebeitel, Alf (1999). Rethinking India's Oral and Classical Epics: Draupadi among Rajputs, Muslims and Dalits. University of Chicago Press. p. 308. ISBN 978-0226340500.
  30. ^ a b c d e Alavi, Seema (1995). The Sepoys and the Company: Tradition and Transition in Northern India, 1770-1830. Oxford University Press. pp. 51–55. ISBN 9780195634846.
  31. ^ 'Lumsden of the Guides' (London, 1899) by P. Lumsden and G. Elsmie; p. 28.
  32. ^ Mollo, p. 93
  33. ^ Mollo, pp. 91–92
  34. ^ a b Frederick, pp. 453–6.
  35. ^ Frederick, pp. 428–30.
  36. ^ a b Carmen, p. 107
  37. ^ Raugh, p. 45


Further reading[edit]

  • Stubbs, Francis W. Major-General., History of the Organization, Equipment, And War Services of the Regiment of Bengal Artillery, Compiled From Published Works, Official Records, And Various Private Sources (London. Volumes 1 & 2. Henry S. King, 1877. Volume 3. W.H. Allen, 1895). A full detailed history with maps, appendices, etc.
  • Cardew, F. G., Sketch of the Services of the Bengal Native Army: To the Year 1895 (Calcutta: Office of the Superintendent of Government Printing, 1903, reprinted by Naval and Military Press Ltd., 2005, ISBN 1-84574-186-2) Contents: Chapter I: 1599–1767; II. 1767–1796; III. 1797–1814; IV. 1814–1824; V. 1824–1838; VI. 1838–1845; VII. 1845–1857; VIII. 1857–1861; IX. 1862–1979; X. 1878–1881; XI. 1882–1890; XII. 1891–1895; Appendix: I. A Chronological List of the Corps of the Bengal Army, Showing particulars of their origin and their subsequent history; II. Existing Corps of the Bengal Army, Showing Dates of Raising and Changes in their Titles; III. Commanders-in-chief of the Bengal Army; IV. Chronology list of the Services of the Bengal Native Army; Index.
  • Malleson, George Bruce (1857). The Mutiny of the Bengal Army . London: Bosworth and Harrison.
  • Stanley, Peter, White Mutiny: British Military Culture in India 1825–75 (Christopher Hurst, London, 1998).
  • J.B.M. Frederick, Lineage Book of British Land Forces 1660–1978, Vol II, Wakefield, Microform Academic, 1984, ISBN 1-85117-009-X.