Battle of Fort St. David, 19 December 1746

The Battle of Fort St. David (19 December 1746) was a victory won by the cavalry of the Nawab of the Carnatic over a French army that was moving to besiege one of the last British strongholds in the south of India, at Fort. St David (First Carnatic War).

When hostilities first broke out between the British and French in southern India in 1745 (part of the War of the Austrian Succession), Anwar-ud-Din, the Nawab of the Carnatic, had declared his area to be neutral and forbade either side from attacking the others possessions. The French had soon broken this restriction, and in September 1746 captured the British stronghold at Madras. The French governor, the Marquis Joseph-François Dupleix, temporarily placated the Nawab by promising to hand Madras over to him once it was captured, but French delays soon angered Anwar-ud-Din, and he send an army commanded by his son Maphuze Khan to besiege the French.

This army suffered two defeats in three days (battle of Madras, 2 November 1746 and battle of St. Thome, 4 November 1746), in both cases against much smaller French forces. The British were able to take advantage of these setbacks to form a short-lived alliance with the Nawab, who agreed to provide a cavalry force under the command of his sons Maphuze Khan and Mohammed Ali.

This was very fortunate for the British, who now retreated to their most modern fort in the area, Fort St. David, twelve miles to the south of Pondicherry. By December the fort was garrisoned by 200 European troops and 100 Sepoys.

The French were delayed at Madras for some time, and were only able to advance towards Fort St. David in December. Their field army was commanded by General de Bury, and he had 900 European troops, 700 Sepoys, six field guns and six mortars.

De Bury proved to be an incompetent commander. On the 19th his army camped in a walled garden a mile and a half from the fort. No sentries were posted, even though the Nawab's cavalry was within five miles. The Indians attacked as the French were preparing their dinner. Most of de Bury's men panicked and attempted to cross the nearby River Pennar. Only his artillery stood their ground and their actions prevented the retreat from turning into a total disaster. Even so the French lost around a dozen of their European soldiers killed and another 120 or so wounded.

The French now retreated to Ariancopang, and didn't make another attack on Fort St. David until March 1747. By this time a French naval squadron had arrived off the coast, and Anwar-ud-Din had been bought off. The French moved against Fort St. David on 13 March, but were quickly forced to retreat when a British naval squadron arrived in the port. A small French squadron arrived soon after this, allowing Dupleix the freedom of movement to attempt an attack on Cuddalore (27-28 June 1747), but this too ended in failure.

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (9 December 2011), Battle of Fort St. David, 19 December 1746 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_fort_st_david_1746.html

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